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The Pain Cave

Posted by Gale Bernhardt Jul 27, 2007

To realize your full potential as an endurance athlete, you've got to love to suffer. All of the endurance athletes I've worked with are willing to visit the darkness of the pain cave now and then.


Am I suggesting that you push through the physical pain of a sore joint? Am I suggesting that you visit the cave every day? Of course not.




I am suggesting that if you are in sports long enough, you will do some suffering if you hope to search for your potential as an athlete. Enduring discomfort is part of the deal.




During a hard climb, right when you want to give up, push just one more pedal stroke.




When it seems that your final destination is unmanageable, focus on making it to the next marker - a rock, a tree or a sign post - that lies just ten feet ahead. Then do it again.




When lightening, rain and wind are breathing down the back of your jersey--race them to the safety of your car.






The photo of Ernie Wintergerst and I was at the end of a preride of the Columbine Mine climb at Leadville, Colorado. (Thanks to Scott Ellis for the photo.) Although I can't speak for Ernie, Scott or Alan Ley I can tell you that parts of the climb were tough for me. I could hear Phil Liggett commenting, "She's in difficulty now..."




Those difficult times passed for me and yours will too.




For the weather, we lost one weather race, but won another.




It may be hard to see much detail in the photo, but our faces are fully spattered with mud. Charging ahead of us, the rain laid a slippery carpet down a good part of the descent. Water and mud sprayed everywhere as we rode down the mountain.




While riding down, another cloud heavy with rain threatened us. Bangs of thunder and flashes of lightening made us feel vulnerable.




At the end of this particular ride, I was happy to celebrate the discomfort with a big smile. Although dirty, cold and wet, we were smiling and happy. We beat the worst weather...this time.



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I can't speak for the pre-race chat at any of the other Leadville races, but I can tell you that race founder Ken Chlouber delivers an inspiring speech at the mountain bike pre-race meeting. During his inspirational delivery he does warn us that we will all suffer low points, but then he tells us, "You're better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can." I love that quote.


The Leadville series of athletic challenges originated because Leadvillites wanted to make a difference to their community. All of the Leadville races begin and end in Leadville, bringing visitors to the town for race day and training sessions. The Leadville 100 Run began in 1983 when there was severe depression in the local mining industry and the town had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. The mountain bike race was added in 1994.


The Leadville races are so popular now, that there is a lottery system for the mountain bike race. I don't know what the limit is for the run, but the entry number shown on the site for this year is 582.


Ah, but entering the 100 mile mountain bike race is easy.


Ah, the 100 mile run is easy too.


Try entering the Leadman or Leadwoman competition. Now that is tough. What is a Leadperson? With only 24 entrants this year, athletes are trying to complete the five key Leadville events.


First on the menu is a trail marathon on July 7th. The second course is a 50-mile mountain bike race called "The Silver Rush" which is said to be very similar to the Leadville 100 mountain bike course...with all the easy parts taken out. Silver Rush is two weeks after the marathon. Three weeks after Silver Rush is the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. The day after the mountain bike race is the Leadville 10k running race, conveniently timed so you can go to the awards ceremony for the mountain bike race and then work any stiffness out of your legs with a run. Right.


The last event of the Leadman and Leadwoman competition is to run 100 miles in the mountains surrounding Leadville one short week after the mountain bike race. The "only" thing you have to do to earn the honored title is to complete each event. I can't imagine doing all five events within six weeks. Those that do it are endurance animals of the highest order.


It makes sense that Leadville would have these types of events because this is a community that embraces toughness.


If Leadville has been somewhat of a secret in the past, the secret is leaking out. Athletes of all levels of capability that want significant challenge enter the events. Some prefer a more low-keyed approach to enjoying the mountains by going on their own to play on the trails, camp, fish or road ride. For winter athletes, the town is within close proximity of major ski areas and athletes have found staying in Leadville to be significantly less expensive than staying in the major ski resorts and worth the short drive.


Should you find yourself in Leadville, stop by the Leadville 100 headquarters at 213 Harrison Avenue. In the store is plenty of Leadville 100 gear and some of the race trophies are on display as well. After a course pre-ride last week, a few of us stopped by the headquarters. Ken and Merilee O'Neal (the race director) were in the store and nice enough to pose for a photo along with some of the Leadville bounty. (Photo attached.)


The round belt buckles are for the 100-mile run and the square ones are for the 100-mile bike. The smallest one in each case, is for completing each event under the respective cut-off time, 30 hours for the run (no, this is not a typo) and 12 hours for the ride. The mid-sized buckle is for completing each event under the specified "My God You're Fast" time of 25 hours for the run and 9 hours for the bike. The large buckle, with your name on it, is for making 1,000 miles in each respective event. Yep, completing 10 of the crazy things.


Age group awards are given as well and Merilee didn't have any of those available in the shop. The ore cart sitting on the display case will be filled with Leadville ore, mounted on rails on a wooden block and given to the overall winners.


You may not aspire to be a Leadman or Leadwoman. You may never want to do a 100 mile mountain bike race or 100 mile run. No matter what adventure marks the challenge for you to stretch, to be more, to be better, to get a little scared, I think you can use Ken's words..."You're better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can."

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This is the last long week of training before the Leadville race. Scott Ellis, Roy Gatesman and I took off this morning on a long mountain bike ride to top off the endurance tank. (Read: All of us just love to ride and "training" for Leadville is fine justification to put in long days of riding mountain bikes around in the mountains - as if any of us really need justification.)


The Front Range was predicted to be near 100 degrees Farenheit, another good reason to head for the mountains.


We planned to park at the intersection of Stove Prairie Road and Rist Canyon Road. We would ride a route called "Old Flowers Road" out-and-back, adding some on to total somewhere between four and five hours. Old Flowers is a ride we do two to four times each season. It's about an hour drive from home, so not quite out the back door - but not too far either.


The ride went great for the first hour-and-a-half or so and we arrived at a decision point, Pingree Park Road and Monument Gulch Road. We decided to ride the Pingree Park Road toward the Pingree Park Campus, part of Colorado State University. Although none of us had ridden this route in the past, we hoped the remote campus would have public restrooms and potable water.


We couldn't have been greeted by a more welcoming woman, who's name I did not get. She invited us into the conference center, showed us the restrooms and offered us ice and fresh water for our hydration packs. Heaven.


I have to tell you that this location in the mountains is far from anything city-like, which is why we love it. To have fresh water and ice near the half-way point in our ride was like a dream. We enjoyed sitting in the shade and watching dozens of hummingbirds feed on sugar water supplied by the staff at the campus. Scott took photos and if I can talk him out of one, I'll post it later.


We made our way back the same way we came, with one small detour to Twin Lakes. Sadly, with low water it looked more like a puddle.


Rolling back through low-traffic forest, we saw a few campers, some hikers, a couple of vehicles, two other cyclists and other than that we had the place to ourselves. One correction, I was rolling and Roy was bombing the loose and rocky trails like he was on a motocross bike. Jumps, tail kicks, and he was out of sight in an instant. It's great fun to see people ride so well.


We made it back to the car after 4:35 ride time, about 5:10 out time, 41.5 miles, 5400 feet of climbing and loads of fun.


At the car I noticed a van parked behind my vehicle, with road bikes spilled all around the van. The intersection where we parked is the top of a popular loop for roadies riding from Ft. Collins or Loveland. Strange to see a van parked at the top.


I noticed a guy standing next to the van and this weird feeling came over me. "I know that guy, but he doesn't belong here at the Stove Prairie School. He belongs in San Diego, at No, can't be Mark Kussic. Wait a minute...he's wearing an cycling jersey."




No way. It is Mark!! He is traveling Colorado on a road cycling tour with a group of buddies. I had no idea he would be in Colorado.


What are the chances I would see him at that intersection after I rode mountain bikes and he rode one of the toughest climbs around on his road bike? What a strange coincidence. Some stuff is just too weird.

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Rotten Dog

Posted by Gale Bernhardt Jul 19, 2007


My dog is spoiled rotten. It's bad, and I am to blame.


She is a 65-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback named Meeka. She believes she is part human, as she sits in the passenger seat of my car like she is a person. She even nonchalantly looks at the passengers in cars next to us at stop lights, checking them out as a human would do. She has her own chair on the patio. When other humans are sitting around chatting, she has two patio positions. One position is sitting up in the chair, looking at the person speaking as if she understands what is being said. The second position is curled up laying down in the chair, trying to snooze her way through a boring conversation.


If Rhodesians get the volume of exercise necessary to keep them happy, they are similar to cats. Meeka likes to snooze in a sunbeam on the living room carpet in the early mornings and sun herself on the backyard grass in the afternoons. When she is not sunning herself, she is supervising my work.


Some people have cats that sit on top of their office desks. Not me, I have a 65-pound dog that has taken over the top of my desk. How does this happen?


She began by alternating between her floor pillow bed and sitting in an office chair next to me. One day she noticed a squirrel climbing the tree outside of my office window and after that it was all over. She kept putting her front paws on the desk, looking for squirrels, bunnies, kitties and birds bathing in the bird bath. Fantastic dog TV.


After I got tired of fishing papers out from behind my desk, I gave in and set her up a bed on top of the desk. I know, I know, I could have taken charge of the situation and demanded that she stay on her floor pillow - but no - I gave in.


Now when she wants to go for a run, she gets her face right next to my computer screen and gives me "the look". She'll fidget and keep cocking her head until I say, "Let's run". She's off that desk like a bullet.


I have to know, is your dog spoiled rotten?

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Wednesday was the first preride of the season for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike course. Right now the course is very dry, loose and has minimal canyons created by afternoon downpours. I don't expect the same conditions on race day. Even though I live at about 5,000 feet, I notice the altitude at Leadville. The city itself sits at 10,152 feet - oxygen is in short supply and high demand for endurance athletes.


A nice group of eleven of us showed up for the preride. There was a wide range of experience in the group with a ten-year veteran, a few people in the one- to two-year group, some DNFs and some newbies. I love preriding the course with newbies. I suppose some of it is nostalgia from my first preride in 2005. Some is also a chance to help someone new learn the ropes of the course. The good karma of returning to sport what sport has given to me.


The group took loads of photos, too many to attach to this story. Attached is one view of the infamous Powerline descent. I'm standing about halfway down the descent looking up. The small, currently dry canyon that Roy Gatesman is about to cross can become deep and steep when monsoon season brings heavy rains. Heavy rains cut deep scars in the mountain.


One thing that struck me when I was looking at all of the preride photos - nothing looks too steep. Sitting in my office chair sipping a homemade latte, I'm thinking I could easily climb the section that Roy is shown descending.


Ah, but that section is around 80 miles into the event on race day. Maybe Lance, Floyd and Dave will be riding it on race day; but there is a very high probability that I will be walking. I will also have plenty of company if this year is like the last two years.


I didn't see anyone of great cycling fame riding the course on Wednesday, but there has been a press release that Lance indeed plans to race in Leadville. Floyd has said all along that Leadville is in his plans.


It will be interesting to see what kind of media is present and where. If you look at the photo you will see tire tracks. I suspect the media has been sussing out places to get good shots of racers on race day. Of course I could be making that up.


Any way you slice it, it was a great way to spend a Wednesday.

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In a previous post I alluded to a bike race I am doing this year. That race is the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. This will be my third year battling the course. I wrote a couple of columns about the event in 05. At some point I will disclose how it is someone manages to cross the finish line with only five seconds to spare; but not today.


Today's story really began late in 2006. The story line has all the ingredients of a good western movie, set in an old mining town with a history of heros, power disputes and clandestine plans. Leadville is the perfect setting for a showdown between Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and the lesser-publicized Dave Weins.


Late in 2006, the Leadville Chronicle released a story that confirmed Lance planned to race in the 2007 event. His interest in the event was sparked by his long-time coach Chris Charmichael's participation in the 2006 event. Chris apparently lost a bet that he would complete the event under nine hours, the special time cut for "La Plata Grande" the BIG belt buckle.


Race Director Ken Chlouber invited Floyd to do the race after Lance decided to do the event. To have two strong horses race though the middle of town is a good opportunity for the race and the city. For many, these guys remain heros of the American cycling movement. Yep, a grand opportunity for a good showdown, horse race or both.


After press, stories and the ususal hype expected from this kind of a race, Lance announced that he had a "scheduling conflict" and would not be able to do the race after all.


Months pass...


Last week Chris Charmichael reported he rode the Leadville course with Lance and hinted to the possibility that Lance may still race at Leadville. Ah, clandestine plans.


Also last week, Ken Chlouber made it very clear he wants Floyd on the start line and is willing to find an independent insurance company to insure the event. The race is sanctioned by NORBA for insurance purposes. NORBA is the National Off-Road Bicycling Association and a division of USA Cycling. USA Cycling falls under UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) rules. Floyd is currently under investigation for doping charges and if found guilty will be ineligble to compete in any UCI events for two years. Chlouber will do whatever it takes to have Floyd on the start line at Leadville.


Floyd said in a press story last week that he still plans on doing the event and has been busy whipping that new hip into shape.


Meanwhile, quietly preparing for the event is Dave Wiens - I'm guessing. There has been some press about the four-time Leadville winner, but not much. He is a Colorado native, former World Cup racer and a 2000 inductee into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Leadville racers love him. He is approachable, friendly and shouts encouraging words to racers as he passes them when he is returning on the out-and-back course.


Now that you have the basic story, belly up to the bar and place your bets.


Will Lance do the race?


Will Floyd's new hip work as well or better than his old one?


Does living in Colorado and knowing the course give Wiens an advantage?


Which horse will charge across the finishline first?



On Wednesday I go to Leadville for my pre-ride of the year. If I see any secret training going on, I'll let you know. You may want to change your bet...



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Bike Tours

Posted by Gale Bernhardt Jul 6, 2007


I've been spending this week recovering from riding a bike tour around the northern mountains of Colorado. I have to say I love doing bike tours for the sheer pleasure of focusing on riding from point A to point B, deciding what to eat, deciding the length of my afternoon nap, deciding what to eat, enjoying the great Colorado scenery, deciding what to eat and looking forward to the next day.


For a few years now - seven? I've used week-long bike tours as a crash training week to prepare for long events such as Ironman races or ultra-distance mountain bike races. The mountain bike race is this year's goal. More on that later.


My favorite part of this year's ride was cruising in the center of my very own lane, not obstructing traffic, descending the east side of Trail Ridge Road. New pavement too! It doesn't get much better than that...


A photo of the elevation sign at Rock Cut and my snoozing friend Todd below.








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