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gO’s James Gaston Talks about the Importance of Balance

Life is about balance, and sometimes you have to balance life.

I started training for the 2017 Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in November of 2016. I was able to start working with an amazing coach, Jenny Smith out of Gunnison Colorado who is on the Stan’s NoTubes Women’s Pro Team. Jenny developed a well thought out multi-stage training plan and put it into the Training Peaks athlete website for us to follow. I began to think about bike upgrades, target weights, FTP/kg, and how to bring all the pieces together to achieve the LT100 mile event in under 9 hours.

I’m not a super, duper elite athlete. Historically my best finish time in the Leadville 100 MTB was 10:02 over 4 years ago, and at age 51 I realize it takes more for me to accomplish the same that those younger kids can do with ease. Reaching “sub-9” was going to be a challenge. As anyone who has done sub-9 knows, it takes a lot of training, a lot of practice events, and a lot of time. My wife Gayle encouraged me to focus on a cycling event that could hold my attention and challenge me in many ways, and a sub-9 Leadville MTB was it. She was completely on-board and supportive. Gayle understood the 5-6 days a week of cycling I would need to do, the long, and longer solo rides on weekends required, and the travel, time and expense of a variety of races to have real race experiences in preparation for Leadville.

Coach Jenny’s magic worked and the season was off to an amazing start with some great performances at both the Ouachita Challenge, Syllamoe’s Revenge, and the Austin Rattler LT100 qualifier. At every race I performed better and better.

Unfortunately, life happens. A personal issue with Gayle unexpectedly came up that would require her complete attention on August 10th, 2 days before the Leadville 100 race. As the date drew closer the situation began to look more and more dour. It was stressful for both of us, but Gayle still wanted me to spend time acclimating in Leadville and to participate in the LT100 race. I was torn because I wanted to be there for my wife when she needed me.

This is where the life-balance part comes in. I talked with coach and we decided to shift focus from the LT100 to the Leadville Stage race 2 weeks earlier. The same course as the LT100, but broken up over 3 days with 40 miles the first day, the big Columbine climb and descent the second day for another 20 miles, and the final 41 miles the last day (yeah, that adds up to 101 miles). This cleared the deck for the personal issue and closed the door on my LT100 sub-9 dreams for 2017. But, the Stage Race is a perfect substitute.

My best time in the Stage Race was 9:49. As race day approached, it was thrilling to meet my racing friends at our clubhouse, the Leadville Hostel and practice the course with them. We were all psyched and ready. Coach Jenny and I had developed an amazingly perfect race plan. Do you want to hear it? Here it is: Go balls to the wall each and every day. That’s it. Hang it all out. Pedal(s) to the metal. Blow your socks off. The thinking was, “What have I got to lose?” and “Why leave anything on the table?” It all made sense.

The first 40 ,miles on day 1 was a blast. The rain held off and over 220 racers stormed out of the Leadville Fair Grounds with determination. My biggest concern was the initial climb on St Keven’s since I wouldn’t be well warmed up. It hurt, but at the end of the day according to Strava I set 10 Personal Records on Day 1. A race finish of 2:53 was followed by a Nestle chocolate milk and food to ensure a good recovery.

Day 2’s 20 mile climb and descent was a challenge. One of the reasons Leadville races are infamous is because of the altitude. Climbing Columbine and maintaining speed at the top has always been hard for me, Day 2 was no exception. At the “A frame” my heart rate dropped and I couldn’t get it back up. No man wants to say that, but the altitude sucked the air out of my lungs and the strength from my legs. At the turnaround, Bryan from Cycles of Life (the best bike shop in Leadville!) gave me a pat on the back and then he led me on to the fastest descent of Columbine I had ever had. Strava reported on Day 2 another 4 PR’s and a time of 2:19.

Day 3 and the remaining 41 miles hung heavy in the thick wet air as I rolled up the to start line. I said a prayer. Either my legs would be happy or they would not. I thought about all the training hours, rides, races….sweat, dedication and pain, that had gone into this moment. It was a significant amount. I vowed never to give up. I was fortunate to avoid a start line wreck from a guy pulling a wheelie and from that point on I never looked back. I was blessed with a guy that did an incredibly strong lead out from just past the start all the way to the base of power line climb. We flew and I hung on. The grind up power line was as usual, tough. I remained constant. I showed no mercy to my legs or those around me on the Carter’s Summit climb, knowing it was the last big climb with only the Boulevard remaining. Another great drafting opportunity at the bottom of St Kevin’s and all that remained was the Boulevard. The stopwatch on the bike computer seemed to go into slow motion. I would pedal my heart out for an eternity and glance at the screen and only a minute or two would have gone by. It hurt. I was flailing around. I pressed on with utmost urgency, heavy breathing, and unfocussed vision knowing it would all be over soon. As I popped up the little climb into the fair grounds I poured the last of my strength into the 50 yards around the coral and across the finish. I had nothing left and I did not leave a single second out there on course. Strava says I had 18 personal records on day 3, for a total of 32 PR’s across the 3 day 100 mile event. My finish time was 2:20 for a total Stage Race time of 8:32:43. I was ecstatic…and whooped. Thank you coach Jenny!

Sometimes…all the time… life is unpredictable. At the end of the day is a bike race that important? Well…in my opinion, no….and yes. We are driven to race, and race to live life to it’s fullest. However, we have to find balance in life. Racing and pushing yourself for selfish reasons at the expense of others is not fulfilling. Racing for life and the balance thereof is.

Good racing my friends.

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