James Leavesley and the Colorado Trail

James Leavesley leaves the UK today and heads out to the Colorado Trail Race. Here’s his first report:

I will be heading out to Colorado to take part in the Colorado Trail Race (CTR) (link to http://www.climbingdreams.net/ctr/ ). This is one of a number of events (mainly held in the US) that have been popping up over the last decade which have a long distance self supported ‘fast and light’ theme. The format is normally point-to-point carrying all your own kit with no support apart from what you can find along the way. The most famous of this style is the Tour Divide and Iditarod Invitational. The former starts in Canada and covers the length of America taking around 15 – 20 days to ride; unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to convince my wife (Nicola) this is a good idea. I have however completed the Iditarod trail Invitational which has definitely given me a taster for this slightly different self sustained ‘race’ format.

Could the appeal of buff singletrack wear off after 500miles? James hopes not.

Although shorter than the Tour Divide, the CTR has its own challenges. Instead of taking place on mainly dirt tracks, the CTR is 80% singletrack covering nearly 500 miles and mostly at high altitude (between 3000m and 3500m).

Pictures courtesy of Ian Bell

Talking to some veterans of the trail, Pete Basinger (3 time winner of the Iditarod Trail, GDR finisher and all round rock hard racer) and Jeff Oatley (Iditarod winner and 2008 top 10 RAMM finisher), the CTR sounds like this is going to be a challenge:

“It’s a brutally tough ride/walk, trying to acclimatize ahead of the race will help you a ton. That’s the part that killed me… all the elevation. It felt like I was breathing through a straw. “ Jeff Oatley
“This is one tough race I would think hard before you take it on.” – Pete Basinger

So how do I train for a race like this in the flatlands of Oxfordshire? Long distance rides have been the order of the day with some long races thrown in and a trip to the Alps.

Big mountains, up in the sky

The next challenge is the altitude which is a harder nut to crack. For the more professional rider this would consist of spending 2-3 weeks at altitude gradually gaining height and generally getting used to operating above 3000m. Surprisingly my offer to spend three weeks in Colorado working remotely was turned down so I have three days from when I land to the beginning of the race. Instead I have turned to science to help! I have hired an acclimatization unit from Higher Peak Performance. This consists of a big box which looks like a dialysis machine and a long tube attached to a gimp mask.

The idea is to simulate altitude by reducing oxygen levels. The initial plan was to train low and sleep high, however after switching on the machine for the first time and showing Nicola the ‘apparatus’, she vetoed the idea of sleeping with Darth Vader. Even after suggesting it could add some ‘spice’ it was decided the constant groan (of the machine…) wasn’t conducive…
So for plan B: After talking to Jason Hughes, owner of Higher Peak Performance, a slightly different option was planned. This consists of five sessions a week, three of which are spent watching television (which I can definitely handle) and then two sessions a week on the turbo.

How much difference it makes is an unknown but the anecdotal evidence is strong. After days on a bike though, with little sleep even a little help will go a long way. As ever my grand plans of detailed planning has fallen by the way side due to work and family commitments so with a day to go before I fly out its time to get my bike serviced, last bits of kit together and waypoints uploaded to my Garmin, then it’s off to Denver where I can truly panic about the race…

Now the tour is over and if you have a spare few moments at work you can track me at http://trackleaders.com/ctr and follow the race at http://www.bikepacking.net/forum/index.php/topic,920.0.html The race start 2nd August at 6.30am.

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