Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It went like this...

I'm sorry for the delay in posting the story of Ibrahim's participation in the Leadville Trail 100.

At 6:28 AM, Saturday August 11, 2005, Ibrahim and I lined up at the start of the big race alongside over 1000 entrants, including TDF champion Floyd Landis and 5 time Leadville Trail 100 champion Dave Weins. We were checked in just a few minutes prior to the start. A shotgun blast signaled the start of the race and the crowd of bikers were lead by a police escort down the roads leading to the trail head.

Ibrahim immediately made his way through the pack of excited riders and was among the top 1/4 heading onto the steep climb at the beginning of the trail. I kept a moderate pace and made my way up the steady climb knowing that Ibrahim was up ahead. About halfway through the climb I saw Ibrahim on the side of the course with a few other riders. I called out his name and asked him if he was okay. He signaled that all was well. I would discover later that he was making an adjustment to his prosthetic leg.

I finished the climb, descended the long road section around the lake and made my way up the second climb. I continued forward thinking that Ibrahim wasn't far behind. At the top of the second climb, I hit the downhill section known as the Powerline. It's a steep dusty descent filled with deep ruts and occasional rocky sections. Several bikers were off to the side of the trail repairing flats. I learned later that on this descent Ibrahim crashed into another rider in front of him who lost control of his bike. The crash resulted in a broken chain. He came out of the crash with a few scratches, dusted himself off and quickly repaired his chain.

I approached the first aid station twenty five miles into the the race. Our host and race crew support Kevin Minard was waiting with tools, and race fuel. I stopped after spotting Ibrahim's Kenyan flag which marked out support location. I pulled over to reload on hydration fuel and powerbars. Ibrahim came in a minute later. He nearly blew past us without stopping until I yelled out his name. I asked him how he was doing. "Good!" Was all he replied before he jumped off the bike and began making adjustments to his brakes. We were both making good time and I took off knowing that Ibrahim would soon catch me.

10 minutes later, I was riding with a small group as when we began to make our way down yet another steep and treacherous descent. We were warned to slow down along the way by a woman who told us that a rider was down. As I reached the bottom of the decent, I saw a huge helicopter and a medical crew around a crumpled rider who was being lifted onto a stretcher. It was a reminder of how dangerous the event could be.

About 10 miles later I approached the second aid station at the Twin Lakes dam and rode through it without stopping. There were hundreds of race spectators and support crews lined up alongside the dam road. They cheered as riders came through and it provided inspiration and a burst of energy. After passing through the aid section, I saw race leaders Floyd Landis and Dave Weins flying past me in the other direction. They had already completed the monstrous climb to the 12,600 foot peak and were headed back into town. These guys were sprinting through the entire length of the course and incredible speeds. I heard the crowds cheer as they passed through the aid section.

A few minutes later I heard this tremendous roar from the crowd. I must have been about a half a mile from the crowd as I heard the thunderous applause. I knew who had garnered the cheers and a huge smile spread across my face as I began to climb yet again. It was Ibrahim making his way through the aid station and hundred of spectators so he wasn't far behind.

Around 40 miles into the race, I began to make my way up the 10 mile climb to Columbine Mine. It started as a winding dirt road that zigzagged up the mountain. I was beginning to feel the first signs of fatigue and decided to walk a bit to give my legs a break. On this climb I walked nearly as fast as I was pedaling which is to say I was pedaling up the climb at meager 3 miles an hour. About a fourth of the way up the climb, Ibrahim spun past me. I called out his name and cheered him on. He showed no signs of fatigue as he powered up the climb. The sight helped me work through my own fatigue and I started to pedal again.

About a mile later, I saw Ibrahim on the side of the road working on his bike which was flipped over. My heart began to sank. I stopped beside him and saw that his chain was snapped. He was hastily trying to mend the chain with the tools he had. The link he was trying to repair was beginning to twist. I had him slow down and repair the piece more carefully. He succeeded and flipped his bike over and was ready to take off. "Are you okay?" He asked. "I go?"

"Yes, I'm fine." I replied, "Go ahead. I'll be fine." He was off and headed up the road. I watched him turn the corner and pedal out of sight. I continued with my own struggle up the long climb and thought to myself that Ibrahim looked good but wondered if the chain would hold up after the less than ideal repair effort. Neither of us carried extra chain links and the chain had to be shortened to be repaired. The shortened chain would add stress to the other components on his bike.

About half way through the climb, I could see the timberline. It's the point of the mountain where it so elevated that trees cannot grow and the landscape suddenly becomes barren. The dirt road became narrower, ascended in steeper pitches and became more challenging as loose rocks and ruts filled the path. Riders up ahead appeared as specs in the far distance. There were still over a few thousand more feet to climb. Riders who had already made their way to the top were nervously navigating their return to the bottom. Many, in the midst of their own exhaustion, gave words of support. "Keeping going, You're almost there!" Other tired riders had quit the race and were resting along the side of the path or returning without having completed the climb.

Ibrahim could be seen up ahead. He was walking his bike for the first time on the course. I began to reach him as he tested his prosthetic leg extensively in an unprecedented effort over the last few miles of the climb. I got within a few feet of him and he looked back and smiled. "How are you? You feel okay?" He knew I was tired. "Not easy, eh?" As soon as the path flattened out a bit, he jumped back on this bike and road off again. This time I was determined to stay close to him and pedaled a few hundred meters behind. I could finally see the turn around section at the top of the climb and just a few hundred feet higher.

I made it to the turnaround point about a minute behind Ibrahim. We had both run out of fluids and were getting out backpacks and water bottles filled. One of the assistants informed us that we could make the cut off time at the bottom of the mountain if we left shortly. We had about 30 minutes to make the ten mile descent. We'd be cutting it close but there would be enough time if we avoided any accidents on the way down.

Relieved to have survived the climb, we left together and started down the mountain. Ibrahim was speeding ahead of me eager to make good time on the descent. Only 200 yards into our decent, Ibrahim's chain broke fatefully for the third time. He took about 15 minutes to replace it . I watched and advised on the repair. I knew the break was indicative of something wrong with Ibrahim's bike and worried about the cut off time as we continued along the path. After cautiously riding through the harsher sections of trail, Ibrahim picked up speed and flew down the dirt road back down to the twin lakes damn.

We approached the support area at Twin Lakes Damn and Ibrahim began to power down the road anxious to head back into town. Once there, we were flagged down and informed that we had not made the cut off time. We were told that if we were allowed to continue, there was virtually no chance that we could make the 12 hour time limit for the race. We had traveled over 60 miles with the major climb behind us and two more significant climbs ahead.

Ibrahim pleaded with the race officials to let him continue. " I feel good. I know I can finish. It's not a problem. I only had a problem with my bike." The race officials apologized but could not let him continue. The private road along the twin lakes dam had already been closed. Devastated, Ibrahim sunk to his knees and cried in disappointment as he understood that under no circumstances would he be allowed to finish.

After 8 hours of riding, our race was over. We had to respect the officials reasons for sticking to the cut off times. They wanted to account for everyone of the thousand plus riders who attempted the course and leave no one stranded on the course in darkness. Ibrahim was silent as we returned to Camp Minard in Dillon.

The next morning Ibrahim awoke in better spirits. He told me that he wanted to return to Leadville and attend the awards ceremony. I thought it would be a good idea and felt that he would be warmly received and recognized among the mountain bikers for his inspiring efforts. We set out immediately to catch the early morning ceremony and Ibrahim talked to me about how happy he was to have the experience of racing on the course and completing that long climb.

As we walked towards the small Leadville gymnasium many mountain bikers recognized Ibrahim and asked him about his race. I know that it must have hurt him to tell the curious riders about his problems with the bike chain and not making the cut off time. We entered the packed gym as riders who completed the course were receiving their prestigious Leadville Trail 100 Belt buckles. Ibrahim found a chair near the front of the gym and was immediately called upon by race director Ken Choulber. The crowd of mountainbikers rose to their feet and applauded Ibrahim as he was introduced. It was great moment for Ibrahim.

Ibrahim hopes to return to Leadville and make another attempt at finishing the course. He feels confident that he'll be able to complete the course in good time after a year of training and better luck. After riding with him on the course, I know it's a remarkable achievement he will be able to reach if things come together for him.

We are both happy to have made the attempt at completing the Leadville trail 100 MTB race and found an incredible amount of encouragement from fellow cyclists while training and racing in Colorado. The journey has been truly rewarding. Ibrahim's efforts at Leadville has inspired thousands and has greatly increased his exposure among passionate road cyclists and mountainbikers.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Calm before the Storm

There are three days remaining until The Leadville Trail 100. With all the serious training behind us and the stress of getting to Leadville long past, it's time to make our final preparations. We spent much of the week resting. It rained quite heavily in this area so we didn't have much of a choice. We're loaded up on power bars, gels, goos, electrolytes and whatever else comes in slime green that is supposed to help us stay energized. We're fine tunning our bikes and packing tools and gadgets. (Riders are required to make their own bike needed repairs on the trail.) I took the above picture of Lake Dillon the other day after the last rain storm. Ibrahim and I went for a light spin in the evening and for once enjoyed the sights.

With the forecast looking good for the next three days, the next storm we anticipate involves over 700 mountain bikers, their support teams, the media and hundreds of spectators descending upon the small town of Leadville. We're about as ready as we can be but can't imagine the madness we're about to embrace.

I think the frenzy of activity is going to motivate Ibrahim into that mode of being that elite athletes reach before participating in major events. I've seen it before. Ibrahim thrives on the excitement and longs to be singled out for his abilities and achievement. He's confident with all the work that's he's put into this. The three day a week three hour physical therapy sessions with Glen Thomas at Georgetown, the long and exhausting group rides in Maryland and Virginia with the Potomac Pedalers and the Lot 7 crew, and the rides at altitude in Summit County have prepared Ibrahim to make the most out of this opportunity.

We drive to Leadville this evening. I'm not sure about my access to the internet while I'm there so this could be my last post before the race. I want to repeat my thanks to all who have helped us along the way! You know who you are! If I get the chance, I'll post once more before the race. If I find out about any televised media coverage, I'll post it. Oh... Check the Friday edition of the Summit Daily News for another press write up.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Media Coverage

Brian Metzler's story on Ibrahim's participation in the Leadville Trail 100 was published in the Rocky Mountain News. Check it out. Also, the September issue of Men's Fitness Magazine should include a write up on Ibrahim so look for it to be released this month on the news stands!

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Willingness to Suffer

Yesterday, I woke up to find a note on my laptop from Ibrahim that read..." Legstrong riding for the mountain with one leg. 80 mile today. Life insurance with God."

I peered outside the balcony window to see mountains shrouded in clouds and the driving rain soaking everything in sight. Ibrahim was out there somewhere riding back country trails and dirt road mountain passes. I started to consider the worst and wondered when it would be appropriate to dial the local rescue authorities. I had no idea of the direction he chose. He could have taken any number of slick and treacherous trails leading deep into the wilderness. I thought of his often questionable sense of direction and concluded that if he didn't make it back before nightfall, I'd get the process underway for the missing Kenyan search. He picked a fine day for an epic training ride.

The hours passed while I remained inside the Minard House where it was warm and dry. My thoughts wandered. Would it all come to an end on this dreary day? With the Minards out of town, all was quiet except for the rhythm of steady raindrops falling on the back deck. I reread the cryptic note "Life Insurance with God." He knew I would be worried. "One Leg." He spoke of training without his prosthesis because he thought it was slowing him down on the steep technical climbs. Did he strap is to his back? Would it fly off into the woods while he was bombing down one of those endless fire road decscents?

I thought of our ride the day before. We rode a tricky section of trail that was covered with wet rocks and roots. I chose to walk over a particularly nasty area and stepped aside as Ibrahim came through. I watched with skepticism as he switched into high gear and spun his legs wildly before slamming into rock. His prosthetic foot popped out of his pedal and the rest of the leg swung free. He pulled up against his handle bars and cruised over the top of the rock into gnarled roots strewn across the path. He continued pedaling with his left leg while his prosthetic leg hung off to the side. He cleared the roots and continued over a narrow wooden bridge as I stood in awe. Thinking back on that episode, I remembered that he'd been mountain biking for 15 years without the extra leg and I could see why he felt confident without it.

Okay...So he's one tough character and I sometimes forget exactly how tough he had to be to overcome what he has. But anyone could get lost out in a mountain range and it could take days to find someone who was injured. I had a right to be worried.

Finally, around 5 o'clock, the doorbell rang. Standing outside was Ibrahim, silent, slow moving and soaked to the bone. I opened the garage door and he hoped in alongside his muddy bike. There was no sign of his prosthetic leg. I handed him a towel and asked no questions. I knew he would need some time before he could tell me about his ride. I was relieved he was back but wondered to myself what kind of madman I had on my hands!

Ibrahim had ridden 80 miles altogether. He rode two laps around Dillon Lake which included two long climbs up Swan Mountain Road. He climbed the long road that led to race course we rode on Wednesday and rode the entire length of the course. He climbed Ski Hill road which led to the technical Peak Trail that we covered the day before. He road that trail as well. He did it all on one leg. He told me he was able to clear steep technical sections without having to walk because he could generate a higher cadence without his weaker leg slowing him down.

"100 miles not easy" he repeated to me in a soft but serious tone. He had that 10 mile stare that conveyed his deep understanding of the immense effort that awaited us. He covered the 80 mile route in a little over 8 hours. After that ride, he is ready to tapper down his training in preparation for the race. If he can recover fully from yesterday's effort in time for Saturday, he's not only going to finish with a respectable time, he's going to leave one hell of an impression.

I have to wonder, are Lance and Floyd hurting themselves like Ibrahim is for the Leadville 100? With so much focus on these former TDF winners, the endurance mountain bike racing scene may be in for quite a surprise.

Friday, August 3, 2007


One of the most important aspects of preparing for competition involves muscle recovery. The day after the Wednesday evening race, it rained off an on so it was the perfect day to rest. We met with Brian Metzler from the Rocky Mountain News for an article on Ibrahim to be published next week.

Brian asked Ibrahim what his reasons are for racing the Leadville 100.

Ibrahim told him, "I came to Colorado to race Leadville because no other disabled person has attempted to race here. I want to raise awareness of people with disabilities around the world. I want to be the first person from Africa to race in Leadville. I also want to meet Lance Armstrong and create a bond between cycling in America and cycling in Africa."

Okay...so what's a recovery day without some form of competitive spirit? After the interview, we tried our hand at another sport. Don't let the smile for you, Ibrahim is a take no prisoners kind of miniature golfer.

Wednesday Night Racing

So what better way is there to train for a race in the mountains, than to race in the mountains? That's what we did last Wednesday evening in the local Breckenridge Race Series promoted by Maverick Sports.

The course was a short 15 mile course but to get to the starting line, you have to climb 3 miles up a paved road. The perfect warm up right? The course begins with more climbing on dirt roads towards even more climbing on singletrack trails. Noticing a recurrent theme here? The strategy was to not to blow up at the beginning of the race while attempting to sprint with the highlanders! In the middle of the course there is a very steep and technical 2 mile climb called the grind. It's similar to the monster climb near the 50 mile mark on the Leadville course

Ibrahim said he would ride conservatively to avoid becoming injured on the heart pounding descents. After the race, Ibrahim was happy to be recognized for his efforts by the event coordinator at a race afterparty held for all contestants. We met some of the sports future champions. These kids are fast. At only 12 years of age, they are already racing against expert men and beating many of them!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Altitude training

At 10,152 feet above sea level, the town of Leadville, Co. is the highest incorporated town in the U.S. Ken Chlouber, creator of the Leadville 100, decided to host running and mountain bike races there to bring exposure to a place that was once a great mining town. Though mining operations have been in decline for some time, the town of Leadville is very much alive.

Ibrahim and I got our first taste of the Leadville course on July 24. See course profile above! Lead by trusty trail guide Jason (in white) we completed 42 miles of the course and biked up two of the major climbs. It doesn't take much to get winded at 10,000+ feet. We climbed nice and easy and took plenty of breaks.

While we were training, we met local biker Casey (in green) who told us he had heard about Ibrahim and offered us room at his house during the weekend of the race. Casey finished the Leadville 100 in under 9 hours on his first attempt! I don't think we'll be trying to keep up with him during the race! After the forty mile effort, we were pretty exhausted as it was our first intense effort at altitude. Ibrahim's goal is to finish under 10 hours. I'll be happy if I can make it under 12!

"Woah! This Leadville course is not easy." - Ibrahim Wafula

Humbled but not discouraged! We'll be ready by August 11.

It takes about 3 weeks for the average athlete to acclimate to high altitude. We dehydrate faster at altitude so we've been drinking more electrolyte enhanced fluids. Recovery is slower. We've added more easy rides with light spinning. We've also been eating more spinach for more iron intake. More iron means more red blood cell mass which results in more oxygen being delivered to hard working muscles!