Art arrives in Leadville each June from Rochester, MI, to lend a hand to race organizers wherever he's needed, as well as to acquaint newbies with the course as de facto tour guide. He may get acclimatization out of the deal, but it's the general consensus that everybody else benefits even more from his volunteering spirit.
How many years have you raced Leadville? How many years have you volunteered?
I started racing Leadville in 2002 after a friend showed me his buckle. Prior to that I was racing both nationally and internationally in the Masters Expert class for my age group. I quit that kind of racing and have been concentrating on racing Leadville ever since.
I started volunteering the very first year when some other veteran riders told me that I needed to help out stuffing bags and doing other volunteer activities for Ken and Merilee. It was a way to give back to the race that I was going to compete in, and it was fun meeting and talking with many of the veteran riders whom I had come to know on the race's Yahoo! Groups bulletin board.
Tell us about your free, guided "tours" of the Leadville course.
My very first ride on parts of the course was courtesy of two older veterans who allowed me to join their pre-race training rides. I didn't know any parts of the course nor where to find some of the intersections of certain parts, like St. Kevins or Powerline or Columbine. I went to the Leadville Hostel & Inn my very first day in Leadville to try to find some riders who might be able to show me -- and boy, did they! I think my first ride was almost 60 miles of the course, and those two old geezers nearly killed me. I ran out of liquids and energy bars a long time before we ever returned to Leadville.
Because of that experience I decided to start helping other new riders who wanted to ride the course and learn the many ins and outs of how to properly, safely, and successfully ride the race .I used to lead rides out of the hostel every morning at 9 a.m. but then changed my ride start to the local bike shop, Cycles of Life. I normally divide up the course and do a different section every three to four days. The group is normally made up of veteran riders as well as rookies. It is always a no-drop ride done at a pace equal to a 11:30 to 11:45 finish time for the real race. We stop and regroup and I explain how to ride certain sections, and what to expect. Many new entrants don't know how to ride rough and rocky and steep downhill sections, so I show them by example and I also talk them through some of the very scary sections. I instruct them in proper hydration and energy ingestion, tell them what to carry with them and why, and try to mentally and physically prepare them for "digging deep.”
Why is it important to you to volunteer and to be so involved?
I firmly believe that it's better to give than to receive. God gave me a gift of great athletic ability so I somehow try to repay that by helping others. I want all the competitors to have a good and a safe race, so if the volunteer work that I do helps them in some way then I'm really getting a lot of fulfillment from that effort.
When I first met Ken and Merilee I was astonished that they tried to do so much work themselves. They really needed help to ease their workloads. I just started doing more and more for them.
What's your favorite thing about the race?
I think my favorite thing about the race is the unbelievable camaraderie that happens amongst all the veteran riders, as well as with the rookies. The race is a "take no prisoners" type of race: very hard and difficult, both physically and mentally, so it is a big challenge every year just to train hard enough and long enough to survive 104.2 miles at altitude in sometimes atrocious weather conditions.
What is your most memorable Leadville experience?
I will never forget the year that I was having a terrible race. I was dehydrated, bonking, and I was fighting the evil demons in my mind that were telling me to quit. I was cramping and totally fatigued, and then I had a mechanical right after the stream crossing at the bottom of Powerline. My chain went into my back wheel and it took me 30 minutes of backbreaking hard work to get my bike going again.
Then I suddenly had another problem: my rear brake was rubbing and almost locked up. Another rider whom I had guided on some course pre-rides came along and stopped to help me. He was in the Leadman competition and he was "on the bubble" for time, but he helped me fix my problem and we continued on up Powerline. Somewhere I passed him and unknowingly left him prior to the top of Sugarloaf, as I pressed onward for the finish line. I made it with 14 minutes to spare but my new friend was nowhere in sight. I waited for him at the finish until the shotgun blast, but he didn't make it. He came in two minutes too late!
The next day at the awards, Ken announced that since it took so long for all the riders to cross the start line he was going to add two minutes to the finish time for riders to win their buckle. So my friend earned his buckle, and he went on to finish as a true Leadman. He had almost sacrificed his goal to help another in need. I'll never forget that race. He had done what I try to do to help others.
What motivates you in the middle of the race?
Thinking about all the people back home in Michigan who expect me to finish. Seeing all the riders sitting on the side of the trail who passed me way too early and were riding too hard, unable to continue. Seeing riders in front of me (kind of like the carrot in front of the donkey) and trying to catch them. Thinking about my daughter whom I lost many years ago, and have never met. Doing the race and finishing for her so she would be proud of me.'
What advice do you have for first-timers?
Do your homework. A first-timer has to be prepared both physically and mentally to tackle this race, to put in long hours of training and read about all the things one needs to know to be prepared for any eventuality. The race is very, very difficult. The altitude and the climbing are totally responsible for the many DNFs every year. The race is all about climbing; it is impossible to make up for lost time by riding the downhills and the flats as hard as possible. Good cardiovascular conditioning and leg strength are the keys.
Many new racers don't get to experience the whole "race ambiance" of race-week and post-race activities. They try to arrive on Thursday evening before the race, or as late as early Friday morning. They don't feel and see the excitement by not being in town for a week or ten days in advance and fail to meet many of the veteran riders and rookies alike. They don't get to see and know the Leadville that us veterans know and love.