A letter from Cole Chlouber

While I might like motivation, if you were speaking with my father, race founder Ken Chlouber, he’d let you know what he thought about motivation and his thoughts would be along the lines of’ “you’d be lucky if motivation got you to that starting line, much less the finishing line.” Now while he and I might not see eye-to-eye on the semantics of this argument, let me tell you what I find motivating: YOU! I find you motivating and I use that motivation every day of my life.

You see, years before I was strapping on my running shoes for anything more than a 5k or racing my bike through Leadville’s back yard, filled to the heavens with our beautiful rocky mountains, I was powering up a four wheeler and running sweep as all of you chased your dreams, as all of you collected silver and gold in trade for your efforts involving blood sweat, tears, and oh so much more.

Having grown up with the father that I did, you could say that cowboy kept me in pretty good fighting shape as he had me chasing after and helping him with whatever task was at hand and needing tended to (thanks dad!). Though I hate to admit it, I was a tad bit cocky and I just didn’t get all of this or what it was about. Not only that, the last place I wanted to be on a Saturday was atop a four wheeler, running sweep for a bunch of maniacs wanting to run and ride for a hundred miles across the biggest and baddest peaks my dad could throw at them. No sir, I wanted to be where all the people were. Let me rephrase that, I wanted to be where all the young and fast-passed people whose fathers weren’t hosting hundred mile races were. And I was hoping for libations more fermented in nature and less florescent in color and lower in sugar than that coming from the aid station captains and their lukewarm plastic orange jugs stashed atop a bingo table in the middle of a forest.

Well, dad needed volunteers and this was not to be the case. Instead, here I sit, atop this four wheeler, on a cold, dark, damp and dreary morning ready to run it out of town, picking up the lost and wounded along the way. This particular year was 1994 and this was the first running of the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race.

BANG! The shotgun rang out into the dark morning air and off 148 bikes went gliding down the pavement toward the Leadville Junction without a clue of what to expect, me to follow. At first I was pretty frustrated to even be out there, and  I was following a rider working too hard to speak and we were only at mile three. He remained on that bike with high focus, yet here I am lost in frustration of how can he keep that thing up pedaling so slow?! I kept it to myself. I mean how could I not, what a pretentious little brat?!?! In reality, here is a guy who has trained all year (and probably more) for this epic journey he isn’t sure he can do or what it will bold but he is willing to die trying and then here I sit, the race founder’s teenage punk son who thinks he’s God’s gift to this town and has better places to be.

Okay, that sets a pretty fair stage about me, back to my rider. Somehow my mind had wondered for the past 27 miles and we were now just a few miles out from the Fish Hatchery aid station. And yep, cocky teenage me was thinking we would surely pull this guy or he will quit. Or so I thought.

We wheeled it into that aid station and my last place rider grabbed some much needed supplies and kept it going, just as he’d trained for and knew he’d have to do come race day. I, on the other hand, felt I had nothing but time on my side so I stopped. This allowed me to give the poor fella I’ve been so judgmental against a bit of breathing room, catch my own breath, fuel and get on down the road. But the funny thing is as I prepare to leave I see a guy I know on the bench in the aid station. I asked what was going on and he’d basically let me know he’d had a day of it and he quit. He was smiling, happy, looked very fresh…but he quit. The athletic athlete who was faster than I by far, fitter than I by far, and many more than I by far…had just quit.

At a loss of how to reply, I got back on my dirt eating monster of a rig and made quick work of the miles I had lost letting my last place rider find some zen via peaceful miles without the sound of me and the gas guzzling four wheeler. And zen he found! I must have had that beast near 45 the whole way across to the Fish Hatchery! I didn’t catch him. I didn’t catch him?!?! Dad isn’t going to like this one bit, I step on the gas because I am now realizing the severity of the task at hand and the shade of red my butt will be if we find my dad before I find this rider. By the time I hit the Pipeline my rider was BEYOND that aid station too (!!). The Pipeline aid station was manned by our local motorcycle club so I stopped to talk to the motorcycle guys a bit and gather any information they had on the rider but this was their first rodeo too and I wasn’t sure what info I’d get out of them. They informed me that I wasn’t too far off from the last rider. What I didn’t expect was the next thing they said was how great he looked. Excuse me…but I was thinking these motorcycle friends of ours had drank too much or bumped their head, were we talking about the same guy here?

Not only that, the motorcycle guys jokingly made reference to how much better my guy looked compared to “those five over there!” What five? I turn to see five more guys, again, like me. Fit looking, fast looking, smiling, standing around shooting the sh*t and grazing around the motorcycle club’s BBQ pit. The motorcycle guys then loaded up and headed for the finish line with the five fresh DNF’s as I hopped back on my rig to make the hour long trek across to Twin Lakes, the next aid station. And the only thing I’m thinking now is if I don’t catch him by Twin I’d better keep going because dad will be there for sure and if I don’t have this guy in sight, dad is going to have my hide! What a nail biter this was for younger me. Fortunately, roughly thirty five minutes through this hour long section I intercepted my rider (insert raise the roof celebratory hands here!).

I pull aside and offer the gentleman water and what hard candy I have in my pocket but he shakes his head, too exhausted to offer a simple no and just kept the watts flowing with constant power to pedal, stoic and steady. I tell you, this guy was really winning me over! Shamefully, five minutes ago I am hoping he misses the next cutoff so also selfishly I can have more fun riding fast on my motorized beast to catch the next victim…victim.

Well here it is. Here is the point where I realize I am the victim and here I am at a crossroads. A lesson was before me and I was going to learn this lesson whether I thought I had the time to or not. I am just opening my eyes to the fact that I am the one not getting it and we are now several hours into this ultra endurance event in which I have an athlete I shamefully started the day with a disrespect for and he is now teaching me. In fact, he is now teaching me every lesson of what my father’s words meant but that I never focused enough to hear. Sure, I hear my dad give that speech of his, I’ve heard it a million times! You know, the one that isn’t a motivational speech? In fact, my opening line in this very piece was borrowed from that very speech, “…you’d be lucky if motivation got you to that starting line.” That one? Well, while apparently those words were going in one ear and out the other, somehow they echoed through me in this moment. As I was watching this watt generator power through the miles he really starts to gain my respect. Which isn’t exactly fair because he has no knowledge of the shame I was hiding from my very ugly attitude and thoughts of what he and his day were going to look like. I hate to admit this to you, my Leadville family, I hate to admit how cocky, conceded and ignorant younger me was. I tell you this today because what I really want to express is what I have taken away and how that can possibly help you come race day.

I have crewed, paced, rode, run and run sweep in every Leadville Trail 100 event. From those experiences there is but one truth I know: YOU are my motivation, I know I get my motivation from each and every one of YOU.

I have learned my errors and from 38 years of following and watching…you. I, also, like those fast and fit souls mentioned above, think about quitting a lot. A LOT. It used to be a very melancholic battle constantly taking place in that five inch void between my ears. Today that is not the case. Today finding that line for me is actually much less trivial. I do it by reliving all of the sacrifices and moments that you left out there for me to see, I paid attention to all the lessons you provided when your races went wrong and you had to correct when correction didn’t seem possible. How you overcame every challenge in the face of adversity, a task that would have left me abandoning. I know but one truth, and that is on this #MotivationMonday, here I sit breathing in you and all of your achievements, and that’s motivation enough to get me anywhere I need to be.

 

 

Love to you all,

Cole Chlouber