Back in 2004, Ken Chlouber had a plan to expand the Leadville Race Series from…
Face of the Race: Bill and Beth Steen
This father-daughter duo has been on their Leadville journey for seven years, reminding each other to hydrate, eat watermelon, keep pedaling – and to never forget how meaningful it is to cross that finish line.
How many years have you raced Leadville together? Have you ever missed a year?
Bill: 2014 will be our seventh year in a row, no misses. We each have five finishes under 12 hours, with one DNF each.
Beth: Wow, I can’t believe it’s our seventh year at this crazy adventure! I would say when we first started I wouldn’t have wanted to repeat it… but then the family draw of this particular summer week in Colorado is not to be missed if we can possibly help it. Even if I wanted to go out and seek a new adventure for my August vacation, what fun would it be without my Dad along and my uncles and cousin who also race Leadville? Family just becomes too important the older we get.
My DNF year was my first attempt at this tomfoolery. I was so new to mountain biking that I was walking the downhills. Eek, we’ve come a long way baby!
Why is it important to you to do this event together? What have you learned about each other?
Bill: We have been racing together for 22 years, starting when Beth was 12, when we raced a local 5K together, the YMCA Sleigh Bell Run in Lafayette, IN.
I’ve learned that Beth is tough and willing to suffer. In high school during the winters, we’d get up every morning at 4:05 to run in the snow and ice, in and around the Purdue campus. She’d never complain. In those early years, I made it a point to never “let” her win. When we would run together, I always kept my shoulder in front of hers and never let it be easy for her. She would get mad sometimes, but she kept getting stronger and faster. Now the tables are turned. She never lets it be easy on me. She makes me work awfully hard just to stay close to her.
Beth: Family time just makes this the ultimate thing to do together. How cool is it to help my Dad to continue meeting such large goals? I mean 61 years old and he’s still trying to attack me out on any course we ride, and if he can beat me, he will do it. No mercy even from my ol’ Dad.
I’ve learned that my Dad is relentless at working towards his goals, always striving to improve, and he will always do more than what should be humanly possible if he thinks it will help him improve.
He’s also given me tons of passion for the fun things in life. He has illustrated to the nth degree how much greater life can be when following your passions. Starting when I was in junior high, we would go to Hawaii for his Ironman triathlon days. Now that he can’t run because of his recent knee replacement, we are full-on into biking. Mountain biking in particular affords such great adventures, explorations and new challenges for both of us! And beyond that it has turned into a new adventure that we are able to share, making it so valuable in my life.
Tell us a bit about your mountain biking history — Did one of you get the other into mountain biking?
Bill: We both started as runners, then converted to triathletes. I slowly converted to mountain biking when I moved to Phoenix in 2001 as I transitioned out of triathlons due to knee pain when running. It was only natural that we got Beth a mountain bike when she also moved to Phoenix in 2003. In 2007, I had an interest in the Leadville Trail 100. My brother-in-law, Andy Combs, had competed several years and since my triathlons had come to a halt, I needed another challenge. I discovered that the LT100 was filled, so Andy invited me to join him for the Leadville Silver Rush 50. I’ve been addicted ever since. In 2008, Beth and I entered the lottery and we started our current Leadville journey.
Beth: I remember that fateful purchase of my first mountain bike. I know I only got into it to follow my Dad on his next adventure.
I remember my uncles talking about this absolutely crazy thing: 100 miles of mountain biking. I knew I had to rally and so in 2008 we decided to join my other two uncles, Bill and Andy, as they have been doing Leadville since the early, early days. So we had a team of my three uncles: Bill, Andy, Dave, my dad and I. And since then my younger cousin Blair has also joined his crazy relatives.
I guess our family just can’t take a vacation without some adventure or goal in mind.
What other adventures do you like to do together?
Bill: Beth has unlimited interests and participates in numerous adventures, but when we are together, it’s generally biking and some swimming.
Beth: The cool thing about my Dad is that no matter what it is, he will never turn down an invitation to do something active, outdoorsy, or fun…as long as its done by 9:00 p.m. (bedtime).
Like he said, we love to swim, mountain bike, sometimes hike – but usually that’s too slow for him unless he’s training for the upper portion of Columbine.
Do you have any Leadville traditions that you do every year?
Bill: We always do our first Leadville pre-ride up St. Kevins. Our first year, my brother-in-law, Andy Combs, got us involved in the volunteering by doing medical check-in and since then, we love to volunteer pre-race day. Also, we usually have at least one cookout/dinner at our condo for any friends who may be visiting or racing Leadville.
Beth: My favorite Leadville traditions have become showing people around, helping them get the lay of the land. My Dad and uncles know so much of the finer details of the course that we are always leading our friends from Phoenix, my friends from Seattle and new friends out on the Leadville trails. It’s truly special to be able to share with others.
And mid-week of race prep – it’s always so much fun to sign up to help with check-in and other various race events. Some of the entrants are the same, some are new, but it’s so much fun to meet the faces behind what is such a special day for all of us. You will find everyone is toeing the line for different reasons. And there are a lot of incredibly talented, courageous and inspiring people to meet in Leadville.
Also, like my dad said – and as any biker will tell you – eating is every bit as important as riding the trails. I love all the potlucks and BBQ’s we do with our friends, family and Leadville newbies.
You live in different cities (Bill in Phoenix and Beth in Seattle), but are you able to find opportunities to train together? How do you keep each other motivated during the training process?
Bill: Beth keeps a bike in Phoenix. She was here in December and we raced Dawn to Dusk together, then was back in January and March for some fun three-day weekends of riding together. She may be back again in May for several days of training in Flagstaff with my Team Vitesse mates. Otherwise, we keep up with each other’s preparation for the big day through calls and texts.
Beth: We do live in different cities, and after I had been gone in Seattle for a year, I knew it was important to make quick trips back just to see my Dad because I missed how much fun he can be to hang out with – and because you need added vitamin D when you live in the Pacific Northwest!
He motivates me just by being his crazy, normal self. This year he is going for a record on his team: how many times can he climb up to the South Mountain towers in a year? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a lot!
Do you have a most memorable year at Leadville or most memorable moment out on the course? What about the most challenging?
Bill: Every year is challenging. The most memorable is a tie between the last two years. Each of the last two years, Beth, me, and (notice the theme) my brother-in-law Andy have crossed the finish line together. This past year was an extra special year. Beth and I had started in the same corral next to each other. As usual, she beat me up St. Kevins. We went back and forth passing each other every couple miles for about 20 miles, when it just seemed to fall into place that we were in fact riding together. For the balance of the race, we stayed near each other and then met with Andy at the Twin Lakes aid station, from which point we all three rode together and crossed the line side by side. I will never forget that day.
The other reason last year was so special to me is that race day was one day shy of eight months after having had a total knee replacement. From the moment I awoke from surgery until race day, virtually every moment was filled with either doing something to get ready for race day or thinking about what I could do next, to get ready for race day. It was an eight-month-long struggle and an incredible challenge. It wasn’t until two weeks before the race that I completed my long-ride goal and finally felt that I was ready.
Beth: I think my dad answered this one the best. He’s right that the last two years have been incredibly amazing. Crossing the line together… I can’t imagine a better moment, alongside your best bud when everything hurts so bad/good, you feel like throwing up, and sometimes you just want to stand on the side of Powerline for half an hour but you know you really can’t and you are with someone whom you also want to help to the finish line.
I think the coolest part is that you know over the course of such a long day, it can’t be any more meaningful knowing someone’s really got your back. We are there to remind each other to eat that watermelon, keep drinking water, and just to keep pedaling because the finish line only comes if you keep going. We do commit, just as Ken Chlouber urges us to do every year. It’s the real deal. And Dave Wiens has offered such a humble perspective over the years. I never forget how meaningful a finish is.
What is the most important thing or piece of advice you’ve learned through the years that you would share with rookies?
Bill: Beth has the best advice of all: “The race starts at mile 80 at the bottom of Powerline on the way back.”
Beth: Some nuggets I would share for race day: eat early and often and eat what sounds good. You will probably be nauseated so just try and get through. The Cascade Cream Puff 100 race organizer said someone once did that whole race on only watermelon. Melon with salt at the aid station at mile 90 is my favorite thing ever.
And yes, the race truly starts at the 80-mile mark. Many people get to 80 without even being that tired or in much pain, but look out – you will be watching every minute tick off as the miles creep by and you get oh-so-much closer to that 12-hour goal (except for the nine-hour folks, who are dealing with an entirely different set of issues I truly can’t even imagine).
Tell us a little more about the volunteering you do each year.
Bill: We started volunteering at the suggestion of my brother-in-law Andy Combs. Since that first year, it’s just part of our week. We enjoy seeing some of the same people every year and also hearing new stories and making new friends.
Beth: I would say to new people that one of the most fun ways to add to your Leadville experience is volunteering. This is a time when you can meet and learn more about some of the trademark features that truly go into making it that special event that keeps drawing so many of us back, or being a one-time goal that a person can cherish and remember the rest of his or her life.
Yep, and I have to say we have always volunteered because of my uncle, Andy, spurring us on to do so. You have to admit every time you help out you feel like you are making it less about yourself and more about the entire journey for us all.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Bill: My current goal is to achieve 10 finishes in less than 12 hours. Assuming I can finish the next five in a row, I would then be 66 years old. One of my friends asked me what I plan to do after finishing 10 and my reply was to, “replace my other knee and go for 10 more”.
Beth: I have to just say thanks to my crazy family for coming up with this silly way that we all enjoy spending time together.
And I also have to acknowledge all those who have come before us all, making one day on our calendar such a special day and something we can share with friends and family alike. Everyone can be inspired by all the work, tears and joy that go into each journey.
I personally am on a path to do this race as many times as my Dad still wants to, and I would certainly be proud if I could ever make 10 finishes. Wow…