Guest Blogger: What the Right Pack Means in the Leadville 100

By: Ron Smith

In the fall of 2008, I was selected in the lottery to participate in the Leadville 50 and 100 MTB race. In the previous two years, I had primarily trained and competed in the citizen’s Le Etape, one day stage race as part of the Tour de France, the LOJOTA (Logan, UT to Jackson, WY) race and the five-day Tour of Colorado. In planning for the Leadville 100 I knew I would need a much better hydration system and pack that could carry a lot of fluid, had space for parts and clothing and would ride comfortably on my back. I chose one of the original Deuter Air Race Lite packs and began to use it in early 2009.

Deuter Air Race Lite worn by the author Ron Smith

The pack was everything I needed. The unique air frame provided the comfort and ventilation that significantly increased my ability to complete the long training rides I would go on. I could go on about the performance attributes of the pack, but it was what the pack allowed me to experience and carry with me today that is the real value.

The day of the Leadville 100 race was rainy and cold. It hailed on us at the top of Columbine Mine and the temperature hovered between 85 and 90 that afternoon on the return leg. This is not a story about the success we usually seek in these types of events for it became the first event in over 25 years that I failed to finish. On the short-steep climb out of the creek crossing around mile 30 I pulled my right hamstring. It cramped. It tightened up. It made it difficult to power through my stroke. At the first support checkpoint, I switched out bladders, got a dry jersey and my son massaged my leg. I went on.


The climb up to Columbine Mine at just under 12,600 feet was agonizing. I slowed and I slowed. I screamed down the long descent to the third checkpoint minutes ahead of the safety cutoff. By this time my support crew was pretty alone on the dam crossing waiting for me. Stop or continue? I pushed on with three others. Time would not slow down and I could not speed up fast enough to make up the lost time. While on the road to climb back up what was dubbed “suicide hill” I could look behind me and see the ATBs and support truck picking up the safety cones and signage that had marked the course. “Sweeping it” as they say.

I rolled into the last checkpoint and there they were, the volunteers charged with informing us we could not continue as we had missed the safety time cut by 30 minutes. With kindness, they cut off the official entry band from my wrist and took off my bib number. Welling with emotion and crestfallen, I fell into my son’s arms and cried. In that moment, I thought I had failed.


About 45 days later, having completed a series of tests that had started just before the race, the staff at the University of Colorado neurology department confirmed an initial diagnosis that I was experiencing the adult onset of a particular type of muscular dystrophy (fascioscapulohumeral dystrophy). Its onset had probably started between three to five years prior. This explained in part the problem I had experienced with cramping and severe muscle spasm regardless of how well I trained, ate and utilized best practice recovery methods.

The bike I rode that day at the Leadville 100 is gone, replaced with another. The jersey and bike bib wore out and are gone. The shoes are gone. My Deuter Air Race Lite remains. It hangs just inside my closet. It is a reminder, a touchpoint every time I see it and wear it that committing to a journey does not guarantee the outcome one may envision. I look back now and can embrace that I did not cross the finish line. I may not have made the finish line as I had hoped and visualized, but I did finish an amazing journey to be out on the course giving it my best.

Check out my new blog about my outdoor adventures: The Digital Outdoorsman

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