There's no shame in walking your bike uphill at the turnaround of the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race.
At nearly 12,600 feet, the turnaround is the Columbine Mine, which is preceded by a steep climb.
"The higher I went, I felt like I was riding on flat tires with the brakes dragging," said Steve Martinson, one of three Craig residents to participate in America's highest 100-mile mountain bike race.
"Almost everyone was off the bike," Martinson said. "I would be surprised if anybody, even the pros, made the whole section without walking."
Martinson was joined by Craig Mortensen and Tim Paschke for Saturday's race. Martinson and Mortensen are educators in the Moffat County School District and Paschke retired from teaching a year ago. Mortensen completed the race last year and Martinson and Paschke decided to give it a try this year.
More than 750 riders competed in the event, making the early going difficult.
"You're pretty much at the speed of the pack for that first mountain," Mortensen said. "You're maneuvering and at the mercy of the speed of the riders around you. Once you climb over that first pass, you get some separation there, but you're never alone."
The race features three climbs. Starting from downtown Leadville, riders went over St. Kevin's Mine, then came down and went around Turquoise Lake to Hagerman Pass and Sugarloaf Mountain. From there the trail flattened out headed south to Twin Lakes. Then there's the big climb to the turnaround. It's 50 miles in each direction.
Mortensen and Martinson said they spent much of the summer preparing for the race. Martinson even spent a weekend riding over certain sections of the trail. But there's a big difference in tackling one section at a time when you're fresh, and trying to climb a hill with 40 miles behind you, he said.
Of the three, Martinson finished with the best time, 9 hours and 34 minutes. He had hoped to crack the nine-hour barrier. Mortensen, 53, finished in 10 hours and 50 minutes. Paschke completed the race, but not within the required 12-hour time limit.
"I'm much more of a road biker than a mountain biker," Paschke, 57, said. "Before this race I had about five hours total on my mountain bike this summer, but probably 2,500 hours on the road bike, so I didn't prepare like I should have."
After finishing the grueling endurance test, Paschke unequivocally prefers road racing.
"Yes, I do," he chuckled. "At least at the speed you have to go to be competitive.
None of the Craig riders ruled out a return trip to Leadville. But none said they were ready to commit.
"Let's talk about in a month," Mortensen said. "It's a grueling thing ... I guess that's why we do it -- for the challenge. At least, that's why I do it."