“I did it! Wow, we did it!” Those were the first words out of Brian Vaughan’s mouth after he pedaled across the finish line of last Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 MTB. This was his eighth-time completing the famous “Race Across the Sky,” but it was by far the most significant. That’s because last March, Brian was bound to a wheelchair with a shattered pelvis and fractured vertebrae.
2017 was going to be a big year. On top his duties as CEO of GU Energy Labs, Brian planned to tackle a big spring and summer of training and racing: a six-day stage race in New Zealand, the infamous Dirty Kanza 200, riding the Tour of California course, the Leadville 100 MTB, the Breck Epic Six-Day, Park City Point 2 Point… but a freak ski accident in late February cut those plans short.
In the weeks following his accident and eventual surgery, he didn’t know whether he’d be physically able to ride a stationary bike in six months, let alone tackle one of the hardest bike races in the country. The Leadville 100 MTB attracts a competitive field of pro racers and committed elite riders, and before February, Brian had his sights set on the elusive sub-8-hour finishing time.
But after his accident, he became committed fully to the task at hand – recovery.
He would set a new goal for himself every day: navigating in a wheelchair, crutching to the barber for a haircut, 45 minutes on an upright stationary trainer, a light ride on roads, and finally, he realized he might actually be ready to set his sights on riding 100 miles on a mountain bike above 10,000 ft. “I didn’t know if I could make it through 100 miles, I but was going to try.”
Seven and a half weeks after his surgery, Brian set up a a bike rack over his trainer, so he could pedal while supporting his torso with his arms. He rode like this for four week before graduating to the roads. To jumpstart his training, he started using a portable Hypoxico system to limit his oxygen intake, which meant he could exercise at 80% of his maximum output and gain 100% of the overall fatigue to his body.
He also worked closely with InsideTracker to monitor his biomarkers and diet to ensure he was setting his body up for a speedy recovery. He focused on getting healthy omega fatty acids, an iron supplement, a vitamin D supplement, and B vitamin supplements as well as salts, minerals, magnesium.
It was a team effort! In the predawn light on the morning of August 12, Brian was cautiously optimistic about the day. The conditions were warm and windy, and Brian crossed the line in 10 hours and 4 minutes – over two hours slower than his original goal, but his giddy excitement would have fooled you into thinking he had just broken a world record.
Patience and extreme diligence over the last six-months had paid off.
Because he would be riding at a lower intensity with the goal being to finish, he was able to incorporate more slowly digestible carbohydrates and solid foods like Energy Stroopwafels. His trick during rides like this is to eat at the top of big climbs. That way his body can digest on the long descent.
GU VP of R&D Magda Boulet waited anxiously behind the finish line for Brian. The morning after finishing the Leadville 100 MTB, he woke up with a new goal – ride all six stages of the Breck Epic, a mountain bike race also in Colorado. His challenge to himself? “Finish my remaining races with a smile on my face, meet new people on the route and, pick up some stories, and share them with my community.”
For Brian, the long-term goal is always longevity. “You get to a certain age, and you begin to count backwards. Just like in a race, you ask yourself how many more miles do I have left before the finish? For me, I want to be doing this into my mid-80s. I love the outdoors, I love the personal challenge that comes from competing in these events, I love the community and the camaraderie from like-minded goals and purpose. And that’s really the takeaway – whether it’s injury, or illness, or disease, we just want to overcome them and continue doing what we love.”
After all, we don’t call him the Chief Endurance Officer for nothing!