Local cancer survivor takes on Leadville 100

Jim Van Ness sets sub-12-hour time

Four years ago Crested Butte resident Jim Van Ness had a 50/50 chance of surviving throat cancer. Five days ago, the 61-year-old finished the Leadville 100 bike race in a time of 11 hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds, earning him a silver belt buckle to commemorate his accomplishment.
Van Ness recalls the day that changed his life.
“I just woke up one morning with this big bulge on the side of my neck,” says Van Ness. “That was a real trip.”
A biopsy showed that it was cancerous, so he entered into treatment. Fortunately for Van Ness, years of triathlons as well as road biking and mountain biking in Illinois had him in great health heading in and helped him out in the end.
Prior to cancer Van Ness was putting in 70- to 90-mile rides on his road bike without hesitation. He returned to his bike before the treatments were done and recalls his first ride.
“I had five treatments left and was watching the Tour [de France] and I couldn’t take it,” says Van Ness. “I got out three-quarters of a mile and was pretty tired. I could hardly make it home.”
Eventually, Van Ness moved to Crested Butte permanently, returned to biking form and started riding the trails and roads of the Gunnison Valley. In addition he jumped back into the competitive world, racing in the Rage in the Sage, the NORBA series race here, and the Iron Horse Classic in Durango.
“I continued to be enthusiastic about biking,” says Van Ness.
Then, Christmas of last year, he made the decision to throw his name into the lottery for the Leadville 100, chalking up the decision to “one too many glasses of red wine.”
His name was picked and it was time to start training even harder.
“It was quite a goal,” says Van Ness. “I’ve ridden a mountain bike for eight hours but never for 11 and never with that much climbing.”
His training regimen consisted, in part, of riding up to Paradise Divide and back down three times. Then to get a more accurate feel for what he would experience in Leadville, he would throw in an additional climb and descent nearby.
“I wanted to ride the loose stuff so I’d come back down and ride up Gunsight Pass,” says Van Ness. “That really paid off.”
In addition, Van Ness threw in some interval work that he pulled from Lance Armstrong’s trainer, Chris Carmichael.
Saturday, August 15 he lined up for the Leadville 100 with one simple goal in mind. “I just wanted to get in under the time limit and do as well as I could,” says Van Ness.
Due to his cancer treatment though, Van Ness lost the use of his salivary glands, so water was a big issue, both for hydration and to help wash food down.
“You can’t even eat soup without water,” says Van Ness.
Furthermore, due to a couple of bad shoulders, including a torn rotator cuff on race day, Van Ness had to wear a motocross chest protector with shoulder pads to help hold his Camelbak in place.
“It makes it a challenge but you cope with it,” says Van Ness. “You get used to it. You go with the flow.”
In the end, the training paid off and he finished well within the time limit, although he believes he could have finished even faster but he had to keep taking in water, which, ultimately, leads to more breaks.
“I probably had to drink twice as much water,” says Van Ness. “I probably could have finished 15 minutes faster.”
As for next year’s Leadville 100?
“The next day I felt fine, not that I wanted to do it again the next day,” admits Van Ness. “We’ll see how the body feels over the next couple of months.”

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