Q&A: Lachlan Morton on completing the Colorado Trail
Last week, EF Education First rider Lachlan Morton completed a so-called independent time trial of the Colorado Trail. He finished the epic backcountry route in 3 days and 22 hours, just two hours shy of the current record set by Jesse Jakomait in 2015.
For the uninitiated, the CT comprises 567 miles of trail between Denver and Durango, passing through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Colorado Rockies. Total climbing is around 90,000 vertical feet, and the average elevation of is 10,300 feet, topping out at 13,271 feet. We gave Morton a few days to recover, then asked him about his experience.
VeloNews: Before you left for Durango you said you’d been dreaming about the CT every night for a month. Are you still dreaming about it? How are the dreams and thoughts different after having done it?
Lachlan Morton: I kept having a dream I’d fallen asleep with 100km to go for a few nights after. But now they’re all done. I feel I’ve put it to bed for now.
VN: How do you feel physically? Mentally? Is it hard to come back to the ‘real world’ after something like this?
LM: Physically I was more broken than ever before. It took me a few days before I could walk normally. My feet and hands took a real pounding. I still don’t have feeling in my right hand. I kept busy the next few days with some of my best friends and to be honest, I was too tired to have the normal strange adjustment back to the real world. I was happy to be home with my family more than anything.
VN: Speaking of the real world, what’s it like coming back from the CT versus say a huge race like the Tour of Utah? Are the effects of one more lasting than the other?
LM: Coming back from something like CT is totally different then a stage race. A stage race you become so used to the same routine day in day out. It’s weird to come home and have no schedule. During an ultra-race your brain is working overtime thinking of the route, food, water, charging things, time calculations, concentrating on the trail, all while trying to overcome the enormous physical hardships. It’s hard to switch off from feeling like you have something to do. Also adjusting to having people around is weird initially. I find I have such a huge amount of gratitude to things I normally take for granted after something like this.
VN: You finished just shy of record. When you decided to do the CT, was this record on your mind? And while riding, were you always aware of your position relative to Jakomait’s time?
LM: Not really. I honestly didn’t think I’d be close. I have a lot of respect for the guys and girls who race this thing. It’s real mountain biking and the consequences of getting something wrong out there are very real. I tried to cover ground fast because that’s how I have fun. It was only when I woke up the last day that I realized I could be close. How they do it on so little sleep is incredible, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh if I slept less…’ But that is a skill in itself. I learned a lot and one day I’ll go back and try and find those two hours.
VN: Whatever your intention was when you started the CT, did it change as you made your way toward Denver? If so, how?
LM: My intention was to raise money for the Starlight Children’s Foundation and overcome my own fears. I did that. The further I got into the trail it became about overcoming physical pain. I’d never been in so much pain, every bump hurt. Once I managed that on the final day I got into the beautiful headspace where nothing else mattered. I was right where I needed to be physically and my whole life had brought me to that moment. That’s what I love most about these extreme adventures, chasing and finally reaching that moment.
VN: How did your training and general cycling background serve you? And how did it make no difference at all?
LM: I like to ride long, but there was a lot of technical stuff that pushed me to be better during the ride. I’d like to have done some more night riding on trail, as that’s a whole new ballgame. Just a little sleep deprived and the trail comes alive with all sorts of crazy shit you know isn’t really there. This event is as much technical and experience as it is physical ability. That’s what makes me proud of what I did. My determination to get it done overrode my inexperience but it was a fine and potentially dangerous line the flirt with.
VN: The CT is known to demoralize riders in more ways than one. The weather, sleeping outside, not sleeping, endless hike-a-bikes, junk food resupply. What if anything threatened to send you packing home? And how did you overcome it?
LM: The first night I hadn’t planned where I’d sleep. That nearly brought me undone. I was stuck at close to 4000 meters for a long time, hoping to get lower where it would be warmer so I could sleep. I didn’t know where that would be. In the end I had to bunk down at 3600 meters and put on all my clothes to stay warm. I was very sure to have enough food. The hike-a-bike sections are tough mentally but allow you to soak in the beauty of the trail without focusing on where your front tire is. I’d say my lack of knowledge of the trail and its many sections is what brought me undone most. Knowing if 100km is going to take 12 hours or 5 is important. I also think your ego is the most dangerous thing out there. You have to realize that you are at the mercy of the trail and Mother Nature. They are so much more powerful than the idea of what you think you should be capable of. Once you let go of preconceived ideas it’s a lot easier. If you’re walking, enjoy it, if you’re ripping, that’s great, too. But just know you’ll be walking again soon. It’s not a choice.
VN: Many riders who race the CT choose not to sleep very much. Why did you decide to sleep as much as you did? How did you decide to sleep indoors two nights?
LM: I’d done the sleep deprivation thing in GBDuro and honestly I coped fine. On the CT the consequences of getting something wrong with a crash or lapse in concentration are big. I didn’t feel I had the experience to take that on as a first timer. The extra sleep also helped me feel fresh and enjoy the experience a lot more. I slept out the first night for 2 hours but got woken up by what I thought was a bear. It was a cow I realized after I packed up. So I would’ve slept longer there. I was hallucinating pretty bad the last 50km before Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Trouble with my lights was also becoming a real issue. I got in there just before 11 p.m. and knew I needed a big sleep. I jumped at the opportunity of a bed. After 8 hours of sleep I felt brand new, so I decided right then I’d do the same thing the next night. I was able to ride a lot faster and with a big smile on my face. It was the riding at night that was doing my head in so I tried to minimize that as much as I could.
VN: Do you keep track of nutrition/intake on a ride like this? What did you eat? Did you resupply every chance you got?
LM: I think mood and cravings are a good gauge of what you need to eat. I tried to stock up with a mix of salty and sweet. If your motivation dips generally you need to eat something. That’s when I think of the foods I have and ask myself what sounds the most appealing. That’s your body asking for what it needs. I normally just drink to thirst. But that did me in big time on the first day, as the extreme altitude affected my thirst mechanism. I got really dehydrated and struggled to work out what was wrong. Turns out I only had 2.5 liters in the first 12 hours. Once I worked out what was going on I filled up at every stream possible and was very glad I brought a bunch of Skratch mix with me.
VN: What was your longest time pushing the bike? Where was it?
LM: That’s a tough one. I’m guessing between Copper Mountain and Breckenridge was the longest continuous off bike section, but the rocky section just before Salida area was on and off constantly, too. And that was harder in my opinion. Initially I tried to ride everything, but once I swallowed my pride and gave in to the fact I’d be walking a lot it was fine. I found a comfortable way of leaning on the seat to push. That saved my arms a bit.
VN: How many hours a day did you spend riding/hiking?
LM: Hard to put a number on it, but roughly 18 hours of riding/hiking per day. I’m guessing 10-12 hours of walking total.
VN: What was the most memorable section?
LM: I loved the first 100 miles. It was unlike anything I’d done previously. I also really enjoyed getting into the rideable stuff after Breckenridge. My legs felt great and the trails felt so flowy after everything that had come before.
VN: How did your shoes hold up?
LM: They were fine. They stunk though! And I had to replace one of the cleats afterwards.
VN: What part of your body took the biggest beating?
LM: My hands and my ass. My hands lost a lot of feeling from the constant vibration, and it’s gross but my sit bones were totally raw. I had my seat angle wrong for the first two days and by then it was too late.
VN: What would you do different next time?
LM: Next time I’ll do it slow with my dad or brother and soak the whole thing in.
VN: How did the CT compare to the other massively difficult and demanding efforts such as DK, Leadville, and GBDuro?
LM: GBDuro and the CT stand out in my mind as the two most difficult things I’ve done. They were very different but equally tough. Physically I was the most destroyed after the CT.
VN: What would you tell someone, from a WorldTour pro to an avid bikepacker like me, if they were considering riding the CT?
LM: Do it! It’s one for the bucket list. But do your research. I felt I was well prepared beforehand and realized very quickly just how epic the trail is. I was right to fear it. The consequences of getting things wrong can be big, but the places you get to ride your bike are payment tenfold.