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From the Ground Up Project

Two riders riding on a clear day, text "From the Ground Up Project"

Q&A with the Riders Who are Training for Leadville for the Very First Time

2 mountain bikers taking a break near the foot of a mountain

The past couple of years have brought about a lot of changes to our lives. But along with the unforeseen hardships and challenges, a few small silver linings have managed to weave their way into the backdrop.

One of those glimmers of light has come from a resurgence of people getting outside and a rekindled appreciation of nature. People are putting down the screens and simply getting out more, whether it be walking, hiking, or learning to love the freedom of 2 wheels.

While 2020 brought about a pause on the races and events, INFINIT Pros Ryan Petry and Alexey Vermeulen also witnessed the pandemic-driven uptick in people starting to ride. Being lifelong lovers of cycling, they sought out a way to help really immerse these new riders into the sport. This is where the From the Ground Up Project was born.

Alexey and Ryan wanted From the Ground Up to pave a way for less experienced riders to learn mentally and physically how to take on the sport of endurance cycling with the hope of building a lifelong passion for biking.

So in February, they put the call out looking for 3 beginners who were up to the challenge to train for one of the hardest cycling events in the world, the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.

Out of thousands of submissions that came in from across the country, Ryan & Alexey had the difficult task of narrowing it down to just 3 riders to take under their wing and equip with everything needed to start training. 

After watching hours and hours of video submissions, they chose Shawna Anderson, Enzo Moscarella, and Roberta Nunez to be the lucky 3 to take on this challenge of a lifetime. Throughout the last few months, they have been learning, training, and racing to get ready to toe the line on August 14th. The journey has been documented in partnership with Outside TV and can be found on their app or Youtube. The 6 part mini-series will air new episodes every two weeks starting August 11th.

The Coaches

cyclist grabbing a soda

Ryan Petry

Ryan Petry is a pro mountain biker from Boulder, Colorado. Ryan was a competitive triathlete at a young age and transitioned over to mountain biking in college. He first raced Leadville when he was just 24 years old, where he placed 11th and came back the following year to take 7th place. Since then he’s made regular appearances at the event including another top 10 finish in 2018.

Ryan Petry and another cyclist, tired but having fun

Alexey Vermeulen

Alexey Vermeulen is a pro cyclist who began riding competitively when he was just 13 years old and then won the junior national championship in Augusta, GA at 16. Since the early days of his cycling career, Alexey has gone on to race on the World Tour and was a 5 time Road World Championship Team Member. He’s equally as dangerous off-pavement, taking 2nd in 2018 and 1st in 2019 at Iceman Cometh.

The Race

The Leadville Trail 100 MTB is easily one of the most notorious and challenging mountain bike races in the world. Originally started as a way to help boost the local economy, the race has been held in the small mountain town of Leadville, Colorado since 1983.

Known as the “race across the sky” it covers 100 miles in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with a mix of pavement, dirt roads, and alpine trails. This course's lowest point is 9,200 feet while most of the trail is well above 10,000 feet. When the race was established, there were only 45 participants. By 2019, it had grown to a total of 1,400 competitors. Now there is a lottery to get into the race or competitors can qualify with a top finish at other Life Time mountain-bike races in Leadville and around the country.

Cycling group on dirt road

The Riders

We got a chance to catch up with the three riders who were chosen for the Project to talk about their experience leading up to the race.

Shawna Anderson

Shawna is a 47 year old born in Toledo, Ohio who now resides in Superior, WI. She is a Special Education teacher who claims she never does anything crazy... Until now. She had recently gotten into cycling by riding a fat tire mountain bike on the ice covered lake superior, and decided to apply for From the Ground Up with little to no knowledge about the race. But she has rediscovered her inner strength throughout the process, and is ready to take on The Leadville MTB 100.

Shawna Anderson holding a bike standing in the street

Q&A with Shawna

What went through your mind when you were selected to be on From The Ground Up?
I was very surprised, dumbfounded even. I had submitted on a whim and then forgot all about it until I received an email from a name I didn't recognize. I almost deleted it thinking it was junk mail! After the first video chat I still didn't think they would select me, but part of me suddenly secretly hoped they would. When they told me I was one of the three, I didn't know what to say. It took a while for it to sink in. Worst part was that I was home alone so I couldn't even celebrate with anyone!

How’s your training coming along?

Training has been great. A lot of work of course, but the plan is all laid out and easy to follow. I've seen myself do rides that I never would have imagined just a few short months ago. Last week was our last medium-sized ride before the race — 5 hours. In April, 5 hours would have been intimidating. I would have done it but it would have been a big deal. Last week in that 5-hour ride I got almost 60 miles and I wasn't even really tired when I got done. The boundaries of my abilities have been pushed and new opportunities have opened up.

Has anything surprised you throughout your training? Has it been harder or easier than you thought it would be?

The physical training has been just what I expected it to be — Some days were really challenging but never more than I could handle. The most difficult thing about this whole experience has been the mental and emotional preparation. Once the excitement wears off, you are left with the idea that you are going to climb thousands of feet and ride over a hundred miles and that is daunting.

The idea of being on the bike for 12 hours is all new to me. The determination and focus that are required is something I never even considered. We have been very fortunate to work with some amazing professionals who have helped unwrap the mental and psychological side of preparation but it is still the hardest thing I have ever tried to wrap my brain around.

Shawna Anderson riding a bike

It must be exciting to have Alexey and Ryan as mentors.

Did they ask you to ask that question? I joke, Alexey and Ryan have been absolutely amazing.

From getting this whole project started, answering all my newbie questions, explaining how to assemble and disassemble a bike, so many things. The biggest thing, the thing I can never adequately say ‘thank you’ for, is their emotional and mental support. From meltdowns on training rides to many expressions of self-doubt away from the bike, they have been there to talk me through things, to support me, to encourage me. With all their experience and knowledge, they are always able to pick me up and get me moving forward again. Even though I am definitely older, they are at times like big brothers protecting and pushing me to reach a potential I don't always see in myself.

How has your life changed since being part of this journey?

Well, I am certainly in better shape than I was 5 months ago! My eyes have been opened to a whole new world of adventure and fun. I don't know that I will ever tackle a 100-mile race again, but knowing that I can ride 100 miles in a day is empowering. I want to explore bikepacking and get out to explore my beautiful area of Wisconsin by bike. Before I never really thought I could do it because I didn't think I could put that many miles on!

My life has also changed because of the people I have met — Not just the team but so many people on social media and other places. I have made so many connections and have some amazing opportunities to explore after the race. Top of the list is the Fat Tire World Championships in my home state of Wisconsin in January!

Has INFINIT worked well for you and how was the custom consultation experience?

INFINIT has made all of this so easy! No need to worry about what to eat and when, just shake up my bottles and I am good to go! Talking with INFINIT crew was super easy, I don't know the first thing about nutrition mixes and all the finer points of nutrition, but the conversation was easy to understand, the questions made sense and it must have worked because my mixes have been amazing! I am someone who can be a bit 'weird' when it comes to mixes, particularly something like protein, but everything has been tasty and easy to consume (and digest!)

Shawna anderson riding a bike from the front

Has the training and preparation process motivated you to continue in the sport?

I am very much looking forward to using my bike to get out and explore more. I feel more confident on the bike and I've grown in my ability to maintain/repair my bike. Those things combined will help me in tackling the next big adventure, whatever it may be. I'm not a racer, I've learned it's not my personality, but I look forward to group rides and meeting up with friends to ride.

What advice would you give to new people hoping to get into cycling?

Don't wait for the perfect time, the perfect bike, the perfect outfit, the perfect anything, just go ride. If it's two miles around the neighborhood or 200 miles across the state, do it. You don't need to have the latest and greatest equipment, just a desire and drive to do it. Most of us can remember the sheer happiness of riding down the block, wind in our hair, friends at our sides, the freedom of just being out and moving. Somewhere along the way as adults, we lose that simple joy. Society says adulting should be responsible and subdued. Screw that! Hop on the bike and feel that feeling again — the world needs more joy and happiness!

Shawna and friend taking selfie

If you were able to go back in time, one year ago, and tell yourself about this challenge you've undertaken, what would your year-ago self say?

My one year ago self would have said I was crazy! Seriously, even 6 months ago I would have imagined that I would be doing any of this. I am a middle-aged midwestern teacher, I am responsible and life was comfortable and stable. Apparently, my soul knew something that I hadn't acknowledged and somehow convinced my brain to apply and here I am...and for that I am grateful.

What did your friends/family/co-workers say when you told them what you were doing?

Responses varied from 'Are you crazy!?' to 'Of course you are going to do it!' with most responses being in the first category. Once I learned and explained more, people became very excited for me. The support from family and friends is unbelievable. I started a blog page on Facebook so people didn't have to see all my bike stuff if they didn't want it- I am amazed at how many people follow me on there that I don't even know! Same with Instagram. Everyone is amazingly supportive and encouraging. Lots of other riders who are training for or have done the race have reached out with advice. tips and ideas. It has really renewed my faith in humanity that there has been so much positive reaction. I can not thank people enough!!

Enzo Antonio Moscarella

Enzo is 34 year old decorative plaster artist born in Barranquilla, Colombia and now resides in Queens, NY. When Enzo applied for From the Ground up he said it was a ‘shot in the dark’ and he never imagined actually being chosen. Enzo was one of the many who hadn’t ridden a bike in years, but in March 2020 when the pandemic hit, he got back on two wheels and realized how much he enjoyed it. Fiercely dedicated to his training plan, his goal is to finish the Leadville MTB 100, no matter what.

Enzo Antonio Moscarella holding bike

Q&A with Enzo

What went through your mind when you were selected to be on From The Ground Up?

It was very surreal. Alexey & Ryan had reached out and I was more than happy to accept the opportunity. Before even making the submission video, so many things needed to line up in order for this to happen. I was in the process of deleting all my social media, it was by chance that I saw the post for the project. Becoming one of 3 selected to participate was an intense feeling of happiness and nervous energy of the unknown that was to come.

How’s your training coming along?

Training is going really well. Neal Henderson, Andrea Dvorak, The Sufferfest, Training Peaks, Wahoo all have been a huge resource and I feel extremely privileged to have the opportunity to work with them. I feel ready physically and supported by my teammates and coaches. The skills camp with Lee McCormick was so confidence boosting, he is an inspiration. Overall I am feeling good about all the time and effort I've dedicated towards the training.

Has anything surprised you throughout your training? Has it been harder or easier than you thought it would be?

A huge surprise during training has been the learning curve. I thought riding a bike was just balance and moving your legs but have quickly come to realize that there's a lot of really cool technology and gear that can enhance that experience. In the case of training, it's a must to fully jump into the deep end if you are taking on Leadville.

Physically the training has been fun! It's hard but for years I was a pretty mellow couch kind person, it feels good to get the body jolted into something strenuous and demanding. It's an impressive piece of machinery when you take care of it and treat it right!!

Enzo Antonio Moscarella pouring INFINIT HydrateIt must be exciting to have Alexey and Ryan as mentors.

I had no idea who they were before all this, besides 2 really chill guys who are into bikes lol. Which has helped because I am in shock whenever I take 2 seconds to think about it. These are decorated and accomplished SUPER athletes who are so down to Earth and so gracious with their time. I'm so glad we were able to connect. So humble and knowledgeable, I am still racking my brain on how to thank them after all this.

How has your life changed since being part of this journey?

On a daily level, immensely. My routine had to change in order to fit all of the new responsibilities. Gym time, time on the trainer, time out riding, all of those had to happen on (or close to) schedule so it was a bit of a juggling act. Overall though my life is pretty different. I have focused my energy towards the positive and trying to be much more present. I am working on meeting obstacles and setbacks as opportunities and making sure I fully congratulate and support myself on any win, big or small. I just want to continue that journey and keep growing from this new place.

Has INFINIT worked well for you and how was the custom consultation experience?

Infinit has been huge in this process. I had no idea about so many aspects of competitive cycling, especially nutrition. After my initial call with Colin over at INFINIT I was put to ease. The custom blend that I was going to have through training was going to be my go-to formula for race day. It gives me the nutrition in such an efficient way that all I need to keep in mind is to take a bottle every hour, allowing me to focus on all the other aspects of race day.

I know the blend works for me because it was customized by me during the consultation and perfected over a few emails back and forth with Colin. I have all the calories and a great tasting drink to keep me fueled all day.

Enzo Antonio Moscarella near INFINIT bottle

Has the training and preparation process motivated you to continue in the sport?

100%. I signed up for a race a bit closer to home and a few less miles that's happening at the end of September and I am on the lookout for more events and opportunities on and off the bike. I want to get back into making some artwork again also so finding ways to blend these two worlds is going to be fun!! There's so many different disciplines and experiences to be had on a bicycle and I want to try as many as possible!!!!

What advice would you give to new people hoping to get into cycling?

Do it! Right now get on a bike and are now part of cycling. It's really simple and there are so many avenues to explore in it. For me, it's been a huge life change both mentally and physically. Even the hard parts about it are super rewarding and revealing.

Practical advice: Ask all the questions to everyone!! There's nothing too small or abstract and everyone has a unique way to approach a problem. Take it all in and then slowly make your own path, find your own line to follow. Keep it fun too, that is probably the most important advice I can give!!

Enzo Antonio Moscarella riding bike on dirt road

If you were able to go back in time, one year ago, and tell yourself about this challenge you've undertaken, what would your year-ago self say?

I think that I wouldn't believe a word of it. There was so much that lined up and had to happen for me to even submit the video in the first place. I also don't think I would recognize who I was talking to, I was really in a bad spot and doing only the minimal work to get out of it...I am so grateful for this all.

What did your friends/family/co-workers say when you told them what you were doing?

At first, it wasn't really a thing anyone understood. I had just recently started riding a bike again and it wasn't anything you would take up a mountain. My closest relationships were very happy for me but I don't think anyone, not even myself at the time, understood the massive commitment required. I got a lot of "you mountain bike?" but it was all with support and care. I am thankful for all the patience my friends and family have had with me.

Roberta Nunez

Roberta is a 30 year old ICU nurse born in The Dominican Republic and now resides in Boston, MA. After researching the Leadville Trail 100 she knew it would be challenging but life changing if she was picked. Roberta has always wanted to try Mountain Biking but did not see a lot of women participating, so she’s excited about the opportunity to show others that they can do it too when she toes the start line on August 14th.

Roberta Nunez holding a bike

Q&A with Roberta

How’s your training coming along?

Training is almost over, and I feel both relieved that I made it this far, and sad that this journey is almost over. Currently, we are tapering off in order to fully recover before race day. These last few days are filled with yoga, short intervals, and mental toughness sessions.

Has anything surprised you throughout your training? Has it been harder or easier than you thought it would be?

I knew this project would require a lot of time and dedication, I just didn't know how it would fit into my schedule at times. Regardless, I was ready to make it work. I knew it would be hard physically and logistically. Some weeks were not the most graceful, but it all worked out in the end.

On my worst days, I'd always repeat to myself "Roberta, this isn't as hard as Leadville." It was my mantra when I was too mentally and physically exhausted after my hospital shifts to train. The mantra reminded me that finishing Leadville was a lofty goal for a newbie like me, and powering through this would only make me stronger. So, sometimes that meant finishing a workout at 2 am after working a 12+hr shift, or pushing other life events aside to make time. I must admit, I did have a few moments where I completely broke down and cried as I was training but I always felt proud for pushing through. On those difficult days, I'd imagine climbing Columbine Mine and making it to the top. The most surprising part of the program was probably the mental training and how effective it was, not just in training but in my everyday life as well. In order to put your body through such grueling regimens or events, you have to be mentally tough.

It must be exciting to have Alexey and Ryan as mentors.

Yes, it has been pretty sweet! I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Being mentored by two athletes with different athletic backgrounds has been very interesting and beneficial.

Ryan is the perfect person to be around if you want to be pushed to your limits. He is also an excellent climber, I've never seen anyone climb steep hills so effortlessly with a smile on their face the entire time.

Alexey is very nurturing and the perfect person to be around when you need to be reminded that you are capable of more than you think you can. They both are incredibly down to earth, and insanely passionate about cycling and improving the sport. It's quite easy to donate money to a cause, but to sacrifice your time to empower three complete strangers is very admirable and the best gift any human can give another.

Roberta Nunez hugging another rider

How has your life changed since being part of this journey?

My life has changed tremendously. It has been amazing to see how all the lessons I've learned through this journey have transcended into every aspect of my life. I've gained so much confidence in myself, and as cliche as this may sound, I learned to love myself and the body that has allowed me to do this. I genuinely don't know how to say thank you to Ryan and Alexey and every sponsor that made this a reality because thank you just isn't enough. Becoming a mountain biker was a pipe dream for me, and it serendipitously became a reality at 2 am the night I decided to apply for this project. Becoming a cyclist has brought about so much joy, peace, freedom, empowerment, and adventure that I cannot imagine life without it.

Has INFINIT worked well for you and how was the custom consultation experience?

I have never used powders or liquid nutrition before, and I must admit that initially, I was very hesitant. However, I genuinely fell in love with the products. I was very impressed during my custom consultation with how knowledgeable the team was about science and sports nutrition. Colin was very detailed, attentive to the uniqueness of each individual and explained why certain questions mattered when customizing a blend. I ordered the vegan watermelon endurance blend and the vegan vanilla recovery blend; they are absolutely delicious! But most importantly, it truly worked. The longest I've trained for is about 9 hrs total and I've never bonked or had any GI issues. I think that as a newbie, it is amazing. It was such a stress reliever to know I had nutrition I could depend on without having to carry much else.

Has the training and preparation process motivated you to continue in the sport?

Definitely! My progress throughout this journey has been a huge motivating factor for me to continue pushing my limits in cycling; Granted, I was fortunate enough to have the best possible coach, Neal Henderson, with the support of Andrea Dvorak. It's exciting and refreshing to have realized that I too can take part in competitive cycling. I don't expect to become a pro, but the chance to continually improve my PR is more than sufficient for me.

Roberta Nunez riding bike up dirt path

What advice would you give to new people hoping to get into cycling?

I'd say to get out there ASAP. You can totally do this. This journey was difficult, even with all the support. But it's not impossible! Take it one pedal stroke at a time. Make a long-term goal, and cut it into small, short term goals that will challenge you daily and work on them until you perfect them. 6 months ago, I thought I would never be able to ride clip-less, and within 3 weeks I felt it became natural. I fell a lot and was terrified, but as I improved, I gained more confidence. Most importantly, believe in yourself - as the wise Neal Henderson always says, "progress is not linear, it's more like a wave".

If you were able to go back in time, one year ago, and tell yourself about this challenge you've undertaken, what would your year-ago self say?

I'd honestly be shocked, especially because this time last year I was undergoing a menisectomy due to a meniscal tear I got while skiing. I was incredibly depressed because I was in constant pain and feared that I'd never be able to partake in all the sports and physical activities that made me happy. However, thanks to my amazing physical therapist, Rebekah Patton, my leg became strong enough to undertake this challenge. MY year-ago self would be proud of me today, even for making it this far. I'm pretty hard on myself, and aim to finish the Leadville 100, giving it everything I've got. But I sometimes have to remember that the mental and physical growth and overall experience that got me to the start line is worth celebrating, no matter if, at the end, I only complete 50% of the race.

What did your friends/family/co-workers say when you told them what you were doing?

Most people I know aren't into endurance sports, so they didn't understand the magnitude of the challenge until I explained the course to them. They were stoked and supportive, knowing it's been a dream of mine to be a mountain biker. But the consensus was that I was crazy. I found it interesting that most people said "I could never do that" - speaking about themselves. I've been working with a sports psychologist, Justin Ross, and he has taught me that what we say to and about ourselves matters. We often place limits on ourselves based on our self image, or subconsciously. So, the "I could never do that" has served as another motivator for me to finish the Leadville 100. I want to prove to other ordinary, non-athletes, that you can indeed do it because I have.

Roberta Nunez smiling at another rider