Race Across the Sky – Finally my Leadville 100 Race Report is complete. Let me begin by saying that competing in this race has been a running goal for three years. The first two years I unsuccessfully applied through the lottery. After some research, I learned that preference was given to volunteers. I volunteered for the 2010 Leadville 100 and successfully gained entry through the lottery. The third time was the charm. Thankfully, it did take three years. The time enabled me to gain race experience in a handful of other races. I completed 24 Hours of Moab in 2009 and rode the Silver Rush 50 in both 2010 & 2011. The experience of volunteering was invaluable because it exposed me to the true nature and challenge of the race.
Arrival: We arrived in Leadville on Wednesday night. I wanted to get up to elevation a couple of days early to acclimate to the altitude change. Leadville sits at 10,200ft. I also wanted to be in town for the Thursday morning early medical check in and packet pickup at the race headquarters so that I would have a low key day before the race. As a helpful hint to anyone racing this race in the future; accomodations in the town of Leadville are literally gone the day the lottery results are known.
The rig: 26” Ellsworth Epiphany, Chris King hubs, Stans Arch ZTR tubeless wheels, Specialized Fast Trak rear wheel, Captains on the front, Ergon grips. I think the grips have helped tremendously by giving me different hand positions throughout the ride. Sure a carbon fiber, 29’er, hardtail is probably the preferable ride for this race, however, that wasn’t in the budget.
Fuel Strategy: My fuel strategy for the race was to consume approximately 300 calories per hour. I was going to achieve this with Herbalife24 Prolong, Honey Stinger (Gels, Energy Chews and Waffles), and Clif Shot Bloks. I set the alarm on my Garmin for 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes I would alternate between a healthy swig of Prolong and solid food intake. It was going to be an eating marathon. At every aid station I was planning on refilling my lone bottle with Prolong. I also had a Camelback with water, necessary tools and one tube (I figured that if I had more than one flat I would beg, borrow and steal another tube).
Pre-race briefing: When we arrived at the 6th street gym, approximately 45 minutes before the pre-briefing was scheduled to start, it was well on it’s way to being packed. The race briefing started with introductions. The crowd erupted with a standing ovation when Ken introduced the Navy Seal Team that was participating in this years race. Ken also introduced Dave Wiens; the 5 time LT100 champ who defeated two Tour de France champions. After a medical briefing Ken delivered a motivating speech about the grit and determination required to complete this race. A couple of memorable quotes included:
- “This race isn’t about Lance, this race isn’t about Dave, this race isn’t about the buckle, this race is about you.”
- “You are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can”
- “I will promise you that it will hurt and it will hurt bad, but, it will only hurt for twelve hours. If you quit, that hurt doesn’t go away, you live with that…”
- “When you go back to your homes, people will ask, did you finish? You can say yes or you can spend the next 30 minutes on a cry baby, well rehearsed, excuse as to why you didn’t make it.“
- “If you see the Navy Seals quit, then you can quit…”
…and I met Ken and Merilee; founders of the Leadville 100!
The Start: This year the racers were seeded in corrals. Riders that have raced in the past were seeded by previous finishing times. First time riders were seeded in the last corral. Approximately 1200 riders were slotted for the last corral. The alarm was set for 4AM. I didn’t sleep that well, pre-race jitters I guess. I was mainly concerned about getting caught up on the first climb and missing the four (4) hour cut-off at Twin Lakes. I woke up and had a light breakfast (bagel, yogurt and OJ). Left the house at 5AM to stage my bike in the corral. It’s good I left when I did because there was already approximately 300 riders in my corral. After staging my bike in the corral and two trips to the port-a-potty I found my wife who had moved the car close to the start so I was able to sit in the heated car for a bit. It was a frigid morning (mid to high 30’s).
The Race: Minutes before the start the barriers seperating the corrals were removed and the field became one. Over the loudspeaker you could here the countdown and then finally the shotgun blast. I couldn’t believe, after three years, I was finally racing the Leadville 100. The start of the race consisted of a fast rollout for about 4 miles on pavement. As soon as we hit the dirt a cloud of dust enveloped the field. It was very difficult to breath. Very soon we hit the first climb of the day. St Kevins, climb, was very congested as the course bottlenecked down to slightly larger than a doubletrack. I was shoulder to shoulder with other riders as we powered up the climb. It seemed like there were several moments of track stands due to the congestion. The slow pace may have been a blessing in disguise. It could have been very tempting to go hard on that first climb which may have cost me later on in the race. My strategy was to keep my heart rate below 160bpm. Very soon I hit the switchback that signified the end of the steepest part of the climb. It felt like it was starting to open up a little bit and I was able to pass a couple of riders. Passing through the Carter Summit aid station we emerged onto the pavement for a quick descent on the road. This definitely opened up the field for the second major climb of the day, Sugarloaf. I was able to actually start, consistently, passing people on this climb. One rider commented how he liked the way I was picking my way through the pack and latched on to my wheel. Next up was the infamous Powerline descent. This section of the course is probably the most technical due to the steepness and large ruts. We’d heard in the pre-race briefing how slick this descent would be due to the dry conditions and loose granite. It would be foolish to be aggressive and risk the whole race.
On the second to last steep pitch a rider about five bikes in front of me wiped out. I think he was alright. Nobody was passing. Once off Powerline the course to Twin Lakes was relatively tame. Now it was time to latch onto a train of bikes and draft as much as possible. I was determined to conserve as much energy as possible. Soon I was rolling up to the first official aid station (Pipeline aid station). At Pipeline I switched out of my gortex gloves and removed arm warmers while volunteers topped off my bottle with Prolong. Leaving the 1st aid station I drafted behind a strong rider for most of the way to the singletrack section. At a steep portion of the course, right before the singletrack section, dubbed “Little Stinker” a rider had gone down and appeared to be badly injured. His face was bloodied and was surrounded by about five other riders supporting what appeared to be a neck injury. I found out the next day that one of the guys helping the injured rider was a guy that last year required the help of 11 guys before he could be airlifted off the course. Redemption!
The singletrack descent through the sage brush, which was slightly off camber in some areas and slick due to the dry conditions, was fast. As I kept a watchful eye out on the rider directly in front of me I noticed his tire track up on the high side causing him to wipe out. I grabbed all of my breaks and yelled out “Rider Down” as I skidded to a stop narrowly avoiding him. Twin Lakes aid station was the first cutoff point in the race. I had previously decided that I would meet my wife and kids past the timing mat just in case I was close to the cut off. After several nervous moments I found my wife and girls (my support crew). As they were helping me to shed layers and replenish fuel I remember a little kid appearing and trying to force PB&J sandwiches on me. The volunteers at the race were great. Leaving Twin Lakes aid station through the throngs of cheering people made me feel like I was in the Tour de France.
The Columbine Climb – The climb was long and relentless. Ten miles long and over 3000’. Shortly after timberline the pitch steepened. Everybody was off their bikes and pushing. I think I could’ve ridden a little bit longer, however, there were riders descending on the other half of the double track forcing us into an uphill march. It actually felt good to give my legs a change of pedaling to pushing. After two hike a bike sections and some slow riding the summit was conquered. It felt good to reach the top knowing that I was halfway home with a good descent in front of me. The descent was fast. I saw yet another crash right in front of me on the double track above timberline. As I neared the bottom of Columbine, I was amazed at the number of riders still climbing. Most of those riders probably never finished. After restocking my fuel supply at Twin Lakes I rolled out on my way back to the Pipeline aid station. During this section I worked with a couple of riders taking turns pulling and drafting. At this point in the race I felt pretty good. The next major challenge was going to be the Powerline climb which occurs around mile 83 of the Leadville 100 MTB Race. The first two false summits had to be walked due to steepness, slickness, fatigue and train of other riders walking (hmmm…am I making excuses). Once over the second false summit I climbed back into the saddle to tackle the rest of Powerline to the top of Sugarloaf pass. I forced myself to ride it out while watching many others off their bikes slowly pushing the climb. One rider was in the woods keeled over, puking, calling for someone to send a medic. I saw several others sitting by the side of the trail, heads in hands, physically drained. The climb seemed to take forever. This was by far my most painful moment of the race. On the descent off of Sugarloaf I came up on what appeared to be one of the Navy Seals. I yelled out to him asking him if he was one of the Navy Seals and he said he was. I nodded at him as I rocketed past him on the descent. I wonder how he felt knowing that a Marine beat a Navy Seal. I had my Marine Corp jersey on. Amazingly, the further I descended the better I felt. One more climb to Carter summit, down St Kevins and I was home free. Passing Carter summit and the mini aid station, where I stopped to have a shot of Coke and some salted watermellon, it seemed that there were very few riders on the course. The field was definitely spread thin. There was no one in sight as I descended the last section of St Kevins. The closest call to having a crash was the double track that paralleled railroad tracks right before the Boulevard. I hit two consecutive deep ruts, which took me by surprise because of the speed I was carrying. I’m sure my front shock fully compressed as I hit the second rut as I was off the back of my bike to prevent from being launched over the handlebars. I think being so close to the finish and being fatigued I lost a bit of focus which almost turned out to be painful. The Boulevard, the couple of miles of dirt rode climbing leading back into town, wasn’t too bad. I think it was at this time I glanced down at my rear wheel and noticed a wobble. After race inspection found a broken spoke. Finally, as I neared the pavement, spectators began appearing and increasingly became more numerous the closer I got to the finish. Cresting the final hill the red carpet piercing the finish line and crowds of people on both sides came into view. It was a great feeling riding up to the finish to the sounds of cowbells, cheers and my family. I had just finished in 10 hours and 32 minutes.
Following were my times at the ten timing checkpoints across the race:
- May Queen Outbound: 01:05:09.077
- Pipeline Outbound: 02:19:37.626
- Twin Lakes Outbound: 03:12:54.117
- Goat Trail Outbound : 04:49:24.655
- Columbine Mine: 05:22:30.379
- Twin Lakes Inbound: 06:06:52.235
- Pipeline Inbound: 07:15:02.339
- May Queen Inbound: 08:58:45.288
- To Finish: 10:32:01.670
I definitely plan to return to the Leadville 100 in 2012 for a shot at the big buckle!