The Leadville 100 – a storied race, that I’ve heard about for years. Not something I ever considered doing until I fell in love with mountain biking last spring! I noticed an instagram post sharing that sign up for the lottery was approaching last winter, I decided “what the hell”, I’ll sign up and see if I get in. In early January, I was notified that I was selected – I was so excited!
Our winter in Denver was fairly harsh, and I didn’t get out on my bike from December – March. In March I started riding again, casually—60 – 90 minute rides in the front range. I figured I would ramp up the training in April / May. Well, life got in the way! Dozens of opportunities came my way – travel, lifestyle retreats, CrossFit competitions, exciting influencer trips. I continued to exercise 2-3 hours a day, but more for enjoyment – a mix of running, hiking, trail running, crossfit, and mountain biking when I was in Denver.
Fast forward to July, a month before the race, I started to realize how underprepared I was. No long rides. No elevation training. No clue what the course was like. I had every opportunity to ride long, go to Leadville, to train at elevation, but I was having too much fun in my normal day to day! I started to question whether I should do the race. I decided I needed to suffer. I needed a gut check. I needed a big life hurdle to jump over. I like doing things like this when life is just throwing you slow pitches. I committed to Leadville, and fuck it, I was going to race.
As luck would have it, two weeks before the race, I cracked my bike frame. I was sans bike for 10 days. I got my bike back 4 days before the race. I rode every day leading up to it, just to get my feel back for it.
The week leading up to the race, I panicked a bit. I hadn’t practiced endurance racing nutrition since 2014. I hadn’t ridden more than 2 1/2 hours since 2015. I had no idea how the elevation was going to affect me. I knew it was going to be a suffer-fest after reading other’s race reports and watching the documentary: “Race Across the Sky”.
Two days before the race I ran 11 miles (split up between a morning run in Denver and an afternoon run in Silverthorne-one of my favorite places in the world to run; I couldn’t resist)!
Courtney, Luna, and I arrived in Leadville on Thursday night. I’ve learned to either arrive at elevation 7-10 days before a race, or go right before the race. I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, a combination of being at altitude and a bit of anxiety about how much I was going to suffer in less than 48 hours.
A day before the race I went for a 1 hour ride, then a 100 minute hike in the afternoon up toward Mt Elbert. I just wanted to get in the right mindset, and make sure I was ok breathing at 12,000’
My close friend, Shahir arrived in Leadville the night before the race and made an epic dinner – salmon, scrambled eggs, lentils, on top of veggies and sliced avocado. I got a great night sleep. The prep for the race was almost too easy (compared to Ironman). Just throw a number on your bike and pump up the tires (I opted for 27 psi in the front and 29 psi in the back). I decided to wear a camelback filled with 2 liters of skratch matcha flavor energy / electrolyte drink (4 scoops), 5 huma gels, and 5 gu gels. I also brought 1 Dave’s Serious Bar, which I planned on having half way through the race.
I wore cycling bibs, a cycling top, cycling socks, a cycling coat (the Leadville bike coat I bought at the expo), and fingerless cycling gloves. I also had a rapha jacket packed in my camelback in case it got cold or it was raining. I heard conditions could change rapidly at the top of Columbine (the highest point of the race – 12,500), and to prepare for the worst. I didn’t have any drop bags, and neglected to utilize a support crew. Again, VERY underprepared!
Race morning, I lined up in the front of my corral – the white corral in the very back for first timers that got in through the lottery. Everyone told me it would be a very slow start because of the 1,800 riders in front of me on a narrow road / dirt path. They were right – when the gun went off, it was slow moving for the first 20-30 minutes. A tight pack that kept you from moving. Around 30 minutes in, it opened up a bit, and I was able to improve my positioning. The first part of the race is fast, especially on the road. I found a group of strong cyclists to work with, pulling each other. The power line decent was fun as hell, although I was slowed quite a bit by the the large group of riders I was around. I settled into a pace that pegged my heart rate around 130 bpm.
When I hit the Columbine climb (around mile 45), it was a single file death march, everyone in front of me was walking their bike up the terrain, as the lead riders were bombing down the descent. I had no choice but to stay in line, which actually felt good to get off the bike for a bit! It was slow moving, and frustrating, just watching in agony as .1 miles clicked off every 5 or so minutes. At the top of Columbine, it flattened out a bit, and I was so relieved when I saw the aid station in the distance!
The scenery at the top of Columbine is stunning. Views of snow covered mountains, and Twin Lakes below. I enjoyed the view while eating a PB+J sandwich, and 3 honey stinger bars. I was starving! I also posted an Instagram video; I was just trying to soak up the moment! Now the trek back to Leadville – 50 miles to go!
I got stuck a bit descending Columbine, it was a single line of bikes going down and a single line of bikes coming up, so no room for passing. Unfortunate, because it seemed I was making up the most time descending technical terrain. Leadville attracts many road riders that aren’t as skilled at letting it rip down loose gravel.
Miles 60 – 70 were pretty uneventful, but when I hit the powerline again I realize how fatigued I was. I walked up the power line incline, again in agony watching how slow every .1 mile was taking! I started doing the math in my head realizing that sub-9 hours (my goal going into the race, had I trained) was no longer realistic.
After the powerline ascent, there was a bit of technical downhill. I bombed it—it as so much fun!
Miles 100 – 104 seemed never-ending – a slow trudge back into town. I was so relieved when I crossed the finish line. I like bike fall, and I felt a bit delirious. It felt so good to stand, to hug Courtney and Shahir who greeted me with elated smiles. I felt accomplished, know how much I had to suffer to finish in 10:19. I will race again, and I will be MUCH MORE PREPARED!
I called my parents immediately after the race to let them know I was alive. My mom is my biggest fan, and she devastated not being there to spectate / support. Next year, she’ll be there!
That night I ate an entire pizza, a 1/2 chicken, a brownie, a cookie, potatoes, and squash! Gotta get the calories back in to recover quick!
I had no idea how much of the course was road riding. I opted to lock out my suspension for all of the road roading and much of the trail riding. On the technical descents, I opened up my suspension. On the dirt trails that were flat or ascending, I lock out my back suspension, but utilized my front suspension.
My average heart rate for the entire race was 120 bpm. This means I lacked bike fitness – my lower back and legs fatigued well before my heart rate, and I went into the race super-fatigued from over training. Conscious decisions I made because I enjoy exercising so much!
In summary, I was pleasantly reminded not to underprepared for such a long endurance race. I’ve done this before with the same outcome. These races require specialization—riding long, and doing hard hill intervals to properly prepare for the muscle fatigue.
I was very over fatigued going into the race. An average heart rate of 120 means I wasn’t producing the type of power I should have been. I use to race Ironman at an average heart rate of 130 – 140.
Next year I’ll ride a hard tail to save weight.
Next year, I’ll do a qualifying race to get a better starting position to avoid being stuck in the beginning.
Things I did well:
Drafting / riding with groups. I worked with groups to ride faster on the road.
My nutrition was actually pretty spot on. I ate and drank when hungry, and didn’t have any cramping or stomach issues.