As I submit my entry for the 2016 Leadville 100, I realize that it’s time for me to finally finish up my recap from the 2015 edition.
Leading up to the race, I rode my bike more than I ever had before, but at the same time was dealing with health challenges that I never had before. Through the end of 2014 and early 2015, I had a strange chest pain that was unable to be diagnosed. I went through a whole gamut of tests that all returned nothing. With that in mind, I had ridden a lot, but my training lacked a lot of structure and I had been somewhat hesitant for much of the season to push myself to the max.
In the week leading up to race day, I developed regular headaches as well, so of course that was something else to be stressed about. As the Friday check in approached, I regularly checked my emotions in an effort to prepare myself for the race. I may have been dealing with these challenges, but I wasn’t going to let them derail my goals.
I was fortunate enough to have my parents fly in from Tennessee this year as well. They have seen me race in cross country and track too many times to count, but this would be their first mountain bike race. I was excited to have them out and excited for them to experience Leadville.
Friday morning started out early as we got on the road to head to Leadville. Check-in wraps up early, so we were on the road by 7:30 so that we had plenty of time.
The highlight of Friday is the athlete meeting at Lake County High School. If you’ve never listened Ken Chlouber (the founder of the Leadville Race Series) speak, search his name on Youtube immediately. Here is a good place to start: Ken Chlouber
The day started at 4 AM with Casey, our brown lab refusing to come down the spiral staircase in our house. It’s the first time food hasn’t successfully lured him into something. After about 20 minutes of coaxing, he finally made a run for it. That was the last of that staircase for the weekend.
We were on the road at 4:45 and headed north towards Leadville. I’ve always enjoyed the stretch of highway between Salida and Leadville. It’s awe-inspiring to think about the connections of the Sawatch Range. Nolan’s 14 always enters my mind as well. Talk about a crazy task to take on. 100ish miles, 14 14ers, 44,000ish feet of elevation and less than 60 hours to do it. Dig Deep.
The only error of the morning was a forgotten latte in the fridge in Salida. Thankfully, Christine worked her way through the craziness of City on a Hill Coffee to procure my caffeine fix in plenty of time to head to my corral.
The corral was overflowing by the time I got there, but we were able to line up alongside the barrier and the race crew did a great job making sure we got in before the next corral came forward. I was a significantly better corral (Probably in front of 200+ people compared to last year), but the traditional shotgun blast resulted in the same dead standstill.
The attitude around me was lighthearted and excited until that blast. Then it changed to nerves as our minds honed in on the task in front of us. We had 12 hours to cover 104 miles (they’re sneaky like that) and climb 11,000 feet. My optimistic goal, if everything went right was under 10 hours. However, I simply wanted to break 11. I had snuck in at 11:26 last year. I felt that a 30 minute improvement would be appropriate based on my training.
The start is supposed to be neutral, but it has a lot of positioning in the first couple miles. It’s tough to find the balance between the aggressive start you need for position on St. Kevins and measuring your effort for the rest of the day. I was passed by more people than I passed, but I my position was strong heading into the bottom of the climb.
It didn’t matter as we began the climb after 6 miles of positioning. The inevitable log jam happened. In some ways, it’s nice to knock out 6 miles that quickly, but at the same time, I’m ready to get this first climb done. The climb to the top of St. Kevins is not technical but it does require some bike handling skills to manage your position while being surrounded by riders on all siders. Both years, I’ve chosen not to be aggressive on this climb. I’ll continue to follow this practice as my time will never be made on the first climb of the day, but it can definitely be lost with a nasty fall. To those who chose to try to pass people up the middle/bump bikes/show little regard for their fellow racers, I suggest you adopt the same approach. We would all be a bit faster up St. Kevins if you did.
I reached the summit aid station at Carter in 55:36 (Goal-50:00). I was OK with the split, considering who hectic the climb had been. I was feeling great and had ample opportunity to recover the time on the descent and quick climb up Sugarloaf.
I didn’t stop at the aid station and soon found myself on the pavement descent around Turquoise Lake. It’s a lot of fun to hit this part of the race and just open it up on a “closed” road. It’s also an important time to eat. The upcoming climb up Sugarloaf is not big (1,too ft.), but the terrain affords you little opportunity to eat.
Last year, I relished the opportunity to attack the Powerline descent. But it’s funny what a little bit of experience does for you. As a newbie, I just attacked the descent and didn’t worry about the different sections. This year, I knew the full nastiness of the descent and approached it with significantly more hesitation. I was still confident, but I was nervous about the other riders around me. Add in the fact that they struggled with the upper sections, and I made damn sure to have my own space around me for the descent. Falls are a lot easier to get up from if you don’t crash into anyone else.
I came into the Pipeline aid station (27 miles) at 2:17. My goal was 2:15, so I had picked up a few minutes from the St. Kevins climb. I was feeling good still and liked my position heading out to Twin Lakes. I refilled my water and grabbed a banana to get some nutrition in.
Pipeline to Twin Lakes is an interesting mix of fire road and single track. Positioning is important heading into the single track descent. There are some pretty timid riders you can be stuck behind for the 2 mile section if you don’t position yourself appropriately. Thankfully, we only got stuck for the last minute or two and I was able to get in a good group to pull across the rolling sections heading into Twin Lakes.
A quick note on that last bit. The portion of the race between the bottom of Powerline and Twin Lakes is not to be forgotten. While there is very little elevation gain/loss, getting in a group and sharing the workload is important to recovery and maintaining your pace. Even more so on your way back to Leadville.
Twin Lakes came up quickly. The “aid station” is huge. Often stretching for over a mile. My crew was just past the dam, but I fed of the support from all of the other crews on my way through. The community of the Leadville 100 runs beyond the athletes who compete. It wouldn’t be possible without those who support them.
My goal for Twin Lakes was 3:05-3:10 (I built in variance for the single track) and I came in back on pace at 3:08. It’s an aggressive first 40 miles, but the next 10 miles was about to make the first 40 look like a warmup.
After tending to a variety of nutrition and bike needs as well as a hefty dose of sunscreen I headed off to 12,000+ feet. The weather looked good and I was early enough in the day so I chose to leave my raincoat with the crew.
Columbine hurts. No way around it. You go up. Way up. Way way up. 3,000 foot climbs are burly no matter what you approach it. Add in the fact that you are going from 9,400 feet to 12,400 feet and it takes your breath away.
On the climb, I wanted to make sure that I got in with a good group, but at the same time measured my effort. I knew that I was going to be hiking once I hit the single track around 11,800 feet and that my pace was pretty locked there. I had to be diligent about my pace below treeline and make sure that I didn’t get too comfortable in a group. It’s a constant battle to make sure you are on your marks. This is the one spot on the course where I wish I had a computer/GPS. Much of the climb looks the same, so its hard to keep an eye on your pace. Going forward, I’ll definitely have someway to track my position here.
Once above treeline, Ken greets you and you join the conga line on the single track. I tried to hike as fast as I could here, but its tough to make too many moves as traffic is two-way and you have to measure your movements against bikers coming at you at 20-30 mph.
In and out of the aid station. I grabbed some Coke and pretzels to get some sugar and salt and headed out. It was windy and chilly (to be expected at 12,400) and there was nothing positive about being up here.
I was a bit behind pace with a split time of 5:29. At this point, I knew a sub 10 hour finish was probably out of the cards, so I shifted my focus to breaking 11. I was a full 30 minutes ahead of my Columbine split from last year and had a great opportunity in front of me.
I raced down Columbine back to Twin Lakes. Traffic was much heavier coming up this year than last. I attributed some of that being 30 minutes faster, but at the same time, it seemed like a significant amount of people were not going to be making the cut-off time of 7:45 back at Twin Lakes.
It took me 48 minutes to get back to Twin Lakes. Much slower than I wanted to. I spent a lot of time maneuvering the single track and wasn’t able to get going until I was back on the road after the goat trail split. My total time coming back into Twin Lakes was 6:18. 40 miles to go and a little over 5.5 hours to hit my goal. Power line and the return to the top of St. Kevins stood in my way. What I didn’t know about was the unforeseen weather that was about to pay a visit.
I had some muscles that needed to be tended too so I hopped on the foam roller at Twin Lakes and got rolling while the crew replaced my water and food. I was able to get down a little bit of a sandwich, but it wasn’t easy. I’d been on the bike long enough that my body was more comfortable on the bike than off it.
It’s a short climb out of Twin Lakes, but I was high off the cheering crowds of the aid station. I wasn’t able to get in a great group to get across the rollers, but I was able to float in and out of groups enough that the load was shared.
Knowing that I was going to be seeing my crew shortly after PipelAine, I rolled right through the aid station. Things were chaotic at the station and I didn’t want to lose anymore time sorting through it to get water. My segment splits for the single track and into Pipeline were on pace and I had only lost an additional minute or two off my 10-hour pace. I felt confident that I had the gas tank to mount a strong attack on the final two climbs of the day. Sub-10 still out of the question, but 10:30 maybe?
We had discussed meeting my crew about 2 miles before Powerline to re-load on water and fuel. That time on the road is important to eat and prepare for the climb. Your body needs the time to make it usable. However, when I got to the agreed upon spot, they were no where to be found. There was a police officer clearing crews out though. I began to worry that they had been told to leave.
At the same time, I became aware that I was out of water. And there were no set aid stations between me and Powerline. Shit. I struggled with this for a couple minutes until I was able to talk my self out it and work on finding water. Maybe at the Fish Hatchery? Last year, some guy was handing out Cokes in this part, maybe he will be back? Maybe from some fans at the bottom of Powerline?
OK. Plenty of opportunities to beg borrow and steal. I cam in to the base of Powerline aggressively looking for water. I was ready to start asking people when I saw my Dad in his Reds jacket frantically waving. I yelled at him “WATER.” Christine and Mom were just around the corner thankfully. I pulled off to the side and did a quick re-load.
We talked about Powerline and what was left. I was hurting, but hoped the water and food would bring me back. They headed off to the finish and I set my sights on the biggest challenge remaining.
1400 feet in 3 miles. 5 false summits (I think..it’s a lot…but I can’t remember right now). Either way, they all mess with your mind. You ask yourself, is that a false summit? Did that one count? A downhill! I can ride! Back to hiking. One foot in front of the other.
This is where the heat of the day took its toll. There are reports that temperatures approached the 80s. I was definitely suffering more than I had remembered. I also had more traffic than last year, so I found myself hiking quite a bit more. I tried to keep the pace up, but it was hard to hike faster than 2 miles an hour.
Once again, as I approached the summit, I found myself out of water. At least I knew I was drinking. With the 3 mile climb between me and the next aid station, I needed to find at least a little bit to get me to the top. Thankfully after a quick descent of Sugarloaf, I was able to grab water from a group at the base of the St. Kevins road climb. I was the 5th person to stop and ask they said. Glad to know I’m not along in this challenge today.
With water in hand and knowing that I had 3 miles of road climbing between me and my final peak was uplifting. It was time to put my head down and grind. I dug back to my final Leadville prep ride up Golden Gate Canyon, a 7.3 mile, 2800 foot, HC climb that is just a straight struggle on a mountain bike . I’d chosen it to prepare for this part of the course. (Golden Gate Strava)
It paid dividends as I dug it out and was able to pass 5 riders on the climb. At the aid station, I finally re-stocked with the bounty of goods they had. Water, Coke, pretzels, cookies…it was a bonafide cornucopia based on how I’d felt since Powerline. I remembered that there is a quick climb to the actual summit of St. Kevins.
I didn’t care. I could taste a sub 11-hour finish. If I was able to dig deep, 10:45 was in the cards! The descent is attackable, but fatigued bodies make basic mistakes. Last year, I came extremely close to going over the handlebars on a mundane roller. I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. Eyes forward. Arms loose.
The finish line is a mob-scene. Families and crews anxiously await their riders and cheer on everyone who passes by. You can hear them as you come back into town. You can taste that finish line as you climb up the boulevard. A dirt road that is the final, brutal 400 feet of climbing back into Leadville.
I was pouring everything into it now. A 45 minute improvement and finishing my second LT100 after the challenges of year was overwhelming. Like 2014, I had to keep my emotions in check, but a sense of pride was rising in my gut and I couldn’t wait to see that red carpet.
I crested the hill, glanced at my watch and closed out the final half mile through the streets of Leadville.
The clock stopped at 10:43.35. 43 minutes faster than last year.