Ok, so this is only a few months late...we had a baby and stuff!
In December of 2019 I entered the Leadville 100 lottery on a whim…and got in. Little did I know, that was going to be the start of over a year and a half of training, race postponements, more training, pandemics, expecting our first child, moving and a whole bunch of other stuff…
After getting the notification that I ‘won’ the lottery in January 2020 I started training. I’d never done a ride or race quite like what Leadville is all about. My plan was to do the Wilmington Whiteface (Lake Placid, NY) race which is a qualifier for Leadville. Since I was already in the race, a good performance would have moved me up in the starting grid and been some good experience for a race of that type. By all accounts, Whiteface is the qualifier that is most like the Leadville course. Needless to say pandemic happened and it got cancelled. I was still hopeful that Leadville was going to happen but not surprisingly, it too was cancelled in 2020 (along with pretty much every other amateur bike race in the world). I was able to defer into the 2020 race at the cost of a donation to one of the charities that the race supports. 2021 rolls around and my plan is the same: Tons of training and Whiteface to get my starting position moved up. Well, Whiteface again got cancelled (well moved to the fall) and Julia and I had some ‘life events’ i.e. expecting a child and moving. Needless to say I had a busy spring and summer…
Throughout the winter, I had been using TrainerRoad plans to build up my base. I do this most winters using a sweet spot based plan. This gets me into the spring in pretty good shape ready to get outside. Given that Leadville is a 105mi race that takes 8-12hr unless you are superhuman, my training consisted of a bunch of long rides. Multiple centuries on the road and many 5hr days on the MTB at Kingdom Trails.
|Burke Mt at Kingdom Trails...I think we're going to need a bigger hill.|
In retrospect, I probably didn’t do enough intensity to drive my FTP up (sorry only the bike nerds will get that) but I got myself to be able to pedal my bike forever. An underrated part of really long races, be it bike, triathlon, or running is being able to take in enough calories. So a big part of training is learning what types of nutrition work for you and training your gut to take in 300-400 calories an hour when working pretty hard. Midway through the summer, I had a pretty heavy crash and had an AC separation, I got pretty concerned that it was going to derail my training, but ultimately I only missed about a week and it was fine by race day. It did however put a dent in my bike handing confidence, which is super important on an MTB. Huge shout out to Glen Gollrad, we spend a day at Killington on the XC trails and the lift served downhill which really got my confidence back. With race day approaching I was feeling really good. My last few big rides felt great and I felt confident heading to Colorado. For those unfamiliar, if you finish Leadville in under 12 hours you get a cool western style belt buckle as a prize. If you finish in under 9 you get the ‘big buckle’. I thought I might have a crack at under 9 hours, but I really didn’t know how I would react to the altitude and that hard of a course…
Due to the move and pregnancy, this ended up being a solo trip for me, so I made it a quick in and out. Ideally, I would have come to altitude a week or so beforehand to get acclimatized, but for multiple reasons that wasn’t practical. The next best strategy is to spend as little time up high as possible to minimize fatigue prior to your race. So I few into Denver on Thursday and had a fairly eventful flight. Only an hour or so into the flight they asked for medical assistance, there was a 2 year old vomiting and was kinda lethargic…long story short the kid was ultimately ok, mom passed out on the descent into Denver and I had 2 patients on my hands. Everyone was ok, the paramedics took them to the hospital and United Airlines gave me a $150 voucher for helping out. The crew also gave me a nice handwritten note. That night I stayed with my college friends Heather and Joe and their son Tommy. They grilled up a great steak dinner and we got to catch up on old times. Friday had a pre-race meeting where they went over logistics introduced the elite athletes, including national champions, multiple time winners and Jennifer Valente, who about a week an a half before won the gold medal in the omnium for track cycling at the Tokyo olympics and now was racing Leadville, certified bad-ass. After they announced her, huge ovation, totally deserved. The organizers give this awesome pep talk/hype video which makes you feel awesome about the race the next day.
|Not a bad spot to hear about race logistics|
|There I am!|
There was also the registration stuff, getting your number plate etc. etc. With that done I drove back to Frisco where I was staying. One of my dear friends from high school older sister, Melissa and her family live in Frisco and they have an in-law apartment they were gracious enough to let me stay in. The whole family are mountain bikers and the boys Mitchell and Dietrich are crazy good downhill riders, so hanging out and talking bikes and racing was a ton of fun. They cooked up a great pizza dinner to top off my carb loading for the day. Speaking of carb loading…if I recall correctly, my food for the day was: 6 single serving instant oatmeal cups, an entire bunch of bananas, 5 whole wheat bread and nutella sandwiches, a starbucks latte, 1.5 personal sized pizzas and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. The recommendations for carb loading are 8g carbs/kg body weight the day before. I’m about 86kg, you do the math. I got a 30 minute easy ride in to spin the legs and make sure the bike survived the plane flight. Took it easy the rest of the night and got to be early.
Alarm rings at 4am and I spring out of bed. One more cup of oatmeal and water to top off the reserves. I get right in the car and head to Leadville, about a 30min drive. I got a great parking spot downtown only about 2 block from the start. The race is incredibly well run, my only criticism is the parking. Could be better organized, it’s a bit of a free for all. I got my bike in the starting coral and went back to the car to stay warm (it was only 40-something deg at 6am!). I’m glad I got there early as I got good parking and I got my bike in the front of the corral I was in. Traffic on the first climb is a thing, so you want to be in front of as many people as possible. I was also in the last coral since I was a lottery entry without a qualifying time.
|Weapon of choice, ready for battle|
They start the race with a shotgun blast at 6:30 but only the elite wave starts then. The rest of the race goes off in waves, I went at 6:49. The first 5 or 6 miles is downhill, on the road and really fast. There is a race to the pinch point at the start of the first climb where it goes from the width of a road to 2 bikes wide. The first climb, St. Kevan’s actually isn’t that hard except for all the traffic, only about 1000ft of vertical over 4.5mi rated cat 3 on Strava There is an aid station at the top which most people, myself included, skip. The descent is mostly road and super fast. I found it really helpful to have the course programmed in on my computer so I could see where the turns were and how sharp they were. After the descent you immediately start the Sugarloaf climb. It’s about 1100ft vertical over 4.6mi and is rated cat 2 on Strava, mostly road and double track. After Sugarloaf is the notorious Powerline descent. It’s really rough double track and to be honest is kinda sketchy. 3.6mi, 1300ft down, average grade of -7.2%. Tons of rocks and ditches, but not that technical. I almost overcooked one corner but all in all up to this point I had passed a ton of people. I was feeling really good at this point where you hit the (relatively) flat part of the course. Miles 22 to 44 are rolling, with a few road sections that you can get some pace lines going and really get moving. The next aid station is known as Pipeline and is at about mile 28. Not knowing what to look for in the neutral aid station, I blew right by it. For a second I considered going back for it, but I made a quick assessment of my supplies and decided I had enough to make it to the next station. In retrospect it was the correct decision as it saved me some time, and I never ran out of calories or fluid. The next notable section of the course is at mile 40 where the Twin Lakes aid station. The feed zone stretches for probably 3/4 of a mile and is just a tunnel of screaming fans/crew members. It reminded me of Wellesley College during the Boston Marathon. Everyone is yelling encouragement and it is an awesome pick-me-up. The volunteers at the aid stations are great, you roll in, they ask you what you want, fill your water bottles and hydration pack, give you gels, salty snacks and get you rolling quick. I took off my vest and arm warmers at this point too as it was about 3 hrs into the race and starting to get warm and I had some climbing ahead. A few miles after Twin Lakes the men’s leaders passed me going in the other direction. I was in awe at how fast there were going, it was Keegan Swenson (race winner), Lachlan Morton (multiple time Tour de France racer) and Howard Grotts (national MTB champion). Then comes Columbine…the brutal climb that gets you to halfway through the race. HC rating, 7mi, 3000ft vertical, average grade of 8%ish. The women’s leaders passed me in the other direction in the bottom third of the climb. The bottom 3/4 of the climb is very hard but manageable. The last 1.5mi is almost impossible to ride due to the traffic, altitude, fatigue and condition of the track. Almost everyone has to hike-a-bike except for the elites. Having to walk so much was demoralizing, I knew there was some walking, but not as much as I realized. There is an aid station at the top where you reload and do the screaming descent. It’s mostly dirt road so you can really get moving. Again, this is a place where having the route mapped on the bike computer is super handy so you can judge the corners before you get to them. Back again to Twin Lakes aid station and back to the ‘flat’ portion of the course. I say flat, but the 5 major climbs add up to about 8k feet of vertical but the race has 13k total, so it’s not really flat. The course takes a slightly different route back then the way out. The one section of single track on the whole course is in a spot that he leaders would still have to contend with the back end of the race going outbound so the organizers avoid that with a re-routing. On this section there is a significant road portion.
The race was spread out enough at this point that I wasn’t able to get in a pace line, there was a headwind, and it was getting hot…I got a hamstring cramp out of nowhere and had to stop for a minute or two and massage it out. That was the only time I really had any doubt about finishing, like, “if this does’t go away, I’m not sure how I ride these last 30 miles.” Fortunately, that resolved quick but it put me in a bad headspace and the next 15 miles or so I was in a really bad spot mentally. It didn’t help that the next major thing was the Powerline climb. It’s 3.4mi 1300ft vertical at 7.3%, category 2. However, the first half mile is at about 15% grade and almost everyone walks it (remember how I said it was a sketchy descent?). The bad headspace continued with really positive thoughts like “this course sucks” and “this is way too hard for amateur racers”. But I made it to the top and got some recovery on the descent and I got in a better mental spot. Back up St. Kevan’s (also know as Turquoise Lake in this direction), objectively not a hard climb but it was at mile 95 or so…Then the descent down back towards town. Once you are off the last descent you think you are home free…but you aren’t. The last 3 miles are a slow grind up dirt roads which are sneakily uphill. I made my way into town and going over the finish line was such a great feeling. I’ve never been one for the finishers medals at races, but when they put that one around my neck, I’ve got to admit it was a pretty good feeling. That was by far the hardest race I’ve ever done. They had a ton of water/food etc at the finish line, I got some and sat down on an embankment and didn’t get up for about a half hour. After I recovered, I put the bike in the car and walked up to the finishers party, there was great BBQ and beer. Sat down with a bunch of random racers from the day and had a great time with a bunch of people i dint know. That is one of the things I love about the bike racing scene, the vast majority of people are super cool and you can talk and hang with anyone. I was talking to a guy who raced who lives in Leadville, he asked me what my time was, I told him (10h10m) and he said “That’s pretty good for someone from sea level who didn’t know the course.” That made me feel pretty awesome.
|Post race beer, top 10 beer I've ever had|
|Sweet, I think I'll wear it to work|
Now for the bike nerd stuff:
Santa Cruz Blur 100mm travel front and rear w/lockout
Wheels: Nox Composite rims, Hope Pro4 hubs
Tires: Vittoria Mezcal 2.25”
PNW Dropper post
Revelate Design storage bags (Top Tube and Saddle bag). Thanks Jason!
USWE hydration pack
Data Collection: Wahoo Element Computer, Garmin Fenix watch
Tools/Repair: One spare tube (with one more in my special needs bag), 3 co2, multi tool, master link for the chain, tire levers, Dynaplug tubeless repair kit. Fortunately, didn’t need any of it.
Comments/thoughts on set up:
- Bike was awesome, totally flawless. I did a thorough tune/clean before I left, if nothing else, showing up on the starting line with a clean slick bike is confidence inspiring.
- There is lots of talk about hardtails for Leadville. I’d stick with full suspension unless you are a really skilled bike handler. A few of the descents are sketchy. See my comments on lockouts below
- The Mezcals were a great choice. They have a continuous center strip that rolls fast and they have enough traction for the course. That said, they suck as New England tires and are already off the bike.
- Dropper post: Would absolutely use one. I though about putting in a rigid post for a hot second and I’m glad i didn’t. The pound you save isn’t worth it. I’ve never really ridden an MTB without one so, for me, I think it would be weird. Another bonus to the dropper is you can get really aero on the road descents which I think helped
- Lockout: A definite must have. There is so much road and smooth dirt that you save a ton of efficiently with it. I would guess I had the suspension locked out for 1/3 of the race.
- Power Meter: Very glad I had one. Helps you pace the climbs better
- Gearing: I’d get as wide of a cassette as your set up would allow. I don’t think I’ve ever done a ride where I’ve spent as much time in the 10 tooth cog AND the 50 tooth cog.
- Computer: I’ve got a Wahoo Element which is a great computer. I had too many screens set up and scrolling thorough them was a pain. For similar races in the future I would set up two screens: one with the map of the course so I’d know the turns upcoming on downhills and a main screen that shows the upcoming elevation profile along with the distance to go, current power numbers etc.
- I’ve found that for rides longer than 3h I do well on 300-400 calories an hour.
- I tried to do this with 2 gels an hour (100cal each) and drink mix on top of that
- I set an alarm to ring every 30min to remind me to drink and take a gel
- For rides of 5h or so I was ok on just gels and liquid and I tried to do that for this race
- That much drink mix and gels got hard to take in by hour 7-8, it was just too sweet.
- No stomach cramping, but the taste got to me.
- In the future, I’d work in some solid food
- I took a few electrolyte tabs every hour, that seemed to help
By the numbers:
10:10 official time
10.3mph Ave speed
157w Ave Power
200w Normalized Power
139bmp Average Heart rate
Big Picture things I’d do different
- Have a crew. Getting in and out of the aid station would be a bit faster and you can have all your own nutrition. Also traveling is more fun when not by yourself.
- Arrive early to acclimatize. Due to our move, it wasn’t reasonable for me to be out there for a week, but that would be the best way to do it.
- Training: I’d do all the long rides i did, but I’d build in some more intensity on the shorter rides, I think my FTP probably dropped a bit as I was spending so much time at endurance pace.
- Knowing the course would be a massive advantage if I do Leadville again. The course is much harder than I realized and that was tough mentally. If I were to go into it again, knowing that I would have to walk on Columbine and Powerline that would be a lot better. I assumed I’d be able to ride those spots and not being able to do so put me in a bad spot mentally.