For a year, I’ve been thinking about this race…As a first-time Leadville 100 racer, I had the same question I think every rider does – Can I finish this race? And since it’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, could I do it 12-hours? These questions would soon be answered on the course…
This is definitely a unique race and not really sure how to categorize it – it’s a little bit xc mountain, a little gravel grinding and a little road so I went round and round on what I needed. I saw a bunch of drop bars and feel like that’s only going to increase as gravel bikes continue to evolve. I could see course records being broken with some sort of monster ‘cross bike…something with 2-2.2” tires, wide, flared handlebars and maybe a LAUF fork upfront to suck up some of the bumps. – light, efficient, fast and forgiving.
I rode my sick-ass CIVILIAN Luddite 29er hardtail with 120mm of FOX travel and 2.1” fast-rolling WTB Nano tires, Set up with an 11-speed XT drivetrain (30T chainring / 11-46T cassette). My gearing was great on all the climbs, I spun out on the descents and especially on the flat concrete sections. This was fine b/c I needed the rest – and, being such a large mammal, I’ve got gravity on my side. I considered a rigid fork, but am glad that I chose some squish up front due to the length of the race and time in the saddle, figuring the rigid would beat me up too much.
This is something that I’ve always had a hard time figuring out. I never seem to eat/drink enough on long rides, so I was really concerned about what to do, especially at elevation – I got really dehydrated doing the Best of Both race in Bend.
I also wanted to keep weight off my back, so no Camelbak, but would two bottles be enough? I figured it would because there are well-stocked aid stations every 10-15 miles, so I could carry gels, water, Nunn tablets and eat at the aid stations. I also listened to a podcast about the race hosted by a 20-time and a 5-time finisher, who re-inforced this, but also gave me some pro tips.
Most importantly, drink your calories with a camelback on the big Columbine climb/descent – a 10-mile, 3K’ climb from the lowest to highest points in the race (more on that later). So I bought a cheap and crappy Walmart camelback to do this so I could just leave it at the bottom, since I had no race support.
The other tip was to eat a gel every ½ hour, which is more than expected, but thought I’d give it a try.
I’d sum up the race like this – for the first half of the race, know your limits and stay within them. Then push those limits for the second half. This was my plan. I wanted to keep my heart-rate as comfortable as possible, only spiking when needed and saving something for the two big climbs and have some matches to burn the last 20-miles of the race.
I knew the splits I needed to hit at each aid-station, so I had that in the back of my mind and tried to have a good attitude going in, though I was freaking out all week leading up to the race.
So I’ve got my plan, my gear, my nutrition dialed, all that’s left is to get on my bike and pedal.
I woke at 3:30am to be sure I could get some breakfast, coffee and have a BM before the race. Very important! I woke felling good, despite a fairly restless night. There was no turning back now and though I could’ve done more training, I felt ready.
Got to my start corral, which due to getting in via the volunteer lottery, was all the way in the back. The hated white corral. It was about 6am, 36 degrees and it was chaos. Everyone had tons of pent up energy, myself included and I just wanted the race to start.
At 6:30 the gun goes off. I’m so far back I can’t hear or see anything going on up front…and didn’t move for about 30 seconds. Finally, we did start to roll and were off. Slowly. Once we got through the start/finish line, things picked up and there’s few-mile downhill run out of town. The only thing I was concerned with here were other riders. People are so amped up, I knew there were going to be some hard-charging assholes trying to get out in front. But there’s no way to make up that many places, so I just sat in and tried to stay safe. I passed a few, got passed, but made it through to where it flattens out onto a dirt road before the first climb.
Said climb begins slowly, and besides all the people around, was pretty easy. I got into a logjam only once, having to walk about 20-30 yards. While walking, I moved to outside, remounted and was able to stay on the bike through a hairpin left which seemed to spread everyone out. Found a wheel of a guy going about the same speed and climbed within my limits. Felt great, wasn’t burning matches and was consistently passing people.
We topped out about 10 miles and an hour in at the first aid station. I still had a bottle full, of water so kept moving, but also ate my second gel. From there we transition to concrete for a short downhill and steady up for the second climb (sugarloaf), which was 1/3 concrete, 1/3 gravel road and 1/3 double track, all at a pretty consistent grade, so I was still feeling solid. This climb does top out at 11,300’ (2ndhighest point in the race), but I didn’t feel I was suffering too badly…yet.
Sugarloaf takes you to the top of the dreaded Powerline climb, which was a fast and fun descent on the way out. I knew it was going to be rough coming back up this later with 80 miles in my legs, but needed to stay focused on the downhill for now – ruts and rocks, but nothing too technical. Got to the bottom and it flattens out onto another section of concrete for about 4 miles. Here I sat in with a guy in a Floyd’s of Leadville jersey and an Ironman tattoo on his calf. We took turns pulling all the way to the Pipeline aid station (26thmile). From here on out in the race, I’d see him over and over again, until I passed him one last time about a mile from the finish…Ironman, my ass!
I wanted to be at pipeline, no later than 2:40 into the race, and after I filled up with water, had something to eat and shed a layer I rolled out passing the timer at 2:35…so I was full of piss and vinegar.
This takes you to the “flat” section of the race which was a double track with some short ups and downs until you reach a short, mellow single track downhill. Really fun little section that lead you to a gravel climb to concrete descent to the twin lakes aid station (mile 40) and the beginning of the Columbine climb. Or maybe the beginning of the end…