The Leadville 100 Experience… or “Leadville 73.5” as I call it

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I’m pretty sure my bucket list always read dthe Leadville 100, not finish the Leadville 100.  And I did just that!  For the down and dirty, I quit at inbound Pipeline Aid Station at mile 73.5.  And I’m okay with that.  It started going south about mile 29 very quickly, so the fact I hung on for another 44 miles (and including the climb up Columbine which covers over 3300 feet of elevation gain in 7 miles) I think says something.  Not sure what that something is, but something.

I was up stupidly early on race day, way earlier than necessary for a 6:15am start.  I learned the white (aka last) corral is not a curse, as when they took down the tape and smooshed us together I was halfway up the blue corral.  Whew, glad I didn’t spend a ton of money traveling to a qualifier, as it really didn’t make a difference!  The start of the LT100 is the most bizarre thing ever as you hear the shotgun go off… and then you sit there.  And sit some more.  I checked my Garmin and we didn’t move for nearly 2 minutes after the start of the race.  It was almost 5 minutes before I actually crossed the timing mat at the starting line.  Not what I’m use to for sure!  I was worried about the start with over 2000 people, most who are not competitive cyclists by any means and not use to fast group riding.  Luckily once I crossed the starting line I was able to rapidly start picking off hundreds of people.  Literally hundreds!

Once upon the dirt there were moments of frustration as everyone would come to a stop on every little tiny incline on the road.  Time for more passing, and more passing, and some more passing.  A gal I befriended on Facebook gave me the advice of “pass 600 people and you’ll do fine,” so I was on the path to do exactly that.  I really wanted to clear the St Kevin’s climb, which starts about 5 miles in, without walking.  Walking is usually “necessary” due to all the people, but I hate walking very rideable, “mild” climbs.  I watched as people would bobble and fall over on 2″ high baby head rocks, and I was worried I’d have to come off the bike… but thank goodness for sketchy line choices and good bike skills, and I was motoring past people when I could, and patiently track standing when I had to!  Not a step was taken off the bike the entire St Kevin’s climb!!  Traffic thinned out significantly as I got to the top of that climb, and I speedily descended down.

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Still got the arm warmers and will to race at this point

Sugarloaf climb also went awesome, and I continued just motoring past everyone crawling on the smoothest line by taking the rough rocky lines.  I had a pace chart on my top tube, and I knew I was covering ground pretty darn fast.  I really didn’t give second thought to if my pace was too much, as the climbs felt ok to me and I never felt redlined.  I was drinking my Tailwind quite well and also took a gel before Sugarloaf for an extra boost.  The Powerline descent went ok… I took it slowly and smoothly, and soon was flying to the Pipeline aid station, where I had the crew from Peloton Cycles to assist me.

The pink flamingos of the Peloton Cycles tent!

The pink flamingos of the Peloton Cycles tent!

With a pee break, and a refill of my Camelback I was on my way out of Pipeline.  I decided to have a Stinger Waffle, and struggled to get it down, and suddenly puked it back up around mile 29.  My stomach turned and felt weird, but I just kept motoring on, though I also stopped drinking as much, as it didn’t seem appealing.  There was a single track descent between two road sections (wait, it’s the ONLY single track in the whole darn race), and on a straight stretch I managed to crash… I have no idea how or why.  A bunch of guys asked if I was alright, and I was except I was super embarrassed that I, Ms. Mountain Biker in a Roadie Dirt Road Race, managed to crash on single track.  I got back on and kept on motoring.  Coming into Twin Lakes aid station I knew I needed to try to get some food in me, but knew fruit would be about the only thing I would be able tolerate.  I decided to skip neutral and go to the second Peloton tent and ask for a banana… which they didn’t have.  Since anything process turned my stomach I just headed out to start the Columbine climb.

Look ma, I found the single track!

Look ma, I found the single track!

I’m not sure anything prepares anybody for the horror and hell of the Columbine climb.  For years I’ve always heard “blah blah blah Laramie Enduro is harder than Leadville.  Blah blah blah 40 in the Fort is harder than Leadville.”  UMM… NO!  There is NOT a 3300 foot climb over 7 miles in either of those races! Yes, Laramie Enduro is harder in the sense you actually have to be a mountain biker to handle the course, but never do you have the hell anywhere near what Columbine is like!  I think this was one of my fatal mistakes, believing that the Laramie Enduro was truly harder.  Anyways… hell.  The two way traffic already started before I started the climb, though I was far ahead of any cuts and about on a 11 hour pace when I started (both male and female course records would fall).  Mentally I just could not prepare to spend 2 hours and 19 minutes climbing 7 miles, and I couldn’t handle it… and I love climbing.  I stopped a few times and cried.  I debated turning around.  I felt sick of my stomach.  At tree line where the goat trail starts I began having breathing difficulties.  I have no respiratory history, so I found it quite scary to be wheezing and gasping for air all the while hyperventilating.  I was walking my bike, wheezing, gasping, and moist coughing (mmmm pulmonary edema) when I saw Ken Chlouber perched upon his ATV.  I mouthed “I can’t breathe” to him with an expression of terror, and to my horror he laughed and said, “That’s how we designed this race.  Keep moving, little girl.  Dig deep!”  I swear if I could breathe and had the energy he would’ve had a 25 pound Specialized Epic flying at his head.

At this point it was a hike a bike, and strangely enough it felt good to walk and stretch my leg muscles while moving at a whopping 1.9 mph, even though I couldn’t breathe.  But I was mentally in the pits.  I was planning on quitting on the top.  Which logically would make no sense as they don’t have any support to get you back so I would’ve had to ride down.  But whatever, it was my plan.  I was getting annoyed by people around me, and got snappy with a guy behind me who said, “We’re almost there!”  We were still 2 miles from the top, which I pointed out to him.  He shut up.  2 miles meant over an hour.  (Also, if I hear the term “Dig deep” once more in my life I will strangle someone… just saying)  Trudge trudge trudge.  Of all the “death marches” I’ve ever thought I’ve been on in a ride or a race, they just didn’t compare.  This is why the Columbine climb was a good victory for me… there will never be anything I’ll run into in a standard XC race that will ever be as brutal… it has a way of making everything else seem like child’s play.

I came into the aid station still on an 11 hour split, got some Coke and immediately just broke down and sobbed.  I had about 5 or so volunteers around me, hugging me, holding my bike, and shoving all sorts of food in my face which made me want to puke just at the sight of them.  I agreed to watermelon, which went down ok, and then asked for some of the ramen soup they had.  I drank down a cup and felt energized.  One of the volunteers pointed out I was still on an amazing pace.  So I begrudgingly took off, nervous for the descent.  It’s rocky and loose on top, and then just steep dirt roads.  I’m a wimpy descender, so needless to say I stayed in control but completely cooked my rear rotor and brand new rear brake pads.  I passed by Ken on the way down… he yelled out “Hey, there you are!” and I replied “I’ve called you every bad name in the book on my way up!” and he laughed with a smile and said “Go get your buckle!”

I was feeling a lot more positive since the ramen (yay, saved by ramen at 12,500 feet!) and then about 0.5 miles from Twin Lakes I heard a metallic twang and a guy behind me yelled out “Hey, you broke a spoke!”  Oh, of course my bike would decide to go break itself once I was finally not starving!  The guy stopped with me since he said he was a bike mechanic, and wound it around another spoke so it wouldn’t be flying around, but told me no way could I finish without destroying my wheel.  Geez, thanks for a great reason to stop!  I pulled into the Peloton crew and the mechanic trued it up a bit and told me it should be ok.  By then my ramen high was wearing off, my back was cramped, and my knees felt like inflamed watermelons, and I knew I had about 10 miles or so to debate what I would do.  I knew what was coming after Pipeline, and frankly, I had no interest in riding it.  And it wasn’t Powerline that I was dreading, it was actually the several miles of road climbing up to Carter Lake.  I had no desire to ride a full suspension mountain bike up a paved climb.  Weird, I know, as everyone thinks Powerline is the worse.  Tossed me a road bike, and I would’ve finished.  Maybe.

Yep, I'm over this.

Yep, I’m over this.

Funny enough, I was still on a low 11 hour pace.  I was still going pretty darn quick.  I rode with a guy the last few miles back into Pipeline, and he was shocked to hear that I was quitting because I was dropping him on the climbs.  But I was done.  I would look down and see the rear wheel wobbling (albeit not that badly) between my legs, and figured it was just good to stop while I was still not needing medical intervention and the bike was not needing expensive repairs.  I thought about the final 3 XC races I have coming up this week, and knew my heart was in finishing those fast and strong, not trudging up pavement.  I pulled into the tent at Pipeline at 73.5 miles and into Chris’ hug, crying.  He nodded and understood that I was done.  I could barely get my leg off and over my bike, and when I took my pack off my back cramped up even worse.  It took a hour or so and a couple of Aleve before I could straighten my knees.  I curled up in one of the camp chairs and just watched the action go by.  First text was to my coach, who I felt like I was letting down.  I mean, I had about 30 miles to go.  I was shocked at the number of racers still flying by.  I felt like I was in the bottom few, and really… I wasn’t.  Second text was to my boyfriend.  I opened up my phone and saw a text from him saying “You’re flying!” and it brought on more tears as I felt for a few moments that I was letting everyone down.  I just DNF’d a race I was actually doing well at…

Alan offered to set me up on his bike so I could finish but I refused.  I sat in the chair for two hours until time cut, and then walked down and had my wrist band cut off and timing chip removed.  I got some funny looks when I explained I had been there for two hours waiting to time cut myself.

So yeah… that was my LT100 experience.  I do have moments when I’m like, “dang, I should’ve finished!” but I have a lot more moments that are happy I pulled the plug.  I didn’t even drink a liter of water in a good 4 hours or so and only had that dixie cup of ramen to eat.  When you’re getting physically destroyed, it’s harder to stay together mentally for sure!  (I had another guy tell me “You looked like warmed over death on the top of Columbine, glad to see you’re ok and still riding” a little past Twin Lakes… ok, I must’ve looked really bad.)  Overall, I rode for 7 hours 55 minutes and 73.5 miles.

Now for some random thoughts:

  • I met Rebecca Rusch!
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  • The Leadville Hostel was… not my cup of tea.  Great to be a few blocks from the starting line, but the noise made for a lack of sleep I couldn’t handle.  And I’m kinda an anti-social being, especially after physically and mentally endeavors like endurance mountain bike racing.
  • If I’m paying $400 to race you better give me more than a kids’ size portion of spaghetti at the pre-race dinner.  I’m talking to you, LT100!
  • There’s some beautiful scenery, and I missed nearly all of it because I was too busy suffering to look around.  I didn’t even take a photo on Columbine because I was too busy melting down.
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  • Overall, LT100 feels like you’re in one big informercial trying to sell you stuff.  Very, if not too, corporate, commercialized, and hokey.
  • The spectators and volunteers are amazing, however!  My favorite was a little girl who yelled, “Keep it up, polka dots!”  (I was wearing my polka dot gloves)
  • Annika Langvad kicked some major ass!  She was a red blur going by on Columbine!  Great to see her break the 7 hour barrier!
  • Full suspension.  Enough said.  I was wrongly told by the Internet (aka LT100 group on Facebook) that seemingly if you’re not on a hardtail you’ll be super slow and lose time.  I smartly listened to my gut and rode full suspension, which I am thankful for as the course is super rough!  And ummm, the top pros, including Annika, were on full suspension.  I do what Annika does.  😉
  • I came home with four new Purist water bottles.  I have an addiction
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  • Berry Oreos are good.  Butter croissants are even better to fill you up after a lack of spaghetti
  • I met some new people, and made a new friend, Mary Beth, who lives in New York.  She invited me to come stay.
  • All the teenagers in Leadville have piercings and funny colored hair.  Or so it seems.
  • After riding a bike for nearly 8 hours and not eating all day, when I get to a Subway when my appetite finally returns to the point I can try some processed food, I can’t recall what lettuce is called.  I had to grunt and point at it.  Seriously, mentally fried.
  • The finish line is flat looking in photos.  It’s actually a horrible hill.  I rode the last 10 mile stretch twice in the days leading up to the race.  Yeah, be prepared to climb.
  • I don’t get how they time cut people and then provide them with no way back to the town of Leadville.  I heard they tell a lady at Pipeline when she asked, “I don’t know, call someone.”  What if you didn’t have someone to call??  A lot of people travel to this race alone and don’t have a crew.  Luckily I had a crew (played a part in my decision to stop at Pipeline for sure), but that still doesn’t sit well for me.  Take responsibility for the racers you time cut.
  • Unfortunately, this is the first year a participant lost their life during the race, Scott Ellis.  He was on the Peloton Cycles team, so teammate to many of my friends.  55 years old, 19th time doing LT100, and had a heart attack on the top of Powerline inbound.  I’m still digesting how I feel about it.

Ok ok ok… so what’s the verdict?  Will be there a big redemption push like there was for the Laramie Enduro?  No.  It’s simply too expensive and not interesting enough for me to return.  I will consider the Leadville Stage Race, as it’s more my pace of things – but once again the cost is a major factor and there’s just so many other events I could do… like 11 cyclocross races for the price of the one stage race.  But I am fine skipping the hoopla that is the Leadville Trail 100.  I consider it a check off my bucket list, and I got to experience the craziness of it for a few days, and do some cool stuff and meet some cool people!  And I still had my victories during the race, such as climbing St Kevins and Sugarloaf like a beast, and pushing myself up Columbine when it could’ve been so easy to turn around.  Like I mentioned earlier, these events have a great method of changing your perspective when doing other races, so now I will push that much harder on my shorter races, as I know it’s not going to be nearly as bad!

Blackened rotor, cuddling spokes, and starting corral a million miles from the starting line.

Blackened rotor, cuddling spokes, and starting corral a million miles from the starting line.

Here’s a round of up my split times:

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