Distance: 104 mi
Elevation change: ~12,000ft
Altitude: Between 9,200 ft and 12,400 ft
Time: 10 hours 3 minutes
Bike: Marin Team CXR Pro 29er (30T chainring)
Nutrition: Two 4 hour bottles of Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem, one 2 hour bottle of Perpetuem, one Hammer Nutrition Apple Cinnamon gel, Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes (2 per hour), Hammer Nutrition Race Caps (two 1 hour before start of race, then 1 every hour), 2 bottles electrolyte beverage, 70oz Camelbak of water refilled part way once, one sip of ramen soup, several chunks of watermelon doused in salt (yum)
Crew: My boyfriend Jared at Lost Canyon Rd, both inbound and outbound (approx. 2 miles past Twin Lakes)
Supplies: 70 oz Camelbak and pack, 25g CO2, pump, tube, powerlink, 1 tire lever, multi tool, packable water resistant jacket, water resistant gloves, floral shower cap
I truly didn’t know if and how this whole thing was going to work out. I went into it with the most positive mindset possible, but voice of reason was ever present, reminding me what a huge undertaking this was. It felt like there were a million ga-zillion steps just to get to the start line, never mind actually complete the grueling race. But somehow–with great patience, perseverance, and luck–I not only got to the start line, but I crossed the finish line proudly and with strength remaining.
Since moving to Seattle from Reno just a month before Leadville, I was no longer driving distance to the race. The logistics were getting more complicated and more expensive as each day passed. It felt like I just kept purging money into this endeavor. I had to buy a new frame (since I crashed mine during Marathon MTB Nats), then I had to buy plane tickets, rent camping gear, and also get a rental car. To put me even more on edge, it wasn’t until just a week before the race that Jared got approval to take time off from work to come with me. I was prepared for the possibility of going alone, but I didn’t like the idea.
We left our house at about 4:30 am on Thursday morning. Finally, over 12 hours later, I found myself standing in line at packet pickup in downtown Leadville to get my race number: #313. We made it to Leadville!
Before heading to our campground that night, we stopped into the Tabor Opera House to hear Rebecca Rusch share excerpts from her new book Rusch To Glory. We were only there for the last 20 minutes, but in that little bit of time, I learned just how powerful the Leadville experience could be. To some, it’s just a race on fire roads at altitude. For others, it is so much more. Rebecca told us that last year’s Leadville race was her proudest Leadville experience to date. But she didn’t win. She didn’t break any records. She didn’t race her fastest time. A few days before the race, she learned that a close friend of hers had died, hit by a truck while cycling. The news struck her hard and she almost went home. But she was encouraged by her boyfriend, and upon reflection, she came to recognize that Leadville wasn’t just about herself, but about all those she inspires by being there. She read, barely audible and holding back tears: “I was met by a line of athletes who came up to me to give me a hug, tell me about their own losses, share notes of inspiration, and thank me for being there with them. It was now crystal clear that my presence at Leadville was bigger than a time on the clock or four wins…. I could feel that they really appreciated that I was human….My new purpose was to show others what is possible when you give it your all and resist the urge to walk away or quit….On paper, I lost. I fell short of one of my biggest goals for the year. In my own mind, I won. I didn’t give up when it would have been easier to do so. By digging deeper than I had before, I won something far more important and learned what Leadville and racing are really about.”
The next morning, we perused the small expo area and then attended the racers’ meeting, which proved to be less about the logistics of the race, as I had expected, and more about getting you pumped up to feel like a part of the much talked about Leadville Family. After Rebecca’s heartfelt words last night, this meeting seemed too practiced and commercial. Afterwards, I took my bike out for a 40 minute spin to cover the first and last parts of the course. I expected symptoms of acute mountain sickness, maybe heavy breathing or a headache. I had become a Seattle flatlander after all. But I felt good. I was stoked and ready!
Saturday morning – another 4:30am wake up call. I was getting used to this. 🙂 I got dressed and ready to go at the campground, and kept the pre-race rituals at the venue to a minimum. There’s no need to warm up for a 100 mile race. You just want to stay warm while waiting for the gun to go off.
Supposedly, the first 3+ miles through town are led by a motorcade and are a “neutral start.” In reality, everyone started to jockey for positions, eager to get ahead for the first climb on St. Kevin’s. I played it calm and cool. It felt like tons of people were passing me, but we were in the first 30 minutes of a 9+ hour race! Chill people! Some riders crashed in just the first mile, carelessly crossing wheels and cutting back and forth between other cyclists. I kept my distance from other wheels and kept my elbows way out. Once at the St. Kevin’s climb, we were forced by the terrain into single file, and I took it easy. People around me would press to pass, and I could hear their breathing spike and become labored. In just 10 miles or less, I knew the roads would widen and allow for the field to spread. I was patient.
To be on a sub-9 hour pace, I should have reached the first aid station, Carter Summit, in about 50 minutes. I was closer to 60, but I didn’t care. I made it through the starting chaos safely and feeling good. After Carter Summit, you get to fly down the road on Hangerman Pass. It goes by quickly though, and then you’re climbing again for about 6 miles or so to the top of Sugarloaf pass at 11,000 ft. Then, the infamous Powerline descent!! I can’t tell you how much hype this descent has! It is indeed deeply rutted and rocky in places. But honestly, I found it a bit anticlimactic. What I feared, though, was the return climb up this sandy, rutted track at mile 80 on the return…. (gulp.)
You hit the flats after this steep descent, and I got in with a fast moving crew. After some double track dirt, you arrive to Pipeline Aid Station at 28.3 miles. At this point, I think I was 20 minutes or so off pace. Honestly, I had already stopped worrying about this. The splits on my top tube were for reference, and if magically I was within a few minutes, then I’d push. Much outside of that, I was just going to have my own race.
The terrain is varied from Pipeline to Twin Lakes. There are some steep pitches up and down, a bit of single track, and more pavement. Twin Lakes is the busiest, most chaotic Aid Station. Jared and I opted to use the alternate crewing area about 2 miles beyond Twin Lakes, at the end of Lost Canyon Rd. There, I picked up fresh bottles from Jared and after a quick kiss, started the Columbine ascent.
The lower pitches of Columbine are reasonable. I was either in my lowest or second to lowest gear and maintained a steady and sustainable cadence. Before long, the leader whizzed by me in the opposite direction and others were following in quick succession, so I stuck close to my side of the road. After the “hillbilly/red neck curve” (Jared and I called it that cuz there are ATVs, camo trucks, and run down looking structures there), the pitch steepens, the road narrows, and the terrain becomes loose, rutted, and rocky. I stayed on my bike for a fair amount of this, carefully picking my way around folks that were pushing their bikes. Before long though, it was no longer safe for me to try riding onwards with the inbound riders flying down, nearly grazing my elbows. I think it was less than a mile that I pushed my bike, then I remounted and rode gratefully to the top aid station. I took one gulp of ramen and savored cubes of watermelon doused in salt. The melon was really delicious…. Then I put on my light wind jacket and headed down.
I did another bottle switch when I met Jared at the bottom of Columbine, and then I continued on the eternal pedal fest to the base of Powerline. I rode more of Powerline than I thought possible, again squeezing by some folks who were walking. Inevitably, I joined the walking conga line for the steepest of steep parts.
The lowest point of the race for me was on the flats back to the Pipeline Aid station. There was a fast group ahead of me that I couldn’t catch, and there was only one person behind me. When he rolled up to me, he asked if we could take turns doing 30 second pulls. Hell, yes! It was still difficult, as the winds were mostly blowing across us. Instead of riding one behind the other, we’d mostly ride two abreast with one shielding the other from the brutal cross winds. Rain flirted with us, but the skies never opened. Before too long, we returned to the protection of the trees and resumed climbing, back up Hangerman Pass road.
At this point, I realized I had forgotten to stop at the Pipeline Aid station to refill my Camelbak. I was still an hour away from Carter Summit and had little water. There were a row of spectators along Hangerman Pass Rd, so I called out asking if anyone had extra water. In quick response, a woman opened up her gallon water jug and refilled my water reservoir, and I was on my way again.
I got more liquids at Carter Summit and popped a few more salty watermelon cubes, and then I continued the grind to the top of St. Kevin’s. After that, there’s fun, fast downhill fire road until you cross Turquoise Lake Rd. I truly enjoyed that part. The final 6 or so miles are on some double track road and fire road. It’s mostly a gentle uphill rise, but at this point– my Garmin now reading 100 miles and 9+ hours– the grade felt steep and I was aching to get the last 4 miles done.
Once you crest the hill, the finish line banner is in sight. What I didn’t expect was that the last 100 yards or so was uphill. For reelz?!?! An uphill finish!?!?! But before I even had time to grimace, I rolled onto the red carpet, past the finish line, and queued up to receive a finisher’s medal from Marilee herself. Done!
I’d also like to thank my coach, Julie Young from O2 Fitness in the Reno-Tahoe area. Even though my last 2 months of training were not ideal because of my move to Seattle, the 6 months of work I put in before that gave me a very strong base that I could rely on come race day. I will continue to receive coaching from her as I transition into this cyclocross season. Even though we’re working together remotely, she provides great individualized training plans. I recommend her!
All of us were lucky with the weather. The best possible weather blessed our race day. Sunday afternoon and Monday we were hit with rain storms and periodic sleet. Temps dropped more than 10 degrees in a few minutes. It would have made for an utterly miserable race day.
On Sunday, we drove to Weston Pass and Independence Pass. Beautiful country!
Modern living at Weston Pass
If anyone plans to do Leadville and wants to hit me up for advice, don’t hesitate. Will I go again? Not sure. The sub 9-hour goal is still lingering. But I had a great race and I don’t feel like I have to better it. And there are so many other races out there that pique my interest: High Cascade 100, Breck Epic, other 24 hr races, etc. If you have a favorite endurance race, please let me know!