The Leadville 100 is known for lots of things.
- Nearly the entire race is above 10,000 ft & it tops out at over 12,600.
- It is one of the original endurance MTB races; I think of it as the Boston Marathon of cross country mountain bike racing.
- It's also known for awarding its riders with belt buckles for finishing. Everyone who finishes under 12 hours gets a gaudy silver & gold buckle. An extra large and gaudy buckle is awarded for the few who can finish under 9 hours.
Going into this race I just wanted a buckle - period. I figured I wouldn't have much of a chance at 9 hours, but I wanted to be darn sure I came home with a buckle.
In fact, I should have been more confident in my preparation; I had a great shot at 9 hours. I missed the 9 hour milestone and the big buckle by only 6 minutes and 36 seconds. Now that more time has passed I have come to the proper conclusion that the only way to get faster is to get stronger. So with that perspective, I am at peace - more than that - I am proud of my first Leadville 100.
Bike, gear & nutrition
After plenty of deliberation I went with bottles instead of Camelback - and it was the right choice. The course provides plenty of opportunities to grab a bottle & with a few crew stops I could carry all the water I needed. Two in the frame and one in my jersey. I think my days of Camelback are behind me.
As for fuel I opted for a combination of GU Roctane powder & gels pluse a few bottles of Hammer Perpetuem. Truth is, I have gotten a little tired of all Perpetuem all the time, the Roctane feels lighter and easier to get down (and keep down) especially when I get tired. I ended up eating about 6 or 7 gels and I should have gone for a few more. Next time I'm going to fill my jersey with about 10 different flavors and give myself a little surprise with each dose.
My bike was a 2018 Trek Pro-Caliber 9.8 - it's a carbon hardtail with the new SRAM Eagle 1 x 12. The bike was perfect, a great climber and plenty fun on the downhills. I can see the benefit of a full suspension with all of the rocky roads, but it would be hard to take on the extra weight.
The race started at 6:30. We were staying at an incredible Air BnB just one block away from the start / finish so we didn't even leave the house 'til 6. I climbed into my corral by 6:10 and then chilled for 20 minutes with a friend 'til the gun. Couldn't have been easier. I only hope we can get that same Air BNB again - it was awesome.
I was warned it would be cold at the start and it was. I took the advice of a guy we met earlier in the week & wore a garbage bag under my jersey for the start. I kept it on for the first 10 miles or so, then I just tore it away. It worked great. I had long fingered gloves with some cheap cotton ones over the top and yet another pair of wind-shell mittens. My hands we're still cold - but that it just me, I get cold fingers and toes all them time. Next year I'd rather get some cheap throw-away gloves to wear over the top and then just drop 'em after a few miles.
The first 3-5 miles were downhill and on pavement - not nearly as steep as the start at Lutsen, but still very fast and cold. I generally don't like these fast starts with everyone bunched up together - and I lost as bunch of spots. After a short stretch on flat dirt we started the climb on St Kevins. The St Kevins climb was easy. Crowded, but I never had to get off the bike. Some people were riding like morons, but that is to be expected. Next year I'd like start faster, push more on the downhill rollout, get past more people and then be more aggressive on the first climb.
I didn't really know what to expect on the Powerline section. I was probably half-way down before I even knew it. As with just about every other downhill on the day I picked my way carefully down without much drama. Several people around let out audible sighs of relief at the bottom, clearly thankful to come down unscathed.
What can I say? Climbing Columbine was fun. The climb started just a mile or so after I met with my crew at Twin Lakes, so my bottles were refreshed and pockets loaded with gels. The weather was great so I didn't have to worry about packing extra layers - I just rode up with my long-sleeve Under Armour compression shirt underneath my jersey. This is an out & back course and after only about 30 minutes into the climb the leaders started to pass us on their way down. Amazing. The gravel road section wasn't too steep and looking back, this is a great section to make up some time. Once you get off the road and onto the goat track the climbing gets steeper, but still almost entirely rideable. At the summit there is a slight downhill to the turn-around & aid-station - I just kept riding and started my descent.
I think I preferred the climb up to the ride down. I am not a great descender and I lost plenty of time and several places on my way down. On the top half (the goat track) I was wishing I had a full suspension. On the road I was wishing I knew how to take the corners. I got passed by lots of people, even making way for them to easily & safely get passed. My strategy coming in was to be cautious on the downhills - I didn't want to wreck. But a better strategy would be to learn how to descent so that I can be safe without having to be slow.
After coming down off Columbine there were a few miles back to Twin Lakes and my crew. I bottled up again and headed out without much of a break. By now I had seen the entire course and had gained confidence. I was ready to push these last 40 miles and see if I could get in under 9 hours.
By the time I got back to the base of Powerline I was feeling pretty good. I had been hammering just about all the way from Twin Lakes and was ready to push on. The truth is, I wasn't prepared for climbing Powerline. Coming the other way, a few hours earlier on the ride out, it seemed like we descended this section in just a few minutes. I didn't appreciate how steep and long it really was.
As I started the climb I worked pretty hard to stay in the saddle. I really didn't want to get off & walk and I was feeling good, even a little aggressive. I was riding pretty well and cleaned many of the early climbs, even some that others were walking. But I didn't understand how long it would go on. Suffice it to say, the climb went on and on - and I ended up walking, a lot. I don't know if the time I lost on Powerline is what I actually cost me a 9 hour finish, but I never fully recovered from the effort I put into this section. I was in debt for most of the last 30 miles and the race suddenly became a game of survival.
I don't remember the sequence of the final sections after finally clearing the top of Powerline. I do remember a long uphill on the road (paved) where I struggled and lost more time. And there were several long & rocky descents where I carefully picked my line, prayed to get through without a flat and wished I had a full suspension.
Once I got down St Kevins I knew I was only a few miles away. Not exactly sure how many miles, but I knew it couldn't be many. With the finish so close I again thought I had a chance at 9 hours and suddenly I had a little life. I was on the flats again and I hit the gas hard. Of course I miscalculated and what I thought was only 2 or 3 miles was closer to 5 or 6. And to make matters even worse, much worse, there was one more rocky uphill that was not part of the outbound course - so it caught me completely by surprise and put the final nails in my 9 hour Leadville 100.
I would definitely like another shot at this course and at 9 hours. If I train a bit harder, avoid any mechanicals (again) and get a little luck I know I can get in faster. The course is hard, but not unreasonable. And now I know what to expect, which is really half the battle.
Here's to the town of Leadville & the race crew. It's a great town and a great event. I can't wait to ride it again.
Here's a link to my ride on Strava.