This year the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race was as epic as any. Listening to the rain come down most of the night before wasn’t the most encouraging sound, but work had really been stressful this week and there were serious doubts that I would even be able to make the race. So I was just thankful to be here no matter what the weather.
The rain cleared by starting time (6:30 am) and the sea of mountain bikers was amazing. Somewhere around 1,500 of us. I was able to find a place among the first 150 or so. With Lance Armstrong starting, it was definitely a circus. A helicopter circling overhead, TV cameras, thousands of people. The Leadville Trail 100 certainly has changed over the years.
The start was fast. The first 3 miles or so is a police escort out of town to the trail head. Typically it is fairly controlled and we stay bunched up all the way to the trail. This year was smoking. It was probably the best start ever. Things were starting thin out before we even got to the trail head. Lance brought an entourage of pacers that were absolutely flying. (Most of them wouldn’t finish. Lance was using them to set a fast early pace to beat Dave and smash the course record).
So we hit the trail flying but with room to breath. I was feeling great and relaxed, probably somewhere in the first 200 riders. For some added excitement, we spooked a herd of cattle that stampeded through the woods beside us. As they were stampeding right next to us a lot of guys were trying to scare them off with their best cowboy hoop & holler imitations. They eventually cut across the trail right in front of us. There were some pretty big bulls in the group!
The climb up St. Kevins went very well. I felt so relaxed and my legs felt so good. This climb is steep, loose and rocky with only a couple of good lines up it. Today for some reason we were up in no time, and I didn’t feel like I was red-lining at all. We continued on the trail with rolling hills, loose off camber turns, fast rough descents, short steep climbs and a very fast pace. I felt relaxed and was enjoying every second. At some point it started raining, and like all rain at that altitude, it was cold. We hit a long road descent that took us to the bottom of the Haggarman Pass/Sugarloaf climb. We were absolutely flying in a group, sling-shotting off each other, and getting drenched. I began thinking this could be a long cold wet day, but I was still glad to be there.
The climb up Sugarloafin went well. I felt relaxed, the legs were strong and like the St. Kevin’s climb, it didn’t seem anywhere near as hard as in the past. As we were climbing a rider beside me said "this sucks". I thought "how could this suck? Wars, poverty, gangs, child abuse suck. Not riding mountain bikes in the Rocky Mountains by our own choice". Anyway, I diverge. I replied "Well we could be at work". The descent down the Powerline was fast and fun. Because of the rain, a very easy to follow line by the riders ahead of us made descending choices simple. Even though it was wet, I think this was one of my faster descents down the power-line.
The ride to Twin Lakes was fast and furious. The route to Twin Lakes is a series of fire roads and a little single track. I got into a four man pace-line and as we caught other riders they joined and our group grew to about 12 – 15. Most us blew through the 1st aid station at pipeline and pretty evenly spread out the work up front. There is a new section of course that replaces a short steep drop-off that used to be called the "North-Face". The single track winds down the ridge instead of dropping straight down like the North Face. It adds about 1 ½ miles to the course but was a pretty fun section. My only issue was I was cold and shaking pretty bad, making it hard to stay on the trail, almost overshooting a couple switch backs.
At Twin Lakes I met Roswitha who was crewing for me and she had everything ready to go. I was in and out in no time. Now the real fun began. The ten mile climb up Columbine! The climb starts out with some rolling hills, until we turn on to a dirt Forest Service road that climbs steadily until the last three miles above timberline. From there it turns into steep rocky jeep trails. When we hit the forest road, I temporarily felt like I was struggling a little bit, but relaxed and found my rhythm. The road was a little mushy from the rain, making it slower than normal. I began passing people one by one throughout the climb. Just as we came above timberline, Dan caught me on his single speed, but now we were hitting parts that were too steep for even Dan to climb. (On a single speed). He had to get off and push and I kept riding. The clouds were looking pretty ominous, and when we reached about 12,000 feet, they opened up in a deluge of hail. Ouch! Luckily, I was still going uphill. I thought about how painful this was going to be descending. The deluge only lasted for five minutes and as fast it came, it went away. By the time I got to the top, the sun was out and everything was beautiful.
Leadville is an out & back course, and the top of Columbine is the turn-around point. I hit the top around 4:35, somewhere around 130th place. I needed a faster second half to break 9 hours. I felt good and if nothing went wrong, confident that I could. From the top of Columbine is a high speed descent down very rough jeep trails with hundreds of riders coming up. Makes it just that more interesting. I was descending very well, and I came upon a rider that wasn’t descending as fast and got caught up behind him. With all the riders coming up, there was just no where to pass. Once we hit the forest service road, I was able to get by him and let it rip. I found out real quick though that some of the switchbacks were slick as snot and almost lost it into on-coming riders as I fish-tailed and skidded in very slick mud. The rest of the way down I let it rip, but made sure I slowed way down before each switchback.
Back at Twin Lakes and again, Roswitha had everything ready. It was a perfect pit stop. I climbed out of Twin Lakes then got with a group and we pace-lined to the single-track section. The wind was howling and at each switchback we got it from a different direction. A rider ahead of me was blown off his bike.
Once at the top of the ridge, we rode rolling fire-roads to the next and last aid station, the "Pipeline". Roswitha was there and had everything ready. Another perfect pit stop. The sun was shining and I was feeling great. Got with a good pace-line to the base of the Powerline. The Powerline is a nasty, steep, long, climb with several false summits. The first two steep pitches, no one rides, except maybe Lance & Dave. I tried it in the past, but there was a guy pushing his bike right beside me going the same speed. It’s just not worth the effort. Just like at Silver Rush, my running came to an advantage here, and I passed qutie a few in the "hike a bike" sections. Once past the two hike a bike sections, I climbed steadily, and steadily passed people. One guy hung with me for a while. It was his firt Leadville, and every time we came to a false summit he’d ask if we were at the top. After the third one, I told him we had a couple more to go with a pretty steep pitch on the last one. He replied "F&*# this" and I never saw him again.
Got to the top and let it rip. I really like this descent. It’s rocky and fun and you can really pick up some speed. Once down, the loooong road climb began. All you can do here is hope your feeling decent, get into a rhythm and start climbing. Most guys are pretty blown here. I was feeling good. I just started climbing and one by one I picked people off. No one made an attempt to stay with me, just a grunt of "good job dude". About ½ way up, finally a guy jumped on my wheel. He asked me if I thought we had a chance of breaking 9 hours. I said yes, but we would have to finish strong. He stayed with me to the top of the road and to the top of St. Kevin’s. We bombed down St. Kevin’s, and I overshot a couple of switchbacks, but nothing major. Once we hit the road outside Leadville we had a pretty flat mile or two to the notorious "Boulevard". There was a pretty stiff headwind and he left me out front the whole time. I mentioned that we should work together, but he said he was barely hanging on. So I told him to stay on my wheel and we’ll get there. I was getting a little worried though, because both legs were starting to cramp.
We turned onto the Blvd, and I made sure to stay relaxed even though we were climbing some loose rocky stuff that takes a bit of grunting. I just kept saying to myself "relax, relax, your not going to cramp". We climbed the 3 miles into Leadville, passing destroyed riders, who were just surviving. Outside of the mild cramping, I was still feeling pretty good. I thought to myself, "next week I’ll be coming up this same Blvd a drooling idiot". We crested the final hill and into the finish line. I achieved my goals of finishing, enjoying every minute of it, and breaking 9 hours with 8:45:35. My overall placing was 86th of 973 finishers and somewhere between 1,300 – 1,500 starters.
It was epic, epic, epic. And I love it, love it, love it!
The 10K Run
The following day, Sunday, was the 10k running race. The course is out and back following the last 3.1 miles of the LT100 mile course. It goes down the Blvd, then turns around and comes back up. Running a 10k at 10,000 feet is not easy. Don’t even think about time. My plan was to take it easy. My only concern was Max. There is a dog category and Max was the defending champion. I didn’t want to go hard as I wanted to save my effort for the 100 mile run next week, but didn’t want to disappoint Max either.
The race went well, Max and I took the lead in the dog class, without pushing too hard. Upon coming back, I saw we had a pretty good lead and we could coast to the finish (if you can coast running uphill at 10,000 feet)! I passed a guy on a steeper section and he asked me what age group I was in. When I told him 50+ he said "that’s what I was afraid of". Then the competitive part of me kicked in. I thought, hmm, I could be winning my age group, and then turned it into a race. I started upping the pace and running hard, which is what I didn’t want to do. Coming up over the final hump into Leadville, it felt like my lungs were being ripped out. I ended up winning the age group and Max successfully defended his title as "Top Dog"!
Next week is the big one. I’m looking forward to it. So far its been one amazing journey!