I finally got a buckle for traveling 50 miles away from Leadville, turning around, and coming back.
My first attempt to earn a buckle was in 2008 when I started the Leadville Trail 100 Run. It was my first try at a 100 mile run. The weather was fairly cold and wet all day and into the night. After getting to Winfield in under 11 hours and climbing Hope Pass for the second time, I ran a little too hard for the next 15 miles to the Fish Hatchery aid station. This is when my problems began. Long story short, when I got to Mayqueen aid station at mile 87, my hips were locked up. I could barely walk. I still had over 6 hours to make it to the finish. But, the joke wasn't funny anymore. I quit.
This year I'd be going for a Leadville Trail 100 finish on my singlespeed mountain bike. I did the majority of my training on my road bike, which worked fine for getting my legs ready. Where I really suffered during the race was on the long bumpy descents. My shoulders and neck took a beating, as did my hands. I also over-packed my Camelbak pack with food, which added to the shoulder issues.
My longest road ride was 5 hours. My longest mountain bike ride was just over 5 hours at the Galena Grinder. Ashley and I were both registered for the Wasatch Back 50 Mile MTB race 3 weeks prior to the LT100. But, a week before the race her rear shock basically exploded and had to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair, which ended up taking over 2 weeks. As a result, Ashley didn't have a bike for the WB50. I felt bad doing it without her, so on the Thursday prior to the race we decided to spend the weekend at Sundance instead. Between the mini taper for the WB50 and my not replacing the WB50 with another long MTB ride, my longest MTB ride before Leadville was shorter than I had planned.
I also got in multiple 3-4 hour rides with 3000'+ of climbing throughout the spring and summer on both bikes. I climbed twice a week in the gym and did a few short hikes in the weeks leading up to the race for the sake of spending time on my feet above 10,000'. I averaged 12-16 hours per week of training leading up to the race.
WEEK OF THE RACE
I did a couple short road rides and stayed out of the gym. I made a mini spreadsheet of split times from a rider who finished in 9:50 in 2011 on a singlespeed. A sub 10 hour finish was ambitious, but I wanted to have some numbers to shoot for during the long day in the saddle. I taped the spreadsheet to my top tube.
My biggest concerns going into the race were the elevation and the expected mess it would be to get to, from, and around Leadville with so many people participating in the event. Ashley, who completed the race in 2002 and 2004, assured me that the race was not at all technical. I think I'm better on technical stuff and descents than I give myself credit for, but it's always on my mind a little bit whenever I'm riding on new trails (or dirt roads, as is the case at the LT100).
We left early Thursday morning and decided to go ahead and go to Leadville and check in, rather than waiting to check in on Friday. Racers are supposed to attend a mandatory meeting on Friday, but we were planning on bailing on that. I had read about others who had done the same in previous years. I doubted they'd be taking roll anyway. I'd just check the LT100 twitter and Yahoo group for any new race-related info. Surprisingly, we had no problems finding parking in Leadville. We got checked in in less than 20 minutes. Traffic wasn't bad either on Highway 24. We were in our condo in Vail by mid-afternoon.
The only thing we missed on Friday was pep talks from multiple speakers, as well as a surprise visit from Lance Armstrong. I would have been bummed about that, except we saw him speak at Energy Solutions Arena a few years ago. Anyway, I experienced the pre-race pep talk in the gym when Ashley raced there before and when I attempted the run in 2008.
We went on a short ride on the road on Friday. We had pasta and a salad for dinner and got to bed by 8PM. The alarm was set for 3AM. I had a packet of instant oatmeal for breakfast and ate a few bites of a PB&J when we got up to Leadville. I just didn't have an apetite. I also ate half of a Powerbar in the corral before the start.
The drive up early Saturday was traffic-free on Highway 24. I think a lot of people expected there to be construction delays as there had been during the past several weeks. We got a good parking space, unloaded the bikes, and head to the starting line corrals.
THE START AND THE RACE
Almost 2000 people and their mountain bikes were lined up on 6th Street. Since I was a first timer and Ashley hadn't done the race since 2004, we were in the last corral. I think we got there early enough to get in front of 200-300 people. How crowded it was actually helped me relax a little. There was no use in being on high alert because there wasn't any room to pass anyone. Plus, once I hit 20mph, all I could do was coast. I also knew the congestion would make the dirt descents a little slower.
A thunderstorm the night before had made the trail conditions perfect (i.e., dust free). Traffic got backed up as soon as the course started to head up St. Kevins. People were generally considerate in the stop and go traffic. I had a chance to talk to some other singlespeeders about gearing choice and other nerdy singlespeed things. My legs felt good, and I was having fun.
In many of the LT100 race reports I have read the obstacles that I have seen mentioned most often have been the almost 4 mile Powerline descent at about mile 18, the Columbine climb (mile 44-50) and descent, and the Powerline climb around mile 78. The Powerline descent was mellow because of the congestion. I passed a guy who had gone down hard and was surrounded by several other riders. One guy went down in front of me but got back up quickly and was fine. Obstacle 1- done.
The climb up Columbine was long and crowded. A lot of people were walking, myself included, although I rode a lot more of it than I expected to be able to. It was only a little sketchy because the race leaders were starting to come down as hundreds of us slower folks were heading up. I didn't eat much because my stomach was feeling off. I knew I'd feel better once I tagged the top and got back down though.
I reached the top at 5h58m and didn't even stop. There was hardly any uphill traffic once I got a couple miles from the turnaround. The top section of the descent is rocky. But, again, the speeds were fairly slow due to the number of riders and lack of safe places to pass. As I descended, I was comforted in knowing that there were people who were slower descenders than me. I knew that for sure because they were right in front of me.
As I mentioned before, my shoulders were what took the biggest beating at this race. I actually stopped on the Columbine descent once it widened in order to shake out my shoulders and to get the feeling back in my hands. After passing through the corridor of noise that was the Twin Lakes aid station (mile 40 and 60), my only real bad patch began. I was behind on calories because I wasn't eating. I felt nauseous. There was a stiff headwind. I was also stuck behind a fairly slow train of riders on the course's only real section of singletrack. I was starting to worry a little about finishing under 12 hours. I'd been about 45-60 minutes behind my goal splits from early on. Going over 10 hours wouldn't be disappointing. Going over 12 hours and not getting a buckle would be.
I forced some EFS gel into my system at 30 minute intervals. I ate a couple Honey Stinger waffles. Nevertheless, the final obstacle of the day, the Powerline climb, was long, slow, and bordering humiliating. It was on this climb that Ashley rode past me (I was walking). She looked great and was smiling. She was crushing it and looked to be able to finish under 11 hours. I just reminded myself that the climb had to end eventually and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Cheers and funny comments from spectators were motivating distractions.
The end of the climb finally came, followed by another long bumpy descent, then a long climb on the road, plus a little climbing on dirt, more road, then finally the Boulevard dirt road section. I was on the homestretch and knew I could finish under 11:30 as long as I didn't have any mechanicals. I also knew I wouldn't be DFL in the singlespeed division (unlike my last race) because I had passed some guys and girls on singlespeeds earlier.
The Boulevard represented a nice race wrap up for me. I was psyched to be almost done and proud to have accomplished my goal of leaving Leadville with a buckle. But, it was also a reminder of the relative lack of overall aesthetic of the LT100 course. This is a race on paved and dirt and gravel roads. I wasn't feeling like this was a race I'd need to come back to.
After 11 hours and 25 minutes, I rode up the red carpet and crossed the finish line. I looked for Ashley but didn't see her because I had actually passed her 14 miles earlier when she stopped to use the bathroom at an aid station. She finished in 11:28.
We hung out at the finish for about 30 minutes before heading back to the car and driving back to Vail to eat pizza and watch TV.
We got up at 5:30AM on Sunday to go to Leadville one last time to pick up our buckles and sweathshirts at the 7:30AM ceremony at the high school gym. We were there for a little over 2 hours. I expected the whole process to take a while, so I wasn't surprised when it did. We got there at 7:30 but would have been fine to have gotten there at 9:30. We were back on the road to Vail by 10.
I never thought I'd do this race. I'm psyched and proud to have done it though. However, I don't know if I'd do it again. Compared to other courses I've ridden and run it's just not that cool, especially considering how expensive it is to do it: $15 to enter the lottery, $275 entry fee, $15 service fee for paying the entry fee, travel, lodging, multiple trips to/from Leadville for check-in and awards.
How crowded the event has become takes away from it as well, something I've heard many Leadville "veterans" lament. I estimate that I lost 15-20 minutes due to the crowded conditions. Of course, everyone had to deal with that. The volunteers were awesome, as were the supportive spectators. The only time the race seemed a little unorganized was at the awards as they were distributing the belt buckles and sweatshirts. But, that was simply a result of the small amount of space they had to work with. Results were posted Saturday night and updated with chip times by the next day. Race photos were available by the following Wednesday. The decisions by me and others not to do the race again, however, allows others to experience it. It's definitely a race I'd recommend doing at least once. But, I wouldn't be surprised if I put my name in the lottery for 2013.
Bike: Felt Solo Nine 29er
Gearing: 32 X 19
Front Tire: Specialized Captain (38 psi)
Rear Tire: Maxxis Ardent (38 psi)
Ate: 3 EFS gel flasks, 5 Honey Stinger waffles, 2 Fig Newtons
Drank: 140oz water, 24oz EFS drink, 24oz Herbalife drink, 12oz some yellow sports drink(?)