I distinctly remember the first words that spilled out of my mouth when race director Merilee Maupin hugged me and put the finisher’s medal around my neck, “Man, that was harsh.” Additionally, there was a gigantic smile on my face, displayed in several photos.
If I had written this debrief the morning after the race it would certainly have had a different tone that it does today, nearly a week post-race. My mind has a convenient way of twisting things all around to conclude, “It wasn’t that bad,” as I gaze into the rearview mirror.
I’ve written about the Leadville 100 mountain bike race for several years, five to be exact. My first race was in 2005 and the entry field has doubled since then. To say my finish was tight that year is an understatement. The cut-off time to be an official finisher is 12 hours, my time was 11:59:55. Last a$$ indeed.
The weather forecast for this year’s event was dry and a chance of rain at 5:00pm. The day before the race a fellow racer asked me if I thought it would rain on race day. I said, “Yes. Absolutely. This is Colorado, it always rains in the mountains in the afternoon.”
He inquired, “What about the morning?”
“Naw, I don’t think we’ll have rain in the morning.”
When I walked out of my hotel room at 5:00 am on race morning, the ground was wet, it was drizzling and the sky was heavy with clouds. Uh-huh. Go figure.
I was pretty warm at the start, wearing a vest, knee warmers, arm warmers, jersey, ear band, helmet cover and my top secret toe covers. I’ll let you in on the secret…
For a mountain bike ride that has a lot of hike-a-bike (like this race for me), conventional toe covers do not work well. What I do is cut the corners out of the bags used to cover your morning newspaper and slip those over just my socked toes, inside my shoe. This keeps the wind (and rain) off of my toes, but keeps most of my foot exposed so I don’t get too hot.
I remember looking toward the mountains before the race start and mentioning to my buddy Scott Ellis that it was going to rain. He nodded.
I don’t remember when it started raining steady, but I think it was somewhere on the first climb. It seems like there was rain off and on (more on than off) for the first three and a half hours of my race. By this time I was on the Columbine Mine climb. Then, it began pouring with no end of rain in sight. I stopped to put on a jacket before heading to near 13,000 feet of elevation where I knew each pedal stroke upward meant colder temperatures.
There were definitely times when negative thoughts crept into my mind. It happens to everyone. I just asked myself, “Would you rather quit? Stopping is always an option, always a choice.”
“No. I want to ride until the temperatures or the rain make me miserable or make it unsafe for me to finish. Just let me finish under 12 hours.”
At this point I had given up any pre-conceived time goals. I just wanted to ride my bike and finish the event. I knew my preparation was rock-solid, I just had to deliver – even if that meant a slower pace than I originally wanted.
It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes after I put on my jacket in a downpour that I rounded a corner of the climb to see not only treeline, but blue skies. Wow, what a welcome sight. It was still cold at that altitude so I kept my jacket on.
I think the combination of the volume of people, the weather and the altitude crushed people’s spirits. This translated into a single-file hike-a-bike line longer than I’ve experienced in any of the past races. I definitely walked more of Columbine this year than any other year.
When you look at the photos for the pros, especially the front guys, you cans see them picking the best line as they make the climb up Columbine. As soon as the top riders begin descending on this out-and-back course, everyone on the mountain is pretty much confined to the right lane (going up and down). This makes riding past hiking riders nearly impossible.
When the grade flattened some, we began riding again. What a relief.
I had a reasonable descent. Through all of the descents I was held up by some slower people and there were people that had to wait to get around me. I believe part of having a successful race at Leadville is managing each situation safely. I saw a few people take some risky moves into sharp rocks to get around slower riders, but that comes with risk. One rider’s tire bled Stan’s goo all over the trail after his tire popped off the rim in a gnarly, rocky section.
At my second pass through Twin Lakes, my pit crew (husband Del) got me set for the next segment of the ride and I was out of there in no time. I would see him one more time at Pipeline, before heading toward the finish line.
By the time I reached Pipeline, the skies were finished torturing us and I was feeling reasonably good. In fact, I had the fastest time for this segment of the event (Pipeline to finish) than I’ve ever had before. Maybe that torturous hike-a-bike up Columbine saved my legs for the last leg of the event?
In the last roughly three hours of the event, I passed people that were spent. I felt bad for them and tried to be encouraging.
I can’t say enough about the volunteers and the spectators on the course. The volunteers are top-shelf and the spectators were so encouraging. Though Lance and Dave Wiens got them to the event, I felt like they were there cheering as eagerly for me as they did the top dogs.
I ended up crossing the finish line in just over 10:08, a PR time for me and enough to put me in tenth place overall for the women. It was kinda cool to see my name listed in Forbes Magazine, along with the other top riders in the event. I don’t want to go all squishy on you, but I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be healthy and fit enough to do this event.
Admittedly, I’m a mountain girl. I love the mountains, the mining history and the western-cowboy-attitude. In fact, after posting this blog I’m heading back to Leadville to volunteer for the run.
Running 100 miles? Now that’s nuts.
Below is a shot with Dave Wiens post-race. What a great guy. Was it that special karma hug pre-race that gave me extra power? Also got a pre-race hug from Ricky McDonald (who has finished every single Leadville 100 mountain bike race.) Maybe the special Leadville karma those guys have was sprinkled on me? I'll take it.
PS…There is no way this event can be successfully completed without great equipment and great support. I had zero mechanical issues (thanks LOOK and Peloton Cycles), I was comfortable all day (a relative thing – thanks[Pearl Izumi|http://www.pearlizumi.com/]) and my training went well (thanks Del, my family and all of my cycling buddies).