This is a long one so go grab a drink…
The day before the race was mostly spent in Leadville. Went to pick up my start package, spent way to much money on stuff at the expo, attended the mandatory athletes meeting, napped, packaged my drop-bag and had some delicious pizza.
Not knowing what to expect out of the aid stations in filled up a drop-bag to the brim. Extra food, nutrition, electrolytes and a bunch of clothes. The wether can change pretty rapidly so I figured it could be nice with some dry gloves, arm warmers, bike jersey, etc. if it start dot rain (or snow).
Early bedtime the night before and I had no real problems falling asleep. This probably thanks to the 12” pizza at High Mountain Pies and the beer. Had a 4am wake-up call the morning of the race but probably didn’t get out of bed until 4.20-ish. Had prepped obviously prepped coffee and then had the (for me) standard race morning brekkie of bagel, honey roasted PB and a banana.
It was cold in the morning, real cold. There was a thin layer of ice on the rental car. Race start was 6.30 but we needed to line up in our start corrals between 5.30-6.15. I arrived pretty early but opted to stay in the car because of the cold. When I finally made my way over to the start area it was packed. Since I had not qualified and I was a first-timer I was in the last (white) start corral. Since I arrived late I was also all the way in the back of the white start corral. At this point I didn’t worry too much about that since I was basically shivering because it was so cold.
The gun went off and we started moving, sloooowly. But since its basically a rolling start and your time doesn’t start until you cross the time chip line that didn’t really matter at that point. However your placement in the race does count from at what place you cross the finish line. So placement in race and time is separately tracked but probably doesn’t differ all that much.
The first couple of miles is easy downhill and mostly on pavement. If it was cold earlier it got colder at this point. However this changed as soon as we hit some dirt. A little bit more effort and the HR went up a bit and I quickly got warmer. I had a very annoying problem going on the first couple of miles. I had knee warmers on and my left one kept sliding down so that it was basically bunched up below my knee. I tried to pull it up several times but it just kept sliding down. I finally decided not to care about it.
We hit the first climb, St Kevins. People started to slow down, people went to a complete standstill, people were walking. This was extremely frustrating. I am by no means a technically good rider but this was not technically difficult. I had a hard time understanding how any of these riders would make the rest of the course if you had problems with some of the “easy” climbing after a few miles. A lot of people were also huffing and puffing at this point and we had 90+ miles to ride and probably about 11000ft+ to climb. This set me back a lot and this was a result of me wanting to stay warm in the car earlier in the morning. I decided to not get to frustrated and annoyed about it and fell in to the line of walkers as it was impossible to ride anyways give that everybody was walking all over the place.
First quick stop for me was at the top of St Kevins. I took of the knee warmers and wind vest and a first bio break.
After this we went through some defending on dirt that turned in to a fast decent on a paved road and then some long climbing in paved road.
Then it got interesting. We hit the well known Powerline decent. I had heard about this and seen this on some videos. This was supposed to be a really sketchy, technical and a bit dangerous downhill. Well, if you’ve ridden Cinderella in Redwood Regional park then this is nothing, just longer. It was not technical at all, the only problem was a lot of riders stopping in the middle of it so it was difficult to find a flow and a line to ride. I made it down in one piece without problems.
Next we hit some more paved road that was very flat and in pretty open landscape. I caught a group and took position in the back to leverage the draft. However after a while I wasn’t happy with the pace so started pushing past the group and started a faster pace. A few riders followed and we rode a few miles together. Got back on to dirt roads and eventually hit the first real aid-station, Pipeline . I had plenty of food, nutrition and water at this pint so I kept going.
After this the course was somewhat flat with some mixed terrain of dirt roads and single tracks. There where a few steeper climbs and downhill here and there but nothing that was too long or grueling. Eventually made it to the Twin Lakes aid-station. This is a big one. It is really easy to access by car so this is where most people will be. This is also where I had decided to have my drop-bag dropped. However when hitting the aid station I didn’t feel like I needed anything from the back. That and we would pass this aid-station again on the way back. I had a banana and re-filled a bottle with Osmo (sports drink).
This is the real climbing would start. The climb up to Columbine Mine is 10 miles and climbs 3300 ft. The first part is rocky dirt road that turns in to a nice dirt road that turns in to really gnarly rocky single track. I’m not sure here since I didn’t count but during the first part of this climb when we were still on a nice and wide dirt road I probably passed about 100 people. This is also where I met the leader of the race coming down. When we got to the rocky sketchy single track section riders turned in to walkers and I was stuck again. This was the same as the experience with St Kevins earlier in the day. Some parts here were a bit technical for sure but I would argue that all of it was rideable. This is also close to 12000ft of elevation so oxygen is sparse here. The less fit people of the race were definitely struggling here.
At the top I decided to refuel and took my sweet time to enjoy the view and the food. PBJ’s, cookies, bananas, etc. Lots of very nice volunteers up here. Took a picture and posted it on Facebook.
At this point I still felt very strong and I didn’t really seem that the elevation was affecting me much. I started descending. I was expecting to have some slow riders in front of me but that wasn’t the case. The first part was brutal however. Riding a hard-tail in this section was rough. My arms and wrists were in pain and exhausted by the time I was done with the rocky single-track section. The rest was smooth sailing back to the Twin Lakes aid station. Fueled up some more but decided to leave the drop-bag and just ride the rest of the race out with what was offered at the aid-stations.
At this point in the race, about 65 miles in, every climb started to take its toll on me. I was still ok but definitely started to feel the 6+ hours of riding. Kept pushing on and was riding with basically the same people around me on and off as we all stopped for bio breaks.
Enter the Powerline climb. This was tough, this was really tough. I had been riding for pretty much exactly 8 hours when I got to this climb. I had already forgotten how far I descended earlier in the day. At this point it also started to get pretty clear to me that I have been training for 6-ish hour races all season, not 8 hours and longer. I was having a hard time eating at this point in the race also and was only really getting in some sport drinks and the occasional Gu. I rode a part of the Powerline climb, longer than most around me but had to walk for a big part of it. The end of this climb was also really technical to climb, lots of short steeper sections and lots of loose rock. This definitely took its toll on me.
After that grueling climb it was time for some refilled, about a 15 minute descend. Only to be followed by about another 40 minutes of climbing again. At some point someone at an aid-station said that there was no more climbing from this point on. That was the biggest lie of the day. I’m sure I climbed at least another 1500ft after that.
The St Kevins downhill (this time obviously) was also brutal. My grip was really suffering at this point so I had a hard time dealing with the extremely rocky surface. This would obviously be better with a full suspension bike but I don’t have one so I don’t have the option. On the other hand a full suspension rig might suffer more on the climbs so I’m torn on what would be better overall.
After St Kevins there was time for some flat riding again. Around this point I hit the 100 mile mark. The rout back at this point was slightly different than going out. The last few miles here seemed like they never ended. The last 3 miles or so was a long gradual climb. Some people along the course helped push me and other riders around us along for a few seconds.
There was a bit of relief in form of a slight downgrade just before coming in to the finishing shoot and the red carpet. I mustard enough energy to sprint past one guy here.
Official finishing time was 10:50:44. The un-official moving time according to my GPS was 10:23:59 so I took my sweet time at the aid-stations and especially at the top. The cut-off time for officially finishing the race is 12 hours and that was my target so I beat that by far.
I had a blast. It might sounds strange that biking and suffering for almost 11 hours would be a blast but I don’t expect everyone to understand that. There are some people I know out there that do understand the fun in that. An IronMan is tougher I think. But anything can be made really tough depending on how hard you push yourself and how well prepared you are. I think I could break 9 hours (the silver buckle cut-off) if I prepared properly and wasn’t held back by walkers due to starting far back.
Today, the day after I feel ok. A bit sore but for the most part ok. A lot less sore than after running a marathon thats for sure. The cold that I had before the the race got a bit better leading up to the race. Biking for almost 11 hours did not however make it better but I’ll get over that sooner or later also.
I did have a bit of a hard time sleeping. Passed out at 9pm and woke up around midnight and was awake for a really long time. My HR was probably around 100 (very high resting HR for me). I’m sure the high altitude, 10200ft, and that my body was trying to recover contributed to that.
Leadville is a cool little town with emphasis on little. There’s not much to do in town and there’s not a whole lot of restaurants either. But it’s cute and it has it’s charm. The draw is the amazing nature around Leadville. This is something that riders get to experience to the absolute full extent throughout the entire race. Sometimes I even found myself forgetting about being tired and exhausted because the views around you were so spectacular.
I’d love to come back and do this race again sometime. Not sure that I will anytime soon as it’s huge logistical undertaking. There are 3 riders that have completed the race all 21 times that it has been running. I won’t beat that but maybe I’ll come back one day to attempt the sub-9-hour mark.