Leadville 100 Race Report

There are few people who have the time to write great race reports so quickly after an event.  Chris Hobbs, however, seems to always make time to recap such terrific moments on the bike. Once again, Chris has produced an excellent report of our shared race experience at the 2011 Leadville 100.  Enjoy and thanks Hobbs! -- SFP.

This is going to be a long post.  It was a long race, after all.  There were so many elements that made Leadville an amazing experience that it is hard to edit them down into a coherent report.

Before I get into the specifics of my race, I want to talk about the environment at the Leadville 100. In these turbulent times, there is a lot of talk about what is wrong with America.  This weekend at the Leadville 100, I experienced a lot of what is right.

Except for the top 20 racers, riders in the Leadville 100 are not racing each other.  Rather, they are racing themselves and the course.  This creates an amazing atmosphere that is magnified by the fantastic crowds.

I passed thousands of spectators out on course, and I cannot recall a single person who did not cheer for me.  As I passed breathless riders on the long slog up to Columbine mine, they would gasp out "way to go, man!"  The race volunteers were amazing.  My crew was amazing.  The other racers were amazing.  It was a joint effort of thousands of people to get as many riders across the line as possible.

At the finish line, hundreds of people were gathered to cheer riders across the line.  Children waited along the finish straight for their parents and ran the final 100 meters with them to cross the finish line together. 


I swore to myself that if I finished under 9 hours, I would not return to race again.  But, I would if my kids were there to cross the line with me.

It was just an incredibly uplifting day, set in the context of massive suffering.

Friday morning we went to the race meeting.  Ken Chlouber, the organizer, said 3 things that stuck with me.

The first was: "If you hear rocks buzzing, squat down and start praying."  Lightning strikes are a real threat above the treeline.  Yikes, do I really want to carry that multitool?

More from Ken-

"When that point comes and you are hurting beyond hurting, you go to that well inside you.  You commit.  You keep the hammer down.  You keep digging.  You've got to believe in yourself.  You will cross that finish line."  Amen.

"I promise you that it will hurt and it will hurt bad, but only for 12 hours.  If you quit, the hurt does not go away."

One of the race veterans then spent some time with the rookies to put us at ease.
The honkin' big buckle means "when I talk about Leadville, you listen".

Saturday started early for us.  Up at 345am for breakfast and the 45 minute drive to Leadville.  Scott had not slept at all.  My support crew was already at work, leaving me a little note.

No, Kelly, you are the rockstar

With 1,900 racers, the start had the potential to be a cluster of epic proportions.  They split the start into 6 corrals.  By virtue of our good performances at the Tahoe qualifying race, Scott, Karen and I were seeded in the second corral, which was a big deal.  Other first timers were stuck at the back, and would have to deal with a lot of traffic.  We had only about 250 riders ahead of us, and most of them were really fast.

I had a timetable printed out of what times I thought we needed to hit each aid station to be on pace for 9 hours.  Why 9 hours?  Under 9 and you get a bigger belt buckle, and that was our mutual goal for the race. 

I wanted to believe it was possible, but the facts were not good.  Last year, less than 10% of the riders made it in under 9 hours.  We had not trained properly, and, perhaps more importantly, we had not spent enough time at altitude to properly acclimate.  Rookie flatlanders rarely go under 9.

But we all had one thing we are good at that would be the key to crossing the line--we can suffer, a lot.  On the line, I kept repeating one thought to myself--Believe, Believe, Believe.

The start gun went off at 630am.  It was cold on the start, and the first few miles were going to be fast, so we were bundled up.  It was a neutral rollout for the first couple of miles out of town, but we were still moving pretty quickly, which was nice, as it kept things from getting too crowded.  Some spectator dropped a flag in the middle of the road in a panic as the huge pack approached, causing some panicked braking, but luckily no one went down.

As soon as the escort truck pulled off, things got really fast, and the group formed up into two long lines.  I kept steadily moving up, improving my position for the first obstacle of the day--the climb up St. Kevin's.  I managed to touch wheels with the rider in front of me while getting ready to pass early on St. Kevin's and had to get off and run for a bit.  Jackass.  It did not really cost me anything, though, and Scott and I continued to move up on the climb.  We wanted to be in a fast group for the tricky ride down Powerline and across the valley to the start of the climb up Columbine.  There are a lot of fast sections, some of them paved, and drafting matters.

I got caught in a bit of traffic on the descent down Powerline and lost Scott.  When I hit the bottom, I tried to get a group together to chase, but they were not clear on the concept--damn mountain bikers.  I put my forearms on the bars for the maximum aerodynamic position and hammered across the gap to Scott's group.  It was not a good idea to burn a match so early, and my legs felt the effort an hour later as we approached the aid station at Twin Lakes, 40 miles in.  I had lost Scott again after getting caught behind some slow riders on a downhill single track.  I rang my bell and asked to get by, but there were too many riders to get clear. 

We had a support crew for the race--Scott's wife Rachel, friend Ed, and his wife Kelly.  While there is neutral support, having your own is much better as you can get the food and drinks that you want, and toss the gear you no longer need.  Rachel, Ed and Kelly were awesome.  The job of the crew is mostly tedium, punctuated by a couple of minutes of frantic activity over the course of the day.

Kelly and Ed, support rockstars
Rachel and Kelly
We had come through the first aid station, Pipeline, a few minutes ahead of the 9 hour pace.  But we had also been pushing harder than I thought I could maintain. I figured that I would average 140-145 heart rate for the race, and I was over 150bpm average so far, with the hardest parts still to come.

I came into the Twin Lakes and started looking for my crew.  I had not expected the aid station to be such a scene.  There were hundreds if not thousands of people lined up in two different sections.  At first I thought I had missed my crew, but right towards the end of the chaos I spotted the Capo tent where they were going to be.

Part of the chaos that was Twin Lakes.  Ed is attentively on watch for us.

 Scott was just finishing his pit stop and rolling out.


It was like NASCAR.  I stood there with arms outstretched so Rachel could spray sunscreen on me, while Ed oiled my chain and replaced my 3 bottles (Kelly took pictures).  Dump the jacket, extra gloves, knee warmers and arm warmers, but keep the vest for the long descent off Columbine.  New food for the next 3 hours, and then off to face the long climb up to Columbine mine.  Time for a Gun Check--yeah, baby, we're ready.

Our information about the course came primarily from Strava and a racer who had posted a video of his entire ride last year, and the anecdotal stories from friends and strangers who had done the race before.  Columbine was less of a monster than I had expected.  The first 2/3 were smooth fire road that ascended steadily at 8%, and I rolled it with good pace in the middle ring.  As we broke out above the treeline it got steep and nasty for the last 2 miles, but it was mostly rideable.  The biggest danger was racers descending on the same path.  Before pulling out to pass, I had to make sure that I was not going to crash head on with one of the leaders.  I spent 83 minutes chugging up that mountain, but I actually enjoyed it.  For the Velominati out there, I was Five and Diming.

As I hit the final short descent into the aid station at Columbine mine, Scott was on his way out, so I was probably 2 minutes behind.  I took my time at the aid station.  With a long descent coming up, this was my chance to eat and digest some real food, so I grabbed a PB&J and refilled all my bottles.  I also drank a full bottle there, since it is hard to drink on fast descents.  I was out of there at 4:27 or so.  The return trip is about 20 minutes or so faster than the way out, and now I was feeling very good about getting home in under 9 hours.  I felt goosebumps as my Belief started migrating from faith to fact.

The descent was fast and sketchy in parts.  With a 44x11 top gear I was able to cruise by guys running 2x10 setups.  There was a guy on my wheel for about a mile, and I let him pass as I slowed down to grab a drink.  In the very next turn, he went down.  I passed another rider receiving medical attention by the side of the road.  Good reminders that you have to be smart about going fast.

I saw Karen and Kim Ford, our other SV adventurers, climbing up as I was going down.  Karen was further back than I expected, and I would later learn that she was having a hellish ride.

Coming back through the Twin Lakes aid station was inspiring.  Every crew cheers for you.  My crew had moved further up the course to the Pipeline aid station, so I just kept rolling.  There were no groups now, just riders scattered around.  I found a guy to work with on the flats and we kept up a good pace.  Pipeline aid station was 80 miles in, but with 2 big climbs still to go, including the feared Powerline.  Another awesome pit stop from the crew, and the news that I was about 45 seconds behind Scott.

In the fast  asphalt section from Pipeline to the Powerline climb I could not find anyone to work with, so I just put my head down and kept chugging along in the TT position.  Some helpful guys on the side of the road were offering up PBRs to the racers, but I politely declined.

Powerline is where the race is usually won.  It is a steep, deeply rutted fire road that climbs 1500'.  The opening section is the most brutal, and as I rode by people walking up, I could see Scott up ahead.  We were the only two people still riding halfway up that first pitch.  I steadily made up ground, walking now, and caught up to Scott at the top of the first section. 

Shortly after I joined him, he started to bonk.  15 minutes later he was in trouble.  He had not eaten enough early on and what he had eaten was not agreeing with his stomach.  This is the hard part of endurance racing.  We had an eating plan for the race, but Scott has missed a few meals--most critically, the sandwich on top of Columbine.  For 9 hours of racing, artificial food does not cut it--your stomach goes nuts.  I burned almost 6,000 calories on the course.  Your body has about 2,000 calories of glycogen available.  The rest has to be eaten en route or provided by fat (which means going slower).

At this point we were comfortably on pace for under 9 hours as long as we kept moving.  Since I was racing with 6 Navy Seals and a Medal of Honor winner, it seemed inappropriate to leave my teammate behind.  We stopped briefly to talk about refueling strategies.  Cram him full of caffeinated gels or try real food?  Scott chose real food, and I gave him my BonkBreaker bars.  The wise choice given the state of his stomach.

Scott and I rode together over Powerline and up the next long climb.  He was feeling horrible, but toughing it out.  We were still safely under 9 hour pace as long as he did not get worse.  We stopped at the last small aid station at Carter Summit and he was able to get real food and water.  We made it over the last bit of climbing (or so I thought) and down to the final 5 mile run in to the finish.  Scott was still struggling and told me to go ahead.  We were about 8 hours in and I knew he would make it under 9 even if he stopped for a nap.

And, I had promised myself (and my friends) that I would obliterate myself on the course.  So, I popped a caffeinated gel and popped it into the Big Ring to see if I could get in under 8:15.  I ripped the last section of flat trail, thinking I was close to the finish.  My odometer had been 2 miles ahead of the official race distance all day, because of the neutral rollout, so I paced myself to explode at 102 miles.

Look hard in this video for the enormous hammer lying on the ground, right where I dropped it.


Well, Leadville has some sort of warp in the time/space continuum, because I got to 102 miles and instead of the finish line I was greeted with a steep dirt climb on to a long uphill fire road drag.  WTF?  There were signs with encouraging messages, but nothing about how far we still had to go.  I needed a finish line, not platitudes.  Back on to asphalt and the edge of town.  Can't be far now.  Up over another short climb….lots of swearing….


….and then at the crest I can see the red carpet that leads to the line (at 104 miles).

Elation.

Into the 44x11 for one last time.  I am going to finish this beyotch with a flourish of pain and style.  The last 500 meters is uphill, with crowds screaming all the way.  I think I spot a last little bit of energy hiding under my left buttock.  Come here, little guy, this will only hurt for a bit.  Out of the saddle for the final rush towards the line.


Let the record show that I climbed the finishing straight in the Big Ring.  With 20 meters to go, I sat up and zipped up my jersey--104 miles of suffering deserves a Pro finish.

I cross the line into the arms of one of the volunteers who are there to literally catch the riders.  My legs seem to have lost function.  A volunteer puts a medal around my neck as another takes off my timing chip, and a third tells me to take a few deep breaths and then try to get off the bike.

I stagger into the finish area to find something to drink.  I figure that Scott is going to be 20 minutes behind me.  But, shortly after I left him, he recovered and started to ride hard--either the food got into his system or the thought of me being up the road gave him wings.
 
He does not look super happy coming up the last climb.....  But he finishes strong, only 4 minutes behind me in 8:27...

Karen's body betrayed her on race day, and she battled cramps and hyperventilation that left her unable to fuel herself properly, compounding her woes.  Despite almost quitting three times, she toughed it out and finished in just under 11 hours.  Chapeau.

Kim made it across the line, but missed the 12 hour cutoff for an official finish by a few minutes.  Brutal.  Our friends from Capo, Terry and JD, made it home.  JD in 9:09--ouch!  So close to the big buckle.  Special condolences to Tom from Phoenix, who missed the big buckle by a single second.  Agony!

Skip down to more pics if you don't like geeky stuff.  Unsurprisingly, I posted my highest effort levels ever.  A training stress score of 543 blows away my previous high of around 400 from the Gran Fondo.  My Strava suffer index of 342 is deep into the "epic" range.  My average heart rate of 151 was the same as I managed in the qualifier, which was almost 4 hours shorter.  Basically, I uncorked a jeroboam of whoopass on an almost perfect ride.   Here is the Strava file.....

Here are some more photos from the day…..
JD gets lubed up at Twin Lakes
Terry, did you remember to eat?
Why do they call it the Race Across The Sky?  I dunno.

Not enough can be said about how awesome the crews are.

Dropping a bit of weight before Powerline.

Ed, did you shave your chest for this race?

Eventual winner Todd Wells on his way back through Pipeline.

Consoling a racer who can go no further.

'Nuff sed.

Leadville winner 2031.

The crew's job does not end at the finish line.

Handsome devils.

This must be fun on switchbacks.

Champagne, nice.

The hardware (after a bath).

Rule #5.  Always.



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