This past weekend brought the second biggest event in the Leadman series, one that I put a lot of training time and effort towards for the sake of getting a big shiny belt buckle – including a huge three-day weekend on the bike last month. I started the weekend with an early drive to Leadville for packet pickup and killed some time before the mandatory pre-race meeting with a haircut. The meeting was a waste of time, with no relevant race information but plenty of “you’re all amazing, especially these guys who have done the race dozens of times, enjoy the near-life experience you’re about to have, etc. etc. etc.” With that over I slowly made my way to lunch and my hotel, and wound down for the afternoon/evening.
My alarm came plenty early at 4am on Saturday. I microwaved some breakfast, got dressed, put on most of a tube of sunscreen, and before I knew it I was lined up in my starting corral.
It was a cool morning, with temps in town in the high 30s (and would get several degrees cooler as we raced towards the mountains at 35mph) which was very pleasant for the opening climbs. While my main focus on planning and execution was for the later miles of the race, I was pretty worried about the start. 1500 mountain bikers racing along a downhill paved road is always a concern, as mountain bikers are notoriously bad at riding in groups. My worry was validated as exactly sixty seconds in to the race, a crash occurred right in front of me. I was able to avoid it, but was on extra-high alert for unpredictable riders.
A few minutes later the course turned upwards, but thanks to recent regrading and a good starting position the pace was steady and consistent. Soon enough I was ripping down the backside of St. Kevins, and then heading up towards the top of Powerline, and then descending again – but not so fast, because of how steep Powerline is. I blew through the first aid station before the course hit a paved road for several miles. It was here that I picked up a wheel-sucker who refused to take any turns up front. Whether that was because he was a mountain biker who’s just bad at group riding or because he was a Team Specialized guy I’ll never know.
After a few miles of rolling dirt roads I made it to the two miles of singletrack on the course, which were enjoyable-enough and I never hit any logjams. After that came the Twin Lakes aid station, where I stopped for the first time. I shoveled some potato chips and fig newtons in to my mouth and started up towards the Columbine Mine. On the way up I was passed by Elden “Fatty” Nelson of the now-defunct Fat Cyclist blog, which was something.
An hour and a half later I was done with the long 3,000′ grind, having mostly ridden but did push my bike a bit. I had been shooting for an 8:30 finish and was on pace through Twin Lakes, but fell off here – my half-way time was 4:24 which generally correlates to an 8:48 finish. Despite being at the top of a huge climb, almost nobody negative-splits the course. But I was going to try.
I bombed down, roasted my brakes a bit, and half an hour later was back to the Twin Lakes aid station where I again shoved chips and newtons in to my mouth, and slammed a can of coke for good measure. I had made up some time, and knew I had to keep the throttle open all the way to the finish to make it. I tried to work with a group to push the pace for a while, but, being mountain bikers, they were comically bad at riding in a paceline and working through. Eventually we got things worked out and did a few miles together.
When I came up on the Pipeline aid station (at about mile 75) I was feeling great about my time. I knew two significant climbs remained, but I was back on track for an 8:30 finish. More chips, cookies, newtons, and another coke and I was rolling again – briefly. The Powerline push came right up, a 1,200′ steep, hot hump up to 11,200′ in the blazing sun. It was done soon enough, and 7:15 in to the race I was back at the top, ripped downhill again, and was finally on the last real climb back over St. Kevin’s. My legs were shot and I had no power left in them, but I kept grinding out as best I could. It felt like it’d never end, but less than half an hour later I was on top and once again speeding downhill.
A cruel part of this race is the slight excess in distance. When the odometer ticked over to 100 miles I was met with a sharp left uphill turn for a climb covered in baseball-sized loose rocks. Fortunately this was only a short stretch, and soon there were only 3 miles of dirt and paved roads, slightly uphill, to the finish. I was tired but knew I had to keep going. I was running out of time to go sub-9 but was fairly confident I’d get there.
I rolled across the line at 8:48 – exactly double my half-way time – with two races to go in the Leadman series. I sat down for a while and tried to enjoy my free post-race beers, but I just couldn’t drink them. I ate a little, changed back in to street clothes, packed my bike up, and got out of there before the building storm rolled through town. The weather was getting ugly, and I got absolutely poured on driving back to BV. I had dinner and a milkshake before turning in early for the night, proud of earning the big belt buckle.
The awards ceremony started at 7:30, and was a bit of a waste of time – but I did get my big shiny buckle, before going out for breakfast and ice cream, and waiting for the 10km run at noon.
The 10km went fine, and I jogged out a 49-something time and got on the road for home ASAP.
At this point I’m #5 in the Leadman standings, with “only” 100 miles to go. However things go from here, it’ll all be over in a few days.