It was truly an honor to get to compete in the Leadville 100 MTB race. This race has been around since 1994, before I was even born. Standing on the start line the morning of the race I felt a sort of deference. I tried to engage all of my five senses as I stood there in the start coral. Standing in the first coral, I took a moment to look back. At first glance it seemed like chaos as I looked at all 2500 racers preparing to start. People were shuffling around, making final adjustments, trying to push forward…but then I honed in. I picked out a few strangers and looked at their faces. This race is so iconic that almost everyone doing it has a goal or a plan. For some people finishing is a massive accomplishment, a bucket list item in fact. For others they are desperately trying to break the 9 hour mark to get their hands on a belt buckle. Everyone has trained hard and everyone is nervous. Looking directly into the faces of a few strangers at the start, I could see the emotion. I could see the nerves and respect that they were bringing with them on this course. It was truly humbling.
As I turned back around to face the start, I shivered slightly in the cold morning air. The gun went off and we rolled forward to begin our journey. The balancing act began. We all know that we will be out on the course for hours, yet we all wanted a good position right then and there. The race barreled down the road and fire roads at extremely high speeds. My hands froze and ached in the cold temperatures, a good dichotomy for later in the race when I was so hot I felt like my hands were on fire.
As we started up the first climb, I was yelling at myself, “Just relax!” Anyone who has done this before knows how hard it is to relax when you’re yelling at yourself. Sarah Sturm set a blazing pace from the first climb. I followed her just a few feet behind for several minutes. I knew I could hold the pace right now, and the shear duration of the race didn’t intimidate me, but the elevation of 10,000+ feet was enough for me to back off. I slowed and waited for Katerina to catch me and rode the remainder of the first climb with her. She carried more speed into the descent and got a small gap on me and was able to get into a faster group for the next road section. I settled into my smaller group and continued to remind myself that it was a long race, even though every fiber of my being was jittery that I wasn’t up front. I maintained my position up and over the 2nd climb and descent and pushed hard across the flats. Eventually the group I was with made contact with Sarah’s group and we came to Columbine together. I was told we were 90 seconds behind Katerina.
As we started up the 10 mile Columbine climb, about 3 hours into the race, I took a moment to evaluate. I took a survey and discovered I had only drank 1.5 bottles in the course of the 3 hours. I could feel my body asking me what I was doing. I felt like I needed to be intellectual and I backed off the pace. I started hurting as I went up the climb. Moriah and Rose went by me and I just keep repeating “be consistent, be consistent, be consistent.” I pounded the fluids and feared the gaps forming, but I focused on each pedal stroke.
Since the course is an out and back, I knew I would get some intel at the top as to how big the gaps were. As I inched over the top of Columbine I could see that the leader was only 0.25 miles ahead of me. My consistency had kept me in contention.
I descended down Columbine and experienced another portion of the race that caught me off guard. Originally I thought that the out and back course design was just another way to make us suffer, but what I discovered was a lot of emotion. As we descended down Columbine and watched many others still climbing to the top we were able to exchange a remarkable amount of “good jobs!” and “You can do it” and “You are amazing” cheers along the way.
When I reached the bottom of Columbine and began to make my way across the flats again, I discovered a hiccup. The first 3 women were all in a group up the road and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me, but I had a huge headwind to face all on my own. I put my head down and suffered along the flats, luckily feeling a 2nd wind after my careful nutrition up Columbine. It wasn’t until mile 74 that I saw a friendly face and caught Katerina. We worked together for several minutes and that small bit of reprieve was everything I needed to once again attack the Powerline climb. Up Powerline I felt immense joy. I felt strong. I was looking ahead hoping to see the colors of the kits of any of my competitors. I was still racing forward. I was on a serious mission and felt like anything was possible…until about mile 92.
At mile 92 my body started to ache. I didn’t feel like I was bonking, but I didn’t really recognize the feeling. I started trying everything…cold towels from the feed zone, all of the calories, cold drinks, and it just hurt so bad. It was a bit of survival to the finish, but when I turned onto the final road, the pain was more than worth it. Several times in those last few miles I imagined finishing and it felt emotional. I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face as I rode into town. I finished the day in 4th. I’m proud of that result. Leadville…I will be back.