This is my story of riding the Leadville 100 in a solo self-supported time trial effort. If you wonder why then you may be interested in reading the previous article.
Friday, August 11th, 2023 (the day before the Leadville 100)
I exhale and see my chilly breath in the air as my watch alarm buzzes next to my head in the van. I welcome seeing 4:24 am as I stretch feeling like I’d not slept and I just tired of tossing anxiously awaiting the alarm anyways. It’s mostly true, between getting to bed near midnight after swapping my powermeter crank to my hardtail and tossing around with chills for the remainder of the wee hours anticipating the early wake-up; I didn’t dip into much deep sleep, if at all. Either way, it’s go time, and if I don’t get this knocked out early; then it won’t serve my purpose. I need to be around in the afternoon to meet with athletes and gather aid bags.
I dangle my feet off and stagger down from the elevated platform bed careful not to step on my bike leaned from last night’s parts swapping. After a quick relief outside in the brisk 32-degree Leadville air, I’m back in the van pressing a strong cup of coffee through my aero press. I quickly realized why I was colder than normal as I’d left my front windows both half open creating a nice draft from the brisk air that is par from 10,000ft elevation through the night.
No time to waste, I’m on to forcing down some pre-soaked overnight oats. Frankly, with the poor sleep, my stomach is rejecting the sticky mass but I continue downing it knowing I’ll need the energy later. This difficulty eating is uncommon because breakfast is usually easy for me. But this is one of the reasons why I pre-soaked the oats. First to make it easy& thoughtless with such an early start and second knowing that they would be fully hydrated thus not pulling valuable liquids into my gut to aid digestion when I’d need that hydration in my periphery. Little things are the big things in this context!
I finish my coffee and continue my normal routine mixing some BetaRed beet root powder in my mug as I spin my van seats into driving position and head towards the town. On the way, I have one specific detour I must make, to drop my cooler. I turn onto the course at Halfmoon Road which signifies the paved section after the base of the infamous Powerline and preceding Pipeline, the 1st aid station. This is the location where I chose to stash my self-supported aid cooler. It’s intentionally a small 6-pack style cooler stocked with 6 bottles (5 of mix & 1 water), a coke, a mix of gels, gummies & Endurobites, a jacket, spare flat kit (tube, CO2, lever) and a spare tool. Keeping it simple so there isn’t much room for decisions and just a grab-and-go. Any stop time is time off the clock.
Why did I choose here? Frankly ease of access for timely drop this morning and ease of retrieval after a tight schedule, but also because of my knowledge of pacing and splits. I didn’t want my last aid to be too far from the finish since the inbound final 25 miles is quite long once fatigued that late in the day and time-loaded with the inbound Powerline ascent taking much longer to climb inbound than bomb down outbound. I knew this would be early for an outbound spot but would encourage me to consume what I start with to be on track which is often hard in a cold start. This would force me to not lollygag heading to Columbine, summiting and returning. That stint would likely be ~4 hrs which is a stretch without having aid balancing over-packing or under-preparing.
In town, I park behind Lifetime HQ and I’m suited up in my standard “good weather” high mountain race attire consisting of bibs with baselayer, knee warmers, arm warmers, summer weight jersey, double zip vest, and summer long finger gloves. I’ve used this pairing many times in Leadville, Breck Epic, and many other high altitude outings and trust the versatility, I know my extremities will be cold to start but I can unzip or roll down sleeves when the climbing picks up and the sun hits my back. I check tire pressure starting a little low knowing it will warm up and naturally increase my pressure as the day presses on. I waste no time and head out right down 7th Street at 6:22 am. I wanted to start near the same time as the actual race (6:30-7:00 am depending on wave) so it would mimic what athletes face with regards to waking, eating, prep, conditions, temperature, etc.
I’ve done this course so many times with camps for Leadville, Lifetime, and personal clients that it’s almost odd to not be talking mindset, course breakdown, or shepherding clients. Today I’m eyes forward and chiseling away the task at hand; me against the course or even more appropriately stated; me against myself.
One thing I realize immediately; a solo effort is going to prove much different than a mass start race! On the paved Co Rd 4 & 9 descending out of town to keep the speed high I have to work more than I anticipated. Whereas when I raced the event & was in the front group I was forced to brake while being sucked along in the draft of such a fast peloton. This solo effort is going to accumulate for sure with nowhere to hide and no one to share the load with later. Speaking of sooooo much respect goes out to Keegan for setting a new course record the next day after I did this by going solo on Columbine climb and then continuing to increase his time gap on his competitors to the finish. Seeing that first-hand from the aid station sidelines, Chapeau!
As I tapped into a rhythm down the pavement I was reviewing my process goals and this realization is a testament to why pacing the day is different than racing. The race outcome can be highly dependent on how you slot yourself around others. Today it was me versus me and the course!
I cross the Arkansas Headwaters onto the first dirt section; this is a place where jostling for position usually occurs. I’m not forced to negotiate that stress today with a wide-open course, but what I’m faced with is the necessity to slow my roll. Without any traffic I’m easily able to go too hard so I’m forced to repeatedly dial it back. With it still being early combined with cold temps my heart rate is suppressed and the given power I’m seeing isn’t registering with my physiology. I know I don’t want to see and ignore Superman numbers now that just aren’t registering and then pay for that later.
As I complete the first few rollers the adjacent valley is a lake of mist that is rising. I breathe it in; the cold breaths hitting my lungs as my respiratory rate starts to build. The cold air burns slightly and I embrace it as a feeling that will soon become normal.
I glance over my shoulder as the sun is just beginning to peak over the Mosquito Range to the east. I’m heading north now along a cold creek trickling burnt orange with the mining minerals. I know it’s about time to start St. Kevins, so I take a drink and turn west as the grade gradually starts to rise. It’s shallow with some water bar reliefs to start, but soon enough it will be steep and all I, and most, can do at this point is manage individual effort to keep traction in an attempt to simply clear the section.
On this particular day, I’m feeling quite good with my subjective response (RPE) being low with my heart rate aligned well within control, while the power was high. I’ll take this trinity of feedback anytime I can get it. This is one of those statements I tell athletes; “don’t get attached to how you’re feeling now, it too will change.” That goes for both good and bad. Racing long becomes a game of riding those waves.
I keep chipping away at the climb letting the water bars serve as slight reliefs as the general grade steepens. I see familiar remains of old mines below the trail to my right. This is a welcome sight since I know the steepness will relieve soon after a final large wooden wall as the course takes a quick turn to the south. As I make this transition that first initial pitch of St. Kevins is behind me and I inventory it away in my visualization plan as the trees open up to the Arkansas Valley.
Knowing the course, visualizing it, and breaking it down into palatable chunks is just as big a part of tackling this day as it executing the effort. You just can’t wrap your head around the entire 105.5 miles! That goes for large chunks of the course like aid checkpoints but more so small chunks anchored by landmarks that align with executing the race-plan. I’m already underway with this visualization in St. Kevins Gulch checking off 5 crests (or mini-summits) before rejoining the paved Turquoise Lake Rd. I know to keep a good pace that exerting a bit higher effort over the summit of each climb to carry that speed into the subsequent descent keeps the speed high. It’s not always about an evenly paced effort when there are times you can’t exert effort or the way I view it sneak in a micro recovery on a descent. The pacing for me and the athletes I coach is based on individual strengths establishing a pacing ceiling and floor as figurative guardrails to keep us safe.
My effort still feels low while I roll through Carter’s summit in under 48 minutes which is on pace for a good day. I’m seeing better power numbers and subsequent stats than I’d expect, but I’d set my intention to hover around my Aerobic threshold or the border between Zone 2 and Zone 3 heart rate with an upper side cushion into the edge of Zone 3 with hopes to allow me to exert a bit more in places to carry speed over summits or tough terrain. I was still within those parameters so I continue to execute the plan. Now that is specifically taking on some fuel while blasting down the paved descent where my heart rate naturally drops thus allowing my food to better assimilate before the next series of challenges. Again little things are the big things later!
Ahead is the increasingly difficult trifecta dubbed Sugarhagerloafin in a joke with some fellow coaches I’ve coached with on this course as the sections can blend.
But separating them makes them palatable in their part of the plan. The paved road is smooth and gets steep but you can get into a good rhythm and still take on fuel. The gravel of Hagerman is still smooth and I find it as a more shallow grade than the preceding pavement and quite a bit more shallow than approaching Sugarloaf which allows me to get into a better rhythm based on my power profile. But that doesn’t mean emptying the tank, frankly just the opposite. It’s important to not go too hard as the efforts potentiate up to the top of the Powerline descents (I add the “s” plural on purpose). Settle in and be consistent so the last section doesn’t take me over the edge & possibly into the red too early. I take in more fuel just before I hit Sugarloaf knowing it’s tough to take hands off the bars navigating the steeper and demanding baby-head-embedded rocky ascent.
I near the Sugarloaf summit marked as I near powerlines buzzing overhead, it’s my queue to take on some more fuel before it’s all hands on deck. This is kind of a tough spot as speed pick up and there are some wash ruts, but it was worth sticking a few gummies in my cheek.
Powerline descents up next! Yes plural! There is more than one and I find the hype around the final 1 mile, which I refer to as “Powerline Proper,” mutes the fact that the descent down the entirety of Powerline section is a legit 4-mile stint. If it weren’t a challenging enough descent on its own, the rising sun adds to the difficulty casting ghost shadows on the terrain as you start the descent past the intersection of the Colorado trail. Flashbacks of my 1st race attempt of this blast into my mind. This is where I sent it off a waterbar not able to see the terrain and realized midair I had to make a flash decision of either slamming a rock with my tire or a worse option; crash! I chose the flat tire!
With that in mind, I buffered my enthusiasm as a confident descender to go full send instead kept it reined in. I reflect on two important facts I inform my athletes. Flats aren’t fast and neither is blood!
I get past the section where I flatted, and refocus in the moment on the mini descents and summits that lie ahead. Although not as pronounced outbound, this section comes back with a vengeance inbound as all the elevation you’re losing now will be an uphill grind after 80 miles.
I power over the two quick ascents before approaching Powerline Proper. Here if you were to pause to look in the distance, the course is now looking southeast back over the Arkansas Headwaters valley. You’ve effectively made a big “J” and where you started and will later finish is due east. The Mosquito Range dwarfs another small high-altitude town of Alma to the east. This is where the Silver Rush 50 course sits on the opposite side of the highway dividing Leadville.
Back to Powerline. Each year the conditions of this section change depending on snowpack, summer rains, and if any forest work has occurred. I’ve experienced a trajectory of general improvement over time especially recently with what looks to be some logging and work on some adjacent private property. But by no means is this section easy! That coming from a MTB skills coach who lands on an occasional Enduro podium. Frankly the “it’s not technical” connotation of this event that some people deem as a gravel race on mountain bikes is false. Anything is difficult with speed and this is one of those cases, especially if you lack respect. If you’re pushing your limits, then things can get spicy. Sure there is a ton of road and doubletrack, but the descents are some of the steepest out there and since the route isn’t purpose-built, you don’t know what’s coming next in areas like this. Rocks are always moving and debris is usually changing as hectic people can’t maintain a line thus pulling things back into the clean line from diverting off-course.
The first section is a straight shot with a full line of sight which in stating shouldn’t present a problem. I’ve never looked at the exact stats until penning this now. At just over 0.5 miles and an average gradient of 15%; it’s a PLUNGE! It’s like looking over the edge of a waterslide lacking turns to naturally slow your speed while being forced to navigate a periodic wash rut that draws to the middle. This dry over hardpack surface is the combination that gets the best of many riders in what I call the magic carpet ride!
If that initial ½ mile plunge, which doesn’t end with a nice waterpool runout to cool you down I might add, doesn’t pucker your fancy there’s a quick chicane ducking into the trees and back out that usually presents with a larger rut and somewhat of a berm. If you’re going fast enough the berm is a fun feature (those are kinda lacking on this course). If not, then you again risk sliding into a deep rut. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the rut and missed the fun factor, but I’m quickly popping back out of the trees along the last 0.4-mile run-out along the fence line. This again seems a nonissue except some heavy summer rains left a sizeable rut increasing in size meandering through the middle which forces a quick decision at increasing speeds once it pushes you to the gutter; 1) make a quick hop at speed, or 2) attempt an abrupt stop and step across. With the concept of speed being my friend, I opt for a quick hop. Indecision is what gets most into a pickle. I’m across and back on the burned-in line with the pavement awaiting.
After a quick steep pitch onto the paved road at the base, I’m presented with a few rollers in the trees before passing the Leadville Fish Hatchery where the vast sky opens up into the valley. This is one of the low points for this half of the course. At this point, I crave the “racing” aspect. I just want to tuck in with a group and share the load riding with others as the speeds are fast on the pavement and a group aids getting to the Pipeline aid station with energy high.
When I raced, I wasn’t alone in this section, but I wasn’t very cohesive to anyone either. I had just lost lots of time fixing a flat and unfortunately fixing my bike into 1-gear as a single speed since I’d broken a derailleur cable. That meant the racers I was around weren’t of similar fitness and my gearing was less than ideal. As I chased hard this combination of circumstances either placed me on the front of groups spitting people off my wheel while bridging to the next group or spinning out with no gear to push. Today is better as I at least have gears, but I’m alone so I attempt to stay aero. I remind myself that my aid stop is approaching & time to perform a “systems check” of how I’m doing with my plan, tap the internal fuel gauge, and set some intentions. I don’t feel the need to eat or drink, but know I need to frontload. Time to finish what I have with me so I can take on full stock. The next section will be quite long without aid.
I make it to the spot where I’d stashed my cooler at 0-dark:30 this morning down in the ditch next to a fishing hole pull-off. While performing my self-check I’d decided to remove my knee and arm warmers and vest and not take my jacket. It was a gamble I was willing to take with good weather forecasted and a mostly clear sky as I looked far south to Hope Pass where Columbine resides on the other side. I relieve myself off the side of the road behind the large riverside growth and it’s on to restocking.
The nutrition decisions were easy already being mostly made prior with a plan; so I grab two full bottles and shove them into the cages on my bike, stash another bottle in my jersey pocket, squeeze down a gel chased by a few big sips of a bottle that I leave there. It’s worth noting this stop lasted just 71 seconds even after going completely off the road, swapping out bottles, removing some clothing, and relieving myself. It’s important to have a plan, make stops quickly, and keep moving.
A quick check of time and I’m at 1:48 which I feel slightly pressured by this split. It feels slightly behind pace for my goal and I should already be at Pipeline and with a time of 1:45 and I’m still a couple of miles out. I acknowledge that reality and do the only thing I can; put it behind me. Attempting to ride outside of one’s current capabilities will likely only result in blowing up. Letting the effort come to me; I trudge on. I pass through Pipeline Aid as I wave to the Lifetime crew setting up the aid station for tomorrow’s big dance. I get some quizzical looks as I motor through, obviously pretty fast and on a mission, but keep it concise with a simple “Howdy!”
The Pipeline to Twin Lakes section as my imagery recalls the course isn’t a huge deciding factor. It’s lumpy relative to the towering climbs on either end, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t features to chunk it apart. I visualize this section as relatively straight shot south with 4 “zig-zags” (as they look on my GPS training files) into and back out of gulches to the west. These represent quick descents and subsequent climbs. It’s just another small aspect of nibbling away palatable parts of the course. The significance of these zig-zags is they offer reprieve by allowing some time off the pedal tension on quick descents as a chance to relax and a resultant necessity to keep pace reined in on the next ascent. I know just before the last one is “The Bitch” or I guess the artist formerly known as due to the new reroute in 2023. I’m referring to the outbound steep gravel chute off of the pipeline plateau characterized by a fast and loose runout. Racers don’t see this feature inbound since they route riders up a new gulch north of the singletrack to avoid 2-way traffic in this area It was always risky to attempt to clean it inbound and was usually where everyone noted cramping! I tackle this quick plunge with the same principle of speed being an ally in what I call a pinball technique; letting the speed keep me high on the more stable surface by “pinballing” across the loose when necessary to run out the bottom safely. But trust me the loose rock and soil do create a challenge and it only gets worse close to race day as more people walk it loosening up more rocks and debris.
I climb up the next short ridge before the singletrack and take in a long glimpse of Hope Pass with a glimpse of Columbine lying just behind it and pay homage to what it’s about to dish up. I take the opportunity to snap a quick picture of the huge peaks looming, since in racing I’d never have my phone. It’s a quick pic as I fumble to stash my phone before the singletrack. It’s approaching soon enough, but first I enjoy the one section of true single track on the course. Albeit short, it is a nice addition from the original blast down a rock-strewn hillside that was in the original Race Across the Sky.
On to the pavement briefly again before navigating back on gravel roads through rural mountain neighborhoods. The County must have done some work for the event or the timing had been right, as the gravel had been oiled recently making it buttery smooth. I dare say better than most paved roads where I ride in the city. This allows me to consistently eat and drink with smooth rolling which is important at this point in the day as the temperature was warming up (for Leadville at least) along with the wind picking up. Nothing much to note, as it should be, as I arrive at Twin Lakes. I proactively take the opportunity to stretch my back, hamstrings, and calves on the last paved descent before crossing Hwy 82 which accesses Independence Pass. It’s a great road ride into Aspen if you ever get the inkling This proactivity is important because usually when you get stiff or cramp, it’s too late or at an inopportune time to do anything about it while continuing to make any significant forward progress at least. The little things add up again.
I cross the road and make my way across the dam which is normally a corral of thousands of crew with tents, wind blades, flags, costumes, and even flamingos doing anything possible to draw attention and help their racer. Today it’s eerily calm as Lifetime isn’t allowing support crews to stake claim to spots until after dinner. I push through seeing the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and CO Trail blazes on the carsonite markers denoting the lesser known fact the course crosses these routes several times during the race. I’m soon on the next climb after the dam that ends with a steep loose pitch that surprises many. Today I’m caught off guard by a downed tree and a loose ride-around, but manage to clean it even with an oncoming rider. After a quick descent I’m into the valley below Lost Canyon Rd which is the actual road name of what starts Columbine climb. There has been a change to the course in recent years here around private property that I’d ridden at the Lifetime camp in July, but in the moment I miss the correct powerline cut going past the actual turn and extending my route slightly before getting back on track. It’s funny because this is the section where I snagged a KOM! Muaahhh it’s about the only one I’ll ever get! Not very many will ride this sequence of roads and with Keegan’s race day course record effort there are ZERO chances of me getting any KOMs anyways. (Update at the time of penning this Keegan’s Strava ride was public, but now I’m publishing it’s been removed from their own Strava article, all leaderboards, as well as his entire 2023 history!🤔)
I turn onto Lost Canyon Rd and this is the crux of the course; gaining over 3100ft in 7.56 miles topping out at over 12,400 ft with an average gradient of 7.9%. Averages can be decieving since it’s the few steep portions that leave an imprint burned into your psyche. I settle in resorting to my plan to ride that grey zone of high endurance and what is now becoming Tempo based on how my Heart Rate is currently presenting. Honestly, I’m surprised the power is still present and is just now beginning to align with what I’m normally accustomed to seeing for the power-to-heart rate relationship. I find that altitude doesn’t affect my power much and kinda agree with Keegan’s belief that I heard him state on a podcast once that, “altitude doesn’t exist.” At least that’s the placebo pill I’m taking today and willing to see how deep that rabbit hole goes. It worked for me when racing MTB Nationals at Winter Park seeing power stats exceeding what I’d reported at 6,000 ft at a race venue above 9,000 ft.
I need to direct my attention off of the instantaneous. I begin to chunk the climb apart again resorting to my compartmentalization tactics which I accomplish here by counting switchbacks which total 8. I know the 1st occurs after a steep pitch through the aspens that relieves next to a camping area. This is where excitement and over-pacing can set a bad precedent for the climb to come. So I try to restrain my pace while not coming to a halt. It’s very steep here!
I settle into a rhythm intentionally getting in and out of the saddle when steeper or traction allows. This changes body position and musculature used at this low cadence and is a welcome variation after being tucked across all the faster pedaling in the middle of the course. I made the last-minute call to run my Epic hardtail because although I’m a suspension guy and believe it’s both more efficient (even for the weight penalty), but also that the reprieve it offers on total body fatigue over such a long day pays off where it usually is hard to quantify, most clients often opt for their hardtail or lighter set-ups. Thus I wanted data to represent this aspect, for what they’d do, not necessarily what I’d do. That also meant with this being my “back-up” bike I’m sporting an outdated old-school 11-spd groupo. My largest cog is a 42 t, not the big pie plate bail-out rings of 50t or even 52t that most are running. With a 36t ring out front doesn’t translate to the most forgiving climbing gear, so there isn’t room for lolligagging.
I’m not too concerned about this and frankly embrace it. Having a “meaty” 38t front chainring is actually how I took the lead on a super steep grind and eventually won the Silver Rush 50. So my opinion, and maybe an unpopular one, is that many people are under-gearing their bikes with too much bailout. This results in less ability to develop torque and thus maintain traction. Don’t get me wrong, I like to spin at times, but the actual way you create power isn’t a singular dimension based on the equation; Force (torque) x Angular Velocity (RPMs) = Power. So twinkle toeing on a steep grade, spinning out a loose rock, or slipping the terrain, then leaves you with no gear to get on top of and thus maintain traction. You’re left to walk!
Back to the climb, I’m chipping away switchback after switchback, but I’m aware of a growing discomfort and increase in my RPE. It’s just the nature of the beast that is Leadville, Columbine climb, and the mounting fatigue from every preceding pedal stroke. I knew it was coming and embrace it’s not leaving anytime soon.
Similar to when I race and was plagued with mechanicals, I’d swapped my goal from “racing & placing” to a process goal of “cleaning” everything. By clean, I mean ride everything. If you know this course, this is a pretty big ask, but I’d managed to do it while racing and several times in training camp rides. I knew it could be done and it was part of the goal I’d set today. I admit from a coaching aspect this goal can be costly in some spots where, in fact, hiking may be more the efficient choice, but the ability to accomplish a clean ride and the energy wasted or saved dismounting and remounting was worth it to me. As I approach the A-frame nearing treeline, I know it’s a make-or-break section for this goal. This section was super chewed up in a camp I did in July and was no different today. There were some landowners or surveyors parked directly in the middle of the course at one of the steepest points that looked upset I was even there with not a thought fleeting of moving their truck. I barely cleared them and their vehicle to make it and nearly blew up doing so, but think I surprised the shit out of them when I did considering they appeared happy to impede my route as I approached them with the “Would you look at this idiot in spandex” glare.
With that initial rocky pitch cleared, the saddle approaching was now my friend to allow a period of brief relief. From this vantage, I see Leadville way off to the northeast before bring my attention to the next steep pitches ensue. The course turns from a relatively level two-track to a more “bowled-in” jeep road after this point. Everything is concave forcing you to the middle where all the rocks have also been forced to reside. The soil and thus traction on the perimeter exists with a cost that is constantly trying to force you to slide back down. Constantly battling this off-camber following the preceding hour of climbing while fighting the high altitude wobbles that are almost inevitable is draining. But it’s a battle that must be waged to accomplish the goal and conquer Columbine.
I keep charging on with power spikes at low torques that way exceed what I should be doing at this point followed by subsequent recoveries thus allowing me to repeat it hopefully to the summit. There were a few times where I was forced to hit nearly 600w or sustain my threshold power at 45rpms for nearly 2 minutes to merely clean steep sections. But I do it knowing those moves are behind me as I make the summit with a quick time check but no stop. 4:13 rolling time! Respectable but still not the cushion I wanted here. I know based on this split I can still negative split for a sub 8 hour now the biggest climb behind me. The course and thus splits are front-heavy with this turn at the summit of the largest climb so I’m still on good pace and I’m about to make proof of this. Making the quick triangle turn-about, it’s a nice realization I don’t have to access the old turn-around which requires continuing across the rocky traverse, a fast steep downhill, a subsequent steep climb, and a return traverse to where I am now. I can just point it and bomb!
I continue counting off the switchbacks which happens much more rapidly and with more of a grin than grimace this go-around. Before I know it, I’m down, and what took me 1:15 to climb now takes me less than 18 minutes to slay! Soon I’m back down banging across the flats; chipping away miles, focusing on filling the void that the Columbine effort took out of me as I start to reverse my visualization steps heading inbound.
Twin Lake to Powerline again isn’t the most deciding but at this point, the wind has picked up coming from the North to Northwest and requires me to harness all my focus I can muster just to keep a seemingly slow pace. Pushing against a climb I find easy, but powering through wind for whatever reason drains my mojo. That doesn’t mean I stop, I can’t. Constant forward progress is the name of the game and my mind echoes the same thing I tell athletes. I do what I can at this moment to hide from the wind getting lower, shifting position, etc. The new reroute which I encounter about 5 hours into my ride and hits around mile 69-71 was one of those sections not only plagued by wind, but also soft watt-sucking sand! Just the combination that felt like an anchor dragging me back down the valley instead of up it; this marked one of the lowest points of the day. Those 2 miles seemed like 10, but once back on Pipeline the trees offered some reprieve and I put it behind me.
I chipped away the zig-zag gulches and was soon at Pipeline. I was running empty on fluids and over the preceding couple of hours had been questioning my choice of concentration of liquid calories. I had intentionally planned bottles with ~90 grams/bottle. I knew I needed to “fuel the work” and normally I have no problem taking in calories. But that said I usually run much leaner on absolute calories than the current carb craze touts and with this being self-supported I had little room to plan for an extra pure hydration not tied to liquid calories. Today pushing those grams/hr of carbs was getting to my gut and I didn’t want any more. Whether I wanted them or not, I must use what I have, so forging on within those constraints was the only option.
Luckily I had 1 full bottle of water just for this “palate cleansing” purpose in my cooler. When I got there, that is the 1st thing I went for downing the entire bottle. I empty my pockets. The cooler is beginning to look like a min-war zone of empty nutrition packages, and bottles covered in sticky drink mix embedded with dirt. I take on the remainder of my stash of 3 more bottles of mix placing two in the cages and one in my back pocket and I’m off. This stop again only takes 77 seconds, so very consistent with outbound.
I use the next 10 or so minutes of pavement to force on another bit of solid food with an Endurobite before the onslaught of Power line inbound. Again I have the goal to clean the course and this the other huge crux. The grade begins to pick up and the rubber meets the trail. At 6 hours into riding, I’m forced to hold 270w for just shy of 6 minutes to clean the chicane and Plunge in reverse. This isn’t mind-blowing output for me, but at 50 rpm average and lowest of 34 rpm, that is GRINDING! What counts is I cleaned it and continue to clear the entirety of Powerline summiting Sugarloaf Pass after 40 minutes. This is one of the biggest inbound challenges because it’s not an easy ascent and requires focus.
I embrace dropping right into the descent bombing Sugarhagerloafin descent. This is my jam and the energy is going well knowing I’m closing in with much more behind me than what remains. But that doesn’t make it easy. All the preceding hours, revolutions, and miles are adding up and taking their toll. The paved Turquoise Lake road is a testament to this building fatigue. What would seem to be an easy, “just pedal up the pavement” moment; I always find it toughest to produce here. No hiding from it again today as I struggle to find the watts and comfort I’d like.
Like I said before “how you feel now, this too will change” and it did. Early you heard me state the watts were coming easy relative to my effort, but now it’s all I can do to muster endurance watts that feel like threshold…if not better described as pure death! All those preceding digs required by the course are rearing their ugly heads in this moment. All I can do is set a carrot and keep trying to attain it. It works and I’m at Carter Summit and take a time check. 7:15!
That’s not a promising split, but again, I can only do what is within my power and proof exists in the test of mental fortitude just required of me to ascend a paved road. I’ve executed to the extent within my capabilities to this point. Based on my familiarity with splits and my ability to descend, I know I can still complete sub 8 hours, but there is no time to spare. I continue to get after it and I find the St. Kevins Gulch area on the return pretty fun. There are many sections to carry speed and it being in the woods I’m hidden from the wind. I knock it out and before I know it I’m back by the Arkansas Headwaters on the pavement.
This is where the inbound course diverts from outbound as you ride paralleling the railroad tracks and some residential property before the dreaded Boulevard. This shocks most newcomers as you divert from the flat grade along the tracks and are quickly met with a smack in the face of a nasty baby-head rock-strewn jeep road. I’m not sure if its a proper county road, but to me, it seems intentionally left to be a chunky mess effectively making both connecting roads dead-ends.
But not for racing, clearing this section requires tenacity and grit to pick a line, not roll rocks, maintain traction, and meter your effort. At mile 103 none-the-less it’s a bitch smack! Especially since after a couple hundred yards the road magically turns to buff rural neighborhood gravel, which is welcome but also just one of those “But why?” moments.
At least it’s short-lived as demoralizing as it is and the smooth gravel begins to chip off. Today I run into people pre-riding or performing shake-out rides for tomorrow’s race. Some try to flex and keep in front of me or latch on and don’t realize what I have just accomplished. Not wanting to play games, I just keep my rhythm, whatever little that is I have left and motor on tackling the final 400ft of gain back into Leadville.
I begin sensing a mix of anxiety and closure as I see the high school. It’s my last push up to the Mineral belt then I’m on pavement over the last kicker on 7th St. The clock is ticking seeing the last few minutes of hour 7 on headunit. I press on and over the kicker and run out the speed into the hustle of the town where set-up is happening for tomorrow’s event.
I pay no attention to my head unit as I’m trying to not get hit or hit anyone with the amount happening in town. Frankly, the time will be what it will be. I’m content knowing I put it all out there and executed on what was within my power. It’s time to hang it up for the day with a job well done behind me.
I roll back to the parking lot where my van is parked, reach down hit the stop button, and take inventory of the cumulative stats. The headunit showed 8:04 and 106.2 miles! Whew! I’m not sure how much time had passed from the actual finish line on 7th Street to here combined with this same time and distance before the start since I didn’t really warm up and rolled straight into the course and just a minute detour at the base of Columbine, but I’m pretty sure I just slid in under 8 hours. I honestly wanted to go faster with my previous best of 7:23 but that’s been quite a while. I’m older now, have 2 kids, own my own business, and don’t train the hours that I did when I was racing for the Honey Stinger/Bontrager – Trek Off-road team. I begin to unwind from effort and unpack my mind on what I’d accomplished. I know whatever celebration that is, it will be short-lived because I must shift quickly into “coach mode” with agendas to collect aid bags, join athletes for dinner, and prep for tomorrow’s actual real dance.
Here is a link to my Strava ride. Feel free to leave your Kudos & Comments to let me know you read the article.
It’s 2:30 PM and I get on the phone and start texting and arranging the meet-ups while I take on a quick recovery shake and try to eat some food I’d pre-made. I think I consumed enough calories because my body doesn’t want much at the moment. But I know it’s depleted and it’s necessary so press on refueling. I’m lucky the weather held off because soon enough a heavy storm rolls in shaking my van with wind and some hail that turns into an evening and night full of continual light rain. Little did most know as they worried over the precipitation that perfect conditions were being laid for the next day’s race to unfold some of the best traction along with a new course record!
Come back for the next and final installment where I dive into and disclose all the data behind the effort.