Endurance Nation athletes are united in their commitment to living a fitness lifestyle through endurance sports. The most frequent expression of that commitment is typically long course triathlon training and racing, but our athletes often step outside of this box to seek different challenges.
Three weeks after racing Ironman Lake Placid, and only about 5-6 weeks before racing Ironman Wisconsin, Scott did just that by finishing the legendary Leadville 100, earning his belt buckle! We hope you enjoy his race report below.
The Leadville 100 MTB race, aka “The race across the sky”
A couple of years ago with the self-realization that I probably lacked the genetics & bad-assery to get to Kona I decided to try to do more fun things with my fitness. A friend who I shared my then recent first Mountain Bike adventures with told me of the epic race he was doing out west and sucked me in. After some misadventures on the Mountain Bike, including crashes involving a hairline fracture to my shoulder and a broken finger, I got more dialed in on this sport.
I tried to lottery into Leadville with no luck. Then in April, my friend’s Kim & Dan Ashworth invited me to join them at the Challenged Athletes Foundation gala in NYC where their company, Ashworth Awards, had bought a table. At the dinner, one of the silent auction items was a Leadville entry, Kismet? So of course, for $625, I won the auction for the $325 race entry, a bargain given how many people would have easily paid for that, I think they just weren’t in NYC that night!
I did nothing special to train for this race. For most people, Leadville is their singular focus of their life for the year leading up to it for me. For me, THAT focus is Ironman. So, while I did nothing special for MTB fitness, I’ve done a strong amount of riding for Ironman, though not as many long rides (100 miles +) that I’d usually like to have under my belt for either event. Probably the one important thing I did was a training camp in Aspen this past May. During this camp aside from a number of rides in the 7-9500’ altitude range, we did one ride to the top of Independence Pass (12,500′ ) which gave me some good experience with how differently the heart and my overall body handled the altitude.
The timing of the race is such that it is three weeks after Ironman Lake Placid & four weeks prior to Ironman Wisconsin. To me, this wasn’t a race, but a big badass training day between two Ironmans. The biggest confidence boost was a top ten finish (out of 280) in my age group in Lake Placid. I had a great bike there and know I have the best fitness of my life.
The biggest issue with Leadville isn’t the distance (104 miles) or the climbing (over 11,000′ ), it’s that all of this takes place between 10,000 & 12,500’ of elevation. To even have a chance of finishing here, you need to acclimatize to altitude. There are many that come and stay in Leadville for 2-3 weeks prior to the race. I was both recovering from Lake Placid three weeks ago & have a business to run, so that wasn’t in the cards.
I flew out to Denver the Friday before the race and arrived at a Stephanie Steven’s airBnB rental that she had for Ironman in Boulder where she was competing. On Saturday, I went out for a ride on what I thought would be the Ironman course, but actually ended up in one of the canyons heading into the foothills of the Rockies. On the way up the main road, I spied a mountain road I’d previously scouted on strava and headed up. The first two miles were at 14% average grade! This was certainly a baptism to climbing and altitude(7500′ ) by fire. Ride Link
Sunday was Ironman day. After seeing Stephanie off and wishing her luck, I went out for a run on Boulder’s bike paths which also are part of the run course for the Ironman. Again, can feel the altitude in my pacing. I later went out and did a ride on the Ironman course, working it in in reverse so I can look for a number of friends doing the race and get in some good work. I was using my P1 Power Meter pedals for all the road riding so I was doing some good intervals and also getting to understand my work effort on the MTB vs my road & Tri bikes. Ride Link
Later in this day, I got to the point that I decided I wasn’t going to do the race. My antagonist & advisor had told me that based on comparing strava files of other climbs, he doubted I would make it in under twelve hours. I had pretty much worked it out that I was going to have a friend get my road bike from home, ship it out so I could do an epic big bike week in the Rockies. Yes, I was that scared of THIS race.
By Monday I reset my attitude and figured, I am here, I’ve never backed down from a challenge, and much worse conditioned people do this thing (not to mention one 83 yr old). During this time I was also getting advice from my new found friend who passed me in the finish chute at Lake Placid. John Giessinger grew up in Boulder & has done Leadville 2x. Upon his advice, I changed my planned drive to the top of Mt Evans (14,000′ ) into a bike ride from the midway point parking lot. So this was an epic bike ride up a mountain road at altitude. Great training & acclimatization. Ride Link
I had also previously planned on hiking a group of 14ers south of Breckenridge that can be done in a day and John further agreed with this as it was typical of what he did prior to his Leadville races(he now lives in Austin so acclimatization is important to him). I was told by some other hikers at the entrance to the 7 mile loop of 4 14ers that I should expect an hour a mile. I power hiked the circuit, stopping to chat & take pictures at the 4 summits in 2:49. For me it was an interesting reminder of the time I spent on Kilimanjaro in terms of the landscape & trails, not to mention a picture perfect day. Hike Link
At this point in the week I vowed to get off my feet and rest my legs until the race. The hiking actually beat them up pretty good, using muscles in ways we usually don’t, especially on the final descent of Mt Bross. I was staying in Vail and was joined by Carrie Larson to get up high one more time. We took the gondola to the top of Lionshead, then rode about a mile on dirt roads (ski trails) up to the top of Vail Mountain, taking it easy. After snapping a few pics, we went back to the gondola peak, enjoyed a good lunch and then ripped down the Blue Mamba bike trail.Ride Link
You can read plenty about the town. It was once a mining town that was home to over 30,000 people. Around 25 years ago one man saw the depressed town and created an epic 100 mile foot race as the answer to bring money in, thus was born an entire culture of extreme trail running & MTB races focused on Leadville. It’s another version of Kona fully stocked with a lot of people whose lives revolve around qualifying for and going to Leadville each summer. Leadville is “America’s highest city” at 10,200’. To put that in perspective, Al Truscott’s house where the altitude kills us on the way back to his house from rides, sits at 8,200’.
On Thursday, I visited Leadville to register. I was riding this with CAF(Challenged Athlete Foundation) that had a great team in town for the race that collectively raised over $30,000. I stopped by the team house to have my bike re-checked by a mechanic. (for 2 six packs, I had a bike mechanic in Boulder do a lot of tweaking & checking ahead of a 2 day wait over the weekend). Sam found a couple of items, but most importantly was having some front brake issues. He discovered a small crimp that got in the brake line during transport, snipped it, bled both brakes and everything else seemed good to his discerning eyes.
Friday, back to Leadville again to attend the pre-race meeting, a CAF team lunch and a drop off of my nutrition for the aid station at “Pipeline” mile 30/70 of the race. One interesting facet of MTB racing is the ability to have drop bags of your own nutrition at aid stations. My own crew of Stephanie Stevens & Jimmy Walker Aka “Dyn-O-mite” would be at the CAF aid station at Twin Lakes (Mile 40/60) where an all day party greets the racers.
2011 Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper Hard tail
Tires – Schwalbe “Racing Ralphs”
Pedals – Shimano SPD XTR
Small seat pouch with 29er tube, 2x25G CO2, 1 inflator, 2 tire irons, spare chain link, lightweight chaintool
Specialized SWAT bottle cage with multi-tool built into bottom
“1-up” Cog, a 40tooth ring added to the rear cog to ease the climbing burden
This was the top of the line bike back then and still made today. It was actually designed for Dave Weins who used mostly this model of bike to win the LT100 6 times. A hard-tail is arguably the preferred bike for Leadville as it provides a more direct power transfer than a full suspension bike, and there is little technical riding where you would want suspension.
I found the bike on E-bay a couple of years ago, like new condition. The bike has upgraded stem/bar/seat post, Sram XX components, XTR brakes add Roval Tubeless carbon wheels and this bike tips the scales around 19 ½ lbs. A featherweight in the world of MTBs
Shoes – Footware is a very important choice in MTB racing, especially a race like Leadville where you will do a fair amount of “hike-a-biking.” I had found a pair of Vittoria’s with a full vibram sole that would do the job well.
The course is an out and back and features, five climbs: St Kevins, Sugarloaf, Columbine Mine, Powerline & Carter / St Kevins.
There is a wide mix of surfaces from rocky fire road, easy single track, paved roads, excellent dirt roads, not so excellent and downright rocky, rutted and difficult to navigate fire roads. During my downtime on Wednesday through Friday, I spent a fair amount of time watching the “trail genius” videos that were available on the Leadville website. These are a series of videos taken by a rider during the entire race. The video is synchronized so that it’s three windows display the video, a map of the rider’s progress and a profile view showing the segments elevation profile again with the rider’s progress.
Watching these videos helped me solve my nutrition dilemma. Do I use a camelback type bag or bottles? For me, bottles are better as you can see your progress on nutrition intake and insure you get all your nutrition in. In my qualifying race in Austin, I went with bottles which was a disaster as the nature of that course was such that there were not good places to continually drink. These videos revealed the many places I would have to easily drink from bottles on the LV course.
Over the course of the week, the weather forecast improved from possibly partly miserable in the form of thunderstorms, to a cool but sunny day. The forecast high was only for 62. We woke up in Vail at 3:30 am, got dressed and were on the road by 4:25 and got to Leadville bright and early. The race starts at 6:30am and they close off the start corrals at 6:15. Your goal is to get there early to be in the front of your corral if possible. You are assigned a corral based on your finishing time in one of the Leadville Series Qualifiers. As a first timer with a charity entry, I would be relegated to the last corral with about a third of the entrants. I went to Austin in April and competed in the Austin Rattler, a 100k qualifier. My finishing time there moved me up two Corrals. I was confident that my current fitness would have earned me a corral or two forward.
Temperature at the race start was 34. No, that is not a typo. I was wearing bike shoes, socks, bibs, base layer, jersey, arm warmers, a warm hat under my helmet and my standard full fingered biking gloves. At 6:10 I handed off my warm up pants & down jacket to Dyno. The first 4-5 miles are downhill and fast. On the roads you have a chance to pass some people, though if you get passed 100, you are doing great. The race quickly enters a dirt road and the field compresses. The pace is fast and your fingers are numb. As the field is still very crowded as you climb St Kevins, you still have people doing good things & some doing stoopid ones trying to pass. Slowly I could feel my fingers again. After you hit the top of St Kevins, you go through a series of down & uphills before you eventually reach the pavement at Carter Summit. This is the first of two paved sections of the course and a very fast downhill. I changed the tires on my bike the week before I left the race. Research showed that a tire with a faster centerline for pavement & hardpack would work best, and the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs I had installed were doing a great job. (top speed was 42+ on this descent)
All good things come to an end and we climb the paved road. I did a good job of alternating between an easy spin & out of the saddle climbing. I actually experimented with this climbing Mt Evans on Monday and had worked out the best gear/ cadence to do this effectively. The biggest benefit to this is to use my legs differently and give my butt a break. I still haven’t found a saddle that doesn’t hurt my “sit bones” after about 50 Miles.
After summiting Sugarloaf. The trail became quite rutted and someone asked if we were on “powerline?” Powerline is a famed descent (and return ascent) that is one of the courses biggest challenges. (looking above & seeing a powerline through the trees, we had the answer) My seductor into the race, Scott Robinson, had told me that when he cleared the bottom of powerline, he double fist pumped the air, knowing he had gotten past the most difficult technical challenge of the race. I had no issues descending and only ran into issues with someone who wasn’t well skilled and too nervous. The physics of a bike rely on speed to get you over obstructions and keep going straight, so I found a safe place to pass. Otherwise, I decided that while I know I can descend faster, the time gained would not be worth it if I crashed out. Got to the bottom and saluted Scott R with a double fist pump and moved onward to the road section of the course.
This is a flatish section of course where it is helpful to find a group to work with. None seemed to be in front of me and shortly a train of 5 came by and I hopped on. We took turns pulling at the front and the pace was fast. Shortly after this we entered a smoother dirt road section. After this you enter some rolling dirt roads and then a steep drop off that was a double track. I entered this abreast of another rider, who started to move from his track to mine near the bottom where we were flying. I rode off the track into what was some low brush in open dirt and navigated back to the path. Some others commented on my nice recovery. This section then dropped into a downhill windy single track sections that was simply fun.
The pipeline aid station had a CAF tent staffed by Haoi, one of the mechanics & support crew. I had given him my nutrition which was Gatorade Endurance pre-mixed in large water bottles that would fill two water bottles on my bike. I also had one cliff bar & 3 Gu Gels for the road, and a PBJ sandwich of which I was to eat half and chase it with one half of a protein shake. All of this for the 4 aid stations plus what I started with would add up to 6,000 calories.
I got on my way so quickly, I forgot to eat the PBJ & protein shake… On the trail, I went for the cliff bar, and in fumbling it, did not realize it was already open and the cliff bar had dropped out when I removed it from my pocket. Not to worry, the time between pipeline & twin lakes was short as it was mostly downhill on the way out.
Arriving at twin lakes, the party stretches out for over a mile. I knew that the CAF tent would be on the right somewhere after the dam. So I kept the ride speed on, took in the energy and came full stop at the CAF tent. Immediately, Harlan the lead CAF mechanic, grabbed my bike and asked if there were any issues with it, while he gave a quick chain clean/ lube, I ran behind the tent for a natural stop. When I returned, Stephanie & Jimmy had already replaced the bottles on my bike, handed me the PBJ and protein shake and began to remove garbage from my jersey pockets and give me new gels/Cliff bar. I didn’t need any gels as I had none since pipeline.
Climbing Columbine –
The major challenge on this course aside from the Powerline descent is the climb up Columbine, the half way point of the race. This climb winds over 2500 in ascent over about 8 miles. Just before beginning the climb, I was passed by 2 motos which meant the race leaders were approaching and shortly thereafter the three leaders did pass. Columbine begins with a mostly dirt road of reasonable width. The best way to climb it is to simply get into a good cadence and know your HR limitations and try to ride a few beats below that. The Trail Genius videos gave me a good idea of what to expect, particularly in speed (5-8 on the lower sections 2-3.5 on the higher). Basically, a long grind that had me doing both the in-saddle spinning and out of the saddle work. Eventually the course approaches tree line and a very rocky section appears, too difficult to ride, we all walk it until the terrain is more conducive to getting tire grip. This alternating effort goes on 2 or 3 more times before eventually reaching the summit. You are doing all of this with a continual stream of riders that only gets thicker as you press on coming down at you at breakneck speed.
There is a slight descent to the columbine turnaround where there is an aid station. I stopped here, took a natural break, ate a half of a PBJ and filled one bottle that was ¼ full w Gatorade with additional water. I realized on the way up that Stephanie & Jimmy had failed to give me my rain jacket or lightweight cap for the cold descent. Turned out that was a conscious decision as they felt I wouldn’t need it(thanks for sharing that guys!). I pulled up my arm warmers and headed off. Of course the initial climb out of the aid station wasn’t something I looked forward to, but shortly I was descending and looking at the many faces still streaming to the summit, mostly on foot, while negotiating the very rocky terrain and maintaining a fast but controlled descent. Before long, I was back on the flat sections leading back to twin lakes and time for a second pit stop.
Knowing what was ahead and that I wasn’t “racing” this. I was a bit more casual. My only goal for this was to finish under 12 hours and earn the small belt buckle for this accomplishment, which apparently is a big deal. Leadville is the old west and it IS all about the belt buckles. I’ve also been told that one’s time on top of Columbine is essentially one-half of their race time. My 5:30 time at Columbine would yield a 11 hour finish and I told Steph & Jimmy to expect my time to be closer to 11:15 as I knew I’d slow down substantially.
After leaving twin lakes, you climb quite a bit, road, to the single track section. Back to the short steep hill that I was knocked out of on the way out. Apparently it has a name: Ambulance Hill, as I heard someone mutter about it as we approached. Everyone walked this one.. Back to the dirt roads and then the paved roads. A train went by, I tried to jump on, couldn’t even hold it.. not a good sign. Re-entering the dirt sections that climb to pipeline, I became acutely aware of a significant pain in my left forefoot. 35 miles to go and the suck was now beginning. I was pretty negative at this point, but knew this was only a 35 mile bike ride.. get it done.. Pipeline Aid station finally comes & again, have a relaxed pace on my reload, making sure to grab everything and to eat a full PBJ and drink my protein shake.
After leaving pipeline, you hit a paved section and then as you turn off, you can hear the noise of a crowd, it’s the uphill of Powerline. I have to be honest here, if I thought going in that I could walk as much of this as I did and still turn in a decent time, I’d not have believed it, but for me, this was majorly unrideable. Powerline comes at you like a prizefighter. It gives you a long dose of pain only to ease up on one of its 5 summits before knocking you down again. Follow the crowd, keep moving forward, drink nutrition, ride where you can, walk swiftly when you can’t ride. There were some pretty despondent people here, one had his crew walking his bike up for him…
At this point the self-talk isn’t negative, there are no thoughts of quitting, there are no thoughts of failure. Only thoughts of what’s next, looking forward to the downhills and continuing to work the task at hand. I was fully in my box. It was a very small, uncomfortable box, but my head was very much in the game, despite how much I was hurting. At this point, it might make sense to mention that my previously longest all time bike ride was around 7 hours. At the top of Powerline, I was probably at 8.5-9 hours. After powerline, the backside is a fun descent. What descent is not fun on an MTB? Of course on a hard tail, you are a shock absorber and you are focused on choosing a line that will not result in disaster.
Again, you are spit out on the road and you have a nice downhill. While riding this fast and going for speed, I am painfully aware that there is a major uphill coming as I descended it in the morning in the 40s(speed & temperature!). At the bottom of the hill, there was a volunteer who announced that it was less than 3 miles to Carter Summit. This was good information, as this climb hurt, really hurt. Worked it with the same group of people and that always provides help. Finally reaching the top you turn into the woods and there is a neutral aid station. I stopped, drank a can of coke, ate a PBJ, took water in my one half empty bottle and got going. Climbing to St Kevin’s is a cruel joke, a series of climbs & descents before you reach there. I probably got off the bike earlier than I’d want to admit in this section, but I did. Simply put, I was shelled, I was broken and in survival mode.
I finally hit the bottom of St Kevins, then rode out a long stretch of dirt road where I connected with two other riders to work together and divide the work against a pretty good head wind. The motivation and positive energy was back, as for the last half hour I became aware that breaking 11 hours was a real possibility. The way back into town is different than the way out and has you climbing up a very rocky wide road, resulting in a short walk again. At this point it was just a matter of grinding out the last 2 miles (the last 3+ are all uphill). Eventually turning onto the finishing road, crossing the finish line and seeing my time on the garmin of 10:54. I had actually negative split the return, that was surprising.
Aside from this, and the pain in my foot, the only other surprise to me is that I never got my tell-tale inner quad left leg cramp that has come at various intensities in EVERY long ride I have done since herniating a disc last year.
“One & Done”
I had been asked many times by people about my future intentions with this race. I swore all along this was a one and done. But as the nature of being a “tri geek” one has to analyze their race and say what could have been different?
Nutrition – I ate 10 less gels & one less cliff bar than planned. I could have drunk more coke at aid stations, particularly from 60 miles on.
Training – I’d show up with more bike specific training, EG, not focus on triathlon for a year if I were to do this again
Body Comp – I’d show up ten pounds lighter. One of the great challenges of this was being on vacation in Vail for a week prior to the race. Vail IS about the restaurants. I did a decent job of eating healthy prior to the race, but could have been more diligent.
Execution – now that I know what this entails, I know that with training on the right trails, I can do a better job of riding more and walking less. I also think if I didn’t have an IM 4 weeks downstream I’d care less about the impact of riding even harder.
Unlike Ironman, the pain of a long ass bike ride dissipates quickly. I am truly amazed that I could turn in a top 10 Age group performance in an Ironman only three weeks ago and show up at this race and not even make the 50th %ile. Many of my friends and EN teammates are asking about this and wanting to do it. Frankly, the energy is there and I think there could be an attempt at doing this again, perhaps in ’18.
From the beginning this was to be a “long ass day in the saddle” to restart my training in the 7 weeks between Ironmans Lake Placid & Wisconsin..
After my top 10 performance in Lake Placid, I have decided to go “all in” on IM for 2017 and see what I could really do, Wisconsin is hopefully another step on that path.
As for the LT MTB100, never say “never again…”
Doing it for Charity
While I was fortunate enough to get the hard to find entry to the LT MTB100, I learned a great deal by becoming involved with the Challenged Athlete Foundation. This foundation helps many people with physical and mental disabilities gain access to many activities they may not otherwise be able to enjoy. One of those people I had the good fortune of meeting is “one armed” Willie Stewart. Willie finished his 5th? LT100 just missing the cut off of 9 hours for the bigger belt buckle for the 3rd time. I will see Willie in a few weeks at the Westchester Tri. Looking forward to challenging him at the swim, as I will need all the help I can get as he can really run as well…
If you’d consider a donation to the Challenged Athlete Foundation, please use this link, no amount is too small