In this post, I want to share my experiences and insights from finishing my first Leadville 100 mountain bike race.
As a beginner, I faced numerous challenges and made several mistakes along the way. As a reminder, this was my fifth ever mountain bike ride — I don’t even own a mountain bike!
Lesson: Don’t let the things you don’t know or don’t have stand in your way.
Arriving at the race venue early in the morning, I was excited to test myself against the legendary Leadville terrain. However, a moment of panic struck when I realized I had left my camelback with essential nutrition at home. Thankfully, super teammate John Withrow saved the day by retrieving it for me just before the race began.
Dodging this bullet turned out to set the tone for a day filled with unexpected twists and turns.
The Course and the Community
The Leadville 100 course, as depicted in the image, presents a challenging mix of peaks (up to 12,500 feet!) and valleys (holy rocks, Batman) that tested my skills.
With around 1,500 participants, the race showcased the vibrant MTB enduro community and was welcoming to newcomers like myself.
From the expo to the race briefing, the message of internal strength and family was loud and clear.
Overcoming Early Obstacles
Despite being a beginner, I felt confident as the race began. Scaling the first climb to St. Kevins with my group was a significant relief, as it proved I had the strength and stamina to tackle the more demanding sections of the course. However, the challenges were far from over.
Just minutes later my chain came off on a downhill. I had to carefully pull over and reseat it – only a minute, but I was calm and collected here. Back to work!
Next up, removing the buff I wore in the AM and forgot to take off. Manage to get my helmet off an the buff over my head before running out of safe pavement. Back to work!
Navigating the Peaks and Valleys
Climbing the Sugar Loaf 4-mile climbing section, I fueled myself adequately and managed to conquer it at my speed. However, I noticed that pushing myself too hard led to a rapid increase in heart rate, forcing me to reevaluate my pacing strategy. It became clear that I could work hard but not for very long. And the longer the race went, the less reserves I had. This was going to be a battle against my own limits.
The reward for claiming Sugarloaf is descending the single track of Powerline, also about 4 miles. This is when my left contact decided to bail on me — and my rear brake lever decided to quit.
Not going to lie that going down PL with one brake and one eye was not a personal highlight. Thankfully, my group was really good at bike handling and I did a great job finding the right lines to follow.
On to the flats, it was time to work with groups around me. But it was at this time that my lower back pain began to pose a problem. I took some Advil and stretched, but I was starting to get concerned. I realized that I needed to address the root cause, whether it be related to bike fit or core strength, neither of which I could deal with in the race.
The Columbine Climb and Unexpected Setbacks
Climbing the daunting Columbine section, I was grateful for the training I had undergone in Tenerife, as it prepared me for this grueling ascent. However, the trail near the top proved nearly impossible to ride, forcing me and many others to dismount and push our bikes uphill at high altitudes. To compound my challenges, I discovered my rear brake malfunctioning, adding a new level of concern for the treacherous descents that lay ahead.
The Aid Stations [Video Above]
These were great opportunities to restock food and process what happened to me. This video is the last 30 seconds of stop 1 (mile 40, 2:50 in) and all of stop 2 (mile 60, 5:20 in).
You’ll notice Matt talking about bike handling (one brake down Columbine) and his surprise at me needing two contacts. Yes, the right contact came out on the descent of Columbine. #alltheproblems
Finding Hope (and Why We Plan)
Exhausted and demoralized, I reached the Pipeline Aid station at mile 74.5, convinced that my race was effectively over. I was working with folks in ones and twos but could only go for a few pulls before I was toast.
I pulled over at Pipeline, dropped my bike, and had 2 cokes and half a banana. I found a piece of cardboard to sit on and stretched my back and hip flexors. One more cup of coke and it was time to go.
I had committed to RIDING WITH FACTS and forced myself to take a look at the total time: 6h and 20 minutes.
Then I looked at the cheat sheet of 9h times on my stem. I was shocked.
If I could maintain my pace, I still had a chance to achieve sub-9. Even with problems, slow pit stops, and falling off the pace. With renewed determination, I pressed on, towards the unforgiving Powerline climb.
I found a great group on the next road section and we worked together to push forward in the wind making up valuable time.
I could only ride the first 10% of the steep 1 mile entry to the full 4 mile climb. From there it was hike-a-bike and trying to keep the pace up.
At the top of the first mile, we all remounted to tackle the rest of this brutal climb. I came off 3x on this section, from a combination of fatigue and also being behind riders I couldn’t pass.
Thanks to recon riding this section, I knew where I was and what I had left. It wasn’t long until we were at the top and I had to hammer past 10 people who were gassed at the top.
The descent was waaaaay worse than I remembered the climb..baby head rocks everywhere, but I was able to fly down it and get moving again.
The Final Push
As the finish line loomed closer, I encountered further challenges, struggling to find my rhythm and battling intense fatigue.
However this was a road climb and I was able to find a good rhythm. I passed 12 riders here, and was only passed by one. Yeah! My reward was getting yelled at by my teammate Matt at miles 88 and 95. He was everywhere!!!
But I still had to get through the protage from Carter Aid to the top of St Kevins. This final stretch, had a few realy steep climbs and a brutal rock garden, pushed me to my limits. Literally gassed.
However, fueled by the knowledge that I was close to sub-9 I dug really deep. This is where I am my strongest.
Pushing pushing pushing, I made the final climb on Broadway and crossed the finish line with a time of 8.52. I was in disbelief.
The emotional experience of receiving my finisher’s medal from Ken, one half of the founding couple that built the Leadville race to save the town after the closing of the local mine was super powerful.
As we hugged, I told him that I had done 30 Ironnman races, ten in Kona…and that this was the hardest thing I had ever done. He laughed and said, “I’m glad you found your way here to become part of our family. You did it.”
Reflections and Gratitude
Completing the Leadville 100 mountain bike race was not just a personal triumph; it was a testament to the unwavering support of my family, teammates, and sponsors.
The race taught me invaluable lessons about perseverance, adaptability, and the power of community.
While the journey was filled with mistakes and setbacks, it ultimately reinforced the notion that we are often stronger than we believe.
The Leadville 100 will forever remain etched in my memory as a moment I as able to push past my limits and achieve an extraordinary result.
The Leadville 100 mountain bike race was brutal yet transformative. From the early morning mishap to the exhilarating finish, every moment was a lesson in resilience and self-discovery.
As I reflect on this remarkable journey, I am reminded of the message I give to the athletes I work with.
- The importance of embracing challenges.
- Learning from mistakes.
- Finding strength in the support of others.
The Leadville 100 taught me that true success lies not just in achieving a goal, but in the growth and wisdom gained along the way.
I hope to see you in Leadville next year!