Nearly every cyclist dreams of participating in the Leadville Trail 100 at one point in their lives. I raced the event in 2009 and finished in 8:40, earning the coveted BIG belt buckle. The race is one of the primary catalysts for my love of mountain biking, and since then I’ve earned my UCI Elite/Pro mountain biking license, as well as my UCI Elite/Pro Cyclocross license. On August 10th, I’ll again attempt the race – this time I’m aiming for a 7:30 finish, and I’m also raising money for a great cause along the way - First Descents - which offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.
Every year a lot of newbies end up getting accepted into the Leadville 100 via the lottery, and they’re understandably scared and have a lot of questions. Here are my top five tips for finishing the Leadville 100:
1. Nutrition, eat, drink, and eat and drink, and eat and drink…
To be successful in the Leadville 100 nutrition is the single most important thing. Every time you think of water, see water or think of food, it should be a reminder to reach down and drink water. Every 45 minutes or so you should also be taking down a gel, a shot block, or whatever it is that works for you. For me, I utilized ZERO food, only gels (Honey Stinger of course), chews (Honey Stinger of course), and I also downed a couple of Pro Bars during the race. As far as water bottles, I always had two bottles, one filled with Cytomax, and another filled with water. I re-upped at each aid station from my helpful crew of family and friends.
This brings up another important point: utilize any help you can from friends and family. It will give you a huge boost – just seeing those that you love at aid stations and having them provide you with the energy boost you need (both nutritionally and mentally) is HUGE!
Also, when picking up food/water/etc. from aid stations, make it quick, don’t stop, just have everything ready to throw in your jersey pocket and get back into the race.
Eat a GIANT breakfast – I know it’s 3:45 or 4:00am, but it’s super important to get a BIG breakfast down. This lays the base for the rest of the day’s nutrition. I always try to eat three hours before a big race, this allows things to settle and you’ll be able to keep it down.
2. Pace yourself! It’s a long race, and you definitely want to race within yourself. If you’re not prepared to go out with the fastest people, then it’s probably not a great idea to try to stick with them.
Drafting. Yes, it’s true, Leadville is not a typical mountain bike race, there are a lot of road racing strategies that come into play during the race. One such strategy is drafting. There’s no sense in putting your face into the wind the entire race when there are hundreds of others that can share the load with you. Outbound, I got in with a good group of strong riders all the way from Powerline to Dam Aid Station. I felt extremely strong all the way up Powerline on the way back (it’s an out and back course).
I also gave extra pairs of sunglasses (Oakley Radars) to my aid stations helpers because the course was so wet and rainy. This ended up being really helpful because I couldn’t see anything after coming off of Powerline.
NOTE: Go around the big pond at the bottom of Powerline – there’s no reason to have wet shoes unnecessarily for the next 80 miles or so!
3. Bike Choice
Ride what you’ve got…but if you have choices…
I’d recommend the lightest bike you have, whether it’s full suspension or not. I have bikes to choose from now, and this year I’ll be riding a Yeti ARC Carbon 29er. It’s stupid light (19 pounds), with ENVE Composite wheels, Sram XX drivechain, Crank Bros pedals – the perfect Leadville bike.
Tubeless Tires – yes, you want them, but obviously still bring a tube. I ran high air pressure because of all the fire roads and paved sections; although, air pressure is a personal choice.
4. Never give up.
I thought my race was over on the way back from Columbine. A combination of nearly freezing rain at the beginning of the race, and then really hot afternoon temperatures made my bike nearly seize up on the way back to the Pipeline Aid Station. Every ten pedal strokes or so my chain would suck, and I would have to backpedal. I lost a huge amount of time and position, but
I never gave up. I made to the aid station, got some lubricant into the drivetrain and went back to work, making up time and passing people. Never give up!
5. Race like it’s your last.
Despite finishing 69th overall in the Leadville 100, it took me YEARS to finally find a way back into the race – despite trying every year via the lottery. So race it like it’s the last time you’ll ever get in.
6. Keep a goal in mind and work towards it!
THE BIG BELT BUCKLE – all I could think about the entire race was the BIG BELT BUCKLE, I wanted that thing so bad, I can’t even explain it. It kept me going.
I’ve pledged to raise $3,000 – the money will help First Descents First Descent’s programs take place throughout the country, so any money donated will reach well beyond Colorado’s borders. The programs range anywhere from two days to an entire week. Here is a link to my charity page where you can pledge your support – no matter how little you can offer, know that your contribution goes to an incredible cause, and is of course entirely tax deductible: http://tfd.firstdescents.org/