I’ve always wanted to the Leadville 100 MTB race. I’d wondered if the race would suit my skill set. It’s a long course, it includes a lot of sustained climbs and it isn’t very technical relative to other MTB races. These factors would play to my strengths and to the type of training I usually do.
An opportunity to do Leadville presented itself. I was invited to enter this past weekend’s event with a several clients and friends. I jumped at the chance to go! But I wouldn’t be racing at Leadville; I wouldn’t even being riding my own ride. Instead, I was hired to help these five friends through the grueling course.
My instructions for the day were to keep all five of them together and feeling relatively good until the base of Power Line, where they would walk their bikes up or ride at their own pace. Upon the return, I would get them back to Powerline, where each would descend at his own pace. Due to the variability in their skill sets, both athletically and technically, everyone would take the last 15 miles (mainly downhill) at his own pace and we would all regroup at the finish line.
This event was a first for me in more ways than one. I had never before served such a diverse group of athletes and on a course where I was unsure of my own abilities. I understood the demands of the Leadville course; I have coached athletes through great Leadville finishes in the past. While I was confident I knew what had to be done, I personally had never really mountain biked longer than 50 miles in my life – and those rides were all on bike paths.
As it turned out, I could have ridden much harder at Leadville had I been on my own. But I wasn’t there to race. Instead, I was there to help five guys get through most of the course and, according their wish, to get through as much of the course together. This was a difficult task, given the diversity in the group. Most of the guys had “coached themselves” and it showed in how quickly they fatigued. Even the one guy in the group that I usually coach, a small business owner who just didn’t have the time this year to put in the preparation, was struggling.
The struggle up Columbine was real for them. While most people walk the incline, with my Achilles injury, walking was gong to be an issue for me. So, I asked the guys if it would be okay for me to ride up and then meet them at the aid station on the descent. With their approval, I took off. For the first time in that day, I was working REALLY hard, working at my level.
I must have passed 400 people in the two miles up Columbine, and I found myself riding up stuff that I would have believed was impossible to do – but I was doing it! I hit the turn-around at the top and was bombing down before I knew it. I had been descending almost seven minutes before I saw the guys still on their way up. Despite a crash, I still managed to put 35 minutes on them over a very short amount of course. That was a rush!
After they showed up to the aid station and refueled, I paced them on to the next aid station. It took them about 80 minutes to get there and they were pretty wrecked when they did. They were struggling big time. So, we came up with our next plan: I was to pace them to the bottom of Power Line climb, which they thought they would end up walking, and then my job would be done.
All the way to the bottom of Power Line, they were doing the math to see whether they could finish in the 12 hour “belt buckle” time limit. When we reached the bottom of Power Line, we were about 80 miles into the course, and at 8:27 of total ride time. It could be cutting it close for some, but from here on out, it would be every man for himself.
My job done, I took off like a shot out of a cannon! “On your left!” “Center line!” “Can I have the line please?!” I was shouting left and right as I rode as much of the climb as I could. I heard, “Rider coming! Rider Coming Through!” as spectators yelled at the participants walking their bikes to try to get them out of my way. It was so motivating to hear their cheers. Even though I felt like I was going to die, I dug deep into a level even I wasn’t sure I had and rode most of that climb.
I had to get off a few times as there was simply no way around the walkers, but I pushed the bike as fast as I could around them and got right back on. I was having a blast! Halfway up power line, I decided to catch the two guys in our group who had ridden ahead. Now I had my own race going!
At the top of the climb, when I thought I had about 15 miles left (In reality, I had 19, because the course is actually 104 miles!), I started to think of what I might accomplish How awesome would it be if I made the jump from the breaking-12-hours finisher group time to the breaking-10-hours group – and within only 20 miles of the finish! Game ON!
After Power Line, there is one more climb. I knew I was going to have to reach the top of that climb at 9:30 or under if I had any chance of breaking 10-hours. I hit the top in 9:34, so knew that breaking 10 hours was not going to happen, but I was okay with that. 10:15 became the new goal and I was just as excited!
It turns out that I did break 10:15 for 100 miles, but it turns out that the Leadville 100 MTB race actually covers 104 miles. I finished that in 10:21. It was so fun to FLY past all the people who had passed me so early on in the day. And I did end up catching our entire group; I caught the last guy just 2 miles from the finish.
Our whole group did fantastic. All five guys – six, if you include me – finished under the 12-hour “belt buckle” time limit. The two guys who went ahead finished in about 10:30 and 10:55, and the two guys I stuck with most of the day went 11:27. (Later, they told me that they couldn’t have finished without my help. Giving them food, letting them drink from my bottles and pacing them into the wind helped them to finish – and finish under 12 hours.) Then, our final guy ended up being the third to last official finisher. He did an awesome job getting in just seconds before the clock struck 12! Celebrating that victory was the highlight of our day.
Going into the race, the guys said that they just wanted to have fun. For them, sticking together for as much of the race as they could was integral in that. They insisted that they didn’t care about their finishing time, but were in it more for the experience, the views and eventually reaching the finish line. Sitting around breakfast the morning after the race, with everyone rehashing the day and their experiences, it became clear to me that each man had given his all out there. It was also clear just how much fun they had. Their mission was a success.