I am a Leadwoman! Part 1
I finished the Leadwoman events on Aug 21st. It may have been my biggest athletic accomplishment ever. Even morphing the Grand Slam of Ultra Running. Being able to pull off that mountain bike race under 12 hours given where I started was a huge success. I am really excited to have my name forever etched on that board. For some reason lots of people seem to think the MTB race isn’t that hard or not as hard as the run. I am not in agreement. Now of course if you are purely a cyclist and don’t run it would be easier but if your trying to do both I say the MTB is harder. Being on a complete adrenaline high, with a splash of fear and no time to coast makes for an intense 12 hours in the mountain’s. I felt like I was on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride all day! The final 3 events of Leadwoman culminate in 7 days. The 100M MTB race on Sat. then the 10K on Sun. After 5 days of rest you get to run the 100M footrace. Here’s my account of that action packed week.
Leadville 100M MTB Race: With 1900 riders (201 woman) the start was my biggest worry. When I checked in on Thursday I noticed my number was in the 300’s. The big news this year was seeding the start. With so many riders lining the streets of Leadville the start has been an issue. Fast riders mixed with slow riders and no organization made that first 10 miles tough and somewhat dangerous as riders jockeyed for position.
This year they seeded the field. Pro’s up front and if you finished the race before you were seeded in that time block. New riders were in the back, period. For me being in back made me super concerned about making the first 4 hour cutoff. I stressed about that first 40 miles for months. I rode it so much I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to ride like I was dying then deal with my aftermath for the remainder of the race where I knew my years of endurance experience would pay. When I got a low number then saw Todd Janssen’s low number I was pumped. They seeded all the Leadman competitors up front. This was such a bonus! However, that meant a fast and furious start for me. I would need to hang with the big boys and girls and not crash.
The gun went off and I swear we were shot out like a rocket! Down the boulevard we went and I was in a tunnel of riders. Their intense speed and force was pure drafting for me. I took the advice of veterans, “Pay attention to your 10 foot radius and nothing else”. I tried to stay close to Todd who knew the ropes and most likely would take sympathy on me if I crashed bad. That lasted for about 3 miles then he was gone fast! As we rode the pavement making our way to the dirt I saw speeds of near 40 MPH! On a mountain bike that’s hauling. I barely pedaled as my small stature created a draft tunnel like I have never experienced. When we hit the dirt the dust was unbelievable. I could see only about 10 feet in front of me. My mouth was immediately gritty and I knew my lungs were being filled with dirt. The drafting came to a screeching halt but the impact of mass amounts of people was intense. Now only 6 miles into this race the fast riders seeded in the back were making moves. I held my ground, elbows out with a firm and intense pedal stroke. I was trying disparately to get to the St. Kevins climb without sliding out or getting bumped out. This was hard. I was getting jostled a bit. Reaching the base of the climb watching all the riders funnel onto a 2 line narrow road was something out of a wildebeest migration movie. My strategy was stay to the right all the way up. I felt this was the best line. My biggest plan was to be strong! Not only physically strong but mentally strong. Not allow anyone to take my line and to not be forced off. If you are forced off your bike here your not getting back on for a long time. The funnel quickly turned to chaos. Some riders didn’t gear down fast enough and couldn’t ride causing a chain reaction of dismounts. Words flew as fast riders frustrations flared. I got behind a big guy and stayed within 6 inches of his tire. Barely looking up or around at other drama. Just catching it in my peripherals. Signals would make their way down the line, “slowing”. Each person would repeat warning riders behind them. I got yelled at when I slammed my brakes. He says, “&%$%$ don’t do that”. My response, “If you are going to yell at someone you need to start at the front of the line”. My braking was a save. A close call. At this point, on this climb, on this narrow 2 line track everything is a chain reaction. I was ready to be yelled at. I was mentally prepared so therefore all the drama rolled off me. It was way to early and congested for anyone to get all uppity. My work level was fairly intense on this climb because I needed to stay in it with this group which was fast. I made it all the way up Kevin’s on my bike! Thanks to this seeding. My friends in the back who are very good riders were forced off due to the immense congestion and the chain reaction of one dismount. It’s too steep to remount in most places.
Once at the top it was a fast and furious descent. For me, it was again a “stand your ground” type of ride. More riders from the rear were catching up and they were trying to get in position. I found myself forced to go much faster than I would have imagined. This was an incredible experience. One my friends once told me if you want to be a good MTBer you need to ride with faster people. They are right!
I made it to the first aid station in 55 minutes! Incredibly fast for me. During training, while riding for time and working really hard I got there in 1:10. I was pretty happy when I saw that. Now heading to Sugarloaf mountain and down powerline the riders were just starting to spread out. The paved decent of Kevin’s was fast! Again I found myself in a drafting tunnel. That’s such a weird feeling for me. I knew I needed to institute the same strategy getting up Sugarloaf. The final 3 miles to the summit is rocky and steep. I got behind a good rider. A very large man (a Navy Seal) and followed his lead. This is how I kept my line. I didn’t allow enough room for anyone to cut in and believe me they wanted to. If you want to pass on this rocky steep section you need to have enough power to muscle over very rocky loose terrain. Then you need to get back in the line. I had guys trying to come around but I wasn’t going to give up my position because that would mean a possible topple of dismount for me. If they wanted around me they needed to go around my steed (the Navy Seal) too. In order to do that they would have to muscle their bike over terrain for a much longer period of time and not many had the extra cardio capacity at this pace. My steed was a good leader too. He maneuvered around obstacles well. He wasn’t super fast but steady and strong and deliberate. It was so perfect and he had no idea I tailing him. We got up the climb before I knew it. Now to infamous Powerline descent. LMTBer’s talk about this descent a lot. It’s steep, rocky, and slick but the biggest obstacle is the deep ruts. There is one good line down Powerline. Any other good line is shut down within a few yards with a deep rut. Some can be saved by correcting quickly but it’s a risk. You can crash and it will be bad or worse you can taco a wheel then your done. The standard saying is, “You won’t win your race by riding Powerline fast but you can loose your race or possibly your life”. Last year a man almost died on Powerline. I got the pleasure of meeting him, riding with him and becoming friends with him. He was back after a year of serious rehabilitation. With all that said, riders seemed to have a respect for this descent and kept watch on other riders. With the exception of your occasional ass. As I made my way down I again chose the left line and planned to stay in no matter what! I had riders pass and they were incredibly patient. They would ask to pass, then wait for good time and I would slow giving them the line in front of me. About half way down in a nice train of riders we encounter our first ass. He comes flying down almost taking out a rider. The guys in front of me yells, “Hey, careful someone almost died on this last year, slow down”. He rebuts, “FU, I don’t need to ride to your sucky level”! Ok then! Karma…. bad. On the powerline descent there are 2 hills. Your flying down and you come to dip then have a steep but short climb.You need to be ready. Many weren’t. They didn’t know a hill was coming and weren’t geared down enough to make it forcing them off their bikes. I knew it was coming and began preparing when I looked up and saw a sea of dismounted riders. I knew I would be off my bike too because I would reach the pack before they would be out of the way. No skin of my back.
I just geared down to start climbing slowly hoping I might be able to stay on. The guy behind me sighs and yells, “Pedal, your never going to get up this in granny gear, they let too many yahoo’s in this race”. I say, “That means you!, where do you think we are going to go?, look up”. He’s pissed and I run up the hill with my bike, remount and ride. He tries to get around me as a monitor on the course is standing in the middle yelling, “stay left”! I was on the left because I knew I needed to be. He ignores the monitor, takes the right lane that quickly ends up in a 3 foot rut. He tries to save it, yelling all sorts of stuff as his rear wheel slides into the ditch. See ya!
Now 23 miles into the ride and I feel really good. I was looking forward to this moment. The start, St. Kevin’s, Sugarloaf Mtn and Powerline descent are all history. I am still in one piece, my bike still works, I only got yelled at 3 times and I am way ahead of schedule. 17 miles to the first cutoff and at this point I already know I got this. Bill wrote, “Lead on my left calf and Woman on my right calf”. I got a lot of atta girls because of that. I also think it gave me a bit of relief from getting trampled. There seems to be this idea among the MTBers that running 100 miles is nearly impossible. They really respect the fact that anyone can possibly do that. I on the other hand feel the same about them. The 100M run was going to be my day of celebration! Today it was intense focus. I heard this said many time, “Leadville 100MTB isn’t technical”. Next time I hear that they might get slapped! It’s not as technical as single track rocky terrain but I feel the speed at which you need to ride this course to make the cuts changes everything. In addition, the number of riders makes the race course crazy. It makes this race technical. There’s no time to rest and you need to be one your game the whole time pushing. In the 100M run I get to walk, I get to daydream and I don’t have to worry about crashing to my death or anything like that. Of course this is all from my point of view :).
The speed zone isn’t exactly what I would call a speed zone. The mild grade takes it’s toll. I pushed and pushed here. I felt amazing and on occasion got a bit too comfortable. Like when I pulled my water bottle out started drinking right before a sharp, rocky descent. It came quick, as does everything at 15 MPH and I wasn’t ready. I needed both hands to keep my bike steady over the rocks and mild ruts. My rear shocks were locked out and I couldn’t get the bottle back in my shirt. I almost lost it but corrected. My bottle dangling in my teeth. I came to the bottom, gave myself the wake up slap and gathered my composure. You need to be 2 steps ahead of what’s coming. There is no “on the fly” for me. I am not that experienced. All changes and modifications need to be pre-planned. Things like fueling, gear changes, shock adjustments and any big moves like passing or changing lanes all need to be planned.
I blew through the 40 mile cutoff mark in 3:10 and onto my crew over the hill before the big climb to Columbine mine (the high point at 12,500). My bike needed help. The dust had accumulated big time on my chain and it was grinding bad. I couldn’t stand to hear it. It made me feel like the chain was going to snap at any minute. One heavy gear change or poor pedal crank and I swore it was going to snap. At my crew point they cleaned my chain and re-lubed running through all my gearing. This took a few minutes but was well worth it. I knew I would need my bike in full working order up and down Columbine. I on the other hand felt amazing. My body felt completely fresh and mentally I was over the top excited. The stress of not making the 4 hour cutoff was long gone and I had room to spare. While they lubed my bike I took a wet rag and wiped off my face. I was blown away by how much dirt I had on me. My body was also covered. It was time to go. I decided to settle in for the long ascent up Columbine. The leaders were already coming down and at speeds that I can’t even comprehend. This 5 mile climb starts steady, get steeper and rockier as you go. It was imperative that riders honored the right and left side traffic. Just like a car.
If you swerved over into the other lane you were going to get hurt. The people descending were riding more towards the middle of the road in order to make the turns without skidding out. That meant the uphill traffic needed to keep a tight line going up. I didn’t expect this. I just assumed we would be way more spread out but with 1900 riders this was spread out. There was some passing ability here but once you got up 3 miles it was too tight. When we arrived above treeline I could see miles of single track riders. It was quite a sight. Once I saw that I knew I would be forced off much earlier than I expected. I got a bit stressed about time. It gets very steep and everyone was walking their bike up. I got behind a tandem. Again, signals were given, “slowing”, “dismount”. This was super helpful. Walking your bike is a grind. It’s really slow and just plain hard. The shoes have such a drop heel and pushing a bike is awkward. Anytime you can ride it’s better. Gettting started on a hill is a skill and I am actually pretty good at it. However, there were a couple of times on Columbine when I had problems. A rider behind me gave me a shove to help me get going. I helped another. It was a very nice change from our Kevin’s ascent. Folks were getting tired and many having issues with the altitude. There were lots of collapsed riders with painful looks of defeat on their faces and mostly just spent. It was interesting to see this. It was like you could see inside their minds and feel their disappointment. It was as if they knew it was over already. I wondered why? I now know. It was over for them. There simply is not enough time to have a moment like that in this race. The clock is ticking and you still have 50 miles to ride. You have to keep moving! Finally at the summit of Columbine. What a beautiful sight. The view is amazing and the weather was awesome! No rain, no clouds and the breeze was mild.
The decent down Columbine made the Poweline descent feel like a tea party. I was shocked at how scary and out of sorts this descent was for me. At the top riders are still coming up and it’s narrow! There are sections I dismounted and walked down at training camp but I couldn’t do that today. Riders were on my butt so fast I felt like road kill about to be eaten. They seemed slightly out of control and I had no option but to ride down. With such tight quarters at times I felt like my handbar was going to clip a rider coming up. Some riders who were walking up would occasionally pull out to pass just to be yelled at quickly to get out of the way. Riders who wanted around me weren’t patient but I held my ground on the steep 1.5 miles. When I got down to the split I pulled off to take a moment. I was really shook up and needed a chance to get some water and gain composure. The worst of it was over but I knew the remaining descent was going to be fast and slick. I also knew I needed to ride just outside my comfort zone so I didn’t cause any bad accidents. I was riding down this at about 25MPH which for me seems fast but everyone I passed going up rode by me like I was standing still. My arms ached and my hands were on the verge of cramping from griping and braking. My brakes were screaming and I knew they were hot. Seeing my crew at the base of Columbine was the best! I was shaking all over though. Standing on your bike for that long is work too but mostly I was emotionally spent. More chain lubing and I am off.
The final chapter of this race. 40 miles to the finish and 2 climbs left. I leave in high spirits but began fueling like crazy. Coming downhill makes fueling hard for me. I need both hands on the steering and don’t feel comfortable enough to take one off to get fuel. Riding through the Twin Lakes aid station is like being a rockstar. The whole area is filled with spectators and they are on fire, cheering and yelling your number. Since there are not many woman I felt like I got the royal, you are amazing, oh my gosh look at her treatment. When you depart Twin Lakes you are filled up! You feel like you can do anything! With that jolt of energy I rode back through the speed zone on cloud nine. My energy level was high. I made my way up the hill and back onto the dirt followed by 3 woman all wearing the same kits with the same bike. They had a leader too. A guy who was pacing them. They must have been a racing team. They gunned for me and I played along. For a brief moment I felt like a real MTBer. I was now being chased! I let them go and tucked in. I rode with them looking back at me over and over. This was sort of intense and fun. I was in no way intending to get caught up in this but I couldn’t help myself. I felt really good and had plenty to give so overtook the group and when we hit the single track climb where I knew I could drop them. Relatively speaking I found myself to be a better technical rider than the ones around me. I think it’s because I have never been on a road bike and many of the LMTBers are road cyclist. The stuff I have learned on is very rocky, narrow and muddy.
When we hit the single track I had fun. I rode up this hard with the pack on my tail. Their lead guy pulled in front but I pushed him. When we reached the top he looked back to find his girls a quarter mile behind. He pulled over, said, “nice riding” and waited for them. That was quite a boost for me. At that very moment I felt like I belonged in this race.
Coming back into Pipeline (mile 73) I was anxious to see Brian and Alex. My pack would be waiting. Filled with everything I might need for the Sugarloaf climb. This was going to be an icky climb. I knew there would be lots of hike a bike time, it was super steep and hot. My mental plan was to kick back, keep my head down and grind it out. I would ride what I could. I envisioned entering a work load that would leave me breathless as I hiked my bike up. I rode into pipeline and no crew. I look around, no crew. I continue onto the road where other crews were staged thinking maybe they are there, no crew. I stop and gather myself. I know I have 2.5 hours before I see Bill or the next feed zone. I know I have to get up and over Sugarloaf. I have two empty 10 oz bottles and no gels! That’s not gonna do. I stop and ask if anyone has water they can spare. Immediately 2 other crews sweep me up, fill my bottles, lube my chain, bring over a ton of gels and feed me. They were so sweet and incredibly generous. They wanted to sponge off my face and rub my shoulders. I left knowing I still could not make it on 20 oz of water. I also knew there would be tons of spectators at the base of Sugarloaf. I drank one whole bottle and a bit of the other while riding the 5 miles to the base. Just before I plunged into the Sugarloaf base I stopped again and spectators took care of me. They filled up my bottles and off I went. The climb was exactly what I expected. It felt steep, hot and endless. I plugged away with everyone else. Now chasing the clock. My mind wondered to the impossible. I reigned it in. I had plenty of time but at that moment I felt worried. Spectators lined the mountain and offered words of encouragement and the occasional beverage. Riders were splayed out on the sides, sweating and breathing hard. The altitude had taken hold of many. Their dust filled lungs were burning and the sun was pretty intense. When I started to walk my bike the sweat just poured. The natural breeze was gone and I was left with buckets of water running down my face, back and legs. Sugarloaf is brutal. It has 7 false summits. I knew this so I let it go, many couldn’t. It was frustrating and slow. Finally reaching the top after 1:15 of slogging my bike up I found some shade. Weaving in and out of the shade while riding the final bit of climb was glorious. Then came the descent. That rocky loose 3 miles we climbed up is now the downhill. I must have said, “I love you” to my bike 30 times as it rattled and rolled over things. I was pleading for it to hold up. Less than 20 miles to go and all I wanted was no mechanical issues or flats. I was nice to my bike on this descent. Trying to take the big rocks and drops slow and steady. I was also getting mushy. My limbs were fatiguing and I at times I felt sort of unstable and less able to adapt quickly to terrain.
Finally onto Haggerman Pass. A well maintained gravel road. It felt like pavement compared to the others. I was hauling feeling so inspired and free. It was almost over and I overwhelmed with happiness as I made the turn onto the paved road for the final big climb. Just as I turned onto the road I see Bill. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Stress filled his face. I look at him puzzled. He screams, “Are you okay”? I slow and come to a stop. Apparently the website was no help, I missed Alex and Brian at Pipeline and for he knew I was lying in a ditch taking my last breaths. He was completely freaked out. All the while I was on a such a high I forgot I hadn’t seen any of my crew since mile 60. He gave me a small bottle of water and I left for the final Feed Zone at Carter Summit (mile 87). The climb to Carter Summit is on pavement. It’s hot and long. Not too steep but enough to make you want to cry at this point. At the base I came upon the Lifetime Fitness crew who were just there to cheer on riders. I saw some familiar faces and got lots of “atta girls” plus a shove up the hill which gave me a bit of help. Somewhere I found my fourth gear and rode up to Carter Summit averaging 7.1 MPH! I passed at least 22 people. My tattooed calves gave me so much support, “Go Leadwoman”. With every word of encouragement my pedal stroke grew stronger. Arriving at the final Feed Zone knowing I have more than enough time to make this was most likely one of the most memorable moments of this series. The vision of Bill and Johanas and their words, “see you at the finish” could be replayed over and over and I wouldn’t grow tired of it. With just a bit of climbing left, a huge downhill and the final push on the boulevard the LMTB 100 was coming to close. During training it would take me about 1:30-1:40 to do these final miles. I had 2+ hours left. I did this in 55 minutes! That famous Leadville saying from Ken, “Your better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can” couldn’t be more true!
I had tons of energy. Pure adrenaline must have been pursing through my body. I used every bit of it. As riders were forced to dismount on the final grunt climbs I could power out of the saddle and grind it out. Coming to the final descent of the race I kept telling myself to not get cocky and crash. Keep it in control and pay attention. Just as I finished my internal lecture a guy comes flying down, yells, “coming on your left”. He forces me off course and I brake coming to a screeching halt about 2 feet from a tree! The guy behind him asks if I am okay, rides off and yells at the guy for being reckless. I wasn’t too pissed but felt it would be appropriate for me to try to dust him up the boulevard. He was way gone on the descent and out of my sights. Coming off the final descent and making my way to the boulevard and only 5 miles to go. I take the turn onto the boulevard and settle in for the final 4 miles of gravel road. This mild uphill grade is horrible in the 100M run and not much fun in the bike either. Riders were spent. Spinning with very little left to give. I was able to ride out of saddle. Mashing like a crazy person. I had plenty in the tank and couldn’t wait to ride that red carpet. I caught Mr. Tree Pusher and passed him like he was standing still. It felt good. I don’t know why but it just did. If I was 10 I would have stuck my tongue out at him but I am 44 and have a bit of maturity. However at that moment I wasn’t demonstrating much.
Crossing the finish line in 11:13, fully in tact, bike still working, no crashes and no flats was incredible. What’s better is I had a thrilling day! From the minute the gun went off all the way to finish was just an indescribable experience. I really had to, “man up” emotionally. Physically I felt confident but I am no stranger to mental/physical connection. This is a boys sport. The numbers prove that. There is really no room for sissy’s and I can be a real, “girl” complete with pink bows in my hair! I had plenty of pink flowing but I held my own here. Not only that but I felt confident and didn’t once feel like I didn’t deserve to be there.
Event #3 was now in the books. Tomorrow would be the 10K then 5 days to prepare for the 100M footrace. Right after the finishing I was already thinking about recovery. Two 10lbs bags of ice were waiting for me. I ate, took an ice bath, then ate some more. The next morning were awards and it was longest awards ceremony ever! With so many riders and individually calling them up it seemed to last forever. It got incredibly hot inside the gym. A nice warm up for the 10K! I planned on running easy at the 10K. I had no reason to push myself and just wanted to recover from the MTB race. I ended up running a few Leadman competitors and we chatted the whole time. It actually felt pretty good to run. It took about 3 miles before my legs figured out there is not saddle to sit on. I ran the 10K in 58 minutes. I actually felt this was a fast time for the course! I was the first Leadwoman to cross the line :). Back home for another ice bath and begin planning the 100M footrace.