Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Leadville 100 MTB Race Across the Sky!

Wow, does it feel good to be back in Minneapolis.  Sure, I miss the mountains, but I suddenly appreciate the air here so much more now than before. Ha!  My first Leadville 100 MTB  race was an amazing, humbling experience. There were moments when I felt great, and then moments where I felt horrible beyond comprehension and certainly beyond my expectations.  As my coach said "coming from Minneapolis to altitude is no small feat" and I knew going into this race that it was going to be nothing short of an adventure.

Since racing is my passion and not my job, I knew it would be impossible to acclimate. However, I do think I made some wise choices in deciding to ease my way up to Leadville's 10,200 feet. I spent an incredible week in Steamboat (about 7,000ft)  with many of  my best friends chilling out, riding bikes, and enjoying just about all that Steamboat Springs had to offer (more on this in a later post)!We were having so much fun all week that I hardly even thought about the race until Thursday. I had planned to arrive in Leadville at the last possible moment.

Friday morning Tom and I woke up early, drove through the mountains and arrived in Leadville around 830am with about 90 minutes left for packet pick-up.  Things went about as smoothly as they could have on Friday.  I felt great on our pre-ride down to Turqoise Lake, and I was doing my best to soak up everythign including my first LT100 pre-race meeting where I was reunited with Pam and Jeff who were planning to race the tandem!  There was so much mystical energy in the air, it was unreal.... it's now clear why people love this race and why they keep coming back to Leadville. 

Friday night I headed back to our condo in Copper Mountain to eat pizza and watch a movie with Tom and our great friends Lisa, Katy, Aaron, Andrea Jeff and Christina - all of whom were going to be out on the course at both Pipeline and Twin Lakes handing up bottles and supporting me on this incredible day.  I can't thank them enough!


Waking up Saturday at 430am I was feeling rock solid and snappy.  I wasn't incredibly nervous until we arrived back into Leadville.  I knew I had put in a great summer of training, I knew I could endure the extended suffering that was in front of me.  I hoped for a mechanical free day, however I reminded myself that I would only be able to control that at which I could control. Since it was 45 degrees out I had forgotten sunscreen so in true April fashion I was scrambling and begging a stranger for sunscreen at the last minute. By the time I made it to the Gold gate I was way in the back, however this was fine because I wasn't planning to smash myself right from the gun...seriously...there was going to be another 102 miles for that! 

Dave Weins' (multiple time Leadville champion) son sang the National Anthem beautifully, Ken and Meriliee reminded us "You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can!" and then Ken pointed the gun up in the air and ....BOOM! we were quickly zipping our way down the 6th street hill and out of town. Like most mass start races I expected there to be a slow and controlled start however it was quite the opposite as I found myself spinning my climbing set-up like road runner trying to bridge the gaps.  In all reality I think this is a much safer way to start out a mass start race as you don't have to worry about clinking bar ends and avoiding those trying to move up to the front.  I was jacked and ready for an incredible day.

I decided not to push too hard at the beginning as I wasn't sure what to expect with the altitude and I also wasn't able to pre-ride any parts of the course.  I was passed by quite a few people on the first stretch towards the climb up St. Kevins, however I was fairly pleased with my effort and how I was managing. It was fun to see friends Chris, Sam and fellow CTS athlete, Zach.  They all shared words of encouragement as they passed.  I was stoked for them! In fact I was excited for everyone. I was in mountain bike Heaven! St. Kevins climb was steepish in parts, but I seemed to ride it with ease and as I crested the top I decided it was time to push the pace.

I'm a big fan of descending  so the first chance I got to pass some people I went for it.  It just so happened to be one of the worst possible places of all as there was a sharp right turn at the bottom of a loose descent.  As I was trying to pass a fellow racer "on your left" I caught Merilee out of the corner of my eye holding a sign (maybe it said Danger ???) and she was yelling "slow down!"  At this point I think it might have been a little late as I hit the brakes and slid down on my ass on the drive train side!

My derailleur was dirty and I immediately thought "nooooooo, not again"  Naturally I was embarrassed and quickly hopped right back on my bike and to my shifted perfectly!  Rock on!!  Shortly after a racer behind me asked if I was okay (nice gesture!) and that gave me the reassurance that If he had seem my train wreck I couldn't have lost too much time!

Finally we were blazing our way down a pavement descent and then eventually making our way up Sugarloaf Pass. I can barely remember that climb, however looking I'm certain it's a climb I should have pushed harder on.  On this climb was passed by handful of gals, but was pleased to repass just about all of them as I smiled and shredded my way down the technical Powerline descent.  This was one of the best moments of the day! 

Heading into Pipeline I realized I was behind my goal pace and that had some work to do.  I saw Christina's pink hoody and grabbed a bottle from Lisa as Katy, Andrea and Christina all cheered me through.  I caught a great pace line for the flatter section towards Twin Lakes and was stoked to realize that I had made up some time as ripped past Jeff and Mark and then grabbed a bottle from Tom and another one from Aaron.  My crew should give lessons on hand-ups - they were spot on

Thanks Mark for this sweet photo!
I was happy to pass a couple gals using the trees as a potty as I started the 3,000+ foot climb up Columbine Mine. Having not ridden this climb before I really wasn't sure what to expect and decided on a steady pace. I was hoping to be able to ride the entire way up this mountain however when I got to the start of Goat Trail (a loose rocky two way traffic section at the top) I was shocked to see nearly every rider off their bike and walking.  We started what I want to call one of the most brutal hike-a-bike sections of my entire life...and let's be honest, I'm about the worst hike-a-biker there is. It was horrible, and painful. At this point I was really noticing the lack of oxygen (whoa!) and I was hurting pretty badly. Finally I reached the top around 4:40ish on my Garmin and I knew at this point that it was going to take a massive effort on the second half to earn that Big Sub 9 Buckle.

I remained optimistic and ripped down the mountain as fast as possible. I felt solid at Twin Lakes grabbing fresh bottles, passing some racers, and having the energy to bridge up to some riders for the pavement section. I pace lined with a few riders, one who I now realize was named Matt.  Matt and I ended up riding near each other through both Twin Lakes and Pipeline aid stations.  We were both riding really well and hopeful that 9 hours was still in the cards. As we started up a small climb before Powerline Matt pulled a Red Bull out of his jersey pocket and cracked it open. I was riding his wheel at this point and the moment I smelled that caffeine goodness I just about melted. We were about 70 miles in suddenly I was desperate.  "So....whatever you do, just don't dump any leftover Red Bull on the ground." :)  yeah, THAT desperate.  He replied "oh....well I was only planning on having half of it anyways" and then extended out the Red Bull. HEAVEN!!!  I grabbed it, took a massive swig of my own and then handed it back to him.  He then dumped it out and put the can back in his pocket. I thanked him and we continued on towards Powerline. THIS is why I love endurance racing.  You meet incredible people like this and you share in the suffering with them. This will go down as one my favorite racing moments of all time. 

Suddenly had wings (go figure!) and felt awesome and ready to tackle Powerline climb...the unknown.  I was pleased to spin my way up most of the steep first section of the 40+ minute climb.  I dabbed a couple times but was able to remount and get back on my bike.  There was a little bit of hike a bike, but was assured that "it will flatten out a bit."

Um, did not flatten out.  Rather it descended slightly and then got steeper again. It felt like I was trying to climb up a  massive slippery torturous potato sack slide.  I spun as much as possible in this section and did whatever I could to stay on my bike even if it meant that I was riding 2mph. I took comfort in the fact that I wasn't the only one suffering. This climb felt like an eternity and I felt worse than I could have ever imagined.  I was so out of breath a couple times that I literally was hanging over my bike gasping for air. It was humbling, and confusing at the same time. My heart rate was only around 150bpm yet it felt like it was at 190bpm! and I knew this was not good, however I also knew that I was digging very deep and I was doing absolutely everything possible to keep moving.  Eventually I made it to the top.  And the best part about get to go down! 

The Sugar Loaf descent was long, fast, fun, and I smiled the entire time until I saw Salsa rider Steve Yore near the bottom fixing a flat :( I felt horrible for him, he was having good ride. I offered a co2 cartridge, but he waved me off.  I felt pretty strong on the last pavement climb and was trying to do the math in my head to see if the Big Buckle was still possible.  I  knew it was going to be tough unless we had a great tailwind.  Finally we crested the top.  I grabbed a grabbed a coke from a volunteer at the top and then tore down St. Kevins and smashed as hard as I could back towards town.  At this point I felt amazingly well seeing paces above 20mph. I had no cramps and my legs felt strong.  I passed at least one more female on this last 3 mile stretch and probably about 5 men.  When I was about 1.5 miles out I heard the 9 hour gunshot!  And this is right about the time I caught back up to Matt.  As I passed I said something in reference to us missing the 9 hour mark and he replied "yeah, but I'm still happy with my race" and I replied, " too."  I got out the saddle on the final climb up 6th Street and I smiled from ear to ear.  I saw Tom and all my friends screaming for me about 200 yards from the finish and their roar gave me chills and I felt tears in my eyes.

I had done it.  I had raced my bike 104 miles Across the Sky. I had no mechanicals, I had no nutrition issues, I was nice to myself, and for most of the day I had felt great.  Sure I hadn't reached my goal of breaking 9 hours - but maybe that was for the better. As much as we all love reaching out goals, we often learn more about ourselves in moments of pain, doubt, and suffering. I am stoked about my 9:09 finish at my first Leadville attempt and I am lucky that I can dream about the next time. 

Unfortunately for one fellow racer, that's no longer possible. It saddens me to know that the Leadville family lost a good man during Saturday's race and my prayers go out to Scott Ellis' family and friends.  I am inspired by those racers who gave up their race to help Scott when he collapsed at the top of Powerline climb.  These individuals are our true hero's.  I never met Scott, but I heard it was his 19th Leadville 100 MTB race. I am sure that anyone who would have attempt this race 19 times, must have been somebody special. RIP Scott, your Leadville dream will live on.

Huge congrats to my buddy Sam on a killer PR and for nearly breaking 8 hours.  Congrats to all the finishers and especially to our friends that finished from MN and all across the midwest - you are all a bunch of flatlander beasts!!!

Lindsey, Chris, Me, Tom

Thanks to my amazing friends and amazing crew - you gave me a week and a race that I'll remember forever!  Thank you Tom for your endless support.  Thank you Coach Matt for training me to think that 100 miles is not that long (next year we slay the dragon!).  Huge thanks to Nick, Jason and the rest of the Tonka Cycles crew for continuously keeping my bikes rolling --- my El Mar Ti was a smooth stallion all day long!!  Thanks to iSSi, SRAM and to Chris (Bicyle Fit Guru) for the last minute stem swap - you all make races so damn easy! 

Necklaces for the ladies!!


  1. Congratulations April, well done, very well done.

  2. Congrats April! You are so inspiring :)

  3. Wow! So fun to read. Nice work!

  4. Fantastic Write Up!! Take out that little wipe out and sub 9 hrs will be tackled in 2016. Stay Strong & Keep Believing In Your Abilities. Cheers