Leadville … Race Across the Sky
The Leadville 100 MTB has been on my bucket list for a few years. After the upset of my season last year, I decided 2019 was the year to add the event to my race calendar. Some days just go so smoothly that when I look back it feels a bit like a dream. The mass start was a new and sketchy experience, but I kept a low profile and once the climbing started, pacing and nutrition took a majority of my focus. At Leadville, racing your own race is very important. Riding your own pace on the climbs and finding other racers to work with across the flat and rolling stretches to aid in efficiency seemed to be the best bet. I can say with confidence that my body naturally seemed to know what to do, and controlling my effort felt effortless and natural. My coach helped me outline my nutrition plan, and by following it closely, my body never fell behind in fueling and my pace set at the start stayed quite steady through the finish. Additionally, the weather was quite perfect. Dry and cool at the high points of the course, and warm but nice at the low points. I am in awe of this course and the challenge that so many endure on this special day each year! Finishing in 7hr 36min made me the first women across the line, and I continue to reflect with gratitude on such a beautiful experience.
I’m lucky that my coach Jason Tullous has completed this grueling race multiple times and his experience proved valuable in our preparation. As my first ever 100 miler, my training volume naturally increased, but with XCO Nationals still just weeks before Leadville, I was balancing high intensity workouts with long high volumes rides. I did multiple 6 hour training rides with long climbs at home; typically one per week where I practiced eating and drinking throughout. These long rides gave me the confidence to know I would be able to race through the 100 miles and was able to experience first hand how important the nutrition side of this race was going to be.
I chose to race my Pivot LES SL for this race. With the huge amount of climbing (about 12k vertical ft), I felt that having the lightness and stiffness during the climbs was going to benefit me over the length of the race. It also holds two water bottle cages so I never needed to run a Camelbak. I ran my Fox Transfer dropper seat post so that I could descend comfortably, and Stans Podium wheels mounted up tubeless with Maxxis Aspen EXO 2.25 tires. Running a tubeless system with Stan’s Race sealant is always the best option. It was the new XTR 9100 gearing from Shimano that was crucial in helping me get up those steep, never ending fire roads though! I ran the 51T cassette on the rear with a 32T front chainring. Additionally, high quality comfortable clothing is very important. I chose to wear shorts in place of my usual bibs, because I was pretty sure that if I drank what I had allotted it was likely a potty break would be in order, so I wanted to make stopping as effortless and fast as possible. I did end up stopping twice to pee during the race.
I tucked a wind jacket in my back pocket for the ascent up Columbine just to be prepared at 12.6K feet high, and never being sure what the weather would be like up there. I didn’t end up using it, but having it there as a security blanket was worth carrying it.
Starting 48 hrs before the race:
Nutrition becomes really critical 48 hours before the race. By eating larger quantities than normal with good carbohydrates, the body is able to top off the glycogen stores. Going into the race fully loaded is going to be necessary to have your best performance. Hydrating is also of utmost importance. I prefer adding the Gu electrolyte tabs to my water to drink throughout the days leading into races.
During the race:
I would be aiming for about 250 calories per hour. In my bottles I ran water in one bottle and Gu Roctane drink mix in the other. Additionally, I had key locations throughout the race where I planned to eat a Gu Roctane gel, and finally to eat some solid food three times throughout the race as well. For the solid food, I chose to make savory rice bars with sushi rice as my base. I mixed scrambled egg, crumbled bacon, chopped Medjool dates, sharp cheddar cheese, and Braggs Liquid Aminos. I wrapped them in aluminum foil and they carried well in my jersey pocket. Ideally, I’d wrap them in parchment foil instead of the aluminum foil.
I was lucky enough to have Layla with me for both Nationals in Winter Park through Leadville. It wouldn’t have been possible without some key individuals who helped me with child care and hosting Layla and I. We opted to stay at altitude at Copper Mountain following Nationals in Winter Park which was two weeks prior, so that my body would have a chance to acclimate. Spending that time up there was really key for me in my preparation because I not only acclimated pretty well in that time frame, but I also got some experience riding at altitude.
I also had the opportunity to pre-ride the entire course broken up into two days. Seeing the course helped me mentally prepare for race day by knowing what to expect and visually preparing for it.
Reflecting back with gratitude on the beautiful experience and for each person who was a part has been important for me as I reflect back to where I had been earlier this season and move forward with uncertainty when plans change out of my control. Life continues to be a balancing act of knowing when to fight and when to surrender and moving through the good and bad experiences sharing light as I go. Finishing in 7hr 36min put me across the Leadville finish line as the first women, and having my daughter Layla and my mom among the friends and sponsors that met me there was one of the most touching moments of my life. I hope to be back at Leadville in the years to come racing across the sky.
Thank you to Kenny of Stan’s NoTubes for being present for this day, and to Rachel from Pivot Cycles for joining him with their two week old daughter. That was amazing!! Also, many thanks to Myran, my mechanic for the race weekend who dialed my bike and met me in multiple locations throughout the course to support me. Finally, a big thank you to my coach, Jason Tullous, for his expertise in guiding me through this big day.