Shortly I'll be undertaking the second mountain bike race of my life… just a little thing called the Leadville 100. You may have heard of it! Little did I realize when I accepted a spot on the Lifetime Grand Prix (LGP) tour that I would be jumping into the deep end of endurance mountain bike racing with one of the biggest in the world. Despite my rookie status, I'm actually feeling pretty prepared for this one.
Stop #2 for me on the Lifetime Grand Prix was the brutal Crusher in the Tushar, a 69.9-mile gravel race out of Beaver, Utah. A mere 112km seemed like a walk in the park compared to the 320km of Unbound 200.
Inspired by how hard my fellow competitors had to ride to finish at the top in Emporia, Kansas, I approached this race a bit differently: attack the first climb and try and stay with the front of the race for as long as I could. The risk: blow up on the second climb and limp through the relentless last few miles up to the mountain-top finish. The reward: see what kind of fitness this tiger really had…and maybe just surprise myself.
My strategy paid off. My heart rate skyrocketed for the first hour as I tried to keep the leaders in sight. After that, I settled into the grind to reach the top at the two-hour mark and start the sketchy descent. Unfortunately, I slid out on one of the hairpins as what seemed to be my ongoing "dirt nap" saga and went down. Thankfully I had just a bit of a painful, bloody elbow and knee to contend with; my bones and bike came out unscathed. I was in awe of the racers with clearly better bike handling skills who were careening down the mountain like it was no big deal. Like seriously, how the heck do they do that?!
Once on the HOT pavement leading into the next 30 miles of ascending, I gratefully got into a paceline with fellow LGP racer Melissa Rollins who warned me that the next section "sucks." And suck it did. Temps were grazing into the high 90s, and as the pitch went up, it got bumpy, sandy, and slippery. This is where the mental toughness really needed to kick in. I tried to keep up with the racers in front of me and used the upcoming aid station as a carrot to just keep me ploughing forward at what felt like a snail's pace.
With my hydration bladder refilled and a pitcher of cold water dumped on my head (THANK YOU, amazing volunteers!), I powered back up the sketchy hairpins that had claimed some of my skin on the way down, happily surprised that I was indeed still able to push the heart rate up and "maintain the pain" without my quads giving out or cramping up.
Don't be deceived once you reach the top of this two-hour climb. The last six miles of Crusher will break you if you have not prepared or saved a little for the final steep pitches up to the ski resort. Grinding out of the saddle at 40 rpm on what felt like a 20% grade, staring at the ground ahead of me, sweat dripping into my eyes, I gave all the gas left in my tank to get to that finish line in just under 5 hours and 20min. It was enough to get me 8th in the LGP rankings and some much-needed points toward the overall. I did also get my own non-binary podium, as I was the only NB competitor this year. I would love to see more nonbinary athletes tackle this beast of a race in 2023!
Post-Crusher, I have been BUSY racing, including a stellar swim-bike-run at the PTO Canadian Open triathlon. I also just won IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder this past weekend, potentially making me the oldest (ahem) 70.3 Champion in history. Between those triathlons, I hit up the Leadville MTB Stage Race to see what I would be getting myself into. This was the absolute perfect course recon for Leadville 100 as it is precisely the 100 course broken up over three days.
On day 1 my coach instructed me to take it easy and stay safe. Unfortunately, this MTB newbie had no idea what tire pressure to run and ended up once again taking another dirt nap with a whopping 35 psi in my tires. Let's just say I learned my lesson. After slipping and sliding around on the first day, giving myself yet more painful road rash on the other elbow, knocking my knee pretty hard, and spending the evening crying in my hotel room, I showed up the next day with a more reasonable bike set-up and with the go-ahead to light it up.
Day 2 and 3 ended up being an absolute blast and gave me a good sense of just WTAF I will have to suffer through in just ONE DAY. I learned what everyone was talking about re: the steep pitches of Columbine and Powerline climbs that will come many hours into this race. I got to know that I could race in the mix with two seasoned mountain bikers and fellow LGP racers Kristen Legan and Crystal Anthony. Once again, I came away with the nonbinary overall win, because well…I was the only one! Serious kudos to the Leadville Trail Series organizers who still provided equal recognition, awards, and prizes to the leaders in all three categories.
This race also showed me just how special Leadville and its community are. The warm welcomes, appreciation for all the participants, and generous support the race gives to the youth and folks of Leadville are truly inspiring. It is easy to see how this race has become a legend in so many ways. I am very proud to have the opportunity to step up to the start line of the Leadville 100 for what may likely be one of the most epic races of my life.
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