When I signed up for Leadman back in January, I knew the wild card for me would be the hundred mile mountain bike race. I wasn’t a bike rider and I had never done a bike race before, and suddenly I was registered for one of the most famous mountain bike races in the world. I projected nothing but confidence, telling anyone who would listen that if I could run 100 miles then biking 100 miles would be cake. But inside I was really worried I had blown $850 and had given all my friends a chance to make fun of me for years to come.
All I really did to train for this was change my lifestyle from driving my truck to work to riding my bike to work. In the mornings I’d make the quick 15 minute commute straight down the Midland Trail to my downtown office. After work, two or three times a week, depending on the weather and how much time I had, I’d either ride an hour home via the Santa Fe and Sinton trails, or two to three hours up Cheyenne Canon and back via all the fantastic trails we have in the Stratton/Bear Creek/Red Rock Canyon area. My staple long ride? 25 miles up to the Pikes Peak Brewing aid station for a few pints of Elephant Rock IPA, then back home. Would this be enough?
The start and the first few miles were by far my least favorite part of the entire thing. About 1500 riders started the race, we rolled out of Leadville at 30+ mph, and I felt like every single biker was less than an inch from me. As a rider who would much rather be riding his bike slowly from pub to pub, this was a bit intense. It’s not speed so much that I have a problem with. It’s crashing while going fast that I like to avoid. And a crash at this point would have hurt. Most riders dread the climbs at Leadville, but I was relieved to arrive at the first climb to let the crazy pace settle down a bit.
Most of the advice I got about the race dealt with getting to the first cutoff, Twin Lakes, in time. You had four hours to go forty miles, which included a rough climb up St. Kevins, the climb up Sugarloaf, and the dreaded Powerline descent. I heard stories of strong riders barely making that cutoff, or missing it altogether and having their day end early. So I went as hard as I could for those first 40 miles. Survived the start, pushed hard up St. Kevins, held 35+ mph, way out of my comfort zone, down the Kevins road descent, went hard up Sugarloaf, and nailed the Powerline descent like a champ. The next 20 miles after Powerline I pedaled with everything I had, not giving a thought as to how I’d make it another 60 miles if I got to Twin in time. Never took a break to eat or drink. My goal to Twin was 3:45 with a dream time of 3:30. If I could hit either of these times I really thought I could finish the race. So I was pretty stoked when I rolled through at 3:20.
With a combination of relief and physical exhaustion after leaving Twin, I definitely backed off the rest of the race. The climb up Columbine went well, but I just went with the flow of folks I was around at the time, even though I felt I could have been going faster. And I was super safe on the descent, not taking any chances with a flat tire or wreck even though it felt like tens of thousands of riders were passing me.
Taking my foot off the gas for the final 60 miles allowed me to take in the sights and sounds of the race. Definitely like nothing I’ve experienced before. The aid stations were incredible, the huge crowds yelling and screaming right up in your face like the stuff you see on the Tour de France. It was also nice to get to talk with some of the other riders and learn that despite what runners will have you believe, not every single person who can ride a bike is a type A super competitive asshole douchebag. There were definitely some of those out there on Saturday, but most of the folks seemed to be out there for the same reasons I was - pushing yourself and having fun.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Good mountain bikers will tell you the Pb100 is not a technical course, but I’m not a good mountain biker. I needed full concentration and lots of beginners luck on any downhill section to keep from ending up in the hospital. Two days after the ride, my legs are fine but my arms and shoulders are still sore from trying to control my bike down all the hills. I know I annoyed some riders with how slow I went down some of the hills, as it was tough to pass at some points. But hey, don’t blame me if you suck so much you’re behind a runner during the later stages of a bike race.
The race is actually 104 miles, which brings about a horrible feeling when your garmin ticks over the century mark and you’re pretty far from the finish line, but the last six or so miles were lots of fun. Easy, fast dirt road riding up the famous boulevard and into town with tons of folks cheering for you. Definitely better than finishing the hundred run so early in the morning when nobody is awake. I crossed the finish line in just under eleven hours. Nothing world class, but not worried about the 12 hour cutoff. My wife and I hit the beer garden for a few PBR’s and then took off for Buena Vista to finally get away from the sea of spandex. For the record, I counted three other riders not wearing spandex, and two of those were wearing cut off jean shorts and riding a homemade tandem fat bike.
The experience was definitely something I’ll never forget. And definitely something I’ll never do again, as those first few miles were way too serious for me. But it was nice to get out of my comfort zone and try something different.
Unfortunately, the summer isn’t over just yet. I’ll have a whole new set of challenges to deal with this weekend with the final Leadman event, the hundred mile run. Excited for that, but also looking forward to getting it all over with so I can concentrate on my favorite late summer activity – attending beer and music festivals. Good luck to everyone at Leadville and on Pikes Peak this weekend, the Super Bowl for us Springs folks.