Uncharted: The Leadville 100

“We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.” -Sir Winston Churchill 

“I’m so excited!! It’s like Christmas morning but it’s going to last all day!” I exclaimed the night before Leadville. Nothing should stop me from getting to the starting line at this point.

After my frame broke on Wednesday and the chaos that surrounded getting a new bike I was just happy to be there. The Raleigh that the guy I’m dating (per request of my mother I’ll give him a name), “Sully” tracked down would have been a great bike to ride but the next day (Thursday, the day we left for the race), Trek sent us some of their rental fleet which conveniently enough had a Superfly SL Elite 17.5 in the mix. Not exactly my bike but a very similar fit, slightly different gearing, no lockout on the front suspension, and a pound lighter than my bike. It required minimal changes too, pedals, saddle, and wheels were all we switched out and then we were off. 

The packet pickup only lasted till 10 on Friday and once we finished that we moseyed over to the expo to get a t-shirt and hang out till the athlete’s meeting. We stopped by the Shimano tent where we knew some of the guys working it (okay I knew 1, Sully knew the rest). One made the comment that he hopes he’s around if something breaks on my bike and Sully has to tell me how to fix it (technically our crew could give us spare parts but weren’t allowed to touch our bikes) he figured it would be the end of our relationship at that point. It would have been pretty comical to say the least. We sat through the athletes meeting which was

more of a pep rally (I heard Lance was there last year). Afterwards we changed and rode part of the race course. I on my race bike and Sully on his singlespeed (he has multiple gears in his legs, as my brother would say). Because the gearing was slightly different on my new bike I wanted to ride Powerline to see if I could handle the lowest gear and get a little more familiar with the range. The bike felt really good riding the climb up, I was able to make it without walking which is what I wanted to check out. I’ve definitely learned my lesson about trying to chase Sully down a mountain so let him go first and caught up with him at the bottom. We rode the next section which was mostly flat and it took us to mile 27 (Pipeline Aid station), well pretty close I took a wrong turn and we ended up on a road that paralleled with the one we were suppose to be on (day before the race and I still can’t remember the route?!? Thanks, Brain!) I pointed it out to him and we turned around ending up with about an hour of riding. We headed back to the expo to meet my mom, Aunt Margaret and Wayne, they were offering a free feed for athletes and crews and that’s really how I enticed Wayne into coming. After dinner we went back to the house where I took an ice bath (dream, last one!). Sully checked over my bike and Wayne provided much needed comic relief. We all went to be pretty early–I with much anticipation, excitement, and nervousness for what the next day would bring. 

I woke up early the next morning, before Wayne and Sully to get moving, get some food in my stomach and figure out what to wear. I ate the same thing I had the morning of the 50 because it seemed to work. I went over jersey/short/knicker options and ended up picking one I hadn’t worn before but gave Sully my favorite (the one I crashed in with a generous

Can you see the excitement bursting out?!!?

hole in it) to have at Mile 40 if I needed it. We had previously determined that they would be at the aid station for Mile 40 and stay there till I passed back through at 60. One of the guys Sully knows was going to be at the first one (Mile 27) and said if I needed something he’d run support for me there. I was pretty calm throughout the whole processes of getting ready. We all rode bikes down to the start and Sully and Wayne hung out on the side where I was at. We went over last minute checklist, food, water, clothing, what was going to be at each checkpoint and Wayne found an otter-pop which he said was worth the trip right there. Everything was in order and I felt confident with all my preparations. After running 24 miles a day on about 600 calories I. Was. Ready. (name that movie?!?). Sully asked if I was ready and then restated, “oh wait, you were born ready.” Which is what I tell him when we’re riding and asks if I’m ready to go. 

The gun went off and it’s a mad slightly downhill sprint for the first 4 miles as everyone is jockeying for position before it becomes double track. I wasn’t exactly going for a recorded

and didn’t want to crash and be miserable or the next 95 miles so wasn’t weaving in and out like some other people. We got to the gravel portion and it didn’t bottle neck quiet like I had envisioned it. It’s about another mile before the climb at St. Kevin’s starts. Once we hit that climb it got a little more crowded, one guy towards the top started walking which created a ripple effect. I didn’t have to stop or walk because the guy in front of my was rearing to go and cleared the path to get through. I also realized in these moments of mass hysteria as people are thinking the first 10 miles makes or breaks their time that if the majority of riders were women it would certainly be more organized and not as many hot heads trying to prove themselves. The climb didn’t last too long before it relieves for a bit and then starts up again. Somehow on the second climb two guys got tangled up in each other and went down (it reminded me of two bull elks getting their antlers caught during mating season they way their handlebars were twisted up in each other and there was a dazed and confused look happening). It starts to dip and dive and pulls you right into the first aid station at mile 11. No one stops there and right after you hit pavement with a long descent. I pulled out some food to eat, and noticed that I was behind on my fluid intake. I also put in one headphone because 89 miles is a long time to be alone with your thoughts. I was able to wolf down all my food right before it turns back to climbing. This section turns onto Hagerman Pass (the backside of powerline) and involves (surprise!) more climbing. I get frustrated sometimes with how much I get passed descending only to pass them again on the climbs (things I need to work on: chasing Sully down a mountain and not crashing). I made friends briefly with a guy on the climb and chatted with him about how nice the weather was being. I was a little nervous for Powerline because it’s pretty limited with the lines you can take and with so many other riders around you can’t control what they’re going to do. I just kept repeating ‘stay calm, stay focused, ride your bike.‘ I did get passed by some guys but they weren’t jerks about it and didn’t ride me off the trail. The last section there is really only one like you can take so I just got back, stayed low and followed the guy in front of me down. It gets to a point where you can release your breaks and roll down the remaining portion that links up with more paved road. Right before hitting the pavement there is a stream crossing which also has a bridge you can ride across which I took to avoid wet feet for 80 miles. We talked about having Wayne dress up and post up in the middle with a lawn chair and umbrella which would have been highly comical, but he wasn’t there. 

The next section is about a 6 mile stretch that pulls you into the first big aid station. It’s on paved road and I was able to get into a paceline and have a couple of guys pull me in. I followed the group figuring they knew where they were going and stayed hot on their tail as our tires met the double track that would send us around the corner into the aid station. It was massive, I had no idea so many people would be there. I started looking for the tent that the guy would be at but didn’t really see him and did really want to waste time so just kept going. I heard my name and recognized the voice coming from the Shimano tent. Oh good, people I know! “How’s the bike?” “Good, really good! “Are you winning?” “Maybe!” “Do you need anything?” “Can you grab the banana from my pack? And take these knee warmers, but don’t lose them! They’re Sully’s favorite and he said he’d kill me if I lost them, oh and let him know you’ve seen me!” “Naw, probably won’t.” “Great! Thanks!” 

I took off with an open banana in my pocket and a new surge of energy. I need to keep drinking because I made a deal with Sully that if my camelbak was empty I could leave it with him on the climb up Columbine and pick it up on the way back down. The next section between mile 27 and 40 is probably my favorite, both ways. It’s not just up and down but more of a flowy, anfractuous trail and is the only part that contains singletrack. Right after

Running this might have been a different story…

not enough of it you get spit out onto a gravel road that carries you into the next aid station. I thought the last aid station was monstrous but this is split into two sections on each side of the dam. I knew that Wayne and Sully were on the second side so kept going. I was looking for a beige tent on the right hand side near the end. The mass amounts of people was overwhelming with so many people darting in and out of their aid tents. I found Wayne and Sully and pulled up, “Kate, are you going to throw up?” Wayne asked me. “Uh, no I don’t think so.” “Well maybe you should ride harder so you do.” 

“Look I finished my camelbak!” as I pulled it off, Sully switched out my waterbottles with fresh gatorade and water and stuffed some food in my jersey. Brief conversation was had, “I’m feeling good, surprisingly good, bike is great and I’m drinking lots!” 

 I wasn’t lying either I did feel suprisingly good leaving the aid station so much more than I thought I would at that point. The first 3-4 miles out of the aid station isn’t really much more than short steep ascents and cutting through private property before heading up Columbine. At this point I still haven’t seen the leaders, which I had mentally prepared to see them a lot earlier. This is the section of the course that I’ve done more training rides on than any other section. Mainly because after the crash I wanted to be so familiar with it that I could anticipate every minuscule detail in change of topography and react before waking up in the hospital again. Still I was never able to fully replicate race day on a training ride. The first two miles into the climb weren’t bad and I was able to somewhat get into a rhythm, I had practiced knowing when to shift, when to get out of the saddle and climb but not having a lockout and different gear ratios threw me off bit. The lockout really isn’t that essential especially since Sully put enough air in the fork that I wasn’t really losing a lot of energy when I got out to climb. By mile 48 I was starting to fumble, I was getting passed by more people than I was passing and my stomach was starting to act up. I soon realized that my stomach distress was related to my Lilliputian-sized bladder and taking in more fluids than normal. Just get to Mile 50, that’s all you have to do then you can pee, put on arm warmer’s, eat food start the descent back and then see Wayne and Sully again. At mile 49 the gravel road funnels into a narrow double track with loose, rocky sections that is rideable when other people aren’t trying to walk it. I rode up the first section and it quickly plateaus before another ascent. I soon realized I would be walking with everyone else as the trail isn’t wide enough to accommodate walkers, and riders going up and down. The line seemed long but at last hope was in sight, getting so close to mile 50! Oh this is marvelous! This is the only part that I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going heading into it, see the road branches off into different routes and the map is somewhat cryptic, at least to me. I’ve gone every which way it could be but still didn’t know which door it would be behind. We kept walking past the really steep path that I was praying we didn’t take. Okay we’re almost to mile 50 (I kept checking my garmin), it must be down to the left just over this false summit, yah that must be it. I finally reached the top of the summit eagerly searching for the turn around point. Those dirty wankers! I see what looks like ants marching in the distance. The

course is 104 miles but in my mind they added the extra 4 miles on the end. Nope they’re right in the middle. Two more miles of this hike a bike crap. This is the only point in the race where I start to question my motives. I kept walking and no curse words escaped but I started to trickle down to a dark place. It wasn’t so much questioning as it was reassuring. I’m often conflicted that I should be further in my life than I am. While most people I know my age spent the past year prepping applications for grad school or finding jobs on Wall Street, I was training for Leadville and in that moment of despair and suffering while having every doubt flash before my eyes as I crested the last summit and mounted my bike to start riding I realized that this is exactly where I should be. One mile left till the aid station, I started making my plan of attack to not waste time once I was there, go pee, put arm warmer’s on, grab food, kickass. Go! I started scanning for a port-a-potty which I realized is a laughable thought that they would haul them all the way up here on that crappy road. There were some cars parked there so I unloaded off my bike and dashed around to the front, Uhh! Everyone can still see me! Two things crossed my mind 1.) modesty has never been my best quality and 2.) my mother was nowhere to be seen but I did another scan just to be sure. 

I was walking back around pulling up my knickers when a man told me he moved my bike out of the way, closer to the food, it’s like he knew me! I pulled up my arm warmers grabbed a slice of watermelon and put some fig newtons in my jersey pocket for later and mounted back up to start the decent back down. I breathed a sigh of relief, half way done. I saw the hoards of people walking up still which made me feel a little better as I gobbled down a fig newton. I saw one guy pushing up a tandem up and thought it was strange but a few seconds later saw his partner running up after him–which is probably how Wayne and I would have been on a tandem but he probably would have kicked me off a lot earlier than mile 49.

 I always get nervous on this descent but I felt at ease and once the doubletrack splayed into the gravel road there was plenty of room to work around other riders and be mindful of those coming up. I didn’t push on the descent like a mad women, mainly because I didn’t want to be stupid and crash, sure I was going about 25 mph but I was still getting passed. I harmoniously sailed through the crash site, which every time I ride by still sends a shiver down my spine. Turning the next bend I started to see the sparse people who were littering the side of the course coming up to the turn back to the private land, this sends me right into the aid station, just have to keep riding. I rolled into the aid station, (I was told later that I didn’t look my best). Wayne asked me “can you ride faster? I’m hungry.” which is exactly why I wanted him there, I knew if I bonked he might be the only one who could tell  me to “get my crap together, stop being a baby, pull on your big girl pants and get on the bike”, and I’d listen. Luckily it never got to that point, but if you’ve ever seen Wayne go all drill sergeant mode you’ll know why it was a good choice. I reloaded up with my camelbak and fresh waterbottles along with some aspirin. “Okay, see you guys at the finish line!” “Remember, I’m hungry,” was the only reply. I took off, 13 miles till the next aid station and you get to ride singletrack in this section. I rode and was trying to figure out the

singletrack section, it’s not easy to pass and I didn’t want to cause a traffic jam if I was going slow relative to others around me. Luckily I was not the cause of distress. I followed one guy right into it who was keeping a good pace and stuck on his wheel, we quickly caught up with two guys who were riding at a much more leisurely pace, I was okay just conserving energy for the time being because of all the energy it would take to pass them and I wouldn’t gain a whole lot. But then a long line started to form behind me and they weren’t going any faster, I was tempted to yell out “Clearly someone’s not doping!” but didn’t want to make

Noby was taking tips from this guy…

enemies with 33 miles left. The guy in front of me started to get antsy and finally a girl who was about 7 people behind me yelled, “come on boys, my grandmother can ride faster!” which made them all get all their panties in a bunch and started  grumbling about how if you wanted to pass you should just say so grumble grumble grumble. The guy in front of me went for it which meant I need to go for it. I rang my bell to let them know I was coming in hot, threw up a prayer “please don’t run over a cactus and get a flat”, wouldn’t that be karma. I was able to put some distance between me and them and quickly the girl who yelled caught up to me, I thanked her for saying something and we chatted about boys taking everything so personally and kept each other company on the shortest steepest ascent on the course, which I only managed once to ride up on my training rides and that was with a lot of speed and quick transitions from hard gears to easy one locking out the fork and getting out the saddle at the right moment while keeping enough weight back to give the rear wheel traction. Race day I jumped off and walked up with her. We got to the top and started riding again. She took off a little in front of me and I settled into my pace. This section is so enjoyable both ways because it’s not just up and then down but more up, down, up flat, swoopey, down to fluidly going back up, and before you know you’re about to the aid station. I could see it in the horizon as I started to approach another girl (one of my habits is looking at the kind of bikes people have…and not judging them) I couldn’t help but notice this girl was on a singlespeed, I pulled up beside her, “Holy amazeballs (my vocabulary dissipates above 10,000 feet)! You’re on a singlespped! You’re the most badass person I’ve met and I don’t even know you!” She kind of laughed, “Yah it was the only way I could get in this damn race!” “Well props to you!” Dang, as I rode away I should have asked her if she was single because then she could date Wayne! 

I was hoping that I would see the guys at Shimano on my way in and could drop my camelbak off with them but I started riding through the aid station and didn’t see them. I heard my name coming from the side and looked to see Wayne and Sully, “What are you guys doing here!?!?” “Kate, you’re not riding any faster and I’m still hungry.”

“Here can you guys take my camelbak, I promise I’ll keep drinking. “I’ll see you guys at the finishline!” It was such a huge boost to see them there and to have them take my camelbak. I rode out of the aid station grabbing a GU from an innocent bystander, just incase. I followed a guy into the double track which soon turned into paved road, we were facing a strong headwind and came upon a tandem that was keeping pace at 12/13mph. I tucked behind them, no use in wasting my energy when were keeping a decent pace. I let them pull me and a few other people through the section of flat paved road. At the next left hand turn there is maybe 2 miles of more paved road before you turn off and start the climb up Powerline. I pulled out in front of the tandem, thanked them for the pull and took off. Mainly with powerline only have one route to go up I didn’t want to be stuck behind a tandem or with multiple people behind me. 

Right before the turn off into Powerline someone was handing out Coke, I’ve never tried Coke while riding (I’m talking about soda) but figured most people do so I took some, and in that moment I felt that on the 8th day God said, “and let all cyclists drink coke!” Powerline is filled with onlookers which their infectious energy makes it easier to get up. I was able to ride up a pretty good amount before having to dismount due to the people in

front of me walking. I was still a bit from the top but didn’t think it was worth the energy to hassle with walkers and try to navigate that route. I walked to the top and then a guy held my bike so I could get on and get steady before taking off, it’s like he knew I was uncoordinated and unflexible! One of the tips I got going into the race was that after the Powerline climb keep riding, people will be walking the next 4 false summits but just ride, it makes it much easier. It did, walking that would have been miserable, riding I was at least moving at a somewhat faster pace. I kept plugging away knowing that once I was at the top, the worst was over but it wouldn’t be done. Get to the top and then start recovering for the last big push. I can never remember how many false summits there are on the climb up, so in my mind I think there are 6 that way I’m pleasantly surprised when I’m at the top and it’s sooner than I thought it would be. I flew down the backside knowing I was on the last

push. The last annoyingly long climb is on a paved road around Turquoise Lake, which is about a 20 minute climb on a training day when I haven’t already ridden 85 miles. I set the attainable goal of getting to the top in 25 minutes and to keep drinking. My levels were definitely low and I was starting to fade, just get to the aid station and get some food and keep going. At this point I had flipped my garmin over to the map view so I could not see my time. I wanted to ride my bike and ride my race and where I ended up I ended up. 100 yards from the turn to the aid station a guy came and ran behind me and gave me a big push telling me I was almost there “Bless you and your future children!” thanking him as I rode away. Aid station only 1 mission. Get all the sugar. I stuffed so many fig newton into my jersey pockets, you could have mistaken me for a kid in Heavy Weights. My gatorade bottle was empty so I handed it to a volunteer, so I wouldn’t be carrying that extra weight with me… I grabbed another dixie cup of Coke and started riding again. The last 11 miles isn’t terrible, going out or coming in. There is a little incline to begin with followed by flat land and then a short steep descent which if you know is coming can prepare and hit it with enough speed to get you going and have enough time to shift down and keep riding. Then you descend, it reminded me of the last part of the 50 where you just go. I went, I was so close now, “don’t bonk, eat a fig newton, drink some water. Keep going“. The way back isn’t the way we came out, it is for the most part but the last few miles they send you past where we came out and then back into town. Because it had rained the day before there were plenty of puddles left and I made sure to hit everyone of them. Mainly to confuse people as to why I was muddy because it hadn’t rained at all that day. There is a grueling 3 mile long but, not steep incline that pulls you into town.  I’ve never felt more spent in my life. Running track races I’ve always had fuel left, I’ve always been able to have a kick, this felt like as soon as I was putting a fig newton in the energy had been expended within

the minute. It certainly didn’t help that the toe I had bashed with a rock in the 50 was acting up. I debated taking my shoe off but that would just make for a longer time on the bike getting to the finish line so kept it on but relished in the thought of crossing that line and taking my shoe off. Exhausted and thinking this race was never going to end I finally saw the High School on the horizon, I was breaching the edge of town. I was so close to finishing and getting this shoe off! I was on paved road. Passing the ER that I spent so many delectable hours in the year before. Cresting the last hill that sends you down into town where there are hoards of people cheering you on. This is finally happening, I hit the red carpet that they put under the finish line and threw my hands up. Done! It was done! I

This if finally happening?!!?

rolled through the finish line and Merylee (the founder’s wife) put a medal on my neck. “Good job sweetie!” “Thanks!”
 I hopped off my bike and plopped on the ground and took my shoe off, which apparently calls for medical attention. 

Finally! I could get my shoe off!

A doctor came up and asked what was up, so I explained about the rock and the blood and it was fine just needed my shoe off. I gathered my things and walked out of the finishing area. I was met by my mom, Aunt Margaret, Sully and Wayne.

There were hugs and tears and later after I had taken an entire bowl of M&Ms from the recovery tent (Wayne was hungry) I was sitting next to my mom and said this was a good way to breakup. She replied, “it was”. 

I’ve didn’t post about it for a while because I was using the time to really reflect and digest everything.  I took an entire week off the bike and was intermitten with riding for the the next 2 weeks. I spent 18 months training for 1 event (one of the longer relationships in my life) and it ended up being one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I highly recommend it. All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.  

After 18 months of training, 2 race entries, 1 traumatic brain energy, 2 fractures in my wrist, 1 broken bike frame, 1 new bike, 2 new helmets, countless training hours, miles, calories, prayers, sunburns, te and years taken off my parent’s lives I completed the Leadville 100…I finally got THE buckle.
Now it’s time to go for the big one….

*I never could have made it without the support of my family and friends. My parents for letting me attempt it again even after watching me forget who I was and being there to nurse me back to health. Molly and Abe for feeding me. Mary and Frank who continuously let me think I’m a badass (Heidi and Kara go in this category too!) Wayne and Sully for not only being there on race day but riding with me too and being patient when I was having an off day. My aunts, uncles, and friends who have given me words of encouragement and support through out this ordeal.

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