Racing bikes can be devastatingly, heart breaking. At the finish line of the Leadville 100 I collapsed into a heap of sobs. A nice lady came up to offer me water which lying on the ground and gasping for breath between tears would have been a choking hazard so I waved her off. A man came and laid my finisher’s medal on my stomach and patted it before walking away, trying to offer some level of comfort. I laid there for a while and closed my eyes thinking back to what I could have done differently. Nothing. That’s what hurt so much because I gave it my all and came up 7-minutes short.
The week started much like any other race week with me scrambling to find lodging for the race. I think part of me didn’t think it would actually happen, that I wouldn’t actually race and so put off dealing with it. Fortunately the World Bicycle Relief Team had me covered, and I arrived in Leadville with a place to stay. Thursday and Friday both consisted of warm-up rides on the college trails and getting ready for race day with meal-prep and going over logistics with the team, Sully, and my parents.
The start of the race is always a bit chaotic, I was in the third corral and was trying to start with another of the WBR girls. I found a spot and lifted my bike over the fence but had some hesitation with trying to jump over it, it was pretty wobbly and I didn’t want to be the first crash of the day. Sully held the fence secure and I cautiously made my way over. I saw Katie, the girl I was trying to ride with, behind me. And my parents on the other side of the fence. The gun went off and I slowly started to roll but waited for Katie to go through the start with her. As soon as I found her we were caught up in a sea of people and
separated as soon as we had joined. I always get nervous for St. Kevin’s because there are horror stories of the bottle-neck and people jamming up and having to walk. I’ve never had a bad experience and this year was no different. They had recently groomed the track for St. Kevin’s so even more people were riding than in years past. I did start the race with arm-warmers but vowed to drop them wherever (sorry not sorry) and not have one end up in my rear derailleur like last year.
I got through the first aid station and started the pavement descent. Racing is the only time I do sketchy things like tuck on my bike, to get more aero, I got so aero I passed someone with aero bars on their bike. 3 miles on pavement soon turns into an uphill that feeds into the backside of Powerline. One of my teammates, Dave passed me at this point and I sat on his wheel for a little bit but he soon dropped me and I had the plan of riding a bit conservatively to start with. During the climb I had my first Untapped Maple Syrup shot ever (one of the guys brought some for everyone at the house, so I shoved 2 in my camelbak as just in case for the day) straight maple syrup, SOOOOO GOOD! I got to the top of Powerline and opened up my suspension a bit more.
This is the only sketchy part of the race where most people are prone to crash. I figured everyone would be taking the “A” line, which is pretty buffed out and easy to navigate which would leave the “B” line, a little more sketchy with loose rocks, open to me. I was right. I’m not the most skilled descender (as a brain injury will tell you) but have enough confidence in my abilities and my bike to be able to handle my own. I blew by people who were jammed up waiting for their turn and was able to gain back some time I had lost on the climb. Even some of the guys started to cheer for me going by them, which I could have ended my day right then.. I mainly kept going so I could eat some more maple syrup.
It was a short 20-minute section on pavement after that to get to the first big aid station, Pipeline and I realized I was only an hour or so out of Twin Lakes. This is maybe the only mistake I made during the race and that was not having pacing times-I was only going off of memory and trying to remember if I was ahead or behind my pace from the last year. I had decided to do this because I was worried that if I didn’t make a split it would create a negative feedback cycle that would take me longer to get out of. I kept riding constantly thinking to push a little harder because it will all matter in the end.
It was about an hour later that I arrived into the aid station where I was greeted by World Bicycle Relief Crew, Sully, and my parents. I handed my bike off to Sully and dashed into the grass to go pee. Thankfully I had a skirt on which provided some coverage so I wasn’t too worried about it. I got back to the tent and asked for more maple syrup. I handed my camelbak to Sully (as was part of the plan) and took a bottle with lots of salt in the drink mix to head up Columbine, knowing it would be at least 2 hours before I was back.
I knew what lay ahead of me but it didn’t make it any easier. This section could make or break my race and I was determine to make it. I locked out my suspension and got into a rhythm of climbing in the saddle and out of the saddle. I kept drinking and taking in syrup and rice cakes. Towards the top I peered over my should to see a large chase group coming up after me (okay they weren’t really chasing me, but they were a large group) and I was determined to beat them to the goat track so I wouldn’t get stuck behind them. I did and when it funnelled into the track I kept riding, this section wasn’t as congested as it has been in the past and I was able to navigate around those walking without too much hassle. At the end of the first steep pitch I had to get off my bike because I had hit a soft spot with my front wheel and couldn’t save it. I hiked up maybe about 10 steps before it flattened out again and I could get back to riding. I knew I was faster if I rode rather than hiked, not a lot, but enough that it would make a difference and so I continued to slowly turn the pedals over and ringing my bell to let the hike-a-bikers know I was behind them. I only had one guy give me a hard time when I went around him while he was hiking (I’m going to blame it on a language barrier-he was wearing an Italia jersey, and didn’t ever respond when I called I was coming (hence the bell, boys don’t know a girl is trying to get by)) after I had gone around him and gotten back in line he rammed his front wheel into my rear. I held my line but expressed, “what the heck man?!?” he didn’t respond. Maybe I had gotten too close or maybe he hadn’t noticed that he was that close but I kept my eye on him just to be safe.
Shortly after that encounter I heard my name called out, I looked behind me to see another WBR rider, Jered, coming up behind me. Jered is always smiling and was so enthusiastic to be on course that every time I ran into him it immediately put me in a better mood. He was climbing like a champ and cruised by me like I was standing still, which I certainly almost was at that grade. I saw him ride off into the distance and at this point had to get off and walk again knowing that it wouldn’t last long and it would be the last time as the top was well within sight.
After I crested the top it’s 50 yards down to the aid station and I made a plan to get in and out. I Refilled my bottle, took some watermelon, orange slices and then was off. I was behind a fat-biker at the top which I thought would be a good one to make a line for me but soon realized I could go a little bit faster and quickly went around only to land behind…the guy in the Italia jersey from earlier. Realizing this was no place to let my pride get in my way I stayed behind him because well he was going faster than me and letting people know he was coming, and with people coming up so close it’s sometimes all I could do to not knock handlebars. I tried to cheer for everyone coming up as most of them were now stuck in the waiting line that had backed up to the beginning of the goat trail. The Italia guy made it around one guy on a pretty sketchy pass and being so close to where the trails opens up into the gravel road, I stayed behind the guy and tried to keep my distance because he was a little all over the place which made me nervous. It flowed into the gravel road and I took a breath to relax as that section makes me so tension. I wasn’t even able to get through a full breath when the guy in front of me crashed and I was somehow able to not have him take me down with him. I’m still praying the rosary for that save. The fat biker pulled up beside me and said, “you must downhill on the weekends, you are so great on the descents!” I responded, “nope, I just chase my boyfriend around!” which is true. Sully is such a fast, fluid descender–and I like to think so of it is catching on…
The section back to the aid station was quick and I kept trying to push it a little more, knowing that I had lost some time on the climb. I was back to the aid station and chugging pickle juice before I knew it. Sully gave me my camelbak, I grabbed more maple syrup (I had dropped one riding Columbine and let out an agonizing scream, not because I actually needed the food but because it was so delicious), rice cakes, another bottle, and made my way out of the aid station, after drinking more pickle juice. I can remember staring at a
bottle of IBUprofen on the table when I came in thinking I should take some. My right quad had started to feel strained and I wanted to get on top of it. I left without taking in and was focused on getting something at the next aid station. I got onto the next section and followed the wheel of two guys who pulled me for a good portion back to the Colorado Trail Singletrack. It was only a mile on the section (much too short) before getting back on two-track that took us down, up, down, up, down, up and then down into the aid station (this is a rolling, quick, section that I always try to recover on). I pulled up to the medical tent, “do you have aspirin?” “No.” “No? What kind of place is this?!?” The guy then hesitated, “hold on, I’ll get my personal bottle from my car” which luckily was right behind the tent. “How many do you want?” “4, will you give me 4?” “Good girl, I had someone ask for 2 earlier and I talked them into 3” I really should have said, ‘how many will you give me’ but had gobbled them up and jumped back on my bike before I had thought of that witty response.
I got onto the pavement section and had a guy come up behind me saying something about “ginger power” I was slightly offended at first because a.) I did not want to pull him back to Powerline and b.) If anything my hair is red not ginger. He got in front of me and only then did I realize that he was a ginger and then I thought it was hilarious. We worked together to get through the headwinds and around to Powerline. I thought maybe I would see Sully somewhere near the bottom where I did last year (we had a rough plan of it) but as I kept getting closer to the climb without seeing him I started to count what calories and figure out if it to make it last 90 minutes. I saw Katie’s husband who didn’t think Sully was there and he gave me a syrup and a push which was awesome. I started up Powerline and shifted into my lowest gear and just slowly kept turning over as people around me were beginning to walk up. I turned the right hand corner to see the WBR girls cheering me on. Claire used to be a coxswain in college and it’s pretty amazing how well she can motivate you, she also calls out to everyone, “Girl riding, get out of the way!” Yeah, she’s the best! I kept riding up to see Sully there waiting, he began walking up along side of me (that’s how slow I was going) when again I hit a soft spot and jumped off to take another bottle, a straight shot of salt and was on my way. And by on my way I mean hiking up. Just before the top I was greeted by a little old man, “You are the first girl I have seen today in a skirt…Pound it!” I pounded him and laughed and then he called all the guys behind me perverts. They just don’t make them like they do in Leadville. At the top there was a guy in a pizza suit (or maybe banana) who after I got on my bike he pushed me for a while and told me not to pedal- it was great! Powerline is only a 200 yard section but really I think of it as the 3 mile climb that it entails, it has 4 false summits and a few relief points but it’s about 45 minutes of suffering at 81 miles in the race. All I knew was that I need to keep pedalling and do as little amount of walking as possible. Which I did, again not fast, but faster than hiking. At the top I saw a group of guy riders all congregated around a table. I kept going around them only to see a girl handing out “Hot Shots” “Do you want one?” She asked me. “What is it?” It’s for muscle cramps and soreness” Remembering my right quad I grabbed it and drank a sip. Ohhhh I get the name now, it’s hot, like Fireball (later we made everyone at the house who hadn’t try some and they all made the same face I did). I immediately dropped the rest of my bottle and went for my camelbak trying to squash any remaining taste. Plus I was getting so close, one more descent and then one more 3 mile climb and then I’m at the last aid station. I tried to do the mental math of what my pace was, going sub-10 was going to be close, so, so close but it might just happen. I kept pushing and going between tucking and pedalling whenever I started to lose momentum. I began the laborous climb that would bring me into mile 90. It’s not very steep or very long but at mile 87 it’s more than I wanted to be doing. I stayed focus though and got into a rhythm again of climbing, just 20 minutes in the pain cave. I made it to the top at about 9:15, I saw my parents, dropped my camelbak with them, grabbed another bottle, gushers, some chews, and a chunk of chicken and took off. It was going to be sooooo close to get under 10 but I had to fight. I went, I pedalled and climbed and when it released into the last descent I opened it up and went down with everything I had, making sure to keep eating and drinking because it’s really 104 miles and not 100. I was frantic and when the downhill slope slowed I kept pedalling and mashing. I came around a corner and a volunteer told me and two other guys I was with at that point that we were going to be so close to 10 hours but we had a shot. That was all it took. There was one section left, up the boulevard, which is just enough of a grade to destroy your soul if you have it left. The guy in front of me started pulling harder and I held on. Although I’ve never done a time trial, I imagine those last 4 miles were a similar experience. I could tell the guy in front of me wanted to go under 10 just as bad as I did. We kept taking over other riders who would hold on to the rear briefly before getting dropped again. We were so close but so far still-get there, get there, get there! The gravel takes you back onto the road that we started on and back to the finish, with one more crest being on the pavement. I saw a girl in front of me and figured she would be the one to beat to not get 8th for the third time (at least 7th would be nice…) I knew if I could get in front of her before the descent I could maybe hold her off. I made my move on the small climb to start going but she immediately quickened the pace to keep on me.
I couldn’t shake her and fell behind her wheel. We were going down and quickly up into the finish shoot and it was all I could do with one last great effort to put my head down and begin to sprint with everything I had left. Thankfully at this same moment I was greeted by Claire’s voice telling me to go now, go now, go now! I did. I over took the girl and finished. 10:07:24.
This now brings you back to the beginning. After picking myself up and rushing to my mom I told her I just wanted to go under 10 so I could be done with this race, I just wanted 9-something, that’s all. But Leadville doesn’t care what I want. Sully called me the glass-half full girl given that I had PR’d. I hesitantly looked up the results, figuring I would have to settle for 8th again. “Holy fudge!” except I didn’t say fudge. I had won my age group, which was shocking but this year they had a separate pro category so that helped to take the really fast women out of my age group. I’m really happy that I won and it’s a nice ending to the season that seemed a little tumultuous with training during law school, racing in South Dakota, not doing a lot of high-atlitude rides, changing schools and programs (more on that later), and bouncing down to Colorado to try and race. It put a lot of strain on my personal relationships though and when I had finished I wondered if it was all worth it, if all the sacrifices to feel like I had come up short were. As much as I shouldn’t say it, it was. The struggle, the process, it was all worth it because I gave everything I could at Leadville. That’s what’s so beautifully heart-breaking about bike racing because it demands so much and you might come up short but then again, you might not.
I’ll be transitioning to collegiate racing this fall (yay for club sports that don’t have eligibility rules). But I also intend to take next summer off from Leadville and do some reassessing in terms of what my goals are when it comes to racing and riding.
What’s really incredible though regardless of my time or where I finished is that the WBR team raised more than $80,000!!! That puts more than 500 bicycles in the field, that’s 500 lives that have a real impact. I’m so lucky to be able to be a part of it!
- Here are the numbers:
- Time: 10:07: 24
- Avg. Speed: 10.2
- Distance 104.3 miles
- Elevation Gain: 11,631 feet
- 50 oz. camelbak with water (finished it twice)
- 6 bottles, a mix between Skratch and GU (500 mg of salt per serving)
- 5 or 6 rice cakes
- Roughly 12 Untapped Maple Syrup (seriously, so good- and water soluble so it did not destroy my stomach!)
- 1 Skratch chomps package