I knew after about 2 miles into the Rattlesnake Rally that I was overdressed. My leg warmers (Sully’s) had fallen down. Which I was a little sad about because they were sized small, and I’ve been lifting so clearly not gaining. I soon went from fashionista to hot mess when I took my jacket off only to realize my handlebar bag was too full of snacks for it to fit and it also didn’t fit in my jersey pocket. I thought about dropping it on the side of the road but then realized it wasn’t mine (problems when you come to WY unprepared for a bike race). I entertained how I would wrap it around my waist but envisioned it falling out and wrecking my bike (it was easy too since it has happened before). I opted for the next best solution, wrapping it around my neck like a scarf.
Fortunately the first aid station was 8 miles in. I counted down the miles and during this time found myself all alone. The lead group (about 6 guys) had split from me and the guy behind me wasn’t too set on catching me. I reached the first aid station and stripped down my first layer as quickly as possible, while simultaneously shoving bananas into my back pocket. I got back on and pedaled away, again by myself, hoping to maybe catch someone by the next station. The course was rolling and smooth and I felt fast, or maybe it was that I had ditched 10lbs of clothing. Either way I was able to get to the next aid station pretty quick. After seeing strips of bacon blowing in the wind (was I hallucinating already?!?), I rode up to see them clothes-pinned to a rope in the tent. My stomach wasn’t really feeling it (as is often the case on gravel races) so opted for more bananas and took off again. There was a short, steep climb out of the aid station which after the crest the land fell away and exposed the harsh, wind-swept, Wyoming prairie. It was quite serene, with endless miles to see, and the lush landscape juxtaposed against the dreary fog clouds rolling over the hills. I kept thinking, Wyoming would be alright to live in. Finding a nice tailwind I tried to push it on this section knowing that when I turned around it would be a losing battle. About 3 miles out from the turn-around I saw the lead group go by, I jokingly called out, “wait for me” but secretly was hoping I could find someone to tuck behind to pull me back to the middle aid station. I got to the turn-around point and was greeted by the fresh smell of boiled potatoes; nothing like bland, tasteless food to make the Irish in me very happy. I shoved one into my mouth and then took as many from the bowel as I could and shoved them into my jersey pocket, I guess this isn’t a typical scene in Wyoming as the volunteers seemed slightly mystified that I would take so many for later. But I knew it would be the difference between riding and limping into the finish. I topped off my bottle and jumped back onto my bike to head back.
I had been mentally preparing for this section, as the director told me that morning it’s a steady incline and would have a nasty headwind. I put my head down and stared at my computer for the next hour. I figured if I could maintain 11mph I would only have to suffer for one hour to get back to the second aid station and then it would let up a bit. That’s what I did and caught a break when two guys came up behind me and I hung on their wheels for about 2 miles–not a lot but enough to help (I later found out they were doing the 120 distance and got first and second place). I successfully managed to get back to the aid station in an hour, eating all the potatoes I had taken and with the help of two songs (this wasn’t on purpose, thinking it would rain all day I didn’t really think I would listen to music so I only had two and they were on constant repeat). I was able to grab about 4 pieces of bacon this time and put them in my jersey for later. The headwind was still persistent but a little better and with more rollers to help break it up.
I had another 120 rider ride with me for a little bit and made small talk with him, he told me he thought the 60 was a better option for the day and I agreed. He also told me that there was no one back there for at least 10 minutes which gave me a little bit of confidence because I’ve had 50 mile races come down to a matter of 30 seconds and wasn’t sure if I could handle a sprint for the end. I also knew it meant I couldn’t take it easy, because there were still enough miles that the time could be chipped away if people worked together in a group to catch me. I let him ride away and soon was at the last aid station. This one was the most busy as the other distance (32) was also on the course now. I shed one more layer, and grabbed another banana. 8 miles to go, less than an hour, just ride smart.
I kept reciting, “smooth is fast” to keep my pedaling consistent and my mind on the race. When I had about 4 miles left to go, figuring I had a big enough lead close enough to the finish, I stopped and picked some wildflowers before getting back on. The last two miles were on pavement and during the roll-out I was busy jockeying for position so didn’t actually pay attention to how long it was–much longer than I thought (it probably helped that it was downhill going out). I got done and felt pretty good.
I ended up winning the Women’s 60 mile overall and was 8th overall (30 minutes down from the lead). I didn’t really know what to expect with this race, but took a risk early on by going off the front and it ended up paying off (this isn’t always the case). I still don’t feel like I’m in great shape and am still about 10 pounds over my racing weight (thanks, law school) but this race at least helped with some early season fitness and confidence going into the summer. I’ll also hand it to the race director, the volunteers, and the participants, everyone was so nice and helpful. It reminded me how much fun racing in less than ideal conditions can be.
I gave my dad the racer’s t-shirt as well as my trophy. They both had rattlesnakes on them and even fake snakes seems to scare the wits out of me.
I’m finally getting back on my mountain bike tomorrow, and pretty excited. I haven’t raced in a long time and have certainly missed it. Next summer I’ll be out of commission to study for the bar. It’s more of a bucketlist summer race season where if I’m inclined I feel like I should do it because who knows what life will serve up after law school.
It has taken me a while to get together this blog post and I came to realize because I don’t exactly feel like it’s my story to tell and law school has taken a bit of time (lolz). Mainly I was there as a supportive role to Sharon but also felt like I had a lackluster performance in that area. I set the goal to have this written before Christmas break was over and since classes are about to start up figured time to start writing. Instead of boring you with an 11:30 hour race report mainly just pictures with some added commentary from the day–okay more than commentary.
At the start line I wasn’t sure how to ride with someone for the full day so I told Sharon if we get separated on any climb and descent and I’m in front I’ll wait for her but if she gets in front of me just go. Even with that I still managed to lose her, a few times.
The gun started and I wasn’t sure what to expect, sure I’ve done the race 3 times before but was starting only one corral from the last one and still get worried about St. Kevin’s getting bogged up. I followed Sharon’s pace on the pavement and towards St. Kevin with the plan to jump ahead of her and create a pathway going up St. Kevin. It worked well with me glancing back occasionally to make sure she was not far behind me.
Unfortunately I soon realized that the woman I thought was Sharon was actually not and I had forgotten what helmet she was wearing. I rode on until the first aid station and stopped there for her. She wasn’t too far behind and handed my arm-warmers off to Doug (who was volunteering at the aid station there). Sharon raced by and I jumped back on to catch up with her.
Sharon is an amazing descender and it was all I could do to stay behind her on the pavement descent. The descent down powerline was pretty uneventful too. Being further back than my pace in previous years it meant that even less people were opting for the B line. I had one woman yell at me to be careful, I replied back, “thanks, mom!”. Sharon and I hit the pavement and started forming a pace line, I took the front thinking Sharon could save some energy here, soon she was in front pulling me. We alternated with another person going towards the next aid station and the pace line blew up when we hit the dirt. One woman came up to the side of us and said all the men should thank us for pulling them, thinking it was only one or two I looked behind to see at least 20 men had been on our paceline– wimps.
The next section is rolling and we chatted with other riders and each other. One woman was on her 11th (or some outrageous number of Leadville) and had just finished Ironman Canada like 3 weeks before. I was just like, oh I just spent my summer writing a thesis soooo…
At Twin Lakes we were greeted by the the WBR tent with Sully and Michelle which is always such an energy boost. I swapped bottles and we took off again. Just across from the dam Sharon had an issue with her camelbak so we stopped and diagnosed it. I did mental math of how many fluids I had to get us to the top and realized that I had left my camelbak on when I meant to drop it. So plenty of fluids. Sharon was able to dislodge the drink mix that had clogged up her hose and we were off again.
We split up for the climb and I started going to a dark place. I kept eating and drinking but my stomach had been giving me problems on and off the whole day so not my usual schedule and I just kept thinking get to the top and make it back to Twin Lakes and take a breath. So that’s what I did, I focused on getting to the top and once there focused on getting down. I saw Sharon at the top as I was headed down and she was just about to the aid station. I figured I was maybe 3 minutes in front of her. I had thought of waiting for her at the top but had gotten cold and thought it was best to get down.
At Twin Lakes I handed my bike off to Sully and took a minute to sit behind the tent and just breath and refocus. Sharon showed up quickly after and I hopped back up, grabbed some new bottles, new food, and a full camelbak and took off behind Sharon. The next section back to Pipeline was again uneventful and even back to Powerline I was able to sit into a paceline that pulled into the bottom of Powerline.
I rounded the corner and saw Sully and Michelle at the bottom so I pulled off, Sharon was in a groove and said she was going to keep going so I said I’d catch up. I restocked and told Sully this was really hard. He told me I was almost done. I started up Powerline knowing Sharon was in front of me and made it to the point where riding brings diminishing returns and walking is more beneficial. I started hiking and focusing on drinking.
This section was the most frustrating for me because I could ride a lot of the uphill beyond Powerline but there is only one really good line to do it on. I would yell out “rider” for those hiking up taking the good line and no one would move. It happened over and over so I would either take the B line if it was feasible or get off hike around the person and get back on. I couldn’t figure out if it was because it was all men and I was a woman and they didn’t want to move for a woman who was riding or if they were just tired. This was the biggest thing I noticed from having a slower pace- in the past if I said “rider” people would move no problem and usually say ‘nice riding’. It was so frustrating at one point I almost started crying and then realized I didn’t have enough energy to waste on crying. I got to the top and still didn’t see Sharon, it was starting to drizzle and I wanted to get down so opted against putting on my jacket. It was pretty foggy and starting to rain as I descended the back side of powerline and onto the road. Hitting the last road climb I knew it was only 25 minutes till the aid station and should make the 12 hour cut off mark. I still hadn’t seen Sharon and while I thought I would have caught her also figured she had probably put time into me on the descent.
I got up to the aid station and stopped when I saw Doug, he asked me where Sharon was and I said, “she hasn’t been through?” But in my mind it was more “ohhh fudge” and then he said, well I haven’t been out here the whole time so she probably went past. I debating staying at the aid station for a while longer but not knowing if she was in front or behind me opted to keep going and assumed she must have been in front. Even though the back half of St. Kevin is uphill it still pulls you through and I was soon enough at the crest. I calculated time to finish and knew that (fingers crossed) no mechanics I would finish well within the 12-hour mark. I cruised down the front side St. Kevin and made it back to the pavement without any issues but still no Sharon. I rode the dirt section that takes you to the Boulevard and tried to find a pace line to get on to to pull me but there was no one. With about 2 miles to go and knowing I would be well-within the 12 hour cut off I saw some wildflowers so put my bike down by the side of the trail and wandered into the field to pick some up.I was putting together my bouquet when I heard, “Kate?” and it was Sharon. I stuff the flowers into my back pocket and grabbed my bike. “I thought you were in front of me- where did I pass you?” She told me that she had stopped on the side of the road with a group of people to put her jacket on and it must have been there and I missed her. I told her that I bet Rebecca Rusch never lost her pacee. I apologized for not being a better pacer but she told me that I was there when she needed it so I’ll believe her. We cruised into the finish area and I congratulated her and stayed back a bit to try and get a photo of her but instead the announcer thought I was taking a video of the crowd so people started cheering thinking they were on video. I crossed the finish and was so happy to be off my bike but also so happy to be a part of helping Sharon get to the finish (although she definitely did all the work to get there) although she definitely helped me.
My motto for most of the day was “Fourth and Final” it was my fourth Leadville and convinced that it was also my final. Which I had planned on it until I put in for the lottery and now just waiting to find out if it will be a “Fifth and Final”.
A lot of my struggles of the day, my stomach, aches and pains, and even my dark places (almost crying) I actually blame on getting my period at 6am that morning. I know my body pretty well but usually it throws a whole wrench into the system and when I get it I take the day off from training so this was a big 180 for my body. I debated mentioning it but it is a reality for 100% of the women racing and it was the first race that I’ve had to deal with it which I guess makes me lucky.
I realized that in years past when I’ve done Leadville a lot of the fun comes from the prep work, the rides and other races that I do in preparation for the race. This past summer though it was a lot of intervals and time on the trainer to balancing getting in shape with writing a thesis. I really debated not putting in for the lottery but figured, uh why not. I think I find out in about an hour if I got in but wanted to get this done first! Ha
I finally got my racer’s jacket and 2 years ago I tried to put on “K8 the GR8” which they rejected and just put on “Katherine” so the next year instead I put on “Princess Kate” thinking they would also reject that but they didn’t. This year I put on “K8 the GR8” again and when my mom opened it up she texted, “what does that mean?” So maybe a fifth year to finally get it right?
I didn’t plan on doing the Leadville 100 this year, at least not after I didn’t get in through the lottery. I didn’t think about it when I was trekking through the Grand Canyon, finishing finals or traveling in Viet Nam. In fact, most of the time in Viet Nam I thought about how out of shape I was getting and thank goodness I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles. Then I got to Switzerland and started running and had a few long days on trail in France and the thought began creeping back in that maybe I can ride 100 miles with Sharon. When I got back to the states I contacted WBR and it was almost serendipitous as one guy had to drop out due to a medical condition and was willing to give me his spot to ride with Sharon.
That’s been the thought the whole time, at least since Michelle planted the idea in my brain last December that the only way I would do Leadville is with Sharon. Sharon is another member of WBR and due to circumstances outside of her control wasn’t able to finish the Leadville 100 last year. Since we’re both passionate about WBR and riding long distances (she has quite the impressive stage race resume) thought we would be stronger together.
I really thought after Leadville last year I would be done, knowing I would be traveling for a good chunk of the summer and thinking I wouldn’t be able to do enough early season riding to build up the engine I would need to PR (4 years of training for Leadville has taught me a lot). I’m convinced that riding with Sharon is the only way I can top last year’s experience is to help someone else reach that finish line.
This year, Sharon and I will both be riding for World Bicycle Relief. WBR is a program that helps distribute bicycles in Africa. After a year studying global health I truly believe that the one thing we can do that will create the largest impact and ripple in a community is to educate young people, girls especially. With a Buffalo Bike (the one that is designed for WBR) a student increases classroom attendance by 28%. In all my years of schooling, I’ve been granted the privilege of never having to worry about how I would arrive for my education.
After some logistical planning we wrote down our route and figured out estimates of time with where we needed to be an when. We weren’t sure of what to do with the North Kaibab trail closure so just planned for 2 hours out from Phantom Ranch and then turn around which would put the total for the day at 12 hours. Perfect.
We headed to the South Kaibab trail around 7:15 and parked in a dirt parking lot and headed to the rim. I had informed Jessie that I was scared of heights and reminded her that if I’m crouching and hugging the wall, I’ll be fine just give me a minute to get over it. In truth, the moment before we stepped on the trail I had no idea just how much the exposure would bother me–I reminded myself to not let fear define my fate (and sung that song most of the way down). I had read and looked at pictures but I get nervous being on the third floor of the law school building and looking down.
We got on the trail, walked for a few yards and then Jessie asked if it was time to run, it was, and so we began going down. The trail was wide with a forgiving edge that gradually fell away instead of a shear drop off, and while a tumble would have resulted in death no doubt, I could at least trick myself into thinking I would survive. The views were astonishing and kept me focused from falling off the edge, it seemed the every corner we came around we would stop and just stare in amazement and then go, “how cool is this?!?” before proceeding on our way.
All the hikers going down were really nice about giving us room on the trail. At one point we came up on a big family and most of the group gave way, except for this 7ish-year-old girl with a red camelbak on, she stepped onto the trail in front of us with no fear and started running, so we followed her. We caught up to the next group of hikers and as we passed through, one of the group members goes, “is that for real?” Inquiring about the child, my response, “Yep, she’s our pacer!” The girl pulled off a little further down the trail, not too far from her family and it seemed like her group was spread out enough that we weren’t just leaving her.
It wasn’t too long before we saw the Colorado River and continued to navigate our way down the trail, and only encountering the two mule trains of the day on this section.
We crossed the bridge and rolled into Phantom Ranch area just before our estimated time. We stopped at the Ranger’s Station to ask about a trail that had been closed, the one going over the silver bridge to Bright Angel, she told us that it had opened this morning. This was great to hear because otherwise we would have to go back up part of South Kaibab and then over to Bright Angel on a cut-across with no access for water after leaving Phantom Ranch until back to Bright Angel. We headed over to the Canteen and pulled out some snacks and discussed the next part of the plan. It wasn’t even 10am. We couldn’t believe it, what would we do if we only went to the river and back, we’d be done so early so we decided to head up on North Kaibab trail and try to at least get to Ribbon Falls or Cottonwood Campground, even if it was longer than the allotted two hours.
We refilled our water, applied more sunscreen and set off again. We walked for a short period with a group of four hikers that were from Texas but then took off in front of them.
One thing that was sensational was how much the landscape changed from the top of the rim to the bottom, with the bottom of the canyon unfolding in a luscious landscape of shrubbery and color.
When I called a week earlier about trail conditions they said that Ribbon Falls Trail was closed and the only way to access was to cross the river, which is highly advised against. It wasn’t till we got to the trail junction that we saw this sign.
We decided to turn back around as some storm clouds began to encroach on us and at this point we were at about 15-17 miles, depending on whose watch you looked at. We started running and continued most of the way back to Phantom Ranch. Except for when we stopped to take Senior Pictures because when you’re in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, why not?
We stopped again at the Canteen to refill water and have a snack before beginning the 9+ mile trek out. We did some wardrobe changes and applied more sunscreen, then took off. We got on the trail and began going up, the miles flew by going down but the tedious task of going up made them drag on, fortunately the views did not suck. We stopped at one point and watched some rafters try to get their raft unstuck from the one rock in the river they could have gotten caught on. We ran into a few people, but not many, and kept climbing the switchbacks on our way to the top. At this point both our watches had died so we didn’t have the best knowledge of how far each point was. We were often greeted with patches of shade, which I was grateful for because it seemed that the South Kaibab trail didn’t offer much coverage and I didn’t want to get sunburned. Approximately 4 miles later we reached Indian Garden Campground, we sat down and talked to a guy who was hiking rim to river to rim, he had done it about 50 times in his life and this was his 4th time this year already–goals. He said out of all the times he’d only ever ran into two snakes. This knowledge made me feel better because in my worst nightmare I would run into a snake on the trail and try to avoid it only to fall off the ledge.
We refilled our water, ate a snack and the guy informed us we were still about 4 miles from the top and had about 2 hours to go.
We began going up, again, this time at a steeper grade than the previous four miles. Steps began to feel laborious and arduous– every 5 yards was met with a waterbar, which meant lifting our legs just a little higher than just hiking uphill. With our watches still dead (I know I was hoping they would magically turn on too) we could only go off of how far away the rim seemed. I couldn’t believe people ran up this section (the FTK on R2R2R is just over 5 hours–crazy!!). We passed time by talking about plans to come back in the fall, what we would do differently and how we would prepare (yes, we are planning on going again to get the full R2R2R). Most of our concerns centered around nutritional choices, packing sandwiches and more real food instead of makeshift protein and carbs in the form of bars and GU. We also passed time talking about what we would eat when we were done, trail mix was no longer cutting it but we kept force-feeding at 45 minute intervals to keep our energy up.
Realizing our sun was going to be going down soon, we made sure to take even more photos.
We continued up the switchbacks. My first trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 5, I have a picture of Wayne and I by this arch on the trail. Upon seeing the arch, I figured we were very close to the top, what 5 year-old with a fear of heights would venture that far down? Apparently, this one, especially if I was with Wayne. Thinking that it would only be about 100 yards from the top I thought we were almost done–I soon found it was definitely closer to a mile.
The top seemed so close but visually still far off. The day had started turning to dusk and I asked Jessie if I should put my headlight on. While it wasn’t necessarily warranted at this point, I had drug it around the entire canyon in the event of having to use it and well I wanted to make it worth it. She said no. We kept walking and came upon a second tunnel. I started laughing, I bet this is the tunnel we made it to when I was a kid, and here I thought I was a fearless individual as a child, good to know I’ve always been risk adverse. The second tunnel we went under was only .18 miles from the top (I looked it up later). We could see the lip of the rim peeking out above. It was dark enough now that I was able to justify my headlamp but only because I saw one below us. I told Jessie, “better to be safe than sorry” but in all actuality I just wanted to use everything that I had packed at least once. We reached the top of the rim, saw the trail sign, I said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ve made it!” and that was it. The finality was rather subdued. No fanfare, no one handing out water, no collecting a medal, and yet it was beyond comparison to finishing some races.
We grabbed some dinner showered and retrieved our car (taking enough steps already, we opted for a taxi). I think the dust I had collected on me made me close to the tannest I have ever been in my life. We went to bed early and the next day headed up to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
We’re planning on doing it again this fall with options for R2R (going before Oct. 15 to get a car on the north side) and doing R2R2R–if interested let me know!
Here’s also what I’ve been telling people, even if you have no earthly desire to ever hike or go down into the Grand Canyon- GO! I could have spent hours just sitting on the rim. We did 32-33 miles and 12 hours going into the depths of not only the canyon but my soul– being completely present and in awe of my entire life. I left with a cup overflowing of gratitude.
“How many miles a week are you doing?”
“Ohhh, about 40-50, but I’m not a runner…”
I’ve never defined myself as a runner even when it is my primary activity and recently it’s been no different. After fat bike nationals I put the bike up for the past few months and have been building up my mileage running. Still I don’t count myself as a runner. With my master’s and traveling I’ve decided to cut back on mountain bike racing this summer which presented the perfect time to get in running shape for rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon. I picked dates, emailed a group of friends and we were off, tickets were bought and training plans swapped. Some conflicts came up for a few of the girls with other trips popping up. Still Jessie, my friend from high school and Allison were in–no way would my mom let me do this by myself. We all bought plane tickets which made it very real.
I kept running and even started to find the treadmill enjoyable on bad weather days (which there were a lot). About 2 weeks ago we found out that a rock slide had closed off the trail to the north rim, North Kaibab, quashing any idea of rim to rim and certainly not rim to rim to rim. Bummer, but quickly found another option of going down to Ribbon Falls, except that bridge went out earlier this week. And the only option would be to cross the river which they HIGHLY recommend against. A few more trail closures have cropped up in the past week, and we have a plan of going down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch and then over to Bright Angel and back up, or some variation of that. We figure with the trail closures it just means we’ll be back this fall to conquer R2R2R, sorry mom, but more time for you build up your pray bank for me!
We’ll see but we definitely bought enough snacks for the whole R2R2R jaunt.
Here is a picture of my first trek to the Grand Canyon – as my uncle reminded me it’s as dangerous as it is pretty- I responded, so just like me!
P.S. Sorry if the formatting/typos are a little off on this post- limited access has me posting from a mobile phone and I’m somewhat techno-challenged.
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!)
I did not want to do the Copper Crush. Most of the week leading up to it I felt discombobulated, having spent two days driving, one day flying and not a whole lot of time on the bike. Throw in a wedding the night before and it was all I could do to even fathom racing. My coach thought it would help just to shake things out after the Tatanka and as much as I didn’t want to I had to admit that he was right. I was slightly nervous that the race would end up more or less of the same as the Tatanka and not actually boost my confidence going into Leadville. I had just enough champagne the night before at the wedding though to think that racing wouldn’t be so bad. I didn’t preregister just in case the wedding drinks got the best of me but I was up and ready to go the morning of the race. I opted for the 30 mile course instead of the 50. It would be three laps, 10 miles each, a 5 mile uphill section followed by a 5 mile downhill section. Didn’t seem that bad.
They started the women last, and all together, which made it seem like there was a lot of us, and we would not have to worry about the guys trying to get by right away. The race began with a neutral role out, which was really the first neutral role out I have experienced and we actually talked about how most of the time people are gunning for it. We hit the single track but even then the pace didn’t quicken. Maybe people knew something I didn’t, then a lady made a move around me and I quickly got on her wheel and we made our way to the front. We started climbing and I soon realized this climb was going to be more than I had anticipated so I settled in while still trying to push to keep position. We made our way to the top and after about 4 miles it opens up to a gravel road that loops you back around the single track, I kept grinding not sure what the descent would bring. By now we were spaced out enough that I wasn’t too worried about getting overtaken on the descent so long as I held on.The descent was fast, with some technical sections, enough that I had to pay attention and fully open my suspension. Lap one was done at 1:20. As I came through I was on the wheel of a pro woman who had gotten lost three times on the first lap as we went through the finish line she told me she got lost almost right away and not to take that turn again. We took that turn and only realized our mistake when riders started coming towards us on the single track with mystified looks on their faces. Oops we cut through the field and got back on course.
The climbs seemed a bit steeper the second time around but being a little more familiar with it I knew where to push and where to save. After about a mile or so up I made my way around the lady and kept trying to pick off the guys in front of me. I also knew there were still two women in front of my but wasn’t sure of their lead time. I made it to the top and was relieved again to open up my suspension and make my way downhill. The single track opens up to a gravel road about a half mile from the finish line, I was cruising down it when I saw a green bike and yellow shoes making its way up. Sully had stayed to help with post-wedding activities and I wasn’t sure I would see him. I stopped and switched out a bottle with him and told him I would grab food on the way through and that I would see him in an 1:20.
The third lap presented more of a challenge. I got passed back by the pro-lady who told me to eat something, which I had been doing but I don’t think I had eaten early enough and now was slowly bonking. Just get to the top, just get to the top. I started to count down 1/10
of a mile while trying to do mental math of how many yards that would be. That definitely kept me occupied for a good portion as I’m not sure my math actually ever came out right. I got to the top and saw a volunteer, I asked him for salt as I had been borderline cramping going up and had an in-depth conversation about salt with Barb after the Tatanka. He didn’t have any salt but could get some as I kept climbing up before looping back around to his post. That certainly helped to keep me going, the thought of getting salt. When I arrived back, even with it being a downhill I knew that I could easily cramp and the time it would take to stop and get some salt would save me time. He had ran into the resort at the top and gotten a salt shaker. I shook it directly into my mouth, it’s the first time that much salt has not been accompanied by tequila. I immediately realized (probably placebo effect) why people risk so many potentially fatal diseases for this jewel of the earth. It was like a flip had been switched and I felt like a human again, I imagine that salt is what Pinocchio received each time he became a real boy. I crushed the descent, okay not really but I felt really good and was able to finish strong as a result.
I finished first in my age group, the other girl had dropped out after two laps and was 2nd for women overall. As much as I despised having to race before hand, I’m really glad I did, especially because it was at altitude, and it certainly helped to realize how much salt factors into my performance level. I ended up taking the Leader’s Jersey and when I told a friend that she asked if it was like the Tour de France…I responded, “exactly like that” 😉
I had struggled the week leading up to the race with wanting to race Leadville, I went back and forth with it more times that I could even list, and really debated for the first time ever just walking away from everything. I’m not saying that winning helped, it was more of a conversation with my Godfather who pointed out that even if I didn’t want to when would I get another chance like this. I’ve just been getting nervous because even with breaking my rear derailleur last year I had a great race and I’m just not sure I’ll be able to top it. There is only one way to find out!
I spent a lot of the Tatanka 100 thinking about Lance Armstrong, but probably not for
reasons you would think. There is a video of him doing a Beer Mile (run a lap, chug a beer, repeat x4) I was watching it with Wayne one day and after the first lap he walks off the track mumbling, “this isn’t what I expected…” Wayne’s response was, “what did he expect..it’s a beer mile!” That’s what I kept saying, “this isn’t what I expected…” and then a little voice would pop into my head saying, “well, what did you expect, it’s the Centennial Trail” and I would respond back with, “I don’t know…not this” which is how 13 hours of racing could really be summed up, not at all what I expected.
There wasn’t one thing that went catastrophically wrong but enough little things that results in one large biomechanical malfunction which resulted in my slowest race ever. I had started the day not feeling at 100%, maybe around 70% having raced the
Monday before but I figured I had 83 miles for me legs to figure it out so wasn’t too worried. I had only decided to do the 83 miler a few days before, thinking I would just be doing the 35. I figured the longest it would take me would be about 10 hours. We started on pavement for a neutral roll out of about 3 miles before hitting the trail. Within about the first 6 miles I soon realized why the times were so slow from last year, the trail gets pretty congested to begin with and then there are a lot of hike-a-bike sections, but not hike-a-bike roll your bike along with you, more lift your bike up, put it on the rock and climb up yourself. Oofta, definitely no rhythm to the ride. The first aid station was at mile 16 so I kept thinking about that, trying to stay on pace and get my legs shook out.
I made it to the first aid station and made a plan to get what I needed and get out of there- I moved quickly. I left following two guys out, one local and one from CO. The heat was definitely starting to take its toll and after about 3 miles and half way down a descent the local guy went down on the left of the trail, he cramped up and and waved both of us along saying he’d be fine, so we kept descending and I kept drinking to stay on top of any cramps that might be headed my way. We got to a road with no course marking….ohhhh crap! Still not sure where we missed the turn we turned around and started back up what was initially a nice reprieve. We realized our mistake was where the guy cramped, as we both had been looking left the trail had taken a fork right. It was frustrating and took me a while to recover mentally from. Between the 1st and 2nd it’s still pretty primitive trail, with stair hiking (my favorite), and a feeling of bush whacking through some areas with grass brushing against my handlebars and thick grass stalks that had only recently been pushed down to forge the trail.
Driving the struggle bus…. Photo: Randy Ericksen
This is the only time in my life that I’ve actually been concerned with a race cut off time- and it was going to be close, especially because I had taken a break to sit down on the side of the trail and eat something. I rolled into the aid station and saw lots of riders milling around. I ate some apples and laid down on a slab of cardboard for a while. I then got up and walked over to two women that I had talked to earlier in the day, they were calling it, not wanting to waste their whole day. It was so tempting, to bail with them, so I sat and ate some chips and pickles that they had given me while weighing the pros and cons. Pro: I’ll be done with this wretched race. Con: I’ll have to ride longer tomorrow. I got back up and overheard people talking about turning the aid station into a recovery aid station, that they were going to start pulling people…I grabbed my bike and got out of there deciding to at least make it to the next aid station.
The section was hot, exposed, dusty, and on a two-track open to motorized vehicles. It sucked the life out of me, or what was left at that point. I really started to get frustrated and started to do a lot of soul searching to get me through- I came up with a mantra “sometimes fast—sometimes last.” I also thought back to a ride I had done earlier that week with Barb when I had looked down and saw a snake below me on the side of the trail. I called back to Barb, “there is a snake back there” her response “where?!? I don’t see it, but I don’t look down, I look at where I’m suppose to be going” very wise words as I had started the day trying to look where I was going to avoid any mishaps with snakes and as the miles slowly crept by and the time seemed to be exponentially faster at passing, this became my thought process too, stop thinking about where I am right now, in this very moment and think about where you are going, this is training for Leadville, this doesn’t matter. It didn’t make it any easier though. I stuck with it but getting to that third aid station almost did me in. I
He was suppose to be tied up for directions
rolled in 3rd aid station, grabbed the only drop bag I had packed for the day and promptly sat down in a chair that was provided by the boy scouts running the station. I grabbed a cup of chips, then grabbed another one, then another, then another, then another, then another-the most chips I have ever eaten during a race but I think my body wanted the salt. And then I sat there, and sat there, and sat there, and sat there weighing if I should drop out or not. I talked to the race directors from the gravel race I had done earlier this year in Spearfish as one had crashed out and the other pulled the plug and they offered me a ride back and then I weighed the pros and cons with them. It was most frustrating because at this point I was already toasted and racing for the next weekend was off the table so even if I didn’t finish at this point I didn’t gain much. They were familiar with the next section and gave me low down. It seemed there was really only one good climb out and then it was rolling. And so I finally got out of that chair and back on my bike.
The climb wasn’t bad, no more rock features so I was able to stay on the bike and just pedal. And that’s what I did. For the next 35 miles, there were a few short climbs that I had to get off and walk up because my legs had nothing left in them. I rolled in to the last aid station, nearly depleted and so happy to know I was now getting so close. The man put a cold wash cloth on my neck and the lady poured me a coke, which I didn’t think I wanted but promptly drank. I sat down on a cooler and pulled out my cell phone to text Barb and give her an update, I had a message from my coach, “how’d the race go?” I burst out laughing and yelled, “THIS IS THE LONGEST RACE EVER!” I texted Barb with an update, letting her know I still had 17 miles to go. Even with 17 miles left I still knew it would be close to 2-2.5 hours. I left the aid station with enough fruit snack bags to get me through the week (better to be safe than sorry). I was doing well until the last 4 miles. I thought back to this little girl who was put a bike with training wheels, on her parents taking their hands of her she began screaming, “GET ME OFF THIS BIKE!” I have never identified more with a child than those last miles. Tears began to well up in my eyes from the frustration the day had brought. I cut through a cow track, which had a goat walking down it, which was a bit of a comedic relief. I knew the ending was at a city park but had no idea where the park was in relation to where I was and when I came up on one park that was
desolate I had figured that everyone had left, fortunately I saw signs to keep going and was soon on the bike path. I was ushered into the high school track and saw a lone person standing at the opposite end. Again thinking this was the end, and was depressed that it took me so long that everyone was gone–she then pointed me around the corner where I was greeted by Barb and the finish line.
I rode the next day, just to make sure that I could but the next few days were a little rough. I’ve even spent time questioning why I’m doing Leadville again. I’ve been opting for trainer workouts over going outside so I could at least watch 30 Rock and not have to think about anything.
I’m so thankful that Barb did the 17 miles and was willing to drive me home, otherwise I think I would have just laid down in the grass and stayed there until I ran out of fruit snacks.
She finished wayyyy before me!
Here are the numbers:
Distance: 79 miles
Avg. Speed: 6.10
Avg. HR: 145
Avg Power: 95
Time spent at aid stations: 2 hours–I wish I was kidding!
Quarq provided live tracking, which was nice when I was talking to Sully about dropping out at each point along the way and he could offer me up points of encouragement.
Just a note my goal time for Leadville is 9:35- I was at mile 53 when I hit that mark in this race…almost comical.