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.
I told Sully before the my first cross race a few weeks ago that I wished all my fitness for 10 hours at Leadville would compound down into 30 minutes. He reminded me that it didn’t really work like that.
I haven’t had to deal with USACycling in any real capacity until this last race. I bought my collegiate cycling license and because I had never had one before was placed in the bottom category, okay no big deal. I immediately applied for an upgrade after copying and pasting my racing resume, while non of my past races have been ‘sanctioned’ under USACycling I figured they would at least be able to see that I knew what I was doing. Denied. I tried again, going a little more in depth with what I had accomplished. Denied again. They don’t take non-USACycling races into account at all–uhh…okay. I wasn’t that upset except for the fact that I would be racing at 8am and not 11. Sully joked that it was almost like doing Leadville to have to wake up that early. Even though I had applied for an upgrade to Cat A, I still had no idea what to expect in Cat B. Cat B’s were grouped in with all women Cat 4 and junior girls, with all the women starting a minute after the cat 5 guys. My experience with cyclocross is limited, last year I only did two races and raced against the same fast lady both times.
The morning of the race I got to the venue with Sully and had just enough time to sit on the trainer for 7 minutes–I quickly worked to get my heart rate up. It was still chilly and the fog had yet to lift and as I sat on the trainer and my angst with USACycling grew more, it was early, cold, and not enough time to drink all the coffee, and they couldn’t give me an upgrade-gahhh.
At the start line, I was in the back because I haven’t done any races so my call up was last–the gun went off and we all jockeyed for position on the straight pavement before it funnelled into the grass. I was about mid-pack and followed a girl an S-turn when she went down. I bobble and had to put a foot down and re-negoiate around the line I had been on. The next feature was four spaced out steps which required hoping off the bike, running up, and hopping back on. I’m not the smoothest at these transitions but as we approached I realized that my technique (albeit ugly) might give me a slight advantage to make up time.
We kept riding in a pack, and was unsure at what point we would spread out. The course winds around into the forest and feeds into a 50 foot or so sand pit with a 180 at the end. I had practiced riding in the day before but realized during the race that those in front of me were getting off and thought I should follow their lead. I hoped off, threw my bike on my shoulder, like Sully had shown me the day before, and started running and after a few paces I realized I could run faster and work to get in front of people that way.
This was a nice realization, even if I can’t ride that fast at least I can out run them on one short section, perfect. I jumped back on my bike and rode the next, much shorter sand section, which I almost got through without face-planting but cut the corner a little too close and dug my front wheel in a little too hard and went over a little too fast. Slightly embarrassing, but the plus to racing at 8am is that there aren’t that many spectators. I got up and hopped back on to catch back up to the girl in front of me.
The course was really fun. The mid-section in the woods had some technical features that I knew my mountain bike skills would help on and hopefully help me to catch up to the other girl, or give me the over confidence to embarrass myself again. I did catch her in the back section but was nervous with the next feature being a stair run. After sprinting up the stairs there isn’t much of a platform to get back on my bike before plunging back down to the course. It caused for some slightly sketchy descents with not a firm grasp with either hand.
There is one last sandpit that is just long that it was worth running, followed by a straight away, one sketchy, steep descent that always made my stomach drop, another up, down, hop off and run up the hill and then the first lap was done. 2 to go. On the pavement to gather speed and go into the S curves. Up the stairs and and into the woods, run the sandpit, back into the woods…this is where I noticed that something had made my bike slightly angry how far would I have to run at this point, the chain was making a lot of noise and it was skipping around on the rear cassette when I wasn’t shifting.
I kept trying to find a good gearing that it would want to stay on but to no avail so I did the next logical thing, start praying — I got through the entire rosary while trying to calculate how much further I would have to run if my bike broke. I tried not to mash the pedals going on the climbs and gingerly shift. One more lap, I kept checking my chain to see if maybe something had just gotten stuck in it. Sully had told me I had about 20 seconds up on second place towards the start of the third lap. Again, run the sand, into the woods, “our father…please don’t let my bike break.” I kept riding, gingerly shifting and getting off at any uphill that I thought would make it more cantankerous. I was finally on the last push uphill when I decided it would be okay if my bike broke because I could make it to the finish and still maybe win. It didn’t break and I was able to finish 1st overall for the wave and finished 5 minutes ahead of the 2nd place Collegiate B ride. I told Sully later that my bike had been making a weird noise. He went through it and found that my chain had broken and was shocked that it hadn’t come off while I was racing.
Not to put the horse before the carriage but I started talking about what to do for an upgrade. Mainly because there was a race the next day and was debating doing it. There wasn’t a collegiate category and my collegiate license wouldn’t cover it so I would have to get a non-collegiate license in order to race and upgrade in that category which would upgrade me in collegiate (is that not clear to anyone else?). The reason I wanted to figure out the upgrade was because it was one of the last races I could get to before Nationals and you have to be an “A” to race Nationals. I figured it would be fun to road-trip out with Sully and fun to race even if I get clobbered on. I talked to an official who wasn’t terribly helpful and slightly discouraging. I went through all the scenarios with Sully and finally figured if I wanted an upgrade I probably needed at least another good race result so I didn’t come off as a one-hit-wonder. I found an official who was helpful and told me to track him down the next day for an email about an upgrade.
That night I did what I could to recover, which wasn’t much, except wash my kit in the hotel sink because I had only planned on racing one race that weekend- Ha!
The next morning was more angst, but at least with daylight savings time it wasn’t as dark or as cold. The field looked similar to the day before but with some new faces. I had no idea how my legs were going to respond to a second day in a row of racing. Sully had told me, don’t go out too hard, just sit and see what happens. I tried that but by the time we were off the pavement I was behind only 2 girls. I hand’t intended to go out that hard but also didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone on the technical sections. By the time we were up the 4 stairs I was in the front and with my shifting much better and I utilized it. Into the woods, and into the sandpit–I’m not sure what that says about me as a bike race if I think the running sections are my strong suit. The race course was mostly the same as the day before with one of the back sections cut shorter which nearly caused me to go through the course tape as I hadn’t anticipated it. I was able to maintain my lead throughout the race and hold on through the finish.
After talking to the conference director he suggested waiting till December so I only have to buy a 2017 license (the year runs January to January) and then apply for my upgrade and then get my collegiate license and will be upgrade automatically after the non-collegiate upgrade. Knock-on-wood but if everything works out I’m be able to race collegiate nationals–and spend more time with this guy.
I thought I would keep rolling after Leadville and try to maintain my fitness into cross season and maybe even do some collegiate mountain biking. I did one race, and then had two weddings the next two weekends (both so much fun!). I was then going to try and race Madison the following weekend. However, after returning from wedding number 2, I found myself on antibiotics for the first time in over 10 years. Which made me so grateful for the access I had to get them quickly but it still took a lot out of me, leaving me off the bike for over 3 weeks.
For the second wedding in Colorado I was able to sneak in some rides between wedding activities. I was able to meet up and ride with my friend Nicola before she left for Namibia. The last time we were able to ride together was when we raced Iceman…on a tandem and she was stuck behind me for 30 miles.
More bike riding….never a dull moment with Dave…
While I thought I would be spending the next weekend racing in Madison there was no way my body would have made it though the race but I still went up to hangout with Sully and his team. It was the first time I had seen him since Leadville (yay… long distance, school and race schedules). It’s also the first race I’ve been to in a long time that I wasn’t racing at–which was nice but also made me realize I’m not exactly ready to be a spectator.
The only biking that happened in the next week was when Mary Clair came to visit for a football game and I talked her into riding bikes around campus–last time we rode bikes together was before 2010…
This past week was fall break and I spent it with Molly and Abe down in Florida. I did some running to start building my fitness back up and to start working off all the candy I’ve been eating.
When I got back I decided to finally go for a bike ride. I took the cross bike because I’m going to try and race in 2 weeks (we’ll see how it goes with this much time off). The trail system had a few more exposed roots and down leaves than I was expecting so it led to some questionable handling skills but made me excited to take my mountain bike out there. And so 2 months after finishing Leadville, I finally feel like I’m ready to get back to riding.
Jered and Ashley Gruber also took some really great photos from Leadville that are amazing and worth sharing (even though it’s a little late on my part).
The next race I’m planning on is in Lousiville, KY. Sully will be there and it’s also collegiate conference champs so thought it might be a good way to keep my options open for nationals. To get a spot for nationals you just need to race in the conference championship so don’t think I’m planning on getting close to winning with taking 3+ weeks off the bike 🙂
School has been very busy, about the same stress level as law school, but with much less anxiety. Our grades aren’t the sole result of one four hour exam at the end but instead with lots of weekly and daily assignments. Working on narrowing down my thesis but looking at viral sovereignty and how it plays out in the international legal arena so we’ll see where it takes me!
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!)