Leadville 100: An epic experience

Words and photos by Former Indy Car Racer, John Hollansworth Jr.​
 

Well, the 2015 Leadville 100 is now in the history books, and I must say that it was truly an epic event to be a part of!  

It lived up to all of my expectations, and the two weeks I spent in CO in advance of the Race were outstanding as well.  I met a number of new friends/racers from across the country, and I haven't had as much fun in sports since back in my auto racing days.  Having family present on race day was certainly an added bonus.

In order to cement my recollection of the event, and to share it with others, I've decided to write a short narrative of my race day. Hopefully you will find it entertaining!

Leadville Start 


The race "weekend" actually began with the Racers meeting on Friday morning in the Leadville High School Gymnasium.  In attendance were 1,649 riders and their pit crews.  All 50 US states were represented, as were 17 countries!  Included in this year's field was former F1 driver Mark Webber, a former NFL player, several other well known (non-cycling) personalities, Ride2Recovery Veterans, plus a host of factory sponsored road riders and mountain bike riders.


After the standard introduction of dignitaries, ranging from the the Mayor of Leadville to the LT100 Title Sponsor CEO, Leadville 100 founder and icon Ken Chlouber was given the stage.  As is his custom, he gave his "grit and determination" speech including the mantra, "You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can!"

However, my favorite part of Ken's speech was when he quoted his favorite sports philosopher -- Mike Tyson, ha!   Ken asked the audience of riders whether they had assembled their race plan, at which time he reminded them of Tyson's quote:  "Everybody has a plan when they get into the ring... until they get hit in the mouth!"

The point being, of course, that adversity will come, and it will likely manifest itself in many different forms (in the LT100, and in Life).  How one reacts to that adversity defines a person, not the adversity itself.

Ken made one other point from the stage that stuck in my mind, as well.  Directed particularly towards first time participants, Ken stressed that there was pain on the horizon for all, but for those that finish the race in sub 12 hours, that pain would be gone the next day.  However, for those who choose to quit (or be escorted off the course by race officials for not meeting a cut-off time), that pain would not end after the race but would continue indefinitely.

A little hardcore, but point duly noted.

And, having befriended two Racers who did not meet the 12 hour cutoff time during the Race, I can say with certainty that their LT100 pain will last at least until next year's race!


 
Fast forward now to race morning.  
 
4:15 AM alarm.  Loaded gear, bike, spares, etc in the dark with a headlamp flashlight. The plan was to get to town, get race bike positioned in the front of the Purple Corral (designated by qualification race), then get bike clothing on and return to the Corral area.  One of my Sugar Loafin' Campground neighbors was a 7-time LT100 race finisher, and he told me that I could lay my bike down in the Corral and hold my grid position in that fashion.  What he either did not tell me, or I did not hear him tell me (giving him the benefit of the doubt here), is that you must stay with your bike if you elect to hold your grid position in this fashion.  
 
The Corrals opened at 5:00 am, and it was relatively easy to get a front row position in the Purple Corral at 5:15 am.  So I laid my bike down, then jogged off to my car several blocks away to get changed.  Contact lenses, full cycling garb, etc.  Car was low on fuel, so I refilled it so the Crew would not have issues.  Last restroom visit, and by this time it is almost 6:15, time to be in the Corral.  I jogged several blocks back to my Corral, which now was filled beyond capacity with bikes and riders. 
 
The only entry to the Purple Corral was in the rear, so the only way to get up to the front was to try and maneuver my way through dozens and dozens of riders. Which I did, finally.
 
However, upon reaching the front of the Corral, I could not locate my race bike! 
 
Mike Tyson just tagged me in the jaw with a left uppercut, and the Ring Announcer hadn't even started the fight! 
 
Now, I was in a semi panic... its 6:23 AM and I do not know where my race bike is!  Was it moved?  Stolen?  Moved and then stolen??   A rider saw me running around and asked me what was wrong. When I answered, he told me that unattended bikes had been moved off to the side, and pointed towards a building. 
 
What? Are you kidding?? Now, I've got to part the Red Sea of riders again and try to get out of the Purple Corral area.
 
I finally make it to the edge of the Corral, got through the fencing, and begin running along side the Corral looking for my bike. Sure enough, there it is, laying on the ground by an adjacent building.  HOLY COW!
 
I rush to get it, and run back to the edge of the rear entry for the Purple Corral.  It's now 6:28 AM.  I power up my Garmin so that I can start my timer when the shotgun blast goes off to start the race.  When the Garmin comes on, I notice that there is no pulse rate indicator on my screen, the most important number for me to monitor all race long along with elapsed time and distance.  Wait a minute... I forgot to put my chest strap on that monitors pulse rate!  
 
Right jab to the jaw.
 
Ha!  How ironic (I know Bob S. is laughing here). I will now have to gauge my effort all race long based upon "perceived effort", not on actual pulse rate, [which was] the method I had used for all of my LT100 training rides.  At this point, all I could do is shake my head at the way my day was starting.

The shotgun blast goes off at 6:30 AM, and I start my Garmin.  Two and a half minutes later, I cross the start line.
 LT100 Start

The start at Leadville is what is called a "neutral start," [which means] technically no passing is allowed for the first 3 miles (downhill) until the course moves from asphalt to dirt. That was pretty much the case, with some jostling for drafting positions and cornering lines.  But when the pack hit the dirt, all hell broke loose!  Some riders elected to go immediately to redline, while others kept a conservative approach. Riders were 4 wide on a 2 line course, taking all kinds of chances to make a pass. I saw two riders hook handlebars and both go down, taking others down behind them. Then the trail went from flat to very steep, beginning the St. Kevin's climb.  
 
My first vivid memory from St. Kevin's was a rider who was off to the right side of the trail with his bike turned upside down for repairs.  Apparently he had broken a chain, and he was literally screaming, asking for anyone to stop and assist him with a chain link repair. Very weird, he was screaming in the same manner that someone with a broken extremity might be yelling, like he was in some form of shock due to his mechanical issue and his sudden likelihood of an LT100 DNF.
 
Nobody stopped, by the way, at least from what I saw.
 
Although I had "cleaned" St. Kevins in an earlier training ride, I knew today was not the day to repeat that feat. I needed to save my legs for the last 25% of the race today. So when riders began to dismount and push up the steep segment of St Kevin's, I did the same. 
 
LT 100

In slightly under an hour, I had reached Carter Summit. Now, the fast descent on pavement to Turquoise Lake and the Sugarloaf climb.
 
As a footnote, my "A Plan" on the day was to aim for a 10:40 finish time.  This was based on a 2 segment training ride I had done a week and a half before the race, when I had done one half segment in 5:20 and the other half segment ride in 5 hours.  Granted I was quite fatigued at the end of each ride.  However, I saw a best case scenario that could have allowed for a 20 minute performance degradation in the 2nd half of the race and still meet the10:40 time objective.  
 
The "B Plan" was, obviously, to make sure I finished sub 12 hours, come heck or high water.

After climbing Sugarloaf and then descending the very precarious Powerline section, I arrived at the Pipeline Aid Station "on pace" for the A Plan.  I got one bottle from my "Drop Bag" at the Pipeline Aid Station and covered the next 13 miles to Twin Lakes in good time, less than one hour. 

Powerline Descent
 
By the way, while writing this text, I just had a flashback to the Powerline descent, yikes!  In an attempt to pass some slower (road) riders, I took a couple of aggressive lines towards the bottom where the course was quite steep.  In both cases I made some time by passing, but also got more than I bargained for and had to make some "pants wetting" saves to keep from going over the bars or hit fixed, immovable objects.  Shortly after that, I passed two separate (downed) riders who had not been able to make saves, resulting in major crashes into the trees.  Lesson learned... This is a long race, don't throw it away on a pass to save 10 seconds!
 
Twin Lakes Aid Station outbound is at the 40 mile mark.  This was my first chance to see my Crew, and I needed a full set of supplies: New 50 oz Camebak filled with Infinit nutritional drink, 1/2 bottle of water to be used for food intake, and PBJ half sandwich. 
 
The original plan was for the Crew to be located prior to the Twin Lakes Dam, but as it turned out that area filled up rather quickly and was not an option for Joyce, Shane, and TJ.  So, unbeknownst to me, they parked below the Dam and hiked about a mile up to the Aid Station area past the Dam.  So, when I rolled through the pre-Dam area and did not see them, I became concerned because I did not have a back up plan in place for supplies at this location.
 
Fortunately, after crossing the Dam I saw three people wearing Richardson Bike Mart jerseys on the right side of the course waving at me.  I took on supplies quickly, checked the time, and I was on my way.  On the training ride, I did the Mt. Columbine climb in 2:03 from Twin Lakes, and that was my objective today.  A 2:03 would also keep me on pace for a sub 10:45 time, if I could maintain that pace for the 2nd half of the race.
 
Twin Lakes Aid Station
Twenty minutes after leaving Twin Lakes, I arrived to the beginning of the Columbine climb.  I knew that up to this point I had been pretty aggressive with my pace for my level of conditioning, even without the benefit of a Pulse Rate monitor.  However, I thought the pace was appropriate based upon all factors.
 
And those "factors" changed about 2/3 the way up Mt. Columbine (45 miles) when I began cramping in the inside thigh and hamstring of both legs!  What?  I didn't expect this until at least 80 miles in, as it did not happen to me on either training ride when I did half of the course!  This event changed everything, and I had to immediately get off the bike when the contractions became too severe to ride; I tried to walk the cramps out and think through my options.  
 
Right hook to the face, as I may have ridden at a half race pace that was slightly outside of my training zone.

Close to Summit
​Fortunately​, I had done some contingency planning for this possibility.  
 
Ryan Good is the cyclist/rep for Infini​t Nutrition​ who I interface with.  The Infinit mix (liquid food) that I drank​ (24 oz) every hour during the race​ contain​ed​ approximately ​300 calories plus electrolytes and other important ingredients.
  
​Switching from my prior nutritional product to Infinit was the single most important decision that I made to raise the level of my endurance cycling program.  Additionally, the ability to "drink" calories, rather than have to chew up food while riding is huge, from my perspective.  Over the past 6 months, Ryan had assisted me in "dialing in" a custom Infinit mix that worked fantastic for me during training and this race.
 
The Infinit product is ​not normally to be mixed with other foods or supplements. However, I had asked Ryan a few weeks ago via email if it would be ok to take a salt supplement with water in addition to Infinit as a last case emergency plan for cramps. He said it was OK to do that, just make sure that​ hydration other than ​Infinit​ is used along with​ any supplement​
 
So, while walking, I elected to do something in a race that I had never done in training (not generally a good idea!), and take a salt supplement​ with water while I continued with my Infinit intake.
 
​Fortunately,​ it worked.
 
In 3 minutes, the leg muscles had relaxed somewhat, and I was able to get back and spin lightly. I soldiered on with the "hike a bike" at the top of Columbine and made it to the Aid Station where I got a fresh Camelbak with more Infinit​ drink from my Drop Bag.  
 
During the 40 minute descent down Columbine towards Twin Lakes outbound, I knew that I had given up some time due to cramping and that my A Plan was probably not within reach unless I had a stellar second half.  What I didn't want to do, though, was to have an inflated view of the energy left in my legs, recramp, and then blow up the opportunity for a sub 12. So, at this point I dialed it back just a bit, knowing my biggest tests and climbs were still ahead of me.
 

Twinlakes Aid Station


As I rolled into Twin Lakes to see my Crew, things immediately took a bad turn.   When I rode past the location where I had seen them a little less than 3 hours ago, they were nowhere to be seen! And once again, I had no backup plan for supplies at this location. Panicked, I rode back and forth along the Aid Station "freeway", looking for them left and right... But to no avail.  Knowing that if I crossed the Dam without minimal new supplies, I could go dry before Pipeline Aid Station (1:40 away), I elected to take on some water and food from the Event tent, where items are handed out free. 
 
Right cross to the face. 
 
I then crossed over the Dam, and 200 yards past the Dam, there was the Crew!   Their thought process was that if I needed anything mechanical from the car after the Columbine descent, that they couldn't get those parts from where they were before.  So they moved the car close to the road after the Dam and took this new position, so I could access spares if needed.

Radio communication between Rider and Team would have helped, LOL.
 
Oh well, I lost about 7-8 minutes due to the miscue, but that is part of the event.  [We] will put a system in place next time to prevent that outcome.
 
I departed Twin Lakes (60 miles) and headed towards Pipeline, a 1:40 segment during my training ride.  
 
It would be longer for me today, as I took another combination to the jaw.
 
LT 100
Climbing up some singletrack on a hillside about halfway to Pipeline, I felt the telltale signs of a rear tire flat.  I looked down and sure enough, the tire was close to being on the rim. I pulled off course and quickly examined the tire. I noticed where some signs of Stan's sealant had come out and it appeared to be sealed now. So, with two CO2 cartridges on board, I elected to use one of them to re-inflate the tire, hoping the leak was now sealed and that I could avoid having to insert a tube.  
 
All the above sounds straightforward and simple, but trust me, when you are 75 miles into an event and are riding at 10,000-12,500 feat, one is truly riding "stupid."  It is hard to think clearly and to formulate plans and strategy, much less execute the plan. I would estimate I lost approximately 4-5 minutes during the Race on this procedure.
 
Back in the saddle now, [and] rear tire appears to be holding air.  [I] picked up some drafting partners during this part of the course, as every bit of energy conserved is important. At this point, I was no longer really watching either my Garmin or analyzing time to checkpoints. I knew I was now way off the A Plan, and I needed to get past the Powerline climb, the biggest single obstacle to finishing.
 
Met [my] Crew at Pipeline (they drove from Twin Lakes) and I picked up supplies as well as more CO2 cartridges, just in case. Five miles of road riding, then the epic Powerline climb, inbound.


Powerline Climb
 
Veterans of the LT100 say that the Powerline climb defines the entire event. You are now 80 miles in, have climbed Kevin's, Sugarloaf, and Columbine... Now you have Sugarloaf and Kevins to reclimb.

In training, I had done Pipeline to Finish in 3 hours. On this day, it would take me closer to 3.5 hours.  I simply did not have the energy to ride certain sections that I had ridden in training and was forced to get off the bike more than I wanted to.  I was really running on fumes from miles 80-93, despite continuing to take on calories.  However, once I reached the top of Kevin's, I got a third wind and actually rode pretty aggressively to the finish line.

Greeting Dad at Finish Line
 
What a great site seeing the town of Leadville come into view! Reaching the top of that last hill in town, now the finish line was clearly in view! 
 
100 yards from the Finish, my 9 year old son, Shane, came running out of the crowd and ran along side me to the LT100 finish line.  That scene made the whole event worth it, for sure!!
 
I crossed the line at 11:07:29.  Not the "A Plan" I was hoping for, but that time gives me something to shoot for in a future event!

 Son and Father at Finish Line

Thanks 
​to Infinit Nutrition, Specialized, Richardson Bike Mart, and family and friends for all of your support!​
 

Finish Line LT 100