When I was deciding what to do for the 2015 cycling season, one of my biggest goals was to have fun on the bike. For some reason that translated into finding a new challenge – tackling the Leadville Trail 100. I not only convinced myself that this would be fun – but I also convinced fellow Trek-Red Truck-er Leah Guloien that a 100-mile mountain bike race at altitude would be a great idea.
It turns out that I’m not the only person that thinks that tacking the Leadville 100 is a worthwhile goal – the race is so popular that you can only gain entry through winning a spot in the annual lottery draw or through a qualifying race.
As luck would have it, Leah won a spot in the lottery…I did not. I've never had great luck with random draws of any kind, so my fall back plan was qualifying for Leadville at March’s Austin Rattler. Now that Leah was in, the pressure was on for me to qualify as well.
At the end of March I headed down to Austin, with my Mom in tow for support, to race the 100km Austin Rattler. We had a smooth trip down and arrived a few days before race day. Two days before the race I headed out for a short ride in the Barton Springs trail network of Austin. In great pre-race prep, I ended up off the proper mountain bike trails and falling into this beautiful river through a bramble bush…
While this made Leah a little more nervous about the prospect of my qualifying, I just hoped that I got my fumbling out of the way before race day.
Friday afternoon we headed out of Austin to the ranch where the race venue was to pre-ride the course. The race consisted of 4 laps of a 25km loop, so I was able to pre-ride a full lap. The course was to my liking – lots of double track with a bit of climbing and some single track that wasn’t too technical. With a good pre-ride under my belt belt, I was confident that I would at least have a shot at qualifying – because I was probably going to be able to stay on my bike.
With race start at 7am Saturday morning, we were back at the ranch early the next day. My pockets were stuffed with gels, sandwiches and bars, my mom was stocked with bottles in the feed zone and my Trek SuperFly FS was ready to rock.
The first lap was pretty chaotic as everyone jockeyed for position, but by the second lap people seemed to be settling into their own rhythms and rather than having 10 -15 people around me, I found myself riding with only two or three others at any given time. The first time through the announcer declared that I was the first woman, so I tried to settle into a still slightly uncomfortable pace so that I stayed there. Prior to the race I thought I would ride off my heart rate, but when it still hadn't dropped below 160 after 25km of racing, I decided I had better just ignore that and hope I could sustain that kind of effort for 4+ hours.
Over the course of the race I enjoyed a few good battles with guys that weren't sure they could accept being “chick-ed”. To quote one guy, “I told myself I wasn't going to get beat by a girl today – but this is just too hard. I give up.” That gave me some extra motivation to keep pushing. I was pretty nervous about dealing with a mechanical on course, but my bike was great and I was super glad to have a full-suspension with remote lock-out to soften the blows to my body over four and a half hours of racing.
My lap times balloon-ed a little bit by laps three and four, but everyone’s times climbed as strong winds and increasing heat started to have an effect. I had established enough of a gap to hold on to the women’s lead and I crossed the finish line in 4:30 as the 1st woman and 48th overall out of 477 finishers.
That effort earned me my golden ticket (coin) to Leadville – and a pickaxe, which didn't make for the easiest packing job home.
I’m looking forward to taking on the Leadville 100 in August with Leah. At this point I’m just trying to block out the observation everyone kept making – when the race finished in Austin, there would still be another 40 miles to go in Leadville…
Stay tuned for more mountain bike adventures in the lead up to the Leadville 100 Trail.