In between the exhaustion of jetlag and travelling, here is my version of the strange phenomenon “Leadville 100”. I faced and conquered the race with not only a victory but also a new female sub 7H hour course record!
First of all I want to thank you all for the great responses, greetings and high fives that I’ve got ever since crossing the finishline. The amount of pain and suffering for sure was worth the satisfaction of being able to make history by setting the fastest ever female time in this race (06:59:23).
The race was on my horizon already when planning my season this winter and for sure it was a challenge to fit it all in between world cup races. Leadville 100 is not only a 160km (167km to be precise) race, but also a race taking place at an altitude of 3000 – 3600 meters. I live in Copenhagen, which is 5 meters above sea level, so Leadville is quite different to my normal habitat.
Luckily my boyfriend Thomas is an expert in the area of human physiology and altitude, so we made a plan, where I would arrive at Leadville altitude at the very last minute. To put it short, there are roughly two strategies for racing at altitude: either acclimatise for 3-4 weeks at that altitude prior to race day or go to that altitude as late as possible. We opted for the latter, which then also meant, that I would be able to race both World Cups the two weekends leading up to Leadville, which otherwise wouldn’t be possible. I managed a solid 3rd place at the World Cup in Windham just a week before Leadville, so I had the confirmation, that my shape was good.
After the World Cup in Windham, I went to Boulder not far from Leadville, but at much lower altitude. Here I spend some great and relaxing days, mentally making the transition from short and intense World Cup racing to long and tactic Leadville racing. With the support of the experienced Christoph Sauser, I had my outfit and position dialled.
On thursday two days before the race I moved to altitude to join up with the rest of my team. On friday, the day before the race, Christoph Sauser and I rode the last section of the course and I got some idea of what awaited me. One of the good things about arriving relatively short before the race is also, that there’s less time to get nervous, but still I felt quite some butterflies in my stomach. On the other hand, those butterflies also make you race fast. The racestart was at 6:30am, so without much sleep waking up every 1.5 hour, the 4am breakfast demanded decent amounts of coffee.
Leadville mornings are quite chilly, but we were granted access to the Leadville Specialized store as a base for our early morning warmup. And just before we knew, the start went off! Since this was America, the start gun was a proper start gun. I think it was a rifle or some other deadly weapon that was fired from the back of the pick-up car, that would control the first kilometers of neutralised start. My ears were ringing and the adrenaline was pumping.
As soon as we got going, I instantly knew, that I was ready for this adventure! The bike felt extremely smooth, and constantly I was able to place myself in the slipstream of faster riders, which saw me leading the women’s race right from the start. I guess it was a great combination of mind, shape and bike (for this race I was riding a special Ceramicspeed coated chain, which according to tests should save me 3-6 watt).
The fact that this was my very first Leadville 100 played a big part of my approach to the race. I had no previous results here, so there was no specific goal to charge down, other that doing my best to win and to break the female course record of 7h 17min. Knowing that I had to race for maybe more than 7 hours was quite intimidating, so I choose to take it step-by-step focusing on making it to the next feed/techzone, meaning 6 smaller goals instead of one huge 7 hour goal.
That was a great strategy and the 7 hours actually didn’t feel that long… well, at least not the first half of the race. I was driven by the adventure of constantly seeing unknown land, that I had to ride as fast as possible. My concentration was high, always having to be as efficient as possible.
The second part of the race, the field got very strung out and riders ended up riding much more on their own, – including me. A few times I would catch up with or be caught by riders, but I simply wasn’t able to stick with any of them. My body had run out of spikes and peak efforts and all I could do was to rely on some kind of basic speed to get me to the finishline.
Feeling very slow and tired now, I eagerly tried to find out, how big of a gap I had on the second placed lady. It turned out to be very difficult to get that information, since my staff left the feedzones as soon as I had gone through, in order to make it in time for the next zone (I’m thankful for that, btw!).
A thing Leadville 100 also taught me (besides suffering big time) is, that my spoken English gets less precise, when I’m tired. All I wanted was to have some information on my time gap to the second placed lady, which I would desperately yell in ways like: “What’s the time?!” or “What’s the distance?!”, whereto my eagerly helpful staff in similar ways would yell: “It’s 12.20” (as in 12:20pm) or “11 miles”. By now I would already be quite far through the feedzone, running out of distance to reformulate my question to get that really, really wanted information, and I would now go to the level of one-word phrases like: “time!” or “gap!”. In fact, I’m pretty sure, that it would be my body language and arm gestures, that would put them on the track of my needed information: “you have a huge gap!, just keep going”, “you’re on the right track to break the record!” Well, at least it was encouraging information, so I tucked my head down, grind my teeth yet a bit more and continued.
It was not until 10 minutes before the finishline that my tired brain started doing the simple math, that I actually would break the record. It was perfectly timed for my brain to start waking up, since that provided me with the energy to make it the last bit. Stretches, that the day before were flat, al the sudden felt like huge climbs. Not fair! I had to close my eyes on the last asphalt climb into town, but oh, was it a sweet view that met me on the crest of the hill: The arch of the finish line in the horizon. All the sudden my focus swapped from managing the pain to the joy of the victory! I rode up the last emotions filled stretch on the red carpet to the finish line and was met by my awesome crew. And then my body gave up. I could do nothing but lie down and close my eyes!..
After a little while, I was able to take in and feel all the sweet emotions of this victory. I’m still overwhelmed by all the attention and all the greetings I’ve got. Nothing beats getting random high-fives at the airport!
So, this was my version of Leadville 100. I’m pretty sure, that all the thousands of riders who made it to the finishline this day, will be able to tell you a similar story. But you don’t know how it really feels until you try it yourself.