Race #3: The 100 Mile Mountain Bike

I had done this race about 20 years ago, soon after I moving to Colorado. Back then the race was still in its infancy but even then it was becoming a “must do” race for any self respecting mountain biker. Yet, in the intervening years I had had no strong desire to do this race again. Mostly because much of it is done on dirt roads and double track, thus it doesn’t really stack up as a“true” mountain bikers race. Also, given my fear of the 100 mile run, I confess I wasn’t overly focussed on this race; either in my training or mental preparation. I was hoping that my years of mountain bike racing would stand me in good stead and get me through the race. As it turns out, I probably should’ve given it a bit more respect. Still, running is my weak link, so that was where my training focus needed to be. 

The trick of course, when competing in the Leadman series, is to be in good enough shape to finish the 100 mile bike such that you can recover and be pretty rested going into the run. While my goal was to finish, I also didn’t want to be out there all day (12 hours was the cut off time), yet neither did I want to race so hard that I would dig myself into a giant hole. So my pacing strategy was going to be important and I would have to be careful to keep my competitive instincts under control and not go too hard. 

Yet, given that my long rides had been few and far between AND that it had been a long, long time since I had spent longer than 10 hours in the saddle, there was a small part of me that was quietly concerned about how I would hold up and if I would be able to recover enough to do the 100 mile run a week later.

I was hoping to go under 10.5 hours and, if I had a really good day, to go under 10. But I figured that that would probably be a long shot. I had no idea how my body would feel. Also a lot can happen in 10+ hours, as I was to discover. 

The race started just after sunup. I was in the 4th corral, which means I was smack dab in the middle of the pack. Just under 2,000 riders signed up for this race and about 1500 were on the start line. I was actually pretty worried about the first 3 miles as it is downhill on smooth, fast pavement.  With over 1,500 adrenaline charged mountain bikers and speeds approaching 40 mph, it is a bad accident waiting to happen. Right from the gun larger sized riders were passing me left and right. I finally opted to stay on the left side of the road so then I only got passed on the right. That felt marginally safer. Temps were also in the 40s, so it was a cold start to the day. I had on knee warmers, arm warmers and a light jacket and I was still completely chilled by the start of the first cimb.

Sure enough, things slowed down considerably on the first climb, which was a steep and rocky double track. Luckily few, if any of the riders I was with were hiking their bikes. Even so it was two long lines of riders going up the climb with no hope or possibility of passing. Patience was the name of the game. Thankfully, things were less crowded on the 2nd climb up and over Sugarloaf pass. The descent going down the other side (aka Powerline) is steep and rutted. Luckily things had thinned out nicely by then. I could pick my line and didn’t get held up by slower riders.  I had been warned that there are a lot of road riders in this race who can’t descend worth a bean. But I didn’t have any problems getting down at a good pace.

After the descent there are a few miles of, relatively flat, paved road. The trick here is to find a wheel, preferably the wheel of the biggest guy around, someone who cuts a big whole in the wind. Luckily a good sized group of guys passed me and immediately I jumped on the back. I was putting out quite a bit of effort just to hang on, but we were doing between 20-30 mph and I knew that on my own I would be going about 10 mph slower. So I gritted my teeth and hung on. If there is one thing I am good at it is sucking wheels. I was a bit worried I might be burning some matches at this point, but it was way more fun hanging with a group at 20 mph then grinding it out by myself. 

Once off the paved road it was 15 miles of rolling double and single track to Twin Lakes where the long climb up to the turn around begins.

At 40 or so miles into the race you start the 10 mile climb up to the Columbine mine, a climb which tops out at over 12,500 feet.  This climb is just a grind and the best approach is to put your head down and pace yourself. Even so, I was passing a ton of people. At the pre-race meeting they said that there were riders here from every state in the US as well as a large contingent of international riders. I couldn’t imagine doing this race coming from any elevation lower than 6,000 feet. So kudos to them. Personally, I haven’t met an elevation I didn’t like. I just seem to do better relative to most people the higher things get. But, it was evident that the altitude was starting to take its toll.  

At about tree line, things start to get really steep and rocky. During training I was able to ride the whole way up. But during the race, there is two-way traffic, so you can’t pick your line. Not to mention there are a 100 riders ahead of you all pushing their bikes. There is very little room to pass, plus your riding speed isn’t that much faster than hiking speed. There was one woman, however, who kept trying to ride it, and kept asking people to pull over to let her by. Then she would stop and push her bike for awhile, then try to ride again. I was getting really annoyed by this as a) there wasn’t much room to pull over, b) she wasn’t going that much faster, and c) when she started pushing her bike I would pass her right back. I kept thinking that she should just get in line and go with the flow. As it turned out, she was in my age group and we continued to pass each other back and forth a number of times throughout the race. 

After the turn around you retrace your steps, 52 miles back to the start. It is a pretty fast and fun descent back down to Twin Lakes.

After Twin Lakes there is a rolling middle section back to the Powerline climb. During this section there was a nice head wind which really began to suck the energy out of me. At about mile 60 a treammate from ProCycling passed me and motioned for me to get on his wheel. This helped quite a bit and my average speed picked up considerably. At that point I quite handidly passed the annoying woman in my age group. I was able to find wheels until the start of the climb up Powerline and over Sugarloaf; a climb that I was dreading.

Yes, this is a hike-a-bike, that heads straight up the mountain. By this time the sun was out and things were hotting up. About half way up there was a guy dressed as a pizza slice (funny, at the time I didn’t see this as odd) who was squirting cold water on our necks. This felt unusually wonderful, even if it only lasted a few minutes. 

As I was hiking my stomach started to turn sour. By the time I reached the top and started the descent, I was definitely nauseated. I haven’t met a descent that I didn’t like, but this one was rough and rocky. Given that I was riding a hard tail, it was quite jarring which wasn’t helping my stomach one bit.  As I was suffering down that descent the annoying woman passed me. At that point I felt so miserable I couldn’t muster a response.  She ended up beating me by about 12 minutes, winning my age group and some sweet ceramic Mavic wheels. I ended up getting 2nd and wining a plaque. If only I had known. Even so, I was pretty depleted and defeated at that point so I am not sure I had much to give, even if I had known. 

From then on, I was in survivor mode. I wanted to throw up (but didn’t). I couldn’t eat and didn’t drink much of note. I pulled over a few times in the hope that I would toss my cookies, but no such luck. I probably could’ve made myself throw up which might have made me feel better, but I didn’t have the guts (no pun intended). In the final 20 miles, while I kept the pedals turning, it felt like I was running on empty. There wasn’t much power coming from the engine room. To make matters worse, the weather turned windy, cloudy, rainy and cold. I was actually glad for the 3 mile climb to the finish as I was able to generate some body heat.

Finally I crossed the finish line in 10 hours and 16 minutes. Well within my goal time, so I can’t really complain.

Mostly I was glad to be finished, yet I felt terrible and chilled to the bone. I hung out in the medical tent for awhile in an effort to warm up and calm my raging stomach. Its been a long time since I felt that bad after a bike race. Larry, who had been out on course supporting me, and Tom, a friend who also did the race, finally found me. They bundled me up in a warm jacket and got me to my car. An hour later I was under the covers still shivering in spite of having taken a long hot shower. 

The bad news was that I had a 10km run to do the next day. The good news it didn’t start until noon, so I had around 20 hours to recover. The concerning news was that I had one week before the 100 mile run. If I felt this bad after the bike race, how much worse would I feel during and after the run? If I was worried before, well this didn’t help.

Going into this race I was 2nd in the Leadwoman standings, 11 min behind first. After this race, I moved into first, about 1.5 hours ahead of 2nd. I was well aware, though, that that things could quickly change during the run. Not that I cared that much. I just wanted to finish.

Race stats: 103.9 miles, 12,600 feet of climbing, lowest elevation 9,200 feet, highest 12,600 ft. I finished 2nd out of 22 in my age group, and 31st out of 110 woman.

PS I learned some hard lessons in this race: a) I underestimated the difficulty of the race and b) I needed to have a better nutrition strategy for the run. I think the reason my stomach rebelled was because I used a lot of gels and chews. I might have also taken in a bit too much liquid early on. For shorter races (5 hours or less) the gels and chews work ok. But, anything longer and they really mess with my stomach. Extreme conditions, like cold, heat and altitude can also wreck havoc, even with the best of eating plans.  Plus, during training, I had relied more on real food, like potatoes, rice balls, Mama Chia packs and so on. I should’ve known better to not eat differently during a race. But the week prior to the race I had been really busy trying to get stuff together and hadn’t taken the time to prepare and purchase good race food. So I took the easy way and paid the price. Lesson learned. I would not make the same mistake for the run.