Results Rehash – Leadville 100

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Endurance athletes can be a funny bunch. Audacious individuals who look at ridiculously long races and think, “I can do that!”

One such race is the Leadville 100, a one hundred mile long mountain bike race which boasts an impressive 15,000 feet of climbing; that’s a lot! More than that, the entire race takes place above 9,000 feet, and tops out around 13,000. That much climbing requires lots of oxygen, and the elevation denies racers of this very element. Suffice to say, it is a tough race.

Enter John Willse. He looked at this race, and of course, decided he must do it. Using an Ironman as a tune-up race just weeks prior, he packed his bags (and bike) for Colorado. Why, you might ask? For a belt buckle of course!

Read through for his race report. Nice one, John.

John Willse –

(long race requires a long report)……

Race report by John Willse

Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race
August 14, 2010
Leadville, CO

Early this year in March, I remember waking up and coming down to make a pot of coffee in the kitchen, and turning on my Blackberry to check my e-mail. As I scrolled through I saw an e-mail from sender “Leadville Trail MTB 100” and the subject line “Congratulations!” It was then that I knew that my application was accepted and I had “earned” a spot to the Leadville 100 through their lottery. Knowing that I was already locked and loaded for Ironman Lake Placid, set for July 25, I’d have 3 weeks between two epic long course events, but worlds apart in their similarity.

Having only been 2 ½ weeks since crossing the line at Ironman Lake Placid, I find myself sitting on an airplane @ 30,000 feet, en route to Denver, watching “Race Across the Sky” on my laptop. I am thinking, wow, I will be on this course in 3 days! The nervous anticipation, excitement, and adrenaline begin to flow…

On Saturday, August 14th, having acclimatized for exactly 2.5 days, my alarm goes off at 3:30am! Lucky for me, I have already been awake in my Copper Mntn. condo rental for the past half an hour… visualizing what the day might hold for me. It is RACE DAY!

The Leadville Trail 100 is a 100 mile mountain bike race, starting and ending in Leadville, CO, situated at 10,125 feet above sea level. The first (among many) cruel things about this race is that it is actually 104 miles, not 100. I get to town in the dark, check  in, and stage my bike by laying it in place in the middle of the street in downtown Leadville. It is 5:15am, still dark and 38 degrees. The race begins at 6:30am sharp with a mass start out of town. As my numbered bike lay in the street along with 1400 other rider’s bikes, I head back to my car to stay warm and try to “relax”, listening to the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Pearl Jam and vintage Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath. Just the trick!

6:30am…BOOM…here we go! The race includes almost 15,000 feet of total ascent, 5 major climbs, fast/serious descents, and all done mostly between 10,000 and 12,600 feet. The “neutral” start has us leaving town on pavement bar to bar going 27mph, shivering, and jacked up. Finish in 12 hours, and get your belt buckle!

We leave the pavement after a few miles and at roughly 15 minutes into the race, begin our first climb of the day, St. Kevins. The climb is short, but steep, and done 3-4 people across all along the way. One person that puts a foot down would create a major chain reaction. I am feeling good, focusing on riding the climb “clean”. Things are nicely thinned out by now. The next climb is Sugarloaf pass, a long, fire-road/doubletrack climb on loose, rocky ground. Before I know it, I am atop another peak and see the top of the famed “Powerline.” This is a nasty, rutted, long, and wicked-fast descent, and probably the most “pure” fun riding of the day. I am 22 miles in. Leave Powerline, hammer a few flats roadie-style with 7-8 other guys to try to continue to make time on the “easy” sections. I grind out the next 20 miles of mixed terrain, going through a few aid stations that are teaming with crazy people, like little oasis’s in the high country, and running the gauntlet 20’ wide x 250’ long. Awesome! Now I am at the bottom of Columbine Mine climb, a 3,500 foot climb that will go hundreds of feet above the tree line. It is at the top of this climb, at 12,600 ft., that the turnaround awaits. The cool thing about this race is that it is an out and back. So, on our way up I saw Levi, JHK, Todd Wells, Jeremiah Bishop, Ned Overend, Tinker Jaurez and other freaks hammering down, within inches of us going up. It was truly like riding on the moon atop Columbine. After 2 hours of climbing, hit the turnaround and hammer down in 20 minutes, what it took 6 times that to go up!

Toughest, most hellacious part of this day was getting to the bottom of the Powerline climb, at roughly 80 miles into the race. Pure agony, nausea, and suffering are all that seems present on this never-ending test of will called the Powerline. I see one guy, seemingly climbing smoothly, stop pedaling, fall over, and begin puking. This is 1/3 of the way up. The climb didn’t seem this long going down!?! Just when you crest one peak, convinced it is the top, you are met with another little valley and another “small ring” climb.

Still haven’t looked at my watch (an Ironman superstition), but all I want is the buckle. Anyway, I am more focused on steady riding and keeping the contents of my stomach inside than anything else.

I am now hammering down St. Kevins, after the long climb up Sugarloaf, and now thinking about the finish. I feel pretty good, trading pulls with the same 3-4 guys I’ve been riding with since the Columbine turnaround. 15 miles to go, 10, 4……just when you think you are close, the last kick in the ass is an ALL uphill climb to the finish, miles 100-104. I turn a corner, and I have line of sight to the finish, which sits uphill and is a straight shot up the same road I went down that morning – in the early light of dawn.

I am 100 yards from the finish, and now see the clock. A rush of emotion comes over me. I am done, and in under 10 hours @ 9 hrs, 46 min. I am happy with what the clock reveals.

This  race was without a doubt one of the toughest races I’ve ever done, period. No easy miles, no rest on downhills, altitude, and 9+ hours on a bike  over some ridiculously hard terrain. However, it was one of the best race events I have had the opportunity to experience. Words can’t describe the beauty, pain, suffering, camaraderie amongst racers, and being present with some of the fittest freaks in the country that this race offers. It is something that needs to be experienced. Ask me on 8/15 if I want to race there again, and probably “no.” Ask me now? Put it this way: I hope to get that same e-mail in March and bring some others with me!

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2 Responses

  1. Nice …. true suffering…..

  2. Great read John! what a remarkable race for you! Cheers to a fantastic season!

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