The Road To Leadville With Charlie Hagen

By Stio Mountain on

Words by Charlie Hagen

Chose your own idiom to describe your unfulfilled goals, your daydreams, but once you have settled on your favorite phrase, don’t forget to act. Often these expressions morph into crutches allowing us to put off our goals. Realistically, the logistical battle can win a round or two, and sometimes the universe tells you now is not the time. However, any willful idea, supplied with proper nourishment, can become a memory of a lifetime.

There Is No Time Like The Present

Distance cycling chose me, I promise. I have been living in Jackson, Wyoming for some time now, and coincidentally a stone's throw from the LOTOJA race route. I stood curb-side with a cow bell and encouraged the racers as they make their way through my neighborhood. Each time I would return home inspired with all the riders tackling the 200+ mile LOTOJA course in a single sitting. I became inspired. I researched the race, asked some questions and with some well-timed encouragement, decided that I was going apply for the admittance lottery. This was all under the pretense that sometime in the next five years, I will get in, and have a chance to race LOTOJA. A bucket list whim. That was four years ago, and as many completed treks from Logan. The race changed me. It ignited a passion for cycling; with and without a race-bib.

(At 200+ miles, LoToJa is the longest one-day USAC-sanctioned bicycle race in the country. My teammate and I kicked it into high gear for the sprint finish into Teton Village and the 1-2 team win. Photo: Jonathan Crosby)

Training for LoToJa has brought me to unique places, provided me with new opportunities, and I have made some great friends / training partners along the way.  It has also created a new genre within my bucket lists. Soon I started to hear about this wild, dirt-epic in Colorado. Rumor suggested, it was a 100-mile, single day monster, that kissed the sky and may be better contested with fighter pilot helmets, complete with oxygen masks. The ‘should’ became a ‘must’ when Stio asked if I would wear the colors, and race Leadville under their banner. The impending training season just grew a second, dirt-tired head. Wahoo!

I knew what it took to prepare for the 200+ miles of LOTOJA, and I began seeking every ounce of beta I could get from all my mountain bike racing friends. Specifically, I solicited information from those willing to share insights from their own Leadville experience. Essentially, it boiled down to: "Ride your bike - a lot." Simple enough advice. However, the brevity spoke volumes and articulated this was no casual Saturday long-ride. Leadville is the real-deal, and I needed to prepare appropriately. 

(The majority of my training days included long hours on the road bike or hill climbing intervals, but it was important to mix in a handful of fun single track sessions like this one at Grand Targhee in Wyoming.)

I rode my bike before-work, to-work, after-work. On the weekends, and over holidays. I was focused on improving my climbing endurance and tactically reducing my own weight. I knew that I did not want to carry any extra mass uphill, and that my bike wasn’t going to get any lighter (thanks Fitzy’s for the race-whip – LES is more), so I was going to have to lose the hockey shoulders, and address my affinity for ice cream. It was worth it. I cleaned up my diet, built a rigorous, but manageable training schedule, and then got to work. I rode my bike a lot, and I enjoyed the process even more.

The biggest training adjustment was to accommodate the altitude of Lake County, Colorado. The race starts in the town of Leadville (officially, the highest statutory city in the US, at 10,152ft), and over the course of the race reaches a maximum elevation of 12,424ft. All the while amassing a staggering 12,612 vertical feet climbed. For the skiers keeping score, that’s an Eagle’s-Rest-more than three Tram laps.  So that’s where I headed. I would ride my bike from my house in Jackson, out to Teton Village and then up to the Corbet's Cabin Waffle House at the summit of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for breakfast. And by breakfast, I mean Rendezvous Bowl repeats (hey, we all make choices, but I learned quickly to stay upwind of the griddle…). I needed to train climbing legs, and lapping The Bowl provided an opportunity to build high elevation lungs. Talk about confused stares from passersby, but looking back, those were some of the most accurate and meaningful training miles of the summer: above 9000', over loose rocks while negotiating all of the hikers and sight-seers (fast-forward, only to swap the hikers for bikers, Wyoming for Colorado and it was almost exactly what I found on race day). Mix in a West Gros Venture Butte on the way home, why not (why yes!?)?  

(At the top of Rendevous Bowl putting on my best smile after the last interval of that day... Dang, a Corbet's waffle sounds pretty good right now.)

I also entered a few mountain bike races, including the Silver Rush 50, also in Leadville, Colorado. This was an opportunity to test my strategy, my fitness and my training techniques a full month-plus before the 100-mile race. It also served as a qualifier for corral placement. All the hill repeats paid off, and I was able to start the race with racers aligned with my finish time goals. This turned out to be a huge benefit, and a well-rewarded effort.

(A month before the big race, the Silver Rush 50 helped give me a good understanding of how my body was feeling and what I had to look forward to in the 100 mile version. It also helped get me a favorable corral placement in the Leadville 100 MTB.) 

Bucket List

The race itself was magic. The energy up in Leadville is amazing. It is impressive to consider how many hours are queued up at the start. Every single rider has put the time in. The Pros are going for records, titles and a chance to prove to teams/sponsors of their merit. They are also there to inspire the rest of us. 95% of the field is there for personal goals and to test themselves. The vast majority of the participants are competing in a race of one. A race as demanding as Leadville offers many lessons. The fun part is, most of those lessons come in the dark hours of our own trails, but it takes the momentous event like Leadville to elicit them. The teachings are subtle, but some are profound. Like the realization that I am a bike rider/racer. This is something that I do, and can see myself doing for the rest of my life. Thank you, Leadville. Thank you for showing me how to push myself, and affirm there is always more in the tank.

There is no debating that the Leadville 100 is a long race. However, by the hours, Leadville only accounted for 1.8% of my recorded time on a bike in 2019. That’s it. Easily rounded to zero, if it were not for the experience itself. That 1.8% was not going to be marginalized, or overlooked. It stood up tall, puffed out its chest and roared. That display of defiance, represents the harvest, the celebration and I treated race day as a victory lap. The training, the dedication, that is the hard part, and the part that not everyone sees. Thank you to everyone that saw those hours, supported those hours, and held me accountable. Those hidden hours laid the foundation for a victory lap not soon forgotten. Thank you.

(Beside all of the hours spend in the saddle, my garage served as a sanctuary to keep the steed riding clean and fast.)

Charlie Riding Bikes through the woods

(I love the grind of an uphill challenge, but going fast is pretty fun too!)

What were your expectations leading into the event?

Leadville is a serious race, that had to be taken seriously. My expectations were to be pushed on a Mountain Bike harder and longer than I had ever been. Friends that have ridden told me that you find yourself out there, and it’s more of a ‘walk-about’ than a race. This was intriguing to me as I have found my bike to be one of my favorite teachers

What were your biggest concerns?

The Elevation of the race, as well as the climbing. The race starts at 10,000 ft and climbs 12,500 ft over 100 miles. There are three principal climbs (Carter, Powerline, and Columbine) but the two minors pale in comparison to Columbine. Its summit is essentially your half way point, but you have to keep some powder dry for the crux that is powerline climb. At about mile 80, this is the steepest climb of the day, and if you miss a pedal stroke, you walk. Walking is not only slower, but it can start to mess with your mind. Being able to clean powerline is a sling-shot effort to the end.

What did it feel like to arrive in Leadville, get your number plate, and prepare for the race?

Leadville is an amazing town. It's waaaaay up there. You feel the elevation immediately, but the town is surrounded by some of Colorado’s highest peaks, so the views are spectacular. The air is crisp, and doesn’t hold much heat. I was excited. The energy in the town is really positive, and there are thousands of bikers, support crew members – it’s about to be a “type-II fun” bike party!

What was the most memorable experience you had during the race?

When I stayed on my bike up Powerline. I had a surge of power late, and was able to really push myself. I then started to do the math in my head (felt like brain surgery) and realized that my sub eight-hour goal just might be possible. Crossing the line, achieving my goal, and learning that I could push myself harder than I ever had, tremendous feeling of accomplishment.

Tell us about the race. What did it feel like to compete in it?

There are so many racers that the start is wild. So many bikers, fresh and anxious to get moving. Once paces are established, there is a great sense of “we’re in this together." Racers were very encouraging and very willing to work together, whenever possible. That made it for me. Always fun to ride a bike, but when it is for that long, it takes a village.

What was the hardest moment of the race?

Tough question. There are several points that come to mind, but if I have to pick one from the day, it may have been the penultimate climb before you can see the finish. You can, however, hear the roar of the gallery, and you know you are close. It's not steep, it's not long, but it's 100 miles in, and it hurt, a lot.

Watch the full film - Victory Lap

Charlie Hagen Riding Bikes at Grand Targhee

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