Words by Nicole Jorgenson
Photos by Mike Schirf
The Leadville 100 MTB. Until this summer, these words always had a certain ring to me. They were something in the distance, something slightly abstract, something that other people did, not me. When Stio asked me in late March if I had any interest in racing the Leadville 100 MTB (the same year), I think I took several weeks to mull the idea over. Not only was this elusive race now on my radar and in my realm of possibility, but I had to figure out whether I could realistically be ready for something of that caliber in 4 months. Working as a ski patroller in the winter, I’m not able to get on my bike until late April when most racers have been training outdoors since February. Because of this, I’ve shied away from most summer racing. However, out of naivety and a bit of ambition, I decided to do the race.
Training for the Leadville 100 consisted of more hours on the bike than I had ever previously endured. My history with bike racing mostly consisted of shorter pursuits such as cyclocross, crit racing and a little enduro. While I knew base mileage (what we use to term those long, slow, monotonous hours on the bike) was always a weakness of mine, I rarely found it in me to spend the time to improve my fitness in this area. I could make many excuses such as not having the time, not having anyone to ride with, not knowing where to ride for that long (sometimes 5 to 8 hours). But, the bottom line was that I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t have the patience to sit on my bike spinning at a pace that was elevating my heart rate into what we call the “endurance zone”, a zone that is challenging the body enough to raise the heart rate, but that one could maintain for hours at a time. It wasn’t mentally stimulating, and I frankly didn’t have the patience for it.
Photos by: Alex Hecht
However, I knew that this is exactly what I would need to do to train for Leadville. I began to brainstorm some long adventure rides in my backyard and recruited a couple of training partners to join me occasionally. I also begged some good friends to meet me on the other end of a one-way route with snacks, a change of clothes and a ride home (I’m forever grateful to these friends). These long rides, mixed with shorter rides in between, were the crux of my training for Leadville. The big rides required an entire day off, and therefore a lot of advance planning between work and school. More often than not, the long, hot hours on the bike squeezed in between my other responsibilities left me exhausted and without energy for social time. I came to really savor the occasional “fun rides” with friends and activities off the bike.
When the race finally arrived, I had been tapering for about 10 days and to my surprise, my body was actually craving some volume. The day began at 2:30 AM with 2 eggs and toast, and a cup of coffee, the same breakfast I ate before each big ride this summer. It was pitch black when I got out of the car in Leadville to dial in my tire pressure and triple check all of my gear for the day. The 10 hours after the start gun fired were unlike anything I had experienced, and I could not have anticipated the chaos that would be the result of 1600 people battling for technical lines and mere survival over the grueling Leadville 100 MTB course.
I took a risk by arriving in Leadville the night before the race, not allowing my body the chance to adapt to the 10k ft of altitude. This choice became a regret in the first 40 miles of the race. My legs felt like lead and my heart felt slightly like it was going to explode, leaving me feeling sluggish when I should have been inching my way forward one position at a time, setting myself up better for the notorious Columbine climb. Instead, I spent over an hour pushing my bike up the mountain with a snaking line of people that I could trace all the way to the top. It was mentally demoralizing, and I experienced my first bonk of the race as I neared the top where salted watermelon slices rejuvenated me for the technical 2,000 ft rip all the way back down. Unfortunately, despite a commitment I had made myself to eat at every moment possible throughout the race, this wasn’t my only bonk. Around mile 70, I had depleted all my glycogen stores. There were at least 2 separate times I can recall that I pulled off the trail, put my head on my handlebars and cried. All I wanted in that moment was to quit, but I quickly realized that wasn’t an option. I got back on my bike and kept trudging along.
Although, in those 100 miles, I suffered more than I ever thought possible, there were many memorable moments I won’t soon forget. The brief exchanges I shared with other riders through our individual martyrdom provided needed moments of encouragement and camaraderie. The smiling and energetic volunteers from the start corral, to the aid station at the top of the Columbine climb, to the ones who grabbed my bike and draped a cold towel over my neck at the finish line, truly made the event. And I will not forget rolling through the Twin Lakes aid station with my head on a swivel and my ears scanning for a familiar voice calling my name amongst thousands of other support crews for fear of missing my chance to replenish my nutrition supplies, and perhaps even more importantly to see a familiar face and get a boost of encouragement. Those “breakdown” moments during the race, where I truly did not believe I had anything left, continue to live vividly in my mind, however they have taken on a new meaning. They now serve as a reminder of a new mental threshold that I’ll take with me from Leadville, and I have a feeling this race might present itself again in my future.
Watch the full film - Victory Lap