What an incredible weekend. I came to Truckee, CA and entered the Tahoe Trail 100k Leadville qualifier. Having trained hard for over a year now it all came together at the right time. I finished 11th overall out of 239 racers, 9th in my respective age category, and just ahead of three-time Leadville Trail 100 champion, Rebecca Rusch. More importantly I rightfully earned a spot in the Leadville Tail 100, otherwise known as the Race Across the Sky! I finished the 60 mile course in four hours and 36 minutes, just three minutes outside of the top 10. What made the experience even more special was the opportunity to ride and hang out with the legends of Leadville, Dave Weins and Rebecca Rusch.
I felt great (relatively) throughout the entire race. Having pre-ridden the course on Friday and a bit on Saturday it gave me a bit more confidence, knowing when and where to push myself. The course started out with mass roll-out along paved road leading up to the Northstar Resort, followed by a long and steep three-mile climb up the face of the mountain slope. I knew now wasn't the time to find positioning, as we all had a long day ahead of us. I had a feeling everyone was jockeying for position and will ultimately pay the price. I saw Rebecca Rusch just ahead of me and decided to ride her wheel and pace her for the first lap.
The problem for not being at the absolute front of the pack was the dust. The morning sunrise, coupled with the dust, made it nearly impossible to see three feet in front of you. I relied heavily on the rider in front of me, and blindly flew around the corners. Eventually the dust got so bad I had to take off my riding glasses because they were caked in sweat and dust.
The single-track was followed by a long and fast fire road descent where I picked off a few more riders that didn't have high-speed finesse. Having had a bad track record of crashes on fast descents I knew I was taking a risk, but wanted to get ahead of as many people as I could before the next section of tight single-track.
Halfway through the first lap is where we start to climb again before hitting a short paved section. I knew I could make up some time as long as I kept my heart rate at tempo and didn't power too hard. Spinning up the hills was my plan as I didn't want to blow up or cramp too early.
On hand I had two bottles of energy drink for the entirety of the race, along with my usual Clif bar(s) and energy gels. I also carried a Park multi-tool and spare tube, something I normally don't carry, but I couldn't' risk being stuck out on course, especially for one so long.
The latter half of the course was a lot more technical and fast, ending with a long gradual climb to the finish/lap line. The last three and half miles was a Strava Segment Challenge, where I sit in the top 25. Having been in contact with the chase group of the leaders, which included Rebecca Rusch, I finally caught and overtook them at the beginning of the last climb of the first lap. I decided now was the perfect time to put some distance between myself and the group.
The final lap was much different from the first. Having dropped a large group of riders I was on my own. It was great not having all the dust, which gave me an advantage. I took my time and made up some while descending. I rode alone for more than half of the final lap until I was overtaken by someone. I feared I was losing time to the entire group I just dropped, but ortunately he was the only one that motored by.
More than halfway through I finally caught up to someone and paced him for the latter half of the last lap. I was dangerously running low on water and quickly ran out within a few miles, but I didn't want to stop for anything. I knew I had enough left in my tank to power through to the end. I passed the rider and kept a close eye on him, not sure how he was doing. On one of the final descents, going around a gravel turn, I completely washed out, but managed to catch myself from wiping out.
Halfway through the final climb I looked over my shoulder and made sure I had put enough distance between myself and the rider I had just passed. I had convincingly dropped him and passed a couple more riders, but glanced over my shoulder for safe measure. At the corner of my eye I caught the color of red and white and realized Rebecca Rusch had soared her back to the forefront and was chasing me down! All I thought was 'oh shit'. She was quickly gaining ground on me, and I knew I had to dig deep and push hard. My legs were cramping and my heart rate was through the roof, but as I continued to glance over my shoulder I saw that I was holding my position. Just another mile and I'm through to the finish.
Crossing the finish line, knowing I had put in my best race effort yet, felt amazing. All those winter miles, hours on the trainer, early morning workouts and mental focus paid off in a big way. Since I signed up with a training package from Carmichael Training Systems I had a spot waiting for me at the 2012 Leadville start line, but having earned my coin I can defer my qualifying performance to 2013.
After this weekend I feel really good about my sub nine hour Leadville goal. The only thing I'm worried about is the altitude (10,200') and total elevation gain (roughly over 14,000'). Having never spent more than a few days over 6,000' till this weekend I kind of know what to expect. Tahoe sits at 6,800', almost half at where Leadville, CO sits. I've got my race-day nutrition dialed in, and my fitness is as good as it's going to get this year.
I've got three weeks, and plan on spending one of them in Breckenridge, CO to get acclimated. While not quite as high Leadville, Breckenridge will be a perfect home base and destination for my family and friends who are coming out to support me.
Let's do this!