Race Report: Leadville Stage Race

The Leadville Stage Race follows the same course as the Leadville Trail 100 MTB (“LT100”) but takes place over 3 days. I decided to enter the Leadville Stage Race as a way of training on the Leadville course in a fully supported format.

Stage 1 was 40 miles. It featured challenging climbs (St Kevin’s, Sugarloaf Pass & Hagerman Pass), a wicked descent down Powerline, some rough riding on jeep trails & a bit of singletrack. Stage 1 ended at the Twin Lakes Dam.

Smiling on Powerline during Stage 1!…but only because it was one of the uphill sections on the descent. Photo credit: Athlinks

I felt really good: I was climbing better than I have ever climbed up St Kevin’s.  And, I surprised myself at how many people I passed going up & over Sugarloaf and Hagerman Pass.  But, for me, the Powerline descent was NOT fun:  I literally have nightmares about Powerline & hopped off the bike to walk sections that fell outside my comfort zone. Later, I crashed on a rugged jeep road by taking a sandy corner on a descent too fast.  At the end of Stage 1, I found myself in 10th place in my age group.

Stage 2: Climbing Columbine…are we there yet? Photo credit: Athlinks

Stage 2 was “only” 20 miles and started at Twin Lakes.  It went up the tough Columbine climb & down again.  It was a bumpy 2 miles to start with a bit of a false flat followed by 8 tough miles of climbing to the summit, which is just shy of 13,000 ft.  The top 1/3 of Columbine has sections in that are super steep & very rocky.

Stage 2: more Columbine fun. Photo credit: Athlinks

The day was drizzly, foggy & cold…not exactly my favorite kind of weather.  8 miles up Columbine Mine is a LONG time to climb with very little relief on the way up.  But, I felt good during the climb & passed a ton of people on the way up, which was really encouraging.  I had a solid time on the way up and a not-so-great time going down. So, at the end of Stage 2, I sat solidly in 9th place in my age group.

Stage 3 was 42 miles & began at Twin Lakes the following day.  It retraced the route (in reverse) of Stage 1 back to Leadville with the last couple of miles going up “The Boulevard.”

I love multi-day races: I almost always get stronger with each day that passes in these types of events.  So, I toed the line on Stage 3 feeling really good but nervous about hitting a sub 4 hour time that I needed to qualify for the Stage Race 10.5 hr belt buckle.  I knew it would be tough but I was ready to ride hard right out of the gate.

The beginning was slow with racers squeezing into a short single track section.  A  few miles later, things got jammed up again going up the single track that snakes up the hill towards the jeep trail that leads to the Pipeline aid station. But I hit the next couple of time checks with on-target times, including the bottom of the fearsome Powerline climb.  And, I surprised myself by being able to ride up virtually all but the super steep hike-a-bike sections.  Powerline takes a LONG time to climb but eventually I made it to the top and then had to grit my teeth & descend down from 11,000 ft down the rocky & wet Hagerman and Sugarloaf Passes.

Then, I climbed up to Carter Summit with little to no time cushion and I knew I’d have to push things down St Kevins and all the way back into Leadville in order to make the time cut for the Stage Race belt buckle.  I gritted my teeth & did my best to minimize time loss going down St Kevins. With that last descent behind me, I motored into Leadville—passing all kinds of people in the last couple of miles (being a strong time trialist helps—even at Leadville!).

The Leadville Stage Race was a great opportunity to spend 3 days riding on the Leadville course: it should really help me out a lot at the LT100 race in 2 weeks.  In the end, I finished 8th in the women’s 40-49 general classification. But, I came in a few minutes over the 10.5 hr Stage Race belt buckle time limit (sigh).  After reviewing my race data & connecting with a number of people (including my coach, Chad Welch), it’s clear to me that I’m losing too much time on every single descent on the LT100 course.  So, as they say, it’s time to take those lemons & make some lemonade, which for me, translates into some focused descending skills work this week.

Stage 2: Finish line! Photo credit: Athlinks

Leadville crunch time!

Lots of gravel riding on the MTB!

The last few weeks have been a blur of hard training, a much-needed recovery week, dealing with a personal loss & a quick business trip.  With the Leadville Trail 100 MTB only 6 weeks away, it’s crunch time…

Anyone who lives in Texas knows that the heat has arrived: it’s hot out there, ya’ll! So, I’ve been balancing my rides outdoors with some indoor riding.  For example, I did a hot gravel grinder with the Gritty Teeth Racing crew this morning.  Then, after returning home & getting in some hydration & nutrition, I spent more time in the saddle on the wind trainer (watching Tour de France coverage, bien sûr, since it is July after all!).  Although, it’s always more fun to do an entire ride outside, this combo of outdoor/indoor training will help me recover more quickly so I can train hard again this week.

The strength training I’ve been doing with my coach, Chad Welch, since early November of last year is paying dividends.  Those early morning strength training workouts followed by post-gym recovery rides are hard but amazingly effective.

This past Friday, I decided to hop out on some singletrack on my MTB for the first time in a LONG time.  It was a nice change of pace: being outside in the woods always makes me happy…  But I was pleasantly surprised by how fast & smooth I was riding.  I’m not sure if it’s due to all the time I’ve spent riding rollers or the fact that I’ve dropped weight or that I’ve watched a lot of MTB racing (so I can channel my inner @jolandaneff )…or some combination of all of these things.  But, it was a surprise & it gave me more confidence with the Leadville Stage Race & Leadville Trail 100 MTB on the horizon.

I’ll be heading to Colorado soon in the RV with my dog & my bikes, so look for more training & racing updates with lots of gorgeous mountain scenery!