I am so excited, I can hardly think. Why? Because a week from today, I’ll be heading off to Leadville, to race my tenth consecutive Leadville 100.
Think of your very favorite annual tradition, but not the way you think of it now. Think of the way you felt about it when you were a kid.
That’s how I feel about the Leadville 100 race. It’s not just a race, it’s a tradition, full of mystery and drama. No, it’s more than that: it’s an important annual ritual.
Ritual of the Food
“What should I eat? What should I drink?” Over on the Leadville discussion boards, this is one of the most frequent recurring questions. The answer is simple: eat what you’ve been eating. Drink what you’ve been drinking. This answer is true for every endurance race, but every year I see people break the rule and try something new and improved for the race.
Almost invariably, these people regret their choice.
I used to have such a complex array of foods and drinks that I needed to print up a list for my crew: what to have available at each aid station. Spiz (yes, Spiz), sandwiches, gels, multiple kinds of energy drinks, you name it.
This year, my list is much shorter: at each aid station, I will have my mom (part of my Leadville tradition is to alternate having my mom and dad crew for me; this year it’s mom’s turn) refill my Camelbak with lukewarm water, while I slug down a container of Chicken and Stars soup. I will then replenish my supply of Clif Shot Bloks and go.
Water. Soup. Shot Bloks. That’s all I need. Why? I can’t chew solid food while I’m endurance racing at 10,000-12,600 feet; my mouth needs to stay open for breathing.
Oh, and I’ll probably have a Clif bar or two and some gels handy, because I am a rebel.
Ritual of the Clothes
I love standing around in the pre-dawn as we wait for the starting gun (a shotgun) to go off. This gives me a chance to inspect what everyone’s riding and what everyone’s wearing. You see people dressed like they’re about to do the Iditabike: tights, earwarmers, heavy jackets over long-sleeved jerseys. And you see people who look like they’re on the bike leg of a triathlon: sleeveless jersey, short shorts. You may even see someone in a skinsuit (that aero advantage really matters, you know).
As for me, I wear the shorts and short-sleeved jersey I’ve been wearing while training the whole year, and some armwarmers I’ll get rid of at mile 40. Dance with the girl what brung ya.
Ritual of the Bike
What kind of bike should you ride for a 100 mile race? The same bike you’ve been riding the whole year, that’s what. But what about tires? Same thing.
And yet, each year I see someone who’s outfitted their bike with aero bars. Each year I see someone who’s using the race as the maiden voyage of a brand new bike.
And to tell the truth, I’m making some modifications to my own bike this year. But that deserves an entry of its own. I will call this entry “Weapon of Choice.”
Ritual of the Plan
Are you going out hard, or easy? Are you paying attention to splits, or just seeing how your legs feel? I’ve tried it practically every way. I honestly don’t know the right answer. I think everyone gets the time they deserve.
As for myself, I already have nine “Finisher” buckles, so I’m not worried about whether I can complete the race. This year—in spite of some serious doubt as to whether I have it in me—I’m going to do what I can to finish this race in under nine hours.
Things I Haven’t Talked About Lately
Some of you may remember I said I would give away my Bianchi Pista if I didn’t lose 20 pounds and get to 155 by Leadville. I think most of you suspected that since I wasn’t talking about my weight, I wasn’t losing any.
Today, I weigh 157. If I were you, I wouldn’t count on getting a Pista from me.
More than that, though, at 157 pounds, I am climbing well again. In fact—and I hope I am not jinxing myself—I sometimes feel like I am faster than I have ever been before. Today, for example, I did my 20 mile commute (which includes a four-mile, 1500-foot climb) in 1:05. Including stoplights. And yesterday, when riding my favorite climbing trail, Tibble Fork, I found myself in second, third, and fourth gear, where I’ve never been in anything but granny before.
Maybe this means I’m fast this year. Maybe it means I have a shot at finishing under nine hours.
Maybe it means I’m deluding myself.
On August 12, I guess I’ll find out.