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A Tale of Two Races

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Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013 12:03 am

Fairbanksans Corrine Leistikow and Eric Troyer recently returned from Colorado, where they competed in the Leadville 100 MTB, one of the biggest and toughest 100-mile mountain bike races in the nation. The race, held Aug. 10, attracts rock stars of the mountain biking world, but also draws many common folk, like Leistikow and Troyer, who just want to finish before the course closes.

The trip was unfinished business for Leistikow. She rode in the Leadville race last year but was pulled at the 60-mile

mark because she missed a time cut-off. Troyer, her husband, provided support in that race, but this year he decided to participate. Here’s their individual accounts of the race.

Taking care of unfinished business


I checked my watch as I approached the Twin Lakes aid station of the Leadville 100 MTB mountain bike race. Here, a year before, I had been pulled from the race. I had made it 60 miles into the race and missed the time cut-off by a mere four minutes.

This time, I made the aid station with 40 minutes to spare. I mentally breathed a little sigh of relief, then zoomed on by. I had 90 minutes to go 14 miles to the last time cut-off. But those 14 miles included a lot of uphill, some on rough roads, some on singletrack trail. Keep pushing, keep pushing, I told myself. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Keep pedaling.

About 25 percent of the people who start the Leadville 100 don’t finish. I was one of those people last year. That really bothered me. I felt I was tough enough to finish, but I got pulled. Not this year.

I had heard about Leadville more than two years ago. I watched a DVD about the race and was hooked. I entered the race lottery, won an entry and trained hard. We made a family vacation out of it, heading to Colorado two weeks early so I could get acclimated. Despite all that, I got pulled. After that, the race felt like unfinished business so I decided to try again. This time, my husband entered with me, and once again, we got lucky in the lottery.

Stomach problems

After last year’s failed effort, I tried to analyze what had gone wrong. Basically, I bonked from lack of fuel. I didn’t eat or drink much in the first four hours and my stomach shut down. Then, every time I tried to eat or drink, I felt like throwing up. Without enough fuel, I ran out of energy and moved slowly up a 10-mile climb that is the crux of the race. When I finally reached the aid station on top, I laid down for about 15 minutes. Finally, I was able to drink some broth. The rest and broth revived me, so I headed downhill, but by then I was too late to make the next time cut-off.

My stomach is my enemy. I like to compete in endurance events, but I often get to the point where I can’t eat. The first time I did a 200-mile road bike race, I lost a lot of time lying by the side of the road after puking. I finished that event, but this summer my stomach rebelled again when I competed in the Sluice Box 100. By mile 60, I was retching. I got some sports drink down, but when I hit the 75-mile checkpoint, my body shut down, and I started shivering. I rested in a sleeping bag for over an hour until my body recovered. I wanted to finish, but I knew Leadville was only a month away. I didn’t want to trash my body so badly that I couldn’t keep training. So, I dropped out, though I hated quitting.

I continued training hard, but I needed to solve this stomach problem. I did a bunch of research and experimented with nutrition and hydration, but found no silver bullets. My plan was to eat every 30 minutes, whether I wanted to or not, and drink every time I thought about it. Maybe if I stayed on top of the nutrition and fluids, I wouldn’t bonk.

No bonking

We again arrived two weeks early to get acclimated and spend time exploring the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains. We arrived in Leadville a week before the race.

Rain had soaked the town for much of that week, but on race day the morning was cold and clear. Once the race got under way, I felt good. Crowds clogged the first two climbs, but still I felt I was riding a little faster than last year. I kept with my plan of eating every 30 minutes, mostly GU’s and Shot Bloks. I sipped on fluids every chance I got.

I made the first Twin Lakes cut-off, 40 miles into the race, with five minutes to spare, about the same as last year. Ahead was the grueling 10-mile climb to Columbine, the halfway and high point of the race. I kept eating and drinking and when I started the climb I felt tired but good. I was able to ride until we got above treeline, where the trail got steeper and rockier. I kept passing people even when I had to push my bike. I wasn’t bonking.

My stay on top of Columbine was relatively brief, just enough to eat, drink, throw up, then eat and drink again before heading down. Oh well, it was too much to ask to not puke at least once during the race.

I bombed downhill faster than usual and only slowed at Twin Lakes to check my time. I still had to make the next cut-off. As I got closer to the next aid station, I tried to tell myself I would be fine even if I got pulled. But who was I kidding? I got to the checkpoint and the official waved me through. I had tears in my eyes as I passed her. I just might make it.

But I couldn’t let up. Race officials had said trail sweeps would close the course after 13 hours. I still had to go 28 miles in 4 hours. I knew I had a chance to finish this race, depending on Powerline.

Red carpet finish

The dreaded Powerline is a steep hill that almost all racers push their bikes up. I did, but I didn’t suffer alone, sharing that misery with about 10 other racers. When I finally reached the top, I checked my time and knew I could finish in time. I had only one more long uphill and it was mostly on pavement.

At the top of that hill, I hit the last aid station with 1 hour and 20 minutes to go before the 13-hour cut-off. I couldn’t remember if I had 10 or 13 more miles to go but either way, I knew I could make it. I might not get a belt buckle for finishing in under 12 hours, but damn it, I was going to get that finisher medal.

Still, I didn’t forget my plan to keep eating and drinking. There wasn’t much food left at the aid station but I was still able to stomach my GU’s and I had 3 left. Just enough. I pedaled up a hill, rocketed down another, and then had just five miles to go.

I finally got to the top of the last little hill and could see the red carpet at the finish. Fans were cheering me on. They were slapping my hand as I rode by. They told me I was going to make it. I started tearing up again as the theme from Rocky played through my head. I crossed the finish line on the red carpet in 12 hours, 50 minutes — 10 minutes to spare!

I was as ecstatic as I was exhausted. I had done it. I gave and got hugs from my fellow riders. Now where was my husband? I finally saw him make his way to the finish line. He had finished about 35 minutes before me, not quite making the 12-hour cut-off but feeling good about his race, regardless.

I knew I could finish this race and I did. I had solved my stomach problem, which allowed me to keep pushing to the finish.

Now I need a new goal. Maybe the White Mountains 100?

Corrine Leistikow is a family doctor who participates in biking and cross-country skiing races.

One Leadville 100 was enough


People and bikes clogged the mining road ahead of me. Some rode, but most walked and pushed their mountain bikes.

“Rider!” I called to yet another walker, a call periodically echoed up and down the line. Walkers were supposed to move to the side, but this guy didn’t, not that there was much room to move on the narrow, rocky, road.

“Rider!” I called again. The guy was oblivious, and I couldn’t go any slower. I saw a gap between him and walkers to the left. But just as I went for it my front tire bounced off a rock and hit his leg. He didn’t fall, but I did. And I knocked down the rider next to me.

Nice start.

While this was the first time I had ridden the Leadville 100 MTB race, I had watched videos and talked to my wife, Corrine, who had attempted it the year before. That helped me prepare mentally, but the traffic jams at the beginning were still a nightmare.

The leaders don’t

have to deal with the crowds, but I was far back in the pack. The first traffic jam happened as the 2,000 bikers that started the race funneled from a two-lane paved road to a one-lane dirt road. Eventually, as the crowd moved ahead, we sped up and everyone was again riding.

Then we hit a steep, rocky climb where things bottlenecked again. After apologizing to the guy I knocked down, I got off and walked. It was frustrating, because I knew I could ride the climb; I had done it earlier in the week.

Leadville vs. Sluice Box

The difference between the start of the Leadville 100 and the start of Fairbanks’ Sluice Box 100, which I had done earlier in the summer, was night and day.

In the Sluice Box, racers also funnel from a wider road onto a narrow trail, but the far fewer participants — 100 vs. 2,000 — mean everyone can keep riding. Besides one blip, I didn’t have to start pushing until more than 25 miles into that race, and that was because the trail was too steep, not because of congestion. Hordes of people were not a problem in the Sluice Box as much as were hordes of mosquitoes.

Besides being more crowded, the Leadville is a faster course. It has several miles of paved road, and the whole course can be ridden if you’re in top shape (and aren’t fighting crowds). The winner completed the course in just more than six hours.

Several sections of the Sluice Box can’t be ridden due to steepness or swamp or are just as fast pushing as riding.  The winning time in the Sluice Box was just more than 10 hours.

The Leadville, which starts at 9,200 feet elevation and climbs to the 12,000-foot level, is at a much higher elevation and has shorter time cut-offs, but the Sluice Box has longer technical sections and lots of mosquitoes. Both races have close to the same total elevation gain — 11,000 feet in the Leadville and 12,000 feet in the Sluice Box.

The Leadville’s shorter time cut-off — 14 hours compared to 36 in the Sluice Box — spurred me to push harder. And while I chatted a bit with Leadville volunteers, I spent more time chatting on the Sluice Box because I knew so many volunteers and racers. It was as much social event as race.

After having finished both races several people have asked me which was tougher? I tell them the races are drastically different and equally difficult. Masochist that I am, I enjoyed both.

Once is enough

After the traffic jams at the beginning, the Leadville 100 was mostly fun. On a long, paved downhill I flew by a bunch of riders, several of whom passed me back on the next uphill. Then, after slowly climbing up to Sugarloaf Pass, I had a blast bombing down the steep, technically difficult Powerline section of trail but then struggled to push my bike back up it on the return trip.

I did better on the big climb to the race’s halfway point. There I passed about as many people as passed me, reaching the aid station in just a little more than six hours. That boded well for me finishing the race in less than 12 hours and earning a coveted Leadville 100 belt buckle.

As I started down, I yelled encouragement to Corrine, my wife, who was coming up.

The big downhill was a hoot. The upper section, which is narrower and more technical, was a bit slow in large part because you had to avoid people pushing their bikes up. But the crowds quickly eased and I flew down the hill unimpeded.

Unfortunately, the rest of the course wasn’t ALL downhill and I slowed even more on the uphills. By the time I reached the top of Powerline, I knew I would finish the race but probably wouldn’t earn a belt buckle.

And I was fine with that. Until I reached the top of the last climb. From there it was all downhill, flat, and gradual uphill to the finish. For some reason, I got a bee in my bike shorts. Despite all the contradictory evidence, I convinced myself I still had a chance at a belt buckle.

So, I pushed hard. I bombed downhill. I stood up in my pedals on the flats and the gradual uphills. I passed people all the way to the red carpet finish, drawing cheers from the crowd, and looked up at my time: 12 hours, 14 minutes. Ah, well. I didn’t earn a belt buckle, but I finished strong and felt good about it.

After I finished, I wandered around in the euphoria of finishing. I ate, and went to get the two free beers offered to every finisher. I was actually in the beer garden when I saw Corrine cross the finish line. Whoops.

I scurried to the finish chute and greeted her with a big hug. She had tears in her eyes, elated at finishing. I was happy for her and myself, too. I enjoyed the race, despite the congestion at the beginning. I really enjoyed seeing new country.

But in the end, I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the Sluice Box 100 more. I’ll do the Sluice Box again because it’s in town and is as much of a party as it is a race. I probably won’t do the Leadville again. While I enjoyed seeing new country, there are a lot of other races to do and places to see.

Eric Troyer is a writer who participates in mountain biking, running and cross-country skiing races.

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