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Leadville: Cracking the Code - Part 2

Key points in the day…

Ok, so what is it actually like?  I'll run through a few of the things that you may encounter, and try to give some pointers on how to deal with them.

The Start

It is insanely cold, for August.  Like, low-30s cold.  Go to Wal-Mart, and buy some throw away clothes.  I recommend a sweatshirt and sweat pants that are both MUCH too big, to just pull over your race gear.  At the start, shed the pants, and MAYBE the sweatshirt.  Though you may want to hold onto that, and shed it later.  The race starts out with about three to four miles of very cold descending.  It's not the worst idea in the world to have that extra layer that you can shed, when you hit the bottom of St. Kevyn's.  With the 1980s sweat suit, grab a pair of throw away gloves.  I have used gardening gloves, in the past, that I just wore over my MTB gloves.  Their purpose is to just block the frigid air, in those first few miles. 

The Bottom of St. Kevyn's

The bottom of St. Kevyn's is the very definition of a bottleneck.  Everyone does a five mile hole shot, to be the first to the climb.  It also represents the first bit of double-track, as the course transitions from pavement, to a dirt road, to this double-track.  So, we have a narrowing terrain, which has now turned uphill, and there becomes a massive traffic jam.  This will be where you see the first bit of walking. Turns out that it is quite difficult to stay on a bike, at 1mph…Just go with it.  If you can stay on the bike, stay on the bike.  But, don't be "that guy", or gal, who is weaving through everybody, yelling at people to get out of the way, and so on.  One, it is a tremendous waste of energy.  Two, "that guy", or gal, doesn't get anywhere.  There is a wall of people who would also like to be going faster, were it not for the traffic jam in front of them.  They are equally as frustrated, and unlikely to get out of the way.  And, thirdly, it's just a bad way to start out the day, and indicative of someone who is going to suffer, in a big way, over the second half of the course.  Energy control.  Expend it wisely.  The Serenity Prayer comes to mind. 'Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference'…You'll see.  Some people know the difference, and some people don't.


This is a long, but very fun climb.  It is the very definition of gradual, with switch backs, and a little bit of technical rocky terrain.  But, by then, you'll be happy to see it.  It's a long climb, but never very steep.  You can get into a good groove on this. 

Power Line

If you have ever seen the "Race Across the Sky" video, it does not do Power Line justice.  The video makes this section look like a steep, but short, somewhat technical descent, of, maybe, 400m.  Well, that's a part of it.  But, so are the two to three miles before it!  Power Line is the most difficult part of the course, in my opinion.  The descending is fast, and very rutty.  Oh, and it goes on for quite a while.  In my experience, this is where all the kamikaze riders come out, as well.  Those folks that you passed on the way up Sugarlof?  Well, they're good descenders, and have a bone to pick.  Hold YOUR line.  You can't worry about the people coming from behind.  Stay out of the ruts.  They are many, and they are going to be staring right at you, as you stare right back at them.  Decline their invitation.  Just keep your butt back, and control your speed, for what you are comfortable with.

The Middle Section

Once you get to the bottom of Power Line, the course settles down.  You are back-and-forth between dirt and pavement.  There isn't anything significant for several miles.  This is kind of the forgotten section of the course.  It is also a really good time to form some packs with other riders.  Yup, MTBers can paceline!  I highly recommend it.

Pipe Line

Once through the mundane portion of the course, you enter into a Jeep road section that will dump you into Twin Lakes.  The terrain is variable, but pretty simple.  The dirt can be a little loose, at times, but nothing to worry about.  The groups that you hopefully formed on the forgotten section should help to pull you into Twin Lakes.  There will be separation here, as it is a gathering point for spectators, but try your best to keep everyone together.

Twin Lakes

Mile 40.  This is biggest spectator place on the course.  It is like a party scene down there, and you probably won't really want to leave.  But, you probably should.  It also represents the first time cut-off.  Get your nutrition refilled, and I mean refilled, because this is the final good-bye, before you start the climb up Columbine.  There are still a few miles before the base of the climb, but this is the last time that you will see a smiling face for quite some time.


No joke!  It starts off with about five or six miles of climbing on a Jeep road.  Tons of switch backs.  Actually, an aggravating number of switch backs.  Just when you want it to be done, you're not even close.  Eventually, the Jeep road turns into a rocky trail, which you will, likely have to walk.  It is steep.  It is loose.  It is at about 12,000 feet.  And, just about everybody in front of you is walking.  So, another bottleneck.  Once you touch down, it is nearly impossible to get rolling again, because the trail is so loose and steep.  I have ridden the entire thing.  I lucked out once.  It wasn't worth it.  The effort that it took to ride that trail, and to stay on the bike, zapped me later in the day, in a big way.  I'd recommend doing what comes naturally here.  If you can ride, without going over threshold (remember from above), then ride.  But, I'm just warning you that that is probably not going to be the case.  If you have to walk, then just walk.  Remember the Serenity Prayer. 

Once you reach the top, get some fuels at the aid station.  The initial portion of the descent isn't single-track, but it also isn't quite double-track.  Call it 1.5-track.  It is loose and steep.  Oh, and it has riders (really walkers at this point), coming up.  Yup, on the same trail.  Be careful!  Once you break that section, and return to the Jeep road, the descent is pretty tame.  There are spots that can be a little rutted-out, but those are primarily at the top.  Just be careful navigating the loose switchbacks. 

Twin Lakes, Again

You're back to the party scene!  You have survived the Columbine climb, and descent.  See your loved ones, top off your nutrition, and get ready.  This is mile 60, and things are just about to get hard.

Pipe Line and the Forgotten Section

Guess what?  While you were gone, a headwind probably formed.  At a time when the last thing you want, or need, is a headwind.  The groups that existed when you were here, last time, got separated by Columbine.  People are a little more spread out.  This is a really good time to find anyone who you can, and try to paceline.  The forgotten section has now become the lonely section, so do your best to find some friends, and stick with them, as best you can. 

Power Line, Again

This is the most difficult part of the race.  That steep section that they showed on "Race Across the Sky", where everybody was running beside Lance, as he rode up…You won't be riding, and they won't need to run to keep up with you.  Once past that section, Power Line climbs for another two to three-ish miles, which seem like 30.  This is, truly, the most difficult part of the race.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  This is where I have, each year, wondered if I would make it to the finish.  Where I felt like I was going to puke up all of those gels.  Where I felt like it would never end.  But, then it did.  And, I realized that all I had to do was get through it.  It's rideable, but relentless.  You just have to grin and bear it. 

Sugarloaf, on the Way Down

That rocky trail that you ascended, on the way out, is now your best friend, with a nice fast, and long descent.  Yes, there are some rocks.  A good number of rocks, but they're well worth the free speed.  Sit back, loosen up, and just let it go. The rocky trail eventually turns to dirt, and you are cruising.  Once off of Sugarloaf, you have to descend around Turquoise Lake, which is fast, and a great place to pick up some free time. 

The Climb to St. Kevyn's

Once you finish collecting all of that free speed, there is a bit of a paved grind up to St. Kevyn's.  About 8 hours earlier you descended these two to three miles at about 35mph.  Well, now you're paying the piper.  And, the piper expects it in full.  This climb goes on for the better part of forever, until you re-enter the trails to the top of St. Kevyn's.

The St. Kevyn's Descent

It takes a little bit to work your way through the trails, to the top of St.Kevyn's.  There is a little bit of rugged terrain, and some loose climbs.  But, once to the top, the descent is glorious, save for a couple of water bars that want to hurdle you over your bike.  Other than those, and a few last minute kamikazes, the descent is pretty tame.  Get down it, and onto the dirt road, that passes through the open fields, just on the outskirts of town.  You're almost there!

But, You're Not There Yet!

This is where the ride veers off of the out-and-back format that it had been following, and heads away from town, just when it could just as easily head towards town…The course takes you down a dirt road, over some of the more fun terrain, and up a very rocky bump in the terrain, all towrds the final stretch of dirt road that will bring you back into town.  This road is two to three miles long, and as you get further down it, you can start to see parts and pieces of Leadville life.  Finally it ends, and dumps you at the end of the road that you first started out on, a good number of hours before.  Up the hill, past the hospital, and roll towards the finish line's red carpet.  You're done!

One Final Note

That last section was long, I know.  But, hopefully it helps you at some point.  Plus, this is my post, so I wanted it that way.  Guess what else is long!  The race!  So long, that very often, your legs will not be the first to go.  In all of my times through the course, my legs were never an issue.  It was the peripheral stuff that caused me the greatest issues.  My hands.  My feet.  My butt!  My triceps!  The first time that I experienced this, I was quite surprised at how well my legs felt, relative to everything else.  So, just a few thoughts…Give your hands multiple positions to hold, throughout the day.  I like the bar end grips, not because I need them for leverage, but because they represent a different place where my hands can be.  Any time, throughout the day, that you can take any pressure off of your feet, do it!  When descending, I often like to try to lift my feet up, such that I am trying to take the bottoms of my feet off of the bottom of my shoe.  It helps.  Your feet, if they aren't pedaling, are going to be walking.  They will get minimal rest, throughout the day, but will have maximal expectations placed upon them.  Give them a little OSHA-mandated break, from time to time.  To this end, also wear comfortable shoes.  There is enough walking on this course that, perhaps, you don't require the shoe that is the highest performer, in terms of power transfer.  You want a shoe that walks well, and doesn't tear up the heel of your foot.  And, lastly, wear good shorts, and do your best to keep them dry.  Saddle sores can arise in a single day, and this is a prime time for them to make an appearance.  I am not, typically, a lover of chamois cream.  But, if I had it to do again, tomorrow, there is a decent chance that I'd be applying it by the handfuls.

Well, I hope that this helps you in your journey to Leadville, or if you have ever just wondered about the race itself.  I highly recommend the event.  Every time that I have done it, other than the first time, I wasn't all that excited to go.  And then, once out there, I quickly remembered how much I love the event.  I hope that you will, too.


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