100 milers are my favorite distance because anything can happen and you see so much. When I got the magic email from the Leadville Trail 100 notifying me that I got into the race, I admittedly had mixed emotions. I’m a certified singletrack addict. There is nothing quite like riding a sweet piece of trail except one thing – being in love. Personally, riding singletrack replicates the crazed butterflies in the stomach..the “I’m so happy I could just explode feeling.” Maybe that’s why I’m always smiling in my race photos? Pretty good, eh?
Lots of people told me that Leadville is just a dirt road race and is not “true” mountain bike. I almost had a change of heart in May. I considered pulling out of Leadville to race CTR, but fortunately my schedule was too jam packed to accommodate any type of real training for CTR. Leadville stayed on the schedule and I am glad it did. After breaking my wrist at BC Bike Race, I was even more thankful and positive about Leadville. Truth – it’s 102ish miles of dirt road and 2 miles of singletrack = 104 miles total. The dirt roads are not always forgiving and definitely require some attention so it’s not a total road race. You need to be on a mountain bike, and it’s not exactly what I would call smooth. Although Leadville was not my typical of race, I was excited to do it.
Starting with the end, I am really glad I raced Leadville and I would do it again. It was such an amazing experience to be a part of the biggest mountain bike race in the US. It was unbelievable to see the amount of support that everyone had for each other and the support from friends and family. It blew my mind that a 79 year old man finished in under 12 hours. For some, Leadville has been a life changing rite of passage. A friend of mine told me he barely finished 4 years ago. Now, he is 50 lbs lighter and ultra fit. I should know, he and I rode together for part of the race and I struggled to hold his wheel! It was also really cool to line up in such an accomplished women’s field. I thought to myself that that day was a life changing experience for a lot of the mountain bikers lined up to take on the 100 mile event. I remember the day cycling changed my life.
My head space? I knew I wasn’t bringing my A game because of the wrist, but I felt confident with my fitness and my climbing. I had great legs on race day. I knew it was inevitable that I’d be held back by my handicap, my cast on my left wrist. I told myself when I got it on that I wouldn’t let it stop me. Even though it’d slow me down, I promised myself I wouldn’t get frustrated. Amazingly, I kept my promise to myself. It was a huge accomplishment to get through a 100 miler without any “dark” moments. There were some problems at the end, but never did I wish I was somewhere else.
Here’s a video from waking up at 4 AM. I really should have been up earlier as the almond butter and honey sandwich I choked down sat as a lump in my stomach for the first 2 hours of the race! I am sooo not a morning person.
Here is the link to the video if you can’t see it here…not sure what’s going on with it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonyalooney/7796027996/in/photostream
I lined up in the “gold” corral and felt flattered and lucky to be up there with the top 100. I hoped that I would finish there as well. In the end, I was 109th overall (out of 1700 starters) and 6th overall in the women’s field.
There were people lining the start chute at 6 AM. Dave McElwaine made me feel special getting some photos of me with my lovely purple accessory.
When they played the national anthem, I felt especially lucky to live in the USA and I thought of the USA Olympians who had won gold. I imagined what that must feel like to stand on top of a podium with a gold metal and your country’s national anthem playing. I also thought of the freedom we have and felt thankful to live in Coloardo, USA – my favorite place on earth (well, so far!)
The weird thing was that I wasn’t nervous. My only concern was getting taken out at the start or on a descent by someone else and re-breaking my wrist. The start was fast, but I surprised myself and was able to hang on. It must be some of those other “fast” races I did this year!! I stuck with Jenny Smith and Rebecca Rusch for awhile, but forced myself to back off and let them go on St. Kevin’s. My heart rate was pegged at 196, but I felt no pain. I kept trying to monitor my effort, but my heart beat at 196 bpm for the first hour! I don’t know how I didn’t blow. I settled into a hard, sustainable pace. It felt good, I felt good, and I was riding with Tammy Sadle and Tammy Jacques and going between 6th and 9th place. I tried to stay in the pack the best I could, to suck wheel, and to look up. A few miles into the start, I looked to my right and saw the pink sunrise. I yelled at the guy next to me to look to the right for a second. He said, “Wow, I would have missed that. Thanks.” It’s so easy to get caught up in the racing and forget to look around. I try so hard to remember!
The coolest memory that sticks out from the race was the sound going through the aide stations. They were very long…maybe .5 mile. Everyone was screaming and I heard so many of your cheers. It actually brought tears to my eyes I was so stoked!
I told myself to conserve, to make my move on Columbine. I set a more conservative pace at the start of the climb, but then experimented. If I kept it in the big ring, I’d go much faster and pass people. If I kept it in the little ring and spun a higher cadence, I would get too comfortable and slow down. The solution? I would literally say out loud to myself, “Come on, keep spinning the big ring. Spin the big ring.” And I did! I moved from 9th overall to 6th in the women’s field and got a good gap on the girls I was riding with previously and passed one more(Ina). I was looking anxiously up to the road to see what had happened in the mens’ field, to see who would be in the top group coming down Columbine. That’s the great thing, you can see everyone! It was so exciting to see Reba, Sally, and Pua come down all within about 30 seconds of one another. I wish I could have been that fast! I tried my hardest to ride the steep top section. I did dismount and take a few steps, but instantly got back on and kept riding. At long last, I was at the turn-around and I started my descent and the second half of the race.
My wrist was hurting pretty bad at this point, especially after the Powerline descent. Powerline descent was a mental battle… I was in the way and some of the guys were overly aggressive. One guy hooked bar ends with me. I just didn’t want to crash!! I got passed by probably 50 people downhill, but I made it up later. As for the Columbine descent, I tried to roll it, but I had to slow down and respect my body. The great thing about going a little slower for the long descent was that I could see everyone. Lines of people fighting their way up the mountain. I screamed at people for as long as I could. It was inspiring to see the determination in the riders’ faces still coming up!
I looked down at my Garmin and tried to set a fast pace to Pipeline Aide for the second time. The wind started to pick up and I was fighting a cumbersome headwind. I looked behind me but there was no one. I’d fight the wind alone. I found a wheel for about 5 minutes before we entered the singletrack, but was alone again. My stomach was also starting to feel funny. I had been trying to stay on top of my nutrition, but my body was not processing the sugar. I felt so full and bloated. I tried to stick with water. I came into Pipeline and asked Matt how far back I was from 5th. 5 minutes! I can do 5 minutes. I have 30ish miles and normally I come on strong at the end of the race. Normally…. but not this time.
After leaving the aide, I was back in the wind by myself. I found another wheel of a guy and thanked him profusely for letting me tuck in behind him. We worked together, with him doing the bulk of the work. We were still going pretty close to a sub 8 hour pace. I hoped I could hold it. I had a Starbucks Doubleshot on the road before Powerline which quickly became my demise. I drank one at 2010 Marathon World Championships and had a similar predicament – you’d think I would learn by now! Sugar overload. My gut was rotten. My ribs were also a bit sore from breathing hard for so long. I accidentally knocked the sensor loose off my heart rate monitor after 6 hours (and noticed my average for 6 hours was 180! It wasn’t for lack of trying!) I set my resolve to ride Powerline. I made it in training and I was determined to ride it in the race. I faltered and had to walk 5 steps 2 different times. After 5 steps, I said out loud, “Get back on your bike Sonya” and I did. I rode most of it! 10 steps… I am running the same gearing on my 29er as I am on my 26er, so I knew it’d be tough. I think the spectators were surprised to see me get back on my bike. One guy said, “you have bigger balls than me or anyone out here. I haven’t seen one person get back on their bike!” I was flattered, but then I thought, “nahhhh, I don’t like the thought of having big balls, or any balls for that matter!” haha!
My pace slowed to a crawl after the steep section. The pressure in my gut was too much and I started gagging. I puked 3 times going up Powerline and was slightly amused wondering if the guy behind me could see. I couldn’t eat, I hadn’t eaten in many miles. I just hoped that I would puke out the evil and not bonk. It went like this – sip some water, puke….sip more water, puke… and then it was out. I couldn’t eat the rest of the race.
The paved climb back to St. Kevins was demoralizing! It kept going and I kept looking back. I had slowed down so much and lost so much time being sick but I kept straining my eyes to see the top of the climb. I thought for sure that I’d get caught by some of the strong females behind me, but I only saw a couple guys. I wished I could push harder, but I had nothing. Survival mode! My eyes were longing to see Dave Wiens at the last bottle feed with fresh water. It was such an amazing thing to have Dave Wiens there supporting me in the race he won 6 times. I said, “ahhhghhh, I’m sick!” He said, “No you’re not, just keep going!” haha!
I saw the 8 hour mark come and go. I wished I would have broken it, but at 8:16, I rolled across the line. It was so cool!
The next morning (after no sleep!!) was the awards. I can never sleep after 6+ hour races!
I get a couple weeks of chill time before the Vapor Trail. I get my cast off on Aug 28!! I can’t wait to ride Colorado singletrack!!!!!!!!! AHHH!
Seriously though, thank you soooo much to the amazing support crew out there: Matt Smoot, Jeff Kerkove, Dave Wiens, Dave UK (Uncle Dave!!), Karen Jarchow… to all my sponsors, to my friends and family. Thank you! It was great to have support at a race! I’ve been doing everything on my own this year, so having people there to help me out and hand me bottles was sooooo luxurious! Thank you especially to Adidas Eyewear.
I can’t wait for the next adventure!