LEADVILLE EXPERIENCE : THE FINISH

By Erin Machan  / photos : Timothy James Photogrpahy

I slept surprisingly well Friday night. Generally for an event like this I would barely sleep, but when I got in bed I wrote a journal entry, set my computer down, told myself I’d done all I could do, and I was out. 

I woke up at 4:45 with a plan to be at race start by 5:45. Heather (my crew) had already gone to volunteer down in the corrals and TJ was asleep on the couch. I made my usual granola and almond milk and sat in the kitchen, in the dark, just eating and thinking. TJ looks over at me and says, “Are you ok, you’re just sitting there in a trance?” I just laughed, I couldn’t even tell him what I was thinking about, I had no idea. I guess I just wanted to enjoy the dark silence a little while longer before the chaos of the morning started. 

I could hear Leadville coming alive outside. It was still dark but I could hear cars and see headlights shine through the windows. The place I was staying was only blocks from the iconic Leadville race start. HOLY CRAP! I was about to walk out my door and ride my bike down to the Leadville 100 MTB race start. Was this for real? I was definitely more excited than nervous at this point. I wanted to get down there and be in the middle of it all. 

The race start was extremely organized considering how many people were lining up to race. I started in the red corral. I had been assigned to the green corral originally but moved up to red with my finished time from the Tahoe 100K this year. The red corral is the 3rd one from the front. The corrals go, gold, silver, red, green, purple, orange, blue, and white. I was stoked to be in red. By no means was I going to be super fast but I wanted to position myself so I would be able to climb the first climb and not get blocked by people walking. The first climb is St. Kevin's, it’s not really anything crazy, but it’s a lot of people fighting to get ahead. I was really focusing on paying attention to the riders around me and making sure I wasn’t going to unclip if someone in front of me did. These situations are always entertaining to me because some people get so mad, they are cussing, and the more frustrated they get the harder it is for them to get back on their bike. Basically St. Kevin's is a shit-show and the best bet there is to get out ahead as much as you can. I was on a different plan; I was on the Leadville “Experience” plan, so I just found a nice easy cadence and followed along up the hill and managed to stay on my bike. 

The next climb is Sugar Loafin’ which is followed by the Powerline decent. The climb isn’t anything crazy, a little rocky but nothing to worry about. I was really excited about the Powerline descent; I was looking forward to it actually. Unfortunately I don’t think I positioned myself with people who would be as confident descending. With descents like Powerline that are steep, rocky, rutted, sandy, off camber, and a plethora of other obstacles, you have to be careful but also carry enough speed. I was able to get around a good bit of people but I also had to be careful passing as to not put anyone else in danger. I didn’t want to be aggressive but at the same time some of the people in front of me were going too slow or had incredibly poor line choice. 

 
Between all the flat tires and crashes, the powerline descent was quite the spectacle.

I made it down ready for the next stretch to Pipeline Aid Station. I was told to work with a group in this section, the key is to find a good group, at first I was working with this guy David and he was great we took turns and worked well together, but then we jumped in with a larger group that was not at all working together. I’m not exactly sure what they were doing but they weren’t very safe, so I backed off a bit. I felt ok but definitely would have benefitted from working more with people on that stretch. I made a quick stop at Pipeline and it was good to see Heather, Aaron and Derek at the Ride Like a Ninja tent. 

From Pipeline to Twin Lakes I wished I’d been in a group but I’d lost them when I stopped and couldn’t really get in with another one. I felt good on the single track right before the Twin Lakes Dam. I met Kim who was also doing Leadville for the first time and we chatted a bit about our stories and helped pass the time. 

At Twin Lakes I stopped quickly for a water refill then headed up Columbine. This is where things started to fall apart a bit. I felt ok climbing, but my legs started to feel heavy and I had to talk myself out of a lot of negative thinking. Like “I shouldn’t have done those pre-rides” or “I should have climbed more in training” or “I’m too fat to climb like this.” Whatever ridiculous stuff is going on in my head I generally just tell myself “shhh.” I’m a total crazy person, but it works. I had to walk a lot of Columbine; there was no way around anyone else even if I could ride. At one point my legs started cramping so bad I couldn’t walk! I drank my pickle juice, took some salt tabs, worked it out a bit and luckily it only lasted a few minutes. I didn’t stay too long at the top of Columbine. I drank some coke, peed behind a car and tried to eat some solid food, which I couldn’t chew and ended up spitting out. I took off down Columbine; again I was excited for the descent and ready to rip after that gnarly climb up to 12,500 ft! Similar to pipeline I was following some very timid riders down hill, however with Columbine there is very little opportunity to get around because of the oncoming traffic. I did my best to make this time count and cheered for the people coming up the hill. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced! When it opened up a bit I was able to get out in front of a lot of people and make up some time. Right before getting back to Twin Lakes my hamstring cramped when I stood up to climb a small hill section. I had to stop and stretch it out and a good bit of the people I passed caught up. Cramping is by far one of the most annoying things that can happen! It’s just unavoidable sometimes, even when I plan for it with flasks of pickle juice all day. 

 
When I got to Twin Lakes, Heather scolded me for not eating enough. She was right, I was barely eating, so I vowed to listen to my 15-minute timer on my Garmin and take a pull from my flask of gel no matter what.
 

 It was a good decision, the day was getting hotter and windy and the course wasn’t getting any easier. From Twin Lakes back to Pipeline is no easy task. Luckily I found some people to work with and started getting another wind by the time I got to the Pipeline Aid station. From Pipeline to Powerline was the roughest part of my day. It was mostly road but it was hot, windy and I couldn’t find a good group to work with. I ended up just head down, pedaling, suffering, telling myself to “shhh” all the way to Powerline.

Powerline really wasn’t all that bad. I knew I was going to have to hike so I just hiked with purpose and got up that bottom section as quickly as I could. People were suffering badly at this point. I was too, but of course I was smiling and laughing, and probably driving everyone crazy. It sucks, but hell; I wanted to be here so I might as well try and find the fun in it! I don’t think the other riders much appreciated my good spirits. The volunteers and spectators sure did. I remember one guy on Powerline said “You guys are looking great! Well, I’m not going to lie, you guys look awful, but you’re almost there. Except her, she looks great!” Of course it made me laugh, and the guy high-fives me. Once I got past the timers I hopped back on my bike and road up. I’d passed a good majority of people at this point and descended Sugar Loafin’ with a good group. My dilemma at this point was I was out of water and had a 4-mile road climb just ahead of me. It was pretty hot and I was a little worried. I was starting to get in a lull of just being DONE! 

The road climb to the top of St. Kevin's isn’t bad, it’s just that last grind to the top and all I wanted was to get to that aid station then push the last 10 miles to the finish. By some miracle there was a group of volunteers at one turn and the guy was handing out water. I filled my bottle and was feeling a lot better. I didn’t have a group at this point. I’d lost the majority of people descending Sugar Loafin’ but I did catch up to Lou, from Breckinridge. This was also his first time doing Leadville and I chatted with him up the climb. Considering I was just climbing and chatting away, I wasn’t really pushing it. I just enjoyed the company and the landscape. Turquoise Lake is a gorgeous area and I was grateful to be there. At this point in a race when the finish is just around the corner I start to anticipate it rather than focusing on what’s underneath me. I had to give myself another couple of “shh’s” just to keep myself focused. 

I stopped at the top of St. Kevin’s for a brief moment, got water, ate a half of a banana and then was off down the hill. WOO HOO!!! 10 miles to go and mostly downhill!! I decided I would burn every match I had left getting home and just went for it. There are a few annoying little climbs on the way back down but for the most part they are quick. I definitely got another wind here and was standing to power up the climbs and using the descents to recover, barely using my noisy brakes. At this point my bike was sounding rough. The back break was howling and a few gears were making a bunch of noise but I just did my best to take it easy on my shifting and braking. It was only a few more miles to the glorious finish! I knew I was feeling pretty good because I was starting to pass a lot of people.  

When I got over the railroad tracks and made a right toward the Boulevard, the guy directing traffic yells “4 miles to go!” I said “thank you”, settled in and put everything I had left in those last miles. The Boulevard is no easy victory lap to the finish. It’s rocky, it’s mostly all up hill, people are miserable and barely pedaling. Once I hit the pavement it was like a time trial to the finish. It’s left and then a quick right and you just have to get to the crest of the pavement ahead and there it is, THE FINISH. The glorious, beautiful, loud, busy, chaotic, amazing, FINISH!

I rolled over the red carpet at 10:44:58 completely satisfied that I had executed exactly what Lesley and I had talked about. I planned my race and raced my plan. It’s always a great feeling when you know you can tell the coach “I DID IT!” 

I was so happy to be at the finish, not really because I was done, but because it was the iconic Leadville MTB 100 red carpet finish and I WAS THERE! I got to experience what I’d been hearing about for over a year. It was everything I imagined and more, and I was luckily enough to finish and be there to take it all in. 

I didn’t hang out very long. I talked to friends, gave lots of hugs, took some photos and then got back on my bike to ride the 5 blocks home. I’m not sure if I was super conservative during the race or I got a huge adrenaline rush at the finish, but I probably could have ridden a lot longer. I had imagined after the race I’d never want to see my bike again, but I honestly I was just thinking, “I love my bike”, actually I am pretty sure I said that out loud a couple times. 

I got home and lay down on the floor to take it all in. It was over. Leadville 100 MTB in the books! I couldn’t eat like usual after a big race, but I was able to shower myself, unlike after the last 12 hour race when Heather had to shower me because I could not even move. She’s an amazing teammate and friend and I cannot imagine have doing this with out her. I can’t say it enough how grateful I am for the amazing people in my life. I really can’t believe how good a felt after the race. I am either still hopped up on adrenaline or I may have actually been fit and prepared for this. I'm still not sure. 

I’m sitting here writing this from my hotel room in St. George and I feel somewhere between wanting to go home and wanting to turn around. It’s poetic really considering geographically I’m kind of between the two places. It’s like I had a weeklong love affair with Colorado and I don’t want to go back to reality. The truth is my reality is amazing and I’m absolutely in love with my life. I’m excited to go back to the people I love, the job I love, the place I love living and all the things that make up my incredible life in Orange County. I just completely fell in love with Leadville and everything about my 7-day adventure. It was a year of anticipation leading up to it and it’s just settling in that it’s over. It was more than I could have ever imagined and hoped for and I am truly grateful for the experience. The entire Leadville Race Series and the people behind it are absolutely amazing and I am honored to be part of the Leadville family.

Who would have thought I’d be so excited about a belt buckle?!