From hydration and fueling to which bike to ride, our pros-in-residence answer your questions about the Leadville Trail 100 MTB presented by Herbalife24.
I will be racing a full suspension 29er and can only carry one bottle on the bike. Should I wear a hydration pack or rely on bottle hand ups at the aid stations?
Rebecca Rusch: I would not race Leadville with just one bottle. Even if you are gunning for the win, the aid stations are more than an hour apart, and much more than that if you’re not one of the few riding at record-breaking pace. Even the fastest riders take more than one bottle. If you can carry two or three, this race can be done on bottles alone. Depending on your projected finish time, calculate the time between aid stations and work from that number. A general rule for me is to drink at least one 24-ounce water bottle per hour and sometimes more in the heat or at altitude. While you don’t have to carry a 100-ounce hydration pack, skimping on hydration is a mistake. You could consider adding a seat post mount water bottle cage or carrying a bottle in your jersey pocket.
What tires do you ride and recommend?
RR: For three years in a row, I’ve ridden the Specialized Fast Trak Control 2.0 tires. They have a little thicker sidewall for flat protection. They are fast rolling, but still decent traction for the fast, loose descents. One flat tire or crash on a high-speed corner just isn’t worth it, so I choose a tire that’s confidence-inspiring for me.
Dave Wiens: I have ridden both silly-light and bomber-heavy tires for Leadville. Along with being nervous about them during the race, the light tires also caused me much consternation during the days leading up to the race. There are some very sharp rocks on the course and, while light wheels will roll very quickly and be light, the sidewalls are susceptible to cuts, which could end your day, and also offer less protection for pinch flats. On the other hand, the heavy UST tires I used a couple of years in the LT100 caused me no anxiety, at least as far as failing. I was more aggressive and faster on the descents because I wasn’t trying to baby my tires. They had the same pressure in the morning before the race as they did the night before. They were, however, slower and heavier. The really light tires do feel awesome climbing and on most of the pedaling sections.
My recommendation for most people is to ride a medium-weight, tubeless ready tire. This is what I rode in my last and fastest LT100 in 2010. My choice is the Continental Race King Protection 2.2 at 29 psi in the rear and 27 psi in the front.
My wife will be traveling with me. We’re not familiar with the course or Leadville, so she won’t move from the aid station during the race. At which station do you recommend she stay?
RR: Twin Lakes is probably the best aid station if you only have crew in one location. There is neutral aid at Pipeline, so if you run out of something, you can always replenish there even if you don’t have crew there.
DW: Most people agree that the Twin Lakes aid station is best if you’ll only have a crew in one place. If you do this, you’ll have crew at miles 40 and 60. Additionally, other than having little or no shade, the lake is a nice diversion for families with kids. Our kids usually missed me coming through because they were having so much fun playing in the lake. However, using the Pipeline aid station could be just as useful for an only crew position. That’s roughly at miles 28 and 73. Either way, you’ll need to count on the other crew station, either Pipeline or Twin Lakes, for neutral race support. And you also will have access to neutral race support (no crewing allowed) at Carter Summit (miles 10 and 90) and the top of Columbine (50 miles and the turnaround.) Many riders are successful riding this entire event self-supported. This is usually a combination of utilizing drop bags, carrying a bit more and using the ample neutral support offered by the LT100 aid stations.
I had a plan fall through for staying with a friend in Leadville for a couple weeks to get used to altitude. I’ll be staying in Boulder instead, unless you have suggestions on where to stay cheap or free. Just drove into Ft. Collins from Vermont and have been sleeping in the Honda Element.
RR: Are you kidding? There are tons of amazing campgrounds in the Colorado High Country. Pack up the Element and go exploring up there.
DW: Boulder is good and will allow you to train as high as you like. Check out the many routes up onto and over the Continental Divide or even get over to Mt. Evans if you are keen to pedal up to and over 14,000 feet for your altitude preparation. Some people swear by the “train high and sleep low” philosophy (or is it “train low and sleep high”?).
I live in upstate South Carolina. How do you suggest someone train and prepare for this race at Leadville altitude if they don’t live in high altitude places?
RR: Take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Many, many racers in Leadville live at low elevation and do not have the option to get out early to acclimatize. Sometimes you just make the best of what you have to work with.
Dave likes to say “attitude is more important than altitude,” and I agree. If you can plan trips to get up to the high country, that’s great. If not, then just make sure to stack the odds in your favor for race day by hydrating really well, resting and going into the event with the best fitness and attitude that you can.
DW: In my opinion the best way to train for the LT100 is by the means that are readily available to you that take into account your life: your family, your work, where you live, how much time you have to train, how much time you can get off for the LT100, how much you want to torture your family on this “vacation” you sold them on, etc. There are plenty of examples of riders who trained perfectly, executed a perfect acclimatization regiment, and essentially had all of the pieces in place for a textbook ride… then bombed. Likewise, there are examples of riders who did everything “wrong” and earned their sub-9-hour buckles. If you can put everything possible, including the kitchen sink, into your preparation and you know from experience that you respond well to this sort of preparation, by all means do this. But at the same time, for those of you who are less experienced or don’t have unlimited means at your disposal to train “optimally,” don’t fret. Simply do the best you can given the realities of your life. Start with a positive attitude, pace yourself wisely, hydrate and fuel enough, but not too much, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. You may be surprised how the chips fall for you.
What are your thoughts on full liquid replenishment vs. solid food vs. a mix of the two?
RR: Nutrition is a key factor in having a solid race at Leadville. Just like your ride training, you must practice your nutrition to find out what works for you. Keep in mind that digestion takes blood flow. When we are working hard, much of the blood flow is in your legs and not in your gut, so digestion becomes more challenging. For this reason, I rely on foods that digest easily and mostly liquid or simple carbohydrates. For my fourth Leadville win in 2013, I took in five bottles of GU Roctane, six bottles of GU Brew electrolyte drink, six gels, two packets of Chomps, a steady stream of electrolyte capsules, and a Red Bull. I like getting the bulk of my calories from liquid (GU Roctane) because sometimes the simple act of chewing is too tiring. The liquid calories also digest quickly and easily. I am perfectly happy without any solid foods in a race of this length; however, that doesn’t work for everyone. No matter what you do, bring a variety just in case you really get sick of one thing and be sure to practice with your chosen products in training.
DW: I can’t image a full liquid strategy for a race like the LT100, but I have never studied it (or tried it.) I’m solidly in the mixed camp. In my last four LT100s, I used GU Pure Performance Energy products, including Roctane gels and Roctane electrolyte drink once they were introduced. I have continued to use these with good results since I began racing again in 2013. For a long race like the LT100, I will still eat an old school PowerBar or at least have one in my pocket in case I blow. I also ate a peanut butter and jelly bagel in all eight of my LT100 finishes; usually between Twin Lakes and Pipeline inbound. Not easy or fun to screw down while riding, but valuable to me nonetheless.
Is there a preferred lube for chains that can go the distance or should we plan on lubing during the race?
DW: I have used different lubes with success at the LT100. Success here is defined as getting to the finish line without a dry chain. If you can hear it at all, it’s dry. I’m currently using Finish Line Ceramic wet chain lube with success. One key to chain lube lasting in my opinion, however, is never degreasing your chain. I never degrease my chain because I feel like there is always a bit of degreaser inside the chain that begins immediately breaking your lube down. I think of my chain the way I think of our cast iron skillets: they both need to be seasoned and never see any soap (degreaser). I can clean my chain just fine using lube, a rag and some serious elbow grease. And speaking of grease, I always worked grease—yes, straight-up grease—into my chain, right on top of the lube, before each of my LT100 races. I never had a dry chain at the finish line nor needed to ever stop and lube. This was a very old trick that I learned from John Tomac back in the day and I believe it’s common in the moto world. We used it primarily for wet, muddy races but it also works well in dry conditions. That said, I always race with a small bottle in my pocket with just enough lube in it to quickly hit the chain once. I still have never needed it in a race, but as the old adage goes, it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it (as long as it doesn’t weigh too much!).
RR: Like Dave I carry a tiny container of lube in my pocket just in case, but have never had to use it in Leadville. I use ProGold Xtreme chain lube and have had really good luck with that in all sorts of conditions. Unlike Dave, I do clean my chain with degreaser and bike wash. I feel like all that dirt and grime piling up in the chain inhibits silky smooth action between all of the little joints. I put a healthy bit of lube on the chain the night before the race and let it soak in, then do another light application in the morning before riding.
I am doing my first LT100. My hydration and eating strategy will depend on how many feed/hydration zones there will be. Can you comment on that?
RR: You can click here to view the course map and aid stations. You can also look at past results to see how long it took racers to get to each of these aid stations so you can plan your nutrition.
DW: You will hit aid stations at roughly miles 10, 28, 40, 50, 60, 73 and 90. Your biggest gap late in the race is 17 miles between Pipeline and Carter Summit. Your own crews are allowed at Twin Lakes (miles 40 and 60) and at Pipeline (miles 28 and 73). Drop bags are always an option, too. I suggest referring to the information in the above link to further help you develop your hydration and eating strategy.
Will there be any mechanical help along the way?
DW: The rules of the race are that you must finish on the same frame and fork that you start with. Other than that, you can have spares of all of the other parts. The question is how much effort do you want take to stock the aid stations with mechanical aid (assuming you’ll be able to get to your stash of parts when you need them)? The race organization provides no mechanical support. However, the aid stations are stocked with tons of people and some parts and expertise. Chances are, if you are in need in one of the aid stations, someone will be able to help you, but you still need to be self-sufficient out on the trail in case you have a mechanical mishap. I carry a Topeak multi-tool with chain tool and master links, a Topeak mini pump, compressed air and adapter, two tubes and a dollar bill to use a tire boot in case I rip a sidewall. I also have a small bottle of lube. Unless you’re near the front of the race, there is likely to be another racer who will take the time to help you out.
RR: You do have yourself, right? I agree with Dave that you should plan to carry the appropriate tools to change a flat (or two), fix a chain and other potential small mechanicals. There will be lots of crews and people at the aid stations who would likely help a rider with a mechanical, but like Dave says, there are no official mechanics out on course, so in between those places, you should plan to be self-sufficient.
Can you offer pacing advice for a middle-of-the-packer?
RR: My advice is the same for a front-of-the-packer, middle or back. Spend a little time looking at the course map, the aid station mileages, how big the hills are and some of the previous race time splits that are your target speed. Having a bit of an education about what you are undertaking helps with pacing, nutrition and motivation. Once you’ve studied the map a little, plan your nutrition accordingly for hydration and calories. On race day, pace yourself wisely. It’s a very long day at altitude on a very challenging course. If you do not pace well or take care of yourself early on, you will pay dearly later. Starting a little easier and finishing strong is always preferable than the reverse. It’s quite easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm at the start and go too hard in the first couple of hours.
DW: Pacing, pacing, pacing. Next to actually showing up in great shape, this is perhaps the next biggest key to success in the LT100. The LT100 is, overall, an inexperienced bike racing field, especially the further back in the pack that you go. Inevitably, group mentality and group enthusiasm take over and just about everyone starts out too hard. A large percentage of these pay dearly for this mistake. Todd Murray, 20-time finisher, says it best: “Do you want to crawl back to Leadville or race back to Leadville?” He’s talking about how you pace yourself in the race. Pace smart, let other riders go, ride your own pace or even under what you consider that pace to be and you drastically improve your chances of “racing” back to town, all the time catching and passing riders and feeding off of their anguish. Start out to hard and your day will quickly turn into a slog and downward spiral that is rarely escaped. Pacing smart is one of the hardest things for ambitious people to do but in the LT100, it pays huge dividends.
What will it take to get from being an 11-hour finisher to a sub-9 training at 1,100 feet?
DW: You will need to cut more than two hours from your time. Depending on the details of your 11-hour ride this may or may not be a tall order. My guess is that this has less to do with the altitude and more to do with training. Train smarter (not always harder and longer, but often these are key factors), improve your bike riding skills if they are holding you back and be realistic about your goals. Can you pragmatically dissect your 11-hour ride and find an attainable two plus hours out on the course?
I am going back for year number three and am torn on which bike to take: Jet 9 RDO for the full squish or Moots YBB because, well, it’s a Moots and is a pound lighter. Both are 29ers.
RR: I believe you answered your own question. I’ve ridden a 29er hard tail for every single one of my wins. The past three years I’ve been on the Specialized Fate and it’s the perfect bike for that course.
DW: For the LT100, I always built up and rode the lightest hardtail mountain bike that I could get my hands on. I never had a 29er for the LT100, but today I would definitely be riding my Canyon Grand Canyon CF. But then again, I grew up racing on fully rigid bikes with toe clips and straps so I may not be the best person to evaluate the benefits of full squish!