“Attending the Blueprint for Athletes Camp of Champions gives you the opportunity to truly connect with the Leadville community that you otherwise wouldn’t get. I went up there, trained, met incredible people and ended up shaving an hour off my time on race day.”
Tara Kelly has been participating in the Blueprint for Athletes Leadville Trail 100 MTB since 2011 and attending the Camp of Champions since 2014. As an experienced mountain biker and Houston local, we talked to Tara about her camp experience, the difference training at altitude makes and her goals for race day this year.
Leadville Race Series: How long have you been mountain biking?
Tara Kelly: Around 2006, I really discovered a passion for mountain biking, and while I had a goal of completing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, I kept entering the lottery and not getting in.
Finally, in 2011, my time came. I showed up in Leadville three days before the race to acclimate, and that’s when I truly realized what I was up against. I’m from Houston, so riding at that elevation for the first time was a wake up call. I barely finished the race, let alone made the cutoff time. Not long after, I suffered a back and neck injury where I was told I would never be able to ride again.
After a rigorous amount of rehab and physical therapy, I defied the odds in 2013 and was told I could resume my normal riding activities. To me, that meant unfinished business in Leadville.
LRS: What made you sign up for the Camp of Champions your first year back to riding?
TK: After coming back from my injuries and missing the cutoff time the last time I raced, I heard about the Camp of Champions, which gives you the opportunity to train in Leadville over the course of three days under the guidance of athletes like Dave Wiens. I figured that might be just what I needed.
I went up there, trained, met incredible people, got immersed into the Leadville scene and ended up shaving an hour off my time on race day. Again, when you live at sea level, it makes such a difference when you can dedicate time to training at elevation. It allows you to make tweaks to your training in the moment so that you’re set up for success.
LRS: What techniques did you learn that you felt helped you on race day?
TK: I learned a ton about nutrition, and the great thing is that I actually got to test out different nutrition strategies and see what worked, which I normally wouldn’t be able to do back home.
I quickly realized the food I consumed back in Houston had a much different effect on my body when consumed in the mountains, so that gave me insight into what my nutrition plan needed to be when race day arrived. Additionally, learning climbing techniques and then being able to turn around and execute them immediately on course was incredible. There aren’t a lot of chances to go on 10-mile climbs in Texas.
LRS: What is your favorite camp memory from the last three years you attended?
TK: What I love about attending the Camp of Champions each year is it gives you the opportunity to really experience the Leadville scene and culture. So often during race weekend you are only scratching the surface of what Leadville has to offer. People are mentally preparing for what needs to happen on course and no room is left to explore the community or meet your fellow athletes and hear their stories. Attending camp gives you that chance.
LRS: How have the friendships and connections you’ve made at camp helped you as a rider?
TK: Ironically, I’ve met a ton of riders from the Houston area up at camp I would not have met otherwise. It’s incredible to have these friendships now, as we train together back home and race together each season.
LRS: What is your favorite Blueprint for Athletes Leadville Race Series MTB qualifier you’ve competed in?
TK: Rocky Hill Ranch is my home course that I train on, so the Blueprint for Athletes Austin Rattler MTB is always a must-do for me. It’s nice discovering a cross-section of people from Texas who are also interested in mountain biking year after year. It’s a fantastic course for road cyclists who are interested in crossing over to the mountain biking scene as well.
LRS: What goals do you have for the 2016 race season?
TK: It’s pretty simple really: I just want to beat my previous time.
LRS: Why would you recommend Camp of Champions to other aspiring LT100 MTB racers?
TK: There is no substitute for having the ability to train in the conditions you are going to race in AND be able to actually ride the course before race day. Once that day comes, you have peace of mind knowing that you’ve ridden each section of the course already.
Secondly, you won’t find the community of riders you meet and the skills you acquire while attending camp anywhere else. It’s the best way to achieve your LT100 MTB goals.
Want to have your own Camp of Champions experience? Join us June 29 – July 2 or July 3 — 6 in Leadville, CO where you’ll be lead by six-time LT100 MTB Champion, Dave Wiens; 22-time finisher, Todd Murray; and 13-time finisher, Roxanne Hall. Only 16 spots are left for weekend one, snag yours today!