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An Interview with Barn Burner Female Champ Lauren Mulwitz

Good things happen to Lauren Mulwitz when she follows friends to bike races. Good things like buying her first mountain bike, racing her first Leadville Trail 100, and earning the top spot on the female podium at Barn Burner.

You signed up for Barn Burner the day before the race — and ended up with the win. Was it truly a last-minute decision to race?

I actually wasn’t going to do it. I did it last year and didn’t think I’d have time this year. I had some friends trying to qualify for Leadville who were going to Barn Burner. I already had a spot in the LT100, but I decided to go with them. It was kind of a last-minute decision. I plan on doing the Tahoe Trail 100 and LT100 next.

You improved your lap times by quite a few minutes this year. Is there anything particular you can point to that has made you faster?

I ran into Dave Wiens last year on the Leadville Trail 100 pre-ride and he gave me some good advice. He said to go out easier at the beginning of the race, and to back off my heart rate by ten beats per minute. It’s better psychologically to pass people in a race who have gone out too hard in the beginning. He also said to try to get negative splits, and to keep a high turnover on the pedals.

I back off a little on the steeper climbs, and at the crest of the hill, where most people go slower, I tend to hit it hard there. Part of good racing strategy is also being smart with winds. I was never alone in a headwind at Barn Burner (it helps being a girl, because you can sit in longer; but I did take some pulls). I also like to set mini goals throughout a race, and try to catch the next guy in front of me. Or I’ll pick a landmark when climbing and keep my eyes on that rather than looking down.

I’m also dating a roadie who is really strong (seven-time California state champion Greg Leibert) and so I’m trying to keep up with him. My boyfriend is one of the biggest reasons I’ve gotten faster.

Tell us a little about your racing background.

I’m a triathlete, and I still compete in triathlons (like Wildflower, in which I won in my age group this year). I just barely started mountain biking before Leadville in 2011. It’s a funny story: I was going to go crew for some friends and at the time I was training for Ironman Arizona, so I was in good shape, but I had no mountain biking skills. I ran into someone on the trail who said I could get into Leadville through a charity slot. So I entered the race that way.

I walked into Cycles of Life and the people there were super nice and hooked me up with a bike and people to take me out on a practice ride. They introduced me to Leadville culture, and I just fell in love.

During the race, I fell at Twin Lakes in front of 500 people. I didn’t know how to brake on a mountain bike. The rest of the race went ok. Like I said, my fitness was there, I just didn’t have any technical ability. Descending wasn’t an issue because I’m pretty fearless, but it’s getting that neuromuscular system familiar with mountain biking.

Now you’re a bike fitter?

Yes, I trained at Cyclologic in Scottsdale and now work as a bike fitter in Marina del Rey, California. I fit people — mostly women — on mountain bikes.

What are you looking forward to about going back to Leadville this year?

This will be my third time at Leadville. I’m mostly looking forward to the people in Leadville. I’ve loved seeing them every year, learning their stories, then seeing them in the race. It’s like a big reunion. Riding next to Ricky McDonald on Powerline and he’s saying, “Good job!” Leadville is more about the experience and the stories — everyone has their own story about how they got there.

As for the course, I really like going down Powerline. That descent is fun. And the climb up Columbine, seeing Ken Chlouber at the top, standing on a mine and saying “Dig deep!” It’s pretty inspirational. You can’t get that in any other race. You can’t breathe and this guy is yelling at you. But it’s pretty awesome.

I’m trying for a big buckle this year, and I just ordered a carbon bike, a Niner (I upgraded from my 25-lb., old steel bike that I bought from Cycles of Life).

What’s your best mental trick for keeping the cranks turning for more than 100 miles?

The best advice I ever received was when I first started riding and I was trying to keep up with some guys on a hill who were stronger than me. They told me, “Ride your own bike.”

I don’t go above my limits, which is why I like mountain biking better. It’s just you and the mountain. You don’t burn as many matches. In a road race, you have to go with every surge, and you go through a lot of matches that way.

I also look forward to certain places on the course, to stuff I like to do, like descending.

What will you focus on in your training in the next couple of months?

I follow a periodized training schedule, so I peak twice in a year. I just peaked in May and for Barn Burner, and now I’ll take a week off. I’m going to do another triathlon and do lots of climbing, and lots of training my brain to handle pain. My body can take it; it’s getting my brain to understand that.

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