Becoming a Mountie
by Gordo Byrn
To prepare for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race, I’ve been riding my Super Fly 100 FS around the mountains of Colorado. The single best advice I’ve received was to ride my mountain bike as much as I can and get out on the Leadville course to learn the descents and turns.
Climbing on a road bike is all about power generation -- in riding a lot of dirt, I’ve found that power transfer is often more important than the absolute watts that I can produce. On steep terrain, in loose terrain and at altitude: the ability to get power to the trail can be more important than the ability to generate watts.
I went with a full suspension bike for the simple reason that Bruce at Fair Wheel Bikes told me that I’d crash less often! As it turned out, I’m quicker on steep, loose, high-altitude climbs with my suspension open and the pro-pedal on my rear suspension means that I’m virtually the same speed going uphill as on a hardtail. Strava is great for benchmarking against other riders on similar segments.
A common error in ironman racing is crazed early pacing, which leads to nutrition and cramping issues late in the day. Reading Leadville race reports and listening to the advice of friends and forum dwellers, this appears to be universal across ultradistance events!
A very smart friend told me that the optimal race strategy for him was 90 minutes all out to start his day. When I asked if he truly went max-effort, he said yes. Well, I went out and did a 53-mile simulation ride on the course and recommend that you show a lot of respect to the route!
The last 25 miles have 3,200 feet of climbing and you’ll need everything you’ve got to get up them. While Strava showed that I was "losing" up to 12 minutes per hour to the top guys at the start, I lost 10 minutes total over the final quarter of the course. So the ability to ride at the end of the day is fundamental to your overall performance.
At my best ironman races, I’d test my climbing effort by seeing if I was able to drink. Having ridden on the course, there’s no way anybody’s going to be drinking riding up the major climbs! So my advice to you is keep your breathing controlled until you are above tree line and in the final 25-mile segment. Regardless of your sport, things change at tree line. It’s something that you have to experience to appreciate.
As an ironman athlete, ultradistance mountain biking is easy to fuel because there is a ton of rest when descending. The challenges are making sure that I take in calories/hydration where I can and keep my HR low enough so my digestion doesn’t shut down. This is another reason why a max-effort start strategy is suicide for most riders.
One last piece of advice: set yourself up with a 3x10 for gearing. Everyone told me to run 2x10 and the thought of muscling through the course appealed to me. However, my full suspension bike and 3x10 are holding their own on the Powerline segment page so I’m glad that I swallowed my pride. Based in Boulder, I use the full range of my gearing on most my rides.
Listen to everyone, try things out and keep what works.
See you out there in August.
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.