Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Leadville 100 MTB Training Plan

Congratulations! You just qualified for the Leadville 100! Now what?

There is a lot of planning that goes into earning the silver buckle besides simply riding your bike. When I qualified in 2013, I was a bit frustrated when I googled "LT100 free training plan" and came up with nothing. After reading and researching and eventually racing, I wanted to offer what I could in an attempt to help anyone who so desires get to the finish line. 

Training 100 info........More than you ever cared to know

I won't go into the actual 2013 Leadville race in this post, but will dedicate the space to dropping my training files. I say up front I am not a certified cycling coach, and this plan may not help you earn the sub-9 hour big buckle. But I do offer what the other plans don't: a full money back guarantee!!

Assuming you have qualified, the first thing to do is acquire lodging. If you have not qualified, that is the first step. The Leadville series website has more information on how to enter the lottery, compete in qualifying races, etc. (A lot of the information I reference in this article I read on the "news" tab of the Leadville series website, like this article by Rebecca Rusch and Dave Weins called Dispatches from Columbine.)


The town of Leadville is small, and lodging in town books up quickly. If all the hotels and motels are booked already, your next best option is to go north to Frisco/Breckenridge/Silverthorne/Vail or south to Buena Vista. Local cabins, RV parks, and rooms for rent are other options. 


Unless you have previous experience, the thought of pedaling your bike for 10-12 hours at 10,000-12,000 feet can be daunting. With the right preparation, it can be done. I will add- it can be done and the experience actually enjoyed!

There are several training theories out there and more than one has proven to be successful. One simple plan I read for a sub-12 hour finish: aim to train 11 hours per week.  The plan I formulated and attempted to follow was also based on weekly hours, but with a build and recover platform.

Many cycling coaches/plans use the periodization format, including the two primary sources I referenced along my journey. The first is Joe Friel's book, The Mountain Biker's Training Bible, the second a weekly hour chart I found under the lifetime endurance training tab of the LT100 website. (see picture below)

Using a calendar, work backwards from the LT100 race in late August and write your hourly goals at the beginning of each week. The 16-week plan will begin early May.

Logging 8-10 hours a week is not an afterthought, so in the couple of months leading up to May, you need to be pre-training. In other words, you should be preparing your body to handle the endurance load you are about to put on it. This is a great time to do some strength training to prevent injury. This is a good time to get your bike overhauled and fit by a professional. This is a good time to start adjusting your diet so your fueling habits work in your favor. 

If you have zero background in bike racing, I would also recommend hitting up a local cross-country or endurance race of some sort so you can practice starting with the masses.

 In 2013, I started training hard about February. Leadville was not on my radar yet, but I was preparing to compete in some cross-country races. When those races ended in May, I switched my focus from speed to endurance.

My main goals in the 16 weeks were: 1) get on my bike as often as possible, and 2) climb as much as possible. Living in Texas where sustained climbs are hard to find, I had to get creative. I did hill repeats on the road and visited the two trails in the area with the most vertical gain as often as I could (Big Cedar and Sansom). I did hill repeats at these trails as well.  Did I mention to incorporate hill repeats?

Other workouts included endurance road and trail rides of 1:30-3:00 hours, with one longer ride a week as the race neared (see "key rides" below), and plenty of recovery rides of :30-1:00. When my butt and mind were tired of the bike, I hit the gym or did an alternative workout. (Especially when it was July and August in Texas). I agree training in the heat can be of some value for training for altitude. It stresses your body in similar ways as the altitude does.

Avoiding injury was another big focus for me. I acquired a foam roller and learned a little yoga. I also listened closely to my body. If it was fatigued beyond normal, I rested. If I was mentally fried, I rested. Sometimes "resting" was a slow recovery ride, a flexibility session in the air conditioned, or a long nap on my couch.

Below is the chart transposed to a linear set-up with my actual hours and key rides from the week. I recorded how much elevation I gained each week, which you will also find listed.

Week         Hour Goal         Actual hours            Key rides

Wk. 1              8                                8
Wk. 2             10                             8.5                Big Cedar TMBRA Race (XC)
Wk. 3             11                              11                4:00, 50 mi.  trail/road ride
Wk. 4             11-12                        6.5               Warda TMBRA Race (XC)
Wk. 5              4                                4          
Wk. 6             10                              13               4:15, 62 mi. road w/ hill repeats  3,300 ft.
Wk. 7             12-13                         11               5:55, 68 mi. Palo Duro Canyon 6 hr. race 4,400 ft.
Wk. 8             14                              14.5            6:15, 35 mi. Flagstaff, AZ appx. 7,000 ft.
                                                                           4:15 Idyllwild, CA 1:30 Tram road climb, CA 3,095 ft.
Wk. 9              6                                 5
Wk. 10          15                                15               6:26, 75 mi, (road and trail, Austin, TX) 4,135 ft.
                                                                            7:13, 71 mi, (31 road/40 mi. Big Cedar trail) 4,652 ft.
Wk. 11          16                                11                
Wk.  12         16                               14.5             6:35, 46 mi., Silver Rush, Leadville, CO 7,989 ft.
                                                                            4:00, 34 mi. Monarch Crest, Salida, CO appx.3,000 ft.
Wk. 13          16                                 9                 2:00, 16 mi. Peaks Trail, Breckenridge, CO 1,463 ft.
Wk. 14          11                                 9
Wk. 15           8                                  8
Wk. 16          4-5                                5                  18 mi. Powerline pre-ride, 25 mi. Pipeline pre-ride 
LT100 Race   -                                   -                   11:07, 104 mi. 12,400 ft.

A few observations from the information above: Several weeks I never hit the hourly goal. In fact,  the 16 week training plan tops out at 3 weeks in a row at 16 hours each. My hours during that span? 11, 14.5, 9. In those key three weeks, I was 13 hours short! Oops. Please note: The training chart is for "intermediate to advanced riders" so it is probably designed for someone with a finish goal of 8 or 9 hours, not 11 or 12. (I never paid the money to find out).

The longest ride I did leading up to the race was at the end of week 10 (7:13). The previous weekend I had done another long ride with some friends in Austin (6:26), so even though I logged more hours in week 10 than any other, I actually took a big chunk of time in the middle of that week to be completely off the bike. Consistency is better than being a weekend warrior, but as long as you are getting close to your hourly goals, you can be flexible.

One last note that may not be obvious by looking at the chart: week 13-15 were mentally brutal for me. After peaking for the SilverRush qualifier and then returning from the mountains of Colorado to the suffocating heat of Texas, my motivation started wilting. All I wanted to do was eat junk food and be lazy. Nevertheless, I did what I could to hold on and thankfully came out okay.

I mention that as an encouragement to you, because at some point during your training, you will probably encounter a rough patch. It might be a cold that keeps you down for several days, or a work obligation you can't ignore. It might be an unexpected family matter that is far more important than your planned training ride, or it might be lack of motivation like I faced in the waning weeks. This is normal and doesn't mean your dreams of holding a buckle are shot. The number of people who follow training plans to the exact letter are as slim as the air is thin on the top of Columbine. Speaking of...


There is a lot of literature on the best way to prepare for a race at altitude. It seems, according to the experts (Rebecca Rusch, Chris Carmichael, Joe Friel), the best thing you can do is get to the altitude three weeks early so your body can get past the deterioration phase, acquire new red blood cells, and adapt. For many people, this simply is not an option.

The alternative recommendation is to arrive at altitude as late as possible so your body doesn't have time to know what the heck is going on, and you can supposedly finish the race before your body has any idea what you did to it.

I spoke recently with a guy who trains under Carmichael Training Systems. In 2015, he plans to get to the mountains several weeks early, but in 2013, he did the opposite. He flew in to Denver at 10:30 p.m. the night before the race, drove to his hotel, assembled his bike, slept for 2 hours, and raced. He said he did okay until Columbine.  (He still went home with a buckle, but his fitness was stronger than his finishing time reflected.)

I did exactly what everyone says NOT to do: I arrived in Colorado a week before the race. Apparently there is a window (I heard it called a trough) of 7-10 days where the body is breaking down and mal-adapting before it rebounds. But for me, this plan made more sense than the rush hour plan.

In the 11:05 it took me to finish the race, I can honestly say my body felt good. I didn't feel lightheaded or sick. Previous ski and backpacking trips to the mountains have given me enough personal feedback of how my body responds to the altitude. Based on that experience and my circumstances, this was my plan of attack:

I took two days to get there (appx. 14-15 hours from Fort Worth to Leadville by car). This meant the process of going from sea-level to two miles high was stretched out over 48 hours, with a good night's rest at about a mile high.

I drank tons of water. I don't care what plan you follow, 100% of them will tell you to hydrate or die. Avoid alcohol and caffeine they say (I still had my coffee every morning and even a beer the night before the race, I just always had a 32-oz bottle of water in the other hand).

I took it easy the first two days after arriving in Leadville. (I cannot imagine stepping off a plane, grabbing my bike and racing. I always feel the most tired and sluggish my first day at altitude. Why would I want to race on that first day?)

I used the week to get mentally ready. In my opinion, here is where all the difference lies. For me, this race is about the experience, not the result. I didn't want to train my butt off for months, then have the whole thing over within a mere 24 hours! I wanted to savor the whole deal: the town of Leadville - shopping at the thrift stores, eating at the Golden Burrito, cruising to Cycles of Life bike shop and grabbing a pair of socks, talking to locals, fly fishing, pre-riding - more on that later.

A few other random notes on acclimatizing. I followed Friel's advice and altered my diet a little. Carbohydrates are easier for the body to absorb and handle at altitude than protein, so I purposely held back on meat and cheese the first several days and stuck with a lot of carbs.

The last month before the race, I incorporated some super-high intensity intervals. Pumping up the VO2 Max helps when you are about to be starving for every bit of oxygen in thin air. A few sample workouts you can do in the last few weeks:

1)  8-10 reps of 15-30 second intervals at all out max speed.
2)  6-8 reps of 15-30 second hill climbs at all out max speed.
3)  6-8 reps of 15-30 second sprints on a treadmill set to the highest incline.
4)  6-8 100 yard sprints.
5)  8-10 bleacher sprints. 

Last word on altitude. If possible, get to the mountains once or twice in the months before the race. Going back to the training chart above, you can see I got most of my climbing during road trips to the mountains. I was fortunate to head west twice in the three months before the LT100 in late August. The first road trip was to California in June, where my husband and I took our bikes and rode trails along the way. The second was the trip to the SilverRush 50 in July. I know for certain this played a huge role in preparing my body and mind for racing at altitude.

Taking multiple summer road trips isn't possible for everyone, but even taking a few weekend trips to 4,000-5,000 feet and spending a couple of days riding and sleeping at minor altitude may help.

Last last word on the subject. Accept the fact that your body is going to have a harder time breathing than normal. Focus on taking long slow breaths, in your nose, out your mouth. Do this in the race AND in your day, days, or weeks prior. Don't redline your heart on St. Kevin's climb; do follow Rebecca Rusch's advice - start at a slower pace than your body wants to go. At the turn around, if you're feeling good, turn it up and pass all the people who blew up too early.

  Bike Set-Up

Full suspension or hardtail? Take your pick. Both are represented out there, and both do fine. Here is a good article from Velo News in 2011 where several of the top guys were even on 26ers.  Whatever you have, keep it tuned up. Remember to tip those mechanics who will probably be back home wrenching when you are crossing the finish line in all your glory:) I know if it wasn't for my local bike shop, I wouldn't have enjoyed a mechanical-free finish.

I was on a 2012 full-suspension Specialized Epic 29er. I rode the bike stock, so you can click on the specs to see anything I leave out. The drive train was 2x10 with 38/24 chain rings and that seemed to be a good set up.

For tires, I ran Specialized FastTraks. 2.2 on the front and 2.0 on the rear (tubeless). Tire pressure was 27 psi. front and 29 psi. in the rear. (For 150 lb. rider).

I wondered if I should lube my chain during the race or not. I lubed it the night before and that was it. The course was not muddy or super dusty, so I wouldn't worry about this unless you have a crew who can hit your chain while you are refueling.

Race Day Equipment

I carried a 100 oz. Camelbak and filled it half-way with water to save weight. I refilled it at Columbine (so it was the lightest on the longest climb). If there was anything I would do different, it would be to go easier on the water during the race. My previous weeks of training had been in the extreme Texas heat, and I drank a bunch to acclimatize, but I failed to slow down my intake in the last 24 hours and during the race I had to stop 4 times to pee.

Also in my backpack was an extra tube, tire lever, two CO2 cartridges, small pump, allen wrench set, extra chain link, a few chammy butter packets (which I did use), chapstick, zip ties, shower cap, and my rain jacket. 


You hear it a bunch because it is true. Make sure you dial in your nutrition before the race. Find out what works, what your stomach can handle, etc.

Several months before the race, I went by my LBS and grabbed a sample packet of about every kind of electrolyte mix available. When I settled on the one I liked, I bought the huge container of it.

My water bottle had a mix of an electrolyte and endurance fuel (half Strawberry Hammer Heed and half Strawberry/Vanilla Hammer Perpetuem).  I had three extra bottles of the same mix in my aid bag, but didn't use it all. I also took two kinds of electrolyte gels to change up the flavor. If you are a cramper, electrolyte tablets might be a good idea because they pack small.

For solid food, I took bonk bars, honey stinger waffles, and fig newtons. Again, Ms. Rusch says to bring something you enjoy eating for a mental treat (I thought about peanut butter M&M's...)

More repeats from the race article:  Eat early in the race. It’s hard to eat when you are climbing or descending, and when you get tired. The relatively flat section between Powerline and Pipline, and Pipeline and Twin Lakes are good places to fuel on the bike.
If you are a math person, here is a formula for you: aim to get in at least 300 calories an hour. 

I also took 3 sport leg tablets every few hours, as well as some Aleve a couple of times.

Even if you hate carrying a Camelbak like I do, but you plan on doing so at Leadville, make yourself ride with it the last month or so before the race so you are used to the extra weight come race day.


I started the race in shorts (not bibs, shorts = faster pit stops) and a short-sleeved jersey. Most people had arm warmers, knee warmers, etc. but I knew I would get hot on the first climb and opted to go light. I was wearing a warm beanie, though, and took it off when the sun came out. I also wore wool socks, which I highly recommend.

One thing I haven't discussed is weather. 2013 was a lucky year and there was more sunshine than anything else. I had extra clothes in my aid station bag in case it got nasty, but never had to use them. (If you were wondering what the shower cap is for, it is to keep your head dry in case it rains. That is from Ms. Rusch, I'm not that smart.)

At the top of Columbine, I put my jacket on for the long descent.

Race Strategy:  What to Pre-ride (if possible)
Pre-ride the start and the finish. They are different, so if you return the way you came you will miss your turn. The course is pretty well marked if you pay attention, but I always feel better when I have a good feel for the first few miles. It takes the edge off my nerves.

You can pre-ride the start from town, going directly into St. Kevin's climb. Riding St. Kevin's will help you acclimatize (I did it on day 3) and help you mentally prepare for the first climb you will see in the race. You can turn around at Carter Summit mini aid station around mile 9.

On day 4, I pre-rode Powerline. In my opinion, so many people make a big deal about the Powerline climb and descent that no one mentions the several miles before it (outbound), which deserve a little respect. One way to pre-ride this is to park at the Pipeline Aid station (you will want to find where all of those are anyhow if you have a pit crew) and ride backward. This gives you some flat section to warm up on (visualize yourself drafting on this same section during the race-don't get caught on the flats alone), then climb Powerline, keep going a few more miles to see the backside of Sugarloaf where the less mentioned technical section is. I would turn around before you start the major descent of Sugarloaf (or you get to climb back up).

Descend Powerline and return to your vehicle. Remember Powerline will be crowded come race day, so you may not be able to pick that perfect line. Number one priority is to make it down the thing safely. Another repost of something I read: "You won't win the race on the descent, but you sure can lose it."

Those were the pre-rides I did and I think it was sufficient. I didn't pre-ride Colombine and I don't feel like I was unprepared. If you want to follow my crazy 1 week acclimatizing plan, then at this point you can kick your feet up for the next three days and go fly fishing.  (Save for a few easy spins.)

Aid Stations

The aid stations are very crowded. I totally missed my pick up at Pipeline and ate my back-up fuel bag early (at least my camelbak was lighter). Communicate well with your crew. Have them wear bright colors or even better, have a tall flag that is easy to recognize. Drive to all the stations the week of and discuss the approximate location for hand-ups (i.e. which side of the trail and beginning/middle/or end).  Make sure your crew knows your splits and approximate times.  If you get in a bind, there are lots of folks willing to help. I bummed electrolyte drink mix twice.

Your crew can set up at Pipeline and Twin Lakes. Carter Summit has water (and maybe electrolyte drink) available. I would plan to skip this station to get ahead of more of the crowd. On Columbine, the volunteers are amazing and will have liquid and a few snacks available.

Time Splits

Below are the aid stations, their mile mark on the course, and the race promoter's suggested time splits for 8 through 12 hour finishes. Stop by the Herbalife base camp when you get to town to get a detailed chart. It will also include an elevation profile.

                                                                                            Finish Goal:

                                                       8 hrs.              9 hrs.             10 hrs.             11 hrs.           12 hrs.  

Carter Summit: (8/9 mi.)                 -                     -                      -                       -                       -

Pipeline: (27 mi.)                           1:45                2:00                2:15                 2:25                2:35

Twin Lakes Dam: (40 mi.)             2:30                2:50                3:10                 3:25                3:40

Columbine:  (51 mi.)                     4:00                 4:35                5:00                 5:40                6:15

Twin Lakes Dam: (60 mi.)             4:35                 5:15                5:45                 6:35                7:05

Pipeline:  (75 mi.)                          5:30                 6:20                 6:50                 7:50                8:15

Carter Summit:  (93 mi.)                 -                       -                       -                     9:45              10:30

Finish Line: (104 mi.)                     -                       -                       -                     11:00             12:00                         

If you're wondering why the pink duct tape has totally different numbers than the chart, it is because I made a few alterations.

First, I only used the 11 and 12 hour times. Most people have a goal time that falls within a one hour window. To eliminate so many numbers to look at, I only wrote those two splits. My hope was to be close to the first and under the second.

Second, I converted the splits from accumulated hours to actual clock/time of day time. I was using a basic bike computer that stops running when my bike is not moving. Who wants to do math at all the aid stations or keep a separate clock? Not me.

Since the shotgun blast goes off at 6:30 a.m. to start the official clock, I based everything off of this.  For an 11 hour finish, I wanted to be at Pipeline by 8:55 a.m., Columbine at 12:10 p.m., etc.

During the race, I left my computer on clock mode, not accumulated time or miles. An extra benefit to this strategy was to help me stay stronger mentally. I did not want to look down and see that I had been riding for 5 hours but still had 6 long hours to go. I did not want to look down and see I had ridden for 40 miles but still had over 60 to go. Yes, I clicked modes a few times to see how far and how long I had gone, but mostly I tried to focus on enjoying the race and getting to the next aid station by the first time of day listed in pink.

One last alteration I made to the provided splits was actually an addition. It scared me to have the last time split (Pipeline) be almost 4 hours and 30 miles away from the finish, with no way to check if I was dropping off my pace significantly. So I added Carter Summit to the list and guesstimated the time.


A few last things that helped:

To get a good mental picture of the course before I ever made it to Leadville, and to visualize the sections I did not pre-ride, I watched "Race Across the Sky" on youtube.

I also joined the LT100 yahoo group. This lets you listen in on valuable conversation between new and veteran riders. You will get weather reports, ideas on tire selection and gearing, etc. If you see a post by "justartok" pay close attention. It's a guy named Art who has finished Leadville 10 times. He is also the guy who marks the course.

Best of luck my friend!! Enjoy the ride!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I have looked several times for something that lays things out like you have done in this article. My hope is to race Leadville in 2017 so this will be a great help in ready. Also congrats on finishing the race yourself.

Brenda Andress said...

Best of luck to you!! Feel free to shoot me an email if you have more specific questions along the way.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, thanks so much

Anonymous said...

Great article. Did you ride your MTB on your road workouts?

Brenda Andress said...

I used my road bike on long road rides. However, some of the best training rides were ones that consisted of riding a trail, then hitting the road to another trail, and back again. So I did put some road miles on my mountain bike, but only when I would also be riding dirt. The main reason for this was to minimize the amount of wear and tear on my mt. bike.

Anonymous said...

For your hill repeats, what was the usual hill length and # reps you'd repeat?

Brenda Andress said...

The best road hill I could find near me had a short, steep climb on one side (took about a minute to climb) and a more gradual climb on the other side (about 1:30-2:00). Depending on the workout, I would go back and forth over the hill anywhere from 3-5 times. Once, just to prepare specifically for Columbine, I did 12 repeats of the hill. There was another climb I did on a chunky gravel road by my favorite mountain bike trail that took about 1:30 minutes to climb. I would ride the trail for several hours, then finish with 5-6 hard repeats. I am not sure what the exact distance was on these-I will try to get out to them at some point and post back up.

EKC said...

Excellent training plan! I'm fortunate to be part of 2017 race and have been looking for something exactly like this. Very much appreciated!
Congrats on your finish!

Brenda Andress said...

EKC - Congrats!!! Enjoy the adventure!