Finish Leadville Faster

by | Apr 10, 2024 | Racing, Training

Success in endurance races like the Leadville 100-mile MTB race isn’t just about logging endless training hours. The race’s challenging terrain and high altitude demand a strategic approach beyond sheer fitness.

Leadville Success Without Training More

In this article, I’ll focus on everything besides training (though our training plans can help you with that!). For adult cyclists with busy lives finishing Leadville in under 9 or 12 hours presents a very different challenge than an elite cyclist with unlimited time to train and the ability to spend time (or live) at altitude as they finish in close to 6 hours. Leadville is a huge adventure and that provides you with an opportunity to do really well by being a Consummate Athlete and thinking about all the little thing that add up on race day.

First, Plan for Success

As Consummate Athletes one of our main strategies is planning for success. We enter races that occur in periods of the year where family and work is less likely to work against us. Sometimes this means not doing the race you want and focusing on an event you can do really well at. If you are signed up for Leadville, or thinking about it, make sure you speak with your family about the demands on your time in the 2-3 months before the race and negotiate/plan to have family vacations/events to occur well before or after the August race day.  We want you to have a consistent string of training days in the 2-3 months before the race.

You can do it all but if you can reduce even a few travel days or stressors ahead of the race you will find that your performance is higher, without training any extra.

Be A Student of the Race

Researching resources like Leadville pictures, videos, and race stories can provide valuable insights. Experience the race virtually through media, simulate it in training, and participate in similar events to prepare effectively. This is a great way to boost your indoor training time and enhance your visualization and preparation for the event.

A few of our favorite Leadville 100 Videos and Resources

Be specific and enter events you are excited about!

This might seem obvious but if you sign up for a race it will ideally push you to do a bunch of training that you enjoy (or mostly enjoy). We often ask the question, “can you prepare for the goal you have set, and do you want to? Too often clients sign up for a race like Leadville and then realize they only want to do flat road circuit group rides. For Leadville you will want to spend a lot of time on your mountain bike riding gravel roads and double track with lots of climbing and descending. If your access to specific terrain is limited you will have to find ways to simulate it at home (e.g. hill reps, indoor training, bike choice) and you will be well served to plan a few trips to areas that offer terrain that can augment your preparation and boost your confidence.

Eat Smart, Fuel Right – faster not fasted!

Especially as you get 3-4 months out from a big race like Leadville it is important to focus on fueling your training. There is no doubt that climbing big mountains at altitude rewards smaller athletes but, the reality is that we have the body we have, and so there is much more to be gained from consistent training and increasing work capacity (e.g. the time you are able to ride your bike and the speed you can ride it). Certainly get your veggies and protein through the day but make sure that when you ride you are focused on going faster, not fasting! For performance at altitude over many hours the current research trends are pushing to have athletes >50g per hour, which will require ‘gut training’ to get used to consuming that much without digestive distress. Because many adult athletes will be out for 9-12 hours this means figuring out the mix of foods/powders/gels that your body and mind will tolerate for hours of exertion at altitude. Your training will help answer this question, if you practice fueling.

Hone Technical and Mechanical Skills

Many adult athlete train inside to try and be ‘efficient‘ and get ‘the perfect workout‘ but then find they get to an event and find that outside is not like inside. This could mean lower confidence, or time lost technically but we have also seen this go very bad with big crashes and big mechanicals that cause a DNF. If you can stay upright and have a bike that works reliably, you are eliminating the big downside risk. This is something you can improve at home, with the kids and also something that you can spend money on to improve (e.g. get new parts, well tuned bike and bike skills lessons)

Keep Moving – Tortoise and the Hare

If you stop during the race, your average speed will decrease, this is not rocket science!. Your goal is to plan ahead and practice so that your aid station stops are short. Maintain a steady pace throughout the race, minimizing stops to conserve energy and stay on track with your goal pace.  Use smoother sections to take a ‘rolling’ break, adjust your shoes/clothing and to stretch your back.  Before the race practice skills like no-handed riding and mounts/dismounts to reduce or eliminate time spent at a standstill. Be like the Tortoise and keep moving till you reach the finish line, which of course relates to not being a Hare who races off the startline and then needs to take a nap or nurse cramping hamstrings at mile 75!

 How to Fuel an Ironman (Video)

Master Pacing

Learn to sustain a steady pace over varying terrain, using heart rate and/or effort to control your pace and maintain your ability to keep moving steadily to the finish. Many masters athletes will get pulled into the pack racing in the first hour and end up with their peak powers for the race in the first hour of the race. If you peak the first hour this suggests that there is a gradual, and often agonizing, fade towards the finish. Remember the first 20 minutes will feel easy but 7-12 hours later that same effort will be maximal, if not impossible. Pace to finish strong on race day by practicing pacing and using HR/feeling in training.

Quick Tip: We suggest athletes start with 85% of Max Heart rate to limit the first 1/2 to first 3/4 of the race and then refine their personal endurance race HR limit as they gain training and racing experience. If you see your HR up higher than 85% then you ask yourself if it is a place you want to spend your matches. Experienced racers get better at knowing when to back off, sit down, spin more so they can endure stronger later.

Function Off-Bike Efficiently

We love cross-training (#CrossTrainingIsNotACRIME) and that is why many athletes work with Consummate Athlete. For Leadville, there will be moments you need to get off your bike. So ideally you are able to efficiently mount and dismount your bike (without stopping). Ideal is that you can push your bike uphill without cramping or being sad about walking! For many people, walking some of the steeper sections is an optimal pacing strategy (e.g. your HR is <85% walking).

Beyond specific off-bike time the demands of pedaling a bike all day and absorbing impacts will benefit from you strength training and doing mobility practices, including yoga and walking. As we started this article, the reality is you can not train more than your life allows but you can reap the benefits of quick strength/mobility/walking sessions. Metabolic/body comp, strength, mobility and overall fitness gains can be a huge advantage for busy adult athletes.  Our Leadville Training plans will include yoga/walking days and also a quick 10-20 min core routine to help you get these benefits while also getting in lots of riding.

Leadville 100 finisher training plan - may have to walk

Prepare for Altitude, But Don’t Freak Out

Altitude is a factor at Leadville, the reality is the race is at very high elevation ranging from about 10,000 feet to over 12,000 feet. That is a fact and uncontrollable, that is the environment you are going into. There are several ways to put yourself in a better position on race day. We can control our preparation, which must always start with ‘big rocks’ of endurance training, a healthy diet (e.g. fueling work required versus underfueling) and lots of sleep. For most athletes there are so many gains to be had from these areas that thinking about altitude is not really warranted, or possible. Most adult athletes can’t afford additional trips the same year as a big bucket list race like Leadville. They can’t go to an altitude camp and something like an altitude tent is not going to work financially and/or will not go over well with their family due to the inconvenience and heat.

With that said there are a few ways to prepare for altitude ranging from altitude camps, to tents and heat training. We describe these briefly below:

Altitude Tents – These are generally not possible due to cost and/or the inconvenience to family. These devices adjust the air pressure in a sealed tent around your bed so you can ‘sleep high’ while staying at your home.

We have a post on Altitude Tents Here if you are curious about them

CAMPS – Going to a mountainous area is a great way to see what Altitude is like and practice riding at altitude (e.g. go have fun in the mountains for 1-2 weeks). Increasingly, athletes we coach are going to one or both of the Leadville camp or Stage Race put on by Leadville/Lifetime, which can serve the purpose of pre-riding the course, gaining altitude experience/exposure and possibly improving your start spot or, even help you gain entry into the event.

Heat Exposure for Altitude – Heat training for altitude preparation has gotten a lot of press over the last few years. Heat training is more affordable and easier to implement than altitude training and may have great benefit for other events. There are a few different types of heat adaptation described below, watch for a more detailed post and podcast soon.

  • Training in the Heat: Exercising in hot environments, or the hottest portion of the day, could cause physiological adaptations such as increased sweat rate, improved heat dissipation, and enhanced cardiovascular function. Studies have shown that heat training can improve endurance performance and acclimatization to high altitudes by increasing plasma volume, improving thermoregulatory responses, and enhancing heat tolerance.
  • Over-Dressing: This method is also called “hyperthermic conditioning,” and is basically just over-dressing during training sessions or using heat-generating garments to elevate core body temperature, leading to adaptations like increased blood volume, improved sweat response, and enhanced heat shock protein production, all of which contribute to better heat tolerance and performance in hot environments.
  • Indoor Training Without Cooling: Exposing oneself to heat stress during indoor training sessions without cooling mechanisms like fans or air conditioning can simulate real-world conditions encountered during endurance events. This approach helps athletes develop heat acclimatization by stimulating adaptations such as increased plasma volume, improved cardiovascular efficiency, and better heat dissipation through sweating. Adding hot rides after high intensity or on lower intensity days gradually building the duration and heat to the point you see performance decline (e.g. heart rate elevation against stable power).
  • Post-Exercise Heat Exposure: Post-exercise heat exposure methods like sauna sessions, hot tub use, or hot baths have been shown to promote heat acclimatization and enhance endurance performance. These methods elevate core body temperature and trigger adaptations such as increased plasma volume, improved sweat composition, and enhanced heat shock protein expression, all of which contribute to better heat tolerance and performance in hot environments. Typically this is done for 20-40 minutes after training sessions at ~40 degrees Celsius for 1-2 weeks.

Maximize Aerodynamics, Position, Efficiency

With training our goal is to maximize the work we can do (fitness), while on race day we want to minimize the work we have to do. The latter idea is often missed by hardworking endurance athletes.

Leadville is a mountain bike race but a lot of time can be saved by drafting and learning to optimize your aerodynamics. Easy wins come from participating in group road rides and wearing clothes that don’t flap in the wind. Elite Leadville times are becoming so fast that much effort is put into Aero (see 2016 winner’s bike/gear here). Recently, a bike company tested hairstyles and found that braided hair was more efficient than a bun or ponytail and also found some interesting gains from shaved legs and arms (but not face!). So there are some little wins you can get for low cost or a bit practice.

Race Leadville Faster

While these concepts may sound basic and optimistic at times, I do believe that there is a ton of time to be gained for almost anyone looking at Leadville and similar races even without changing your daily fitness regime. Our goal is to maximize the work we can do (fitness) and minimize the work we have to do on race day by leveraging preparation, planning, health, nutrition, and equipment. By focusing on these aspects beyond traditional training, you can enhance your performance at Leadville and similar races without necessarily increasing your training volume.

Need a Training Plan for Leadville 100?


Get the 8 Month Training Plan Here (Jan/Feb Start)


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