leadville 100 9 hour finisher belt buckle

Today’s question is about knowing when you’re ready to enter a huge race such as the Leadville 100, a 100-mile mountain bike race in Colorado that took pros Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer over 6 hours to finish…

When Will I Feel Confident That I Can Finish?


When training a race like Leadville 100 mtn. bike, how do I know I’m ready? I mean, how much training do I do to get to the point where I feel powerful enough and confident I can finish? Daily, how many miles?

Hesitant Heidi

Hi Heidi,

I feel this is a question everyone asks themselves before any new challenge. For me, it was always about logistics. If I was registered for a race, I was ready! (This approach did get me into trouble, though!)

For challenging races like this, I think it’s more about confidence in yourself than it is about daily miles.

Sure, part of that confidence is your training experience and having already completed some hard races and long rides. I probably wouldn’t consider doing Leadville unless I had at least a couple mountain bike marathons (40-60 mile mountain bike races) under my belt. I’d want some serious altitude training as well (you’re at elevations above 9,200 feet the entire race).

Realistically, if you can do a 50-60 mile ride in a mountainous region and feel good, you can probably go for a 100 miler. But some people might ride 100 off-road miles every weekend and still not feel confident about taking on Leadville. It’s highly individual.

Obviously I’d suggest preparing a personalized training plan (or hiring a coach to do one) when you’re talking about a long, grueling race like this, but the training is only half the battle. The most important thing to do is to prepare mentally.

Think it over, from start to finish, and visualize everything. Think of worst case scenarios and what you will do to overcome them if they happen. Read motivational books. Talk to a sports psychologist. Whatever works for you.

But if you don’t build up this mental toughness, you might never “feel” powerful enough to take on such a race.

Since the Leadville 100 is such a big deal, and since I’ve never trained for it or competed in it, I asked around and compiled some more advice for you.

Here is what these experts, coaches, and experienced riders are saying:

Trust In Your Training

Mike Kuhn, Head Coach at US Nats MTB Camp at Bear Creek and Promoter Guy of Trans-Sylvania Epic & HighSpeedCycling.com events (who also provides coaching via the seldom updated PowerOnCoaching.com), says:

“If you know you have a good solid training program then you have to trust in it and trust that you will be ready when the time comes. If you’re training appropriately for an effort like Leadville – training your strengths and weaknesses as necessary to be ready for the big day and doing efforts that approximate the demands of the event – then you’ll be ready. (And if you’re not then you should start doing so.)

Without trust in yourself and your program, if you’re constantly second guessing your training, you’ll never be confident. Get on a well built plan, get with a good coach, and trust in both.”

Again, you have to put in the training, but confidence is paramount.

Prepare For The Inevitable Mishaps

Harlan Price, 2006 NUE Series Winner and MTB Skills Coach at Take Aim Cycling, gives you some very important questions to ask yourself:

“1. Are you someone who motivates by visualizing crossing the finish line? Can you overcome most trail, bike, mind and body mishaps?

2. Can you ride a mountain bike for 8hrs steady and still have some left in the tank, while covering 2/3+ of terrain and distance similar to the race course? It’s a 12hr time limit and that last third can be a crusher with headwinds and some steep climbs but at least is doesn’t have the 10 mile climb.”

You’ll want to think long and hard about these points so that you don’t run into any surprises on race day.

Relax and Pace Yourself

Aaron Snyder, Pro MTB Racer and MTB Coach, who will be competing in both the Trans-Sylvania Epic and TransRockies Challenge in 2013, says:

“If just finishing a race like Leadville 100 is your goal, my suggestion is to become comfortable with completing training rides of half (or just slightly more than) that distance. Training for the full distance of 100 miles is difficult and often times impractical. Once you’re comfortable at that halfway point, the key will be focusing on your pacing in order to get you through the rest. Relax, stay on top of your pacing, and don’t start too hard. You’ll go way faster if you start easy than if you start hard.”

Your adrenaline will probably be pumping at the start line, no matter how cold and early it is, so make sure you remember to pace yourself!

How to Build Up Your Endurance

Brandon Draugelis, Pro MTB Racer, Endurance Guru, and Creator of The Shred, says:

“I found myself facing the same questions prior to tackling my first 24 hour solo race. With the Leadville 100 still being months away you will have plenty of time to slowly build your endurance.

Incorporate one endurance ride into your weekly training regime. Focus on training time rather than miles and begin with a riding time that is only 15 to 30 minutes beyond your comfort zone. You can gradually increase the time of your weekly endurance ride by an additional 15 to 30 minutes per week until you make it up to 60% of your expected finishing time. While on these rides, pay special attention to your pacing and calorie intake. You want to be able to finish these rides tired, but not completely wiped out.

During the week be sure to incorporate 1 to 2 rest or recovery days with at least one of those days being complete rest. Also allow for one week per month without any endurance training to allow your body to completely recover.

1 month before the race incorporate an endurance ride that will be 75% of your finishing time. By the time you make it to race day you will be well prepared. If you are able to train at up to 75% of your expected race time you will be mentally tough enough to push through the final quarter of the race.”

If you didn’t have a training plan before, now you do!

Commit to Finishing

Sonya Looney, Ultra Endurance Pro Mountain Biker, says:

“You could ride thousands of miles and still not feel ready! I think that your longest ride should be around 70 miles if you’ve never raced 100 before. If you’ve raced 100 before, you know you are capable of finishing. The key to endurance racing is so much more than physical preparation. It’s very mental. You have to commit to finishing the event, to riding smart, and to overcoming feeling bad or having mechanicals. It’s normal to have some dark moments over the course of 100 miles, but just telling yourself you’ll finish and accepting nothing less is a great place to be!”

Did I mention she’s a Leadville finisher? Yep, here’s her race report. You could learn a lot (and be entertained) by reading her blog and following her on Facebook and Twitter, so I suggest doing that right now!

Get In The Arena

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the USA, may have never competed in any mountain bike race, but that doesn’t make his advice any less valuable:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

That’s from his “Man in the Arena” Speech given April 23, 1910. I’ve been wanted to quote this for a while, and I think it applies here!

With all of this excellent advice, I don’t think you can go wrong!

Bonus: Here’s a downloadable PDF training plan for the 2016 Leadville 100 MTB race.

Good luck!

Photo credit: Bruce Turner

You may also like

Leave a Reply