Leadville 100: Advice From An 11-Time Finisher

Race Coverage

It’s crowded at the start so get there early.

So you want the coveted La Plata Grande — the big belt buckle given only to those who stop the Leadville 100 finish line clock in under 9 hours. Then heed the advice of Mtbr.com fast man Mark Gouge. The acknowledged hard-man of the office has 11 Leadville 100 finishes under his belt, including nine sub-9 hour finishes and a personal best of 8:02. And did we mention that Gouge is on the north side of 50 years old. Yeah, he’s that kind of badass. You should listen to what he has to say.

Bike Choice

Hardtail or full suspension? I think the 29er hardtails offer a great climbing advantage. For me the full suspension 29er allows you to sit more on the descents and spin the lactic acid out. As the 26er fades, I think the 29er is the bike of choice for Leadville. The lighter the wheelset the better. Carbon hoops or Stan’s super light race are good choices.

What 11 Leadville finishes looks like.

Tire Choice

This is probably the number one question I’ve been asked over the years. For me a low rolling resistance tire is optimal, but there’s always a trade off especially when you’re descending Powerline with all the loose rocks. The potential to rip a sidewall is pretty high. But there’s usually a pretty worn path, so if you’re careful you can manage with a light weight low rolling resistance tire. And no matter what you choose, go tubeless tires for sure.

Crew

It’s great to have a crew, and they really only need to go to one spot. That’s at the Twin Lakes aid station. The veteran crews will bypass the main aid station parking and go further west to an access road that the racers come directly down. They can set up there and do the bottle or hydration pack exchange there and also on your return from the Columbine climb.

I know crews that try to be all over the course, but it can really stressful if they aren’t familiar with the roads. Plus, so many racers and their crews create traffic chaos in that little town. So one stop at Twin Lakes works the best, especially if they are crewing for multiple racers at multiple paces. You’ll see them twice from this point. That’s plenty. At other points in the races, the aid stations will have everything you need.

Tell your crew to head to Twin Lakes and stay there.

Hydration

I use bottles, but many fast riders opt for hydration packs. From the start or the race to the Twin Lakes aid station, you should consume 40-60ozs based on the 20oz per hour rule. This can vary some based on your size. But usually two 20oz bottles will cover you for the approx. 2:30-2:40 that it will take to be on the sub-9 pace. And if you run low, you can top up at the Powerline aid station.

For the ride up Columbine and back, still assuming the sub-9 pace, it should take you 1:30-1:45 to get up and thirty minutes to come back down. So that’s two more big bottles.

This is the one section where I sometimes switched to a hydration pack because it can be hard to let go of the bars to drink, and you really need to hydrate on this section. Take advantage of the long downhill to put down the electrolytes and water. When I see my crew for a second time, after Columbine, I grab three bottles for the trip home. There’s an aid station mid way back at Powerline and one on top of the last paved section heading into the St. Kevin’s climb/descent.

As for how you get your calories, it’s a very individual choice based on what works for you. I use Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem and gels exclusively. No solids, 200 calories per hour rule. It seems to work for me. But you’ll need to figure this out for yourself. My main advice is figure it out before the race, because race day is no time for experimenting.

The back end of the race is so far away you can’t even see it.

Get To The Start Early

Your goal is to go under 9 hours. Well, with several thousand riders lining up for this mass start race, start position is important. If you get to the start late for the 6:30 a.m. start you’ll find yourself a couple hundred yards behind the start line.

That’s a big deal when you consider the start is downhill on pavement. Let’s face it, it’s a whole bunch of mountain bikers that aren’t super comfortable riding in packs. That can make it tough to move up in the neutral roll out, which can be fast. So if you haven’t done it the year before and finished in the top 100 returning racers corral, you’re going to have to get there early to secure a start position near the front.  When I say early, I’m talking 4:30-5 a.m. to lay your bike down in the corral. I know rough, but you’ll be happy you did as you get closer to the start time.

Continue reading for more advice and full photo gallery.

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  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Gouge is the man!!

    - ASS

  • michaelhotten@gmail.com says:

    Mark-
    thanks for the write up. just got back from leadville with my gold buckle. got a silver two years ago. wondering how the race and training has changed for you since turning 50? i have noticed that fitness is trickier over the last couple years. I am now 49.

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