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"You're better than you think you are. 
You can do more than you think you can."
~ Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville Trail 100-mile run and bike race


This is Jim's account of his training for the mother of all 100-mile mountain trail bike races, the LT100, held at elevations between 9,200 to 12,400 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

This entry was posted more than two years after the event. After a computer crash I lost all my journaling notes from the two months we were in Leadville while Jim trained for this race. Ironically, Jim also lost his 2013 bike mileage records on his laptop computer. (Yes, we've learned to back up our computers in a more reliable manner!).

View of Mt. Massive from about Mile 5 on the LT 100 course  (6-26-13)

Fortunately, we still have all our photos and Garmin GPS information from the summer of 2013. We're using those photos, tracks, and our memories to reconstruct Jim's training and the race so we can finally post this entry.


This was written on December 4, 2015, over two years after the race. I have been meaning to document my experience, but just never got around to it. 

My first thoughts about riding the MTB race were just before the entry opening date, sometime in December, 2012. I remember calling our friend in Leadville to see if we could camp on his property again. I made the call to him from the garage so Sue wouldn't know what I was up to.

I was pretty sure she would approve, but if we couldn't stay at our friend's place I probably would have just forgotten about it because the other camping options in Leadville aren't nearly as good.

Can't beat camping right along the LT100 course next to our friend's business . . .

He said it would be okay, so I started dropping hints to Sue, mostly joking about it to see what her reaction would be. This seemed to land okay, so I got a little more serious about it and finally asked what she thought about me doing it.

I don't remember her exact words, but they were something like, "WHAT, are you crazy?!?"

So, with her approval (!), I mailed the application and waited. I think it was mid-February when there was a charge to our credit card for $375. I was "IN." What have I done now??

[Interjection from Sue:  I knew he could ride the course; I was only concerned about how crowded the course would be with 1600 other riders.]

I had lots of paved and dirt miles to ride on- and off-base at Kings Bay Sub Base
during the winter and early spring, but no hills to speak of.  (2-5-13)

I started "serious" training in February while we were at Kings Bay, GA, mostly getting long miles and working on speed since there no hills in southern Georgia or Florida.

We returned to our house Virginia in April and I could finally start hill training on the Roanoke River Greenway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Mill Mountain.

Our friend Steve and I head for a bridge on the Roanoke River Greenway  (4-7-13)

Training on the Blue Ridge Pkwy.:  Sue took the photo from the rearview mirror after passing me 
on her way to the next crewing spot. I'm framed by the back window of the truck.  (4-8-13)

I was glad to see Sue after climbing to a high point on the Blue Ridge Pkwy.
at Apple Orchard Mtn. during another training ride.  (5-12-13)

I trained for and rode the "Storming of Thunder Mountain" road race that started in Lynchburg, VA on May 19.

I signed up for the 100-mile event but dropped to the 75-mile event because of heavy rain and cold temps up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sue took these pictures of me in the fog and rain while crewing for me at Peaks of Otter after I came down from Apple Orchard Mountain:

Sue could barely see me coming toward her through the fog.

OK, let's get this over as soon as possible.


We arrived in Leadville on June 18 and got settled in for a two-month stay.

The LT100 Mountain Bike Race was scheduled for August 10, so I had almost two months for course-specific training and adjusting to the high altitude.

Leadville sits at 10,200 feet. Elevations in the race range from 9,200 feet to 12,424 feet, with a 12,612-foot gain over 103.3 miles.

The course is out and back from Leadville to Columbine Mine, with a slight
 variation on the return to include The Boulevard. Map from LT100 website.

Profile from race website

Although Sue and I have been on the LT100 run course many times, I wasn't familiar with all of the MTB course so I did a few rides on my own on parts I knew. I went up Sugar Loaf to the top of Powerline and thought that was pretty hard. I didn't make it all the way to the top without stopping a few times.

I eventually became very proficient and could do it non-stop come race day.

I rode the hilly, 13-mile Mineral Belt Trail loop around Leadville a few times just trying to get acclimated:

Above and below:  The paved Mineral Belt Trail has lots of hills, history, and scenic views.

I assumed I would be training daily on the race course with some experienced riders.

I communicated with one of them, Art, via e-mail numerous times before our arrival in Leadville trying to learn as much as I could. Art was a nine-time finisher and very knowledgeable about the race.

On June 26 I met up with him and we rode to the top of Mount St. Kevin's. Sue started out with us but turned around on the dirt road before the ascent. I made it about a quarter of the way up the mountain, hit some rocks, and came to a complete stop.

Above and below:  Art, in yellow, and I ride on paved CR 9 in the early miles
of the race course during our first training ride together.  (6-26-13)


Art and I head toward St. Kevin's Mtn. on CR 9A. The LT100 course covers a wide variety  
of road and trail surfaces, from smooth pavement to rocks and ruts.  (6-26-13)

Again, I eventually became very proficient and could do the climb up St. Kevin's non-stop several times before race day. Not on race day though. There were way too many other people that day. It's a very rocky and gnarly climb to the hair pin turn near the top.

On that first training ride at St. Kevin's Art and I turned around and returned to Leadville rather than continue down the other side to the Carter Summit Aid Station.

Two days later, on June 28, a group of about fifteen of us met downtown for our first organized group ride. We did the St. Kevin's loop for a total of 19 miles.

Creek along CR 9, with Mts. Elbert and Massive in the distance  (6-26-13)

I knew this race was going to be very hard for me but I was still looking forward to the challenge. Some of the riders in our group seemed very proficient, some not so much.

On our way out CR 9 the first time with the large group we were stopped by a Lake County Sheriff's Department Officer. He warned us that we would not be allowed to "ride like crazies, two or more abreast as we had in the past."

I, for one, tried to follow his warning but we never saw him again the entire summer.

I was amazed at how well Art rode. He gave me confidence that I could do it, too, since he was almost five years older than me. We met for training rides in groups of varying sizes almost every day until about two weeks before race day, when we began tapering.

Above and below:  A group of five of us pass by the camper on July 8 and wave to Sue.
That's me in the blue shirt, below.

I had been riding regularly with one of the other group members and we seemed to hit it off. Chris rode about the same pace and we got along well together. We wanted to ride up to Columbine Mine, the turnaround and high point of the race at over 12,400 feet.

Chris and I felt this was a must-do-ride before race day, so we split from the group and did that ride ten days before the race. Most of those 20 miles were tough.

My Garmin GPS track from Twin Lakes to Columbine Mine and back  (7-30-13)

I hadn't been on that part of the course since I tried to ride it during Week One of our arrival. Sue dropped me off at the bottom of the climb and I rode a couple of miles before I turned around. I wasn't at all acclimated in June so it was really tough to breathe.

By late July, however, I was much better acclimated to the altitude and was able to accomplish my goal.

Chris and I drove out to the Twin Lakes Aid Station and rode from there to the top. I felt okay about our time, a little slow, but it was a training ride. We took a couple of pictures at the top and started down. I can't access those picture now so Sue found these from prior years when we've worked the aid station up there during the bike race:

The turn before the long ascent to Columbine Mine; the Granite aid station is here on race day.  (8-15-09)

View of dirt "road" up to the Columbine Mine aid station; we worked up here several years.  (Aug., 2004)

Relic of the old Columbine mine near the aid station (Aug., 2006)

Chris was a bit ahead of me on the descent from Columbine Mine when I hit some rocks and crashed. This was the last of several crashes during my training rides. My elbows and right knee got a lot of abuse during the rides. I was probably the laughing stock of my fellow riders.

[Sue's note:  I don't think so! Almost everybody wrecked on the gnarly parts of the course during training rides, especially going down The Powerline on the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain.]

Chris, Jim (foreground), and other riders wait for the rest of
the training group to finish the long Powerline descent.  (7-25-13)

Sue and I did a lot of volunteering for the various LT100 events, thinking I may want to do the race again the next year. We worked packet pickup for the runs, rides, bike camp, etc. and other jobs as needed.

Finish of the Leadville Trail Marathon  (6-29-13)

Check-in for the bike camp (7-8-13)

Abrupt uphill start of the Silver Rush 50-mile trail bike race  (7-13-13)

Chilly morning during the  LT100 bike race medical check

I kept a good accounting of my volunteer  hours. I enjoyed working with like-minded individuals and learned a lot from them. 

As soon as I was accepted into LT100 I started watching my diet. My Specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike was probably a little heavier than others who were riding the race. I thought if I could lose some weight that would make up for the heavier bike.

I bought a new digital scale on March 30. I weighed 165 pounds, five pounds less than on the old analog scale. That was a good jumpstart on my weight loss. On race day my weight was at an all time low of 150.4 pounds. I had lost 15 pounds in four and a half months. I don't think I've weighed 150 pounds since high school.

Slim, trim Jim! I rode almost every morning, rain or shine.  (7-25-13)

There were a couple of race-related social events that Sue and I enjoyed.

One was the cook out at a 20-time finisher's house ("Doc"). There were lots of riders there, including the Wounded Warriors Group. Three of us were Viet Nam Veterans and had a group picture taken:

L-R:  Bruce, Jim, Doc (8-6-13).  Bruce is a ham radio operator we've worked with  
at LT100 several years.  Unfortunately, Doc couldn't race this year.

The other event was at Chris's house. She invited several friends, including her crew. 

After the crash on the Columbine descent, and that late in the game, I still wasn't sure that I even wanted to start the race. I was dreading the start corral and 1600 other riders.

How can you possibly expect to finish an event like that? Too many riders = Leadville Greed.  

Continued on the next page:  race day finally arrives -- what was I thinking???

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2013 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil