Beware: The Leadville 100 gets in your head
The year was 2011. I was living in Boulder, Colorado, and went to the premier of the second Race Across the Sky movie, which documents the 2009 Leadville MTB 100. This move is the second in as many years, the first one featuring the first and only appearance by then Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong. Lance’s participation in the 2008 race put a lot of international light on the race, which previously was more of a home-grown affair. As such, the “Lance Effect” had a huge impact on the visibility of the Leadville 100.
The movie premier that I was attending documented the 2010 race, the main protagonists of which were the “Queen of Pain,” Rebecca Rusch, “Mister Leadville,” Dave Weins, and former Lance teammate and eventual overall winner, Levi Leipheimer, who finished in the top 10 of the Tour several times with his best result third place in 2007. The Leadville 100 was again drawing international level talent and adding to the allure is that the race offers the unique opportunity for Joe and Sally average to race against the best of the best in the world. But if you are reading this, you know that.
At the time, I was a very avid and fit “Boulder Cyclist.” I raced raced a bit of both MTB and road, but mostly rode just to ride. I had done 100 miles on my road bike many times and probably no more than 30-40 miles in one session on a mountain bike. Of course I knew about the Leadville 100 but the the idea of doing it was a hard no. It sounded absurd, actually. Ride 100 miles on my MTB, above 10,00o feet? Yes, I probably could do it physically, but why? My ass will hate me. The only reason I went to the movie was because Levi and a bunch of over pros and former pros were going to do a round-table and Q & A. I thought that would be cool, and I had nothing else going on that night.
The Race Across the Sky was not what I was expecting. Yes, it shows the race-to-win part a lot and that’s fun to see, but the real impact of the movie are the stories about the many non-professionals, non-racers even, and even people I consider barely riders, who overcame many individual adversities to attempt what for them may seem impossible, and certainly not advisable.
Race creator, Ken Chlouber has a saying, and he says it a lot if you are around him: “You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can. You’re tougher than you think you are.” And the move showcases the many stories of people living into that pep talk. Bring a tissue.
This race has a way of drawing a vast range of cyclists to it, like cowboys to bucking bulls, to sign up for something they know is going to hurt. Watching the stories of people who I thought had no business even trying this stunt, and then finishing it (though not all did or do) gave me such a burst of admiration at their mental grit, gratitude for my own lack of physical limitations, and an immediate desire to follow in there tire tracks that I went home and signed up for the Leadville 100 that night. My life has never been the same.