Tackling Leadman - Orange Mud, LLC

Tackling Leadman

Last year while watching the Leadville 100 run and ride, I was so impressed by the venue, organization, crowd/family of athletes, and of course the beautiful town of Leadville. I’ve wanted to ride the Leadville 100 for 15 years, but after a few years of not getting in through the lottery I guess I just forgot about it. After last year however, I realized it was time to tackle something fun, adventurous, and iconic, hence the signup for Leadman.

I started the objective with 2 simple goals. The first was to be a good dad and husband, meaning don’t train every weekend away from my family. The second was simply to complete the Leadman events. I knew it was a big undertaking, especially with training for the Dirty Kanza 200 a month before this all started, but I had a descent plan that went pretty well.

The main focus of the season was hinged on riding, with a little bit of running, and big ride days would always be on Monday during the day, and the rest of the training would fall sometime during the day on the other days of the week. I alternated run and ride as much as possible, and never ran two days in a row to reduce impact. This really worked great and I can honestly say that this year has been a year of feeling fantastic. I haven’t had tight calf muscles like I do when I just run a lot, my back and core has been strong from strength work (often done with my kids before shower time), and the running/riding combo seemed to compliment my cadence in both sports. My biggest training ride was only 90 miles, longest training run only 25. I knew my run mileage was low this year, but when reflecting upon my adventure racing over the years I was at my strongest running when I was running less and riding more, so that didn’t bother me. Ok, so now about Leadman.

The Leadman entry consists of the following events.

  • Leadville Trail Marathon
  • Silver Rush 50 mile bike or run, you’re choice.
  • Leadville 100 mountain bike
  • Leadville 10k (day after the mountain bike)
  • Leadville 100 mile run (week after the 100 bike) 

Event 1 - The first event was the Leadville trail marathon. As a distance, this was the least of my concerns as it was only a marathon. But you know what? That thing was freaking hard! In 6 weeks leading up to it I ran a crazy race in Malaysia, an Ragnar ultra in Aspen, and a 208 mile endurance ride in Kansas, so my expectations were pure fun in the mountains with lots of pictures. So as a tip, it’s not just a marathon, it’s a super steep, high altitude, leg and foot busting, lung busting marathon. It hurt, wasn’t easy, but was a great accomplishment. Did I mention the 60 mile per hour sustained winds at the summit of over 13k in elevation! This was the start of the “Leadville family” building too. I met so many amazing people this weekend that I couldn’t wait to continue through the season.

*Gear setup and review

  • Orange Mud Singlet, Arm Cooler, Gear Vest. The Gear Vest worked perfectly as the 1L bladder was just enough to refill at every other aid station. Plus holding my phone, electrolytes and backup nutrition was a breeze.
  • Hydration – Infinit. Perfect day of hydration. I used the orange flavor which I find too powerful for me sensory wise, so I cut it down to 70% concentration (still 188 cal per serving). Not ideal since I’m reducing caloric intake, but I offset this a tad on course. For the rest of the season I’ll only use the Lemon Lime which I can drink full concentration at 269 cal per serving, hot or cold, no issue.
  • Altra Lone Peak 3.0 and my 2” Orange Mud running socks paired with Squirrel Nut Butter. Perfection, no blisters, no chaff.
  • Glasses, Sunclouds. Had a little bit of dizziness at one point, but was just my head getting tired of looking at the frame of the glasses. Love the glasses, but no more long running this season with these. If you ever get dizzy while running, try taking your glasses off. It may be just that simple.

Event 2 - Next up was the Silver Rush 50 mile event. I chose the mountain bike instead of the run as I prefer riding, plus I thought it would be best to save my legs from the beating and delay that till the 100 miler. I expected this to be a fun ride, especially only being 50 miles after riding the Dirty Kanza for 208. Again, wrong. Holy cow, this course basically goes up for 40 miles, seemed like more, but the descent for the last 10 was absolutely awesome. This was an amazing day on the bike, but you definitely have to “dig deep” for the long high-altitude ascents that seemingly never end.

*Gear setup and review –

  • 2016 Specialized Epic World Cup S-works. 1x11 drive terrain, Specialized Fasttrak 2.3” in the front, Control 2.0” in the back. My bike setup was perfect. I was a bit nervous about my tire selection, but the 2.3” in the front provided ample control, while the 2.0” in the back gave me just enough traction for the long, slow speed, rocky climbs, but control and speed too. Gearing wise this was perfection as well. The 30T Wolf tooth oval in the front was fantastic, and the 10-42 in the back provided enough top and low end.
  • Orange Mud Endurance Pack filled with Infinit Nutrition, Lemon Lime. Absolute perfection for this event. I started with a 70oz full bladder at the start, refilled a the half way, and did carry a spare empty bottle on the bike for one pit stop of ice water. Note that the course is light in aid stations, so if you’re just running bottles you better be prepared to stop at every aid station. Unless of course you’re an animal like my buddy Will that did it in 4 hours and change. Kudo’s to you champ!
  • Shoes – Giro Empire. These things are afreakingmazing. The most comfortable mountain biking shoe I’ve ever used and even with the rigid sole they still worked great for hike a bike too. I’ve used the Specialized S-Works mtb shoes forever, but found hike a biking in them isn’t very comfortable. This was more a concern for the 100 since I didn’t want to ruin my feet a week before running 100 miles. Hence the search and discovery of this shoe. Basically, imagine a super soft leather sock. That’s what these are. Even better, a super soft leather sock with butter in it….yeah….
  • Glasses – Sunclouds. I love these for everyday wear, but I’m not riding with them anymore. I don’t like a frame on the top and bottom of the lens as it made me a bit nauseous at one point. Taking them off instantly fixed it. Smith Pivlocks are in my future…..

Stronger than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.

Event 3 - Then the race I’ve always wanted to do, the Leadville 100 mountain bike event. This is one of the most iconic mountain bike events in the country. With 11k feet of gain, the brutal climb up Columbine, brutal climb up Powerline, and some high-speed middle ground sections, this event is truly epic. It’s not super technical and going into it my main concern was being geared out on the flat sections with my 1x11 setup which was a reality. But if you’re considering tackling this beast my suggestion is to do it. It’s a terrain that is friendly to most riders, you don’t have to be super techy to ride this. The climb up Columbine is hard, Powerline too, but both are doable. If you race Silver Rush beforehand, don’t let that scare you. The Silver Rush 50 was a harder event to me than the 100 as the climbs seemingly never end. I’ll sum it up this way, I finished the 50 and thought “I don’t think I’ll do that again” for about 3 days before I decided it wasn’t that hard and I’ll do it again. For the 100 it was hard, but at the finish line I decided I’d do it again. 

Finishing this event and getting the silver buckle was iconic to me, and having my buddy Paul and Kyle, rock star wife Beth, and amazing kids Jax and Lexi there at the finish was awesome. I’ll be back next year for this without a doubt, and hopefully every year for many years to come.

*Gear setup and review –

  • 2016 Specialized Epic World Cup S-works. 1x11 drive terrain, Specialized Fasttrak 2.3” in the front, Control 2.0” in the back. My bike setup was really good and the only change from Silver Rush was the swap of my aluminum Rovals to the carbon Rovals. That is an awesome change by the way. Holy crap, the wheel turnover is insane, the hubs are so buttery that a hummingbird could fly by and make them spin, and the additional rigidity is immediately noticed. My biggest concern was gearing out in the flats which proved to be an issue, but in the end, would have probably trimmed 5 or 10 minutes at best. Suspension wise I set it up really tight, but to do this over again I’d consider a hard tail as full suspension isn’t needed, and a 2x10 would have provided a bigger range for soft pedaling a bigger gear on the flats. But hey, I’m not winning the freaking thing, maybe I should just be happy with my rig as is!
  • Orange Mud Endurance Pack filled with Infinit Nutrition. Absolute perfection all day. I had a spare bladder at Twin Lakes where Paul and my family did an amazing job in swapping me in and out in record time.
  • Electrolytes – I use Sports Quest’s product, have for about 15 years, and can’t say enough good things. My stomach was perfect all day, power was perfect, zero cramping as always. Good stuff.
  • Shoes – Giro Empire paired with Orange Mud 2” sock and Squirrel Nut Butter. I joined in the conga train at the top of Columbine for a bit, as well as going up the nasty powerline ascent where these were super comfy. No blisters, 100% comfort, couldn’t be happier.
  • Kit – Our new Orange Mud kit is awesome. The endurance chamois paired with Squirrel Nut Butter on the nether region yielded all day comfort and zero chaff, even in the rain. The arm coolers worked great to keep me warm at the start, then saved me from the sun later in the day. Start temp was 40F, at the base of the first climb we dipped to 32, but kit and arm coolers paired with a light vest was perfect.
  • Gloves – Specialized Grail Comp, long finger. I wouldn’t normally point out gloves, but I picked these up this year at Bike Source in Littleton and can’t believe how well they work. Normally you have a pad on the left and right of your palm, these put just a single pad at the center of your palm, base of your hand. Even through the 208 miles at the DK I barely had any issue, and in the Leadville 100 I finished not even feeling like I rode. Check these things out, they are game changing. I now own 3 pairs…
  • Glasses – Remember the note above about no more Sunclouds? Well I picked up these beauties, the Smith Pivlocks, right before the event and am in love. Mad love. Perfect field of view, no frame in your perspective, a hydrophilic nose piece that kept them in their place, and the optics were outstanding. I’ve wanted these for years and am so pumped to have them in my arsenal now.

Leadville 100 MTB finish

Event 4 - The 4th event was the 10k the morning after the 100 mile mtb. This one I wasn’t worried about, as I should be able to bear crawl a 10k, even after a bike race. To my delight, this was actually not hard, awesome, one event matched my expectations! 

*Gear setup and review – I’ll keep this one short, since anyone reading this is probably not concerned about a 10k. Altra Lone Peak, Endurance Pack, Singlet, Infinit Nutrition. Just a shake out run so no biggie here!

Leadville 10k fun

Event 5 - Wrapping up the series was the big beast, the Leadville 100 Trail Run. I went into this being somewhat smart for a change. As a sponsor of the Leadman series, I really enjoyed hanging out at our booth and meeting so many amazing athletes, but that does wear you down a bit before an event. So for this one I finally listened to my crew and only stopped in for maybe 45 minutes total, then took a nap, woke up to eat, took another nap, then went to the start line. I’ve rarely been so rested for a race so that part was awesome!

100 miles on foot is a long way, and your head, or at least my head, can definitely stop working properly. As such, it’s imperative to have an amazing support crew, and my friends Jack, Kevin, Paul, and Nick were all there to make sure all went as planned. I can’t thank these guys enough as they had me in and out of the aid stations super quick and kept things 100% positive through the day.

Leading up to the 100, I had only one worry and that was an extensor tendonitis issue in my right foot that pops up generally just in marathons. It’s something about pavement that flares it up, and I thought I had fixed the issue with some insoles and by lacing loose, but about 25 miles into the race, and on the pavement section, my right foot started aching. It’s such an annoying pain, which basically feels like your foot is about to break in half. Either way though, I figured that I could muscle through it and once I got to Twin Lakes I’d pick up my trekking poles and shift weight off of it. I had been making a really good pace to this point, and thanks to a stick I picked up off the trail, was able to hobble pretty quick into Twin Lakes with a 75 minute buffer over the already aggressive cut off times.

Heading up and over Hope Pass was amazing. It’s a bit daunting to look up from Twin Lakes at the big mountain in front of you, but my lungs and legs felt great on climbs so I motored to the top and passed somewhere around 100 runners. That was pretty key though as the descent would be a hobble and walk as the downward pressure was crushing on my right foot. I still made decent time on the descent as the steepness wasn’t that great for running anyway, but coming into mile 50 my foot was on fire! 

As we closed into Winfield, the half way point, the added 2 miles of course on the outbound was a bit heart breaking. It’s my fault as I should have studied this better, but I was surprised to see this mileage being added with no change to the cut off. I lost a good bit of buffer and even with a quick 2 or 3 minute transition, I left there with only a 25 minute buffer when just a few hours earlier I had 75. Even more disheartening was the long line of people that you meet on the way back that weren’t making the cut off and finding the right words to say there was a bit of a challenge. I about lost it at one point when a buddy of mine in front of me said, with a quiver in his voice, that “I just want to do this for my kids”. Not gonna lie, tears rolled there for me, as I had the same goal and new this extra 2 on the out and 2 on the back was going to be an issue.

The steepness from Winfield to the top of Hope Pass is no freaking joke. Holy crap was that steep! Thankfully I had Paul Jesse from Winfield on to motivate and push me to the top where we again flew up the mountain. The descent was again held back to a walk with all pressure being shifted to my left leg. This as it turns out was probably a bigger impact than anything as my race was coming to a close.

As we hit the flats at the base of Hope Pass, we had to push through the pain in a major way to make the 10pm cut off. I squeaked through without stopping at 9:57pm, just 3 minutes before the cut, and began the next ascent. I was so focused on making this cut that I didn’t do the math ahead of time with pace and distance remaining to meet the 30 hour cut. As Paul and I pushed through this section to Half Pipe, I quickly realized that the math was not in my favor, and despite his positive encouragement, it really came down to a hard reality that this year wasn’t going to be a completion for me. My foot injury was bad and running wasn’t an option. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, our pace was being slowed down even more by my destroyed left leg that had been taking the bulk of my body weight for the last 46 miles. Funny how one pains focus completely blocks another…..at least until the next day when your leg is double the normal size and walking is a 150% effort. I’m sure my kids were surprised when they saw their dad cry for the first time just trying to get off the couch. Pain on a scale of 1 to 10, we’ll go with 46. This coming from a guy that once told the dentist to not use lidocaine to numb me when he had to break off an incorrectly placed cap with a pair of pliers just because I didn’t want any meds in me for a race the next morning.

So, long story short, I pulled at Half Pipe, 71 miles in. It was a huge blow to me as DNF is not part of my vocabulary. I’m very stubborn and that paired with persistence has always over shadowed any weakness physically. In over 200 races, this made DNF #4, and the first time that it was solely on me. Crap deal, and disappointing to say the least in not finishing the event, which means I also didn’t become a Leadman this year. Unfortunate, but I was even more hurt that I didn’t get to run with Kevin and Jack as well for the final legs. Time on the trails with your close friends is something hard to beat and I valued that more than the event itself. Then of course the real pain was not completing this event for my family. I know it sounds silly, but just like everything I tackle in life, I believe in completing what I started and wanted my kids to see that you always follow through to completion. At 4 and 6 years old, I don’t think they probably see it like I do, but I know Jax said he was proud of me anyway which broke me a bit.

I didn’t meet both goals, but I did meet the most important one of ensuring training and racing respected my family time. Year to date I’ve ridden 1237 miles and ran 379. Pretty light running for sure, but I don’t believe that held me back at all and I wouldn’t trade the time I spent any other way. Will I come back for Leadman next year? I don’t know. Until I figure out my foot issue absolutely not. But if I can once and for all get it fixed, then maybe. After all, I do need to finish what I started.

*Gear setup and review –

  • Kit – Orange Mud Stretchy T, 6” running short, 2” sock, arm coolers, and Adventure Jacket. 40F start was a bit chilly and there was even a bit of frost by Twin Lakes about 11 miles in. The Adventure Jacket was all I needed to stay perfect through about mile 20. Then just shorts/shirt/arm coolers occasionally for the rest of the day until night time. The Squishy hat worked great too as I wore it off and on during the day.
  • Shoes – Altra Lone Peak 3.5. I only wore the one pair all day and can’t say enough good things. Even with the water crossings, the 2” sock dried quick, shoe did too. Big thanks to Squirrel Nut Butter on the foot protection. I lathered them up well and put socks on to soak for about 8 hours prerace, and of course during the race. No blisters, no hot spots, even with creek crossings = big win!
  • Pack – I used a prototype 2018/19 version of the Endurance Pack for this. There are only slight changes from the current model, but it was wonderful to use all day. The only thing I’d change is to use a black one next time. The white pack wasn’t a smart choice when you have a mushy bag of blueberries and peaches in your front chest pockets.
  • Fuel – Infinit Ultra blend Lemon Lime. My energy levels throughout the day had been managed very well, Infinit Nutrition performed wonderfully, bags of blueberries, peaches, nectarines, guacamole, and bacon were a perfect complement to my ultra blend, and my electrolytes kept my body processing everything quite well too. I went with full concentration in all but one section where I planned on eating a bit more real food. There I cut the formula down by 20% and ate a bag of blueberries and peaches to offset the difference. With no GI issues, I decided to run full strength mix the rest of the day, while still eating 2 bags of real food in between aid stations. I had freezer grade ziplock bags each half full of blueberries, peaches, bacon, and guacamole that I mixed in and out with fantastic success. I meant to alternate between 4 hour segments of sweet to salt, and noticed that I wasn’t as interested in eating more fruit when I did that for 8 hours straight. Next time I’ll take a fruit mixture for a 4 hour segment, then the next will be a salty mix, the gauc and bacon. Then back to fruit, and so on. I also stayed very consistent with 2 electrolytes per hour all day with no issue. I did back off for a one hour segment when I ate a descent bit of bacon though. I can’t forget the pickles too. Those tasty little buggers were amazing, and I think I ate about 5 per aid station. Aside from the salt taste to offset the sweet drink mix, I think it almost cleared my taste buds a bit which helped to continue drinking my sugary mix without issue. And as a side note, I ate zero watermelon on course. The more I read about watermelon being the devil for gi distress in endurance events, and the more I practice not eating it with success, the more that seems to make sense. If you’re used to having a bad stomach, try skipping watermelon for a change.
  • Glasses – Oakley EVZero. I actually got these at the expo before the race kind of by accident. Long story. But I have to say these rimless glasses were awesome! Great field of view, didn’t move on my nose, and they are supposedly the lightest glasses they have ever made.
  • Trekking Poles – If I didn’t have these I would have probably dropped way earlier, these were a lifesaver for my injured foot. Next time I’ll take them from the beginning. Also next time, I’ll have some new Black Diamond Z Poles or something else. My collapsible carbon ones from REI served their purpose on Kilimanjaro and the Inca Trail, but drove me a bit crazy as they struggled to keep their height. A full rigid would be preferred for the future when applying a heavy load to them like I did. In fairness though, they are super light and I loved the grip! One tip here, do your pushups and sit-ups throughout the year. At the beginning of 2017 I decided to do 40 pushups and sit-ups every day. I was pretty consistent through May, backed off a bit this summer, but the strength has stayed. This made a huge difference in the power I could put out through the poles and had no fatigue as the day went on.

2018....Leadman will be mine. - Josh Sprague, CEO/Designer/User of Orange Mud Gear. 

Leadville 100 mile buckle