Returning to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Pre-Race Interview with Cantu Ambassadors James Griffis and Lee Allen

2018 Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race james griffis [left[ and lee allen [right]

2018 Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race james griffis [left[ and lee allen [right]

Last year in 2018 our Cantu Ambassadors, James Griffis and Lee Allen conquered their first Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race. This weekend they are back for their second go. The 100 mile out-and-back course starting at 10,000 feet elevation climbs to over 12,000 feet and is one the most sought after destinations for mountain bikers and endurance athletes alike. James and Lee both from the Woodlands, Texas, are ready to tackle these unforgiving climbs and enjoy the rewarding views once again. Let’s dive into their experience!

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: How did your journey for your first Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race begin?

James Griffis [JG]: It began by putting my name in the lottery. I was surprised to discover I got into the race. Given the challenge of entering the race and the prestige of the event, I felt I needed to commit to the challenge of completing the race. I was not a mountain bike rider and did not have a serviceable mountain bike rider. I recently purchased a gravel bike to start riding gravel rides and within a month researched and bought a full suspension mountain bike. My wife Sue, is very supportive of my love for riding. She is my best fan and supporter! Once I had the mountain bike, I proceeded (and continued) to receive bruises and cuts trying to stay up with the Houston area mountain bike veterans (John Worzel, Kevin Franklin, Lee Allen, Christian Colonello, John Wilmeth, Kevin Landry, John Pickering and others) that have more experience and strength than I. I thought learning how to ski at the age of 60 was a feat. Learning mountain biking over 65 is …er… fun! So here I go again for my second time at Leadville!

Lee Allen [LA]: Back in 2009 I went and watched "Race Across the Sky" with a bunch of my old Woodlands Cycling Club teammates when it was released in theaters. Here was this mountain bike race, on the big screen, and to a new cyclist at the time it seemed completely crazy....and just a little bit intriguing. My consciousness said "that's nuts"....but my sub-consciousness held onto it!

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: How has training been leading up, any changes from last year's training?

JG: Training for me has been a challenge.  I have all the time in the world since I am retired but at 66, rest needs to be factored into the equation.  Also, I have been training for diverse distances and types of races this year which may not be the best approach to do well in a given event.  I have been training on road, gravel and mountain bikes as well as running.  I did the Land Run 100 and the Dirty Kanza 200 this year. Both were memorable experiences and I hope to be able to get into both again in 2020.  I really like gravel cycling.  I also raced in the standard (10k-40k-5k run-bike-run) and sprint distance (5k run-20k draft legal bike-2.5k run) National Duathlon Championships in mid April and got a 5th and 4th respectively in my age group. Then I raced in the Standard Distance Duathlon World Championships in Spain late April and got 10th place in my age group. I am also training for the long-distance Duathlon World Championships in Switzerland (September 8th) which is like the Kona Ironman for duathlons.  It is a 10k run, 150k bike and a 30k run, all up and down hills. So my training has been a bit varied. 

Changes this year: I got fitted on my mountain bike which resulted in a raised seat and longer stem.  I think this has helped.  I also have used the long gravel rides and training as a way to bolster my base.   Last but not least, I have some Cantu wheels that will definitely make my day in Leadville!

LA: Training has been good - for the most part it's gone exactly according to plan. I've tried to mimic a lot of last year's training since it worked out pretty well. But I've been a bit more specific during my weekday training and got in a few longer weekend rides. I've mixed in some more "elevation" (slight chuckle) with rides in Chappell Hill, and I've rode with some really strong guys. A couple of weeks ago I did Triple Bypass ride in Colorado as a final test, just like last year, and it's "all-systems go". The Triple Bypass is a good measuring stick: it covers three mountain passes and gets up to similar elevation over 120 miles. It's really a roadie ride, but I do it on the mountain bike to simulate what I'll experience on race day. I could see a definite improvement from last year's Triple, so I guess I'm on the right track!

Training ride in the sam houston national forest

Training ride in the sam houston national forest

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: How did your race day play out last year in 2018?

JG: It was my first time and had a goal to try to get under 11 hours.  That goal quickly evaporated when I got up to the turn around on Columbine.  

Combined with some time lost getting caught in initial traffic jams going up the initial climb (St Kevin’s) and getting behind on the nutrition curve going up the Columbine Climb, my power output finished quickly by mile 70 and started to get cramps in my hamstrings.  After walking up Powerline, time was leaking out of the hourglass for me.  The last 25 miles were tough. I finished after 12 hours but under 13 and got a medal.

LA: Overall I would have to say it went pretty well. Throughout the day, especially early on I basically tried to ignore everyone else and just race my race. Not get caught up in the excitement and just pace myself for a long day in the saddle. At elevation if you go red-line, it's really hard to come back and recover. I did get behind on nutrition halfway through. I had been drinking and eating at specified intervals - but at a certain point going up the goat-trail on Columbine I realized my Garmin was on "auto-pause"....and at some point it had stopped recording time! Not knowing how much time had actually passed, I had a hard time doing the math compared to my watch at 12,000 ft...... so I had lost track of how long I had actually been out on course. I just resumed my schedule as best I could, but on the return to the Powerline section at mile 80 I started to feel the 'bonk'. I ran out of fluids & food, and reached a point where I was in desperate need. Bottles that had bounced out of cages and were laying on the trail started to look really good... I just didn't know what was in them or how long they'd been there! I just kept moving forward, pushing that bike back up Powerline. When I reached Carter Summit around mile 85 there were some folks with Cokes and Snickers bars, like little sugar-dispensing angels! That and a water refill for my bottles completely re-energized me, and I felt pretty strong from there to the finish. But I was never so glad to finish a race!

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: Have your expectations changed from last year's experience at Leadville?

JG: Yes, indeed they have changed. This race is humbling and my fear of the race has changed to respect. I know what to expect. I still have a healthy amount of fear on the down hills. I need to eat and drink, keep focused and be safe on the downhills. My goal is to get a belt buckle which means finish under 12 hours.

LA: Most definitely! Last year everything was a mystery, and in some respects your goal is simply just to survive. Your first time the whole race is a big "unknown". Being from Houston at basically sea-level with little to no chance to train at elevation, you don't know how your body is going to perform at that altitude over that distance. Now that I have the experience, a lot of the pressure of "can I do it?" is gone. So I'm going to be more prone to push myself a bit more and take a few more chances for a faster finish. Plus having knowledge of the course goes a long way - you'll recognize spots in the race that were tough to get through, and why they were so tough. That helps to push through mentally and just keep your momentum going.

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: What are you most looking forward to this year at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race? Can you share some of your goals/expectations?

JG: I look forward to the camaraderie with those I have been training with this year.  While it is ultimately an individual pursuit, I take great pride in witnessing this experience with great amateur athletes who are my friends. They all are a great group.  

Leadville as a small town is a fantastic place to visit.  The people are friendly and being among a tribe of fellow mountain bikers is pretty awesome. The landscape, the environment is breathtaking.   I look forward to the challenge. 

LA: Mostly, I'm looking forward to being out there in some beautiful country and racing my bike with some great guys. I met my goal last year by earning my buckle, and it'd be really hard to improve on that from a standpoint of personal satisfaction. It's actually the one race I've done where afterwards I said "never again!"....but here I am, about to toe the line anyways! Many of the guys I raced with last year wanted another crack at it, so much of my motivation to return was to train with them and maybe help out in any way I can.


Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: Any pre-race rituals, favorite hydration, and must-have nutrition?

JG: I have been training with Maurten products this year and will use them at Leadville.  Similar to last year I will use a camel back with 1.5 liters of Maurten 320.  I will have a swap out bladder at mile 40 and also at mile 60. I will also carry a number of gels and one bottle of water.  I will also drink a bottle of water or Maurten 160 at the 40 and 60 mile aid stations. I am considering carrying pickle juice or taking magnesium citrate for preventing cramps. 

I will have some coffee, high protein oatmeal with some blueberries for an early breakfast.

Similar to last year I will line up again in the white corral at around 5:30-5:45 a.m. to get a good position.  This year however, I will be graced with the company of many Texan racers in the white corral who will give initial support at the start of the race! 

LA: No, no rituals here. I'm pretty simple and straight-forward. I've never been too picky with race-food....just as long as I have it. The only "plan" is to make sure I'm getting enough calories. I don't care what the source is, as long as I'm getting in ~300 calories per hour.


Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: Favorite and least favorite part of the LT100 course?

JG: I like the outbound single track which is mostly down hill in the open meadows.

The least favorite: Pushing the bike up Powerline inbound. 

LA: One and the same....the infamous "Powerline" descent! During the film "Race Across the Sky", the pros make it look so smooth and flow-y. It almost looks easy. But in person it's a different story.... last year on a pre-ride of the course, we got up there and realized just how steep and long it is. And's covered in loose stuff and you have to feather both brakes all the way down, otherwise your rear wheel starts sliding everywhere. That was the part of the course that I told myself if I can make it down Powerline, I'll finish the race. It comes up quick at mile anxiety was a bit high for me getting there that first 20 miles. Then you're suddenly on it and going down, and it's over in few minutes. Going back up at mile 80 just plain sucks.... This year it's been graded, which will make it smoother but also likely faster. I hear the right-hander at the bottom is tricky too, so I'm going to need to pre-ride it again!

*Photos below of the steep climb up Powerline and enjoying the view at the top.

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: How do you push through the lows of the race?

JG: I use many techniques: I break the distances into smaller segments to make small achievable goals, whether it is a mile or counting the high wire tension poles on Powerline.  Also think of my father who passed away last year - he gives me strength and focus.  Finally, I just get into a zen like mode and simply think of the present moment and endure and focus on the pain to push through.

LA: I learned long ago that training and racing is as much mental as it is physical. And that winners are often determined by who's the most mentally tough, not necessarily who is the fastest/strongest. I've never seen myself as someone who naturally has a lot of talent, so I gotta make up for it elsewhere. Being willing to outwork others and put up with the 'suck' part of it and just grind. So a lot of my own successes have really just come down to trying to be mentally tougher than the competition or making the decision that a particular course (or section of a course) isn't going to beat me. It comes down to that for me, making that decision and then being willing to accept the consequences that come with it: It's going to hurt. You're going to be tired. You're going to be hungry. You're going to be thirsty. You feel like crap. BUT if you're hurting, everyone is hurting. And it will pass, it's only temporary. Not that long ago I recently read an article on mental toughness from Peyson McElveen, in which he essentially stated if he can make it halfway through (race, workout, interval, fill in the blank....) he can make it through. I've sort of adopted that as my mantra. If I can make it halfway through.... I can make it.

Cantu Cycling Wheels [CW]: Three tips for riders on race day?

JG: 1-It’s a long day, race within yourself, pace your self, and be safe. 2-Eat and drink even if you do not feel or want to eat. 3-Enjoy and embrace the highs and lows during the day, you will experience all emotions.

LA: 1-Disable auto-pause on your bike computer, just let the clock roll!. 2-Eat: think of it like an eating contest on your bike. All day long. Even when you don't want to, all day, keep stuffing your face, eat. 3-Keep moving forward. All the time. No sitting, no hanging out at aid stations, move. There are time cut-off's, and they are fairly aggressive. They have to be for safety reasons, they don't want to be searching for you in the mountains in the dark. So if you want to stay in the race, you have to be ahead of the clock. Don't take any time for granted.

We want to wish James and Lee good luck and an amazing day at Leadville! Lee is riding the Cantu M730 (27.5) MTB Wheels and James will be riding the Cantu M930 (29) MTB Wheels. Hand built and lightweight performance for the climbs and durability for the descent. A course like the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race will be sure to put these wheels to the test. Let’s cheer them on. Go get ‘em guys!