Is Sub 9 in Leadville a realistic goal for me?

Thank you @Jonathan, @NateP and the entire TR crew for everything you do. I’ve been training ‘self-coached’ with TR for more than a year now, and have made lots of progress and learned SO much from you and the pod. I finally got into Leadville, and am extremely amped as it has been in the bucket list ever since I got hooked on Mountain Biking in 2021. My main question is if Sub9 is in the cards for me? Is it a realistic goal given my current state and time left till raceday? If so, what should I do/change to make it happen? My current FTP is at 259w weighing 178lbs, 40yrs old and I am following a high volume XCM plan. I also do weight training 2x per week. Technically I am decent at best. The only substantial thing I am doing differently from the plan is that whenever I can I am adding some more Endurance volume and doing all my endurance workouts strictly based on heart rate and not power. I try to be strict with my Z2 range (70-80% of my effective max HR) as I find it really helps with recovery and fatigue prevention for me. Worth mentioning that I will be in Colorado at 9000 ft for the month leading up to Leadville and able to train, so I will probably be acclimatized by raceday. Feel free to look at my TR file and comment on the pod and forum. Also anyone feel free to chime in productively. Thanks again.

1 Like

First of all, congrats on getting in. Not so easy these days. If you have not already found it, you might want to check out the leadville podcast - https://www.leadville100podcast.com/

Jonathan is a frequent guest and recent episode specifically gets into w/kg, adjustment for altitude, etc. I can’t remember how much they specifically got into “sub 9” targets, but I think they touched on it.

4 w/KG sea level FTP is often thrown around as a pretty good target for going sub 9 (assuming good execution), but lots of folks have done it on less and lots of folks have failed with similar FTP numbers. I’ve done the race 3 times and have gone under 9 twice and 9:23 the other time. I was right around 4w/kg (sea level) for all 3 attempts. For both of my sub 9’s, my NP for the day was 190 and I weighed just under 170lbs. That doesn’t sound like much, but I lose about 18% of my power at altitude (can vary quite a bit by individual). So, with a sea level ftp of ~305, my adjusted FTP at altitude is about 250. 190NP for the day is .76 IF. In my sea level training leading into leadville, I make sure I can do at least .76IF (~230+ watts) for 7+ hours and that has me pretty well prepared. That’s with a bunch of climbing (I simulate leadville as much as I can), so it’s climbing at sweet spot, coasting down hills, and trying to hold ~230 on the flats. I use those same wattage targets at leadville, just adjusted down by 18%.

At your current FTP and weight, sub 9 would be tough unless you are one of those aliens who isn’t affected much by altitude. Being at 9k for a month prior can help, but most people are still going to lose 15%+ even after acclimatized.

A few other random thoughts that might help -
The descents are legit. Not horribly technical, but long and fast and high-consequence if you crash. The biggest surprise my first year was how wasted I was from the descents (so tired it was getting dangerous). If you don’t do much core work, you might consider working some into your weight training.

Train your fueling/hydration. Try to get to a point where you can pound sugar and liquids at sea level for 7+ hours when riding hard. It’s much harder to eat at altitude for most people and the body uses a higher percentage of glycogen at altitude, so fueling is key. If you get behind on fueling in the race, it can turn into a very long day (#1 mistake I hear people making).

Do a little training pushing you bike up very steep chunky terrain. Almost everyone walks for a bit and you should still be racing when you are walking (ie walking quickly).

Finally, try not to get too wrapped up in the the sub 9 thing (I’m guilty as well). Whether you have the power or not in August, it’s a long day with a lot of moving parts (with some of those being out of your control). Enjoy the training and the race vibes. As much as I can be a jaded old dude in many ways, that race is a happy place and it’s really fun to cheer on the other riders. Watching the folks roll in just before the 12 hour cutoff is one of my favorite things. So many people pour so much of themselves into this race, it’s just cool to see the emotions flying around.

15 Likes

It’s not impossible, but with these numbers, you’ve got to have the absolutely perfect day and some luck to get the big buckle. I was roughly in the same shape a year ago. 256W/185lbs give or take. I did Silver Rush 50 a month before LT100 to improve my corral. Got into purple one, but could do a little bit better (my SR50 didn’t go well due to mechanical issues and rider’s stupidity). Corral placement is huge for sub-9, especially in cases like yours and mine, where every second counts. Long story short: I think I had a good chance to finish around 9 hours, but I played it safely from the start, and now when the time passed, I do not regret my decision. You’re welcome to read more about my experience here.

Unsolicited motivational advice: keep your expectations low and your hopes high. That way, you won’t be disappointed no matter how it goes, but you’ll have something to strive for. I think it only makes sense here when the raw numbers are not quite on your side.

6 Likes

What has your FTP trajectory looked like over the past 3-4 months? If you have stagnated, less chance of going sub 9; if you’re still increasing, more chance.

Like others have said, you need to get to about 4 W/kg at sea level to have a good chance.

The 4 W/kg at sea level translates to about 3.2W/kg at 10k feet - so if you can measure your FTP at 9k feet, after, say 2-3 weeks at 9k feet, you’ll have another indication on how achievable sub-9 is.

1 Like

hot take: no - not realistic

actual answer - depends on a lot of nuance as others have said but based on statistics it remains very unlikely. Speaking of statistics, last year is not at all representative of the vast majority of years so I would not base my projections on that data in isolation. It’s very unlikely we’ll see conditions that fast again for a long time, most years would be ~20+ minutes slower for the same level of fitness than last year.

5 Likes

Quick point of reference for you. I’m roughly your weight, but had ~55W higher FTP last year when I raced leadville. I did a bunch of volume and a lot of focus on long TTE / lots of fatigue resistance at that FTP. Spent two weeks acclimating. I missed Sub 9 by two and a half minutes on a pretty good day in ideal / best ever conditions.

I wouldn’t focus so much on the time. Train hard, enjoy the experience, and make sure you fuel and pace well on race day.

2 Likes

You can also get a good idea of your ability to go sub-9 by racing one of the qualifiers. Aside from improving your corral position, you can use the multipliers that are out there for each race to get a rough idea if you are in the sub-9 ballpark. I don’t have the link handy but there is usually a post floating around this forum on the multipliers. You can also join the the Leadville 100 slack channel, run by the guys that host the LT100 podcast, for more insights. I think someone on that channel has an updated multiplier.
Finally, if you are really set on going sub 9, in addition to improving your FTP as much as possible you should look at fully optimizing your setup. Aero helmet, jersey, bibs, low rolling resistance tires, waxed chain, etc. You can go pretty nuts with optimization but every bit you can achieve will help. This also includes feed stations. Will you have a crew or are you relying on race provided/whatever you can carry? You need to minimize your stoppage time (i.e. ~30-45 seconds if stopping 4 times, twice outbound, twice inbound) as well. Getting into a good group and working together will also increase your chances, just don’t blow-up.
It’s not just about having a ~4w/kg FTP at sea level, it’s the entire picture that needs to be considered to ensure you go sub 9.

1 Like

Impressive for sure.

I’m more of a BWR Wafer (half distance) type of rider. I can do the Waffle distance but can’t hold that kind of IF.

Yeah, longer events with lots of heavy pedaling are definitely my strength. I get dropped on punchy climbs and I can’t sprint my way out of a wet paper bag, so my only chance is to outlast them with diesel power. I try to do a long ride every saturday, but I think the key (for me) was training my gut to process stupid amounts of sugar for long durations.

There are some old TR pods that I quite enjoyed listening to at the time and they involved @Nate_Pearson when he was really getting stuck into MTB, I think the biggest message for Leadville is don’t let Jonathon and Chad look after nutrition for you! :wink:

There are also some pods that detailed Nate’s SS progression for Cape Epic too. If I were you I’d start there. Good luck.

1 Like

Out of curiosity, what about last year made it so fast? (for normal people)

Very cool temperatures. People were able to eat more due to not having to deal with heat stress, and way less issues with dehydration like you usually see in the last third of the race usually.

1 Like

If you can do 2.5 w/kg NP for the race, you can go sub 9. That sounds easy, but you have to remember that your FTP will be knocked down by 20% or so. Take your weight, figure out what 2.5 would be and then decide if that is plausible for you. Hard to know until you either try it or know how your body will react to the elevation.

Favorable wind conditions last year as well. Typically we are facing a stiff headwind on sections between twin lakes and powerline inbound. It wasn’t a tail wind, but the headwinds were much lighter than normal. Also, rain in days leading up to race make for faster/firmer dirt than typical. Other than getting caught in a pretty serious downpour descending sugarloaf inbound (and having to go very slow because I couldn’t see), conditions were near perfect for me. About the same wattage/weight as 2021 for me and almost 10 minutes faster (and I had less drafting help/luck in 2023).

1 Like

This x2. I came into the event fit but did not realize how hard it was to keep shoveling sugar in at elevation and over the time period.

I wrote about my experience here: Leadville 2022 Recap

3 Likes

It looks like you will be up there during the Stage Race. That would be a good course preview, and can give you an idea of where you can expect to be for the full 100. 30 to 90 minutes is probably the typical difference between total stage race times and full LT100 times. It will give you a realistic goal for race day pacing.

1 Like

I went into Leadville at around 190lbs and FTP of 300 or so. I too wanted to go under 9 hours and decided not blowing up was key. I invested in a power meter for my MTB and tried to never go above 270 or around there. I use my strength when I could such as the downhill sections and some of them technical track, not that there is much. Being caught up in the crowds on Keven’s etc also forces me to be conservative. I ate to my plan but wasn’t anywhere near 100-120, 80g/hr max. I beat 9 by 18 mins. I don’t think W/Kg is an ultimate predator but having a plan helps.

6 Likes

If that is an accurate sea level FTP, you are likely one of those people who isn’t affected by altitude as much as the average person. I’m always above 300w sea level FTP going into leadville and anything above 230ish at altitude has me gasping for air like a vo2max workout. What was your normalized power on race day?

Not all FTPs are made (or measured) equal too. Some people can ride at a much higher fractional percentage of their FTP, e.g. threshold levels 8-10 at the same “FTP” using the TR system or other similar equivalents.

Similarly, while I think the TR AI FTP and other methods like ramp test are really useful for establishing training zones, I would not trust them for establishing racing power targets without being able to confirm them in a B race or race simulation ride.

I’ve had some really high ramp tests at times before and I know I couldn’t hold my FTP for anywhere near an hour, and on the opposite end of the spectrum I once had the luxury of a perfect TT course near me where I could and sometimes did literal 1 hour time trials to establish the FTP that I’d use for pacing really long (Ironman distance) efforts.

Tying it back to the OP. There’s a chance that they could pull it off if they fall into one of these camps of exceptional fractional utilization of their FTP, an underestimated FTP, acclimate exceptionally well to altitude etc. It’s not impossible, but it’s just 4-5 different edge cases that need to stack to make it happen.

1 Like

220 NP for the day.

I got to Colorado from sea level about 8 days prior: spent 4 days at 5000 and another 4 at 7500 before race day. If you read the acclimatization data that’s not ideal, but it’s what I did. At Xterra Nationals at 7200 the altitude impacted me massively at the start of the swim. The run and bike I was tempo all the way.

1 Like