Leadville Loppet – 42K Classic
After some initial hesitancy, I elected to register for the hometown race, and I’m happy that I did.
My logic was three-fold. First, this is really the quintessential Ryan Sederquist race. Gradual, unceasing railroad grade climbs with placid, working downhills. At 10,000 feet and with almost zero recovery sections, it’s the one race created for my sharp, limited ski skillset. The event’s value is derived from the course being the truest litmus test for my avant-garde voluminous training approach.
Second, Leadville is my home, as hard as the city may try to kick me out. The paper might not think I can write, and the schools have come up with many reasons to not rehire me, but I’m ok investing in the community. Plus, in the age of inflation, the race fee — my donation to the Mineral Belt, which I use 345 days/year — isn’t so bad. It’s a downright steal when the post-race soup buffet is on, but you know, COVID is raging in Lake County so it’s better to be safe. 🙂
Finally, it’s important to support local races. I firmly believe Colorado’s weather, endurance-minded community, terrain, and legacy of great citizen events and athletes make it a phenomenal home for loppet racing. Before I got into the sport, it was. It would be tragic to see all of the races disappear, so I’ll play my part and show up.
2022 was my third career Leadville Loppet. In 2018, I showed up for what was my second-ever ski race and was the fourth-place skate racer. That year, Adam Farabaugh, who is now trying to make the U.S. Biathlon team, beat me by almost ten minutes with a time of 2:19:35. The course was really about a 38k, as we didn’t even go into the CMC loops at all. Farabaugh used boots and skis he borrowed from his girlfriend, I believe. He was also just getting into the sport, a characteristic which I’m finding defines many of the races’s top athletes.
I spent the day chasing Diana Finkel, multiple-time winner of the Hardrock 100, which might be the toughest running race in the world. Even with my sorry technique — and it was really, really sorry back then — I remember thinking how I kept catching Diane on the uphills but losing her completely on the downhills. I didn’t own a brush at the time, and I know my skis were clogged with wax haha! The basement walls of our Alamosa home saw some atrocious wax crimes, no doubt.
I bring up this event because I think it contextualizes my recent results well. Another notable finisher was Graham Baird, the winner of the classic race in 2:43:02. Graham has placed in the top 50 in the Birkie, and he was in the 2020 iteration of the Leadville Loppet, an event I fortunate to win with a time of 2:47:51 to his 2:57:46. That course was the same as this year’s minus a small 1.5k section in CMC.
The weather in 2018, 2020, and 2022 were literally identical: cold and sunny in the morning, quickly warming to about 30, and starting to slush if you can’t finish shortly after two hours. In 2020, my RCS cold classic skis were great for about 25 minutes but it was a slogfest the rest of the way. This year, I used my Fischer Speedmax Plus skis with a red glide wax and no grip. They seemed better, to put it succinctly.
Despite the smaller field, this race was not short on some talent and drama.
The skate skiers took off one minute ahead of us striders. Chris Marcione and I moved through the downhill first 1k together, skiing with about the urgency of Russel Currier’s pet sloths, mostly just enjoying the day. Both of us had a similar mindset — I think — going into the race: enjoy the day and see where our double pole fitness really was. The two of us have been talking and training the technique all of last spring, summer, and fall, impressed by the lure of the Visma Ski Classics production.
Chris’s technique is surely better looking than mine, and I find myself observing his “angles” as Devon Kershaw would probably say. There’s probably a mutual benefit in our relationship, as my naive enthusiasm about the sport has motivated him to continue striving for more. That being said, I think he prefers the skate races, not the long, grinding double pole climbs of the Mineral Belt!
Either way, he would be a force in the field, as would many of the skate racers we would be chasing down. Alex Willis, a former NCAA DI skier and runner at New Mexico, is the local legend who sets the standard for serious young athletes in the highest city in the U.S. If a high school kid wants to be good at biking, running, or skiing, they proudly boast that they are “working with Alex now.”
Tayte Pollmann, a professional trail runner who took up skate skiing three years ago has such a powerful engine, he did the race in a pair of rental skis and placed fourth — the next day he almost set the record for the Vail Uphill running race. Kyle Beling, another former NCAA skier, would finish third, and Laura Spector, a former US Biathlon Olympian, wound up second.
The first-place finisher, Brett Wilson, turned out to be a true member of grip-wax nation if there ever was one. Like Farabaugh, Wilson showed up at the race with little Nordic “cred,” and a lot of talent. Also like Farabaugh and to the delight of sederskier.com fans everywhere, the guy was incredibly jacked about chasing his Nordic ambitions. I caught up to him in downtown Leadville after the race and we chatted for almost 45 minutes. He had planned to use his paternity leave to compete in Canmore at the World Master’s Championships …in a sport he started seriously just a couple of years ago. …my wife and I determined that this guy was basically me only from Durango.
A high level DIII runner from the midwest, Wilson and I connected on many levels. We are both ‘misfits’ when it comes to following the accepted “Nordic protocol,” – he wears running shorts over his tights and I host a podcast where I proclaim hot takes as if I know what I’m talking about. Also, if you missed my attire in the 2018 Leadville Loppet starting line photo, notice I’m wearing a running singlet over my shirt. Bless my heart.
We both came to the sport late from running and have gone all in since. And, we both have wives who are crazy enough to get behind the ensuing adventures!
Wilson took off from the group and gapped everyone by minutes. When Chris and I hit the uphill after Dutch Henry, I went into my climbing cadence and found the flow state. I could tell I was cruising. By 5k, I had caught everyone except Spector and Wilson.
I felt as though my technique was great through the CMC woods. I was getting my hands and hips high and I was relaxed. (I noticed that at about 25k, I needed to think more deliberately about maintaining these traits as I fatigued).
As we approached California Gulch, I had been racing alone for about 10 minutes when I realized that Wilson was in sight. I came to within 15 seconds of him as we crossed the road. I knew then I had a good chance of coming alongside him at some point, so I elected to stop for a quick bathroom break (!).
He got excited seeing someone pursuing him, however, and worked the next 15 kilometers, maintaining and perhaps increasing his lead on the downhill sections. With about 10k to go, I was shocked but figured I could not catch up. I passed my wife and saw Novi and heard someone say, “Go Novi’s dad!” Apparently, she and Christie were big hits out on the trail.
Then, something happened as we hit the final, long CMC uphill. I had noticed that Wilson was coming back to me through the exercise loop. I honestly figured he maybe was hoping for someone to sprint with to the finish …maybe he was just messing with me. I found out later that was not the case and that he genuinely was starting to fade. It’s not surprising – I think the Leadville course is the toughest marathon skate course in the country because there is simply no rest and there is also pretty much one grade – and it requires V2ing for about 2 hours!
I was starting to feel a bit fatigued myself at that point, but I gained on that final uphill and we hit the 5k to go mark about 10 seconds apart. The next 2.5 miles would be a gradual downhill. Then, it was a 400 meter “uphill” to Dutch Henry, a very discouraging section most visitor’s believe is flat…but quickly find out it is not! I figured if I could be close to him as we approached that section, I could hammer from there and catch him before the switchbacks to the finish.
That is exactly what happened.
I was still about 8-10 seconds behind him, but by the time we turned at Dutch Henry with 1k to go, I was within 2 seconds. I double-poled up the steepest part of the course, two switchbacks which I could tell took even more life out of the Durango native. Then there was a flat and gradual uphill. At that point, I was pretty sure there would be a showdown in the final straightaway, but I I still had some doubts that I could actually deliver the drama. When I saw Karl Remsen with about 400 meters to go, he quickly identified what was happening: Sederquist had caught the skate leader and it was going to be an epic finish!
When he yelled at me, I knew I needed to suck it up and hammer for the sake of all of us mining town skiers. As we crested the final hill, I took a ski length lead into the last straightaway.
Then, the two midwest distance runners showed off their best all-out sprint, which I’m sure pleased the massive crowd of onlookers which could have fooled someone’s being the Holmenkollen’s stadium, at least in my imagination.
We came up to the finish and I stretched with my legs the amount my limited hip flexor pliability would allow, which is about 2 inches, and gave up the photo finish to my competitor. I guess I wasn’t all that concerned, since I had finally accomplished my goal of beating the skate racers in Leadville. Because I started behind him, I was the real victor. My time, 2:18:33, was something I was really proud of, especially laid against the backdrop of some of the previous performances I had mentioned earlier in this story.
All in all, it was a beautiful sunny day. The effort might be one of my best ever, even though there wasn’t a huge field to compare it to. I suppose, sometimes, that’s ok. In skiing, where head-to-head comparison is sort of the main way you can even determine the value of a performance, it sort of stinks, though. Still, it was a good sign of things to come.
The best part of the day was spending time with friends afterwards. I took some blueberry soup and talked skiing with Judy and Tayte as we watched joyful athletes come through. Then, Christie and I happily chowed down a high-carb breakfast with Lillian and Chris at our home. I so enjoy having friends who care about skiing and can relate to all of the things that go along with it.
Pepsi challenge 50k Classic
Our trip to Minnesota started with a busy “off day” for me. On Sunday, I was up at 2:45 AM after working a full Saturday in Vail. I prepped myself for the broadcast of the Lahti World Cup interval starts, getting the coffee ready, organizing my notes, and checking in with the Spalk workers overseas. My race started at 3:30 and I thought I needed to be online 30 minutes prior to the start. Turns out I was wrong – 60 minutes prior was the correct sign-on time.
I started chatting with my teammates at 2:55, thinking I was early. We did the internet speedcheck. A minute later, “good luck, enjoy the broadcast,” arrived in my inbox. Then, the screen changed and a clock counting down from 60 seconds started with the words, “International Feed Begins.”
I had typed about 65% of my opening greeting.
The music started and I welcomed the audience to Lahti, Finland. I then proceeded to ‘live the dream’ for the next 4 hours, walking through two exciting interval start races just like I did when I was five with my beanie babies.
Afterwards, I had time for some coffee and a quick, 40-minute run. I finished at about 8:48, and by 8:52, I was sitting at church for worship music rehearsal. I also was leading that morning, and the set was tougher than normal.
Hopped up on excitement and coffee, I was more animated than usual, which was noticed by my three groggy band members. Halfway through the sermon, however, I could feel my whole body crashing. I managed a nice ski in the evening, but only after a dedicated 45-minute nap that probably could have simply been extended through to the following morning.
The rest of that day and most of the next was spent working extra hard to finish or start articles for the upcoming week’s Vail Daily’s. I had several features I could get interviews recorded for, plus I was setting up some gamers for playoff basketball, too. It was my off-day, but I knew if we were driving through the night, I needed some things stocked up.
Monday and Tuesday were big days of volume, with two-a-day workouts. The snow was great and the sun was out. On Tuesday, I did a 2-hour skate session on a freshly groomed CMC track. I’ve been naturally drifting towards more skate sessions. Partially it is the snow, part of it is recovery from double pole races, and part of it is preparation for the SMR 50k skate, should I elect to do it.
Actually, in the front of my mind, possibly, is the Equinox 24-hour challenge. I wasn’t expecting to prioritize the race, but with $300 up for grabs for the overall winner and another $100 for the first-to-100k champion, it is truly worth my time from a financial angle. Plus, the nature of the challenge – how far can you go in a set time – is right up my alley and theme for this year. I’m already planning some other similar challenges for the summer. Of course, I’ve been doing that for the last 8 years, so we’ll see what actually gets done.
After my Tuesday session, we finished packing and hit the road as temps soared above 47 degrees. We headed to Big Van Repair for maintenance work on our water pump. There, Christie, Novi, and myself hung out with Mike as he worked on our precious Enoch, giving us a fantastic deal and a donut for the road.
We had great driving conditions through the night, showing up in Mora around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday for a little afternoon ski. I pulled Novi as Christie skated and Ajee ran alongside – the whole family was out. Mora has a really fantastically maintained trail system and lodge, complete with a sauna. It’s right by the high school, too; those kids are very fortunate.
I was not feeling it at all, however, and could barely muster out an hour and 45 minutes. It really bummed me out, but it’s not atypical for a post all-night-bus-ride workout. We loaded up and headed for Wrenshall.
As far as training and living goes, the next two days were spent skate skiing at Spirit Mountain on their FIS race course and working. I love skating there as it requires the usage of multiple techniques (circle back to my comment about the one grade on the Mineral Belt if you are confused….), it is always firm, and it offers a little bit of protection from the wind. On Thursday, I also went on a 7 mile run with my brother’s UW Superior distance crew, which was super enjoyable. He has done incredible work as a coach – far, far more than I could have ever dreamed of – and it was fun to witness the fruits of his labor. Plus, I need to start pounding the pavement to get ready for some spring and summer trail runs.
I probably skied too much on Friday, but I kept it to skating, knowing I’d be double poling most of the next day. My Saturday started early, waking up at 5 a.m. to cover Mikaela Shiffrin; the world stops for the Vail superstar, you know.
Then, it was coffee with Bunges, loading up the van, and saying goodbye to Christie’s folks before departing for Biwabik. The roads were a sheet of ice, which made driving a bit nerve-wracking. I noticed diesel was up to $4.33 per gallon, which frightened me. 72 hours later, it was $5.35. Crazy.
For the first time in my life, the actions of our president have directly impacted me. Say what you want about Trump’s mean tweets …the guy was successful when it came to foreign policy, economic growth, and conserving individual liberties. All three of those areas have deteriorated substantially under Biden, and I think it is why many people in the middle class are actually feeling different about their livelihood here in 2022 than they did in 2019.
Our wages can’t keep up with inflation, prices of everything are skyrocketing, and our retirement accounts are divebombing. Sure, Putin’s invasion is the cause of the most recent troubles, but we were headed there regardless ….political rant over….
We arrived at Giants Ridge about 45 minutes before race time. By the time I got changed, got my bib, and got to the starting line, however, it was 8:48 with a 9 a.m. start.
I had planned on having at least 35 minutes to test some grip, but now I was in a real bind. I decided to throw on a purple grip wax (which, I found out later, would have worked ….) on my practice RCS skis and keep my race skis free of any grip. I knew I could survive 25k on those, but it was still a bit gutsy, considering I knew absolutely nothing about the trail system other than Bill Koch skied there in 1985. If I needed to swap skis, I would.
I warmed up by double poling 20 yards to the outhouse, went to the bathroom, and lined up at the start. By this time, Christie had made her way from the van to the start. From 30 yards away, I tried to sign to her that my skis were sitting in a drift on the side of the lodge next to about 100 other skis and bags. Somehow, without saying anything, she knew to grab them and have them at the lap exchange….which pretty much sums up our marriage — she is brilliant and can read my mind and I’m a procrastinator who needs her to save me.
The only person in the field that I was aware of was Andrew Tillman, a top-5 finisher in the Birkie classic who bested me by a few hundredths at last year’s Mora Vasaloppet. The defending Pepsi Challenge champion, Tillman is a tall, pure classic skier with a kindness that made it easy for me to stand on the second-place podium position next to him at that race. There were some good skiers in the 25k race who would start with us as well.
At the start, I didn’t worry too much about trying to get right to the front. I figured if this race was going to play to my strengths, I would have time to assert myself. The Tillman-led train filed out into the woods on 27 degree snow, overcast skies – perfect conditions.
The first 10k was a typical midwestern rolling hills section. My skis had a graphite glide wax on them. In falling snow, this can be a good choice, and that was the forecast. The snow didn’t fall, however, (which was good) but my skis felt average as a result. With each downhill, I could see the lead group of five get farther away from me. Pretty soon, I was alone.
The next 5k was a frustrating section. The grooming was soft – it was nearly impossible to double pole anywhere on the track. My pace slowed considerably, and I had no idea if others were getting farther ahead, but I figured they must be. I pushed through the section and finally came out to a part of the course that had received more regular grooming throughout the season. It was firm, fast, and fun.
I picked up the pace and caught two skiers along the flat double pole section. In about a 2k span, I distanced myself to the point that I couldn’t see them when I looked back. That was a big confidence booster for me. The main task on this lap now became identifying where I would push if I should catch the leaders.
With about 8k left on the first lap, we hit the hardest and longest sustained climb on the course. It was an excellent grade for me – about 5-6%. My double pole was faster than a kick and glide, and I went to work. By the top, I could see the lead group of three. One of the leaders was actually a 25k racer, though I didn’t know that at the time. I saw Andrew turn around at the crest of the hill. He told me later that he knew they needed to push at that point because, “we don’t want that Leadville guy up here with us.”
At this point, I was confident that I could catch him at some point on the second lap. I hoped it would be at the flat, firm section where my confidence had initially turned. Then, I would hang until the crushing uphill and hope my skis could hold whoever was with me off for the final 7k of downhill.
I entered the stadium 35 seconds behind Tilman and a skier from Duluth. I waved off Christie, who had my skis ready – what a gem – and pushed on. About 5k later, I noticed Tillman had gapped the other athlete. I caught him soon afterwards. As I came along his side, he said, “Where did you come from!?”
I replied, “Leadville!”
At this point, I was feeling great, and it seemed like he was a bit exasperated. So, I then kindly explained with a more gentle factual tone that I had been gaining on the uphill sections throughout the first lap. 10 minutes later, I was with Tillman.
“Well, do you think we can catch him?” I asked.
“We’re all that’s left,” he said. Shocked, I asked about the other athlete and was informed that he had done the 25k.
We skied together for a few minutes and then approached the flat, firm section. At first, I tried to go, but Andrew was able to stay right behind me. I slid behind him and noticed that in his draft, I hardly had to work at all. It must not be a wind thing, I thought, but a ski speed thing. The amount of energy required to follow in someone’s track is remarkably lower than when you’re leading. I knew we had a tiring section of soft snow ahead of us, so I decided to just bide my time.
During the soft section, nothing really happened beyond moments of frustation as our poles punched through and even would occasionally catch in the snow during the swing phase. It was pretty miserable. I mentally checked myself and prepared for the epic move at 42k.
We hit the hill and I launched into the lead. I double poled at a high threshold effort, waiting to look back until I was 3/4 of the way up. I had put on a 25-second lead at least, I figured. By the top, it seemed to be even more. Still, the race was far from over. Having skied alongside Tillman for the previous 14k, I knew his skis were gliding faster than mine. The last 8k would be a battle.
Plus, I was hurting now….more than I thought I would be.
On top of that, the next 4k was more a mix of uphills and downhills than I had remembered. In my head, I had pictured it as being all downhill, with my main concern being to stay on my feet. I was disheartened and slightly panicked as I kept struggling to push through the pain, looking over my shoulder ala Lukas Gemar at the 2008 state cross country meet – shocked to be in first and worried it wouldn’t last.
My mind was bouncing back and forth….well, I could succumb to the pain, slow down, and I’d still come into the finish with Tillman, just like Mora. That would still be exciting, ….and acceptable….right?
The voice on the other shoulder was saying, “Come on, you’ve executed a beautiful race from a strategic standpoint, you’re perfectly exhausted, and now you need to finish the deal. Sure, you’re hurting, but what did you think would happen?!….”
As I hit the final downhills, I firmly made up my mind that I was going to win this race. If I didn’t, I knew I would be sour for the next three days and the whole ride home to Colorado. Plus, if I get second by 1-second, you knew this would be the race giving out four-foot trophies to the winner. (Actually, I received a bunch of honey stinger wafers…..so…..just my luck….an award that will literally be eaten)
The next six minutes was very nerve-wracking. I focused on not falling while resisting the temptation to check to see if Tillman was coming. With 2k to go, we did this little wrap around and I could see him through the trees on the other side. It seemed like he was right there!
I went into a tuck on the final downhills. I zoomed by the chair lifts, the sign that I was close to the final straightaway. I knew if I made it here and couldn’t hear him, I was safe. I went into an all-out sprint anyway, the voice of my cheering wife singing in the background.
I could see the finish line; my ears told me I was alone. 10 meters from the line, I looked back. There was Andrew. He told me he never gave up because he knew he had good skis, and he didn’t. The gap had been just enough, though he had closed it in the final 3 miles to just 15 seconds.
The announcer wasn’t even really ready for us, so I crossed the line in silence. Soon after, Andrew was there, too, and we fist-bumped each other, congratulating one another on the great effort. We had stretched our lead to almost 10 minutes over Jake Boyce in third. It was a small field, but full of great skiers. Evan Wetzel, third at this year’s Birkie Classic, was there. Grant Nelson, another Duluth skier with top 20 birkie credentials was there, too. Boyce placed 11th in the Birkie classic in 2020.
Afterwards, I felt tired. I drove the first two hours of the 4.5 hour journey back to Moorhead before collapsing in the bed as Christie drove for a bit.
I arrived in Moorhead and immediately started setting up for the Holmenkollen broadcast. It was not time to exhale yet. I’d be up at 3:50 to work. Then, I could lay down a little.
After a few days of enjoying family in Moorhead, taking in my mom’s ski stomping grounds and doing a city run encompassing my old college routes, we set off for Minneapolis to cover the Junior Nationals. We saw Rose Horning place fourth in the U16 sprint, I interviewed her, her SSCV teammates, and the program director Dan Weiland. Then, I punched up the story like an ink stained wretch, filed it, and headed for home.
24 hours later, I was back in the ‘Ville.
One thought on “sederskier sprinter stories: Leadville loppet and pepsi challenge”
Fun story to read Ry!!! Felt like I was there!
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