When he entered his first Leadville Trail 100 MTB race over 20 years ago, Nate Whitman didn’t even own a bike. Now, he’s finished the race 20 times.
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The Leadville 100, which started in 1983, is a mountain biking race across 100 miles of the Rocky Mountains in Leadville, CO. People travel from all over the world to compete in the race.
Back in the early 2000s, Whitman was living in California and trying to find his niche after graduating from a college soccer career at Stanford University. He tried club soccer and running, but had not found “his thing.”
His next step was a trip to Recreational Equipment, Inc. with no plan, just hopes of finding a new hobby.
The trip to REI was all but a bust until Whitman got to the checkout area, where he picked up a random magazine and saw a story about the Leadville 100 bike race. He then decided that was what he would set his sights on.
“I’d never been to Colorado, and I’d never done anything with bikes,” he said. “I’d never seen the mountains, the Rockies.”
So he entered. But it was a lottery system, and Whitman almost forgot about the race because he knew his chances of getting in were slim. Until months later, when he got a letter congratulating him on being in the race. Then it was time to prepare.
Whitman found encouragement from strangers in chat rooms online and trained for the race. He made it slowly across the finish line that first year, but he was hooked.
“I kept coming to Leadville,” he said.
After he got a taste of the race, Whitman was, as he said, addicted. He started coming back every year and training and getting better.
In 2008, Whitman finished 7th place overall. This was the same year that Lance Armstrong competed in the race and took 2nd. Since he started 20 years ago, Whitman has been in the top 10 finishers three times and has broken seven hours three times.
Over the years, Whitman spent time in the pro division, competing with top racers from around the world. When he got into his 40s, he decided to step back and compete in age divisions, but it did not cap his competitiveness — he won the 40s age division one year.
“My goal is always to be as fast, faster and better,” he said
In 2013, after spending years being in love with the race and the state of Colorado, Whitman moved to Evergreen. He lives in town with his wife and two children.
This year, for his 20th finish, Whitman finished the race in 7 hours and 26 minutes. After his historic finish, he was able to celebrate with his friends and family. He also earned his 2,000-mile 20-year buckle — the buckles are coveted prizes for high mileage and times.
He has quite a collection of the buckles now, including the “small buckle” for a finish under 12 hours, the “big buckle” for a finish under 9 hours, the 1,000-mile buckle and of course, the 2,000-mile buckle.
But Whitman can’t keep his mind from wandering to the next year’s race for long.
“You always can do more, you always can learn more,” he said.
Whitman is excited for next year. But for now, he's doing some local rides he enjoys, like road biking on Mestaa'Ėhehe Pass, or mountain biking on Bergen Peak.
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