The list of endurance cycling events that Larissa Connors has NOT won is getting rather short. From the Belgian Waffle Ride to just about every 100-mile mountain bike endurance race on the calendar, Larissa has proven over the past two seasons to be unstoppable. That run at the top includes a win at last year’s Leadville 100. This Saturday she’ll be back to defend her title, and if all goes her way, set a course record in the process.
But as important as a repeat Leadville would be, the pursuit of it isn’t stopping Larissa from traveling the country in search of new friends and good times on the bike. “I’m doing a lot more long-distance races this year”, Larissa told us. “I’ve done five, 100-mile mountain bike races in six weeks because it’s super fun to travel to new places. I had never been to South Dakota, so I went there. I had never been to Oregon, so I went there too. This summer has really just been about riding new places and meeting new people.”
While the summer months allow Larissa to travel and live out her passion for racing, much of the rest of the year cycling is balanced with her job as a high school algebra teacher, which is something equally enjoyable to her as the two-wheel exploits. “I accidentally got good at mountain biking while working full time,” is how Larissa described her entry into the sport. “In 2015 I quit my job and raced full time on the World Cup schedule. I realized that I like the work balance, so this past year I went back to teaching and changed my focus to ultra-endurance races.”
Considering she has won every 100-mile race she’s lined up for in the past two years, often challenging for the overall men’s podium, it would seem the newfound life balance is working out well. Larissa’s quick transformation from a World Cup cross country racer doing sub-two hour events to ultra-endurance events such as Leadville, which last year took her 7:32, hasn’t been from dumb luck.
“Ultra distance races are an eating competition as much as a cycling competition,” said Larissa. I’ve trained myself to be drinking every 5 to 10 minutes and eating every 45 minutes. My number one strategy is to ride within myself and remember that what happens in the first hour doesn’t always mean it’s going to be the same in the last hour. That’s my only strategy. And make friends, that’s important too.”
For Leadville specifically, Larissa already has her nutrition strategy in place for race day. “I’m the only nerd that starts with a Camelbak, and that allows me to drink regularly and front-load hydration rather than playing catch up. I keep the food in my pockets interesting, stuff I look forward to eating. Energy Chews and Bonk Breaker bars in multiple flavors. Keeping it interesting is key to keep eating. Sometimes I forget to eat, so If I’m thinking about that Caramel Macchiato bar in my pocket, then I look forward to eating it and won’t forget.”
Last year, stomach issues and a missed feed made it so Larissa couldn’t take in any calories for the last hour and a half, and spent nearly an hour without any fluids. This year, armed with superior nutrition, the confidence of returning to Leadville as defending champion, and a summer of fun already in hand, what is Larissa hoping for come Saturday? “Anything less than 7:15 and I would be stoked out of my mind. A top 15 overall with the guys would be nice too”.
If history is any guide, we fully expect Larissa to crush her goal.