Leadville Trail Marathon
At 70 bucks for 26.2 miles, this race had a lot higher dollar per mile quotient than the longer races I’ve been doing lately. I really wanted to do this one because, despite living in Colorado for 9 years, I had never been to Leadville. There are a lot of running and mountain bike events held up there and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I wanted to get a taste of racing in the Colorado high country, and see what it was like to put in a hard effort at an elevation of over 10,000 feet.
I was a little worried on Friday night when I could feel myself getting winded just walking around the grocery store. I really thought I was going to be in trouble come race time! The marathon starts in downtown Leadville (10,200′), and after a short mile or so of pavement, hits the dirt and soon becomes a very steep and rugged jeep trail. After some ups and downs, the trail makes a huge climb up to the high point of the race before turning around and going back to Leadville. Mosquito Pass tops out at 13,186′ and is the highest unpaved through-road in North America. Yikes. The total climbing for the race would be around 6,000 feet.
I opted to camp out the night before the race and got a tent site at an RV park a few miles from town. Mosquitoes the size of California Condors attacked me as soon as I stepped out of the car. The Deep Woods Off I got at the grocery store held them off for the most part. I had a lousy night, sleeping from 11-1, and again from 4-5. Probably a combination of the altitude and the constant noise of people passing my campsite on their way to the restroom. I was glad for the night to end and quickly packed my stuff and headed into town.
Apparently, Cinderella lives in Leadville. I found this as I was walking around killing time.
I was a little nervous before the race, but not too bad. I told myself just to treat it as a training run, but deep down I knew I was going to give it all I had – whatever that may be. In terms of preparing for a marathon, I did just about everything wrong that you can do.
I was coming off a 17 hour training week, my biggest ever.
Spent all day Tuesday boating – ended up sunburned, dehydrated, injured my foot on my last failed wakeboard attempt, tweaked my back getting flipped over while being pulled in a tube.
Missed many hours of sleep in the previous two weeks.
Ran a 10k in training on Wednesday, pushing the pace as hard as I could go.
Terrible vacation diet – tons of Pepsi, DQ Blizzards, etc., etc. Didn’t consume nearly enough water.
10 hour drive on Thursday, unpack, re-pack on Friday morning, drive back up to Leadville.
Normally before a marathon, you’re supposed to cut back on mileage for at least 2 weeks and really take care of yourself. For me, the good thing about gearing up for a hundred miler, is that going into a marathon with all these negatives just makes it a better training opportunity. You have to learn how to overcome the adversity and get the job done, because it’s going to be a lot harder than this at mile 70 when it’s 3:30 in the morning in the middle of the Idaho mountains…
Once the race started, I was very pleased at how my breathing settled down and I never really felt like I was gasping. Just kept it steady. I had ideas of running the entire course, but bagged that about 2 miles in when my heart rate was over 170 and I was only holding a 14:00 pace up the STEEP trail. I switched to a fast power hike and actually passed quite a few people by doing that. I was plagued by tight calves, though. Something I’ve been having a problem with for the past month or longer. They were so tight, that in the really steep parts where I would have to just dig in with my toes, it was causing my feet to go numb due to the lack of circulation. That was not a pleasant feeling…
We hit an extended downhill and I was able to run hard and break up the tightness a little bit. Throughout the race, I was very conscious of taking in calories and staying hydrated. That can be a tough thing to do when you’re pushing hard, but I stayed pretty disciplined about it. Once we hit the base of the climb up to the pass, I started to struggle with the pace a little bit. I was overwhelmed by looking up at the monster sized climb and seeing how far up we had to go. I shifted gears and got a little more aggressive with my speed and that caused the negative feelings to go away. For the rest of the climb, I stayed really focused and passed as many people as I could. It was hard work, and I could start to feel the lack of oxygen as I neared the top. I made it, and a nice volunteer filled my bottle while I stuffed my face with whatever I could get my hands on. There was a great view from the top!
I had been hoping that, despite my heavy training load and no rest, I could break 6 hours on this course. When I hit the turnaround at the top, my stopwatch said two hours and fifty-nine minutes. I was super happy to hit the halfway point at (barely) under 3 hours, knowing that things would be generally downhill going back. I felt confident I could easily cruise in under 6 hours, but decided to push for 5 1/2 to see if I could make it. A couple of times when I passed people they asked me for the time, and I refused to tell them. I felt like a dork, and tried to be polite about it, but the only time I looked at my watch all day was at the top of the pass. I wanted to stay focused and run the absolute best race that I could, without being distracted by knowing if I was ahead or behind pace.
Now the fun part. For the next 37 minutes I bombed back down the very rough and rocky road to the aid station at the base of the pass. I had a couple of near falls, but thankfully always recovered in time. I couldn’t believe how strong my legs felt on the downhill. I really let ’em have it with both barrels and they didn’t even flinch one bit. That was a great feeling, and I had a lot of fun dodging the rocks and the string of runners still making their way up. For the duration of the race, I seemed to have plenty of discomfort, but no real pain anywhere. My body seems to finally be adapting to the stress I’ve been putting on it.
There was still a significant climb to tackle on the way back, and when the group I was with shifted into a fast hiking mode, I ran ,and ran, and ran, and ran, as far as I could up it. Too far. I ended up digging myself into a bit of a hole and it took me a while to recover from the effort. It put me well ahead of the people I was with, and was a good move to make. Just need to be careful when writing checks your body can’t cash…
After a few more hills, I hit the final aid station. 4 miles to go, and all downhill (except for one small climb). I pushed as hard as I could and caught up with and passed two guys with about 1.5 miles left. Turns out they had been coasting a bit, because they were both able to pass me back before the finish. It was a good way for me to keep my speed up, though.
I hit the line in 5:31 and was very satisfied with my run. It went much better than expected and made for another good confidence boost in my training. It was great to perform well at altitude, on a tough course (the winner barely cracked 4 hours and is a normally a 2:40 marathoner), and on very tired legs. It would be fun to come into this one with a little more rest next time and shoot for sub-5. I’ll be back!