Wednesday, September 17, 2014

11 Things To Do/Not To Do at Leadville 2015

Here are some mental notes for next year's Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. If I get into Western States, I'll be skipping the 2015 Leadville and will instead crew/pace/volunteer. But if I don't get into States, then I fully expect to be back at Leadville next August, once again believing I can finally figure out this perplexing race. What can I say? I refuse to give up!

1) Don't tell yourself that living at 6,200 feet here in Colorado will get you ready for the altitude in and around Leadville. There is a huge difference between 6K and 10K-12K. Training can't just be at places like Roxborough State Park, Deer Creek Canyon and Mount Falcon, though those places are conveniently close by and certainly offer great trails and beneficial terrain. You need to get higher! You need reps on the Incline and other steep trails to get ready for the backside of Hope Pass. There's also that hidden steep-ass trail at Deer Creek Canyon that AJ and Chuck showed you in the early spring; do it! But, whatever you do, you need more runs above 9K.

2) Keep work stress at bay. In July, you let work stress (getting an ad campaign launched) totally undo your ability to taper effectively in August. Granted, you had a lot going on over the summer and did your best.

3) Take First Endurance Optygen starting on May 1. It'll probably help with the altitude.

4) Don't miss Brandon's night run again!

5) Get a follow-up metabolic efficiency test a few weeks before Leadville so you know what your caloric needs are going to be at the race.

6) Get in at least one 100-mile week, preferably right before the taper begins. Your body thrives on such volume. For you, volume is king. Remember what your ultrarunning mentor, Tim Clement (former multiple-times national champ), told you eight years ago: "Training for a successful 100-miler is about volume, volume, volume." Big volume works for you.

7) Don't worry about getting in tons of quality. Just do some tempo runs and fartleks, along with steep hill repeats, every so often and you'll be fine. What benefits you most in prepping for 100s is volume. You're a volume guy--you used to be able to run 450 miles a month and get away with it. It's what you need. Do most of it at MAF and you'll be fine. MAF is your friend.

8) Eat a balanced breakfast the "morning" of the race, in an effort to "turn on" fat-burning. This might include some scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil, along with some Greek yogurt. Don't eat your usual oatmeal; that'll just make your body crash later on and crave carbs as fuel.

9) Wear Hokas the whole way during the race, except for maybe the Hope Pass section. Your legs need those Hokas! Investigate and try lower-profile Hokas such as the Huakas for the more technical stretches.

10) Don't worry about taking any calories through Mayqueen outbound (mile 13.5). Just run and maybe sip some water.

11) Take Pepto and sit down for at least 20 minutes the second your stomach goes bad, though hopefully that won't happen. By sitting down, you're letting your stomach "catch up" and get some oxygen. Oh yeah, and also keep the S!Caps coming!

Bonus: Listen to Anne when it comes to getting ready for the altitude. She keeps getting on you about that one thing. It's time to do it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Too Many Calories, Too Many Carbs at Leadville

If there’s one theme in race reports I’ve noticed over the years, it’s stomach distress. The longer we go and the more extreme the terrain is, the greater the chance of GI distress.

As I continue to look carefully at my own race day diet, I don’t like what I see. Gels and energy drinks are full of sugar and sugar tends to make me sick.

As previously mentioned on here, my metabolic efficiency test a few weeks ago revealed that I need between 62-187 calories and between 9-27 grams of carbohydrate an hour in a 100-mile race. Over the weekend, I started reading labels of products I used at this year’s Leadville 100—and boy was it painful. It was one of those “I wish I could go back in time and do things differently” moments.

Let’s start with Carbo-Pro, a source of calories I’ve used in multiple Leadvilles (all of which featured puke fests, but nothing quite like this year). A serving of Carbo-Pro, which I used from miles 24-50 this year, has 200 calories and a whopping 50 grams of carbs. Most of those calories come from pretty much pure sugar. So, when you look at Carb-Pro and my test results, can you see that a serving has a few too many calories for my needs—and almost double the carb grams per hour I can handle. Plus, I wasn’t taking Carbo-Pro by itself; I was also taking it with VFuel gels. That means, per hour, I was taking in about 300 calories and almost 80 grams of carbs.

It’s no wonder by mile 50 I was doubled over vomiting. I had put in my stomach way more than it could handle, and the vomiting was its way of saying, “enough, please.”

We are told that 100-milers are eating contests with some running mixed in. The more you can eat, the better, it’s said. But as I’m coming to learn, it’s not a game of jamming as many calories in your body as possible. Success comes down to giving your body what it needs, and what you need and what I need can be two totally different things.

After reading those labels, it started to make sense to me why in training runs over the summer my gut stayed happy but at Leadville it went south. The reason was that in training runs I tended to stay within my limits as far as calories and carbs per hour. I would take a VFuel gel about every 90 minutes or so, usually not starting until the second hour, and all would go well. Yet at Leadville this year I told myself that I needed up to 300 calories an hour, so I forced stuff down my throat that my stomach ultimately couldn’t handle.

The key, I believe, is finding out your nutritional ranges and staying within those ranges. Admittedly, I'm still trying to figure myself out. But at least now I have some data to use.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Leadville Post-Morten; Becoming More Fat-Adapted

A lot has happened since my Leadville 100 race report.

Simply put, it was a rather traumatic experience from the standpoint that I feel like I trained hard and was ready mentally and physically and yet my stomach once again came unglued--worse than ever before. I have said this before and I'll say it again: It is amazing to me that I finished Leadville, especially after literally passing out/fainting at Twin Lakes. Few times have I ever dug so deep and, when you do go that far into the well, it takes a lot out of you. But, despite it all, I resolved to finish--I'd been to the depths before and knew I could get it done. And I did. So, from that standpoint, I couldn't be more proud.

In the wake of the race, I sought the advice of a professional nutritionist, specifically Abby McQueeney Penamonte, who was the top woman in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 2013. Long story short: What we've found is that my body likes to burn carbs, not fat, while I run--not good for ultrarunners. We also found that I've been consuming too many calories at Leadville. I don't need 250-300 calories an hour, as I've tried to do over the past years (more is better, right? Wrong!). What I need is between 62-187 calories an hour. What that means is that I can get by on just 62 calories an hour (not ideal but doable), but my max caloric intake per hour is 187. As far as carbs, my current numbers have it that I need to keep my hourly carb consumption during races to between 9-36 grams.

What I've learned is that, even if I keep my calories under that 187 threshold, my stomach will still go to hell in a hand cart if I'm taking in too many carbs. A-ha!

In case you're wondering how we got those numbers, allow me to explain. Basically, I got on a treadmill and ran at 9:22 pace (a super easy pace I would run for much of Leadville, minus the big climbs) with an oxygen mask covering my mouth. It was an easy pace; my heart rate never got above 103 beats per minute. Meanwhile, Abby was measuring the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which produced the above data.

Do I think this data is 100% accurate? On the whole, yes. The data tell me what I need and do not need and where I need to go next with my training and diet. After years of struggling in Leadville, I feel like I finally have some answers.

Which brings me to fat-adaption.

I have always thought of myself as fairly fat-adapted. Every morning, except weekends, I go for my runs with zero calories in me. I can run for over three hours on nothing. Plus, I pretty much ran (and walked) the last 50 miles of Leadville this year on nothing but body fat since I couldn't keep anything down. Contrary to all of that, what the data show is that my body likes to use carbs over fat. Of the 623 calories I burn per hour while running, 360 are from carbs and and 263 are from fat. I need to more-than-reverse those numbers.

Why?

At any given time, you have between 1,500-2,000 calories in glycogen stores (sugar/carbs) you can burn. When you run out of glycogen, you slow up considerably and "hit the wall." Meanwhile, even the leanest athlete has tens of thousands of calories in fat they can burn. The key is teaching your body how to use those fat stores efficiently. That's where diet comes into play. If you eat too many carbs, your body gets addicted to carbs and they become the preferred fuel source. But if you eat fewer carbs and more healthy fats, along with proteins, veggies and fruits, your body will learn to use fat as its primary fuel.

What that means is that, if you are a good fat-burner, you need fewer and fewer calories during races, even 100-milers, meaning there's less of a strain on your stomach because it's not constantly getting bombarded with gels, sugary concoctions, etc. I know a fat-adapted athlete who ran a 2:50 at Boston on nothing--he took in not one calorie. That is incredible to me.

For reasons I wish not to go into on here, it will be impossible for me to adopt a truly fat-adapted diet across all meals of the day. Nor do I wish to do so--drinking spoons of oil and adding bacon to everything doesn't appeal to me. However, I believe I can become more fat-adapted through better training practices, more of an emphasis on MAF training (you know me; I'm a MAF disciple), and more careful planning around my breakfast and lunch (two meals every day that I have full control of). There are some things I can do during dinner, but ultimately I am unable and unwilling to impose this way of eating on my family. We like spaghetti and I'm not going to give that up. But there are other things I can do, and much of it I'm now starting to do.

All that aside, in looking back at Leadville, I believe pre-race stress was a major factor. All summer long, I worked my tail off directing an ad campaign, which launched the Monday before the race--as in five days before the big event. My cortisol was probably quite high. That might explain why my taper for Leadville was hideous--I had simply reached the point where I couldn't recover adequately and adapt from the hard training I'd been putting in all summer. I didn't share this with anyone at the time, but I also experienced a few bouts of vertigo the day before the race, including a horrible dizzy spell during the pre-race briefing. The altitude was kicking my ass from the second we arrived in Leadville. It was just one of those years. If I return in 2015, there are a few things I'll do to be ready for the altitude.

I am letting go of the sub-20-hour dream at Leadville. While I am confident I could still clock a fast 100 on a flat course, Leadville continues to vex me. At this point, Western States is my race of choice in 2015. If I don't get into Western, then I'll of course heavily consider a return to Leadville. Whatever happens, I'll be more fat-adapted and I'll be taking in the right number of calories--that's for sure!

Final word: Running ultras is important to me. But over the years I've learned not to take it too seriously. I don't get paid for this (thank God), and there are several other things in life that come before ultras. So, with that, I do want to improve and learn, but ultimately I'm trying not to take this stuff too seriously.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The God's Honest Truth: Leadville 100-Mile Run Report

Note: These are some post-race thoughts that could be characterized as "raw." I'm still processing the entire experience.

I have no idea how I finished the Leadville 100 this past weekend. Between non-stop vomiting from Winfield to the finish, severe leg cramps (the likes of which I've never experienced in my life) and the horrible consequences of those cramps (totally trashed legs), I don't know how I got it done, much less crossed the line in 24:09--three hours slower than my goal time--to earn another big buckle. I think it came down to what race founder Ken Chlouber told us on Friday afternoon at the pre-race meeting: "dig deep."

Noah and me coming into Pipeline outbound (mile ~27)

Leadville is a very hard race as the course is between 9,200-12,600 feet, with two crossings of Hope Pass. The sheer challenge of this event is not appreciated the way it should be. That's partly because a few self-absorbed, elitist, chest-beating mountain ultrarunners, who think Hardrock and UTMB are the end-all, be-all and everything else is "meh," enjoy publicly describing the course as "flat" and mostly road (both of which are untrue) even as Leadville has done in plenty of great athletes over the years. When these ridiculously false statements are made in public spaces like podcasts, people form an impression of the course, and then some of these people, who are now suckers, show up in mid-August and get their asses handed to them. Moving on....

Unless you're super human, it's difficult to put up consistent performances at Leadville every year because the mountains are so fickle. On Monday night, I looked at several regular Leadville athletes' times over the years and they're mostly up and down. That high mountain air sometimes isn't too bad, and then other times it tries to destroy you. Over the weekend, I was stripped down to nothing; the course and terrain tried to hurt me, and they did. But I refused to give up.

When I look back on it, things went to hell in a hand basket when I was on the way to Twin Lakes outbound and experienced at about mile 35 what was without question the most painful leg cramp I've ever had in a race. It was in my left quad and it happened when I stopped to pee. My quad seized up and I just fell to the ground screaming in pain. I couldn't put any weight on my leg for 3-4 minutes. It was awful and a few concerned runners asked me if my leg was broken. One runner put his arm around me, which I really appreciated. It was such a delicate moment that I thought about my mom and dad.

Eventually, the cramp let up and I was on my way to the lakes, only to have another wicked cramp after crossing the very cold, refreshing river and preparing for the big climb up Hope Pass--a climb of 3,400 vertical feet. My legs never recovered from those cramps. The best way I can describe the aftermath is that it felt like my legs had been wrung dry. They had nothing in them--at all. They were drained. Every step hurt. I had been taking Salt Sticks but maybe I hadn't taken enough...or perhaps I was dehydrated? Or maybe my muscles were starved for oxygen?

Between Pipeline and Twin Lakes outbound, about where I got hit with that first cramp.
Credit: Lifetime Fitness

Despite it all, the climb up the frontside of Hope wasn't too bad. I ran into my friend, Scott Schrader, who would go on to finish the race shortly after I crossed--his first 100-mile finish, which is just awesome. And I had some amazing mashed potatoes at the Hopeless aid station. But then when I began to descend the backside, things turned bad. My quads were gone. Nothing. So it was an incredibly slow, morale-killing descent. Despite my dejection, it was amazing watching Mike Aish (with pacer Nick Clark) and Rob Krar (solo) climb the backside as I was going down. Krar looked to be in the zone and he went on to win with the second-fastest time in the race's history. Just want to point out that despite being in the lead and having Krar on his butt, Mike high-fived me and wished me well. I also slapped hands with Nick.

Descending into Twin Lakes outbound (mile 40).


Winfield was a tough spot. I got into mile 50 hot and dehydrated (like most other runners), apparently down 15 pounds (which I still don't believe), so I got right to work with refueling...only to puke it all up right there next to the tent. Hardrock legend Diana Finkel, who is a stalwart volunteer at the turnaround point, was there (once again) to help me through the moment. I cannot say enough good things about Diana. She's supportive in every way and a truly wonderful person. I would hug her if she was here now.

After about 15 minutes of sickness, I was on my way-with my pacer and good friend, Mark T. (who I also work with at Delta Dental), eating some Fig Newtons and a gel before that nasty 2,600-vertical foot climb up the backside of Hope. All in all, I handled the climb fairly well, having to stop and take a few breaks now and then. It was just after cresting Hope on the return trip that a horrible case of puking and dry-heaves happened--episode number two. I lumbered back down to Hopeless and got in some calories, thinking maybe I could turn things around. The descent from there was slow. The quads wouldn't cooperate. I stopped and hugged a woman who was crying as she climbed up the frontside, likely because she knew she'd miss the cutoff. Or maybe because the mountain had crushed her.

It never got better. At Twins Lakes inbound (mile 60), after refueling in the hopes, once again, that I could turn things around, I began vomiting and dry-heaving before crossing the timing mat--right there in front of hundreds of onlookers. After vomiting and dry-heaving easily a dozen times in front of the mat, the lights went out. I fainted, falling to the dirt road. My brother later told me seeing me go down like that scared him. I came to quickly and heard the doctor say, "you're going to need to drop; I gotta put an IV in you," to which I said, "I'm not dropping from this race; I intend to finish." He was irritated, I could tell, but that was how I felt--dropping wasn't an option. As I left Twin Lakes, still tasting puke and my nostrils burning from the vomit, I saw Tim "Footfeathers" Long and Shad Mika and said, "It never always gets worse" (a well-known saying in the sport). And, honestly, it didn't get worse; Twin Lake was the bottom.

Under no circumstances would I drop. I remember the pain of my 2012 DNF all too well to ever drop from a race again unless permanent damage is a real consideration. So I more or less ignored the doctor and went on my way with my other pacer and friend, Scott W., by my side. I left Twin Lakes with zero calories in me. Scott later managed to get some Fig Newtons in me, but they were too little, too late. The magic I experienced in 2013 in those last 35 miles wouldn't happen this year.

So from Twin Lakes inbound on I was running on empty, as my stomach could keep nothing down. It was a game of burning body fat. I actually ran a fair amount, albeit slowly because my legs were shot. And that's how the rest of the race unfolded--eat a little, puke it back up. You may be wondering: What was my nutrition? I had water and VFuel gels for the first half, along with some Carbo-Pro starting at Pipeline. I supplemented all of this with things like Coke, Fig Newtons, potatoes, and Ramen. None of it stayed down. I even puked up watermelon and soup at Mayqueen (mile 86.5). It was one of those days.


With Mark at the finish line. We were friends before the race; now we're even closer.
We went through a lot together. Scott unfortunately missed this photo.


I am so thankful for the support my pacers, Mark and Scott, provided every step of the way. They were amazing. I don't even know what to say to these two guys who gave up time from their busy schedules to help me run Leadville. I am eternally grateful for the love and support of my wife, Anne, and our son, Noah. Without them, I couldn't have finished and that's a fact--they inspire me to be the best man I can be. It was a thrill having my brother, Will, and sister-in-law, Gretchen, there with me. They showed love and support from start to finish, attending to my every need. I thought often about my mom and dad; I knew they wanted to be there. It's humbling to get that much support.

I want to thank my coach, Andy Jones-Wilkins, for his support and encouragement along the way. AJW had me in very good physical and mental shape going into the race. Unfortunately, shit went down despite the great condition I was in. AJW's training plan gave me not only a higher level of physical fitness but also the requisite mental fortitude. In short, I had the tools to grind it out when the shit hit the fan.

I also want to thank the many runners, crew members and volunteers who were out there working hard on Saturday and Sunday. It's just an awesome display. Several people told me how helpful this blog was in their preparation. I appreciate it all. Whatever I can give to others, I will give...moral support, a hug, words of advice, a gel, whatever I can give.

Josh Colley, his team and all of the volunteers nailed it. This was a spectacularly-run race. Every detail was well-executed, though I wasn't a fan of the new Outward Bound grass field, which was laced with random holes (these holes just need to be filled in before next year's race). I loved the surprise aid station atop Powerline (amazingly, I actually ran a little of Powerline). It was obvious Josh and his team took all of the feedback from last year's race and made some major improvements. To those who sought to throw the baby out with the bathwater--in this case, one of the original 100s and a race with more history and legend than 99.9% of other ultras--after last year's troublesome Leadville, I say this: I hope you are now satisfied. Leadville has turned it around. What say you now?

The big buckle--my fourth El Plato Grande buckle.


As for me, I'm not sure I'll return to Leadville next year. I have already booked our cabin, in the event that I do return, but at this point it's 50/50. If I get into Western States, there will be no Leadville for me in 2015. This race has more or less vexed me since I began this adventure five years ago, when I was coming off a win at the Mohican 100 that made me think I was talented but, in reality, out West I'm just a schmuck. I've never figured out fueling at Leadville--what works one year fails the next--and to this day I'm unconvinced I've run my own perfect race there. Maybe I never will, or maybe I will. The altitude and my stomach seem to do me in every time. I am seeing a nutritionist specializing in fueling in ultras next week. I need help. My daily diet is pretty clean; it makes me think that I'm just not used to the sugary crap I consume on race day, though this summer I did train with VFuel and had pretty good results.

One lesson learned: The next time I run Leadville, I will wear Hokas for every mile except the Hope Pass section. I'm getting old and I need the extra cushion. This year, I wore New Balance 1210s for the first 60 miles and they didn't do me any favors. I needed my Stinsons. I didn't switch to my Stinsons until mile 60; by then, my legs were shot from the cramps, though my feet were in good shape (one small blister) and I had no joint pain whatsoever.

Huge thanks to all who made the weekend a special one.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

If You Want to Finish Leadville, Here's the #1 Most Important Thing You Must Do

Damn, I love provocative headlines!

With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run now a little over two weeks away, those of us entered in "The Race Across the Sky" are undoubtedly in our taper or about to begin the taper. Leadville is a fairly unique race in that it's between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet the whole way. One hundred miles is hard enough; throw in some high altitude and mountain passes and the challenge becomes even tougher.

If this is your first time toeing the line at Leadville and you're unfamiliar with what it's like in the high country and Colorado Rockies, this post is for you (as is my two-part Guide to Finishing Leadville)!

A lot goes into successfully finishing Leadville. You don't want to go out too fast. You need to stay hydrated and fueled. Your stomach needs to stay happy, though you can almost bank on a few queasy moments (or worse). You need to show grit when you're doing the big climbs and thoughts of hopelessness (pun intended) are swimming through your brain. All of that is important, and it's what you'll hear about on Friday afternoon when we all gather for the very motivational pre-race meeting, which I highly recommend.

But there's one thing you may not have thought about, especially if you're coming from sea level. Hell, I even know a few Coloradans who have overlooked or forgotten about this one super-important thing. It's something that can totally end your race.

Are you ready?

Me in the finisher's tent after
crossing the line last year. Note the hat,
sweatshirt and vest. I also had gloves--
and I was still cold.
Stay warm and dry. There's a saying here in Colorado and it goes something like this: "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, give it five minutes."

At Leadville, expect everything from sunny skies and temps in the high 70s during the day to hail, rain/lightening storms of the biblical variety and, yes, snow, especially when you're on Hope Pass. Even if during the day the temperature is in the 70s and the sun is out and life is beautiful, you can expect the mercury to plummet into the 30s after sunset. Cold nights in Leadville are the norm. It's especially cold around Turquoise Lake, which you'll be running along very late in the race (with no other aid stations before the finish). If you aren't in warm clothing after the sun sets and especially along the lake, you will risk hypothermia. And, if you go hypothermic, your race is pretty much over.

So, be sure to have:
  • Rain gear. Get a waterproof jacket and hat--maybe some waterproof gloves, too.
  • Warm clothing that will keep you toasty in temperatures as low as 30 degrees. Usually when running in cool temps it's OK to dress on the light side as our bodies heat up with movement. Not so in Leadville after night fall. Dressing on the light side after sunset will get you a DNF.
  • Emergency poncho. I highly recommend you carry one at all times, especially if we have cloud cover.
One final note: Under no circumstances is littering acceptable on the trail or anywhere on the course. Sometimes stuff falls out of pockets and we don't notice. But it's totally not OK for anyone to intentionally throw trash, such as an empty gel package, on the trail. That is not cool and it will result in a disqualification.

As for me, well, I'm in shape (I think). Those long tempo runs and long trail runs seem to have me ready even as I dropped my peak weekly volume buy 15%. I did a MAF test yesterday morning and averaged 6:30 pace for five miles, with a one-second drop in time when you compare my mile-1 split with my mile-5 split. Not bad. It's my best-ever MAF test result. But MAF tests don't mean much when you're climbing Hope Pass or Powerline. So, we'll see how things shake out. But I do think I have experience on my side and I also think my nutrition plan is solid.

Have a great taper and race. I hope to see you in Leadville!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Five Weeks Until Leadville; Thoughts on Leadville Being Described as "Flat" and Kilian's New Hardrock CR

Five more weeks and then the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run is here. My training is going really well and--so far--I'm healthy (it's not easy showing up at the starting line healthy), though this morning I endured a 24-mile sufferfest due to the heat, beat up legs from a Pikes Peak outing on Friday, and inexplicable stomach issues. While my overall average volume is down just a tad to about 80-83 miles/week, I'm doing much longer runs than ever before--and I imagine I'll hit triple digits before tapering. On the weekend, it's not uncommon to do a 30-miler on the trail. Forty-mile weekends, which include long tempo runs, are the new norm (through Leadville).

The week that just ended was pretty solid: 87 miles, 13.5 hours and 10,000 feet of climbing. Next week should be about the same except hopefully I'll get more vertical in. I'm planning a Hope Pass double-crossing--always a good idea in the lead up to Leadville. The backside of Hope Pass, which has a few very steep sections, has always vexed me. I lose a lot of time there, and it doesn't help that there are usually hundreds of runners coming down the mountain in the opposite direction (I'm coming from Winfield, they're going into Winfield).

The North Fork 50K on June 28 told me my endurance is developing nicely--probably from those long runs on the weekends. Although the 50K race didn't have a lot of fast guys or stiff competition (except the guy who won, Chuck Radford, a friend of mine, is a burner for sure and could beat lots of other fast dudes on any given day), I was quite pleased with my fourth-place finish. I felt like I handled the 32 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing quite well--mentally and physically. The altitude wasn't really a factor--we topped out at 8,000 feet a few times but over the years I've come to handle 8K pretty well. What left a lasting impression on me were the exposed burn areas we ran through as a result of several fires in the North Fork area over the years, including the very awful Buffalo Creek fire of 1996. So, all in all, North Fork was a success and I loved the fact that the race had a down-home vibe. I (now) hate the term "old school" but North Fork was just that.

It'll be interesting to see how things at Leadville go this year. My feeling is that LifeTime Fitness has learned--the hard way--what the course can and can't handle. Leadville will likely always be a big race; it's just a matter of fielding the right number of runners. I think the right number is between 600 and 700. This year, I've heard we'll be looking at 800 starters. I think 800 is manageable. I think anything beyond 800 is too much. That's just my opinion based on four Leadville 100s.

Honestly, there's no section of the course that really scares me anymore except for the backside of Hope Pass. It used to be that the Powerline climb got to me but I pretty much slayed that dragon last year as I ran up the climb. Don't get me wrong; Powerline will always be hard, but I've come to mentally understand how to handle and approach it 78 miles into the race. Conversely, the backside of Hope isn't just a mental challenge; it's physically punishing. If I can somehow minimize the damage and stay positive on that very steep, gnarly climb up to the pass and run well back down to Twin Lakes, I think I'll be in good shape for a decent finish. If you can get to Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60) in good shape, that's huge.

Speaking of which, there are still some (including someone who just did a podcast interview) who continue to refer to Leadville as a "flat" race. To me, it's just plain inaccurate to describe Leadville as flat. With 17,000 feet of climbing, is Leadville on par with Hardrock or UTMB? No, of course not. They are different races altogether, as in apples and oranges. But it's still a challenging course between 9,200-12,600 feet, with a double crossing of a legit mountain pass that will eat your lunch if you're not prepared for it. So, I think it's just ridiculous to describe Leadville as "flat." If it's so flat, why have so many great mountain runners struggled there when you look at their times at other races versus their time(s) at Leadville? Should I name some of these great runners?

Finally, a word on Kilian Jornet's new course record at Hardrock (full post-race coverage here). It's easy to cheapen Kilian's amazing career on the grounds that he's probably the richest ultrarunner (in terms of sponsorship support) on the planet thanks to his relationship with Salomon. That's the world we now live in--cheapen and marginalize the accomplishments of the successful ones. Some describe him as the "Tiger Woods" of ultrarunning, which I see as a compliment and veiled insult. Fact is, he obliterated Kyle Skaggs' course record and clearly did so with time to spare. This was a great performance and my suspicion is that his course record will stand for a long time. So, as much as I was rooting for Scott Jaime, who finished fifth overall and, to me, is someone I can identify with much easier than a dude like Kilian (although Scott is way faster than I am), I'm really happy for Kilian. He seems like a good guy and I love his passion for the mountains and his bond with other runners (during his Hardrock course record, he stopped a few times to take photos of the scenery and wait for Julien Chorier). Hats off to the great Spaniard; he's a mountain running legend.

(By the way, does anyone in the sport have a cooler name than Julien Chorier? That dude has a badass name.)

Here's a great video of Kilian, Timmy Olson, Chorier and Dakota Jones descending Grant Swamp. Watching Kilian go down the mountain, I just don't know what to say. Except wow.


Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Leadville Trail Marathon Report

Saturday marked my fifth Leadville Trail Marathon. It seems like yesterday when, one Saturday in early July 2010, I lined up in front of the Sixth Street Gym full of excitement as I was about to take on my first Leadville race.

The scene on Saturday morning was exciting. The marathon kicks off of the annual Leadville Race Series, which includes the always-competitive Leadman and Leadwoman competition. I can't possibly describe the excitement I felt as I drove into town for the race, knowing I'd not only run an awesome race but also camp out at 10,000 feet above sea level.

One might look at my result on Saturday and mistake it for a "bad race," especially given my time last year of 4:19 (which placed me 12th overall). Here's how the numbers on Saturday shook out:
  • 5:04:51
  • 55th overall out of 434 finishers
  • 6th 40-49 male out of 104
The plan going into Saturday was an 80% effort. That's what my coach and I both determined would be the soundest approach. An 80% effort would allow me to train through the race and also do something productive the next day in Leadville (like run up Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass and back, which I did). At my age, I can't afford to "race" every race; I need to pick my battles. So, this was about a long run at elevation. As my coach often says to me, "keep your eyes on the prize (August)!"

On the week, I got to 80.1 miles and logged almost 12,000 feet of vertical. So, it was a good week and the Leadville Trail Marathon and my Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass adventure the next day helped get me there.

A few thoughts on the race itself. First off, because of the deep snowpack up in the mountains (Ball Mountain reportedly has six feet of snow on it), we ran a modified course.This modified course was harder than the standard route and threw in an extra 800 feet of climbing, to bring the total on the day to about 6,300 feet. My climbing was solid; where I suffered the most (no surprise) was running downhill. I also felt the effects of the altitude at times. There was a nasty climb from mile 20 to mile 21 that got to me a bit more mentally than physically. Still, because this was an 80% effort, I didn't worry too much and instead focused on good practice at elevation. I even helped a few other runners out, giving them Salt Sticks.

My fuel of choice was VFuel gels, water and Coca-Cola. Except for a few swigs of Coke, I was entirely self-supported. Looking back on it, I probably should have had more aid station fare, but I really wanted to test out VFuel. So far, so good.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well I did on the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb and descent the next day. This is a critical section of the return trip during the 100-miler and it can break you (not even joking there; this section can destroy runners). So, it was good for me to hit this section while up in Leadville. I had hoped to summit Mount Elbert but I didn't want to tangle with the snow, so Powerline it was.

In summary, LifeTime Fitness did a nice job with the race. It was well-organized and the modified course was a great fix.

My next race is the North Fork 50K in two weeks. That will be more a race effort.