Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reader Question on Volume vs. Quality and Training for a 100-Miler

Note to reader: Question edited for better clarity.

Hey Wyatt, I'm training for my first 100-miler in June and am curious about your thoughts on volume versus quality as I know you've experimented with both approaches. Do I need to run lots of miles or will quality with some long runs sprinkled in do the trick? - JL

Great question and one I get quite a bit, which is why I've decided to post this question and my answer. The short answer is, there's no one specific approach to training for a 100-miler that works for everyone. There are some tried-and-true elements of training for 100s, such as the long run, but by and large what you do beyond that comes down to what works for you and only you. And you need to tailor your training to the specific challenges of the race (mountains and hills v. flat, trail v. pavement, cold v. hot, altitude v. sea level, etc.). If you're training for Rocky Raccoon, there's not much need to hit the mountain trails. If you're training for Hardrock, you're not doing yourself any favors training on a sidewalk. You get the idea.

I know guys who have trained for and won 100-milers running 140 miles a week with a ton of quality (track intervals, tempos) sprinkled in. Mark Godale comes to mind. Back in his prime, the dude would crank out 5:20 mile repeats and killer tempos every week, all while doing doubles just about every day (an approach I took in 2008 and 2009 and it seemed to work for me). I know guys who have trained for and done well in 100s running half those miles. Lucho comes to mind, though know that Lucho built a huge base over a period of several years as a professional triathlete. And, though I don't know him personally, I have heard Bob Africa takes a less-is-more approach to big undertakings like Leadman.

I have done well in 100s after running 100-110 miles a week for weeks on end (Burning River 2007, Mohican 2008, Mohican 2009). I have run 100+ miles a week training for a 100 and not done well (Leadville 2010). I have tried lots of approaches over the years, rationalizing to myself why each should work, and experienced varying results. Lately, it's mostly been mediocrity. What I have ultimately come to realize for myself, based on trial and error, is that I thrive on volume. I need lots of mileage and tons of aerobic work, with some quality like tempos and hill repeats every so often (a few times a month) just to stimulate different systems. Big volume pays off for me especially in the latter miles of 100s. The best race I've had in a few years (Leadville Marathon 2013) I came into having mostly run in my aerobic zones, with some fast stuff here and there (mostly fast finishes), for the previous two months. The reason I didn't break 20 hours at Leadville in 2013, or come damn close to it, was that my stomach went south and my ankle was still jacked from an injury. But I am convinced that the aerobic stuff I did all summer had me in amazing shape when I lined up for that race.

Anyway, the key, I think, is to listen to your body and train as hard as you can without breaking yourself down. Getting to the starting line of a 100-miler healthy is half the battle. So, if you need it, take Monday off after running 40 miles over the weekend (just an example). Don't feel like you have to go out and grind through the mileage day in and day out even if you're feeling horrible--and definitely don't do fast stuff or go super long if you're feeling crappy (been there, done that and it's a road you don't want to go down, especially when you're old like I am). The key is to adapt to what you're doing with your training. Just remember that your body will tell you how it's responding and rest is how your body gets stronger. The gains come not when you're piling on the miles but when your eyes are closed and you're asleep. You run 30 miles and then the next day you rest/do light active recovery stuff so your body can recover and make gains from those 30 miles. The same goes with tempos, hills, intervals, etc.

As far as quality, I believe quality and volume are what make a great marathoner. I've long been skeptical of quality's helpfulness in training for 100s. But it depends on how you define "quality." Anyway, in 100s, you're mostly aerobic (zone 2, maybe even zone 1). If you "go anaerobic" in a 100 for a long period, that's not good because it'll result in muscle breakdown. You need to stay aerobic and burn fat in 100s. So it makes sense to me to do most of your training in an aerobic, fat-burning state and get super efficient. With that said, I'm not convinced long tempo runs of 12 miles at 6:30 pace (just an example) really have a big payoff in 100s when that pace may be twice as fast as what you're doing on race day. Sure, long tempos will help with strength and speed (huge in the marathon) and they'll induce some adaptations, but in 100s you're running significantly slower, so why not log most of your miles at that pace especially when it's inducing fat-burning--which you need when going the distance? Don't do everything at aerobic effort--you'll go stale--but aerobic efforts are the bread and butter of your training.

In conclusion, to succeed in 100s (and it feels strange to me to be giving this kind of advice when I have a checkered recent past as far as 100s), I think you need to be aerobically fit and efficient and have logged a handful of very long efforts in the neighborhood of 30+ miles with maybe back-to-back 20s run at some point. Log most of your miles in an aerobic state. Do tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, fast finishes and hills a few times a month (but remember to train specific to the course's challenges) to keep the adaptation process going. But the bread and butter are those aerobic efforts. Just know that stress and niggles are to be taken seriously. Stress of life, work, family stuff, etc., doesn't get talked about nearly enough but it will hinder recovery and undermine the quality of your sleep. Sleep is huge, as evidenced by elite marathoners often sleeping 12 hours a day. So if you have a super-stressful week going, maybe back off the mileage. And definitely listen to the niggles--ice them, massage them, rest them.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


With 2014 starting to wind down, I've been thinking a lot about what I'm doing running-wise next year. Over the past few weeks, lots of thoughts have swirled through my brain. I've considered taking the year off from racing and doing my own thing, such as running the Hardrock course over three days at a time of my own choosing. In recent weeks, I've become fairly disillusioned with the state of ultrarunning. When I started running ultras in 2005 (not that long ago, mind you), you could register for most races the day of the event. These days, it seems the sport has been over-run, with demand far out-stripping available supply. Some events sell out in a matter of hours; some in a matter of minutes.

I don't mind saying I wish ultrarunning still operated mostly in the shadows. The sport has garnered attention for years, but not like it does today. Admittedly, I could be a hypocrite. On the one hand, I want ultrarunning to be underground. But on the other hand, I'm a runner/blogger.

Soaring demand for limited spots means a lot of things, including the need for ridiculously advance planning when it comes to one's race schedule. I don't like that. I think when one's decision to enter a race has to be made eight or more months in advance, spontaneity is lost. You may not mind registering that early, but I do. I like flexibility.

Of course, what's happening in ultras is just the product of market forces, so it's a waste of time to whine about it. It's been shown that, in down economies, running becomes more popular. With that, you also have a few best-selling books that have driven enormous numbers of runners into ultras. The Western States lottery has never been a gimme, but in 2014 your odds of getting in were, I believe, a mere 8 percent. With tighter entrance criteria for 2015, it'll be interesting to see what the odds are for the approaching Western States lottery, which I'll once again try for. Will the odds get better, get worse or stay about the same?

Then you have Leadville. I'm not even going to go into where I am with that race right now, other than to say it's an estranged relationship after much thought and soul-searching. Which brings me to 2015. After debating giving the middle finger to racing in the coming year, I have decided to once again take part in the madness. But I like to think I'm being much more discriminating with the races I choose to enter in 2015, opting for events I consider high-quality and genuine, along with hopefully a few "fat-asses." As of now, here's what things look like:

April: Cheyenne Mountain 50K
May: Golden Gate Dirty Thirty (50K)
June: Western States Endurance Run or Bighorn 100 (Bighorn registration done!)
August: Pikes Peak Marathon
October: Columbus Marathon

Obviously, Western States is a big question mark. Fortunately, I'll have a few tickets in the lottery (better than the one I had last year), and so I'll be hoping my name is drawn. Western States is a dream of mine. But if it's not meant to be in 2015, then I have a really sweet backup 100-miler that I'll be stoked to run--the Bighorn 100 just north of here, in Wyoming. From what I've heard, Bighorn delivers a genuine ultra experience and is a very challenging race with lots of vertical, lots of mud, an 11am start that has all entrants running through the night, lots of single track and lots of mountain terrain. Oh yeah, and it's a Hardrock qualifier. That's one of the reasons I loved Mohican back in the day--it was genuine and kind of "down home." I miss genuine.

I think the timing of Western States and Bighorn suits me well. I'm one of those runners who gets the bug in early April, when I start ramping up my mileage. By late June, I'm usually in really good shape. As the summer progresses, I start to go stale. A 100-miler in late June would mean I'd go into it in pretty awesome shape. I've never gone into Leadville fresh. But it seems I always run well in June.

The additional silver lining to a June 100 is that I'll be able to line up for the Pikes Peak Marathon later in the summer. I've never run PPM, but I've run the Barr Trail enough times to appreciate the challenge of racing up and back down that glorious 14'er to the south of Parker. I'm guessing by the time Pikes rolls around, I'll still be somewhat compromised by my 100 earlier in the summer, but I'll nonetheless take part in a race that I've dreamed of running for years.

The year would then wrap up with a go at the Columbus Marathon, where it all started for me in 2004. It's impossible to say what my goals for Columbus will be. The last time I ran Columbus (2008), I crossed in 2:59, hampered by a hamstring strain. It would be great to go back after all these years away--awesome course, awesome event, lots of memories.

Life is one big pendulum. Right now, ultrarunning is growing by leaps and bounds. In time, the growth will start to level off and things will become more manageable. For now, it's a race in and of itself just to get an entry in your favorite events.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Take on the New Leadville Lottery Standards

Over 3,000 hits to the my blog yesterday tells me a few folks maybe wanted to know my take on the new lottery system that Lifetime Fitness is instituting for the Leadville 100-Mile Run. So, here goes.

Just for background: The old system was first-come, first-served. You registered on January 1. The 2014 race closed in, I believe, two days. That was amazing. Just to put things in perspective, in 2010, I registered in April and I believe registration stayed open until May or June. Interest in the race has exploded in large part because of The Book.

With the new lottery system, essentially you pay $15 to have you name put in the hat, and that $15 goes to the Leadville Legacy Foundation, which provides support for all graduating high school seniors in Leadville who aspire to seek further education/training (great cause!). From there, all you can do is hope your name is pulled and that you have a spot at the starting line on August 22.

Many of us knew a lottery was coming at some point. But many of us--myself included--assumed that "race veterans" would have special consideration. That is, if you're a returning finisher or you have multiple finishes under your belt, you'd get multiple tickets in the lottery. Or, better yet, if you finished the previous year's race, you're in automatically if you want it. I have four finishes. I'm not bragging when I say that; my point is that I am (was?) part of the Leadville faithful and I believe I should get more tickets than someone who read The Book and got inspired (and, let's face it, will likely DNF at/by Winfield). That may sound elitist, but it's how I feel and it's how most Leadville vets feel. We feel like we've been forgotten with this new lottery system.

The only folks getting automatic entries, besides those who finish high in the qualifiers, are nine-time LT100 finishers going for their tenth. That's awesome--I'm all for it. But what about the rest of us?

Here's the rub: Human nature is such that a lottery will induce even more demand than what we've seen in previous years. When something becomes scarce or is perceived as scarce, people all of a sudden want it. So, I believe the lottery, which will be open for an entire month, will garner thousands of entries--just as with the mountain bike race. The odds of getting in will be slim.

At Leadville every year, dozens of people come up to me and tell me how helpful this blog has been to their preparation. I don't claim to be some Leadville master, but I appreciate the feedback. I have lined up for that race five times and gone deep into the well each time. I have stood by the race through thick and thin, defending it after the 2013 running that left many in the ultarunning world disenchanted and disgruntled. So, from where I'm sitting, to have to stand in the same line as Born to Run disciples leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I have fought for my four finishes and believe I, along with other race vets, should have some kind of special consideration when it comes to a lottery. If the race organizing staff doesn't want to give us 2014 finishers and vets automatic entry into the 2015 event, that's fine--but at least give us some extra tickets to boost our odds of being chosen in the lottery.

Lotteries suck but they're a necessary evil in the "sport" (not sure this is a sport, which is why I put that word in quotes). Hardrock and Western States have done a great job with their lotteries, though I'd say I prefer Hardrock's lottery when comparing the two. With Hardrock and Western States, as well as the Boston Marathon, you know any tweaks to their intricate systems have come on the heels of great thought, consideration and engagement with those who will be affected. With Hardrock, we're literally talking about rocket scientists who developed the lottery. With Western States and Boston, you have two races that really set the standard for all others. I don't sense that with Leadville's new lottery system. There has been a backlash, confirming that this new system is unfair and faulty. It's not like the wheel has to be reinvented--look at Boston, Western States and Hardrock for models.

I talked with the race director, Josh Colley, yesterday. Josh is a good guy and he's about Leadville. The 100-mile run has to show a positive impact on the community as there's a small but vocal anti-race series community in Leadville. So, I totally support any and all tactics for boosting the Leadville Legacy Foundation. I think he wants a great race and I know the 2013 run inspired him to step it up, which he did because the 2014 running was nearly flawless. I don't know what Lifetime's role is in the race, meaning I don't know how much control the company has over what takes place at the shop in downtown Leadville. The race doesn't make Lifetime a ton of money (probably just a drop in the bucket), but it does give Lifetime a nice boost to its brand. What I do know is that Josh is doing what he thinks is best/right, and I know that as an RD he has to make some unpopular decisions at times (I'm not an RD, but that's my take). I don't agree with the direction that's been taken with the lottery, and for the time being I'm thinking hard about whether or not I return to Leadville. I'm also thinking hard about whether it's time to move on from ultrarunning--too many damned people. I can run in the mountains and do crazy stuff--hell, I can run the Hardrock course if I want.

While the backlash unfolds, here are some ideas to consider.
  • Give automatic entry to 2014 finishers. About 360 finished. Not all 360 would return in 2015 if given the option. Maybe half would return. That leaves plenty of spots (500+) for the lottery entrants, the other automatic entrants, and additional folks such as elites.
  • If the above isn't possible, give runners a ticket for every year they've finished. It is unfair that I, with my four finishes, or my buddy Matt, with his five finishes (just using us as examples), get just one ticket each.
  • Or do what Hardrock does and have separate lotteries--a lottery for vets, a lottery for newbies, etc.
  • Institute a qualification standard. You have to finish a 50-mile race or just about any 100-miler to qualify for the lottery. I know Leadville has a tradition of welcoming all comers, but times need to change when it comes to that. Besides, Leadville isn't a race for newbies. The epic carnage I see every year when coming back to Twin Lakes reveals that the race needs to institute a qualification standard.
  • Institute a service requirement. You need to do at least six hours of trail-related/race-related/outdoor-related service to gain entry. That would thin the lottery field--and it might give the Leadville Race Series some additional volunteers.
  • If boosting the Leadville Legacy Foundation is a key goal (which I totally get and support), institute a surcharge for the fund and/or increase the race entry fee. I would be happy to pay more. As it is, I always give an extra donation to the foundation.
  • Radical: Scrap the existing course and develop a new route that is a big loop starting and finishing at 6th and Harrison. A point-to-point wouldn't work as the start and finish need to be in Leadville in order to keep aligned with the traditions of the race. A loop course would enable more runners and better traffic flow, while keeping the start and finish where they've always been. Then you could have a huge event, but it would also mean you'd need more volunteers because you wouldn't be using each aid station twice. Admittedly, this solution would require years of planning, but there are trails galore, along with old mining roads, in the area and it could be done.
Those are just a few ideas. I'm no expert on this--lots of people know more about lotteries than I do. All I really want is engagement. Runners need to be engaged when big changes are percolating.

At present, I don't know what I'm doing in 2015 as far as Leadville and my race schedule (not that anyone cares). My #1 hope is to get into Western States. But there are a few other 100-milers I'm eyeballing as backups. It may be time to step away from Leadville and do something new. I believe in the end Josh and his team will revisit the lottery and make some changes. For now, to say I'm saddened by this new system would be an understatement. In all honesty, I'm heartbroken over it because I love Leadville--my son has practically grown up on that course. My wife and I have had some powerful moments during that race. I have history there.

I realize this is a "first-world problem," but it's saddened me.

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.


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.