I came to Leadville to run this race and test my body at altitude. I'm a flat lander, living, running and training at sea level. This race starts at 10,000 feet and hits 12,000 feet, four times along the course. I really had no idea what to expect and was worried that I might DNF, which I have never done in an ultra. The elevation is intimidating, and the field is stacked with some great runners for this distance. And here I am, coming from sea level on the East Coast, trying to compete with runners that live and train at this altitude all the time.
I got up at 3:30 for a 6:00 AM race start and ate a hearty breakfast of jelly donuts, Coke, and coffee. My usual pre-race meal. Jo and I left the hotel at 5:20 and arrived at the race start a few minutes later. The morning was a chilly 48 degrees at race time.
One of the cool things about a Leadville start is that they fire a shotgun to begin the race. I was lined up in the front and was happy to see this ritual take place. One of the uncool things about Leadville is that they make you start by running straight up a ridiculously steep hill. I'm not convinced this is necessary. My initial plan was to walk to the top, but I got wrapped up in the fun and ran.
Once we reached the top of the hill, I couldn't catch my breath and really began to worry about my ability to compete at this altitude. I ran an easy pace for 5 miles before my breathing finally settled down. There were alot of negative thoughts banging around in my head during that time.
The race heads uphill to the first mountain pass right away. The pass is 10 miles from the start and the first aid station is 7 miles in. The hills are pretty manageable leading to the first aid station, but begin to get very technical and steep for the next 3 miles. Once we crest the pass, we have 3.5 miles of easy downhill to the Printer Boy aid station at 13.5 miles. This is the first opportunity to get aid from my crew. I made it there in 2:30 and was happy with my time considering the pass that we just climbed up through. At this point, I was feeling very good and beginning to feel like I might have a decent day on the trails. I spent 3 minutes getting aid, and ran out to the trail feeling good.
From Printer Boy, we continued our descent for another 1.5 miles, crossed a roadway, and headed up again for several miles. We hit the Rock Garden aid station at mile 18 and then continued along rolling terrain until we began our ascent to Shermans Pass. This was a tough climb and got very steep in several sections. Once we crested the pass, we had a steep technical downhill to the 25 mile mark, which is the turn around point. This is also the next place we can meet our crew. I got there 4:45 into the run and still felt really good. I took aid and headed back out the way I came.
I hustled back to the Printer Boy aid station crossing the highest pass along the way. At this point, a storm rolled in and dumped cold rain and hale on us as were cresting the pass, and during our descent. I was wearing nothing but running shorts and shoes, and got VERY cold until the storm passed. Shortly thereafter, I saw nearby mountains getting slammed with lightening storms and being hammered with intense rain. I crossed my fingers that the storms would satisfy themselves with abusing the 14ers and leave us alone. And they did, but the scene was breathtaking from our vantage point at 12,000 feet.
During my descent after the storm, I tripped on a section of single track and landed hard. In the process, I scraped up my right hand, right knee and my back. This is significant because it's only the second time I have ever fallen during a trail run and the first time that I have left behind skin and blood. It was a demoralizing setback, but I pushed on.
I got back to Printer Boy in 2:15 from the turnaround, which is the exact time it took me cover that section of trail before. I was pleased to see consistent splits this far into the race. I fueled up, had a cold beer, and headed toward the finish.
I had covered the distance from start/finish to Printer Boy in 2:30 previously and hoped for the same on the return. But that wasn't meant to be. That part of the trail is more favorable for good running on the outbound and more challenging headed inbound. I covered it in 3 hours and was somewhat disappointed by that.
I had really hoped for sub 10 hour finish and crossed the finish line at 10:00:24. I was bummed, but happy with my time, especially because of my doubts prior to the race. Leadville is a very tough 50 and I wasn't in a position to train at that altitude. I had to rely on my conditioning and cardio capacity to pull me through.
On fueling...During the race, I ate very little. I had an Ensure at Painter Boy both times I came through. I had two Ensure's at the turn at mile 25 and also ate a cookie. I also drank one beer at mile 34. I didn't take anything else in during the race. In retrospect, I realize I should have fueled more than I did, but I'm still messing with my strategy and am focused on perfecting it prior to my next big ultra.
This race was important because I'm coming back next month to run the Leadville 100 and wanted to use this as a supported training run for that event. This race gave me confidence that I could complete the 100 within the 30 hour time limit, understanding that I need some more training, proper rest, and more focus on my fueling strategy.
Our time in Leadville has been amazing and I can't wait to get back. This is truly a wonderful place to for an athlete to enjoy the outdoors.
Happy trails friends!!!