Sunday, July 3, 2011

Leadville Marathon Race Report

There are about a million things to say and I'm sure I will forget more of them than I remember. But let me just say that experience was unique from any race I have ever done. I still have mixed feelings about whether I want to do more of it or less. While this is technically a marathon, it's really an ultra in disguise. In ultra-tradition, I will break my run down by aid station.

A quick note about aid stations. They describe the course as having 7 aid stations. But really there are only 3. You hit Viner 4 times (before and after each leg of Ball Mountain), there is another aid station at the base of Mosquito pass (Resurrection) that you hit twice (my family was allowed to hang there and wait for me!), and then the aid station at the summit (almost) of Mosquito pass.

Before the Race

We stayed in Breckenridge last night with a friend and his wife. It is really a shame that we didn't get to stay longer because Breck is a cool town and they had lots to share and enjoy. Unfortunately, we were in and out in less than 12 hours. We didn't even enjoy the special beer I brought for my friend. I had an alarm set for 5:30, but was up earlier stirring and preparing mentally. We dressed and packed and were on the road by 6 am. It was such a HUGE advantage to be close to Leadville and not stress about that 2.5 hour drive. Before the race we picked up my bib and met up with Stacia W. and her family. It was fun to meet her and chat as we killed time waiting for the race to start.

Race Start to Viner 1 – 3.8 miles

The race starts with a shotgun blast and a police escort out of town! It was a mass of people and I quickly pushed to the front, probably a little harder than I should have. I set a goal of finishing in 5 hours, but there was some part of me that thought I was superman and might be able to do it faster. Those thoughts were QUICKLY erased on this stretch. It is immediately up hill and relentless. There wasn’t more than a half mile that was consistently runnable by more than the elites. And it got more and more technical as you went. I was dying even though I was in “power-walk” mode almost the entire way. At the aid station, I grabbed a GU shot refilled my water bottles and took off.

Viner 1 to Viner 2 – 7.1 miles

This is a loop around Ball Mountain and contains, you guessed it more climbing! There are sections in here where you could run – but only in .25 mile bursts. Then it was back to power-walking. Sigh. After an ascent around the backside – through a snow drift – it finally descends back into the same aid station you just left! This section is unquestionably one of the most beautiful sections of single track that I have ever run. The views of the Leadville mining district are amazing. And I love the way the trail sort of slices sideways across the mountain with a smooth descent. Incredible. I managed to throw down a piece of watermelon – haven’t tried that yet! I also started popping electrolyte caps like crazy – at least 2 an hour until I ran out. Doh!

Viner 2 to Resurrection 1 – 9.8 miles

Finally a chance to run and downhill! This portion of the run takes you through some of the old mining areas in Leadville – very cool. And it is almost all descent. The road is very manageable dirt road for the mining operations. I was feeling pretty good as I pulled in and saw my family waiting for me! It’s very casual and you can just hang and talk with them. They could have “crewed” me if I needed it. I again refueled, gave everyone a kiss, and took off for MOSQUITO PASS! I was on track at 1:45 to this point, but the pass was looming large in my mind.

Resurrection 1 to Mosquito Pass Summit – 13.05 miles

From the aid station there is a little bit of descent and then a bit of flat at the base of Mosquito Pass. This was where I saw the lead marathoner coming back in (passing me at about mile 10!). I assume he won. Mosquito Pass is an ATV road and highly rocky and technical. To make matters worse, it was like a river flowing down for the first half – water everywhere! I had made up my mind not to run one foot of it. It wasn’t worth it. My power-walking was doing well for me for the first third and then it got steep – up to 15% grade. I cannot even describe the scene and what was going through my head. People just looked dejected and in pain, like a scene from a war movie with deject troops marching home. It was brutal. I seriously had doubts about whether I could finish the race because I started getting dizzy (from the 13,200 feet in altitude no doubt) and even power-walking was barely netting me 20 min/mile. Harsh. And then out of nowhere you reach the top. No fan fare, just some guys taking your bib number and you head back down. I was at 2:40 – way behind my intended pace. Up until this point I was trailing the girl that I believe finished second for women. She smoked me down the pass and I didn’t see her again until the finish.

Mosquito Pass Summit to Resurrection 2 – 16.4 miles.

Things changed entirely the minute I got to go downhill. First of all it just felt good! Since I walked all the uphill, my quads felt good. They were happy to take the pounding as I took some of the pressure off my calves. Secondly, I knew the remaining miles were net downhill by almost 2000 feet. Not bad. I did not intend to run fast down Mosquito, but I was going with the flow and ready to be off the mountain. I didn’t even care that I was splashing in the water. By the time I reached my family for the second time at Resurrection, I was back on pace with a few minutes to spare. I had seen my family twice in 1hour and 20 minutes and only covered 6 miles – whoa.

If you look close, you can see me coming up the trail in a bright yellow shirt.  Cool photo of the area!

Resurrection 2 to Viner 3 – 19 miles

More up hill, sweet! Not really. At least this section was not technical at all. As I mentioned earlier, it’s fairly well groomed county road. It is also not insanely steep. If you wanted to put in a good time (4:30 ish), this would be the section where you’d have to work harder than I did. Instead, I decided to walk just about all of it except a few sections that were manageable. I noticed that the benign conditions – relatively speaking – allowed me to power-walk at a sub 14:00 pace. Perfect. I knew my opportunity to go sub 5 hours would rest entirely on being able to run the final 5 miles, most of which is downhill. However, during this section I got extremely hot and I was running alone – no runners within a quarter mile each direction. I had not been drinking enough since Mosquito Pass. My calves were cramping. Better get uphill fast. During my power-walks I finished off my fluids and splashed in some in energy chews. Nasty. When I arrived back at Viner, the nice lady at the aid station said to me “your at 19 miles, you look great!”. And I replied, “it feels like 40 miles”. Considering the cramps and my general level of hunger, I decided this was a good opportunity to eat a banana and a quarter of a PB&J sandwich. Off I went to Ball Mountain.

Viner 3 to Viner 4 – 22.4 miles

After leaving the aid station you continue to climb and wind back around Ball Mountain. Ball Mountain was certainly one of the coolest parts of the course. Much of it was single-track and several sections were covered in snow. In fact, I managed to take a slightly different path (only by about 20 yards) on the inbound leg and wound up sliding down the snow field instead of using the trench they had dug. There are sections here to run downhill for a little while and take the strain off my calves. But the final half mile into the aid station is more climbing. Suck. My calves were done and it was HOT – about 12:30 in the afternoon. By this point I had lost track of my splits by aid station. However, I knew I just needed to average a bit better than 5 miles per hour and I’d have a shot.

Viner 4 to Home – 26.13 miles

As I was coming up to Viner (again!), I passed two runners and then saw a third that seemed to be struggling. He managed to regroup and beat me to the aid station. But he stopped and refueled. I did not. As we headed downhill toward the finished the man – who looked sort of like Dean Karnazes – said to me “we got a shot to break 5 hours”. Let’s do this! Appropriately Metallica started blaring in my iPod. He ran out ahead on the technical portions of the downhill, but I managed to keep him within a hundred yards or so. We hit a short hill and I caught him with some more power-walking. Then we went downhill and he darted ahead again. I started singing aloud to my iPod despite being totally parched. He must of thought I was insane ;) As we began to bend back into town, I almost took a wrong turn and he put me back on track. Then I started hauling into the finish and blew by him. At one point I was running sub-7:00 in the final mile (6:14 to be exact). I was getting emotional thinking about it all – all my hard work paying off! And my family was here to enjoy it with me! Appropriately not long after my emotional moment I saw my wife, but she was alone? A hundred yards or so later my kids came running out on the course and finished with the last 50 or 100 yards with me. Awesome.

I officially finished 25th out of roughly 380 starters with a time of 4:55 (the link provided shows two runners ahead of me that were later considered DNFs).  You can view my Garmin connect stats.

A little wrap up

I am very happy with my time, but I have work to do. I think my eating was OK, though I didn’t push it because I didn’t have to with the shorter distance. But clearly I was dehydrated and it would have been a struggle to continue 20 more miles. If the weather is a warm as it was today, finishing 50 miles is going to be a bigger challenge than I was expecting. Interestingly when I talked with Stacia W. before the race, she mentioned that I was probably going to struggle above 12,000 feet. She nailed it! I didn't have any trouble with altitude below 12,000 feet, but Mosquito Pass was like a place from another galaxy. Fortunately there is very little of the 50 miler that is above 12,000 feet :) This was an amazing experience and I think everyone should do it at least once -- even if it is just the heavy half marathon (15.5 miles).

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

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