Sunday, July 29, 2012

Leadville Training Weekend

This weekend my buddies and I went up to Leadville to do some camping, hiking, and training for the Leadville Trail 100. The goal of the runners was to reproduce the runs done during the Leadville Training Camp. The tricky part of the whole weekends was figuring out how/when we could replenish supplies and how to find the course. I attempted to load the course sections into my Garmin with limited success.

Friday Night

We arrived Friday night and found a beautiful "primitive" campsite near Halfmoon Creek. In fact, the creek was about 5 feet from our tents and provided us almost total seclusion. After setting up camp, the runners in the group decided to head out for our night run. The plan was to run from Twin Lakes to Treeline (miles 60 - 72 of the race). We were a little concerned because the course is somewhat difficult to follow along this section, particularly at night. While I attempted to load the course into my Garmin for us to follow, it didn't appear when I turned my Garmin on. Fortunately, I also brought some printed directions. We managed to find our way without too much trouble (and with the help of some other runners). The other problem we encountered was that Treeline was about 3 miles from our campsite and we didn't have anyway to contact our fellow campers for a ride. After studying a map, we decided to re-route a little bit and just follow the Colorado Trail the entire way instead of breaking off toward Tree Line along the course. The Colorado Trail would drop us about three quarters of a mile from camp and provide a little more scenic run.

The run was beautiful! And, as a bonus, we managed to start at roughly the same time I expect to be arriving at Twin Lakes (7 pm) on race day. That way I got to experience things almost exactly as they will be in 3 weeks. We ran into dusk with a light rain and it was quite fun. My heart rate was kind of high the entire run, I think because I was acclimating to that altitude. When we hit the fork in the road where we were supposed to follow the LT100 course, we went left instead toward Mt Elbert. This added some additional climbing and some gorgeous views. With about a mile left in the run, the skies opened up and a light rain became a torrential down pour. By the time we reached camp, we were soaked through to our core.

After arriving back at camp, we put up a big picnic tent and drank beer over a lantern (it was too wet to light a fire). Our dinner consisted of popcorn, beef jerky, and tortilla chips because it was late and we could not light a fire. All of the runners were freezing as we drank ice cold beer in our soaking clothing.

My impressions of this sections of the course were positive. There is a fair amount of climbing (1500 feet approximately), but it is very runnable. However, it is technical in spots (rocks mainly) and will be challenge if it is after dark. This section will be key for me to run if I am going to have a quality finish time.


No one slept well Friday night. It was cold and it rained most of the night. Besides, who sleeps well their first night in a tent? We awoke slightly before 6 am and proceeded to prepare for our various adventures (the runners were going to run long and the hikers got a late start and decided to some light hiking instead of Mt Elbert).

Greg, a friend from the DailyMile, has been struggling with a couple of injuries and decided to limit his running on Saturday. Instead, he played crew for Tony and I. What a blessing this turned out to be. Our plan was to start the day at the May Queen Aid Station (mile 13 of the course) and run to Twin Lakes (mile 40 of the course). Greg dropped us off and went to run Hagerman road by himself. Since we missed some miles on Friday night, we ran a bit of the Turquoise Lake trail to add a few miles. Then we headed up the Colorado Trail and Hagerman road toward Sugar Loaf pass. I managed to keep a solid pace (roughly 12 min pace) on this section despite the climbing.  However, I did have to switch to a power hike periodically to keep my HR at a reasonable level (below 145).  We popped out on Hagerman Road and saw Tony's car where Greg had parked it. Tony and I took off our jackets and tied them to the door handle and began climbing Hagerman road toward Powerline. The climb was not difficult and it was easy to keep my HR in check. Then we got to run down the infamous Powerline! We ran into several other runners training and they helped us find our way down without getting lost. At the bottom, we took a right and headed toward Fish Hatchery. When we arrived at Fish Hatchery, Greg was waiting for us so we could restock our gear and apply sunscreen. He informed us that he wasn't feeling up to the run and would take Tony's car to Twin Lakes for us (we had left Greg's car at Twin Lakes the night before).

Here I am climbing up Hagerman Road toward Sugar Loaf Pass (outbound).

Leaving Fish Hatchery we did the only real road running of the entire course -- a 5 mile section to Tree Line. But, they changed the course! We followed the old course until Jerry -- a friend of Sherpa John -- came upon us and told us we were off course. Tony and I were faced with a difficult decision. How do we get back on course? The old course was now blocked and clearly marked as trespassing. Worse, the road was washed out. We watched as Jerry and his gang drove off toward the new section of the course. After a few minutes of lively and somewhat panicked discussion, Greg came driving to the rescue! He was headed back to camp and saw us. We jumped in the car and he drove us to the new course where we once again began following Jerry and his gang. In the process, we gathered another runner. His name was Aiden and he is running the LT100 without ever running a race longer than a 5K. Whoa. We followed Jerry, Aiden, and the others for the remainder of the day. The only real drama was a pretty bad calf cramp for Tony. He worked through it and we made it in to Twin Lakes in decent shape.

The day treated us to a steady and sometimes heavy treatment of rain. We finished with almost 31 miles, roughly 5 more than we had planned. We averaged a pretty solid 11.5 minute miles during this section of the run. My race day strategy has me running about 30 seconds per mile slower than that. This section of the course is pretty up until Fish Hatchery. The miles between Fish Hatchery (mile 23) and joining the Colorado Trail (about 34) are the only real non-trail miles in the entire course. However, only about five of them are on pavement. This is a section that I must run consistently inbound and outbound if I am going to make a solid time in the race.

When we arrived back at camp, the hiking crew had a nice warm fire burning for us! And we got to eat our first real food in almost 24 hours, a nice pasta meal.

Tim and Brian (the "hikers") were kind enough to have a warm fire waiting for our return.

Check out our make-shift clothes line! We attempted to dry our soaking clothes by hanging them inside our picnic tent. We spent tons of time avoiding the rain under that tent this weekend.


Sunday was the climax of training, a double passing of the infamous Hope Pass. Hope Pass represents miles 40 to 60 of the race. You run over the pass from miles 40 to 50, climbing more than 3500 feet in 5 miles and reaching 12,600 feet in elevation. The Winfield aidstation is mile 50 and you turn around and climb back over Hope Pass again. Coming inbound the climb is 2500 feet in only 2.5 miles -- roughly a 20% grade. The tricky part about Hope Pass is that it can ruin your race in several different ways. If you go out too hard, then you pay for it and bonk on the pass. Conversely, if you go out too easy -- and are lingering near the cutoff times -- then you better be able to climb the pass quickly or you will "timeout". The latter is what happened to the racers I was going to pace last year.

After a better night sleep and a good meal, I woke about 6 am well rested and ready to go. We packed all of our camping gear into our car and headed back to the Twin Lakes area. This section of trail begins by traversing through a marsh land to the base of Hope Pass. Despite the heavy traffic from runners training, it was not obvious where the trail went. We where lost once again. After about 30 minutes of confusion, I finally managed to get my Garmin to load the course and get us back on the right path. Once we were across the river and heading up the trail, we were treated with some amazing trail and wonderful shade. This direction of Hope Pass is not as steep, but it seems to go on forever. Near the top I felt the first impacts of altitude all weekend (a good sign!).

Near the summit of Hope Pass. Leadville is off in the distance behind me.

The pond that provides the running stream of water along Hope Pass.

A stream along the pass. We had to refill our water from the stream on the way back in.

The summit is in the upper left corner of the screen. These climbs seem to go on forever when you can see the summit from a distance.

After reaching the summit, we attempted to run downhill. The trouble was that it is almost too steep to run or you will do major damage to your quad muscles. It winds up as a slow trot instead. You can see Winfield straight down the hill. We did not go all the way to the Winfield turn around point choosing to turn around at the base of the pass instead. First we took a few minutes to rehydrate and fix up our gear and then we started back up hill. While this section was steeper, I liked it more because it was shorter. I got a good groove with some tiny strides, like a biker with a high cadence, and kept my breathing in a good pattern by keeping my chest wide and my head up. The climb was hard, but it felt manageable. Tony, on the other hand, had a severe bonk like I had at San Juan. He showed his toughness by powering through, barely saying a word. I could tell he was hurting, but we still managed to average a better than 30 minute pace up a 20% grade at 12,000 feet in altitude. I am convinced he will finish the race because he has such a strong mind -- more than half the battle.

We both celebrated at the summit knowing that the worst was behind us. In fact, it sort of felt like the climactic point of my training was behind me. Five downhill miles and I could declare myself as tapering. We got a good rhythm going downhill stopping only to refill our water bottles in a stream. During this stop we ran into a group of runners, several were from Castle Pines and Castle Rock. And, they were with Trevor (from the DailyMile). What a small world! Trevor was nice enough to filter some water for us.

Near the end of our run, we once again got lost trying to cross the marshland on the way back to Twin Lakes. Fortunately, there will be plenty of course markings and foot traffic on race day.

I was surprised that my HR was only a 131 average on this section. Clearly my lungs and my legs are working harder than my heart on these steep climbs. Overall I wasn't too intimidated by Hope Pass. Between the San Juan Solstice 50 and the Grand Canyon, I have done plenty of hard climbs this year. I know this will be harder after running 40 miles, but I am encouraged by how well Tony and I climbed it today. We finished the traverse in a pretty conservative 6 hours and my race day strategy allows for more than 7 hours in this section.

Here is a GoPro video I made of the Hope Pass Segment.

Lesson Learned

Overall I was happy with how the weekend went. We hit every section easily within the time I have allotted for race day, most of them faster. The difficult thing will be stringing it all together for 25+ hours. That said, here are a few key things:

  1. I used Acclerade all weekend and really enjoyed it. I will probably rotate that with my GU Roctane to give me some additional protein and a different flavor.
  2. The altitude only bothered me going up hill above 11,500 or 12,000 feet. This is a huge sigh of relief for me because the altitude really got to me at San Juan.
  3. PocketFuel will have a place in my race day nutrition plan. These little packets agree with my stomach and provide tons of calories in the form of fat and protein.
  4. I am capable of getting this done. But the challenge is much larger than I thought. Running this course gave me an appreciation for how big an accomplishment just finishing it will be.
  5. I was impressed by how much real trail was in the course. You will often hear Leadville called a "road" ultra, but that is simply not true. It is true that much of it is on runnable grades -- by ultra standards. And it is also true that not much of it is highly technical like Hard Rock. But the majority of the course is on dirt. And 80 (or more) of the 100 miles will be on jeep roads or trail. I don't see myself brining a road shoe on race day.
  6. I wore my Saucony Peregrines for the entire weekend and was really happy with them. They will  be my primary shoe on race day.

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