So back in 2010 I started running with bunch of guys training for a race called the Leadville Trail 100. Originally I thought they were nuts to attempt that distance. I mean come on, who in their right mind would want to run 100 miles non-stop without sleep. Oh did I mention that the race starts at 10,200 feet and goes up the 12,500 feet.
That is just crazy talk!! Well after a few months of getting teased and being called a sissy boy, I took the plunge in what would be my biggest adventure yet. This is coming from a guy who after having a terrible marathon one year said he would never run more than 20 miles ever.
The Leadville Trail 100 is the kind of race that truly builds character and really takes you to your limits. You will have highs and lows and hopefully if you’re prepared, you will be able to rally back after feeling absolutely awful.
Leading up to the race I was doing 100+ mile weeks and doing 6 hours runs followed by 3 hour runs on the weekends. I was actually quite surprised how my body adapted to the heavy mileage without getting injured. I really think my approach of slowly adding extra miles made the transition really smooth and kept me injury free.
People often ask me how the altitude effected me and how I made the transition from basically sea level to almost 2 miles above sea level. Quite frankly, I am not sure. I do know that just trying to tie my shoe at that altitude made me gasp for air. When I started the race I made sure to really go out slow. For anyone who knows me, slow is not in my nature. I like to run hard and fast. Getting passed by people drives me crazy, but somehow I managed to hold back knowing I would see them later on the course, at least that was my game plan. Starting out slow also seemed to ease my lungs in to working, rather than gasping for air, I seemed to adjust to the lack of oxygen.
When the race first starts there is a lot of excitement, but there is also a lot of nervousness. I mean you’re attempting something most people would never dare to do or can even comprehend. Since the race starts at 4am, all the racers have headlamps and hand held flashlights to guide their way through the darkness. Being in Leadville also means there isn’t a lot of light pollution. On race day this meant that if the sky was clear, there were going to be a gazillion stars to guide your way. Lucky for us the sky was completely clear and I found myself gazing upon an amazing array of stars. It was something out of a movie, almost unreal how beautiful it was. I would often find my self just so pumped looking up at the stars. It was definitely a high point in the race. Anything to keep your mind off of the challenge ahead was always a good thing.
Being at altitude definitely has some serious side effects, at least it did for me. Leading up to the race I would always wake up with a headache and my stomach would feel queasy. I couldn’t get that great night sleep that I really wanted before the race. They say people who live at sea level should either arrive 3 weeks earlier or right before the race starts to deal with the altitude. Since I wasn’t independently wealthy and couldn’t afford to go 3 weeks early, I had to opt for option 2. The downside to option 2 of course, is you never know what the altitude is going to do to the body. Some people are perfectly fine, others become quite fatigued and can easily get altitude sickness.
I think I might have had a little bit of altitude sickness mixed with a spice or two of nervousness. I spent most of the first hour finding places to go to the bathroom. Oh did I mention, most bathrooms were about 10 miles apart, so if you had to go, the woods were your only option. You know that age old question about “Bears shitting in the woods” Well I am not sure about bears, but Leadville racers certainly do.
After a few bathroom breaks I was able to to find my rhythm and actually run without the need to stop. This was another high point in the race. Having to constantly go to the bathroom so early in a race plays real havoc on the mind. I felt like I was already way behind schedule. Speaking of schedule, yes I had a game plan.
My plan was this.
- Finish the race.
- Finish in under 30 hours (30 hours is the cutoff time for the race. Over that time and it is a DNF – Did Not Finish)
- Eat every 20 minutes, drink every 10 (This not only gives you fluids and calories, but it gives you something to think about).
- Finish as close to 25 hours as possible (I figured I would just throw that in there.)
- Run as much as possible (I would find this to be incredibly hard later in the race)
Ok so back to the race. The course consists of a series of aid stations approximately 7 to 13 miles apart (May Queen Aid Station, Fish Hatchery Aid Station, Halfmoon Aid Station, Twin Lakes Aid Station, Winfield Aid Station). A racers goal of course is to hit every aid station twice with the exception of the Windfield Aid Station. The Windfield Aid Station is the halfway mark of the race and the turnaround. If you have made it that far, you have just completed one heck of a 50 miler.
The May Queen Aid Station is the first of 5 aid stations a Leadville Trail 100 racer will hit going out. Leading up to May Queen consists of a lot of single track, which is mostly flat, but does have a few rollers. The trail can get quite congested and a little frustrating with racers hogging the trail making it hard to pass. With me having to go to the bathroom so much, I would often pass racers only to have to pass them again. This sort of thing can really get to you.
I am not exactly sure where I was, but when the sunrise came, it was a glorious site. In the Leadville Race unless your wicked fast you are going to see 2 sunrises. I of course wasn’t in the wicket fast division, so 2 sunrises I would see.
Seeing May Queen was a real relief, but it also brought some bad news. When I came rolling into the aid station I was feeling really good, but I was also really off pace. There is a quote that goes something like this “There is no reason to have a plan B, because it distracts from plan A”. Well obviously the author never ran the Leadville Trail 100. You better have a plan B, C and D. Coming in behind my goal time really worried me. I mean I wouldn’t get much faster and would certainly get slower later in the race.
Decisions, Decisions. At this point I had to choose how I was going to continue the race. Should I pickup the pace to get me back on track or should I just hold the pace I was currently at. Both options had their drawbacks. Picking up the pace could spell disaster down the line when I would run out of fuel or energy because I spent it too soon. Keeping up the same pace could mean I would run out of time real estate at the end of the race.
I chose to pick up the pace knowing it could end the race for me, but since I like to run hard, this felt more natural.
To Be Continued.
Would I do that distance again? That would be a big no.