Sunday, July 04, 2010

RR - Leadville Trail Marathon

Race Report
Sat, July 3/10
Leadville Trail Marathon
Leadville, CO
Marathon #332
6:31:14 – 3AG


What better way to describe this race. I didn’t have a lot of confidence going into this race in spite of two high-altitude training runs on trails in the past few weeks that seemed to go OK.
I ran this race two times before – the last time being five years ago when I set my PR of 5:41 in what I rate as the 4th toughest marathon in the world! Because of the degradation/deterioration I have noted in my finish times in mtn races this summer I figured that a target of 6:30 would probably be reasonable/realistic although I hoped to finish under 6:15?
The race starts/finishes in downtown Leadville at 10,200 ft and climbs to the highest elevation at the top of Mosquito Pass (13,185 ft) at the Half. This year there was also a Half Marathon that turned out to be an annoyance as far as I am concerned.

The weather forecast called for great weather and it was sunny and a pleasant 51 F when I lined up with about 800 runners for the 8 am start. Because the forecast called for temps in the mid 60s by the time I finished with no thunderstorms or snow I decided not to wear a cumbersome waist pack that could carry survival gear as well as water. It tends to bounce or flop around and is annoying – especially when I expected to be out on the course for 6+ hrs! Instead I wore a smaller waist pack that could carry one bottle of water and some carbo gel. It is absolutely essential to carry water in this race. The water stops are about 3 miles apart but in the mtns that can take more than 1 hr and it is dangerous to go that long in the thin, dry mtn air w/o water! There would be a risk of severe dehydration!

As soon as the race started I knew it was not going to be a good day! The course climbs east out of Leadville for the first 1 ½ miles to a rough 4X4 road that climbs steeply (1500 vertical ft over 2 miles) up Ball Mtn in the Mosquito Range. I normally run that entire first section but was forced to walk a few steep sections of the paved and dirt roads at 10,500 ft. That was not a good sign! The Half runners split off before we reached the 4X4 road and I followed a pack of marathon runners as we walked/hiked up the steep, rough road. It was impossible to run – the trail was too steep! I reached the 1st water stop at the top of Ball Mtn (12,000 ft) at 3.8 miles in 1:00:13 - six minutes behind my PR time! I filled my water bottle and washed down my 1st carbo gel before starting what I consider to be one of the toughest loops in any race. It descends and then than ascends more than 1000 vertical ft on Ball Mtn – twice in 3.3 miles - before returning to the same water stop at 7.1 miles! I made it back to the water stop in 1:50:11 and a split of 49:58. I was looking forward to the next section of the course – a descent of 1,000 ft over 2.7 miles on an old mining road to the entrance of Mosquito Pass. I pushed the pace to sub 10-min pace and reached the water stop at 9.8 miles in 2:14:52 and a split of 24:41. The bad news was that I normally reached that water stop under 2 hrs – I was 16 minutes behind my PR time!

Now I faced the toughest section of the course – a 2085 vertical ft ascent over 3.3 miles to the top of Mosquito Pass at 13,185 ft! And my poor old legs had already run more than 6000 ft of elevation change! I was able to run the bottom section of the 4X4 road that climbs Mosquito Pass but was soon relegated to following the other runners who were walking/hiking. And then the Half runners became a nuisance. We were climbing Mosquito Pass while the mid-pack and slower Half runners were descending and the road/trail was crowded with runners. It was difficult to select or claim the best/safest part of the road/trail and required watching each foot plant while trying to watch for downhill runners! It was very annoying and unnerving because I was concerned about suffering a bad fall. When I passed the 12,500 ft elevation and began the steepest section of the trail I started to suffer minor stomach cramps – one of my early symptoms of altitude sickness. Luckily they did not get worse and I was able to ignore them and reached the top of Mosquito Pass and the Half in 3:26:55 and a split of 1:12:02. That was only a few minutes slower than my trial run last week so I was happy with that time – but the bad news was that I normally reached the top of the Pass close to 3 hrs! The good news was that this race is one of the few where you can expect to run a negative split because the 2nd Half starts with the descent down Mosquito Pass. Unfortunately I was not able to push the pace as fast as I wanted on the descent because of the number of runners sharing the trail. I was not willing to risk a fall and a severe injury! I returned to the water stop at the entrance of Mosquito Pass in 4:11:20 and a split of 44:25 – much too slow for that descent!

Now I was really concerned! I am normally back at the top of Ball Mtn in 4:15 – and I still had 2.7 miles of ascent back up the mining road to the top of Ball Mtn. Certainly my ‘dream’ of a sub - 6:15 was gone and even my target of 6:30 was looking bleak? I tried valiantly to push the pace back up that ascent of 1000 vertical ft but sadly was forced to walk (too) many sections. My legs seemed willing but the old lungs could not suck in enough of the thin air to keep them churning? I reached the water stop on the top of Ball Mtn (12,000 ft) in 4:50:35 and a split of 39:15. Maybe there was still hope. If I could run the reverse loop around Ball Mtn under 1 hr there was still a chance? I continued to push the pace on every downhill and (few) flat sections and hike the ascents as fast as possible. That loop is an absolute bitch – especially on the 2nd Half. As I pushed up the final ascent of that loop just before returning to the water stop I was sucking desperately for air and suffering stomach cramps (altitude sickness) again. But I reached the water stop at 22.4 miles in 5:44:34 and a split of 53:58. There was still hope because the last 4 miles were downhill and I had run them in 45 minutes before!

I decided to accept the risk and push the pace on the descent down the steep and treacherous trail and all went well for the 1st mile - but then disaster(s) struck. The trail was very steep and dangerous. It required a lot of zigzagging across the trail to pick out the best/safest spots for a foot plant and that created a lot of stress on muscles not normally used by road runners. I wasn’t surprised when my right adductor cramped and started to lock up. Luckily I was able to step off the trail quickly to massage and stretch the muscle and after a few minutes it relaxed enough to continue running. However about 5 minutes later the left adductor cramped and locked up. The pain was immediate and so excruciating that I collapsed in the middle of the steep trail and rolled around looking for a position – any position – to decrease the pain so I could massage the muscle and get it to relax and release! It took a few minutes of screaming and pain before the muscle released but I still couldn’t walk. The trail was so steep that any effort to walk stressed the adductor muscle and it started to cramp again. I was forced to side-step down the trail for a few minutes so that all the stress was on my right (downhill) leg! By then I realized that any hope of finishing under my target of 6:30 had been blown to Hell. That observation was confirmed when I reached the road on the outskirts of Leadville in 6:18. I had 12 min left for the final 1 ½ miles. A sub-8min pace at 10,500 ft is difficult enough – but attempting to push the pace that fast while preventing any further stress on two screwed-up adductors was impossible!

I wisely decided not to risk an injury for the sake of a few minutes and cruised the final 1 ½ miles to cross the finish line in 6:31:14. Since I finished close to my target time I had to be happy with my time.
After taking my usual finish line photo I checked the results posted at the finish line. I was the 1st old fart over 65 to cross the finish line. Unfortunately the Age Groups were 10 years (i.e. 60 to 69) and it is very difficult to compete against the youngsters in that AG so I was not surprised or disappointed to learn that I placed 4th in the AG. However I was totally shocked and still do not believe the time of the winner in the 60+ AG – 4:07! That time is not believable for a 60 year old! Typically a runner should add 2 to 2 ½ hrs to his normal road race time for this race (i.e. 6:30 should be a reasonable target for me since I run 4 hrs in a road race). Elite young runners might finish 1 to 1 ½ hrs slower than their road race time. That means that the 60-year old runner can run a road marathon in 2:30? I think NOT!!! I am waiting anxiously for the official results to see if there was a mistake and correction?

So I was happy with my time. But I was definitely NOT happy with my performance! Right from the start I didn’t seem to have the energy or capability to push the old bod on the ascents and more importantly I didn’t seem to have the mental toughness needed to ignore or accept the pain to make the effort! And right from the start my body clearly and unequivocally was giving me some important advice: “I am too damn OLD for this Mountain Trail Marathon SHIT”!!!!!

Many road runners switch to trail marathons at the end of their running careers because they claim it is easier on their bodies since the pace is slower. BULLSHIT! I monitored my heart rate monitor closely and carefully throughout the entire race (I had lots of free time since I was running so slowly). When I was hiking/climbing the ascents as fast/hard as I could my heart rate was between 140 to 145bpm (85% Max) – the typical range for when I run an 8 to 9 min pace in a road race. It was in the same range when I was pushing the pace on the descents so that means that I pushed my OLD ticker and OLD bod at 85% Max for 6 ½ hrs vs 4 hrs in a road race! I reluctantly agree with my OLD bod – “I am too damn OLD for this Mountain Trail Marathon SHIT”!!! This was my 3rd and final Leadville Trail Marathon!I will NEVER run the Leadville Trail Marathon again. I told the Sports Manager that if I even mention the idea (again) she has standing orders to have me committed or shoot me to save me all the agony and pain!

I would like to vow that I will never run another Mountain Trail Marathon again but I have a wee dilemma. Early in the year in my naïve and exuberant zest to prove my ever-lasting youth and invincibility I regretfully signed up for yet another Mountain Trail Marathon – the toughest marathon course in the world – Pike’s Peak! Thus I am forced to train hard(er) for the next month – but if I do not see or feel any improvement in my conditioning – especially in my capability to run ascents above 10,000 ft – I will withdraw from Pike’s Peak!! I just do not have the desire/motivation or willingness to accept the pain for the 7 hrs I predict it would take to finish Pike’s Peak!

Stay tuned!

Footnote: After contacting the race director I finally received news that the 60-year old runner who finished in a remarkable 4:07 had indeed run only the Half. Thus Maddog got elevated to 3rd AG!

1 comment:

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