Sunday, July 06, 2003

Race Report - Leadville Trail Marathon

Leadville Trail Marathon
July 5/03

Well, most of the July 4th weekend went off as planned.We went to the Drifters concert on Fri night and they were great. As they promised "we could understand every word they sang" and I even knew every song they sang!The fireworks display over Lake Dillon afterwards was fantastic.Sat night we went to the Lovin Spoonful concert and they were also great.Now let me see - there was something else planned for this weekend. Oh yeah - it's like childbirth - your mind tends to forget painful experiences so that you won't stop yourself from doing it again! There was the Leadville Trail marathon - and it was a bitch - an ABSOLUTE BITCH!In retrospect I now realize that I made a serious tactical error in my training for the race. None of the 70+ mile weeks with 21-mile hikes into the mountains included runs or hikes above 12,000 ft and it cost me dearly in pain and suffering! Where do I start to relate this story before my brain erases it forever from my memory?Let's start on Fri when I picked up my race package at race HQ in Leadville. I talked to the race director because I wanted answers to some questions such as:1) Should I wear trail shoes since much of the course was on 4X4 roads? A -Yes2) Do I need to carry water with me since there were water/aid stations every 3 to 4 miles? A - Yes and that recommendation may have saved my life!3) Should I carry warm clothes i.e. jacket, gloves, etc with me since the weather was forcast to be very warm? A - YesSo I showed up at the start line the next morning with both a survival pack and a waist belt with only a water bottle. The temp was a high 51 F already at 8am and forecast to reach the low 80s so I decided not to carry the survival kit/pack because of the weight and it is cumbersome to run with. But I did strap on my waist pack with water bottle.The race started in Leadville at 10,200 ft and climbed out of the town on paved and dirt roads into the Mosquito Mountains. The first 1 1/2 miles were paved and dirt roads and I was able to run them. Then the course turned on to a 4X4 road - very steep and rocky. I quickly established MY ground rules for the race. If a road or trail had a slope of 10% or less I would run it - above 10% I walk! I started walking, along with the pack I was with, at 2 miles!The course climbed quickly on very steep and rocky 4X4 roads and trails to the top of Ball Mountain (12,000+ ft) at mile 4. Then we did a loop UP and Down and around Ball Mtn. I quickly realized that were were NO flat sections to this course! Turned out that maybe there was a total of maybe 1 mile of flat in the whole race - the other 25 miles were UP and Down! Of those 25 miles maybe 8 miles had a slope of 10% or less - the remainder had a slope greater than 10%. The average was probably 20 to 30% but there were many sections with a slope of 45+%.During the loop around Ball Mtn I didn't have any serious problems with altitude other than sucking for air especially on the uphill sections. At the end of that 1st loop I reached a water station at 7.5 miles - time 1:35. The next 2.5 miles were all downhill on a dirt mining road that was in good shape so I was able to haul ass and reach the water station at 10 miles in just under 2 hours. Not bad time - averaging 12 minute miles. If I could hold that pace I would finish in 5:12 - much faster than my goal of 6 hours! Yeah right! Wishful dreaming!For now we had dropped down to the low point of the course - below 10,000 ft and the next 3 miles climbed 3,000+ vertical ft to the top of Mosquito Pass. I managed to run less than 1/4 mile of that 3-mile section! It was a friggin tortuous nightmare! After I climbed above 12,000ft altitude sickness set in. My usual symptoms of altitude sickness are difficulty breathing and stomach cramps - only this time the stomach cramps were much more severe than normal! Several times I was forced to stop and double or bend over which seemed to relieve the pain somewhat and help my breathing. Some good Samaritans/runners became concerned and asked if they could help but I knew the only cure was to get my sorry, sick ass down off the mountain! And that was not an option. With only 1 1/2 miles and 1000+ vertical feet to go to the top I was not about to give up! So I struggled on painfully in what seemed excruciating slow motion. 'One step at a time' I kept reminding myself!Strangely, when I reached about 13,000 ft the symptoms eased a little and I was able to pick up the pace and ten minutes later I reached the summit of Mosquito Pass at 13,188 ft. It had taken me 70 minutes to climb 3 miles! Time - 3:10!I felt so shitty and was still in so much pain that I don't even remember looking at the view from the summit. I just refilled my water bottle, gulped down a carbo gel and cup of water and headed back down the mountain. I was very concerned about the trip back down the pass because the trail was very steep (45+ % slope) and the footing was rocky and loose. So I was using my legs as brakes to keep my speed in control and sure enough within the first 1/2 mile my left leg cramped and locked up! I tried to find a stretch to alleviate the cramp/pain but nothing worked so I had to lay down on the trail and massage the leg for 3 or 4 minutes to get the muscles to relax. As I was laying there an old-timer came by and suggested that I might be dehydrated and needed to drink more water. I thought that I had been very careful to that point because I was drinking at every water station and had been drinking about half of my 16oz water bottle between stations. But at that point I was willing to try anything to prevent further cramps/problems so I started drinking my whole water bottle between stations and I never had any more problems.I made it back down to the water station at 10/16 miles in 43 minutes - time 3:53! The altitude sickness was gone but my legs felt like they had been beaten to pulp! I remembered that I had reached that water station in 2 hours. Now I had to do the reverse loop in the same two hours to achieve my goal of sub-6 hours! But the next 2.5 miles of the course were the good mining road - except now I had to climb the 2.5 miles. I didn't believe that a sub 6-hrs was possible? But if you don't try you will never succeed. So I took off and ran most of that 2.5 mile road back up to the top of Ball Mtn. Then reverse the loop around Ball Mtn and arrive back at the water station at 22 miles in 5:18. I now had 42 minutes to run the last 4 miles.I knew that 3 of those 4 miles were now downhill and there was one mile uphill but the biggest problem was that miles 22 to 23.5 were downhill on a very steep and rocky trail. If I wanted to achieve my goal of a sub-6 hr race I would have to haul ass on the downhill sections. That meant a big risk of falling and injuring myself especially on the trail section. And I had not fallen so far in the race. I decided to fall in behind a group of good trail runners so that I could watch the path they took down the trail and reduce my risk. It worked! I stayed on their ass all the way down that trail and averaged under a 10 minute pace. After a tough 1-mile uphill section we finally reached the last 1 1/2 miles of dirt and paved roads downhill and back to the finish line in town. At that point I handed the race over to Maddog and he dropped the pace to sub-8s and dragged my tired, sorry ass across the finish line in 5:55:54!I had achieved my pre-race goal but I was not happy with my race performance! Other than the sub 6-hr finish the only positive credit I could give myself was the fact that I had finished my first-ever trail marathon/race without a fall!But the Maddog was really upset! He was totally embarassed and disgusted with my performance! He says that he is embarassed and frustrated that he is trapped in such a sorry-ass, decripit, piece-of-shit old body! He is determined that he will drag my out-of-shape body up into the mountains to run and hike 13ers and 14ers and beat that p-o-s body into shape or kill it and leave it on some trail at 14,000 ft! and I must say that I have to agree with him. There is no room for wimps, sissies and p-o-s old bodies in this game/sport. Time to get serious. No more soft/fun hikes into the mountains. Time to begin Maddog's 'Kick Ass - Take No Names, High Altitude Training Camp' and get in shape! Anyone care to sign up? The camp starts on July 15 when we get back from Canada.

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