Sunday, July 03, 2005

Leadville Trail Marathon


Sat, July 2/05
Leadville Trail Marathon
Leadville, CO
5:41:58 2AG

This marathon was another essential element of Maddog’s ‘Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’ – a long, tough trail run at very high altitudes to prepare me for the Mt Everest Marathon in Nov. I ran this race two years ago and had not trained properly at high altitude and it cost me dearly and painfully with severe altitude sickness above 12,500 ft. I was determined not to make that mistake again so I ran two ‘practice’ runs on Mosquito Pass – the highest/toughest section of the course in the 10 days prior to the race.

Thus I had a wee bit more confidence when I lined up with 300 runners on Sat morning for the 8am start. The weather was great – sunny and 50F. Since the forecast called for temps in the low 70s I decided not to carry warm clothes and survival gear with me. There were water/aid stations every 3 to 4 miles on the course but it can take more than one hour to run 3 miles on mountain trails so it is absolutely necessary to carry water because of the dry, thin mountain air. So I wore a small waist pack that could carry one water bottle and 8 packs of carbo gel vs. a backpack that would weigh more and be more cumbersome.

The race started on the east side of Leadville at 10,200 ft. and climbed up a paved and dirt road for 1½ miles to a rocky 4X4 road that climbed steeply to the 12,000 ft level of Ball Mtn. I reached the 1st aid station at mile 4 in 54:41. At that point the course made a 3-mile circular loop around – and up and down - Ball Mtn on a single-track trail to return to the same aid station at 7 miles. I remembered from the race two years ago that there were NO flat sections to this course! The next 2.6 miles of the course descended 1000+ vertical ft on an old mining road to the bottom of Mosquito Pass. Because the road was in good shape I was able to haul ass and reached the next aid station in 23:03. That aid station was farther from the bottom of Mosquito Pass than I remembered? I had parked about ½ mile closer to the Pass for my practice runs. I quickly realized that the ‘practice’ runs were not a very good imitation of the real world! There is a BIG difference between getting out of a car and making a practice run up Mosquito Pass on fresh legs vs. arriving at the bottom of the Pass after running 9.6 miles and 5000+ vertical ft of elevation change in 1:58:48!

My legs were already beat up and tired and my lungs were burning from the altitude and thin mountain air! It seemed that I had to walk most of the 2200+ vertical ft of the ascent up Mosquito Pass? Around 12,800 ft three gray hairs/old farts passed me on their descent. It looked like at least one of them had to be in my age group and the last guy had at least a 10-minute lead on me! I pushed the pace as hard as I could to make up some time. That effort resulted in some minor stomach cramps (altitude sickness) for a few minutes. I finally reached the summit of Mosquito Pass (13,185 ft) and the Half marathon mark in 3:02:29. Surprisingly that was about the same time/pace I had run on my practice runs?
It was very windy and COLD at the top of the Pass and some runners stopped to put on a jacket and warm clothes. I didn’t have any but it was not nearly as cold as last Wed during my 2nd trial run so I just refilled my water bottle and headed back down the mountain. I briefly contemplated hauling ass on the descent down Mosquito Pass to try to catch the old farts but I figured that I couldn’t catch them unless they crashed and slowed significantly during the 2nd Half. So I wisely decided to stay with my game plan to run the descents cautiously and safely to avoid any risk of a fall and injury. I managed to run the descent in 36:13 – an average 10-min pace so I was quite satisfied considering that the downhill runners were forced to use the bad/dangerous side of the trail because the uphill runners were hogging the good/safe side!

Since the course retraced the same loop back to the start/finish line it was now necessary to climb the old mining road back to the 12,000 ft level of Ball Mtn. Since the road was in good shape and not too steep I was able to run most of the ascent and reached the aid station at mile 19 in 4:15:15. I figured that I needed to run the 3-mile loop (in reverse) around Ball Mtn in 45 minutes to arrive back at the aid station in 5:00 if I wanted to reach the finish line under 6 hrs? Let me tell you – that was the longest/toughest/most painful 3-mile loop I have ever run! It just kept going up and down - up and down - and on and on? I couldn’t remember it being that tough/bad on the first loop? As I struggled to walk up the steep and treacherous single-track trail at mile 22 - ‘one step at a time’- I tried to console myself with the knowledge that “I have only run one other marathon –anywhere in the world – that is tougher than this one – Pike’s Peak”!

I finally reached the top of that friggin hill and the aid station at mile 22 in 5:04! It had taken 49 minutes to run/walk 3 miles! Now I was concerned. I had 56 minutes to reach the finish line – I had to do better than a 16- min pace! Fortunately the last 4 miles were mostly downhill but the first 2 1/2 miles were very steep, rocky and treacherous! Again I contemplated abandoning my ‘safety first’ strategy but decided I would rather miss my time goal by a few minutes than risk a fall and injury. But I did push the pace as fast as I could with safety as the priority and I was rewarded with a pleasant surprise when I reached the dirt/paved road on the edge of town in 5:30. Damn – if I could haul ass on the last 1½ miles I could break 5:45!

Since the roads had nice smooth surfaces –no tree roots and rocks – and were downhill I dug deep and took advantage of gravity to haul ass and cross the finish line in 5:41:58! That time was 14 minutes faster than I ran 2 years ago when I was a youngster in my 50s! Does this result prove that old proverb “You don’t get older – you just get better”?
Surprisingly that time was also good enough for 2nd place in my age group. I only missed 1st place by 4 minutes so obviously the winner did fade/slow in the 2nd Half – but not enough! My strategy/decision to run the descents safely probably cost me 1st place but I didn’t care. I was very pleased with both my time and performance. I had achieved my objective – to run a long, tough trail run at very high altitudes and most importantly to finish healthy and injury-free (if I don’t count the toenail I lost during the race).

Thankfully there is only one more week left in Maddog’s training program and he has decided to conclude it with another speed workout – the ‘Mountain Madness Half Marathon’ in Steamboat Springs next weekend. I ran this race 3 years ago and won my age group in spite of missing a turn in the mountains and running an extra ½ mile. I would like to repeat that performance (minus the extra ½ mile) to conclude the program!

Stay tuned for the next race report!

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