Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leadville Trail Marathon (Race Recap)

Saturday, June 30
Marathon #12
Colorado Marathon #2
Leadville, CO
Weather - Mild at the start, super sunny, HOT HOT HOT HOT

Running the Leadville Marathon seemed like a GREAT idea six months ago. You know, back when I was running 60+ miles a week, felt invincible, and had not yet DNF'd at Moab. PLUS, all the cool kids from Runner's Roost were going to be there. I mean, I like a challenge, and how hard can it be?? Well. 6 months ago I had not signed up for Mt. Evans. And I might not have signed up for Vancouver. And clearly, something broke in my brain and I decided to just go for it. You know, ONE WEEK after running a marathon then a 1/2 in the same weekend.

Back up to Thursday. I received via Fed Ex, a new pair of Mizuno Cabrakans, courtesy of the Mezamashii Project. I test ran in them ONE mile (well, more like 3/4 of a mile - I had just eaten a buffet at Sweet Tomatoes and I almost barfed) and they seemed fiiiiiine (and beautiful!)

Mizuno Cabrakans
What could POSSIBLY go wrong wearing brand new shoes on one of the MOST DIFFICULT MARATHONS IN THE COUNTRY? Nothing.

I hadn't really looked at the course or the profile. I mean, I'm not a quitter, so it doesn't really matter what the course looks like, right? Once I'm out there, I'm finishing. Plus, I figured I was perfectly trained for altitude and hills after running the Inca Trail and Mt. Evans. And then I saw this:

HAHAHAHAHA. Ok. So maybe I should be taking this more seriously?? I managed to convince L to join me, although she chose to run the Heavy Half (actually over 15 miles). We booked a hotel room in Dillon so we wouldn't have to drive all the way to Leadville in the morning to get our stuff. I met L up there since she had to register in person the night before and I couldn't get off work early to go. Her boyfriend rode up with me so that he could hang out with Hannah (L's daughter) while we ran. Quick dinner at Ruby Tuesdays (there was no Applebee's!!!) and then we headed to bed at the Super 8 down the road around 9:30.

Race Day

I had to pick up my packet by 7:15, so we left the hotel around 6 to drive up. We didn't encounter any traffic and got there in plenty of time. I had left the house in a hurry and forgot to bring any warm clothes. I shamelessly stole a hoodie from Hannah so I didn't freeze to death in the morning. Other than being a tad short, it fit.

Picking up my stuff took about two seconds. I was asked if I wanted to be in the lottery for a bib into the Leadville 100. NO THANK YOU. Quick trip to the bathroom, then we walked to the bakery down the street so I could get something to eat. You know, because I forgot to bring my breakfast :(

The place was PACKED
On the menu for a mere $1.75? A bacon and cheddar biscuit. The thing was huge and delicious and certainly satisfied my ravenous appetite. YUM.

We were literally only a few blocks from the start line, and with about a half hour to go, we headed over so that we could use the bathrooms. It was already warm enough that I took off my arm sleeves and left Hannah's sweatshirt in the car. Look at this blazing hot sun at the start:

The line was pretty long but we got through it in just a few minutes. We ran into a few Runners Roost folks, including Luke and Courtney.

Thanks, Courtney!!
With less than 10 minutes to the start, we still hadn't managed to find Ruth. We lined up at the start, and as I briefly turned around as the Star Spangled Banner started, I spotted Ruth. We were pretty much the last to cross the line, but got a group shot (taken by her boyfriend).

In my failure to look at any course information, I had neglected to notice the the half and the full aren't even on the same course. We would split after just a mile. SUCK. L and Ruth and I ran/walked together for the first mile.

Then I headed off on my own. Shit got real, real fast. Ouch. This was bringing back memories of Peru. HUGE INCLINES. Lots of loose rocks (I almost missed the "stairs" from the Inca Trail). I didn't have my iPod and with L on a separate course I just initiated conversations with any one that was willing to listen to. Have I mentioned HOW AMAZING runners are??

This is practically straight up
The first guy I talked with had only been running for SEVEN months. He had a gastric bypass surgery in September, started running in November and was already up to running Leadville? Freaking hardcore. The next guy, seen here in the neon green:

Back in March he was so sick that he was having tests done on his heart, EKG's, the works, and didn't think he would be able to run. After 2 months off, he only trained for THREE weeks for this. Apparently, he has completed it before, but that was in the 90s. He said "I'm older than I look."

I am trying to power walk up the hills, but just like Peru, I am having some trouble breathing and I have to totally stop every once in a while. CRAP THIS IS HARD. I am already wondering why I was too stupid to drop to the half, and why I am doing this. Clearly, there is something wrong with me.

After an hour, we have completed less than 4 miles. This is going to take FOREVER. But the views were beyond amazing. Gotta love the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Arrive at the first aid station at the base of Ball Mountain, mile 3.8. The best aid station ever. I grabbed some coke (seriously, how have I ever run without this??) and a handful of pretzels.

As I'm heading up, I look to my left, and see Luke - already coming back down. Holy crap, he is already like three miles ahead of me. Amazing!

There is more up. Obviously. And it is still very rocky. The sun is beating down. I am so hot.

After 90 minutes on the course, I realize that I haven't really had any nutrition, so I quickly take a Hammer gel. We actually had some runnable sections on the back of the mountain. The girl in the picture below I also saw at Grand Valley back in May. She is running a marathon every week to raise money for pancreatic cancer.

There was NO shade on this course. NO oxygen, and did I mention that it was HOT? I was sweating like crazy, totally out of breath, and walking. But so was everyone else...

We finally got to a section of single track that was more dirt packed and easier to walk up.

Abandoned mine literally inches off the trail. Don't worry, marked off with flags...
Finally we peaked and there was finally a flat section. It felt a little weird to actually be running (and not breathing hard) after all the hiking and climbing I had been doing.

We circled back down to the aid station at the base of Ball Mountain, now 7.1 miles in. Then we headed down to the next aid station - roughly mile 9.8. This section was AWESOME. Downhill and not nearly as rocky.

Everywhere I looked, the views were pretty amazing. I was feeling pretty great at this point. I had been doing all sorts of terrain and my feet were feeling fine in the new shoes. Maybe not the most idiotic thing I've ever done?

I could tell that I was close to the aid station, so on the brief uphill heading in, I made sure to reapply sunscreen, dropping the lid into the little creek on the side. Curses! Heading into the aid station I got EXCELLENT assistance from a volunteer who even held my pack while I filled my hydration vest. Grabbed more coke and a fig newton, then headed out. I saw Courtney and Milan just down the road around mile 10. They were cheering everyone on and it was great seeing a familiar face. I had already been out there for over 2.5 hours!

I headed up towards Mosquito Pass, the most dreaded part of the course. As far as I know, there was going to be about 2,000' of gain in just over 2 miles. That's crazy. Less than 10 minutes after leaving Courtney, I saw Luke already on his way down. By now he was about 6 miles ahead. He was looking great heading into mile 16.

The base of the Pass was horrible. The terrain looked ridiculous. Loose rocks everywhere. And STEEP. The half'ers and faster marathoners were skipping down and I was hyperventilating and trying not to die on the way up.

About three miles in, I saw Ruth, almost at the base. She looked pretty good. She said L was having some trouble with the downhills.

Almost right after I left Ruth, I saw L up on the hill. Couldn't miss the neon!

I probably should have taken more pictures of the actual trail, but it was horrible. I really didn't want to look at it. The side of the trail, however, was gorgeous. Whenever I felt like I was going to pass out, I would stop and take pictures.

Somewhere around mile 11, I was walking next to a woman and she was trying to encourage her friend up the hill. I noticed she had a 24 hours of Utah shirt tied around her waist. After talking for a few minutes, I found out that she was the only female who completed more miles than me. What a small world the running community is. She eventually pulled back to wait for her friend that was struggling up the hill, and I kept pushing up. I swear it felt like it was never going to end. The miles were taking me practically forever.

The closer we got to the top, the worse (if possible) the terrain got. There was very little of the course that I felt like I could walk without twisting an ankle. About a mile or so from the top, and who do I see? The guy in the neon green shorts with the handlebar mustache, also from the Grand Valley marathon. He wasn't looking so great.

Climbing up. And up. And up. I stop every once in a while to catch my breath. It really feels like we are really never going to get there. 

I am ready to quit you, Mosquito Pass!!!
The closer I get to the summit, the cooler it gets. I'm enjoying a slight breeze and the cooler temperatures. Finally is starting to feel like I am not actually running on the sun.

People keep saying "you're almost there!" and I don't believe them. Then I FINALLY see a GU trash can and know I'm almost there. I almost wanted to drop down and kiss the ground I was so happy to see the top. I think it took me an hour from when I saw Ruth until I got to the top, which was about 4 hours in. 

Summit of Mosquito Pass
View from the top
Everyone was right. The downhill was glorious. I will say I was "running," but really, it was so steep and rocky that my "running" was a very slow pace. But it was SO MUCH BETTER than the climb up.

About a mile down, I saw Ruth's boyfriend on the way up. He was hunched over and didn't look so hot. I found out later that he got pulled at the summit for dehydration.

It felt crazy to be running again after so long of climbing. Again, it wasn't fast running, and it was super scary and dangerous because of the terrain. I managed to pass a few people on the way down. I was SUPER EXCITED to get back to the aid station at mile 16.4. I texted L that I was at the base again and heading in for my last 9. NINE?? Holy crap.

Before leaving the aid station I reapplied sun screen one more time, this time dropping the cap in the dirt (grrr). I took off my shoes to dump out rocks, grabbed MORE coke (yum yum yum) and a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then headed back out, relieved I had made the first cut off with an HOUR to spare.

The 3ish miles that had been so glorious on the way out? AWFUL on the way back. The sun was slow roasting me and it felt impossible. I hadn't remembered it being quite that steep a downhill on the way out, but man, I was working on the way back. It sucked. Big time. So hot. So tired. So DONE with this marathon. If I had just signed up for the half, I would totally be done already. Grr.

Eventually arrived at the aid station, back at the base of Ball Mountain, make the second cut off, again with an hour to spare, mile 19.1. Excellent volunteers again, grabbed more soda and another sandwich, then headed back up. Everything seemed so much worse in reverse. The single track was steep and there were random cyclists on the course. I got passed by a few people on the way up. I was so tired. 

Finally hit the backside again, and it got a bit downhill. I was finally able to run again!

I started passing people. My legs actually felt fine, I just had some overall fatigue and the lack of oxygen made the uphills hard. Somewhere around mile 21, there was yet ANOTHER huge incline and I stopped and turned around and walked a bit uphill. A guy behind me asked if it was helping. I said I didn't think so. We ended up talking a bit, and when my watch died at mile 21.77, his Garmin was about a half mile ahead of mine. Chatted about triathlons, Garmin watches and Disney. Got back to the aid station at the base of the mountain, mile 22.4. I grabbed coke and a sandwich, and headed out. The guy never did catch up and I was on my own.

The downhill was great. It wasn't quite as rocky as Mosquito Pass so I was able to run pretty well. I took very few walk breaks. Maybe 2 miles before the base, I caught up with the Marathon Maniac I had been chasing around mile 17. We ran together for about 3/4 of a mile. I managed to pass her on a small uphill, and then when I came around the corner and saw the half marathon & marathon split, it was on. I had energy left and my legs felt good. I was totally going to be able to run this in! I knew there was no more uphills left.

With maybe 2/3 of a mile to go, I'm off the dirt and back on road. Gotta say, that hurt a bit. I am guessing I was running sub 10 pace, but with my watch not working, I can't say that for sure. I was chasing two guys and hoping that I could beat them to the finish. Sadly... I couldn't. Turned the corner onto Sixth Street and in the distance I can see the finish. It doesn't seem that far... but I'm running and running and running... Then I see L's boyfriend! He got an awesome shot of me:

I scream something to the effect "you have to run me in!" It is the longest street in the history of the world. I am pretty sure I am NEVER GOING TO MAKE IT. I walked for about 30 seconds to lower my heart rate. Then I get closer, see L and Hannah on the side and the red carpet and finish line. Coolest finish line experience EVER, they put up tape for every runner when they cross. I'll obviously never win, so that was quite the feeling.

I am DONE. I grab another coke at the end and then meet up with L. I congratulate the few runners I had passed at the end, grabbed my official results, then we had to head to the car. L had brought me a carrot cake muffin and it was pretty much the best post-race food I've ever had.

Bib #60
Official Chip Time - 7:33:02
Official Pace - 17:19
Split 1 - 1:12:04
Split 2 - 55:16
Split 3 - 1:57:56
Split 4 - 1:43:34
Split 5 - 58:58
Split 6 - 46:34
Overall Place - 450/509
Gender Place - 101/124
Incomplete Garmin Info:
Mile 1 - 14:33
Mile 2 - 18:22
Mile 3 - 17:38
Mile 4 - 22:41
Mile 5 - 17:45
Mile 6 - 20:54
Mile 7 - 12:30
Mile 8 - 13:51
Mile 9 - 11:47
Mile 10 - 15:14
Mile 11 - 20:24
Mile 12 - 28:33
Mile 13 - 27:14
Mile 14 - 18:38
Mile 15 - 14:54
Mile 16 - 14:35
Mile 17 - 19:11
Mile 18 - 17:04
Mile 19 - 18:32
Mile 20 - 22:11
Mile 21 - 14:17

Of note:

  • Did not have to use the bathroom on the course. Weird.
  • Shoes were great. No blisters. No falling.
  • Worst. Sunburns. Ever. Even reapplying TWICE, I got burned pretty badly on the back of my knees and shoulders. OUCH.

If I hadn't run the Inca Trail marathon, this would definitely be ranked as the hardest course I've ever done. The terrain was treacherous and the heat was nearly unbearable. However, the course was very well marked and the volunteers were some of the most amazing I've ever encountered. The views were magnificent. Completing this marathon, almost an hour ahead of the cutoff was a great accomplishment, and I'm pleased with my finish. I say I'll never run this again, but... never say never.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You are awesome! This course looks awful. Glad you conquered it.

  3. Holy elevation chart batgirl! Well done :)

  4. Excellent recap and beautiful pictures. I'm going to be in Leadville in August as part of my friend's 100-miler crew. I'm definitely not ready for it and I doubt I ever will be. But who cares, the call to action was issued and I responded. Time to nut up!

  5. I honestly don't know how you do it but I'm so glad you share it with us!

  6. That looks like a brutal marathon. I'm at sea level and would have no idea how to deal with elevation like that.

    I can't believe you haven't had Coke during a race yet with all the ultra and trail races that you've done! That stuff is nectar of the Gods during a run. Hmm...maybe it is just because I live in the Coke headquarters city (Atlanta)? I only drink (non-diet) Coke during races and I look forward to it.

    1. I've had come on a course, I just always forget how delicious it is. Once I know it's out there I have it every time.

  7. 1. All i kept thinking about was your poor legs and lungs! excellent job on your 1 of 2 double header.... don't think i'll ever get crazy enough to do 2 back 2 back marathons.

    2. GREAT photos

    3. How do you like your hydration vest? I need one in these 100+ temps. I'm worried about chaffing and annoyance though and am looking for input.

  8. Congrats on the finish..very impressive!

  9. Wow, you are amazing and what an inspiration! The pictures are breathtaking!! CONGRATS!!

  10. omg. how do you do it?? CONGRATS!! that course looks beautiful-and sounds insanely hard.

  11. Congratulations, girl! So wish I would have seen time TEXT ME :). I am 100% sure I saw L and her bright yellow shirt. I may have saw you on Mosquito Pass, but I was seriously having a very dark period on that stupid pass and really wasn't noticing many people. I think this course was by far the hardest I've ever done - and I only did the half. Way harder than Pikes Peak, which I've done a few times. I think starting at 10,200' and having a much much much higher % grade than Evans and on rocks that are ankle biters, is what did me in. Just confirms what badassers we are, huh? :) Well done!! Hope to see you at GTIS in August! :)


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