But I never gave up.
On Saturday, at the Leadville Trail Marathon, I went into the race saying to myself, "It's just a marathon! No pressure. Have fun and get 'er done" (and going into the Leadville 100, I'm going to tell myself the very same thing: "It's just a 100 miles. No pressure. Have fun and get 'er done!" In 100s, being a headcase equals DNF.)
Well, I believe I experienced something of a personal breakthrough, finishing 13th overall with a 4:39:29 out of 350 finishers (results here). For me, this is a personal breakthrough on at least two levels. First, on numbers alone, my 2011 LT Marathon time was far better than last year's result (13th this year, 28th last year; 4:39 this year, 4:55 last year). All along, I've just wanted to see improvement and got that on Saturday. Second, I just felt better physically and mentally. Going up 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass, I felt confident. I got to the top of Mosquito, which is the half-way point, 10 minutes faster (2:24 first-half split) than last year. Last year, this climb was a death march for me.
Then on the long, rocky, treacherous descent down Mosquito, my personal anthem (WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS!) came on, and I started feeling really in the moment. I was very pleased with how I descended Mosquito. My mood was positive and I felt into this race.
Still, I knew I'd probably experience a tough stretch somewhere, and it turns out my bad patch would be around miles 21-22, which are around 12,000 feet and come after a series of nasty climbs. I was suffering from the heat (it was around 70 degrees and super-sunny by then) and really feeling the elevation. This entire race is between 10,200 feet and 13,185 feet, so you're really up there. At around mile 21.5, a guy passed me as I struggled with dizziness, faintness and mild dehydration. The last aid station was just up the hill, so I wasn't too worried. Once there, I rehydrated with water and Coke and then started the long descent into town on a trail that could be described as quite rocky. My legs weren't too responsive on the descent, but they were nonetheless moving. Another guy passed me here!
I wasn't too hard on myself as I got passed again because I knew this was still going to be a Leadville Marathon PR by at least 10 minutes, and I also knew the elevation had gotten to me a bit. I'll admit, too, that I might have gone out a bit fast, as well, and was now paying for it (but not too badly). Plus, just six days earlier I'd wrapped up a 95-mile week, so it's not like I was super fresh here.
By the time I hit 6th Street with the finish in sight, I was running 7:00 pace and feeling pretty good. I was closing the gap between me and the three guys in front of me. I think if we had a few more miles in this race, I might have been able to close the gap entirely.
I felt very positive when I crossed in 4:39, besting my time last year by 16 minutes. I didn't know my exact standing, but I figured I was top 15.
I'm really pleased with my Leadville Marathon result. This is a race for fast guys and gals and, for me, coming off a 95-mile week and a very light taper, to have finished 13th feels very good. I'm a guy training for 100 miles in the mountains--steady and strong. I'm not training for a fast 26.2 miles in the mountains, so to have cracked the top 15 at the LT Marathon is a confidence-booster.
Stats for this race:
- 5,470 feet of climb
- 5,470 feet of descent
- Just shy of 11,000 feet of total elevation change
- All between 10,200 feet and 13,185 feet
- In the first 6 miles alone, you climb over 2,100 feet! Then you drop the same around in the last 6 miles!
- At Pikes, you climb the first half, gaining a whopping 7,000+ feet--very hard indeed!
- But at Pikes, once you're at the top (having suffered terribly the last 2,000 vertical feet), you can cruise back down with basically no ascents in your way. Not so at the Leadville Marathon! The Leadville course beats the tar out of you both ways!
- At Pikes, the base elevation is just shy of 7,000 feet and the max is 14,115 feet. At Leadville, you're running between 10,200-13,185 the whole time.
With the Leadville 100 now 7 weeks away, and four more big weeks of training before taper time, I think it's critical that I try to set things up so I'm peaking on race-day. I'm definitely in better shape now than I was a month ago. The emphasis I'm placing on getting to the mountains and trails 2-3 times a week is paying off. I feel stronger on the climbs and am progressively feeling more confident on the descents.
The plan this week is not to force myself back into high mileage after the marathon and just see what I can do. If I can get in 90 miles, great. If my body needs rest, that's OK, too. I'm just going to let it all come to me. The only thing I can say for certain is that I'm planning to get to the mountains/trails three times this week. I sure wish I could go down to Hardrock this weekend to pace someone, but family commitments won't allow it. Definitely next year!
Get 'er done!