As is the case with all of the 100-milers I've raced over the years ("only" six, including a 24-hour race), I've done a lot of soul-searching in the past few weeks as I've thought all about Leadville.
All of the 100s I've done have been special in their own unique way and inspired me to search my soul. Burning River in 2007 was my first 100 and I fared much better than I thought I would going into the race (6th overall). Your first 100 is an experience you will never, ever forget. Mohican in 2008 was a near-miss in terms of a win, leaving me very disappointed (and very injured). I returned to Mohican in 2009 and finally got the win--the high point of my life on the trails. The USA 24-hour national championship in 2009 (hosted by the North Coast 24-Hour Race) was an incredibly unique experience as I ran 131 miles on a .9-mile concrete loop path along the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland. Leadville in 2010, my first big race since we moved to Colorado a few months earlier, was a humbling experience to say the least, but that's the way many first Leadville 100s go!
So what's the story with Leadville in 2011? I'm really proud of my 29th-place finish and 22:35. My time improved by 2 hours and 12 minutes over 2010, and I jumped up 63 places. To earn my second El Plato Grande belt buckle, with the help of my family who did an amazing job of crewing me throughout the entire race, is incredibly special. Many runners never earn that buckle even as they put their heart and soul into the race. In fact, for the 2011 race, only 92 of the 351 finishers (620 starters) earned the big buckle. So, in many respects, I couldn't be happier with my finish. At the same time, I feel so certain that I left at least an hour on the course and made some mistakes that, frankly, make me sick to think about.
Here are some categorized lessons learned from the 2011 Leadville Trail 100 that will hopefully mean an even better result in 2012:
I had crew bags for things like warm clothes, extra shorts and shirts, rain gear, socks, hats, certain shoes in certain situations, etc. At each aid station, my crew would pull out what I needed--or often what they thought I needed. I didn't create specific bags for each aid station. Big mistake. Due to high traffic, vehicles are often far from where crews access you as the runner, making it difficult for your crew to have what you need when they're pulling contents from a bunch of different bags in a car parked several hundred feet from the actual aid station. For 2012, I'm going to create specially packed bags for each aid station, making it easier for my crew to assist me.
Hope Pass Shoes
My plan was to run Hope Pass in trail shoes but I simply forgot to change into my Salomon Crossmaxes at Twin Lakes outbound. So I had to run into Winfield via Hope Pass (6,000 feet of total elevation change over those 10.5 miles) in road shoes that freaking killed my feet (no lateral support) on the long descent down Hope Pass. This easily robbed me of at least 20 minutes when you consider the longer-than-normal stop I had in Winfield to get my feet back in decent shape.
I carried a Nathan-brand waist pack that held two bottles. Mistake. It weighed way too much and was quite bulky. In several sections, I had to dump fluids to decrease the weight of my pack. For 2012, I think I'm going to carry handhelds or a small hydration pack filled with Perpetuem. I really like the new Salomon hydration packs and may get one.
For the 2011 race, my fluids were water, Gatorade and Perpetuem, along with Hammer gels and Saltsticks. This was my first race fueled by Perpetuem, which I started using after 40 miles. The stuff works very well and is good fuel for high-altitude races even though it contains some fat, which can cause GI problems at 10,000+ feet. I plan to stick with Perpetuem.
My inability to stay awake in the final 13.5 miles was made much worse by the fact that I didn't take in enough caffeine late in the race. This is without a doubt my #1 regret. For 2012, caffeine has got to be a big part of my strategy from Pipeline inbound (~73 miles) to the finish. I could kick myself for not downing a 5-Hour Energy or two in the last quarter of the race--rookie mistake that a veteran like me should NEVER make. Damnit!
I noticed way more runners with poles this year than last year. I'll admit that as I was going up Hope Pass on both sides, I was kind of missing my poles. I may bring them back in 2012 provided I develop a good rhythm with them in training.
I logged about 80-95 miles a week, with a tempo run and two longish efforts every week, getting ready for the 2011 Leadville 100. This was probably sufficient, but part of me wonders if it was enough given my lack of strength in the final 13.5 miles. For 2012, I'm probably going to keep my weekly mileage to 80-95 miles and increase my time on the trails, focusing more on time on my feet and less on mileage alone. Tempo runs will continue to be a part of the mix.
Working full-time and having a busy wife and little boy, it's tough to get to the mountains to train on the trails. But I was able to get in some excellent training runs at places like Mount Falcon, Deer Creek Canyon, Mount Herman, Elk Meadow Open Space, etc., along with some nice high-altitude races like the Leadville Marathon, Mount Evans Ascent, and Jemez 50-miler in New Mexico. For 2012, I'm going to train more at 10,000+ feet and will make it a priority to do a few time-trial runs on Hope Pass. If I'm ever to break 20 hours at Leadville, I have to get my Twin Lakes outbound to Twin Lakes inbound time down to around 5:40. For this year's race, my time for that section, which has 12,000 feet of total elevation change, was about 6:07--pathetic. Getting in some solid trail work for the 2012 race will be easier than it was this year. Anne no longer works Saturday mornings, so I'll be able to get to the trails on Saturdays and Sundays and also once during the work week. Becoming more comfortable running down steep, rocky trails at high altitude is a huge priority.
One final thought on training. I have got to improve my hiking! For 2012, in lieu of a second run in the same day, I may do a 30-45-minute fast walk with my trekking poles. We have some trails behind our house that might be perfect for this. I could also incorporate some hiking into my long runs on mountain trails.