Friday, February 3, 2012

Your Guide to Finishing the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run (Part I: Miles 1-50)

Note to reader: I wish I had more information to go on before my first Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run in 2010. Here I've provided a two-part aid station-by-aid station overview, intended to help you prepare for this epic race. If you're an LT100 veteran, please let me know if I've missed anything or if there are any inaccuracies in my overview. If you're an aspiring first-timer and have a question, fire away in the comments section and I or someone else will respond. Whatever the case, I would never pretend to be an expert, and so please consult other sources, too, such as "Dana's Strategy" on Run100s.com. A final note: I've estimated mileage and elevation in a few areas. Enjoy!

The Challenge: A 100 mile-run in the Rocky Mountains, all between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. Double-crossing of 12,600-foot Hope Pass. 35,000 feet of combined elevation change.

Start - Mayqueen (13.5)
The race starts at 4:00 AM at the corner of 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville. Parking downtown for the entire race is very limited, so get someone to drop you off. At the start, you stand at about 10,200 feet--a little less than two miles above sea level--in a town with an extraordinary, "Wild West" history. The atmosphere is festive and you can feel the electricity in the air. The temperature usually drops to the 20s or 30s overnight and the air is dry. Everyone is stoked...and most are nervous. But you wouldn't know it after the gun goes off (yes, a real gun fired by LT100 founder Ken Chlouber, who you'll hear from at the pre-race meeting on Friday), as everyone is upbeat for good reason: This is one of the 2 or 3 most legendary 100-mile races in the world, and now you're a part of the tradition and Leadville family. One day you'll tell your grandkids about this race. Savor every moment.



(Note to reader: That's me in the green shirt taking off at the start of the 2011 race!)
 
Even with 13.5 miles to the Mayqueen aid station, you won't need many fluids with you and maybe just a few calories unless you're one of those runners who likes to load up early. The first five miles are pretty easy as you make your way out of town and down to Turquoise Lake via some dirt roads and the infamous "Boulevard" (the Boulevard outbound may not seem like much, but on the inbound it seems to go on forever). Be sure to power-hike the rocky "mini Powerline" climb, which you'll know when you see it--it's very steep and rocky but pretty short. Don't make the mistake of going out too fast--an easy trap to fall into during the first five miles. I went out fast in the 2011 race, running with the leaders for the first 12 miles, and paid for it in the final 20 miles. Go out at a relaxed pace, understanding that, once you enter the single track trail along Turquoise Lake, it's hard to adjust your positioning as there are 600+ runners with you on the crowded lakeside trail. Be patient here. There is plenty of time to make your move.

The trail along Turquoise Lake is pretty technical but has no big climbs. You'll pass a number of campers as you make your way along the lake. The trick is staying upright, as it's still pitch-black dark and there are lots of roots and rocks to navigate as you make your way toward Mayqueen. It's probably a good idea to wear trail shoes along this section. Also, be on the lookout for trail markers. I sometimes find that staying on the course along the lake can be difficult, but it's hard to stray far so don't worry too much. You'll have runners around you for most, if not all, of this section.

At about mile 7.5 you'll come upon the Tabor Boat Ramp, which offers crew access. I've never taken aid at Tabor outbound, but it's a great place to meet up with your crew on the inbound at ~mile 93. If your crew isn't there on the outbound, don't sweat it; I'm pretty sure most runners bag Tabor this early in the race. Just keep going, remember not to go too fast and stay upright!

At about mile 13, you'll dump out onto the paved road leading into the Mayqueen camp area and will be greeted by a good amount of spectators and crew members. Mayqueen is a full-service aid station housed in a big tent. Take advantage of it. By now, the sun is coming up, and so you can probably ditch your headlamp for a while. Be sure you refuel at Mayqueen. Mayqueen is at about 10,100 feet. Bottom line: The 13.5 miles between the start and Mayqueen is pretty flat and fast but technical.

Training tip for this section: Work on your technical running by running on trails with lots of roots and rocks. Better yet, do this at night!
 
Mayqueen (13.5) - Fish Outward Bound (24)
Mayqueen to Outward Bound is where the terrain starts to get more challenging. From Mayqueen, you'll be on a paved road for just a short bit before entering a trail and starting a technical climb of a few miles up to Hagerman Pass Road, which will eventually lead you up and over Sugarloaf Pass. Welcome to the Colorado Trail! You'll cross two bridges and run on some pretty rocky trail. At this point in the race, don't try to be a hero. I usually run this section, but it's probably a good idea to shift down into a power-hike. If there's one lesson to Leadville, it's that success in this high-altitude race is about being patient. Many of those who go out guns blazing are going to suffer badly later on as the effects of the altitude set in.

LT100, 2011. Near Sugarloaf Pass outbound.
Once you dump out onto Hagerman Pass Road, you can either power-hike or run. The grade is fairly gentle, but it's pretty much all uphilll for the next few miles. I mostly run this section, with a few hiking breaks mixed in just to conserve energy. The road winds all over and offers some *spectacular* views, especially of Turquoise Lake at dawn. Hagerman is fairly smooth and, after a mile or so, connects to a technical jeep road that takes you up and over Sugarloaf Pass, situated at ~mile 20, 11,100 feet and roughly four miles before the next aid station (Outward Bound). Welcome to one of the more notorious sections of the course--Powerline! It's called Powerline for a reason--there are powerlines all around you!

Powerline outbound is a fairly steep, uneven descent of about 1,500 feet that is laced with eroded ditches. It offers a few short, flat stretches. Unless you are elite and/or have insane downhill skills, do not hammer it down Powerline. You will destroy your quads. Descend Powerline at a relaxed pace and don't worry if you get passed by a bunch of runners. Run your own race and remember to be patient.

Powerline eventually levels off for a short bit before you dump out onto a paved road at about 9,600 feet. There will probably be volunteers here. Turn RIGHT onto the paved road (can't remember the name) and follow the gently rolling road for a mile or so, passing the Leadville National Fish Hatchery (formerly an aid station) and eventually coming to the Outward Bound aid station, where you'll be greeted by throngs of spectators and crew members. Located at mile 24 (and 9,600 feet), Outward Bound is a full-service aid station situated on a grassy field. Take advantage of it. You might also need to shed a layer or two. The next few miles will be on exposed cross-country trail, paved road and jeep road, all of which can get a tad warm depending on when you're coming through. Wear sunglasses as the sun is very strong at this elevation.



Training tip for this section: Practice your downhill running. If you can, get familiar with Powerline firsthand.

Outward Bound (24) - Half Pipe (29)
View of Mt. Elbert from Outward Bound.
Lots of people hate this section. But, as a road runner at heart, I love the next ~10 miles, which are road shoe-friendly. This is where I can gain on those in front of me without expending too much energy. If you have a crew, just take maybe one bottle and a gel or two with you, as you'll be connecting up with your compatriots in a few short miles at the Pipeline area (not to be confused with Half Pipe).

From the Outward Bound aid area, you'll run though a grassy field that is owned by Outward Bound. In 2014, the field was laced with holes, so watch your step, especially when taking a drink and your eyes are off the field! The good news is that it's flat as a pancake so it's a nice opportunity to chill. Enjoy the long, flat stretches and the incredible views all around you--including Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two highest peaks in Colorado (Elbert being the highest).

You're on the field for about an hour and then dump out on a road, which you'll be on for a very short while, before hanging a right onto a jeep road that will take you up to the Pipeline area. This jeep road is pretty much flat, with maybe a slight uphill grade. It's pretty smooth, too.

Coming into Pipeline with my son, 2014.
At about mile 27, you'll hang a left from the jeep road and enter the Pipeline area via a dirt/gravel road. To your left is a big parking lot (of sorts) where your crew will be awaiting you. Situated at about 9,600 feet, Pipeline is a crew-access point, but not an aid station. You have only 2 more miles until Half Pipe, a full-service aid station. Do what you need to do at Pipeline--get a new bottle, change into a new pair of shoes, etc.--and then get going! The next place you'll see your crew is Twin Lakes.

The section from Pipeline to Half Pipe is on relatively flat and fast jeep road. Run as much as you can, but don't press too hard. Take some hiking breaks. Half Pipe is at 9,800 feet and is closed to crews, so it's just you and the aid station workers. This is a good place to have a drop bag with extra shoes, socks and other items, and to shed a layer or two, just as a precaution. It's also a good place to completely refuel on stuff like soup, bananas, pop, sports drink, etc. You have 10 miles to go until the next aid station except for a water stop at the Mount Elbert trailhead.

Training tip for this section: This section doesn't really require special training. Just make sure some of your training is on the road.

Half Pipe (30) - Twin Lakes (39.5)
Coming into Twin Lakes, 2014. Credit: Lifetime Fitness.
Half Pipe to Twin Lakes is probably my favorite section for a few reasons. First off, it's just awesome trail running. You're on sweet single track in the woods, with a few decent climbs here and there but nothing freakishly hard. You gain about 800 feet, topping out at 10,600 feet, before dropping 1,400 feet into Twin Lakes. I can crush it here. The descent is gentle enough not to kill your quads. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself....

So at about 36.5 miles, or approximately 7 miles after Half Pipe, you'll cross a little bridge and come upon a water stop at the Mount Elbert trailhead (yes, you are at the base of Colorado's highest peak). This water stop was introduced at the 2011 race and it truly just has water. It might be a good idea to top off your fluid. You have about 2.5 miles until Twin Lakes, when the race *really* begins (yeah, everything up until Twin Lakes is just an easy warm-up).

From the Mount Elbert water stop to Twin Lakes you are on a long, tree-lined descent with a few rocky sections. Again, I love to amp up the pace here. You're dropping 1,400 feet to the lowest point of the race--9,200 feet. Don't be afraid to stretch it out on the descent and definitely make a point to enjoy the beautiful, majestic view of the lakes. Once you're on a rocky jeep road you're getting close to the aid station. Watch your step; you could easily turn an ankle here. Finally, you'll come upon a well-marked turn into a spur that quickly and steeply drops into the aid station at Twin Lakes. In my opinion, this is the best aid station of all. The place is lined with spectators and crew and the energy is through the roof.

Twin Lakes is a full-service aid station housed in a shelter. This is a critical aid station. You are about to embark on a 3,400-foot climb (that's vertical feet) up Hope Pass. Be sure you have on breathable trail shoes (or road shoes if you prefer) that are NOT waterproof. Also, if it's past noon, it's probably a good idea to carry an emergency poncho as the weather in the Rocky Mountains during the afternoon hours can turn dangerously nasty in a matter of minutes. Totally refuel at Twin Lakes and take some calories with you. If you're good with trekking poles, you could take them with you (I'm not a huge fan of trekking poles). Take what you need, but try to go as light as possible. The more stuff you carry, the more weight you have to lug up the mountain. Keep it simple; that's the mountain way. Get ready for fun!

Training tip for this section: Practice your downhill trail running on the longest drop you can find.

Twin Lakes (39.5) - Winfield (50.0)
At Hopeless outbound, 2013 race.
The next 60 miles are the essence of the Leadville Trail 100. But let's not yet concern ourselves with those 60 miles. Leaving Twin Lakes, you're going to cross a swampy meadow (it'll be wet in many areas) with several water crossings. Don't even concern yourself with keeping your feet dry; it ain't gonna happen. Just go with it. This is why you don't want to have waterproof shoes here. The water will enter your shoes but not be able to get out, and so you'll have water-logged feet going up the mountain--a recipe for disaster. The last crossing is a river that will have a rope line running across it to help you safely navigate to the other side. There may be some volunteers and a photographer here. Again, don't stress about the river. Instead, look at the river as a way to bring some relief to your feet--and be sure to smile for the photo! Be ready for ice-cold water. This is from snow melt. My feet are often numb after the crossing, but invariably the cold helps them feel better.

After the river, you begin the epic 3,400-foot climb up Mount Hope, taking the trail that will lead you over the pass. Again, you're going from 9,200 feet (at Twin Lakes) up to 12,600 feet, which is above treeline. Unless you're elite or a mountain goat, I'd suggest power-hiking the climb. Bottom line: 3,400 feet is significant vertical and if you expend too much energy here your race may be over. Be smart on the Hope Pass climbs.

Me? I run some of the climb but for the most part I'm in power-hiking mode. The frontside isn't that steep though there are a few steep switchbacks, and occasionally I take a few breathers. When you're on a big climb, it's important to stay positive. Believe in yourself. Take inventory of what's around you--spectacular nature and awesome views. You'll be able to hear and see a creek. But above all, just put one foot in front of the other.

At about 12,000 feet you enter a zone you may have never before visited. You're now above treeline. The first time I was above treeline (June 2010 when I summitted Pikes Peak) it felt like Mars. Being above treeline is a surreal and amazingly awesome experience. Up here it's you, big sky, awe-inspiring views...and thin air! Oh, a bunch of rocks! Yeah, you're going to be huffing and puffing and going slow above treeline. No worries. Just put one foot in front of the other and try to appreciate what's around you.

LT100, 2011. The llamas at Hopeless.
Speaking of surreal, not long after you're above treeline on Mount Hope you'll see something that may make you think you're hallucinating. Yes, indeed, those are llamas! The dedicated folks who man the Hopeless aid station use llamas to carry their supplies up the mountain so that they can help YOU finish this race. So be sure to shower your friends at Hopeless with thanks. Hell, even hug a few of them if you want. In that one moment in time, they're your best friends and this is your whole world. Get what you need--maybe some soup, perhaps some more water or pop--but don't take too much, as supplies up here are limited. Above all, use no more than one cup at Hopeless.

OK, now that you've left Hopeless, you still have some climbing to do--about 800 feet to the top of the pass. You can see the pass but there are some switchbacks to navigate, and it's not going to be easy. Again, stay positive and put one foot in front of the other. You're going to be OK and soon you'll be descending. Be sure to watch for runners who are descending as you're ascending. At this point, you'll probably see some of the leaders coming down on the inbound trip.

Finally, you've made it to the top of Hope Pass. You're 12,600 feet above sea level. Take in the view. To your right is the summit of Mount Hope, a 13'er (damn close to a 14'er), and in front of you is La Plata Peak, a 14'er. This is Colorado in all her beauty. But don't take too much time here, especially if you're up against the cut-off. Get going down the mountain!



I've yet to really figure out the descent into Winfield, as I'm not a very good descender. The trail is smooth in places and rocky in others. You go over a boulder field. It's gradual in areas and very steep elsewhere. The greatest challenge, though, is the amount of traffic in this section. Inbound runners have their pacer with them, and in areas the trail is narrow. Be careful here and yield to the inbounders. Cheer on those who are struggling.

Descending Hope Pass, 2011.
Toward the bottom of the Hope Pass trail, you'll come to a well-marked junction. If you go left, you're off course as this is the old way into Winfield. In 2012, this section changed (for the better), taking you right and onto the up and down Continental Divide Trail, which more or less runs parallel to Winfield Road. By this time, the mercury is likely in the mid 70s and it's a bit warm. It's easy to get dehydrated coming into Winfield.

The Continental Divide Trail has some up and down (probably 500 feet of vertical), with a nice little climb right before you drop into Winfield. You're on the CDT for about two miles, and then you drop into Winfield via a short trail of about 1/4 mile or so. Be sure not to miss that left-hand turn that dumps you out onto Winfield Road. It should be well-marked but Rob Krar missed it during the 2014 race due to sabotage.

You're on Winfield Road for only 1/3 mile or so, approaching the old ghost town. You hang a left and then another left and you're in the aid station. No worries--there's lots of activity here so you won't get lost. This section of the race can be tough for many runners who find themselves discouraged by the thought of having to climb Hope Pass again. Winfield is at about 10,200 feet. So by the time you enter the aid station, you've just climbed 3,400 feet and descended about 2,600 feet all in the last 10.5 miles.

At Winfield getting my mangled feet attended to, 2011.
A bustling aid station, Winfield is where you can pick up a pacer for the first time in the race. It is critical to refuel at Winfield. If you're to take a little extra time at any aid station, this is the place to do it--provided you're well ahead of the cut-off. Change into a new pair of shoes and/or socks if you need. If you see dark clouds forming, carry an emergency poncho back over the mountain. Even if you don't see clouds, it might not be a bad idea to carry that poncho. Do what you need to do to get out of there in good spirits and prepared for what's ahead.

Training tip for this section: Practice in the mountains by running up and back down the biggest peaks you can find. If you don't have mountains nearby, practice on stairs in an office or high-rise apartment building.

Continue to Part II

5 comments:

  1. That was great! I doubt I'll ever run Leadville, but... fun tour nonetheless. Enjoyed the detailed descriptions.

    I have run on those roads and you're not kidding about the road dust. A couple of pickups go by and you're coughing up a lung. Glad they'll have something off-road this year.

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  2. Wyatt, thanks for taking the time to post this. The more reports, descriptions, etc out there the better as far as I'm concerned. Your unique perspective is easy for me to wrap my head around.

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  3. Thanks for posting, it is really getting me to switch gears and start thinking about the actual race more. With that said I do over-think everything which in this case may be a good thing, but I don't have the experience to act on my plans quite yet. I am getting better with each race.

    I ended up copying and pasting it in a Word DOC so I could annotate the sections. As I read up to the first aide station, May Queen, I wanted to know what your splits were. You mentioned you went out too fast and so I wanted to compare your splits with the others who finished around you. Michael Oliva for example, went out much slower and made it to Winfield about 20 minutes behind you in 9:45. After that he really switched gears.

    I know you are shooting for a much faster time this year, are you going to force yourself to back off at first and how do you plan on doing that? There are just so many variables involved. My biggest problem I generally run by feel and I know that will really kill in a race like Leadville, particularly with my lack of experience. I have heard some run with virtual pacers and others just try to nail those splits. One element I am adding to my plan is no caffeine or music until Winfield, hopefully that will dampen my excitement level giving me a little more control over my pace.

    You Rock! for spending the time to put this together - thanks.

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  4. This is great! Keep the info coming! I finished Leadville in 2011 and the tip about NOT using waterproof shoes up Hope would have saved me a lot of headaches.

    It also made me feel a lot better to know that other folks had trouble with the back side of Hope;-)

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  5. Great stuff! Thanks Wyatt. This is going to be my first attempt at LT100 and this information is exactly what I need to mentally prepare a strategy.

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