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. 32,000 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!)
With 13.5 miles to the Mayqueen aid station, you'll need 1-2 bottles of fluid, a few energy gels and definitely a headlamp. 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 "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. 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 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 Hatchery (23.5)
Mayqueen to Fish Hatchery (note: Fish Hatchery is sometimes referred to as Outward Bound) is where the terrain starts to get more challenging. On the outbound this is one of my favorite sections, but on the inbound I hate this stretch! It seems to never end!
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! 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 that I'm only now beginning to understand, 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.|
Powerline outbound is a fairly steep, uneven descent of 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 into the Fish Hatchery aid station, where you'll be greeted by throngs of spectators and crew members lining the driveway. Located at mile 23.5 (and 9,600 feet), Fish Hatchery is a full-service aid station housed in a shelter. Take advantage of it. You might also need to shed a layer or two. The next few miles will be on an exposed road that 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.
Fish Hatchery (23.5) - Half Pipe (29)
|LT100, 2010. Between|
Fish Hatchery and Pipeline.
At about mile 27, you'll 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 (29) - Twin Lakes (39.5)
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 drop was introduced at the 2011 race. I'm pretty sure it offered water and Heed. 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. It's like a small city.
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 multiple gels 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)
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 probably 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 to Hope 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. 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. 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.|
OK, now that you've left Hopeless, you still have some significant 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.
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, 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.
|LT100, 2011. Descending Hope Pass.|
|LT100, 2011. At Winfield getting my|
mangled feet attended to.
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