At right about this time in the training process--four weeks before the big event--I'm usually reminded of how tough it is to train for a 100-mile race, especially the Leadville Trail 100. I love running, but at this stage it can often become a mentally and physically exhausting grind that can reduce you to the walking dead.
July has been a very busy month at work. We also just recently got a puppy. Amid of all of this, I've kept banging out the miles every day, including long tempo runs twice a week. Despite the busy month, things have been different than in previous years (at least so far). I have great strength in my legs. Yesterday I went a little over 25 miles up section one of the Colorado Trail, climbing over 3,000 feet. My long tempo runs have been super solid. I'm getting in very high-quality 90-plus-mile weeks, versus daily junk miles like what so many runners log (and don't get better from). I've been very vigilant about taking daily doses of Hammer Recoverite and also taking Udo's Oil and my green protein shakes.
No doubt about it: The long tempo runs I incorporated a few weeks ago seem to be paying off both physically and mentally. My leg strength has improved dramatically and I seem to move more efficiently. My mental toughness and focus have sharpened. When you run hard for 10+ miles, you have to be focused, especially in the final few miles. Basically, I feel like the tempo runs are getting me in good shape. Case in point: a few Sundays ago I went for a 2.5-hour run at Deer Creek Canyon. I ran 16 miles, climbed 3,000 feet, didn't walk a step and took in zero calories (just water). And when I got done, I felt fresh as a daisy.
I'm also working on upper body conditioning. I use dumbells and am doing push-ups and all kinds of core work. In 100s, the upper body and core play a big role. After a mountain race, I'm usually sore through my back and abs and sometimes in my arms. It's important for me to have well-conditioned arms since I may be carrying a water bottle for long periods of time.
I've also come to really focus on key workouts. Last week included three key works. The first was a 10-mile tempo run on Wednesday. Check. The second was an 8-mile tempo run on Friday. Check. The third was that that 25-mile trail run on Sunday, which came on the heels of a 19-mile Saturday. Check (and check). Today I'm recovering to allow my body to strengthen from the long run (very critical), and then on Tuesday I start a 7-day cycle that will take me right into a three-week taper. On Saturday I'm planning a 15-mile tempo run.
The cycle will end with a Hope Pass double-crossing run on July 30. I'd like to do the run in 5 hours--easier said than done. The double-crossing involves 21 grueling miles, a high point of 12,600 feet, and 12,000 feet of total elevation change.
One area of my training that might be lacking is high-altitude climbing. But lately I've been strong on the climbs I've done, which makes me think the tempo runs are giving me extra strength. As far as altitude, I'll be spending six of the next 25 night at above 9,000 feet. That includes a few nights in Leadville right before the race, when it really counts. Also, hey, it doesn't hurt that we live at 6,200 feet.
I do think most people who train for Leadville focus way too much on climbing and not enough on just running and quality workouts. They obsess over Hope Pass (and Powerline) and then make those sections the focus on their training, rather than bearing in mind that Leadville is a runner's race with just one fairly hardcore mountain section that most people hike. With that said, why over-focus on climbing? I mean, this isn't Hardrock.
All that said, I'm one of a thousand people signed up for Leadville. Of that, about 900 will show up. And of the 900, about 450 will finish. And of the 450 finishers, maybe 150 will go sub-25 hours. So basically 1 in 6 runners will be in pretty good shape and ready to rock 'n roll from start to finish. Like me, those 150 will have trained hard for months, making sacrifices in the process. I'm no one special; I'll be out there putting it on the line like most everyone else. Only about 10 runners out there will be true contenders, and maybe a handful, like this guy, that guy, maybe the great one himself, and a few others, will be in play for the win. I'm definitely not among that special class (far from it, as I don't have the time or talent), but I will surely be giving it my all, running my own race and showing patience in those first 50 miles. Because if you're not patient at Leadville, the chickens will come home to roost on Powerline and certainly around Mayqueen inbound.
Yeah, if this is your first Leadville, do yourself a favor and be patient. Almost anyone can run 50 miles fast. Not everyone can turn around and do it again, especially at 10,000+ feet and especially when you have to go back over Hope Pass again and do that grueling return trip that will surely make you puke (and crash and burn?). The good news is that if you are patient, Leadville is runnable--you just have to let it come to you....