Thanks and Gratitude
Unlike the four previous 100+ mile races I'd done--including the 24-hour national championship in Cleveland last October--you really need a crew at the Leadville Trail 100. For me, this became evident after my first training run in Leadville back in June. I am eternally grateful that my mom and big brother took time from their lives and flew all the way to Colorado from Atlanta to help me complete the Leadville 100. This was their first experience with an ultra (my mom and dad had previously seen me run a 50K, but I don't necessarily consider that an ultra) and an eye-opening experience at that. As I previously wrote on here, coming into the aid stations and seeing them standing there cheering for me with my drop bag contents neatly arranged on the ground was deeply touching. They were so supportive. Words cannot express how much it meant--and still means--to me that they were there. I hope my dad can join us all next time--he so wanted to be there but could not due to scheduling conflicts.
The LT100 was really a pivotal moment in my marriage to Anne. We've been married for over 10 years and together for 18, but never in all that time had we experienced anything like what happened in the Mayqueen aid station. She was my strength; without her, I couldn't and wouldn't have gotten out of that cot after being so sick and covered those final 13.5 miles the way I did. This was a case of, as the saying goes, "a woman bringing out the best in a man." I owe so much to Anne for supporting me in my LT100 bid since that day in April when I decided to take on this beast. She put up with a lot, including my more than occasional over-training-related grouchiness.
What to say about my little boy, Noah? One of my goals is to always serve as a good example to him. Sometimes I fall short, but I do try. Though his dad didn't have the greatest time or result at the Leadville 100, at least I had the guts to take on this race, train hard for it and finish after a lot had gone wrong. Noah inspires me in special ways. Coming into the aid stations and hearing him yell "Daddy!" filled me with joy.
A huge thanks to my pacers:
- Henry, who my crew fortunately found in Winfield after my original pacer bailed. Henry took me from the turnaround to Twin Lakes--a tough, tough stretch. Henry is a great guy and in a few weeks we're going to run Green Mountain in Boulder together. An additional thanks to Henry's wife, Mary, for supporting him.
- Lance, who took me from Twin Lakes to the Fish Hatchery and then from Mayqueen to the finish. Without Lance, a sub-25 finish at the LT100 wouldn't have happened. He kept me positive and was a source of confidence. For a first-time pacer, he was a pro.
- Maureen/Mo, who took me from the Fish Hatchery to Mayqueen. Mo's runner DNF'd, allowing her to help fill some pacing gaps for me. Mo did a great job on a very difficult section--the Powerline and Sugarloaf sections--and I thank her.
What I Did Right
I put in the training mileage--about 1,500 miles over a period of 15 weeks. My mileage and hours output was greater--but not by a lot--than any other race I've ever trained for. As we'll see below, this relentless pursuit of output also was a mistake.
I did some quality long runs of 4-6+ hours, including a 6-hour effort on the Twin Lakes/Hope Pass/Winfield section with Matt. Since Noah was born, long runs of 4-6+ hours have been hard to come by, and so I'll do lots of 2-3-hour runs. With my LT100 training, I managed to get in some nice long efforts of 4-6+, though maybe not as many as I'd have liked.
Wracked by plantar fasciitis, I did the right thing in shutting down completely with a week to go. When the plantar fasciitis in my left foot first manifested itself in June, I managed to battle through it and contain the problem fairly effectively. But, with the race about three weeks out, the PF really got aggressive and painful, causing a terribly sore arch and heel. I think it was a hard 5-mile effort on a treadmill set at 13% (on a 20+ mile day) that sent my foot over the edge. Anyway, it was a difficult decision, but the Saturday before the race I shut down and didn't run a step until race day (only swam). I also started using KT Tape to stabilize the arch, and it worked. My PF is much better and I got through the race with minimal foot discomfort except during the first 15 or so miles. I am now a huge believer in KT Tape for PF management. Yo KT Tape, care to make me your spokesman?
Lessons Learned (What I Did Wrong)
I overtrained for this race. It's not about output related to mileage or hours. You have to put in big training miles for a race like the Leadville 100. My problem was that I never took any easy weeks. This set me up for the PF problem three weeks before the race, and I think the overtraining caused me to be irritable at times, adversely affected my sleep (and sense of humor), and reduced the quality of my training runs and race performances. In early May, with fairly fresh legs from a winter and early spring of 70-80-mile weeks, I finished 5th at the Greenland Trail 50K. When you look at my race times as the summer progressed--a disappointing 4:55 at the Leadville Trail Marathon on 7/3 and a really bad 2:02 at the Barr Trail Mountain Race on 7/18--it's obvious I was overtraining and my body and performances were telling me. I just ignored the signs. Moving forward, I think I can still do mega-miles training, but easy weeks will need to be a part of the plan, or else the law of diminishing returns will continue to plague me. Bottom line: 1,500 miles in 15 weeks should have had me far better than 92nd place. Inexperience with high-altitude and mountain running surely played a role, but clearly my training lacked sufficient recovery and, as a result, my race-day performance once again suffered.
I didn't do enough training at 10,000+ feet. This isn't necessarily my fault. Starting a new job, I have very limited time off and so the weekends are the time to get into the mountains. With a toddler and Anne working every other Saturday, this isn't always easy. I often found myself running the hilly dirt roads in Parker when I should have been in the mountains. All things considered, I did the best I could. I'll have more mountain time after next April (more on that below).
I ate poorly on race day and it cost me. One of my goals this and next year is to discover effective eating strategies for high-altitude races like the Leadville 100. Being in Leadville can take a toll on your stomach. I didn't eat enough and I never forced myself to eat. I relied too much on gels and too little on real food. This, I think, led to the problem at the Mayqueen aid station. I'm going to explore lots of strategies for race-day nutrition for high-altitude events, including Perpetuem. I need to know exactly how many calories per hour I require for optimal output and how best to consume these calories.
Living here for only 4 1/2 months prior to Leadville, I was probably overly ambitious and maybe even in over my head. The fact that I finished in under 25 hours shows you that the training paid off, but I recognize that it probably wasn't the best idea to take on America's highest 100-miler so soon after moving to Colorado from sea level--and having a goal as ambitious as sub-20 hours. I think I'll be much more prepared for next year's Leadville 100 since I will have lived at elevation for close to a year and half and fully adjusted to the thin air. Lots of people suffer in their first Leadville. Hell, even Matt Carpenter had a rough first one.
Right now I'm taking it easy to ensure a smooth recovery. I have to get my left foot back to 100%. I'm still considering the Las Vegas Marathon on 12/5, but may instead do some shorter-distance races like a few 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons. We'll see. I'm going to look over the marathon and ultra running calendar to see what's available. Boston in 2011 is a big possibility.
The plan right now is to return to Leadville next year for the 100. I'll also likely run in the Leadville Marathon. With more vacation time after next April, I'll certainly spend more time in Leadville and at 10,000+ feet training and will aim for arriving in Leadville 3-4 days before the race. This is not Ohio anymore, and so you have to accommodate the need for acclimation.
One of my goals is to break 19 hours in a trail 100. I've come fairly close. I'm not sure Leadville is the place to pursue this goal. But it's too great of a race not to want to toe the line next August.
A hearty thanks to all who helped get me to that finish line and earn the sub-25-hour El Plato Grande belt buckle. I wasn't able to attend the awardceremony, but when my buckle arrives in the mail I'll shoot a nice photo and post it on here.