Monday, August 30, 2010

Post-Leadville soul-searching

In the days following the Leadville Trail 100, I've found myself in a soul-searching state, trying to answer many questions tumbling around in my head:

1) What went wrong at Leadville?
2) What's next?
3) What does the future hold?
4) Will I ever learn and stop making the same mistakes over and over again?

Couldn't have earned the big buckle without this little guy, or without the love and support of Anne.

What went wrong at Leadville?
A lot went wrong at Leadville. Some problems were my fault, while others really were a result of inexperience in the Colorado high country. First and foremost, a reality check: I FINISHED ONE OF THE HARDEST 100-MILERS IN THE NATION...AND WITHIN 25 HOURS FOR THE CHERISHED EL PLATO GRANDE BELT BUCKLE. NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE THIS BUCKLE! Now for the part where I'm hard on myself: I bombed with my race-day diet. I didn't recognize that running a 100-mile race at 10,000+ feet required a unique diet. I had no real Leadville-specific dietary game plan going into the 100--mainly because I didn't know that being that high up for that long would wreak havoc on my appetite and digestive "rhythms." I simply didn't want to eat during the race. It took a lot of willpower to eat noodle soup (read: Ramen) and at no point did I partake in the usual aid station fare such PB&J quarters, bean burritos, etc. save a chip and some orange slices here and there. Most of the time I just subsisted on PowerBar gels, GU Chomps, Gatorade, and water, along with Endurolytes. I'm sure I wasn't getting the requisite 250+ calories/hour. Which greatly contributed to the nasty situation at the mile-86.5 Mayqueen aid station and the very disappointing 24:47/92nd-place finish.

Assuming I return to Leadville next year, my race-day diet will have to be different. I'm looking into Hammer Perpetuem as a real possibility for fueling my next Leadville 100. Perpetuem gives you about 270 calories and 54 grams of carbs per 21-24-ounce bottle. This would ideally fuel every hour on the hour. I could even look into reducing the calories from Pepetuem to 150-200 per bottle and use solids (PB&Js, etc.) to get to that needed 250-270 calories/hour. I haven't used Pepetuem much (read: at all). I will definitely explore the possibilities of this product as I prepare for the 2011 Leadville 100 and experiment with other foods that work for long runs. Please let me know if you have any recommendations for race-day fuel.

I'm hard on myself for my time, but the fact remains that only 99 of a field of 720+ starters earned the buckle. I'm sure glad I was one of them!

Another huge mistake I made was not taking advantage of Leadville's muling rule. I carried my Camelbak when my pacer could have carried it him/herself, relieving me of added weight. My fear of turning over my Camelbak was that I'd forget to drink and fall behind with my hydration. That's a legitmate concern, but of greater concern is the added weight of the pack.

What next?
As my former comrades in Cleveland knew, I was dialed into the 2010 Boston Marathon, determined to set a new marathon PR and go sub-2:50 in Beantown. My training started in December and was progressing quite well despite a black cloud of stress, anxiety and uncertainty hanging over the Hornsby homestead. By mid-February, our house was up for sale as we were in the midst of pulling up the roots and moving to Denver. Well, Boston never happened since the Denver move took place in April and a whole host of priorities (starting a new job, getting settled into our temporary apartment, paying a mortgage on a vacant house, etc.) took hold.

So here I am, having not run a marathon in over 15 months. It's hard to believe, but the last time I toed the line of a marathon was Cleveland in May 2009. I finished in 2:59, hardly in marathon shape as I was training for the Mohican 100. The last time I really focused on the marathon was Columbus in October 2008--a disappointing 2:59 (I guess I've been stuck in a 2:59 rut...).

It's time to re-focus on the marathon and try to set a new PR. Hopefully that PR will come at the 2011 Boston Marathon. Alas, I'm not qualified for Boston since my last marathon is out of the qualifying window. So, assuming I get my left foot in decent shape, I'll likely enter the Rock 'n Roll Denver Marathon (Oct. 17) with a goal of BQ'ing even if that means a 3:15. My legs are still shot from Leadville, and so a 3:15 may be the smartest move. But at least I will have qualified for Boston and can then focus this winter on preparing for a new PR in Beantown in 2011. Living at this elevation, there's no reason to expect anything less than a new PR at Boston.

What does the future hold?
Leadville was so humbling. My feelings are quite mixed. I'm proud of the fact that I finished "The Race Across the Sky" and earned the sub-25-hour belt buckle, but there's no question that I underachieved and my approach to the entire race was quite faulty. So I don't know what my future as an ultrarunner out West holds. One thing I do know is that I'm going to stay with the sport because I love going long, I love the mountains and I love the ultra experience. Maybe at some point I'll see improvement and get to the level where I want to be. I don't pretend to be a leading contender in a race like Leadville, but I would like to be a consistent top-25 finisher and feel satisfied with my performance.

Will I ever learn and stop making the same mistakes over and over again?
Overtraining continues to plague me. Putting in high mileage with quality is a good thing. But putting in high mileage week after week, with no rest periods, breaks you down, makes quality all the harder to achieve and ultimately leads to diminishing returns. We saw this in my Leadville 100 result, but also in my sub-par performances at the Leadville Marathon (7/3) and Barr Trail Mountain Race (7/18). Either I need to hire a coach or I need to exercise discipline with my mileage to ensure that I'm getting the rest I need, but I can't continue on this mileage-obsessed course or else I'm going to find myself injured all the time (as I am now with this plantar fasciitis). Cross-training (swimming, mountain biking, etc.) is also a key part of the equation.

Maybe I'm being too hard on myself. I'm not super-talented, and so why should I take all of this so seriously? Well, I love running and, as with basically everything else in life, I want to reach my potential--whatever potential that might be. You know when you've fallen short of your potential, and that's how I feel about the Leadville 100. I do take heart in the fact that many runners suffer during their first Leadville, falling short, only to return the next year and do much, much better. Maybe that'll be my story.

As always, your reader feedback is encouraged and welcome!


"Boogie Nights" is one of my all-time favorite films, as are many PT Anderson productions. I thought it was maybe the greatest cast ever assembled...seriously. Burt Reynolds is brilliant as Jack Horner. This is a classic scene from "Boogie Nights" in which Dirk Diggler (played by Mark Wahlberg back when he was doing sertious films) and crew are in a drug deal gone bad. If you've never seen "Boogie Nights," what's stopping you?


  1. Nice Post Wyatt, and I think your experiences are common amoung our community of ultra runners.

    The overtraining concern is something I covered in my most recent post ( and is a tough one to cope with, more mentally than physically I think.

    Enjoy some rest and a good sleep!

  2. Andy: Thanks for your feedback! You have an amazing blog and I've included it in my list of favorites. I admire your knowledge, accomplishments and commitment to active recovery. Too few of us recover the way we should. I am very guilty of that.

    Also, it occurs to me as a husband, dad and full-time employee that I might need to adjust my goals. Is running 100 miles per week realistic given my other priorities and given that I'm not able to get more than 7.5 hours of sleep a day? It may not be feasible at this point in my life. I think I can still run a lot, but maybe not 100 mpw. The interesting thing would be to see if my performance in 100-milers actually improved if I ran 80-90 mpw. Something to consider.

    I will now make your blog part of my regular reading and may pepper you with a few questions now and then.


  3. Hi Wyatt,

    Nice effort, post and report. I enjoyed following your adventure at Leadville.

    A few are being hard on yourself, but most ultra runners probably do the same. The post 100 mile hangover is tough to snap out of, and then you replay the race a million time in your head (at least I do...). I am confident that you will gain perspective soon.

    Second...I have used Perpetuem a lot. It works great, vegan (if that's a concern), but it does foam like crazy when a handheld bottle less than half full (optimist lol!). I love Hammer's products, and have had good experiences with the gel, Heed and Sustained, but one other resource to look at is First Endurance Sports. A lot of cyclist use their products, but I know Karl Meltzer is sponsored by them and he does pretty well. Check out the nutritional info, you'll be surprised. My brother in-law who just won the Colorado state championschip, from Littleton turned me on to it.

    Lasty, when we went to Badwater we used Carbo Pro...good stuff and Dave Corfman (23rd 35:55), and I (60 miles pacing) can attest to this being a good product as well.

    Anyway, just my 2 proud of your Leadville run. Not many can go from sea level to Leadville in the short time that you did. Congrats again!

    Kyle Fahrenkamp

  4. Your marathon times are extremely impressive! I think you are being hard on yourself. Just relax and go for your next goal. Good luck!

  5. Kyle: Thanks for the suggestion on Carbo Pro. I will look into it! Running 60 miles in Death Valley in, no easy task! Jamie Donaldson, who has been the top female at Badwater three years in a row, as you know, lives here in the Denver area and I'm looking forward to eventually meeting her.