Last year I was a Leadville rookie. Working off a previous blog post, here are some tips for Leadville first-timers based on stuff I learned:
It Ain't Easy. Your Momma Ain't Gonna Hear You Crying for Her from the Top of Hope Pass.
Know what you're getting yourself into. This race is run between elevations of 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet with over 30,000 feet of combined gain and loss. That is hardly child's play. It's clear that Christopher McDougall's best-selling book, "Born to Run," is bringing a lot of people to Leadville every summer. I wanted to run the Leadville 100 prior to reading "Born to Run," but certainly the book raised my interest to an even higher level. When I was coming down Hope Pass during the 2010 run, I saw lots of folks struggling badly up the mountain and clearly in over their head. That may sound elitist but it's true--there were a lot of people at the 2010 race who should have chosen an easier event for their first 100. I saw one guy lay down on a rock totally exhausted and gasping for breath. If you do Leadville, just know that this race is very different than a sea level event.
The Air Up There Ain't Like it is in Kansas
I used to live in Kansas, so I know! There are altitude races, and then there's the Leadville 100. Humans probably weren't meant to run 100 miles at 10,000+ feet. If at all possible, spend some time at altitude before the race, especially if you've never been to the Colorado high country. Also, work on your VO2 max and efficiency. In training for the LT100, I did three runs in Leadville (including the marathon). I summitted Pikes Peak. I did several training runs above 7,000 feet and lived (and still live) at 6,000 feet. I did a number of hard runs--as in 6:50-7:10/mile pace--on a treadmill set at 13% incline. All told, I ran 1,500 miles in 15 weeks. And that wasn't enough to compensate for my inexperience at high altitude. Ideally, if you can do the Leadville 100 Training Camp in June, go for it--it's a golden opportunity to experience the course, learn from LT100 vets (which I'm NOT since I'm just a one-time finisher) and meet other runners.
|Here I am at Twin Lakes.|
Eating at 10,000+ Feet...Sucks
Have a plan for raceday nutrition. I didn't realize that what worked for me at sea level wasn't necessarily going to work at altitude. Going into the 2011 LT100, I'm going to experiment with liquid calories such as Perpetuem, try Vespa and other products (update: My fuel will be Hammer Perpetuem and Hammer gels) and just basically figure out precisely what works for me. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raceday nutrition. I heard that when he set the LT100 record, Matt Carpenter drank Powerbars dissolved in water. Figure out what works for you, but know that for many eating solids at 10,000+ feet can be brutal, especially late in the race.
Unlike 10Ks and Marathons, Littering isn't Allowed
Littering was a huge problem at the 2010 race. This was very unfortunate and it speaks to the huge number of inexperienced trail runners out there that day. Most ultrarunning vets would never litter. Under no circumstances should any trash be left on the trail. Pick up after yourself. When I won the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run in 2009, there were multiple times when I stopped--while in the lead--to pick up trash that I'd accidentally dropped. That is the way of the ultrarunner. I think the Leadville organizers should enforce a lifetime ban on anyone caught knowingly littering.
Take a Hike!
In the months before Leadville, work on your hiking, especially uphill hiking. You will hike some of the front side of Hope Pass and basically all of the backside of the pass. You will also hike a big portion of the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb. Training runs are separate from training hikes, but you could incorporate both into your long outings.
My Pole Position
I carried trekking poles over Hope Pass and up the Powerline/Sugarloaf climb during the 2010 LT100. Do I recommend poles for all LT100 runners? For some runners, yes. For other runners, no. I will NOT carry them in the 2011 LT100 but my crew will have them on hand just in case. My concern about trekking poles at the LT100 is as follows--and please bear with me as I explain. Going up Hope Pass, you probably don't want to wear a Camelbak because it's too heavy. You probably want to carry a single water bottle and maybe have a second bottle on a belt. It's hard to handle a water bottle when you also have trekking poles. The same goes for Sugarloaf Pass.
I would avoid doing the Leadville Trail Silver Rush 50-Mile Run, which many use as a training run, since it's 6-7 weeks before the 100 and I think that's not enough time to fully recover from 50 miles at altitude. Instead, I would do the Leadville Trail Marathon in early July as a trainer and plan to venture to Leadville plenty in the following weeks for training runs. Basically any race in Leadville is going to be a significant undertaking, so plan some recovery time if you opt for the marathon as a trainer. Disclaimer: The Leadville Marathon and Silver Rush 50-Mile Run are not run on the LT100 course!
Suck on a Straw
If you want a rough idea of what it's like to run at altitudes of 12,000+ feet, get on a treadmill and breathe through a straw or two for several minutes. If you live at sea level and have the resources, consider buying or renting an altitude chamber.
Head for the Hills...or Mountains
Do a lot of hill training. If you live in or near the mountains, there's your training ground.
CREW Means Cranky Runner Endless Waiting
Bring a crew and I would suggest two pacers. The crew will be critical especially from the first Twin Lakes aid station (mile 40) through the end. I would recommend at least two pacers--one who can pace you over Hope Pass and back down to Twin Lakes, and the other from Twin Lakes to the finish. Your Hope Pass pacer could also step in later in the race for relief work.
|Part of Powerline. This is a shot from the bike race.|
When the chips are down and you're climbing Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass in the middle of the night with 80+ miles on your trashed legs, understand a few things. First, this is gut-check time. The Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb starts at about 78 miles and summits at ~82 miles, has many false summits and is an ass-kicker. It takes a lot of runners 90 minutes to get to the top. Second, look on the bright side; after Powerline/Sugarloaf, the big ascents are behind you! Third, if you believe in yourself, almost anything is possible. The Powerline/Sugarloaf climb is all about believing in yourself and not giving up. I made it over Powerline/Sugarloaf on experience alone. Do take a second to turn around and check out the many runners behind you, who are visible because of their headlamps. It's kind of a surreal scene.
Oh, and whatever you do, for God's sake don't miss the Powerline turnoff from the road out of Fish Hatchery like I (and a few others) did. We went a mile past the turn, adding two miles onto my race--an easy thing to do when you're tired and have been going hard all day. When you leave the Fish Hatchery, understand that the turn into Powerline is about a mile up the road on your left-hand side.
The Hope Pass double crossing is, just on the numbers, the hardest section of the race. Over a distance of 20 miles, you're doing a double crossing of a 12,600-foot mountain pass that is above treeline, with over 12,000 feet of total elevation change. From Twin Lakes to the summit, you're looking at 3,400 feet of vertical climb. From the summit down to Winfield, you're losing about 2,600 feet. Now do it the other way. Add it all up and you get 12,000 feet. It takes anywhere from 5-8 hours for many runners to do this section. It's no surprise Winfield is a popular DNF spot.
Unless You Want to Camp in Your Car...
Get your race weekend lodging ASAP. Lodging in Leadville during the races goes fast. Reserve yours now.
Even in August It Snows...and Watch for Lightening Too
Bring plenty of gear, including gear for rain, snow and sleet. Colorado weather can change in an instant and afternoon thunderstorms are common in late summer.
When you get down to it, Leadville is a very runnable course. Eighty percent of Leadville, and really all of it, can be run with road shoes. For the other 20 percent, which is the Hope Pass section, LIGHTWEIGHT trail shoes would be ideal but are not required.
Keep it Light
Keep everything as lightweight as possible. At Leadville, muling is allowed. I never took advantage of this rule, to my own detriment. Let your pacer carry your Camelbak and other gear...because later in the race, like going up the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb, carrying yourself is going to be hard enough.
Last But Not Least...Have Fun and Enjoy the Views!
The Leadville 100 is situated in an incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring section of the Rocky Mountains. The views are spectacular and you're running through some gorgeous high country while being supported. It doesn't get much better than that. The views I most relish:
- The view of Turquoise Lake from Hagerman Pass Road on the out. It's a view I'll take with me to my grave.
- The views from both sides of Hope Pass, especially the backside (the side closest to Winfield). It doesn't get any better than that.
- The views of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert from the road section between Fish Hatchery and Pipeline. A lot of people hate this section but I actually like it since, at heart, I'm kind of a Road Warrior. You're looking at the two highest peaks in Colorado.
- Runners behind me coming up Powerline at night. Surreal. Hopefully this year (2011) when I'm climbing Powerline it'll still be light out :)
- And, of course, the finish line, where you're treated to a hero's welcome!
Let me know if you have any questions! But know that there are many out there who have far more LT100 experience than I do. Consider joining the LT100 Yahoo! message board.