Monday, July 4, 2011

Leadville Trail Marathon Race Report

A lot has happened since I posted this race report after last year's Leadville Trail Marathon. In the past year, I've fought and (hopefully) overcome a devastating foot injury. My confidence has been shattered as my results have gotten worse and worse. At one point, right after the Jemez Mountain 50-Mile in May, my attitude was so bad that I threw around the idea of giving up on ultramarathoning altogether...and just becoming a fitness runner.

But I never gave up.

On Saturday, at the Leadville Trail Marathon, I went into the race saying to myself, "It's just a marathon! No pressure. Have fun and get 'er done" (and going into the Leadville 100, I'm going to tell myself the very same thing: "It's just a 100 miles. No pressure. Have fun and get 'er done!" In 100s, being a headcase equals DNF.)

Well, I believe I experienced something of a personal breakthrough, finishing 13th overall with a 4:39:29 out of 350 finishers (results here). For me, this is a personal breakthrough on at least two levels. First, on numbers alone, my 2011 LT Marathon time was far better than last year's result (13th this year, 28th last year; 4:39 this year, 4:55 last year). All along, I've just wanted to see improvement and got that on Saturday. Second, I just felt better physically and mentally. Going up 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass, I felt confident. I got to the top of Mosquito, which is the half-way point, 10 minutes faster (2:24 first-half split) than last year. Last year, this climb was a death march for me.

Then on the long, rocky, treacherous descent down Mosquito, my personal anthem (WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS!) came on, and I started feeling really in the moment. I was very pleased with how I descended Mosquito. My mood was positive and I felt into this race.

Still, I knew I'd probably experience a tough stretch somewhere, and it turns out my bad patch would be around miles 21-22, which are around 12,000 feet and come after a series of nasty climbs. I was suffering from the heat (it was around 70 degrees and super-sunny by then) and really feeling the elevation. This entire race is between 10,200 feet and 13,185 feet, so you're really up there. At around mile 21.5, a guy passed me as I struggled with dizziness, faintness and mild dehydration. The last aid station was just up the hill, so I wasn't too worried. Once there, I rehydrated with water and Coke and then started the long descent into town on a trail that could be described as quite rocky. My legs weren't too responsive on the descent, but they were nonetheless moving. Another guy passed me here!

I wasn't too hard on myself as I got passed again because I knew this was still going to be a Leadville Marathon PR by at least 10 minutes, and I also knew the elevation had gotten to me a bit. I'll admit, too, that I might have gone out a bit fast, as well, and was now paying for it (but not too badly). Plus, just six days earlier I'd wrapped up a 95-mile week, so it's not like I was super fresh here.

By the time I hit 6th Street with the finish in sight, I was running 7:00 pace and feeling pretty good. I was closing the gap between me and the three guys in front of me. I think if we had a few more miles in this race, I might have been able to close the gap entirely.

I felt very positive when I crossed in 4:39, besting my time last year by 16 minutes. I didn't know my exact standing, but I figured I was top 15.

I'm really pleased with my Leadville Marathon result. This is a race for fast guys and gals and, for me, coming off a 95-mile week and a very light taper, to have finished 13th feels very good. I'm a guy training for 100 miles in the mountains--steady and strong. I'm not training for a fast 26.2 miles in the mountains, so to have cracked the top 15 at the LT Marathon is a confidence-booster.

Stats for this race:
  • 5,470 feet of climb
  • 5,470 feet of descent
  • Just shy of 11,000 feet of total elevation change
  • All between 10,200 feet and 13,185 feet
  • In the first 6 miles alone, you climb over 2,100 feet! Then you drop the same around in the last 6 miles!
I have said it before and I still believe it: This race is harder than Pikes Peak for a few reasons:
  • At Pikes, you climb the first half, gaining a whopping 7,000+ feet--very hard indeed!
  • But at Pikes, once you're at the top (having suffered terribly the last 2,000 vertical feet), you can cruise back down with basically no ascents in your way. Not so at the Leadville Marathon! The Leadville course beats the tar out of you both ways!
  • At Pikes, the base elevation is just shy of 7,000 feet and the max is 14,115 feet. At Leadville, you're running between 10,200-13,185 the whole time.
I'd be interested to hear what some Pikes veterans think. Maybe I'm dead-wrong on this assertion.

With the Leadville 100 now 7 weeks away, and four more big weeks of training before taper time, I think it's critical that I try to set things up so I'm peaking on race-day. I'm definitely in better shape now than I was a month ago. The emphasis I'm placing on getting to the mountains and trails 2-3 times a week is paying off. I feel stronger on the climbs and am progressively feeling more confident on the descents.

The plan this week is not to force myself back into high mileage after the marathon and just see what I can do. If I can get in 90 miles, great. If my body needs rest, that's OK, too. I'm just going to let it all come to me. The only thing I can say for certain is that I'm planning to get to the mountains/trails three times this week. I sure wish I could go down to Hardrock this weekend to pace someone, but family commitments won't allow it. Definitely next year!
Get 'er done!


  1. Not sure I can commented in an educated fashion as to which is harder - I have not done the Pb Marathon. I have done that Pikes thing on occasion.

    That said ...

    Typically, I'd probably give the nod to an event that goes higher, has more elevation gain ... but I see your point.

    And for what it is worth ... I will admit I get lost at what is "harder" at times. I have done 800 meter or mile races that have left me wrecked in a way that marathons have not.

    I mean does that mean the Pikes Marathon is harder than the Pikes Ascent? Not necessarily ...

    There is also that weird phenomena that the races whereI perform best, and I work VERY hard still don't feel as hard as those where I don't perform as well ...

    Congrats on a solid race and glad to hear you had one that you are happy with!

  2. George: I was hesitant to draw a Pikes/Leadville comparison because I love Pikes so much and, while I've never done the ascent or marathon, I've "done" Pikes a few times and know how hard it is. I have the utmost respect for what guys like you have done on PP. Throw in competition and Pikes gets even harder. I think this is an issue where there are valid points on both sides. I hope one day you'll do the LT Marathon (and the 100!).


  3. Hey Wyatt... being a veteran of both the PPM and the Leadville 26.2 I'll say this... Both are hard but I think in their own ways so a direct comparison isn't really easy to do. I think that the Leadville 26.2 is more runnable, therefore faster, therefore I feel WAY more beat up after running it. The PPM... not as runnable but still danged hard.

    So maybe the PPM is harder but the Pb race takes a bigger bite out of me. Coincidentally, my Pb 26.2 is much faster than my PPM time by a significant margin.

    All of that being said, there is a good reason why I opted out of the Marathon this weekend in lieu of the Silver Rush 50 in two weeks! :) BTW... what was the snow like on the marathon course?

    So I guess to really answer your question... I don't know! ;)

  4. Andy:

    You raise a good point I overlooked. Times for the Leadville Marathon are a bit faster than the Pikes Peak Marathon. Food for thought....

    Very little snow to speak up on the LT Marathon course. There was a little on Ball Mountain but the race organizers did a nice job of clearing it. Just a few snow fields on Mosquito but nothing that really got in the way of the course.


  5. Wyatt,

    Congrats on a great race! Good to hear it went well; your training is paying off.

    As for comparing Pikes Peak and Leadville, I have run both as races and have run Pikes Peak as a training run. Leadville was more difficult since it starts and stays at a higher altitude. It also has some serious climbs and descents; however, I would also say that Pikes Peak is more technically difficult. What is interesting to note is that most race times are faster on the Leadville course than on PPM. Quite possibly due to the constant climb and the technical terrain of PPM. Also to note on PPM: with it being all narrow single track, if you are stuck behind people/person, many folks opt to just slog it out so as not to waste energy passing. On Leadville, the course is often more open where passing is easier so you are able to maintain a constant steady pace and run your best.
    I would highly recommend PPM as a race. Well organized and considered one of the hardest marathons in the country.

  6. "But I never gave up!" - that sums up A LOT.
    Thanks for sharing and inspiring others. You are a beast.