Thursday, July 31, 2014

If You Want to Finish Leadville, Here's the #1 Most Important Thing You Must Do

Damn, I love provocative headlines!

With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run now a little over two weeks away, those of us entered in "The Race Across the Sky" are undoubtedly in our taper or about to begin the taper. Leadville is a fairly unique race in that it's between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet the whole way. One hundred miles is hard enough; throw in some high altitude and mountain passes and the challenge becomes even tougher.

If this is your first time toeing the line at Leadville and you're unfamiliar with what it's like in the high country and Colorado Rockies, this post is for you (as is my two-part Guide to Finishing Leadville)!

A lot goes into successfully finishing Leadville. You don't want to go out too fast. You need to stay hydrated and fueled. Your stomach needs to stay happy, though you can almost bank on a few queasy moments (or worse). You need to show grit when you're doing the big climbs and thoughts of hopelessness (pun intended) are swimming through your brain. All of that is important, and it's what you'll hear about on Friday afternoon when we all gather for the very motivational pre-race meeting, which I highly recommend.

But there's one thing you may not have thought about, especially if you're coming from sea level. Hell, I even know a few Coloradans who have overlooked or forgotten about this one super-important thing. It's something that can totally end your race.

Are you ready?

Me in the finisher's tent after
crossing the line last year. Note the hat,
sweatshirt and vest. I also had gloves--
and I was still cold.
Stay warm and dry. There's a saying here in Colorado and it goes something like this: "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, give it five minutes."

At Leadville, expect everything from sunny skies and temps in the high 70s during the day to hail, rain/lightening storms of the biblical variety and, yes, snow, especially when you're on Hope Pass. Even if during the day the temperature is in the 70s and the sun is out and life is beautiful, you can expect the mercury to plummet into the 30s after sunset. Cold nights in Leadville are the norm. It's especially cold around Turquoise Lake, which you'll be running along very late in the race (with no other aid stations before the finish). If you aren't in warm clothing after the sun sets and especially along the lake, you will risk hypothermia. And, if you go hypothermic, your race is pretty much over.

So, be sure to have:
  • Rain gear. Get a waterproof jacket and hat--maybe some waterproof gloves, too.
  • Warm clothing that will keep you toasty in temperatures as low as 30 degrees. Usually when running in cool temps it's OK to dress on the light side as our bodies heat up with movement. Not so in Leadville after night fall. Dressing on the light side after sunset will get you a DNF.
  • Emergency poncho. I highly recommend you carry one at all times, especially if we have cloud cover.
One final note: Under no circumstances is littering acceptable on the trail or anywhere on the course. Sometimes stuff falls out of pockets and we don't notice. But it's totally not OK for anyone to intentionally throw trash, such as an empty gel package, on the trail. That is not cool and it will result in a disqualification.

As for me, well, I'm in shape (I think). Those long tempo runs and long trail runs seem to have me ready even as I dropped my peak weekly volume buy 15%. I did a MAF test yesterday morning and averaged 6:30 pace for five miles, with a one-second drop in time when you compare my mile-1 split with my mile-5 split. Not bad. It's my best-ever MAF test result. But MAF tests don't mean much when you're climbing Hope Pass or Powerline. So, we'll see how things shake out. But I do think I have experience on my side and I also think my nutrition plan is solid.

Have a great taper and race. I hope to see you in Leadville!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Five Weeks Until Leadville; Thoughts on Leadville Being Described as "Flat" and Kilian's New Hardrock CR

Five more weeks and then the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run is here. My training is going really well and--so far--I'm healthy (it's not easy showing up at the starting line healthy), though this morning I endured a 24-mile sufferfest due to the heat, beat up legs from a Pikes Peak outing on Friday, and inexplicable stomach issues. While my overall average volume is down just a tad to about 80-83 miles/week, I'm doing much longer runs than ever before--and I imagine I'll hit triple digits before tapering. On the weekend, it's not uncommon to do a 30-miler on the trail. Forty-mile weekends, which include long tempo runs, are the new norm (through Leadville).

The week that just ended was pretty solid: 87 miles, 13.5 hours and 10,000 feet of climbing. Next week should be about the same except hopefully I'll get more vertical in. I'm planning a Hope Pass double-crossing--always a good idea in the lead up to Leadville. The backside of Hope Pass, which has a few very steep sections, has always vexed me. I lose a lot of time there, and it doesn't help that there are usually hundreds of runners coming down the mountain in the opposite direction (I'm coming from Winfield, they're going into Winfield).

The North Fork 50K on June 28 told me my endurance is developing nicely--probably from those long runs on the weekends. Although the 50K race didn't have a lot of fast guys or stiff competition (except the guy who won, Chuck Radford, a friend of mine, is a burner for sure and could beat lots of other fast dudes on any given day), I was quite pleased with my fourth-place finish. I felt like I handled the 32 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing quite well--mentally and physically. The altitude wasn't really a factor--we topped out at 8,000 feet a few times but over the years I've come to handle 8K pretty well. What left a lasting impression on me were the exposed burn areas we ran through as a result of several fires in the North Fork area over the years, including the very awful Buffalo Creek fire of 1996. So, all in all, North Fork was a success and I loved the fact that the race had a down-home vibe. I (now) hate the term "old school" but North Fork was just that.

It'll be interesting to see how things at Leadville go this year. My feeling is that LifeTime Fitness has learned--the hard way--what the course can and can't handle. Leadville will likely always be a big race; it's just a matter of fielding the right number of runners. I think the right number is between 600 and 700. This year, I've heard we'll be looking at 800 starters. I think 800 is manageable. I think anything beyond 800 is too much. That's just my opinion based on four Leadville 100s.

Honestly, there's no section of the course that really scares me anymore except for the backside of Hope Pass. It used to be that the Powerline climb got to me but I pretty much slayed that dragon last year as I ran up the climb. Don't get me wrong; Powerline will always be hard, but I've come to mentally understand how to handle and approach it 78 miles into the race. Conversely, the backside of Hope isn't just a mental challenge; it's physically punishing. If I can somehow minimize the damage and stay positive on that very steep, gnarly climb up to the pass and run well back down to Twin Lakes, I think I'll be in good shape for a decent finish. If you can get to Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60) in good shape, that's huge.

Speaking of which, there are still some (including someone who just did a podcast interview) who continue to refer to Leadville as a "flat" race. To me, it's just plain inaccurate to describe Leadville as flat. With 17,000 feet of climbing, is Leadville on par with Hardrock or UTMB? No, of course not. They are different races altogether, as in apples and oranges. But it's still a challenging course between 9,200-12,600 feet, with a double crossing of a legit mountain pass that will eat your lunch if you're not prepared for it. So, I think it's just ridiculous to describe Leadville as "flat." If it's so flat, why have so many great mountain runners struggled there when you look at their times at other races versus their time(s) at Leadville? Should I name some of these great runners?

Finally, a word on Kilian Jornet's new course record at Hardrock (full post-race coverage here). It's easy to cheapen Kilian's amazing career on the grounds that he's probably the richest ultrarunner (in terms of sponsorship support) on the planet thanks to his relationship with Salomon. That's the world we now live in--cheapen and marginalize the accomplishments of the successful ones. Some describe him as the "Tiger Woods" of ultrarunning, which I see as a compliment and veiled insult. Fact is, he obliterated Kyle Skaggs' course record and clearly did so with time to spare. This was a great performance and my suspicion is that his course record will stand for a long time. So, as much as I was rooting for Scott Jaime, who finished fifth overall and, to me, is someone I can identify with much easier than a dude like Kilian (although Scott is way faster than I am), I'm really happy for Kilian. He seems like a good guy and I love his passion for the mountains and his bond with other runners (during his Hardrock course record, he stopped a few times to take photos of the scenery and wait for Julien Chorier). Hats off to the great Spaniard; he's a mountain running legend.

(By the way, does anyone in the sport have a cooler name than Julien Chorier? That dude has a badass name.)

Here's a great video of Kilian, Timmy Olson, Chorier and Dakota Jones descending Grant Swamp. Watching Kilian go down the mountain, I just don't know what to say. Except wow.