Monday, March 19, 2012

Leadville Trail 100, 2011

In reading this (fairly brief) race report which I mostly wrote last August soon after the race I am both surprised and amused that I apparently have a desire to run another 100 miler! It’s likely I was still suffering the effects of altitude when writing that part. Although, depending on your perspective there is some space on the 2012 schedule around about September...

In short, the Leadville Trail 100 was everything I hoped it would be: a beautiful trail, stunning mountain scenery, a great time with friends, and a performance that I was pretty happy about. I didn’t achieve my pre-race goals of sub-25hr finish and top 10 female but on the day I was thrilled to get to the finish line and quite enjoyed rolling into Leadville in the morning sunlight. I finished in 26:30 and was 11th female, 115th place overall. 347* out of 600+ starters finished under the cut off of 30 hours. Looking back at my 2011 goals posting I guess I originally had a goal of sub-24hrs... well, that was never going to happen. And in reality, I knew going into the race that my training wasn’t what it might have been but I decided rather than complicate race plans with multiple pace charts I would just stick with one and make adjustments if needed. I stuck to the plan pretty well on the outbound 50 miles, hitting the turnaround at around 11:30, but I didn't have the stomach/legs/head to keep it up all the way home. In retrospect, I should have decided at Twin Lakes (mile 60.5) to go for a sub-26hr finish and make that happen. But instead I pushed hard at times, crashed hard at times, and in the end lost my will power when I needed it most. And yet, the entire experience has made me feel the opposite of what I had expected. It was only my second 100 mile race and given how much I enjoy the 50 mile and 100k distance, I thought it would be my last. But instead I find myself intrigued by the challenge of figuring out how to combat some of the issues I dealt with. How to minimize the highs and lows and keep a more even keel; to figure out if it’s possible to avoid the post-feed chills at 3 am and whether having a pacer who I am quite used to complaining to is a good idea or not. I guess the other thing that has left me feeling a bit confused by my race is the fact that I had minimal pain on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday... the expected muscle soreness just didn’t come. I had a blister on my little toe and some shin pain for a few days but that was it. I shouldn’t complain but damn it I wanted to have quads so painful that I had to use the disabled toilet for a few days. And of course it just adds to the zillion questions swarming in my head... Could I have run harder? Was it down to less than ideal training or is there a combined physical/mental limit that you hit regardless of preparation? What went first – my head or my body? How much of a factor was the altitude? And most of all, what would I do differently if the race were tomorrow? There are no easy answers. But that’s okay. That’s why I want to run ultras for years to come. To continue to evolve as a runner and a person.

*There are 351 runners listed on the official results sheet. The last 4 runners finished between 30-31 hours. I don't know this for sure but I would assume a few other runners finished after this. So why list them on the results? Because finisher number 351 happens to be Lifetime CEO Bahram Akradi. Come on dude!

After a wonderful few days in the mountains with Chris and Cooper, we arrived in Leadville Thursday afternoon. We were staying in a great little house a few blocks from the start, with Pam and Alicia and their crews. Along with Chris, my super-crew included Bink who flew in from Rhode Island and joined us Thursday and Angie who drove over from Denver Friday evening, along with Cooper’s girl Luca. We had a look around town and I picked up my packet and weighed in – I knew that 142.6 was low for me but figured I’d have an easier time explaining gain vs loss during the race (not that I’ve ever had to explain weight loss during a race - or at any other time for that matter). Friday morning the race meeting was held in the gym. As expected, with over 600 runners and their crew, it was a pretty crowded affair. Ken Chlouber kicked things off and later handed off to Bahram Akradi. We also heard from one of the medical crew who was pretty amusing with his advice on running/vomiting/eating/running... as well as race director Scott Giffen. It was mostly useful information although the whole Half Pipe / Treeline / Pipeline aid station / crew stop remained a mystery. Honestly, I don’t get why a company like Lifetime can’t just produce an accurate race map! Perhaps the best news of all was for next year’s runners – the trail from Sheep Gulch trail head to the turnaround will be completed which means no more running on Winfield Rd.

The Good
Running among friends. As it turned out all five of us MN ladies managed to find each other and we cross the start line together! I run on and off for several hours with Pam and really enjoy the section along the Colorado Trail from Half Pipe to a few miles before Twin Lakes. The miles pass easily as the field is now spread out and most people are in their happy zone. We chat briefly with people along the way and are having fun running on smooth undulating trail. We run with Alicia for a few miles. Cindy Stonesmith from CO who I met at Bighorn last year goes by at around mile 35 – she will run a beautifully paced race finishing somewhere around 24:30. Exactly the kind of race I had planned to run but didn’t quite train for.

The Bad
After blasting up the hill towards Hope Pass powerhiking to beat the band I start to feel the effects of that effort in the final push after the Hope Pass aid station (see The Effin Awesome). I expect this last push to the highest point at 12500 ft to take me much longer than one might imagine for a half mile hike and yet I am not quite prepared for how awful it feels! The headache I am developing will stay with me long into the night. Heading down the backside of Hope Pass is the start of a rather long downhill journey. In more ways than one.

The Ugly
See instead The Rather Pathetic below.

The Effin Awesome
I might not appreciate it as I slow down through the night but the memory of Hope Pass aid station will stay with me forever and I am sure will sustain me through many a tough moment in future training and racing. Between the awesome setting, the lamas, and the totally-on-the-ball young volunteers and helpful medical folks, both on the way up (feeling good) and on the way down (feeling crap), it is truly the highlight of my race.

Mile 70-ish. I am cold and depleted. We have just stopped at an aid station where I had soup but could barely stomach anything else. Since Twin Lakes at mile 60 my intake has been low. I had a few miles of awesome running but this AS did not come quick enough and now I am reduced to a walk and the complaining-to-Chris really starts. Why oh why do I feel this bad? But the real WTF moment is when I look at my watch and see that it is not yet 18 hours but I know in my heart that I will not finish in under 25 hours. Less than a 50k to go and I cannot run it in seven hours. In fact, it would take me closer to nine. It is here that I should reset my goals and aim for sub-26. But I don’t.

The Rather Pathetic
Mile 79, heading up the Powerline I turn to Chris several times and whine about how crap I feel. Somewhere in my head I hope that he finds these little temper tantrums cute and not a true reflection of my personality.

The Support
Is phenomenal. My crew of Chris, Angie and Bink are the business! They swap out my pack at each aid station loaded up with food and gear. I had a pretty detailed plan written out and it worked great until Twin Lakes. After that nothing really went to plan but again, this is where I should have been more willing to adjust the plan.

The Takeaway
Leadville is a cool race. It’s not for everyone and I wouldn’t recommend it to all of my running friends. But a lot of people would love it. I won’t do it again but that’s mostly because there are few races, especially 100 milers, that I would want to go back to. There are just too many other choices. The scenery is ridiculously amazing at times. The road sections sucked on the way back. Then again, maybe even the perfect trail would have sucked at that point. The organization was good overall but not brilliant.

The other important takeaway - tangerine power gels are yuk. At any mile.

Thanks to Angie, Zach and Mike for the race images below. The first few pics are from our few days in the mountains near Fairplay (South Park). We had a lot of fun going up Mosquito Pass! The picture of Chris and Cooper is at the top of Hope Pass 2 days before the race. My favourite picture of the one of Chris walking me out of Twin Lakes at mile 39. The climb looks daunting but awesome. You can also see Pam getting her feet taken care of!


Olga said...

Somewhere around mile 70-ish of every 100 I promise that I had done enough and have nothing to prove and this is it. Around mile 80 to 90 I have no feelings or emotions whatsoever. Last 10 all I can muster is to will my body forward as a single-pointed focus, but the negative stuff somehow dissipates. As soon as the feet step across the finish line, I wonder what the next 100 will bring...
I didn't like Leadville due to road sections, even though I didn't even get to make them on the way back (pulled with PE mile 60). The Hope Pass was, indeed, the highlight of the whole race. Nowadays with new RDs and 800 entrants I would be hesitant to even consider filing in to a lake trail. But Leadville area itself is a gem:)
Great job!

Willie said...

Helen - absolutely amazing! I admire your honestly in sharing your spectrum of emotions during such an adventure. Power hiking above 12000 feet...I almost lost my breathe reading it. Your attitude is invigorating as at the end its not solely about the finish time, but the will to persevere and learn as a runner how to keep going forward and gain strength.

Alicia said...

Cooper actually looks a bit llama-like himself in that closeup of you two!

Casey said...

You are simply amazing!

Anonymous said...

What a great race report and photos. Thanks for posting.

Keith Sexton said...

Just read that you are on the Irish team for World 100K champs in Italy Helen - brilliant, well done , great blog and greetings from Cork (Go n-éirí an bóthar leat)

Emily said...


Great site! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I'd really appreciate if you could email me back.

Thanks and have a great day!

Hostpph said...

100 miler race is quite big and I think that it is interesting that you are willing to do it. again.

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