Just attempted the Leadville 100. It’s 100 miles all above 9,000′, climbs to 12,500 at the highest. It’s got single track, dirt roads, and paved highway. I got to mile 75 and missed the time cutoff so was pulled from the race, but at that point I was happy; I was in a fair amount of pain and hypothermic. It’s the first time I’ve been in that much pain or been that cold since I was 18, and while it was a failure from a finishing standpoint I’m OK with it. I gave it my best (I usually quit long before that) and that day my best wasn’t good enough.
Long term I’m aiming to go back and win, luckily for me there’s a LOT to improve upon.
This was my first race over 13.1 miles, so I picked up a bunch of new experience, broken down here into weak points, strong points, and points of consideration:
Downwhill speed: I need to work a TON on my downhill speed. For every person I passed going uphill, 3 to 5 people passed me on the downhill sections. This is a combo of technique and strength; it ain’t magic, just something to work on. If you have any tips I’m open to hearing ’em.
Hiking speed: Lots of people passed me while we were both walking. My slow shuffle/run speed is about the same as many folks’ fast hike. I had no idea there would be that much “walking” in a “run” so was completely unprepared for it.
Gear prep: I had planned out the race on the assumption that most of the time I would run a 10:30 pace. Totally unreasonable, and because of this I didn’t prepare my drop bags (bags that go at the various aid stations along the route) properly. At the midway point I saw I hadn’t thought to resupply myself with my electrolyte pills in the bag so marched the next 10 miles (over Hope Pass, from 9k up to 12.5k and back down) with no electrolytes. Probably wasn’t a huge factor (I never bonked or felt totally out of it until the last section, 15 miles later), but it was definitely an example of piss poor preparation.
Preparation in general: This was a huge lesson that finally got hammered home for me. I’ve lived for a long time now without really worrying about prepping for anything; it’s always seemed to me to be a waste of time and more effort than it was worth. For most of life you can get away with that attitude and method, especially if you’re confident and have a decent experience base. For the hard stuff it’s a stupid method, and I found that out the best way, which was by hard experience. The last leg, between miles 70 and 75, I was lucky I didn’t go down hard with hypothermia. I was lucky that Lee marched out into the night to find me, got me into a car and then to a warming station ASAP. Without her effort I won’t get melodramatic and say I would’ve died, because I was on a highway and someone would’ve stopped if they’d seen me go down, but I was damn lucky. I should’ve stuffed a warmie, hat and gloves into all of the drop bags “just in case” along with double rations of everything else.
Uphill: Uphill work has always been good for me. It’s straight hard work and I’m a light guy with strong lungs and stringy legs; I was built to go uphill fast.
Mental game: While I went out a little faster than planned (9:15 miles vs 10:30) I don’t think that had much to do with my ultimate failure. I was super conscious the whole time of the effort I was putting in and was also alert to “down” periods, fighting back with basic refrains like “I can do this” and counting 10 steps at a time over and over. And over.
Nutrition: With no experience to base on I was a little worried about this, but advice from Dave, Jelani, Kurt, and Nell kept me out of trouble. I initially wanted to go strict Paleo, but I abandoned that plan in the face of wisdom and went with Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum, Endurolytes, Endurance Aminos, and Anti-Fatigue caps. That was my food outside of aid stations, and then I gobbled fruits, ramen, potatoes, and Gatorade-like products while in the stations. No problems with energy flagging until the last station, no problems with bonking, I felt good and fueled up the whole time. I saw plenty of white-faced people slumped on the side of the trail (calm down, I checked with ’em before moving on) as well as dudes just 1,000 yard staring in the aid stations, so I either got lucky or my nutrition plan worked.
POINTS OF CONSIDERATION:
Clothing and equipment: I wore shorts and a t‑shirt until mile 40, when I added a trucker’s hat to keep the sun off my face. I used the Ultimate Direction AK vest on the advice of Jelani and really liked it. I wore Altra Samson shoes and was happy with those. I used a BD headlamp that worked really well, and BD trekking Z poles that saved my legs from considerable damage. Other than a small chafing issue with the headlamp resting on my ears and a five minute chafe in the lining of my shorts I had no gear problems.
Shoulda coulda woulda: “If only coach had put me in…” Thinking back on it, if I’d had the foresight to stash a warmie with hat and gloves at all the aid stations I might have been able to finish. I didn’t, and it’s nowhere near a certainty; by the time they cut the timing chip off my wrist I was really thankful for the excuse to quit; I was cold and hurting.
Training: The training I did was REALLY low volume: 3 workouts a week, one of which was a “long run”, usually 7–12 miles over rough terrain, one was a set of intervals, anything from 40–1200 yard repeats, and one was a weightlifting sessions, either deadlifts or squats. The longest training run I did was the Rim-Rim-Rim, at about 34 miles. This next year I can see that I need to include at least one more 20+ mile run per week as well as including lots of downhill speed work plus working on fast walking. If my weekly mileage total before was under 20 I still don’t see a reason to go beyond 50 miles a week.
Post race pain: A week later I’m hurting and I’ve done some damage to my right knee and left ankle, but it doesn’t seem that anything I did is a long term problem.
High tech recovery: I was introduced to Norma-tec pressure boots by Kevin Montford, they’re toe-to-hip compression boots that are supposed to flush out fluids from your legs through peristaltic compression. They felt good while they were working and my legs felt REALLY good after using them before the race. I used them post-race but my legs were so painful I don’t think anything would’ve made a difference except a shot of morphine. If I can get my hands on them I’ll use ’em for the next year as recovery aids. At $1,700 for a pair, Paleo Treats is going to have to have a few banner months in order to support its sole sponsored athlete. 🙂
The running tribe: The running “people” were all super nice and considerate, I didn’t get mad-dogged at all like has happened in almost every other sport I’ve been involved in, and I’ve never been in a race like this one where it didn’t matter how many people passed you, it was totally based on time and personal effort. I really dug that.
Am looking forward to more longer distance pushes in the future.
Living off the ‘net: Finally, I spent just over three weeks living in a van up at elevation in Colorado as prep and recovery time for this race. I turned my phone on when I wanted to reach out, and other than that stayed off of the internet. It was just as incredible as I thought it would be, and has really caused me to re-orient and evaluate how I spend my time, whether I’m at home or on the road. I’m still not “anti-technology”, just had a good reference point with which to evaluate my former living pattern.
Thanks for all your help and support throughout this, I had good “conversations” with many of you in my head on the trail.