Leadville 2014: Take 2

Let’s start off with facts & num­bers; those are the first things most humans want to know in order to under­stand an event.

This was my sec­ond attempt at the Leadville Trail 100, and I did­n’t fin­ish. I missed the time cut­off at mile 60 by 2 minutes.

Leadville is a 100 mile race run at ele­va­tion, the low­est point is 9,200 ft and the high­est (Hope Pass) is 12,600 feet above sea lev­el. It’s an “out and back” course, so you run 50 miles out then turn around and come back. This year 690 peo­ple start­ed the race and about 300 fin­ished. You have 30 hours to fin­ish it. It starts at 4 a.m. on Sat­ur­day morn­ing, and fin­ish­es at 10 a.m. on Sun­day. If you fin­ish in under 30 hours, you get a nice sil­ver belt buck­le. If you fin­ish in under 25 hours you get a big gold belt buck­le. The win­ners come in around 18 hours.

Ok, those are the num­bers. As I start­ed check­ing my mes­sages this morn­ing after wak­ing up, I saw a bunch of peo­ple who were real­ly fired up for me through­out the race. Thank you so much for your sup­port and interest.

At this point (the morn­ing after), the most com­mon thing I’m hear­ing is along the lines of “Hey, sor­ry you did­n’t make it, you must be super bummed.” Again, thank you so much for your sup­port, but I’m not bummed, I’m stoked, and here’s why:

Leadville is a test. On the one side, it’s a num­bers test; can you fin­ish in the allot­ted time peri­od? This year (and last year) I didn’t.

Run­ning Leadville involves anoth­er test, and pass­ing or fail­ing that has noth­ing to do with the num­bers. That test has two parts: Did you lay it all out there? and Did you quit?

Those hap­py few of you who read my blog know me, so you’ll under­stand when I say that as a young man I was pret­ty sure I was a tough moth­er­fuck­er. Still, being tough in your ear­ly twen­ties is no guar­an­tee that you remain tough the rest of your life.

I’m not going to debate the mer­its of “tough­ness”, I believe it’s impor­tant and part of being a man. I am going to say that this time, run­ning Leadville for me was a val­i­da­tion that I will lay it all out there every time and I will not quit. I val­i­dat­ed (this was not a known for me) that when I’m faced with a deci­sion regard­ing whether or not I should incur & endure phys­i­cal pain in order to attempt a goal, no mat­ter how bad­ly I hurt, I will go for it.

You may think, “Well Nik, I knew that about you, you’ve always been…blah blah blah.” While you may have a pic­ture in your head of who I am, I don’t have the same con­fi­dence in that vision, and it requires con­sis­tent self test­ing for me to know what I’m capa­ble. of. Val­i­dat­ing that idea of still “hav­ing what it takes” was the impor­tant part of the race. That I did­n’t fin­ish the race has rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle impor­tance to me.

Ok, with that most impor­tant piece out of the way, let’s get to the race report & lessons learned.

The first 23 miles were good; on sched­ule and while I felt a lit­tle over­trained I was still con­fi­dent in my abil­i­ty. I worked run­ning down­hill in my train­ing a bunch this last year and it paid off.

At about mile 24 I start­ed to cramp and fade due to not eat­ing enough and not tak­ing in elec­trolytes. At mile 25 I found a total angel at Tree­line (one of the crew sta­tions) who gave me a ziploc bag­gie full of salt tabs. It saved my ass, but it would take a while for the salt to absorb, so by mile 26 or so I was com­plete­ly cramped up on the side of the trail, unable to move my legs for about 5 full minutes.

The cramps were unlike any­thing I’d expe­ri­enced before in my life; com­plete­ly inca­pac­i­tat­ing and extra­or­di­nar­i­ly painful. Run­ners going by asked if I need­ed help, but there was­n’t any­thing they (or I) could do.

After 5 min­utes I was able to start tak­ing tiny stag­ger­ing steps, which even­tu­al­ly led to a shuf­fle. It was a strug­gle and a fight to move and not quit, and it took a good hour or so until the cramps final­ly released, and by that time I thought I was out of the race and would miss the time cut off at mile 40.

About mile 35 I start­ed to be able to walk, and by mile 36 I could shuf­fle. At mile 37 I passed a Marine on the trail, he was stag­ger­ing with hip issues. Those guys are tough. We talked briefly and he con­vinced me if I hus­tled I could actu­al­ly make the time cut off at mile 40.

I thought of the folks who sup­port­ed me through­out not just the race but the pre­vi­ous year of train­ing, and I did­n’t want to let them down with any­thing less than my best efforts. Most­ly I thought of my wife Lee, and how much of her time she devotes to sup­port­ing me train, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for me to attempt this race. I can’t claim that what I did next came entire­ly from me; know­ing Lee was wait­ing for me and count­ing on me to hus­tle pro­vid­ed most of my inspiration.

I ral­lied (the first of 3), I ate the pain like I used to in the old days, and I got out of the 40 mile sta­tion (Twin Lakes) with a roar­ing crowd and 15 min­utes to spare. While you may think of this as sole­ly the efforts of one run­ner, none of us does this alone. Hav­ing a sup­port­ive com­mu­ni­ty allows you to be bet­ter than you think you are (one of the trade­mark phras­es of Leadville is, “You are bet­ter than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.”)

The cramps at mile 26 seemed like they added 40 miles of run­ning effort to my legs, so I was stoked about push­ing through the next section.

From Twin Lakes I had a 3,000′ climb in 5 miles up to Hope Pass. Last year I held about a 36 minute/mile pace going up to Hope (not a typo, it’s hard climb­ing at alti­tude.) Fired up from see­ing Lee and my friend Kevin Mont­ford at Twin lakes, for the sec­ond of my 3 ral­lies, this year I held a 16 minute/mile pace going up to Hope Pass. Charg­ing hard and as my good friend CR would say, proud.

I stormed over Hope Pass and had to move & shake 3,000′ back down to Win­field. I passed a bunch of folks who had giv­en up mak­ing the time cut and I got to Win­field with 10 min­utes to spare. Blast­ed in and out of there four min­utes before cut off and had to ral­ly for the third time to get back up & over Hope Pass and run down the oth­er side back to Twin Lakes.

I was fad­ing but not slack­ing. I went as hard as I could, passed anoth­er bunch of folks who just gave up try­ing, and when I came in to Twin Lakes (mile 60) and missed the time cut­off by 2 min­utes, I was total­ly OK with it. I had giv­en it every­thing I had.

Now, lessons learned:

First, 30 miles a week train­ing is prob­a­bly the min­i­mum for me to have a good race. Aside from the major cramp­ing issue I had between miles 23 and 35 I felt like I’d run enough to hit the sub-25 hour mark.

Before next year’s race I’m aim­ing to run at least a 50 mile race and to increase my week­ly miles to between 40 & 50.

Sec­ond, nutri­tion. I tried to go total­ly Paleo and it was a dis­as­ter. The bur­ri­tos I made (Paleo turmer­ic wraps with avo­ca­do, sweet pota­to, and bacon) tast­ed real­ly good before I ran but the thought of them as I came into the first sta­tion was revolt­ing, so I did­n’t eat. That was the first in a series of bad moves that left me with full leg cramps (calves, quads, ham­strings, and a par­tic­u­lar­ly ten­der mus­cle high on the inner thigh that I did­n’t know I had) at about mile 26.

Sec­ond (b), electrolytes/salt/pills & pow­ders. I used those last year (2013) and did­n’t real­ize how much they helped. I just thought tak­ing them was a pain in the ass and it did­n’t make a dif­fer­ence because I was nat­u­ral­ly awe­some. I’m not, the pain in the ass was worth it, and I won’t neglect that aspect again.

Third, race crew is mis­sion crit­i­cal and often over­looked. Lee crewed for me this year (and last year), and with­out her help in pick­ing up on every­thing from fine grain details like where warm clothes should be placed to big pic­ture ideas such as mak­ing a total change to how we’d han­dle nutri­tion on the fly when it became obvi­ous that my plan would­n’t work, she’s a total star. With­out her sup­port dur­ing the race or in the 12 months before it, I flat out would­n’t be able to do this.

That wraps up most of the race.

The final piece is the idea of fac­ing the unknown. Most of the things we do on a dai­ly basis involve “knowns”, from how long it takes to dri­ve to work to when you’ll eat to how hard your work­out will be. Those of you out on the sharp end live with mor­tal unknowns all the time, and run­ning a trail race pales in com­par­i­son, but for most of us we rarely face the unknown.

What do I mean when I say “the unknown”? Aside from the obvi­ous (and unknow­able), I’m refer­ring to how much pain we can take, how long we can endure, what we’ll do when we’re faced with an easy fail or a hard vic­to­ry, how we behave when we’re under pres­sure, how we treat oth­ers when we’re hurt­ing, and to what lengths we’re will­ing to go to accom­plish a goal.

They’re unknowns because there’s no way to test them under any­thing oth­er than “real” con­di­tions. We can lay on the couch or sit at the cof­fee shop or dream in the show­er about what might be, but the only way to pull back the cur­tain is to, in finest cliched fash­ion, step into the fuck­ing arena.

Fac­ing those unknowns is not nec­es­sary to stay alive in today’s world, but for those of us who hear the call, reg­u­lar­ly seek­ing them out and peer­ing into the void is crit­i­cal to living.


3 thoughts on “Leadville 2014: Take 2”

  1. Pingback: The Leadville Trail 100 Run « Invictus | Redefining Fitness

  2. Pingback: Leadville Training for 2015 – One man's search

  3. Pingback: Leadville 2015 Race Report | One man’s search

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