As usual, success doesn’t teach as many lessons as failure. After two years of failure, (2013 & 2014) I made it this year in 28:46:45 (that’s 28 hours, 46 minutes, and 45 seconds), or about an hour and 15 minutes ahead of the 30 hour cut off.
As context, where does that put me in the pack? Just aft of the middle. Out of 650 who picked up race packets, only 319 made it across in under 30 hours. I finished in 185th place, or at the 57th percentile.
As a “wow” tidbit, that means 134 people out of 319 finished in the last hour and 15 minutes. The winner (Ian Sharman) knocked it off in 16:33, which gave him 12 hours to sleep while I slogged on.
The major takeaways aren’t groundbreaking; long term planning (8+ months out from the event) increases your odds of success substantially, focused & disciplined training pays off, and hard work works.
I had intended on putting in a max week of 70 plus miles, but about a month and half before the race injured my Achilles and had to take a few weeks off for it to heal. That meant my max weekly distance was just over 50 miles, and most weeks after March were 40+.
I had a great time with altitude prep at CrossFit Flagstaff, in Carbondale, on top of Ajax Mountain and up at Weston Pass Hut; if you’re looking for a beautiful place to stay above 12k’ in Colorado and don’t mind not having electricity or running water then WPH is a rippingly good choice.
The two unusual pieces of race prep & execution this year were the experimentation with fat adaption, which made race day nutrition pretty much stress free, and the power of community.
Fat adaption starts with the idea that most of us privileged First World denizens eat a carbohydrate rich diet and focus on specific carb intakes on race day, but it’s not the ideal or only way to fuel for performance.
By slowly adapting your body to burn fats instead of carbs you can burn longer, stronger, and cleaner. It’s a fairly complex topic and it did take some significant lifestyle changes (what you eat, when you eat it, and education as to why it works) but it worked very well for me.
As a teaser, for the entire 100 mile race I ate 2 GUs, 4 bananas, 4 cups of ramen noodles in chicken stock, and a handful of chips. I drank water (20 oz of water to 1/4 tsp salt) throughout, but that was it.
That’s all that powered me through almost 30 hours of steady energy output above 9,000′ elevation. I had no GI issues, energy never dropped radically, and I felt strong throughout. In fact, from mile 60 I started to gain in strength and speed while my heart rate dropped down below 140.
I did slow down in the last 5 or 6 miles, but hell, I never ran more than 26 miles in training so 95+ miles was new territory for me.
If you’d like to know more about fat adaption for endurance performance I strongly suggest checking out Barry Murray’s viewpoint, here. We did a podcast for the Paleo Treats show a while ago and I was so intrigued I followed up by hiring his services for Leadville.
Barry was kind enough to take me on as a short term case (less than 2 years of fat adaption and not a full time athlete) and his advice & diet plan were integral to my success at Leadville. He is a wizard out on the bleeding edge of nutritional performance and I’m grateful for his help.
The other big piece that I underestimated was the power of community. The past two years (2013 & 2014) it’s just been Lee crewing me. Lee is awesome, and the fault for not finishing those 2 previous years was entirely mine. Realizing that I was putting a lot of work on Lee to crew the race, this year we called for reinforcements and had my sister, her boyfriend, as well as my Mom come out along with 2 friends (Dave Rutherford & Shauna Sledge) to pace me from mile 60 on.
That made a HUGE difference; all that energy and love at each of the aid stations was a strong rallying cry, and it allowed me to focus more on the race and less on the struggle. Having someone to chat with during the second half of the race made it easier to keep going, and I treasure the conversations I had deep in the wee hours of the night with my pacers.
I wish I had more wisdom to give, but as I said before, success doesn’t teach as much as failure, and I’m thankful that this time I succeeded at a tough race. Should you or anyone you know have any questions about Leadville prep please feel free to reach out.