Sunday, July 4, 2010

Leadville Trail Marathon

Abstract version: heck of a race, beautiful scenery, finished in 5:18.

Long version (with a ton of pictures):
           For reasons I cannot remember, I decided it would be fun to run the Leadville Trail Marathon in Colorado this summer. I love Colorado, and hope to live there some day soon...but that really is no reason to sign up for such a ridiculous race. Nevertheless, when I told my family that I planned on running it, everyone scurried out to Colorado to enjoy a week in the mountains with me before the race (have I mentioned I have an awesome, supportive family?).

Normally I try not to post too many pre-race details, but there were a few things going on which prevented me from feeling entirely confident the night before the race. In order of events.... On Wednesday, I fell hard on a boulder in a stream and sprained my wrist (I know, it's just a wrist...I don't run with it). I continued to hurt it by accidentally putting pressure on it, and I was stuck with an ace bandage and a lot of aspirin. On Thursday, I went hiking and rolled my ankle, which left me cringing every so often if I put weight on it the wrong way. On Friday, my family and I headed to Rocky Mountain National Park which resulted in sitting 9 hours in the car, and dealing with a nasty stomach bug of some kind. Errr, we'll call it serious GI distress. Everyone knew my wrist hurt (duh), but I didn't mention my ankle because I didn't want anyone fretting over it...there was nothing to be done. I just had to hope and pray it healed. The stomach issues though were a serious problem. I drank 6 (20oz) bottles of water and didn't have to pee at all, thanks to being completed dehydrated. I was exhausted and felt horrible, a long day in the car not helping any. I finally managed to eat a legit pasta dinner and drink 32 oz of gatorade, which did not stay in my stomach for very long. I went to bed thinking that Saturday was going to be completely up in the air.

Saturday morning (race day): First things first, check the wrist....good!!! Not completely healed, but I don't think I need to wear the ace bandage...which means I can use my handheld instead of the camelback! Sweet. Ankle test: stand on bad foot for 5 seconds; fail. Bummer. I could tolerate it for about 3 seconds before it really started to hurt. At least it isn't sprained or anything. I down some pb&j on a bagel, and find myself rushing to the bathroom. DANG IT! I've never had tummy issues in a race, I really didn't want to start today. I just have to hope it calms down eventually.

Mommy drove me to the start of the race, which was less than 45 minutes away (35, the way my mom drives in the mountains!). I'm so thankful for her serious crewing abilities, she's always on the ball. I picked up my registration from the gym, hit the bathroom again (not good), headed to a grocery store to get a banana (which I forgot to pack), had to use the bathroom again (still not good), decided I couldn't stomach the banana, opted for some G2 instead. Headed to the starting line and waited in the longest porta-potty line ever for another shot at the bathroom (still bad news there). Alright, enough about going potty. I had my Garmin queued up, had to snap a picture of the elevation (10,201 ft).

Mom takes a  quick picture with the awesome mountains in the background

I made my way to the start line with about 60 seconds to spare. The race director started the race with...a rifle! Even though I listened to the countdown, the crack of the rifle still startled me.

And we're off! And it's uphill right away! I was so excited that I probably ran a little faster than I should have, but it didn't take long for the altitude to smack me back to reality. 

It wasn't very steep, or maybe it was...I don't know. I had to walk after about .5 mile.

The half marathoners peeled off after 1.25 miles, and the marathoners took a hard right which led straight uphill. There was hardly any running for the next few miles, it seemed like everything was straight up. My breathing was a little labored, but mostly I couldn't make my legs run up that steep of a climb. Everyone was walking, but they were walking a heck of a lot faster than me. How do they do that??

Mile 4 completely sucked, there was a really steep climb...which is probably why it took 17:19 to complete. Getting the gist of the race yet? Somewhere along here I got passed by an older lady who reminded me of Joan Benoit-Samuelson. She had short white hair and was wearing a hot pink shirt and a hat, which is exactly what she was wearing when I saw her in DC back in March. I decided to aptly name her "Mountain Joan" because she was kicking my butt.

Somewhere between mile 4 and 5 there was an aid station, which was set up exactly like an ultra-aid station with all real food and multiple beverages (to include flat coke). 

It was then that I realized my stomach was fine and I didn't have any more "emergency cramping" going on. I was hungry, so I took a banana. Very bad idea. The banana turned in to a giant ball of pain intent on ruining what little ability I had to breath. Thankfully there were no g.i. issues, but the cramping wasn't fun either.
 We really started seeing some amazing scenery, I just love being in the mountains. I made quick friends with a guy, and it happened to be his birthday. We snapped pictures for each other and continued onward. 

Birthday Dan and I talked about last year's winning time (3:30), and how frightening it is that both of our marathon PRs are faster than the winning time. Eventually I left birthday Dan (probably on the downhill) and was hit in the face with more uphill. It was absolutely beautiful though, hard to complain! 

It was scary seeing the little tiny dots of runners wayyyy ahead running uphill.

Snow! If we hadn't had such a bad winter in DC, I would probably be more excited by this. I tried to get a girl to go jump in it so I could take a picture, and she actually mulled it over (though later declined).

We headed through a single-track on the side of a mountain, which was absolutely terrifying to look down. Good thing I'm not afraid of heights, and I know how to tuck & roll! 

Booo on this climb...

Finally we had a nice 3 mile downhill section, and I took it for all it was worth (after turning around to take a picture, of course). I was surprised that I was passing pretty much everyone in sight, and no one was keeping up with me. Since when did I get so good at running down hill? Hmm. This must be recent. 

We hit the intersection which merged us back on trail with the half-marathoners, which meant we were beginning our ridiculous climb up to Mosquito pass (13,200ft elevation). I knew this was going to be tough, but I completely underestimated just how hard it would be. I thought it was only a 1.5 mile climb, but that's because I'm silly sometimes. It was definitely 3 miles, straight up to the sky. At first I felt like I could hold a decent pace (sub 19:00/mile), but it was exhausting. My legs were on fire and I was completely out of breath. The wind picked up and the temperature drastically dropped, as only mountain air can do. I was completely shivering, but I managed to focus on other things to keep my mind off of it (like all of the loose rocks I was tripping over...). The halfers were coming down the decent, so I tried my best to stay out of there way. I know how hard it is to run down a steep, rocky path with stupid runners unwilling to move over. Unfortunately, they ran all over the place and I couldn't tell which way to run in order to stay out of the way. I finally gave up and just walked straight up. 

I think I ended up around a 25:00 pace on this section, just looking at it makes my legs weep openly. Breathing wasn't an issue, I couldn't walk fast enough to get my heart rate up. The sky was playing tricks with me here, it was like someone was holding a flashlight and kept waving their hand in front of the light beam. One second it was sunny, the next instant it was cloudy, then sunny, then get the picture. Just a reminder, it was freaking cold!

It took me about an hour to get to the stop (miles 10-13), but I finally made it. Mosquito pass! Why it is named that, I do not know. I didn't see any mosquitos (thankfully). It was so sweet to see the little aid station at the top, I sighed with relief. 

Most people stopped long enough to have someone take their picture, it did feel pretty monumental to get up that beast. 

At this point I started thinking about how many women might be ahead of me, and I decided to run down and find out. I had been "chasing" (not that I was trying to catch them) 2 women on the way up, one was dubbed "Tights" due to her compression outfit choice, the other was "Skirt" (gee, wonder why). Tights was not very friendly at all, I tried talking to her and she had no interest. I happily left her behind and chased down Skirt, who was doing an impressive job of rock-hopping on the way down. It took me a full 1.5 miles to catch her, even though she was only 15 yards ahead of me. I rolled my bad ankle at some point, which was a little too painful. I sucked it up and kept going, and rolled it again about .15 later. Doh! Come on! I tried to shake it out, and just keep going. I was glad that I hadn't even though of my ankle up until that point. Good thing I didn't have to balance on my foot for 5 seconds (which is a terrible test for running, apparently). 
I started getting really pissed at all of the people who wouldn't get out of my way. There was very little terrain which was mostly free of rock, and they wouldn't give it up to the downhill runners. The rocks were so slippery. If your foot didn't slip on the surface of the rock, the rock would slide under the weight of your foot. I can't count how many times I rock-surfed. 

Pause for a scenic photo op...

I caught Skirt girl when it leveled out a little and there weren't many loose rocks to trip me up. We chatted for a bit, and she told me she's really good on the crazy technical stuff, but otherwise she isn't very fast. I wished her luck and sped on by. I made it all the way down somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 minutes, which was pretty sweet considering how long it took to get up there...and this CRAP we were running on!

After making it through an aid station the marathoners were on their own again. At this point, it got very quiet and remote. I didn't see very many people, though I somehow caught up to a lot of people. Miles 18-20 were completely awful. It was all uphill (remember that 3 mile section I flew down earlier? Hmph. Had to go back up). There wasn't any running until we hit the single track at 21, and even then the running was only for about 50 meters at a time. Every time I felt discouraged by how awful my legs felt, I would take a picture of something scenic. 



and then...

I paused to pick a wildflower (I know, bad Amy!). It made me feel better. 

We came to an aid station around mile 22, and I decided to put the camera away and focus on all of the downhill we were about to hit. Mind you, every mile still had some sort of climb in it which was rather discouraging. The entire race was either straight uphill or straight downhill, there was very little moderate ground. It was almost easier to deal with because I didn't have to think about whether I should run or not. If it was up, I walked...if it was down, I ran. A couple of times I ran a few yards on the uphill just to change up my stride and make my body appreciate the walking a little more :) 

Now we're talking! I was flying down the last 3 miles. My legs hated me, but they really had no choice. I consider my form more of a free-fall with really good brakes. We didn't have any more incidents (my feet and I), which was pretty miraculous. I passed a lot of guys who were either nursing a recent fall or running slow because they were so afraid of falling. Don't judge, it was rough stuff. I think I was pretty dumb and lucky for making it down the way I did. 

The pain in my legs was intense, the stomach cramp never quite went away. It may have been a cramp from lack of oxygen, which is somewhat believable given the ridiculous altitude. I felt more mentally strong at the end of this race than I have in a very, very long time. I obviously wasn't trying to snag a PR, so what happened? I think I realized why I picked this race... I want to know more about myself as a runner. I learn more about ME by learning more about my running. This was a very hard test for me, and there isn't a single thing I would've done differently (well, perhaps I'd skip the banana next time). I was in control of my race, even though the mountain was in control of my legs. Sometimes I really hate my big legs, but then I think about the fact they carry me through some ridiculous crap and are ready to go the next time the gun goes off. 

The last mile was an antsy mile. I just wanted to be done! We hit asphalt .75 from the finish, and it KILLED my feet. Holy crap. I'm starting to get why ultra marathoners hate the road so much. That sucked. Nevertheless, it was downhill so I obliged the hill master and let my legs roll. As I approached the finish I didn't hold back at all. They announced my name and everyone cheered. 

The second I crossed, my family was there waiting to fix whatever was broken. I am happy to say that I took more from this race than I gave, and I feel like a much stronger runner for it. 

I walked around later to figure out if I'd placed (2nd AG, 8th OA), and I saw a guy I'd been running with for a mile or two. His knees were covered in blood as he sat on the curb. I suddenly noticed that everyone who was sitting on the curb of the road had bloody knees and were waiting for medical attention. I love my legs even more for that. 

I probably won't ever do this race again, but it was a very special memory. It will be up there with my favorite races of all times, because it leaves a lasting impression of what I accomplished and how few would ever try.

Mile splits for those who are interested in just how ugly this looked: 
1- 10:16
2- 14:16
3- 13:14
4- 19:19
5- 13:05
7- 08:00
8- 08:13
9- 07:31
10- 9:54
14&15-17:03 (forgot to hit lap)
16- 8:15
17- 10:09
18- 15:57
19- 13:52
20- 15:47
21- 8:55
23- 11:08
24- 9:40
25- 7:45
26.2- 7:29 (totally ran mid 6's for the last mile!)



  1. Wow I loved reading that race recap. That sounds so mentally tough, not just physical. I can't imagine how long it would have taken me to finish some of those miles since I can't even run a flat sub-8 mile! Great job and great race to add to your list of accomplishments :D

    big legs = strong legs :D

  2. What with the ankle and GI stuff, a lot of people would not have even started this race, yet you placed! I like the descriptions. Those loose rocks sound awful. Great job Amy!

  3. You're insane. Great report. I am not sure how you do it. Awesome job.

  4. Amazing Amy! I used to live and run in Aspen, and was always in awe of runners who run that marathon. Congrats on running such a hard, brave race! Love the pics~ CONGRATS!
    Tara (Betaboo)

  5. Amy, A great result given what your body experienced going into the race. The pictures make me want to do this race one day, but those altitude numbers kind of scare me. Do you think the week of acclimation helped? Had you run at altitude previously? As a sea level South Floridian, I'm curious.

  6. Great job, Amy! Mountain running is definitely a whole different beast, and you tackled the beast magnificently. (Heck...I think I might even consider this race next year for the experience.) Awesome job.

  7. Thanks everyone! I wish more people could experience it in person, but since I seem to be the most prone to signing up for ridiculous races, we'll see what's next.

    Bill- I grew up in Florida, and now am living near DC (still at sea level). Birthday Dan was actually from Orlando as well. I think the week was vital for me to get used to strenuous exercising at altitude- I would definitely recommend going out there and hiking a lot the week before. You have to get used to breathing heavy and moving forward in spite of the lack of oxygen! Honestly though, after the first mile or two in to the race I totally forgot about altitude...the climbing was totally distracting.

  8. You rock Amy! Looking at your splits and knowing how fast you are certainly puts the race in perspective. Congratulations on another great race!

  9. Amy - great job, great pics! You are a stud! Loved the report. Always good reading from you. I hope you are recovering just fine.

  10. WOWWWWW!!! Amazing, Amy. It's funny to me you got all these pictures and still did so well. I really enjoyed the writing and how you describe coming to apppreciate your legs. Nicely done!

  11. Great Race Recap, the pictures are phenomenal. Congratulations! My legs hurt just reading this! ;)

  12. Wow! Awesome job and lovely pictures. To answer your comment on my blog, I think trail running is about 10x more fun. I'll probably attempt a faster road marathon next fall (I really wanna try and break 3:10 before I attempt to get my Boston revenge) but we'll see!

  13. Love this report! And such great pictures! :)

    Thanks for commenting on my blog! I'll keep you posted! And from one trail runner to another; trail running pretty much rocks!!! :)

  14. Britt- I'm right there with ya, hoping to break 3:10 in Chicago this year.

    Silly Girl- I'm not quite a trail runner yet, we'll see what happens :) And don't ever invite me to join you for a race overseas, because I will.