Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Trail Runner's High: Leadville Marathon non-Race Report

6 weeks since the Jemez 50 Miler in New Mexico, and things weren't looking too bright for my immediate running future. Remember that heel pain I was complaining about during my last race report? You know, the pain from the overly-aggressive trashcan that ran over my foot? Well, it was a lot worse than I had anticipated.

Immediately after Jemez I sat my happy but on the couch for a bit, giving myself some much deserved down time. After a week I tried squeezing in a 5 mile run, but limped home in pain. I repeated this process for a couple of weeks, and finally realized I was screwed and absolutely could not run. It wasn't the running that was the problem, it was wearing shoes that did me in. Anything that rubbed against the back of my heel caused an intense pain that wouldn't abate. I saw an Ortho who gave me a silicon pad thingy to place over the sore spot. When that didn't work, he referred me to an awesome Chiropractor who performed ART and electrotherapy. 4 session and $$$ later, I was feeling much better. 

To stay somewhat active Bryan convinced me to go to Muay Thai practice, which I admit is rather fun (for those who don't know, Muay Thai is in essence, Thai kickboxing...only legit- not like the crap classes they offer at LA Boxing). I had no idea I would enjoy kicking things so much (often times the recipient is Bryan). It's a great workout that is non-stop cardio with a lot of intensity. While I have no plans of ever being a Muay Thai fighter, I definitely am enjoying myself on the mat. Annnyways, back to running. 

I was able to run 5 miles 5 days in a row after a week of ART sessions, though the heel was still not quite better. It turns out I ruptured my bursa (a fluid-filled sac that protects the Achilles tendon), and consequently there was nothing protecting the tendon from the pressure of my shoe. To be clear, I did not injure my AT...but it probably could've reached that point had I left it untreated much longer). 

The Fam
The family headed out to Colorado a week before the race to start our awesome vacation. We hiked, biked, drank, spent way too much time in the hot was fabulous. I had a scare with my heel after a slow 5 mile trudge at 9,000ft elevation, but after a quick ice massage it seemed to be a little better. At this point I was still debating whether I should run the marathon or not...

Run a marathon off of 63 total miles in the past 6 weeks of "training"? Or more importantly, run a marathon with the potential of re-aggravating my heel? 

Leading up to Saturday, the signs of injury continued to diminish. I decided on Thursday that I should definitely run the race, though I certainly wouldn't be racing. I was somewhat frustrated as I had originally hoped to beat my time from last year (5:18), which I felt I was setup to do after the past few months of racing. 
Running through a forest of Aspen trees....lovely

On Wed. afternoon Bryan and I drove through Leadville on our way to Aspen. I stopped in the Leadville 100 shop to finally pick up my award from last year (a sweet gold mining pan thingy). We were greeted by a barrage of packet-stuffing fury, so we stuck around to help stuff the race bags until we ran out of supplies. We stopped at the store again on Friday to actually pick up my bib, which was one to many trips to Leadville for Bryan =) 

Anywhoo, on to the race...which is the only reason you're reading this anyways. 

Saturday, July 2nd: 

My usual partner in crime, Matt, flew out from VA to join me on another epic mountain adventure. This would be his first race at altitude, and his first ever trip to Colorado. I absolutely love sharing the mountains with people (but not too many, can't be crowding my mountain) so I was excited to have him along. 

We stayed up late the night before eating and drinking wine, watching a little Archer, and talking about everything but the race. Finally around 11pm I decided to get my crap together and get ready for bed. For those who are new to marathons (or have yet to run a marathon), you can definitely get to the point where you don't flip out before every race. Only some races ;)

Saturday morning we hit the road for the scenic 40 minute drive to Leadville. We were staying in Frisco, which is my home away from home away from home (not sure how many homes removed it is). The logistics for this race are heavenly. We pulled in to a parking lot directly in front of the start/finish area and headed in to the high school gym to do the leap frog bathroom line (go to the bathroom, get in the back of the line again, repeat until the start of the race). I was tickled to meet a woman (Donna) who recognized me from last year's Leadville race report on my blog. She was nervous about her first Leadville--hope you had a great time, D!

At the starting line...
I performed the usual bodyglide/sunscreen ritual and placed a completely inadequate bandage over the sad spot on my heel for a token placebo effect. After stuffing my new favorite thing ever (Nathan Intensity Pack) with all of my other new favorite things (Cliff Shots- Vanilla flavored, Honey Stinger waffles, Honey Stinger strawberry chews, and of course...Fig Newtons), I felt confident that I would not be lacking in the nutrition department.

So, instead of writing a typical super long-worded race report, I'm going to fill the page with photos taken throughout the race. Since I wasn't really racing, it's better this way...ehh?

Starting elevation: 10,190ft...hooray
Just before the crack of the gun...a real gun, FYI...
 The race starts off with about a mile uphill on a paved road, and the climb continues from there through mile 5. By far the quietest part of the race, with everyone figuring out their groove (and whether they feel like socializing with the other runners). Matt and I took it pretty easy, trying to adjust to the altitude without completely destroying our chances of finishing in remotely good shape.

The view up ahead...

The view behind...

Mining things

Up, up, up and away!

Matt, not quite tired...yet


More mining things

Aid station #1

Mmmm....melons. Big & juicy. 

Matt doesn't quite hate me at this point.

Before long, we made it to my absolute favorite part of the race (the base of Ball Mountain--which peaks at 12,000 ft). I mean, c'mon...look at these views! I still feel it's lacking a moose or something. 

Long trail of runners

Deceptively slippery snow

Can't pass up the chance for a snow angel in July!

One slight step to the right...wooosh! Gone.

Happy me, running downhill. Sort of. 

Continuing the downhill party...though it's about to change.

Yay mining thingies

After coming out of the aid station at the base of Mosquito pass, things sobered up drastically. The experienced  Leadville runners knew the pains of climbing Mosquito pass, while the newbies set off with a sense of dread (or complete ignorance).

Things are getting wet & wild from the snow melt

Matt...still not quite hating me

                                                                               Because everyone has time for a photo montage on a mountain

A 3 mile climb that takes well over an hour, but the views are spectacular

Mile 1: (or, mile 10 rather) 453ft climb, 17:54 split

Yup, there it is...Matt hates me finally.

Mile 2: 771ft climb, 23:38

Little Aid Station 2/3 the way up

 C'mon!! Isn't this worth the pain?

It's starting to get a little tricky to maneuver with all of the folks coming downhill...They definitely deserve the right of way, but the rocks are so tough to navigate around it's hard to predict where they'll place their footing

By now the legs are burning, breathing is nearly non-existent, and it seems like I'll never reach the top. Somehow it never really discouraged me, perhaps the past year of some seriously tough trail runs has roughed me up enough. I felt stronger on the climb than I did last year, though after looking back at my splits for 2010 it seems I had identical pacing up Mosquito Pass. Interesting. Last year I was completely miserable though, and this year I felt pretty decent. I was a little sad at how many girls were ahead of me (at least 15 at this point), and most of them didn't look like they belonged in front of me...but I reminded myself I was not racing and to just let them go. I shouted encouragement at all of the girls, some responding while others focused intently on their footing. I realized they were so far ahead of me at this point I couldn't catch them if I tried.
One of the last switchbacks up to the top.

 Oh what sweet, sweet silhouettes to behold!
Mile 3: 704 ft climb, 22:38 (including messing around at the top to take pictures)
Matt reaching the top just behind me.

 I don't know what we were doing, but it felt like we needed a picture of something after that climb!
13,219 ft...though the sign said 13,185. I think my Garmin was getting a little high...

Last shot before heading back down...

This year perhaps the best part of the race was heading down Mosquito Pass. Mentally I was very prepared for the tough, technical, steep terrain. It wasn't the steepest climb I've ever done, however the added complication of super high altitude made it much more difficult. I thought about the epic 42:00 mile in Jemez climbing up a steep slope, and new that I was mentally in much better shape here than I was in that race. 

I lost track of how many people I passed coming down, but I caught up to at least 5 girls who were wayyyy ahead of me. I completely, utterly, unashamedly tore it up. At one point I came up behind a guy who was doing a good job of picking over the rocks without having to slow down. He laughed and cheered me on, saying I'm the first person to ever pass him coming down the mountain. He stayed right behind me for a bit, but eventually fell back about half way down. The people heading up Mosquito Pass were hooting and hollering for me, I guess it was fairly obvious that I was determined to push it all the way to the bottom. 

My splits from last year heading down the mountain:
8:46,  8:28, 10:11(may have included a stop at the aid station)
Splits from this year:
8:07, 7:25, 7:16--Booya!

The last part of the descent before heading in to the aid station flattens out quite a bit, and it is here that I really start to feel the altitude. I was quickly running out of breath, and slowed down a bit to just coast it in to the aid station.  I fifilled up my Nathan pack for the first and only time in the race, and for those who are skeptical about the complications of a pack at an aid took about 30 seconds to get it filled and re-sealed. Ain't no thang! 

Matt heading in to the aid station at the base of Mosquito

The next few miles were pretty darn rough. My legs were trashed from the long climb and super aggressive descent.  Since this is an out and back course, we knew exactly what we had to deal with for the next 10 miles. Pretty much all walking and a little bit of shuffling :)

Messing around...

Amy in a box!

Taking a minute to enjoy the views

We came back around to Ball Mountain, though this time we looped around in the opposite direction.
Heading back through the snow...slippery coming downhill!

I was feeling pretty terribly by mile 20. Worst of all, my heel wigged out pretty bad by mile 21. It was New Mexico all over again :(  The climing sucked for my muscles, but the pressure on my heel in the back of the shoe was lass than stellar. I kept waiting for the ball to drop and for me to have to really start limping, but it seemed as long as I pushed off more with my left leg and didn't fully extend my right, I could get by. The downhill stuff didn't hurt at all, so I would try catching up to Matt on the downs and let him slide ahead on the ups. Grrrr! Stupid foot. 

I started feeling a little better (muscularly) by mile 23 or so. The foot thing was still a nuisance, but at least I felt like I was capable of running again. 

The last part of the race heads back to town, and as we made our way downhill I saw 3 people just up ahead (maybe .25 mile lead). I realized 2 of them were women, and let the competitive juices kick in. I wasn't tired enough to just let them be, so I informed Matt I had to chase them down (this, after telling him about 5 minutes ago I would kick his butt if he tried to drop 6:30s on the way to the finish).

Matt probably wanted to kill me at this point, but I was determined for us to finish together. We picked up the pace steadily until we started reeling them in. We had a 7:10 mile, followed by a 6:37 pace last half mile...oops. Funny thing was that I felt good. As we approached the finish line I realized I could absolutely keep going, which probably means I was running the race more like a 50 miler than a trail marathon. We crossed the finish line in 6:02, with the commentator saying something about us holding hands. Pretty much everyone thought we were a couple, and seemed to be disappointed that we didn't have a romantic finish. Silly people. 

As soon as we crossed the finish line, B was there along with my brother and a friend, which is always the best part of any race. Having loved ones to share these experiences with is priceless, since they know the struggles you've been through and have pride in your accomplishments--even if it was 44 minutes slower than last year's race. 

I'm sad to be back in Virginia, though happy to report that my heel seems to be completely recovered. I'm running pain free, and still savoring what a great vacation we had. 


  1. I'm glad your heel is feeling better now. Reading this makes me simultaneously want to run it/not want to run it. ; ) Love the mountains but totally suck at running at altitude. Loved reading your recap!

  2. Awesome report. That sounds like a killer race. Congrats on such a strong finish!

  3. Yay Amy! Love all the photos, seeing snow like that is weird and wonderful. But then, so are you. ;) Fabulous job, billy goat girl!

  4. Awesome race report and AMAZING pictures!

    Way to go!

  5. Incredible photos. Very inspiring! Thanks, Amy!

  6. I love your race reports - they make me want to be there! Congrats on a solid run!

  7. Yay! I hope your heel has recovered from the abuse. Looks like you had perfect weather and got to see a whole lot of mining things. :-)

    PS we have a few moose down here in southern CO. There are also quite a few west of Fort Collins.

  8. Thanks for the props, guys. I'm always surprised when people actually read this =)

  9. Amazing scenery! Hope that foot of yours will continue to behave! ;)

  10. I guess all I've been writing is non-race reports! =P And yes, people actually read your blog. Its some good stuff! You're a pretty good writer and an even better runner. I'm sure you'll be running 100-milers like Western States in no time, and kicking some butt while you're at it.

  11. Wow those are some incredibly pictures!!

  12. Hi Amy,

    I am sorry I am leaving a comment, I can't find your email. I am writing you in the hopes that you want to participate in an e-book we are writing about ultra runners.

    We want to tap into the collective craziness (we mean that as a compliment:-)) of this community to challenge and inspire other non-runners to make their own life an ever-greater creative expression of their own goals and dreams… without limits.

    Progress so far: We have currently contacted more than 250 ultra runners and received more than 60 answers.

    We would ask you to answer a question about your experience with ultra running. Please note that these questions are related to your mental state and require that you are able to explain quite specifically what is going on mentally when running.

    If you'd like to participate please shoot me an email at


    All the best,