Monday, June 23, 2014

The Leadville Marathon

The Leadville Marathon started as an experiment... my brain works in mysterious ways and the Leadville Marathon sounded like the perfect training run as I focus on altitude and technical trail training for the TransRockies Run in August. As race day approached, I realized this was a challenge on its own and to call it a "training run" was underestimating the altitude, the mountains, the trails and the overall Leadville race experience.

Unlike your typical marathon, the Leadville Marathon is run primarily on Jeep roads and technical (and steep) single track. As you may also know, Leadville sits at an elevation of 10,152 feet. It is the highest incorporated city, the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States and the lowest point of this challenging marathon course. 

On race morning, I woke up and had a light breakfast. Drove to the start line and got situated with plenty of time to spare. My race strategy had been thrown out the window when race organizers did some last-minute changes to the course since there was still too much snow on some sections. I still decided to gauge my speed/effort on the original course's splits even though I would not find an aid station at those mile markers. 

At the start line... Amazing backdrop!  
The race started right on time and without wasting much time, we started going up... In less than 3 miles we had already gained 800ft. I hit my first virtual checkpoint a few minutes ahead of schedule and continued to push through the climb. I had a hard time finding a rhythm as my heart rate seemed to be getting out of control, but I felt good to not be struggling (read: breathing obnoxiously loud) as many of the other runners. I had to power hike some of the steeper sections, but was always able to pick up the pace when the terrain flattened a bit.   

After a grueling 6+ mile climb where we reached almost 12,000ft, I finally had some time to have some fun with a small 2.5  mile descent. This went by quickly and sooner than expected I was starting to climb again. After a steep 1.5 mile climb and a short 1-mile descent I reached the 10 mile marker... it was time to tackle the 3.5 mile climb to the top of  Mosquito Pass. The first mile or so didn't seem as steep and I maintained a respectable pace. As I gained elevation, the trail became steeper, the air became thinner and the views... well, the views were just breathtaking (literally). I felt as if I had slowed down to a crawl, but I continued to put one foot in front of the other... Sooner than expected (but 3 minutes behind schedule), I reached the summit. 

Mosquito Pass Summit at 13,185 ft. 
The run downhill was supposed to be fun... but trying to run down with a 30mph freezing headwind on a trail that seemed like a scree field was no walk in the park. I averaged 11 min/miles coming down which seemed faster than many people as I passed plenty on this section. And sadly, the descent ended fast. With this being an out-and-back course, I did a small 1-mile climb and then sprinted down the 1.5 steep road (it was just a dirt road, so I was able to pick up the pace nicely in this section). Unfortunately, little did I know that the first 2.5 mile descent that I had enjoyed so much on the way out was steeper going up than it felt when bombing down it a few hours earlier. This is when I saw multiple people sitting on the side of trail just catching their breath. I, again, felt like I had slowed down to a crawl but gracefully continued to put a foot in front of the other. 

Some more views coming down from the pass.
I reached the aid station at mile 21 with what I thought was a tight window to meet my 6h40m goal. But, it was downhill time! I felt like nothing could stop me and I just bombed down the hill as fast as I could. I averaged an 8:50 min/mile somewhere around mile 23 and felt better than ever. As I continued to run down, I remembered a short 3/4 mile descent after mile 2.5 of the race so I was expecting a small climb before the 2.5 descent to the finish. I again found people on the side of the trail trying to pull it together to get to the top of this last hill... I tried to give some words of encouragement and continued on. 

The last 2.5 miles were just slightly under 10 min/mile average, but my legs were wanting to cramp... I decided on a conservative approach because I just wanted to finish in one piece. I crossed the finish line in 6h33m13s: a whole 7 minutes faster than what I had hoped for originally and I was ecstatic. It had been an amazing experience, an incredible challenge and I had done better than expected... Oh, and I never hit a wall. What else could a girl ask for?!

Happy finisher! 
My trustworthy gear: 
Shoes: Asics Nimbus Gel 14
Socks: CEP Compression Socks
Shorts: Nike Tempo
T-Shirt: Nike
Hydration: Nathan Torchlight Intensity
Fuel: Honey Stinger Acai-Pomegranate Gels and Salt Tabs

I highly recommend this race for anyone who's up for a real challenge! The views are TOTALLY worth it. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Preparing for high altitude running.

The lowest point of the Leadville Marathon sits at 10,200ft. And this is the start and finish line. This only means one thing. 26 miles of the 26.2 miles happen between 10,200 and 13,200 feet of elevation.

While I do make a point to head up to the mountains regularly, it doesn't happen as much as I'd want to. And I'm mostly stuck training at 5,200ft. It's a good start for sure... as most people can't even say they train at this elevation but what happens when your race is up there and you're stuck down here? Here are a few pointers based on what I've read and studied to execute at elevation.

1. Go on feel (like my coach Eric would say). This means, run by effort, not by pace. This is when training with a heart rate monitor would be helpful since you'll be able to better measure your effort level. You will usually run slower at elevation and you want your heart rate to be your guide. Start off easy, and if you're feeling good, you can slowly increase your intensity.

2. Do hill workouts. If you're running at high altitude, most likely you'll me running in hilly terrain. This means lots of uphills and lots of downhills. It's incredibly helpful to do one hill-focused workout a week (or two) to work on your form and learn how to "tackle" the hills more efficiently. Sometimes, even when I do longer easy runs, I try to push on the uphills. Just to practice.

3. Drink plenty of fluids. The air is drier at elevation so you'll need about twice as much water than you do at sea level. Staying hydrated is key to allow your body to adjust more easily... and recover faster.

4. Acclimatization... or not. Let's be realistic, while we'd all love to head up to the mountains for a 2-week vacation before our race and to get acclimated, most of us are "weekend warriors" and can't really afford to do so. It takes roughly 10 days for your body to adjust by producing more red-blood cells (which are the ones that carry oxygen). On the flip side, if you head up less than 24hrs from your event, you'll feel better. It takes 1 or 2 days for your body to start feeling the side effects of altitude. The most common side effects would be nausea, fatigue, trouble sleeping.

That's all for today... I'm off to drink some more water!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Up Next: Leadville Marathon

I signed up for Leadville Marathon on the day that registration opened. I truly didn't know if this was an event that sold out like the 100-miler and I really wanted to get in. Part of the TransRockies Run course goes on the Leadville series trails and since I don't want to wear myself out with a 50-miler, I signed up for the marathon to check it out.

While I had heard it was a hard marathon, I never really realized how hard. As race day approaches, I started looking into it and started by looking at last year's results (HERE) and realized what I was up against. The fastest female ran it 4h40m last year which is an average of 10:40 mins/mile. This just means one thing. This marathon is not only hard. It's BRUTAL.

Not beginner-friendly course. 
I continued on by reading multiple race reports from previous years and they all seemed to agree on one thing: this is the hardest marathon they've ever done (some say, it's the second hardest in the country with the first one being Pikes Peak Marathon). After reading and researching, I finally came up with my very own goals/strategy. I know... you may say I'm crazy and I should just aim to finish, but I need to have something to shoot for.

Here's what I came up with:

I have divided the race as follows (see map below as reference) which seems to break down to very doable distances if tackled one at a time:
1. Start to Aid #1 (A) - 3.8 miles. Slightly uphill (partly paved).
2. Aid #1 (A) to Aid #2 (A) - 3.3 miles. Loop around Ball Mountain.
3. Aid #2 (A) to Aid #3 (B) - 2.7 miles. Downhill to the base of Mosquito Pass.
4. Aid #3 (B) to Aid #4 (C) - 3.3 miles. Up to summit of Mosquito Pass.
5. Aid #4 (C) to Aid #5 (B) - 3.3 miles. Downhill to base of Mosquito Pass.
6. Aid #5 (B) to Aid #6 (A) - 2.7 miles. Slightly uphill.
7. Aid #6 (A) to Aid #7 (A) - 3.3 miles. Loop backwards around Ball Mountain
8. Aid #7 (A) to Finish - 3.8 miles. All downhill from here!

Marathon follows the blue line only. It's an out and back and we go through Aid "A" 4 times. 
Now on to the details of each of the 8 legs:

Leg 1 - With 1,500ft of gain in just 3.8 miles. I am aiming to get to aid 1 in 60 minutes.
Leg 2 - The Loop around Ball seems to be half up, half down. With that in mind, I plan to run 3.3 miles in 45 minutes.
Leg 3 - As the downhill continues and the one and only flat section of he course makes an appearance, I plan on running at a steady pace the whole way to Aid B and get there within 30 minutes.
Leg 4 - Up to Mosquito Pass. This will be a hike! With 3.3 miles to the top, my goal is to summit in 1h15m.
Leg 5 - Downhill from the summit! While I don't plan on blowing up my quads, I would definitely want to give it a good shot at catching up. 45 minutes for the descent (I've heard it's technical).
Leg 6 - Again the shortest leg of the course, but a flat that turns to up. Hopefully not too steep so I can push through most of it and get back to Aid A in 40 minutes.
Leg 7 - Another Loop around Ball giving myself an extra 15 minutes from the first time since I'll most likely be tired. 60 minutes for this loop.
Leg 8 - With 3.8 downhill miles to go, I will aim to cautiously run them in 45 minutes.

This adds up to a finish time of 6 hours and 40 minutes which is an average pace of 15:23 min/mile. But the big picture analysis tells me, I should conservatively aim for a sub 7h finish. Anything between 6h40m and 7h is completely acceptable while anything below it is an above-and-beyond, killer performance.

Off to walk the pup... :)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Spring Run Off!

The "epicness" of races is so easy to remember... but it's hard to remember how hard the race actually is. Usually, the more epic, the harder it is. But when signing up for a race, I tend to forget how hard a race is... despite how epic I remember it being.

The Vail 10k Spring Run Off is the race I'm speaking of. With just over 1,600ft of gain in 6.9 miles, this is one of the hardest 10k races I've ever done. Especially when you consider most of it is well over 8,000ft.

The course is slightly technical with roughly 40% of the course being run on steep single track (either goes up or down), 40% on wide resort service roads, 10% goes straight up (or down) a ski run (on grass) and the last 10% on paved path/road.

I showed up late afternoon on Saturday to pick up my packet after an early work day in Taos, NM and a long 7hr drive from Taos to Vail. I was dealing with a migraine (most likely due to dehydration) when I went to bed and wasn't sure what to expect of this run. The past couple weeks have consisted of 10 days at the beach in the BVI's....

Yeah... we sailed and drank lots of beer. 
... and a week of TRYING to get back into running/training mode. My training week last week consisted of:
Tuesday - 5.5 miles in Speedwork with EK Team. (9:02 min/mile avg including warm-up/cool-down)
Wednesday - 16 miles on road bike
Thursday - 8 miles on trail. 600ft of gain (lame) at an avg of 10:20 min/mile. Lungs ACTUALLY hurt.
Friday - Morning 5.5 miles around Boulder Rez at an avg of 9:32 min/mile. Still felt slow, but MUCH better.
Saturday - Day Off
Sunday - Spring 10k Run Off.

Let me tell you this- The first few runs after a running break (regardless of it being 10 days or 10 months) will suck. I may as well take a 5 year break. The 4th or 5th run back  though, you start to feel as your old self again. I never thought I'd push through 8 on Thursday, but glad I did.

As I was getting ready to start the race, my Garmin died. #EndOfWorld. Ok, not really. I still decided to just push through it and see where that took me. I did get a chance to pull up the elevation profile from last year's race from my Garmin account since it wasn't posted on the website. I was glad to see the general picture of 4 big climbs:

This made it much easier for me to stay in the game (mentally). I tried to maintain a conservative pace on the downhills as I didn't want to blow up my quads. Off we go... Jog for 1/2 a mile, power hike. Easy run down. On to the second climb- power hike, jog down. On to the third- power hike, jog down (picked up pace). On to the fourth- power hike. Gosh was I slow... Well, thankfully, I didn't have my Garmin and I couldn't see how SLOW I was going, so I just figured that as long as a I put a foot in front of the other. I'd get there. The 4th climb is the shortest (although steepest) so I saw the aid station at the top quite fast. I snapped a quick pic at the end of the climb...

Gorgeous views of the Gore Range

... and as you can see from the runner in the picture, it just starts going down. All the way down to the finish. I, again, picked up the pace. I'm sure I was running in the high 7's, but that's just an assumption since I didn't have my watch (actually, it may have been slower since I was WAY tired, but let's just pretend I was FLYING down the mtn). I finished in 1h27m23s which is 12 minutes faster than last year. I will call it good.

Today, I managed to run 8.5 miles despite my sore quads and butt... I plan on a quality speedwork with Team EK tomorrow, ride on Wednesday and one short, mellow run on either Thursday or Friday before the Leadville Marathon on Saturday. I have figured out a strategy and will post details about it tomorrow.

Gorgeous run today with Linds and her co-worker Viki
What's been your biggest struggle getting back into training after a vacation or a short or long break?