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. 

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