Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Month in Review (July)

7/2010: 145.0 miles
7/2011: 235.5 miles (46,134 ft vertical)
7/2012: 198.1 miles (39,064 ft vertical)
7/2013: 257.5 miles (53,809 ft vertical)

Well, another month for the record books. I broke both my monthly mileage and my monthly elevation gain PRs that I just set in June. My July numbers aren't that much bigger than June's, but what's impressive to me is that I managed to pull it off with only 4 weekends in July vs. 5 weekends in June. I was a little worried that maybe my training had peaked too early, and that I wouldn't be able to maintain my momentum in July, but luckily I was able to keep pushing for another month. My monthly totals are relatively modest in the grand scheme of things, but I'm confident that the quality of my runs has been high. All on trails, all at 10,000+ ft; with 1-3 very solid efforts each week. I chuckled when I realized that the easiest-- yes, the easiest!-- long run I've run in the last five weeks (!) was a 21-mile, 7,000 ft vertical double crossing of Hope Pass. When that's your "easy" long run, I think you're doing okay...

July '13. Not too shabby.
I think I'm most insecure about my training in July, when I should be reaching my peak. What should I be doing to improve upon an already solid June? I'm always second guessing myself. I think whatever you do, variety is the key. Your body has already adapted to whatever it was you were doing before, so something has to change. I felt yet another ~20 miler with ~4,000 ft of vertical wasn't going to do much. I've been running those since March. I basically had a few choices: 1) go faster, 2) go longer, or 3) go more vertical (verticaler?). The first option would've been smart, but I'm still a wimp when it comes to speed work. It hurts. I couldn't take the second option very far because I had pretty much already exhausted all my free time. Still, by waking up extremely early on the weekends, I was able to tack on a few extra miles to my long runs and push a couple of them into the mid-20's. And, of course, running the Silver Rush 50 certainly helped on the extra-long long run front. But, I put most of my emphasis on the third option: more vertical. I didn't feel super confident in my power hike, so power hiking was the plan, culminating with an Elbert-Massive double last weekend. Additionally, I made sure to put in a solid uphill effort on the day before my long run (excluding races). Those 7-milers are up and down the Powerlines at PR pace. That meant I started the long run the next day with just a touch of fatigue in my legs to better simulate conditions in the 100. So... not exactly back-to-back 20 milers, but I'm pretty happy with the strategy given my available options. I think it may be one of the key components to my training this year that's led to such a surprising improvement.

To cap off the month of July, today I ran one of those dreaded speed workouts I generally try to avoid. 5.6 miles down the Boulevard and back. According to my training log, this was the 75th time I've run that route. I spend a lot of time on it during the winter and in the early spring when all the other options are snowed in. The last time I ran it was late April. The PR I set in August '11 has stood for a long, long time. I couldn't break it last year. Today I shattered it by 4 minutes. I guess all that vertical is paying off!

I'm thoroughly enjoying my taper-- tapering hard, as I like to joke. The little niggles that come with peak training were beginning to accumulate. I was starting to feel sleepy and somewhat lethargic on some of my runs early last week. Luckily, I was able to rally and was really inspired on my last long run-- I never quite burnt out, but I could feel myself getting close. In other words, I'm definitely glad to be tapering. I'm looking forward to recovering and recharging these next couple of weeks. I'll be chomping at the bit on race day, I'm sure. I wouldn't want it any other way. But for now... it's time to relax, don't worry, and have a beer.


The next time I'm on top of Hope Pass it'll be race day! Yeehaw!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stick a fork in me...

...I'm done!

Yesterday was my last big training run. Left the N. Elbert TH at 4am and ran a 26 mile (10,000 ft vertical) figure-8 loop over Elbert and Massive. An awesome, awesome run. Had Elbert all to myself. Jogged everything to treeline. Set a PR to the top. The sunrise at the summit was beautiful. Definitely worth the trip. Finished the loop just as the thunder started. Soaked my legs in Halfmoon Creek and basked in the glow of another season of training: complete. Next week: 70% mileage, one easy 3 hour run. The following week: 50% mileage, one 2 hour run. The week of the 100: a few short jogs.

Let the taper begin! Woo hoo!

Twin Lakes from the shoulder of Mt. Elbert. I made it to the summit just as the sun slipped above the horizon.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Silver Rush 50 Race Report

TL;DNR: 9:02. 1:52 PR. 17% improvement. 52nd place out of 449 runners. WTF?!

The Plan

Even though things have been going extremely well racing-wise for me this year, I approached the 50 with a certain amount of trepidation. I've run six 50 mile races over the years (Silver Rush '10, '11, '12, San Juan Solstice '11, '12, and Devil Mountain '11) and they have all utterly destroyed me. I have battled stomach issues in all of them, always faded badly, and reached the finish line completely spent. A 50 miler is not a marathon. (And I'm certainly not fast enough to fake my way through one.)

Respect the distance.

My results this year have shown excellent improvement in races that last 5 hours or less, but the only time I've raced longer than that (in the Sage Burner 50K), I blew up big time and staggered to the finish, defeated. So, yeah... me: 0, ultra marathons: 1.

Still, I had just managed to set my biggest PR ever (percentage-wise) in the Leadville Marathon two weeks ago. That was definitely a good sign. Applying my improvement in the marathon to the 50 yielded a time of 9:29. That sounded really, really fast to me. That would be a 1 hour and 25 minute improvement over my Silver Rush PR of 10:54 which I set last year.

So, what I finally ended up doing was taking a look at everyone who finished from 9:15 to 10:15 in last year's Silver Rush and averaging all their split times. When I added up the averaged splits I ended up with a time of 9:51. That sounded like a reasonable goal to me. It would require me to run every split faster than I did last year and it would still be over an hour improvement on my previous PR. Plausible. And a respectable result that I could be proud of.

As I expected, the difference between my new goal splits (i.e., the averaged splits) and my previous splits grew wider as the race progressed. I'd only have to run the first split 4 minutes faster, but then the next would require a 17-minute improvement. The third: 16 minutes. And the fourth: a whopping 26 minutes. Strong evidence that I had faded badly-- falling way off the average pace-- when I had run this race previously.

When I took a closer look at the historical splits, I noticed that out of all those finishers (in the 9:15-10:15 range), only 5 (out of 80) had managed to negative split the first (and last) 14 miles of the course. (That's only about 6%.) Since the first split involves 2,000 ft of elevation gain and the last split only involves 1,000 ft, that seemed like it should be possible if you ran a smart race and paced yourself correctly. (Yes, you have 33 miles under your belt when you begin the last split, but come on! That's 10 miles of very runnable downhill.) Of course, any race plan derived from historical averages almost always skews towards running the first half of the race faster than the second half of the race because, well, that's what most people do. I'm a big believer in trying to run even splits (assuming the terrain is comparable-- which it often isn't in trail races), so I kept this sub-goal in the back of my mind. It seemed theoretically possible given the nature of the course, but it would also require me to run the last 14 miles of the course almost an hour faster than I ever have before!

With my specific split times set, my high-level goals for the race remained pretty much unchanged:

  1. Stay hydrated! Drink 20-25 oz of water per hour (depending on the temperature).
  2. Eat! Consume 300 calories per hour, minimum. Generally more earlier on in the race.
  3. Stay cool! Dip my hat in all streams. Run in the shade. Stuff any snow on my head and down the back of my shirt. Pray for cloud cover.

Basically, take care of myself. The rest will follow.

The Taper

This year I've basically come to the conclusion that I cannot sacrifice my long run on the weekend prior to a race. Sure, I might not chose the hardest possible route to run a week out from a race, but it should still be an honest effort. My recovery run/bike on Sunday remains unchanged. Then my taper consists of running lower mileage/easier runs during the week. My weekly mileage should never drop below 50 miles/week and I want to maintain 10,000 ft of vertical minimum per week. These guidelines have served me well so far, keeping my training from fluctuating too much when I'm running non-focus races.

The week between the marathon and the 50 was notable in that it was my second highest mileage week (63.5) and my second highest vertical week (14.2k) for the year. On Friday and Saturday alone I ran ~36 miles and over 10,000 ft of vertical. I did not let my foot off the gas until the following week.

Two old high school friends, Andy and Danielle, and their two girls (ages 7 and 11), arrived on Wednesday evening for a long-awaited visit. I was flattered that they would make the long trek out to Leadville from Michigan to see me. It was so great to hang out with them-- it had been far too long-- and fun to play host while they were in town. On Thursday we went on a short hike up to Opal Lake. On Friday we rafted Brown's Canyon down in Buena Vista. Rafting was a ton of fun-- especially for the girls-- and a great activity for a taper week. I ended up breaking my running streak on Friday-- that is, unless you count walking a half a mile up to the new Two Guns Distillery to have a few shots of locally made whiskey and moonshine as exercise! There just wasn't a logical time for me to run. I briefly contemplated going for a short run after the kids were asleep and my wife had returned from work, but I thought better of it. What the hell good would that do? There would've been no purpose to the run other than to artificially extend the streak. So, yeah... time to start a new streak. On Saturday, my final shake down run was the 1.5 miles from my house to the start line (and back) to pick up my race packet. Andy, Danielle, and the girls went for an enjoyable, meandering horseback ride near Tennessee Pass. One of the side benefits of having such good friends visit is that it completely took my mind off of the race. When they finally returned to their campsite on Saturday evening I only had a few hours to get all my gear together. Oh, yeah, right... I'm running 50 miles tomorrow!

The Race

I woke up at o' dark thirty and instinctively went about my pre-race routine. Having run ~20 miles every weekend since mid-March, I think my body is now programmed to expect a long run every Saturday. When Sunday rolls around and I haven't run yet, it's confused. So, I definitely felt ready. Maybe a little flat simply because I hadn't exercised much during the week, but that's to be expected. You get so used to the "hum" of tired legs that when they're rested they feel strange.

From my yard I could hear the blare of the loudspeakers at Dutch Henry Hill. As I walked on down to the starting line carrying my drop bag, a generous fellow racer offered me a ride. I politely declined, joking that the race wasn't really 50 miles so I was making up some of the distance.

Start to Printer Boy

After chatting with friends and exchanging words of encouragement, we all lined up and the gun went off. I think I power hiked up the hill a bit too hard as I immediately felt a little queasy at the top. I pulled off into the trees to pee and let my heart rate settle a bit. A hundred runners must have passed by. I jogged along slowly, burping, and waiting for my stomach to settle. Around mile 3 or so I finally felt good and settled into a smooth, sustainable uphill pace. Not exactly an auspicious start!

The good news was that my legs felt fine. There was no residual soreness that I could detect-- which is rare during a peak training period. I began passing folks who were hiking the slightly steeper hills. I felt very comfortable around a 10:30 min/mi pace. Miles 4-7 hold a special significance for me as the course intersects a bunch of the local trails I run every week. Boulders, Elk Run, Old Chub. They're like old friends. Visions of trudging along those trails in the winter snow brought to mind just how long I've been training. Months and months of running. It was time to see what these legs could do.

I pulled into the first aid station and refilled my handhelds. 1+ bottle down. Shortly afterwards, I ducked into the aspens for a quick bio break. That cost me ~2-3 minutes, but it was definitely worth it, believe me! Onward and upward. The wild flowers in Iowa Gulch are truly spectacular this year. We ran through fields of purple Columbines. The sky was cloudy and kept things cool. Along the way I waved hello to my neighbors, Greg and Leaf, who are photographing all the races this year. Jokingly, I shouted out, "West 3rd Street! Represent!" and gave an exaggerated fist pump. There are at least three of us W 3rd St'ers running/biking this year. If I remember correctly, I reached the top of the climb just under the 2-hour mark. I took note of the lingering snow drift at the base of Dyer, knowing it would offer much-needed refreshment many hours later on the return trip. (Did anyone else notice the explosion of Columbines on the slope above the drift? Amazing!) I took it a little easier on the downhill than I did last year, staying in the low-8:00 min/mi range. No rush. I had climbed more strongly than before and I was pretty sure I would arrive at Printer Boy under my goal time for this split. And sure enough I did: 2:33. 1 minute ahead of my goal and 5 minutes ahead of my PR pace. Better yet: I had emptied another 2 bottles of maltodextrin. A total of 900+ calories down the hatch. (Can anyone top that? I doubt it!)

I had a huge crowd of friends and family waiting for me at Printer Boy. Andy, Danielle, and their two girls were there to cheer me on. They were all packed up and ready to drive to Kansas. We shouted some final good byes to each other as I passed by. My sister-in-law, Jennifer, was there with her husband, Jeremy, and my two kids: Ethan and Sierra. (My wife was at work, of course. It's the summer.) Jeremy would be crewing me today. He's awesome. He'll be riding the 100 bike again this year, in pursuit of the elusive big buckle. We quickly exchanged bottles without breaking stride, and I jogged off into the woods to begin the descent down into Cal Gulch.

Printer Boy to Stumptown

I had some stomach issues during this section the previous year, but the drop into Cal Gulch went quickly. I insisted on running all the way up Adelade Road, as it's a frequent training run of mine and I stubbornly refused to power hike it. (I spend a lot of time on the 5th St-Adelade Road-Cal Gulch loop in the spring when the trails are still snowed in. It's a solid 6 mile loop from my house with plenty of vertical.) I mixed hiking and jogging up to the next aid station where I refilled another bottle with my maltodextrin concoction. Along the way, I exchanged a few friendly words with my fellow runners, always a sign that I'm feeling good-- I get chatty. The view from the shoulder of Ball Mountain across Iowa Gulch was beautiful; even as a jaded local it can take your breath away. As I approached the pass, I was playing leap frog with a pair of runners who were alternating between running/hiking while I was just slowly jogging everything. Just as I made a comment that this is where the lead runner usually crosses my path, he crested the pass not 50 yards in front of us-- dammit! I took the steep downhill after the pass pretty cautiously, cheering for Marco (currently in second place) as we passed, dipped my hat in the stream at the bottom, and jogged up the other side. On the way up I passed through a large clump of runners who were all hiking. It reminded me of one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek running observations that anyone who is running faster than you is being hopelessly reckless and will surely blow up, and anyone who is running slower than you is obviously undertrained and won't survive the race. That always makes me chuckle.

In retrospect, I don't think I pushed the downhills into Stumptown quite as hard as I should have, but I was enjoying myself and saying hi to everyone I knew. I grunted up the rock-strewn hill at the turn around, cursing its existence, and soon spotted Jeremy with my next two bottles of energy drink. I also grabbed an extra water-soaked bandanna to help keep me cool. Up until this point it had been mostly cloudy, but the sun was beginning to break through. I made it to the halfway point in 4:29-- running the second split 6 minutes faster than my goal and 23 minutes faster than the previous year. So far, so good.

Stumptown to Printer Boy

Except for one small stretch, I jogged everything up until the stream at the base of Ball Mountain. It was definitely getting tougher to resist the urge to drop to a power hike, though. I stopped at the unmanned, mini-aid station to top off my bottles in effort to keep hydrated. I remembered starting to feel nauseous here last year, which signaled the beginning of a battle with my stomach that lasted for the rest of the race. I was very thankful to be feeling so good. I dipped my hat in the stream again and huffed and puffed up to the top of pass. I never feel particularly strong when I'm power hiking-- which is kind of ironic given the absurd number of hiking miles I've logged in my lifetime-- but I managed to keep my pace under 20:00 min/mi while climbing up to the pass. That's pretty good, I think, though I feel there's still some room for improvement. You'd think that after hiking from Georgia to Maine and from Mexico to Canada there'd be nothing left to learn.

Juggling... so... much... maltodextrin!

The trip back around Ball Mountain went smoothly. I was still passing runners at fairly regular intervals. Dark clouds were beginning to form above Iowa Gulch, but it looked like I had plenty of time to get off the shoulder of Ball Mountain before any potential electrical activity. That's the only part of the course that really feels exposed to me. Another aid station, more maltodextrin. I was maintaining my 1 bottle/hour rate of consumption without any trouble. And, given the mostly cloudy weather, I felt pretty confident that I was getting enough fluid. After my legs loosened up a bit, the descent back down into Cal Gulch went quickly. Adelade Road served as another benchmark of my endurance. I was able to run up to the crest and then run smoothly down the other side. I kept waiting for a side stitch to strike or my IT band to flare up or my stomach to rebel or... something, anything to go wrong. At the 31-mile mark I set a 50K PR of 6:07. (Yeah, that's 14 minutes faster than my Sage Burner PR, with about 1,500 ft more vertical.... at 10,000+ ft.)

I crossed the pavement and started the climb back up to Printer Boy. It was then that I started thinking that if I could hold my shit together I might just be able to do something special today. I managed to jog the entire 400 ft climb back up to the aid station, arriving at the 6:32 mark. I beat my goal time for the section by 11 minutes and beat my time from last year by 27 minutes.

Printer Boy to Finish

Jeremy and I quickly exchanged bottles and I set off up the dreaded road to the top of Iowa Gulch. I told myself that I just had to survive 3 more miles of uphill and then I was home free. The weather couldn't have been better. It was cloudy and began to slowly drizzle. Thankfully, heat would not be an issue on this final, never-ending climb. This is where my race has always fallen apart in the past. This was the split where I needed to beat my PR by 26 minutes just to meet my goal time. I seemed to be in a large gap between runners. There was someone in a green shirt that occasionally appeared in the distance that I kept my eye on. I seemed to be closing... slowly. He was alternating between running and hiking. But his run was much faster than my jog. I kept glancing at my GPS trying to figure out what the best strategy was. I seemed to be able to jog around a ~14:00 min/mi pace and hike around a ~16:00 min/mi pace. I alternated a few times between the two, but I'd estimate that I ended up slowly jogging about 75% of  the climb. Soon a group of four or so other runners appeared in the distance. Green shirt started to slowly pull away from them, soon I managed to pass them too. Everything was happening in slow motion. One of the group, wearing a blue shirt, kept hiking strong and stayed a few feet in front of me up to the top. I was working hard enough that I didn't really have time to strike up any conversations. I stopped at the snow drift that I had spotted so many miles earlier and shoved snow on my hat and down my back. God, that felt good.

Now the downhill. 10 miles of downhill. Did I have any downhill legs left? The terrain at the start of the descent is pretty rough-- steep, rutted, muddy, and rocky-- so it's hard to get into any rhythm. Eventually though I found my stride. Fumbling, I skipped through the songs on my ipod searching for the most skull-pounding, motivational beats I could find-- trying not to trip and kill myself on the many rocks that littered the trail. I was cruising. Soon I passed the blue shirt. As I bombed past my neighbors, Greg and Leaf, a look of surprise crossed their faces and they cheered me on and snapped pictures. I had split this 3:00 hour section up into two 1:30 chunks-- an hour and half to the last aid station and then another hour and a half to the finish. It was just a guess, but it seemed plausible. As I approached the final aid station, I started doing some math in my head. I was about to finish this split in 1:19. I could still run 8:40 minute miles. There were 7.4 miles left. I took off my hydration pack on the run and waved at Jeremy to get his attention. He wasn't expecting me yet; I was 11 minutes early. I quickly handed him my pack and my bottles and grabbed my last two bottles of energy drink. I shouted out something like, "It's conceivable that I might be able to run this last leg in 1:15!" and charged off down the trail. My watch read 7 hours and 52 minutes.

There'd been a change a plans.

It's all downhill from here!
Running the final section was a transcendent experience. In the past, I have anticipated the finish line much too early and then became demoralized at how long it actually took to reach it. This time I tried to stay focused on the present moment and not think too far ahead. I had somehow fallen into another large gap between runners. For the first mile or two I was just running by myself. It was as if I was simply out on a training run. It was my home turf. I passed by the beaver ponds, enjoying the cooling shade of the aspens. Soon a few runners appeared in front of me. At this point I was in the zone, feeling great, and running everything-- including all the uphills. I quickly passed by them without a word, completely focused on running as strongly and smoothly as I could. I continued to nurse my energy drink, determined not to slack off on calories even this late in the race. Another bottle down. I made the turn away from Iowa Gulch and cut over to the power lines. About 3 miles to go. I'm not a huge fan of this section of the course, so I just focused on maintaining a steady pace. My friend and neighbor, Mike, came into view. (West 3rd St!) A super human Leadman athlete (doing it for the third year in a row!), I had never been able to catch Mike in a race before. Of course, he had rode the 50 bike the day before, so he wasn't exactly fresh, but he was also putting on a monster PR performance and was on pace to finish almost an hour faster than last year. We ran together for a mile or so, but then I broke away on the grassy descent to the Mineral Belt Trail. Mike waved me on and shouted words of encouragement. I staggered past another runner on the final painful uphill back up to Dutch Henry and kept on jogging as best I could. Soon afterward, a runner I recognized from the marathon jogged past me with authority (Barefoot Alex). He was the only runner to pass me in probably the last 20 miles. I was too happy to care at this point. My GPS beeped as 9:00 passed by. I could hear the cheers from the finish line. Down the chute. An all-out sprint. And done. 9:02:35!


A Very Superficial Analysis

I ran the final 7.4 miles in 1:10 (maintaining a 9:22 pace after 40 miles of running). I ran the final 14 miles in 2:29 and negative split them by 4 minutes! I set a 1 hour and 52 minute PR! That represents a 17% performance improvement over my PR from last year. Seventeen percent?! What?! Are you kidding me? I was ecstatic. This was beyond anything I had considered possible. I finished in 52nd place out of 449 runners-- almost in the top 10%.

What an amazing, amazing day. A big thanks to my crew-- especially Jeremy, who helped me blow through every aid station without stopping. (That alone must have saved me ~10 minutes.) I couldn't have done it without them. And mad props to every runner who finished after ~10:45 or so who had to run through the most apocalyptic rain storm I've seen in Leadville in a long, long time. I'd have needed a boat to cross my street, there was so much water running down it!

This is the first time I have ever (ever!) finished a 50 mile race feeling more confident in my fitness and racing strategy than when I started. What does this all mean for the 100? Well, I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it, but I'd be a fool if I didn't at least try to somehow run a sub-25 hour race. That still seems border-line impossible to me, but you only live once, right? Big buckle, here I come!

I'll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Month in Review (June)

6/2010: 215.4 miles
6/2011: 210.2 miles (37,998 ft vertical)
6/2012: 221.7 miles (45,458 ft vertical)
6/2013: 247.8 miles (53,140 ft vertical)

I'm happy to say that this June was probably my best month of training ever. I set a personal record for both most miles run and most vertical climbed in a month (beating May of '10 and July of '11, respectively). With the exception of one run in Buena Vista, all my runs were at 10,000 ft. Quality. My running/biking streak, which stretches back to April 8th, is still going strong. During June, I set nine separate PRs on various routes I commonly run around town: including the Turquoise Lake Half Marathon, the Leadville Marathon, and shaving ~10 minutes off of my PR to the top of Mt. Elbert (with hurricane force winds knocking me over above treeline). My weight is hovering around 170 lbs these days (and has hopefully stabilized-- I'm almost down to my Appalachian Trail weight from '02). No significant injuries to speak of. Everything is going very well and I feel amazing. When I set my modest training goals for this year back in January (which could be basically summarized as "Just don't get injured!"), I never would've guessed my training would go this well. I'm still about a month out from my taper for the 100, but I can't imagine being in a better place.

My training from June of last year. Green = long run. Yellow = bike. Blue = sea level.

Compared to June of this year. Consistency ftw.
I feel like with just a bit more work I can squeeze a little more fitness out of this body in July. I think the key is to add just a few more miles to my long runs and maybe 1,000 ft more vertical. Towards that end I just got finished running 11.5 miles with 3,000 ft of vertical yesterday and 24.5 miles and 7,400 ft of vertical today. I am beat. But in a good way. I've got seven days to recover before the Silver Rush 50 next Sunday. I'm thinking: 5, 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2. Something like that. Lots of protein, plenty of ice, and as much sleep as I can handle.

I have never exactly been happy with my performance at the Silver Rush 50. Every year I say to myself, "10 hours is totally doable. I know I can run this race in 10 hours!" Not so much. I somehow manage to set a PR each year, but I'm still a long ways away from the 10 hour mark. I honestly think that dehydration has been my main problem over the years, leading to nausea, leading to not taking in enough calories, leading to a massive drop in speed in the last 13 miles of the race. Iowa Gulch is always depressingly brutal. It takes its toll. 20 people must have passed me in the last 5 miles of the race last year. It was not pretty.

This year I vow to stay on top of my hydration, to keep as cool as possible, to drink copious amount of calories, and to finally (finally!) finish strong.

And if I miraculously manage to finish under 10 hours... Well, I may allow myself to write up some very tentative splits for a 24:59 finish at the 100 this year!

Let's do this!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Leadville Marathon Race Report


If you've been following my blog then you know that I've been pretty happy with how my training has been going so far this year. So, admittedly, I approached the marathon with a certain degree of confidence. I tried to downplay it and not to get too excited about the race, but I'm not so sure I was successful. I didn't get much work done on Friday, as I was fairly distracted. I found myself pouring over my past splits, revising my race strategy, and fiddling with my gear.

If I had one over-arching goal for the marathon I guess you could say it was to not fade at the end of the race. Finish strong. The goal was not the top of Mosquito Pass (the halfway point and the highest point of the course), but getting back to the top of Ball Mountain in good shape. What would prevent me from doing that? First: poor hydration, secondly: poor nutrition, and a distant third: pushing too hard too early in the race.

I also had a few micro-goals that I had set for myself:

  • Don't go out too fast. (Don't make the central governor panic.)
  • Get to the first aid station in 46-50 minutes.
  • Stay below 20:00 min/miles climbing up Mosquito Pass.
  • Run the last 0.5 mile to the top of Mosquito Pass (which is flattish despite being at 13,000 ft).
  • Get to the top of Mosquito Pass by the 3 hour mark.
  • Run all the way from the base of Mosquito Pass back up to the Venir aid station. No hiking.
  • Stay cool: make good use of the snow and water crossings on the course.
  • Stay hydrated: don't get a side-stitch while running the big downhills.
  • Run the last 2 miles at a <8:00 min/mile pace.

The Leadville Marathon is interesting because my times over the years are tightly clustered together-- all within a few minutes of 5:50, with my PR being 5:48 in 2011. Unlike the 50 and the 100, my marathon times haven't steadily decreased each year-- there's been some fluctuation, with my '11 time being better than my '12 time. Why? Probably due to running the San Juan Solstice 50 miler the Saturday before the marathon last year! 13,000 ft of elevation gain will tend to do that.

Even though I live and train in Leadville, I actually don't run that much of the marathon course during training. Sure, maybe I make the climb up Mosquito Pass or Ball Mountain once or twice a season, but that's about it. I prefer other options around town, and I do almost all my long runs on the west side of the valley, in the Sawatch. So, it's not like I have a ton of historical data from training runs to precisely judge split times with-- I just have the GPS data from my two previous races. (I didn't own a GPS in '10. Hard to believe.) This is in contrast to, say, the Collegiate Peaks course which I run almost in its entirety two to three times each spring prior to that race. Consequently, I didn't really have precise goals for each split other than the hand-wavingly vague: run it faster than I did before. Considering residual fatigue from the SJS50 in past years, my surprisingly improved fitness this year, plus my more foolproof nutrition plan, I thought that a time of 5:20 would be a realistic goal. Approximately a 30 minute PR. Sure, I thought maybe I could better, but planning on a bigger improvement seemed a bit... cocky? I could finish in 5:20 and be happy. And that's ultimately what I wanted: a performance that I could be happy with. I didn't want to set an unrealistically ambitious goal, miss it by a few minutes, and then be disappointed. (It's all just mind games.)

The Taper

I promised myself I would maintain at least 50 miles/week (and 10,000 ft of vertical/week) this summer-- even leading up to a race. I didn't want my weekly mileage to fluctuate as much as it did last year as I took days off to taper for non-focus races. So, I carefully calculated my daily runs to come in just over those minimum marks. However, I found myself driving down to Salida on Wednesday to pick up 50 lbs of organic, grass-fed beef from a local rancher (mmm... protein), so I stopped off in Buena Vista and ran up Midland Hill. I had never been to the top; it was a sweet, very scenic trail, but also 1,700 ft of vertical in 2.3 miles! I ran the whole way up in the mid-day heat. Maybe not smart, but a lot of fun!

The splits to beat.

The Race

I walked the four blocks from my house to the starting line and chatted with all my friends and neighbors that I spotted in the crowd. The energy level was high, but I tried to stay relaxed. I started way in the back of the pack; it took me a full minute to reach the starting line after the gun went off. I did this intentionally to slow myself down during the first mile, which I spent weaving in and out between runners as I slowly worked my way up. As I was looking at my GPS data prior to the race, I was somewhat surprised to find that the climb to the first aid station (at ~4 miles) has almost exactly the same elevation gain as the climb to the top of the Powerlines (~1,600 ft)! No wonder that section of the marathon always seems painfully slow-- especially considering the higher starting elevation and the generally crappier trail conditions.

I tried to keep my perceived effort at a relatively constant level-- aiming to stay just a bit harder than "conversational". Except for one woman just in front of me, who I ran the whole way up with (and finished right next to many hours later!), everyone else around me was alternating between bursts of running and hiking. They'd run maybe 10 ft ahead of me, then start hiking, then I'd pass them, then they'd run 10 ft ahead of me, etc. Even though the net result was often about the same, I personally prefer to stay in one mode or another for longer stretches of time, cutting down on the number of transitions between running and hiking. It feels more fluid and I think you can adapt to micro-changes in the terrain more easily. I think the slight bounce of a running cadence also helps me breathe better. But, I'm probably over thinking it.

Climbing slow and steady...
At the top, I glanced at my watch and saw 48 minutes. Perfect! I was already 4 minutes up on my PR. Since I was carrying two handhelds I could easily blow right through the aid station without stopping. I emptied the first bottle just a few minutes later and shoved it in the back of my shorts. 310 calories down. A rogue cloud had actually sprinkled on us a little bit at the start, and there was now some solid cloud cover-- a rarity in Leadville this early in the morning. The clouds kept things relatively cool throughout much of the day, which really helped with heat management, I think.

I continued running all the way around Ball Mountain to the second aid station-- only stopping very briefly to scoop up a handful of snow to plop on top of my hat. So refreshing! At the second aid station, I paused briefly to refill both my bottles with maltodextrin powder and water and continued on. I was ~10 minutes ahead of my PR pace now.

I kept things casual running down to the third aid station, not pushing it too much, chatting with fellow runners. I wet my hat in streams both before and after the aid station, and stopped at the aid station itself to top off one bottle with more water (which was about 1/4 full at that point). Now it was time to tackle Mosquito Pass. The biggest climb of the race.

Beginning the climb up Mosquito Pass.
Around 11,800 ft I switched to hiking mode. I wanted to hike this section really strongly. No one passed me, but neither did I pass many other folks on the way up-- that is, until I started running near the top. At the beginning of each switchback, I asked myself if I should switch back to running or not. I always found myself deciding to keep hiking rather than pushing it with a run/shuffle. I told myself that a hiking pace allowed me to keep ingesting more calories more easily, which is true-- and I did-- but I think that was somewhat of a cop out. But, though I just barely missed my <20:00 min/mile goal for one mile, I hiked it faster than I ever have in the marathon before. And I've only run it a few minutes faster during training, so I can't be that disappointed. I made a point of stopping at each snow drift to shove more snow on my hat and down the back of my shirt. After jogging the last half mile, I finally made it to the top at 2:49-- 20 minutes ahead of my PR! Excellent.

If you look closely, you can see the snowball on my head. Heat management!
I had emptied another bottle full of maltodextrin on the way up, but I still had another bottle full of water left (plus maybe ~100 calories), so I skipped the aid station at the top and started bombing down the mountain, trying not to kill myself. I logged a low 8:00 min/mile on some pretty gnarly terrain; any faster would have been near suicidal. In previous years I had come down with a sidestitch or some other bad cramp on this descent, forcing me to walk a bit and recover. This year I felt great, which I took to mean that was staying on top of my hydration: my #1 goal for the race. (Of course, the clouds also helped.)

At the next aid station I was now ~24 minutes up on my PR pace. I stopped to dump my last two bags of maltodextrin powder into my bottles and topped everything up. I had finished all my water on the way down. Things were going great. I was excited to be this far ahead of my splits this early in the race as I knew that if I could hold things together I could continue to make up big chunks of time in the next six miles. I managed to run the entire way uphill to the next aid station. I wasn't moving particularly fast, but I was steadily trotting along. I have never been able to do that in the past; instead forced to drop to a hike for most of this grueling uphill. My only regret is that I didn't completely finish off a bottle on the way up to Venir. I drank maybe half of it-- not quite enough. I think I slipped a little behind on calories in this section, causing a small bonk just after I left the second-to-last aid station to circle around Ball Mountain one final time. There was a pack of six or so runners right in front of me as I crested the high point around Ball. By this time I had slowed down just a tad to catch back up on calories.

If you can believe it, this was my low point of the race.
I had polished off that bottle and started working on my final one. I started picking up the pace as my blood sugar increased (or the placebo effect kicked in... whatever, I'll take it) and started passing the folks in front of me one by one. My energy restored, I actually ran the final uphill into the last aid station, quickly filled my final bottle back up to about half full (with maybe 150 calories left in it), and set off for the final rocky descent down into town. Glancing at my watch, it read 4:33. Holy f---! I choked up just like I did at the 3:00 hour mark during the CPTR when I knew I could come close to finishing in 4 hours. Likewise, I knew I could run the final section of the marathon in very close to 30 minutes. 5:00 was probably just out of reach, but I was sure as hell going to come as close as I could! I turned my ipod back on. (I had been running with it off for hours now, trying not to get too excited.) The Chemical Brothers (Don't Think) and Daft Punk (Alive 2007) would carry me to finish line in record time! (You gotta love songs which have lyrics like "Don't think, just let it flow..." and "Work it, work it, work it, harder, harder, harder...".)

What can I say? My legs felt great during the descent. I was bouncing down the hill at a low 7:00 min/mile pace, passing another handful of runners along the way. I have always run this final section relatively well, but this year I was even faster. No tripping, no stubbed toes, no tumbles, alert and focused. My brain had plenty of glucose to work with. I ran up the annoying final grunter just past Adelade Road and continued truckin' along. It felt heroic. After some very emotional, triumphant miles, I crossed the finish line in 5:03:33. That put me in 63rd place out of 517 runners (chip time-- I actually gained two places over gun time since I started so far back in the pack). A 45 frickin' minute PR! That comes out to a 13% performance improvement. (Which is itself a record!) Ridiculous!

The second race of the year where I beat my family to the finish line!
As fantastic as my race was, I'd like to give a shout out to the 5 (!) Leadville residents and running friends who finished in front of me! Damn, this is a tough town to be competitive in! I think I was the second to last male finisher from Leadville... It was so great to have so many locals cheering me on at the aid stations! There is always great crowd enthusiasm during the marathon.

A Very Quick Analysis

The Leadville Marathon was the third race this year where I ran every single mile faster than my previous PR for the course. That's pretty solid.

Hell, yeah: another "all green" race!

You can see that I didn't quite reach my goal of keeping it under 20:00 min/miles climbing up Mosquito Pass, but I came pretty close. Other than that, I think I could have maybe run miles 19 and 20 a bit faster if I had consumed just a bit more calories leaving the aid station at mile 17. So, there's a little room for improvement, but honestly, not much.

I consumed 1,900 calories in 5 hours of racing. That's 380 calories/hour! And never mind the 300 calories I ate in the hour before the start (a Justin's Maple Almond Nut Butter packet and a GU Roctane gel). Plus, maybe ~600 additional calories of smoothie/coffee consumed for breakfast! Damn. I am an eating machine. Why do I need to eat so much? I have no idea, but I swear that I was feeling a slight hunger pang on the climb up to Venir. My stomach felt totally solid-- never sloshy. I never felt nauseated-- not even the slightest bit. This is the first time I've run this race without vomiting. As silly as it sounds, I think the best measurement of how well you fueled during a race is how quickly you can eat normal food after finishing. I was nursing a beer and wolfing down a burrito 20 minutes after the marathon. And to think that in previous years I'd shoot for Hammer Nutrition's suggested upper limit of ~280 calories/hour. Apparently that is not my upper limit. Fat adapted, I'm not.

So, the obvious question: why the massive improvement this year? Well, here's some interesting data:

Evidence that there's more to training than total miles.

The chart above lists training data from all four times that I've run the Leadville Marathon. YTD Miles counts miles from 1/1 to 6/30. Long runs counts all the ~20 mile runs I've run prior to (but not including) the marathon. Then I've also listed if/when I ran the San Juan Solstice 50 that year.

So, you can see that I haven't run that many more miles this year than last, but I've been consistently getting in my long runs. That, coupled with skipping the SJS50, really helped, I think. If I had to break it down, I'd say I gained ~10 minutes from being rested, ~15 minutes from better nutrition, and ~20 minutes from being in better shape. Just a guess.

Boring Gear Details

Despite the plethora of loose, softball-sized rocks on the course-- especially on the steep, downhill sections-- I decided to run in a pair of Montrail FluidFlexes rather than my Hoka Bondis or Stinsons. (I ran the marathon in Hoka Mafates last year.) I have been doing most of my training in my Montrails and they have held up admirably. They're much lighter yet well-cushioned. Okay, I'll shut up now about shoes.

As has become my custom, I wore my Salomon vest but with the entire hydration bladder/tube removed. I use its many pockets to hold my bags of maltodextrin powder, plus whatever else I may need, and carry two 20 oz handheld water bottles. It's a very comfortable arrangement; and I can easily carry enough fuel for 6+ hours of running (~1,800+ calories) without ever having to take off the vest at aid stations to refill (everything can be stored in the front pockets). Depending on the heat, 40 oz of fluid is good for about 90-120 minutes of running, I find. That's generally plenty of time to get to the next aid station (or water source).