Leadville Trail Marathon 200907/11/2009
My Tuesday running was predictably crappy after a long run like that, and, although I felt quite good on the climb up Green on Wednesday, the warm-up was horrible and my shake-out that evening was just as bad. I rallied a bit with my “taper” runs on Thursday and Friday (easy, flat 2hr and 1h20 runs), and went into this race feeling ready to go. But, clearly, I wasn’t very willing to back off the training very much; I ran 152 miles in the seven days before the race. Even so, I wanted Paul Dewitt’s course record of 3:39:12.
The competition in this race was fairly deep as well. Duncan Callahan, Bryan Dayton, and Nick Clark were who I viewed as the main contenders, and off the starting line we all ran together. The only problem was that there was another guy (Dennis Flanagan, 28, of Breckenridge) off the front that none of us knew. There was some low-level nervousness about letting him get a very sizeable lead, but I’ll admit that I definitely just assumed that I would catch him on the monster climb up Mosquito Pass.
Crossing the Mineral Belt bike path Duncan, Bryan, and I all ran together with Dennis less than a minute in front of us. As we turned onto the steeper, rockier, looser climbing I consciously backed off the pace a bit and let Duncan and Bryan go at it a few yards ahead. Any time the trail turned particularly steep I would instantly catch back up, so I just let the gap ride. I was very wary of pushing too hard too early as I wanted to be as strong as possible on the Mosquito climb and on the sneaky climbs in the second half of the race because these were where I struggled the last time I ran this race.
Right before the first aid station (3.8 miles) the three of us were still running together and Dennis was still ~1 minute up. At the station I dumped a cup of water on my head as the sun was blazing and chased Duncan down the hill to start the circumnavigation of Ball Mountain. Bryan lingered at the station but quickly caught me on the downhill. I followed closely in his wake, but on this shortish downhill section (~400′ of loss) I started getting my first side cramps of the day that would prove to be my undoing.
On the ~700′ climb up to Ball Mt Pass (12,000′) I ran with Bryan before passing him right before the top where I yelled at Duncan who I saw had just headed straight down the other side of the pass instead of turning left onto the singletrack that traverses the north side of Ball Mt and heads back down to the aid station. I have absolutely no idea why that incorrect road was marked with flags, because the singletrack was marked, too. Very weird.
On the downhill to the aid station, Duncan and I ran fairly comfortably, but I started cramping again, so I popped an S! cap and hit my first gel shortly after the station. Despite this, the cramping continued on the extended downhill (~700′ vertical) to the bottom of the Mosquito climb. We ran this section fairly solid, but I could never really get going because my sides/ribs kept cramping, pretty hard at times. Bryan caught us right at the bottom of the hill and the three of us ran into the aid station still together. Bryan again spent a little extra time in the aid station, and Duncan and I tackled the hill together with him a few yards in front.
I was looking forward to Mosquito because I was hoping I wouldn’t cramp as much on an uphill and because I expected the climb would finally separate our group a little. The climb went pretty well. Duncan kept a solid pace until the last 1/2 mile or so where it gets particularly rocky and steep; he fell into a hike while I maintained my running cadence and that was the last running we did together during the race.
So, the downhill was miserable. I grunted and groaned and massaged a lot trying to get my ribs and obliques and diaphragm to loosen but nothing was working. I was often partly doubled-over, grinding my fist into my side(s), all while trying to sprint down exceedingly technical trail with little oxygen. It was fun. Unfortunately, I was hardly in a state to acknowledge/return many of the very nice things all of the people hiking up the pass were taking the time and breath to say to me.
At the bottom of the hill, my legs felt predictably dead from the downhill, but my main problem was still the cramping. At the aid station, I filled my bottle and was told Dennis had a 6 minute lead. I asked for salt, any salt, table salt, but none was to be had. So it goes. Initially, the run up the hill back to Ball Mt was quite poor. There is a long switchback where I was able to confirm Dennis’ six minute advantage, but there seemed to be very little I could do about it. I just felt like I was surviving. Ah, the joys of mountain racing!
Shortly after the Ball Mt aid I walked a few short yards in order to hit my last gel and try to regroup and get my head back in the game. This loop around Ball is a bread and butter 2hr run for me during the week, so I was very familiar with the trail and things were actually going okay until I hit the downhill on the backside where it was the usual cramp-fest again. By time I had grunted my way up the final rolling (oh, what a euphemism) hills to the last aid station I was pretty out of it mentally. I would occasionally be chugging along, realizing that I wasn’t actually running that hard, so I would launch into a more race-like effort but it would eventually tail off for whatever reason until I would realize again how slow I was going. I was seriously lacking focus and salt.
At the final aid I stopped and chugged two cups of water (my bottle was out) and then took off down the four mile hill to the finish. I struggled off and on again with cramps until the end, but in general I kind of finally got my shit together the last few miles and was able to run a solid 23min split to the finish.
I would like to say with more honesty that if I’d been more aware of how close I was to breaking 3:40 I would’ve put in a little extra effort that last mile, but the truth is I was looking for all kinds of excuses to not run hard the final 3/4 mile asphalt straightaway, mostly because it was all I could do to not double over from all the cramping my sides were doing. None of these were “stomach” cramps. It was all “core” or abdominal or “breathing” muscles.
This is the first race in a long while where I basically didn’t meet any of my goals. I did improve my time from three years ago by about 45 seconds on a day where I was, physically, having a much worse day, but that’s about the only positive I can take from the race. And, that 3:40 on that course is still a very very solid time. I think there is a pretty decent empirical/historical argument to be made that this course is about 15-20 minutes faster than Pikes Peak for the people who are running it in the four hour range. It’s just that Dennis ran 3:32:30 and smoked me and the course record in the process. Duncan finished off a tough salt-handicapped day as well to round out the top three in 3:49:47.
Kyle and I have always maintained that on any given day he and I are extremely vulnerable to getting our asses handed to us at the 50K and below distances. This was a good example of that. However, the main reasons that happened to me today were completely my fault, and completely in my control: not more thoughtfully packaging my salt, and not tapering significantly (in reviewing this past week, I now see that the only thing I did differently than a standard week is that I didn’t run big vertical on Thursday; I did still run 2hr, though). Simply put, I have more important goals later in the summer. A big hats off to Dennis, though, and he simply outran me, fair and square.
Afterwards, it was a blast to catch up with all the folks in the trail/ultra community, especially since I haven’t raced in Colorado for so long. Notably, there was a very strong contingent of Team CRUD folks representing; these guys somehow make it fun to go charge up frigid, snowy Cheyenne Canyon at 5am on Thursday mornings during the winter.