While some races are planned well in advance (I have already started filling in my race calendar for next year), others aren’t.
While sitting at the running club having a drink after time trial last Thursday a discussion started about the race at Irene on the weekend. I was asked whether I would be running, and not knowing any details had to confirm the distance (half marathon). We had already planned our run for Sunday, but the race was on Saturday and nothing else was on the calendar. Kirsten and I agreed that a 21 km run sounded like a nice way to kick off a Saturday, so we ended up at Irene Mall at 6AM for the start of the race.
Often it is a chance occurrence that can turn an ordinary training run into something special.
Yesterday I set off for a run on one of my regular routes. The weather was a bit cooler than ideal, my legs felt fine without feeling great so it started off as just a regular run. By the end of the run I felt rejuvenated and inspired.
I always write up 3 weeks of rest in my training plan after running a hard ultramarathon. I force myself to rest for at least the first two weeks and then judge my return to training from there based on the recovery of my legs. Needless to say the idea of entering a 50 km race just three weeks after my first ever 100-mile race was not exactly what I had in mind for my recovery.
But amazingly, just three weeks after completing the Leadville Trail 100 (race report here), I found myself driving up to Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg mountain range for a race called the Mont-aux-Sources Challenge. Mont-aux-Sources is a basalt plateau that lies at an average elevation of around 3,050 metres above sea level. The race involves 19 km of climbing (1100 metres of ascent) to the Sentinel Car Park at the base of the plateau, a 12 km circuit reaching over 3,200 metres (including climbing two chain ladder sections bolted directly to the rock wall), and then the punishing descent back to the starting point.
There were two reasons that I was running this race just 3 weeks after Leadville: firstly I had not spoken to a single person that didn’t run out of adjectives to describe the beauty of the run, and secondly it is extremely difficult to secure an entry so to pass it up would seem wasteful. The Mont-aux-Sources Challenge allows 250 runners each year, with runners from the previous year receiving automatic invitations before filling remaining places off the waiting list which currently containing 1500 names.
Just before 4AM on the morning of August 18th I stood at a starting line on the corner of Harrison Ave and 6th St in Leadville, Colorado (USA). At 10AM on the following morning the race that was about to start would be cut off after 30 hours with the firing of a shotgun. Between those two points in time stood approximately 102 miles of running and walking in order to complete the Leadville Trail 100. For more details on the race (stats, history, course) check out my earlier post here. For details on my Leadville experience I will try to enlighten you below.
I had arrived in Colorado a week before the race, and after spending a day driving through Rocky Mountain National Park I made my way through to Leadville to spend time acclimatising to the 3,000 metre elevation. I spent my time in Leadville relaxing, scouting the course, going for a couple of runs along sections of the course, and finalising the logistics of the incredible variety and volume of nutrition and gear I would spread amongst drop bags along the course. My nutrition plan during the race included 27 energy gels, 3 energy bars, 3 energy shakes, 24 electrolyte tablets, and chocolate coffee beans that I would provide myself, plus whatever else I felt like consuming at the aid stations. The gear requirements included two sets of lights since my race would include running in the dark at the start and end, and clothing to handle alpine weather that can include temperatures ranging from below zero overnight to 25 degrees during the day. Having scouted many parts of the course I also spent time tweaking my pacing chart, planning rough times through each of the major aid stations for my main target of breaking 25 hours. Then I looked at where I thought I could potentially save time if all went well, in the hope that I could achieve my stretch target of completing the run within 24 hours.
The morning of the race I rose at 2:30AM to consume an energy shake and a banana for breakfast, showered to relax my body, and then dressed in my neatly laid-out clothing and gear. The house I had rented was barely over 100 metres from the start/finish line, and just after 3:30AM I exited the front door for the very short walk to the start. Standing at the start line with almost 800 other runners I was about to run 75 km longer than my next longest run but I did not feel nervous at all. I was excited and ready, and it wasn’t too long a wait until 4AM came around.
This is actually being published after the race, but this is what I would have posted had I started this blog a few weeks earlier. It provides some useful background for those who will read my soon-to-be-posted race report.
The Leadville Trail 100 is a race that was added to my bucket list in the last couple of years. When it comes to road running it was the Comrades and Boston Marathons that were at the top of my list, and when it comes to trail running it was Leadville that piqued my interest. I cannot accurately recall when I first learnt about Leadville, but it was either while reading Chris MacDougall’s brilliant book “Born to Run” or Dean Karnazes’ “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner”. I am unsure whether my first reaction was an immediate desire to sign up, but I imagine that I more likely thought it sounded a little bit (or maybe a lot) crazy. But at some point I realised that completing a 100-mile foot race was not only feasible but actually desirable (and maybe even enjoyable). Yes, I did just mention 100-mile race and enjoyable in the same sentence and no, I did not miss a negative in there.
In November 2011 I signed up for the Leadville Trail 100 to be run on 18-19 August 2012, and that left me with only a few things to do: complete a training plan with ludicrous mileage, get my mind around the fact that I would need to run for approximately one entire day, and plan to fly to the other side of the world in order to do that.
But what is the Leadville Trail 100?
For those with a short attention span: Leadville Trail 100 is a 100-mile (161 km) race completed entirely at altitude incorporating a dual ascent of Hope Pass (elevation 3,822 metres). And if you want more stats, more history, and hopefully more useful details read on.