Last year my running focussed around two main targets: the 89-km Comrades Marathon in June and the 100-mile Leadville Trail 100 (pre-race information here and race report here) in August. Despite improving on my Comrades 2011 time by over 35 minutes, my Comrades 2012 race was a bit disappointing as I missed out on my target of a silver medal (achieved for running a time under 7:30). Leadville more than made up for my disappointment.
Leadville was my first 100-mile race and I had no idea what to expect from the race or myself. I looked at target paces and they all seemed so slow due to the extreme distance and the extreme challenges (starting and finishing at 3,200 metres of elevation with a total ascent of over 4,800 metres and a single climb of 1,000 metres over a 3,800 metre pass). I set myself a target that appeared realistic but there was no way to really know how my body would feel after equalling my furthest run to date (89 km at Comrades) and still having over 70 km remaining. As it turned out I was so far ahead of my stretch target at the 60-mile mark that I was able to relax and enjoy the remainder of the race. I took extra time at aid stations and walked sections that I definitely could have run if I had been pushed for time. Already by the next day, rather than swearing I would never run 100 miles again, I was already contemplating what time I could run at Leadville if I went all out. I thought about the time I could cut out at aid stations, the sections I could run instead of walking, and the sections where I should lift my running pace. I had a better understanding of what my body could withstand, so it was obvious that for my next 100-mile race I would leave everything out on the course.
Despite the very small percentage of the population willing to consider running such a distance, there is also a limited number of events available, and only a few races that really capture the imagination of the runners wanting to participate. Therefore it is considerably more difficult to secure an entry for a major 100-mile race than it is to secure an entry for a major marathon such as New York or London. I went for a three-pronged strategy in my 100-mile race applications for 2013, with all races taking place in the US.
First up was the Western States Endurance Run, the world’s oldest (and generally considered the most prestigious) 100-mile trail race. As a point-to-point race between Squaw Valley and Auburn in California, the race has a net descent although it still features around 5,500 metres of ascent (but 7,000 metres of descent). The race runs through a protected wilderness designation that would normally forbid the race from taking place, but since the race pre-dates the protection of the area the organisers were given congressional permission to continue running the event with the proviso that they could only allow as many participants as ran in the year the protected designation was declared. As such the race is limited to 369 competitors per year based on a 5-year rolling average. Entry to the race is through a lottery process that is oversubscribed by a factor of around 10 each year. Entrants must have completed one of a select number of qualifying races before being allowed entry into the lottery.
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.