Traveling for a 100-miler was a new experience, and not really sure I enjoyed it all that much. I wanted to get to Leadville a few days early to acclimate which meant more time away from family. Our flight out of Philly was delayed 2 hours. I should have been mindful of when we were landing. There was road construction on our way to the motel so we didn’t get there until 4 AM EST. This didn’t help with acclimation as I came in exhausted and sleep-deprived. The headaches started the next day as I barely got any sleep.
This race is all about the altitude. I know I can do the distance as this would be my 8th 100. My thought was to get there early to see if I would suffer from altitude sickness. By getting there early I could get in a few test runs to see how bad it affected performance. My biggest issue was just an intense headache at night when I lay in bed which made it impossible to sleep. The two nights before the race I had a combined sleep time of maybe 4 hours. Pre-race excitement wasn’t helping my cause.
The low humidity is amazing to run in. I think it led to fewer shoe changes and blister issues because my feet felt amazing most of the race. They did get wet in the stream crossing after Twin Lakes 1.
The sun’s intensity in Colorado is something to be aware of. Make sure you have ample sunscreen or clothing to protect yourself. I wore a lot of white to help reflect the heat. I wore white arm sleeves, a white shirt, and a white hat, but I should have had a hat that covered my neck. Don’t forget to reapply the suntan lotion with all the sweating you will be doing!
My food strategy didn’t work. I got food fatigue from what I had to eat during the race. This wasn’t a big deal as I just started taking more from the aid stations. I stopped grabbing my little prepacked snacks in my drop bags. I realize I need more diversify what I will be eating for 24-30 hours.
What went right?
I gave myself mini breaks on the climb to Hope Pass, resting to catch my breath. The climb was so long that sitting a few times rejuvenated me.
A runner by the name of Sandra was having a bad day. She actually kind of broke down a bit when she told me that she had done the race over 10 years ago and wanted to see if experience could trump youth. It didn’t seem like that was going to be the case for her today because it looked like she was going to drop at Winfield (turn around). She was using “Spring Energy” awesome sauces and it tasted amazing! She traded a few of them to me and I am grateful she did. I picked up some chew blocks on the course and they tasted better than what I was eating. I know this is a crazy statement, but maybe what you train with eating shouldn’t be used on race day. You kind of want something new and different, I know that is risky but if you have no GI issues I don’t think it’s a problem.
At 76.2 (Outward Bound 2) as I came into the aid station someone randomly called out, “Hey, would you like a pacer?”. I said sure, why not. This is when I met Jeff Spencer, he was a huge boost when I really needed it most. The only reason he was there was because his original runner had dropped out, Marge Hickman. Marge Hickman is a fourteen-time finisher of the Leadville Trail 100, a four-time big buckle achiever, holding the record for most finishes by a woman, and was women’s champion in 1985!
What would I have done differently?
Give yourself the entire day to travel there, I had only given half the day. Be mindful of when you are landing as you travel for a race because of delays.
Line up a pacer beforehand! Pacers are so useful, not sure why I didn’t try to coordinate one for such an important race. Going forward I should look for opportunities to pace others, I think it’s fun yet I’ve only done it once.
I would have got there way earlier and given myself more time to acclimate. 3 days before the race was not enough. I also would have picked up the medication for headaches. Leadville was such a beautiful amazing town that it would be interesting to go back with my family.
Be FAST at the aid stations. I was faster than normal, but still not enough. Even if you spent 5 minutes at each aid station that would be an hour on this course. Get in, grab food, and stuff your pockets, then eat as you walk. It will make a huge difference in race time.
Since this race has been going on so long I met a lot of what I call “faded glory”. People trying to relive past performances to show they still have it. To live up to an expectation that is doomed to fail in chasing the performances of our youth. It made me think about my own trajectory. 20 years from now will I be doing the same thing? Trying to run races I did 20 years ago and struggling to match performance. Will I try to redo races from my 30s-40s to see if I am still capable? I might have hit the highest point in my running career (12,394 elevation), both physically and proverbially. I might not ever top this, and If I keep going down this path I might be setting myself up for a huge disappointment later in life. So what do you do? Transition to inspire others! At what point do you remove yourself from the game? I’m not sure but it’s a thought that’s rolling around in my head. Maybe it’s time for a change?
The course was amazing, the views were like nothing I had ever seen. The altitude played a huge factor and affected multiple aspects of the race, but I worked through it. Picking up Jeff as a pacer was a huge boost, from his constant encouragement and overall concern for my well-being it made for a strong finish. His actions in aid stations helped save the time necessary to secure the buckle so I can’t thank him enough.
To the crazy kids who choose this as their first 100, I admire you. I ran into 8 or 9 first-time 100 milers who picked this as their entry into doing 100s. Personally, that’s not how I operate. I slowly step my way up, look at the big picture, and take calculated steps to ensure success. BORING! I know, right? I don’t want to wait another year, or 2, or 10 to take another shot at this. You only get one chance and 100s are so complex. You need to make sure you do everything to improve your odds of success. The fact they let in so many first-timers is great, but ask yourself, just because I can, does that mean I should? Why deal with the distance AND the altitude? Having knocked out 8 of these races doesn’t make me a pro, it just makes me aware of what can go wrong. 100s mirror life in many ways, but like anything “the first is the worst”, so why make it harder on yourself?
Merilee whispered in my ear as she put the medal around my neck, “Welcome to the family”. They are building a brand, they want you to have an amazing experience that’s hard to top and they want to hook you early. Hence no requirement to enter the race. Maybe that gets some young rockstars, but showing off is the fool’s idea of glory. I am glad I waited to take on this beast of a race. It was a long race, but it wasn’t the worst I felt in an ultra. It was just the closest I ever had to being timed out. Do whatever you can to eliminate the altitude and I think you will have a greater likelihood of success. So medication, get there 2 weeks early, or get an altitude tent at home if you have money to spare.