Leadville proved to be too much for me. No excuses. I gave it as good an effort as I had in me that day . . . but it wasn't enough.
Hard to describe the area . . . maybe a mixture of incredible beauty with a mix of man-made ugliness of the old mines thrown in. Some may think the mining remnants are historically interesting, to me they were just plain ugly. But I just chose to focus on the area's beauty and there was plenty of that.
My race plan was fairly simple . . . walk the uphills as fast as I could, and run all the downhills I could. My right knee is giving me some issues, so I wasn't sure how it would do walking, let alone running (my doctor made me promise I wouldn't run . . . sorry Doc!). I knew there were steep, downhill sections, with tons of large and small loose rock (scree) that I would have to walk for sure. Had no idea just how much there would really be!
The race had an uphill start (altitude 10,100 feet) that lasted a full 3.5 miles. Half sections were steep but the other half were moderate. Right off the bat, I struggled to get enough oxygen. Two results are 1) you breath heavily and rapidly trying to get the oxygen you need, and 2) your muscles get really tired, really quickly. Very strange, like you're just having a bad day and you're tired from the previous day's workouts.
The first 1 1/2 miles took us through an old mining area- not all that pretty!
But then we hit a wooded area we ran (aka walked!) through that took us up to the first aid station.
Quick in and out and into one of the prettiest parts of the day as we ran up and around Ball Mountain. This was our first time to run above tree line. Fields, single-track, wild flowers. Quite beautiful, just as Jenn had promised.! Very cold and windy - I put on my wind jacket and wished I had my gloves . . . bad decision to leave them in the car.
We peaked somewhere along here at about 12,500 feet and I got my first areas where I could really run! But I found I couldn't run like I had planned - no oxygen! I got out of breath every 4-5 minutes and walked some to try and catch my breath. I tried to press hard through here as I knew what was coming and needed to gain time anywhere I could.
Passed the same aid station for a second time and continued down through tons of mining remnants on to aid station #3. During this section the leader passed me heading home! We both exchanged encouraging words as we passed. The leader had about a 5 minute lead on the second place runner. Amazing running and it always amazes me how supportive everyone is! Even the guy leading the race makes time to say something positive to me.
Finally got to aid station #3 (elevation 11,200 feet or so) where the marathon course rejoins the Heavy Half marathon. Now was the time for the really hard work to begin as I headed up the mountain to Mosquito Pass (elevation 13,200 feet).
By this time I was seeing tons of folks on their return trip . . . marathoners and half-marathoners alike. The trail here became really tough - scree the whole, frickin' way! Big loose rocks, medium loose rocks, small loose rocks . . . and fine loose rock. People slipping, sliding and tripping all the time. Really, this wasn't a fair test of anything . . . just lucky foot placement!
Guess I was 1/8 of the way up when Jenn passed me on her way down. Clearly, we were both struggling, but a quick hug from Jenn gave me renewed spirit . . . but sadly a positive spirit was not going to be enough this day.
By this point I was walking 100 yards, and then stopping to regain my breath. Then repeat! I had imagined I would be able to walk up this whole mountain at a steady pace, but not a chance! My knee had remained in good shape, with only maybe two instances of real pain, but the uneven, loose rock was treacherous.
The views back down the mountain were spectacular!! You can see the last aid station just behind the second lake.
One by one I saw folks I had been with earlier in the race as they were headed down. I exchanged words of support with each one, and each told me to hang on . . . it was much easier going back down hill!
Soon the trail steepness backed off and I surprised myself with about a quarter of a mile of no stopping at all! Saw the sign and soon saw the aid station at the top! 13.1 miles done. My hardest 13.1 ever - by far. Cold and windy up here!
Maybe 1/4 mile from the top I met the one guy behind me. He was suffering a lot but continued on, committed to getting to the top! I understood his pain for sure!
Going down took way less energy, but I found I couldn't run much at all due to the poor footing. Every once and I while I could see a way through the rocks that looked stable enough to run, but not often. Very frustrating because I was feeling much better and really psyched cause I knew the bad part was over! The only negative I was feeling was a toenail on my right foot was getting banged into my shoe's toe box . . . a rookie mistake on my part to not trim my nails close before the race.
About 3/4 of the way down from Mosquito Pass, the aid station volunteers passed me in the 4-wheel drive trucks and I saw my friend from Atlanta who had been behind me. Guess I was now officially the last place runner.
Miles passed quickly and my spirits were high. Came to an aid station with a few cheering volunteers and I told them they could finally go home! Then I saw the race director who told me I was way past the cut-off and he would have to ask me to stop.
I almost cried.
I felt so good, and I knew there was just a little uphill left for me. Mostly down hill left. I had paid my dues in pain and suffering and now I wasn't going to get my reward. I was crushed.
Rode back to Leadville with one of the aid station volunteers and another runner who was cut-off. Spent a few minutes cheering some finishers . . . but I was just totally bummed. My heart wasn't in it at all. Saw all the folks walking around with their medals, congratulating each other. Looked for Jenn, but figured she was resting and taking a shower. I KNEW I could have finished this race and not finishing just sucked.
Hard to explain the feelings I was having . . . feelings of failure, feelings of pride of having completed all the hard parts, feelings of relief that the pain was over, feelings of anger at being made to stop. Bottom-line I was just crushed and I had no feelings of celebration or success. The race has a dinner for all participants and everyone goes up to the stage for recognition and I had planned to stay for that . . . but I just couldn't stay and be with everyone else that had sucked it up and finished... so I left.
I retrospect, I'm glad I tried this. For me, it was more like an ultra than a marathon, I put forth more effort than either of my 50 milers. This was hard, very hard. I do believe if this were run in the North Carolina mountains I would have easily finished well within even tighter cutoffs, but the altitude and resulting lack of oxygen did me in.
Maybe I should have done the Heavy Half Marathon, a least I would have finished it and gotten a medal.
Here are some more pictures.
Will I try it again? I doubt it. To be successful, I believe you really need to spend at least a week at 10,000 or more prior to the race. And I probably won't be willing to do that. But I sure would love to be able to run under this sign . . .
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