Sunday, November 12, 2006

07/01/06 Leadville Trail Marathon

Way Up High in Leadville

This is not a typical report. I may come back and write a real one, but my brain is fried from this race (Saturday). So here are my random notes.

This is a trail marathon. I've done a few "trail" marathons before, but they were rail-to-trail deals that were wide with nice, soft running surfaces and gentle slopes. I've also done some technical trail races before, but they weren't anything near 26.2. This was the full-length motion picture on a horrific mix of single track (a couple scary miles) and old mining road... all rocky and very technical.

The race starts in the town of Leadville at 10,000 feet. The claim to fame is that you summit Mosquito Pass, 13,185 feet, at the halfway point. What they don't tell you is that you basically climb most of another mountain (locals call it "baldy") and circle it... then descend... then do the climb to Mosquito. When it comes down to it, you've climbed/descended a bunch... and then you do 2,000+ feet between M10 and M13.1. 2,000+ feet over three miles of switchback. Oh, then you do baldy again on the way back. See, it's an out-and-back. Lots of this was/is above treeline.

Some parts of the trek up to Mosquito were so steep for me that I had to go about 100 yards...stop and put my head between my legs to catch my breath.... go another 100 yards, etc. This is the only time in the last 76 marathons that I've seriously considered bailing. I didn't mostly because there wasn't really anywhere else to go. A lot of us had trouble with this section, but I have to admit that a lot of people did NOT. Yeah, I'm from sea-level, and many of these were colorado folks - but not all. I was amazed by the number of people that blazed up and down. Really amazed.

And one dog. A medium sized dog of undetermined breed trotted behind his owner for the whole race. I passed them as they were finishing the climb while I was on my way down. No leash... just toodling behind his owner buddy. Cool.

Now I know about altitude sickness and what it does to me. I had a wooshing sound in my ears - kinda like wind. I had a severe headache. I could not focus my eyes, which made the technical trails and nearby 1000 foot dropoffs somewhat more evil. I was cranky. Oh man, was I cranky. I am quite sure that I was near my MHR for a long damn time.

I hit the summit... 13.1 miles... at 3:40 on the race clock. One minute later, the winner finished the whole thing. Note that 3:45 is my normal full marathon time. I'd only done half.

Oh, and the winner passed me when I was probably around M10ish. He would have been at M16ish. He had on exactly 3 items of clothing: shorts and two shoes (no socks), and no hydration gadgets. This was a chilly race too. Me? I had on 12 items including my handheld bottle.

About 15 minutes back down the mountain... which was MUUUUCH scarier than going up... the thunder started in the distance.

"Please God, don't let the thunder come through while I am above the treeline." It didn't. I saw my first close lightning strike as I was a few miles from the finish. But, bruddah, I was nervous for most of the second half. Probably helped me run faster.

The wildflowers were wonderful. Didn't notice them on the way up. Saw lots on the way down.

I hit the aid station at mile 16 at 4:30. No mosquitoes at the top of the pass, but lots here.

Passed through a few snowfields, only one was difficult, but we had to do it twice.

I had been told that this race had a lot of single track trail in. Nope. Maybe a couple miles (so four total). But these miles circled baldy. Single track, about a foot wide... with a really steep dropoff on one side. And once, an open mineshaft. This is where I learned that another attribute of altitude sickness is vertigo. Oh man.

The race goes by a bunch of old mines. I wish that I had enjoyed the sights more. Wasn't sure what I was looking at... some looked like sets from old west movies. But I was too focused on not dying to really check it all out.

My right foot started hurting me terribly at about the 5 hour mark. I could tell that I had a bad blister on the heel. What was I going to do about it? So I ran.

I hit the aid station at mile 22.4 at 6:06. 54 minutes and 3.8 miles to beat 7 hours. Sounds easy, but these last miles were steep downhill and my right foot was really messed up. This is where I saw the first lightning strike, I think.

I passed about 4 people in this last section. I noticed that only one person had passed me in the last ten miles.

I finished at 6:53. I beat 7 hours. My splits were a funky 3:40/3:13.

I collapsed at the finish line. I had tripped and stumbled more times than I could count during the race (and have the black toes to prove it), but I never spread-eagled. I never fell until the end.

Later, I took my right shoe off, and found that all of my skin was (is) missing from my right heel. The entire thing had blistered and then peeled back. Why? Bad form on the steep downhills... lots of braking. I had to brake, though, so as not to die. But other people did lots better.

I lived. I drank some soda.

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