Last weekend I ran the Leadville Marathon. I signed up for it back in February, thinking that I had plenty of time to train for the vert and the altitude. Then, we got late season snow for the entire month of May and the mountains are just now starting to be runnable. But, I did plenty of running and am lucky to live at 9,000 feet. So, the last couple of weeks leading up to the race I just tried to encourage myself that I was ready.
It was my first marathon, and the only time so far that I have ever run more than 18 miles. I decided to keep telling myself that I was just going out for a run and to forget about how long it would take me to finish. The morning of the race I woke up at 4am, ate my favorite pre-race breakfast of pancakes and Matt and I drove down to Leadville to pick up my packet and hang out before the start.
The race began at 8am on Saturday. Surprisingly,before the race I felt very calm and ready to run. I tapered for a week before the race and was feeling amazing. The gun went off and the race began. The first half mile is on the pavement heading east on 6th st from downtown Leadville. I started out slow, at about a 12 minute pace, knowing that I had a long day ahead of me. After leaving the pavement the course climbed a small 500′ hill past some mine tailings. This first climb I felt really great on and didn’t feel out of place hiking at all, everybody around me was hiking. So I took advantage of being a fast hiker and passed a lot of people on the uphill. I didn’t realize it yet but I had a good advantage of being very acclimated to the high altitude as well.
On the descent down the other side of the hill, I knew that I didn’t want to pound on my quads too hard yet so I took it slow and steady and got passed by all the people I just passed on the uphill. Oh well! I was certainly happy later that I did not sprint down this hill.
Halfway through mile 3 began the first big climb of the day. It was a 1000 ft climb up to the ridge on Ball Mountain. Normally the course would circle around Ball Mountain but because of all the late snow this year, the route was changed. This climb was long and slow but I was still feeling really great. The top of the ridge was beautiful high alpine tundra just under 12,000ft. The skies were so blue and the views of the Sawatch were amazing!
The course descended from the ridge for a few minutes before the first aid station. At this point it was starting to get very hot and I was sweating from the climb so I mixed some scratch into one of my bottles and ate a Honey Stinger gel, some watermelon and filled my water bottle. The course continued to descend down a very rocky, steep hill. Running downhill was difficult through this section because I was still trying to take it easy knowing that I would still be climbing up and back down Mosquito Pass in a few miles.
At the bottom of the hill around mile 8 we turned a corner onto a packed dirt road, where the half marathon course met up with the marathon course and climbed around 300 feet or so to the next aid station. Once again I refilled my bottles ate some more gel, bananas and potato chips. From here the course went downhill for about a couple miles before another dirt road to the bottom of the pass. There was an aid station near the reservoirs where crew could drive to and Matt was there with my bag of fuel. I was excited to see him and refill my vest with gels and snacks for the big climb ahead. At this point I hadn’t eaten very much real food so I made sure to pack a couple Probars and I ate a whole banana. We chatted briefly about how it was going so far and then I took off to begin the ascent up Mosquito Pass.
My friend Alex and I had hiked one of the ridges near the pass road a few weeks before so I had an idea what I was in for, but I did my best not to look up while at the bottom of the pass. The people ahead of me on the pass looked like tiny little ants and it seems like it would take me hours to get to where they were. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and moving as fast as I could. There was a lot of water running down the pass road and runners going in both directions.
The climb was about 2000 ft and was very rocky. Halfway up there was an aid station and I grabbed potato chips, filled my bottles and ate more watermelon. A little ways past the aid station there was snow on either side of the trail and it was a lot skinnier. They had shoveled out the top two miles the week before the race. I talked with a couple other runners on the way up but was actually surprised at how many people I passed. The altitude had little effect on me and I was able to move quicker than most people around me. I couldn’t believe how good I felt considering the ascent. It was hard to pass with runners flying downhill but I did the best I could.
At the top of the pass I gave the volunteer my number so that I was accounted for making it all the way to the top before turning around. It was beautiful up there, and the only time of the entire race that I was slightly cold from the breeze.
The descent was probably harder than the ascent because it was a thin trail, breezy and extremely rocky. I was more tip-toeing quickly then I was running. But as soon as I got past the aid station I took off running and unfortunately a cramp kicked in. I had to slow my pace down and I figured that I was lacking salt so I tried guzzling down some Scratch to no avail. I made it back to the aid station where Matt was and told him I had a cramp and I think I needed salt. He gave me some honey roasted almonds and I used the bathroom, filled my bottles with water and Scratch and he ran down the road with me to his car. This was the last time I would see him until the finish.
The next few miles I felt great, running when I could, fast hiking when I couldn’t. My legs were starting to hurt at this point and I was losing my appetite, but I kept moving. When I reached the climb on the steep, rocky hill at mile 20, I was not excited. The climb was relentless and it was approaching the hottest part of the day. Everytime I thought that maybe around the next corner it would end, it didn’t. It just continued climbing. Everyone around me was tired and hot and ready for the downhill to the finish, as was I.
Finally I made it to the aid station, refilled my Scratch and water and started the long descent. My legs were very fatigued at this point and “running” downhill was proving to be pretty difficult. Just keep moving I kept telling myself. There was one small uphill left which actually was a relief after the downhill and then it was downhill to the finish. I hit the pavement on 6th st and despite my sore legs ran my fastest mile the last mile of the race to the finish. It felt so good to cross the line and sit down.
I finished in 6:40 only 10 minutes slower than my goal. I was ecstatic. A couple weeks before the race I was having a hard time believing I could finish it before the cut off of 8.5 hours. 6:30 was my “if everything goes right” goal. So I guess everything went right! I had so much fun and am extremely thankful to all the volunteers at the aid stations who did a wonderful job, the Leadville Race Series for putting on an awesome event and of course Matt for crewing me and always believing that I could do it!
Now I feel like I definitely can accomplish the Squamish 50k in August and Moab Marathon in November. I’m hooked. 🙂