Leadville 100 2009: I’m Either In or I’m Out

Oh boy, here I go again, but this time, maybe on my own. I will, for sure, be running the […]

By on August 19, 2009 | Comments

Leadville Trail 100 mile runOh boy, here I go again, but this time, maybe on my own. I will, for sure, be running the Leadville 100 on Saturday. There has been much uncertainty in my road to starting line, as I’ll explain below. There also still uncertainty in my race plan. I’m currently without any pacer for the run, so it’s here that I’ll put an above the fold plea – I need a pacer for the Leadville 100! [Update: I’m fully pacered up from the turn around the finish. Thanks to all how helped, offered, or will pace me!]

[Three quick editorial notes: (1) This is a rare instance when I’ve talked about my own running at length on iRunFar this year. Let me know whether you’d like a bit more Bryon on the site or would prefer no mention of my own running save for input into race reports or gear reviews. (2) The post is long. Consider yourself warned. (3) In a rare, but decided lapse, I’ve not proofed this post before publishing it. I simply felt that I needed to get my plea for a Leadville pacer out as soon as possible and would otherwise have had to have delayed posting until tonight if I didn’t publish this “as is” now. I’ll likely edit it later.]

From Golden Parachute to Lead Weight
When I came back from Morocco in April following a fantastic experience at the Marathon des Sables, I had a distinct void in my life. For six months, I’d been training for a singular event (MdS Training Week 1-8, Weeks 9-22). I feared that if I didn’t sign up for something I would be stranded in a desert devoid of purpose. Hark, an old foe appears in the distance and I gravitate toward it looking for a fight. My endurance was built, I had at least some speed on the flats, and a chance to once again acclimate for battle if only I would quit my job… which is exactly what I did.

Me (left) feelin’ fit after the Marathon des Sables

Ah, but the boldest of plans are the ones are the ones that most likely to fall flat. Perhaps, that’s why I’m so passionately risk averse in nearly every thing I do. Quitting my job also meant selling my house, which resulted in spending weeks fixing it up and removing clutter prior to the showings. Once an offer was in, I still had to wrap up my DC life and my remaining possessions before hitting the road for the iRunFar summer road trips. The result? Running a scant 183 miles in the 6 weeks following MdS with 45 of those in those miles run the week immediately following the race. That’s a scant 30 miles a week for a month and a half. That’s not recovery, that’s losing fitness.

The Long and Winding Road to Leadville
As soon as I pulled iRunFar mobile HQ 1 (a 15’ Penske rental truck) away from the curb May 19th, I turned a corner. I went from a city running slacker to a full-time trail runner… at least when I wasn’t driving somewhere. Over the following 13 weeks, I ran 790 miles for an average of 60.7 miles per week. If I take out this past week (33 miles) in which I really started to taper, I averaged 63 miles per week. What’s more, I ran at least 50 miles in all but one of those 12 non-taper weeks. I ran a mere 37 miles in week 10 during which I was suffering from Achilles problems (more on that later) and which coincided with the always-hectic Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. [I’d developed a comparison between my training seasons leading up to the 2006 and 2009 Leadville 100s. I’ve not relied on it in the body of this post, but included it at the end as Addendum 1.]

During the past three months, I’ve traveled back and forth across two countries (the US and Canada) and made a brief journey to a third (France). All the while, I’ve kept up fairly consistent training as noted above. What’s more is that the mileage has almost entirely been on trails, so the training volume in terms of time on feet and with exertion is much higher than it would have been if I’d stayed in DC and logged a bunch of mindless run commutes this summer.

So with all this good stuff, why’d I ever think of not running Leadville? Well, for starters, I’ve never felt like my fitness has been what I’d want it to be going into a 100. Sure, I’ve had a decent summer, but there are a few major elements that have weighed heavily on my mind.

First, my spring season was less than ideal. Sure, I had a decent base and ran well at MdS, but I also had a taper before MdS and the aforementioned bad stretch immediately thereafter. In comparison, before my previous Leadville I’d banged off my best ever training stretch from the mid-February through the end of April with the follow sequence of weekly mileages: 54, 64, 76, 78, 86, 82, 85, 88, 88, 68, 98, 56. This was my 2006 Western States prep and resulted in a marathon PR (2:47) off no speed work in the final week of that stretch despite it being during my final weekend of law school. That means I went into the summer in my best ever shape and I was able to maintain the fitness through solid though unspectacular mileage on Park City, Utah’s sweet single track… and roads.

Adam Chase (pacer), me, and Gretchen Kish (my sis and crew) ripping into the Fish Hatchery at the 2006 Leadville 100

Second, I’ve not logged the consistent road and flat trail runs that I think are necessary to run Leadville well. In my mind, Leadville is a road 100 with some walking breaks. I can walk uphill fine, so all I need to focus on for Leadville is being able to run relatively quickly for well over 80 miles. I’ve done little to none of that this summer. During the summer of 2006, I was studying for my bar exam and would often throw on my iPod shuffle with a BarBri lecture and either run 3,000’ up on the roads to Guardsman Pass or run a 22 mile road and bike path route that made up exterior of the old Park City Marathon course. I firmly believe these helped me immensely at Leadville. They’re likely the reason I had the fastes
t split between Half Moon and the Fish Hatchery (the road section) on the way back to town.

Finally, I’ve had the summer of my life. I’ve travel to some of the sweetest trail running locations in the Northern Hemisphere and am beyond thankful for that. Given the option of doing it again, I’d say, “yes, Yes, YES!” That said, my wanderings, epics drives, furious stretches of “working” (yes, I do work… a lot – I just happen to enjoy it), and take it as I find it running situations, I’ve not had a consistent focused training plan through any of it. In reality, the lack of training focus likely is not too much to my detriment (except for the lack of long, flat work); instead, it’s the mental consequence that’s the gravest.

In talking about my training doubts, I’ve skipped the bit about having some Achilles injuries that started with three back-to-back days of doubles (my second, third, and fourth doubles on the entire year) while in Boulder in mid-July. I’ve long had issues with my right Achilles, but this was the first time I’d ever had problems with my left Achilles. However, less than two weeks after the initial injury, I was able to resume full, if cautious training just two weeks later with a 109 miles in 6 days in the Canadian Rockies. While this injury did come at what should have been my training peak, the doubt that it instilled was greater. More important, was the synergistic affect that if had on mind that was already doubting my training. [I also has some niggles with my left knee coming out of the Canadian Rockies, but they’ve healed up.]

\I had good company in the Canadian Rockies, including this ermine

…I’d nearly concluded this post without mentioning another big negative factor – I’d dropped from all three ultras I’d started since the Marathon des Sables. I’d easily justified each of drops, but they still loomed large. If I couldn’t finish a single race out of the Pocatello 50 mile, L’Annecime 80k, and Speedgoat 50k, how could I even think about running a 100 mile race? I couldn’t… at least not yet.

Just Say “No”
With all of this on my mind, on July 31, I decided to pull myself from the Leadville 100 during an amazing 55k run of the Rockwall in the Canadian Rockies. To what did I chalk up the decision not to run Leadville? Well, I categorized it as a DNC … or Did Not Care. As I explained to those who asked (and some who didn’t), I simply wasn’t emotionally invested in the race and that’s simply no way to start a 100-mile race.

I wasn’t disappointed at all. I was at peace with the decision. In fact, I was excited to be able to run as much as I’d like in the two weeks before and after Leadville while I’m still on the road in the Intermountain West. Not racing would have also given me the opportunity to provide live updates on the race to all of you and I would have likely ended up pacing someone.

Sometimes You’ve Got to Say “No” Before You Can Say “Yes”
So, if I was fine with sipping beers at Twin Lake while my buddies were busting their butts on Hope Pass why did I ever decide to get back in the game. Well, oddly enough, I think I needed to say “no” to Leadville before I could say “yes.” I couldn’t run Leadville simply because I’d signed up for it or because I’d have a chance to acclimate before this year’s race. No, I had to toe the line at Leadville because I wanted to run the stinkin’ race!

In telling folks that I wouldn’t be running Leadville, I consistently added something along the lines of “unless I have an epiphany.” So what was that epiphany? We’ll it happened in three parts.

The grand reversal began with a detour on the iRunFar summer road trip to Grand Targhee, Idaho for a few days at the Dreamchasers camp and a 5k trail race. [See Addendum 2 for more] I literally walked off the race’s starting line (there was a hill) and waited for other runners to take it out. No one did. I sat in second up the first quarter mile climb. Once the course turned downward, it was obvious that I’d catch the leader. When I caught him, he didn’t let me by…. but knowing the guy who was in third, I didn’t want to lose any pace on the descent, so I scooted through the brush and took the lead. This was a first time I’ve been in the lead of a non-ultra distance endurance race since high school. I didn’t expect it to last long as AJW soon took over second position not far behind. Andy and I battled for the next 20 minutes with him always from 5 to 15 seconds back. In the end, I edged out Andy, but that’s not the point. What mattered is that I ran a race without a heart rate monitor or GPS running watch for the first time in ages and ended up “racing” the entire distance. I pushed myself to the edge early and held it for a long while and it was exhilarating! In addition, even if the finish had been reversed, even being close to Andy let me know that I was in decent shape.

Me finishing a 22:52 5k in the Teton Mountains

The evening after the race, while AJW and I enjoyed a couple beers in his hotel room, he suggested that I give Leadville a shot. He pointed out that the race showed I was fit and that he’d been impressed with my downhill running during the race. I’ll keep the rest of the conversation to myself, but it got me thinking. Andy was the devil on my shoulder and what he was offering was hard to resist. I wasn’t back in Leadville yet, but I’d been swayed from a solid no to undecided.

Two days later, I found myself at the starting line of the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, a race I’d run back in the summer of 2005 when I’d been in excellent shape. I wrote the following in my Jupiter Peak Steeplechase race report.

The Jupiter Peak Steeplechase was the longest race I’ve finished since the Marathon des Sables early this spring. I finished 17th overall compared to 13th when I last raced the Steeplechase in 2005. I’m happy with this for two reasons: (1) I was in the best shape of my post-collegiate career in the summer of 2005 and (2) the La Sportiva Mountain Cup brought in a much more talented field. My time was 6 minutes faster (2:18 vs. 2:24) than 2005, but the course has changed some since then. Still, I don’t think that I ran significantly slower this time and may have run faster. All in all, my run at Jupiter Peak and at a 5k in the Tetons just three days earlier have me feeling good and itching to race for the first time in a long while.

After Jupiter Peak, I wasn’t certainly in for Leadville, but I was pretty darned close. I decided to make the following Tuesday my decision day. By Monday, I was itching to run and while I didn’
t feel great during a 5-miler out toward Turquoise Lake on Tuesday, I decided I was in.

The Plea for a Pacer
[Update: I’ve found pacers for the entire last 50 miles!] I’ve got a good friend who will be crewing for me and another friend hooked me up with a pacer up and over Hope Pass, but I’m still without a pacer for the night section. To be honest, I really hate running alone at night in the woods. I REALLY hate it. It wigs me out to the point that it’s quite possible I would not be able to continue the race due to fear… sad, but true. (I literally carried a rock for the entirety of the Boulevard section at the end of the Leadville 100 course when I ended up running it alone in 2006.) It’s for that reason that I plead for someone to come run with me for part or all of the night section.

If you can pace me or know someone in the area who might be able to pace me, please leave a comment with a way for me to get in touch with you or contact me directly. I’m really looking forward to the race, but I can’t do it without your help.

Adam Chase and me after he paced to 6th me at the 2006 Leadville 100

Addendum 1: Below are my 2006 and 2009 13-week Leadville 100 training seasons that both end one week before the race.

My 2006 Leadville 100 training season


My 2009 Leadville 100 training season

Addendum 2: In between an epic week in Banff, Alberta and an assignment to cover the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase laid the Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventure Club’s August camp. My friend and frequent pacee, Andy Jones-Wilkins would be there with his kids to whom I’m “Uncle Junglegym” or “Red Chin” and I’d have a chance to see some other friends, as well. Jay Batchen of the Dreamchasers encouraged me to stop by the camp on Wednesday as Ray Zahab would be talking about his South Pole adventure and there’d be a 5k race. The Wednesday visit was nearly derailed when I failed to leave Banff until 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. With some solid long haul practice logged this summer, I made it to Grand Targhee around 4:30 a.m. with barely a stop and not a drop of coffee. I tilted my Prius’s passenger seat back shortly before 5 a.m. and managed about 150 minutes of sleep before morning activities roused me from my nap.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.