The Leadville Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart as my first marathon that also kicked off my love for running. From the mountainous vistas to the fields of wildflowers, you are rewarded with beautiful views throughout the entire race. Hawks soar overhead, marmots bark their complaints as you run past, and black bears have been spotted crossing the trail. If the landscape doesn’t leave you breathless, the elevation will. Sitting at 10,152 Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States. There is about 35% less oxygen at this altitude compared to sea level, and about 20% less oxygen than Boulder, CO.
The race typically peaks at 13,200 feet above sea level (a.s.l.) where you feel like you’re breathing through a straw. Due to an abnormal snow year, the course was rerouted to avoid the snow at high elevations. Snow drifts made the trails inaccessible above 12,000 ft a.s.l. The maximum elevation we reached this year was about 11,900 ft a.s.l. This made the course extremely fast and flat as we followed old mining roads out and back, gaining as much elevation as we could (around 3,800 ft gained). A rerouted course is always better than a cancelled course.
Going into the race this year I felt much more prepared. I spent some time running around Leadville and sleeping at high elevations in the weeks leading up to the race. At the starting line my legs felt strong and my lungs felt healthy. I let out a big wolf howl as the start gun was shot, and we were off! I sat on the heels of the leader and we even passed the pace cars taking us to the top of 6th street. Here, I glanced back at the 1500 runners all streaming up the road, a truly incredible sight. Soon we settled into a fast pace heading up County Road 3 and the first of my troubles began.
I’ve been working on my nutrition for the past couple of months, trying everything from goos to burritos, from fasted to full-bellied, from salty to sweet. Still nothing seems to sit well for me at altitude no matter what I try. I started dry heaving at mile 3 and finally puked it out at mile 5. Luckily I found I could still hold a 7:30 uphill pace while dry heaving and puking only took a few seconds before I was good to go again. I passed the aid station at the top of County Road 3 and was elated to open up the legs and start running downhill, making up some time I lost to the strong uphill runners. I stashed a hydration belt at mile 8 and was happy that it was still hanging on the tree undisturbed by the family of squirrels nearby.
My hydration belt held two 9 oz water bottles each filled with 2 scoops of tailwind. I also stuffed some chocolate pretzels and a package of squeezable chocolate frosting into the belt. Out of everything I carried, the frosting sat the best with my belly and was a great energy boost before heading up County Road 1. I did end up puking one more time at the top of CR1, but I think it was due to the tailwind rather than the frosting. This was the last time I had stomach issues and my body finally settled into running mode.
Heading over to the final out-and-back on County Road 2, the pace finally slowed enough to have a conversation and I was able to meet a couple of friendos! Jacob Banta, another Leadman prospect, was a blast to run with and we both pushed each other throughout the race. I am looking forward to completing the Leadman series with him! We both took our time and walked a bit of the uphills where we were passed by some other runners. I finally got a third wind and got my feet running again towards the top of CR2 before turning around and cruising the downhill.
I was elated coming into the fifth aid station where Cole, Amanda, and Talus were ready to hit me with some instant stoke transfers. They ran alongside of me for a few minutes and totally revitalyzed my energy going into the final 5 miles. This feeling of stoke helped to overcome the cramping starting to occur in my calves and hamstrings. As I passed the last aid station with only 3 miles to go, the cramps were so bad I couldn’t fully extend my legs and I had to sort of stumble-run the last little bit. I did cry a little, and it hurt immensely, but I pushed through it knowing that the sooner I reached the finish line the sooner I would stop hurting.
I reached the finish line in 3:33:06 ending the misery I just put my legs through. I was tired as heck, but also ecstatic with the overall experience. While I did not improve my placement from last year, I did feel like I gave the race my all and did not leave anything on the table. I stuffed my face with watermelon and celebrated with my incredible crew enjoying some cold beers and cheering on more athletes as they came in. I am currently leading the Leadman series, in front of Jacob by about 2 minutes, going into the Silver Rush 50. I only hope that it goes as well as this race, and better if I can get my nutrition dialed.