The Llamarama on Hope Pass – Altitude 12,600′. They are life savers, literally.
With the Leadville 100 run lottery quickly approaching, the question in many peoples minds, “Should I throw my name in?!”. Let’s face it, without the Leadville 100, there would be no LLAMARUNNER. I would have thousands of extra dollars in my bank account, I would not have been beaten to the ground collapsed to the point of no return. I would not have my white whale. The race has truly taught me the meaning of, “Dig Deep!”. From the painful moments during the race, to the mental anguish of failure, questioning the meaning of life, and the pure bliss this beautiful place called Leadville can bring. It has me coming back over, and over, and over again. The people and heart that goes into it, the smell of the pine trees as the wind whips through the mountains above treeline, the vast landscape that you can stare at endlessly, a place where all feels right in the world. Many people who come back to Leadville year after year will tell you, “There’s just something about Leadville”. Its true, its a fascinating little place, but it will make you suffer. Of course you should throw your name in the hat 🙂 Here are 10 things you will want to know if it’s your first time. I’ve learned many of these the hard way, If you like the hard way that is awesome, you are free to go, but please subscribe first 🙂
Leadville at night the week of the 100 run. You really have to train for this.
Tip 1. That training thing, you have got to do it! You really need to train for this! Obviously I’m not calling you lazy, you have to train specifically for Leadville. Duct tape your mouth shut, stuff an earplug in your nose and go out for a run, this will simulate the 30-35% less oxygen that you will encounter and you’ll look like less of an idiot than one who wears an oxygen depravation mask. Kidding 🙂 To really be prepared for altitude, make sure you keep up your speed work, be it mile repeats, tempo runs or chasing the friendly neighborhood deer through the woods. At 10,200′, you will run between 1-2 minutes per mile slower than at sea level, at the same effort. Having exceptional cardio, will help keep that effort easier at the pace you need to maintain. Doing so will let you eat all the mini candy bars and sugar treats you desire, without feeling like you just drank a bottle of ipecac! Hills, there are a few of those in Leadville, but its the MOUNTAINS that will get you. Between mile 42-63 alone, you will climb close to 8,000′. Build up your strength and endurance doing hill repeats, both hiking and running. For long sustained climbs, get on the treadmill at 15% and hike. There are also a lot of flat sections in Leadville, so don’t pass up an urge to get out for a nice flat 13 miles on the road! Cross training is important too, a strong body will help you deep in the race. Step on/Step off’s work great to strengthen the trail running legs. Learn how to walk fast, you will need this, incorporate it into your training.
Tip 2. Know your body. Stop comparing how many miles you are running, to that of your friends You are not Rob Krar, unless you are, then Hi Rob Krar thanks for visiting my blog, don’t forget to subscribe 🙂 Thinking you have to run gigantic back to back runs, or 100+ mile weeks because you know somebody who does, will win you an award. It’s called a DNF award, it’s not as nice as a shiny Leadville buckle. I can show you the awards I have from leaving all my energy out on training runs instead of on the race course. You only should train the amount that you can truly recover from, that’s the secret. If you are waking up every day, hating life, struggling to get out of bed, cranky, can’t sleep, elevated heart rate, and hungry all the time, then you my friend are over training. Do not pass go, do not collect Leadville buckle, go straight to DNF! I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about back to back long runs, or have seen it on a group page asking about them. There’s some mileage junkies who are phenomenal athletes, they run back to backs when they are tired, they run when they are sick, hurt, ill, missing half a foot, they are tough and they will finish. But keep yourself in check. This race is about you, lets keep it that way. Also, don’t fall into the Hope Pass trap, the week of the race. I don’t care how bad you want to see it, save it for race day.
Rob Krar, coming off of Hope Pass during Trans Rockies Run. When you see this sign after crossing the river around mile 42 going the opposite way as Rob, your climb is about to begin. Dig Deep.
Tip 3. Get your Hope Pass fix in. Get out to Leadville in June, and do either the Leadville Marathon (do Hope Pass the day after), or the Leadville Training Camp. If this is your first time running at high altitude, the nutrition that works for you back home may not work for you in Leadville. I certainly recommend anyone who is running for the first time, to get out and experience Leadville before the 100 miler. Your odds of finishing will go up significantly.
Tip 4. There’s no recovery in Leadville. Know your heart, not just where it is. Heart is what it’ll take to finish this race, but YOUR heart will beat about 270,000 times to get you to that finish line. I mentioned before that in Leadville your body works harder due to the altitude. It also means that if you are running 11 minute pace with a heart rate of 120 beats per minute on trail at sea level, could be 140-150 beats per minute in Leadville. That also means if you go out too fast, you may be exceeding your lactate threshold. Once you blow yourself to the moon, it’s very hard to recover and your heart rate may remain elevated. Therefore, I suggest training with a heart rate monitor, and even using it during the race. Using the basic Maffetone Method of 180-your age to find aerobic limits, you can train aerobically on long runs, and learn how to keep yourself in check during the intense start of the Leadville 100 run. Basic example for a 30 year old, would be 180-30= 150 + 5 bpm for training consistently for 2 years in a row = 155 bpm max. The goal would be to stick between 140-155 bpm, to stay safe and aerobic in Leadville. For more information on using the Maffetone Method visit: http://philmaffetone.com/180-formula/
Tip 5. Know your cutoffs, know your splits. The cutoffs in Leadville are tough. In a lot of ultras you can lollygag around the first few hours and get into a groove. Not Leadville, the gun blast starts a 4 am departure from downtown and you are off! Mayqueen is the first aid station 13.5 miles away, and your ass needs to be in and out of there in 2 hours, 30 minutes or less (I’ve made spreadsheets on past finishers, averaged times to each aid station, you can finish if a bit slower but the odds go way down). Things begin to snowball if you are slower, and before you know it you are pushing the pace, going past your aerobic threshold and using precious energy just to make the cutoffs. Be in shape to run sub 2:30 to Mayqueen without being anaerobic. Tip. Establish Position in the first 3 miles within your aerobic threshold, and DO NOT waste a lot of energy passing people in the conga line around Turquoise Lake! It’s 100 miles folks, plenty of time. And don’t be crabby, nobody likes crabby.
Turqoise Lake will emerge from the darkness, take a look back from Hagerman road for a glorious sight.
Tip 6. Hope Pass. Hope Pass is tough, it comes at a point in the race where the legs are starting to feel it, and the initial excitement that you are running the Leadville 100 is turning into more of a, “What did I get myself into”. Despite popular belief, Hope Pass is not where the race starts. If you had followed any of my advice so far, you have stayed rather aerobic up until Hope Pass, you may be tired, but you have some legs left. Make sure you really get in your calories. After leaving Twin lakes the base of the climb starts around mile 42, and in a few short miles you will gain 3400 feet before dropping down into Winfield. It’s important to stay steady, and aerobic. It’s going to be slow, but it’s time to suck it up buttercup. It will take roughly 8 hours to go from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back, and if at all possible you want to be back to Twin Lakes before dark. My goal time into Winfield is 12 hours 30 minutes into the race (4:30pm), and 8:30 pm back into Twin Lakes. If you only have one pacer, don’t start them at Winfield. You can always call out, “I NEED A PACER!!!”. If you want some company or someone to mule for you over Hope, but Hope Pass is an obstacle that inevitably needs to be conquered. It’s a big challenge for the crew to get out there due to the long drive and road conditions, certainly make sure you have a drop bag at Winfield just in case.
Tip 7. The race doesn’t start until Twin Lakes inbound. Mile 60.5. If you can get here before dark you have a very good shot at finishing! If you only have one pacer, this is where you start them. The Hope Pass double crossing should be hard and controlled, but you need to get out of Twin Lakes. There’s a 3 mile climb out of Twin Lakes and it’s nasty, the temperature is starting to drop, you are starting to get tired and you better have a damn good pacer. I suggest always starting a fresh pacer at Twin Lakes as well, it’s better to rotate pacers and have someone geared and ready to continue than to change shoes and socks for two runners, get gear and food, and leave Twin Lakes. This is about YOU, the racer, all attention should be with you at the Twin Lakes aid station.
Tip 8. Embrace the suck. It’s going to suck at times, but the landscape is truly beautiful. You run in some of the most beautiful terrain the Rocky Mountains have to offer. Take a look back when on Hagerman road as the sun rises over Turquoise Lake. Stare at the peak of Mount Elbert (14,440′) as you leave Outward Bound. Stop and take a selfie with the Llamas on Hope Pass, its gorgeous there. Talk to your fellow runners and never admit you are hurting. Always stay positive, and never succumb to the runner that wants company for his misery. You will come across them. They will want you to quit too.
View near Outward Bound Aid Station. Love this little shack.
Tip 9. There is absolutely no oxygen in Leadville, because I get there early and suck it all in! But for real, if you can get to Leadville 7 days before the race or earlier, that is how it’s done. There are many ways to do it, the first is to quit your job so you have the extra time off. You’ll be fired by how much you talk about Leadville when you get back anyways, so just get it over with. The second is to get your friends lined up, and find a little place on www.homeaway.com, or vrbo.com to rent. It’s the only way to do it if you are getting out there a week or more earlier. The first year I did Leadville I ran the 50 miler, spent 40 some days in a tent at 10,000′ altitude recovering and training, then ran the 100 miler. I assure you that is not how you do it. You will freeze, you will not recover, you will suffer. It can be 30 degrees at night in Leadville near race time, if you are an avid camper then this may not be a problem. If this is your first time at altitude, running the Leadville 100, or your first time camping at altitude, find some real warmth and a bed. If you love your job so much that you can’t get away earlier, get to Denver on Thursday and get to bed early. In the morning on Friday get driving, pick up your race packet, go to the race meeting, then get out. Drive back to the hotel you booked in Frisco or Silverthorne to get away from the action, to get some food, and sleep at lower altitude. The 35 minutes it takes to drive from Frisco isn’t so bad since you’ll be up to eat before the race anyways.
My favorite little Leadville Cabin Rental 🙂
Tip 10. Build a crew sheet. Make a game plan for yourself. List expected times into each aid station, along with cutoff times. Calculate the calories you need and the time required between aid station. Make a gear and nutrition list for each aid station. Make an easy to read chart for your crew of what you need in your pack at each aid station, where you will meet them and how they will get there. If possible use 2 race packs so the crew can have everything pre loaded and ready to go. Prepare for all weather conditions! Leadville can be extremely hot in the flats, being that it’s so close to the sun. It can also freeze, rain, and snow a few minutes later. If you would like a copy of my 10 page crew sheet send me an e-mail. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading, if you only learn one thing to help you get across that finish line from this article, then I have succeeded in my efforts. Good luck, God speed, and dig deep. See you in Leadville.
Stopped for a quick photo with my pacer at the top of Hope Pass. He grew out some ultra facial hair!