Race Report: Leadville Heavy Half 2017
Leadville Heavy Half 2017
Every challenging race I compete in starts a conversation with my husband. It goes something like this:
Me: “Should I do it?”
Husband: “Well of course, why wouldn’t you?”
Me: “It is a trail race that starts at 10,000 ft elevation and then climbs to 13,000 ft elevation. I just got back into running and it is only 40 days away.”
Me: “Alright, I’ll sign up.”
That was that. I signed up to do the Leadville Heavy Half (just the heavy half). I was completely anxious about this event since none of it was going to be familiar. They say nothing new on race day? Well, all of this was new for me.
This year I wanted to break out of my comfort zone and this race was a good start. My overall goal was to finish the race smiling. It was like the Boston Marathon for the first time, you want to take in the scenery and enjoy the run. I was completely shocked on how good I felt and how the race went.
Finish Time: 3:19:24
Training for Altitude in Austin
I have lived in Texas most of my life which is flat, hot and humid. How was I supposed to train for steep climbs at 10,000 ft altitude and dry conditions in Austin? Creatively. I had 40 days after I signed up to train for this event. First thing was first, I needed trail running shoes. I went over to Texas Running Company and got my first pair of Salomon Speedcross 4 (I am in love with these shoes). Then I needed to see if I could even run on a trail so I joined up with some friends to experience the single track trail run. Lastly, I researched how to prepare for altitude.
Piece of Advice: Don’t by one of those mask for altitude. They don’t work. A friend of mine told me before I made that $70 purchase. Those masks limit air, not oxygen. When you are at altitude there is plenty of air, just less oxygen in the air (your body need the oxygen, not the air).
To help prepare me for the race while training at 489 above sea level, in 40 days and with little trail experience I did the following.
- Running on the trail: I broke in my new shoes and practiced running on the trail.
- Train for time not speed: I ran slower miles to be on my feet longer since I expected to aggressively hike half the race.
- Destroy your quads: I biked hills and squatted heavy to build up my quads since the first half of the race is all up hill the second half was all down hill.
My longest run was 14 miles and I did two trail runs in Austin around 10 miles. I was mostly riding and swimming during my training to prepare for triathlons. Looking back I overestimated the difficultly of the race and the training I did was perfect for the expected outcome. However, the most important thing in the race prep happens the week before the race.
Other than getting a prescription for a prophylactic, the best was to prepare is to get there at least 3 days before the race. I got to Boulder on Friday (about 8 days before the race) to watch Ironman Boulder and spend some time with Team Blueprint. I didn’t get “altitude sickness” but I did bloat all over my body (basically I felt like a brick michelin man). The following days I felt like myself and went on a bike ride to Lyon and ran around Boulder Creek Path and Chautauqua Park. On Sunday I followed our athletes around at Ironman Boulder and volunteered at special needs for the bike course.
On Tuesday I left Boulder for Copper Mountain, a resort town just 25 minutes away from Leadville. From Copper Mountain there are bike/running paths that went to Vail and Frisco. It was beautiful with mountains on one side and a raging river on the other. I used those paths to shake out my legs before the race and take in what little air I could get. Arriving early helped me acclimate to the altitude and experience trail running with some intense climbs (well intense for me).
The day before the race it was all about resting. I went to packet pickup during lunch and grabbed a cookie from Cookies with Altitude for later (the lemon poppy was delicious). That night I gave in and set the humidifier near my bed and the fan across the room to at least get some sleep. I knocked out just after 9:30 pm and set my alarm for 5:30 am. Morning came too quick.
The weather was superb with less than 30% humidity and a starting line temp around 60 degrees. As we climbed up to mosquito pass the temperatures dropped. I am not sure how cold it got but with 50+ mph winds it felt around 40 degrees. The best way to dress for this event is shorts, long socks, short sleeves or sleeveless and then bring a light weight jacket or sleeves to cover up at the top.
The drive to Leadville from Copper Mountain is beautiful and takes around 25 minutes. There was plenty of parking on the street, so I found a spot 4 blocks from the start line. The race started on time at 8:00 a.m. and everyone started out at a nice slow pace. The first part of the race (3 miles) is all uphill on paved and jeep road. My goal was to slowly jog and pace myself knowing it would get a bit rough going up to mosquito pass.
You could not beat the views! Once I got to mile 4 I just had to stop and look around (while also watching my footing). The course was tricky at some points. The rocks were not big enough for a single foot to push off of and not small enough to be considered large gravel. Then the snow was melting at the top which meant the pathway was now a stream. It wasn’t deep, but you could soak your entire foot if you did not watch your step. Lastly the snow banks were still present and cut the size of the course in half near the top.
It finally arrived – the climb up mosquito pass. You could not miss it and from far away it looked daunting. At this point it was just about walking quickly and hopefully finding a few people to chat with on your way up. The wind was brutal about halfway up almost knocking off my hat. The temperature drop significantly and I started to get a bit light headed from lack of oxygen and fuel. Eating was nearly impossible since you were breathing so hard going up and that chewing and swallowing was not practical.
I saw the trail open up which revealed a marvelous view alongside 50+ mph winds. I was being pushed around like a plastic bag trying to keep my balance and get at least one photo (no matter how goofy I looked). I was up there for about 3 minutes before I decided to go head back down.
The run down was fast, very technical and fun. Coming down mosquito pass I almost tripped dozens of times, but I never fell. The wind was so strong (luckily pushing up into the mountain) that my right nostril closed off and I could feel the contact on my right eye moving.
I tried to enjoy the views every once and while but watching my footing took priority. Once out of the wind I felt strong and decided to actually push my pace. My cardiovascular system got to rest while my muscular system picked up the slack. My quads were handling the steep downhills perfectly and talking casually at a 7:15 pace was easy. Just like when I ran the Texas Independence Relay all I wanted to do was hunt down prey (pass people).
After I finished I felt great and took the afternoon to wander around Leadville, chat with other runners and wait for other Blueprint Athletes to finish. I now see why people are addicted to this race series. It is a challenge. The athletes are relaxed and supportive. The course is beautiful and dynamic. I know I will be back another year and maybe even another race.
First, thank you for reading this. It makes me so happy to see people take an interest in what I do but also in hopes that you learn something from my successes and misses.
Second, thank you to Blueprint for Athletes for giving me the opportunity to go to the Leadville Heavy Half and Marathon. Blueprint for Athletes has given me an excellent insights to have a good race and we just launched the new website! All packages are under $199 with free concierge service and a new Blueprint Coaches program.
Official Race Results: Click Here