The 2005 Leadville Trail 100 Mile
Digging for gold in Leadville
By MATT CARPENTER
I was bitten by the Leadville bug while pacing a friend to a 22:28:26 14th place finish in 1990. I was used to races that dealt in hours and minutesnot days and nights. I was drawn in by the pre-race planning, the in-race suffering and the post-race feeling that somehow the runners were a little different than when they started. Someone explained that you dont know who you are until you run 100 miles. I knew that someday I would run the Race Across the Sky. I set 2003 as the year because it seemed so far off and would allow me to concentrate on the shorter stuff for quite a few more years. It would also be a great race to do the year before I turned 40.
I paced Leadville 5 more times through 1998. I viewed each one as an opportunity to learn the course and the tricks of the trade. On some of the slower years what I saw scared me. People sleeping next to rocks on Sugarloaf Pass, others shaking uncontrollably at aid stations and almost everyone looking a few shades of pale on the wrong side of healthy. Then there was the almost sick ritual of cutting wristbands from runnerssome of whom begged for more time while others were just as adamant that they had had enough. I was glad I had a few more years.
As always, the years flew by and before I knew it I was blowing out candles on cakes that were more candle than cake. I had spent 8 years as a sponsored runnerdare I say a professional runnerwhose job was to travel the world and run up mountains. It was the best gig in the world but it came to an end for various reasons but mostly because I had done what I had set out to do. Soon I started a family. Just as soon my running languished in no mans land. I was not as fast as I used to bebut unwilling to admit itand not as dedicated as I needed to bebut more than willing to justify it. A Pikes Peak Double victory in 2001 left me with a back injury that crippled me to the point that I was crying during most of my runs. It seemed like a good time to call it a career. Then, I remembered my goal of running Leadville.
As if hit by lightning my fading spark was turned into a flame. An almost unhealthy fear of the unknown would have me training like I had not trained in years. Leadville 03 was out of the question because of my back. I set a new goal of having Leadville be my first race as a master. I reincorporated sit-ups and other core specific exercises into my training. In a matter of weeks I healed an injury that had plagued me for two years. Even more amazing was that most of the speed that I thought age had stolen returned to my legs and I felt stronger than ever! I picked the 2004 Lake City 50 miler as my first 50 because it had terrain and altitude similar to Leadville.
Lake City unfolded like a dream and other than some spoiled fuel I had no real issues. Indeed, I took 43 minutes off the course record. I have a race report here: http://www.skyrunner.com/story/2004lc50.htm. Soon after the race my family began the almost weekly ritual of driving the two plus hours to Leadville to train on the course. Things immediately took a turn for the worse. I found that I could no longer run much more than an hour without getting sore quads and if downhill running was involved I would end up sore for 3-4 days. I cut back on my training and as Leadville approached things were shaping up. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall.
I will again take the easy way out with regard to writing much here about the 2004 LT100. If you want some of the gory details head to http://www.skyrunner.com/story/2004lt100.htm Suffice it to say that after I finished I was reminded of a scene from Rocky where he tells his wife that he thinks he broke something deep down inside. For me it was my pride. Paul DeWitt, Scott Jurek, 10 other guys and yes, even a female, had run by me while I was doing a 30 plus mile walk of shame. For a year I would be that guy whose wheels came off at Leadville. I took comfort only in the fact that I did not quit.
The day after the race I began implementing a plan for redemption. It started with three weeks off because I could not walk. With the 2005 LT100 now history it may seem a cop-out to say that it all went to plan but the simple fact is that for the most part it did! I went under 16 hours, broke the record, finished before dark and most importantly to me I did not walk a single step of the race other than the creek crossings. Instead of writing a more traditional race report I thought I would share the answers to some of the questions I am getting about the race.
In place of super long runs, I did back to back long runs. Both days I ran faster than I could had I just done one longer run. I also felt the second day better simulated the later stages of an Ultra because I was already tired. I took this concept even further in my day in/day out running. Heading into Leadville I went five months running 2 hours or more every single day and then another two months where the only days under 2 were the few days before my shorter races. All the while I was putting in two quality speed workouts a weekone in the flats and one in the hills.
In short, just like on the roads and in the mountains, there is a direct correlation in how fast we can go in an Ultra and how fast we are. Sure, food and other issues come into play, but there is no hiding from the clock when it comes to speed. Thats why I set Vail as a goalit kept me from turning my back on my speed. For more on this concept check out Ultra legend Buzz Burrells piece at http://www.trailrunner.com/trail_times/2005_trail_times_spring.htm.
I practiced my fuel regime about five times a week almost year round right down to the number of sips I take per hour. Yes18 sips an hour is what I need to stay hydrated. More if it is hot, less if it is cool. I get those 18 sips by taking 3 sips every 10 minutes. Further, I dump Carb-BOOM energy gel and Gatorade Endurance Formula right into my bottle or CamelBak so that I get about 50 calories every 10 minutes. My energy levels stay constant and I am never shocking my system like what would happen if I ran an hour or more and tried to take in the same number of calories at one time. As an added bonus, I can minimize the weight I carry based on the time it takes to get from one aid station to the next. Fish Hatchery to May Queen? 24 sips...
To come up with these numbers I had to experiment with what works for me. If I lost weight, I added sips. If I peed too much, less sips. Etc. But the point is I spent a good deal of my training time working on my fuel systems because I think it is the biggest factor between success and failure in an Ultra.
Physically I never even had what I would consider a bad patch. While on the edge, I felt in control the whole way. But I am not used to pushing so hard for so long and by 60 miles my mind was fighting bouts of paranoia. I was feeling so awesome and yet I was scared that things could hit the fan at any moment. I was actually thinking, This is great but people blow up in a marathon and I have 40 miles to go!!! It was almost getting to the point of being paralyzing so I did something I have never done in a race before. I cranked up the tunes!
I had put together a playlist of music to keep me going. Mostly hard-edged rapEminem. I had a song for the road, one for the climb up Sugarloaf and even one for when I crossed the railroad tracks. I had picked them over the course of the year based on their stand-my-neck-hairs-on-end factor. I was not using them to escape but to keep me in the here and now. They allowed me to concentrate on things like my breathing, my cadence, my footstrike and not worry about time or distance. One song I played six times in a row because it kept me in the zone.
My crew and others who saw me in the last 40 miles said I was somewhere else. This is true in that I was somewhere between fear and euphoria. I did not dare crack a smile until the final aid station when I knew that the deed was all but done. Then I just ran while the song in my ear asked, Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? I had captured it four minutes into the race when I took the lead and started running for more than a win and more than a record. I was running for redemption.
Finally, I am not saying what I have outlined above is the best way or the only way! Indeed, there are many ways to get to the same finish line. That being said, I do believe that the sport of Ultrarunning is undergoing a transition and things like the Montrail Ultra Cup have made some of the races more competitive and on some levels more professional. Sure, there will always be those whose only goal is to finish. There is nothing wrong with that! I know I was greatly inspired by the last runner at Leadville who crossed the line with only one second to spare. But for those of us that want to go as fast as we can go I believe that better planning and focused training is the keyno matter the distance!
Link to Gazette news coverage of the race