Thursday, July 06, 2006
Most of my friends who understand what I do for fun think I'm crazy. My family, who doesn't understand what I do for fun, just thinks that I like to run 5k or 10k races. They have a hard time grasping the adventure part of the races that I do. I don't find a whole lot of adventure in your average 5k or 10k road run. That's why I take most of my running and biking off road and in the trails whenever possible.
Since moving to Kansas, I have enjoyed being part of a trail running group that has inspired me and motivated me to run distances that I've never considered before. Earlier this year I took part in two 50k (31+ miles) trail runs and enjoyed them immensely. Running on the roads, I had never done more than a ½ marathon (13.1 miles) at one time before. In trail running we reguarly do fun runs over 12 miles and it's easier on the body than doing 7 or 8 miles on the road. Even though I had already done the 50k runs, I had never just done a marathon. So I decided to go ahead and do one and get that under my belt.
Considering my love for adventure and trail running, a road marathon just didn't seem like a fun option. So when looking for a trail marathon, the options are a bit fewer since most organized trail runs are set up for ultra (50k and higher) distances. Being the tech weenie that I am, I immediately began using the internet to help me search for a trail marathon. When I discovered the one in Leadville, CO, I thought that sounded like a good idea because I've heard of Leadville before with regard to the Leadville Trail 100. I thought to myself, “how hard could it be? I've already done longer runs”. I guess I have a knack for underestimating things or over estimating myself.
Allison and I arrived in Leadville a day and half before the race started to try and get acclimated to the altitude. Please bear in mind that living in Kansas City (800 feet above sea level) doesn't afford me the opportunity to do much altitude training. My adventure race teammate, Shane also decided to this marathon. He and I decided to do a short warm up run on Friday while exploring part of the course. We quickly realized the race was going to hurt more than we thought, but hey, I love challenging adventures right? So instead of fearing the potential pain, I embraced it and was looking forward to it.
Leadville is at 10,000 feet elevation and this marathon course would take us up to the top of Mosquito Pass at 13,200 feet elevation, with lots more big ups and downs in between. This was a very well organized and supported race and about 360 people participated in it or the Heavy Half Marathon. We began promptly at 8 am on the road leading up into the mountains. The first and last ¾ of a mile contains the only asphalt that you encounter during this run. The rest is all dirt and rock with much of it being gravel roads and some of it being single track. Getting into a regular rhythm is almost impossible during this race due to the constantly changing incline. The first 3.2 miles is all up hill with only a short respite of downhill after the first aide station. After the short downhill, we resumed climbing which lead us above the timberline, through some snow patches, and around Ball Mountain. Coming down from Ball Mountain there was quite a bit of downhill, (approximately 4.3 miles) and even though this gave your hamstrings and calves some rest, the downhill exhaust your quads. After another aide station, we began the long and torturous climb up Mosiqito Pass. At the base of Mosiqito Pass, a fellow runner told me his Garmin was reading 11,100 feet elevation. This meant that over the next 3.1 miles, we would be gaining about 2,100 feet of elevation, it felt like 5,000. Although the scenery was breathtaking, the switchbacks up the side of the mountain seemed endless and the footing on the trail was not entirely stable. The higher we got, the temperture kept dropping causing me to put on gloves and a hat. I had also brought a light weight Go-Lite top just in case the weather got really bad. Near the summit of Mosiqito Pass to say that breathing was labored would be an understatement. I couldn't get enough air to keep my brain happy much less my screaming and exhausted muscles. The peak of Mosiqito Pass was the halfway/turnaround point of the marathon, so I knew what I had to look forward to for the rest of the run. More climbing for a downhill finish. A few times during the run I actually got very lightheaded but I never got dizzy so I was able to push through it. After downing three gels already, I decided my body needed somethimg more substantial to get me through this run, so at the aide station at the base of Mosiqito Pass, I shoved down a half of a banana and continued on. It was right after this (between mile 16 & 17) that I started really hurting. The balls of my feet were getting tenderized from all the sharp rocks on the downhills and turning my legs over step after step was getting harder and harder due to the lack of oxygen to use whatever energy I may have had in my body. Between miles 18 and 22, I just wanted to sit down or lie down and wait for some other runners to come along and encourage me. I never did though because I knew that stopping would probably end up being more than just temporary. During the run, I was able to slow down enough several times to take some pictures of the beautiful scenery. After reaching the last aid station, I knew that I just had a 3.4 mile downhill run remaining to the finish. Even though I love the fun downhill stuff, every step of this last part was painful. Although I am going to loose the toenail on my second toe of my right foot (again), I didn't get any blisters. The last ¾ of a mile on the pavement to the finish hurt worse than the trails (stupid asphalt) but no matter how bad I wanted to, I couldn't walk it, I had to finish strong. So to the cheers of my favorite cheerleader (my wife), I strided across the finish line full of pride. Mentally, this was very challenging and physically it was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I'm glad I did it and would recommend it to anyone.
While out there, Shane and I got the chance to do some biking. That was a lot of fun. Dinner at Wynkoop's brewery was excellent as was their beer. We also took the families to see a Colorado Rockies Game on July 4th. It had an hour and a half rain delay but after the rain, the Rockies finished beating the SF Giants and then we got to see one of the best fireworks shows I've ever been to! All in all, it was a very fun trip.