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The Leadville Race Series currently operated by Life Time Fitness puts on the Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half along with several more running and cycling events every year (most famously known for the Leadville Trail 100 miler).
The marathon is in its sixteenth year and starts in the Historic Mining District located on the east side of Leadville—an area known for its mining heritage, beautiful scenery and exciting trails.
The Leadville Trail Marathon
In the early 80’s Leadville Trail 100 founder Ken Chlouber developed the race as a way to bring more tourism to the struggling town during an economic downtime. He was an avid runner and climber. I like the following quotes: “You’re better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.” “Dig deep into the inexhaustible well of grits, guts and determination.” -from the race’s Wikipedia page
My training for this race was decidedly suboptimal (more like what NOT to do) since I decided to do this race three weeks before there wasn’t much chance for focused elevation training.
It’s a little tough to be highly prepared when you live at 300 feet above sea level. I did lots of hill repeats on the treadmill and one hike in Montana. Plus, I spent a couple days at elevation in Colorado prior to the race.
Packet pickup was held on Fri from 11-7pm at the Leadville Race Series headquarters and on Saturday before the race from 6-7:15am. There was good communication about race information via email and on their Facebook page. Packet pickup was easy—took about 3 minutes and I got bib number 212.
We received a nice black technical shirt that says Leadville Marathon and Heavy Half along with several samples of an analgesic gel (which would come in handy later), some fueling samples and coupons. At the small Leadville Race Series running store I bought a bracelet that says “there are NO shortcuts.” The race also offered athlete tracking for people to keep track of their runner.
Race Morning and Starting Line
Saturday June 20, 2015 was a beautiful day for a race with temps in the 40’s to start and a high of 75 F by midday. The sky was blue and the sun was out. I had applied sunscreen previously which would later prove to be inadequate. Since the ozone is so much thinner up there I would wear waterproof sunscreen with SPF 60 if I had to do it over again.
We were staying in Breckinridge about 45 minutes from Leadville so we left the house at 6:30 am and found a parking spot easily around 7:30am.
The starting line was at the 6th Street Gym. They offered free parking at the schools nearby and there were also parking spots available around town. They had a bank of port-a-pots near the starting line and a couple of indoor bathrooms with long lines. I stood indoors and got to use the bathroom just a couple minutes before the start (this was important as it was unfortunately that time of the month).
Trevor took a quick photo and I got in the starting corral just as the start gun sounded at 8am. Runners could line up anywhere they wanted and since there was just over 1,200 racers it wasn’t very crowded.
Some rules for the race include no abandonment of garbage or clothing along the course (they had proper recycling and receptacle bins, race number must be seen, and no ear phones (although I saw several people breaking this rule).
The half and marathon had an 8.5 hour cut off time which seemed very generous going into the race. All runners had to reach the Resurrection Inbound Aid station at (16.4m) by 2pm and Venir #3 Aid stations at 19.1m by 3pm.
Shortly after the start people (including myself) were walking by 0.5 miles as the course wound out of Leadville and onto a gravel road up the mountain. The elite runners quickly disappeared out of sight as they continued running.
The course soon split between the half and full marathon around mile 1 and didn’t rejoin until around mile 10 for the part up to Mosquito Pass. Then the course split again after coming down Mosquito Pass and didn’t rejoin until the final mile.
The course is an out-and-back mix of dirt roads and single track, totaling the full 26.2 miles of a trail marathon. It uses old mining roads and trails starting at over 10,000 feet with high of 13,185 on Mosquito Pass (the highest continuous pass in the United States). There was some snow and ice on the course and they had been clearing huge drifts in the days before the race.
The course went up until just after mile 2, had some downhill and then climbed until after mile 4. Then there was a ½ mile downhill before climbing to mile 6. Then it was mostly downhill to mile 10 before the brutal climb up to mile 13. Then marathoners turned around and repeated the opposite. Down to mile 16, up until mile 20 (which was very tough), a one mile downhill, then slight up, then mostly downhill miles 22 to finish.
There were several on-course aid stations providing water, energy drinks, Coke and Sprite and an assortment of foods (pretzels, potato chips, M&M’s, watermelon, oranges, bananas, Fig Newtons, PB&J) and volunteer assistance. There were five aid stations for the Heavy Half and nine aid stations for the full marathon.Runners were required to carry their own hydration bottle or pack. Trevor and the boys drove up to the aid station at mile 16.4 and it was fun to see them midway through the race. I also took the opportunity to take off my shoes, assess my feet and dump out the rocks and dirt. There weren’t many spectators except for a few at the aid stations that you could drive to. My fueling during the race felt solid thanks to Generation Ucan.
I completed the 1st half in 4:04. My strategy was to hike up hill and try not to die then run downhill and try not to fall on the technical trails. I had to be careful with footing because one wrong step could mean a rolled ankle. On the uphills I stopped several times to take pictures of the spectacular scenery and catch my breath.
By the time I got to the top of Mosquito Pass my hands and wrists were so swollen and white tinged at the tips from the elevation. My ring was tight because of my sausage-like fingers, I had to loosen my watch and the cold made my hands extra stiff. I was also feeling rather light headed up there and short of breath. I kept waiting for oxygen masks to drop from the sky but unfortunately that never occurred.
It’s very humbling when my normal marathon finish time passed and I was only at the half way point. This was compounded when my best effort was simply plodding up the side of the mountain with a steep drop off on one side (and seeing people collapsed by the side of the trail vomiting). My nose also continuously ran- it was like having exercise induced rhinitis on steroids.
The second half was faster in 3:07 and had more down hills. But the uphill section from miles 16-20 was one of the toughest as my legs were worn out by then (and I was mentally tired). The soundtrack from this race was listening to the crunch of my shoes on the trail and my labored breathing. This marathon pushed me closer to the limits of my endurance than any other marathon. I was decidedly in the slower 1/3 of runners during this race. My final finishing time was 7:11:07.
The Finish Line
The overall winner for the marathon was former Olympian Michael Aish of Arvada, CO, with a time of 3:31:25–a new course record. The first place woman was Marianne Hogan of Boulder, CO, who finished in 4:33:44. Not only was this her first Leadville Marathon, it was her first marathon! There were a total of 537 finishers for the full.
The male winner of the Heavy Half was David Roche with a time of 1:57, breaking his previous time and setting a new course record. The first place woman was Megan Roche with a time of 2:21. There were 549 Heavy Half finishers.
Spectators and racers could visit the vendor expo and beer garden. There were lots of tables and chairs set up in the food area for runners and spectators to sit, eat, and cheer on finishers. They gave out nice medals and a coffee cup to finishers. There was also free post race beer and a fajita bar by Manuelitas Restaurant. Runners also got free photo downloads from the race.
We did not attend the awards ceremony because I was so tired I could barely eat (which is unusual for me) and Trevor and the boys were tired from hanging around Leadville all day. I came back to where we were staying and laid on the bed for an hour before I could muster enough energy to take a shower. I was thankful to see I didn’t have any chaffing and just one small blister although I did get sunburned.
My quads were very sore from the down hills for three days. Walking and stretching post race helped along with a 1 easy mile run each day to keep my running streak going. I also took Tissue Rejuvinator and did some Epsom salt baths after the 24 hour point.
Then in a fit of post-marathon euphoria and low oxygen induced madness I signed up for the To Bone & Back 40 mile ultra in Idaho Falls, ID, the following Saturday.