Friday, July 24, 2009

Breathing Thin Air at 10,200 ft.

In order to help improve my chances of finishing my first 100 miler next month, I signed up for the Leadville training camp which took place the last weekend of June. Unfortunately, that was the same weekend as Western States so I didn't get to be there. But the 5 days I spent running on the Leadville 100 course was very beneficial.

I left Reno as soon as my relief showed up at work and hit the road with a full tank of gas and lots of snack food. My first solo road trip in quite awhile and I was excited. Pat was suppose to be going with me but due to some unforeseen circumstances, he had to stay behind.

I drove non-stop and after about 16 hours I pulled into the parking lot of Safeway in Leadville at 11:30 pm. I found a dark corner, snuggled into my sleeping bag, put the seatback down and slept fitfully for about 4-5 hours. The front seat of a 1991 Toyota Corolla is not the most comfortable place to bivy.

I awoke and made my way to Halfmoon Rd where I set up camp next to Elbert Creek. This is where I camped for 2 weeks prior to my 2002 Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race. No amenities but it's free, my kind of deal.

Home Sweet Home

My view and my future ice baths

After getting set up I made my way to the Turquoise Lake dam to run to Mayqueen campground and back, about 13 miles. I immediately felt sluggish and slow, an effect of the altitude (and maybe driving an insane amount of miles the day before). I decided not to sweat it and just enjoy the gorgeous views. I haven't been to Leadville this early in the season and I loved all the water, every river was running full.

Mayqueen Campground is straight ahead and the trail follows the right shore.
I finished my run and took a dip in the lake before making my way back to town and checking things out. I just love Leadville and it was great to be back.

The next day I set out early to drive to Winfield, the turn-around point of the race. It's at the end of a long dirt road in a gorgeous valley. Everything was so green and lush. I tried to imagine what it would look like on race day. All the crews, runners, pacers. I walked around a bit before heading to Twin Lakes.

The old ghost town of Winfield

I drove through Twin Lakes to the Willis Gulch trailhead. Normally we would cross Lake Creek near TL but right now the river is running way too high so this alternate trailhead offers a bridge crossing. I wanted to just do a short easy run and scout out the beginnings of Hope Pass. I found where we will probably cross the creek and the river is raging. I felt good on this run, the legs not nearly as sluggish as yesterday.

Where we cross, hopefully it will be lower on Aug 22.

The bridge crossing Lake Creek

So those were the 2 days before the camp even started. I visited the LT100 store and met up with Ken and Merilee and got myself volunteered to stuff the race (camp) bags Thursday evening and then help hand out the bags to runners on Friday at packet pick up. It was really great meeting so many runners from so many places. There was one guy who was in the middle of a bike tour and Sat would be a layover day for them. He decided to do one day of the camp but didn't have transportation so I offered to pick him up where he was camped and drive him to the start on Saturday morning.

Saturday started at a reasonable hour with breakfast served to us at the National Mining Museum before we boarded buses to the start of this 26 mile day at Mayqueen campground. There were quite a few experience Leadville runners there and they wore the pink with black striped flagging used for course markings to identify that they had done at least 10 Leadville 100 runs. Very impressive. They were a wealth of information and advice the entire weekend.

The course leaves Mayqueen and immediately gets on the Colorado Trail and goes uphill. I was working way too hard and none too happy with how I felt. Not going to be a good day. Things got better when we got on Hagerman Pass Rd and made the climb over Sugarloaf but even the run down powerline was painfully slow
The infamous Powerline
The 7 miles to Halfmoon was tortuous and slow. It was the third day I had been at altitude and I've heard that that's when it can really hit you. The only highlight of this section was when Anton Krupicka ran by us like we were standing still (were we?). I could only get a shot of his back. I did get a chance to talk to him more at Provin' Grounds, the coffehouse where he works but I never did get a better picture.
Anton disappears up the road. I wouldn't see him again until the finish at Twin Lakes
After Halfmoon you get on the Colorado trail again for a very enjoyable 9 miles of rolling, sweet singletrack. At least it should have been enjoyable, for me it was just tough. Finally I started the descent to TL but the trail just seemed to go on forever. It would deteriorate before popping out on a rocky jeep road and after an eternity, I was in Twin Lakes. 26 miles in 5:45. As tough as this run was, I was really happy to have pre-run this section so I wouldn't have any surprises on race day. I understand this is a tough section mentally.
Part of the beautiful Colorado Trail
The bus took us back to Leadville where my evening continued to deteriorate. I sat in the creek by my camp for a bit to cool the legs off and wash some dirt off. I had no appetite but knew I had to eat something. I snacked a bit and laid in my tent in a fetal position fighting a headache and nausea for a couple hours. It finally started getting dark so I got up to get my stuff ready for the next day's assault on Hope Pass and was surprised that moving around made me feel a bit better. Maybe I would survive to run another day.

Sunday dawned beautiful (each day the clouds would threaten and we'd get some scattered rain but nothing serious, typical Colorado weather). I had no idea what to expect. I ate a bit for breakfast before boarding the bus once again for Twin Lakes. We would do the double crossing of Hope to Winfield and back, 21 miles.
Merilee checking runners in before heading up Hope
After checking in (safety was a huge issue for this very exposed climb) we hit some rollers before hitting the main climb. As the trail headed up, I asked a guy nearby if this was the official Hope climb. He said yes. All uphill from here. And it was sure steep in places but I managed to not stop which was my goal. I wasn't the fastest but I didn't lose any time by resting. There was only one bit of snow that had to be traversed but Ken and some volunteers had shovelled a path through it a couple days before.
The good news is that this was going to be a good day. I knew it right away and I was excited about doing a big run over a 12,600 ft mountain. I bounced back from the day before feeling strong, both mentally and physically. Yesterday I was doubting my ability to run 5 miles, let alone 100. Today I knew I had made the right decision to sign up for Leadville.

Top of Hope looking north
I barreled down the other side only to find that the trail gets steeper as it re-enters the trees. I'll have to remember that coming back. They had set up an aid station at the bottom of the trail as it hits Winfield Rd so I grabbed some munchies and started walking toward Winfield. I tried to get caught up on some calories and walked/ran the 2.5 miles to the turn-around. I spent a short time in Winfield because I didn't need to refill my hydration pack until I got back to the AS before the final climb up Hope.

Boy does that trail start out steep. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and as I broke out of the trees I could see runners up on the switchbacks near the pass, some of them silhouetted against the darkening sky. The clouds were moving in and the thunder reverberated against the surrounding mountains. Maybe I'd have to use that rain jacket I'd been carrying after-all. It wasn't very cold and as I neared the top I noticed it wasn't very windy either. I must be in the eye of the storm where it's calm. After talking to other runners who had passed over the summit before me, they said it was extremely windy and cold. I guess I just got lucky.
I took a quick picture before racing down the trail. I was feeling great and I really pushed the pace, passing quite a few runners in the process. I came into the finish in 6:33, half an hour faster than what I hope to do race day.
A very well marked trail junction
That evening Ken and Merilee put on a nice dinner at the Mining Museum then we were treated to a question and answer period with the experienced runners. It was pretty informative and motivating. My husband and I have done a lot of endurance events, both racing and crewing so I have a pretty good grasp of what to expect. But even I know to expect the unexpected. I'm going to go through ups and downs that I can't even imagine right now.

The next day we were free to do what we wanted before the 12 mile night run from Twin Lakes back to treeline on Halfmoon Rd. I chose to sleep in, have a huge breakfast of biscuits and gravy at The Burro, then walk the town, buying a few things for my girls. I met up with Jael, from camp, and we drove out to the bottom of Powerline to hike a few miles up the trail so she could get an idea of what to expect. I have fond (and not so fond) memories of this hike a bike section from the 100 mile bike race.

We headed back to town to listen to a lecture about crewing before grabbing a burger and onion rings at Wild Bill's. I talked Jael into picking me up at treeline this evening so I could leave my car at the finish spot so I wouldn't have to shuttle back to town, pick up my car, then drive right back to my campground since the finish is only a mile from my camp.

We caught the last bus of the weekend to Twin Lakes where it was just getting dark. Finally, about 9:15 we were headed north on the part of the Colorado trail that I was dreading because I had had such a bad run on this section on Saturday. It's amazing what a couple more days at altitude and switching on the headlamps can do for you. It was an amazing run. The group stayed pretty compact for the initial climb but then things got spread out along the rollers. I was surprised at how well I had this section memorized from only running it once. I was having the time of my life, enjoying the quiet, dark, stars, and thin ribbon of trail that my eyes were focused on.

The last 5 miles were run completely solo. I started having this weird time-warp feeling like I'd been running for many hours and I started wondering if anyone would be at the finish. Thankfully, as I rounded the last bend, there was Merilee serving hot chocolate and burritos. The feeling was light as the runners compared stories about the weekend. I know we will be watching out for each other come race day. We had experienced a lot over the 3 days and will be pulling for each other.

I changed into some dry clothes (I was so glad to have my car right there), had some hot chocolate and just a bit of a burrito before driving back up the road the 1 mile to my home away from home. I was able to sleep about 4 hours before waking up, packing up camp quickly and getting on my way back to California. It would be another marathon of driving that would get me home about 9:30pm.

This camp was definitely worth it in boosting my confidence. I have now run almost every mile of the course so there shouldn't be any surprises in that department. Only 3 1/2 weeks to go. Thank you Ken and Merilee and the wonderful volunteers for putting on another wonderful event. See you in August.

Next up: race report for the TRT 50 miler.


Sarah said...

You've come such a long way from your injury last year! Yay! Good luck with your 100. Sounds like you are super prepared.

Gretchen said...

Sounds like it was an awesome week. You're definitely smart for getting out there. I bet it will help you a ton on race day. Beautiful pictures! Good luck with the rest of your training...and tapering!

Anonymous said...

Hi. This is your mom.. That was quite a trip for you with driving, camping and running. Sure sounds to me like you know the trails and what you have to do. I know you will be just fine.. It is going to be tough but I know you will do your best and we are so proud of you.. Love you, Mom