Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadville Marathon

Time eases the memory of how difficult races are sometimes. It had been two years since my first Leadville Marathon (4:16), and my mind had taken that time to downplay the 26 miles up to Mosquito Pass (13,200') and back. I seem to do okay running and breathing at altitude, but find the extra effort heaviest on my legs. I went in thinking I was in 3:45 shape, but found out otherwise.

So I got out to Leadville late Friday afternoon, and managed to squeeze in a 40-minute run before heading to Quincy's Steakhouse for dinner, after finding the local brew pub and eatery had gone out of business a few months back. I enjoyed a Fat Tire and a decent prime rib dinner before making a quick trip to get some breakfast for the morning and then heading out to a spot near Turquoise Lake to bunk down for the night in the back of the truck.

Got up pretty early and headed to the Provin' Grounds at six for their first brew of the day. Saw Tony and Duncan there and chatted a bit about Hardrock. When we checked in on Tony's laptop, Karl was through the last aid station and well on his way to victory in what was obviously going to be a smoking-hot time. He's having a huge season and re-proving himself at the 100-mile distance race after race.

450 or so starters between the half and full. Not bad for a very tough mountain race.

So I was feeling pretty good before the gun, although not hugely motivated to get out there and hurt. Soon after the off, a pack of guys including Tony K, Duncan C, Bryan Dayton, Duncan Flanaghan, plus three or four others, formed a lead pack, all but one of whom made the turn onto the marathon course at the half/full split. I sat back, running with Sam Malmberg for a bit as we headed out of town. I was working hard to find my breathing while chatting with Sam, so slowed to let him pull ahead a bit. I was feeling decent, although not particularly energized as we made our way to the first big climb of the day, a 1,500' rocky and rutted jeep track climb.

Working up the climb to the Ball Mtn aid, I passed a couple of the guys who'd gotten out ahead of me in the early going and sat in seventh with an eye on Sam in fifth and a guy between us in sixth. I caught sixth climbing up to the singletrack after the Ball Mtn aid and ran with Sam for a bit before putting a gap on him through the singletrack.

Old mining shafts and mining debris litter the landscape around Leadville (pic: Sarah Ward)

After finishing the loop and coming back through the Ball Mtn aid the race heads down a mining road to the base of the trail up to Mosquito Pass. There's a long descending U turn halfway down where you have the opportunity to see runners up to six or seven minutes ahead of you. I could see everyone up front, and timed the gap from me to what turned out to be Dennis Flanghan in first at about 3:30. I felt like I was running at a good clip and at relative ease through the descent. I filled up on water at the aid before the three-mile, 2,000' push to Mosquito.

The Mosquito launching point (this and next three pics: Sarah Ward)

Steep, rocky and generally nasty

Most climbs have their rewards

Going into the race, I was fully expecting a strong climb and descent of Mosquito, but instead got off to a slow start through the mellower early grades as I fumbled around trying to get a packet of sports beans down. I should have been pushing hard here to get a good tempo going before the serious climbing began, but instead felt lackluster. Sam re-passed me halfway up the climb, and I tried my best to keep him in sight, pushing my heavy legs to keep his pace. Nearing the summit, the top four guys came through on their way back down. They were all evenly gapped, and it looked like Dennis had increased his lead over me to seven or eight minutes.

Duncan (2nd) with a gap on Tony (3rd) up Mosquito. Those placings would be switched by the time I saw them on their way down.

There were a bunch of half marathon runners hanging out at the top enjoying the enormous views of the Sawatch Range and getting nourishment when I got there. The views from the top are truly amazing and well worth the effort, however, I didn't linger and ran around a trash can - with no other obvious turnaround in sight - and headed back down.

On the climb I had noticed that the jeep track was a lot looser than I remembered, so on the drop I tried to hug the skinny dirt cambers to the mountain-side of the trail, as I thought they offered the best running, but I found the heavy angle on the camber painful after a while, so mostly I danced on the rocks. In addition to the loose footing, there were a ton of runners from both races making their way up, and runners from the half making their way down. It was pretty heavy traffic for most of the drop, which made finding efficient and safe lines that much tougher. Despite the hazards, however, I felt like I had a strong run through this section.

By the bottom aid I had caught back up with Sam, and we pushed on together on the 1,000' climb back up to Ball Mtn. About halfway through the climb Bryan came into view, and Sam pushed ahead while I eased off to save some energy for the trip around Ball and the last four miles of screaming descent, sitting a steady 20 meters behind Bryan. I passed him before the Ball aid and got out soon after Sam, who I also passed on the climb up the backside of the loop. I caught a glimpse of Duncan here, near the top of the singletrack, and figured he was maybe four minutes ahead.

This gave me some energy, so I started my final push at the top of the Ball loop in an effort to lose Bryan, who didn't look to be too far back on me, and maybe catch Duncan. I hit the drop with what felt like a pretty strong effort and ran the majority of the last two uphill grunts before the drop back down to Leadville.

At the last aid, I felt like I had at least a couple of minutes on Bryan, but still pushed hard to make sure. On tired legs this drop is probably more treacherous than the Mosquito drop, but I felt like I had good strength left and was able to run at a decent pace.

In the end, I was happy to find the energy and motivation to stay competitive for fourth place through the last seven miles, but felt a bit disappointed with my time after crossing in 3:54. I was happy to get in under four hours, but couldn't help feeling I would have had a better run in me six or seven weeks back. Dennis crushed Paul Dewitt's course record by seven minutes in a time of 3:32, and Tony wasn't far off, maybe a minute behind Paul's mark.

I caught up with Nick Pedatella and Caroline Soong after the race, and we decided to get together early the next morning for a hike up, and run down Mount Elbert (14,433').

Caroline, Nick & Nick

Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest peak from the end of Halfmoon Creek Road

Zoomed in

Mount Elbert and Mount Massive

We all had remarkably fresh legs when we met the next morning, and got to the summit at a good clip, running down without too much bother.

Nick and Caroline just above treeline
Looking back down to Twin Lakes

Great workout for those two the day after the marathon as they prepare for LT100 next month.

The requisite summit shot

Peaks everywhere

All in all, it was another great running weekend in Leadville, the home of U.S. high-altitude endurance sports. I met up with a bunch of friends from the area and also from previous races, while also making a few new ones. Got to love this sport, the people and the places we get to run.

I'll be back in Pb'ville to pace Harry 'the mouth' Harcrow in the 100 miler next month.


  1. I think a lot of those roads are slowly slowly eroding to crap ... so it might have been better a couple of years ago. Nice job. That is a tough run!

  2. GZ - nice run yourself this weekend. Looks like you surprised yourself and a few others in a strong showing on Pikes. I'll be looking for you to slip into the top ten next month.

    Yeah, the roads at Leadville aren't great, but I guess it just adds an extra element of silliness to an already ridiculous race. It's a great test of mountain fitness though and absolutely unrelenting. I'd rank it up there as one of three or four must-do Colorado mountain races.

  3. Nick, nice work out there. Good luck with the rest of your season.

  4. Nice race. Funny, we were talking about you guys at the start of Hardrock.

    Be sure to slow Harry down at Leadville so I can catch up!

  5. Congrats, Nick! Another really nice result.

  6. Brandon - Thanks for the note. So it seems I managed to meet most of your family - kids included - without actually meeting you. Next time! Congrats on your finish - enjoyed the report and video.

    Brownie - What can I say, except that you're the man for taking down that monster in the San Juans. You don't need any help from me in taking Harry on at Leadville. Keep rolling from here to Aug 22 and you'll be in great shape.

    Stacy - Wore the Sportiva Wildcats for the race and made some mental notes - good and bad - for the upcoming review at Wilderness Running. The positives totally outweighed the negatives, however, and this race is about as tough a test as a pair of trail shoes can be put through.

  7. Awesome job, I'm more impressed that you got up and ran the next morning.

  8. So do you know for sure that Rosie's is gone for good? I was hoping they were just on vacation for a few weeks.

  9. That's what one of the girls at Quincy's said, in addition to trashing their beer. Been closed for two or three months already. Apparently, the place has gone through numerous owners in the last few years, and the beer has been hit or miss (again, according to gal at Quincy's). I always enjoyed their brews and thought the food was good, too.

    I was pretty disappointed as it was my favorite pre-race beer and food in town. Don't know if they're trying to sell the biz or what. Maybe an opportunity for you there Brownie.

  10. Damn, that's too bad, it was a great little brewery. Only brewery I know of that made their own malt liquor (Mt. Massive Malt Liquor). Last time I was there was back in January.

    Guess it's the Manhattan for pre-Leadville grub this year! Their two year old bags of Fritos are to die for!