Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Leadville Heavy Half Marathon

"When you are in the valley, keep your goal firmly in view and you will get the renewed energy to continue the climb." - Denis Waitley


Last Saturday was the finale of what feels like a bajillion races I've done this year:  the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon (called a "heavy half" because it is longer than a half marathon - 15.74 miles to be exact) to the top of Mosquito Pass and back down.  Don't fret, I'll be racing again in 2012 (I know, what a relief), but I wanted to take the first half of the year running without pinning for any specific race; I just wanted to get my tired, old, crabby body back into some semblance of racing shape after my sabbatical due to the foot! left me in rather pathetic shape. 

Well, the "into-shape" plan pretty much was a failure (a topic for an upcoming post, perhaps), but I had an absolute blast racing this year and Leadville was a great way to end the season before I start back up mid-August.

I'm sure most have heard of the grueling Leadville 100 trail race. Well, the Heavy Half is its little cousin and equally as challenging - just on a shouter course, thankfully!  It was definitely a toughie, that's for sure...but really, all great things should end with a bang, so I was really excited for this race.

Leadville is your country's highest elevation incorporated city, topping off at 10,200'.  Cool, huh?


It is an old silver mining city; one time being 2nd in population only to Denver in the 19th century, and once housed "celebrities" such as Doc Holliday.  Main Street Leadville today looks like you've stepped back in time a hundred years...

This era of time truly fascinates me; I find it absolutely amazing how these people survived (well, some anyway :)) in such harsh conditions with no modern-day luxuries (Yeah, I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie ;)).  The population today has diminished to somewhere around the 2000 range, and the surrounding area is still mined, but Leadville nowadays is more known for it's series of seriously badass tough trail running and mountain bike races than its once thriving mining community.

This race has been on my radar for a couple years now, but you know I had that miserable foot problem which robbed me of racing the past couple years.  So with the foot feeling fantastic, I signed up back in February when the price was cheapest, and I was sure I'd be back in "in shape" business.  Well, best laid plans and all, I wasn't at all in the condition I wanted to be in for this race, but for whatever reasons, I wasn't overly concerned. I mean, look at the profile... piece of cake, right?


I stayed at my aunt's condo in Breckridge the night before so I could shave off an hour + drive on race morning from my house in Denver.  My son and his friend decided to hike part of the Colorado Trail for a couple days, so I dropped them off early Friday afternoon and off they went...


This gave me the rest of Friday all to myself...I didn't even know what to do with all that free time, but somehow I managed :).  I got all my things ready for race morning and I went to bed super early.  But, per usual pre-race evening anxiety, I had a hard time falling asleep, which is just so infuriating.  But thankfully I woke up at 5am feeling really well-rested and ready to race (how did that happen?).

I got to Leadville with plenty of time to get checked in and picked up my race shirt.  Love it!


I wandered around town a bit then went to the starting area, where blogger Hannah happened to spot me. I met Hannah last year at Pikes Peak; she is just an incredibly awesome person.  She is from Kansas and  running the full marathon so lack of oxygen was a concern for her, but she's a badass ultrarunner so I knew she'd be fine (and she did great!!!).


It's really warm at the start and I quickly removed my long-sleeved shirt and shoved it in my Camelbak.  I wish I would have just tossed it as it became a royal pain as it tried to jump ship many times from my pack.  I never needed it at the top, like I thought I might...but you just never know what weather you might encounter in these sort of races.

The first 2.8 miles are on a steep gravel dirt road.


And pass by numerous old abandoned mines...



And spectacular scenery...


I felt pretty good and managed to run quite a bit, but it was slow going as we climbed higher.  Around mile 1.25, the marathoners split off and go another direction so us heavies continued on upward until we hit the first aid station at mile 2.8.  Then we got a reprieve for about 1.5 miles with a nice downhill section. The road became rockier here, but not terribly so, and I was able to run it all and felt actually quite well.

About mile 4.4, I reached the next aid station - and last until we reach the top of Mosquito Pass at mile 7.8ish.  This aid station was amazing.  Somewhere there must be a road to get to this station because it's the only place along the course where there were actual spectators cheering, and the feast here was outstanding.  I downed a couple Fig Newtons and sipped some Diet Coke and was in a very happy place.


The marathoners now merge back in with us heaviers but so far, I've managed to stay ahead of the front marathon runner (this was their mile 9.8) so I'm thinking I'm pretty doing pretty dang good.  But this happy place I was in was short-lived; the serious climbing was about to begin, and along with the crazy steep stuff also came my nemesis: large, unstable rocks!  Bleh!

But it was really, really, really pretty....



 

By far, most scenic than any other trail race I've ever done (even Pikes Peak).  I tried to amp up my awareness of my surroundings by looking at everything to distract my mind from how hard this was about to get.  But it wasn't easy and the higher I climbed, the slower I was getting.  Somewhere around mile 5.5 for  me, the first marathoner whizzed past me like I was standing stiff.  Well, because I was, but that's beside the point.  I tried to keep smiling to trick my mind that I was having a great time...but my love/hate for the trails was beginning to lean towards hate.

Around Mile 5.5.  Even if you pretend you feel good, you still don't
Everyone around me seemed to be hating this section, actually....faces of agony were prevalent all around and tiny tidbits of words overheard were not necessarily rated PG.  I've done a couple races higher in altitude before but nothing as seriously steep on rocks that were just killing my ankles with every step.  The higher you climbed, the worse the pitch got (someone told me it was close to 19% - this explains a lot) and the second to last mile to the top I cranked out a wicked 34 min/mile pace.


As I slowly slugged along at my 34 min/mile pace, people were passing me both going up and coming down from the top.  I had been having this odd on-again/off-again side stitch thingie high up on my left side for a couple weeks; I'm not sure what it is and what causes it but it decided to rear its ugly head at this point and aid in my misery.  Whenever I tried to take a deep breath at 68% less O2 to get some air, my side would scream.  Awesome!  I stood there questioning my sanity and suddenly had a fairly serious dark, dark moment.

Sometimes when things get difficult in races - or in life - I have a few moments where negotiations with God start happening (you know: Please God, keep me moving forward and I promise to never roll my eyes at my kids again...), but I was too tired to think of anything good I could negotiate (I probably should have told God I promised I would never run a race like this again without properly training for it!); all I could think of at this point was Get to the effing TOP! (you are allowed to swear on this course...I think it's in the waiver you sign).

The last mile and some change is one straight shot - no switchbacks to help ease the pitch.  People were were coming down kept saying to us still climbing that we were "almost there" - we ALL know how dreadful it is to hear this (especially at a 34 min/mile) - "almost there" is taking for....flipping...ever!!!  Darkness had invaded and the earlier just-keep-smiling me was long, long gone.  As I climbed higher, I saw a few people sitting on the side with sprained ankles or blow out knees (one always asks if a down runner is okay when you pass, so you always know their ailments) and I just prayed I wouldn't share their fate.

FINALLY, to the top of Mosquito Pass, the half way point, at 2:45.  To initially think I could possibly make it in 2:10 - 2:20....I obviously grossly underestimated the mountain's demands.  I got my butt handed to me big time the last few miles, but I was thankful to be at the top, and I knew I could do this thing.  Eventually.

View West from the top of Mosquito Pass
Sign at the top of the pass.  Something about how covered wagons crossed this area once.  Some quote thingie.
I was far too tired to really care what it said, Little House on the Prairie lover I was or not.  I just wanted
to snap the pic and get the hell down!
View to the East from the top.  See the gravestone????
At the top, I took a few pictures, grabbed my newly beloved Fig Newtons, a bit of whatever electrolytes they had and quickly headed back down.  My head still wasn't in a particularly good place and I knew I have a lot of issues running downhill on loose rock, so my pace was going to be slower than most around me so no time to waste up here.
Thanks, Rebecca, for the stolen pic :)
These 3.5ish miles were miserable for my poor ankles.  I probably looked like a pansy with my arms flaring everywhere as I tired to stay vertical.  One time I came close to tripping over some rocks but somehow managed to catch myself and not fall (miracles do exist!).  A guy behind me stopped me and told me that instead of thinking to pick up my entire foot as I ran over the rocks, I needed to think picking up my toes; this would lift my entire foot off the ground whereas when you think lifting just the foot, the toes tend to still point downwards and you trip with the toes.  Makes sense, but I was so dead tired at this point that I didn't even have the strength to practice much.  Soon after this toe picking up lesson, I arrived back at the heavily stocked aid station and relief was instantaneous.

Some woman spectating told me that we just had 4.4 miles left to go and I breathed a sigh of relief.  I knew the next 1.5 miles were uphill and I just decided to use this time to recover from those torturous rocks and reestablish my good mood. 


The trail now heads back into tree-line so shade was much welcomed as temps started to soar.  Once at the top of this last climb, I reached the last aid station and I downed several pieces of watermelon.  My stomach was starting to bother me so I couldn't eat anything solid, but the watermelon was going down great.  The aid station guy said we just had the last 2.8 downhill miles left (on a gravel road...NO rocks!!).  I knew what I had to do: run, and run hard.

I flew down those last 2.8 miles (for me anyway) - on very tired legs; aching feet; a sunburned neck; slight stomachache; and tired as hell.  I was passing people like it was my job and felt remarkably well.  First mile was 8:34.  Second was 8:11.  Last was 9:00 (because I had to stop and tie my shoe and had problems getting the legs to move again after I stopped - bleh).  I had nothing to prove to anyone and my finish line time was going to be far worse than I ever thought at the start of this thing - even running the last few miles - but I just felt I owed it to myself to see what I had left in me and wanted to push myself to the end.

This race is deemed one of the "Toughest Races in the Nation" (according to one pole anyway...I'll go with it).  I looked back at the finish line after I crossed, smiled, and thanked God (and promised Him I'd actually train next year for this thing :)).  There are some moments when His majesty is utterly undeniable, and this was one of those times.


This is the biggest damn medal I've ever received, and super heavy.
I had to remove it from my neck right after the picture, it was too heavy
on my extremely tired body (and sun burned neck).
Though I do feel very good about my accomplishment at Leadville, it also confirmed what's been eating at me for the past few weeks: That I am SO NOT ready to race the Pikes Peak Marathon in a mere 6 weeks.  So sadly, I'm crossing it off my list.  I'm not sad I'm not doing the race, I'm sad that my sweet e-friend, Ewa, is coming out from California to race it and I won't be able to tackle the mountain with her as we originally planned.  But I'll be with her in spirit every step of the way and I will be waiting with a huge hug (and beer and pizza :)) after.  

So with Pikes Peak out,  it was time for a little heart-to-heart with myself and what it is exactly I do want.  I'm not really entirely sure long term....but Chicago is sitting out there tugging at my heart a little.  I haven't trained for a specific marathon for well over 2 years, and I've sort of enjoyed being on a no prescribed schedule ... but I also miss how marathon training makes me feel pure and whole and... strong.  I don't have a lot of time, definitely not enough time to get into prime marathon shape (I'm okay with that, all I want is to feel strong finishing it), but I think it's still inside me; I'm feeling really, really good and I'm excited to see what changes I can make in the next few weeks (please God, if you make me strong for Chicago, I promise I'll go to bed every night at 10pm (that was for you, Jason!)).  

So I guess it's now time to enter a building phase.  Not only just mileage, but a better - stronger - me.  Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  Let's see what I got left in this aging body....

Until next time,

Run Strong!

58 comments:

Heather @ Just a Colorado Gal said...

I"m with you-- every time I go to one of those old mining towns in the mtns, I'm always fascinated but how tough those people were.

Anyway, great job on the run! I drove through Leadville that morning on the way to a peak and I saw all you runners gearing up for go time. You're tougher than me!

Alma said...

Wow - that sounds amazing. The scenery was beautiful but I just can't imagine running at that elevation. To finish ALIVE is beyond me! Even if you're living in the mile-high city, it's going to 10-12,000 ft a crazy adjustment? My heart pops out of my chest at that elevation just WALKING up a flight of stairs.
Amazed.
So, VERY GOOD JOB finishing that tough one. Sounds like a good idea to post-pone Pikes Peak. It will be more fun/enjoyable if you can do it when you're had more time to train.
Chicago sounds nice!

Erica Elia said...

First of all congratulations! What a run. The medal is awesoe and the pictures are great! Erica

GZ said...

Congrats on many fronts: congrats on a great race, and congrats on making a decision regarding Pikes (know that has been gnawing at you).

There is a driveable road the whole distance over Mosquito. Driveable if you have a good 4 x 4, and the snow is clear. I usually come from the other side (actually that is the only side I have ever come from). In the pic of the high ridge you have there you can see the Father Dyer gravestone.

hiker mom said...

Way to go! The hills would kill me but the views and town ate amazing! Great job:)

hiker mom said...

I meant are amazing:)

Running Librarian said...

Way to dig deep and stick out a very tough race! That course looks so beautiful!!

Terzah said...

I like that guy's tip about picking up your toes on the downhill--I am a notorious tripper on trails heading down. Going up is so much better for me (even if it doesn't feel like it at the time, and even though I look good on NEITHER the up nor the down!).

Awesome job as usual, even if it felt tough! Your pictures are gorgeous. I can't wait to hear how the base building goes as you ramp up for Chicago. I'm sorry about Pike's Peak, though. Your report on the Ascent was fun last year--but you'll be back. Hopefully I'll be with you! :^)

Karen said...

Sounds like a beautiful race even if you didn't think you were fast enough. Who would want to rush through anything so pretty, anyways? :)

A friend of mine just started training for Chicago, so you're right on schedule to have enough time for it!

ajh said...

A stronger you?? Have you read about the races you have been doing? You are amazing! This looked so tough but yes to beautiful. Good luck in your training for Chicago. It's in you for sure!

Tasha @Healthy Diva said...

That race looked crazy!!! I don't even know how you would begin training for a course and elevation like that. Holy dang! You did amazing. It was a beautiful course and I am glad that you remembered to enjoy the scenery. That is probably something I would have ignored because I would have been spending too much time cursing myself for signing up!

I hope that you can pick out a good fall race to train for. Chi would be super fun- it is on my bucket list for someday. At least you are aware of your strengths and limits right now so that is a bonus for you.

Julie said...

Just looking at those pictures makes me start to hyperventilate.... I can not imagine trying to go up that. Have I told you recently that you are nuts? But I love you any way. :)

Love that professional picture too!

On the Right Track said...

I have to agree with Ajh...People don't get much stronger than you! it is evident in everything I see in you...your pictures, always smiling and happy, your writing and recaps of every race or excursion you take on, your attitude, and your words to others...you are by far one of the most inspiring, uplifting, supporting and strongest woman I have "never" met, lol!

you tackle and try things that most would never think of...and I truly admire you and thank you for that. Way to rock this gruesome race...you finished, and you should feel proud! what an accomplishment!

on another note...thank you so much, as always, for your words...You put things into perspective in a very "natural and realistic" way...I appreciate your advice and your "blogship" ha,ha... Oh, and I felt the hug :)

abbi said...

Sounds amazing...insanely tough but amazing. Gorgeous pictures and I'm going to keep that tip of trying to pick up your toes thing in the back of my mind! :)

Mike said...

One of the "Toughest races in the nation"....I believe it after reading your race report. Congrats on the finish!

brg said...

you should be very proud of yourself. That looks and sounded like one tough race. Glad we got to hang out a bit afterward. You seemed amazingly fresh considering you just finished 3 tough races in 3 weeks!

Amanda@runninghood said...

Congrats on finishing such a tough race girl! Sorry I've been out of the blog loop. Looks like I have some catching up to do. You certainly don't slow down!! I met the winning woman from the Leadville 100 last week. She was the winner at the Foot Traffic Marathon that I ran. This leadville stuff...crazy. I'd die!! xo

misszippy said...

Congrats on that tough, tough race! So very cool. It looked beautiful, so that had to ease the pain here and there! ; )

I know Pike's Peak was a tough call for you, but sounds like the right one. I think a little downtime is just what you need right now after all that racing. And it also sounds to me like the decision has already been made for Chicago?

Teamarcia said...

That race is just as cool and beautiful to look at as I bet it was to run. Holy incline Batman! I'll bet you're in way better shape than you believe and I'm THRILLED you're on for Chicago! It's a must do and if not now, when?
xoxo

Robin said...

Congrats on a tough race. The photos are spectacular though. What an amazing place to run! I'm sure your Pike's Peak decision is the right one, and good luck training for whatever comes next (Chicago)!

Adrienne said...

Wow, Jill! That's awesome. I'll be honest, I don't think I would survive a race like that!

All those intense, high altitude races are likely already creating a stronger, fitter you. I enjoyed hearing more about your latest challenge!

Jason said...

That elevation profile is scary looking, but then those pictures look gorgeous. Congrats on conquering a very difficult race. That which does not kills us only makes us stronger and you are stronger for Chicago.

Now get to bed.....haha!

Evolving Through Running said...

Wow ... I'm hooked. Those pictures are incredible. I'm adding this to my 'want to do' list. Way to make it to the finish - just looking at the elevation profile leaves me short of breath.

Molly said...

wow, wow, wow! Definitely looks and sounds like the toughest race!! Once again you blow me away with what you accomplish, congrats Jill!!!!

Tricia said...

That elevation profile looks terrifying -- good job on finishing that race. And can so relate to the aging body comment -- goodness.

Whitney said...

I'm glad that you ran it. And I didn't. :) I kind of want to throw up just looking at the elevation.

Coy Martinez said...

I was soooo feeling your pain. I've done trail races but none that come close to this!! You are a trooper! I mean Leadville is huge. It's on my bucket list. Lucky that you live so close! Congrats on a well earned finish!

funderson said...

Well, I think you look freaking great and should be super proud of your heavy-half!

SupermomE12 said...

You are one tough chick. Awesome as always! I can't imagine running that kind of elevation change. Congrats again!!! :)

Courtney Fos said...

You totally totally impress me and this run is now on my bucket list!! I love the shirt and the idea of doing a tough run but not the 100 miler!! You seriously rock!

Mike said...

Wow, that is one tough looking race! Congrats on finishing it and those last three miles are fast!

Loved all the pics. Sure looks like a nice place to race except for the grade and the altitude. Wen my son and I were hiking about that altitude, we had to stop and catch our breath every minute or so.

Kate said...

Wow, the pictures are amazing, and YOU are amazing. That looks and sounds seriously TOUGH. Way to go, chica!!

Char said...

Jill, that just sounded like the toughest thing that you could possibly do. It had everything I hate in it - too many uphills, gravelly, rocky downhills and not enough oxygen. Who does events like this? Hard core athletes like you do.

Kandi said...

You never cease to amaze me with these races you do. That elevation profile looks insane! Not to mention the low oxygen and trail running.
Also, I'm convinced that Colorado has all the best race shirts.

Matthew Smith said...

That might be one of the prettiest half-marathons out there! Great scenery! Those old mines are pretty cool. Great job on a tough race! That truly is a "heavy" half! Nice work!

Little JBird said...

Well done, Jill! I'm terrified of running downhill with big rocks. I twist my ankle just walking across my living room sometimes. ;)
Many congratulations on a very tough race!! You rock! xo

Liz said...

Wow, that course profile is hilarious! That must be one of the toughest races in the world, never mind country! Well done for completing it.

I reckon you've done at least a bajillion races recently, maybe more!

bangle44 said...

Way to survive! Loved all the photos - it is so beautiful there. Great job!

Meg said...

Golly, Miss Molly you are rock solid and strong! So impressed with the race and your endurance! That should count for something towards Chicago, so excited that you are now in the building phase...Steve is too. He's finally, finally back to running and will probably walk/run Chicago but we'll be there!! Keep us posted!

Abby @ Have Dental Floss, Will Travel said...

Whew! I felt for you, reading that post. That trail sounds brutal - albeit gorgeous. Sounds like the right decision on the marathon. Summer is always a good time to take stock and make plans for the second half of the year :)

Bubble Boy said...

Way to go Jilly B! Proud of you!! I believe I will just take the Godolla or ski lift thank you!

Raina said...

Now I want to go to Leadville! Just going as a tourist would be very cool.

What a breathtaking race course. The scenes are so pretty! And ..were those kinvaras you were wearing for the trail? Or some other trail shoe??

Sorry Pike's peak is out for you.

I like your sentiments on entering the building phase. I will join with you on that one. On to more mileage, but also a better stronger person.

lindsay said...

seriously. if i come to colorado next summer / one summer, will you be my tour guide and take me on sweet hikes and to see cool things/scenery that is off the beaten path? :)

Johann said...

Awesome Jill! You are so hardcore!I'm amazed at how similar our experiences were in our last races. Not the races itself, but how we experienced it and thought about it and God afterwards. We are so small but we are able to do great things! I can't wait to do one of these great things with you. I must admit my race also made me think God didn't allow me into PP for a reason. We'll make this up to Ewa together one day, how's that? O how I wish I had money to travel the world for races...:) Rest well and take care. I've got some hard races coming up but it is all training for the 50k on 8 Sept. That and a 3 day in Oct is my two main goals for now.

Kristin said...

Omg, I don't think I could walk 15 feet at that altitude, let alone run 15 miles! Amazing.

Suz and Allan said...

Leadville looks like a cute little town with lots of rich history and this course offered some gorgeous views. Props to you for another great race!

Michelle said...

Good grief that races sounds both brutal and awesome at the same time! Congrats on pushing through it!

Stacey Pomerleau said...

That is a beautiful course. I think you totally rocked it!!!

From one aging body to another: I hope your "building" journey brings you happiness, inner peace and good health.

:D

C2Iowa said...

Fortresses are not built in one day. Nor a great runner. Your foundation is there - you only need to finish the building stage. You are strong and there is no doubt that you will achieve your goals.

Alma said...

You won some soap! Send your address to me at: averagewomanrunner@gmail.com so I can get it out to you :)

Thomas Bussiere said...

Huge congrats on such a tough course. 1 mile up a mountain is like 6 flat miles. Throw in some rocks and loose gravel and it consumes so much energy. Love the report and pics. I want to do Leadville in the near future.

Katie said...

Wow.....what an amazing race! I didn't realize there was a little sister to the 100, but it looks killer.

Petraruns said...

Jillie - that looks amazing. Just fabulous. I can't believe you actually did that. Can you just see how inspiring / amazing you are? I am now thinking that I should come to the US next autumn to do Pike's Peak with you. It will be TOUGH as a flatlander but oh how fun to be with you. And I think you should go and do Chicago. Train hard and accept you're going for a strong performance not a PB.

nora mancuso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nora mancuso said...

Ok Jill I did it! Started a blog AGAIN.. You're amazing BTW!

pensive pumpkin said...

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