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Your guide to mastering the Leadville 100 with advice from the elites
Thomas Lorblanchet cresting Hope Pass inbound, on his way to first place at the 2012 LT100. Photo by Matt Trappe
Leadville is less than three months away! We’ve got a few goodies for you.
Firstly, we reached out to past top-three finishers at America’s highest ultramarathon to get the inside scoop on training for, running and experiencing Leadville. Take a gander below, and get pumped up for this year’s race!
Secondly, Herbalife is offering one Trail Runner reader entry into the (sold-out!) 100-miler on August 17-18, 2013. Comment on this article by Wednesday, June 5, 2013, tell us why you want to run Leadville this year and be entered in our random drawing. (Please note: This contest has passed. Reader Chris Eide was awarded free entry into the 2013 LT100. To enter our 2014 contest, go here.)
Obligatory Disclaimer: Running 100 miles at 10,000+ feet is serious business! In the words of Ken Chlouber, who founded the race 30 years ago, Leadville race weekend “is the only weekend when all the beds in the hotels and the emergency rooms are full at the same time.” Know and respect your limits.
THE PODIUM PANEL
Dylan Bowman, 27, of Aspen, CO
17:18:59 LT100 PR, 2nd place in 2011
Dylan, mile 95 of 2011 LT100. Photo by Rickey Gates
Ashley Arnold, 26, of Carbondale, CO
23:08:17 LT100 PR, 3rd place in 2010
Ashley running the TransRockies. Photo by Chris Hunter
Neal Gorman, 36, of Charlottesville, VA
17:48:51 LT100 PR, 3rd place in 2011
Neal coming back into Twin Lakes at the 2011 LT100. Photo by Meghan Hicks/iRunFar
Liza Howard, 41, of San Antonio, TX
20:44:08 LT100 PR, 1st place in 2010, 2nd place in 2012
Liza outward bound at Twin Lakes. Photo by Monica Morant
Duncan Callahan, 30, of Gunnison, CO
17:43:25 LT100 PR, 1st place in 2008 and 2010
Duncan at mile 82 at UTMF.
Ashley Nordell, 33, of Sisters, OR
20:47:58 LT100 PR, 3rd place in 2012
Ashley running Hope Pass at LT100. Photo by Matt Trappe
Nick Clark, 39, of Fort Collins, CO
17:11:16 LT100 PR, 3rd place in 2012
Nick running Lake Sonoma. Photo by Bob MacGillivray
Tina Lewis, 40, of Boulder, CO
19:33:45 LT100 PR, 1st place in 2012
Tina running at TNF100 Beijing. Photo courtesy of Salomon Running
Zeke Tiernan, 37, of Basalt, CO
16:44:20 LT100 PR, 2nd place in 2010 and 2012
Zeke going around Turquoise Lake inbound at mile 94, 2012 LT100.
Ryan Sandes, 31, of Cape Town, South Africa
16:46:54 LT100 PR, 1st place in 2011
Ryan racing Leadville. Photo by Dean Leslie
Read on for their advice on training for and running Leadville …
Start of the LT100. Photo by Rob Timko / Timko Photography
What advice do you have for first-time Leadville runners?
Dylan: Be prepared for the altitude. Start VERY slow. If you can make it to halfway in good condition, you stand a much better chance of getting to the finish line.
Ashley A: If it weren’t for the altitude, Leadville would be a fairly fast course. That makes it easy to get carried away in the first [relatively flat] 13 miles. Be conservative and hold back. No matter where you’re from, the altitude can take unpredicted tolls on your body.
Neal: First and foremost, maintain a respectful, healthy fear of the altitude factor, particularly if you live at lower elevations. If not acclimatized, practice running slowly both in training and in the race, particularly early on.
Liza: Get there as early as you can and acclimatize. The course and climbing are straightforward. The altitude is not. Here’s an article I wrote for a friend about acclimatizing for lowlanders heading to mountain races this summer.
Duncan: The Leadville 100 is unique for the simple fact that much of the course is runnable. In particular, the first 40 miles are relatively flat, fast and smooth! One of the biggest mistakes I see first-timers make at Leadville is going WAY TOO FAST in those first 40 miles. Take it easy and leave yourself some “juice” for later in the race.
Ashley N: Coming from an altitude of just over 3000 feet (I live in Sisters, Oregon), I found it really helpful to get to Leadville early. Luckily, my husband and I are both teachers, so we have summers free. We spent three weeks camping in Colorado with our one-year-old daughter before the race—family vacation/acclimating time for us!
Nick: If you train hard, the racing will take care of itself. Run conservatively through the first half, get back over Hope Pass and then enjoy some really good running from Twin Lakes all the way to Fish Hatchery.
Tina: Try to allow time to acclimate to the altitude. Take it easy on Hope Pass. Respect the mountain and altitude. Enjoy the beautiful scenery. Have fun with your pacers and crew.
Zeke: Be patient. It may not have the profile that other trail 100s have, but it’s deceptively difficult. Rarely, if ever, does anyone negative split at Leadville.
Ryan: If possible, do some training at altitude. Training on the course will really help, as you will know what to expect. Start off conservatively so that you finish strong.
What’s the most challenging part of the race, and how do you recommend preparing for it?
Dylan: The toughest part for me was the climb up Powerline to Sugarloaf Pass around mile 77. Mile 77 of 100 is always a brutal place, but the climb up Powerline makes it especially nasty. It’s not even that steep but there are several false summits and it seems like the top will never come. When it finally does, you can see the next aid station, Mayqueen, down below but it takes FOREVER to get there. It’s really important to have a pacer with a good attitude on this section, because, otherwise, it can really be a drag.
Ashley A: For me, Powerline was the hardest. I was getting really sleepy at that point the last time I ran it, and I had to really force myself to move. It’s important to just keep going. Slow walking is faster than stopping.
Neal: For me, it has to be the section from Twins Lakes inbound to Fish Hatchery. Your long training runs should include some elevation gain and loss, for sure, but do not discount the value of flat, long training runs. Even on roads.
Liza: It was tough coming down off Hope Pass, being able to see the [Winfield] aid station, then running for a good while in the opposite direction before circling around to Winfield from behind. It really struck me how challenging “uncertainty” can be in an ultra. “Why are we still heading away from the aid station?!” Knowing Hagerman Pass, Hope Pass and the hills and road in and out of the Fish Hatchery and Twin lakes was really helpful mentally.
Duncan: I believe the most difficult section that’s often “overlooked” is the climb from Twin Lakes at mile 60 back up to the Colorado Trail. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself because you are now over halfway to the finish and you’ve just completed the infamous double-crossing of Hope Pass, but then you’re faced with a climb that seems to go on forever. The tendency is to have a mental letdown. Keep on it. I always suggest that people pick up the effort ever-so-slightly on this climb, because there is a long stretch of flat terrain following it that you’ll be able to cruise.
Nick: Climbing up the steep side of Hope Pass feels like you’re barely moving; it’s during the heat of the day and you’ve still got a ton of ground to cover. I’d recommend running big climbs at the end of your long runs during the heat of the day: specificity!
Zeke: The crux of my races has always been the climb up Powerline inbound. The race that I felt strong there, I ran a great time. The next most challenging section is Hope on the outbound. Since both are high-altitude climbs, my best advice is to run high-altitude climbs of similar vertical gain. If that’s not possible in your training location, run sustained hill workouts, even if it means doing many repeats on a shorter steep hill. Also, during the race, don’t stop on those climbs. Walk, slog, shuffle, saunter, but just keep moving forward.
From left to right: Nick Clark, Zeke Tiernan and Anton Krupicka come through the Fish Hatchery. Photo by Rob Timko / Timko Photography
What kind of shoes would you recommend for the course?
Dylan: I’d recommend a sturdy, approximately 10-ounce shoe that’s good on both road and trail. Leadville is definitely a runner’s course and has very little in the way of technical trail. Really the only technical section is the double crossing of Hope Pass between miles 40 to 60. There are also two river crossings in this section so, often times, runners will change their shoes before and/or after to make sure they have dry feet and appropriate traction for the section ahead. I never changed my shoes in my two finishes and wore a solid trail/road hybrid shoe with plenty of cushioning. In my opinion, for 100 miles, it’s crucial to not skimp on cushion, no matter how runnable the course is.
Ashley A: Besides Hope Pass and some sections around Turquoise Lake, it’s a fairly non-technical course with a fair amount of road. I’ll probably wear the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra, the Mantra or the CrossMax 2 … or a combo of all three!
Neal: I recommend a crossover-type shoe that performs well and comfortably on pavement, gravel roads and technical trails.
Liza: The trails are not technical. Road shoes and light trail shoes worked well for me both times that I’ve run Leadville. Last year, I wore the New Balance 1400s and the Minimus 1010s.
Duncan: I think a supportive shoe is important for 100-mile races period, but having a shoe that is flexible is also vital for all those miles of pavement and dirt roads. Pick one that is roomy in the forefoot and supportive enough for running all day long. Do not sacrifice cushion.
Ashley N: I liked having a trail shoe for the Hope Pass section, but you could get away with road shoes on this course, too.
Nick: I like to wear a shoe with a decent amount of cushioning for any 100-mile race, regardless of terrain. Personally, I’ll be wearing the Pearl Izumi Trail N2s.
Tina: Wear something comfortable, and is versatile enough to handle doubletrack, singletrack and roads. I’d recommend the Salomon Sense.
Zeke: I wore the Brooks Cascadia the last time and they felt great the whole way. I think the New Balance 1210 Leadville, which I have been running in lately, would be a fantastic shoe for the race, probably because it was designed for the race.
Ryan: The course is not super technical, so I would recommend a lightweight shoe with good support. The Salomon Sense Mantra or the SLabs would be my suggestion.
Outside of the race, any tips on things to explore around Leadville?
Dylan: Breakfast at the Golden Burro on Harrison Street! Also, I’d recommend staying in Twin Lakes, down the road from Leadville proper. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the state and allows you to stay clear of the nervous and sometimes overwhelming energy of downtown Leadville when you should be relaxing before the race.
Ashley A: I love Leadville. It has a unique, quirky culture. There is an awesome coffeeshop there and down the road in Buena Vista, too. Explore the trails up on Independence Pass.
Neal: Breakfast joints the morning after the race fill up quickly. Consider making a reservation, if possible.
Liza: If you have kids, or like fish stuff, you should definitely go to the Fish Hatchery and then hike the trails around it. Bring quarters to buy food to feed the fish in the pond for hours of kid entertainment. I always follow Hatchery time with a pizza at High Mountain Pies on 4th Street.
Duncan: Take advantage of being near some of the highest peaks in the USA and head up Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. Truly awesome! If you’re looking for a short/flat training run, get out on course and run the Turquoise Lake Trail from the dam. Otherwise, make sure to grab a cup of coffee from City on a Hill Coffee.
Ashley N: We loved the pizza place there [High Mountain Pies]. We also explored surrounding areas like Camp Hale, the Colorado Trail and Twin Lakes. The fickle weather—especially the afternoon thunderstorms—made camping challenging. Have lots of layers available.
Tina: City on the Hill for great coffee and to hang out! I would recommend a quick drive over Independence Pass to Aspen, if you have an extra day.
Nick: The main attraction around Leadville is the Sawatch Range. Go out and explore.
Zeke: Golden Burro for post-race meal!
Ryan: Enjoy the many coffee shops and restaurants on the main street. Ride a bike up Mosquito Pass. Visit Twin lakes or Mount Elbert. There are so many rad towns near Leadville.
What’s your favorite Leadville memory?
Dylan: Cresting the final hill on 6th Street and seeing the finish line in the distance. Your crew will see you coming and their cheers will carry you the last half mile to the finish line. There is no feeling quite like it! Also, on Sunday morning, watching the final finishers is truly a special. There is so much emotion and such a supportive energy in the air as everyone rehashes their experiences. It’s impossible to explain but it’s something that I’ll always remember and cherish. I get the chills just thinking about it.
Ashley A: Oh, man. …. The feeling of knowing I was going to finish 100 miles, that my family and friends were there, that I’d spend the day running and that I’d pushed myself to places I didn’t know existed. I’m really excited to push those boundaries farther this year.
Neal: Experiencing the race and Leadville culture with family. The intensity at the start; the sunrise climbing the front side of Sugar Loaf; summiting Hope Pass outbound; the awards ceremony.
Liza: There was a huge crowd of people at the outward-bound Fish Hatchery aid station. My name had gotten passed around and it seemed like everyone was cheering it as I ran in. I felt like a famous basketball player. (I realize basketball players don’t run into outdoor aid stations, but at the time that people were yelling, I distinctly remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m like some famous basketball player.’ So, chalk the analogy up to the long miles.)
Duncan: Without question, my favorite memory is crossing the finish line in 2010 victorious! My brother had come to Leadville (from New York) to help crew me and ran the last half mile with me. I was so psyched to share that moment with him because he was the guy who introduced me to endurance sports!
Nick: Seeing my kids at Twin Lakes coming home, and then running through Twin Lakes. The atmosphere was electric.
Tina: Apart from crossing the finish line in 2012, experiencing it with my crew and pacers, and the crazy sh*t I said to my pacers. It’s still something we laugh about today!
Zeke: Hailing from Aspen, just over the hill from Twin Lakes, I have always been greeted by a giant posse of friends and family at Twin Lakes. It is a huge emotional boost and turning point in the race for me. My sister snapped a photo of me and my wife Molly from behind. Every time I look at those photos I am transported back to those moments and filled with gratitude for the people who love and support me.
Ryan: The race has such an awesome vibe and the local people are so supportive. Seeing the finish line after running 100 miles was really nice.
Anything else to share with Trail Runner readers?
Dylan: I love Leadville!
Ashley A: The incredible, infectious energy of the races and spectators at Leadville makes the race so special and energizing. You’ll fall in love.
Neal: Often after finishing a race, ultrarunners immediately get excited about the next race on the calendar. Take a moment, be proud of your accomplishment. Not many have the guts, energy and resources to accomplish such a huge goal. Thank yourself. Thank your loved ones for supporting you.
Liza: The Leadville Hostel is a wonderfully affordable play to stay and the atmosphere is really fun when it’s full of runners (or cyclists before the bike race.) www.leadvillehostel.com.
Duncan: Life Time Run has an exclusive coaching package (with entries included into the sold-out 2013 race!) available for Leadville 100 runners looking for guidance. I am so excited to be a part of this!
Tina: I love the Leadville 100 and the historic town. It continues to bring new challenges every year.
Zeke: Expect any kind of weather. I’ve run through wind, rain, hail, snow, sun, heat and everything in between.