Sometimes it takes friends to float an idea that will challenge you and take you well outside of your comfort zone. In this case, that was Alex Artel. He asked if I was running the Heavy Half in early April and at the time I wasn’t. However, I was about to have my first son and I was worried about losing motivation in my training for the Leadville 100MTB in August. So I said yes.
I knew my body wouldn’t be able to handle heavy running mileage so most of my endurance base came from cycling, but I focused on running 2-3 times per week. I kept my running mileage between 10-12 miles per week and added in 4+ hours per week on the bike. My time on the bike increased towards 6-10 hours a week as we got further away from Avery’s birthday in early April and I was able to get back in my routine (and sleep!).
Race day came and I was fighting off a cold that had followed me all week, but I was looking forward to running up Mosquito Pass and putting that out of my mind for a bit. I got to Leadville with plenty of time to check in and walk around town. The running scene is a different vibe from the bike scene. For one, there is quite a bit more space to maneuver around. I was feeling at home though and thinking back to my experiences racing in high school and college.
My goal time was 4 hours. I wanted to be conservative on the first climb and on the top half of Mosquito Pass because I wasn’t sure how my body would respond to its first effort of the year at elevation.
The race starts out on an incline out of town (because Leadville). It’s paved for a short while and then turns to dirt road. Alex and I ran the first couple miles together and focused on keeping our heart rates down but continuing to move at all times. We were passing quite a few people which gave me pause that we were going out too hard, but I trusted my training and my fitness. Somewhere towards the top half of the first climb, I lost Alex. 2.9 miles in, I crested the climb well ahead of pace with a time of 36:57. 2.9 miles and the first 1,000 feet of climbing down.
From there its a brief, 1.5 mile descent to the base of Mosquito Pass which I knocked out in 17:29 with my first aid station stop as well.
Mosquito Pass started out gently in terms of grade but the terrain switch from relatively stable to loose rock and a small creek of snowmelt running down the trail added some new challenges! I knew running would red-line me pretty quick, so I backed off to a brisk hike that kept my heart rate in the 140-150 bpm range. However, I noticed that it spent most of the time in the 120 bpm range while I hiked and I was unable to push it much higher without running. This bodes well for the 100!
The views were incredible as I climbed and I wanted to stop and look around…but I reminded myself I was racing and to enjoy the view from that perspective.
7.75 miles down, I peaked out on top of Mosquito Pass in 50 mph winds at a time of 1:56:10. I was 35 minutes ahead of pace and feeling great.
The climb up Mosquito had gone smoothly, but I knew my work wasn’t done. Descending can be tricky in the rocky terrain above treeline. The next 3 miles were going to require sure footed placement and solid line choosing as traffic would be two way and the winds were strong enough to blow someone off path.
After a quick take of the scenery, I gave Ken Chlouber a five and a thank you and headed down the pass. A couple minutes off the top, I saw Alex heading up and encouraged him to get to the top and get down! As expected, the descent was technical at the top, made more difficult by the wind blowing endless snot out of my nose and blowing me around from time to time. However, I was down into warmer temps and calmer winds in 37:05, covering the 3.25 mile descent at a pace of 11:25/mile.
My legs (quads in particular) felt the proverbial burn from descending for so long. So much so, that I welcomed the short climb back to aid station as a change of pace and used it to relax a bit.
I checked back in at the top of the first (now last) aid station at 2:54. 2.9 miles to go and I knew I was going to break my goal of 4 hours…the challenge now was breaking 3:30. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run these downhill miles as fast as I liked, but I should be able to maintain at least an 8-9 minute pace.
It was stop and go for the top mile or so as my legs adjusted. I would run 400m, stop and stretch, run 400m, stop and stretch. It was catching up to me and people were starting to pick me off one by one. Thankfully, the legs loosened up for the bottom couple miles and I was able to close in 24:19 from the final aid station.
I finished with a time of 3:18:51, 41 minutes and change faster than my goal. I was exhausted but satisfied! I finished right behind a fellow Blueprint for Athletes ambassador and congratulated her on a great catch (she had caught me right before we came back onto the pavement about a mile out).
As always, Leadville puts on a first class race. Great experience from top to bottom that was well supported and organized.
Thank you to Blueprint for Athletes for the opportunity to race. They’ve given me great insight and helped me adjust my diet and hydration habits so that I can compete at a higher level. Check out some of their packages if your looking to gain that edge and get faster. Use the code DSGNVC136 for a discount at checkout.