This 4th and final entry in my Leadville Race report series will cover all the things I did in preparation for my race. Arguably the most useful information, for someone looking for tips to run a 100 miler.
If you want the full story, make sure you also read:
I don’t recall exactly when I decided to run Leadville, but my guess is it was just near the end of November. I had just run a 50 miler in August (Finished in 8:27), and a marathon in October. To give you an idea of what kind of shape I was in, I ran a 2:57 marathon in October, so my “Easy” training pace (from Daniels’ Running Formula) was around 5 min/km (8 min/mi), and my peak week had been 101 km (60 mi). In total, for the year 2011, I ran 3,354 km (2,084 mi). That averages out to around 65 km/wk (40 mpw) for the entire year.
1.2 Ramping up
After my marathon recovery period was over (it was middle of winter at this point) I started into a program of alternating short and long weeks, so my month would look like:
- Single long run
- Rest week
- Back-to-back long runs
- Rest week
- 100 km total w/ single 27 km long run
- 75 % of week 1
- 108 km total w/ 30 + 20 km back-to-back
- 75 % of week 3
- I would increase by about 10 % every week
- Every other month I would also do my long runs as night runs
- I included at least one tempo workout (pulled from Daniels) during the week
- On average I would say I was running about 6 days per week
Here is the graph of the entire year up to Leadville. You can see my ideal alternating long/short weeks buildup phase, then the injury crash, then the ramp back up.
Would I do it like this again? Probably not. I believe now that consistency is key, and more frequent running is better. I would build up more slowly, and my “rest weeks” would be reduced intensity, but not necessarily reduced mileage. If I do reduce mileage, it will be once every 4 weeks, instead of every other week. At the time I was worried about the total distance, so I really wanted to get up to 160 km/wk (100 mpw), even if my body wasn’t actually able to handle it, hence the need for frequent rest weeks.
I pretty much kept this up until the beginning of April. At that point I was up to 152 km/wk, (almost 100 mpw) and I did 34+57 km back-to-back (21+35 mi) and finally reached 80 km (50 mi) for my single long run. So things were going well. Then disaster struck.
The week after my long run, my right foot was killing me. I even saw a doctor, if you can believe that shit. Basically he was useless. My own conclusion was that I’d either: fucked up a nerve, Morton’s Neuroma style, I’d cracked a bone, or I’d bruised the living shit out of a bone. Regardless. I could barely walk. What a drag.
So this weird injury was terrible, because there was nothing I could do about it. No taping, no stretching, no icing. Nothing. Just waiting. Terrible.
I took an entire week off, and tried to run again. No good. Took another 5 days off (entirely), then did some hiking and cross-training on the elliptical, stair master, whatever. From there, I tentatively ramped up the mileage. 60 km the first week. 80 km the next. Then I got super sick. (Forced rest week, again. Gah!) In the end, I missed about 5 or 6 weeks of good running.
Finally, by the end of May, I ran three good weeks of 100, 108 and 117 km. I was now miles away (pun intended) from my goal of running 160 km (100 mi) per week every other week, and 100 km per week on rest weeks, but at least I was training again. Then it was already time for Leadville Training camp!
Conclusion: If you get hurt, it’s not the end of the world, though it feels like it. Stay motivated, cross train, and you’ll be back in action soon.
1.4 Leadville 100 Training Camp
After a 4 day rest for travelling and organizing, I arrived in Leadville for the training camp. I had a couple days to acclimatize, and then I got right into it.
During training camp we ran 100 km in 3 days. They were not easy, either. Toughest running I’ve done to date. (Actually, probably harder than the race! They were damned tough.) That 1st and 2nd week I ran 125 km, and the 3rd week I ran 152 km! I was tied up with my record, but still failed to run 100 miles in a week. I had to be patient though.
After an 87 km rest week (funny how that seems easy after running 152 km) I finally got out and ran 161 km (almost exactly 100 miles) in a week.
My plan generally was to do lots of hiking. Someone on the internet (Mr. Timko) told me: Hike Hope Pass twice a week, and Powerline once a week. Since I always do what the internet tells me, I did exactly that.
I didn’t really emphasize the long run, but I hammered hard up the hills and worked on my power-hike. I would later hear time and time again that people who trained hard by running up hills were finding that hiking up the hills was a very different ballgame. Since I knew I’d be walking all the hills, I generally walked up them. After a while, I was sufficiently fit that I really couldn’t hike any faster, so only at that point did I start jogging the light inclines and the flat bits.
So my ideal Leadville training week looked like:
- Saturday: Hope Pass hike (hard)
- Sunday: Long run
- Monday: Hope Pass hike (easy)
- Tuesday: Easy run
- Wednesday: Easy run or Tempo run, if the body can cope
- Thursday: Powerline
- Friday: Rest
- The hike up Hope Pass was roughly 17 or so km. I wanted to do doubles (over to Winfield and back) but it was too hot for the dog on the other side. I had be careful not to overdo it on the mileage, too. I did do a few “up-down-up-downs” to get a full 21+ km (13 mi) in, and it really did make the workouts a lot harder. I wish my body and dog could have held up to higher mileage, I could have really ramped it up!
- Sunday was a long run. For my peak week we did a 60 km (37 mi) long run. I really felt no need to run further than that. The course kinda dictated the distances, but 40 to 50 km would be the max I would have done in an ideal world.
- Tuesday was easy mileage, and more or less a rest day.
- Wednesday would be a tougher day, or a hard tempo workout taken out of Daniels’ Marathon Plan A. This happened very infrequently, unfortunately, due to my weakness. It was also my lowest priority “quality” run.
- Thursday was a hike up Powerline, which, if you go up and over to Hagerman was around 18 km.
So roughly speaking I was aiming for about a half-marathon per day, 4 days a week, and a marathon on Saturday. A little more or less here and there, but that was the gist. I think it worked out quite well.
After doing lots of reading and listening to podcasts and shit (Props Lucho, via Timko) I decided on a 3 week, 60 %, 40 %, 20 % taper. I planned to reduce my mileage quite a bit because I knew that 161 km in my peak week was a lot for my weiner-body, and I was very paranoid about getting re-injured. I was still doing lots of hours of training, but most of it was hiking over Hope Pass, so time-consuming but not high mileage.
My taper was by the books: I reduced all the durations of my runs by the appropriate percentage. I added a few rest days here and there, when I could, but I maintained my intensity. In fact, I increased it. I hiked harder than ever, setting PB’s up trails. I did tempo intervals, etc. I rested hard, but I ran hard, trying to “tune-up” for the race. (I couldn’t tell you if it worked or not…)
- Week 1 of taper felt tough… It didn’t feel relaxing or easy at all. Really nothing changed except cutting out the long run.
- Week 2 was a bit easier, but my continuing knee / patellar pain had me quite worried and paranoid. I kept thinking “Shouldn’t tapering feel better than this!?” It didn’t feel good, and I didn’t feel rested. It didn’t help that I was living out of my truck like a crazy (but very contented) mountain person.
- Week 3 finally felt really short, but by then I’d gotten so lazy I had zero interest in running. I was doing prep work, moving, etc, and frankly didn’t miss the running at all. This also made me paranoid. I thought tapering was supposed to get you super antsy and revved up to race? I just felt like sleeping and playing video games.
In the end my knee pain didn’t really go away. In fact, as I write this 2.5 months later, it’s still bothering me sometimes. Thankfully wasn’t an issue on race day.
Would I do my taper differently next time? Hard to say. I think I would do a more drastic reduction in mileage, but less duration. Maybe only 2 weeks of taper, but 30 % and 20 %. That would make it seem much more “shocking”, wouldn’t get boring, would still leave some enthusiasm for running, and maybe help motivate you to have more proactive rehab of injuries. Tough to say though.
My acclimatization was something most people would probably envy. I had the opportunity to live in the mountains for ~2 months leading up to the race. Tough to get better acclimatized than that.
When I first arrived, I had a few nights of troubled sleep, and was always out of breath. FYI: I would never just “show up” to run this race, that would be insanity.
The altitude affected my running a lot. I felt that my breathing was more laboured than those around me, even in situations when I felt more fit. But I’ve always thought that, so it didn’t surprise me. Am I just always pushing harder!? Or does my muscular fitness greatly exceed my lung capacity? No idea.
Training at 10,000 feet can be tough. At first I felt that my training was taking a hit because I couldn’t run as easily. Noakes and Daniels remind us however that this doesn’t really matter if your race is at the altitude you are training at, because the pace is going to be slower, after all. Not the same as if I was going to be racing at sea level, because the loss of speed in training would be making me slower on race day.
A few weeks out from the race I got to spend ~5 nights even higher, at 12,600 ft. Did this help? No idea. I was sleeping high, training “low” (if you can call Leadville proper “low”) and relaxing like crazy. I do believe it made a difference, though it was imperceptible by that point. My diet suffered a bit so it might have counteracted the benefits. (By “a bit” I mean a lot.)
Whatever I did worked for me, but do I know this: I would hate to run this race without spending at least 2 weeks in Leadville. When I arrived, I was really struggling for those first few runs. But I guess that’s why finishing is so tough!
I ran the vast majority of the race with the following gear:
- Pearl Izumi short-sleeve T-shirt – White
- Brooks running hat – White
- Adidas supernova shorts
- Swiftwick Vibe One socks
- Mizuno Elixir 7 shoes
A good shirt was key for keeping me cool in the sun. I chose to not wear a tank-top because I didn’t want to burn like hell, or agonize over sunscreen. The shorter the shorts, the faster the runner, but I would have liked shorts with more pockets in them for gels.
My cold weather gear included:
- Salomon softshell jacket of some type – (Didn’t really need it)
- Salomon beanie
- Pearl Izumi arm sleeves (of the UV protection type, not the “arm warmer” type)
- Nike running gloves
I used the gloves, beanie and arm sleeves in the morning and at night. I don’t think I wore the jacket, but it definitely got cold out. If I’d been moving more slowly it would be a 100 % required.
My “Auxiliary gear” was:
- LED Lenser H14 headlamp
- Salomon S-lab 5 pack
- Camelbak handhelds x 2 – Awesome
- Ultimate Direction handhelds x 2 – Good
- Nathan handheld – Piece of shit
Because companies feel the need to change their entire lineup every goddamn week, pretty much everything I own is now unbuyable, but whatever… That’s what I wore. I had backups of everything (different stuff), in particular I used my Gregory pack for the really long sections sans water-breaks. I had other packs ready too (Gregory Diablo?) for quick switching at Aid stations.
Did everything work well? For the most part, yes. My shorts chaffed my legs a bit, where I missed the Bodyglide. They weren’t the most comfy pair I owned, so I expected it.
Note: Bodyglide is critical!
My Salomon pack was fine, although it has broken twice since I bought it (and it’s an overpriced piece of shit, in general). I guess they offer new versions now, so it’s irrelevant. My headlamp was very good, brighter than any others I saw, although the battery life seemed mediocre, it kept dimming on me. Not sure if that was the cold, the batteries, or a weird setting. I should have changed the batteries to be certain. Also the beam vertical angle adjustment is incremental rather than “infinite” and so it doesn’t really point exactly where I wanted, most of the time.
I ran a fair bit with the handhelds, but was worried about running out of water, so I used the packs more. In retrospect I’d have used less water, so used the handhelds more frequently.
I believe my gear selection was extremely solid, and I wouldn’t change much. Without a doubt the Swiftwick socks are the best part of the entire package!
Leadville 2012 Race Planning – Gear List (This list is very incomplete!)
Once I’d decided on a goal time, it was roughly a matter of translating that into a plan.
I did most of this work with a fairly extensive pacing spreadsheet, available here:
As you can see I was working here to fine-tune the distances between stations, times between stations, as well as running multiple scenarios, so that when things went awry I would still know how I was doing. This was the hard part!
5. Fueling & Hydration
My fueling and hydration knowledge was taken in large part from the Hammer Nutrition guide. I actually read this a long time ago, and used that approach for my 50 miler, The Tenderfoot Boogie. I did pretty well in that race (I won) and learned a lot. Of course it’s sales literature for Hammer, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, per se.
I (much later) read the summary of Noakes’ “Waterlogged” and made a few changes, based on that. For one, I totally eliminated electrolytes, and two, I stopped worrying about my hydration strategy.
Here is my fuel/hydration plan:
The electrolyte thing was easy, since I never believed in them anyway. It drives me up the goddamn wall when people say they take electrolytes to deal with cramping since this has been disproven by science. Fuck you and your cramps and your placebo effect. I didn’t train with it, anyway, and I had no solid plan, so what was I going to do… wing it? Just take ’em as I went? Gels and everything else is loaded with electrolytes anyway, so even if Noakes was wrong, I was still covered. I didn’t cramp up at all the entire race, literally not once, so clearly we can conclude: fuck off people obsessing with their goddamn S-caps. If I hear one more person tell me about their five S-caps per hour I’m gonna lose it.
Water-wise, I was shooting for about 500 mL per hour, but that turned out to be way too much. I was never really thirsty, other than a brief stint when I had to run over Hope Pass without my pacer. I was pissing constantly, (annoyingly so) and never really lost any weight. I think I was one pound down at the half-way point weigh-in? The main issue was that I needed water to get the gels down. In future races I need to find a way to get calories in without the water. I would have rather lost about 5 lbs by the end of the race.
My fueling plan was pretty rock-solid. I aimed for 250 calories per hour. I arrived at that number after a ton of testing in training. I had it all laid out exactly by aid station, etc. I generally ate from the following food groups:
- Hammer gels – Package is big, but flavours are great
- Cliff gels
- Gu gels
- Perpetuem – Love it, gets frothy a bit, and nauseating a bit
- Shot Blocks
That’s pretty much it. I tried to stick to vanilla and plain flavours after about 60 miles. Anything else was far, far too gross. I slightly screwed up and relied too heavily on the gels, and not heavily enough on the Perpetuem or other liquid fuels. Because the gels were so gross, I had to drink a lot of water to keep them down.
This is partly because I enjoyed gels during training, partly because Ska Runner Dan had me convinced that gels were super easy and quick. He was like “gulp!” and they are gone. I let his comfort level with gels make me feel like a pussy, and so I started to think “yeah, they aren’t so bad!”. “Hell, Tony Krupicka says he eats like 30 gels in 16 hours! I can do that!” I was also biased because I did Perpetuem the entire time in my last race, so I was scared to do that again. But the fact is: liquid fuel is a lot faster. Your pacer hands you bottle. You drink. Done.
There was far too much screwing around with gels. Everything about them is annoying. The wrappers, the difficulty eating them, the texture, the flavours. No. Go easy on the gels. Find liquid fuel. That is my advice.
Even worse: Shot Blocks are not for running. Don’t use them. Again, I had a friend tell me he loved them, and again I let that overrule my original theory, which was: these are retarded. You can’t eat a giant gummy block while running your ass off: you will choke to death, and die in the woods, the worst possible death. A coward’s death. The exact opposite of an honourable Viking death. Dying with a gummy bear stuck in your throat. Christ almighty. They do taste good though, I’ll give ’em that. Use them if you’re stopped, sitting down.
8. Crew plan
This was probably the most important part of the whole ordeal. Some people’s crew had no idea what was going on. Some of them literally didn’t know what Hope Pass was, and they were pacing it. My crew knew everything!
I had everything laid out by the minute. Every piece of gear, every gel, every scoop of Perpetuem. Distances to aid stations, expected times of arrival, total times, total distances. The whole meal deal. I won’t go into details, just read the PDF and start preparing your plan for your next race.
Rehearse, in training, everything you want to do during the race. Especially your gear and calories. Everyone says this, but hopefully this demonstrates the extent to which a little knowledge and planning can be helpful.
I hope that this stuff I wrote gives you an idea of how much work I spent thinking about all this stuff, and how much it contributed to running what I felt was basically a flawless run. Of course, not everyone is into planning (or thinking, for that matter) but if you put some time into it, you can save yourself a ton of pain and time on race day. It does take away from the “adventure” of it all, and obviously not every race is as nicely crew-able as Leadville, but it does make for a faster finish, no doubt about that.
ps: For anyone who asked for copies of my planning docs: I didn’t mean to take an entire year to write this!