Leadville Trail Marathon Race Report

This one has been a long time coming! Before I even moved to Colorado, I’d looked up this oh-so-intimidating race and put it on the bucket list. The Leadville Trail Marathon starts at over 10,000ft and goes UP!

I was curious how it compared to Pikes Peak, and heard conflicting reports. The times seem to be a bit faster than in the PPM, but it seemed like this one would be a bit more of a challenge mentally.

I didn’t really get in the long runs I would have liked for this one, but I did a decent amount of trail running to prepare. As the race got closer, I was excited to hear about all the people I knew who would be participating. Lots of the Runners Roost people would be there, and I went with KJ, Heather and Phoebee (they all did the half).

Things were a bit hectic for me leading up to the race: I had a work trip to Rhode Island Wednesday til Friday, and was planning to leave right from the airport. Then my flight was delayed, which stressed me out a bit! I’d packed everything I needed for the race.. except it turns out I left my watch in Denver. Not a huge deal though as I knew I wouldn’t be running to try to keep a specific pace anyway.

We met up with Heather in Leadville around 9pm. I had no idea how close it was to Denver! Saturday morning we got up and realized KJ, Phoebee and I had all packed our Epic Relay shirts to run in! So commenced our weekend of matchy clothing. Yes, we’re 12.

I used my flipbelt and carried two GUs, some trail mix and a clif bar. My goal was 5:30-6 hrs and I didn’t want to be hungry en route. I also carried a water bottle.

I got a chance to see Courtney, Luke, Ben and Liz before we started. Poor Courtney is injured so she ended up being our cheerleader and photographer!

The course was cool; we started with the half marathoners for the first couple miles, then split off to rejoin them around (our) mile 10.

In the Pikes Peak marathon, you spend much of the course on relatively narrow rooty trails. This was a pretty different experience; a fair amount was on wide roads with plenty of room to pass. However, some of the sections were VERY technical and rocky. I actually started hiking before the third mile, yikes! It was a warm day (although thankfully MUCH cooler than it had been in Colorado for the previous few weeks) and I felt my calves tingling a bit as a combination of heat and exertion. I acknowledged it and then promptly got over it. Nothing I could do about it but keep moving forward!

Luke had written a bit of a race preview where he noted that some of the steepest part of the course was around miles 2-4, so I took solace in that. And sure enough, I felt better after we got through one particularly tricky section.

There were no mile markers, and with no watch I really had NO sense of how it was going. Maybe that was a good thing? 🙂 We hit the first aid station and I asked a guy next to me the time. He said we were at around 4 miles, in 48 minutes. Given how difficult I’d felt that section was, I was pretty happy!

Like Pikes Peak, I approached this race not as a marathon but as a half. So 4 miles meant we were about a third done! (I take for granted that my body will look after the second half as we’re headed back down and back).

I remembered the next section from the map – around Ball Mountain. I sensed the highest point in this section, and someone around me guessed we were at mile 6. Then came the one section of the course that was single track: a nice quick downhill through some high grasses. It was probably gorgeous, but I kept my eyes forward on the narrow path ahead of me.

Back on wider roads, the trail pulled us downward. It felt great to have to put out so little effort, and I flew with my Hokas cushioning me. But as I remarked to one of my fellow runners – “There’s only one problem with this section.. we have to come back up it.”

I was in a true trail running state-of-mind, and enjoyed some coca-cola at the aid station. I was carrying water and took some Gu Brew (not great).

Soon enough I was coming up on mile 10, where Courtney was waiting. I swear I was running in this pic! Well.. maybe not. But at least I’m walking faster than the guys behind me! Someone told me I was 10th female. Cool! Until of course a female passed me within probably a quarter mile..

We rejoined the half marathoners, and then the fun started: a nice big long hike up to Mosquito Pass. I ran some, but there was an awful lot of walking up the rocky and steep path. It was fun to see the folks coming back down from the pass. Before too long I saw Phoebee, KJ and Heather on their way down. They weren’t running together, but they were all close.

I got up to the top in 2:48, which I was pleased with. Then it was time to head back down! I felt good about starting my return trip, although the rocks made the descent a bit tricky. One guy a few people ahead of me actually took a tumble and scraped himself up. I managed to tweak my ankle a bit, but that’s nothing new. When it happened, a guy with a BRC shirt asked if I was ok and then said I’d looked great up til then. He encouraged me to keep going.. and of course I assured him this was completely normal behavior for me and I’d be back running in a moment. We then played cat and mouse for probably the next 8 miles.

In the Pikes Peak marathon, I really do turn off my brain for the second half and just go, but here there was always that lurking thought of the climb back up around Ball Mountain. For whatever reason on the way up I hadn’t realized we hit the same aid station twice around the mountain. On this time when I arrived they said “7 miles to go! 3 around this loop, then 4 down” and it deflated me. I’d felt like we should have been further than that! The loop was as un-fun as can be expected, and by this time the clouds above were starting to get a little dark and there was a bit of a wind. I kept going, but there was a fair amount of walking.. and I’m a slow walker. I seriously need to go out and hike more! I’d run past some guys walking, then when I stopped to walk they’d be able to catch up just walking!

Finally we were up at what I figured was the highest point around Ball mountain and I rejoiced a bit. It was time to go. I didn’t really push terribly hard, but at least I felt like I didn’t need to be saving energy for later. I got back to the aid station, ready to take on the last few miles. This was where it had taken me 48 minutes on the up, so I figured it wouldn’t be that long back down. I debated if I wanted to know my time (would it really help me push harder?) and then asked another runner. He said we were at around 4:45 clock time. Whoa! I got a little boost knowing that my goal was about to be blown out of the water. “AWESOME!” I exclaimed. A volunteer saw me and asked if I’d just come from Mosquito Pass, and tried to point me towards the Ball Mountain loop. “No,” I told him, “I’ve already done that. That’s what’s awesome!” And then I headed down towards town.

I hadn’t seen another female runner since probably mile 16, but I guess it was bound to happen. With three miles to go I heard another runner coming up on me, much more aggressively flying down the rocky trail. “Nice finish” I said over my shoulder as they approached, and then “oh crap” when I realized it was a girl. Ha! I actually caught up with her a little later and we exchanged pleasantries. I complemented her on her fearlessness, as she said she really loves downhills. And then she was off again!

The last few miles felt great, especially as we got back onto paved road. My legs felt AMAZING and I do wish I had a watch to see what the last few splits were.

Throughout the race, I kept playing cat and mouse with Niels. He’s getting ready to do the 50 Miler in a few weeks, and he was looking SO much stronger than when he did Pikes Peak last year! As I rounded the last turn towards the finish, there he was! He said he’d been hoping I’d catch him so we could run in together. We’d trained together a bit back in Ohio years ago, and how cool would it be to send in a photo to our friends of what we’re doing now? So we ran in. On the side of the road was his wife Asha, their daughter and their dog Moab. The dog was so excited to see Niels that he got loose from Asha and started to run with us. Niels tried to tell him to stop, but the dog wasn’t having it. So Niels grabbed the leash and Moab got to finish the race with us!

My finish time was 5:19:45, which I was REALLY excited about. Although my time was better than at Pikes Peak, I felt like this course was more of a mental challenge. KJ, Heather and Phoebee were all there to congratulate me in their matching race shirts. They’d all finished their races within 5 minutes of each other! We headed back to the hotel so I could shower. I went to throw on a tank top and they chided me to wear my shirt as well, so all four of us matched!

The race cutoff was 8.5 hours so we headed back to watch other finishers come in and get some food. I chatted with the Roost folks to see how they did; somehow Luke had managed to get a huge gash in his heel that made it look like the whole bottom layer of skin was peeling off. Eww…. but he placed 3rd in his AG for it, so I guess it was worth something!

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Results:
Split 1: 47:52
Split 2: 37:10
Split 3: 1:23:14
Split 4: 1:11:44
Split 5: 45:49
Split 6: 34:03

Chip time: 5:19:45
AG: 5/46
Women: 14/125
O/A: 87/509

By finishing the marathon within 8:30, I was eligible to earn entry into the Leadville 100. They were giving away something like 24 entries to folks. They drew names from a hat and people had to choose to participate or not. Many folks were either not there, or already registered. Finally the organizers asked who in attendance wanted to run it, and told them to just come up. A few folks I’d chatted with during and after the race went up, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. One day maybe.. but certainly not in the next few months! I did take what Darren said to heart: how is running so long so slowly going to help me get faster? It’s not. ALSO.. let’s face it, I was ready to be done after 26 miles today. I couldn’t imagine doing that three more times..
(not this year…)

We walked around town for awhile and managed to find a cool little place (Tennessee Pass) for dinner. My legs felt ok, it was really just the sun and heat that was the roughest. I could feel my lips on the verge of blistering. I DID sleep in my compression socks to try to speed recovery, though!

The next morning we went back to the Tennessee Pass for breakfast, then headed on our respective ways. It was SUCH a fun weekend! We gals got along great and it made me look even more forward to the relay, if that’s possible.

The town and the event was really cool: there was really a sense of community you don’t get at a lot of other races. For that, it did remind me of Pikes Peak, but this seemed even a closer community. All weekend you saw other participants or volunteers wandering the town. I actually struck up a conversation with a guy in the restaurant where we had dinner Sat night. His name was Val and he’d actually finished in over 9 hours (so he wasn’t eligible for the LT100 lottery, but he’s still listed in results). He was from Chicago, a member of the 50 States club and had just decided to run this race in May! His wife was his biggest fan as she bragged about him, it was really cute to see.

As we left, the other gals mentioned wanting to run it again next year. I don’t think I’d do the marathon again (definitely taking Darren’s words to heart), but the half may not be so bad. As I told someone today, this is the sort of marathon you don’t run for time, you run for your soul…