Advertised as “the hardest races in the nation” the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon caught my eye in a magazine after running ‘Born to Run’ and learning it is the highest town in the nation. Home to the famous “Leadville 100”- an incredibly challenging 100-mile ultra-marathon, I was excited to get a taste for what world-class runners experienced. I had done many half-marathons and was looking for some new challenging races for my last summer in Colorado. Reading the synopsis of Leadville I thought it would be a walk in the park after Mt. Evans. I was certainly wrong!
I left Denver on Friday afternoon wanting to get up to my hotel in Vail nice and early to relax for the evening. I crammed in back to back clients, making sure to schedule in a lunch break for some needed fuel. I raced back home and packed my bag going through the checklist of all my items: watch, heart rate monitor, shoes, music player and all the necessary snacks and fuel I needed to get through the race, fuel before and recover after. The drive up to Vail is gorgeous and I enjoyed myself stopping at Frisco for a picnic dinner. Decided it was time to leave when a rather creepy man with a dog tried to approach me about books…..I find them everywhere!
I set my alarm for Saturday morning for 5:15am. Thank Goodness that is a normal waking time for me- it didn’t feel too bad at all! I filled up my tea, pulled out my power breakfast: almond butter and chia sandwich, and hit the road. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains as I listened to my favorite application on my ipod: Tempo Magic. It speeds up music my increasing the beats per minute- great pump-up for a race.
I entered the small town of Leadville, and was in awe of all the little shops, with people in short running shorts calibrating their Garmin running watches and re-tying their laces for the hundredth time. I found a parking spot and got myself situated before getting in line for the packet pickup. People were very anxious hoping up and down in spot, chattering about their experiences, other mountain races they had done etc.
After I had my packet, I went back to the car for a final drink of water and energy hit. Sent a text message to my Mum warning her I was off and she was not allowed to call the police to ask for dead bodies until 12pm! I went to the starting line a little unsure of my clothing (wasn’t sure how cold it was likely to get once we hit higher altitude.) The atmosphere was terrific, everyone was excited and there was so much nervous energy even from me. I am normally calm and collect at the start line laughing at other people’s nerves. However, on this occasion I was shaking like a leaf with the rest of them, and had to recruit a spectator to assist me in pinning my number on so I didn’t prick through my layers!
The national anthem was played and the countdown to the start was rather slow, people were not anxious to sprint off from the start like other races I had done. I usually manage to weasel my way to the front line getting out so I don’t waste time running sideways edging between people in groups with first time race nerves. On this occasion I wasn’t in such a hurry but wish I had gotten off earlier after the race!
We started immediately by going up a very small incline so I was able to keep quite a good pace. Once we got to the trail I was out in front and was able to get into a groove. The first part of the race when we were still in tree line was gorgeous and was able to stop a few mining huts in the distance. The sun was beaming and I was regretting the decision to wear my running tights, with my long sleeved jacket tie around my waist for the duration of the race. The first aid station was low key but once we got to the second there was a big collection of supporters and volunteers handing out goodies. One of the volunteers raced over to hand me an energy gel, I smiled and thanked him, patting my bottom, which was loaded up with gel I had packed with me.
Once above tree line the terrain got much rockier and technical. The views were breathtaking and people were very supportive as I passed them. I keep my momentum going my running as long as I could up probably the steepest inclines I had seen.
The “out and back” quality of the race seemed to have slipped my mind as my jaw dropped seeing some very elite, advanced mountain runners coming down the slope. I was curious to see how many women were in front of me and was surprised to only see one before the aid station I knew was halfway.
I grabbed a sip of water anxious to start heading down, I knew that portion of boulders would be tricky and very slippery. Having seen the women in front of me I knew that if I could keep up with her going down the incline, I would easily overtake once the terrain evened out. Focusing on her back in the distance, one thing led to another and before I knew it I was tumbling down the mountain.
I lay there for a second and realized I was going to be hopping up on my feet anytime soon. I turned my blaring music down to try and control my breathing and get past the initial shock. My stomach dropped when one, then another, then another women behind me stopped to help- I knew I wouldn’t be winning this race. I urged them to move along, not wanting to spoil their outcomes as well. After what seemed like hours (must have only been a few minutes) someone coming up the other way came over and offered me his hand, advising me to walk it off. Thankful for my running tights, which were now covered in blood and ripped at the knees, I hobbled on to assess the damage. I walked for a minute or so then realized I could still do this, I could still finish this race of a lifetime and finish it well.
I took off on a jog, not near my ideal race pace, but was able to get the blood flowing again. Other races were so thoughtful, asking if I was ok. With about 4 miles to go, mostly on flatter terrain now, I made it back to the road, where I picked up to my usual 6:40 minute/mile pace and sprinted into the finish line- coming in first place for my age group and fifth overall.