Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Leadville Trail Marathon

The beginning of this post is going to sound kind of similar to my first Ultra post. Essentially, I've been very intrigued about the Leadville Race Series ever since reading the book Born to Run by Chris McDougall. He spends a few chapters talking about the Leadville Trail 100 - or the "Race Across the Sky" - a 100 mile ultra marathon considered one of the toughest. Although in all reality - there are many tougher 100's out there - but I think the elevation is what makes it stand out. The town of Leadville itself is at 10,200'. Because of the altitude, it makes for a great challenge. So, ever since reading that book, I was determined to run one of the Leadville Race Series runs. Although I have a secret bucket list dream to one day run the whole 100 miler, I knew I had to start small (if you can consider this small) - with the Leadville Trail Marathon. It was long enough and tough enough to be a real challenge, but also a distance I knew I'd have some experience in already by race day.

In all honestly though, I didn't get nearly as much training in for this as I wanted to. On a difficulty scale, this ranks with Imogene Pass Run from last September. You've got tons of climbing, along with very high altitude. Since I spent all last summer training for Imogene, my plan was to spend a good few months training for this too. Well...a combination of just being busy, and this race being so early in the season (meaning accessing trails above 10,000' that weren't snow packed was kind of impossible), I didn't get much altitude specific training in. But having run 3 marathons and 2 ultra marathon's this year already, at least I had the mileage covered! So I decided to focus this race on simply having fun, and using it as a way to kick-start my training for the Pikes Peak Marathon (which will be on August 17th). I knew it was going to be long. I knew it was probably going to be pretty slow. And I knew it was going to be extremely hard. I mean, this race had over 6,000 feet of elevation gain - all above 10,000 feet in altitude. The high point was even higher than Imogene Pass - at 13,185 (Imogene was 13,114').

So after much self deliberation on whether I should drop to the Half Marathon instead, I decided I needed suck it up and do the full marathon. Dropping would just be wimping out, since I knew that as long as I didn't sustain any injuries or illness, I could at least finish the full.

I was set then! I was doing the full 26.2 miles! My mom and my sister and her family came over to Grand Junction on Thursday for a day to visit, then Friday afternoon we all drove together to Frisco to stay the night. Saturday morning, my mom drove me up to Leadville and dropped me off for the race, and Scott was planning to pick me up post-race. This actually worked out pretty well, so no one had to sit around for 7-8 hours while I raced. We made it into Leadville quicker than I was expecting on Saturday morning - at about 6:35am - which was perfect. Packet pick-up went until 7:15, and I managed to just about beat the rush of people getting in line. I quickly got my bib and T-shirt. There was no backing out now!

Bib and T-Shirt

The weather was actually really nice for it being so early in the morning. I was a little worried it was going to get hot - as it was sunny and 50's at 7:00am. I found a few people I knew so I spent the extra time chatting with them before making one trip through the bathroom lines, putting on sunscreen, and then getting ready for the race start!

Waiting for the start!

I squeezed my way into the crowds already gathered in front of the starting line, with just enough time left to turn on my Garmin and listen to the National Anthem before we were off (and there was actually a real gun fire this time). It starts out on pavement, but a bit of an incline, but I ran all of this section until one really short, steep section where I took my first walk break (of what would be many). Shortly after this, we turned off of the pavement, to what would be dirt roads for pretty much the rest of the race. It was all uphill, but not as steep as I knew a lot of the sections of this race would be, so I settled in on a run/walk approach for the first mile and a half until the full marathoners broke off from the half marathoners.

Looking back at the racers behind me from the marathon turn-off.

Note how rocky this section was - this was going to be rough doing back down.

This is when we went from a nice 2WD dirt road, to a much more rocky 4WD road. And things started to get steep real fast! But alas, I was prepared for this. I worked on my power hiking and just tried to keep a steady uphill pace. About a mile or so later, and we had a nice descent for about another mile. I had heard that they had to change part of the course this year due to snow, and I think this was part of the change, as my elevation profile looks a bit different from the traditional one - specifically in this section. Also, the map had said we were supposed to have our first aid station at 3.8 miles, but instead there was an unmanned water station at 2-something miles, and then nothing until 6 miles! It threw me off a little, but not too bad, so I just continued on. After that mile or so of downhill, it was back to lots of uphill for about 2 1/2 more miles until we got above treeline for the first time at about 12,000 feet. This was actually probably my favorite section of the race. We were above treeline, the views were incredible, but I could still breathe (for the most part), and the weather was still nice enough to enjoy it! Oh and it was a gently sloping descent until the first major aid station at around the 6 mile mark.

So rocky!
Mount Elbert (highest peak in Colorado) on the left, Mount Massive on the right
My favorite section of the course!

I got into the aid station, topped off my water bottle and ate a 1/4 of a banana, then grabbed a cookie to go as I headed out for our first major descent of the course. This was about 2 1/2 miles of downhill. It was really rocky, and pretty steep, so I wasn't going as fast as I wanted to go for such a long downhill section, but atleast I was finally able to catch my breath for awhile! In the back of my mind, I knew going up this later in the course was going to be rough though!

First major aid station
Leaving the first aid station - I love being above treeline - so pretty!

Once we made it down that descent, we got back onto a much nicer dirt road without any rocks at all. Unfortunately it was uphill, so lack of rocks didn't mean I could pick my pace up much, but it did mean I'd have a nice fast section on the return. We had also joined the Half Marathon coarse, and got to see some of the Half Marathon leaders already on their return (some people are so flippin' fast by the way!!!). This section was probably about a mile before we made it to the second major aid station. I grabbed another banana piece and tried some of the electrolyte drink they had (which was kind of disgusting - the one thing about trail races - they always seem to have weird electrolyte drinks that taste horrible - wish they would stick with Gatorade or Poweraid), then continued on my way. We had about a mile of gradual downhill, which I spent watching all of the fast Half marathoners run by, until reaching the aid station that would mark the beginning of the climb to Mosquito Pass (the high point of the course at 13,185').

This was going to be fun to run back down!
There were abandoned mines all over the place.

It was at this aid station that I ended up catching up with Vale (who I did some training runs with back in the early spring before moving to Grand Junction) and her friend Abbie. So we decided to start the ascent together! It was nice to have some company for what was going to be the toughest section. We had what we thought was about 3 miles to the top, although it actually ended up being closer to 4 (putting us at the summit at 14 miles). It was slow going, as I knew it would be. Slow and steady. There were tons of runners coming down at this point - about all of the middle-of-the-pack runners from the Half, plus the start of the elite/fast runners from the Full Marathon. Luckily the course was pretty wide, but it was also pretty wet and muddy. This made dodging the runners coming down and dodging the water and mud a little difficult. I definitely got my feet wet a few times.

Got a picture with Vale and Abbie at the aid station before heading out for the pass!
The beginning of the toughest part!

After what seemed like forever, we reached the last aid station before the top. On nice years this aid station is actually at the top, but they moved it down due to snow. According to people at the aid station, we had about 30 minutes of climbing to go. I'm not sure why they used time as an indicator here because everyone moves at different speeds (especially when you're getting this high in altitude), but I think I determined it was about 1 mile to go. This threw me off, because eventhough it looked like we had a long way to go, all of our Garmin's were saying we were close to 13 miles already. This was supposed to be the turn around point! Ohwell though - still had to make it to the top whether or not the mileage was working out. It was getting quite windy and cold by this point, so I grabbed my long sleeved shirt and gloves, as well as a packet of Honey Stinger chews, and continued on to the top.

It was really slow! Personally, I think getting over 12,000' is when I really start to feel the effect of the altitude. Combine that with the fact that it was still a constant uphill, and I yeah, I was moving slow. I tried not to stop at all, but did find myself taking a couple real short breaks to catch my breath. Vale and Abbie had definitely pulled away from me, but I could still see them ahead. I continued on. And finally, after what felt like forever, I made it to the top! Woohoo! I got a picture with Vale and Abbie, then took a few panoramic shots and a video. I was still taking a few pictures when they started heading back down, so I had a feeling I had probably lost them for the rest of the race. The remainder of the race would be more heavily focused on downhill running which is not my strong suit (not that uphill really is either - but at least I can usually keep up with the mid-packers on the uphills). But that's okay I figured, I could take more pictures this way without feeling like I was holding anyone up.

We had to check in with this guy to prove we made it to the top.
Views from the top!

As I started my descent, I saw a girl trying to take a selfie from the top, so I offered to take a picture for her, which I did. She then offered to take one of me. I let her. And this is what turned out:

Haha, yeah...not sure what happened there - kinda wish I had checked it before heading on. Ohwell though. The entire 3-4 miles back down the pass were really rocky. I was kind of run-jog-walking them (not really sure how to explain it - definitely not fast enough for a run, but I let gravity help me, and it was faster than a walk). After the first mile or so down, there weren't many people still going up, which was nice. This meant I didn't have to try and navigate around people while also making sure I didn't trip on any rocks. I stopped at the aid station that was about a mile from the top to put away my gloves and refill my water bottle, before running the last 3 to next major aid station.

So pretty!

The course was starting to feel much more empty by this point!

I got into the major aid station, quickly used the rest room, grabbed some M&M's, and continued on my way. The aid station volunteers wanted to make sure I had a rain jacket, as the clouds were not looking good. At all. I was a little worried. Rain would definitely ruin my plan to "have fun and take it slow." I tried to stay positive though - I had a fold-up poncho and a long sleeve with me. I could get through it if I had to. It would be a rough last 12 miles, but I could survive it.

I thanked them and told them I had a poncho with me, before continuing on. I had a little bit of downhill before a little bit of uphill, and then another aid station. At this one I tried the other electrolyte drink the had - also nasty. I had another banana, then started the fun and fast downhill that I had noticed on the way up - it was dirt road, but nice, smooth dirt road - so I could actually run it at a pretty good pace!

More mine ruins
Finally, a fun easy downhill section!!! (and not sure what happened to my camera, but it must've fogged up or something).

And then...I had to turn off of the combined coarse and back onto the marathon only coarse, for the WORST SECTION EVER. I remembered going down. I knew it wouldn't be fun going up 19 miles into the race. But it felt way worse than I was expecting. It was about 2 miles and over 1000 feet of gain. And it lasted forever. I don't know why, but it seriously felt never ending. I ended up chatting with a guy from the DC area for a little bit. It kind of helped pass the time. I kept waiting to get above treeline because I knew that meant I was almost done with this uphill section. Surprisingly, despite feeling miserable, I managed to pass about 3 people on this section. I guess I wasn't the only one not enjoying it.

Do I have to turn left?? (The Half course went straight and was almost done at this point).

Then finally, I was above treeline. I could hear the people at the aid station. I was almost there! I continued up, a little bit more, and I was at the last aid station of the day! My Garmin said 21 miles, but since it was supposedly an out-and-back, I knew from earlier, that it was still 6 miles to the finish...until I heard an aid station volunteer say it was only 5 miles to finish, and we got to take a short-cut! I guess this was part of the course change due to the snow conditions from earlier! That was probably the biggest relief ever!

I continued on, downhill for another mile or so, before the last uphill again - about another full mile, until finally it really was all downhill until the finish. At about 24 1/2 miles, I finally made it back to the where the full marathon course joins the half again, and then shortly after that I got to turn onto the pavement! I ran the downhill pavement (so smooth and easy to run on!!!) at the fastest pace ever (well for the day anyways), and finished in 7:09:27.

All finished!!!
More awesome bling! Love the medal.

Date: June 14, 2014
Weather: 60's all day - sunny at the start, windy and chilly at the end
Distance: Marathon (26.2ish miles - my garmin clocked it at 26.07 - but I paused and forgot to turn it back on for a few minutes).
Bib Number: 25
Gun Time: 7:09:56
Chip Time: 7:09:27
Average Pace: 16:24 minutes/mile
Elevation Gain: According to website 6,333'; according to my Garmin 6,028' (weird since people were saying they thought the changes to this years course made it more elevation gain than before)
Overall Rank: 346 / 434
Gender Rank: 75/103
Division Rank (F20-29): 18 / 23
Miles 1-10: 12:57, 16:14, 10:58, 17:04, 22:28, 12:12, 13:48, 12:30, 15:51, 11:17
Miles 11-20: 17:55, 21:40, 31:27, 24:49, 18:07, 13:36, 13:12, 13:20, 16:46, 13:32
Miles 21-26: 23:58, 17:55, 11:54, 18:53, 11:46, 9:33, 8:23 (last .2 - check that out!!)

Maps and Elevation:

This shows my actual elevation gain (top) vs. the traditional/standard course (bottom):

My map vs. the standard route:

Now onto likes/dislikes and what worked/didn't work:

Likes and/or what worked:
- Leadville Race Series put on a very good event - I was impressed. Great course markings (I was always in sight of someone else, but had I not been, I would've had no problem staying on course), nice shirts, cool finishers medals and finishers mugs.
-Good aid stations as far as food goes. Tons of fruit (bananas, oranges, watermelon), cookies (chocolate chip and fig newtons), chips, soda.
-My Saucony Peregrine 4's - I was a little nervous to wear them because of my foot injury I got after running my first 50K in these shoes, but they ended up working great.
-Oh yeah - it never did rain! Woohoo! It looked like it was going to for the entire second half, but luckily it didn't.
-Clothing: I think I brought the right amount - I had a small poncho in case it did rain, a long sleeved shirt and gloves - which were a life saver going the last couple miles to the summit.

Dislikes and/or what didn't work:
-I wish the aid stations had a good tasting electrolyte drink - such as Poweraid or Gatorade.

The town of Leadville

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Crystal Mill - Marble, Colorado

Ever since I first drove Highway 133 over McClure pass back in 2011, I've been intrigued by Marble, Colorado. You can't see the town from the highway, but you can see the signs pointing towards it. Once I found out that the Crystal Mill was located there (one of the most photographed sites I'm Colorado), I knew I had to to check it out sometime.

Marble is about 30 minutes southwest of Carbondale. It is famous for the above mentioned Crystal Mill, as well as the location of the Yule Marble quarry - of which the Marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was mined. It's an incredibly small town with a population of about 130, so there's not a whole lot there, other than some incredible views. The town is lined with huge Marble pieces spread out in various and random places (unfortunately, I did not get a picture of this - wasn't thinking!!).

My priority in going to Marble this weekend was that I wanted to see the Crystal Mill, so we decided to make that our primary focus for Saturday. We left Grand Junction early on Saturday morning (about 6am) and made the drive over. As we got into Marble, we stopped into Bogan Flats campground first, so we could make sure to get a campsite for that night, then headed to Beaver Lake to start our hike.

The Crystal Mill is only about 5 1/2 miles southeast of Marble. It is accessible via a 4WD road, so while we hiked to it, you can technically drive (hiking is way more fun though!). The hike wasn't too strenuous - it starts out with about a mile and a half of uphill (this is the longest portion of constant uphill for the entire hike), until reaching a fork for Lead King Basin, or the Ghost Town of Crystal (Crystal is located less than 1/4 mile past the Crystal Mill). You take the right fork towards Crystal, and it switches to a good bit of downhill again until reaching Lizard Lake, followed by a little more uphill. Once you're done with that uphill section, it really becomes more rolling hills. Since I was hiking instead of my usual running, it didn't seem too bad, although looking at my Garmin later, it did end up at about 2,300 feet of total elevation gain.

You're hiking along the Crystal River with aspen trees all around for the entire hike, so it really was beautiful the entire time. I was hoping we would catch the aspen trees at just the right time for spring - after they've bloomed, but before they turn their regular shade of green - they're a really bright green (as seen last year when we camped in the Cimarrons). Unfortunately, I think we were about a week late, but a few of the trees up high on the mountainside were still that perfect shade. I cannot even begin to imagine how incredibly gorgeous this hike would be in the fall. I think I will have to add "Hiking to Crystal Mill in the Fall" to my bucket list!

There's not much else to say that my pictures won't do a 100% better job at explaining, so I'm going to post a lot of them. I finally splurged on my own DSLR camera for my birthday this year (my first Nikon - the D5200), and this was the first time I've had a chance to get out and use it, and I had a blast. I tried really hard to work on my shutter speed to get the water in a "flowing" motion, but alas, I think I'm going to need to buy a neutral density filter to really perfect that (without the filter, it was too bright out). But I still had fun, and I think I still managed to capture some good images! So without further ado, stats followed by quite possibly a million pictures!

Hike: Crystal Mill
Location: Marble, Colorado
Date: June 7, 2014
Round Trip Distance: 11 Miles
Starting Elevation: 7,952 Feet
Ending Elevation: 8,986 Feet
Total Elevation Gain: 2,329 Feet (all those rolling hills)

Pictures Along The Trail (Part I):

That really bright green patch up there - those trees are the perfect spring color I was going for!
This wall was practically in the middle of nowhere - it reminded me of something you might see in Europe, not Colorado!

The Mill:

Trying to get the water to "flow" - alas it didn't work out all that well!

The Ghost Town of Crystal:

Pictures Along The Trail (Part II):

Lizard Lake

Family portrait

Beaver Lake (where we parked before starting the hike - this was taken with my cell phone so not a great picture).
Finally got my shutter speed to work at this stream! But can't decide if I like the Color or the Black-and-White out of these two:

The hike took us almost all day, as I was stopping to take a million pictures, and then Argie was getting tired on the way back, so we had to take several breaks. Once we finished, it was back to the campsite where we quickly set up our tent and then started cooking dinner (grilled cheese over the fire) followed by S'mores. In the morning we made pancakes over the fire as well (this was new for me - they actually turned out pretty well!).

Camping Photos:

Bogan Flats Campground

This picture was an accident - but I love it - it's my photography version of Impressionism)

Our tent!
Selfie with Argie (had to prove I was there, since I'm always the one taking the photos).
Cooking grilled cheese!
Argie was pretty exhausted after our hike!

The Drive:

Stopped at this waterfall off the side of the road - it was beautiful!

The End!

Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak

I've been wanting to hike to the top of Hallett Peak ever since I found out it was the gorgeous mountain towering above Dream and Emera...