I'll be honest. I kind of floundered around in training for this beast. I wasn't really sure how to approach it. Do I run trails? Do I run hills? Do I run at altitude? Of course the answer ideally is yes to all three. But if you don't live in Leadville or its environs, then it's a little tough to do that.
This race is really in the early summer in the high country. And this year in particular was a snowy, late summer. I tried as best I could to run the course, but got stymied by thigh-deep (or deeper) snow in the first week of June. I had done some hill repeats in Denver before really running the course at all, which seemed hard but like good training, until I ran the course. Then it just seemed like a joke. I found a hill that was 1/4 mile long, and ran it 10 times. But the course is like 15 of those and 15 more that are twice as steep, without the nice downhill intervals in between.
Now I believe that the only way to know how to train is in hindsight. So this is what I should have done, some of which I did, some of which I didn't.
- Hike a 14er. Hike as many as you can. It gives you training for up, up, and more uphill, followed by downhill on shaky legs. And you'll get a sense of how altitude works on your brain and system. Plus, most of the final uphill on the course gets walked by all but the badasses. So learning how to keep going even when you feel like crap and you can't breathe is good practice. I did this only once, but it was totally worth it. I'd do two or three more if I did this again.
- Take every chance you can get to run on dirt, on rocks, and at altitude. I think I run up here often enough that I know how my body deals with running at 10,000 feet, so running on flat at this altitude isn't a big deal for me, but if you aren't used to it, you need to get some time in up here. Hiking 14ers helps with that as well. I wish I'd been able to run/hike on rocks a bit more. Your ankles have to work really hard and it's a good idea to get a sense of footing.
- End your long runs with some downhill training, if you can. Having some practice running downhill on tired legs would have helped me on those last three fire road miles.
- I should have run the accessible three miles on the course (as two or three repeats) every single time I came up here, but I didn't. It was nice, however, to not really know what I was in for when the climb really started at about mile 5. I think I would have been disheartened if I had known. Usually I'm the kind of control freak that likes to know everything about a course if I can. But this one wasn't driveable, and I missed my small window (one weekend two weeks before the race) when I couldn't trained on it. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't know that upper section in detail. But knowing there was a downhill after the first three miles would have been helpful. It's a fine balance between knowing the course and knowing it well enough to dread it, or not enjoy it because yada, yada, yada been here, seen it.
- Don't bother with "trail running" on single track trails. I did this two or three times, including the Turquoise Lake Half Marathon, and I absolutely LOVED it. I found myself running along grinning and laughing. But it wasn't helpful for training for this race. This course is all dirt road and rock. Lots and lots of rock. I think I'll save this kind of trail running as a treat for myself. They're the funnest of fun runs.
- It was hot, so training in weather (both cold and heat) is helpful. You never know what your going to face up there on the top of the pass. Although this year was great, and no one really needed a jacket or gloves, being able to deal with a 25 degree swing in temperature, especially after sweating the uphill and then that sweat cooling you down on the downhill, is good training to have if you can get it. And generally in April or May, that's about the time you can get that kind of swing in a single day if the weather takes a turn. Which it often does in Colorado.
- Buy a Camelbak (I have this one), or some other kind of hydration system. And train with it. I resisted getting one because I thought my back would get sweaty, and it would be heavy and uncomfortable. Yes, my back did get sweaty, but I'm always sweaty anyway. It's super handy, and you don't have to try and plan to refill your water bottle on a 3 hour training run. I saw a lot of people with them, and a lot of people on the course without them. Some carried two handhelds, which just looked weird to me. I had enough problems with my elbow (that was the part of me I had to ice afterwards) as it was, and I wasn't carrying one.
- Looking back my main advice would be to get a lot of time in on your feet, up and down. That's not always easy, but getting the miles in is a big part of it. It's kind of "duh" advice, but the only way to train for a mountain is to run it. If you can't get to one, I would suggest spending as much time as you can on your treadmill with the incline cranked up as far as you can go, just walking, or doing run-walk intervals. My calves were screaming after one of these workouts, but I think they built muscle memory in my calves, which helped.
- I lost a lot of salts on the uphill since it was so hot. I had some salt tabs but I hadn't used them while training, and I wish I had. I took one at the turnaround point on the pass, but I probably should have started sooner with them. I was having some problems with calf cramping on the way down. My solution was to try and stretch them out as I ran by choosing stones to step on that would flex my foot. Eventually they cut it out, so I don't know if it was the salt finally kicking in or just completing the super steep downhill portion of the event.
- Wear sunscreen. Cover yourself head to toe with the stuff, before you put your tank top or shorts or whatever on. I took sunscreen wipes along with me, but they had some spray at the aid station which was a lot easier to just wave all over me than pulling out the wipe. I didn't get a sunburn, but my mom and my mother-in-law did in the time they sat waiting for me. And Mr. Bump missed a spot on one hand that burned. But I didn't.
IfWhen you run it, then I would advise you strongly to take the longest ice bath you can manage afterwards. Go here for a funny how-to. I lasted about 10 minutes (there was screaming involved), but I ended up being sorer in my upper body, probably as a result of the camelbak and lack of full submersion in the ice bath. *Shudder*
This probably isn't the advice more experienced trail or ultra runners would be interested in. But if you're a crazy (but average) runner who may or may not also be slightly overweight, then this is the advice for you. You're welcome!
P.S. I would also tell you that you can do it. There were moments before the race that I wasn't so sure myself, but what I know now is that if I could do it, with the limited and floundering amount of training I did, then so can you.