Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How To Run The Leadville Trail 100 by Andy Wooten

Me coming into Twin Lakes in 2009.  I was DONE.  I made Twin in 9:06 and my DNF was pretty much sealed at that point  as I dropped at the bottom of Sheep Gulch, involuntarily.
I am not the best clearing house for information on this subject but with one DNF from 2009, and three actual finishes, 2010-2012 I have picked up some hints, tips and concepts that I think are crucial for making it through the 30 hour window and getting the buckle and I truly hope this helps others. If the lucks' there and winds right, maybe I have learned enough to even go under 25 this year but that's a whole 'nother discussion. 

1.  Preparation... You have to have trained.  The sweet spot for me (YMMV) seems to be if I can get in about 2000+ miles between January and the race in August I can go in feeling pretty strong.  Of course not all of those miles look the same.  You can hit that number by running ten miles a day for the year but you would not be in ultra shape.  You would just be good at running ten miles a day.  For me the key has always been in the "money runs."  Long days on weekends back to back in a 30-20 mile format or so.  I love to run twenty milers because they keep my mind sharp and I learn how to mentally get myself through that time and distance but 30 milers are my staple most years with the benefit coming in the last ten miles after you have run 20 and are tired.

It never hurts to throw in some 50 mile runs during the summer as long as you can recover.  There are plenty of good races, Jemez, San Juan, Leadville Silver Rush, just to name a few.

Caution on the side of going to the line slightly under-trained (emphasis on sightly) rather than tired, over trained and or injured.  The taper and rest before the race  can be just as valuable if not more than the months of training previous.

2.  Know the course.  Know the course.  Know the course... when I ran the race and DNF'd in 2009 I had never even set foot on the LT100 course, EVER!  Study the maps and elevation profiles all you want but it will never replicate or take the place of time spent on your feet on the course.  In my 2009 experience I had no ideas really where we were going through the darkness and I can tell you that when he hit the first little up on the power line cut by Turquoise Lakes, I was in shock as I was not expecting anything like that so soon. 

Learn the course...  I think time is best spent running from town to MQ and back than going over Hope Pass any day.  If you can climb a 14'r or have climbed a 14'r and are in decent shape, Hope Pass is not the obstacle that everyone thinks it is.  I think too much emphasis is placed on Hope Pass just out of fear... folks, it is only 12,600 or so.  Yeah it is high but it is not Handies Peak which you have to cross in Hardrock.  12,600 isn't even that far above treeline. 

Running around TQ lake is time best spent because you learn where you can push it, or not, on the outbound and how to get through it on the inbound.  Bonus points for running from MQ to town in the dark and when you are tired.

The next section which I suggest to really get your brain around is the stretch from Twin to Pipeline.  As much as people overemphasize Hope Pass, I think WAY too many minimize and gloss over the four mile climb out of Twin on the inbound and I have seen many people dying in that part every time I have run it.  In the LT100, the game doesn't start to mile sixty... those next four miles up will always test your fitness, fatigue and willingness to finish. 

3.  Hydration and fueling.  You can't finish Leadville without a solid plan and execution.  In my 2009 DNF I had a plan somewhat, but no real execution of the plan and that played into my demise that day.  In 2010 I learned how to stay hydrated, fueled and how to keep my electrolytes in balance and that formula I still follow on every long run and long race.  Find out how may calories and hour you need, maybe 250-300, and or how many grams of carbs as others prefer to view it and drink/consume every 15 minutes.  For me, I drink 5 oz every 15 minutes and the top of the hour is a picnic (okay that is how I frame it) where I get to have a gel and a bite to eat.  This 15 minute/hourly cycle goes throughout the whole race from start to finish.

Don't leave hydration and fueling to chance.  Enough said.

4.  Don't push it too soon.  After a long taper and then throw in the excitement, is is really easy to run to MQ way too fast.  I think my goal is around 2:05 - 2:15 usually, somewhere in there.  Run from MQ to the third bridge on the Colorado Trail but then hike that uphill to Haggerman Road. If anyone passes you in that section let them go.  It is a 12 minute hike that's it.  Just settle in and do it.  Take it easy on the road up Sugarloaf.  That is where I think I really sunk myself in 2009.  But also don't try to make up time running down the Power Line side.  If you go out too fast too soon, you will probably run a great Marathon time from the Start to Fish but then after that your day will be come undone.

My goal is this... I hope to always make Twin Lakes on the outbound with a smile on my face and with my sense of humor intact (well as much as it can be after running 40 miles.)  I figure if I can do that I have kept it together and my chances of finishing have increased exponentially.  When I got to Twin Lakes in 2009, I just wanted my friends to put a bullet in my head then and there.  I was NOT happy.

5.  Don't be stupid.  Don't try to make up April's lost mileage in July.  Once within the four week window of race day I always stress the importance of risk mitigation.  I will walk over sketchy parts of a trail and then start running again instead of risking blowing an ankle out.  I will stay off of iffy terrain as much as possible.  The closer you get to race day, the more you have to be diligent in protecting the months and miles and fitness that you have so carefully accumulated.  Just rest and be safe those last few to couple of weeks.

And to each their own but don't be one those folks who tries to go out and bag a double crossing of Hope Pass two days before race day.  1.  You will not derive ANY measurable benefit in your oxygen carrying capacity by doing that and 2.  Risk... the south slope is a good place to twist and ankle, fall or otherwise get injured.  Sit in town, drink a beer, study a map, read a book and keep your feet up. This will provide as much if not more benefit than going out and hammering Hope Pass. 

6.  Start off light!  I often see way too many people at 6th and Harrison looking like they are ready to do a through hike of the Appalachian Trail rather than just run 13 miles to MQ or 24 miles to Fish where they can restock at either location.  Don't take more than you need to.  You can lose two seconds per mile per pound of junk carried and over 100 miles that really adds up.  With aid stations so close together and with the other crew access points carrying anything more than needed for 3-4 hours is a waste.  Last year I ran the first 24 with two water bottles, a handful of gels, my sunglasses, and headlamp and I used the Nathan minimal vest, the one that you can't put a bladder in.  For the rest of the race I just try to get by with a small fanny pack and handhelds except for crossing hope, I will take the Nathan HPL 2.0 across with full bladder so I can drink a lot on the way up.

7.  Train your crew.  Ensure your crew knows where to meet you at all stops.  Make sure you know where your crew is going to be at all stops.  Be prepared to improvise if you blow past your crew at some point, it does happen.  Help your crew by having everything sorted out in baggies for each handoff.  We have it down to pretty much Melissa or Annie hands me a baggie with a handfull of gels, electrolyte caps, and maybe a packet or two of drink mix and two fresh bottles at each checkpoint.  I hand them my trash which I have already consolidated into the baggie handed to me from the last stop.  They should now exactly which to hand to you at each stop. Number the bags, or put codes on them but take out the guesswork.

Sometimes it is smart to tell your crew to make sure you do stop to do certain things.  If your feet need care, tape them, put on more sunblock, more anti-chaffing stuff, whatever.  Forgetting Sports Shield at mile 24 when are starting to need it can make things really tender come mile 40 and 50 and it will only get less comfortable as things wear on.

Try to not stop as much as possible at aid stations.  You can lose a lot of time very quickly if not careful.  Even if you walk through, it will be way more efficient than stopping to sit, eat a handful pf pretzels, M&M's, a sandwich, and 20 cups of coke.  In a way I view aid stations the same way I view sand traps on a golf course.  They both provide great opportunities to get stuck.

8.  Take good care of yourself.  A blister in a 10k can suck.  A blister in a 100 miler and you can lose a foot.  Okay that is an overly dramatic example but it is not that far off.  Take rocks out of your shoes.  Learn how to tape your feet especially if you are blister prone before the race and have a plan to replace tape at some point in the race.  When I DNF'd my feet were trashed.  Hell, when I finished in 2010 they were destroyed but last year, due to having good shoes, socks and taping my feet before the start and again at Twin Lakes on the inbound I only ended up with one small blister and that could have been prevented if I took an extra minute to to redo that spot when I did the others.

9.  Things change... the weather will change, the course can change last minute, something is going to hurt... regardless keep in mind that it is all TEMPORARY!  If your knee hurts go with it.  Soon enough your foot or feet will hurt enough that you forget about the knee.  Just be prepared to ride everything out.  Be patient when things suck and extra grateful when they are going well.  Your mood will cycle up and down and up and down... feel it.  That is all it is, a feeling and that is temporary like everything else.  Practice whatever mental Jedi tricks you need to get out of it if you find yourself stuck.  I like to recite in my brain everything that I am grateful for that day or hell, just echo Ken Chlouber's "I commit, I will not quit!" a gazillion times until you believe it and are on even keel again.  Whatever it takes.  Just know that in a blink of an eye it will all be over.

10.  Relax and have fun!  Simple enough.  Enjoy the course, enjoy talking to people when you can, enjoy the support and cheers of people along the course.  Smile as much as you can.  Be happy!  You have trained for hundreds and hundreds of hours to get to this point.  Don't make the mistake of not enjoying the minimal 30 hours or less it will take to finish the course.  Say thank you...  A LOT!  Thank your crew, volunteers, traffic control officers, everyone.  Be thankful that you can be out there and be extra thankful that they are out there for you!  Many people can only dream of what you are attempting.  Honor that.  Just keep smiling, even if you don't want to.  It will help.

100 miles is tough.  It is a lot of ground to cover in a given time.  Things can and will happen that you could not foresee in training or even from finishing other 100 mile races.  But isn't that what makes the 100 mile game so fun?  It's a puzzle as much as a race and you aren't even in the game until mile 60 or so when the fun really starts.  The race to me has always been about the last 40 miles... just stay intact until mile 60.

But what if things go bad or something spirals downwards until there is no other option than to drop?  Do it if you have too and yeah it will sting quite a bit getting a DNF but I can guarantee almost 100% that if you do DNF the lessons learned if applied in the future will be way more beneficial than not.  If I didn't get my ass kicked so bad in 2009, I would have never learned as much as I needed to in order to finish in 2010. 

Lastly... run one mile at a time.  Only look at it as one aid station at a time.  If you try to think of running 100 miles the entire time it is going to be way more difficult than it needs to be.  Like eating an elephant... one bite at a time... Don't allow yourself to become overwhelmed.

So.. there you have it... about everything I can share on the subject.  I know that different things work for many other people and that is great.  I don't think one way or method ever outshines another as long as each is successful.

Three weeks and four days to go...


  1. Andy: Excellent write-up, man. Many good words of wisdom...

    Everyone else: Pay attention to Mr. Wooten. He knows what he's talking about. I'm pretty sure he's improved his time every time he's run the 100. (And anyone who can run 2:45 from Fish to May Queen inbound has my respect! :)

  2. Most excellent report Andy and answers many questions I have on prep. I went in last year blind to what it takes to finish and this year have my eyes open a lot more. One question I had was since you've added the bike has your run milage come down much for this year?


  3. Robert, my miles have definitely decreased this year BUT with the bike training my overall training volume time-wise is just slightly a head of last year. Let me also add that is with taking one day off every week this year too. So far it seems the bike has helped my running quit a bit. How that plays out specifically in three weeks at ultra distance, is yet to be seen but I am feeling confident that the trade-offs balance out and I am just fine.

  4. Yes I would think the bike has helped take the stress off the body to allow for more recovery. With your ultra-running experience adding the bike this year I can see how each discipline blends to help the other. Unfortunately for me I'm taking the opposite approach coming from the bike to take on the run. Bike experience carries over only so far and I still need to work on building in that run base. All the best on training and see you in a couple of weeks in Pbville!