Saturday, July 11, 2009

Leadville Trail Marathon 2009

(Starting line shot, courtesy Duncan Callahan: I am on the extreme left.)

I went into this race excited to do my first mountain race in over a year. (I would call the Zane Grey 50 my last "mountain" race...The Dogwood Canyon 50K last year was hilly, but certainly no extended climbs or altitude to deal with.) I felt like I was in pretty solid shape as evidenced by a few key climbs I've been hitting lately, but didn't really know what to expect in my first extended, race effort in what seems like a long, long time.

The week leading up to the race was kind of erratic with Jocelyn being in town. This pushed my usual weekend long run forward to Monday of this week, which wasn't ideal, but I was willing to sacrifice a bit of performance in this race in order to get in the training necessary to do well at the Leadville 100 later in the summer. Additionally, that long run went pretty badly. I just felt terrible, got really dehydrated, and, despite magically finding four Endurolytes on the top of Sugarloaf Pass, ended the run in a fairly depleted state. I chalked it up to good end-of-100 simulation.

My Tuesday running was predictably crappy after a long run like that, and, although I felt quite good on the climb up Green on Wednesday, the warm-up was horrible and my shake-out that evening was just as bad. I rallied a bit with my "taper" runs on Thursday and Friday (easy, flat 2hr and 1h20 runs), and went into this race feeling ready to go. But, clearly, I wasn't very willing to back off the training very much; I ran 152 miles in the seven days before the race. Even so, I wanted Paul Dewitt's course record of 3:39:12.

(And we're off...Photo: Brandon Fuller)
The competition in this race was fairly deep as well. Duncan Callahan, Bryan Dayton, and Nick Clark were who I viewed as the main contenders, and off the starting line we all ran together. The only problem was that there was another guy (Dennis Flanagan, 28, of Breckenridge) off the front that none of us knew. There was some low-level nervousness about letting him get a very sizeable lead, but I'll admit that I definitely just assumed that I would catch him on the monster climb up Mosquito Pass.

Crossing the Mineral Belt bike path Duncan, Bryan, and I all ran together with Dennis less than a minute in front of us. As we turned onto the steeper, rockier, looser climbing I consciously backed off the pace a bit and let Duncan and Bryan go at it a few yards ahead. Any time the trail turned particularly steep I would instantly catch back up, so I just let the gap ride. I was very wary of pushing too hard too early as I wanted to be as strong as possible on the Mosquito climb and on the sneaky climbs in the second half of the race because these were where I struggled the last time I ran this race.

Right before the first aid station (3.8 miles) the three of us were still running together and Dennis was still ~1 minute up. At the station I dumped a cup of water on my head as the sun was blazing and chased Duncan down the hill to start the circumnavigation of Ball Mountain. Bryan lingered at the station but quickly caught me on the downhill. I followed closely in his wake, but on this shortish downhill section (~400' of loss) I started getting my first side cramps of the day that would prove to be my undoing.

On the ~700' climb up to Ball Mt Pass (12,000') I ran with Bryan before passing him right before the top where I yelled at Duncan who I saw had just headed straight down the other side of the pass instead of turning left onto the singletrack that traverses the north side of Ball Mt and heads back down to the aid station. I have absolutely no idea why that incorrect road was marked with flags, because the singletrack was marked, too. Very weird.

On the downhill to the aid station, Duncan and I ran fairly comfortably, but I started cramping again, so I popped an S! cap and hit my first gel shortly after the station. Despite this, the cramping continued on the extended downhill (~700' vertical) to the bottom of the Mosquito climb. We ran this section fairly solid, but I could never really get going because my sides/ribs kept cramping, pretty hard at times. Bryan caught us right at the bottom of the hill and the three of us ran into the aid station still together. Bryan again spent a little extra time in the aid station, and Duncan and I tackled the hill together with him a few yards in front.

(Chugging up Mosquito Pass: 15% grade at 13K' is rough. Photo: Natalee Fuller)
I was looking forward to Mosquito because I was hoping I wouldn't cramp as much on an uphill and because I expected the climb would finally separate our group a little. The climb went pretty well. Duncan kept a solid pace until the last 1/2 mile or so where it gets particularly rocky and steep; he fell into a hike while I maintained my running cadence and that was the last running we did together during the race.
(Switchback number three of four on Mosquito. Photo: Natalee Fuller)
I hit the top of the pass feeling unexpectedly fresh (relatively speaking) and immediately turned around with plans of bombing down and making some headway on the leader (who I had somehow not noticed coming down the hill while I was running up). Alas, my cramping went crazy here. I had lost a lot of fluids and salt on the way up the hill and because it's hard to swallow anything on technical terrain at altitude I had neglected to take another S! cap. It wouldn't have mattered anyways, because I now realized that all the salt caps in my shorts pocket were completely dissolved from the water I'd been dumping on my head. Bummer. I did take my second gel, though.

So, the downhill was miserable. I grunted and groaned and massaged a lot trying to get my ribs and obliques and diaphragm to loosen but nothing was working. I was often partly doubled-over, grinding my fist into my side(s), all while trying to sprint down exceedingly technical trail with little oxygen. It was fun. Unfortunately, I was hardly in a state to acknowledge/return many of the very nice things all of the people hiking up the pass were taking the time and breath to say to me.

At the bottom of the hill, my legs felt predictably dead from the downhill, but my main problem was still the cramping. At the aid station, I filled my bottle and was told Dennis had a 6 minute lead. I asked for salt, any salt, table salt, but none was to be had. So it goes. Initially, the run up the hill back to Ball Mt was quite poor. There is a long switchback where I was able to confirm Dennis' six minute advantage, but there seemed to be very little I could do about it. I just felt like I was surviving. Ah, the joys of mountain racing!

Shortly after the Ball Mt aid I walked a few short yards in order to hit my last gel and try to regroup and get my head back in the game. This loop around Ball is a bread and butter 2hr run for me during the week, so I was very familiar with the trail and things were actually going okay until I hit the downhill on the backside where it was the usual cramp-fest again. By time I had grunted my way up the final rolling (oh, what a euphemism) hills to the last aid station I was pretty out of it mentally. I would occasionally be chugging along, realizing that I wasn't actually running that hard, so I would launch into a more race-like effort but it would eventually tail off for whatever reason until I would realize again how slow I was going. I was seriously lacking focus and salt.

At the final aid I stopped and chugged two cups of water (my bottle was out) and then took off down the four mile hill to the finish. I struggled off and on again with cramps until the end, but in general I kind of finally got my shit together the last few miles and was able to run a solid 23min split to the finish.

(Flyin' down 6th Street, Leadville CO. Photo: Tomdog)
I would like to say with more honesty that if I'd been more aware of how close I was to breaking 3:40 I would've put in a little extra effort that last mile, but the truth is I was looking for all kinds of excuses to not run hard the final 3/4 mile asphalt straightaway, mostly because it was all I could do to not double over from all the cramping my sides were doing. None of these were "stomach" cramps. It was all "core" or abdominal or "breathing" muscles.

(Very happy to see that banner. Photo: Dave Reese)
This is the first race in a long while where I basically didn't meet any of my goals. I did improve my time from three years ago by about 45 seconds on a day where I was, physically, having a much worse day, but that's about the only positive I can take from the race. And, that 3:40 on that course is still a very very solid time. I think there is a pretty decent empirical/historical argument to be made that this course is about 15-20 minutes faster than Pikes Peak for the people who are running it in the four hour range. It's just that Dennis ran 3:32:30 and smoked me and the course record in the process. Duncan finished off a tough salt-handicapped day as well to round out the top three in 3:49:47.

Kyle and I have always maintained that on any given day he and I are extremely vulnerable to getting our asses handed to us at the 50K and below distances. This was a good example of that. However, the main reasons that happened to me today were completely my fault, and completely in my control: not more thoughtfully packaging my salt, and not tapering significantly (in reviewing this past week, I now see that the only thing I did differently than a standard week is that I didn't run big vertical on Thursday; I did still run 2hr, though). Simply put, I have more important goals later in the summer. A big hats off to Dennis, though, and he simply outran me, fair and square.
(Congratulating Dennis on a race well-run. Photo: Dave Reese)
Afterwards, it was a blast to catch up with all the folks in the trail/ultra community, especially since I haven't raced in Colorado for so long. Notably, there was a very strong contingent of Team CRUD folks representing; these guys somehow make it fun to go charge up frigid, snowy Cheyenne Canyon at 5am on Thursday mornings during the winter.
(Chatting with Paul D and a bunch of other CRUD folks, post-race. Photo: Dave Reese)
Finally, on an easy run down to Turquoise Lake this morning, my sides were still cramping significantly on the couple steep downhills on the course. Neat.


Justin Mock said...

Nichols took 2nd today.

Natalee said...

Hey Anton! Great meeting you at the race! I have some video I can take some still shots from. My brother, Brandon, probably can get you some too. Email me at and I'll shoot them over to you.

Billy said...

Sorry it wasn't your day out there Anton, but you still put forth a valiant effort. You'll get 'em next time.

tomdog said...

Hey Anton. First off, thanks for taking time out to sign your DVD for my son Will yesterday while I was out running the Marathon. Sorry, I did not get a chance to talk to you later, but he really enjoyed showing me that you had signed it.

My wife took some shots that you were in from the start and of you coming in to the finish. I would be glad to send them to you. You can e-mail me and I will send them to you.

Thanks again for taking the time out for my son yesterday.

GZ said...

"Momma said there would be days like these ..."

(but damn, you run better than before when having one of those days - and equivalent to a sub 4 PPM?!)

Shane said...

It's great to see you racing again, Anton. I wish you well in your training for the 100 - Please stay healthy! I'll be in the Pbville area by the end of the month, but I'm not running the 100 this year due to the fact that I only recently got back into action after gaining a hernia there last year.

Brandon Fuller said...


My wife got a couple good shots of you at the starting line. Plus, Natalee and I caught some good footage of you at a few spots on the course. Here is the link to my post, photos and the video.

See you in Boulder next month!

Frank Bott said...

stay focused on the goals.. good luck with the cramps. i used to get bad leg cramps on hot days.. but found that if i loosen up the laces a bunch on the shoes for a bit.. the cramps go away..

keep pushing!

Anton said...


Sub-4? Eh, maybe. 4-flattish, I would say. 'Twas a rough day, though. Nice work down in Manitou, though! I've been following your blog a bit and I hope you see this as confirmation that it's often a good thing to back off the intensity a bit in training. I'm a big proponent of not hammering all the time. People are always pretty surprised at how easy a lot of my miles are. Not running enough truly low-intensity miles (as opposed to, say, all the 6:40-7:10/mile runs I did) in college was definitely my number one training mistake there.

It was nice meeting you and your sister at the race this weekend...I'm sure we'll run into each other in Boulder this fall. And really, the only Leadville race you have left to do now is the 100...start planning for 2010!

Greg said...

Hi Anton,

Not that you need any help from me but....I have had some experience with the same type of core or breathing cramps before. It used to happen when I thought that I was in pretty good shape and I couldn't understand why I was getting them. I traced it to my diet, or lack thereof, combined with a ton of miles . I don't weigh myself very often but I weighed myself after the last time it happened and I was about as thin as I ever had been. After that I made a conscious effort to eat and hydrate better and seems to have worked.
It seemed like your cramps started pretty early in the race to be effort based. You are in such great shape that you really shouldn't have needed something that early. You might have been depleted going in to the race. Do you keep track of your weight? (to keep from getting to thin) There is a fine line between being in incredible shape and becoming so thin that it affects your performance. Obviously, I haven't run at your level but just my two cents. When I was really competing I had a couple of races like yours. Thought I was in great shape (I was) but cramps just killed me. I toughed it out but in doing that I had the cramps for a few days afterwards. Traced it back to poor eating and overtraining.

Food for thought...


GZ said...

Anton - good note. Forever I thought easy days were 7:30 miles for me. When I strapped on a HR monitor, it told me that might be a little more than easy. Alone, this was probably not an issue, but combined with attempting to drill on harder days - well, I was violating the basic precept of make hard days hard and easy days easy. Burning the candle at both ends so to speak.

When I got to Mt Washington and got my lunch handed to me (with glee by those NE boys), I realize I had to do something different.

There are days where I am running 10, 11 minute miles (or slower if there is a hill) with this heat towards the end of a run - but I measure it with HR.

Not necessarily the solution for everyone ... or all the time ... but it seems to be working for me ... for now.

Best of luck at Leadville. I'd love to see you crack four at Pikes, but the mountain will be there next year too. :) Let's get a run up Green after the August dust settles.

Kevin said...

You looked pretty good to me as you bombed down past me near the BOTTOM of Mosquito Pass (I was the one gasping for air with a big, red, face)..I guess looks can be deceiving.

I can guarantee you passed AT LEAST 100 people going uphill whose pockets were packed with salt tablets. I can also guarantee that any one of them would have gladly helped you out. Next time, just ask. Don't make the same mistake at the LT 100. I think a 3-peat would be sweet!

See ya on the trails!


Paul DeWitt said...

Nice catching up with you after the race; still a nice hard run and any time you bomb down that rough dirt road w/o getting hurt it is a good thing. My folks are back here now for a few days and said they enjoyed meeting you at the library.
- pauld

Steve said...

Nice job, Anton. The key is staying injury free. The rest is gravy.

Anton said...

Steve, you are so right. How many CO marathons do you and John have left?


Chelsea said...

Thanks for writing such a detailed description of the Leadville marathon, Anton! It's exciting to read about how you prepare and evaluate a race - on a much smaller scale, I feel the same way. I love to run...mostly for the time spent just "thinking" while you're our there on a trail with nature and away from the rest of the world. This year was my first time trying the heavy half and it was amazing - best race I've ever run! So, for future motivation, I look forward to reading more from you!!!

friar120 said...

Anton: I took hundreds of photos of the marathon while on freelance assignment with the Herald Democrat. You can view them on my website:
There are several nice ones of you in the beginning and end of the race. Thought you might like to look at them.
Sandi Halverstadt

Anonymous said...

you still put forth a valiant effort. You'll get 'em next time.
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friar120 said...

I will be photographing the Trail 100 Bike race on August 15th, and the Trail 100 Running Race on August 22nd. Will look for you at the running race, Anton. Good luck.
You can see race photos at:

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