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Lumbering In Leadville With Leaden Lungs

After a weekend biking in the lil flint hills of Kansas and then a weekend biking and running at home in the slightly bigger hills of Colorado Springs, it was finally time for this Marmot to head to the mountains for a full weekend of fun and adventure on foot! Early this year I signed up for my 3rd go at the Leadville Marathon- the snow-capped mountain views from the lung-searing climb up 13,185ft Mosquito Pass have stayed with me since I last raced it in 2015, and getting in some high altitude hours and lots of steep power-hiking practice were the perfect excuse to return this year!  The other happy coincidence for returning to Leadville in 2018 was that this year’s edition would be filled with more of my Colorado Springs running friends than either of the prior two times I’d done it combined.

 Gathering for the race start was the perfect distraction- everywhere I turned was another familiar face! After taking lots of pictures and eventually finding our way to the front half of the starting corral, we were off. As the crowd thinned and we started climbing, I realized I was breathing in smoke. Hmm this was the one thing I couldn’t really prepare for. The forest fires that had been raging around the state the prior week were still going strong Sat morning, dropping a haze on the mountains in the distance and making the taste of smoke quite apparent now that the crowd around me had dispersed. I’m one of those runners falling in to the “very sensitive” breathing category, which to me, means that I’m immediately affected by the dirty air and am gasping for air more than usual at 10,000 ft. Thankfully I run trails based on effort and not pace, so I wasn’t necessarily off my ‘goal pace’… but I could tell that I was hiking more than I wanted to because my legs felt fine and wanted to run, but the lungs quite clearly said NO. 

Liz, Hope and Christy had long ago disappeared when we got to the first trail I had to start hiking. But here’s Katie and Steve! They’re looking and sounding strong too, but at least I can still see them just in front of me…for a short time hah! and here comes Trevor (my company for the first 10miles of my last 50miler at Behind the Rocks a few months ago)! He’s easily hiking past me like we’re on flat ground.  As disappointed as I was to not be keeping up with my usual trail running friends, it still lifted my spirits to see so many of my friends out on the mountain having a great time!  As the hiking continued, I tried to be friendly with any other racers nearby- usually it was another female who had a similar hike-shuffle strategy as me (I would usually tell a guy that I went back and forth with that I wished I could hike as quickly as him!). I chatted with a girl about the Crested Butte Ultras we had each done last year (I love wearing old race hats to inspire conversation with other racers!) and wished her well as she raced down a technical descent after I twisted my ankle pretty badly on a suddenly-moving rock.  I’ve done this too many times in the last year so the one ankle is admittedly pretty weak, and scarily hurts a lil less each time I see it twist 90 degrees in the wrong direction.  But I’m stubborn and after some uncontrolled cursing, obviously continue on and promise to not do that again!

I thought the steady stream of racers passing me would never end, but finally after almost 2 hours of this (ouch, maybe that’s why my ego felt so shot!), the stream slows to a drip. The Marathon course merges with the ‘Heavy Half’ before the climb up Mosquito Pass, so the social crowds return and the constant cheering of ‘good job’ as racers pass each other starts anew. The rest of the out-and-back climb (and soon, the descent) is a game of dodge-and-go- everyone is looking for the easiest least-rock strewn portion of the trail to climb, so passing racers means I have to carefully choose a path around where I won’t twist an ankle again, while also not getting in the way of the very-quickly-descending half and full marathoners! I was feeling a little down as the peak was never around the ‘next corner’ as I’d promised myself, and realized it would be past 3 hrs (my goal for the halfway point) before I’d made it to the top of Mosquito Pass. But I’d already seen Liz flying down as 1st female and that helped buoy my spirits for a bit. And there goes Joe! And Steve! Wow my friends are everywhere on this mountain! And there’s Katie up ahead, still strongly passing so many other people!  (Mental note- do more Katie-like-climbing workouts!!) Then. FIIINALLY. I reached the top. Now to start the descent and let gravity help me along!

I admit I was still a little mad at how long it took to get to the halfway point of the race, so I might have taken a few too many chances on the technical descents, spouting out some more curse words each time an ankle started to twist while a boulder rolled out from under my weight.  A few more smaller climbs were still to come so I tried to not totally trash my quads just yet. Hi April and Craig! Hi Cheryl! Wow everyone looks awesome and I can’t wait to hear how their races went! Back to concentrating on my footing though, and just giving a quick wave to any other cheers I heard from my friends (sorry to ignore you guys!) . Passing tons of people on the descents is certainly fun, but I still can’t help wondering about all the various things I could change to not HAVE TO be passing so many people after big climbs. Sighhhh … Uhhh wait what the heck is going on now?  I’m snapped back to the present when I realize that a girl who had just sprinted past me on the downhill, and then I’d slowly shuffled past when the descent ended, was now ‘following’ me. Literally. She kept clipping my feet whenever I switched from my shuffle to hike. I love being ‘pushed’ by other racers around me, but not literally!  But there’s some motivation to push just that little bit harder to shake an odd duck like that. I only slowed my hike a little bit to offer a dejected looking racer some of my salt pills and then I pushed on. I looked behind me at the top of this last memorable climb to the last aid station, and phew she was gone. And double yay because my kickass speedy-climber friend Hope (who I had passed earlier on a downhill) was catching back up! I yelled down to her that she better come catch me, and then I took off with all the energy I had left.

Less than 5 miles left, so there was no need to save any energy. Surprisingly I was still passing another half dozen guys on the next descent- why weren’t they sprinting down the hill too?! One more shuffle-hike uphill, that just wouldn’t end, and one more "FINALLY" because now I know it's the final descent to town. Some quick math in my head convinced me to risk totally trashing the quads for the next few days and sprint down the pavement in town to get as close to my old time as possible.  No PR was to come of it, and I'd be lying to say I wasn't pretty disappointed in that final memory for the race. But I can't be annoyed for too long in this perfect little mountain town, knowing that I executed the race as well as my body would let me, while waiting for more friends to arrive. And I absolutely loved seeing so many of my running friends out there, pushing as hard as they could, from winning the entire race (go Liz!!!) to the other too-many-to-name friends who beat their PR’s or finished their hardest race or suffered extra pain from injury or illness but still pushed to the finish.

So if you ever wonder why I race so often, I guess one of the reasons is to help wash away the sorta-disappointing memories that would stay with me if there wasn't always another challenge around the corner... That's your hint that maybe I'm sorta-kinda doing one more race for the month this coming wknd!

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