The 2005 Leadville Trail 100 Mile
Digging for gold in Leadville
By MATT CARPENTER
I was bitten by the Leadville bug while pacing a friend to a 22:28:26 14th place finish in 1990. I was used to races that dealt in hours and minutes—not days and nights. I was drawn in by the pre-race planning, the in-race suffering and the post-race feeling that somehow the runners were a little different than when they started. Someone explained that you don’t know who you are until you run 100 miles. I knew that someday I would run the “Race Across the Sky.” I set 2003 as the year because it seemed so far off and would allow me to concentrate on the shorter stuff for quite a few more years. It would also be a great race to do the year before I turned 40.
I paced Leadville 5 more times through 1998. I viewed each one as an opportunity to learn the course and the tricks of the trade. On some of the slower years what I saw scared me. People sleeping next to rocks on Sugarloaf Pass, others shaking uncontrollably at aid stations and almost everyone looking a few shades of pale on the wrong side of healthy. Then there was the almost sick ritual of cutting wristbands from runners—some of whom begged for more time while others were just as adamant that they had had enough. I was glad I had a few more years.
As always, the years flew by and before I knew it I was blowing out candles on cakes that were more candle than cake. I had spent 8 years as a sponsored runner—dare I say a professional runner—whose job was to travel the world and run up mountains. It was the best gig in the world but it came to an end for various reasons but mostly because I had done what I had set out to do. Soon I started a family. Just as soon my running languished in “no man’s land.” I was not as fast as I used to be—but unwilling to admit it—and not as dedicated as I needed to be—but more than willing to justify it. A Pikes Peak Double victory in 2001 left me with a back injury that crippled me to the point that I was crying during most of my runs. It seemed like a good time to call it a career. Then, I remembered my goal of running Leadville.
As if hit by lightning my fading spark was turned into a flame. An almost unhealthy fear of the unknown would have me training like I had not trained in years. Leadville ’03 was out of the question because of my back. I set a new goal of having Leadville be my first race as a master. I reincorporated sit-ups and other core specific exercises into my training. In a matter of weeks I healed an injury that had plagued me for two years. Even more amazing was that most of the speed that I thought age had stolen returned to my legs and I felt stronger than ever! I picked the 2004 Lake City 50 miler as my first 50 because it had terrain and altitude similar to Leadville.
Lake City unfolded like a dream and other than some spoiled fuel I had no real issues. Indeed, I took 43 minutes off the course record. I have a race report here: http://www.skyrunner.com/story/2004lc50.htm. Soon after the race my family began the almost weekly ritual of driving the two plus hours to Leadville to train on the course. Things immediately took a turn for the worse. I found that I could no longer run much more than an hour without getting sore quads and if downhill running was involved I would end up sore for 3-4 days. I cut back on my training and as Leadville approached things were shaping up. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall.
I will again take the easy way out with regard to writing much here about the 2004 LT100. If you want some of the gory details head to http://www.skyrunner.com/story/2004lt100.htm Suffice it to say that after I finished I was reminded of a scene from Rocky where he tells his wife that he thinks he broke something deep down inside. For me it was my pride. Paul DeWitt, Scott Jurek, 10 other guys and yes, even a female, had run by me while I was doing a 30 plus mile walk of shame. For a year I would be “that guy whose wheels came off at Leadville.” I took comfort only in the fact that I did not quit.
The day after the race I began implementing a plan for redemption. It started with three weeks off because I could not walk. With the 2005 LT100 now history it may seem a cop-out to say that it all went to plan but the simple fact is that for the most part it did! I went under 16 hours, broke the record, finished before dark and most importantly to me I did not walk a single step of the race other than the creek crossings. Instead of writing a more traditional race report I thought I would share the answers to some of the questions I am getting about the race.
The most frequent question is what I did different between 2004 and 2005. Fact is I pretty much used the same plan both years with one major difference—I took doing another Ultra out of the equation! You don’t hear from the best marathoners very often but when you do it is often fairly spectacular. It only stands to reason that the same principle should apply to Ultrarunning—if not more so. I left my Leadville in Lake City last year and learned the hard way that one Ultra was all my body could take in such a short timeframe.
The main reason I had put off doing an Ultra for so long was because everyone said they make you slow. I now believe that is bunk! Instead, I think it is the way people train for them that makes them slow. I found that I could not do 30-50 mile long runs like most Ultrarunners and still be able to do quality speedwork. One of my other goals was to win the US 10K Trail Running Championships in Vail, CO two months before Leadville. The only way I could pull that off was to run fast. I decided if I was going to error, I would error on the side of speed!
In place of super long runs, I did back to back long runs. Both days I ran faster than I could had I just done one longer run. I also felt the second day better simulated the later stages of an Ultra because I was already tired. I took this concept even further in my day in/day out running. Heading into Leadville I went five months running 2 hours or more every single day and then another two months where the only days under 2 were the few days before my shorter races. All the while I was putting in two quality speed workouts a week—one in the flats and one in the hills.
In short, just like on the roads and in the mountains, there is a direct correlation in how fast we can go in an Ultra and how fast we are. Sure, food and other issues come into play, but there is no hiding from the clock when it comes to speed. That’s why I set Vail as a goal—it kept me from turning my back on my speed. For more on this concept check out Ultra legend Buzz Burrell’s piece at http://www.trailrunner.com/trail_times/2005_trail_times_spring.htm.
I hit the weights this year concentrating on my quadriceps and hamstrings. To build up the strength in my feet I ran about an hour a week barefoot on grass so they would not get as sore after 50 miles like last year.
I had a list of Leadville runners who had also run Lake City. Most run Leadville right at 2X their Lake City time. This let me know that a sub 16 was possible. I also compiled a spreadsheet of split times for Leadville runners who had gone under 20. All but one had second half times an hour or more slower than the first half. I felt that running the two halves more evenly would result in a better time. I knew there would be some slowdown however, as those that know Leadville can attest things get nasty heading up Sugarloaf at 78 miles. The final three miles are all uphill as well.
Carpenter 2005 1:41 1:41 3:07 1:26 4:02 0:55 5:21 1:19 6:33 1:12 7:35 1:02
Old Record 2004 1:41 1:41 3:07 1:26 4:03 0:56 5:35 1:32 6:59 1:24 8:06 1:07
Carpenter 8:52 1:17 9:39 0:47 11:06 1:27 12:00 0:54 13:45 1:45 15:42:59 1:57 8:07 (0:32)
Old Record 9:36 1:30 10:22 0:46 11:59 1:37 12:59 1:00 14:56 1:57 17:16:19 2:20 9:10 (1:04)
For splits of other past winners or runners who broke 20 hours go to: http://www.skyrunner.com/story/lt100splits.xls
While I had quite a bit of experience as a pacer I had none at being paced. Last year I outran one of my pacers and another was not at the transition area on time. More importantly, I noticed that for the first 50 miles I was internalizing and concentrating on me. After I picked up my pacers I started externalizing and worrying about them. This year I only had myself to worry about. When the second half came and it was time to dig down I was able to do so without any distractions.
This is the number two question I am getting as it seems the number one Ultra issue for most people is fuel. Note: I call it fuel, not food! True, we are all different but I believe there is a misconception that an Ultra can’t be done on energy gels and sports drinks alone and that we have to eat solid food. However, those gels and drinks are designed for easy and rapid absorption which is just what we need! The key is to practice in training what we will do in the race.
I practiced my fuel regime about five times a week almost year round right down to the number of sips I take per hour. Yes—18 sips an hour is what I need to stay hydrated. More if it is hot, less if it is cool. I get those 18 sips by taking 3 sips every 10 minutes. Further, I dump Carb-BOOM energy gel and Gatorade Endurance Formula right into my bottle or CamelBak so that I get about 50 calories every 10 minutes. My energy levels stay constant and I am never shocking my system like what would happen if I ran an hour or more and tried to take in the same number of calories at one time. As an added bonus, I can minimize the weight I carry based on the time it takes to get from one aid station to the next. Fish Hatchery to May Queen? 24 sips…
To come up with these numbers I had to experiment with what works for me. If I lost weight, I added sips. If I peed too much, less sips. Etc. But the point is I spent a good deal of my training time working on my fuel systems because I think it is the biggest factor between success and failure in an Ultra.
In reviewing tapes of previous LT100s (the 1994 race with Herrera and Trason is an epic on par with any Hollywood production) I was amazed by the amount of time runners of all abilities spent in the aid stations. Bottom line, 5 minutes at an aid station means having to run 30 seconds a mile faster over the next 10 miles just to break even. Impossible! Since I was getting my fuel with every sip, the aid stations became nothing more than exchanging empty CamelBaks or bottles with full ones. This year most of my transitions were 30 seconds or less with a few done without breaking stride.
The hardest part of the race for me was the mental aspect. Countless times before the race I thought about how much easier it would be to go for another win on Pikes Peak—especially since it was celebrating its 50th running. However, when it came right down to it the reason I was doing Leadville was because it was not easy. It terrified me, gave me butterflies and caused me to lose sleep. At the same time it made me feel alive! Thinking about it also got me out the door on many cold winter mornings. Something that Pikes had long stopped doing.
Physically I never even had what I would consider a bad patch. While on the edge, I felt in control the whole way. But I am not used to pushing so hard for so long and by 60 miles my mind was fighting bouts of paranoia. I was feeling so awesome and yet I was scared that things could hit the fan at any moment. I was actually thinking, “This is great but people blow up in a marathon and I have 40 miles to go!!!” It was almost getting to the point of being paralyzing so I did something I have never done in a race before. I cranked up the tunes!
I had put together a playlist of music to keep me going. Mostly hard-edged rap—Eminem. I had a song for the road, one for the climb up Sugarloaf and even one for when I crossed the railroad tracks. I had picked them over the course of the year based on their “stand-my-neck-hairs-on-end” factor. I was not using them to escape but to keep me in the here and now. They allowed me to concentrate on things like my breathing, my cadence, my footstrike and not worry about time or distance. One song I played six times in a row because it kept me in the zone.
My crew and others who saw me in the last 40 miles said I was “somewhere else.” This is true in that I was somewhere between fear and euphoria. I did not dare crack a smile until the final aid station when I knew that the deed was all but done. Then I just ran while the song in my ear asked, “Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?” I had captured it four minutes into the race when I took the lead and started running for more than a win and more than a record. I was running for redemption.
Like the 2004 Lake City 50, the 2005 Leadville Trail 100 unfolded like a dream and there is very little I would change. I have the awesome feeling of inner peace that comes from obtaining a long-term goal that did not come easy. I am trying to enjoy it before the inevitable post race “what’s next” crash comes. Other than recovery, I do not know where my running will take me. I was so focused on Leadville that I literally did not even plan on there being a Sunday!
Finally, I am not saying what I have outlined above is the best way or the only way! Indeed, there are many ways to get to the same finish line. That being said, I do believe that the sport of Ultrarunning is undergoing a transition and things like the Montrail Ultra Cup have made some of the races more competitive and on some levels more professional. Sure, there will always be those whose only goal is to finish. There is nothing wrong with that! I know I was greatly inspired by the last runner at Leadville who crossed the line with only one second to spare. But for those of us that want to go as fast as we can go I believe that better planning and focused training is the key—no matter the distance!
(Note: Matt Carpenter’s CR Time of 15:42:59 hours in this event still holds up to the present. For more information about the past results of this event, you can click here. For more Biodata about the runner, you can click here.)