Leadville Trail Marathon & Heavy Half Q&A

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You asked, I answered! I chose eight questions to answer about the Leadville Trail Marathon and Leadville Trail Heavy Half Marathon (15.5 miles) – both beautiful and fun, yet very challenging races. Please comment on this post or reach out to me on IG if you have any other questions 🙂

*I am a 5x Leadville Trail Marathon finisher and a 2x Leadville Trail Heavy Half Finisher. If I am referring to the trail marathon, the answer is based on the typical course. The course was completely re-routed in 2019 due to an extreme amount of snow still around.

1. How technical is the course?

Both the full and heavy half are extremely technical. In both races, there are only about 3 miles (maybe less) on paved roads. You go up a dusty road, then start up Ball Mountain until mile 5, which is a rocky trail. After reaching the top of Ball Mountain, you run down it which is all rocks. You must be very careful with your footing going down Ball Mountain both times as well as going up and down Mosquito Pass because they’re all rocks about the size of baseballs and footballs. Many runners trip and wipe out, often ‘Superman-ing’, and ankles can easily be twisted! You must be very alert and focused no matter which race you run.

2. Do you eat/drink anything differently than you would during other marathons?

Yes! You burn more calories at altitude so arriving in Denver and then traveling to Leadville alone should mean eating more for an athlete about to race. My favorite pre-race dinner spot in Leadville is High Mountain Pies! They have the best pizza! During the race, aid and fuel stations are picnic tables covered with all food – PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, M&Ms, chips, Coca Cola, etc. I reach one, refill my hydrapak, take a couple cups of Coke, and grab a handful of snacks. 

3. How do you prepare for elevation? How early do you need to get there to acclimate to the altitude coming from sea level?

It’s tough to prepare for the elevation because there’s less oxygen, and it’s not like you can take oxygen out of the air when running at sea level. So, if this is your first time racing at altitude, I would suggest bringing altitude sickness meds and arriving either within 3 days of the race (which is what I do) or about two weeks before the race. Those are your best options for optimal performance if coming from sea level. To prepare for the 6,000+ ft. of elevation gain, I typically set the treadmill to ~12% incline and hike for an hour about once or twice a week. It prepares your legs for the big climbs. I also do hill repeats and run long runs on rolling hills.

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This is the elevation map of the trail marathon. There are over 6,000 ft of vertical gain, and you can see where the 3 big climbs are (Ball Mountain, Mosquito Pass, back up Ball Mountain). 

(Photo from: https://www.leadvilleraceseries.com/leadville-trail-marathon-course-profile/)

4. What was the hardest point of the race?

During the marathon, I always find the hardest part is hiking back up Ball Mountain for the second time, after descending Mosquito Pass. It’s the third of the three huge climbs of the marathon, so the sun is high in the sky beating down on you. You’re tired from the 18 miles of climbing and running down rocks that you’ve already done, and being hit with another ~45-60 minute climb on a dusty trail on tired legs is hard. It’s really important to keep this climb in mind during the race and save enough energy for it.

5. What trail shoes do you wear?

I don’t! Haha! I wear my regular road running shoes. I should probably invest in a pair of trail running shoes and keep thinking about it, but I never do. That being said, you want supportive shoes during this run so it’s a good idea to look into trail shoes.

6. What did you talk to Kara Goucher about?

I was only with Kara for about a minute because of the line, but I started off by introducing myself, saying I read her book, ‘Strong’ on the flight to Denver. She signed it and my race bib, and then I told her this was my seventh year out for the race, fifth time doing the full marathon. I told her why I run this race (it was the one marathon Robert ran and he placed 33rd overall), and that tons of friends and family members run in his memory. I started tearing up while telling her this and she gave me the biggest hug. Then we took pictures! 🙂

7. How much time is running vs walking? Do you have a run/walk strategy ahead of time?

I run anything that is flat or downhill. Once I feel even the slightest bit of incline, I stop and hike. Even if it’s a slight incline. It’s definitely not worth it for someone who’s from sea level and doesn’t regularly run up mountains (haha) to try to run up a portion of either Ball or Mosquito. That would be a lot of energy wasted which you need for later in the race. This may look different for a trail runner who is from Colorado, which I am not. There’s a lot of strategy involved and running/hiking based on effort no matter who you are.

8. Weather, timeline of the day, steps to acclimate?

  • Weather: Well, we’ve had really hot and dry days but also this year it was in the 30s at the start. There have been a couple years where it’s threatened to thunderstorm in the morning but hasn’t. It usually rains in the mid/late afternoon (I think it’s a Colorado summer thing) and this year it was actually hailing! So, bring clothes for all types of weather and come race day, see what you may need.
  • Timeline of day: Both races start together and at 8am. They start right uphill so you’re thrown into it. Finish line is at the start line, with beer, burritos, massage tents, and basically just a huge finish line party. It’s a blast!
  • Steps to acclimate: I’m linking a blog post I wrote last year about preparing for a race at altitude here. These tips will benefit you greatly! 

Those were just 8 of all the questions you asked! If I didn’t answer yours or if another comes to mind, comment here or reach out to me on Instagram at @elizabeth_healthy_life. Happy running and hope to see you at Leadville 2020!






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