This ain’t no powder puff race!
Epic, iconic, awesome and legendary are words you commonly here when people talk about having run a 100 mile race, which are all true when talking about Leadville, but what about legacy? How many races out there are not only changing our lives as runners but those of people in their local community? How many races make you really feel part of an extendable family?
Race co-founder Ken Chlouber, an avid marathon runner dreamt up the race as a way to make Leadville famous and attract visitors during the 1980’s after the closure of the Climax mine which was a major blow to the towns economy, putting the town as the highest unemployment level in the USA overnight as thousands lost their jobs. The first race was held in 1983 and has been held annually since. The race starts and finishes in Leadville, Colorado on an out and back course on trails and dirt roads through the heart of the Rocky Mountains climbing and descending 15,600 feet (4,800m) with elevations ranging between 10,200-12,600 feet (3,100-3,850m). The altitude adds that extra element of brutality which results in most years having only a 50% finishing rate. 2018 was no exception with only 52% of starters making it across the finish line before the 30hr cut off.
The Leadville 100 strips you down to your raw inner and you’re reborn when you cross that finish line, life changed forever. But the local lives are changed too. Every year since 2002 the race, through the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation, gives a $1,000 scholarship to every graduate from high school, helping to set them up on a path to success. Their mission is to support the needs of Leadville, Lake County community and build a better, brighter tomorrow, while respecting their mining heritage.
It’s no wonder that the support along the course is second to none! The community love and embrace the race spirit and they are there to do what they can to help each and every runner reach the finish. Checkpoints morph into small festivals with fire pits and parties absolutely on point.
Starting in the dark at 4am the race sets off at a quick pace with a relatively downhill start to the first checkpoint, puncturing the night sky with head torch light trails and whoops of excitement from 750 runners amid plenty of friendly chatter and stories from the trails. The story of a bear sighting along this very trail only a few weeks back sticks with me through the race. Sunrise along Turquoise Lake welcomes us to May Queen at 13.5 miles.
The first real climb of the day is quickly upon us as we head up Sugarloaf Pass on a very runnable but deceivingly draining up hill, some runners choose to run this, but I opt for a running start moving into a power hike before reaching the top and enjoying a really fun downhill stretch known as Power-line to The Outward bound checkpoint at 23.5 miles.
The second climb takes place up Mt Elbert after going through Half Pipe checkpoint, it’s not the full way to the top of the mountain but it’s still a hefty ascent to combat before reaching Twin Lakes where my crew are waiting patiently for me ready to get me sorted again at 37.9 miles in.
Refuelled and refreshed heading out of Twin Lakes I pop on some tunes to help keep my cadence hoping that I can keep up a good pace up Hope Pass. Two small ankle deep river crossings chill me right down as I wade through freezing water but wet feet don’t bother me and I shriek and laugh as I cross through.
I snap open my hiking poles as I see the ascent of the pass ahead and altitude quickly takes its toll. I go from moving well to a slow motion hike that doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere fast but my legs are like lead and my chest is so tight I feel like I can’t breath, I feel runners coming past me but I’m too paralysed to do anything more than the crawl I’m managing. Frustratingly slowly and painfully I make it to Hopeless aid station and refuel before tackling the last 200m ascent before some relief back down the other side to Winfield. As soon as I’m heading down hill my legs free up and the more I descend the better I can breath and I start to pass a few people again. I feel disoriented by this as I’m normally a stronger climber than a descender but the altitude has flipped this all on its head. Ken’s words ‘Make friends with pain and you will never be alone’ were echoing in my ears loudly.
I’m greeted at the halfway point at Winfield, 50miles and just under 13 hours, by my first pacer Aaron, a total stranger to me until today. I love this about the running community, you only have to seek out support and you find it. I now have 2 new life long friends who both sacrificed their weekend to join me through the night to help me get to the finish. Aaron is keen to get me moving quickly and we don’t hang about the aid station and within minutes we are back on the trail and commencing the steep ascent back up Hope Pass.
We are literally heading home now but the thought doesn’t motivate my legs into action, we crawl up Hope Pass as the wind picks up and the sun starts to make its descent. Jackets, buffs and gloves thrown on we get over the pass and back at Hopeless aid station Aaron has to pull me away from the warm camp fire to get going. We need to make up time as I’ve now eaten well into my good head start of the cut offs and the concerns of chasing cut off times starts to kick in. The 30 hour cut off set for the race is very tight and it certainly means there is no time to rest at the check points as you can all so easily lose valuable time and miss out on finishing like 48% of starters this year did.
It’s dark before we reach Twin Lakes again so head torches are back on and we tackle the freezing river crossing in the dark which certainly wakes me up! And then we make it to Twin Lakes now 62.5 Miles in and making cut off by only half an hour. Dion, my husband, who has been crewing since the start is there and he offers forceful encouragement and I can see concern is all over his face; he knows how badly I want this belt buckle and he fears this is slipping out of my reach. At no point have I felt like quitting, I have come into this race with the right intentions and the positive mindset with the mantra from the race briefing still ringing in my ears “I commit, I won’t quit”.
We head off again into the dark and it’s straight back into a climb up Mt Elbert, again my legs are like lead and I start to feel really queasy and continuously struggling for air, with bouts of dizziness which has Aaron worrying as I keep stumbling. As we finally reach the top the heavens open for a downpour saturating us before we make the next checkpoint. It’s here I put on every layer I have, 2 base layers, 2 waterproof jackets, buff and gloves to try and get warm again. Aaron forces me to eat more than I have at any other checkpoint and we get down to Half Pipe at 71.1 Miles where we’ve now managed to make up 10 mins and we are 40 mins ahead of cut off, the time hangs over my head somewhat as 40 minutes isn’t really that much in the scheme of things and I know I need to keep digging deep if I am going to be awarded that finishers buckle.
We change pacers at Outward bound station 76.9 miles and James joins me to get back up Power Line, that really fun downhill now has to be climbed! It’s the first time I’ve spoken to James in person and within 10 minutes I’m double over and vomiting no doubt making a great first impression. Somehow the vomit makes me feel better and we ascend the hill so much stronger than the last 4 climbs. James is loving it and pushes me to get a jog on again when we reach the top for the descent back into May Queen at 87.8 miles, passing about 50 runners, where Dion and Aaron are surprised to see us down already.
The sun is just starting to rise as Aaron joins me for the final leg to the finish, just 12.6 miles to go and we’ve got just over 3 hours to make it but on tired legs this doesn’t mean it’s in the bag but I can feel it, I can feel I’m going to get that belt buckle and I surprise Aaron with my refound energy and we start playing a game of Pac-Man, every person we see we aim to catch them and we end up passing 50 runners to the finish line.
That finish line! Before you enter the town of Leadville you can hear the cheers and applause which spurs you on and as you turn onto 6th street you still can’t quite see the finish line but the streets are lined with local support. Everyone has come out to cheer us all on and the noise is deafening, tears start flowing as I get choked up by the emotion of it all knowing that I am minutes away from finishing my first 100. As we get closer we can see the finish line, the uphill finish line I might add, and we start to plan how to position me for the finishers photo, under strict instructions from Dion to make sure I leave a gap between runners so he can get a good photo. We decide to pass a couple more, then a couple after that until finally my feet hit the red carpet and I’m running under the banner and into the waiting arms of Merilee. Tears are flowing and I look up to catch Dion also crying, embraces and photos and more hugs from James and Aaron, and of course Ken. I’m on cloud nine, I’ve done it, I’ve raced across the sky where legends are created and limits are tested. I gave the mountains my respect, and earned respect from all. Ken tells me ‘Finishing this race will change your life. It truly has and it will change your life too if you let it.
I. Loved. Every. Single. Minute.
The dark sky was tinged with the promise of the day ahead as the deep sound of the beating drums and horns emanated from the forest. Our group of 23 runners walked purposefully towards the sounds with some trepidation and nervousness of what lay ahead. We had come from all parts of the world to run the Way of Legends, a 250 km stage race that traverses along the historic pilgrimage path of Saint James to the finish line at the Cathedral of Burgos, a magnificent world heritage site. We all had a shared goal; to become a legend in our own right and complete this grueling and challenging race whilst experiencing the natural beauty, culture and gastronomy of this amazing region crossing through different landscapes reliving each stages own legend as we went. As we came upon the sounds we could now see the Druids that had come to bless us on our path, their ancient dialect translated for us as they gave each of us poison berries to take in the event of capture.
Check out my video of the race here:
As we set off the dawn broke and we witnessed a spectacular sunrise and eased our legs into the first few kilometres of the 48 km day ahead. The race is a fully catered event except for your fuel during the race, so a small rucksack (I used a 3L Waa Ultra bag) is all that is required for you to carry to include the mandatory kit along with your food and drink. Don’t be led to believe that the lack of self sufficiency makes this race ‘easy’. To run over a marathon a day for 5 days straight through varying degrees of technicality and some chunky ascents & descents, with all extremes of weather at both ends, meant that we were all truly tested and our legs were feeling the pain and fatigue by the end of the week.
What a revelation a catered multi day race is after running self sufficient events! At the end of each day the wonderful team of professional chefs cooked up amazing organic and vegan option meals. Lunch always consisted of a soup of the day and a selection of prosciutto, cheeses, guacamole and bread with the option of wine and beer if you so desired. Then a full dinner followed and you awoke to coffee and a tasty breakfast to set you up for the day.
Different to all other stage races this one has amazing and uniquely comfortable camps with beds, hot showers and massages available. On the night before the final stage we slept in the Monastery of San Pedro Cardeña and were each treated to our own individual Shamanic drum ceremony with the wonderful Oscar Martine before embracing the spiritual sounds of the monks final songs at the end of the evening.
We were all touched spiritually during this race in our own ways, and this became apparent at the awards ceremony on our final night together where most of the runners felt the desire to share with the group how much they were feeling, not just how they were feeling but how much. Something had opened up in all of us and the outpouring of emotions from everyone was something I had not experienced before, we all had to dig deep during the week and we had all been there for each other. I will always treasure the memories and the unique finishers medal; a bespoke design by Oscar the Shaman which represents a helmet and therefore a legend, but when turned upside down represents the phoenix and rebirth ‘a rising from the ashes’. The race is limited to 36 competitors so will always retain this magical feel so don’t delay in signing up, I’d highly recommend it!
My Kit list:
- WAA ultra skort, carrier top, 3L bag, visor and ultra rain jacket – all in a variety of colours (get in touch with me if you would like a 20% discount code off their products)
- Brooks Caldera shoes
- Injinji toe socks
- Guidetti trekking poles
- Suunto Ultra Spartan Watch
- Fueled by Active Root – Ginger sports drink
I get asked a lot of questions and see the same on social media about how to manage the whole ‘running’ thing from how to fit it all in and how to keep the body fit and well so I put a few thoughts online.
What does my average training week look like?
My average training week is pretty full on, I train 6 days a week, of which I make sure included is at least one session of each hill repeats, speed, strength and a long run. As I build up my mileage increases as I build towards an event this results in some days being double training sessions so both before and after work, but ALWAYS a rest day.
Advice for runners struggling to fit in the miles?
Have a real honest look at your time schedule, where are you wasting time on things like watching TV or sitting of social media (guilty!) and use that time to get out for a run. Look to combine ‘jobs’ with a run? Can you run to work, or get off the bus/train a few stops earlier and run? Need to pick something up at the shops, run there and back? Still short for time then get up half an hour or an hour earlier and head out for a few miles. I find the dark, cold mornings are a bit easier with a Lumie light to wake me up and having my clothes laid out ready to go. No excuses right?!?!
My favourite or best post-run recovery techniques?
I love a chocolate milk after a long run followed by a lovely soak in a warm bath, then getting my Supacore compression tights on with my feet up on the couch, including a 20 min foot/toe stretch with my yoga toes on. I have a strong love/hate relationship with my foam roller as well, though I am sure my sports masseuse would prefer I did it a LOT more regularly. A good yoga session the following day is always good to stretch out properly, especially hot yoga. I treat myself to a good sports massage after any big race or just when I feel my body needs it.
(**Get 10% discount from Supacore by using code – Lucja10 – applicable off any items including sale items**)
Top tips on essential kit for trail running?
I don’t hit the trails without a few basics in my bag including a first aid kit with safety blanket, emergency food & water, head torch, WAA Ultra waterproof jacket, buff, EGlove gloves & extra layers to keep warm. On me will always be my Suunto watch to track my run and maps and a good pair of trail shoes that work for you.
(**Get 20% discount from WAA Ultra equipment by getting in touch with me directly for an individual code**)
My nutrition tips for runners?
I’m fuelling with good, healthy & nutritious meals before and after runs and I wouldn’t head out for a long run without some Active Root, a natural ginger sports drink which not only gives me enough energy to run and keep me hydrated but the natural reaction of ginger settles my stomach, something which I have struggled with in the past on long runs. I try to stick to real foods on the run to keep up the energy levels and shy away from gels unless it is towards the end of a race.
What motivates me out on the trails when the going gets tough?
My competitive streak! The fact that I’m either racing or training for a race motivates me and especially if it is a race and I know people are following my results, I’m even more keen to do well.
My advice to anyone who wants to take up running!
Keep it fun but have a focus, signing up to a race/s works for me but what drives you? Is it a PB over a distance, building up to be able to run a certain distance or time, completing a certain race/challenge, or just feeling fitter and stronger? Whatever motivates you, use it, focus on it and enjoy it.
Named as one of Scotland’s toughest running challenges, the Great Glen Ultra starts at Fort William and covers 72 miles/116km and 9,300 feet/2,000m of climbing along the Great Glen Way all the way to Inverness. It’s a long way to drive, let alone run! I had a tough day out there on the route and its one race I’ll chalk up to experience, I can’t say I enjoyed much of it which I will put down to 4 main factors. The route, the self-sufficiency/unsupported element, small field of runners and my own current state of fitness. I’m going to giving you the nitty gritty of my experience of GG, missing any eloquent niceties and runners high garble because I had to dig really deep. Whilst I will never again run this route, this I promise you, if you do want a challenge then its definitely one for you!
After a bus trip down from Inverness at 9:30pm to the start line, runners congregate in The Moorings Hotel before we head out to Neptunes Staircase and take our marks. After stern warnings of ‘don’t fall in the canal’ and ‘keep the loch on your right hand side’ and we are unceremoniously on our way. The first 7 miles are along the canal so its easy to go out too quick but I manage to control myself and stick to a steady 9min/mile pace, the weather is tempered and I’m in my WAA skort and carrier shirt, with only gloves and a buff for extra warmth. With the Scottish summer of late I’m carrying not only a waterproof jacket but also waterproof trousers and a spare set of gloves and shirt! I’m glad its dark as the monotony of the canal can’t yet take hold on my mind although it already begins to bore me. I was looking forward to day breaking and being greeted by a spectacular sunrise that might have got me motivated but alas it just discreetly became bright and that was that, a new day had begun and I was 20 odd miles into the day. The first half of the route is relatively flat, which is because of the canals. The 2nd leg of the canal coming into CP 3 nearly finished me off, how people can run the canal races I will never know, they just never seem to finish! I think I’d spent the first 30miles just wanting to quit but I had to push on knowing that once I got halfway then it would be worth it to keep going.
Once the route started with the unrelenting climbs it didn’t actually get that much more interesting, I found the trails along this section to be quite uninspiring (sorry Scotland you normally do this so well), the views of course from the top are always worth it but I wasn’t feeling the love today. There were no technical sections at all and all a bit too much road and canal for my liking.
Self sufficient and unsupported races are not an alien concept to me in itself having run Marathon Des Sables & Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon however this mixed with the very small field of runners meant that I spent most of the day completely on my own, and worse completely in my own head which was not a good place to be. It’s strange but normally I enjoy running on my own but for this race due to my own current levels of fitness, I could have done with the company. Thank goodness for the brilliant on-call support from the A-grade support crew of Dion, Rhianon and Suzan who were all at the end of the phone calling me with messages of support and not allowing me to quit when I was at my low ebbs.
The race consisted of 6 checkpoints that you could have drop bags at and one other where only water was provided (although the lovely crew there saved me with a small bag of Salt & Vinegar crisps-thank you from the bottom of my heart). My favourite item in the drop bags this race was definitely chocolate milk, I downed one of those at each checkpoint and that kept me going along with my Active Root sports drink. The downfall of no support on such a long race is not seeing your loved ones along the way to
give you hot food cheer you on and that is such a lovely mental boost that I really missed. It was nice to see some familiar faces however in the crew, especially at CP5 where I had them all laughing and applauding after I’d pulled into the local chippy on the way and came through munching my hot salty chips. It worked wonders as well as I then promptly passed 4 people on the way to the final CP.
The final 11 miles were a hard push, everything was hurting in my body and although I now knew I would finish I was eating humble pie as I gathered my thoughts and berated myself for not being as fit as I should be, or could be. I can use the last 12 months of my life being turned upside down by Finding Gobi as an excuse; and I honestly would not change a thing as I am so happy in my life; but as a runner you know what you are capable of and I know I fell short of that. I met my target time of getting in just under 16 hours but it hurt, it really hurt, and its a bitter pill to swallow. It might sound facetious to non-runners to say I’m not fit enough but I know that I am capable of doing so much better and it only matters to me I know, but I consider my opinion pretty important! So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to recover wisely, I’m going to have some fun and go and run the Spartan Beast race in Edinburgh on 22nd July (if you fancy joining me its not too late and use ‘EDINBURGHSPARTAN’ to get 15% off your entry) and then I’m going to go and run even further and do my first ever 100 miler on the 5th August at the NDW100.
I’m not really sure what drew me to sign up for The Fling, a 53 mile race from Milngavie to Tyndrum along the West Highland Way, considering I don’t do a lot of local races, preferring to race abroad, and also that the WHW is part of my regular training run but for some reason I was drawn to ticking this off my ever growing list of must do races.
The race came around quicker than I had hoped. The start to the year had been more hectic than I planned; starting a new job with Village Hotel Edinburgh along with finally having Dion and Gobi home from China (see Finding Gobi for more on this adventure); all of which I’d imagined as being the start to a new ‘routine’, a steady state of life to crack back on with training and life in general. As they say about the best laid plans….exactly that! Life was far from routine. It took a couple of months for Dion and Gobi to find their new rhythm alongside Lara and I, and amongst it all both Dion and I were finding it hard to sync our training around the demands of our new girl Gobi and their subsequent book releases, which resulted in more days out having a walk and finishing at a cafe or pub rather than putting in the required training. Not that the weather helped either mind you. I try to be hardy but I’m a fair weather runner at heart.
I had glimpses of getting back to training properly with a few solid mileage weeks and making good use of my new run commute into my amazing new gym (a perk of the job) with a strong focus on building strength in my legs and glutes with the aid of my PT. My PT Huw has got me strengthening the key muscles to make me a stronger mountain and endurance runner and I can certainly feel it has been working. A lot of work on single leg exercises, deadlifts, squats, lunges and a combination of upper body has made my body hurt in ways I didn’t know possible but it has reaped benefits. My legs felt strong throughout the race and I was out doing a recovery hike the following 2 days which certainly is testament to stronger muscles.
When I’d signed up for the race in late 2016 I’d envisaged my training going so well I’d be aiming for a sub 10 hour finish but as race day approached I knew this wasn’t realistic and had revised back to a sub 12 hour finish. Through the positivity of Dion and a visiting friend Euan, we revised this to still push for 10 and see where it took me. My ultimate goal is to finish feeling strong and with a smile on my face.
Race day! Milngavie only gets this busy twice a year, at Fling time and of course for the West Highland Way race which takes in the full 97 miles of the route. Out of the 1,000 runners congregated I felt like I knew most of them so there was a lot of pre race chat as we gathered to head off. I started off way too fast, chatting with a pal Em before she pushed on and I dropped back to a more sustainable pace. Glad I did when I later found out Em had finished in 9hrs 42m! She was on top form, well done to her.
The first 19 miles of this race are hard to hold back on as it is very runnable and mixed with the adrenaline of a race can be a dangerous mix. I was excited to reach Balmaha and see Dion to refuel and swiftly carry on. I felt strong coming into Rowardennan which was the halfway point, one marathon down, just one to go 😉 my feeling of contentment was shattered soon after as I was enjoying a little jog out of the checkpoint drinking my coconut water and tripped! Bruised ego and blood ensued (just a minor cut on my palm) but back into it. From here the route gets a bit more technical and with a marathon already under your belt the pace tends to drop as everyone is taking a bit more care through this section.
Reaching Bein Glas I am lifted by the sight of not only Rhianon holding one of her infamous motivational signs and cheering but she’s even managed to get Dion to hold up a sign! After a quick lick for good luck from Gobi I’m off again. There’s just half a marathon to go and this is the stage I know I just have to dig deep and get it done. The legs are fatigued, feet a little sore and I’m feeling quite sluggish not long after I leave the checkpoint.
It’s a tough slog through cow pat alley before I reach Crianlarich hill where my lovely support crew are along with the wonderful Beardy and Blondie, it’s a party atmosphere on the hill giving my spirit a boost before the last final climb. It’s a slow climb up and the rain starts so I faff around putting a jacket on as my body is now fatigued I immediately feel cold. The descent over the other side is hard work on the quads (more work needed on those) but I’m rewarded with a surprise crew cheer spot just before Auchtertyre by Dion and Rhianon hiding out in a farm shed. I’d realised just before reaching there that with only 3 miles left to run, if I could maintain 10min/mile I could make it in 11 hours which spurred me on so much I don’t think I let my excitement of seeing them show enough as I just ran straight through!
As I come towards Tyndrum the sound of bagpipes fill the air followed by the ringing of the cowbells; the finish line! It’s here! I’m still running and I’m smiling and I’m finishing in 11 hours! I hit the red carpet to the cheers of the crowd, including Dion, Gobi and Rhianon and the finishers medal is mine.