Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Tips For Leadville Trail 100 For Non-Mountain Dwellers
With Leadville's series of races opening registration on Jan 1st, there'll be a lot of people wanting to run but having second thoughts due to the elevation. As a runner who lives at sea level in California, this was certainly a concern for me in the 2013 100-miler since most of the race is above 10,000ft and the high point is 12,600ft on Hope Pass.
So here are some tips for how to approach the training and the Leadville Trail 100 race itself for the majority of us who don't live high in the mountains.
1. Plan to run a lot - sounds obvious, but LT100 is a very runnable course for the most part with long stretches of flat or near-flat running, despite it being a 'mountain race'. So switching between hiking on climbs and running the flats is a very effective tactic which allows the leg muscles get regular rests from the impact of running then feel fresher to restart when the terrain gets easier again.
2. Don't arrive a few days before the race - ideally spend well over one week in Colorado above 6,000ft. I'd recommend two weeks as a good minimum to start to see benefits in altitude acclimatization and this is how long before the race I personally went out there. The worst thing you can do is arrive between about two and six days before the race coming from sea level. Research (such as that summarized in The Lore of Running by Professor Tim Noakes) shows that arriving into a high altitude location for this amount of time pre-race means you feel the negative side-effects of being at altitude without noticeable positive adaptations. It's more effective to arrive the afternoon before the race, pick up your race number and then run the race before the altitude has time to affect you as much.
3. Hike above the high point of the race - if you can make more of a vacation of the race then hiking some of Colorado's fourteeners is a great way to spend time pre-race (not the last few days). It helps your body adjust to the altitude faster, strengthens your ability to hike and gives spectacular views.
4. Consider using an altitude tent - these can be rented and attach over your bed, allowing you to sleep with air that's more similar to what you experience at high altitude, although it doesn't replicate the pressure differential. Downsides are the cost, heat/humidy and the fact your other half may consider your 'hobby' to be too weird and ban you from doing any more races. If possible going to altitude is more effective, but time off work and a family vacation for two weeks in the mountains is a big commitment too.
5. Take it extra easy in the race - aim to keep your intensity low so your oxygen needs are also low. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and try to run lots of the climbs because they'd be runnable at sea level. 10,000ft makes a big difference and the oxygen content in the air is almost exactly one third less than at sea level. That increases to a 38% oxygen reduction at 12,600ft (based on calculations from this source here). So if you can keep your effort level down you're less likely to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness, such as throbbing headaches. In particular, go especially gently on the two ascents of Hope Pass.
6. Eat regularly from early on - whatever your normal eating strategies in races, stick to it with more discipline in the early stages of LT100. Once you feel symptoms of altitude sickness (which you probably will to some degree within the race) it'll be especially hard to stomach anything and keep up your energy reserves.
7. Hope Pass is the key - if you treat the race as starting after your second descent of Hope Pass at around mile 58, then it'll focus your mind and your tactics well. Aim to get to this point feeling as good as you can and not getting caught up in mini races before that or trying to hit splits for particular finish times (like the sub 25-hr buckle). Run based on how you feel and concentrate 100% on looking after yourself to avoid serious issues for as long as possible. Many of these issues stem from the altitude on the 12,600ft Hope Pass and this is the cause of the vast majority of DNFs.
Good luck to everyone since it's a classic event.