The First Event: the Leaville Marathon

My training for the past few weeks had been feeling pretty good. My ankle was solid. I had run 63 miles in three days over memorial day weekend and had felt really good. I was ready for the marathon, the first event in the Leadwoman race series. I had done this race last year (the only one in my failed first attempt at the Leadwoman) so I knew what I was getting into. But then diasaster struck, or at least it felt like it at the time. I was reaching for something in the garage, and, as I stepped down, I tripped and somehow rolled my ankle. The same ankle that I hurt last year right before the Cozumel Ironman and that had taken months to get right again. I confess to letting slip a few choice words when it happened because, well, it hurt pretty bad. I was also afraid this might spell the end of my Leadwoman quest.

But after a couple of days it wasnt hurting at all, so that following Tuesday, I decided to test it out by doing some intervals on the treadmill. In retrospect, probably not the smartest thing to do because it hurt to walk on the rest of the day. So I decided not to run on it for the rest of the week in hopes that it would miraculously heal by the marathon that coming weekend.

As marathons go, this does not rank among my favorites. It starts at 10,000 feet in Leadville and goes up from there to around 12,000 ft. Once you top out at 12,000 feet you go down a mile long rocky, loose and rough descent. Then it climbs back up to over 13,000 ft to the turnaround at 13.7 miles. So basically it is a long climb followed by a long climb, with a few descents thrown in; then a long descent followed by a long descent on the return.

From the gun, I felt really good on the climbs. I was passing a lot of people who were breathing pretty hard while I was keeping it comfortable. My legs felt great, no doubt due to the unexpected extra days off in the week prior. So far so good with the ankle. That is, until the first rocky descent.

In retrospect I should have down hiked it rather than try to run it. It was lose and rocky so there was a lot of stabilizing involved. The ankle began to ache and wasn’t in a happy place. I realized then that this was going to be a long day. If I wanted my ankle to survive to see another day, I knew that the better part of valour would be for me to down-hike the descents. 

After this first descent, we started the long climb up to the turnaround. The trail was rocky, steep and wet. There were also runners coming down so you really had to pay attention. At this point there is no running. The air is thin, the trail is steep and narrow and there isnt much room to pass. Looking up it was a long line of people snaking up the trail. 

By this time we were above treeline and the views were amazing, although I confess I didnt spend a lot of time appreciating them. I was pretty focussed on my footing and getting up that climb.

At about 2 miles from the top, I could feel the wind picking up. Little did I know how much it was picking up. 

The higher we got the windier it got. Luckily it was mostly a tail or side wind at this point. But after I got to the top and turned around, it was a full-on-gale-force-head wind. It was all I could do to stay upright. I later heard there were 50+ mph wind gusts. All I had on was a running shirt and shorts and I am sure the ambient temperature was in the 40s. Combine this with the fact that I wasn’t generating much heat given that I was going downhill, I could feel myself getting really chilled. Other runners had brought jackets. I should’ve known better (I had looked at the weather report and it called for sun and light winds, but that was in Leadville). Lesson learned. One should always carry a jacket in the mountains of Colorado.  

I kept telling myself to just keep moving and to get down to the aid station at tree line as quickly as possible. But, the footing was horrible and I felt like I was crawling as I carefully picked my way down. This was a sprained ankle or crash waiting to happen. Most of the people I had passed on the way up, passed me going down. I was really having to swallow my pride at this point. Once we got back down to treeline, it wasn’t nearly as windy and I finally warmed up. I then re-passed a lot of people on the mile climb back up to 12,000 ft. It became something of a joke and I knew they would be passing me again on the next decent.

Once we topped out at 12,000, it is pretty much all downhill from there (except for about a 3/4 of a mile climb towards the end). But given the rocky terrain, I knew better than to try to run it. So I down hiked it the WHOLE way back. It actually took me longer to do the return than the uphill to the turn around. I kept reminding myself that I just needed to finish. Nothing would be gained by forcing the pace.

I was ever so glad to cross that finish line, even though it was about an hour slower than last year. Last year I won my age group, this year I was 5th. That is how it goes. I did get a PR for my slowest marathon ever (6hr and 35 min). But given that there was close to 7,000 ft of climbing (and descending), a less than solid ankle and the windy weather conditions, I will take it. 

Next up in the Leadwoman quest is the 50 mile mountain bike race. Thank goodness there is no running involved.

PS I had my ankle checked out by my favorite doc and he thought it would be fine, so thankfully I am good to go. I think if I had tried to gut it out and run the downhills, well, I can only imagine it would be a different story.