The Leadwoman (or Leadman) is a series of five running/mountain bike races that are all held up in Leadville CO. I am not sure who came up with the Leadman idea, but as far as I can tell it started in 2003 with about 4 participants.
The town of Leadville first came onto the ultra-endurance scene when, in an effort to revive an old mining town that had gone bust, Ken Chlouber decided to put on a 100 mile running race. He was, of course, told that this was a BAD idea and that having people run 100 miles at a starting altitude of 10,000 feet (and it only goes up from there) was fool hardy and dangerous. "People will die", he was told. His response was, "in that case we will be famous".
Well the first race was held back in 1983 and as far as I know, no one has died. In 1994 the 100 mile mountain bike race was added the weekend before the run. Subsequently a trail marathon was offered in June, a 50 mile mountain bike race was added in July and then a 10km run in August (the day after the 100 mile mountain bike race). In 2003 someone decided to combine the five races and bestow the title of Leadman (in the case of a male) or Leadwoman (in the case of a woman) on anyone who could complete all five of the races. In that first year 1 woman and 3 men finished. Since then, a few hundred men and 32 woman have completed the race.
Last year (2016) I decided to give it go. I was a bit on the fence about doing it, but a good friend of mine, Stephanie Wurtz, had signed up which really nudged me over the edge to do it. Just knowing that you have a ready training partner helps. Stephanie is a blazing fast runner, while I am more of a mountain biker. And so we started to train.
Big training event numero uno was to run the Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim to Rim, something I had always wanted to do. You start at the South rim, run to the North rim and back. The distance is just under 50 miles, with a lot of climbing and descending. Perfect training for the LV100. For a video I made of that run, go here.
But bit of history before I go on. I had attempted to do just the 100 mile run in 2014. Matt, my husband had run it the year before which inspired me to do it. Up until that point, I really had no strong desire to do it. But hey, if he could do it, why not me? However, my attempt was thwarted as I was hobbled by an injury (likly related to a fracture I had sustained in my ankle), so I made it 25 miles into the LV100 and had to drop out.
Thus, given that I hadn’t even been able to finish the run, why I then decided to then take on all five races is something of a mystery to me. I am not sure what I was thinking at the time, but obviously, I wasn’t guided by logic.
But back to last year. I had a pretty good run at the marathon, so I was off to a great start. But then, right before I was supposed to do the 50 mile mountain bike, I somehow got viral infection in the nerve to my inner ear while on a trip to Europe. This damaged the nerve and left me walking around like a drunk person (not to mention made me very nauseous). Needless to say, you don’t want to ride a technical mountain bike race in that state. And so, just like that I was out of the series.
It would take about 6-8 weeks of some pretty good therapy to get my balance back to the point where I could run or bike without wanting to toss my cookies. I emailed the race director and sent them a note from my PT to see if I could apply my entry fee to this year (2017). Just in case you were wondering, the entry fee is not cheap. It will put you back about $775. Surprisingly they agreed to let me do that.
However, in January of this year, when the email with the entry code to sign up landed in my in-box, I wasn’t that excited. To be honest, I was really on the fence about it. My running had been almost non-existent given that an ankle I had sprained in October was still not 100%. Not to mention, I had barely been on the bike. Simply put, I was way behind the 8-ball when it came to preparing for almost 300 miles of biking and running in the high mountains of Colorado.
But then I figured that I could always do the first four races and see how they went. Then if things were going well, I could at least give the 100 mile run a go. Or, if I wasn’t feeling it, I could just drop out at that point. At least that way, I wasn’t throwing $700 down the drain. Also, I knew that if I didn’t do this now, I would probably never sign up again. If I was going to scratch this itch, it was now or never. And so I signed on.
The first couple months of training I didn’t feel good. My ankle would start to hurt about 2 hours into a long run. I felt like I was forcing things, almost fighting my body to get into good endurance shape. I did a lot of fast, intense runing on the Alter G (a treadmill where you can unweight yourself) in an effort to fast track my fitness without sustaining further damage to my ankle. I kept having to remind myself something that I tell my athletes all the time… be patient with the process. It is the accumulation of consistent effort and training that gets you there. It just takes time.
Slowly but surely things started to come around. My ankle got solid again and things started to flow a bit better on the run. I also decided to hire Paul DeWitt, a past winner of the LV100 run, to help coach me. He is known for helping to get a high percentage of athletes to finish line of the LV100 run.
I still remember our first chat on the phone. I was bemoaning my lack of fitness and how far behind I was in my training. Then he said to me, “but you are no slouch”. This kinda stopped me in my tracks. As I thought about it, I realized he was right. I had been logging in some pretty good miles in the last couple of years. Last year alone I had run 2 marathons, done a 50 mile run, a bunch of 20 mile runs, a number of triathlons (including an IRONMAN) and a 30 mile run, in spite of all the setbacks. Ok so not exactly elite levels of mileage, but I wasn’t rolling off the couch either. Training for 100 mile run is as much about what you’ve put in the years prior as in the months prior. This is one reason why it is helpful to have a coach… they can help keep things in perspective! So this year will be my third attempt at doing the 100 mile run.
Yes, quite frankly it scares the hell out of me, but I think that is part of the appeal. I am hoping that the adage, "third time is the charm" comes true.
PS My friend Stephanie not only went on to win the Leadwoman, she now holds the course record. I think it will be a long time before that record is broken.