A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Leadville - The Race That Transformed Me

Well, the time is finally now to talk about Leadville.

I've held my tongue long enough, enough to know that I am done with the first two races of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Western States and Vermont) and my focus shifts to Leadville as the 3rd race of the Slam.

It is two years ago. A year before that I finished my first ever 100 miler in Vermont at a little over 28 hours. I failed at getting into the Western States lottery for the first time, but I wanted travel somewhere exotic for a 100 miler anyway. I found that, at the time, Leadville was accepting applications for its 2011 race. No lotteries, no waitlists, etc. Just pay the application fee and I'm in.

Now Leadville has a lot of history behind it. It's in the High Rockies, it's at altitude, it's about the Tarahumara Tribe. Good stuff. A tough ultra, I've heard, but I am never one who bows down to  taking big risks.

So I entered.

A little history of my athletic exploits is needed here.


My Triathlon Background


A very old picture of me at Harriman, probably taken around 1993.


I was a hardcore triathlete in my heyday (in the 90s). I've completed 6 Ironman races, mostly between 10.5 and 11 hours, which are decent times in these races. As a triathlon coach, I have always research and tested trends in endurance coaching to see whether they will give a more powerful edge to the people I coach.

 Taken back in those early days again. I came from a swimming background, believe it or not.


I also test new methods on myself.

So I departed from triathlon training and went for mega-miles of running leading up to my first ultra finish in 2010. I ran 100 mile weeks frequently. I've also had a couple of weeks where I went over 120 miles of running. Not much cycling and not much swimming accompanied it. I mean, why would I need cycling and swimming if all I'm doing that season was running. Well, that was the attitude I had that year.

Vermont 2010

The Vermont 100 turned out to be a struggle. The Vermont course consisted of endless hills that I couldn't climb very well in. It was such a struggle that my pacer at the time (more experienced that I was at these races) told me that I needed "hill legs" to be successful in these events.

There I am, not admitting it, but looking pretty heavy at my first Vermont 100 (was taken at Margaritaville Aid Station, Mile 62).


He was right, but I didn't know it at that point. Being oblivious to his warning I entered Leadville the next year.

I did the same ultra training type of workouts. Lots of runs with weekly volume over 100 miles. No swimming or cycling, just a lot of running, running, running.

There was another thing that mattered at the time that I was oblivious to also. I was aging.

I was a spry 20-something when I competed in triathlons. I was indestructible. And therefore, I never paid attention to diet. I always burned it off!


Leadville 2011

When the training was finally done, I went to Leadville and got totally destroyed. I've never had one race sweep me to the side like yesterday's newspaper. That's how bad I did there.

I officially weighed 204 pounds there, about the most I've ever weighted for a race. I still thought I was indestructible leading up to that race.

It was so bad that it woke me up. If I am to ever rise to the level this race demands, I needed to change my attitude and transform myself to a higher level of performance so that I can finish the race.

It's amazing when you can go back in time to see what you said in your blog about a specific race. Here was my first blog written about my DNF in Leadville.

Some key quotes from that blog:

[What went wrong] "Even with heart rate sky high, I was able to make cutoffs, that is, until I hit the climb of Hope Pass. The hill was extremely slow going because of my existing weight. 195 pounds can definitely work against a runner going up a major hill. If I even have hope of completing this race, the weight has to come off."
 "The training leading up to the race was pretty experimental, doing mostly runs only. There are some aches and pains in my feet right now from all that mileage that might amount to something unless I back off from the mileage for a small bit of time."
And the Conclusion?
"That is my short list in a nutshell. There is no giving up in me, and even though I wrote off next year for another attempt, I would like to see if I can try again in 2013. As for training for these things, I don't think this current form of training that I did this year did the trick. If anything, I will be going back to my strength and train primarily for triathlons next year. What I always find time and time again is that triathlon training is one of the most balanced forms of training that is out there. Maybe going back to that training will actually help in ultras as well! I also want to see if I have the physical and mental capacity to get back on that podium as I did in the 1990s. If all goes well in 2012, then I can try to attempt Leadville again in 2013, hopefully in much fitter shape and with a lot less weight.

That's the overall 2 year plan. Of course, life might get in the way of this plan, but, at least it's something to shoot for in the future."
So going back to Leadville in 2013 was originally planned from the start. I didn't want to make promises and do Leadville the next year because Leadville was such an expensive venture. So I wanted to take a year and see if the changes I did were working first before trying for Leadville in 2013.

So I went back to my strength and started training as if I was doing triathlons again. I cut down my running mileage (only did two 80 mile weeks and the rest were about 60 miles or under) and significantly raised my swimming and my cycling as if I was training for the Ironman again. On the diet side, I cut out the soda and started to minimize my carb intake.


Back to Vermont - 2012

My official weight for Vermont was 191 pounds (as opposed to 204 pounds) for Leadville, and I finished the race in 55th place at a time of 21:24:21. As my pacer suggested in the 2010 race, I gained my hill legs, but not from running. It actually came from my cycling!

Me going through Woodstock at Mile 14 of the Vermont 100. Looking a bit thinner.


Here is what I had to say after my success in Vermont:

"Since triathlon training trains a lot more muscles than just ultra training alone, I was able to put in a lot more hours of training swimming, biking, and running rather than running alone. This is one of the primary reasons why I toed the start line at least 15 pounds lighter than in 2010."

"More developed quadriceps. I think all the cycling I did really built up my quadriceps to the point where the hills were much easier to manage. I also did a lot more trail running which helped as well. Handling the hills in this course was the most critical difference between this year and 2010."
After the success here I was already planning to go back to Leadville to try again.

And that's when the Grand Slam happened!


Grand Slam 2013 - Includes Leadville!!!

The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is basically having the effect of completing my transformation to a healthy lifestyle as I age. Knowing that I actually had to complete four of these 100 mile races, including Leadville, is a serious undertaking, and one that has a high degree of failure. In order to minimize that failure, I had to go all the way with my lifestyle change. It was hard, but I finally fully transformed my diet to a Paleolithic one, cutting out grains entirely and eating unprocessed foods and lean meat. I found that my weight dropped down to 177 pounds this year (was officially 181.2 pounds in Vermont this year, with clothes on).

Me on the extreme left with other Grand Slammers before the 2013 Vermont race. That's the thinnest, and the fittest I've been for over a decade!


With Western States and Vermont done with, Leadville is next. And that is where I hope to finish this chapter of my story of transformation.

Leadville was the race that completely obliterated me.

Leadville was the race that woke me up.

Leadville was the cause for transforming my life.

Leadville was the cause for transforming my fitness and my methods of training.

And I'm hoping my return trip to Leadville finishes that particular story.

And helps me to move forward with another story so that I can complete that story (Grand Slam) in Wasatch 3 weeks after Leadville.

Leadville demands a higher level of performance than Vermont or even Western States did. In 2011, I couldn't rise to that level of performance.

This year, going in at least 25 pounds lighter than 2011 and with greatly improved climbing legs, I think I'm ready to rise to the level of performance Leadville demands.

Let's do this!!!

The Leadville course awaits. I'm focused and ready.

1 comment:

  1. Great post and analysis, Pete. You're going to kick ass at Leadville.

    ReplyDelete