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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Suggested Strategy for Finishing Leadville!

First of all, good luck to all those tackling Leadville this weekend!!!

It's been a long time since I posted, but I'm back again. This week, I am largely on the sidelines and ready to watch this year's Leadville 100 this weekend.

This race historically has more people that do not finish (DNF) than those who get to the finish line. Why is so hard?

Yes, it's definitely the altitude, but it's more the cutoff times that causes DNFs than anything else.

You see, 30 hours is usually the cutoff time for a not-so-hilly 100 mile race. For most mountain 100 milers, the race usually gives more hours to finish (for example, Wasatch has 36 hours for you to complete and Hardrock has 48 hours to complete).

Leadville gives runners only 30 hours. With the thin air and mountain passes to climb, that 30 hour cutoff becomes VERY aggressive.

So what is the strategy to get to the finish?

My opinion? Runners need to take advantage of the flatter sections of the course, starting at the Fish Hatchery at mile 23.

You need to take it easy on Sugarloaf Mountain from mile 11-23 so that you can take advantage of the flatter section from mile 23 to mile 39.

The problem with a lot of runners is that most do know about the aggressive cutoff times, and then run hard from the start and push hard up Sugarloaf Mountain, the first mountain climb on the course. By the time they get to Fish Hatchery, they are already gassed and mostly ripened for a DNF.

The stretch from the start to May Queen Aid Station at mile 13.5 is mostly small rolling hills. Runners should just run within themselves here, arriving at May Queen strong.

After May Queen, the runners encounter a stretch of mostly uphill single-track that emerges onto a dirt road leading up to the top of Sugar Loaf. The road will have switchbacks and is steep at some sections. Unless they're going for the top of the standings, most regular runners should just walk up the hill and save their energy for later, when the course is flatter.

This is me walking up Sugarloaf last year. Walking does a body good here, as evidenced by my smile for the camera.

Once at the top the runners will then descend down the Power Line hill towards the Fish Hatchery Aid station at mile 23. The last two miles of this stretch is slightly uphill on paved road. If done right, runners should have a lot of energy in their tank to take advantage of the course after this aid station.

Most people come in very gassed though. They take Sugarloaf very hard and wound up very tired. To be blunt, they are royally screwed.

After Fish Hatchery, the course proceeds on very flat paved road for the next 2-3 miles. Here is where ultrarunners should start to take advantage of the course. The course then winds up on a not-so-technical trail that ever goes slightly uphill through the Outward Bound Aid Station at mile 31, through the Mt. Elbert Aid Station, and then downhill towards Twin Lake.

FISH HATCHERY TO TWIN LAKES SHOULD BE WHERE GAINS ARE MADE!!! I CANNOT STRESS THAT ENOUGH!!!

When runners get to Twin Lakes, they should be very comfortable in relation to the cutoff time there (10 hours into the race). It's time to transform from runner to hiker.

 Water crossing after Twin Lakes on my way to Hope Pass.

Runners should take some time at Twin Lakes to get properly fueled, because they're going to need it on the climb up Hope Pass. The climb on the front side is 3000 ft., so they need to be fully hydrated and sated before setting out.

If they've done their training right, runners should be able to take a rhythmic approach up Hope Pass. If they don't have their "mountain legs", they are definitely going to struggle up this pass; there are some noted steep sections on the course. The Hope Pass Aid station near the top of Hope Pass is the first time the runners will be emerging from the tree-line. They would appreciate the llamas that are there; those are the animals that got the supplies up there in the first place! Once past the aid station, the last bit of climb is very steep. Runners should just keep moving forward as best they can and they will eventually hit the top of the Pass.

First time up Hope Pass. I'm still smiling.

Coming down the back side of the Pass can be a bit tricky as here the runners will start encountering some of the faster runners coming back up the Pass. It can get quite busy and runners will have to frequently step aside so that other runners can pass by. It can get a bit frustrating at times.

Descending Hope Pass. Runners are going back and forth here. Lots of traffic.


Winfield, the turnaround of this course, awaits 2 miles after reaching the bottom of Hope Pass. The cutoff time is 14 hours. Runners should try to get there in under 13 hours though because historically, those who arrive after 13 hours usually DON'T make it to the finish.

Runners need to take time at this aid station to eat and drink because they need to get back up and over Hope Pass! The back side of the pass is a bit steeper here, so will power is definitely needed to push those tired legs up and over the Pass for the last time.

Once up, descending can be pretty nice. If runners can get to Twin Lakes before night falls, they're in very good shape. If not, they run the risk of running into those aggressive cutoffs at later aid stations.

At Twin Lakes, the athletes must transform from hikers back to runners again and should find their running legs very quickly. After the climb from Twin Lakes to Mt. Elbert Aid station, runners again should take advantage of the flatter section of the course, running mostly from Mt. Elbert to Fish Hatchery with 23.5 miles to go.

From Fish Hatchery, there is one more major gut check... Powerline hill. Miles 80-84. A point where most runners are at their most vulnerable. Here is where mind has to rule over matter.

Powerline Hill. Looks tough in the daytime, will be tackled at night!


All runners are at various levels of pain at this point. Willpower has to take over to get up this hill. There are about 5 false summits on this hill; the ground levels off at various points only to steepen to another uphill climb, so runners shouldn't be deceived. Runners have to dig deep and tolerate a lot of pain to get up this hill. This is what separates the finishers from those who DNF.

The descent from Sugarloaf Mountain isn't very bad except for the single-track before May Queen at Mile 86.5. If the runners watch their footing though, they should make it to May Queen without incident.

At this point, there are the 13.5 miles separating the runners from the finish. This can be daunting, but runners should start getting a taste of the finish line at this point. Runners should be fueled up before taking on this stretch. Although the small rolling hills are nothing like the mountain climbs, the legs here are so tired. One needs willpower to keep moving. Once beyond the lake, the town of Leadville is finally within reach! Keep moving and eventually they will finish!

I survived. Ugh!

To those runners who make it to the finish, congratulations! You just finished one of the tougher races in the world! To those in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, you just cleared the most difficult hurdle! Wasatch is a bit tougher but the 36 hour cutoff is heaven! All you have to do is keep moving there and you should be able to finish that race.

So good luck to all those ready to take on Leadville. I'll be rooting for you here and making sure to send you all good vibes! You have the training down. All you have to do is believe in yourself, dig deep and you will definitely make it to the finish line.



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