The great philosopher Mike Tyson once quoted “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth” and like Mike I had been punched in the mouth. As I lay there in the darkness dealing with the effects of altitude sickness, I had to rethink my game plan. If I was going to accomplish my goal of running this race in the months to come, I had to make some serious adjustments.
Coming into Leadville Training camp, I had felt confident that I had put in the work and built a solid base over the last 5 months. While this was true, running on the course of Americas highest 100 miler requires more than just putting in the work. You have to be smart about your approach. You cant just put in the miles and show up, especially if you are a flatlander like me. Going from an elevation of just 500 feet to 10,500 puts tremendous strain on the body. This is where I under estimated how important my lack of planning the approach to Leadville was. While still recovering from the effects of my mistakes, I was determined to learn from those lessons.
Lesson #1: Acclimate Appropriately
While I have done this in the past successfully in Leadville while racing the Silver Rush 50 miler, I had failed to do this for the Leadville 100 camp. This decision was do in part to a condensed work schedule for which I paid the price.
When going up in elevation significantly, especially over 8,000 feet it is very important to take several days (or weeks ideally) to allow the body to adjust to altitude. This can be done by going up in altitude in smaller increments then, over the course of days or weeks, gradually adding in physical activity.
Lesson #2: Eat and Drink
This may sound obvious, but the affects of high altitude play tricks of your body's physiology. Most doctors and experiences distance runners would recommend eating and drinking on a regular basis according to your biological needs. Basically meaning drink when thirsty and eat when hungry regularly. However, when racing at altitudes higher than the base camp of Denali (North America's highest peak), the desire to eat and drink is suppressed drastically. This leads to low energy levels and dehydration. Even though I forced myself to eat and drink, this was the case and I still ended up severely dehydrated.
Lesson #3: Run the Flats, Power Hike the Climbs
If you have acclimatized properly and have managed to eat and drink regularly, then the third thing you need to do in order to be successful on a mountainous ultra is to take what the course gives you. Be efficient by running the flats, power hiking the climbs, and coasting on the down hills. Not only will you recruit different muscle groups, but mentally this will help break up the distance.
Lesson #4: Embrace the Experience
No one said you had to do this. This is something you wanted to do. Everyone has different reasons for running a race so whatever those reasons are embrace them and remember why you are doing this when times get tough. Work the problems in front of you and don’t worry about things out of your control. If you can stay positive and focus on the task at hand then you will have a greater chance of achieving your goals.