A Road Runner’s Recount of the Leadville Heavy Half Trail Marathon

Read or listen as you please!

Last weekend I took off my road racing shoes and swapped on my trail shoes…for an actual race. And not just any race either, one of the iconic races in the Leadville Racing Series, the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon. Here’s how my debut trail race went…

I’m a Road Runner. Trails Are For Snails. 

To preface this whole thing, I have been so vehemently against trail running for the longest time. “Why do they need to wear backpacks for just a 10 mile run? How is running a 12 minute mile a ‘run’? Why doesn’t anyone wear a crop top? If I start trail running, ‘those people’ are going to make me grow a beard.”

HARD CORE TRAIL RUNNERS, PLEASE DON’T TUNE OUT JUST YET, I SWEAR MY OPINIONS HAVE CHANGED!

The truth is, I think I was so opposed to trail running because I was simply terrified of nature. Yes, this Colorado native is afraid of snakes, dirt and apparently all life forms other than the growth of manmade structures in downtown Denver. I know, world’s worst Coloradoan.

Anyway, since I had been recouping from the London SI-joint debacle, Coach Jenni recommended (or politely demanded) that I get off the road and onto softer surfaces a few days a week. So, one morning I put on my trucker hat (a dead giveaway for trail runners), dorky vest filled with water that I couldn’t believe I was carrying for an adorable eight mile run especially since it was overshadowing my neon Nike sports bra, packed one measly packet of Hoppy Trails GU, and put on my brand-spanking-new bright white Nike Terra Kigers. “We’ll be back before the Today Show is over,” I thought, “This is great!”

Trail essentials: trucker hat, dorky vest, & fuel.

Bright white Nikes!

Fast forward, the trail run took over an hour and a half, the hills turned out to be mountains, I was starving and out of water, my heart rate was through the roof due to animal paranoia and altitude and…I freaking LOVED it! That afternoon, I signed up for the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon taking place in just three weeks.

 

 

Quirks & Perks of Leadville, CO

Three weeks later, a crew of us arrived for the very first time in the little mountain town of Leadville, Colorado just 90 minutes from where I’m from and still live now. (I told you guys I’m like the world’s worst Coloradoan). Just a few blocks from the starting line, we stayed in a house that had an octagon tower, super strange wedding photos from the 1990s, and bubble bath photos of children that we hoped were the owner’s grandkids…otherwise, mountain people have an even stranger sense of humor than I do. Obviously, this house was the exact opposite of a luxurious road race hotel and basically the perfect resting zone for a trail race.

Actual pics in our AirBNB. I can’t make this up.

The morning of the race, I did my warm up run and felt my heart borderline burst through my chest as my body adjusted to the 10,000 feet of elevation. Contemplating bailing, I spotted the dirty change motherload: 2 quarters, 2 dimes and 2 pennies — a new record! I couldn’t deny that today was going to be epic.

I’m on the right path today!

Ten minutes until showtime, I meandered my way towards the front of the starting line where I conspicuously tucked in behind some dudes. This was already forty times less stressful than my road races of late. I peeked in between the elbows of two trail males and spotted the alpha trail male wearing a cowboy hat, gigantic belt buckle and a freaking shotgun. “What the heck is going on?” I asked a Kentucky man next to me. “Oh that’s Ken Chabadaba,” he explained. “He’s the race creator, and he shoots the shotgun signaling the race start. He does it every year.”

Legit how Ken Chlouber looks at the starting line of race day!

A true mountain man shooting a shotgun to start the race?! This NEVER happens in road racing! I was so stoked and ready to go.

Note to self: approach ALL races with this much stress-free joy! Add hat, buckle, and/or shotgun for enhanced joy.

Small Little Steps

The race began, and we took off up an incline of paved road. I felt at home with the asphalt beneath me despite how much I was already sucking wind. And then the road kept going up. And the best part is, it curved and kept going up. And just when I thought it would go downhill, it kept going up. For literally almost three miles. Super.

Jenni, I’m dying.

Just when I was certain that I was the biggest wuss on Planet Trail and going to die, I saw two running angels cheering me on with cowbells on the side of the road. It was Coach Jenni and our friend Amy. “What do you need?” Jenni asked. “I literally have no idea how I’m going to get up these hills,” I panted back as I ate a Huma goo-ma like a neanderthal. “Just take small little steps,” Jenni said.

Small little steps!

Tiny fish, ridiculously long name.

And that became my mantra for the next twelve miles. “Just small little steps,” I told myself with each step up each hill. My other mantra that drove me absolutely insane was the name of Hawaii’s state fish: “humahumanukanukaapuaa”. For twelve miles, these two phrases rotated in my head.

 

 

Note to self: bring your Disney songs on the next trail race to avoid insanity.

“You’re Flying!” Said My Running Angels As I Mall-Walked

The race spread out pretty quickly, so I was running alone for the majority of the way out. Thank God I didn’t hear about people spotting a bear on the full marathon course until after the race or I legitimately would have flight-for-lifed outta there so fast.

I knew that mile eight was the turnaround point to come back down the mountain and also the highest point (probably a pretty redundant explanation for trail runners but stay with me). On the dirt path after mile seven, I couldn’t yet see the turnaround or any of the other trail males that were ahead of me, so I convinced myself that the race directors must be moving the turnaround point to play a trick on me. “This has gotta be some sort of sick trail joke,” I told myself.

FINALLY, I saw the first guys flying down the same hill that I was using every piece of energy I had to power-hike up. Yes, I power-hiked a.k.a…I walked with my arms in a commanding swing, like the mall walkers with purpose you see on Saturday mornings.

Saturday mall-walking uphill post-farmer blow.

I had no idea where the number two and three female trail-ers were, so when I rounded the highest point, I turned on the jets. I was so thankful for this downhill relief it wasn’t even funny.

Downhill relief, not funny.

Here was the coolest part of the race that typically doesn’t happen in a road race: as I flew down the hill, I got cheers, high-fives and kisses (only from my Jusband who had a mouth full of PB&J) from all of the other runners, including the other female runners!

Note to self: bring this camaraderie to the road world because we’re all fighting the same fight!

Two Apologies I Must Give

The majority of the rest of the race was downhill (thank the running gods), so I let gravity do most of the work. However, at the bottom of the last hill, I was over it. My legs were spent, I was tired, and I was grumpy. I growled at two spectators on bikes, “How much further until the top?!” (Like it was their fault I was in misery). Politely they said, “sdlfkjdljf.” “HUH?!” I said like a barbarian. Again, they politely said, “It’s less than a quarter mile.” I scoffed and shuffled on.

HUH?!?!

Apology #1: Dear Super Cyclers, I’m sorry I was a grumpy mess. You were right, it was less than a quarter of a mile. Thank you. Love, The Grumpy Runner

Headed back into town, I knew I was about a mile from the finish line. There was a fork in the road to go right, but in my race daze, I wasn’t sure if I go left or go right. So, instinctively, I barked at the five police officers guiding runners to the right with an aggressive, “LEFT OR RIGHT?! LEFT OR RIGHT?!” Once again, politely, they smiled and pointed right. I’m positive that I rolled my eyes at them.

LEFT OR RIGHT?!

Apology #2: Dear Leadville Law Enforcement, I’m sorry if you have a bad taste in your mouth about the lead runners of races who get annoyed at you personally for being unsure of which direction they need to go even though it’s clearly marked and impossible to miss. Love, The Not-So-Funny Runner Who Rolls Her Eyes at The Officers of the Law

Axe Me My Favorite Leadville Pun

At one point on the last two miles of the downhill, the half marathon course converged with the full marathon course. As I was on my way to the last miles of my race, Kara Goucher was tackling her miles like a beast. I have looked up to Kara as a runner for so many years, and the fact that this was her first trail race too and she still was crushing it in her full marathon, gave me the energy I needed to power to the end. I steamrolled through the finish line tape as the first place female trail-er, ecstatic at what I had just accomplished.

Look at that view!

I feel like a real trail runner now! And here’s something you’ll NEVER be awarded at the finish of a road race: a full-sized pickaxe and a mining pan! I’m hooked on trails and already signed up for my next race.

How the trail world does awards!

My road shoes are not hung up, though, don’t worry! I’m still fully chasing my goals for the Olympic Trials next February by training on these unbelievable mountain trails in my backyard. Guess it’s a good thing the trials course is hilly.

What I’ve learned is, the trail world is ridiculously supportive, friendly, quirky, and welcome to all. They don’t even require you grow a beard to participate! I get to eat full-fledged snacks on trails, take headshot photos of SMALL animals (let’s not get too far out of our comfort zones here), and get a booty-whooping workout while mall-walking uphill.

Trails make you tough as nails, so get out there!

-xo-

Watch Your Weight

6 Running Tips That Are Helping Me Lose My Stress Pack

(And what I gained from not running the London Marathon)

 

Read or listen as you please!

In training, we’re always told to listen to our body. But when the moment comes, do we actually listen to what our bodies are really telling us? Sometimes stress from other areas of our lives can show up physically and it’s like carrying a giant backpack filled with actual weights. What if we decided to unpack our Stress Pack and really dig into what was causing us pain? That’s exactly what I did, and I’m excited to share my “weight loss” tips!

The Build Up to London

I was training all winter and early spring to run in the elite field at the London Marathon. My season was going amazing despite the crazy snow we had seemed to be getting every…single…week. (I mean, I know we live in Colorado, but come on man). My training had never been better, I was running faster workouts than I’d ever been running, my strength training was on point, my nutrition on fire, and the best part was I was having a blast doing it all. All of the pennies I kept finding were also confirming that I was on the right path.

About three weeks before London, though, I started to notice a little pain in my lower back and SI joint. I decided to ignore it and write it off as normal taper aches and pains. But as I kept pushing through it, it kept getting louder and more painful, like saying “Hey! My love language is quality time…pay attention to me!” Finally one day I did pay attention because I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I soon started to understand that a lot of the pain was actually living in my head and just showing up in my back because that was the only thing that seemed to get me to listen. It was like looking in the mirror and discovering a giant backpack filled to the brim of extra “weight”– no wonder my back hurt!  

Rather than continue to run with this load and knowing that our bodies are capable of communicating with us more more than we realize, I decided to open it up and unpack all of the weight that had been building up over time… (I’m also a big fan of visual metaphors, so just go with me on this one).

15 lbs. of Comparison

One of my heaviest weights I carried was comparing myself to other runners, especially with social media at our fingertips. I found myself doubting that I was running as fast as they were in my workouts. Or seeing them on Instagram thinking, “They are probably running faster than me on this exact same workout”. Or irrationally telling myself that if I’m not in the lead pack at London, people are going to think “poor girl, she can’t even keep up with the fastest in the world, how bloody embarrassing!” A lot of my self-worth seemed to be riding on my performance…yikes, that’s a massive load to carry.

 

Weight Loss Tip #1: Gain Perspective by Supporting the Sport that Supports You.

The morning of the race, I threw a tiny pity party and for about 3 minutes I decided to mentally boycott the race with an internal temper tantrum “If I can’t run then no one should!”. Then I thought, “Eff that! You LOVE this sport, get your ass out there and cheer for everyone who always cheers for you!” I can honestly say that after two and a half hours watching all of the runners go by, screaming at the top of my lungs “GO OLLIE! GO MARGARET! GO BIG BEN!” that was by far one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my running career so far.

I realized that everyone is amazing, so why was I worrying about comparing myself and stressing about not measuring up? We’re all running for our own reasons, and we are ALREADY ENOUGH. Oh, and when then elite women ran by, my one and only thought was, “what a bunch of badasses.” How’s that for perspective?

 

8 lbs. of Physical Pain Stress

Before we get too far down this rabbit hole of woo woo metaphorical stress, let’s talk about the physical aspect. Yes, I was indeed 

in physical pain, which was a culmination of many things in an intense training season. But with the race looming, I tried to push through runs hoping the pain would go away, which just caused even more irritation and definitely more stress. I let go of the fact that I wouldn’t have my fastest race, but now I was stressing about how the hell I was physically going to even get through 1-2 miles let alone a daunting 26.2.

Two days before the race when I arrived hobbling in London, my coach Jenni and I talked through the pros and cons of trying to push through the race. As much as I tried to convince her, we just didn’t have the justification to run it. I’m now back to running after some time off, and I’m SO grateful we made this decision because I likely could have caused a much worse injury that would have had lingering effects or blown my whole summer training season in all of my favorite sports bras.

Weight Loss Tip #2: Take Care of Your Body First. There Will Always Be Another Race. A marathon is a long way to go even on a good day. So when I didn’t race, my world didn’t end, my career wasn’t over, London Bridge did not fall down. Dig deep and really listen to what your body is telling you. There will always be another race. Playing it smart and skipping this one (even if it’s a big one) could set you up for an even better opportunity in the future. Take care of the amazing vehicle you have!

 

10 lbs. of Hiding the Struggle

When my pain started and my team and I were all hands on deck to try to help it, I Houdinied from Instagram afraid to reveal that my highlight reel had some editing snags in it. It wasn’t until two days before the race that I decided to actually share with others (besides my team and the Jusband) that I had been in pain and was afraid of not being able to race because it would disappoint so many people (including myself).

 

Weight Loss Tip #3: Share the Load, You Human! When I did decide to share where I was at, I got so much support…not disappointment (shocker, I know)! We are all human, and as runners, we ALL go through physical pain and stress. So let go of not sharing and don’t be afraid to ask for help or take the support when it’s offered. I promise it will help ease the load.

 

6 lbs. of Financial Burden and Guilt

I’m a big fan of Louise Hay, who points to emotional problems that often cause physical maladies (mega woo woo, and I LOVE it!) In her list of symptoms in the book “You Can Heal Your Life,” I looked up “back pain” and “joint pain” which cited financial burden and guilt. “That’s not true,” I thought, “We just got back our tax refund.” But as I thought about this more, I realized that every time I thought about running London, I thought “If I can just get top ten, I can win some cash and it will make all of these months training and not making money worth it because then I’ll finally be contributing to our household which I feel guilty about.” Yikes, that’s a big honking pill to swallow.

Weight Loss Tip #4: Only Let Running Be A Cause for Gratitude, Never Guilt. Let go of whatever burden you attach to running! If you have runner-guilt about spending one hour of your day to better yourself and influence others about how to have a healthy lifestyle, I give you permission to let go of that. Running should be one of the guilt-free pleasures that we all get to enjoy even if it is our job. I am a better person because I get to do what I love, and my contribution to our household and my marriage is not just financial. (But if we’re getting real, I do contribute financially. Today alone I contributed 18 cents).

 

5 lbs. of Lost Sleep

This was one of the lightest weights in my Stress Pack, but the one that was probably digging into my back the strongest and needs little explanation.

Weight Loss Tip #5: Sleep, Nap, Repeat. Let go of your day and your stress at bedtime. I am learning that I need to listen to my body in terms of sleep. If I’m not getting enough sleep, that’s a red flag that there is likely something stressing me out that I need to address. The Calm app is one of my favorites to help my crazy runner brain unwind, and I have no shame about taking a midday catnap.

 

12 lbs. of “Have To”

As we reached a month out until race day, the impending pressure of racing another World Major had started to creep back in. In a desperate attempt to control my journey, I realized I was carrying so much “have to” weight. I have to hit these splits, I have to be top ten, I have to do as the elites do, I have to run xx time at London otherwise I won’t be taken seriously, I have to DO ALL THE THINGS because I publicly declared my big crazy dreams!

 

Weight Loss Tip #6: You “Have To” Just Have Fun. I am learning to let this all go and to trust in MY journey. My goal is literally just to see how fast I can go and my only measure for success is joy. Trust in your own journey and the hard work you’re putting into it. My new mantra has become “I don’t HAVE to do anything except be me.” This is allowing me to relax on my workouts, actually enjoy the run, and run smoothly. Let go of the pressure of a goal just because you put it out there. The joy is in the journey and the magic is in the unknown.

 

What’s The Point, Lady?

The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to open up your Stress Pack and dig into other areas that could be causing pain. I’m so thankful that I listened to my body, that I dug into the deeper part of what I was carrying to help me move forward, that I realized that I’m already enough, and that I remembered that I do this because I just love running. Period. Full stop. My weight loss tips are works in progress as I move into summer training, and I know I’m going to have to check back in with myself often and rely on my incredible team for support.

Listen to your body, share your struggle, ask for help, rest rest rest, and don’t forget to cheer for all of those that are still able to race! No one is forcing you to wear this Stress Pack, so I give you (and myself) permission to let go of all of these things. Plus, wouldn’t it just be easier to just carry the weight of joy, presence, gratitude and pennies?

xoxo

PS – I have to give a MASSIVE shout out to The Dream Team and my Jusband. Without you all, I legitimately would have been a hotter mess, ugly cried for myself even harder and would not be as ready to rumble as I am now. You’re all amazing, and I’m forever grateful!

Coach Jenni @ Mercuria Running, Josh Clark @ LoHi Athletic Club, Nate Ewert @ SS Peformance Massage, Lara Canham @ Cascade Sports Injury Prevention, and Amanda Turner @ Active Fueling.