So You Got into Leadville, Now What?
First and foremost, congratulations on being selected for the race. It takes a lot of courage just to throw your name into the arena. Now it's time to start preparing! As someone who has also been selected for the Race Across the Sky, I'm thrilled to meet you at the Leadville Run 100 on 6th St. and Harrison Ave at 4am on Aug 17th!
It’s Leadville lottery week! As trail and ultra athletes, we know the feeling all-too-well. That flurry of nerves as the day approaches, hoping you can lock in the event on your calendar, but knowing the hours of training and suffering that lie ahead if your name is drawn. The Leadville race series is the bread-and-butter of Altitude Endurance Coaching. Coach Brian has eight run finishes, two bike finishes and has completed the Leadman Challenge in 2018 and 2022. You’ll have a tough time finding a coach who’s more equipped to guide athletes through the process of training and conquering Leadville. Today, we want to share some thoughts on Leaville and how you can best prepare for the iconic race.
Let’s start with the basics, what is Leadville 100?
A 100 mile trail race sounds crazy, right? What if you put that 100 mile race at altitude, say 10,000+ feet above sea level? How about adding in about 18,000 feet of elevation gain and a 30 hour cutoff? That’s how you get the Leadville 100, aka, the Race Across the Sky. For the mountain bikers among us, there’s no escaping the challenge of the course. MTB riders will have to navigate over 12,000 feet of climbing at the same grueling altitude.
The trail race's origin story is woven into the fabric of Leadville's mining history. Founded in 1983 by Ken Chlouber, a Colorado miner with a vision, the Leadville 100 was born out of a desire to breathe new life into the struggling town. What started as a humble event with 45 participants has evolved into a globally recognized ultramarathon, drawing elite runners and dedicated amateurs alike. The Leadville Trail 100 is not just a race; it's a journey that demands respect for the mountains, resilience in the face of adversity, and an unwavering commitment to reaching the fabled finish line.
Training for the Iconic Race
Fortunately, Altitude Endurance Coaching has no shortage of knowledge on what it takes to successfully tackle Leadville. Here, we’ll break it down into a few easy-to-digest points to help you craft your training for the big day.
Let’s touch on the big picture. Your training will first focus on consistency before transitioning to more race-specific training as the event gets closer. You’ll kick off your journey by focusing on easy movements and base miles. The goal here is to work your way up to the weekly volume required to prepare your legs & body (and mind!) for Leadville. As you get up to adequate volume, you’ll gradually start to build in some specificity in the form of weekend long runs, hills and more.
Now it’s time to dive into hills and hill training a bit more. As noted, Leadville is known for its elevation gain. Specifically, you might have heard of the legend of Hope Pass, arguably the most defining feature of the course. Hope Pass is a grueling climb that brings races up over 12,500 feet over sea level and requires challenging ascents and tricky descents. Yep, both ascent and descent were pluralized there … you read that correctly! Runners must conquer Hope Pass twice! As you can imagine, hill training is key to a successful Leadville experience, but not all athletes have these climbs at their disposal. Fortunately, there are ways to simulate hills & prepare for the climbs no matter where you find yourself training. Don’t have hills? Focus on strength work to bulletproof your legs for the big day. While nothing beats miles on the legs, a well-constructed routine of lower body movements can drastically improve your preparedness for the climbs. Squats, lunges, step ups, calf raises and more can be worked into your weekly routine to build muscular strength to handle what the course will throw at you. Coach Brian and Altitude Endurance Coaching have Leadville-specific training plans with key strength components to help athletes ready themselves for race day! Get started with a conversation with Coach Brian.
The defining feature of Leadville that can be difficult to simulate is the altitude. Fortunately, for those sea-level athletes, there are ways to plan and prepare! Within a Leadville-specific training plan, Coach Brian leverages heat-training to help simulate the impact of altitude on the body. Let’s briefly dive into why heat can help prepare athletes for the demands of altitude. When training & racing at altitude, a runner’s body will be forced to be more efficient with the limited oxygen that is available. While the process and science slightly differ, the benefit of heat training accomplishes similar benefits - your body will begin to deliver more oxygen to your muscles! It’s important to note, heat training is not to be taken lightly. Just like altitude, it puts additional demands and stresses on your body. Due to this, it’s strongly recommended to work with a coach and have a deliberate plan in place for your training. Come race day, you’ll be glad you prepared!
Other Ways to Prepare
Do your homework. Like many other races, Leadville demands input and preparedness from more than just the body. You must train your mind to be ready for the big day. First, it’s recommended that you study using online resources. Check out race recaps on YouTube and blogs from athletes who have successfully tackled the event. Hop into some of the race groups on social media to ask questions, and equally important, see what other racers are asking!
Every race has features that make it unique. Leadville is no exception. For example, you should get to know the cut off times for each section and required paces to make these cutoffs. This will help you come up with a race plan to approach the day in a structured manner. For the MTB race, understanding how the corrals work and a proper bike setup can set you up for success. There’s no better way to get these questions answered than by connecting with racers who have successfully tackled the course in the past. If you can go into race day without open questions, your confidence will lead to a stronger race.
Whether you’re preparing for the trail run or the bike race, Coach Brian and Altitude Endurance Coaching have the expertise you need to train in a responsible way to have you feeling prepared to tackle the course! Reach out for a chat to see how AEC can help you prepare for Leadville in 2024. Not only will you have access to a multi-time finisher as a coach, but you’ll join a community with a handful of other 2024 Leadville racers!