This last weekend I crossed another item off my bucket list: Complete a Marathon.
I can now proudly say I've done that, and also have an extra sense of accomplishment knowing my first race was a tough one ... the highest marathon in the nation, in the historic mining town of Leadville, CO. The course was beautiful and wound it's way through the mountains just above town, crossing melting snow run-off and reaching the highest elevation point of 13,185 ft.
Once again shortly after crossing the finish-line, through tears of joy and pain, the first words out of my mouth were, "I did it! But I'm not sure I'll ever do it again. Remind me how bad that hurts when I think about signing up for the next one." Those words are short lived because I'm already looking at the Leadville 100 mile race, simply out of curiosity.
As a first time marathoner, I thought I'd share some of my lessons learned:
SALT IS YOUR FRIEND. I'll admit that if I have the choice of salty snacks over sweet snacks, salty usually wins the guilty pleasure snack attack. However, when pushing through intense workouts, I've never thought, "A handful of potato chips sure sounds good right now." Last year, while running the Pikes Peak Ascent 1/2 marathon, I eyed the baskets of potato chips at each aid station curiously, while opting for a handful of grapes. Why would anyone want chips as a fuel choice?!? Oh... the things I have yet to learn.
Around mile four last weekend, I found myself reaching for my right calve muscle that cramped up as I slightly twisted my ankle going up one of the first incline series. The muscle was an instant ball of tightness. It felt like it twisted up in a knot around my shin, and was not going to let go. Instant looks of sympathy were given to me and two nice guys stopped immediately to ask if I was okay. I remember leaning over and hanging on to one of them, so I didn't fall down. The other kindly offered me a salt tablet and said, "If you are cramping already, you need to eat this now!" He handed me a salt pill and said, "Bite down on this and wash it down with water. It will be salty as hell, but your muscles need it." He was right ... pure salt filled my mouth and I did my best to swallow all the salt. I'm not lying when I say, that almost instantly the muscle cramps went away. Granted, I was slowly stretching them out, but I was able to push through and get to the top of that incline. The rest of course, as I passed by aid stations, I was grabbing a handful of potato chips and licking the salt off as I proceeded down the trail. YAY for salt!
The reason why your muscles need salt? Read This.
KNOW THE COURSE. There really is something to knowing what lies ahead and mentally preparing for the race ahead of time. Starting at 10,200 feet, with 6,333 feet of elevation gain throughout the course, I knew that I had to pace myself. There were cut-off times at mile 16 and mile 19. While actually experiencing the course is the best option to knowing what to expect, I was thankful that I had studied the map course and elevation map ahead of time. After reaching the highest point at Mosquito Pass at the turnaround point, I knew that I only had to push through a 2.6 mile climb and the rest of the course was relatively downhill.
If you aren't able to actually run the course ahead of time, do all you can to study the course online or glean from those who've already completed the race. Ask questions ... Is the trail rocky? Will you be crossing streams? Is it paved?
One thing I think I'd do differently, if I did this race again ... train more for the incline. Honestly, my lung capacity wasn't an issue. Although that could be that I'm used to altitude and it's never really bothered me. I need to train my leg muscles better ... I'd love to be able to push through some of these inclines, with less cramping and maybe actually run more of the steep sections. Correction. Jog slowly.
ENJOY THE VIEW. I knew I wasn't trying to set a speed record; I just wanted to finish! Therefore, I had my cell phone in hand the entire course. Granted, I was living on the edge slightly because I carried it screen-saver-less. I did drop it once too... up towards the top of Mosquito pass. Yikes!
Having my phone handy allowed me to quickly snap some pictures along the way. It also allowed me to check my time along the course, keeping me on track to meet the cut-off times.
I think next time, I'd prefer to wear a wrist watch, allowing me to keep track of time. Then as an alternative to carrying my phone, I'd find shorts or top that allowed me to keep my phone snugly tugged in place, just in case I wanted to access it for a snap shot or quick text to family waiting at the finish line.
MAKE FRIENDS. Running a trail marathon in the mountains provides the opportunity to quickly become friends with those who are experiencing the pain alongside you, I mean ... thrill of running the trail alongside you. Most of the uphill climbs become a fast hike, allowing everyone to catch their breath, and even chit chat while keeping pace. The usual questions, before the conversation thins out in correlation to the air toward the top, are usually ... "Have you run this race before?" and "Where are you from?" Those from Colorado or a mountain state quickly feel sorry for those who traveled from lower altitudes. I also answered the question several times, "Why in the world did you choose this race as your first marathon?"
ENCOURAGEMENT IS CONTAGIOUS. By the time I reached mile marker 10, I knew that the next 3-4 miles were going to be treacherous. Boy was I right! Head down and each step up the mountain, I started a little chant in my head ... "At least I don't have an elk on my back. At least I don't have an elk on my back." Towards the top of Mosquito pass, I must have had a look on my face that read, "Am I there yet?" because several times, I heard form those making their way down the switchbacks, "Just a little bit further" or "You've got this - keep going!" After reaching the top and making my journey down the switchbacks, I quickly returned the favor to those still making their journey upwards. It felt good to offer that encouragement. I was just in their shoes moments ago and was pulling for them to not give up.
INVEST IN GOOD SHOES. Two and half weeks before toeing the starting line, I decided that I needed different shoes. I had purchased a pair of HOKA ONE ONE shoes several months ago, in an effort to save my feet. They are wonderful shoes, and I'd highly recommend them. The only problem is that I realized after completing a rocky trail run with steep inclines and downhill slopes, I probably needed something with a little more traction. I purchased the more aggressive trail running version HOKA offered. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to sufficiently break them in prior to the race. It was risky, but I lucked out ... my feet didn't bother me once during my run! The quality of these shoes are amazing. They definitely were worth the money. I've struggled on and off this last year with healing from plantar fasciitis. I can honestly say, my feet felt great during the entire course!
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF - I can't tell you how many times I wanted to curl up in a ball and just be done. I was mad at mile four when my leg cramped up because I was not ready to be done, but not sure if my body would let me keep going. The climb to Mosquito pass was grueling. Reaching the last aid station at just over mile 20 meant I could carefully navigate my way downhill over the rocky trail with just around 5 miles to the finish line. However, even with the mostly downhill, it was a mental effort to stay on course and keep moving. My legs were trashed. At one point, I even crossed over a tape line and veered off-course onto another trail. I have no idea why. I was heads down, probably reminding myself I wasn't carrying an elk, trying to conquer the last little hill before I could run 2 miles into town. Thankfully, a fellow runner quickly said, "Aren't you going the wrong way?" I looked up, smiled and laughed. I quickly said, "thank you" and was back on track. A 1/2 dozen or so of us were spread out now within several hundred yards. The finish line was near. A dash of determination and Norwegian stubbornness took over and I began running toward town ... every muscle burning and begging me to end the torture. I knew I could make it. One step in front of the other.
"Your better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can."
Ken Chlouber - Founder of the Leadville Trail 100
I've you've ever contemplated running a race like this, I'd encourage you to go for it! Trust me, it's worth the pain. The pain will subside, but the memories will last. Knowing that you accomplished something great is a feeling no one can take away. In fact, it will keep you moving, pushing, and reaching for the next goal. So, my question to you is simply ... What are you waiting for?
"Dig deep into that inexhaustible well of grits, guts and determination."
Ken Chlouber - Founder of the Leadville Trail 100
From the Draw
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