First of all a few definitions to make sure everyone understands the title:
Leadville: A city in Colorado that sits at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
Trail: A path, generally smaller and less maintained than a road. Sometimes just wide enough for one person to walk.
Marathon: 26.2 mile running event.
"Trail Marathon": A marathon run completely or largely on trails.
DNF: Did Not Finish. A title awarded to a competitor that fails to finish an event. Generally the biggest stigma associated with this is self-inflicted.
DFL: Dead Freakin Last. A title awarded to the last finisher of a race. Again, the biggest stigma associated with this is self-inflicted as there has to be one in every race.
DNS: Did Not Start. When a competitor registers for a race and then fails to make it to the starting line. Frequently this is due to an injury before the race and accordingly should not carry any stigma.
Parking was easier than almost any other race I've done. There was no bag/gear drop, but I left my stuff in the gym where the last minute registration was being done (also where the dinner after the race was to be held). Chatted with a few people while waiting for the starting gun.
First 4 miles were basically uphill - ugh. Heart rate was a bit elevated, but I expected that. I even expected my lungs to complain a bit, which they did. The complaining was silenced largely by the incredibly beautiful scenery as the forest gave way to incredible views. At miles 6-10, I did some mental math and figured if I kept the same average pace, I would be able to finish within the 8.5 hour limit with a comfortable margin.
From about mile 4 to 7 was a loop around a mountain. There were some ups and downs and we climbed to about 12,000 ft. For a little extra fun, we had a couple hundred feet of snow to cross, but the race team had been up earlier in the week and had carved a functional pass and the bright sun had melted enough snow that there was a layer of slush on the top that helped footing a bit.
After that loop, we went down what seemed like forever and felt great (forgetting for the moment that the course was an out-and-back and what goes down must come back up). I shouted some encouragement to the first marathoners to pass us on their way back already. I made some good time (even dropped below 9 min/mile for a few stretches) and was feeling pretty good until I got to the aid station at the bottom. This is where we met back up with the Half Marathoners for the climb to Mosquito Pass.
The first part of the climb was pretty tame and fairly level, but definitely uphill. I heard a saying today that the secret to Trail Running is to "Run the flats and downhills and walk the uphills" which made sense and I tried to follow it. I did have to stop to catch my breath pretty frequently though. I later heard a clarification to that secret and that is the addition of the word "briskly" to the end. I didn't manage brisk very often and even sat down to catch my breath when I needed to. I figured better safe than sorry.
As I approached the halfway mark, I did some more mental math and started to get worried that this race might mark my first DFL. In spite of that, I was not able to muster any extra speed as the terrain go rough enough that even in my Durango 4x4 I would have had my hands full and probably would not have made the last mile. By the time I got to the top at 13.1 miles, my time was 4:45. I knew much of the road back was downhill (including the last 4 miles), so a negative split was likely, but I didn't think I could make up that much time to finish in less than 8.5 hours. I had almost resigned myself to a DNF until I asked a guy with a Marathon Maniac shirt "Are we looking at a DNF?" and he said "No way! Plenty of time left."
The views continued to be amazing as this shot from 13000 ft shows just before the turn-around.
The first part of the downhill from the turn-around was almost as hard as going up, due to the loose rock and steep grade. In spite of that, I had to stop less often and was able to move a bit faster. Things seemed to be going better and my mental math starting looking hopeful for "just-before-the-cutoff" finish. I made the mile 16 aid station with 10 minutes to spare which motivated me to keep my pace up (as well as freak me out, I hadn't realized I was that close to getting pulled from the course). I felt better, at least till about mile 18, when my legs started to join my lungs in complaining and begging to stop. I decided if there was a cutoff at the next aid station and I was within 5 minutes of it, I would accept my DNF and get a ride to the finish.
I made it to the aid station with 7 minutes left so I started the next leg (3 miles) after a handful of m&m's and a few pretzels and a cup of coke. Trail races apparently have AWESOME aid stations, almost as good as the aid stations at Ironman races.
This is the leg with the snow crossing, only we were doing it backwards. That actually made the snow crossing easier as we just sat down and slid down. We were hot enough that cold in our shorts and legs felt great. Besides, it was faster and fun!
We got to the last aid station which meant 4 miles to go with about 40 min to go. 10 min miles is within my reach, most of the time. This was ALL downhill, so I should have been able to do it, but the trail for part of this stretch was pretty uneven and my hips were starting to complain about all the downhill running. All excuses -- the truth is, I hit the wall pretty hard and slowed down a lot.
I kept watching the time slip away. When I realized I was still 2 miles away and there were only 10 min before the 8.5 hour clock ran out. Even with fresh legs and level or downhill ground with a tailwind, 5 min miles are not in my playbook and I decided to take it easy the last 2 miles.
A couple Marathon Maniacs (including the guy that said "No problem" at the turn-around) caught up with me and I got to know Mario and Carol as well as more about the social side of MM. I said I had resigned myself to accepting a DNF and that I would be proud to have it on this course. He said that some race directors leave the clock running for anyone that made the last cut-off point, so we might be ok. He also added that even if we did not get an official finish, we still covered one of the toughest marathon courses in the US and no one could take that away from us.
I crossed the finish line with the clock still running in 8:50 and they gave me a medal, so I guess I finished. A Finish Line NEVER looked so good. I'll check the web site in a few days to see if I can wear the badge DFL or just reallllly close to DFL.
Well, the final results are up for the race. Looks like I get my first DNF. Not sure anything other than more time at altitude and maybe a few more weeks of training would have allowed me to finish faster, so I feel ok with that. I still finished the course, even if I am not an "official finisher".
They updated the results and added a group of us that made the cutoff times as official finishers, so I guess my DNF will happen some other time. YAY!!!