Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Volte's George Rux's Leadville Heavy Half Marathon Race Report

Registering for the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon was not under consideration until I responded to a dare from one of my good friends at Conroe Triathletes.

He is in his late 30s and still has the exuberance of youth.

He signed up for the full marathon. 

I was prudent enough to only sign up for the 15 mile “Heavy Half. “

Mountain trail races are quite different than normal road races.

I recommend all competitive runners try a mountain trail race at least once. 

The three major factors are 1) reduced oxygen concentration at altitude, 2) the slope increase/decrease and, very importantly, 3) the condition of the trail for traction and avoiding falls.

In retrospect, I did well dealing with the high altitude and the steep slopes; but, I was not competent dealing with poor footing on the trails and the steep declines. 

I was wearing bike gloves so I didn’t tear up my palms when I fell. But, I suffered contusion on my right leg and knee. It took many weeks to recover. 

It is unlikely I will ever take the risk of competing in a downhill mountain trail race again.

Since I was 9 ½ years into a 10-year age group, I knew a podium finish was out of the question.  However, I thought I could still finish in the top 25% and I based my race plan accordingly. 

My goal was to finish in 3:52 which was a pace of 14:30/mile excluding rest stops. 

Examining past results, I knew the crucial part of the 15-mile race was the three-mile final climb to the summit of Mosquito Pass. The organizers helpfully provided past race results by segment. 

Accordingly, I knew a 22 min/mile pace for the 3-mile climb has historically been competitive within the top 25% of my age group.

My check points were 14.2 min/mile up to the first rest stop, 12.7 min/mile from the 1st rest stop to the second rest stop and 22 min/mile from the second rest stop up to the summit of Mosquito Pass.

My goals changed just prior to the start. 
For old age groupers, friendship is more important than personal race results.

I saw my friend and we talked about his race strategy. 

He is a big guy having played football for Ole Miss and he was worried about finishing.  Amusingly, he had purchased a bottle of oxygen to carry with him on the run. 

I encouraged him to start very slowly to be prepared for a six-hour effort. 

The Marathon course and the Heavy Half course run together the first 1.3 miles.  I said I would run with him until the courses diverged.

As you may know, I keep good data using my Garmin.

For this race, the number of feet rise per 250 meters was especially of interest as I could compute the slope.  I did not obtain good data during the rest stops. I didn’t see any timing mats. 

The time at rest stops was much longer than expected as there were relatively few tables set up for water and food. It was generally necessary to wait in line.

At the opening gun, the two of us intentionally waited until we were last crossing the start line. We proceeded slowly with either a speed walk or slow jog. We averaged 16:35 per mile up an average slope of 4.4 percent. My pulse reflected the low effort at an average of only 104 bpm.

After the course separated, I started my hard effort.  My goal was to maintain a pulse of 130-135.  I averaged 131 bpm with a pace of 15:35 per mile up an average slope of 6.8%.

The first rest stop was at three miles.

Between this rest stop and the rest stop at mile 4.5, the course on this segment is rolling with 102 feet of gain and 160 feet of loss.  My pace was 11:43 per mile with an average of 130 bpm.

George on the switchbacks that led up to and down from Mosquito Pass
(Photo courtesy of
The final uphill segment was from mile 4.5 to the summit of Mosquito Pass at mile 7.9 was very steep averaging 9.4 percent.  I worked hard with an average pulse of 137 bpm and a pace of 21:05 per mile.

Traction on this segment was difficult. There were some segments where the single track trail had no dirt and it was necessary to run on loose rock.  (I’ve attached a photo from the organizers web site that shows how rocks often covered the trail.)

Rock cover was especially a problem near the summit as the race leaders were descending rapidly and those of us still ascending would step to the side off the trail to let the race leaders pass.
I maintained an average pace of 21:05 minutes/mile for the three-mile climb which was slightly better than my goal of 22 min/mile.  I was working hard and my pulse average was 138.

In all, I felt strong and was pleased with my effort and performance the first half of the race.  My goal was to finish the first half in 2:15 and I was slightly behind my goal completing in 2:28.

Given my intentionally very slow start, my excessive time at rest stops, and the poor footing, this was in line with my expectations.

My problems started with the descent. 

Foot placement on the narrow trail was a major problem.  Many individuals were still ascending and had to be avoided.  I rolled my left ankle twice due to the poor footing.

Fortunately, I didn’t hurt myself.

My pace was slower than many of those behind me. Some individuals were running with walking sticks and I watched them pass me easily while they planted the sticks to provide extra balance.

My pulse was low as I was constrained by footing. When the course started to flatten out I increased my pace to try to catch up.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see whatever I tripped on and I fell hard.

Many athletes stopped to help me. One stayed with me until the next rest stop in about a mile.  I received medical care and, after a long wait under medical supervision, I prepared to resume the race. I knew my pace for time was over after the fall; but, I was still hoping I could finish fast on the long downhill from mile 11 to 15. 

Luckily, I saw my friend at the same rest stop. 

The Marathon and Heavy Half courses came together for the ascent up Mosquito Pass. 

Unfortunately, my friend had just missed the time cutoff for the ascent and the organizers did not want him to ascend the pass.

I said it was actually good news (at least for me) as we could finish the race together. We slowly jogged and walked the final 5 miles.

George returns to the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon start/finish line.
(Photo courtesy of
Linda was not especially impressed as I had texted her a picture after my fall. I promised to visit the medical clinic in Breckenridge after returning home – which I did.

I thought I was well prepared.  While I never plan to race a mountain descent in the future, there is a mountain race I have my sights on for 2019. 

It is the Pikes Peak Marathon and Half Marathon.

I did this race over 50 years ago and finished second in the 18 and under age group. I would only be signing up for the 13.1-mile race which would only be the ascent to the summit.

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