By Michael Salsbury
I’ve always told our kids that our true character comes through in how you deal with life’s setbacks, rather than how you respond when things are going great. I, unfortunately, had the opportunity to “practice what I preach” in Leadville this past August. I learned in no uncertain terms that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. On a beautiful sunny day in the Colorado Rockies the Leadville Trail 100 chewed me up and spit me out. Period.
My family roots in Leadville go back to the 1880’s; great-grand-uncle was Buffalo Bill Cody’s business manager, grandfather was a geologist who helped build the Leadville mining drainage tunnels, and father went to Leadville High, so Leadville was always in my mind as a sentimental favorite for my first 100 mile ultra. However, it became brutally clear that the Leadville Trail 100 could care less about my family history.
I was given from the Leadville course exactly what I put into it. Leadville gives you ample opportunity to make good time and play nice with you then just as quickly bitch slaps you with a grueling climb just to make sure you are paying attention. Heading out of Twin Lakes outbound I felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel, unfortunately it was an oncoming train in the form of Hope Pass.
My Leadville journey started out full of excitement and expectations, and became a humbling, fun, beautiful, painful learning experience that will no doubt help me on my return in 2015.
I still consider myself an “ultra rookie” and I have a lot of work to do before next August, but if I could impart any wisdom from my mistakes for those considering taking on Leadville as your first 100 mile ultra I would offer the following:
Running trails a lot and training specifically for Leadville are vastly different. Learn about the course (especially Hope Pass), and spend as much time as you can on the course. Then spend more time on the course. I learned the hard way by not following the above.
If you are not acclimated, do not underestimate the altitude and its effects, none of which are good.
Worry and stress does not a good ultra make. Running with constant worry about my (unrealistic) self-imposed cutoffs. Bad idea.
Have a tried and tested fuel/hydration strategy. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to apply it, like I did (Not).
Don’t be afraid to sit down, rest and regroup. Whoever said “beware the chair” was obviously not a 55 year old guy at 12,000 feet at Hopeless Aid Station. To be accurate, I laid down.
I always thought I was mentally tough. Throughout the day the pain between my ears far outweighed that in my legs. Leadville spoke to me. It said “son, nice try but come on back next year when you’re really prepared”. It was a humbling experience I will never forget.
Finally, relax, have fun, be patient, and enjoy the journey. My own advice that I hope to follow at Leadville 2015!