by Michael Arnstein
The Leadville 100 Mile UltraMarathon and then winning a marathon 2 days later
My Epic Double!
Leadville Colorado is a very unique place. The history of this town is legendary. It’s the highest city in the United States at 10,200ft. The village dates back hundreds of years ago as a summer hunting camp for native American Indians. Then in the 1860’s white settlers explored the area for gold, silver and other minerals. In the late 1870’s gold was discovered, and by 1880 Leadville had one of the largest populations east of the Mississippi River. Leadville instantly became a wild west town. Many of the most famous wild west cowboys earned their reputations on the streets of Leadville. The biggest fortunes and biggest names of the century all came out of Leadville. The town was full of dreamers, mostly new immigrants to the United States. Just about every language and nationality could be found in Leadville by 1880. It was a true melting pot of extremely tough and hearty people, people with dreams in their hearts and sweat on their brow.
Leadville was a really tough place to live. Being so high up in the mountains the climate was unforgiving. In mid summer mountain snow storms would roll in. Night time temperatures would be below freezing. In winter the coldest temperatures in the entire country could be found on the streets of Leadville. The people that stayed and worked the mines year round were tough, the toughest ever! Boom and bust, fame and fortune was had and lost overnight in this explosive high mountain town.
Leadville soon exhausted most of the mineral deposits by the turn of the 19th century. All that was left of Leadville were fantastic stories and the few hearty people that stayed behind. Today Leadville is a historic mountain mining town with deep roots of adventure seekers.
I first read about Leadville in Runners World magazine back when I was a teenager in high school. There was a big article on this insane 100 mile running race way up at high altitude above tree line that went up and over massive mountains. It was a race for the toughest of the toughest! I remember reading about this race and dreaming of one day being able to do it myself. I put Leadville in a realm of ‘almost impossible’ in my mind. I thought maybe one day I would have the guts (or the stupidity) of trying to do it. A few years later after reading about Leadville for the first time I spent a summer driving around the western United States exploring, running races and climbing mountains. Leadville was very high on my destination list.
I’ll never forget the first time I drove into Leadville. I became obsessed with this high altitude mountain mining town from the day I first step foot inside the city limits at 10,200ft. I had the chills – almost a sixth sense that I had some deep past life connection with this place. I immediately felt an electric attraction to the town, it drew me in, as if I had no control over the fact that I just belonged there, as if I’d lived there my entire life. I bought books on Leadville, I read up on all the history of the people that lived there and the historic nature of all it’s glory. I spent a few weeks in Leadville and learned to love it so much that I felt I never wanted to leave. I ran the Mosquito Pass marathon while I was there and experienced how difficult it was to run at 13,000+ft. I dreamed more and more of the day when I might actually try and start the 100 mile race. During my research and learning about Leadville I discovered that my great grandfather who immigrated from Germany to the USA in 1880s actually lived in Leadville for a short time. I looked up the Leadville census of 1880 and saw where my great grandfather Sam Arnstein lived in Leadville, and that he was a ‘Cigar Merchant’ ugh! I also learned about the large Jewish community that existed in Leadville (I am not an observant religious person, but I have great attachment to my cultural background). Later on when I was in my mid 20’s and making a decent living, I decided that I wanted to own a piece of Leadville. An overgrown and forgotten Jewish cemetery actually existed in Leadville, and I found the man who was in the process of restoring it. I decided that I wanted to get involved and help fund the restoration… so I purchased a burial plot with funds that would help go to restore and preserve the historic cemetery. Yup, I’m planning on spending eternity in Leadville…but I hope it’s a long time from now!
Fast foward to 2010 I’ve grown in leaps and bounds in my running since adopting a Fruitarian diet. I have seemingly no bodily limits on what I can’t do. I’ve been running upwards and over 200 miles a week for months and I’m in the best shape of my life. I am ready to do the Leadville 100 mile ultra marathon. I’m not in fear of the distance or the difficulty of the course. I’ve developed into such a strong runner that I’m looking forward to the starting line with great excitement and anticipation. I’m living a life long dream, and I know it. I arrive in Leadville 10 days before the race so I can acclimate to the very high altitude and enjoy myself thoroughly high up in the mountains.
I’ll be camping outside up near Mosquito Pass at almost 11,000ft. surrounded by old growth pine trees. When I arrived at my camp site it was hailing, sleeting and then snowing, it was the middle of August! The night time temperatures were down to freezing and frequent snow squalls blew in at night covering the high peaks. This was my kind of environment! Very rough, very tough, very unforgiving.
I get settled in at my camp and I fill up my rental car trunk with surprisingly good fruit from the local supermarket. I was set and really enjoying myself.
I set off each day for a run and hike high up in the mountains where I can challenge myself to very hard workouts in low oxygen.
3 days after I arrived in Leadville I entered the Leadville 10km race that takes place a week before the 100 mile race. I didn’t know how fast I was going to be able to run since I never tried running fast up at this altitude before. I also didn’t expect much raw speed from my body, as I had been doing some very long (7-8 hour hike/runs) for the previous 2 days. I end up winning the race in 38:42, almost 4 minutes ahead of the 2nd place finisher. I honestly was pretty surprised I was able to run so fast (6:14 average mile) The 10km course wasn’t exactly easy having 590 ft. of gain and decent. This gave me some good confidence that the altitude really wasn’t going to be a problem for me. I was so excited to get the 100 mile race started!
It’d be great to win another race next week! I came here to do well in the 100mile race too! After this race I went on to run another 34 miles, getting lost trying to find the ghost town of Winfield (race 50 mile turn around point), and not getting back to my camp site until 11pm – wow what an adventure that was… The week flies by and it’s nearly time to start the 100 mile race. My crew support starts to roll in from various places around the USA. Jamil and Nick show up from Silverton Colorado and camp out with me a for a few nights. Shawn flies in from Seattle, and my buddy Mike comes in from NYC.
Time to Race Camping out was fun, but now it was time to get serious rest and get ready to race! So we move into a really cool old house a block from the starting line.
We were a cool happy bunch of fruitarians in this old historic home. We made some awesome salads and had a blast chowin down. These were good times!
Like most mountain 100 mile races, they start super early, in the dark at 4am! Ugh.. I want to get to sleep really early the night before the race so I can get as much sleep as possible. So the day before the race I force myself to wake up at 4am, this way I’ll be really tired early in the evening and get to sleep early. So at 4am the day before the race I drag myself out of bed, ugh awful. I’m pretty tired all day and actually fall asleep the night before the race at about 7:30pm. I wake up at 3am on race day and I’m feeling good. My legs are fresh, my core is strong and I’m so excited to hit the trail with a record 800 other runners! The scene at the starting line was electric! The only other race where I’ve felt such excitement was at the start of the Hawaiian Ironman in Hawaii and at the Boston Marathon as the fighter jets fly low across the sky before the start.
The Shotgun is fired and the ground starts to shake with runners! We all head off into the night with dreams in our hearts and sweat on our brows! It might as well be 1880 again! I was running down the road with tough people, it was an honor to be around so many no nonsense runners. These were people like the settlers of this high altitude mountain town! I’m running way up front with the top guys in the sport. I’m feeling really comfortable and running within myself. I know I have the inner strength to run with the best in the sport. I run tall and with heart. I am determined to enjoy the experience no matter how I place, but I do want to push myself to my limits, that is my goal. My nutrition for the race is undecided. I still feel like I have so much more trial and error testing in ultra running races before I feel I find what really works well for me. In training I’ve had huge success with a very strict fruitarian/lfrv/955 diet, yet when I’m going super super super long, I still don’t know what works best. I’m not afraid to try new things to see how they work. I put together a bag of many fuel options to chose from depending on how I was feeling during the race: Raw Honey Medjool Dates Melons Salt Pills I had recently run the Vermont 100 mile ultra marathon and ate almost nothing but dates for the entire 100 miles of the race (17 hours). I had over 6lbs of dates and by the finish I had a good size bowling ball of fiber in my stomach that I felt was slowing me down a bit. The plan was to go with the raw honey early in the race and then reassess things as the race went on. Raw honey works really well, but it’s also dangerous fuel. It burns super hot and fast, great for marathons and fast 50 mile races, but you can crash incredibly hard on it if you don’t refuel before you start to crash. I knew I was taking some risks trying to use honey during a super long mountain ultra, but I figured going with honey for the first 6 hours would lighten the fiber in my gut, and then I could start eating dates later in the race. At the first aid station (13.5 miles) it’s still completely dark out. I’m in about 5th or 6th place and I’m running steady. I meet my crew and grab some honey. I’m in the ‘zone’ feeling really charged up. It’s cold outside (in the mid 30’s) and I am loving the super fast cool running. I thrive in cold weather running! I pick up the pace and pass a few guys. The course starts to go up the first good size climb and I am running strong. The altitude has no effect on me, I’m light as a feather and fearless. I love it when I am 2 hours into a race and feeling like I didn’t run a minute yet! I get to the 2nd aid station (23.5 miles) in 3rd place. I’m about 6 minutes behind Anton Krupika who is in the lead, and 3 minutes behind 2nd place Hal Korner. I zip through the aid station and grab more honey. I’m pumped up and ready to run fast! The next 15 miles of the course are pretty easy. A bunch of flat road miles are ahead, and then light rolling trails.
I’m in the hunt, I want to catch up to the leaders and take some risks and push the pace with them. I’m taking raw honey, water, a few salt pills each hour. All systems are go. I’m in ‘the zone’ and running with a lot of confidence.
I’ve got my mp3 player going with some nice trance techno that has me fired up. I catch myself drifting into space and zoning out at times, I realize this is foolish being on a trail course when you need to pay attention to the race markings…. At about 34 miles into the race I suddenly find myself running for quite a while without seeing a trail/race marker. I replay the steps I’ve just taken on the course and try to remember any place where I might have missed a turn. I’ve been running on a clearly defined jeep trail for a good amount of time and never noticed any major turns or trail markers taking the race in a different direction. I know I’m running south and that’s just where I know I need to go, so I just keep going hoping that I’ll see a course marker soon…. I keep running, but no trail markers are anywhere! I start to panic, I really don’t know what to do. My anxiety level is going up like a rocket. I’m stressed out big time. I start to panic and can’t accept that I am running completely off course and destroying my standings in the race. I fight with myself intensely that i need to ‘stop’ turn around and go back where I came from…but I refuse to accept that I am off course… I finally stop. I face the fact that I am off course. I turn around, I start to run back where I’ve just come from. My mental state crumbles!! I am not keeping my cool. I am not zen at all, I’m furious and really running with rage now. Some bad stuff is coming out of my head, it’s a dark side I’m not proud of. I figure I went off course about 2-3 miles, which isn’t much, but it was enough to change my mental attitude and race pace dramatically. As I’m running back where I came from I run into a few oncoming runners that also missed the turn. We all circle back and finally come to the place where the course went off to the right up into the trees on a single track trail. 2 hikers happen to be standing there and told me that all the course markers were taken off the trees and were lying on the ground. Someone had also placed a large dead tree limb on the ground across the single track trail that split of from the main jeep road that we were running on. Someone had maliciously messed with the race course! It turns out that Anton Krupika (who was in 1st place) also missed the turn, but only ran a few minutes off course before turning back and finding the correct route. Hal Korner who was in 2nd place wasn’t as fortunate, he actually kept running far more off course than I did. He finally ended up turning around with accounts saying he’d gone as much as 8 miles off course. I start up the single track trail wondering what place I was in and how much time I had lost. I ran furiously fast, I was running as if I was in a 5km road race now and not a 100 mile mountain ultra. It was starting to warm up and I am sweating a lot trying to make up time. I run out of honey. I run out of water. I’m out of salt pills. I’m mentally really pissed off and negative. I’m about 2 miles from the 40 mile aid station when I start to feel the effects hypoglycemia linger in my blood. I’m about to fall through a trap door and I know it. I finally get to the 40 mile Twin Lakes aid station and get in calories and salt. I’m not very happy and I am a bit abusive to my crew as I explain what happened and why I’m so late to meet them! I take off for the hardest part of the course: Hope Pass. Hope Pass is a climb from 9200ft to 12,600ft in about 4 miles. I know I need to go slow and steady. I try to regroup and get my mental state back in order. I figure the race is just starting and I have tons of time to ‘catch up’.
I know I won’t be able to make up much time on the other runners until I get to a flat runnable surface, which won’t happen for another 20 miles. But my mind/body relationship is not doing well. I am power walking uphill and starting to get lazy. My mind over matter is slipping and I’m sweating a lot going only uphill, I start feeling hyponatremic. I’m constantly trying to keep my blood electrolyte levels stable. Yet it’s something that I constantly have problems with in ultra races. Matt Mahoney, a fellow ultra runner and friend gave me a great tip that I shouldn’t ‘swallow’ salt pills because you can never tell if you are taking too much salt or too little. A better option is to put the salt pills in your water bottle or on the food you are eating and then let your tongue be the tester to tell you how much or how little salt you need. If the salty water or salty food tastes good then that means your body needs more sodium. If the salty food or water tastes bad that means you don’t need more salt. Listen to your body! Brilliant right! I found this very simple and common sense suggestions fantastic! So I started to pour the salt pills into my water and in my mouth directly. The dates tasted better rolled in salt, so I ate more salted dates. I kept climbing up higher and higher. The salt kept tasting great and I soon consumed all the salt I had on me. I had been running for almost 7 hours when I got to the ‘hopeless aid station’ at 12,000ft. The scene at this aid station was awesome!
My face, hands, feet, legs, are all really swollen now. My knees start to hurt. I know I need to flush out the salt by drinking a lot of water. I’m in yo-yo nutritional hell once again. The Fruitarian is not doing well, and worse is not on a fruitarian diet in this race! I’m having a really messy day now! I try to remember that I’m not alone with these problems. In fact just about every runners main issues have to deal with nutrition during these extreme physical challenges. It seems the people that win are the ones with the least nutritional/electrolyte issues. I do these races for the mental and physical challenges. I wouldn’t suggest that running 100 miles high up in the mountains all at one time is ‘healthy’ in fact – it’s really unhealthy for your body in the short term. Yet the mental challenge is unmatched in anything else I’ve ever experienced in life. I love how ‘hard’ these races are, and ironically the more problems you have during them the greater the achievement if you get through them!
I am walking pretty fast and feeling good, but my knees are tight from the swelling of too much salt/msg intake. I am scared to run in fear that my knee will swell more and something might ‘pop’ in my knee. I know I have to flush this stuff out of my system so I drink countless bottles of water. I drink, drink, drink drink. Finally 2 hours later after flushing out my system I’m ‘reset’ now and well recovered. I’m ready to run, but I am running for ‘fun’ now, as placing well in ‘the race’ is over at this point. 2 hours of painfully swollen knees (hands, face and more) have me way back in the standings. I can’t possible make up the lost time at this point. I shift my focus to having a good time and enjoy the experience. I start to run, but at a relaxed pace. A few hours later, about 65 miles into the race I decide that I need to add some dignity to my performance for the day and I take off running with more effort. I am running 8 minute mile pace with ease. I put in a few surges of 6:30 pace with Nick, just to show him that I can run really fast again. We do some math calculations and we figure that if I average about 10 minute miles to the finish I can still break 20 hours and possibly crack the top 15. I set off running steady at about 8:00-8:30 pace. We hold this pace for about 8 miles until we get to the 2nd to last aid station at 76 miles. I’m still on course to break 20 hours and I’m passing people like crazy. I’m eating loads of dates and feeling pretty steady. I take a few salt pills (no more msg for me in ultras!) and within 10 minutes I feel even better, with no swelling side effects! Nick and I take off to hit the last big climb on the course. It’s called ‘powerline’ and it’s a super steep climb of about 1500ft over 2 miles, and then rolling inclines for another 2 miles. I power hike this section very fast, we are moving and passing people. I’m still hopeful that I can break the top 10 and still finish strong. Just about this time it’s getting dark and the temperature is heading back down fast, soon it will be in the upper 30’s. Going back down the other side of this climb I start to get really cold, I didn’t bring extra clothes with me and my muscles are starting to get tight. Nick has a light jacket that saves my ass, and we move slowly down the hill to the last aid station where I’ll be able to get some more clothes from my crew. I am moving really slow with really cold muscles now. I’m getting hypothermic, oh god this race is tough! Breaking 20 hours is gone and now it’s just a slow but steady drive to the finish line. I’m starting to realize that just finishing this race is a huge accomplishment. I am freezing! I finally get to the last aid station at 87 miles. I’m extremely hungry. I just want to finish this race and I’m famished. I feel like I can eat my shoes I’m so hungry. I’m out of dates and raw honey is the last thing I want to eat right now. Cold cantaloupe and soggy watermelon is not sitting well with me and my purple lips. I grab some of the boiled potatoes and dip it in a salt bowl. Oh, yea this is working well right now. I eat a LOT and put on a ton of clothes. I probably hung out in this warm tent aid station for 20 minutes, I kinda felt like a slacker by the time I got out of there. I finally said to myself ‘mike, enough already, get your ass moving -this aid station isn’t the finish line!’ Me and Nick head off into the woods with our headlamps. The stars are bright, the air is so clean and crisp. I start to wish the race was never going to end. I’m feeling rock solid now after the boiled potatoes and salt. I am in absolute heaven on earth out in the woods late at night after having traveled 92 miles all day high up in the mountains. I am ALIVE. I am not down about my race performance, I am not too hard on myself about eating some cooked food or taking in salt pills, I’m just happy that I am going to reach the finish line of a life long dream. I tell Nick that I’m ‘hooked’ on this race, that I am 110% coming back next year to do it again. I absolutely loved the course and race atmosphere. I’m grateful that I got my ass kicked in my first go at this race. It will only make me and my training that much more focused the next time. I’m inspired by my body’s ability to hold up for so long. I’m humbled when I hear that the some of the race superstars all dropped out and didn’t even finish. I start to become grateful that I’m still in one piece and moving closer and closer to the finish line. I’m still moving at almost 22 hours and I am feeling great! With 6 miles to go I tell Nick that I still need to finish with some dignity, I can’t shuffle and walk my way to the finish, no way I can live with that, so I start to run at a decent pace. We pass so many people the last 6 miles that I loose count. Running strong to the finish of a 100 mile mountain trail race is cool! It gives you confidence you can do anything in life. It makes you tough. Leadville Tough! The last 3.5 miles are all up hill, I don’t walk a step. I cross the line in 22:48 in 31st place. Still not too bad out of almost 800 starters. I’m tired. I’m happy. I’m sad that it’s over, I almost wish it would never end. I am dreaming of the 2011 race date already! I can not wait to do this race again, it is one of my all time favorites! The ‘race’ didn’t go well, but the day and experience was one of the best ever. I still can’t believe that I actually did the Leadville 100 mile ultra marathon. In my mind I’m still back in high school sitting on the track bleachers reading the article for the first time in Runner’s World. Yet, now I am a gold and silver belt buckle holder – a finisher of The Leadville 100 Mile Race!
I still have a LOT to learn about racing nutrition in ultra marathons. After many trials and tribulations I am at this conclusion so far on how to succeed well in ultra running races:
- Dates as the primary fuel is now my tried and true ‘safe’ natural fuel option. (get really high quality yummy medjool dates)
- Melons are great to break up the pounds of dates that you need to eat over the course of the race.
- Salt pills aren’t a good idea, rather open the pills in your water bottles so you can ‘taste’ if you need more salt.
- Dip your fuel (dates, melons, bananas etc) in salt and then eat it, use your tongue as the indicator if you need more salt.
- S caps are the absolute best salt supplement mix I’ve ever used: http://www.succeedscaps.com/main_scaps.html
- Drink enough water so you are going to the bathroom no more than twice an hour. More than that and you are flushing out too many electrolytes.
- If you are getting really tired and need a boost late in the race, air dried green tea leaves are a super ‘boost’ for the natural caffeine they provide.
- Music is an awesome motivator, just don’t lose focus and get lost! Don’t miss the turns!
- Walk the very steep up and downhills, even if you feel good, run fast on the flats! Finish strong!
- Keeping a positive mental attitude is hugely important. The mind body connection is not a myth! Negative thoughts turn into negative physical energy.
- Ok, now I have to rest up because in TWO days I have my next race! The Sri Chinmoy Marathon! (yes a decent size certified marathon on a Tuesday!) Yes, most people would suggest that I am being foolish, downright stupid to try to run a fast marathon just 2 days after running the Leadville 100. But I am not the regular cooked food population. I am a fruitarian for almost 3 years! My body recovers so incredibly fast on a fruitarian diet that it is scary! A lot of times I finish super hard workouts tired, but then a few hours later I almost wonder if I didn’t give it my all, because I feel like I didn’t do anything. I fly back to New York after one more night in Leadville. I arrive mid afternoon and get to my house and put together my race gear for the marathon the next morning. The race is in Rockland New York. It’s a 3 mile loop around a lake, it’s flat and fast. There are about 500-600 runners, and usually the winner is in the 2:30’s. I know my odds of winning are slim, my goal is to run a reasonably fast time and feel good. I want to add more proof to my resume that a fruitarian diet is for the hard core athletes, and that it works! I wake up at 5:45am, jump in my car (my wife Victoria decides to do the race with me at the last minute). We arrive 20 minutes before the start, we run to the starting line and get ready to rock! The temps are really good for late August in NY, about 65F and overcast. The gun goes off and I am running out in front with two other guys. We’re running about 5:55 pace. I try to stay start and not run too fast. I know my body well and of course I’m still not ‘fresh’ after just finishing Leadville 2 days ago. I figure I can run about 2:35 if I really have to push myself, but I would be much happier just dipping below 2:40. I try to stay right at 6:00 mile pace for the first half and then figure out what to do from there. The miles fly by like I’m running a 5k, and I’m running with the same two guys all the way to the 16 mile mark when I start to feel a bit tired. They gain about 20 seconds on me in a few miles, then at 20 miles they are 30 to 45 seconds ahead of me. I eat some dates, drink a lot and get grounded. I’m feeling my inner depth of strength coming through. I’m back in the hunt. At mile 22 the guy who was in the lead starts to walk suddenly. Now I’m in 2nd and closing on him. My fangs come out, my nails get long, my eyes get laser focus, my mind is made up, I will win this race today! I get the chills, my mind and body are working as an unstoppable force. I am in the zone big time! At 24 miles I catch the leader and we are both giving high effort. Yet I am not digging at the wild animal level yet. I try to stay patient and wait to make my move closer to the finish, but I just can’t hold back, I want it, I want it now! I take off in a crazed kick and literally put in a 30 second gap within 1/3 of a mile. I keep the pace going and hit mile 25 in 5:35, then mile 26 in 5:32. The finish line is mine, the clock is perfect: 2:39 and change: A Perfect Race. When word spreads that I just ran the Leadville 100 two days ago it was pretty awesome seeing all these mouths hanging open in astonishment. I never saw so many people drop draw over and over again as person to person the word spread. I kind of just chuckled to myself and said, ‘yea mike, you’re doing the right stuff, all this hard work and effort is going to help people and change the world’. I got a big kick out of the crowd at the award ceremony, they were into my historic win and diet. I spent a lot of time talking to people after the race and fielded so many questions about diet. My website stats went way up after that race, I got the message out on this day! What a week! An Apple A Day Is Not Enough -Michael Arnstein The Fruitarian
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