In the state of Colorado, there's a town called Leadville. The weightiness suggested by having the word "Lead" in the name is in stark contrast to the lightness of the air. You see Leadville sits over 10,000 feet above sea level. If you recall the conversion ratios in the Imperial measurement system, you'll know that 10,000 feet is almost two miles.
The town sits between peaks in the Colorado Rockies and while being in an undoubtedly beautiful area, its population is only around 3,000 people. That's because not just anybody can live two miles high in the Rockies. It takes a certain kind of toughness to do that.
For some reason, someone decided to put a race here. And not just any race. A trail race that starts at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and cover 100 miles! Only the strongest (and some would say craziest) even attempt it and only about half of them finish.
It's called the Leadville 100 Trail Run and Coeur Ambassador Monica Obsitos is now the owner of a Leadville 100 Finisher Medal.
Only a few try and about half finish
Coeur: First, congratulations on finishing the Leadville 100 Trail Race! How are you feeling?
Monica: Despite being awake for 48 hours and racing 28 of them, I feel pretty good! The achievement of completing Leadville, definitely out ways the soreness and pains that I am feeling. The reality of finishing set in after knowing that I was one of the 49% that finished. I am definitely ready for a little downtime and relaxation.
Coeur: Now, if we’re not mistaken, you raced this event in the past and had to withdraw. What did you do differently this year?
Monica: Yes, I did race this event last year and I unfortunately had to withdraw at mile 76 after unexpectedly developing pulmonary edema. Although it was unexpected, it is something you normally do not think about when training and racing as I already live at elevation in Colorado. After seeing the Pulmanalogist and Cardiologist it was determined that keeping by blood pressure low/heart rate was the key to success. I know last year I was very anxious, especially when it came to conquering Hope Pass twice (12,600ft). This year with more experience and knowing what to expect it was a whole new ball game for me. I spent a lot of time after long runs (25-30 miles) taking my training to the treadmill and walking at an incline of about 14 at a steady pace to help with acclimating myself to long steep climbs after being exhausted. I also climbed a few 14ers which I had never done in the past.
Coeur: What was your training like leading up to the race?
Monica: I come from a triathlon background and have completed several Ironman distance races so I am familiar with endurance training and racing, however it was very different for me to switch gears and focus on one discipline. I still focused on strength training a few days a week like I always have, but instead of getting in long distances on the bike on weekends, I was putting in on average 50 miles just over a weekend. Also, on some days during the week I would run to and from work to get in about 26 miles.
Coeur: Many of our readers are familiar with fueling during a triathlon where you have long stretches on the bike to take in calories, but a 100 mile run seems like a completely different situation. How did you handle nutrition (i.e. what, when, and how much)?
Monica: Nutrition definitely played a vital role during the race. I typically tried to take in 200 calories/hour. The majority of my calories came from energy gels along with OSMO. The OSMO really gave me that extra boost every time and was so easy on my stomach. One definite highlight for sure was pizza and diet coke at mile 60.
The toughness of the terrain is matched by the toughness of the competitors
Coeur: We've heard stories about the emotions that come with a 100 mile race. Can you describe your range of feelings at different parts of the event?
Monica: I think with any long endurance race, when the National Anthem comes on is kind of when you realize what you are about to endure and all the emotions come to the forefront. When I was coming down Powerline into the 24 mile aid station the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. The weather is always of concern when you are above tree line for a portion of the race. Starting the race before sunrise and running into 2 sunrises is daunting to think about. The days got hot and the nights got very cold. My lowest point was around midnight on a 16 mile stretch of the course when my body started to feel exhausted and wanted to start shutting down. Besides finishing, my highest point was having my crew surprise me right before the last mile of the course where the dirt meets the pavement.
Coeur: We know that behind every athlete, there's usually an amazing support crew. Who did you have helping you before and during the race?
Monica: My support crew was my rock. As mentioned before emotions can run very high and very low at times. My crew was there at every aid station to get me re-energized and motivated for the next leg of the race. After the 50 mile aid station, you can have one pacer with you for the remainder of the race. I have 4 amazing friends that were willing to pace me and two of them even traveled from the East Coast to support me. I picked up a new pacer at each aid station until the finish. Whether they were there to carry my hydration vest up a steep climb or throw motivational quotes in my face when I needed them or even to take a ton of pictures of my struggles, they kept me committed to finishing.
Coeur: When did you know that you'd finish?
Monica: I really went into this year and last year thinking that I would finish. Not finishing was not and never is on my mind when racing any event. You train so hard and invest so much time into something that you love and enjoy, that a DNF is the furthest thing from your mind. However, after last year it sometimes is a real possibility that is out of your control. This year, every time I got to an aid station and realized that the cut off time was getting further and further away from me, I felt more and more confident. When I got to the last aid station with 13 miles to go at about 5am I knew that I was going to make the 30 hour mark!
Coeur: What was the finish line like?
Monica: After watching two sunrises over the course of the race, it was the best sunrise I had ever witnessed! Leadville, although a very small town, comes alive at the finish line and the last mile people are scattered on 6th St up to the finish line. When you crest the last hill, you can see the finish line in the distance and then you know you are home. After crossing the line, you do not hear Mike Reilly saying "You are an Ironman!", however you are greeted by the founder of the race, Ken Choubler and his wife at which time they both hug you and lay you with your medal and say "Welcome Home."
Coeur: Like so many of our ambassadors, you're an over achiever. You have a job and still find time to train, recover and race at a very high level. How do you find time to do it all?
Monica: I have always said to myself that when you have a passion for something you will find the time and make the commitment. It is not always easy and sometimes training can come at the cost of others but I have a strong support system and surround myself with people that motivate and push me. Training does not always come at the ideal hours of the day or night but it worth the reward. Trying to find a work/life balance is a huge part of training and I am fortunate enough to work for a running shoe company (Newton Running) where that is possible.
Coeur: The Leadville 100 would be a crowning achievement for many people. Is there anything else on your bucket list?
Monica: The Leadville 100 was my first 100 mile race and I am certainly still on a high from finishing it. However, I was at dinner with a few friends the night of finishing the race and mentioned that I already felt a void that I did not have a race on my schedule in the future. I would love an opportunity to run the Western States 100 in Squaw Valley, CA. So please cross your fingers and hope that day will come when I get my name drawn in the lottery.
Coeur: Well, congratulations again and thank you so much for chatting with us!
Monica: Thank you and Thank you for the continued support!