“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
- Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
“You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.”
- Ken Chlouber, Leadville 100 founder
Thursday morning, I’ll wake up very close to here:
That would be the Monterey Bay, elevation zero. It won’t look exactly like that, because when I’m racing by to make my 5:30AM flight, it’s bound to be pretty much dark. But you get the idea.
Thursday evening, I’ll go to sleep in the vicinity of here:
The mountains surrounding Vail, Colorado, elevation 8,150 feet. I guess you can say I’m moving on up.
While Vail may be a lofty elevation to a beachcomber like me, do you know what residents of Leadville call it? “The Lowlands.” At least, I’m presuming they would, since the town of Leadville sits at 10,100’, making it the highest incorporated town in North America.
These numbers may seem like mere geographic curiosities, unless you happen to be in town for a 100-mile run. And if you haven’t done any elevation training at all in your preparation for the race, those numbers just might terrify you.
So that’s where faith and trust come in.
Strategically, showing up in Leadville two days before the race doesn’t appear to make any sense - but logistically, it was the best I could do. And there’s a chance that it may not be quite as foolish as it sounds: from an exercise physiology standpoint, it takes at least 2 weeks for the body to make cardiovascular adaptations to high altitude. During those two weeks, your body is making hundreds of thousands of changes on a cellular level, and the transition period can limit maximal aerobic output, thereby causing athletic performance to suffer.
Accordingly, if you can’t be in the thin air for 2 weeks or more, your next best option may be to just show up as close to the race as possible in your best shape possible, and limit your expectations while hoping that your body can function sufficiently well on 50% of the oxygen it's accustomed to processing. Modern technology can remedy this somewhat, and I have to say that I was very tempted when I received a product review offer from an altitude simulator company to use their equipment prior to running at Leadville. Ultimately, I turned it down – in no small part because I’m curious to see how the proposition of going from sea to sky might turn out.
Taken altogether, the numbers are kind of scary: 100 miles between 10,000 and 12,600’, especially when my training at sea level hasn’t been nearly what I’d like. Some people have reassured me that altitude is just a number – but then again, that's the same thing some people say about age, and there’s a reason you don’t see any 90-year-olds running 100-milers. Beyond a certain point - there's no way to tell precisely where, and it differs for everyone - the numbers become insurmountable; the same concept holds true for altitude as well as age. The best I can hope is that my insurmountable altitude number lies somewhere north of 12-6. (I think I'm still safe on the age front, for a few more years at least.)
|12,600' Hope Pass; photo from Leadville 100 website|
Despite the numbers and my underlying anxiety about them, I do feel reasonably confident in my ability to finish at Leadville, for reasons that make no rational sense: the faith and trust I mentioned earlier. I have faith that there’s a rewarding, remarkable experience in store for me in the Rocky Mountains, and I truly believe Ken Chlouber’s race creed. Amazing, crazy, and incredible things happen over the course of a 100-miler; truthfully, the entire prospect of such an event defies logical explanation, so there’s no sense in trying to contemplate these things in a reasonable manner anyhow.
I’ll slap up one final post up here sometime on Friday once I learn my race number, with a link to the race webcast for anyone who’s interested in following along. Until then, it’s time for me to fly.
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