Leona Divide Report

Leona Divide is a masochistic race with 9,000 feet of gain and 9000 feet of loss and virtually no flat sections. From a terrain perspective, 99% of it is quite runable (assuming you can “run” on a narrow, single-track trail, carved from the mountain side, for miles and miles uphill and then do it again while holding your balance going downhill).

With the last 25 miles forming a loop, it allows you to see (or narrowly avoid, as the case may be) the frontrunners seemingly effortlessly zipping down hill, as you are sucking wind trekking uphill to the turnaround (which cruelly enough is a quarter of a mile past the “turnaround” aid station). I tracked the time interval between the top five runners and gave them their lag times as they flew by me. Last year’s winner was in second place when he passed me, only 90 seconds behind the then current leader, and was particularly appreciative of the info. He went on to win again this year in just under 7 hours. It’s sickening to think that I was just at mile 35 when he had already finished!

Other runners told me that the course has phenomenal vistas, but with a bum ankle my eyes were focused on only one thing – the next 10 feet of terrain in front of me. This strategy served me well; aside from popping Advil’s to control the pain and swelling, I suffered no additional ankle sprains during the race.

My wife and son crewed for me well, allowing me to get in and out of the aid stations within 15 seconds and keep my schedule, hitting every aid station within 5 minutes of my predicted time. That is, except for the aid station at mile 42.6 when I arrived 30 seconds too early and there was no crew to be found around. I paid for it dearly during the last 7.4 miles, arriving to the finish line 9 minutes later than my 10-hour predicted finishing time (it feels better to place the blame on someone other than yourself). My wife, of course, blames me for being off by a full 30 seconds after 8 hours and 34.5 minutes of mountain running.

While you might question the purpose of running ultras after the masochistic Leona Divide, it’s definitely a good training race for Western States. I’ll be sure to recommend it to all my friends in need of a little suffering (at least three come to mind).

VDOT Training

You can google VDOT and VO2Max and find out everything about the math and the formulae behind these concepts and why they are so important for training, or you can simply do the following:

After a 15-minute warm-up, do an all out run for 30 minutes at a track and measure the exact distance (to the nearest meter or yard) covered in that time. The idea is to run as fast as possible while being able to maintain a constant pace for the entire 30 minutes (within a couple of seconds per lap). It’s not easy; you’ll hurt for the entire 30 minutes!

Then, go to www.attackpoint.org and enter the time and distance. It will calculate your VDOT number and the corresponding paces at which you should train on intervals, long runs, recovery runs, etc. The site will also give you the amount of time that you should spend training at each pace. Follow this training plan, doing recovery runs between hard runs, and you’ll see your performance improve.

Here’s how it looks for me:

Leona Divide

Yikes, I didn't realize that the topo for Leona Divide (April 21st) was so mountainous. Should provide fun training for Western States.

February and March 2007 Training

I peaked on February at 13 hours during the final week, with a 4-hour, trail run on a Saturday followed by a hard 3-hour, Kenyan-style (increasing pace from beginning to end) run on a Sunday. Thirteen hours of running during the last week of February positioned me just where I wanted to be to do a number of training ultras during March and April.

But March was not to bring training races. Instead, early March brought the disaster of an ankle injury, which turned out to be the worst kind – the foot rolling “outward” (and the ankle inward) known as an “eversion” sprain, in my case further aggravated by the bone actually popping out of its socket. It has been a painful recovery, which has yet to heal. I’m working as hard as a can, but the injury is still limiting what I can do – after four weeks, the ankle is still swollen. Running on a treadmill is tolerable, as the foot has a stable surface. Running on roads is painful because of the pressure on the ankle from the slopping of the pavement. Running on trails is simply brutal - the ankle is not stable and this causes me to run with much trepidation and pain at an uncomfortable pace. Starting from zero miles during the week of the injury, I managed to log 15 hours during the last week of March, with a somewhat pathetically slow 5-hour, trail run on a Saturday followed on Sunday with a strong, 3-hour run on a treadmill.

I’m done “predicting” my training schedule for Western States. For now I am simply training for a 50-mile race on April 21st (The Leona Divide Race in California), and we’ll see what develops thereafter.

Despite the injury (and perhaps because of it), training for this 100-mile race is bringing a new level of discipline to my life. I’ve always been a disciplined person, but, quite frankly, I’ve had to reach a new level of discipline to run a hard 3 hours after running 5 hours the day before on a swollen ankle. And yet I know that this is still not the peak of my training – I guess I’ll need to dig even deeper.

I’m beginning to wonder what takes more discipline - the training or the race? I hope I will be able to find out.