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06.20 2019

Leadville

Since the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2016, in which I finished 4th and one spot out of going to Rio, I’ve been on a bit of a hamster wheel.  I was determined to get out there and show the fitness I wasn’t able to show at the trials because of the extreme weather conditions.  The repetitive cycle went something like this- start building up to decent mileage, start pushing to run paces I did back in 2015/2016, get injured, rest and heal up, repeat.  It seemed as if I would never get out of this cycle until the fall of 2018 where I accepted that I wasn’t as fast as I used to be, trained with what my body was giving me, and had a full and healthy marathon buildup. Unfortunately an old hamstring injury came out of nowhere during the marathon, but I had finally stayed healthy in a training cycle, and that was the important part.  

After dropping out of the Houston Marathon I wondered what came next.  My coaches wanted me to sleep on it, give it a few weeks before making a decision.  They really wanted me to get out there and run 2:35.  But I was craving something different.  I was tired of comparing myself to the past, I wanted a new challenge that was totally fresh.

So, like most crazy runners, I decided to run the Leadville Trail Marathon.  This was my first time hitting the trails in 20 years.  After being successful on the track while still being injury prone, I swore off trails decades ago.  It wasn’t worth the risk of injury.  Smooth bike paths, roads, or nicely groomed gravel roads were my life.  So just deciding to do this race was scary.  I felt really vulnerable and quite frankly terrified.  Yet, I wanted to see if I was capable of this.  Could I train for something that terrified me, could I complete a race that starts at 10,100 ft of elevation?

Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin getting me fired up the night before the marathon.

My training partner, Marcus Hille, and I devised a plan.  We were going to start at 10:30 mile pace.  The new revised course started with the first 6 miles uphill.  I had to be smart, I had to hold back if I was going to feel strong the whole way.  I knew that 9:30-10:30 pace traditionally lands you on the podium.  I also knew that with the new course times would be faster, so I decided I would shoot for 9:00-10:00 minute average mile pace.  I thought that would put me in a good place finish wise, and leave some room for me to improve without going over the edge in my first trail race.  Instead I ran like a total rookie.  After an opening mile of 7:50, I ignored Marcus’s warning and charged ahead.  I knew I was running fast, but so was everyone else.  Either I was going to blow up, or do something epic.  When I hit the 10k I wanted to see something between 62-65 minutes on my watch.  I saw 51.  I knew I was out way too hard, but I kept going.  We had a steep incline a few miles later and I charged up it even though the men around me were walking.  Again, I should have taken cues from the people around me.  I was digging a deeper hole the further I went.  Suddenly I started to feel terrible.  My whole body was screaming.  I felt a deep fatigue that I have never felt before in my life, like I had gone over an edge of no return.  I looked down at my GPS, it only said 11.6 miles.  I knew the race was over for me.

Marcus and I at the start. Photo credit: Matt Trappe

I continued on, but my mind was planing an exit strategy.  I was so exhausted, there was no way I was going to be able to finish.  Around 15 miles we turned down a very steep and rocky trail.  I started to see spots.  I was so light headed and had no control over my body.  How I didn’t fall I’ll never know.  I started to throw up.  There was no way I was going to be able to continue on.  As I came out of the trail back on to the roads, I was as low as I’ve ever been.  I began to walk, I would have cried if I hadn’t felt so sick.  People started passing me, but unlike in my past races, they would give me words of encouragement.  “Keep fighting”, they would tell me, “This will pass.  You can do it.  Embrace the Suck.  You are not alone.”  Every time someone talked to me I’d try to run a bit.  But there was nothing left.  I started to wonder why I signed up for this.  I started to think about how I’d never run again.  I knew I wasn’t going to finish and I knew I’d never enter a race again.  Then I saw Todd Straka.  He talked me off the ledge.  “Walking is allowed, no one cares where you finish, just that you do.  You can do this, you are stronger than you think.”  Todd saved my race.  Although I couldn’t move any faster, he planted the seed in my mind that I could, actually, do this.  At my lowest moment, he was there.  After I turned around just before 19 miles to head home, random men would run with me. Some for a few strides, some for a mile, but all encouraging me.  People yelled at me from the sidelines or as they were running the opposite direction.  Their words carried me on down the mountain.  I took in their encouragement like it was air and each cheer got me a little further along.  People waited for me while I puked and then ran another half mile with me.  People showed me acts of kindness like I have never, in my 40 years of life, been shown before.  At 21 miles I saw my husband and he was concerned.  He asked if I should be continuing on.  But at that point, I knew I had to finish.  Even if I had to walk the next 5 miles I was going to get to that finish.  I had been given the strength to get there from strangers, and I was going to get there if it was the last thing I did.

Survival mode.

Crossing that finish line was the most satisfactory of my career.  I have been on two Olympic Teams, won a medal at the world championships, but nothing was more rewarding than that finish line in Leadville.  I have never worked so hard to complete something in my life.  It was the most challenging experience mentally, emotionally, and physically that I have ever been through.  I’d be lying if I said that I had fun, but I am so glad that I did it.  I pushed myself to new limits.  I dug deeper than I knew I was capable of.  I am proud of myself.

Finally the finish

I want to thank everyone in Leadville for helping me to get to that finish line.  Your support and kindness was overwhelming.  I apologize if I didn’t act like I liked it at the time, I was in a personal hell and you helped me get through it.  I also want to thank everyone one at the Leadville Trail Marathon.  Thank you for welcoming me into your community with open arms and excitement.  Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin have created something really special.  In fact, the energy was so infectious that at the awards I started second guessing my decision to give up my coin into the Leadville 100.  I am no where ready to attempt something like that, but you all made me want to continue to be a part of the magic!!!

Hugs from Ken.

I spent the last few days letting my knee settle down and recovering from the debt I put my body through.  But today I got up and ran.  And all I could do was think about my next adventure.  The thing is, even though it was a dark and painful experience, I came out of it stronger and more resilient than I knew.  It makes me want to try again, push that envelope out a little further.  What will the next adventure be?  I’m currently taking suggestions!  So get out there and challenge yourselves, you never know just how far you can go until you try!

Comments

  1. michelle on June 20, 2019 6:22 pm said:

    Awesome race report. Im no where near your level but this really resonates with my first trail run experiences. You come out of every race a different person than who you were at the start, mostly from the love of strangers and the magic of the trails. Its addictive and life changing!

  2. Rommel on June 20, 2019 6:30 pm said:

    Kara,

    Congratulations on your finish of the Leadville Trail Marathon. I know EXACTLY how you felt, maybe not exactly, but I was in pain, dark moments, wanting to quit and also received amazing support from total strangers. It’s a very hard race, so those who have run Leadville know you’ve accomplished something special. You can do more than you think you can, you just have to keep going. I loved reading your story because I can relate so much. At this moment I’m on a plane en route to the Leadville Trail 100 running camp. You should’ve kept your coin. I’m positive you can run it if you really wanted to. Lastly, welcome to the Leadville family. Wear your Leadville marathon proudly!!

  3. Glenn Trimboli on June 20, 2019 6:36 pm said:

    Kara,
    great run, and recap. I switched mostly to trail runs from a long time on the roads. its a completely different culture which you experienced on the trail. Winning would be nice, but the journey to the finish is worth so much more. I treat each trail race I do as an ‘experiment’. Tweaking the the 3 skills you try to master during training.. physical, mental and fueling.
    The longer the race, the more mental and fueling come into play, Its a wonderful hobby!
    my suggestion for you if you’re really a little crazy. The Escarpment Trail Run in New York State. ‘the mountain goat race!’ ‘only’ 18 miles, its plenty, trust me.
    congrats again, hope to see you in the trail scene more.
    Glenn

  4. Sam on June 20, 2019 6:48 pm said:

    Sounds like all you need to do is really keep a tight rein on yourself for the first half and THEN see what’s there? Heck I don’t know. Have never ran mountains and never will. But my hat’s off to anyone who tries. Good luck to you!

  5. Michael Ryan on June 20, 2019 7:12 pm said:

    Kara thanks for the Leadville recap. You’re setting a great example for Colt and the rest of us. Your grit and determination as well as the humanity shown by other runners is inspiring. At 61, I just ran my first race ever last month. The Soldier Field 10 Miler in Chicago!! 9:31 per mile pace. My next adventure is a 10k, Run The Mag Mile. Whatever your next adventure is, I’m looking forward to see you succeed again!!

  6. Raciel D. on June 20, 2019 7:16 pm said:

    You have always been so inspiring, relatable, and humble! Way to grind it out! It seems like you’re on the path to compete (or even complete) a 100 miler! Then you’ll really experience the crazy. Or for ultrarunners, the new normal

  7. Chris Ryan on June 20, 2019 7:28 pm said:

    Kara, so proud of you. An old ultra marathoner once told me it’s not about how fast you are, it’s about the accomplishment and adventure. Trail runners are always there for each other! You fall, they pick you up. BTW, I just finished my 1st Superior 50K at age 50 and I was scared beyond belief. You next adventure back home on the North Shore.
    Again, so proud of you.
    Chris

  8. Rich Hale on June 20, 2019 7:36 pm said:

    This is what I love about the trail running community. The love of trails and love for each other. I’m glad you found the magic!

  9. Nick Voss on June 20, 2019 7:42 pm said:

    “Crossing that finish line was the most satisfactory of my career.“ Reading that line gave my chills, Kara! I know I’ve felt that kind of satisfaction on the trails dozens of times, but this just reminded me of the magnitude. Thanks for sharing this story, and congratulations on the finish! Know that your presence running that race that everyone knew was outside of your comfort zone helped countless others get there too.

  10. Morgan on June 20, 2019 8:17 pm said:

    You are beyond inspiring! I can’t even imagine how badass you must feel having gotten through that. I did a ridiculously hilly trail half marathon last year that was insanely tough – not Leadville tough, but compared to anything else I’d done before, it was my Leadville. I wanted to quit 1000 times. If it had been a road race, I could have. But on the trails I had no choice but to keep going. I finished with my personal worst half marathon time ever, but I didn’t care about that – all I cared about was that I finished. Knowing how difficult it was, I consider just finishing a major accomplishment. And that’s exactly how you should feel. You’ll get out there again and kick ass again because that’s just what you do. And I’ll be cheering for you every step of the way!

  11. Rob Blom on June 20, 2019 8:23 pm said:

    Well,,, a trail ultra distance-you so got it!

  12. Jen “Smidge” Ogden on June 20, 2019 8:33 pm said:

    Kara I’m so proud of you for fighting through the suck and finishing a (tough af) trail marathon! Come and do the American River 50 with me next year! First half is paved, second half trail. I finished this year and it was an amazing day outdoors! The trail running community is THE BEST!!!! Congrats!!!

  13. Kirsten on June 20, 2019 8:50 pm said:

    Definitely run a 50K!! Go somewhere that inspires you! May I suggest Antelope Canyon in March?? The scenery is magical.

  14. Leslie on June 20, 2019 9:01 pm said:

    Race to Robie creek in Boise, Idaho! 8.5 up and 4.5 down. Starting and ending at the same elevation! It follows the old wagon trail from Boise to Idaho city.

  15. Melinda on June 20, 2019 9:08 pm said:

    Kara thank you for doing this! All of it- taking the risk and being willing to share your journey through it. Your words and struggle and triumph mirrored my own through my running life as well as my friends. I myself have landed on the mantra, “there is no secret just keep moving forward”(thanks Oiselle coffee cup) can’t wait to see where your journey takes you.

  16. Robert Mazurkiewicz on June 20, 2019 9:21 pm said:

    Thank You Kara for this story, I’m really happy to see you discovering this new world with great attitude and big heart.
    I hope to share trail with you some day here in Boulder. If you ever want to run some slower longer runs or just chat about trails 50 or 100 Leadville runs i’ll be glad to share.
    Welcome to Trail Running!

  17. Matt Rutledge on June 20, 2019 9:42 pm said:

    Next challenge? Have you ever run with a donkey? Western Pack Burro Racing championship is in Fairplay in August.

    Welcome to the world of trail racing. We just want everyone to finish. Good job out there.

  18. Jackie on June 20, 2019 10:02 pm said:

    Super great job, Kara! I think you should run the Peachtree Road Race on July 4 in Atlanta. After Leadville, it would be a piece of cake. Run it competitively.

  19. Melinda on June 21, 2019 5:16 am said:

    Great job! I love reading about your journey at Leadville. I am a forty something mom of 4 and recently ran my first trail 50k and am training for number 2! You know the 50k is not much farther than a marathon. Come down to Texas and run the trails here! No altitude to contend with and we have a lot of fun!!

  20. Amanda H on June 21, 2019 6:14 am said:

    Congratulations on your first official trail race! It sounds like my first time running Baker Lake 25k up in WA state. I was training from MCM in 2016 and thought since I could easily run 20 miles on a road, then 25k on a beautiful trail had to be easy.
    I laugh now remembering how everyone gasped when I ran into the finish after almost 5 hours with blood pouring down my knee. But I finished and I went back in 2018 and bettered my time by over an hour!
    Just something about thsoe trails that call to me.

  21. lori enlow on June 21, 2019 6:21 am said:

    So thrilled you got to experience everything I love about this sport!!! All in one race! Adventure on, I hope to see you at a trail race someday. Our biggest challenge is our own ego and our very limited perspective. While definitely not elite I am incredibly competitive and driven to perform. But “performing”has taken on a whole new and deeper meaning as I get older. Finish times do not equal performance. You made mistakes that cost you greatly, but damn girl you opened up a while new world of adventure, challenge, and the ability to perform in ways you never imagined.

  22. Tiffany Reeves on June 21, 2019 6:42 am said:

    You should run a Trail Racing Over Texas event. There are none like it. It’s a big party full of fun!!

  23. George on June 21, 2019 7:08 am said:

    This was good to read. Thanks for the honest report, and congrats on the finish line. How about the JFK 50 in November? Largest and oldest ultra in the U.S., but not as challenging a course as Leadville.

  24. Michelle Frank on June 21, 2019 7:26 am said:

    I love this so much. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Daryl Granger on June 21, 2019 9:35 am said:

    You’re amazing!! Congratulations on your finish of a very tough race.

  26. Joy Hawkes on June 21, 2019 9:51 am said:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Your story was uplifting, motivating, and inspiring. I love how you continue to create new experiences and better yourself in unique ways. This is so like life–trying to become a better person and more like the Savior Jesus Christ. I feel renewed reading your story and hope I can become a stronger and better version of myself with passion like yours.

  27. Angel Burd on June 21, 2019 10:59 am said:

    Fantastic job!! I would love the opportunity to run trails with you! From the beginning of my running career, I have followed you and you motivated me! Especially after you had Colt, and still proved that being a running mom may not be easy, but still doable! (Something I still struggle with, but it’s getting easier.) I was so excited when you made the announcement to run trails!! I switched MANY years ago, because road racing was just so demanding and the people are just not as friendly.

  28. Morgan Ferry on June 21, 2019 11:49 am said:

    Run Pikes Peak Marathon. One of my favorite events I’ve ever participated in. And run a couple 50Ks. There are some super great 50Ks in beautiful places and if you pick a couple that aren’t crazy in vert, you’ll find it a fun experience. BUT … finding yourself in deep dark places in a long trail race is a normal part of the experience for most of us and embracing the suck, finding your way through it and out of it and making to the finish line despite the struggle are some of the most rewarding parts of long trail racing.

  29. Angie Poulton on June 21, 2019 3:26 pm said:

    Speedgoat. You Gotta!

  30. Stephanie on June 21, 2019 4:08 pm said:

    I loved your recap, and I think it’s wonderful that you are trying out the trails! I am still learning that at some point I’m going to feel like hell, but to keep going and things will eventually get better. If you’re not quite sure what to do next, try volunteering at an aid station. Those are great places to absorb trail/ultra knowledge (fueling/pacing/gear), as well as give you an idea of what kinds of trails or ultras that may interest you. I wish you the best of luck and hope to run into you out on the trails someday! I’ll be the one pulled over to the side puking.

  31. Jim Cantrell on June 22, 2019 7:13 am said:

    Congratulations Kara, on your race and finish! Great report! Good luck with your next challenge!

    j

  32. Dave on June 22, 2019 7:23 am said:

    Ok. This is a crazy idea, but perhaps no crazier than your decision to run Leadville in the first place. When you are healed up and ready for a long training run, go crew for and pace a contender in a 100 mile race. Make that woman’s day! Run proudly with her when she is strong and boost her confidence. Encourage her when she struggles and help her out of that dark space, and maybe even hold her hair back when she is vomiting. Show her the love that you felt at Leadville. The love of the trail racing community that helped you get through the race. By the time you are done guiding a runner to the finish line, you will know a lot more about the ultra community and can decide if you want to sign up for one of these longer races. And you won’t be wrecked after running 25 miles with someone who has already run 75. After that you can decide if you want to go all in and sign up for your own ultra.

  33. Hillary Wesney on June 23, 2019 6:43 am said:

    This, this, THIS is what it’s about!!!! You should be VERY proud of yourself!!!! You don’t know me, I don’t know you, yet you encourage me to just DO IT!!! I’m a 52 yr old runner, not fast, not slow. My goals have always been: finish and don’t be last. You, my dear, are a champion! What you’ve done is incredible!!! You finished and you were not last! A winner as far as this old momma runner is concerned!!! Head high, my dear, head up high!!!

  34. Elliot on June 24, 2019 1:02 pm said:

    Great job, Kara! Welcome to the wonderful world of trail running races! I predict you’ll soon be taking on (and succeeding at!) ultra. Can’t wait to see that.

  35. Rick on June 24, 2019 4:51 pm said:

    Congrats on getting the finish! Completely agree with Chris Ryan’s suggestion. The Voyageur would be perfect

  36. emily on June 28, 2019 8:16 am said:

    What a great After Action Review of your race. It is a testament to your grit and the kindness of strangers that you finished after being in such a rough spot.

    If you are looking for something new, consider rucking the GORUCK 50 mile Star Course. Rucking is walking with weight on your back and different from running but very team-based. I’ve enjoyed the change to rucking from my college running days, mostly because of being able to spend more training time with family and non-runner friends. Proud of you for trying something new!

  37. Michael on June 28, 2019 1:42 pm said:

    This is the beauty. This is the difference of trail running.

    “People started passing me, but unlike in my past races, they would give me words of encouragement. […] “Walking is allowed, no one cares where you finish, just that you do.” […] random men would run with me … all encouraging me. […] People showed me acts of kindness like I have never, in my 40 years of life, been shown before. […] Even if I had to walk the next 5 miles I was going to get to that finish.”

    Nice! And Congratulations 🙂

  38. Wai on July 9, 2019 10:08 am said:

    Great suffering Kara…Congrats!!! It’s good to have you back on the trails and thank you for the wonderful recap of your journey!! I foresee that you will be a regular on the trail running (ultra included) scene now that you have seen the kind of community we are. Hope to see you at some of the races, perhaps at Leadville 100 next year.

  39. The Buddhist Cowboy on July 22, 2019 1:46 pm said:

    Great race report Kara! It’s so cool to see an elite of your caliber try out the trail world. Trails are so engaging to the spirit and good for the soul.I

    I started off a “roadie” at 36, but transitioned to much more of a trail runner four years later. After reading Born To Run and learning in it about running ultras, and especially The Leadville 100, I vowed to do it someday. Fast forward nine years and I’ve done two trail marathons, seven trail 50ks, a 50miler, and completed a 100miler.

    I still run road and do a few road marathons a year (saw you in the corral for Akron in 2017, bit too awestruck to say hi), I’m getting close to BQ’ing, and even hope to do a sub 3hr marathon before my age loss of VO2max physically won’t let me. I’m doing my areas 100miler (Burning River) again this Sat and hope to shave off a few hrs due to better training and more experience under my belt.

    Your report is inspiring and so gratifying to read your first experience in the hardcore trail world. Trails and running Ultras on them is pretty addicting. Consider a 50k next time. Come and do our Burning River race as part of a 4 person relay team (25mi), or go for the 50miler. When you step up to a new distance on trails, it just becomes more and more fulfilling. I hope you continue doing trail races, and I would be honored to run a mile or two with you on one someday.

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