Leading into Leadville: How to Prepare for the Leadville Trail 100 Running Race
Professional ultrarunner Aliza Lapierre is in her final preparation for one of world's toughest 100 mile running races, the Leadville Trail 100. In a league of its own, as it tops out well over 12,000 feet, getting ready for Leadville doesn't involve standard prep, so we caught up with this UnTapped athlete and employee to see what it takes to race across the sky.
Hi Aliza, how is the oxygen deprivation going?!
GASP… but each day it seems to get a little better.
Walk us through what makes Leadville unique.
The Leadville 100 races were started after the closing of local mines as a way to help bring visitors to the area during a period of economic downturn. The course is an out and back that runs through the heart of the Rocky Mountains from Leadville to the ghost town of Winfield and back. Elevations on the course range from 9,200 to 12,620 ft and the weather on race day can span the spectrum from snow to hot temperatures.
How do you treat preparation differently for Leadville as compared to "just another" 100 mile race?
Preparing for Leadville does entail specificity to both training and other parts of my life so to give myself the best chance at being able to compete on race day. Leadville is a course that has a lot of very runnable terrain that isn’t technical. For my training this meant less time running my typical favorite terrain, which is technical and mountainous, and more time focused on trails and dirt roads where I could work through the miles at a good clip. It also meant two workouts a week where intervals or tempo were incorporated into my runs.
In terms of daily life to help prepare at night I was sleeping in a Hypoxico altitude tent. An altitude tent is a sealed tent that goes over your bed that simulates higher altitude with reduced oxygen. For me the goal of sleeping in the tent was to help my body adapt to lower oxygen content before heading to Colorado. This is a pretty big commitment, but one I was willing to make because I know my body doesn’t do well just going from sea level to 10,000 ft.
Are you going into it thinking it’s a personal time trial or a race against the competition?
I ran Leadville ten years ago, but had a pretty turbulent race. A lot can go wrong over 100 miles and it sure did that year. I was able to finish, but didn’t feel like my time reflected what I was ultimately capable of. I certainly did learn a lot though about altitude and fortitude.
This time around I really want to run my own race and not let others dictate the how I approach the first 62 miles of the race. It is very easy to push too hard early on in this race and then pay the price later on. My goal is to be smart and still be able to run and push later in the race when a majority of the climbing is behind me. Ultimately, I want to be competitive, but I also want to try and make sure I get the best out of myself and run a smart race.
What are the most challenging parts of the course or what are you most looking forward to?
The altitude is the most challenging part! Terrain wise though there are two major climbs, Sugarloaf and Hope Pass. These are long climbs and Hope Pass (the high point) can be tricky if the day brings heat or midday thunder storms.
I am really looking forward to the scenery and to the opportunity to race again after a majority of races being cancelled last year due to covid. I have really missed the community that comes with the sport of ultra-running.
What’s your fueling strategy look like? Are there things that change as a rate of altitude or rate of exertion when you are that high?
At altitude the air is more arid so there is less moisture, sweat evaporates quickly off the skin and with each breath you lose some moisture from your body. Additionally, high elevations can cause more frequent urination and loss of thirst sensation. This all means hydration is very important so I am using UnTapped Lemon Tea Mapleaid and will aim for about 2 servings an hour. Getting this much down isn’t an issue as I am a big fan of the smooth taste and I appreciate the simple ingredient list, as does my stomach.
To help aid in my need for calories and carbohydrates I will be carrying along UnTapped’s. I will rely heavily on these “gels” and my favorite is Salted Cocoa. I will aim for 2 packets, 200 calories, in addition to my hydration. For me these are a great choice for Leadville as they are easily digestible and my system will be working hard enough because of the altitude so I don’t want to stress it further by eating something that isn’t easy for my stomach to break down. When I am on some lower sections of the course, I will mix in some UnTapped waffles (for those who know my dietary restrictions yes, we have this waffle in the works!)