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Yes, raw speed helps. But it isn’t everything. Why Older Runners Have an Edge in Ultra Races

There were two first-time winners at last weekend’s Leadville Trail 100 Run, as Ryan Smith of Boulder, Colorado, and Magdalena Boulet from Berkeley, California, persevered on the out-and-back course in the Colorado Rockies. Smith won the men’s race in a time of 16:33:24, while Boulet finished in 20:18:06 and, in a salute to her Western environs, broke the tape wearing a black Stetson hat.

Beyond their individual triumphs, Smith and Boulet also chalked one up for the 40+ demographic; Smith turned 40 this year, while Boulet is a spry 46. For those keeping score, this is actually the second consecutive year where both the male and female winners at Leadville were in their fifth decade. In 2018, it was Rob Krar (41) and Outside contributing editor Katie Arnold (46) who stood atop the podium in a race which is among the oldest 100-milers in the country and bears the prestige of being included in the so-called “Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.”

How to account for this quadragenarian dominance? Road racing snobs might point out that the field size in ultras is generally quite small and that these events are hence less competitive than big city marathons with thousands of participants. This year, the Leadville 100 had fewer than 400 finishers. Then there’s the fact that the elite ultrarunning scene, despite its increased mainstream visibility over the past decade, is still largely unprofessional, in the sense that weekend warriors can carry the day at certain marquee events. Smith works full-time as a software engineer, and Boulet is VP of research and development at GU Energy Labs. While this amateur spirit might be a point of pride for ultrarunners who don’t want their sport to devolve into the doping-riddled morass that is professional track and field, one could argue that it also subtly discourages the best pro distance athletes (i.e. Kenyan and Ethiopian runners) from turning to the trails. This, in turn, makes the podium perpetually attainable for the super-fit middle-aged hobbyist.

But maybe there’s more to it than that. Given the amount of stuff that can go wrong when you’re running 100 miles in the mountains, perhaps more “mature” athletes might have an advantage when raw speed is less essential than psychological resilience.

“Ultrarunning is about problem solving and being fast is just one piece in a larger puzzle,” says Boulet, who was back at work on Monday morning. “There are so many other pieces that need to fall into place in order to have a successful race.”

Boulet would know. In 2015, she triumphed at Western States, arguably the most vaunted ultra on U.S. soil. Last year, she won the Marathon des Sables, a 156-mile, six-day stage race in the Sahara Desert that frequently gets cited as one of the world’s most difficult races.

Boulet also has the rare distinction of having successfully transitioned into the world of ultrarunning after a previous career as a pro marathoner and road racer. In 2008, she made the U.S. Olympic team in the marathon. The following year she was the first American woman (sixth overall) at the NYC Marathon. With the exception of Kara Goucher, who contested her first trail marathon earlier this summer, Boulet is surely the most accomplished road racer to take a serious shot at competitive trail running.

“I was able to bring the experience from my marathon and road career into trail racing, but with a lot more experience and a lot more patience,” she says. “I’m a lot kinder to myself and my body.”

For his part, Sands, who describes himself as a “serious amateur,” agrees with Boulet that being the best pure runner is only one factor when a race involves one hundred miles of elevation change, gnarly terrain, and volatile weather. Unlike in shorter road races, where it is much more feasible to execute a race plan to perfection, in ultras the objective isn’t so much to avoid mishaps, as to make the best of it when they inevitably happen. 

“Typically success in these longer events is not about getting everything dialed next to perfectly, because that’s just so rare,” Sands notes. “It’s really about, when some issue arises and you’re faced with a challenge, how well can you react in the moment to overcome it.”

This latter point reminded me of a recent email exchange I had with Robert Johnson, the editor and co-founder of Letsrun.com and a road-racing snob if ever there was one. Johnson made the point that one thing he finds intriguing about ultras is that there is still an aspect of the “unknown.” He noted that training for traditional distance running had more or less been “solved”; everyone already knows, more or less, how to prepare for races. Ultra-running, on the other hand, is still very much an undiscovered country.

Boulet agrees with this assessment.

“After twelve years of doing marathons, I got to the point where I had that formula dialed-in really well with my coach. We could look at a block of training and know what that translates into [performance-wise]. It was very predictable,” she says.

But the ultra scene offers enough potential variation that, Boulet notes, each race can necessitate its own specific training cycle. In the lead-up to Marathon des Sables, for instance, she spent weeks running on sand.

“For someone who is older, ultras are really exciting because you’re not doing the same thing over and over. They keep changing,” Boulet says.

“I think that’s also a key to longevity in the sport. To keep it interesting—and fun.”

(08/24/2019) ⚡AMP
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Boulder’s Ryan Smith wins 2019 Leadville 100 with consistent second-half pacing

Boulder’s Ryan Smith won the Leadville 100 trail run on Saturday night thanks to consistent second-half pacing that left his rivals unable to respond. It was the biggest win of his ultrarunning career.

The Boulder-based runner, who came to the United States from the United Kingdom and works full-time a software engineer, was greeted at the finish by his wife and almost 2-year-old daughter. He turned 40 years old this year.

“There’s just a lot of running in the race,” Smith said, referring to the long flat sections along much of the course. “It really favors a flat runner rather than a mountain runner, and I typically do a lot of mountain stuff.”

His win — in 16 hours, 33 minutes, 25 seconds — was far from expected. Smith was not among the pre-race favorites to win, and he wasn’t feeling well leading into the Twin Lakes aid station near the 40-mile mark. But at the turnaround at Winfield, he held his pace steady, averaging around 10 minutes per mile for the rest of the race.

“Always be closing!” his last pacesetter, Clare Gallagher, herself a Leadville 100 winner in 2016, yelled to him after his win. She was referring to Smith’s penchant for strong finishes, and to the casual observer, it might have seemed that Smith was surging. But consistent pacing that late in a race — he averaged 9:58, 9:53, 9:59, 9:54, 10:01, 9:55, 9:54 for all of the second half checkpoints — is remarkably difficult to achieve.

His win came after Jared Hazen, the runner-up to this year’s Western States 100, set out a blistering early pace, intent on breaking the course record of 15:42 set by Matt Carpenter in 2005. Late Saturday morning, while racing back toward Twin Lakes, he told a Denver Post reporter along the trail that he had dropped out and “needed to get to an aid station.” He had turned around before the Winfield aid station — the halfway point of the course.

The Leadville is infamous for seducing runners into racing too hard too early, with flat fields and trails before turning into a punishing climb to 12,600 feet over Hope Pass.

For the women, Magdalena Boulet of Oakland, Calif., finished in 20:18:07 in her first Leadville 100. Boulet, who won her first-ever 100-miler in 2015 at Western States and was a U.S. Olympic marathoner in 2008, said she was inspired to run at Leadville after crewing for her boss at GU Energy Labs a few years ago. She had acclimatized at altitude for only two weeks before Saturday’s run. Boulder’s Cat Bradley was the second woman to cross the finish line in 20:45:48.

(08/18/2019) ⚡AMP
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Leadville Trail 100 Run

Leadville Trail 100 Run

The legendary “Race Across The Sky” 100-mile run is where it all started back in 1983. This is it. The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. You will give the mountain respect, and earn respect from all. ...

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Armin Gooden is set to compete at the Leadville 100-Mile Trail Race this Saturday

Armin Gooden was four years old in 1983 when the once-booming mining town of Leadville, Colorado – on the verge of economic devastation after the closure of Climax Mine in 1982 – hosted the first-ever Leadville Trail 100-mile run.

Race founder Ken Chlouber had organized the trail run in what’s considered North America’s highest incorporated town, elevation-wise. He hoped it would salvage Leadville from virtual ruin after more than 3,000 workers were left unemployed in the wake of the mine’s closure the year before.

On Saturday, Aug. 17, Gooden will be four decades old when he tries his hand – well, legs – at the iconic 100-mile course which snakes 50 miles out and back through the Colorado Rockies. Terrain is comprised mostly of forest trails with a few mountain roads mixed in, its website says.

Gooden, whose 40th birthday fell on this past Sunday, is a 1997 graduate of Buckhannon-Upshur High School. His mom, Idress, and dad, Dave, still live in Upshur County.

But they’ll be in Leadville at 4:30 a.m. sharp Saturday, when the race begins. The Leadville 100’s lowest point measures about 9,200 feet and its highest peak 12,600 feet. That point is known as Hope Pass – or ‘Hopeless Pass’ by runners “because it crushes souls and destroys dreams,” Gooden says. In fact, a local CBS station out of Twin Lakes, Colorado, on Thursday reported that a 28-member team of llamas and their human guides hauled approximately 3,000 pounds of food, drinks and gear up to an aid station at Hope Pass.

Gooden good-naturedly called the race his “mid-life suffer-fest” Wednesday in a Facebook post when he thanked his friends on social media for their recent birthday wishes: “Thanks for all the birthday wishes! Stay tuned for live tracking at my mid-life suffer-fest in just a little over two days,” he wrote.

The primary question that runners who do ultra-marathons– especially hundred-mile ultra-marathons – face is: “Why?” Why subject yourself to such a “mid-life suffer-fest,” as Gooden put it? After all, only about 50 percent of runners who qualify through the lottery actually complete the Leadville 100, Gooden said. Others must drop out if they don’t make various cut-off points throughout the course, including completing the first 50 miles in 14 hours or under.For Gooden, who’s now a resident of a Denver-area suburb, the thirst to complete the Leadville 100 began as a mode of mental survival.“I had a really rough year in life the past year-and-a-half,” Gooden said. “I did this huge climbing trip in Alaska at Denali National Park, and I sort of cheated death after surviving this crazy storm. I had gone through a really bad divorce, and I was in no mental space to run, but I needed some kind of outlet.”

“A good friend of mine knew I wasn’t in the best place, so he said, ‘You’re going to start running again, and you’re going to pace me in the Leadville 100,’” Gooden recalled. “Life just kind of gave me what I needed.”

Pacing his friend in the 2018 Leadville 100 – for a 14-mile section from miles 62 to 74 – was enough to hook Gooden.

“It was pretty awe-inspiring,” Gooden said. “I muled for him. I carried all his water and food. It really allows you to experience team camaraderie. I knew right then and there – I decided, ‘I’m doing this next year.’”

Of course, it wasn’t exactly Gooden’s first rodeo when it came to running.

He was a standout cross-country and track and field runner in high school who was recently inducted into the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the school’s undefeated state champion cross-country team in 1993. Gooden went on to run at Frostburg State University in Maryland. However, his college career ended when he was plagued by persistent lower back pain.

“I actually quit running in college because I had so much lower back pain,” he recalled. “I can go for a seven-hour run now and have no lower back pain.”

Combined with natural running talent, Gooden, who works as an emergency room nurse, has always had an appetite for adventure. In addition to Denali National Park in 2018, he’s also mountain-climbed in the Peruvian Andes and Island Peak in Nepal. He completed the Grand Traverse Ski Mountaineering Race from Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado, as well as the Dirty 30 50K – about 31 miles – in June 2019, too.

(08/16/2019) ⚡AMP
by Katie Kuba
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Leadville Trail 100 Run

Leadville Trail 100 Run

The legendary “Race Across The Sky” 100-mile run is where it all started back in 1983. This is it. The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. You will give the mountain respect, and earn respect from all. ...

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Junko Kazukawa is the first person to finish the Leadville Race Series and the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in a single season, she is now training for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB

Kazukawa was in the best shape of her life in 2005 when she learned she had cancer. She was 42, training for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, and found a lump on her left breast. First, there was denial, then anger: She was an athlete. A professional trainer. She was healthy. “Why me? I was shocked,” Kazukawa says. But she was also lucky. Doctors were able to remove the lump surgically, and Kazukawa continued training, even completing the mountain bike race that same year.

While she felt like the event was hard, she figured the Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon would be more challenging for her. Immediately after the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, she made a commitment to compete. “I felt that life is short,” Kazukawa says. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, so if there’s something I want to do, I need to do it.” 

That sense of mortality served Kazukawa well as she rebounded from her first bout of cancer to become an accomplished ultrarunner, only to discover another lump four years later. This time, the cancer was more serious, requiring a mastectomy and chemotherapy. But she never gave up running. A month after finishing chemo, she completed the New York City Marathon. “I thought it was a good way to give closure to that terrible disease,” Kazukawa says. “And with the New York City Marathon, if I got tired, I could just take the subway to the finish.” 

Kazukawa continued to grow as a trail runner. In 2015, she became the first person to finish the entire Leadville Series and the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in a single season. The Leadville Race Series involves running the Leadville Marathon in June, the Leadville 50 in July, and completing the Leadville 100 MTB, Leadville 10K, and Leadville 100 in August. To complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, she had to finish Western States, the Vermont 100, and the Leadville 100 in just three months. Accomplishing either of these series is a career-worthy triumph.

Doing both in a single season is next level. Kazukawa doesn’t know of any other person who has completed the same feat, although Australian ultrarunner Dion Leonard is attempting to do so this year. 

“It sounds hard, but if you plan ahead and have a good base and pay attention to strength training, it’s not that bad,” Kazukawa says. “By the time I hit Western States, I had built up my fitness, so I just raced and recovered.”

Kazukawa, now 56, didn’t take up running until she moved from her childhood home in Japan to the United States for college. Even then, it was just short distances to stay in shape. She began teaching group fitness classes in 1989 as an undergraduate, continuing to do so while working toward a masters in exercise physiology. After that, she started running marathons, then trail marathons, then ultras. “I love the challenge of an ultra, because you’re right on that edge of what you can do and what you can’t do,” Kazukawa says. “Once you finish, you know you’re alive. It’s a confidence builder.” 

Kazukawa completed a 100-mile race in Wyoming in June and will run the Leadville 100 in August for the seventh time. In September, she is hoping to take her running to the next level and tackle a new distance, 200 miles, in the Italian Alps.

(08/06/2019) ⚡AMP
by Graham Averill
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Leadville Trail 100 Run

Leadville Trail 100 Run

The legendary “Race Across The Sky” 100-mile run is where it all started back in 1983. This is it. The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. You will give the mountain respect, and earn respect from all. ...

more...
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Kara Goucher is making a second move from the roads to the trails

Kara Goucher is a World Championship silver medallist, two-time Boston third-place finisher, and an American distance running legend. After an illustrious track career, Goucher moved to the roads. Now she’s making a second move from the roads to the trail, running her debut trail marathon at Leadville. 

Goucher announced on Monday that she will be trying something new this June. She said in a race preview, “I started running when I was six and I loved it right away.

I loved being outside, being in the woods and having my heart feel like it was going to beat out of my chest. Now that the days of trying to make Olympic teams are past me, I kind of want to go back to what got me into running in the first place.”

Goucher ran the Houston Marathon in January and had a tough time. After a much anticipated return to the roads, the Olympian didn’t finish the race as a result of an old injury flare up.

After heartbreak in Houston, the runner is excited to get back to her running roots and try out the trail. The Leadville Trail Marathon runs June 15, 2019.

(03/12/2019) ⚡AMP
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Leadville Trail 100 Run

Leadville Trail 100 Run

The legendary “Race Across The Sky” 100-mile run is where it all started back in 1983. This is it. The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. You will give the mountain respect, and earn respect from all. ...

more...
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Krar returned to Leadville 100 for his second win with over a hour ahead of second place

The legendary Rob Krar of Flagstaff, Arizona (originally from Hamilton, Ont.), has won yesterday’s Leadville 100, the 100-mile ultra in the Colorado Rockies. His time was 15:51:57. Krar is only the second person to have run the course in under 16 hours. Ryan Kaiser of Bend, Oregon was second, in 17:37:23, and Seth Kelly of Golden, Colorado was third, in 18:15:29. Started in 1983, the Leadville 100 is a 161K trail race through the Colorado Rockies, hitting 3840-metre peaks, earning it the nickname “the race across the sky.” In 2014, Krar ran Western States, Leadville and Run Rabbit Run in the span of just 11 weeks. He won all three. Krar came within 30 minutes of setting the course record with his 2014 win, finishing in 16:09:32. (08/20/2018) ⚡AMP
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Dave Mackey decided to have his Leg amputated in 2016 and today still runs Ultras

In 2016, Dave Mackey decided to have his own leg amputated so he could continue a remarkable ultrarunning career. On May 23, 2015, Dave Mackey went for one of his regular runs, 13 miles up three mountains that skirt Boulder, Colorado: South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain. The two-time Ultrarunner of the Year was training for the Western States Endurance Race in California, one of the premier 100-mile races in the country. His ultrarunning resume also includes several course records, and he once set the fastest known time of Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, a run from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other, and back, that covers 41 miles and more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain. The run is a bucket list item for many endurance athletes. Around 12 hours is considered an impressive accomplishment — Mackey did it in under seven. On that May run high up on Bear Peak, Mackey stepped on a boulder that dislodged under his foot. He fell from the ridge and the boulder pinned his left leg. Nearby hikers heard Mackey’s calls for help and were able to get the 300-pound boulder off. And though he suffered compound fractures in his left tibia and fibula, it appeared that his leg could be saved. But for the following year and a half, Mackey was waylaid due to constant pain and endless surgeries. Anxious to get back to competing, one of the world’s best runners decided in October 2016 that he would be better off having his leg amputated from the knee down. Mackey, at 48 years old, has come back strong. Since June 15, 2018, he has been competing in the Leadman — a five-event competition that includes a trail marathon, a 100-mile mountain bike ride, a 50-mile trail run or mountain bike ride, a 10-kilometer trail run, and a 100-mile trail run, all on extreme terrain and elevation that exceeds 12,000 feet. On August 18, he is running the Leadville Trail 100 Run.  (08/18/2018) ⚡AMP
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Ultra marathoner Matthew Porter with a life-changing of back neurolical disorder diagnosis is training for the Leadville Trail 100

A St. Charles man faced with a life-changing diagnosis will embark on a challenge that will push his body to the limit. As the sun rises over the Colorado mountains Saturday morning (Aug. 18), Matthew Porter will begin running and will not stop for nearly 30 hours. For two years, Porter has been training for the Leadville Trail 100, an annual ultramarathon that will take him on trails and dirt roads near Leadville, CO through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Porter's journey to the 100-mile race began eight years ago. He was married with three kids and growing a new company. Porter, admittedly, was not living the healthiest lifestyle. An innocent conversation with his then six-year-old daughter about her wedding day was the turning point for the rest of Porter`s life.'She pokes me in my stomach," he said. "'You have a lot of squishy. I don`t know if you`re going to make it,'" Porter's daughter said to him. The very next day, Porter took the first steps towards changing his life, but it was easier said than done.'Wrong shoes, wrong gear," he remembered. "Got up, went to go run a mile, made it about 100 to 150 feet.' Porter walked the rest of the mile that first day. Each day after, Porter ran a little further. Then a little further. As he ran, the pounds melted away. I look back at who that person looks like, and it almost looks like a different person. Feeling good about the changes he was seeing both physically and mentally, Porter continued running. However, the long-distance runs led to some wear and tear on his body. Three and a half years ago, a doctor ordered an MRI to look into some tension Porter was feeling in his back. That is when the doctor first noticed signs of Multiple Sclerosis. (08/15/2018) ⚡AMP
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