Leadville Training Camp

July 8-10, 2011


Lucas and I have dubbed each other adventure and training partners, unspoken, and we headed up to the “highest incorporated city with an airport” (Leadville, CO 10,152′) in the nation this weekend.  (Apparently there is one city just a bit higher called Almas, CO at 10,578′, but it doesn’t have an airport to brag about.  Lame-o.)


My training plan was pretty heavy this weekend – my longest ride, so far, of the season (5.5hrs) and it was supposed to be “mountainous”, followed by a 45 min brick run.  (FYI, if you’re not familiar with the term “brick”, in triathlon training it means a bike workout followed immediately by a run, so as to practice the transition – and the discomfort – of getting off your bike and running right away, like you do in a triathlon race).


We picked a route that is popular to Colorado cyclists, and is also an organized and supported bike ride during the summer, called the Copper Triangle.  You climb up three major mountain passes, and the total loop is about 80 miles.  Click here to see a map of the route.


Bike riding in the mountains is a whole different animal than out on the flats.  First of all, riding your bike uphill is hard.  Duh.  But when you’re at fairly extreme altitude (lowest point of our ride was about 7,500’; highest point was 11,300’), there are many factors that are difficult to have much control over.  Obviously, the altitude itself is one of them.  There is simply not as much oxygen at these high altitudes, so your body doesn’t get the same amount of O2 that it is used to in lower altitudes (Hence the difficulty in “lowlanders” coming up to altitude for races, and in extreme cases, the onset of Altitude Sickness).  It’s usually not that big of a deal, but one might experience shortness of breath, headache, nausea, or simply feeling like they can’t exert as hard as they usually can.  However, living and training at altitude does, over some time, cause the body to produce more red blood cells in attempt to help carry as much oxygen as possible through the blood stream.  It’s kind of a legal form of “blood doping”, which I probably don’t want to expound on too much in this day and age….


So, riding and running up in the clouds for one weekend probably caused our bodies to barely start making some extra red blood cells, but certainly it just made us feel tough.  ARGH!  :)


The ride started off cool and partly cloudy.  We wanted to get started early to avoid the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms which are very common – most every afternoon -in the summer in the mountains.  The first pass – Tennessee Pass – was the least challenging (least steep) of all the passes, and probably the most beautiful.

It was a fabulous way to start out the long training day.  We chatted as we rode, and then for stretches of times we’d be silent, just taking in the beauty around us.  I feel SO incredibly blessed and fortunate to have this kind of magnificence available to me at any time, living here in Colorado.  I looked around thinking, God is an amazing landscape architect!


The second major pass was Vail Pass, which has it’s own bike path for most of it – a nice break from riding on the side of highways.  Though the majority of the mountain highways out here are well-paved and maintained, with wide bike shoulders (don’t freak out, Mom!!  ;)   The sun finally peeked out as we finished the descent from Vail Pass – a welcome bit of warmth.  It was around then that I was starting to feel tired, I was cold from the descent after sweating on the uphill, and was not really looking forward to the longest pass, Fremont, which “loomed” ahead of us still.


We pulled over at Copper Mountain resort, which was the only real stopping point between Vail and Leadville, to re-group, adjust our water bottle situations, take some goofy pictures, and rally for the next climb and all the miles we still had left.


Turns out my favorite climb of the day was this last one.  My legs felt strong and I felt confident from all the riding we had behind us.  I was reminded of the privilege it is to have the ability, the drive, and the means to tackle something like this – The Copper Triangle loop – as a “training ride”.  Some people train for a months to accomplish this daunting feat.  Now, I’m not tooting my own horn, just trying to keep things in perspective on how thankful I should daily be for my own health and fitness, and all the resources that have come together for me over the years to make this type of training (and ultimately my triathlon racing as a whole) possible.  I’ll just take this moment to say THANK YOU, again, to all my family and friends and boyfriend and sponsors and workplace and gym and coach, for all the support you give me – day in/day out – and all the resources with which you provide me.  You’re all awesome and I appreciate you, even in the small moments like while I’m grinding up a mountainside into the wind, trying to stay positive!!


Cresting into Leadville, I descended through and out of the town, just to the outskirts where I made a little loop and then headed back to the hotel, so that I would total 5.5 hours.  That’s what my training plan said, so….I had to do it!  Sometimes you find you’re kind of a slave to the tp (training plan).  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.  Anyway, I think it was good for me today, but Lucas may have been the brighter one of us for stopping once he got to downtown Leadville and our hotel – the historic Delaware Inn.  Once I got back as well, I donned my running shoes and with a grimace and a faux positive attitude, headed back out into the sunshine for my brick run.  It was not pretty, but I got it done.  Sometimes the training you do is more helpful as mental toughness practice than it is physical, in my opinion.  Sometimes it is totally a grind, and not fun.  And that’s kind of unfortunate, because the main reason I do this is because I enjoy it.  But when you are training at a high level – and trying on your first Pro season – not all workouts are enjoyable.  But they pay off in unique ways – like when you get a PR (Personal Record) in a race.  That feels like a million bucks.


The afternoon was just for lazing around, eating, and recovering.  My legs felt like they had been torn off and used as drum sticks, then shoved back into my hip sockets.  Lovely, huh?  Sounds healthy too.  Well, I’m just being honest.  But the amazing thing is how the body recovers and thereby adapts and becomes stronger.  It’s much more complicated and scientific than that, but I’ll just leave it as “it’s amazing”.  It’s also really nice to know that you can eat snacks, drink a beer, eat half a huge pizza, and oreos and milk later that day and not hardly come close to the calories you burned during your 6.5 hour workout.  THAT is the fun stuff!  :)


Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and we headed out for a long trail run.  We drove up Tennessee Pass, the first climb on our bikes from yesterday, and parked at a trailhead where we could run an out-and-back on the Colorado Trail, up on the Continental Divide.  We were running at 10,000 feet!  It was gorgeous – what a great trail.  We ran on tired legs from the day before, but fortunately we both got some great miles in and felt really good about our efforts.


We stopped for sandwiches in a really cute mountain town southwest of Vail called Minturn on our way home, and then promptly got stuck in the infamous I70 Traffic Jam that happens pretty much every weekend on Sunday afternoons.  It’s worse on holiday weekends, and it wasn’t that late in the day so we hadn’t planned on this happening…but, we had to resort to eating oreos without milk, playing the “Who Sings This Song” game, making up ridiculous stories, and trying to start writing our blog posts from the fabulous weekend, while we inched forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic.


We finally made it back into Boulder, where it was HOT!  Fortunately a storm rolled through just after we unpacked, and cooled everything off with some heavy rain and a fantastic thunder show.

In my up-coming races, I’m not sure how many of those extra red blood cells my body likely just barely started producing will still be around, or how much that trail run will help my mile splits, but I know for a fact that I will be that much mentally tougher than my competition who hasn’t pedalled out miles and miles uphill into the clouds, under the wide open Colorado sky, and done it with a huge smile – lighthearted and happy as can be to train in this kind of beauty.  A happy triathlete is a successful triathlete….or at the very least, one that’s not burnt out on training.


Maybe I’ll have that stitched on a pillow….



One Response to “Leadville Training Camp”

  1. aunt Lynnie says:

    You always make this sound like so much fun!!! So glad you are enjoying your training and Lucas is still strong enough to go with you. I miss you both. Forrest did his first day in Iowa, 65 miles and very hilly. Maybe I should tell him about your training ride! love to you!!