GU Nutrition & Performance Research Manager Roxanne Vogel recently raced her first 100-mile ultra, taking on the Leadville 100. Here's her look back at the prep and race day, including the answer to everyone's question - how did you fuel?
"Don’t do Leadville as your first 100-miler." Those were the words of advice from more than one person that echoed in my mind and tempered my excitement as I prepared to run the iconic Race Across the Sky. Spanning 100 miles and never at elevations lower than 9,000 feet, Leadville 100 offered everything I wanted in my first 100-mile race: big mountains, high altitude, and a mere 50% chance of finishing. Friends who know me know I love a challenge. This would certainly fit the bill.
Living in the Sierra Nevada range of California—Mammoth Lakes, to be exact—offers a prime training ground for high altitude mountain races like Leadville and I took full advantage of my big, beautiful backyard in the three months preceding the race. I ran several long, 30+ mile days, sometimes back-to-back (to back), and did a fair amount of speed work to train for the rather runnable nature of the course.
The daunting elevation profile of the Leadville 100 Run.
I drove out to Leadville three weeks before race day, partially to acclimatize to 10,000 feet of elevation where the race takes place, but also to get an up-close look at some of the hardest sections of the course. Hope Pass, an exposed and windy high point of 12,500 feet is climbed twice during the race, at miles 45 and 55. This section can be daunting, so I specifically wanted to train there for the climbs. In the weeks before the race, I covered over 90% of the out and back route. I felt comfortable with the terrain and ready to run.
GO ROXY! Words of encouragement for every step.
Race morning felt like waking up to go to Disneyland as a kid. I jumped out of bed at 12 am, no alarm set, eager to get to the start line. I downed my breakfast, did a series of warmup activations while listening to my pre-race '70s rock playlist, and eventually made my way to the start. Along with the GU Crew, including my coach and mentor, Magda Boulet, we walked up the hill to 6th and Harrison. The time had come. Calm and collected, but filled with anticipation, I shimmied my way into the starting corral, just a couple of rows back from the front, and set my intentions for the day. Not five minutes later, a shotgun blast signified the start of the race promptly at 4 am. I took off into the darkness of the early morning, along with over 700 fellow runners. In my heart, I hoped I would be back crossing this line less than 24 hours later.
The first two hours of the race flew by seamlessly. I had planned to go out fast, then slow down once I hit the single-track trail that follows the shoreline of Turquoise Lake to the first aid station at mile 12.5. By the time I saw my crew at Mayqueen, my headlamp had begun to flicker, indicating it was nearly dead. Luckily, it was just getting light enough to see, so I dropped it with my crew as we ran through the aid station. I switched a bottle and kept on running, never breaking stride as my crew hustled alongside me to make the swap.
The next section included a steep 1,500-foot descent into the Outward Bound aid station at mile 23.5. I cautioned myself against running down the three-mile stretch known as Powerline too fast, to save my quads for later, but it was so fun to fly down the hill that I let gravity take hold. I rolled into Outward Bound where my second crew (my GU family) was shouting “Roxy” so loud I heard them a quarter mile away. At this point, I had consumed only 2 bottles of Roctane Energy Drink Mix, and I knew I was light on calories, so I grabbed a Roctane gel from the team, another handheld, and cruised through the checkpoint. Everything was going according to plan, so far.
Twin Lakes, the next major checkpoint at mile 38, is the gateway to Hope Pass and the midway turnaround at Winfield. Here I changed shoes and exchanged my handhelds for a running vest and poles in preparation for the 20 miles of steep ascent and descent ahead. Going up and over Hope Pass was seamless and felt just as good as it had in training just a couple of weeks earlier. The weather held out and was even sunny as I came back over the pass on my return. I grabbed some warm broth, said hello to the llamas (yep, they pack in the supplies for the Hope Pass aid station!), and skipped my way back down to Twin Lakes, eager to pick up my pacer, Pete at mile 62.
I felt excited and energized coming into Twin Lakes the second time around, my enthusiasm mirrored by the cheering spectators and my crew. I dropped my vest, downed some quick calories, and took off with Pete. Around this time, I learned that I was in the top 5 female runners, which upped my motivation. Pete and I moved steadily at first, but by around mile 65—the farthest I’d ever run consecutively in a day—my legs decided to take a break. I tried to run, or shuffle, but they quickly shut down on me. So, we power hiked, a lot. For the next 15 miles I mostly power hiked, sometimes jogged, but couldn’t get a steady rhythm going. My spirits sank a little as I wondered where I’d gone wrong. Was it the impulse handful of potato chips at Twin Lakes? Did I get too aggressive on the downhills? Despite my swirling thoughts, I never considered quitting. I was frustrated by the pace, but I kept moving consistently, each step bringing me closer to my goal.
Outward Bound lit up to welcome runners on their way through again.
I saw my crew again around mile 76, and they encouraged me to eat some mashed potatoes we had pre-mixed before the race. Magda spoon-fed me potatoes mixed with miso soup and I sipped some instant coffee as it started to rain. Now nighttime, I donned my headlamp, pulled on a warmer layer, and continued to the final big climb of the race, Powerline.
About two miles into the climb, I heard an unusual noise in the distance. A loud horn of some sort, like a Nordic call to battle. I wondered for a moment if I was hallucinating. But no, as we neared the top of Powerline, neon glowsticks led the way to a pop-up disco party complete with a bar, thumping music, and plenty of dancing, whooping volunteers. We had arrived at Space Camp. As curious as I was to stop and say hello, my pacer urged me to keep moving. I will say that Space Camp was a very welcome surprise, and I commend the fine folks who manned that aid station. [Note: we want photos next time!]
Coming into the final aid station at Mayqueen, I knew I needed calories. Nothing sounded good. I didn’t want salty or sweet foods, just coffee. My crew tried to temp me with some chocolate covered espresso beans, my secret weapon, but even those didn’t appeal. In a last ditch effort, Pete and I checked out the aid station offerings and I grabbed a PB&J as a Hail Mary while we rolled through. Fortunately, that did the trick and got me to start moving a little more quickly. We covered the six miles around Turquoise Lake efficiently and finally got to my meetup point with Magda at mile 93.
Roxy runs the last few meters to the finish well under 24 hours to earn the big buckle!
Magda picked me up and we took off for the finish, already moving faster than I had for the previous few hours. She encouraged me to move my legs and I obeyed without even thinking. Running with Magda, an Olympian and world-class ultrarunner, you don’t really stop to question her advice. We moved quietly and quickly, now passing other runners as we started up the final few miles to the finish line. The Boulevard is a low-angle, long dirt road hill climb, and running up that thing took every bit of reserve I had in me. She got me to “sip” on an energy gel and reminded me to keep drinking water. I felt my energy return as the finish line grew near. A half mile out, I regrouped with my entire crew and we ran it in together. Seeing them all and sharing the finish, sub-24 hours and in 4th place, was probably the biggest reward of the day. That, and the double-serving of Vanilla Recovery that waited for me after picking up my big belt buckle.
Roxy with her happy crew and pacers at the finish, less than 24 hours after the start.
Leadville 100 Run by the Numbers
- Total time: 23 hours 21 minutes, 4th place female finisher
- Total Calories consumed: 2600 (less than planned but enough to get by)
- Total BCAA capsules consumed: 16
- Caloric breakdown: 60% Roctane Energy drink mix (mostly Grape, some Summit Tea and Tropical Fruit for caffeine), 20% gels (Roctane Lemonade & Cold Brew, prototype Liquid Energy flavor), 15% homemade “performance potatoes,” remainder from PB&J, broth, and one rogue handful of potato chips at the aid station
- Total caffeine: 375mg, mostly from gels/drink mix, one nitro cold brew coffee, and some instant espresso
Roxanne is tackling an FKT attempt of the John Muir Trail in late September, followed by "the ultimate race for climate action," the Snowman Race in Bhutan in October.