Granted, it was no Pike’s Peak Marathon, but the Boom Days 5K in Leadville, Colo., provided plenty of challenge for my wife and me.
Leadville, which each August celebrates its history as a former mining “boom town,” boasts that it is the highest city in North America. At 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville is nearly a mile above the Mile High City, Denver. Yes, in Leadville, the air is thin and the sun is intense.
After having five days to acclimate to the altitude during our camping vacation (a minimal period), we entered the Boom Days 5K on the sunny Saturday morning of August 5. After being assured by organizers that the course was “relatively flat,” we paid our $15 each and received a Boom Days 5K key ring (I was hoping for a high-altitude T-shirt, but I got over it).
This was a small, low-key event – 40-50 runners and walkers – starting on Leadville’s main drag. The last instruction from the starter (who did his duty by whistling) was, “Remember, take it easy. We are at over 10,000 feet!”
The course was essentially out and back, using streets on the edge of town in the first half before cutting over to the Mineral Belt, an asphalt trail on a former railroad right-of-way. The scenery was beautiful. Runners could easily glance over to Mount Elbert, the tallest peak of the Colorado Rockies (14,433 feet), and neighboring “Fourteeners.” And the first half of the race, the course was mostly downhill or flat. I felt pretty good, despite the altitude.
However, then there was the matter of getting back.
With the exception of the last 300 meters, the last half of the race was ALL uphill. Not up the side of a mountain, mind you, but just a steady rise, following the railroad grade.
I walked. For the first time ever – at least since freshman cross country nearly 40 years ago – I walked. Three times, I walked. In a 5K, no less! My wife walked, too -- coincidentally, also three times. We just had to let our heart rates go back down before again running. Ironically, neither of us gave up a place to the field – only pride and finishing time were bruised.
Despite running a full FOUR MINUTES slower for 5K than we did three months earlier in the Heritage Trail Run on a flat course in low-altitude Iowa, my wife (pictured) won her age group. I was second in my group and eighth overall. We survived and, after we recovered, were glad we entered.
If you happen to find yourself in Leadville the first Saturday of August, go ahead and run the Boom Days 5K. But be sure to allow yourself several days to acclimate to the conditions. Remember: High altitude means low expectations.