Chat with Kevin

(picture of Kevin Leathers crossing the finish line at Leadville 100; photo borrowed from Kevin)

Keith and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kevin Leathers a few weeks ago to pick his brain about his training and running of the Leadville 100 mile trail race.  If you’re not familiar with Kevin, you should be.  He’s a fellow RRCA certified coach, a longtime runner, a blogger, but most importantly, a huge inspiration to lots of runners.

I kept up with Kevin’s training leading up to Leadville and Keith and I were glued to our phones and computers the day (and night and day!) of the race.  I think Keith and I were just as excited about Kevin finally getting to race day as he was.  It’s so fun to watch people embark on new adventures, whether it be their first 5K or 100 miler, but this would be the most epic of all.  As a runner and coach, I am completely fascinated by what he would be asking of his body.  How do you train for something so BIG and then how do you handle it on race day?

Although Kevin wrote a thorough blog about his experience, I still wanted more.  (be sure to check out Kevin’s race report here:  http://www.cantstopendurance.com/2012/09/leadville-100-trail-run-2012-race-report.html) I was so intrigued and fascinated by all that he did and reading his report was a little like reading a mystery novel.  I was constantly wondering what would be next.  Keith and I had about a million questions and would still be there chatting if 3 weeks of talking didn’t seem a little excessive.

Kevin has been a true runner for many years.  By “true”, I mean, he certainly does not take running lightly.  He knows the importance of a proper training plan and he is willing to put in the work.  Kevin ran marathons for about 25 years before deciding to take the Ultra leap.  From there, he ran some 50K’s (about 31 miles) and then decided to sign up for Leadville.  For him, deciding to run a 100 mile race seemed like a natural progression.  He believes that if you put it out into the universe, you’re more apt to do it and be successful at it.  He did just that.  I remember his FB post last November when he officially made his announcement.

“So, what does it take to train for a 100 miler?, I asked.  Kevin worked with a 3 week cycle, peaking at about 75-85 miles of running weekly and recovering on his low weeks with 40-50 miles of running.  That sounds like a ton, huh?  Well, it doesn’t stop there.  He also cross-trained.  When he wasn’t pounding the pavement (trails, actually), you could have found Kevin logging miles on his bike.  He averaged around 150 miles on the bike weekly. If a schedule like this won’t get you ready for the race of your life, I don’t know what will.

“With an intense training schedule like this, how did you stay injury free?,” I wondered.  Kevin attributes his feeling so great to really listening to his body.  Rather than being super ticky about his training plan, he paid close attention to how he was feeling and if he felt the need to make a change, he did so.  He trained for the week he was in and payed close attention to the feedback his body was giving him.  He also has a nightly routine of using his foam roller and massage stick to loosen up any tight fascia.  All the things I’m sure he tells his own clients, he did.

When reading Kevin’s blog, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind when things started to get tough.  “Did you ever start to panic?  Did you ever think about bailing when you realized you were behind schedule?”  Without any hesitation, Kevin responded, “quitting is not an option.  I have always believed this.”   He said “things got dark, both literally and metaphorically but I only had about 60 seconds of any negativity….thinking ‘is this going to be how it ends?'”

In all the chaos of becoming hypothermic, nearly missing a cutoff, and getting behind schedule, I found it really interesting that he never really realized his race could potentially be in danger..or his health.  He put an amazing amount of trust in his crew and was able to just focus on his job, which was to run.  It was up to his crew to make sure he was moving forward in the most logical fashion, whether it was running or walking, putting the right clothes on him, and making sure he was fueling.

Keith was curious about how Kevin picked his pace crew and road crew.  It seems that something this crucial to your race would be a complicated process but Kevin said it was simple.  He sent an email to his closest friends who he thought might be interested and without a second of hesitation, they all accepted.  Crew is crucial because once the race starts, it’s really up to them to make sure you’re following your plan.  Are you fueling when you should…even when you absolutely don’t want to?  Are you hydrating?  Are you wearing too few clothes, enough clothes, too many clothes?  These are highly important jobs.

The question I was most interested in asking, “Did you, the Kevin Leathers, the coach, the person you know people are following, feel more pressure to be successful?”  “Absolutely,” said Kevin.  Of course, he felt the support from all of his clients, friends, family, and followers but with that comes some pressure.  As a coach, you fall into a weird area where you’re not only running for you but also for all of the other people you are trying to inspire and those who have inspired you.

Keith asked, “what was your biggest underestimation?”  “The weather and nutrition, ” said Kevin.  You’ll read in his blog how it got colder than he anticipated and he didn’t really take into account how this coupled with his fatigue would affect him.  Unfortunately, worse than he would have imagined.  Of course, with nutrition, Kevin had tried every variation and option throughout his training but you never know how your body will respond when going so long.  I still can’t fathom the warm chicken broth in the water bottles but, with a huge grin on his face, he talked about this being his savior.

My absolute favorite picture from all the entire race is this one:

From the minute I saw it, I knew this picture speaks a thousand words.  You can see the raw emotion and feel the relief.  I asked Kevin what was going through his mind as this picture was taken.  He said he was completely overcome with gratitude for his crew, relief, pride, exhaustion…every emotion imaginable. I love that you can see all of this within this one still shot.

We saved the best question for the last, “will you do it again?”  Beaming with pride and a longing to get back out there, a simple “yes” was all he said.  Congrats, Kevin, and best of luck in all future endeavors.  You are an inspiration to all.

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