Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Leadville 100

"You're tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can"

- Ken Choubler, founder of the Leadville 100

Living in Colorado, I was well aware of the Leadville 100 trail run.  

A 100 mile trail race through the rocky mountains, most of the miles run above 10,000 foot in elevation.

A few friends had run it, or friends of friends.  

But it was something different - it was for the hardcore, crazy, beardy, runners.  Real ultra runners.  Not for a road runner like me.

Despite running the 56 mile Comrades, I didn’t think a 100 trail race would ever be something I could do.  

Still, in June of 2016, I decided to dip my toe in the Leadville trail waters to see what a trail race in the mountains was like.  I signed up for the 50 mile Leadville Silver rush the following month.  

That race was hard.  I’d gone through the 50 mile mark at Comrades in just over 7 hours, so naively thought I should be able to run between 8 and 9 hours at Leadville.  But after a fall, and lots of walking, I staggered to the finish in 9:16, swearing that in the unlikely event of being offered a ‘gold coin’ - a ’skip the lottery entry for the 100', there was no ‘f***ing way’ I’d accept.  

Except they did offer me a coin for placing in my age group, and the only words that came out were ‘yes please’.

I deferred that entry until August 2017 to get prepared.  Very fortunate in hindsight, because running Comrades and the Silver Rush so close together, then starting training for a fall marathon, led to over-training syndrome.  I was out for 3-4 months, and even training this year for Leadville, I could tell that I still wasn't fully ‘right’.  Although I don't think anyone who runs Leadville is 'fully right'...  :)   I was slower in all distances than the year before, and not able to do the big training mileage that I’d done previously.  Still - I did enough - and with the 8 previous years of marathon training cycles, I figured I’d be okay.  This was all about steady slow progress, not sub 3 marathon speed anyway.

The thought of running 100 hilly high altitude miles frankly scared the crap out of me, but I didn’t want to look back when I was older and say ‘I had the chance to run Leadville, and didnt

I didn't want to regret not taking this opportunity.  

Leadville 100 History

Ken Chlouber founded the Leadville 100 in 1983, as a way to try and bring tourism and money to the town of Leadville after the Climax Molybdenum Mine closed, and caused massive unemployment in the town.  Ken may have 'saved' Leadville from becoming a ghost town.  He's still actively involved in the race.  It's a fascinating story (Denver Post Article here).

With Ken, and Merilee before the race

Also known as 'The Race Across The Sky' or the 'LT100', the race is held annually in August on trails and dirt roads near Leadville, Colorado, through the heart of the Rocky Mountains.   Runners in the race climb and descend 15,600 feet (4,800 m), with elevations ranging between 9,200–12,620 feet. 


It's recommended you have a 'crew' - people who will drive ahead to the various aid station stops and set up there, both to provide fluids and nutrition to their runner, and also to switch out gear as you go from the cold morning, to the warmer sunny day, maybe with afternoon storms, then back to cold and darkness again.

Leadville also allows pacers for the second half of the race - they can 'mule' for you - carry fluids and food, and lighten the load of the runners.

My 'crew' consisted of my girlfriend Krista, and jack-of-all-trades friend Kevin.  Kevin was going to crew through the day, then take the last pacing leg in the middle of the night home.  What a beast !!

In addition I had 2 other pacers - Trevor and Dave, and Trevor's girlfriend Marcee helping out too.

I very much appreciate them all for the help.  

In addition to getting all the supplies ready for the crew, you also need to prepare 'drop bags' at each major aid station.  This is important in case your crew gets caught in traffic, or has a mishap, and doesn't reach the aid station in time for their runner.

Quite a logistical challenge - particularly if you're an anal planner like me anyway...  :) 

Race Day

The race starts at 4am on Saturday.  Only a small handful of elite runners will actually finish the same day.  Only 10% will finish before 5am on Sunday, the cut-off for the larger sub 25 hour buckle.  Typically only about 50% of starters will finish by 10am on Sunday morning.  30 hours later.  The cut-off for the race.  No one will finish after that.  So a 50% finish rate.

Think about that.  100 miles in 25 hours is 4 miles per hour.  15 min / mile pace.  And yet less than 10% of the starters will go under 25 hours.  It’s a combination of the altitude, the elevation profile, the running surface, and the fact that it’s 100 bloody miles !!

I was up at 2:20am, after a fitful 'evening' of sleep.  Krista dropped me at the start line at 3:40am.  Like any start line, there was a buzz of excitement and nervous energy.  Murmuring runners and their crews.

10 minutes to go.  Everyone but the runners out of the starting area.

National anthem. Cold, high 30s

Just wearing arm panties, gloves and a beanie with headlamp

2 handhelds for fluid.  I'd decided against the running vest with bladder (save on weight), and a jacket (I find I warm up quickly).  Other people dressed in jackets and pants - but fortunately the cold was never an issue.

Hanging with Christy and Sarah who I’d done several training runs with.  We'd discussed tactics and were all shooting for sub 25 hour times.  Two big sand baggers as it turned out !!  They both had amazing runs (3rd and 5th place overall females), well under 25 hours.  Both inspirations.  

And then the gun.  We were off.  People flying around me on both sides.

I'd been told not to think in terms of 100 miles - that was just too far and too scary to think about - so instead think purely of aid station to aid station, so that's what I tried to do.

The first 13 mile 'leg' was a relatively 'easy' section.  Road for the first few miles, before moving onto a single track trail around a lake.  Downhill initially, then undulating with no major climbs.  Albeit in the pitch dark.

The following chart shows the elevation for this section.

A hundred yards in I checked the garmin and see I was running 8:30 min/mile pace.  It’s going to be a long day.  Don’t go out too quickly.  That applies in all races of any distance, but especially so in a 100 miler.  In a marathon if you blow up and have to walk the last 6 miles, it sucks.  In a 100 miler if you blow up, and have to walk the last 30 miles - that's a lot worse...

Almost immediately I picked up a conversation with a guy running next to me - Ian - he looked like an ultra runner with his beard.  Truth be told, I’ve never seen so many beards in a race in my life.

And Ian certainly was.  He was attempting to run the Grand Slam - which basically means running 4 of the top 5 100 milers in the US over the period of a couple of months (more details here).  Another level of crazy !!  Ian told me that he was hoping for 22-25 hours.  My goal was sub 25 hours, so I figured if he was running this pace - I shouldn't go any faster, so we let other runners surge ahead.

Heading out of Leadville, we moved off the road and onto the trails.

Up ‘mini powerline’ - a steep 300 foot climb.  The first walk of the day.  Certainly not the last.

Trying to stay relaxed - we were on single track that rose and fell around Turquoise Lake - there were roots and rocks, so you had to keep an eye on the footing with headlamps facing the ground.

Talking to people around me.  Lots of camaraderie.  One guy had run 25:10 last year and just missed the big buckle.  He was determined not to do that again.

Being single track, and trying to start slow, a couple of times we got caught up in a conga line of runners, visible by the long single track line of headlamps, with one slower runner who’d started too fast, and then slowed down to create a bottle neck.   A few times I overtook, and then pushed on - searching in the dark ahead for the next string of headlamps.  One time, when I caught the end of the next conga line, I stopped and took a bathroom break.  First pee of the run.  I wanted to make sure I hydrated enough.  Dehydration has been an issue in many of my races before - both road and trail.

Took a gel, drinking water - finished both bottles by the time we got to first aid station.  Making a conscious effort to drink more.  Unlike a road race - stopping for a pee break in the middle of the wooded mountains is pretty easy.

As we neared May Queen the sun rose, and so footing became easier to find.

May Queen - 13 miles in

145th place out of 604 starters.  2 hours, 9 mins.

Perfect - right where I'd hoped to be.  Not too fast, not too slow.

Coming into to the aid station I was trying to figure out how it would work.  I knew Kevin and Krista were planning on being there, but also had a drop bag just in case they got caught in traffic.  The aid station with the drop bag was before the area where crews could wait, so I grabbed an ensure from my drop bag and downed it, refilled one of the waters - and then exited and looked for my crew.

They were there just up the road.  

Dumped my headlamp and beanie, got my sunglasses, kept my gloves, refilled water, glugged some gatorade and off.  Temps were probably in the high 40s at this point.  I felt a bit guilty that they had likely driven a good hour, then stood around in the cold, for me to come through and be done in 30 seconds.

The next 'stage' was 11 miles - starting up and over Sugar Loaf - a single track, then jeep road, climb of 4 miles, then descending down the steep 'Powerline' section, before flattening out before the Outward Bound aid station.

Up through a wooded trail with some big step ups.  I remembered thinking these would be tough in the dark on the way back (they were !!!).  The guy in front tripped and fell and seemed to hurt himself.  I helped him up and he said he was okay, but limped for a while.

Up out of the trail and onto a jeep road.  I fished out headphones and put them on and immediately picked up pace.

Caught Ian and said the music really helped me go faster - he said that's why he didn't wear music...

Climbing up Sugarloaf.  The runner who'd fallen earlier, caught me and thanked me and said he was feeling a lot better.

Heading towards the top of Powerline from the backside.  Another runner right in front of me stumbled, and I wondered if he'd fall.  He saved himself nicely, but the distraction of watching him had me catch the same rock, and apparently I wasn't as nimble.  I fell, thumped the ground hard with my right knee and left shoulder, and rolled.  Lay there for a second in shock before a group of guys helped me up.  The shock got me on my feet and I tried to keep running.  It was slow going at first with a pretty big limp, but after a few minutes I could tell thankfully nothing was seriously damaged.

Falls can happen out of the blue, and can take you out of the race.  I was lucky.

Ian gave me a 9 out of 10 for the fall.

Despite the fall, I tried to take in and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Now going down Powerline.  A 1,500 foot descent that would be the last major climb coming back tonight.

Another runner in front fell on the steep hill and wrapped himself into a tree.  It was carnage.

This photo doesn't do justice to the steepness.  One of the seven false summits from below of 'Powerline'. 

I’d run down Powerline twice before.  The first time I’d been very timid, scared of falling on the steep pitch, often with patches of rocks, then sand.  The second time I’d been a little braver, and this time I’d grown in confidence a little.  

Previously everyone at the run camp had overtaken me, but this time I seemed to be keeping pace with the runners around me - even overtaking a few of the more pensive.  I consciously tried not to go TOO fast though.  Save the quads, although did have some 8:xx miles.  In hindsight I probably went a bit too fast.  I paid for it later.

I was over-stridding.  I  need to do a better job of doing smaller steps, keeping my legs beneath me.

Onto a road briefly, then turned into the field for the aid station.

Outward Bound Aid Station - 24 miles in

107th place - I’d moved up 38 spots.  4:14.

This time we were more practiced.  Kevin had come up to the drop bag area, so I skipped that and ran to where Krista had everything laid out.  The sun was out and the day was warming.  It was 8:15am.  I got rid of arm panties and gloves.  Sun hat.  Glugged ensure, some gatorade, no food, a few more gels in pocket, refilled water / pediatlite.  See you in 16+ miles !

While there was another minor aid station that crews could access just a few miles up the road, the next 'main' one was at Twin Lakes, at mile 40.  There was one other in between - but that was 'drop bag only'.  No crew access.

The 16 mile section from Outward Bound to Twin Lakes took you up the side of Mt Elbert - the tallest mountain in Colorado.  Although fortunately just skimming the side, before plunging back down to Twin Lakes.

Leaving the aid station, you had to run half a mile through an uneven grassy / bushy field.  I’d done it in the run camp, and remembered it was tough going.  Lots of holes, and even one patch of barbed wire. 

Stupid field !!  Despite it being flat, it sapped my energy and I ended up walking a few times.  I kept telling myself - it’s a long day - walk before you have to.

Watching out for pot holes and barbed wire.

Then onto the road for a while.  Felt so much easier.  I’m a road runner at heart - this is my strength.  I was picking people off slowly.

Off the road and back onto the trail.  Past the ‘alternate crew zone’.  No one for me, but a nice energy lift and some people stopping and lots of encouragement.

Rising up again now, I caught and ran with a Canadian guy from run camp.  He told me he'd run 25:07 the previous year.  Wow - 2 guys already who just missed it.   He said we were well ahead of his pace from last year.  Not intending to, but I ended up pulling away from him too.

Into Half Pipe

97th place.  10 more places taken in the last hour.  5:19.  9:19am.

This the aid station where the crew can’t access, so I knew I was getting my drop bag.  The support crew were great - calling out the numbers as they saw us run in, and another helped grabbed the bag.

Glugged ensure, gatorade, filled my handhelds, and kept going.  I was feeling good.

I’d run this section with the run camp, and also 4 weeks earlier with Christy and Sarah.  It really helped having a mental image of the course.  I knew we would keep going up until we hit the Mt Elbert aid station, then some flat, and then the steep descent into Twin Lakes.  That was where the race would really begin.

The Mt Elbert aid stop was a small one.  Just water and some snacks.  I was still overtaking people and gradually caught a female runner ahead.  We ran together.  The scenery familiar.  

One section ran along a narrow ledge on a steep slope.  On the run camp Id stumbled and nearly gone over the side, fortunately a tree had been there for me to catch.  I thought about this section and really wanted to be past it coming home before it got dark.  That would be pretty scary on a 2 foot wide ledge in the dark.  Fortunately no issues on the way out in full daylight.

We started descending and hit the jeep trail.  I was trying to keep up with the female runner who was flying down.  Probably not the smartest thing for my quads.

Over a last very steep scramble and into Twin Lakes.

Twin Lakes - 40 miles in

89th place.  8 more places gained.  7:02.  11:02am.  Right on target.

I’d driven out with Krista 2 days before.  I didn’t think she’d be able to get to be close to the aid station - but there they were.  I skipped the drop bag and sat in the chair they’d set up.

Feeling good.  Far better than I'd been feeling in the 50 miler a few weeks before.  I think part of this was the shoes - running in light road shoes instead of the heavy 'boats' of the trail shoes.

The blood from the fall clearly visible on my knee...

I sat down for first time.  Trevor was there too.  Tried to eat some noodles, but didn't feel like them too much.  Glugged ensure.  Glugged some gatorade.  Changed into trail shoes for river crossing.  Didn't want poles.  Refilled water.

Spent a little too long here.  When I got up to go, my legs suddenly felt heavy and stiff.  Sitting for 5 mins after 40 miles was probably not the best idea.

The next 20 miles were going to be the 'make or break' of the race.  After a few river crossings, the course takes you up and over Hope Pass to the turn around point at Winfield.    This was some serious elevation changes, and getting up to close to 12,600 feet above sea level.

The first 40 miles had taken me 7 hours.  The next 20 miles would probably take more than 7 hours.  That was expected, and partly why only 10% of runners could finish under 25 hours.

Out of Twin Lakes and across the road and into the flat fields you cross before Hope.  The extra weight of the food and drink in the stomach crept up on me.  We'd been told not to trust a fart after 5 miles, so I pulled off the course in the grass, squatted and emptied :)

Fortunately I had toilet paper, although in hindsight could have probably used a bit more.  I’d wanted to save some just in case it was needed again.  But after 60 more miles - I ended up with a bit of butt rash…  TMI ?

A little lighter I continued, although the people in front of me were pulling away - I was having a hard time getting going again after the stop.

Lesson learned - don't spend so long sitting… should have stayed standing.  

A friend Jason had taken Christy, Sarah and myself across the river 4 weeks previously.  I was very glad to have done that so I knew that (1) - there was no way to avoid getting wet - you have to wade through up to your knees at least, and (2) - the shoes would dry off fairly quickly.

I’d bought some new trail shoes that had a good drainage system.  I’d switched into these at Twin.  The problem was - they were larger and quite a bit heavier than my road shoes.  

At least the water washed off some of the blood...

Finally at the bottom of Hope.  No point in trying to run now.  This is where the ‘fun’ begins.

3,500 feet of climbing in less than 4 miles.

I’d done this twice previously.  Now I was in my element.  I’d run most of the way up with the run camp and knew that I was a strong climber.  No way I'd be running up today, although other runners were no longer pulling away, I was pulling them in and over-taking.  

Both times I climbed Hope in training, we'd driven to the bottom and started there.   Now with 40+ miles on the legs, the climb seemed a lot steeper.  Cruel.  Just keep going.

I caught a female runner (Kaitlyn) from Run Camp.  We chatted and stayed together to the top.  She thought she was  currently 8th placed female.  We were both looking for sub 25, she said we were currently on for 23 hour pace, which was a little scary.  I thought I was actually pacing pretty well, but 23 hour pace.  That’s a bit quick.

I was just going by feel and not paying attention to clock.

Up up and more up.  Overtaking runners who stopped to take a break.  I’d read multiple race reports and advice - and wanted to just keep going.  Don’t stop.

Crazy steep.  Hard to appreciate unless you've been up there.  It’s a grind.  We’d come from that lake down below...

Some perspective.

Pikes Peak Ascent is a beast.  7,800 feet of climbing over 13 miles.  When I ran it a few years previously, I was done at the summit.  I thought the people who then turned round and ran down to complete the marathon were clearly nuts.  7,800 feet of climbing and 7,800 feet of descent in 26.2 miles.  No thank-you.  And how do you even walk afterwards ?!!

Twin to Winfield and back is a little over 20 miles, with over 7,000 foot of ascent and 7,000 foot of descent.  So similar, albeit a bit steeper, than the Pikes Peak Marathon over less miles.  After you've already run 40 miles through the Colorado high country.   And have 40 more to run afterwards.  Oh, and the trails on Hope are far more technical and less runable than the Barr Trail on Pikes.

Fortunately I only realized this post race as I wrote up this race report.  If I'd figured it out before, I may have changed my mind.  But probably not.  

This is meant in no way as any dig at Pikes Peak - more just something that came to mind writing this.  Pikes is a very different race, and people tend to go up and down a lot quicker than Hope.  It also goes to over 14,000 feet, whereas Hope is 'just' 12,600.  I definitely hope to run Pikes again sometime sometime.  It's a beast of a challenge.  Although I won't be doing it like Mike Wardian...   Crazy guy went straight from finishing Leadville, to running the Pikes Peak Marathon the next day.  Article here.  That is frigging nuts !!

Any 100 mile race is a test.  A real frigging hard test.

You learn a lot about yourself out there.

Then make it a bit harder.  Let’s put a big mountain in the middle, with rocks and roots.

A real challenge.  But that’s why this race is 'attractive'.  It's a challenge.  Something to really push yourself.

Hope Aid Station - 45 miles in

85.  A few places gained.  9:16.  1:16pm.  Over 2 hours to go 5 miles !!

Hit the Hope Pass Aid station - nicknamed 'Hope Less’ by the runners, which is actually about 500 feet short of the summit.  Had some ramen, refilled the water, saw the lamas, then kept going.

And FINALLY there are the Tibetan flags - the summit !!  Over the top

I'm not a technical descender - so now the runners I'd overtaken going up were running past me.  With the previous fall and my leg still bleeding, I was even more pensive than normal.  Walking quite a few of the steep downs so as not to go out of control, or trip,

The heavier trail shoes seemed to make me stumble more as well.  For next year - stick with the lighter road shoes.  Wait - did I say 'for next year' ? !!

Leadville is an out and back.  50 miles out to Winfield, 50 miles back.  I was now 45 miles in and descending, so expected to start seeing the leaders coming the other way.

A mile past Hope, Ian Sharman went the other way.  Then the second placed guy.  Both very friendly.

A few miles further on, the first place female passed.  Followed soon by the second who smiled and said something to me as I went past and touched my shoulder.  I wondered if I knew her and racked my brains.  In the following days I learned she had overtaken the lady in front of her and had won the race.  Devon Yanko.  I read her race report where she talked about encouraging all the runners she past.  Great energy and attitude - even though it had me confused for a while

Down towards Winfield - some really steep sections that I walked.  Just don’t fall again.

I saw the third placed female was my friend Christy.  Holy crap.  She was flying and smiling.  She shrugged when we passed each other.  A few places later was Sarah.  Both girls were crushing it.

Passed the trail to Winfield that previous years would have taken.  The land-owner had asked that we not use his land this time, so an extra 1 mile each way was added.  ‘More miles for your money’ as Ken Choubler had told us pre-race.  Thanks Ken !!

Later looking at the low finish rate, I can't but help think these extra 2 miles had an impact.  2 tough undulating miles are likely worth 30-40 minutes at the back of the pack.

Winfield - 50 miles in (52 according to my garmin)

94.  10:56.  2:56pm.

First time I’d lost places.  I really do suck at descending.  Lots of room for improvement.

Got to Winfield in 10:56, so faster than the 11 hour cut-off that I'd been aiming to get beneath for going sub 25.  I’d definitely lost a lot of time on the steep technical descent, but I was right where I'd hoped to be.

Found Trevor and Marcee.

You’re allowed to have pacers for the second half of the race.  I had 3 lined up.  Trevor - who I’d met the previously year in the medical tent after the Silver rush (the race where I’d ‘earned’ the coin for the 100).  He’d run the 100 before and would take me the first 26 miles.  Then Dave - who’d also run the silver rush the year before with me. He was part of a Wednesday night City Park run club that I’d done for years.  Finally Kevin, who had drawn the short straw and would hopefully take me the last 13.5 miles home.  He'd run a 2:40 marathon previously, so was going to be like a Ferrari stuck in first gear with me...

Glugged an ensure.  Trevor took one of my handhelds and we headed out.

In hindsight I should have had more ensures here and had Trevor carry one of two more.  We didn't need the poles.

Started going back up.  Passing those who were now behind me.

Runners going up hill have the right of way, and most folks stepped to the side - as I had going the other way.  Tried to encourage them and gave them an idea of how far it was to the turn.  Many asked ‘how far to the turn’.  The changed course had people wondering where the hell the turnaround was.

Trevor consistently lied.  "Oh - less than half a mile”, even after we were a couple of miles into the return leg.  What a dick !  :)

Hit the bottom of Hope and began the big climb.  Ridiculous steepness.  Knew this was the hardest 2 miles of the course, so just kept grinding.  

We caught a female runner with her male pacer.  Trevor told me it was Aton Krupicka.  Said hello as we overtook, Trevor wearing his Anton vest...  a bit surreal.  Not many people can say they overtook a 2 time Leadville winner going up the hardest climb on the course.  Sure - he was pacing - but I’ll leave that out in 20 years when recounting the tale…  😃 

Again I was over-taking everyone.  Something about the climbs.  Even though it felt I was going incredibly slowly, I was going less slowly than those around.

I caught and overtook Kaitlyn and her pacer.  The pacer was wearing a frilly fairy skirt.  I commented on the outfit as we went.  Definitely the best pacer costume of the day.

Tried not to look up - the summit seemed so far away.   Some nasty rocky sections, with runners going up, and others still coming down heading towards the turnaround.

Grind grind grind.  This thing really is a BEAST.

Finally onto the switch backs, which I knew meant a mile to go.

Started to feel spacy.  Trevor was on me to drink constantly and to try and eat at least once / hour.  The gels weren't going in though, and I was definitely starting to bonk.  This was where another ensure would have done wonders.

Trevor lied 'just 2 more switchbacks' when I could count 5 or 6.  I can still count mate - even if I’m slower than a turtle.

Kept going.  Long long slow time.  Other runners and their pacers suffering around me as we tried to encourage each other.  Finally made the summit.

Now to drop the 500 feet to the Hopeless aid station, but I was stumbling.  Not good.  People were running past me.  A few weeks earlier I'd run down this path, but now I could manage nothing more than a slow walk.  The few times I tried to run, I quickly stumbled.  The big trail shoes felt like canoes.  Combined with the bonking, I couldn’t lift my feet up enough to get over the rocky terrain, and was scared I'd fall and hurt myself.  With good reason.

Hope Pass - 55 miles in

74.  13:06.  5:06pm.

Despite feeling like I was going slowly, and then stumbling the 500 yards down to the aid station, I'd over-taken 20 runners on that section.  

Shaking and feeling nauseaus.  I was out of fuel.  Stood shaking and forced down 3 cups of ramen.  Refilled water.  Trevor pushing me to leave, but I stayed longer.

Losing time.  Probably 10-15 minutes there.

This was my lowest of the race.  56+ miles in.  Clearly slowing dramatically.  Doubts about finishing crept in.  Fortunately I couldn't quit at the top of the mountain - there was no way down other than the trail, but I seriously thought that I might have to quit at Twin, the next aid station.  No way I can go 45 more miles when I feel this bad and can't lift up my feet. 

Disappointed with myself.  

The afternoon before I'd held my hand in the air in the high school gym with the other first timers and promised Ken 'I commit I will not quit'.  

Now I was contemplating just that, although my mind was coming up with 100 justifications of why that was okay.  Only half the people who start finish, it’s okay.  You tried your best.  If it was easy, everyone would do this.  You’ll be back next year.  It’s okay.

Finally started up, but only walking.  And stumbling.  A combination of the energy levels, descending skills, and heavy shoes.  How the hell am I going to get down this mountain ?

Very slowly was the answer.  I'd actually gone up the mountain quicker than I was descending.

Kaitlyn and her pacer blew by.  I checked later - she put in 40 mins into me in the 5 mile section between Hope and Twin - 20 behind, to 20 in front.

Obvious now, but 3 things could have probably bought me over an hour on the climb up and down Hope.  

Technical descents - I need to practice them more.  Lose the fear of falling, although that’s not so easy if your shoulder, arm, and knee are bleeding already.

Lighter shoes.  This another no brainer.  Sure, you crossed a river, but you don’t need an extra 5 oz’s per shoe to get up and over a mountain.

Nutrition.  More calories and you’d have avoided the bonking and long aid station replenish.

I started to feel a little better as energy returned.  Thought that maybe I could continue after the next aid station - make it one more station before quitting.  The walk turned to a plod, and while I was still being over-taken by several runners, I overtook a few myself.

This was first hand experience of the 'second wind'.  In a 100 miler I'd been told you can get multiple recoveries.  Often related to nutrition.  If youre feeling like shit - take some food - and probably in 30 mins youll be feeling better again.

Finally onto the flat - through the fields - through the river.  Slow going.  But I knew the toughest part of the race was done.  I was 60 miles in.  The furthest Id ever run before in my life.  And now an aid station with my crew.

Kevin caught this video of me as I came across the road at Twin.

Twin Lakes - 60 miles in

85.  15:19.  7:19pm.  

I'd lost 9 places coming down from Hope.  And it had taken me over 8 hours to 'run' the last 20 miles.  

Found the crew and sat again.  Changed shoes - out of the trail boats and back into my road shoes.  Ensure, tried to eat more.  Got jacket, headlamp.  Behind schedule.  Crew concerned.  

Sat for a long time, at least 5-10 mins.

Although the thought of that narrow section ahead finally motivated me.  I wanted to get through it before darkness fell.

Trevor anxious.  Another lesson for next time.  Between the 5 stops at Twin (x2), Hope (x2) and Winfield, I lost at least 30 minutes, maybe more.  Just tweaking a few things and I could easily have cut big chunks of time.

Finally Trevor got me going.

The hardest part may be behind you - but coming out of Twin, you have a 1,000 foot climb to deal with.  Fortunately that meant no expectations of running.  It's a great place to regroup - and to continue eating and letting the calories settle.  Less time sitting at Twin to consume - carry them with you and do on this climb.

Up the steep hill.  One pair of guys over-took and I chatted to them.  Started climbing and my legs came back.  Caught the guys and pushed on by.

Caught more people.  Starting to run on the flats and less steep ups.

Still light, although starting to fade - we got to the section with the steep drop off.  Through with no stumbling.

Trevor now starting to feel nauseous.  I searched for some ginger candy that might helped, but couldn’t find it.  Fortunately it was a short term thing and he bounced back.  If you're reading this ahead of the race in the future - think about your pacers too.  They're doing some pretty brutal distances themselves, over tough terrain, and carrying extra weight for you.  It's not an easy task.

We were still overtaking

In my head I was singing 'kicking ass and taking names'

No one overtook me the whole section.

Headlamp on.  It was dark.

Into the Mt Elbert station.

They had a big fire going.  One team was sitting there warming up.  No time for that.  Refilled water and asked Trevor for an ensure.  Crap - we didn’t pack one.  Something else for next year.  Pacer carry an extra.

Fortunately Krista had packed some potato chips in a plastic bag - salty carbs - they seemed to help.

Push on.

Kicking ass and taking names.  

We kept seeing ahead in the distance pairs of headlamps which we'd gradually pull in, say a few words of greeting to the runner and pacer, then overtake.  Then repeat.

I could picture the whole course ahead of me.  You know what - this actually seems achievable.  I think I’m going to do this !  Thoughts of quitting banished.

Half Pipe - 69 miles in

80th.  17:23.  9:23pm.

5 places gained.

Grabbed the drop bag and glugged some ensure.  We didn’t stop long - time was a ticking.

Out into the darkness, still overtaking.

Through 'alternate crew zone' - bantering with the crews.  'You're looking good' - 'Right - you're lying - it's dark - you can't even see us'...

The distance seeming more managable.

I'm going to finish this thing.  Heck - I could probably walk it from here and get in in under 30 hours.

Picking people off still.  Hit the road - picked it up.  Finally - a surface I'm used to.

Into the stupid field.  Stumbling, both of us.  Trevor was coming up on 27 miles.  An ultra in itself, and over a ridiculously steep climb. 

He was able to get on his cell phone and call ahead.  We'll be there shortly.  

Outward Bound - 76 miles in

75 th place.  18:45.  10:45pm.

5 more places gained.

Found crew.  Feeling good.  Glugged ensure.  Switched out pacers.  Took photo.   From left to right, Kevin, Trevor, myself and Dave.  Thank-you guys !!!!

Lesson learned from before - I had Dave carry an extra ensure.

On we go.  A short road section - then onto Powerline.  The last very tough climb.  1,500 foot up in a little under 4 miles.  On legs with over 80 miles in them.

Stopped to pee against a tree.  6th of the day / night.  Hydration seemed to be working.  The paedealite in water worked very well, with occasional gatorade.

One guy overtook just at the bottom.  The first time I'd been overtaken since Twin Lakes.  I didn't like that, and was determined to keep him in sight and get that place back.

On the run camp in June I’d been lucky enough to run this section with Timmy Parr, the race winner in 2009.  He’d told me that there were 7 false summits on Powerline.  Having that knowledge helped me break down the climb.  I’d run it in training and had a top 10 strava position.  But that was driving to the bottom.  Not much running up powerline today.  Still, I was able to keep a reasonable pace.  18 min/miles average.  Which at this point, on that hill, was pretty decent.

Grind, but going well.  Over-taking everyone, except the one guy who seemed to stay about 30 yards a head.

Overtook Kaitlyn and her pacer.  Wow - I must have done well the last few legs - she was 20 minutes ahead of me at the bottom of Twin.

I'm definitely right back on track for sub 25.

Going up, I tweaked my left ankle on a rock.  Momentary sharp pain, but then seemed okay.  Everything is aching at this point, so get in line ankle !!

This didn't impact me during the rest of the race, but was by far the sorest thing post race.  It lasted for a good month afterwards and I found out it was a type of ankle sprain - anterior tibiotalar compression syndrome.

Sorry people who just googled that and found this blog !  😃  Although I can tell you that its possible to get 20 miles on it !!

Push on.

Half a mile from top of Powerline, I drank the ensure that Dave had carried.  Determined to avoid the bonking I'd had coming back over Hope the second time.

All the way up we could hear the deep call of the horn from the psychadelic aid station.  Id read and been told stories about this place.

An unofficial stop, where a bunch of people camp out and provide a ‘different’ aid station experience.  With beer and pot, and likely a lot more.  There were glow sticks leading the way in, with music.

I’d considered whether I should ‘try anything’, but decided against.  There were still 17 miles to go, and I needed to keep as much of my wits about me as I could.

Laughed and joked with them, but didn't take anything.  Didn't want to find out the water was laced with acid...  although maybe that would have helped separate my legs from reality.

At the top - ok - now it's all downhill to May Queen.  17 miles to go.  Past the spot I'd fallen earlier.  Definitely on track for that sub 25 hour buckle.

Crap - I can't go down.  My quads are absolutely shot.  I try, but they cry out in pain.  It feels like 'next day marathon legs' - except I'm still racing. 

Although at this point it was 1:00am, and I had run a marathon the day before.  3 of them actually, with some ridiculous climbing and descending.  

I tried to push on but couldn't.  Dave encouraged me, but I could feel the big buckle was slipping, but nothing I could do.  Any time I tried to go faster, my quads wouldn't allow it and I'd stumble.

Again - you need to practice technical trails in the dark - preferably this one - to get more confidence.

You also need to be a bit stronger - and have your pacers yell at you and tell you not to be such a pussy.  It may not have helped, but if they made you angry enough...  :)

Dave gave me some tylenol which helped a little.  Kaitlyn and her pacer overtook about 2 miles out of May Queen.  Said hello again.  Last time I was to see them.  She went on to run just under 25 hours, so it shows me I was still on pace even with 15 miles to go.  With a few tweaks - that could be me, although very impressive that she kept it going over the toughest miles of the race.  The last ones.  Badass Kaitlyn !!

On to a flatter jeep trail and was finally able to get some slow running in.  Then we hit the mile steep technical trail down to the aid station - big steps - ouchie.  I had to go very slowly, several people blew past me.  Nothing I could do.

Headlamp completely dead.  Needed Dave's to see.  Need a better headlamp.

Into May Queen.  Dave ran ahead to let the gang know I was there.

May Queen - 88 miles in

82.  22:24.  2:24am.

I'd lost 7 places.

Glugged ensure, Kevin took 2 more.  Put on beanie.  Switched to new headlamp and handheld  Still just light weight jacket.  A photo, and ‘see you at the finish’ to Krista and ‘thanks’ to Dave - and it was onto the last leg.

Even with all the slowing and walking downhill, I still had 2 hours and 35 mins to run the last 13 miles to get sub 25.  Despite running that same section the other way earlier in the race in 2 hours 9 mins, I knew that was very unlikely.  But I also knew I was going to finish.  I was at peace with this.  Now 'Monday morning quarterbacking' - I wonder if I shouldn't have pushed harder here....

On a road for the first mile, we were able to get a reasonable clip going.  Over-taking a few runners.  Then onto trails.  An undulating and fairly runable trail, but we were mostly power walking.  As everyone else must have been.  No one overtook us for the next 6 miles, and we overtook no one.

At one point we stopped and turned off the headlamps to appreciate the stars.  It’s not every day you get the opportunity to be out in the middle of the mountains, with no man-made light to fade the stars.  Truly spectacular.  Then back at it.

Feeling cold, but didn't want to stop and take off jacket to put on another layer.  Switched gloves with Kevin.  Headlamp fading again too.  2 good lamps - neither got me through.  I need to get something better for next time.  Next time ?!!  At this point that certainly wasn't a consideration.

Slowly counting down the miles.  18 min / miles were common.

I was a little grouchy.  Kevin was chatty and I had to ask him to stop at one point.  I felt bad with how much he'd done for me that day, but I needed all my energy just to keep going.

Onto the road, and then to the final steep descent of the day.  Mini-powerline.  300 feet down in a few hundred yards of gravelly rocky slippery road in pitch darkness.

Absolute agony.  Kevin had to stand in front of me - with me holding his shoulders - and then we literally pigeon stepped down with me yelping like a seal.  A couple of times I tried to go solo, but then would stumble and cry out.  300 foot of descent probably took 10+ minutes.  Several teams blew past and I envied their quads.

Now onto a jeep trail.  I can run !  Well - 13 min / miles.  Still - we pulled back in several teams.

And here comes the sun rise again.  You can officially time my run on a calendar and not a watch !!

2 miles to go.  Kevin texted my crew.  We’re almost there.

1 mile to go.  Up onto the road.

How cruel - after 100+ miles, the last 5 miles are all uphill.  Seriously ?!

Way off in the distance I could see the finish line.  Finally I allowed Kevin to talk about me finishing.  I can literally crawl there now in the time cut off.  Picking off several more runners.

I’d like to say that I thought profoundly of the day, of the things that had happened, the experience - but all I had was tunnel vision for that finish line in the distance.

See Krista - she runs along side.  I want to run this thing in properly.  Pick up the pace.  Animal yell as my legs hurt but I tell them too bad.  Maybe up to 10 min pace…

Into the barricaded area before the finish.  I’m going to do this !!  Onto the finish carpet.  Over the line.

Hear them call out Richard Williams from Denver.  And I'm done.

100 miles (104 on the garmin).  Hug from Merilee.

And it's over.

A bit of an anti-climax.  It’s just 6:12 in the morning.  Only a few people around, those waiting for their runners, and some volunteers. 

I staggered around, thank Dave, Kevin and Krista.  Then into the car.  Now I really just wanted to sleep.


26:12. 74th out of 604 starters (283 finishers).  Despite the slow going, I'd pulled back 8 more spots that last leg.

I used to think people who run 100 miles were crazy.  Well - they are - that’s a given - but now I understand the appeal a little more.  

No race I've ever done compares to the ups and downs, the highs and lows, I found in that run.  You really do learn a lot about yourself.  And for that reason, you want to do another.

I read a quote from David Blaikie who describes it better than I could.

"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility.  It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense.  The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."

It truly was an incredible experience.  Hard at times, but also uplifting.  You really do learn more about yourself.  A real adventure.  The camaraderie from the other runners, the crew and pacers keeps you going.  

When I finished I swore I wouldn't do it again.  Too painful.  Nothing to prove.  I'd always be able to say 'I ran the Leadville 100'.  But then as the days passed, I thought about the mistakes I'd made, and the ways I might shave off big chunks of time.

The lure of that sub 25 hour buckle, heck - to run the course in under 24 hours - that started pulling on me.

Soon the 'never' was 'next year'.  In December I signed up for the special 'run camp entry'.  Paying to do the summer run camp with the option of a guaranteed entry to the 100.  It looks like my summer plans for 2018 are set....

As Ken Choubler says - 

"You're tougher than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can"

Very true.

You learn that running a race like Leadville.


This just summarizing some of the things I learned and hope to apply next year:

- need much lighter shoes for the Hope to Winfield and back section.  Maybe just a pair of road shoes, or lighter trail shoes.  Practice going through the river in them and see how they handle it.  Then put on dry road shoes again coming back at Twin.

- drink an ensure at every aid station (I think you did) - at Twin - consider drinking two ?  Don't worry about the other food too much.  Carry an extra ensure from Twin up Hope, and drink near the summit.  Do the same going from Winfield up Hope to try and avoid the bonking.  You couldn't stomach gels at that point.

- the aid stations had noodles / broth at Hope - and likely elsewhere.  You don't need your crew to make it - you need to be quick through those changes

- you don't need poles

- you can make it easier for your crew by making more use of the drop bags.  You could just have crew at twin for the shoe changes.  Get larger bags and put in some extra headlamp batteries at May Queen.

- music coming back - if you have pacers, tell then you need to listen to some - and have them bring their own if they need it

- realize it's going to suck at times - but that you can get a second / third wind.  Push on.

- learn to do technical descending and strengthen the quads with lots of practice.  Have the confidence / drive to run that last section down Powerline into MQ.   And to get down mini Powerline more elegantly...

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