Monday, August 30, 2010

Leadville 100 race report

Leadville Trail 100 Aug 21, 2010

“The Race Across the Sky”

A good part of my race experiences happen way before I ever get to the start line. I love the hours of training, planning logistics, and discussions that take place in the months leading up to a race; this one was no exception. I signed up for the 2010 version of the Leadville 100 in Dec 2009 shortly after I found out I did not get a lottery selection for Western States. It takes a lot of time, effort and often substantial financial commitments to undertake many of these challenges. With that I’d like to thank my wife and kids for putting up with me and my ‘crazy’ passion. I don’t train quite the number of hours of some but I’m still away from the family homestead at times and I appreciate my wife Sandi and our kids Sierra and Calvin for what they do in support. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to accompany me for this adventure but I did have family support in the form of my Mom and Dad.

My folks live in Telluride, CO and had never had the chance to take part in one of my races until this one. The offer to have them come over to Leadville and crew for me was too good to pass up. I’m pretty sure they were more excited than I about the race, at least until the night before, then it might have been a tie! I decided to drive up from Austin so I could bring all my stuff and be in charge of my own schedule. I departed a week early in hopes of acclimating to the high altitude (read: lack of oxygen)! Colorado Springs was my first stop. JT, my host, graciously arranged for our attendance at a beer festival in nearby Manitou Springs and we hit that with full enthusiasm on Sunday. Drinking microbrewed beers in the cool shadows of Pikes Peak was definitely getting me in mountain mode!

The lure of the higher peaks was too much and I hit the road mid-morning on Monday for the 2.5 hour trip up to Leadville. Cool rain and quiet streets welcomed me to the highest city in the US: Leadville, America 10,152 feet above sea level. It wasn’t long before I hooked up with fellow HCTR member and Austinite, Gordon M, who’d been in town several days getting acclimated himself. We planned a scouting run with Liza H for late in the afternoon Monday but were greeted by a decent lightning storm just as we arrived at Fish Hatchery. Our run turned into a drive tour of some of the course and we headed back to town. Eventually we got some dinner, had some beers at the Scarlet and hit the hay to rest up for the week.

Gordon and I managed to get in our scouting run/walk/hike from Fish Hatchery to Sugarloaf on Tuesday morning in some excellent cool sunny weather. It felt great to be stretching the legs after all the driving and we were having a blast until…we noticed all the trash on trail from the previous week’s 100mile mountain bike race. Gordon and I picked up over 200 Gu packs in a 5mile stretch! Yikes.

Mom and Dad arrived Wednesday and we all got settled in at the Columbine Inn on the north side of town. Thursday, the 3 of us drove out to Twin Lakes to have a look at the area and scout where M&D would be waiting to crew for me as I past thru miles 40 and 60. We also took a quick look at Fish Hatchery (miles 24 & 76) and Mayqueen as we circled Turquoise Lake and headed back to town.

Thursday early evening was packet pickup and pre-race dinner at the gym. Those events went smoothly and efficiently enough to hit the Scarlet for a few more beers before happy hour was over. I was headed back thru town to the car when I ran into John S on main street in the rain. He was trying to hook up with the group of Texans that were out for Mexican food nearby. I told him I’d give him a ride and the next thing you know I’m sucked into The Grill with the rest of the gang for some fun. We emerged an hour or so later and discovered the earlier storm had dusted the mountain tops across the valley with snow. The sun had set but there was enough light to make a beautiful scene that energized us all.

Friday was mandatory medical (weigh) in and the pre-race meeting. The gym was packed and the speeches were long but the mood was light and the group energy was buzzing. I had a good time yakking with fellow runners but needed to finish off my drop bag preparations and was starting to put my race face on so I headed back to the hotel. Mom fixed me my custom pre-race dinner in the hotel room and I drifted off fairly early, watching the Little League World Series. 2am comes early no matter what time it is! Coffee, breakfast, shower…etc. All systems go; it’s Race Day!

I arrived at the start 30min before the gun (literally) went off. I was not nervous and had a good time just milling about, soaking up the scene. I chatted with Liza and we wished each other luck before the countdown began. 3,2,1 BOOM! I’m sure it looked pretty funny but to me, being part of <700>

A fellow runner said it best, “Yeah! We’re finally running!” Enough with all the talk and strategery, it’s time to do what we do. I fell into a nice rhythm and ran smoothly into the first aid station for a quick bottle refill and exit. The predawn light was starting to be enough to see by and the section out of Mayqueen was really pretty until we got to the Forrest Service road. Even then, the surrounding beauty was enough to distract and the gravel road served as a good ‘systems check’ to see how things were settling in. I felt good, nothing special, just glad to be running. I ran most of the way up to Sugarloaf pass, stopping only occasionally to power hike some steep sections and adjust my gear belt.

I was purposely trying to ‘hold back’ as much as I could and the downhill section from the top of Sugarloaf to Fish Hatchery provided a good spot to do just such. I refused to bomb the downhill even though the ‘need to make up time’ was in everyone’s minds. I think this attitude saved just enough muscle energy to get me thru the day…and night.

Made it to Fish Hatchery, mile 24, in around 3:40 (7:40am) I think. I really didn’t pay too much attention to my watch and don’t know all of my splits. My folks were there and we made quick work of bottle refills and traded my windbreaker for sunglasses and sunscreen. 3-4 miles of road (!) led us to Pipeline and Treeline where some crew were set up. I ran on up to Halfmoon aid station and refilled my bottles and gel from a dropback I staged there. No time to dally, off to the Colorado trail section towards the ‘hump’ near Ebert trail that would signal a long decent into Twin Lakes aid station. This section of the trail was very scenic and the mid-morning light was filtered by the canopy we ran under. Everything was still feeling fine except the lingering feeling that the long descents were going to take their toll eventually.

Twin Lakes is at mile 40 and 60 and the party was already starting! I pulled in somewhere around 6:40 (10:40am). I was ahead of what I was ‘trying’ to be but felt like I’d run smart so far and knew Hope Pass had a present for me so I figured I had a little ‘bank’ time to spare. I’m glad I had it!

There were 5-6 small water crossings and one legitimate river crossing (waste deep snow melt) in the 1.5-2miles before I made it to the base of the serious climb. The defending women’s champ, Lynette, and a 6 time vet took off ahead of me in a more effective power hike/jog than I could bring myself to attempt. Not long after that, Liza passed me looking strong but mumbling some choice words for the road section where we earlier parted. The next few miles’ beauty were muted by the endless upward march into ever thinner air.

This hike up to Hope pass (both sides) was the only time I felt affected by the altitude and even then, it seemed I’d be hiking something this steep even back in Austin! The trail is mostly wooded and one dares not look too far up ahead for there are no signs of ‘the top’ until you finally break treeline and witness the spectacle that is Hopeless aid station. The volunteers for this station, at just under 12,000 feet, use Llamas to pack the supplies in and have an incredible high grassy meadow as their location. I admire the local but have carried all I need and press on; my pace is slow enough, I can’t afford to stop.

I thought the switchbacks would never end but I finally found myself crossing Hope Pass at 12,600 feet and began the nearly 3000 foot decent (in ~2.2 miles) to the road to Winfield. I ‘ran’ as controlled as I could. It was a hard balance to try to keep both the toes and the quads happy while not flying off the edge of the narrow trail or tripping on the occasional rock or root as I descended. I finally made it to the gravel road and pressed uphill for the nearly 3miles to the halfway point, 50miles at Winfield with the clock showing just past 9 hours, around 1pm.

My pacer, John R and his wife Crystal were waiting for me as planned. I weighed in with only a ~3 pound loss, dumped the rocks out of my shoes, stretched a bit, ate, drank, refilled/refueled and we hit the road. All I had to do now was run the whole thing again the other direction! It didn’t take long to get to the base of the climb (again!) and begin the hour plus ascent a.k.a. death march up up and…up.

The beauty of an ‘out and back’ trail is getting to see everyone even though you aren’t running the same pace as they are. I saw a bunch of friends on each side of the pass this time and gathered encouragement from all as we made our respective ways. I stopped at Hopeless only long enough to fill my bottles and stretch the hamstrings a little before heading down, down, down back to Twin Lakes.

John and I made decent time and enjoyed the mountain trail, river crossing and swamp sections before we reached my crew for a decent pit stop. It was time to change socks and shoes, mostly because I had them ready and I like the switch at this point in a hundred. I think it was about 4:30pm and we set out shortly thereafter for the climb back up, up, up out of TL to the ‘Ebert hump’. No more than 3-4 switchbacks from the top I asked John, who was just behind me, how he was doing and he hollered “I’m fine, I’ll catch you on the downhill!” That was the last I’d see of him until the end. I waited a few minutes and asked the next group of runners that came through if they saw him; they said he was fine and that I should go on, so I did, running most of the way to Halfmoon for a much needed break.

I took on some caffeine in the form of Espresso Gel and some flat Coke, refilled my bottles and headed out. With no light, no jacket and the clock ticking towards sunset, I made haste back to Fish Hatchery without stopping. My mom arranged for another pacer on the fly and Mike was waiting for me to get rolling. After a quick weigh in and bottle refill, Mike and I hit the road over to Powerline. This is not a killer climb but plenty tough enough after 75 miles of trail running! Sugarloaf waits patiently at mile 80 and sits just above 11,000 feet. It took way too long to get to the top but I power hiked it with consistency and that’s all I could ask of myself.

The ensuing downhill was a relief and I managed to run most of the way to the steeper trail descending on into Turquoise Lake and the Mayqueen aid station. Mike was a big help in illuminating the obstacles and providing some chatter to help the time go by. We passed a few runners and one past us. To see the lights of Leadville across the lake was at once encouraging and a reality check. The end was near but not close enough to drop my guard. The final pull into Mayqueen came soon enough and it was nice to see familiar faces there to greet us. Meredith T had arranged for a fellow Austinite, Bruce, to bring me in from Mayqueen. Crystal was there as well, to aid in transition and reunite me with me favored green LED flashlight! Top off the bottles and off we go; 13.5 miles to wrap this thing up!

At this point I knew I had 13 miles of ‘old man shuffle’ left in me and all I wanted to do was avoid a crash or a hamstring cramp that would make the final miles any tougher than they already are. Bruce took lead and pointed out obstacles and helped ‘light the way’. The Tabor Boat ramp took forever to appear but by then we could see the lights of the dam and I knew we’d be getting back to the road home soon. It was almost nice to get on a big flat road but I also realized how much altitude we’d need to gain in the last 5 miles to get to the line.

These last miles were a combination of power hiking and jogging back to the town of Leadville and the final hump in the road to the finish line. I mustered the energy to jog the last half mile, encouraged by the thought of finishing but also by the cheers of the crowd gathered at 1:30am Sunday morning. The race officials check your race number with about a half mile to go and radio it to the finish line. The town mayor calls out runners names as they finish but I’m not sure if he was there that early! My folks were waiting at the finish and watched me stride up the red carpet to break the tape in 21:31, good enough for 18th place overall. A big THANKS to them for helping me before, during and after the race!

I felt good. Nothing hurt too much. I was physically tired but wide awake. They made me weigh in one more time and I pegged the scale at exactly my pre-race weight, no medical tent for me! I didn’t really want to sit down just yet so I walked around in a relieved daze until a nice volunteer handed me some hot potato soup that hit the spot. M&D helped swap shoes for sandals and kept me warm while I took in the scene. I usually like to chug my recovery drink, find a chair and start drinking beer after ultras but there wasn’t much going on at the finish just yet. Also, I knew I planned on driving part of the way home later that day so I opted to head back to the hotel for a shower and some time off my feet.

A few hours rest (not really sleep), some breakfast and some coffee got me ready to head back to the finish line to watch the end and catch up with what I missed. I made it back for the last hour of the race and got some video of some final finishers before race founder Ken once again fired the 12gauge shotgun, this time signifying the 30hour mark…the race was over.

Two hours later we were all back in the packed gym for the awards ceremony. It was fantastic to see my friend Liza H from San Antonio accept the women’s champion trophy! Way to represent us flatlanders in the mountains Liza! Everyone seemed happy for Duncan C and the race he ran to capture the men’s title as well. I received my big belt buckle and hung out for a few more minutes before packing up and heading south. Wow, did all that really just happen? My body is telling me it did.

Final Thoughts:

· The weather was perfect; mountain storms could change this race dramatically

· The altitude was not a limiting factor; 5 full days was enough lead time for me

· The long descents were the hardest on my body but I ran smart and limited damage

· I took care of my salt, water and calorie needs effectively; no problems at all

· Having a crew was awesome; this race could be done without a crew but in bad weather or troubled times a crew could be the difference in success or failure

· My pacers helped me stay on task; it’s real easy to slow down on your own

I think about a lot of things while running for 20+ hours. Ultra running is inherently selfish I think. I run because I enjoy it; it makes me happy. Every mile I run, in training or races, is with profound gratitude. I’m very lucky to be able to run, to see what’s out there, just around the next bend in the trail.