Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Leadville 100 report from 60.5

August 21st 2010 Leadville, CO.
Well it's kick off time after nine months of training time to put everything to the test.
Dry with a temperature a nice comfortable 40 F, could not ask for better conditions, forecast is good for the next 30 hours also so weather should not be a factor.
Amanda, Noreen, Angie and Heather are doing a good job getting a few photos of the kick off and keeping me entertained. Over the all the scene is rather peaceful with over six hundred runners and supports getting ready to head down the road. There is an air of anticipation but as more that two thirds of the runners have at least attempted this before generally people know what they are getting in to. Or so at least I thought. A best of luck kiss from Amanda and that's the end of my preparation. End of the road from signing up on January 3rd, does not seem that long ago.

Ready for action.

4:00 am
And off I go, a little nervous but feeling ready. A very short stretch of asphalt and then it's in to the dirt roads and trails of Colorado. The next 13 miles were a hell of an introduction to this race. Some nice cruising down a few forest roads and jeep paths followed up by some single tracks running along next to the beautiful Turquoise Lake. Of course the fact there was a kayak rescue crew waiting at a few dodgy points on the trail was a pretty good indication of what could happen. The water temperature of probably 40 to 45 F of course would make the kayak a rather necessary item. Lots of chat over the first few miles between friends and strangers hushed up as the more technical stretches of the trail were reached. A good test for my new headlamp while I was fresh and I was very happy to find that it did a great job. Big relief.
6:38 am 13 miles 2 hours 38 min
Into May Queen aid station right on schedule. Heather ready with her camera at the outlet from the aid station. Pity I went around the outside and surprised her, yes the picture on Facebook was staged. Amanda, Noreen and Angie load me up with water and GU then on down the road I head. A few yards on pavement and then into the woods. Pretty quickly it's clear that things are now getting serious. The trail has a very reasonable grade, even a little down hill - quickly learn not to be fooled by that. The fact that I had to pass a mountain biker because he was finding the trail a little too technical was a good indication of how rough things were at this point. This was the kick off to one of  the this race will kick your ass portions.
Some technical uphill to a forest road and then on to a jeep road for the climb up to the power line stretch. A very testing climb over the Sugarloaf pass which tops out at 11,071 ft. The term  jeep road is misleading, road would suggest a degree of engineering and maybe leveling - not so. It was a serious pull up to the pass along an extremely rugged trail. Of course getting over the top allowed me to open up a small bit and make time on the down hill. The downhill follows the before mention jeep road and then switches to running along under some power lines. As one of my fellow racers referred to it this section was like getting through a skate park. A steep grade supplemented by heavy water erosion made for a high speed trip down in pin ball machine style. A few rolls of each ankle were mandatory on this stretch. During one particularity painful roll I had the very amazing sensation of the pain shooting out my right hand via the finger trips, freaky but hey the ankle still works. As a reward for making it down the pinball machine the next few miles are actually on real road, yes such a thing does exist in the wilds of Colorado and I head down to the road to the Fish Hatchery aid station,
9:15 am 23.5 miles 5 hours 15 min
Into Fish Hatchery aid station meeting Angie to drop off my camel back before a quick pop into the porta john, yes such things are necessary when busy undertaking an event like this. Check in with race officials and off again thanks to the rapid reload by Noreen and Angie. Heather was off capturing the moment in pixels. Right on schedule and feeling good. Actually at this stage I'm very happy with how I feel, there is still a good pep in my step and spirits are high. That is good thing because it is a long drag from Fish Hatchery out to the Halfmoon II Aid Station. No big hills or great drama, initially just a long drag along the road and then cruising along some nice forest service roads, uphill all the way. As this is the most exposed section of the course it was great to actually have some cloud cover for these few miles. Mental motivation gets tougher heading for the aid station because I did not have an accurate distance. That data had not been finalized when the maps were planned. So other than a brief meeting with Noreen to swap out Garmins at mile 3  I  was not sure how far to the next break. Ah well, everyone else is going this way so it has to be here somewhere.
11:12 am 31.5 miles 7 hours 12 min
First aid station without having my crew to give me a pick up as Halfmoon II was deep in the wood, at least a 3 mile hike in, driving not allowed during the event. A little much to expect someone to drag a pack of stuff in. Quite the excellent spread of sugar charged refreshments were provided and of course some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Neglected to have my camel back reloaded which turned out to be an error. So four minutes after pulling in, off I go again heading for Twin Lakes. There was a lot of uphill to get to Halfmoon II and as I was now head for the lowest point on the course I had a reasonable expectation of some good favorable grades. Well that was a mistake, eight miles to the lowest point some how became pretty much seven miles of uphill. This was the next step in the ass kicking, I worked hard to maintain the schedule and pace as planned out last night.
Despite over nine months of training and almost two years of planning to do this event it was literally eight hours before hand that I took the time to put on paper what I thought I would have to do to finish on time. This was necessary so my support crew would have an idea when I would get to each aid station. The hesitation in doing so was that deep down I was afraid it would be too intimidating, better to be ignorant. Happily after doing it I was pleasantly surprised to find myself looking at a plan with pace settings that seemed reasonable and doable. Even after some adjustments considering the grade and difficulty of some sections to the best of my limited knowledge there was still a good bit of wiggle room and slack time overall, especially in the second half of the race. So there go the best laid plans of men and mice.
Along the miles to Twin Lakes was where I first started to encounter people that really looked like they were laboring with the time and miles starting to take their toll. At this point the prospect of the 2 pm cutoff to be out of Twin Lakes was foremost in my mind. According to my plan I would be there by 1:25 pm but there seemed no end to the hills so I was somewhat concerned. Finally I got to the stretch of trail that Amanda and I had hiked on Thursday, a big relief as I knew I should only be 2 miles or so from Twin Lakes and that there could not be any more serious climbs left. So I pushed myself to make up time lost on all the climbs, which worked pretty well even along the couple hundred yards that was basically a line scratched across the side of a cliff. Even the 500 runners before me could not beat it into a real trail. This will be fun coming back across in the dark tonight was the thought in my head. Just for the icing on the cake most of the drop to the lowest point on the course occurs in the last half mile before the aid station at a breakneck rate, going to be fun tonight getting out of here.

39.5 miles 1:18 pm 9 hours 18 min
Right on schedule into Twin Lakes. Check in with the officials and a reload of the camel back. I had ran out of water about three miles back. Had to bum some water from another runner at one stage. Yep should have reloaded at Halfmoon II, well now I know. Out of the aid station and across the road to a great reception by Rick and Nicole Roland with Nicole's parents. They had journeyed up from Denver for the day, complete with Gatorade and the best peanut butter sandwich ever. Great to have a few minutes of familiar faces again. Having them here also allowed the rest of the gang time to make the lovely drive up to Winfield along 11 miles of dusty and very bumpy forest road. A quick photo with Rick and Nicole, then off across the marsh heading for Hope Pass. Right on schedule but no idea what I was about to get into.
Just as I was making my way across the marsh, racing toward me came the lead runner, skin, bone and Jesus beard, no shirt required. His pacer was working hard to keep up with him. At this point he was on track to break the course record of around 16 hours, unfortunately he collapsed due to dehydration at the 80 mile mark. A reminder to always to continue with fluid replenishment. Said by the guy that allowed himself to run out of water.

Continuing across the marsh I came to surprise number one of five. In the back of my mind I had wondered if there were bridges or what across the river, that would be no. And it's not one but five rivers/streams of various depths. The final one being mid thigh and flowing so fast that the use of the safety rope in place was an absolute requirement. Oh well at least now my feet are cool and refreshed.
My one saving grace being that I had previously learned the lesson of gortex shoes which keep water out and in. So my current mesh shoes let the water out and the air into dry my socks. Wet feet was about to be a minor issue.
Two miles across the marsh I reached the bottom of the climb to Hope Pass. 3 1/2 miles 3300 feet to go. This is a major ass kicking. Wow this is a lot more than I had expected and a lot steeper and longer. Maintaining pace was no longer an issue, keeping walking started to become a challenge. In my mind I had never conceived that the climb would be this tough. Very steep, very rough, very constant. Focusing on the time did not help as it became clear that I just had to keep moving best I could and then try to make up time on the downhill, after all my pace goals were an average. A few runners came down on the way back, all skinny and bouncing along - bastards. A brief conversation with a guy that had turned around at the Hope Pass aid station did nothing for my state of mind. His claim that it was another mile and a half to the aid station sounded ridiculous to me, he was right - bastard.
Getting to the Hope Aid station I looked up at the remaining trail to the pass, snaking it's way up through a collection of switchbacks. That does not look too bad. Officials tell me it's a half mile to the top, hmm does not look to be that far. So off I headed, damn this is a bitch. Steeper that previous sections, like I needed that, complete with slippy gravel and now lots of runners coming down after making it to the turn around.
Reach the top, no way that is only half a mile. On cresting the pass I almost lose my breath, the view is stunning. There is a ring of mountain peaks surrounding a valley which is just phenomenal to behold. Worth the price of admission. A quick five seconds to take it in and then I plunge into the downhill run, I have an average pace to correct and a deadline to make at Winfield. At this point I am now more than an hour behind schedule, cut off is now a serious concern. It's five miles to Winfield, 2.7 of which is downhill, the drop is 2700 feet. The trail is nothing but rocks. My Garmin is now useless as the battery is dead, should have made sure I had a backup, like Charles had advised me. Well if I was one to take advice I probably would not even be here. Not that it really matters now the goal is clear get down the hill and make it to Winfield before the 6 pm cut off. Looking back I'm now amazed that I made it down the hill in one piece, I think I just bounced from rock to rock all the way down. No time for views or scenery. Bursting out of the forest at the bottom onto the forest road is like entering an alien world. There are cars going both ways with the air laden with dust as this is the only way in and out of Winfield Aid station. Of course it is also uphill to the aid station. My legs are shot now all the bouncing and jumping has wiped them out. Well still 3.3 miles to go and a little over an hour to the cut off. The lack my Garmin was now praying on my mind as I started to get very worried about the cut off time and had no confidence in how far the volunteers along the road were telling me I had to go. I was also painfully aware of how slowly I was progressing. Such a gentle hill relative to what I had just come over but there was no go in my legs. People in the cars heading out kept offering shouts of encouragement and support but mentally I could not appreciate them and I do believe that the best I managed was a few grunts back with a pathetic attempt at a wave. Not willing to expend the energy on a decent response or acknowledgment. There was some physically  rougher stretches to come but this was certainly my low point emotionally and mentally  for the race, the lack of information and my snails pace were just beating me down.
Finally I can see the aid station, cursing the fact that I could see it for 10 minutes before I got there, seemed to take forever.

50 miles 5:45 pm 13 hours 45 min
Angie and Heather  were out ahead of the station to guide me in, good job as things were a little chaotic here as the reality of the cutoff time was setting up panic in the racers and the support crews.
The panic and pressure were somewhat contagious especially in the check in tent where the dead legs and stretched emotions were plenty full. This is the first point where I was weighted to check that I was not at risk of dehydration, happily not a problem at this stage. Quick reload of the camel back and stuff down some snacks and chocolate. At this point pacers are allowed so Amanda was jumping in for the  ten miles back to Twin Lakes. Alan was lined up there to drag my ass on to Fish Hatchery, good to have plan. Knowing that I would have company and support from this stage on was a big motivation in getting this far. My hope being that the support would be the lift to get a second wind and have the speed to get back before the time cutoffs kicked in.
5:50 pm back out the road again heading for the hills once more. Having Amanda was a great boost, not that I was able to speed up a whole hell of a lot. At least this time I was heading down hill for awhile. As it was now late in the evening with the 6 pm cut off fast approaching a lot the traffic had gone and the road was much quieter and less dusty on the way back down to the trail.Chatting to a few of the other runners heading back the cut off at Twin Lakes was looming as a concern, especially as there were no illusions about what was ahead. The three miles back to the trail head were anxious but at least downhill and then left turn and back into the heavy uphill climb. Pretty quickly it became apparent that I was not going to have an easy time getting back up to Hope Pass. A pattern of push with a quick walk for a few minutes follow by a breather resting on my knees became the slow crawl back up. As time when on the "few minutes" started to get shorter and the breathers longer. The tank was empty and not reloading. Amanda talked things up and despite some miserable whining by me kept pushing me on. Her patience and tolerance was amazing, I was not particularly pleasant to be around at this time. She took my back pack and kept making sure I took water and GU to keep me rolling. Slowly we edged up along, passing one or two but being passed by more. Everyone was on a deadline and had their own race to run, no hanging around to support someone else, thus the huge benefit of a pacer. The last half mile to the top was torturous, no matter how I tried I just had no push left in me. My legs were dead and at over twelve thousand feet there was not a lot of recovery. Looking at the clock and knowing the mileage left as well as how fast I would be able to move on the other side I had to face the fact that I would not make the deadline. A rather overwhelming moment for me, it was hard after working for the one hundred for the last  twelve months always being confident that I would be able to do it this a dreaded moment. A few tears coupled with a minor rush of feeling I had let down everyone that encouraged me and wished me luck and that was it, no more I can do about it. I'm still a quarter mile from the top and over 5 miles more to Twin Lakes, there is no bus to wait for when you pull out. Taking a few minutes extra to pull myself together Amanda and I pushed for the top, taking the pressure of the cutoff off of me did help but certainly did not speed me up. Top of Hope Pass for the second time was just as inspiring, darkness had set in fully in the last few minutes and the sky was clear and huge, Twin Lakes looked a long ways away and  long ways down the hill.  Oh well not going to get there looking at it. On with our head lamps and down the trail we snaked. The half mile to the check in station is a lot easier going down hill but still rather taxing.
At Hope Station the place was in full party mode as the volunteers were relaxing now that most of the runners had passed through with only the stragglers like me wandering in. Some hot soup and snacks and off we headed for Twin Lakes. Even not pushing the pace as there was no hope of making the cutoff it was still a very arduous trek back down. Getting back to the treeline the darkness of the deep woods closed around us, moving quickly on the trail even with good head lamps was not an easy task. Down the trail we met a few other runners that were in the same predicament, cutoff missed, legs dead but still got to get back to Twin Lakes. The joy of trail running. As we headed across the marsh at the bottom back out of the trees it was head lights off and take in the amazing sky. Crossing the "freezing oceans" was just what Amanda needed to round out her Leadville experience. Thankfully she survived, at this point the cold and wet meant nothing to me. No feeling of any note in my legs at this point anyway so no matter if they were now wet and cold.
Finally there were the lights of Twin Lakes and into the parking lot to head for the check in station. Nice to let them know I was alive and going home for the night. Noreen and Angie were the reception committee with the others after heading into Leadville courthouse, center of operations, to see if they could get any information on my location because Hope Pass information was not available at Twin Lakes.
Checked in, weighted in and that was it I was done. Time to go home and recover.
60.5 miles 10:45 pm 18 hours 45 min

I was wrecked but happy. My intention had been to make the one hundred with no doubt and in my soul I knew that I had put in everything, both on the day and during training. I had done everything I could to prepare as best I knew and put all I had into on the day. There were no logistical or weather problems, I just had no concept of how big the hills are or what that they would do to me. Next time I'll be ready.

This has been an amazing journey for me and my limits and horizons have been expanded more than I could every have imagined. A million thanks to everyone that encouraged me and wished me luck, even if you though I was crazy and told me so, all that goodwill does push you on when having doubts. Those doubts occur more often in the training than on the big day, no choice then. 

A very special thanks to my Colorado crew Amanda, Noreen, Angie, Heather, Carol, Alan & Nicole. I would never have even made it half way without you. Love you guys.

Best support crew at Leadville 100 Run in 2010

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