Thursday, August 22, 2013

2103 Leadville 100 Race Report

How do you begin to describe a weekend of camaraderie, trail running and epic elevations in a race that could be called one of the hardest in the country? If nothing else, the historical prestige and honor that comes with toeing the line at Leadville forever makes you a part of this family and the legacy it represents. Leadville was everything I expected it to be and I had a fantastic weekend not only running this amazingly difficult and beautiful course but also spending time with a great group of guys.

Between the bleachers at 3:45 am
Start to May Queen
It’s closing in on 4 am and the crowd is forming on 6th Street. I did not want to be in the back nor did I want to be rubbing elbows with Scott Jurek up front so I managed to squeeze in about 20 yards back from the start line. It was advised that starting closer to the front would help eliminate some of the ‘congo-line’ that forms within the first 13.5 miles to May Queen. They were right.

Partially startled by the shotgun blast, I took off – slowly at first but eventually up to a run that was clearly too fast. How do I know? I caught up to Michael Miller…a veteran ultra-runner also from Arizona who runs well beyond my pace. I wished him good luck and dialed things back a bit remembering all the advice and blogs I had read preceding the race that advocated running everything flat or down and walking anything else (up). Eventually, I’d be caught by Deron who had a timing chip ‘incident’ and started at the very back of the pack. We ran together for a while but Mother Nature would call my name to take a pit stop allowing him to continue on without me.
Dawn breaking over Turquoise Lake

There is something magical about looking backwards at all the headlamps making their way around Turquoise Lake just as the dawn is breaking across the water. I probably won’t ever forget that sight. Travelling around the lake was not very eventful. We backed up a few times but for the most part, I made good time into May Queen. I came in 45 minutes before the cut-off time and was beginning to gain confidence that my day would go exactly as I had planned.

May Queen to Fish Hatchery
I stopped just long enough at May Queen to mix new bottles of Tailwind and head out. I’m glad this was my strategy because this station was overly crowded and a general mess of cars, runners, crew and volunteers. I was happy to be on my way for another 10 miles but was not really looking forward to the climb up the back of Sugarloaf Mountain. Turns out, the backside of this mountain is not the problem…it’s the front. My quads were already screaming from the lack of oxygen at this high altitude but now on the Powerline descent, they were clearly in for a brutal pounding. I was not looking forward to climbing back up that hill at mile 76.
The brutal descent down Powerline
I would meet Jon Nelson (crew/pacer) for the first time at Fish Hatchery. Almost a marathon into the race, the sole purpose of Fish Hatchery would be to switch out my bottles, refill with water and take on extra calories to get me through to the next aid station at Half Pipe.

Fish Hatchery to Half Pipe
There were clearly mixed feelings about this stretch. It’s 99% road and the same route all the crew vehicles take to get back and forth between Half Pipe and Fish Hatchery. Aside from the potential dangers to runners, I just didn't like running on the road. For the most part, this stretch was uneventful and fairly boring, but I really tried to enjoy the flat sections knowing that I’d be climbing my ass of in a few short hours.

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes
It wasn't until this section of the race that I soon found myself questioning my ‘run-the-flats, walk-the-uphill’ strategy. Up to this point, there had been so much runnable flat terrain that I found myself really struggling with both the uphill and downhill sections. This is particularly true on the last 2 miles section down into Twin Lakes. I swore my knees were going to pop off and my quads were going to explode. I did not want to even consider how coming back up this section would potentially break my spirit at mile 60.
Hope Pass off in the distance

I would make it into Twin Lakes to meet Jon at a little after 1 pm – a full hour before the cut-off time. For the first time in 13 hours, I would sit down to change my shoes, refresh my Tailwind, grab the trekking poles and wrap my raincoat around my waist before heading up to Hope Pass.

Coming into Twin Lakes
Leaving Twin Lakes, I knew that the next 20 miles would be the most difficult 20 miles of my life. I put my head down and charged ahead.

Twin Lakes to Winfield
The crappy thing about leaving Twin Lakes is that you immediately cross the river. Not only are you forced to gaze upon this monstrous mountain in front of you, but you have to do it with wet feet. The only good thing about having wet feet is that it takes your mind off the 20%-30% grade you slog up headed to the Hopeless aid station.

Approaching Hope Pass from the north
Seriously, it’s a slog. Five miles of calf-clenching, lung-bursting, slow-poke climbing up to 12,600’.

As you come out of the tree-line, you begin to appreciate the magnitude of the climb and are treated to an awesome view of the valley you came from. It’s truly breathtaking.

I passed through the Hopeless aid station and continued another mile or so to the summit where I stopped to take a few pictures like this one. Why run when you can’t enjoy the view, right?

Heading down the backside into Winfield I began to realize that time could become a factor. It took me almost 3 hours to get to the summit and would likely take another 2 hours to get down the mountain into Winfield (cut-off here was 6 pm). Part of the challenge wasn't the terrain or the difficulty of the trail – it was the number of people on the trail going the opposite direction. I stopped nearly 2 dozen times to let elite athletes and their pacers to go by…eating up valuable time from my own race.

Southern view from Hope Pass
I passed several friends on my way down – Michael Miller, Chris Stores and Deron Ruse were all making their way back over the mountain and looking pretty good. I personally was trying to hustle to ensure I did not have to end my day prematurely.

With 15 minutes to spare, I came slamming into the aid station. I immediately found a chair and my drop bag. Though in a hurry, I also tried to take my time so I didn't forget anything I might need to make it back up and over the mountain to Twin Lakes. As I mulled over my supplies, another runner just arriving plopped down beside me.

“You going back over the mountain?” he asked.

“Damn right” I replied.

“Kinda pointless, isn't it?” he jabbed.

“Well, I didn't come here to give up” I sternly retorted.

He shrugged his shoulders and slumped down in his chair, clearly admitting defeat.

I continued to change my shirt, pack more Tailwind, layer with this and layer with that knowing that as the temperatures fell, this Arizona boy would be fighting the elements more so than the elevation. Satisfied with my gear, I saddled up and headed back out of the aid station within minutes of the 6 pm cut-off.

Winfield to Twin Lakes
Not seconds after emerging from the aid station back to the trail, someone yelled at me.

"Hey! This fell out of your pack"

“Can you stuff it back in there for me please?” I asked.

“I can’t. The zipper is busted” they replied.

Awesome - perfect timing to have a trail running yard sale.

I stopped for about 15 minutes to take everything out of my pack and stuff it in the pockets of my jacket. Let me be the first to tell you that 5-7 pounds of gear stuffed in a jacket tied around your waist is not great for running. Having no other choice, I kept moving.

Wait. Wasn't I supposed to weigh in at Winfield?! Too late now I guess…

The good news about the south side up to Hope Pass is that it’s shorter. The bad news is it’s steeper. Again, you put your head down and just keep moving. Never before have I witnessed so much carnage on a trail. Busted knees, dry heaving, hyperventilating and projectile vomiting due to nutrition and altitude were all in vogue as folks made their way up to 12,600’ again. I personally did not have any issue with the altitude.
As I reached the Hopeless aid station again, it was dark and cold. Huddled masses were assembled around a campfire and buried in sleeping bags trying to recover or wish themselves down to the bottom. I stayed on my feet for a bit looking for something warm and substantial to fill my belly. A volunteer served me up a ramen-soup-mashed-potato-combo-platter that was actually quite good. I paused to eat while my pack was filled with water.

It was now 8:30 pm. The reality of beating the cut-off time into Twin Lakes to pick up my pacer (Jon) was bleak.

In the spirit of the race and in honor of everyone who had sacrificed for me to be here, I was going to finish like a champ. I resolved to run into Twin Lakes and give it my best. As I came out of the woods and through the stream crossing again, there was Jon waiting to take me into the aid station.

Unfortunately, for the 31st running of the Leadville 100, my best was not good enough. I would miss the cut-off into Twin Lakes by 30 minutes. My wristband was cut and the race day was over.

Closing Thoughts
They say to run Leadville with your heart and not your legs. Well, even the most earnest efforts and mentally strong runners (like myself) need the right conditioning. I knew this might be the case having a less-than-stellar month of training leading up to the race.

Of course I'm disappointed in not finishing but I am proud of my run because I did my best and had a fantastic time out in the mountains of Colorado. It truly is a beautiful and magical place and I'm grateful I had the opportunity to participate.

Will I go back? Some day, but probably not next year. I overdosed on races in 2013 and I am trying to do a better job at allocating my time to both my passion for running and my family. The 2014 race season is not something I've planned out yet.
Special thanks to Jon Nelson who drove a collective 24-hours with me, stayed up another 24 on race day to crew yet never got his chance to pace me out of Twin Lakes. Also thanks and congratulations to Deron Ruse and his crew/pacer Jon Roig - two guys I am truly happy to know better.

A shout out to Strava too. I won my 'Golden Ticket' through their Leadville contest and would not have been able to participate otherwise.

I'd be remiss to not thank my loving wife for again letting me traipse around in the mountains of Colorado while keeping the kids and home in check. You are my better half and I know it :)

Congratulations to all the finishers and thank you to all the volunteers. Perhaps one day soon, I'll finish my race across the sky...

1 comment:

  1. Trevor, As someone who ran with you at the BH100 when we someone survived the 50M to seeing you kill the 100M there this year. I know you will be back again to beat the mountain! Congrats on a good experience and a great effort left on the trail. Perhaps we shall cross paths on a trail again.