(NOTE: ALL PHOTOS MAY BE ENLARGED FOR DETAIL BY CLICKING ON THEM)
I woke up at 2:30 am with the other 3 guys in my Hostel bedroom (after buying a pair of ear plugs, slept like a rock through the snoring of Mr. Leadville - the 24 time finisher Bill Finkbeiner). We all started the day with the same act – looking outside at the weather. The sky was mostly cloudy with the occasional lightning bolt flashing across the horizon. Based upon that, we all dressed in our cold weather gear, packed extra gear in our bags (this was my first ultra where I actually wore a pack) and grabbed a hot breakfast (mine was coffee with a Powerbar).
The time seemed to drag for a bit, but soon it was time to walk down to the start. About 5 minutes into my walk, the rain started falling. It continued pretty heavily then started to decrease closer to the actual start.
The line was full – nearly 500 runners ready for the 4:00am start.
Many were huddled under doorways and awnings to stay dry until the last minute. With the final minute being countdown, I said a quick prayer and joined the crowd. Then we were off. I again based my early race strategy upon the wisdom of my “coach’ Don of ZombieRunners. I walked the first 5 minutes – by the time those 5 minutes were up, I was one of the last 3 people.
Then I started running. The course goes down the Leadville city streets at 10,200 feet. Many residents were out cheering on the bunch of crazy lunatics running past their house. As the run progressed, we turned onto a dirt road with scattered rocks. I was actually feeling pretty good at this point – my breathing was relaxed despite the elevation and I was slowly working my way through the crowd. We then turned up a dirt hill and climbed for a short bit before crossing a street and into some woods.
The path continued past some campgrounds on the right with a lake appearing on the left. Occasionally the morning air would be filled with the sound of creeks running under our running feet as they emptied the rainwater into the lake. I continued my forward progression, slowly passing people when possible along this often single track path. Soon I came up on one of my roommates – Elwyn. We ran together for a bit but then I went ahead.
Before I knew it, we entered the first crew access point called Boat Ramp. Strangely enough, it was on a boat ramp. Because I had no crew or pacers for this race, there seemed little reason for me to stop so I continued on. In the dawn this was a wonderful run – the trail winding through trees, over boulders and through the occasional puddle/stream. Soon, there was enough light that allowed me to turn my headlamp and flashlight off.
At the half marathon point, we entered the first official aid station called May Queen. I had a drop bag there, but since this was so early in the race, I merely filled my water bottles, stashed my lights in my backpack, and continued on. A runner came up on me about 3 minutes out of the station. He had missed his crew and suspecting that he would meet them later never filled his bottles. So he was already running on empty. I offered him about ¾ of one of my 3 bottles (I had 1 hand-bottle of Succeed Clip2 and 1 hand-bottle of water and another bottle of water behind my back). We then ran together for a bit before I left him on a nice downhill.
The downhill soon turned to a climb going up through a wooded area.
I was now starting to get quite warm from the run plus the wet weather in the woods was increasing the humidity. So as soon as the climb ended on a wide unpaved road, I stopped to take off my jacket and stash it in my bag. I started running and 15 seconds later the sky opened up with heavy rain and hail. “Great timing!” I said to a runner next to me and we shared a laugh.
I continued the run up the road without the jacket. This climb went up Sugarloaf and the views were fantastic.
I was feeling really good as I shifted from a run to power-walk. At the summit I paused for a second to put my jacket back on and then continued running.
I passed a huge tower with power lines that were crackling in the rain/sleet. This was the summit called, appropriately enough, Powerline. One could see the valley below where May Queen was located.
Powerline continued along the summit ridge for a bit before descending down some wonderful downhill trails. Some were quite steep consisting of gullies strewn with rocks making the fast descent a bit tricky, but I was enjoying it.
Near the end of the descent the trail turned right and ended on a road. The road climbed to the next aid station at mile 23 called Fish Hatchery. I entered the FH aid station and the wonderful volunteers got me my drop bag. (Note: not only does Leadville have more volunteers than any other ultra I have run, they were all fantastic – supportive, knowledgeable and quick to go out of their way to get runners anything they needed). Here I decided to try something I learned from my Badwater run – tuna. I had stopped at the store prior to the race and found some single serving bags of tuna fish so I bought some and stashed some in my drop bags. I gulped down the tuna and headed back out. The paved road was wet as the rain started falling heavy.
The run stayed on a road that turned onto another road. After the junction the skies really opened up again pouring cold rain down. I stopped and quickly pulled a plastic rain poncho out of my bag and continued the run. The road started climbing towards a line of trees on the horizon called coincidently Tree Line. Tree Line, like Boat Ramp, was a crew access point, not a true aid station so I went straight through and continued the now dirt road upwards.
A small stream was to my left and it was flowing pretty fast. This road seemed to go on for a bit, passing campgrounds and some wonderful forested areas. Soon we entered the Half Moon Campground. It was here that the next aid station, weirdly named Half Moon, was located at around the 50km mark.
I stopped here and decided to change jackets for a dryer one. I also changed shirts and grabbed my iPod. One runner who was changing gear informed me that the next section was one of his favorites with great downhills. I left the tent and entered the food tent where I was thrilled to learn they were serving vegetarian broth and vegetarian ramen. In all the races I have run (OK – not as many as lots of runners, but I’m not a novice either), Leadville was the first that I have run that offered vegetarian options at every single aid station. In the cold of this run, the hot broth and noodles were a blessing.
I left the tent and continued running looking forward to the promised downhills. Soon the path turned right….right up. The climb was pretty steep and, while the rain had stopped, the humidity from the rain was strong. A runner next to me asked me if I knew how long and high this climb was to be. I said “Nope – but it sure is a bitch.”. He agreed. We continued climbing and I learned that we were both flatlanders – me from SF area and he from Wisconsin. He invited me to join him in one of his hard “500 feet altitude work-outs”.
Finally, we reached the top and the trail turned to the right. My legs were burning a bit by now but the trail soon started a descent. I turned on my iPod to some great Faith No More and took off.
I love downhills – I may not be the fastest, but certainly I attack them hard. I think I have pretty good instinct with my footing, strong ankles and a certain stupidity that allows me to take many downhills pretty fast. Here, it was like I just started the race. I went flying down the trails, passing other runners, leaping over rocks and small streams. I was having a blast. The trails seemed to go on and despite a big smile I knew that I was not going to love this portion as much on the return trip.
Soon, the trails changed from wonderful single-track forested trails to steep rocky roads. This ended at Twin Lakes (yes, it was next to 2 lakes). I entered the 40 mile aid station. Here I contemplated changing my shoes into my lighter Asics, but a wonderful aid station worker convinced me to stick with my original plan and save those shoes for the return trip. As I sipped down some more vegetarian broth and noodles she also massaged my legs for me. (NOTE: all RD’s out there – with so many runners being so health conscious, please follow Leadville’s lead and have options available to those who can’t have the standard chicken broth).
After resting and re-energizing about 10 minutes in the station, I started out. As I left the tent my eyes darted around for two things that I knew were coming up fast. First was the river crossing – a place where we had been informed we would have to wade across thigh high waters. The second was Hope Pass – the 12,600 foot barrier between Twin Lakes and the 50 mile turn-around. The first was behind some trees and tall grass. The second was hidden behind storm clouds (Oh goody!).
I ran on through the mountain pastures around Twin Lakes and soon the river crossing became visible. I waited my turn and entered the river. The water was cold and fast but manageable. One of the volunteers advised me to stay to my left as there was a deep hole to the right. As the snow melt waters were inching closer to certain body parts, I opted to listen to him.
Then I exited the river and continued on – following the path that disappeared into the trees. My legs actually were feeling really good – I think the icy waters actually helped. I started climbing and began to get pretty warm so I stopped and shed my jacket.
As I restarted my climb, the skies opened up and the hail began to pour down. I have decided that I have a second job – I will go to areas that have a water shortage and simply take off my rain gear and within minutes the skies will open.
Anyway, I continued up (and up and up and up) as the hail came down (and down and…well, you get the point).
I know for a lot of people hail stones the size of peas and marbles are nothing new, but to me I was pretty amazed to see hail that far surpassed the rice sized hail that I am used to seeing, Oh, by the way, larger hail hurts when it hits a bald head – just thought you’d want to know. It was also soaking my clothes, so finally I paused and put my jacket back on again.
After awhile the hail stopped but the climb didn’t. I kept going up. Now I have raced at elevations between 8,000 and 10,000 feet and, while feeling it, certainly was never really impacted by the elevation. But here, once I broke through 11,000 feet I was gasping. I am sure all the Colorado natives had a good laugh at my expense, but shi! This was hard.
Finally, I passed through some trees and could see the top of Hope Pass….WAY UP THERE. I continued moving forward and now the sun was breaking through and I was getting hot. So, I stopped and once again took off my jacket (be warned, this is a reoccurring theme in this report).
As I approached the 12,200 foot elevation, I noticed a heard of lamas around me. No, it wasn’t the lack of oxygen that caused me to see this. This was the Hope Pass aid station (yes, to those enquiring minds that want to know, they had more vegetarian broth).
I left the HP station and started up the trail. About 100 feet before the summit, the first returning runner came running towards me. He was followed by another runner and then another. Wow – this was going to be a tight race for first.
I crested the top of the pass and looked behind me. Twin Lakes was far below and the view was amazing.
I looked ahed and the view was amazing - almost making the climb worthwhile.
Then I started downhill. Finally, back into my environment. I picked up speed as I passed those who had passed me on the way up. The trail down was pretty steep – sometimes too steep to really run. I almost lost control twice around sharp and rocky turns.
Finally, as I neared the bottom, I again met Darren (the runner from Wisconsin that I met earlier on the climb out of Half Moon). This time we exchanged names. Darren and I decided to move into Winfield (the 50 mile station) together. It was a 2 mile distance from the base of Hope to Winfield – but it only seemed like 10 miles. FINALLY we reached the aid station and got separated.
I tried to minimize my time at the station. I got there at almost exactly 12 hours. This should have left me 18 hours to do a simple 50 miles. Problem was, it wasn’t a simple 50 (with a climb of 12,600 and two others with one exceeding 11,000) coupled with pretty challenging cut-off times at each station. I popped a couple S!Caps and stretched my thighs and calves. Soon I headed back out knowing that I had a hell of a climb ahead of me.
I jogged the road from Winfield and soon reached the Hope Pass trail head. I started climbing…well, tried to. My thighs were already pretty thrashed, but I kept pushing forward. People were coming down the trail and I happily stepped aside to let them pass (and to let me rest). If I had thought going up Hope Pass on the outbound was bad, the steeper return trip made me wish for it again.
Soon Darren and his pacer caught me. We kept going up together - taking turns resting. After awhile we noted that the runners coming down were out of the race as there was no way for them to make the 50 mile cut-off time.
Near the top of the pass, Darren and I got separated when he needed to take a nature break. I crested the Hope Pass summit and started flying down the hill towards the aid station. Once there I sat down and downed some broth. I also had a peanut butter sandwich and some crackers. Soon Darren and his pacer joined me. After a bit, they took off as Darren's knees were bothering him a bit. I soon followed and passed them going down the hill.
I was again loving this race as I flew down the muddy path, along the flowing creek and over rocks and roots. Soon I passed Marshall Ulrich. I slowed and spoke with him a bit. I introduced myself, told him about my Badwater experience and how his wife had posted on this blog earlier. Soon though we were separated as I continued my downhill run.
Near the end of the downhill I stopped on some rocks to strip off my tights. With the river crossing coming up, I wanted to have them stay dry for the upcoming night. Marshall caught me there and we basically ran towards the crossing together.
Once again, we grabbed the rope and crossed through the icy waters. Once on the other side I continued my jog/walk until finally hitting the 60 mile point aid station at Twin Lakes. The aid station workers were again fantastic. One lady helped me change shoes and socks, get my rain coat on and repacked everything in my drop bag. After a bit more noodles, I headed out.
Just as I feared, the climb out of Twin Lakes was a real pain. I ended up tagging along with a two other runners. Soon it became dark and I needed to switch on my flashlight and headlamp. The climb seemed to last forever. Near the end of the climb the skies lit up with lightening and the rain and hail started falling fast and hard again. Finally, the downhill towards Half Moon started and I cruised down and ended on the road leading to the campgrounds. The rain was soaking through my clothes and I wasn't moving fast enough to stay warm.
I got to the tent and sat down in front of a heater. I downed some broth and tried to change into drier clothes. But I started shivering so much, I ended up going to the medical tent where it was even warmer and wrapping a blanket around me for 5 minutes until I stopped shaking. I then gathered my stuff, downed some hot cocoa (at the direction of the med provider - great advice) and started a power walk down the road. Two aid stations to go.
I was only a minute or two into my walk when runner comes up behind me and asks if he could hang with me a bit. "Sure" I said. His name was Matt and his ankle was giving him a real hard time (he injured it 6 years ago or so and it still bothered him). Not only was this his first 100 miler, it was his first ultra. He hadn't even run a marathon before!
He told me how he and his brother started the race together but his brother was forced to stop at Wynfield. His crew was his mom and girlfriend. i said he was more than welcome to hang with me as my only goal was sub-30 and if he and I could power walk through the finish line under that time, we could do it together. He set forth his timing strategy that would let us see the finish line around 9:00am (29 hours). It was agreed and we commenced.
We chatted a bit and tried to keep ourselves entertained. Soon we came along Tree Line where his girlfriend was waiting. Matt changed jackets and grabbed another water bottle and off we went. The road from Tree Line to Fish Hatchery seemed to have increased in length during the day, but we kept moving. We finally entered Fish Hatchery and I grabbed some broth and some food. The workers filled my bottles. Matt was getting his ankle wrapped so I laid down on a bench next to a heater. But almost before I even closed my eyes, Matt was ready to go - so we left.
The asphalt road leading out of FH eventually reached a point where the flags led us onto the dirt path that marked the beginning of the Powerline march up to Sugarloaf. Matt was actually stronger on the uphills than I so he led the way. Soon a young woman from Toronto joined us for a bit using trekking poles as she ascended the trail.
As the night wore on, we continued up. My thighs were pretty tired but I noticed that I was keeping up with Matt. Soon though, I ended up passing him. He stated that he was really hurting. I tried to talk him into moving forward and he did. But after about 20 minutes he said he just couldn't and wanted me to go ahead. I tried to tell him that we had plenty of time and he just had to keep moving forward. He said he would move at his own pace and actually asked me to "Please just get going." So I compromised and told him that we had to be close to the summit and I would go ahead and if I got to it soon, I would wait for him so we could do the downhill together. If I didn't get there soon, I would go on down to the aid station and tell his crew about him. He agreed and off I went. Man - it was at least 20 minutes before I finally got to the summit so, per our agreement and with time slipping away, I kept moving down the road.
Now I noticed that my headlight and flashlight beams were growing dim. I stopped and changed headlamps with the spare in my bag - but it was dim too. But I continued on and finally dropped down the trail leading towards May Queen the final aid station. The trail was dark and very very muddy. Sometimes I would step down and most of my shoe would disappear in black muck. My lights were so dim, I made one wrong turn but realized it less than a minute later when the path, luckily, ended. I turned around and went back and found the right way.
I entered the May Queen aid station and sat down. To my right was one of my roommates Jonathan being crewed by UltraRunning mag's Tia Bodington. As we exchanged hellos, I was slapped on the back by another of my roomates Elwyn. I was just thinking how cool it was that 3 of the 4 people staying in the same room were at the last aid station at the exact same time when Elwyn commented that Bill (the fourth roommate) was there also. Wow! What a coincidence! After 87 miles, the four of us were on the exact same pace - must be that Leadville Hostel coffee.
I asked Jonathan if he thought we still has sub-30 hours and he was confident that a nice power walk would bring us in around 29 hours. So, He took off first while a great aid station volunteer found me some replacement batteries for my flashlight. Then Elwyn and I headed out. We started a nice little jog/power walk and soon caught Jonathan. The three of us hung together a bit but soon Elwyn and I went ahead, Elwyn intent on catching Bill who we assumed was ahead of us chasing his 25th straight Leadville finish.
The trail soon became single track as we reversed our way back towards Leadville. We were making a decent pace, jogging the downhills and power walking the inclines and flats. Soon we came upon two other runners. Elwyn passed them by trying to catch Bill. I hung back for a bit content with my pace. Soon though I too passed them by and continued heading towards Leadville.
After awhile, it was light enough to switch off the flashlight and headlamp. The trail was winding alongside the lake and soon entered the Boat Ramp crew access. Only about 8 or so miles to go!
The wind was coming off of the lake and my hands were frozen. I was really tired, cold and damp. I mentioned to a runner next to me that I just wanted to get this "F'n thing over with". He laughed and agreed. After what seemed like an eternity, I exited a path and came upon a road which I crossed and entered the last trail to Leadville. This trail was a mini-Powerline run - straight down with many gullies and rocks.
Once at the bottom of the decent, we turned onto the final dirt climb. This was a wide dirt road that seemed to go on and on. After every rise, there was yet another rise. I passed a few runners here and there, but I wasn't really going that fast. Between my dead legs and being really cold, my pace had dropped quite a bit. Soon though, the dirt trail ended. I reached the peak at the same time as Gary Wang, a fellow Bay Area ultrarunner. I checked my watch and figured that I might still just barely get under 29 hours.
So I started a slow jog across the street and turned on the final stretch. After cresting a small rise, the finish line was in sight - about 4 blocks away. I kept jogging as fast as I could, having to take the occasional walk break. Finally, I reached the final intersection and shouted my race number to a volunteer. A minute later I stepped on the red carpet and heard my name announced as I crossed the finish line.
My final time: 28 hours 57 minutes 35 seconds. By far this was my slowest 100 miler - but I was so happy and proud. To me, that was one hard race. Between the cold, the elevation, the wind, and the never ending fear of the cut-offs I felt as if I had overcome the most challenges to reach the finish line. It was my 3rd buckle this year (Keys 100 and Badwater included). It has already been added to my shadow box buckle display.
A few valuable things I learned. 1) I never once was nauseous - I had switched my electrolyte pills over to S!Caps and they worked wonderfully. I think my hydration and electrolyte balance was the best of any race I have run. 2) Injinji socks coupled with hydropel on the feet protected me 100% from blisters. Not even a single hot spot. 3) This was the first race in which I used a pack. It worked, but because it strapped across my chest, every time I needed something or needed to change tops, it took a bit of time and effort - so next time will be a below the back/lumbar bag that I can just spin around.
Back at the hostel, I took a quick shower. Elwyn and I noticed that our hands had really puffed up probably from altitude edema. Soon, all roommates were back and taking a quick nap before the awards. We each were still coughing constantly making our hostel dorm room sound like a typhoid ward.
Then it was off to the awards. Co-race directors Ken and Merilee put on a great show handing out buckles, awards and bottles of Colorado whiskey. Despite the conditions, some people posted incredible times with the top 3 finishers breaking 19 hours. The first place male 50-59 years broke the top 10 overall with a sub 22 hour time!
Bill got a standing ovation when it was announced that he had finished his 25th straight Leadville 100!
As we helped pack up the room from the awards, I met a young man distributing samples of beer from a New Mexico brewery. He had run the first 50 miles with his brother but was forced to drop. We chatted some more and I realized that he was Matt’s brother. Matt ended up dropping at mile 87. Personally, I was amazed that he pushed through so long with a painful ankle never ever even run a marathon before. I know he will be back.
This is certainly one heck of a race - one which every ultrarunner needs to experience.
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