Monday, September 21, 2009

Leadville 100

Wow,  it's hard to believe that it's been almost a month since the race!  I'll try to do the best I can to recall every detail.

I woke up on race day with the usual haze one feels when they've gotten 4 hours of restless sleep.  After a full season of racing I was now used to this, and grabbed the package of smores pop-tarts I had laid out the night before.  At this hour of the morning nothing tastes good and I tried my best to cram as much of my "breakfast" into my mouth before the nerves and nausea set in.  After I donned my usual uniform of Mizuno shorts and a Kansas City Trail Nerds cut-off shirt, I drowsily laced up my brand new pair of popsicle orange Mizuno Wave Ronins.  It's funny that, at 23 years of age, a new pair of shoes still makes me feel faster.  It's all I can do to resist the urge to grab the first person I see and say "Hey, watch how fast I can run."  But I have other things on my mind this morning... mostly finding my friends, family and pacers that will be helping me during the race.

Finding my mother and brother was easy enough.  They had stayed at the Delaware hotel, mere blocks from the starting line.  The real challenge would be finding my friends Dallas, Asher, and Mark.  They had spent the last 17 hours driving my belongings in a trailer to Colorado Springs (my new residence), then driving through the night on zero hours of sleep to be at Leadville in time for my race.  I guide them into town via cellphone, and see three tired, red-eyed travelers half-heartedly smile as I greet them.  Dallas dropped Mark and Asher off to get some rest, and then joined my family to eat a real breakfast.  We all needed it.

Breakfast talk was slow and strained through our respective stupors. However, it was a good chance to catch up with these people I hadn't seen in over a month.  We also had a great opportunity to get some details straightened out with the race.  After a few plates of fruit, muffins, and 5 glasses of OJ, we all made our way to the starting line.

I have heard from many people that there is no reason to warm up before a 100 mile race.  Still, somehow I just don't feel right if i don't get at least a 5 minute jog in before I stretch.  So, I set out at a slow cantor and begin to scope out the competition.  Everywhere, I see nervous looks and brightly colored gaiters.  Not that they have anything to do with one another, it's just what I notice.  After the 5 minutes or so of jogging I headed back to the starting line and strip down to my uniform.  I made sure to stretch the large muscle groups in my legs, and also a sore I.T. band that I had been nursing back to health the week prior.  It felt great, and it renewed my confidence in being able to run this large distance.

5 MINUTES!!!!! The race director is screaming into the microphone as my family and I are attempting some last-minute conversation.  Nothing really important is being said, they are just attempting to settle my nerves which are plainly visible to people who know me so well.  I try to tell them I'm fine, but really I'm a wreck.  This is going to be the biggest race I've ever run, with some very solid competition.... and it's only my second race at this distance.

2 MINUTES!!!!! I've pushed my way to the front of the pack and am trying to ignore everyone around me talking about time splits and nutrition.  I feel the same way when I'm about to take a test and everyone around me is reviewing their notes out loud.  It's a bit frustrating.  But... I understand that most of the people here are just nervous and trying to keep their minds off of the immensity of their task.  I'm trying to keep my mind busy by looking for Greg Burger, a friend and teammate who was looking to receive a finisher's buckle today.  Even though Greg and I had spent the entire week camping and training, I still wanted to offer a few more words of encouragement.  I knew, though, that it would be virtually impossible to find him in a pack of 500+ people.

1 MINUTE!!!!! Anton appears out of nowhere and steps to the front of the pack.  I have the sneaking suspicion he ran here.  Stuart, part of the Great Plains Running Company team, grabs my shoulder and wishes me luck.  Shelley and Derick scream at me from the other side of the street, and I attempt to smile as my stomach is dropping to my ankles.

Ten, nine, eight, seven..... you get the idea.  We start.  Almost immediately, a front pack begins to form and we separate from the much larger group behind us.  In this pack of 9 or 10 people, I only recognize 4.  There's Tim Parr, Anton Krupicka, Andy Jones-Wilkins and last year's winner Duncan Callahan.  There's one guy with a CamelBak who has a very labored stride.  Somehow, even in the first mile of a 100 mile race, I know he won't last.  The other guys look strong and efficient and I wonder what kind of unexpected competition will be here today.  We get through the first mile of pavement, and then switch to the dirt road.  It was at this point I lost my maglite handheld and opted not to waste time picking it up.  Left with only my headlamp, I surged forward to stay in the collective light of the pack.  This made it much easier to see all of the bumps and dips in the road, and also allowed me to take my first gel of the day.  I wanted to make sure I stayed on top of nutrition and hydration early on.

The pack stayed together in a tight group until the first hill.  From there, we straightened out and formed a line.  We would more or less stay in this order until the climb to Sugarloaf Pass.

About 3 miles into the Turquoise Lake trail, Anton is leading the pack and decides to make a pit-stop.  In the darkness everyone is depending on the lead guy to find the trail, and as a result 7 people wreck into each other as Anton stops, turns around, and explains that the trail is up the hill.  He would like to shit in solitude.  All of us have a good laugh and continue on the trail to Mayqueen campground.

Once at Mayqueen, I frantically look for a familiar face to transfer water bottles and GU packs.  Not a single face I recogni.... wait is that SHELLEY?!! I desperately look to her for help but she has no gear to resupply me.  She and Derick cheer me on through the aid station, and immediately I begin screaming "DALLAS! BLAKE! CHERYL! DALLAS!"  All of these yelps went unanswered, and I decided since it was still cool I could make it another ten miles on one bottle of water an a gel.  Our time going through Mayqueen was 1:45.  I overheard Anton explaining that this pace was faster than his 16:14 finish two years ago.  This worried me a bit and I decided to hold back a bit.  After a few minutes I was alone.

The road to Sugarloaf Pass offers some of the best views of the surrounding landscape.  I can't help but smile as I turn around and take in the sunrise over Turquoise Lake.  Far off, you can see the lights of Leadville, and the headlamps of hundreds of fellow travellers in a single-file line around the lake.  My smile fades away as I turn around and see the beginning of the large ascent to Sugarloaf Pass.  This is the first of six major climbs in the race.  I dramatically slowed my pace to about 9-9.5 minute miles and began the long climb to the top.  Once at the top, I descended the 4 or 5 small downhills, and this is where my knee pain slowly crept in.  I knew at this point that it would be a long day.  I tried my best to "switchback" my way down the last large hill, and from there I just kept my eyes on the CamelBak guy until reaching Fish Hatchery aid station.

I find my brother and Dallas waiting for me at the entrance with two open gels and two new bottles of water packed full of GU and HammerGel.  Normally (and I don't think I'm alone here) gels are simply a means of quickly taking in electrolytes and carbohydrates on the run.  By this time, having missed an opportunity to refuel at Mayqueen, I am starving and I don't hesitate to greedily take both gels at the same.  Yuck, tropical and chocolate. What a combination.  Either way, it goes down easily and I chug two cups of powerade before I head out.  In the daylight, I can see all of the familiar faces I had missed at the previous aid station.  There was Dallas, Mark, Asher, Blake, mom.  I stopped and gave my mom a kiss on the cheek and assured her I was feeling fine.  Never underestimate the weariness of a mother during one of these races.

I raced out of Fish Hatchery trying to catch CamelBak guy still.  I did have time to pose for Shelley and Derick, who were taking pictures right next to the road.  I headed out to the road with a smile on my face, and began hunting for what I thought to be third place.  After running through the early morning sun, I started to feel the blood rushing back to my frozen fingers.  This section of the race is fairly uneventful for most people, seeing as how it is a flat section of paved road.  It was the same for me.  Nothing really to speak of aside from gaining a few paces on CamelBak guy.  I chased him all the way until the turn off of Halfmoon Creek road, and this is where I made my move.  I flew past him in order to assert myself and avoid a pace- pushing episode.  Shortly after I looked back and realized he had stopped shortly after.  That was the last I saw of CamelBak guy.

While in third place I slowed down dramatically.  The pain in my knee was getting worse and I was forced to walk most of the flats since I couldn't really lift my leg that high anyway.  It made more sense to me to just walk quickly and save my strength for the downhills and the climb up to Hope Pass.  About 15 minutes into the 2nd large climb I looked back and saw Duncan Callahan steadily making up ground between us.  I smiled and said hello and stepped aside so he could run by.  Another 15 minutes, I start making my way down the hill to Twin Lakes.  Behind me, I hear a yell and look back to Nick Lewis pointing me in the right direction.  He would later apologize for not yelling sooner, but to be honest he saved me at least an hour of cursing, yelling, and extra running on a hurt knee.  The last downhill was painful, and right as I was about to crest the last descent, I see Mark and Asher yelling at me.  I scream, "IBUPROFEN!" and they make their way down the hill hassle the medical tent for some pills.  I took these with a few gels, and chugged a bottle of water.  My crew said I was looking a little ragged.  The truth is, I was feeling great physically (not my knee, of course), I was just insanely pissed off that my knee was giving me that much trouble with 60.5 miles left in the race.  There was no time to feel sorry for myself.  Dallas and Blake gave me a slap on the butt and I hobbled my way to the beginning of Hope Pass.  This was about the only time in history I would be looking forward to a 3000' climb after 40 miles of running.

After about 20 minutes of hobbling/walking, I crossed the creek that feeds into Twin Lakes.  It felt amazing combined with the heat of the sun.  It also took some of the pain off of my knee, and once out I felt I could stumble long enough to make it to the beginning of the ascent.  I did, and once I hit the first bit of gain, I began a fast-walk all the way to Hope Pass.  I lost a lot of time looking back to see if anyone was gaining on me.  Every time I looked back I'd see a white hat or a blue jersey.  All of the sightings were my imagination, but I couldn't help feeling that I was losing so much ground due to my walking.  At last, I might to the Hope Pass aid station and refilled my bottles.  At this point, most people would relish in the fact that they are going to have a huge downhill to saunter down.  I on the other hand, had really enjoyed not feeling my knee for 2 hours, and was wishing for anything but 3000' feet of elevation loss.  I took one last look over my shoulder, and saw no one.  This was comforting, and eased the tension growing in my stomach again... or is that hunger?  Who cares... I took another gel and began the arduous descent to Winfield aid station.

The last 2 miles before Winfield were probably the toughest miles in the entire race.  I was alone, tired, out of gels, and nearly out of water.  This stretch of road seems to last forever, and it didn't help that the first group of cars were now flying by and kicking up dust.  I could feel the grittiness in my teeth.  I could feel my temperature rise from the dust drying out my skin.  I was miserable.  Behind me I heard footsteps and I look back to see a runner closing in.  I see him pass me and I congratulate him, saying he looks strong.  He looks back and laughs, "Naw dude I'm just out here crewing."  I sigh with relief.  Shortly after I see my brother jogging down to find me.   "Dude, this dust sucks ass!" He was basically reading my mind word for word.  He ran ahead to tell my crew I was near, not before convincing me to  jog in the last half mile to avoid letting them know I was in such a bad state.  Once again, never underestimate the weariness of a mother during one of these races.

Ah, the halfway point.  Only 50 miles to go.  My stomach was churning.  I was only 4 pounds under my starting weight, which is much better than my first 100 miler.  It brightened my mood a bit, and I celebrated with a few ibuprofen and a cup of bland ramen noodles.  Dallas thought it might be a good idea to take a short break.  I gladly sat and let he and Mark rub my legs with IcyHot.  The smell made me nauseous, but the rush of cold on my legs was a relief.  I sat for a few more minutes until I heard cheers from the crowd and realized another runner was on his way in.

I jumped up and began assembling my supplies for the next leg.  I had assumed at this point I was going to go another 27 miles before I would have a pacer.  Dallas, Mark, and Asher are all track and field athletes.  Dallas and Mark run the 800m at the National level, and Asher does the same for the 1500.  I had no intention of burdening them to spread the next 50 miles between them.  Running that much at this point in their training would damage them and leave them in recovery for too long.  Just as I was stumbling out of the aid station, Shelley yells for me to wait.  Derick was going to be pacing me!  What a badass.  I couldn't believe someone I've only known for less than a day was willing to climb over a mountain with me.  And he was also wearing a pair of popsicle orange Ronins.  Needless to say, I was glad to have his company, and it put a little pep in my hobble on the way back to the trailhead.  It was great being able to vent my frustrations to someone, and also to talk about other things aside from being frustrated.  We talked quite a bit (when we could) about triathlons, ultra races, how awesome Shelley is, etc.  Another runner, Nick Pedatella, passed me.  I didn't care.  When we needed to rest, we rested. When we needed to eat, we ate. We both encouraged the many runners coming down.  I saw Paul smiling as he passed.  Greg looked to be on the right pace, though he looked to be in lower spirits.  Before we knew it we were at the top of Hope Pass and I had Derick turn around and take in the view.  As I've said before in my blog, this is one of the most beautiful and powerful places I've ever seen.  Tired though I am, I cannot help standing a few moments longer to appreciate a view that many people never have an opportunity to see.  From here its a rough few miles to Twin Lakes.  We refuel at Hope Pass aid station and I ingest two gels to make sure I will have enough fuel to get to the next one.  All of a sudden,  a perfect storm of caffeine, ibuprofen, and sugar hits me and I feel great for the first time in 30 miles.  I looked over to Derick and said "F*** it! Let's go!"  We increase our strides and begin storming down the hill.  My guess is we were clipping along at sub 6 minute pace for a good stretch, and didn't go much over seven minute pace until we reached the flat.  It was at this point Derick told me to go ahead, and also the point where I began a battle with Nick Pedatella for placing.  I passed by he and his pacer and took a brief respite in the cold stream before heading into Twin Lakes.

As I made my way across the fields before the aid station, my brother once again goaded me into running in the remaining distance.  And, like before, I did.  My crew met me with cheers and the tube of IcyHot.  I yelled at them again, "IBUPROFEN!" and told my brother to run ahead so he could get me a new pair of shoes.... the ones I had on didn't feel right.  I took them off and inspected the bottoms.  As I had thought, there was something wrong.  I had basically ripped off the entire tread of one of them, and the other one was missing the patented G3 grip.  I tried to wolf down a banana, two gels and a few cups of powerade as my brother and Dallas are wrestling my feet into the new socks and shoes.  People are talking about the loud orange shoes being placed on my feet and my mom and Shelley proudly tell the crowd in unison, "They are Mizuno Wave Ronins!"  I can't help but laugh at this and think how proud Sophia would be to see my crew repping for her company.  Blake follows me up the hill and informs me that I wouldn't have a pacer for this leg.  He gave me a big pep talk and, surprisingly, got me really pumped to get the next section done.  But, as he sauntered back down the hill, I already missed his presence.  The next 10 miles were going to be lonely.

After blasting up the hill, I once again hit the flats I had walked on the way out.  The way back was more of the same, with many attempts to spot someone clipping at my heels.  Shortly after the next aid station, I got my wish.  Nick was back on my heels and I spent the remaining miles walking and sprinting to avoid him overtaking me.  Over the last hill I spotted my brother and felt a rush of adrenaline at seeing him.  I was glad to have him in my sights again, and just as he had done at every station today, he convinced me to run in.

More IcyHot, more ibuprofen, more gel, more water, the whole routine was starting to make me nauseous.  I choked down the gel and begged for more ibuprofen, but there was none to be had.  My mom refused to hand it over.  So in its stead, I took another gel and slowly rose from the chair.  Mark was waiting for me and we very slowly made our way to Halfmoon Creek road.  This is the point where my body just gave up on me.  I found it impossible to move my legs faster than a walk.  I was tired, nauseous, dehydrated and completely mentally drained.  It only occurs to me now that Mark was the perfect person to have pacing me at this point.  He didn't yell at me or attempt to prod me along like most people would in this situation.  We simply talked and walked the entire way.  Even though we were making terrible time and losing a lot of ground on Nick (who was now about a mile ahead), it gave me a while to recollect myself and rehydrate/refuel for the next leg of the race, Sugarloaf Pass.  I slowly walked into Fish Hatchery aid station and, after walking through the garage, sat down with my crew and attempted to regain some energy.  Dallas handed me a Clif bar.  The sight of it made me gag violently.  I try some soup, which is the one thing I have been able to stomach after 70 miles of running.  It may have gone down smoothly had it not been ice cold.  Next up, a handful of vitamins.  Those came back up after getting stuck on the back of my throat.  It turns out the only thing I'm able to stomach after eating nothing but gel all day is..... MORE GEL!!!  The irony makes me laugh and Asher, my new pacer, drags me out of the aid station.  Just as we leave, the next runner comes in.  Dallas screams "TWO MINUTES BEHIND!!!!" 

Asher and I very slowly get through the paved section.  My knee can't take the even terrain combined with the hardness of the asphalt.  But once we get to the hilly section over Sugarloaf Pass, things start to pick up.  Well, the pace stays about the same, its just on more rugged terrain and I know I'm doing well.  When we get to the top of the first hill I look back while catching my breath.  I see the runner and his pacer at the bottom and wonder if Dallas was just lying to me or if we had gained a lot of ground in the last mile.  Either way it gave me a little bit of a rush, and I used this to bomb down the next few sections of rolling hills.

For what seemed like forever, Asher and I traversed the large climbs and sprinted down the descents.  After losing count of the hills we had climbed, I simply resorted to cursing everyone and everything.  Once again, Asher seemed to be the perfect person to have at this point.  She offered to carry my water bottles, which made the climbs way easier.  She also added constructive criticisms that I almost always tried to correct.  Right as the sun was going down, we began the descent down to Mayqueen campground.  Under the trees the sun no longer offered its warmth or light.  After about 20 minutes of jogging/avoiding rocks, we were forced to a walk and began squinting to see the pink flags guiding the trail.  How could we have forgotten headlamps.  It was a mistake that was gonna cost us precious minutes.  Luckily, we didn't have that far to go.  All of a sudden, we see a large beam of light dancing in the air, and then a familiar voice.  SHELLEY!!!! Shelley had borrowed a policeman's gigantic maglite and was now searching for us in the woods.  She escorted us out of the woods and onto the road.  At this point my entire crew, even Derick's dog, was jogging next to me.  It was at this point I knew I was going to hold off the person behind me, and catch Nick no matter how far ahead he was.  Dallas was going to pace me the last 13.5 miles, and together we were going to fly through the last leg.  I left just as the other runners were making they're way in.

"We're going after Nick." I'm not sure if Dallas had read my mind or if he had his own plans that happened to be exactly the same.  It didn't matter though. I knew Dallas would see me through to the end.  He had paced me at my first 100 miler, and now knew exactly what had to be done.  Out of the 7 miles of Turquoise Lake trail, I would say we walked less than 300 yards.  Every hill we went up, Dallas would scream encouragement.  Every hill we went down, more of the same.  I can't remember a moment in this stretch where there was silence.  This helped out a lot because I wasn't allowed to fall into a pattern for too long.

Every twenty minutes Dallas would yell from behind, "Gu coming up, is chocolate okay?"  After three or four of these, I realized that he only had chocolate, but it was nice of him to ask.  Just then, headlamps ahead.  It was Nick! We were gaining ground fast, and seeing this only made us run faster.  Meanwhile Dallas is screaming "You gotta break his heart! Fly past him!"  I started laughing.  Normally you don't scream your plans into your opponents' ears.  No matter though, they merely smiled, we exchanged encouragements and then fell back into the routine of Dallas telling me what to do.  This was great!  Now we just had to avoid getting lost.

We got lost.  If anyone reading this has every gotten lost during a race, especially the end, they will understand how completely draining it is.  Not only are you exhausted by the thought of running extra miles, but also losing ground to opponents and trying to find the trail again.  Dallas runs ahead and find a group of campers next to a fire.  One of them volunteers to help us and begins running down trail with us.  Just then, Nick and his pacer meet us and we all exchange confused looks.  As a group, we all made our way back to the correct trail.  Just then Dallas yells again "You've gotta break his heart.... a second time!"  We set off in a hurried pace to lose Nick.

As we left the trail to cross the street, I felt my foot getting moist and warm right on the heel.  After contemplating this sensation for the entire steep downhill to the dirt road, I realized it was a massive blister.  I must not have felt it the entire time due to the other aches and pains I was feeling.  No matter.  How bad could it get, right?  Wrong.  After about a mile, the moist and warm feeling turned into a stinging sensation.  Dallas and I decided to walk to see if the pain went away.  But now there was a new threat.  Headlamps were closing in behind us.  I decided that the pain of losing a spot in the race would be worse than what I was feeling in my foot... for now, at least.

Dallas and I picked up the pace and made our way to the last 2.5 mile section before the final paved mile.  It was way steeper than I thought, and we were forced to walk on the bigger hills.  On one of these hills the entire back of my foot ripped open.  It felt like someone had lit my heel on fire.  To make things worse, the headlamps were bouncing behind us again.  This was by far the most frustrating race experience I've every had.  Being trapped between a failing body and an adamant mind.  With such a short distance to go, Dallas was not going to allow us to lose any more positions.  After what seemed like forever, we saw a street light in front of us.  We had made it, without losing any ground to the racers behind us.  I knew that once me made it to the road, I would feel the usual rush of adrenaline and cruise in the last mile.  At this point, no one was going to catch me.  Just as I expected, the rush of energy hit me.  I no longer felt my legs, feet, anything.  I was floating.  Dallas kept up with me until the last quarter mile and then stepped off to let me enjoy my finish.  Blake and Mark came to meet me with a short distance to go.  Shelley and Sophia were screaming, and my mom was there to greet me at the finish line with a big hug.

4th place at Leadville.  It would have been impossible for me to stop smiling at this moment. 

I would like to thank everyone who crewed for me, for pacing, for offering encouragement, everything.  You have helped create a memory that I won't forget as long as I live.

For now I'm off to Europe and hopefully finding a lot of awesome places to run and get back into shape!

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