Friday, August 23, 2013

Leadville Trail 100

Oh boy! Where to begin?
It's been so long since I've written a post, I'm not sure what to put.

For the past 5 years, I've been participating in the Leadville trail 100 supporting one friend or another in some capacity. Pacing, crewing, or even just cheering, I've been at Leadville for the last 5 years learning about it and wondering if I wanted to try it.

Honestly, I think I only signed up out of peer pressure for the most part, but also a bit of curiosity as to how how I might do. When I imagined myself doing the LT100 one day, I figured I'd be in the best shape of my life and would feel invincible, and would have the chiseled body of a running god. Nothing could be further from reality.

The past 2 years, I've battled injury after injury and eked out mediocre results at best at only a handful of races. Racing hasn't been my top priority as I've enjoyed being a daddy to these two more often than training.

However, being part of the Runners Roost mountain/ultra team has kept me motivated to train, and working with David Manthey and Runners Edge of the Rockies, has given my training a little more structure and focus. Even so, my training hasn't been as consistent as I would have liked it to be, and I also struggle to find balance with trying to be a good husband, Daddy, friend, employee, and athlete. My priorities are in that order although desire often leans toward the latter, my commitment to the first parts never wavers. 

Anyway, I've seen changes in the past few years out at Leadville that I do not see elsewhere and those changes are not always for the better. The disorganization seems to grow each year with the increasing number of participants. Newbie crews, more volunteers that don't necessarily have prior ultra knowledge or experience to build on. New course and aid station changes with modified crew access were other changes for this year. Minor, but still trends away from (not towards) consistency. I can adapt and be flexible enough to roll with some changes when crewing and am largely self-sufficient for long runs so I was more concerned with my crew and pacers than I was for myself. 

Elevation profile. Photo courtesy of

 Jeremy Frank and I at the start.

 Jeremy, myself, and Sean Butler at the start.
My awesome crew. David Manthey, me, and my wonderful wife Allison.

The 4am start was uneventful. My hope was to go sub-25 for the big buckle, but that was an A- goal with the main goal being a finish. With the pace chart for sub-25 I expected to be into MayQueen between 6:10 and 6:20, but since I don't wear a watch or a GPS, I had no idea of what my pace was. Even so, I arrived right on schedule based solely on feel and with a minute or three with a detour off course with 20 others.

It was a quick stop in MQ where I just topped off the water bottles, dropped off some gear and a quick kiss from Allison and I was off to hit the Colorado Trail section that would take me up to Hagerman pass road then down the Powerline section and into Fish Hatchery or rather, the new Outward Bound Aid Station. 

This too, went by uneventfully, but although I made a concerted effort to go very easily down the steep Powerline descent, I still felt it may have been too much of an effort at the time. Ultimately, that section proved to be inconsequential.
During this section, going up Hagerman pass road, and even earlier going around Turquoise Lake, I had the privilege of chatting with an old friend Paul Schoenlaub who earned his 11th Buckle at Leadville on this day. He introduced me to KC area runner named Time Garvey who would later go on to get his Big Buckle for the day with a sub-25 hour finish.

Up to this point, I had only peed a couple of times and had not done the other and I felt that was causing some sluggishness in the legs. When I checked into the Outward Bound Aid Station, I was able to hit the porta-potty and spent the next few minutes thinking about how much time I was losing.
Bad move mentally on my part.

This led me to push a little too hard on the road section leading up to Treeline and during this push, I was concentrating more on turnover/leg speed and not enough on hydration and fueling. By the time I got to Treeline, I was beginning to feel the effects of  not taking in enough calories up to that point.

From Treeline on out to Twin lakes was a long, sufferfest where I tried to push as much as possible, but was unable to due to stuff just not processing. Everything I ate and drank stayed in my stomach and went no further. End result was diminishing energy and time lost on too much walking. I also noticed during this section that I'd stopped peeing. Another thing that I needed to keep an eye on.
Up to this point, I was pretty much on my pace and hitting my splits for my goal of a sub-25 hour finish. During this leg, I knew it would be a tall order to make that happen as I felt I was losing at least an hour of my time.
Coming into Twin Lakes:

Coming into Twin Lakes, I knew that I needed to regroup and get things under control before tackling the beastly double crossing of Hope Pass. I came in with purpose, said hi to lots of friends in the area then found my trusty crew and told them what had been going on. The most concerning to me was the kidney functions and not getting in enough fluids. My stomach was visibly bloated and distended from the food and water that hadn't yet processed into energy or hydrated tissue. We chatted and discussed the fact that I needed to keep moving after changing shoes and on the way up Hope Pass, I would have to keep my heart rate lower than I wanted in order to allow things to settle down and allow more blood for digestion instead of diverting it to muscles for harder effort. 

I grabbed the necessary gear and food and water for the 3400 vertical feet of climbing that takes you from Twin Lakes at 9,200' to the top of Hope Pass at 12,600' in 5 miles. The river crossings felt great on the lower legs and feet, but did soften up some tissue on the toes and now I'll lose a couple of toenails thanks to the steep descent on the back side of Hope with soft shoes and feet. 
The trek up was great because I felt relaxed and under no pressure. I wasn't concerned at all with a time goal and I was able to keep the heart rate down while getting to do this climb with my good friend Sean who was also doing this race. We weren't sure how much of the race we would get to do together as it's an individual effort  and he's from NC and unsure of how the altitude would affect him, but it worked out that we had the chance to do this part together and it added to my enjoyment of the race.
During this part, I also had the privilege of being by Phil Snyder and Junko Kazukawa both from the Runners Roost team and drawing some inspiration from them as well. All in all, it was a very enjoyable climb. 
Once hitting the Hope(less) Aid Station, I topped off water bottles and then continued up to the top of the pass and began a mission to get on track while staying within reasonable limits. During this descent, I encountered the race leaders coming up. Normally, the uphill racer has the trail right-of-way, but I always yielded to these folks because whether guy or gal, they're working way harder than I am and deserve my admiration and support. Each one that passed by, I would give them a little shove in the back up the hill. It wouldn't be much physically to make much of a difference, but some of them were hurting and really appreciated the boost which did help them mentally. Cheering them on made ME feel better. Win win!
 Hope Pass trail. Photo courtesy Kelly Butler and Eagle Eye Photo.
 Hope Pass trail. Photo courtesy Kelly Butler and Eagle Eye Photo.

Coming into the Aid Station at Winfield, I was down 4 lbs. Was instructed to drink more by the race staff. That was already on my todo list!
Here, I didn't waste much time, did the necessary things of gear checks and food resupply and Eddie and I were off on our way back up the mountain. He did a great job of keeping me entertained, motivated, fueled, and moving regularly. The climb back up Hope Pass went by much quicker and more smoothly than I expected and I was still feeling great. Upon reaching the Hope(less) Aid Station, we got a little more water and Eddie grabbed me a little Ramen broth with potatoes in it. Good stuff. We only stayed long enough to notice the carnage that lay all around. Runners were in sleeping bags shivering (convulsing?) uncontrollably while others were on hands and knees turning themselves inside out. Not a pretty scene at all, but once you looked out over the horizon, THAT scenery will still grace many a postcard for years to come!
We cooked it down the mountain while trying to keep the speed in check. He was a constant reminder that no matter how good I felt, I didn't want to trash the quads just yet as there were still plenty of miles left. This was great advice and I held back considerably while still making good time in dancing through the technical stuff.
Eddie and I getting back into Twin Lakes.
 Laurie on the left and my new pacer, Carla on the right. Hammer time!

It was a quick changing of the guard once back into Twin Lakes. Since we knew it would be getting dark during the next leg, we had to make the necessary preparations quickly. I changed shoes and socks, restocked with food and water, grabbed the headlamp and a long sleeved shirt and with another kiss from Allison, we were off.
On the 1,500' climb out of Twin Lakes to the Colorado Trail, I asked Carla to be patient with me while I tried to stay on top of my stomach. I felt good and wanted to stay that way. She was awesome, flexible, and upbeat. She was willing to go when I was and quick with handing my things I needed when I asked for them. During this climb, I felt an odd sensation I hadn't felt for MILES and several HOURS. I had to PEE! Yep, that's right, I had not peed since mile 25 or so and here we were at mile 62 and I was finally processing liquids the right way, I was back on top of my hydration. From here on out, I would be peeing clear and often so there were no more worries about that.

As soon as we hit the top of the climb and the trail leveled out a bit, I broke into a trot and Carla followed suit. She's a strong runner and I didn't want her to be disappointed by having to walk or shuffle on such a beautiful part of trail. It was starting to get dark and the trail running in the Aspen groves at dusk was spectacular! We enjoyed a couple of miles of easy running through the trees on the single track before turning on our headlamps. Soon, we popped out onto the double track section and from here, to Outward bound, it was a fairly gradual decline in my ability to run consistently strong, followed by walk breaks to keep the heart rate in check. When exhaustion sets in, the heart rate spikes much more quickly. Still, she and I were able to burn through several miles pretty quickly, eating up many runners along the way. There was one couple in particular from Delaware that we played cat and mouse with and they were also running similar stretches followed by walk breaks. It was fun and motivating to feed off of them and it helped the time go by a little quicker. Carla also helped occupy my mind with some great conversation about mountain biking, trail running and family life which helped me to think about something OTHER than the task at hand. Job well done Carla!

One of the downsides of her being such a strong runner at this time is that due to us hammering out some quick miles while feeling good, was that my quads began to really feel the effects at about the Pipeline Aid Station. It was about 9:30 or 10 pm when we strolled into this oasis in the middle of the forest. Pipeline is run by the Ski Patrol group and is well run. Here, I saw Ryan Lassen and his pacer and my friend Courtney Crespin. He was having a low spot and it was warm and comfortable in the tent and CC was patiently helping him get his strength back. It was cool to see friendly faces along the way.

2 miles later and we're in the Treeline crewing area and we found David and Allison in the dark. Allison was catching a quick nap, but got up quickly after hearing me bumble around trying to get organized. Here, I chugged a bottle of Ultragen from First Endurance and just sat and rested a little while wondering how fast we could get through the next section of mostly road on the way to Outward Bound Aid Station.

Although this section is pretty much flat, the run/walk alternating schedule contained more walk than I wanted. I was motivated to run, but just couldn't muster it for long physically. Each time we would run, it would last for 90 seconds more or less and my legs would feel spent. Especially the quads. Even so, we were still power hiking at a good clip so I wasn't too concerned about how much time I was losing. The slog down Half Moon road seemed so long. We would see car lights in the distance and get a little dejected that we had to traverse all that way on the pavement, but we pressed ahead as best we could.

Carla, myself, and Laurie in the Outward Bound Aid Station.

Eventually, we got into the OB aid station and I wanted to make it a quick one, but we couldn't find David and Allison. I guess we were a little quicker they expected, but after walking around the parking lot and scouring the food tent, my crew was not to be found. Laurie found us and said that David was close by so I yelled out for him. He was in the Medical tent with Dr John Hill and Allison was sleeping in his car. David had my gear bin with him so we restocked and I sat for a couple of minutes to recover before moving on. Carla's husband Andy was volunteering with the medical staff so I thanked him for that as well as for loaning me his wife for pacing. After a quick thank you hug to Carla, I was back out on the road with Laurie heading toward the final climb of the race on Powerline.

This section went by pretty quickly and steadily. Laurie kept me motivated and spot on with meeting my requests for water or calories. She even noticed when I started slacking off on taking in calories and began giving me Honey Stinger chews. While making the climb up Powerline, we moved steadily and at one point, I even got a little stick up my butt and did a brief push deliriously thinking I could make up some time. That push was short lived and I was back to the regular and steady pace that we had been keeping. It was the middle of the night, but I really wan't that bad mentally. I think I was able to stay focused and Laurie did an awesome job keeping me in the moment with conversation and not letting me slack off.

Upon topping out at Powerline, we started the descent down Hagerman Pass road and I was back to the run/walk alternating method as my quads wouldn't hold up to a downhill running cadence for long. This was frustrating because I still had the mental drive to push the pace, but was physically unable to maintain it. This race was breaking me down and I was glad there was only 20 miles left of it.

During the dusty downhill, my throat began to close up and cause some difficulty with breathing. I didn't have my inhaler with me, but it was with my crew. Laurie sent them a text message to have it handy when we came into May Queen, but I felt it couldn't come soon enough. The dust was causing distress on my vocal chords and the constriction on my airway was making me more wheezy by the minute. 

Upon making the turn onto the Colorado Trail section which would take us down into May Queen, I was a little energized because I love running technical rocky stuff through the forest at night. This section was not as much fun as I had anticipated largely due to my fried quads and breathing difficulty. Still, I tried to make the best of it and run what I could and Laurie was right on me urging me to keep eating and drinking.

We got into MQ and quickly found David and Allison ready with the inhaler. I took 2 puffs off it and got down to business of figuring out how fast and light we could go the final 13'ish miles to the finish. My last pacer was David Hutcheon who graciously accepted the call for help. Upon leaving MQ, I felt ok and had aspirations of running most of the fairly easy trail and dirt road sections all the way to the finish. 


Again, fatigue and trashed quads prevented any sustained running. We could go for short stints at a time, but this whole way, my desire to run far exceeded my physical ability to do so. I think that can be addressed in future training. David was patient and encouraging as we made our way past a few people. 

At one point, while going around Turquoise Lake, I took a break to sit down and rest for a second. It was the second time during the whole race that I had sat down somewhere other than the Aid station/Crew access and here is where Tim (Mr Leadman) Urbine catches me. He didn't even hesitate. With a quick motivational word, he and his wife Gina were off down the trail and putting more distance between us with each step. It was impressive. Still, it gave me a little kick in the pants to suck it up and work harder to get it done.

The final few miles were such a grind. After passing the dam, I saw Amy and Dan O'Connell slowly making their way down the short, steep, rocky hill and I paused briefly to check on them. Dan assured me all was ok, I wished them luck and continued on. Only later did I find out that Any was experiencing Corneal Edema and was partially blinded and Dan was not only being her supportive husband and pacer, he was also acting as a seeing-eye-guide for her. Amy has done Leadville before and she is a fantastic runner should've finished hours ahead of me, but her determination and fortitude to continue on under those circumstances is very inspiring. That's the kind of thing that commands respect and further reinforces my dislike for those who make excuses.

 The final mile or so up 6th street to the finish line was a very cool experience. Allison met me at the end of the road and walk/jogged it in with me and David. She worked so hard to support me all day and has been so patient with all of my training leading up to this, it seemed fitting that she cross the finish line with me. It was as much her race as it was mine and I cherished having her by my side for it.

Mt Massive in the background.

During the race, I got most of my calories from the delicious EFS Liquid Shot from First Endurance. I occasionally supplemented with some calories from bananas, orange wedges, and Allison's guacamole on a tortilla. I think I also ate 1/4 of a pb&j. 

Of course it obviously needs saying that I couldn't have accomplished this without the support of my wonderful and loving wife, my friend and coach and crew captain extraordinaire, David Manthey, the friendship and support the entire Runners Roost organization. They are so much more than a specialty running store. I can't say enough good things about what the Roosts do for the running community as a whole but also how they've helped me out in so many ways. 

As I type this 4 days after finishing, I feel good. There's still a small bruise on my left knee from banging it on a rock at mile 47 and still some residual fatigue, but I feel ready to run again. I had NO BLISTERS during this run while wearing the Hoka One One Stinson and the Saucony Peregrine 3 with a combination of DryMax socks and Features Elite socks. I also used the Ultimate Direction AK race Vest and carried the Amphipod 20oz handheld bottles the whole way. I wore the Pearl Izumi Ultra shorts and Mizuno Drylite Creation Singlet for the entire race. I also used Chamois Butter for no chaffing.