Running the Leadville Trail 100 miler this year was never in the plan. Sure I had planned to run during the event up to 50 miles or so as a pacer but never as a participant. This year was never about me running the LT100 again, this year. All of my races and training were to prove that when I go back next year that I can break 25 hours and get that damned big buckle.
The week before the race my mileage was 84 miles mostly in and around Leadville as I was staying up there helping a friend. The Monday before the race, 8/15 I did a 20 miler. A heavy load for that week or so but all in all I was feeling great. Actually I began to quietly wish that I was running as it just seemed that I was in awesome shape. But again... that is and was not the mission of this year. Well... things change.
Tuesday morning I am working and my boss calls me. My last ultra of the year was to be the Bear 100 later in Sept. The reason for the call was to inform me that I can't take any time off for that race, a decision made by executive mgt, not himself. In a way I was sort of relieved as I just could not get excited about that particular event no matter how hard I tried... Not such the fan of Utah... I hate driving across 80, it's a long ways a way and really the only redeeming factor for me was that the raced ENDED in Idaho which is way cooler than Utah in my book. Anyway... No Bear... no sweat...
So as we got off the phone, I sat there actually in Leadville staring at my computer and thought to myself... "the worst thing that they can tell me is no, right?" I immediately drafted a sincere and well written e-mail to the LT100 Race Director explaining that I could not run the Bear in Sept. I outlined the races any my times from the season so far and also pointed out that I am a prior LT100 finisher. I told him that I understood that this was FAR outside the normal process for registration while also acknowledging the fact that the race had been full since March. Then just basically said that if there is anyway they could let me register and get a bib number for the LT100 (four days away) I would be forever grateful.
I sent it...
Two hours later I got the response... "We have a space for you. We are looking forward to having you run with us again."
Oh shit! Oh SHIT! Now it was put up or shut up time! After a quick consultation with my friend Brooks, then with Melissa, then clearing it with the runner I was supposed to pace (my cousin no less) I was set to get ready to run. Everybody was extremely excited to say the least and the instant support was amazing. Everybody was so confident and excited, including me.
Getting into a race 96 hours before a 100 miler is not the best way to approach one. I had to spend an extra day in Leadville... I had to stop running and rest my legs as much as possible but would it be enough? I had to go back to Colorado Springs and get my shit together and then be back in Leadville Thursday night in order to be there early enough for med check in Friday morning. Then the check in, then the mandatory pre-race briefing, then my crew had to get up there... oh yeah AND I still had work to do as I still could not take any vacation due to corporate stuff. Lots of hoops but I knew that I could get there and I did... Friday night my crew came up... I gave them all of my gear and really the only missing part was that I was not able to secure any pacers yet for the inbound trip from mile 50 to the finish. A detail that I decided not to sweat as I figured it would take care of itself and it did.
I barely slept Friday night so it was easy to get up before the alarm went off at 2:50 am to get up and start getting ready. Everybody was up and out of the house and we were at the starting line at 3:45 with plenty of time to spare. Me being the smart ass that I am decided to quote one of my favorite movies, Clerks by glibly spouting out, "I'm not even supposed to BE here today!" Sense of humor intact? Check!
The gun went off at 4:00 am and a herd of 610 runners headed off into the darkness. It felt good to be running which was a good sign however I was paying close attention to see if I could feel any soreness or anything else sinister lurking within the deep tissues of my legs. No... I felt a little tired in the drowsy sort of way but overall all systems seemed to be green. I got comfortable real quick and settled in for the next 23 miles or so to Fish Hatchery where I would actually see my crew for the first time.
I blasted through the first aid station, Mayqueen at 2:10 or so and I made it to Fish Hatchery about two hours after that. I really don't know how to explain my progress that morning but the miles covered seemed to be many more than the energy that I was expending and the time was whizzing by. The morning was beautiful. It was not cold at all, but it wasn't hot either. Just a real comfortable temperature to run in. It was even more beautiful once the sun came up. Regarding weather there were only two things to note... it wasn't supposed to get hot on Saturday at all, and there was the strong possibility of rainstorms, like 40% or so through Sunday.
I kept pushing and I made Twin Lakes which is the 40 mile mark in about 7:30. I was cooking and it was all just going great. No blisters... nothing hurt too much, I mean the normal discomforts that kick in around mile 20+ were there yes, but nothing that would stop the show. More sun screen, more sports shield and I was on my way to my least favorite parts.
The crossing of the meadow before the climb up Hope Pass I just do not like. It is always warm in there, it is flat, lots of water crossings, and it is generally unpleasant. This year was no exception. You just suck it up and get across the bare expanse and hit the timber and go on and that is what I did but on my way across I began to notice something. It was getting hot! WTF? Shit!
The heat came and the higher I climbed up Hope Pass, the hotter it seemed to get. Well until I actually cleared treeline then it got comfortable again but there were so many dead pockets of hot air climbing that it truly was miserable. Everything was going so great but now in this five mile section or so I began to fear the wheels were about to fall and the day would be ending quite soon. But as I said... once I got above treeline things got better... I did yak, twice right below the pass but that stuff happens all the time in these races and you just keep going. Down the south and steeper side of Hope Pass I was moving! This section has always given me fits in the past but this year I managed it quite well. It is still way more steep than I would like to be on and there are some tricky spots but I was moving and before I know I was at the bottom on the road and headed towards the 50 mile turn around point. And fortunately it had cooled off again!
To be honest, I did not know how the day would go. It was risky going to the line. I knew at worst I had a good 50 miles in me but past that? When I was about at mile 49 I started to really get the feeling and sense that I was going to finish the whole race. I would get another buckle and finish. It took me that long to get that. Good or bad I was thankful to be feeling that though as it did a lot to boost my confidence.
As I was headed towards the turn around a car which was coming from that direction towards me slowed down and the window rolled down. The driver yelled, "Andy you sneaky little fucker! I didn't know that you were running!" I laughed as it was my running coach that I have worked with a couple of times in the past. He shook his head and said that I looked too good for that distance but to keep going. We would see each other later when I was almost done... Regardless it boosted my spirits even more.
Into Winfield, and turned around. I found my crew and GREAT NEWS! They not only located one pacer for me but a handful of them as their runner had dropped at mile 28. Three in all. One would take me the next ten miles back up and over Hope Pass to Twin Lakes, the other from Twin Lakes to fish Hatchery, then a third one from Fish Hatchery to Mayqeen then the first pacer would run with me again from Mayqueen to the finish. I was SET!
We left Winfield and we were moving. I was not too happy with my time across Hope the first time that day but this crossing was different. We were up and over and back into Twin Lakes in 3:15... one hell of a split for that section. The cooler temps and rain shower or two helped. My feet were starting to bug me a little so I opted to switch from my Crosslites to my Fireblades at this point and that really seemed to help. It was a real quick stop as I got my new pacer, at a slice of pizza, grabbed some warmer clothes and we were out of there in ten minutes total I bet and there was STILL daylight... GREAT!
I am 43 and this cat is almost 20 years younger than me. Also he hadn't run 60 miles that day either so he was ready to go. We did a 16 mile stretch together and the last four miles of that he kicked my ass moving us constantly towards Fish Hatchery. A sustained run of any distance was out the window by this point so we could only run stretches at a time then walk... repeat. Me, I'd preferred a quarter of a mile at time, but this dude? NO. He liked a half a mile or so... I mean it worked but it was taxing and we made great time through that section.
Fish Hatchery... about mile 75 miles or so... I get a new pacer. Now for the dreadful powerline climb then up and over Sugarloaf to Mayqueen. This is a horrid part of the course as the climb takes forever, there are false summits and it is steep as hell in parts. The truly insidious detail of this section is that once on top of Sugarloaf you can see the Mayqueen aid station down by the lake all lit up and inviting. It looks so close that you could almost reach out and touch it... the reality is that it is more than six miles away and while most of it is downhill it is rocky, nasty, twisty, and treacherous. IF you have any quads left in this race... this part will finish them off. It was in this section last year where I about quit, wanted to quit, and experienced the darkest, most dreadful moment of my life. I think that you get it... This part I was not looking forward to.
But things were still clicking... My new pacer and I climbed albeit not so fast but a steady rate. Fast enough that were passing some other folks. It took forever to get to the top but once we did we were able to move and cover some ground. As much as I did dread this section to be honest we made short work of it getting to Mayqeen, the last aid station in just under four hours from fish and a whole three hours earlier (clock time) than last year. Things were going great.
We got into Mayqueen at about 3:30 am. I've been at it almost 24 hours now. Time for a little break. I sit down, eat some soup and have a couple of cups of coke. My coach who has now heard the entire story of how I ended up in the race, including my mileages from the week before wanders up to me and shakes his head and says to me basically that I am one STRONG young man and walks away. It makes me feel good to hear that but also I know that if he is there still he is waiting for HIS runners to come in yet.
I get more warm clothes from my crew for the trip around the lake and my pacer is ready to go and we take off. I tell him that I have zero desire to push it at this point. I am going to finish but there is no need for a huge push right here. It is 13.5 miles to the finish and I plan to do it at about the standard split for that section, walking/running in just under four hours. We take off into the darkness and start around Turquoise lake. It is dark and cold an there is a lot of moisture in the air. Progress seems slow but even on a good day, in daylight, that section is forever long. We keep chugging along and are all of the way around the lake before the sun if fully up. Five more miles of easy terrain mostly yet there is a 3 mile gradual hill that we need to climb before getting to town but we can do it. Walk run... walk run.. walk run...
Everything feels elongated now... 100 yards feels like 400... and to make matters worse five minutes passes in what feels like should only be a one minutes span... We want to come in under 28 hours and it is close. I know this section, I know the splits, I know the distances.... If we don't let up we should come in right under. We come into town and with about a mile ago, 1/4 mile of hill on 6th Ave. the blister on my left foot, right on the ball which is about the size of a silver dollar, well it decided to pop. I screamed. I stopped. I cried. I kept moving.
Over the hill and I can see the red carpet of the finish way in the distance. It takes everything that I have to keep my emotions contained as we get closer... It hurts... it all hurts... everything has been hurting for hours and hours and it is about to be over. I ran hard and I ran well the entire 100 miles. I am joined by crew, Melissa, Annie and Erich and some friends the last little section. They cheer me on telling me that I am doing great... I can feel the tears streaming down my face, my foot hurts... it all hurts but I am close... I cross the finish line and bend over with hands on my knees trying to keep it together. The medal goes around my neck and Marilee hugs me and welcomes me home. I hug her back and struggle to let go. I felt alone for so long out there I did not want to let her go.
I have my crew walk me to the med tent where they weigh me and I go in and sit on a cot. I just need a few. I sit and I cry for a few minutes cause it all hurt so much for so many miles. For so long there was me and there was that and I know that in a way that only I understand. I worked so hard and I felt it. Then it is gone. My breathing comes back to normal... I smile and I am ready to go. I crack some inappropriate joke and we leave the tent. I see some friends and say hi but right now all I want is a shower and toothbrush, and a fucking nap.
Next year I will be back. The big buckle (sub 25 hours) will be the goal and from everything that has happened this year I truly believe that I can get it. This race was the missing piece to the puzzle/picture which was this ultra season for me and I didn't even realize it till it was over. It all shows me that my work has been and is paying off and that I am truly am moving in the right direction. I can't express just how satisfying that has been to know these past few days. I can't. :)