(This is Part 2 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story. Part 1 is here if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose.)
For the last couple of weeks before the race, I had been running and living somewhat scared… of anything that might derail my race. I was afraid of torqueing an ankle or breaking a leg while running and afraid of catching some sort of cold or flu or monkey virus. After months and months and months of focus, it was nerve wracking to be so close to the start line.
And overall my training had gone quite well. There were a few niggling injury issues that cropped up here and there, but some rest and a few treatments from the chiropractor, the masseuse and the acupuncturist had kept me going. I had put in the time and I rolled into Leadville on Saturday morning ready to go. I had made it to the start line healthy, and that’s the first huge hurdle of completing an ultra.
The morning of the race Joe Bearss (my summer running bro-mance… we shared hotels and tents and races and experiences. I love that we got to have this summer running together!), Emily (his crew chief for the day and mutual loved one) and Pam (Emily’s Mom) picked me up in Frisco, and at 3:00 we were off. That’s AM. It’s so early it’s dumb. It’s so early it hurts. Why they think starting this race at 4:00 am is a good idea is beyond me.
Anyway, we headed to Becki’s place (she’s an amazing LeadWoman participant who ended up finishing 2nd overall in the LeadWoman standings and 4th woman overall in the LT100 run!!). And glory upon glory, we made it there in time for me to evacuate the system properly before walking to the starting line. Victory #1 on the day.
I’m thrilled with the fact that we timed it all just right… we strolled up to the starting line in time for a couple of pictures, hugs for our friends and loved ones, then the national anthem, and then a big ass shotgun gets fired to send us off to our collective fates…
(For the remainder, I’ll be breaking the race down from Aid Station to Aid Station)
Start to Mayqueen (Mile 13.5)
The Leadville Trail 100 is the largest 100 miler in the USA, even with scaling back the number of entrants after last year’s debacle (side note for ultra-nerds: This year was awesome. Leadville is back.). So, Joey and I found our selves trotting along about 2/3 back with nearly 800 souls.
It was such an ethereal, surreal feeling, to finally be embarking on this journey, with hundreds of headlights bobbing along in the dark, stringing out both before and behind. We were on our way.
After several minutes, Joey’s GPS watch beeped, signaling the passing of the first mile, and he murmured, “I got 99 problems…” And that was soon followed by, “We’re out of the triple digits!”
Do yourself a favor and run a race with El Oso some time. He is, quite simply, the best.
The first five miles are on gravel roads, and were dispatched uneventfully. We then made our way up a short pitch to begin running the trail around Turquoise Lake. Because of the large number of entrants, and since it’s still early and everyone’s still bunched together, it’s a bit of a conga line around the lake, with lots of position shuffling and passing and people stopping to pee and passing again and on and on and on. But, all in all it was fine.
Joey and I were separated by one of those pee stops (the first of a zillion on the day…) and as I caught up to him again a couple miles later, he looked like a trained seal flapping its flippers. When I approached and called his name, he looked at me with a rush of relief and asked me to help clasp his hydration pack again… in the 40-degree morning air, his gloveless fingers (oops) had gone wonky and he was having severe trouble trying to re-engage the clasps after getting into his pack for food. And then he had tried to run without it being connected. I don’t know if you’ve tried running in a hydration pack with it disconnected, but the effect may be akin to the females of our species running without appropriate support. There’s jostling. There’s bouncing. There are strange noises. And it’s wildly uncomfortable. So, needless to say, Joey was glad to see me.
It finally became light enough for us to run without headlamps as we drew near to Mayqueen. But, unfortunately, even though I had evacuated my system prior to the race, I was now being chased down by a big brown bear, if you know what I mean. (I just head that joke today and fell in love with that euphemism.) So, I let Joey go as I stopped into one of the Mayqueen campground’s facilities. With the appropriate products applied to all the potentially troublesome spots, I continued on into the aid stop, filled my hydration pack and was on my way again.
I had given myself 2:40 to get there and even with the brown bear battle, I was right on time.
Mayqueen (13.5) to Outward Bound (24.5)
Heading out of Mayqueen one encounters the first of six great beasts to slay on the day. This first climb is about 5 miles long and gains 1200’ or so to the top of Sugarloaf pass, and then there’s a descent of 3 miles or so down the “Powerline” to the road, and another mile or so to the aid station.
It was still early enough that there were plenty of people bunched up on the trails, and I was feeling good and climbing well, so I actually began passing a number of people, hopscotching along the single-track trail. I caught Joey here again a mile and a half out of Mayqueen and passed him again with his blessing and encouragement.
The trail pops out onto Hagerman Pass road, a smooth and sweet dirt road and I was feeling so great that I even jogged quite a bit of this section, and I don’t really do that on uphill segments. But, it was race day, so why not!
The sun was out, and it was getting a bit warm, even at this early hour. I was eating and drinking pretty well, but was beginning to sense some rebellion to harder, firmer foods. It was becoming apparent that I was only going to be able to do GU’s today.
And that’s a good segue to have a word about fueling during these events… back at the 40-minute mark of the race, I began my feedings. The plan, the ideal, is that every 20 minutes, I need to take on 20-30 grams of carbs (according to my size/ weight). I subscribe to a “central governor” theory of fueling, that basically says, your central nervous system needs a steady supply of carbs to keep functioning properly, centrally governing the rest of the body into keeping going. If you drop below that threshold, you “bonk” and feel terrible and things stop working properly. In our little crew of friends, we’ve proven this theory over and again and at UROC last year, I never really did bonk during my 19 hours because every 20 minutes I sucked down a GU. By the end, I friggin’ HATED GU’s but it got the job done.
Today, the plan was originally that Melanie, my beloved Crew Chief, was going to pop a breakfast burrito in my hands once I got to Outward Bound, but… I was already really not feeling like eating anything solid. At the moment though, that wasn’t a problem because I could suck down GU’s just fine.
(Literary note… this is foreshadowing. If there were a musical score, the notes would have just turned dark and ominous and minor for a moment…)
So, I kept climbing, drinking chatting with people, asking how they were doing, answering the same question in return.
At this point, I had been going for almost 4 hours, and I had a thought… a thought that I had to immediately dispatch and then keep far from my mind…
A thought that went something like this: “Okay, 4 hours down, just 25 more hours to go…”
Blurgh. Holy moly. Heebie-jeebies.
You just can’t do that. You cannot go to that place and think that way. You just can’t.
I think that the only way to get through something of this magnitude is to stay present to the moment, to keep in the here and now and take care of what’s in front of you. So, I chased that thought away, and began to try and stay present in the moment.
A moment in which I suddenly found myself running out of water, with at least half an hour or more until I made it to the next aid station.
We had crested the top of Sugarloaf pass and were beginning a bombing descent down rough terrain, and I knew I only had a few sips left. I could tell by how my pack felt and by how air was entering the tube…
What was I going to do? I needed water to keep sucking down GU’s. And I was well past time for a feeding.
I kept bombing down the tricky, tech-y trail and kept moving quick, figuring that I needed to get to the aid station as fast as possible. But, that put me on knife-edge… higher intensity meant higher need for fuel and water.
Was I going to blow up this early, not even one quarter of the way into the race?
I finally swallowed my pride and asked out loud towards the few runners nearby if they had any water they could spare… Thankfully, a trail angel let me take a couple of swigs off one of her bottles and that kept me going. Then, once I got to the bottom of the hill and onto the brief road section, I was able to grab another couple of swigs of water from some spectators. I was close enough now that I knew I’d be okay until meeting up with my crew.
After navigating the tricky rocks and gullies of the Powerline, it sort of felt good to have a brief road section. It felt good to have smooth ground. It was nice to look around… WHAM!!!
I went down like I’d been shot. All those rocks and roots and gullies, I was fine. 5 minutes on asphalt and I went down on a little uneven section where the road had been repaired. Good grief.
But, it was minor. Just a scrape on the left hand, and nothing crushed inside my pack. No harm, no foul, just the humiliation of hearing some runners behind talking about the fall.
I came around the corner and saw that the aid station was a full half-mile or so further down the road than I had been expecting, since it had changed locations from the previous year. Grrr.
And then I ran along with Bill. Bill Finkbeiner. Bill freaking “I’ve run Leadville 30 years in a row” Finkbeiner. Incredible. Last year, when he passed the 30 year mark they gave him a special 30 year buckle the size of a Honda Civic. And I had the chance to run with him a bit… so cool.
But, Bill wasn’t doing well. He had a hitch in his giddy-up from a bad left knee. He had already struggled with getting ready for the race and wasn’t confident in his training, and then just a week or so previous he’d messed up his knee a bit. He told me he had ultra-LEGEND Ann Trason waiting to pace him at Twin Lakes, but he wasn’t sure if he’d make it there ahead of the cutoffs. He wasn’t quitting. He doesn’t quit. But, he was pretty sure he was getting behind. So, while it was cool to chat with a living legend around Leadville, it was kind of a bummer to see him struggle, too.
I checked my watch, again, and found that I was rolling into Outward Bound just a little ahead of my planned time… I had made it through running out of water and was good to go.
I would now have my crew supporting me the rest of the way. (To Be Continued…)