The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 5

(This is Part 5 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here and Part 4 is here if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. I hope I don’t lose those of you who’ve read these so far!)

The Darkness

The Darkness

Twin Lakes (60) to Treeline (71) to Outward Bound (76)

They altered course and made for this land, mostly by oar, for the wind would not serve them to sail northeast.  When evening fell they were still a long way from it and rowed all night.  Next morning the weather was fair but a flat calm.  The dark mass lay ahead, much nearer and larger, but still very dim, so that some thought it was still a long way off and others though they were running into a mist.

About nine that morning, very suddenly, it was so close that they could see that it was not land at all, nor even, in an ordinary sense, a mist.  It was a Darkness.  It is rather hard to describe, but you will see what it was like if you imagine yourself looking into the mouth of a railway tunnel – a tunnel either so long or so twisty that you cannot see the light at the far end.  And you know what it would be like.  For a few feet you would see the rails and sleepers and gravel in broad daylight; then there would come a place where they were in twilight; and then, pretty suddenly, but of course without a sharp dividing line, they would vanish altogether into smooth, solid blackness.  It was just so here.  For a few feet in front of their bows they could see the swell of the bright greenish-blue water.  Beyond that, they could see the water looking pale and gray as it would look late in the evening.  But beyond that again, utter blackness as if they had come to the edge of moonless and starless night.

Caspian shouted to the boatswain to keep her back, and all except the rowers rushed forward and gazed from the bows.  But there was nothing to be seen by gazing.  Behind them was the sea and the sun, before them the Darkness.

“Do we go into this?” asked Caspian at length.

“Not by my advice,” said Drinian.

“The Captain’s right,” said several sailors.

“I almost think he is,” said Edmund.

Lucy and Eustace didn’t speak but they felt very glad inside at the turn things seemed to be taking.  But all at once the clear voice of Reepicheep broke in upon the silence.

“And why not?” he said. “Will someone explain to me why not.”

No one was anxious to explain, so Reepicheep continued: “If I were addressing peasants or slaves,” he said, “I might suppose that this suggestion proceeded from cowardice.  But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of noble and royal persons in the flowers of their age turned tail because they were afraid of the dark.”

“But what manner of use would it be plowing through that blackness?” asked Drinian.

“Use?” replied Reepicheep. “Use, Captain?  If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all.  So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure.  And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

Ben and I at UROC last year.

Ben and I at UROC last year.

In the weeks leading up to Leadville, I’d thought of this passage, from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, often.  Last year, I’d done a 100k race that was, by many estimations, much longer than the 62 miles that comprise a typical 100k.  Some said it was maybe even 66 or 69 miles.

Whatever the case, it was the farthest I’ve ever gone, and the reason I thought so often about this passage from “Dawn Treader” was that at some point, between Twin Lakes and Treeline, I was going to go further and enter a form of the Darkness; the unknown, a realm of mileage and experience that I knew not.

Out there in that cold, dark mountain air I was going to step beyond the bounds of anything I’d ever done before.

I imagined it somewhat romantically, dramatically… of approaching a place of extreme pain and difficulty, stopping, maybe even stumbling to the ground… And then rising up again, puffing up my chest and bravely resolving to continue on into the Darkness in spite of my suffering… to seek honor and adventure.

The reality, as usual, was much more, well… real.

Somewhere, out in that cold, dark mountain air, I did actually pass from a measure of mileage that I had done, and into a distance I’d never covered… and I didn’t even notice.

Mostly, I was thinking about puking.

There was no soldiering bravely on.  No heroic chest puffing… just the all-consuming sensations of waves of nausea and of thinking about how much I hate puking (I’m viscerally afraid of it for some reason) and how much I didn’t want to puke, but that maybe it was, indeed, time to puke…

Leaving Twin Lakes at mile 60, I felt freaking great, all things considered.  I was warmed up physically by a change of clothes and emotionally by seeing my friends and loved ones again.  I was amped to have dispatched with Hope Pass for the day.  I was excited to have eaten quite a bit.

And as Luke and I made our way up that long, slow climb out of Twin Lakes, things began to burble and gurgle in my stomach.  The mix of chocolate covered éclairs and chicken flavored ramen noodles turned to funk in my stomach and I felt absolutely awful.

Bad equation.

Bad equation.

The steepness and length of the climb (1500’ or so over 2.5-3 miles) were not helping (note for aspiring Leadville runners… ALL of the climbs on the way back to Leadville are much steeper than they were on the way out to Winfield.  All of them.  Steeper.  I knew this mentally, but the physical, actual reality was a bit much to take…) and my breathing was better than it had been up on top of Hope, but it still wasn’t great, which meant my climbing was S L O W, slow, slow.  Luke continued to occasionally ask me about heart attack symptoms, of which nausea is one, but I knew it was that rotten mix of foods in my stomach that was doing me in… just slightly sloshing about, causing the back of my throat to be on constant high alert.

Luke tried to get me to eat through here, as I was now spectacularly off schedule for my 20-minute feedings, and I could hear the concern in his voice, and I was concerned, too.  But I just couldn’t do it. I could not put anything else in my body.  It’s the strangest thing.

I also knew that this stretch of trail was crucial for NOT loosing too much time.  Once we got to the top of the hill (finishing off number five of six great beasts for the day), it was all gradual downhill for another 7 miles or so… We’d heard it from the experts.  We’d seen the reality of this from Ben and Becki’s running of Leadville the previous years.  And I knew it, too.  You can make up time here.  Or, you can loose time here… and I had planned on running/ jogging much of this stretch.

Plans.  Hilarious.  The distance and effort and altitude mock our plans.

So, we hobbled along.  Luke was so great.  Encouraging, challenging… But, I just didn’t have much energy in the tank… Thankfully, my hiking/ walking pace is still pretty fast, and Luke is as big as I am, so we were passing miles pretty quickly, all things considered… but, it was not fast.

Finally, I’d had enough.  “I think I’m going to do it, man… I’m just going to make myself puke.”

Because of my weird, complicated history of vomiting, just saying those words out loud to Luke was so incredibly hard.  But, I’d heard stories of how that can sometimes help reset the system…

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, brother,” was Luke’s reply. “You gotta keep something in there.”  He knew that I was so far behind on my nutrition that to lose what little I had left in there could be disastrous.  And in hindsight, I think he was right. “We’ll get you broth and some crackers or something at the next aid station. And you’ll be alright.”

I was getting loopy.  I wasn’t thinking clearly and I was barely talking.  It was probably also beginning to show in the sounds of my footsteps, getting more and more sloppy.  I was deep inside my own head space and I could vaguely understand and hear the concern in Luke’s voice.

The Half Pipe aid station sits at miles 31 and 69, between Outward Bound and Twin Lakes as an official race aid station, but because there’s also the unofficial crew access point at Treeline, it sits awfully close to where we’d see the #WCE again.  I’d barely stopped on my way out, but now… it held out the only hope of getting something in my system to keep me going.

We finally came upon the aid station and grabbed the broth and the saltines to go.  It’s a bit fuzzy now.  I remember lots of people there, runners and pacers.  Too many sitting down, it seems to me.  It’s dangerous to sit too much that late in a race…

I was making it a point to loudly thank all of the volunteers at every stop, and I think/ hope I did so once again.  That people give themselves to make these events possible for us is so, so amazing…

Race saver.

Race saver.

I tried the broth and found that I could do it; I could actually sip it without it immediately activating the gag reflex.  And I could nibble a bit on the saltines, too.  Glory.

The effect was very nearly instantaneous and profound.  I began to move quicker.  I became much more talkative.  We may have even shuffled a few steps here and there.  Soon, we’d rounded the corner and were coming upon the Treeline crew access area.

It was now 1:20 am.  I was nearly 2 hours behind schedule…

We didn’t immediately find the #WCE, and I backtracked a ways to make use of the port-a-potty.  I had begun to feel the presence of the Big Brown Bear once again and had to clear the system.  I don’t think I was able to go much at all, but once I got out of the potty I found that Luke had found the crew.  We gave them back Joey’s bib, since we had most definitely NOT caught up to them on that last stretch.

And lo and behold, Paul was here!  Paul Egy was on the scene, getting ready to pace me from Outward Bound, in just a few miles, and he’d come up early to help out!  It was a great boost to see him.

Paul and soup at Treeline. Both warming my soul.

Paul and soup at Treeline. Both warming my soul.

Melanie and Chelsey had, in the time since Twin Lakes, gone back to Becki’s place in Leadville to make some coffee and heat up some soup, as that had been part of the plan (and a great evidence of their love for me).  I wasn’t able to sip the coffee, but the soup sounded good, so I was able to get a bit of that down, with some more bread and crackers.

Soon enough, we were on our way again.  Luke needed a bit of a pit stop, so I continued on.  Having a few minutes alone, I began to feel like this was really coming together.  I was eating, at least a little, again and I was moving well… I had the though that I might just actually be able to finish this thing!  I got a little emotional thinking about it.

Luke caught up again and we made our way out to the road section and struggled a bit to find where the gate opened up to the treacherous cow pasture across the land owned by Outward Bound, where we could see the Outward Bound aid station off in the distance.

As we made our way across the field (and I almost snapped my ankle twice before really focusing in and following Luke closely) Luke recognized a friend, and I can’t remember if it was a runner or a pacer… whatever the case, I slipped deep into my own world again…

And then we were at the Outward Bound aid station.  76 miles done.  Further than I’d ever gone before.  We’d crossed that threshold into the Darkness.

Post port-a-potty at Outward Bound

Post port-a-potty at Outward Bound. Don’t I look good?

Once again, though, I needed to slip into the port-a-potty while Luke made the handoff of pack and provisions to Paul, briefing him on my care and feeding.  I wrapped up my experience in the port-a-potty and came back to the crew to some difficult news.

It was now 2:30 am and we had to head into battle the Sixth Beast, that last monster of the day.  It goes by many names, but most know it as the Powerline Climb.  It’s a deceitful, treacherous bastard, with multiple false summits and God-awful, horrible rutted-out footing, with lots of loose rocks, big boulders and roots.

Luke and Paul making the handoff

Luke and Paul making the handoff

But, I knew, and had known, that’s what we were facing… the difficult news was that I was now 2 hours behind schedule, and we only had 4 hours to make it to the Mayqueen aid station before the cutoff at 6:30 am.  In my pre-race planning, I’d given myself 4:45 to get there, and now I had 45 minutes LESS than that…

And, knowing how slow my climbing had been, and how little fuel I’d been able to get down, I had the slow, spreading realization that I wasn’t going to make it.

There was just no way.

I didn’t let on about my thoughts, though, I don’t think.

I hugged and thanked Luke.  He’d gotten me through 27 very, very difficult miles with patient encouragement.  I am so, so, incredibly grateful.

Paul and I heading out of Outward Bound. Just 4 hours to make it ahead of cutoff...

Paul and I heading out of Outward Bound. Just 4 hours to make it ahead of cutoff…

Then, we said goodbye to the rest of the crew as Paul and I headed out.  He was upbeat and positive and ready to go.  We were walking quickly.

But, inside myself, I knew that we weren’t going to make it.  There was just no way.  We were going miss the cutoff.

As we began to get into a rhythm, about a half-mile from the aid station, Paul began to pray…