(This is Part 7 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 and Part 5 is here and Part 6 is here if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. Thank you so much for sticking with the story so far!!)
Also, there are a LOT of pictures in this post…
Mayqueen (87) to Tabor Boat Ramp (94), or “Why Melanie Owed Paul a Case of Beer!”
When I recruited Paul to pace me for Leadville, the original plan was for him to bring me to Mayqueen and then for Melanie to take me the rest of the way home to Leadville.
But, after Melanie experienced a couple of bad falls on technical trails during her training, and since the first several miles out of Mayqueen towards Leadville are still a bit tech-y, we decided to ask Paul if he’d be willing to continue on to Tabor Boat Ramp with me. He gamely agreed, as I assured him that geriatrics with walkers move faster that I would be moving at that point…
As we came into Mayqueen, we quickly browsed for more saltines and potato chips, as they were still the only things that I could eat, we grabbed a few handfuls of food and quickly moved on.
Almost immediately upon leaving the aid area, I saw a familiar figure up ahead… IT WAS JOEY! And, his lovely wife Shannan had just joined him, even though I thought it was still Sara with him, from a distance.
I yelled, he waved and we caught up with them soon enough… because his left knee had sort of locked up and gone wonky on him. He could no longer manage a jog without immense pain, but he was walking quickly.
We chatted about the state of our bodies, the extreme difficulties of the race and we began, just ever so slightly, to let it sink in that we were going to finish this freaking thing, even though we still had a half-marathon to go…
I was miraculously feeling great, and by “great” I mean that everything hurt badly, but my spirits were high and I felt like moving, so with Joey’s blessings and assurances he was finishing, Paul and I pulled ahead just a bit.
We fell in with quite a long conga line of runners and pacers, and together we began snaking our way around the northern edge of Turquoise Lake. The sun was rising, casting a beautiful hue on the landscape and the water. It was pretty magical.
Mostly, we were hiking fast, with occasional jogs and hops down the little hills we were encountering. There’s a lot of up and down around the lake in that section, but nothing too high or tedious at all, really. It’s pretty rocky, and a little tech-y there, but not terribly so. We were all moving well, and no one really had the energy to pull away from anyone else.
And with a quick bathroom stop, Joey and Shannan caught right back up to us, so he was still moving very, very well, too! I believe we yo-yoed like this a couple of times? But, it’s becoming a bit fuzzy…
I do remember being in that conga line of people and someone who really WAS moving quite fast came up on us, and they were immediately behind Paul and I… it was clear they wanted to pass, but there just wasn’t a good spot for them to do so, and they were content to bide their time for a while. Which was super unfortunate, because the runner kept making hacking sounds EXACTLY LIKE GOLLUM. It was pretty gross, and shockingly regular. He just kept doing it… gives me the heebie-jeebies thinking about it. Soon enough, though, the trail opened up a bit and they passed all of us, with our glad consent.
The other thing I remember about this section is that it was ETERNAL! We initially believed Tabor Boat Ramp was only 4 miles away from Mayqueen. I don’t know why we believed that because it’s a LIE. It was so far. In thinking back to when I paced Ben through this section two years ago, I remember it feeling very, very long then, too. It just seems to stretch on and on and on… and we were in a little conga line then, too… with another couple runners and pacers. Ben really didn’t want to eat anything more at that time. He was pretty quiet and just so very tired. And so very tired of people asking him to eat things. That annoyed me at the time, because my job as a pacer was to help him eat and keep going.
And now, I know why Ben was so tired of people asking him to eat! Because I WAS SO DONE with eating and people asking me to eat and of watching the clock around eating and blah, blah, blah.
I mean, I knew I needed it, but I REALLY didn’t want to eat anything else. But, the reality was, I still had double-digit miles to go and there was still plenty of opportunity for the wheels to fall off the wagon. And so, I’d nibble on chips and crackers dutifully when asked.
Eventually, Paul and I passed the rest of that conga line, I believe. And we began to hear sounds of people yelling and cheering! Tabor Boat Ramp was near.
It was far more than the 4 extra miles that Paul had bargained for, and Paul and I had kept saying that Melanie owed him a case of beer for this one… Paul had only trained up for a half marathon and by the time we finished he’d done 17 or 18 heroic miles.
We came up on the boat ramp and had one last little crew exchange. Melanie had fully readied herself to take me home. Paul handed some things over. I changed out of my warm, overnight clothes and we emptied my pack of almost everything except some water, and Melanie kept some chips and crackers to keep feeding me.
And as we were getting ready to head out, along came Joey and Shannan again, the hitch in his giddy-up as pronounced as ever. But he was still moving!
Tabor Boat Ramp (94) to Finish (100)
As Melanie and I got started, we passed them again almost immediately. I was ready to jog a tiny bit and felt as good as I could have…
But, because there was a great deal of conjecture around exactly how far we were from the finish line (some said 6 or 7, and because of pre-race calculations we wondered if it might not even still be close to 9 miles), and because the time was beginning to become an issue, I was a bit concerned that Joey wasn’t going to make it…
In downtown Leadville, at the Start/ Finish line, a crowd gathers on Sunday morning to cheer the final runners home. And as the clock strikes 30 hours, they fire that big ol’ shotgun once again to signal the end of the race.
Over and over again this summer, as Joey and I raced and trained and talked together looking forward to this day, we talked about how abjectly awful it would be to be on the home stretch, with the finish line in sight, and then to hear that shotgun go off… it was our greatest fear.
And so, Melanie and I couldn’t go without Joey and Shannan. We reasoned out how fast we had to go over the next hour to make sure we all got there in time, and that lit a fire in Joey. We decided that in a mile or so, when we got to the smooth gravel road they call “Broadway” we’d jog a minute and walk a minute, jog a minute, walk a minute to make up time.
We finished hustling the trail around Turquoise Lake, dropped down the last steep pitch of the day away from the lake and onto Broadway. We jogged a bit and then we’d walk. And this was an absolutely heroic thing for Joey to do because I know he was in so much pain. But, he wasn’t about to miss that finish line cutoff.
Once again, we came up on some of the #WCE who’d driven ahead and found a spot to cheer us on again.
And then we got some more confirmation about how far we were from the finish… and we knew that we’d be able to walk it in and make the cutoff, just fine.
We had nothing left to prove.
And so began one of my favorite parts of the whole day… just having a good long time to share the road/ trail with my wife and with Joey and Shannan. We told stories. We wondered aloud how badly the finish line announcer would butcher our names. We reminisced over the day. We reminisced over the summer of racing and preparation and training.
We were simply “together” in this amazing, ridiculous experience.
We were so exhausted. We were beginning to get hungry and to fantasize about what we might eat. We hurt… so, so much. But, that finish line was getting closer.
The last several miles of this race are, cruelly, uphill, and we continued along, grumbling about the relentlessly obnoxious, but not terribly awful, slow and steady climb up to Leadville.
It was well into the 29th hour when we finally made the little jog to the left, and then back again to the right at the corner of 6th and McWethy. We were on pavement again, on the famous 6th avenue.
Just a little uphill, and then you see it… the finish line. It’s still ¾ of a mile away, but there it is…
And you begin to be encouraged by townsfolk and other spectators who are there simply to watch and to encourage and to celebrate the runners who’ve been out there for so long… it’s pretty incredible to experience these heartfelt congratulations from complete strangers.
At long, long last, you’re within a quarter mile of the finish.
It is a bit of a blur to me now… Joey wanted me to go ahead of him, so we could each have our own finish line experience and photo. We shared a hug before the finish. Then, his daughter Riley ran out to him, so incredible.
Melanie let me go, as the pacers typically veer off to let the runner finish.
A bit of hesitation and shuffling with other runners… the announcer calls your name…
And then… That’s it.
100 miles… of work and sweat and cold and heat and suffering and joy and glory and misery and darkness and light and love and on and on and on…
I threw both fists in the air and screamed. And I could feel that scream reaching deep, just ever so slightly beginning to tap into deep, deep reservoirs of emotion that had been built up by this experience, along with all of the training and preparation. And I wanted to keep on screaming and screaming and screaming…
But, then it’s time to hug Marilee (the race’s co-founder who has stood at every finish line and hugged every Leadville finisher, ever…) and it’s time to get weighed and checked and it all becomes somewhat confusing and I felt like a dog with too many people calling its name.
But then, I was just so happy. I hugged everyone in the #WCE. And there was Ryan (Chelsey’s fiancé!)! And there was Kimiko and Kalena and Annie (Paul’s wife and family)!
And I hugged Luke and Paul so deep and so long. I knew it then, but as I’ve continued to reflect over and over, there is absolutely no way I would have made it without them. No way. All of Luke’s nudging over Hope and through the night, and then Paul’s slowly, surely ratcheting up the pace… I wouldn’t have made it without them. No way.
And Melanie… my long-suffering wife, who crew-chiefed like a champ all day and night and then who brought me the rest of the way home.
And I embraced Joey. So many memories from this long season of training and racing and shared struggles, and here we were… 100 mile finishers.
Then, Emily put her phone in my hand and it was Ben! He’d just watched Joey and I finish over the online streaming feed! It killed him to not be able to be there, where two of his best friends were finally joining him in an experience he knows so intimately well. His encouragement and example and insights have been so incredibly valuable to both Joey and me. It was so good to share the moment with him, too, even from far away. What a great, great friend.
Finally, we sat down and there were pictures and stories and then, more tears.
The fact that my efforts mean so much to so many of my friends… that they’re willing to give up their time and sleep and comfort to help me accomplish such things…
It is overwhelming; the magnitude of it all… and it’s nearly impossible to communicate my gratitude.
And it is also nearly impossible to communicate the scope and the scale of the experience… it’s just so vast. And still, after 7 parts and so many thousands of words, I feel like I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface…
Thank you so much for reading.
(More pics… You can click on one and then use the “previous” and “next” links on top right to scroll through big versions…)