Category Archives: observations

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 – Part 4

I was so cold. I’ve never been so cold. It was a cold so thorough that it seemed I could feel my thoughts slowing down. And my slowed thoughts were dark, insipid thoughts… speaking words like “stop” and “quit” “why go on?” to me. I felt myself slipping into that darkness.

It must have been was sometime around midnight or 1:00 am. I was 52 miles into the race and the previous 10+ miles, all climbing up, up and up to the Long Lake Aid Station, had been a slog.

Luke and I heading out of Fish Creek Falls trailhead

Luke and I heading out of Fish Creek Falls trailhead

Coming out of Olympian Hall with Anne, I’d gotten behind on calories, which made me feel bad, which made me not want to put any calories in, which made me feel worse. And my time with Luke above Fish Creek Falls Trailhead became a kind of a reprise of my climb up the backside of Hope Pass with him the year before at Leadville. My breathing was escalated to the point that I couldn’t really eat and walk at the same time. So I’d stop and try to choke down something… a chew or two? Part of a goo? Anything. It was tough going and I was just so tired with a kind of sleepwalking, barely noticeable forward momentum. I don’t know if it’s bad luck or bad timing, but I swear to decency that I really need to have Luke pace me for a section of an ultra where I actually feel good… he’s had some rough duty with me…

But, one of the most meaning moments of the race had happened just a short while previous. I have a vivid memory of standing with my hands on my knees, alongside the edge of the trail somewhere around upper Fish Creek Falls, all silent and despairing. And my friend Luke very simply and quietly just came next to me and gave me a reassuring side-hug squeeze. No words, just a simple act of being present with me. That moment together stands out so beautifully and so brilliantly to me and I’m so grateful. That kind of support will carry you far.

And so, we’d made it to Long Lake, and one of the worst sections of the race was behind me. But, the temperature was dropping and I needed some food and as it turns out I wasn’t even half way finished. As you may recall, I began this series of posts with the beginnings of a description of my time at this aid station. It was cold and I was slipping.

As it turns out, there’s actually video footage of this aid station at this exact time… Joel Wolpert aka The Wolpertinger, made a film about Jenn Shelton that came out this winter (It’s called “Outside Voices” and you can find it here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/outsidevoices). I remember seeing Joel and Jenn when I passed through Long Lake earlier that morning, but at the time I didn’t know he was making a movie, let alone it being about her. Anyway, Joel captures this clip of a runner just shivering so hard with this crazy look on his face… I felt like this and more…

The fire wasn’t helping. I could feel the pull of the darkness, of stopping, of quitting and calling it a day.

And then a flicker began to flash in my mind… or maybe deeper down in my heart, in my guts. It was a much different voice that said, “I have to get out of here. Right now. I have to go. I HAVE TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW! I HAVE TO GO!”

I got up out of the chair, still shivering violently and I made my way over to Luke and said in what seemed to me to be a crazed voice, “I have to go. I have to get out of here. I have to leave right now.”

He was kind of weirded out. “Umm, okay… go ahead and I’ll catch up.” We futzed around with some gear stuff for a moment. I can’t remember if I put my pack on, or if we agreed for him to bring it with him as he caught up to me… but, this moment where we were futzing around was also caught on video. Jenn was trying to talk some runner into taking a shot, or a nip of mescal. And I looked over and said something to her that made her cackle with laughter… I have no recollection of this happening, let alone of what I said, but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of “That sounds like a terrible idea.” Whether it was my statement, or something the other runner murmured to her, she was amused.

It’s kind of strange to see that video, because I think I seem relatively normal, but internally I was freaking. I just had to get out of there.

I knew, somewhere inside of me, that several things were true there at Long Lake at 1:00 in the morning… One, I wasn’t going to get any warmer sitting around there, my only hope of getting warm was to get moving. Two, Long Lake sits at, or just over, 10,000 feet and at that elevation, you’re just not going to feel great after 50+ miles of exertion. And three, the “real” me didn’t want to quit… not really. All of these realizations made me feel fierce and angry and motivated. I had to go.

I started hiking out of the aid station as fast as I could, all stiff and shivering and wobbly. I yelled back at Luke to grab my extra fleece out of the drop bag to bring with him. I knew it was going to get colder still and I wanted another layer just in case.

I kept hiking, as fast as I could. The shivering started to subside and that flickering in my guts had fanned into flame. I screamed an expletive to the sky to break free of that darkness that had conspired against me. I was moving again. There was a slight bit of downhill and for the first time in hours I broke into a jog. I was running away from the darkness. I was running to finish.

Luke caught me after some time and had to ask what had happened, why I had bolted out of there. It was hard to explain at the moment. I just said that I was afraid of quitting. He said that he wouldn’t have let me, and I knew that intellectually… but I had glimpsed some kind of darkness there and I just had to get out.

My brief jogging had slowed back down to a fast walk, but I had warmed back up enough to keep moving. I had continued to try and get calories down and was felling a bit better. At some point, we caught up to the loogie hocking, way overly-talkative guy referenced in the previous post, and he’d latched onto a couple of people… but we weren’t having any of that so we passed them.

That stretch of trail/ jeep road is a high expanse of open land, sitting at over 10,000 feet on a perfectly clear night and the cold was settling in deep. I heard some people say that it got down to single digits, but I’d reckon more in the low 20’s. And at times there was a breeze blowing across the trail. But with layers and movement we were fine.

Soon enough we rolled into Summit Lake Aid Station at mile 58 or so. It must have been 2:30 or later by now. I could tell that the entire outsole of my left heel had turned into one vast blister and it burned and hurt. It needed some attention, so Luke helped gather my drop bag and I grabbed some warm food.

Now, my selection here completely grossed Luke out… they had mashed potatoes that looked good, but too thick. And they had beef broth, all steam and hot. So, I took some mashed potatoes and ladled some broth on them to thin them down and I absolutely exulted with joy. Never had salty carbs tasted so good.

Also, this aid station had more coverage around the sides and with the heater roaring, it was quite warm. Warm enough to be able to attend to my foot without shivering violently. My heel was a mess of sweat, blister and gravely dirty dusty nastiness. I cleaned it a bit, lanced the blister as best I could, slapped a band aid and a bunch of duct tape on there and we headed out. The fist quarter of a mile were agonizing as every step sent fire through my heel. Eventually, though, my body accepted that we weren’t stopping and it became tolerable.

From Summit Lake Aid, there’s a 13+ mile descent down to the edge of Steamboat Springs again, to the Spring Creek Aid Station. But, just a little over half way down, there’s the Dry Lake Aid Station and there we would see the crew once again. So, we had 7 miles to go to get to crew and for Luke to drop off and for me to pick up Sara.

In my prerace planning and training on this part of the course, I had figured I’d be able to jog a good part of this section, but mostly we shuffled and walked and occasionally jogged a little.

What was awesome, though, was that we began to run into faster runners who had made it all the way down and were now on their way back up again. It’s always encouraging to share well wishes with others in the race and it was encouraging, even if it wasn’t speeding me up.

We did run into one runner coming back up the trail who was alone, with no pacer, which meant he was one of the elite “Hares” of the race. Luke and I had stopped for something, I think to mess with headlamps, because mine had died (Which is somewhat rage inducing and a long story of its own…). I knew we were close to seeing crew again, so I asked if that solo runner needed anything. He was barely dressed, having clearly misjudged how cold it would get, or how quickly he would be moving at this point, or both. I gave him one of my pullovers because we were getting warmer as we went down and I knew he would get colder as he continued up the trail back to Summit Lake.   I found out later that he unfortunately dropped… but we tried to help.

Just a little bit more and we dipped down and back up a quarter mile or so and there was Dry Lake Aid Station. Melanie and Sara were there waiting with hugs and love and well wishes and hot chicken noodle soup and my “famous” coffee/ hot chocolate concoction. I was so happy and a bit over-emotional to see them. As we tended to needs and packs and food and clothing, I could barely make out Luke’s briefing Sara on my condition… “He’s not moving very well… we were walking stuff we should have been jogging…”

It was 4:00 am and I was nearly 2 hours behind my predicted schedule. It was slow going. But, it seemed that my stomach had turned a bit. Calories and carbs were going in just a little easier. The long downhill was helping, even if we hadn’t been moving too quickly.

After a long and grateful embrace with Luke, who had paced me like a champion once again, Sara and I headed out to finish the descent to Spring Creek Aid, and then to turn around and begin the crux of the race… the 13+ mile ascent, back up to Dry Lake where I would pick up Joey as my pacer and then on up to Summit Lake… and maybe to the finish.

2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 – Part 3

From a "daily practice" run early in the season.

From a “daily practice” run early in the season.

For a brief period of time, I practiced yoga, and the entertainment value of seeing all 6’4” of my intractable body trying to stretch and flex and bend must have been insanely high. Those who “do yoga” refer to it as a “practice,” and I very much like this designation. The implication is that there’s always more to learn and more ways to grow in one’s experience of yoga. It’s not a competition. You can never really say “I have completed yoga!” or, “I totally won at yoga last night.” There aren’t really, to my knowledge, “test pieces” for yoga. You simply practice and practice and practice and it’s the practicing itself that changes you.

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Another early season “practice” run, with Sara. More about her in an upcoming post.

To a degree, I would find it easy to think of my running in this way, except that with running we do gather around very significant test pieces, like the 100+ mile Run Rabbit Run race. But it’s the practice of running… the daily and weekly rhythms of running and training and resting that imbue these events with such depth of meaning for me. I absolutely love the practice of running in preparation for a 100. The training schedule brings order out of chaos. The positive benefits physically and emotionally manifest themselves in a variety of ways. And this happens over months and months of time.

And all of this is absolutely essential because here’s the thing… You simply cannot fake a 100-mile foot race.

Fully immersing yourself in the practice of running in preparation for a 100 is the only way you stand a chance of finishing, and even then there’s a lot that can go very, very wrong. But the beauty of a 100-mile footrace is that the sheer distance and time it takes to complete are in and of themselves a form of grace. What I mean is that even though things can go very wrong, there’s also a lot of time and distance to get things back on track and turned around, as long as you can keep moving forward.

Racing this distance is such a beautiful mystery.

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Being well cared for…

But I wasn’t really thinking directly about any of this as Anne and I rolled into Olympian Hall (mile 21-22ish). It was just before 2:00 pm. I was slightly ahead of schedule and feeling pretty good. In basically every ultra I’ve every run, I’ve always had a little low patch around mile 20 and the same held true that day, too. I’d pushed quite a bit coming down Fish Creek Falls and at the bottom, as I rolled into the parking lot to meet Anne, it was hot and I was just feeling a bit wonky. But by the time we got to Olympian, I had rebounded a bit. Mom and Doug were there along with Melanie and we got busy with the exchanging of packs, gathering of food and such.

Olympian 1

My long-suffering wife. I love her so much.

At this aid stop, I experienced an absolute first (for me) for an ultra-marathon… I had a bathroom break actually INSIDE a building, with running water and plumbing and everything. Ooooohhhh! Aaaaaahhhh! I washed my hands and my face and everything!

It’s hard to state what an incredible luxury this is in the midst of a trail ultra, but let’s just call it “glorious.”

I loaded up on watermelon (a race day fave) and some other foods and rolled out. It was a long-ish stop, but I planned on it being long, so I wasn’t too stressed about it.

Rolling out of Olympian Hall 1

Rolling out of Olympian Hall 1

From Olympian Hall the course is kind of a lollipop… you head out, complete a big circle around Emerald Mountain and then come back down to Olympian Hall again. I’d explored this bit of trail in training and just loved it. It’s a gorgeous mix of primarily aspen forests with areas of scrub oaks and yuccas, and several spots where everything open up to reveal views for miles.

With the boost of seeing loved ones, a fresh pack, clean shoes and socks and a bunch of calories down my gullet, I started making my way up the “stick” of the lollipop section that also happens to be the second big climb of the race, gaining 2500’ or so in probably 3.5 miles. It’s not ridiculously steep, or technical, but it is definitely enough to make you feel it. I grooved into my powerhike with my trekking poles clicking away and I passed this section uneventfully keeping up on food and water along the way.

Since I’d done this bit in training, I knew that once I got to the top there was a long, lilting, flowing buttery smooth section of single-track, called the Ridge Trail, all the way down to Cow Creek Aid Station at mile 30-ish.   So, moments after getting to the top, I secured my poles to my pack so I could cut loose and fly downhill for a while. I adore running downhill. Love it. I mean, I really, really love running downhill. I don’t know exactly what it is but I’m confident in it and I just love it.

Another view from up on Ridge Trail.

Another view from up on Ridge Trail.

So, I started to open up the throttle a bit, gained some speed and began to feel the flow and then WHAM!

I found myself tumbling ass over teakettle, as my momma used to say.

What I failed to mention about that buttery smooth single-track is that every so often, a scrub oak root nubbin will peek out into the trail just enough to catch the unsuspecting runner’s toe just enough to significantly harsh a mellow.

Looking from the course down into Cow Creek Aid Station, mile 30-ish.

Looking from the course down into Cow Creek Aid Station, mile 30-ish.

I did a full roll and a half I think before catching myself, and upon realizing no damage was done, I laughed it off. I was just sorry that no one was around to see the spectacle of my 6’4” intractable body tumbling along the trail.

I brushed off as best I could and quickly resumed my flow and floated down the trail. I wondered to myself if I was running too fast or too hard for this early in the race, but I figured this is what I trained for and I felt like my effort was reasonable. So I let it rip and it was awesome.

Fueling up and telling stories.

Fueling up and telling stories.

The result was that I came rolling into Cow Creek (mile 30-ish, 4:00 pm) way ahead of schedule and I felt great. Melanie, Anne, Mom and Doug were there to receive me and as we were swapping packs, Melanie asked what had happened because I was apparently very dirty and dusty from the fall. I’d been in the zone for a while and had kind of forgotten about it and so I recounted the tale of my tumble and everyone was highly amused.

Heading out of Cow Creek, you have a couple of miles of flat dirt road and it was pretty blah. I had done a good job all day of keeping the calories and carbs and hydration flowing (thanks Tailwind Nutrition!) so I was doing fine that way, it’s just that I was now 30+ miles into the race and the time and distance were beginning to wear on me.

Two-fisting the fuel and a kiss before I head out...

Two-fisting the fuel and a kiss before I head out…

I was hiking/ jogging at very nearly the exact same pace as another runner, and we kind of passed each other back and forth a couple of times.

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Pronounced “bell.”

Passing in an ultramarathon is excruciating and sometimes it’s wildly annoying, like at that moment. I was just kind of down and in my own headspace and I wasn’t talking and neither was he but he was always just a few feet away. Ugh.   And since neither of us had the gas to do anything about it, we stayed close by one another. Eventually, we started up the very gradual 3rd climb of the day, back up the Beall Trail and I put just a tiny bit of space between us.

And then he started hacking and hocking and it was disgusting.

Now lest you think me insensitive and unkind, he was physically fine… but he must have had something stuck in his sinuses or throat because it sounded like he was hocking the biggest, nastiest loogies one could imagine.

I couldn’t handle it. I put in a bit of effort and got out of earshot of him.

And that began a few miles of increasing internal darkness… It’s inevitable in an ultra that one will have some dark patches. It wasn’t super horrible, but I was just tired and realizing I had hours upon hours to go and I was tired and lonely and just kind of sad.

Did I mention I was tired?

I came up on another couple of runners, a guy and a girl, and spent quite a bit of time right behind them, none of us talking. Just grinding it out up the long gradual climb. Run Rabbit Run will boil you like the proverbial frog with these climbs.

Finally, as the guy and I passed the girl I said in jest, “I wish you two would shut up!” just to break the ice and get out of my own head. And I immediately felt better.

I introduced myself to Matt Scrudato, and he and I stuck together for the next few miles and it was astounding to me how great it was just to pass the time in some conversation with a stranger.   Matt’s from Georgia and was back at Run Rabbit Run for a second attempt after having DNF’d last year. This year he was absolutely committed to finishing. I could hear it in his tone.

And it was somewhere around here that we began to be caught up by the elite Hares. Jason Schlarb (eventual winner) and Jared Hazen blew by us like we were standing still. It was pretty incredible.

It was also somewhere around here that we were caught up by the loogie hocking guy and a couple of other runners. And I found that his former silence with me was not indicative of his actual persona. He talked. A lot. Like, a LOT, a lot.

But, soon we were all back at the top of the hill and while we all were basically hiking the same speed, our pace varied tremendously on the downhill, so our little group broke apart. I was a bit sad to leave Matt behind at the time, but it was great to run downhill again!

Rolling back into Olympian, with Doug just in the background...

Rolling back into Olympian, with Doug just in the background…

Also of note on this downhill section was having the chance to chat with ultra-running legend Nick Clark, as he passed me. He was dirty and dusty, too, and we traded stories of our tumbles.

As I neared Olympian Hall for the second time, dusk was settling in… Doug had walked a ways up the trail and greeted me joyfully as I rolled back in… we hustled over to the crew and it was time to prepare for the long, dark night ahead. Anne was ready to get me back across town to Fish Creek Falls Trailhead, where Luke was waiting to take me into the backcountry, into the darkness, into the cold.

Heading into the race, I knew from my experiences of ultras, and from daily “practice” of running and training that I would get back to Fish Creek Falls. What would transpire from there was a mystery. I was about to face extremes in climbing, descending, cold and distance that were well beyond anything I’ve known…

Discussion about the darkness ahead

Discussion about the darkness ahead

Melanie briefing Luke before his pacing duties. Notice the card in his hand... I got SUPER nerdy and self-laminated a pace chart.

Melanie briefing Luke before his pacing duties. Notice the card in his hand… I got SUPER nerdy and self-laminated a pace chart. Yep. Sure did.

2015 Run Rabbit Run – Part 2

Running downhill, on single track trails, through brilliant, glowing light shimmering through a canopy of golden Aspens, set against that particularly Colorado cobalt blue, on a clear and crisp fall morning…

Skies clearing less than an hour into the race.

Skies clearing less than an hour into the race.

That’s just about as good as it gets.

Particularly when feeling light and fast and free, which I was at mile 13 or so. After months of solid, consistent training followed by a couple of weeks of tapering down to race day, it’s easy to feel invincible in the early miles. It’s too early to hurt. Food still tastes amazing. Drink is refreshing. It’s awesome.

There were several of us working down the Fish Creek Falls trail together and the day had become spectacular, in contrast to its dawning.

As we (Mom, Doug, Melanie and I) stepped out of the condo (thanks Scully Family!!!) to head to the start, it was damp and drizzling and quite cool. But, the glowering clouds hanging loose on the mountain lent an air of drama to the initial climb up straight up the face of the resort. And by “straight up” I mean, “march up a black diamond ski run.” The fist couple of miles of the race zip straight up the mountain underneath the gondola. And as we chug, chug, chugged our way uphill, soon there were clouds below, above and all around us, not so much as to obscure the view, but enhance it with wonder and mystery.

I'm tall.

I’m tall.

But truth be told, there wasn’t much zipping (yet) for me. I don’t know much, but I do know that kind of climb (4000’ in 4 or 5 miles) that early can crush the foolhardy runner who goes out too hard and too fast. As we racers made our way into the starting chute, and as I made my way to the back of the pack, I joked with the other runners that the plan was to go out easy and then slow down.

It’s good for a laugh, but it’s not bad advice for a 100-mile mountain footrace. No matter how you slice it, it’s going to be a long day.

Just below the gondola, with Lynn Hall directly in front of me.

Just below the gondola, with Lynn Hall directly in front of me.

Mom, Doug and Melanie hopped onto the Gondola to meet me part of the way up the hill, and even though it had only been 45 minutes or so, it’s always great to see loved ones. Hugs and kisses and well wishes, along with some fresh fluids (because why carry any more weight than necessary up that initial climb?) and I was off into the backcountry for quite a long stretch (20+ miles) before seeing them again.

At the top of the resort, we left the gravel/ packed dirt access roads for the Mountain View trail (FS 1032) which was turning into a loose, pudding-like slop as the previous night’s snow melted away.   Thankfully, the mud wasn’t super deep, but it was just thick enough to make footing feel unsteady. In hindsight, this probably caused me to keep the throttle back a bit for those 8 or so miles, which again isn’t a bad thing early in a 100.DSC00196

Even with the caution, I did completely bite it once through here… I’d taken my gloves off, as it was warming well, but going into the trees through this section I was still a little cold, so I’d put them back on. And then FWAP! I went down, catching myself with my hands and soaking the thin gloves with the goo and rendering them ineffective. Whoops. But, it was a minimal incident and I felt great coming into Long Lake Aid Station (12-ish miles?) for the first time.

Fish Creek Falls

Fish Creek Falls

The way the RRR100 course is laid out, runners hit Long Lake 3 times… mile 12-ish, 52-ish and 90-ish. And since it’s remote, and there’s no crew access, runners are allowed to have “drop bags.” Drop bags are basically a bag of your own choosing that you fill with whatever you might want to access at mile 12-ish, 52-ish or 90-ish: food, drink, clothing, supplies, anything that’ll fit in an appropriately sized bag that you drop off for them before the race for them to haul up there for you. It’s a little slice of home. So, I grabbed some fresh fuel (thanks Tailwind Nutrition for being a crucial part of my race!), a couple bites of PB&J, some watermelon and I was out again, headed to the Fish Creek Falls trail (FS 1102) for the descent back down to town.

And so, I found myself with those other runners cranking our way down to the falls. The day was warming and glorious, the mud had solidified and we were moving. Along with the pure GLORY of the day, my main memory of this stretch was running behind an older guy, clearly a veteran of the ultra scene, who bounded down the rocks and hills like a cross between Gollum and Radagast the Brown using a unique and bizarre looking system of one-trekking pole, one free arm and two gyrating legs. It was something to behold and kept me entertained for a few miles.

Mom snapped this pic as I crossed the bridge... They were JUST TOURISTS here that day! NOT CREW! :-)

Mom snapped this pic as I crossed the bridge… They were JUST TOURISTS here that day! NOT CREW! 🙂

Another thing I think about when I think of these early miles are the people I met… There was Randle, my pacer Luke’s friend, who I ‘d met the previous year at mile 75 at Leadville. I ran a bit early on with Fred Abramowitz, one of the race directors who was giving his own race a go. I met Mandy, a ski patroller from Utah, who was just cruising and doing so great. And I met Lynn, who told me she’d finished DFL (Dead F—ing Last) at the inaugural Never Summer 100k race earlier in the summer, and I knew then she had the grit and guts to finish this race, and you can read her amazing story (or stories) here.

Mom snapped this as they scared the crap out of us!

Mom snapped this as they scared the crap out of us!

That’s what’s amazing about these races… the people. The people you meet, and the people who support you and help you and believe you and believe INTO you. I love it so much; or rather I love THEM so much.

And so, I dropped down past the falls and saw two more of those people, Mom and Doug who were checking out the area like tourists for the morning and who shouted and cheered. And then up and into the parking lot where my old pal Anne was waiting to join me for the stretch down through town to Olympian Hall, where Melanie was waiting for me at mile 21-ish.

And so, I amend my earlier statement…

Running downhill, on single track trails, through brilliant, glowing light shimmering through a canopy of golden Aspens, set against that particularly Colorado cobalt blue, on a clear and crisp fall morning… with the care and support of so many lovely people.

THAT is just about as good as it gets.

These people. I couldn’t do it without them.


 

For a couple of “pro” pics, check these out!

http://www.comerphotos.com/Running/2015-Run-Rabbit-Run/100M-Tortoise-Start/i-mD2WGhQ/A

https://paulnelson.smugmug.com/2015-Run-Rabbit-Run-100/i-B53c56H/A (with the aforementioned Mandy)

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 7

(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.

Rolling into Tabor Boat Ramp

Rolling into Tabor Boat Ramp

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!

Joey and Shannan catching up to us!

Joey and Shannan catching up to us!

Melanie ready to pace!

Melanie ready to pace!

Sara displaying the coveted "Pacer Bib"

Sara displaying the coveted “Pacer Bib”

Getting ready for the last leg

Getting ready for the last leg

Note the chips...

Note the chips…

To the finish!!

To the finish!!

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.

"Broadway" at about mile 97

“Broadway” at about mile 95

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.

A little jogging around mile 95.

A little jogging around mile 95.

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.

Me and Joey and Shannan, somewhere around mile 96?

Me and Joey and Shannan, somewhere around mile 96?

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…

Joey, with the finish line coming into view...

Joey, with the finish line coming into view…

Checking the time, as the finish line comes into view...

Checking the time, as the finish line comes into view…

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.

Mugging up a bit before the finish line

Mugging up a bit before the finish line

So symbolic...

So symbolic…

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.

Joey and Riley Mo Bizzle...

Joey and Riley Mo Bizzle…

Joey and I share a hug before the finish...

Joey and I share a hug before the finish… in the back of the picture, on the right 🙂

The last few feet...

The last few feet…

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.

Finished.

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…

The Scream.  Another angle of this picture was what Lifetime Fitness (who owns the Leadville Race Series) used for their Instagram feed for a while!

The Scream. Another angle of this picture was what Lifetime Fitness (who owns the Leadville Race Series) used for their Instagram feed!

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.

Melanie and I...

Melanie and I…

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…)

 

 

 

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 6

(This is Part 6 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 if you want to catch up! Also, I’m verbose. Thank you so much for sticking with the story so far!!)

Outward Bound (76) to Mayqueen (87)

Leaving Outward Bound

Leaving Outward Bound

Amen…

Amen.

I don’t remember exactly what Paul prayed for us, but it was perfect.  Just exactly what was needed in that moment…

I was slipping into a pretty quiet, reflective space… the rush of being with everyone at the aid station was ebbing away.  The reality that we had a long way to go, and a (relatively) short time to get there was sinking in… and I wasn’t at all sure we were going to make it.

It was all turning over and over in my mind.  I’d keep going, no matter how long it took, but it was pretty overwhelming to consider that after all of this… after 22+ hours today, and months and months of focus and preparation and training and struggle, I was going to miss the last cutoff.  I was quite sure of it…

But, Paul (who used to have the nickname “Sulu” on our fishing trips, because he’d use his GPS to guide us to our destination like the good Lieutenant did on Star Trek) had worked out the pace we needed to maintain to get to Mayqueen ahead of the cutoff.  And he was tracking that pace with his iPhone, feeding me results ever half mile or so. It was clear he was going to do everything he could to get me there…

For a mile or so out of Outward Bound, we climbed a gentle incline up Lake County road 300, past the Leadville Fish Hatchery and then there was a downward slope for most of the way to the base of Powerline.  We managed to jog a bit, here and there, and soon enough we found ourselves at the base of the climb.  There would be no jogging for quite some time.

Took this image of the Powerline climb from a mountain biker's page. Now, imagine it in the dark...

Took this image of the Powerline climb from a mountain biker’s page. Now, imagine it in the dark…

As I’ve shared previously, the really devious thing about the Leadville course is that, on the return trip, on the way back, all of the climbs are steeper than they were on the way out.  And here we were facing this last Beast. Number Six.  Steep and rutted.  Long and painful.  There’s nothing to do but keep going…

Paul began a rhythm of keeping just ahead of me, calling out a good path to follow up the hill.  I think I might have asked him to do that, or maybe he did anyway, but he was great at it… just leading the way up the hill, picking the best line through the ruts and channels and rocks.

He was so encouraging.  Letting me know when it was going to be time for a feeding, which at this point was nothing more than half a saltine or so… SOOOO far removed from the 20-30 grams of carbs that I should have been consuming.  But, somehow, someway, I was still moving. He’d tell me “good job” when we’d push a little bit, talking and he’d talk and tell stories, but not obnoxiously so.  I knew from our conversations before the race that he was nervous about pacing, but he handled it like an old pro.  He was perfect.

But, back to this “push a little bit” thing… it was a little annoying that he kept stinking passing people!  We’d come on a runner and their pacer and he’d every so slightly ratchet up the pace to get around them, and so I’d follow, a bit dolefully, but I didn’t have the energy or gumption to complain.  So, we kept going.

The Powerline climb as seen from the road...

The Powerline climb as seen from the road…

Afterwards, Paul confessed to me that he kept doing that as an experiment to see if I would follow, if I could do it, and when I could, he kept on doing it.  Deviously perfect pacing.  Getting a bit more out of me than I thought I could do…

Then the hill would level off, then climb again, the level off again, and then climb again.  We were caught in Powerline’s spell and it was discouraging… I’d heard from others that there were 5 false summits.  We counted what we thought was 5, then 6, then 7, and then we stopped trying to count.  It was interminable.  I kept being sure I knew where I was from coming that way 20+ hours earlier and then it would pitch back upwards once again.  And with the darkness, there’s just no way to tell where we were…

Paul maintained his encouragements, and I was so grateful, even if all I could muster in return was a quiet “Thanks.”

Suddenly, we heard sounds… music, shouting, cheering… But, there’s no aid station at the top of the Powerline climb… Then we saw lights.  There was definitely something happening.

Some group, some merry band of well-wishers who I believe had called themselves the “Space Camp” had driven up the back side of the pass and set up a party spot, with lights, music, dancing with inflatable space aliens and a big banner stretched across the trail that said (pardon the language, I’m just reporting here) “Nice Fucking Work!”  I should also add that the distinct smell of a certain legalized herb filled the air, too.  They were having a blast and celebrating our efforts and it was quite a boost to pass through their joyous throng!

The inflatable alien looked something like this... and NO, I was not hallucinating... Even though hallucinations are a part of ultra running lore...

The inflatable alien looked something like this… and NO, I was not hallucinating… Even though hallucinations are a part of ultra running lore…

And with that, we’d passed over the top of the Powerline Climb.  The Sixth Beast was finished.  Six climbs. Thousands of feet.  Done.

That did not mean it was all downhill from there on out, but there was definitely nothing left that had that degree of difficulty.

And once again, it was very ordinary.  No celebratory whoops or hollers.  Just movement.  Forward progress.  We were somewhere around the 80 mile mark, and Paul’s iPhone died shortly thereafter.  We weren’t exactly sure how far we had to go, and we were no longer sure of our pace.

The barely passable 4×4 road of the climb gave way to a more gentle and buffed out surface as we began making our way down Hagerman Pass road.  And we began attempting some jogging, too.  Picking out a marker a hundred yards or so down the way, then jogging our way there, then walking for a bit, then jogging for a bit.  I really wanted to be going faster, but there was just nothing there…

Elevation Profile - The Beasts

Elevation Profile – The Beasts

For some reason, I remember passing a runner through here that was on the verge of completely loosing their shizz, like getting ready to come unhinged… I don’t know if Paul noticed, but I could tell they were on the brink…  It’s a bit fuzzy now.  I sort of wondered if we should have stopped.

It also occurs to me that as we were coming over the top of the climb, I looked back down the hill and could see many, many headlights streaming up the hill and it made me so sad to realize that so many of those people were absolutely not going to make it ahead of the cutoff.  They were so far behind us and I was still unsure of our making it…

But there was nothing at all to do for them, and we had to keep moving.

After several switchbacks, the course rejoined the single-track of the Colorado Trail, which we’d follow until joining the pavement at the Mayqueen campground.  By now, the darkest of the night was over and the sky was lightening in the east.  It was still very dark in the forest, but morning was coming.  Light was gathering.

We’d gone past the 24-hour mark and were now deep into the 25th hour.  We were jogging and hopping and walking down the hill as quick as we could.  Everything hurt.  Like, seriously, everything.  Every. Single. Thing.

And I’d had a thought at points in training for Leadville, that if everything is going to hurt anyway, you might as well move as fast as you can… I may have even said something like that to Paul, as we hopped and jogged and stumbled and walked our way down the trail.

It was getting to be very near light enough to see without our headlamps when we crossed a couple of bridges that I knew were very, very close to the Mayqueen aid station.  And sure enough, we popped out of the forest and onto the paved road that weaves around Turquoise lake, and that would take us to Mayqueen.

Just before the aid station, we almost passed the #WCE without them recognizing us.  They weren’t yet looking for us, and they were startled to see us…

Because it was 5:55 am.

What I had planned on taking 4:45 had only taken us 3:30.

We had done it.  Well, really, Paul had done it.

He’d gotten me to Mayqueen half an hour ahead of the cutoff.

With flash, makes it look darker than it was. Note Melanie's blanket, because it was so freaking cold.

With flash, makes it look darker than it was. Note Melanie’s blanket, because it was so freaking cold.

Without flash, but blurry.

Without flash, but blurry. Note that Paul is managing my pack, along with what he was carrying for himself.  He’s such a trooper…

 

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…

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 4

(This is Part 4 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here and Part 3 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!)

Part 4: On Top of Hope Pass (45) to Winfield (50)

Do you know that feeling when your car just starts kind of running rough… it’s not too dramatic, but something just doesn’t seem right?

That’s sort of how I felt as I came over the top of Hope Pass.  I believe the time was already after 4:00 pm, which meant there was no way I was going to be able to make it down to Winfield at my hoped for (get it?) 4:30 pm.

I’d not felt super great coming up the front side of Hope, but then again, I chalked it up to the fact I’d done more than 40 mountain miles and that I was climbing to the highest point on the course.

But, I figured I’d make good time down the backside of Hope and into Winfield, so I started making my way down.  Almost immediately, I came upon Becki, who was absolutely crushing it!  She was cruising uphill, very near the top and was about to bomb back to Twin Lakes, hours ahead of me! We said a super quick hello, without stopping because we were both super focused, but it was a boost to see a familiar face!

I started running/ hopping/ jogging my way down, but there is something to note about the backside of Hope Pass… it’s freaking steep.  And, the further down you get, the steeper it gets… steep enough that solid running became somewhat impossible… especially with the steady stream of runners making their way back up the trail on their way towards Leadville again.

Backside of Hope, Trees section. Taken a few weeks after race...

Backside of Hope, Trees section. Taken a few weeks after race…

But, I made good time.  One runner, who made it plain to everyone in earshot that she’d run this race many, many times, shared that she thinks of the backside of Hope in 3 sections: the switchbacks, the rocks and the trees.  This is actually a pretty helpful understanding.  After you crest the top of the pass, the trail meanders back and forth and back and forth in a series of switchbacks, and it’s quite runnable.  Then, the trail enters a series of very, very technical rocky areas with some scree and some large boulders.  Finally, the trail enters a gorgeous aspen forest, and begins to tilt precipitously down.  And along with the tilt, the constitution of the trail switches from rocks to deep, dark, rooty earth.  The beauty of the forest belies the treacherousness of the trail.

If you’re not careful, you can easily catch a toe and fall.  Exactly like I did!

I had not fallen since much earlier in the morning with my mishap on the road, but this was a different sort of fall.  The first time, I’d lurched forward.  This time, because the hill was so steep, and because I keep my weight shifted back when going downhill, the effect was to drop me onto my butt, so it didn’t hurt at all.

But, because my fatigued left leg had instinctively shot out to catch me, my left calf seized into a giant knot, a massive Charlie-horse, locking my lower leg up completely.

The kind souls in front asked if I was okay, and I was…

Mostly…

Sort of…

I was just waiting to see if my left calf was going to release itself.

I actually wondered if this was it.  If this was how it was going to end, with me miles from an aid station with a locked up lower leg giving me a clubfoot.

But, with a few wiggles of the toes and some massaging, it loosened up enough for me to stand and get walking.  And with a little walking, I jogged a bit.  It loosened all the way up and I was good to go!

Phew.

Shortly after this, we came to what I thought was the bottom of the trail, where we turned right to make our way to Winfield, at last.

You see… the only time I’d gone up and down this section of trail was a couple of years previous, and the course had changed since I’d scoped it out in planning for Ben’s running of Leadville.  And this little spur over to Winfield was completely new to me.

And so, I kept moving to get there.

With the excitement of the fall fading, and with the reality that I (thought I) was at the bottom, I began to notice the “rough running engine” a bit more.  My chest had been tight and my breathing had been shallow, but again I had chalked that up to being up higher.   And here I was down lower and it wasn’t getting better.

But, I was still moving well, and I was still eating and drinking okay, so I kept on.

I found myself in another “conga line” with a bunch of runners.  And it was clear none of us had ever done this section of trail before.  The girl who was in the lead of the line, just a couple of runners ahead, kept asking the runners coming towards us how much further to Winfield. “Just a mile or so…”

Great! I’ll pick up Luke, and we’ll get back up and over Hope again…

Luke and Chris waiting in Winfield

Luke and Chris waiting in Winfield

But, quite a bit of time went by and runners kept answering, over and over again, “Just a mile or so…” or, “about a mile, not much further,” or “your so close!”

And more and more time went by and the answer didn’t freaking change!  And since none of us had been on that section of trail, it became infuriating.

And something subtle happened, and in hindsight, it’s very clear to me, but at the time, I didn’t pick up on it… Negativity started seeping in.

The girl out in front of the line began complaining loudly about how much further we had to go.  And I didn’t have the energy to pass her.  Others around chimed in with some negativity.  I felt that negativity.

And I began to feel crappier, and crappier.  My chest hurt more.  My breathing was shallower.  I was struggling.  Hard.  I began to have those thoughts that I mentioned way back in Part 1 of this series… that I just wanted to be done.  I just wanted to be finished.  Maybe I DID have HAPE and I was about to die?

And still people kept freaking answering, “Just a mile or so more!” so cheerfully… but by now we knew it was all LIES!

Winfield would never come.  And if it did, maybe I could just be done because I had a life threatening medical condition.

Oh, the histrionics of an ultra.

(Side Note: I’m absolutely astonished at the massive power of negativity to derail and distract.  It’s crazy how low I got in such a short time.  I attribute much of how terrible I felt to just swimming in negativity for a while…)

Eventually, we’d made it… the trail markers turned left and we dropped off the trail, down onto the road into Winfield.  Well, we’d sort of made it… it was still another quarter mile down the road to get to the aid station/ turn around point.  Grrrr.

Although this pic is from earlier in the day, this is me and my friend Deanna!

Although this pic is from earlier in the day, this is me and my friend Deanna, in the pink top!

I found Luke, and my aforementioned seminary friend Deanna and they were ecstatic to see me.  I also saw Chris Doucet, who was there with Luke and Deanna, waiting to pace Joey back up and over… he stayed along the road to keep an eye out for Joey.

I was, as I’ve shared, in a bit of a dark place. So, we got my numbers checked in the med tent (see Part 1 for the full story), and once I was cleared medically, there was no doubt, no hesitation… it was time to get going again!  We just had to keep an eye on things to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack.  No big deal.

Luke and Deanna helped me repack my pack with some of the stuff that Luke had carried with him when Sara dropped he and Chris off earlier.  A few sips of this, a nibble of that and we were out and on our way once again, with encouragement from Deanna and Chris.

 

Winfield (50) to Twin Lakes (60)

Luke freaking Giltner.  Luke is awesome.  While I was still in a pretty negative headspace, Luke was great.  Encouraging and pushing, but not too hard…

We got back up on the trail spur towards the base of Hope and started making pretty good time.  My chest was tight, but it was manageable.  Luke kept asking about the symptoms of a heart attack that the medical personnel had shared: “Are you just short of breath, or is your left arm getting numb?”

Halfway up the Backside of Hope, looking back towards Winfield. Photo by Luke. He had all kinds of time, waiting for my slow ass...

Halfway up the Backside of Hope, looking back towards Winfield. Photo by Luke. He had all kinds of time, waiting for my slow ass…

Just a ways above Winfield, we finally ran into Joey, who looked just a little rough… or maybe it was concerned?  The time had to have been close to 5:30 (and WAY past my anticipated time for getting out of Winfield), and the cutoff for the Winfield aid station was 6:00.   We didn’t really think about it at the time, but in later conversations, Joey said that working hard to stay ahead of that cutoff was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

And as Luke and I kept going, it was extremely sobering to realize that many of the people who were still streaming downhill towards Winfield were not going to make it.  They were done for the day.

Luke and I did great until we got to the left turn where the climb up Hope starts in earnest.  I’d still be moving well and I’d still be eating okay, too, but once we hit that wall of a climb, everything slowed to a crawl.  It was like there was a limiter on my breathing.  My heart rate was staying pretty pegged.  And I just couldn’t go uphill very quickly at all!

Waves of people were passing us.  When I tried to eat a gel, I had to stop because there wasn’t the breathing capacity for eating and moving at the same time.  And still, Luke was awesome… “Hey buddy, ummmm… can you do that while you’re walking?”  He patiently goaded me into keeping moving.

Looking up the trail in the "Rocks" section of the backside of Hope.

Looking up the trail in the “Rocks” section of the backside of Hope.

But, my caloric intake began to drop off… Gels were becoming harder and harder to choke down.

Luke kept trying to get me to eat, but I just felt like I could. Not. Do. It.

Our movement was barely perceptible as forward progress.  More and more passing us…

It was just so very hard.

We inched our way up through the trees section, and finally came to the rocks section.

One foot.

In front of the other.

Slow or stop to eat part of a gel.  Stare off into space.

There wasn’t thought of stopping or quitting here.  It was just so hard to keep moving.

Luke titled this picture "Grinding" on Facebook. Apropos. Also, note I'm not wearing my pack because Luke is carrying it.  He's awesome.

Luke titled this picture “Grinding” on Facebook. Apropos. Also, note I’m not wearing my pack because Luke is carrying it, and taking the picture. He’s awesome.

At one point I’d stopped to eat a gel and Joey and Chris had finally caught back up to us.  It was great to see them, but I could barely register that thought or emotion.  I heard from Joey later that was deeply, deeply concerned.  He thought I was a goner.

Seeing them got me moving again, though.  Step by step.  Inch by inch. Foot by foot.  Yard by yard.

We made it to the switchbacks section.  I remember a pacer singing loudly, so very, very loudly, a song from “The Sound of Music” through here… it was kind of funny.  But, I wasn’t entirely amused.

Luke, gently encouraging… “Come on buddy.  You’re doing great.”

I asked him to count the switchbacks for me, so I could have a countdown to the top.  He said there were five.

Step by step… 4.

Inch by inch… 3.

Moving forward… 2… but… that was it!  We were on the last smooth slope to the top!  I could see the prayer flags streaming out in the glowing, evening light!

And then, it was done!  I’d made it back to the top of Hope Pass for the second time!  The fourth great beast… the biggest, gnarliest beast was finished!

We crested the hill and began the descent.  And I was transformed!  I was ready to run again!

Luke very, very wisely had me slow my roll a bit, just to get my legs and muscles used to the change in motion.  So, we held on for a bit, but we were moving downhill again!

Soon, though, we were really running.  55+ miles into this thing and we were running.  That felt so, so good.  We came up on the Hopeless aid station once again, and Luke got me some soup and noodles while I filled a bit of water.

Back from the dead... Running again!

Back from the dead… Running again at the top of Hope Pass!

A quick stop and we were cruising again.  After eating a bit, I felt better once again and we started flying.  Passing people, picking them off a few at a time.

And suddenly, there was Joey and Chris again!  We had a good bit of chatting with them for a few minutes, and then we were off.  Running downhill, as I’ve shared, really is one of my favorite things, and with the fading light, we wanted to take advantage as much as we could.

As we entered the trees, night fell fully and we donned our headlamps.  We were still moving better than most others we were encountering, so we were carefully passing people when the trail allowed.  There are sections that are simply too technical and rocky to move very quickly, though, so we chose our passes well.

Meanwhile, back at Twin Lakes, Sara is ready for action!

Meanwhile, back at Twin Lakes, Sara is ready for action!

The change from just one hour before was astounding.  There’s an old saying in ultras: “It never always gets worse.”  And it hadn’t.  I had come back from the brink.

Soon enough we were down to the base of the climb, and we were onto the flat field (which had become a swamp) where the only water crossing that had turned into seven water crossings was to be found.  I gave Luke my pack and sent him ahead to run into the aid station to let them know I was close and to begin repacking things for the next stage of the race.

With night fully set in, and the air temperature dropping, that water felt twice as cold now as it had hours earlier in the heat of the afternoon.  And upon exiting the second crossing I had to pee sooooo bad… amazing how cold, cold water does that!  And I also believe there were some Seinfeld jokes with other runners about shrinkage.

After making our way through the water, and then through the stinky muck, I jogged/ walked my way through the last mile back into Twin Lakes… to a hug and kiss from my wife and into the helping, loving care of the #WCE.

Attempting to touch my own feet.

Attempting to touch my own feet.

 

Failing to touch my own feet, resolving to let Melanie and Trenton help...

Failing to touch my own feet, resolving to let Melanie and Trenton help…

We had planned for this to be the longest stop of the race, where I would clean up from the water crossings, change shoes and socks and get geared up for the long night ahead.  I sat in a chair to tend to my feet, and oddity of oddities, when I tried to actually touch my feet, my leg just went kind of crazy and started locking up on me!

I was trying to deal with a massive, massive blisters on my left heel, but I just couldn’t get to my own leg.  And here, I was introduced to the brand newest member of the #WCE, Trenton Kennedy aka Dolphin.  Trenton is an “ultra-curious” friend of Luke’s who wanted to come out and see what this was all about and suddenly, he’s helping me pop a blister and apply super glue to my disgusting, beat to hell after 60 mile stanky feet.

(Also, Joey and Chris came in very quickly after Luke and I arrived and then they were out ahead of us!  Amazing!)

A thousand words...

A thousand words…

Sara was closely watching the clock.  We were now approaching 9:30, a full hour later than my anticipated 8:30, and dangerously close to the 9:45 cutoff time.

I changed clothes, added layers, got fresh batteries, stocked up on food and water and we were about to leave.  Someone asked if I wanted any éclairs, which are a favorite of mine during an ultra, and so I said “YES!” because I was so glad to be able to eat something.

And with Sara’s strong encouragement and reminders of the time, we were done with this aid stop.

We made our way out of the #WCE camp, across the highway and into the actual aid station, where someone asked if I wanted noodles… and again, I said “YES!” because I was so glad to be able to eat something, to actually want to eat something.

This seemingly simple little innocuous would turn out to be not so innocuous.

Suddenly, Sara appeared again with Joey’s bib.  We took it figuring we’d catch up to them shortly… and so we made our way up the short, steep hill out of Twin Lakes and on to meet the fifth beast of the day… the climb out of Twin Lakes…

Elevation Profile - The Beasts

Elevation Profile – The Beasts

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 3

(This is Part 3 of my Leadville Trail 100 race story.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 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!)

Rolling into Outward Bound (24.5) and onto Treeline Crew access (29.5)

I saw Emily (aka Pandora) first. Well, actually, I heard her before I saw her.  She was out at the road, just at the turn off before the aid station.  She cheered and yelled and I let her know that Joey (aka Oso) was not far behind.  She, in turn, notified me where the rest of the #WCE was set up…

As I turned onto the dirt driveway into the aid station, I saw Sarah (aka Lynx) as reports were being shouted back and forth and the crew was springing into action.  I gave her my pack with instructions about food and a notification that I would definitely NOT be eating the breakfast burritos Melanie (aka Golden Retriever) had carried up the mountain from Santiagos in Arvada a couple days before, and that she had carefully and lovingly heated up for me that morning… because all I could consider eating at that point was gels.  But, in glancing at the aid station table, I saw watermelon, and I can always eat watermelon. Always.

Chomping watermelon, drinking Sprite

Chomping watermelon, drinking Sprite

Lynx trotted ahead as I chomped watermelon and grabbed a big handful of extra gels.  If gels were all I was going to be able to eat while running, I had better make sure I had enough…

I hustled over to the crew area and the #WCE was in full effect.  My niece Chelsey (aka Marmot and the newest member of the #WCE) asked me my series of questions I needed asked at every stop (Nasal spray? Eye drops? Antacids? And something else, I can’t remember but seemed really important when I asked her to ask me the night before as we were packing and planning…). Lynx helped with sunscreen, Golden Retriever refilled bottles and managed my pack… it was organized chaos for a few moments and I was off again…

The #WCE has ultra-crewing completely dialed in.

And some of you may be asking yourselves, what’s with the “aka’s” and this weird hashtag WCE thing?  It’s kind of hard to explain… A club?  A family? A community? A cult?  All of the above?

Some of the #WCE

Some of the #WCE

The #WCE is a group of people that have loosely gathered around this idea of shared struggle and the celebration of effort and achievement.  The name is an inside joke that would take some time to explain, and would really not be that funny.  #WCE is short for “hashtag Worst Crew Ever” and it is exactly not the worst crew ever.

The #WCE is an assemblage of some of the best people I’ve known.  I love them all very, very much.

And to make your envy complete, we all have “spirit animal” names, too.  I’m Grey Fox.

Any ultramarathon is such an undertaking that it becomes a team sport, and the #WCE has seen me through every one… Today would be no different.  I would simply not be able to attempt Leadville with them…

I was filled with such gratitude and at every station I thanked them and told them that I loved them, because they could have all be doing something much more fun than watching a pasty white middle aged man shuffle through the mountains.  These friends and family sacrificed their time and energy and sleep to see me through.  It’s an overwhelming gift.

With their support, I was on my way, and I was working to re-hydrate and re-fuel after having been out of water for so long.  But, it seemed that no damage was done and I was feeling good.

This year, the race was re-routed off of a road section and across the property of Outward Bound, which sounds awesome, but was actually pretty terrible.  The course was not routed along a path or gravel road, but ran directly across a cow pasture.  I don’t know when was the last time you made your way across a cow pasture, but let’s just say it’s not conducive to moving quickly.  They’re filled with ankle-endangering holes and rough, uneven and uncertain terrain.  It was absolutely treacherous and took great concentration to not snap one’s lower leg.

But mercifully, it was a short section and I was soon back out along the road.

In a quirk of how the course is laid out, the next stop for crew access was only 5 miles from Outward Bound, and as the #WCE drove by me, the snapped this pic, one of my favorite on the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was super sunny, but not overly hot.  It was turning out to be an absolutely glorious day.

A turn off the road, onto a gravel path for a short bit, another turn or two and I was at the Treeline crew access, which is just an open field where your crew can meet you.

Getting help at Treeline

Getting help at Treeline

I learned that Joey was moving well and was only a few minutes behind me, and I also learned that Becki was crushing it, flying along WAY ahead of me.  Great news on both counts.

We took a bit of extra time here, as I wouldn’t see them for another 10 or 11 miles.  Sunscreen applied, pack packed, drinks drank and I was on my way, once again.

Treeline (29.5) to Twin Lakes (40)

But essentially, I’m not thinking of a thing
All I do is keep on running in my own, cozy, homemade void
My own nostalgic silence
And this is pretty wonderful thing
No matter what anybody else says

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I heard this quote this summer, as I listened to this book on my commutes to and from work, and I had to stop the play back, rewind a bit and listen again and again, and then making into a note on my phone so I could come back to it later.

Heading out of Treeline to Twin Lakes

Heading out of Treeline to Twin Lakes

Murakami perfectly sums up those certain beautiful, glorious moments where the world simplifies into self-locomotion.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of this sport… that everything is boiled down to simply getting from point A to point B.  Such simplicity is beautiful and creates a space for thoughts to come and go freely, or not at all.  It’s wonderful.

I moved through most of this section alone like this… occasionally striking up conversation or sharing and receiving encouraging words from other runners.  The vast numbers of runners seeking to get back to Leadville means that you’re never actually far from others at any time during the race.

But here, for a while, I experienced these wonderful things: movement, beauty, mountains, effort, glory, difficulty, struggle, internal silence, nostalgia, memory, anticipation, hope…

And then I began to be aware again that it was getting hard.  Like, really hard.  I realized that we’d been going up and up and up for a while.  It wasn’t steep… well, occasionally steep, but mostly gradual.  Up.  And it was beginning to take its toll.  I began to feel just kind of terrible.

I’d fallen into something of a conga line with half a dozen or so other runners, as the gravel road we’d been on narrowed into trail.  We must have been somewhere around the 35-36 mile mark and I was right on schedule with my feedings and my water intake was good, but I was in a real low patch. But, I was in a line with people who were moving strong, so we kept making our way.  Blah.

This stretch of trail runs through stunningly beautiful aspen forests and the crisp, cobalt blue sky peeked through the shimmering leaves, dappling the sunlight hither and yon.

If you’re going to feel awful, there’s really no better place to do so…

At 3 miles out from Twin Lakes, around mile 37, we finally came to the top of the hill, ending the long, slow climb up from Treeline.  The last 7 miles had all been up: sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes dramatically, but it was all up, and I felt it.  But, the second of the day’s six great beasts had been slain.

Now, we got to go down and I absolutely love going downhill!!  Soon, my low patch faded and I felt great as we made the rather extreme descent into Twin Lakes.  It was good to run hard again for a bit!

Coming through Twin Lakes

Coming through Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes during the Leadville Trail 100 is really something.  The usually sleepy little town is transformed into an endurance athletics mecca as hundreds of runners and their crews cram the streets along the course.  There’s music, cheering, shouting, yelling, whistling, hooting and hollering.  There are dogs and kids and strollers and wagons and carts and coolers and tents and shelters.

After being inside one’s own head for a couple of hours, it’s all a bit much to take in!

I made my way through the aid station, grabbed more watermelon and another handful of gels and headed through the streets to where I knew the #WCE camp was to be found.  Twin Lakes is our longest “base camp” of the day, as the crew sets up there to see us runners through outbound and then waits for us to return inbound.  All in all, I believe our camp is set up for around 8 hours or so in Twin Lakes on race day.

Ultramarathons take a long time.

The #WCE helping and cheering.  Note the lump of cheese bread in my hand.  I ate like 4 bites, then donated it to the birds...

The #WCE helping and cheering. Note the lump of cheese bread in my hand. I ate like 4 bites, then donated it to the birds…

Once again the #WCE was in full effect, loading my pack, feeding me, cleaning me, entertaining me, cheering for me, encouraging me, and most of all, loving me.  It’s so humbling.

And once again, despite the low patch I’d felt, I was spot on for my projected times for the day. It was 1:00 pm.  I’d been on my feet, moving through the mountains for 9 hours. I’d covered 40 miles.

Now, it was time to attack the third great beast on the day: Hope Pass.

Twin Lakes (40) to the top of Hope Pass (45)

The first mile and a half out of Twin Lakes is across a flat field and brings you to what is supposed to be the only water crossing for the race.  But, this year’s high snowfall and plentiful rains meant that flat field had been turned into mostly stinky, mucky marsh, and then the one water crossing was extended into 6 or 7 water crossings over the space of a quarter mile or so.

So, that was awesome.

The town of Twin Lakes sits at 9,200’ above sea level, which is the lowest point on the course.  Hope Pass sits at 12,620’ above sea level.  And subtracting the flat mile and a half out of Twin Lakes, that means we had to climb 3420’ in the space of 3.5 miles.  That means an average slope angle of 18%.  But, there are long sections of trail where it is significantly less than 18%, which means there are also sections of trail where it is significantly steeper than 18%.

For reference, think about that big, long, sloping drive up out of Denver into the mountains… there, the slope never exceeds 7%.

But, I knew this.  I accounted for this in my training.  I worked at long, slow, arduous climbing.  I worked at power hiking my way uphill as efficiently as possible.

And I had read from others that the best strategy was to find and hold a pace that was just quick enough to make me work and just slow enough to keep me from needing to stop and catch my breath.  Forward progress.  Keep moving.  Don’t stop.

And so after clearing my shoes of the massive amount of sandy gravel accumulated from the water crossings, I got started and I didn’t stop. I hiked and hiked and hiked and hiked.  I ate when I needed to and drank often.  But, I kept going, up and up and up and up and up.

There’s not much to say about this other than it is really freaking hard.

Well, there are a couple of things to note.  One, race leader Rob Krar came FLYING by me on his way back towards Leadville, where he would be crowned champion in the second fastest time ever.  It is astounding to see how fast those leaders roll through the miles.  So cool.

It was also massively encouraging to see Matt Trappe just below the Hopeless Aid Station.  Matt had hiked up to the top to shoot the race for New Balance and his encouragement was a great boost as I was slogging my way up.

Hopeless Aid Station is a fascinating place, too.  Crazy people pack all the aid station supplies up to nearly 12,000’ or so on the backs of Llamas.  So, there are tents and volunteers and llamas everywhere.  It’s kind of awesome.  I topped up a bit of water and kept moving.

PSA to any and all that attempt Leadville: Beware of Hopeless Aid Station.  It’s kind of awesome, but it’s also kind of treacherous.  You’re going to feel awful because you’re 40+ miles into an ultramarathon and you’re at 12,000’ and so it may seem like a good idea to stop.  It’s NOT!  It’s a TERRIBLE idea.  Because you’re up so high, you’re never going to feel better up there.  The only way to feel better is to get DOWN to a lower elevation.  At 12,000’ a single breath only delivers 40% of the oxygen as at sea level.  There’s no way to feel “great” at 12,000’ apart from significant acclimatization.  So GET DOWN!

So, since we in the #WCE have all drilled that into one another’s heads, I moved on out, and the only way to get down is to continue up and surprisingly soon I was at the top of Hope Pass!  The third of the six great beasts was done.  There were volunteers manning the timing station, underneath strings of Nepali prayer flags.  The gulch below stretched out before me.  It was glorious.

But I only recognized this on a vaguely intellectual level.  I knew it was beautiful, but, I couldn’t quite take it all in… I had to get down to Winfield, to the turn around where Luke (aka Wapiti) was waiting to haul me back up and over this hill once again…

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Night is falling, and still the #WCE waits...

Night is falling, and still the #WCE waits…

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 2

(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.)

Pre-Race Prep

Pre-Race Prep

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.

Eggs scrambled with bacon, my current fav pre-race meal!

Eggs scrambled with bacon, my current fav pre-race meal!

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.

Me, Joey and Becki at the start!

Me, Joey and Becki at the start!

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!”

Hilarious.

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.

Headlamps around Turquoise Lake

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.

Perfect.

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!

Someone else’s picture of Hagerman Pass road, just for your reference of the glorious nature of this course…

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.

Ummmm.

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?

Someone else’s picture of PowerLine

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.

The Outward Bound aid station, with Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert as a backdrop. Spectacular.

The Outward Bound aid station, with Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert as a backdrop. Spectacular.

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…)

Into Outward Bound, right on time, munching on watermelon and Sprite...

Into Outward Bound, right on time, munching on watermelon and Sprite…

The 2014 Leadville Trail 100, Part 1

It’s not exactly hot, but the sun is unrelenting at 10,000 feet, so it ain’t cool.

It’s somewhere around 5:00 pm and the medical professional staffing the med tent is asking me about the tightness in my chest… which is a little bit funny, because who’s chest wouldn’t be tight after 50 mountain miles topping out at 12,600’ in elevation?

But, I’m in the med tent because even though I’ve been eating and drinking well and still moving along at a good clip, I felt like hell, and I was a wee bit worried.

I explain that the tightness had gotten more significant over the last hour or so, causing my breathing to be a bit shallow, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dealing with HAPE.

The very top of Hope Pass at 12,600', right before it drops precipitously down, down, down (and then up a bit) into Winfield

The very top of Hope Pass at 12,600′, right before it drops precipitously down, down, down (and then up a bit) into Winfield

HAPE, or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, is a potentially serious/ deadly accumulation of fluid in the lungs, afflicting people dumb enough to spend extended time at altitude.  The symptoms for HAPE are, unfortunately, also the exact symptoms of hauling oneself around the mountains as quickly as one can… shortness and shallowness of breath, high pulse rate, weakness or decreased performance, nausea, lack of appetite, thirst… general malaise.

And I must confess that I stepped into the med tent here at Winfield, (the mining ghost town that represents the 50 mile turn around of the Leadville 100 Trail Run) essentially hoping that I DID, in fact, have HAPE, so I could have a justifiable, honorable reason for ending this suffering.  If I had HAPE, no one would question my stopping here.  I would be pulled from the race with a serious medical condition and I’d still be applauded and congratulated robustly for my effort, my resolve, my blah, blah, blah…

Whatever.  I just wanted to be done.

So, they slapped a pulse oximeter on me, to quickly and easily report the amount of oxygen my blood was carrying.  I was hoping for a low number… like a golf score, indicating HAPE. They also started taking my blood pressure.

Luke Giltner, my ultra-friend that Ben and I met exactly 3 years previous and planned pacer for the next 27+ miles, and Deanna Adami, my friend from seminary and former LeadWoman, watched on in concern.  I’d told them how I was feeling as I came shuffling into Winfield.  They said I looked good, which just a little annoying.

BING. The test was done. (I don’t actually know if the pulse ox device made that sound, but it’s nice for effect…)

The device read 96%, which is perfectly and amazingly healthy, and my blood pressure was also spot on.

The (tremendous, kind, generous, helpful, sensitive, concerned and awesome) medical professionals explained that it was probably some sort of exercise induced asthma, exacerbated by breathing trail dust, etc, etc.  They debated for a moment about having me do some sort of an inhaler, and then decided against it.

Ultimately, the reality was that I was free to go.

Son of a… That meant that I’d have to keep moving.

The thing is… up until the last hour or so, things had gone incredibly well…

(To be continued…)

At mile 25.5, when it was going well...

At mile 25.5, when it was going well…