Believe it or not, that's not a typo...
With even my most aggressive 2010 race predictions being in the 20:45 to 21:30 time range I'll be the first to admit how shocked I was to break 20 hours!! It honestly hasn't sunk in yet, and will likely be a while before it fully does!
With this past weekend being so eventful, there are obviously lots of pictures, video, and stories that I want to share with everyone, so with no further ado, here's my 2010 Leadville Trail 100:
Pre-Race: Thursday through Saturday Morning:
I got into town on Thursday afternoon and saw a deal I just couldn't pass up, so a little pre-race carbo loading with some new friends, Brandon and Natalee Fuller, was in order!
(How could we say 'no' to an offer this good?)
The rest of Thursday and Friday was relatively uneventful. There was the obligatory pre-race medical check-in and now renowned Ken Chlouber pep-rally, as well as some last minute aid station logistics with my crew. Before we knew it, it was time to attempt to snag a couple hours of restless sleep before the 2 a.m. alarms went off on Saturday.
After getting some fuel in the tank and heading to the race start to check-in, my crew and I joined the throngs of other runners, media, and crews at the coffee house. Here we saw some of the individuals producing the upcoming 'Born to Run' movie, including a bearded Jake Gyllenhaal doing his best to blend in with the crowd. After signing an autograph for him, it was off to the race start.
(Happy runners and crew. This will change soon enough...)
(Side note: I didn't find out about this until 60 miles in, but the first adventure of the day began when the starter decided to fail on my crew's vehicle despite working perfectly until we parked that morning. The kindness and assistance they were shown by members of other crews they'd never met is testament to the general good nature of the ultra community. Two separate teams helped out: One got my friend Katie to the first TWO aid stations and the other drove my other great friend Grant back to our campsite outside of town in order to pick up a backup vehicle... I'm not going to point any fingers, but I can think of a few other sports where you just wouldn't find that kind of commeraderie.)
Start to Fish Hatchery
This year, due to the sheer number of runners entered, I decided to be on the very front line for the start. Still not thinking of myself as a fast runner, or a lead pack runner, I was a little nervous and felt slightly out of place when I was still near the front after the first few miles. At about mile 4 I was still running in the presence of greatness... Hal Koerner to my left, Tony Krupicka to my right, but since my bowels had already begun revolting, this forced a pit stop in the bushes that allowed me to fall back in the pack about 15-20 positions which felt like a much more realistic spot for me that early in the race.
For the 8 miles of trail running around Turquoise, I just found a perfect balance for my pace: A fast enough clip so as to not lose any positions and get lost in the sea of headlamps behind me, but easy enough so as to not feel any strain on the leg muscles or go into anaerobic mode. I was also especially careful with my footing this year on the roots/rocks so as to prolong the inevitable foot damage as long as possible. So far, so good. The only concern I had as I hit the pavement with a group of about 4 other runners was how unintentionally fast our pace had been thus far. My friend and eventual 6th place finisher, Harry Harcrow, was with me at this point and he made the comment that we'd gotten there WAY to fast. Since my body was 100% at this point, my rebuttal was simply, 'Burn it while ya got it!'...
2010 Mayqueen Aid Station (13 Miles): 1:48
2009 Mayqueen Aid Station: 1:56 (without a pit stop along the way)
As I mentioned in my pre-race post, one of my main goals this year was to have more efficient aid station transitions, and gain some free time in doing so. This first aid station of the day went much smoother than any in 2009, so I was supremely optimistic heading into the first climb of the day.
As we began the climb up Sugarloaf Pass via the Colorado Trail, I remembered how badly mangled my feet were by the time I reached the Fish Hatchery Aid Station (24 miles) in 2009. After running a quick self-diagnostic of my current condition, I realized that I was still feeling great. It was extremely hard to not run the steeper sections during this part of the race, especially when I began being passed by what seemed like half the field, but my gameplan was still to be smart, save the legs as much as possible, avoid blisters, and hopefully have a little bit left in the tank after mile 60. In all, I probably ran about half of the uphill stretch to the summit of Sugarloaf.
My approach to the free downhill miles was also different this year: Rather than bombing down the Powerlines, I controlled my energy and focused more on running as softly as possible to avoid pounding my quads too early, and paid special attention to my footing so as to avoid the off-camber foot strikes that tear my feet up on the rocks. By doing this, I lost maybe 5 more positions, but more importantly, I felt really, really, really good at Fish Hatchery and didn't need to stop for anything but some fluids, an Ensure, a handful of fresh GU's, and to lose the shirt (compared to last year where the first major blister repairs were performed at this point)! The only real 'disaster' up to this point was that I'd tried to turn my iPod on about 20 miles in, only to realize it was dead. Again, my day was not going bad by any means...
(Photos courtesy of Natalee Fuller)2010 Fish Hatchery Aid Station (Mile 24): 3:38
2009 Fish Hatchery Aid Station: 3:55
Beginning with the 4 mentally gruelling road miles leading to the Treeline crew access point (mile 28, where Grant also donated his iPod for me to use) is where I began to put a serious gap on my 2009 time, and also began to reel in a lot of the runners who'd passed me on Sugarloaf barely an hour earlier. Rather than walking a majority of the flat or rolling terrain to the Halfmoon II aid station, I was able to run every step this year. (Likewise on the return trip later in the afternoon, but more on that later.)
There was actually a point during the section just before Halfmoon II (mile 32) where I began laughing and grinning from ear to ear over the simple fact that it was a beautiful day, I was listening to awful music (sorry Grant), and felt great despite having already run a 50k... that's a moment I'll fondly replay in my head every time I think about this year's race!
Shortly after Halfmoon II, runners hit the Colorado Trail for the remaining 8 miles before Twin Lakes. Here it becomes increasingly hillier and the climbs become longer, little by little. Before I mention what was so incredible about this stretch for me, I want to offer my theory as to why:
Even though it took some serious force-feeding, all day I had been taking a gel along with some Thermotabs every 20-25 minutes, and I was drinking consistently (about 20oz per hour). In addition to this, I forced an extra gel or two down my food chute at every official aid station, and sometimes even some chips, Coke, or Ensure, if available. I mention this because it clearly led to me having no shortage of glycogen in my legs... I actually had one of the fastest times of the entire field for this stretch.
To put in perspective how well I was able to run these moderate sections of trail: The overall winner Duncan Callahan was only 2 minutes faster on this 8 mile stretch outbound from mile 32-40. Inbound (miles 68-76), on the section from Halfmoon II back to Fish Hatchery, I was actually faster than Duncan by 8 minutes, or a full minute per mile! If you feel like deciphering all the splits, the Excel results can be found on the Leadville 100 website.
Okay, on with the suffer-fest. After an extremely strong, confidence boosting stretch on the Colorado Trail from miles 34-38, I began to have shooting pain in both hamstrings... cramps! All the uphill running was slowly beginning to have a toll, so I decided I'd try to let my legs go completely loose on the downhills in hopes of the cramps working themselves out. I felt like I was feeling the twinges of pain early enough that I could still do something about them, and decided to double my salt intake for the next hour or so, just to see if I could avoid complete leg failure later on!
I arrived at Twin Lakes still feeling halfway decent, and only needed to stop long enough to add 1-2 pieces of Kinesio tape to some toes I'd pre-taped the night before. Still no blisters at this point, just a couple of hot spots.
2010 Twin Lakes Aid Station (Mile 40): 6:13 - 25th Overall
2009 Twin Lakes Aid Station: 7:04
Leaving Twin Lakes I again resumed running, which was foreign to me since I walked this portion last year (having just taken a digger a mile before the aid station). I passed my friend Amelia who was getting some additional footage for her upcoming documentary, 'Why Run?' and as always, seeing a familiar face after suffering for hours totally boosted the morale; even if only for a few minutes.
(TMI side note: Being known for my digestive/bowel issues during ultra's (thanks Cystic Fibrosis), I had a bet with my crew members and friends as to how many times I would have to poo during the race. The predictions ranged from 3 to 8. My guess was clearly the 3, since I'm the one who would have to endure said bowel movements, and I didn't relish the thought of 8... I'm just sayin'! Right before Hope Pass outbound, I took what would officially be my last poo break of the day, bringing the total quantity to 3!! Sooo glad 8 wasn't correct...)
I arrived at the base of Hope along with 2 other runners and immediately assumed I would leave them in my dust. Wrong. One of them turned out to be Jeff Beuche, the eventual 5th place finisher, and for good reason. While the 2nd runner and I stayed together for most of the ascent, Jeff began alternating running and walking and quickly had disappeared. Even when we rose above timberline and could see runners 10-15 minutes ahead of us, Jeff was nowhere to be found. Hats off.
By the Hopeless aid station, and an alpine meadow full of llamas (one of which I thought was a buffalo at first site), I'd finally caught the next pack of runners who had gone out strong early on. After a quick top-off of both bottles I resumed my power hike to the summit and reeled in 2 or 3 of them.
The descending felt awesome after climbing for the past 1:45, so I took advantage of the feeling and ended up bombing the stretch to Winfield in less than 45 minutes. I was about halfway down before I crossed paths with Tony and his pacer, Dakota Jones. This was a confidence booster for two reasons:
1) It's always inspiring to see Tony killing it out there, and I have an unbelievable amount of respect and awe for his abilities.
2) I was stoked to see his lead was at least 4-5 miles shorter than it had been a year before. I remember being somewhat devastated last year when I wasn't even at the Hopeless aid station when he crossed my path bombing back down to Twin Lakes.
I'd just hit the gravel road to Winfield before I crossed paths with Duncan and then proceeded to run all the way in, passing about 4 more runners on the way. At the aid station I stepped on the scale to find my weight within 0.4 lbs of where I'd started (a whopping 140lbs) so the medical staff let me go and I ran to meet my crew for the second foot tending session of the day which was again just the addition of a couple layers of Kinesio tape around some toes. This was probably a 5 minute stop.
2010 Winfield (Halfway!): 8:55 (12:55pm)
2009 Winfield: 10:02
I'd arrived at Winfield in 19th place but appeared to have fallen back to about 22nd or 23rd because of my time in the chair. I'd began yelling for a pacer at the aid station, but surprisingly, despite there being like 5,000,000 people there, not one soul volunteered. So as I ran the 2-3 miles to the trailhead back up Hope I mentally prepared myself to take it on solo.
The climb was slow but uneventful. Being able to see where you're at in relation to other runners is probably the only bright side to an out-and-back course such as Leadville. Anyway, near the top I was pleasantly surprised to run into and then pass a beaten and battered Hal Koerner. Whether or not he'd just run the Canadian Death Race a few weeks prior, I was still psyched to be running with such an elite guy this late in the race. (Hal unfortunately ended up DNF'ing later in the evening at Fish Hatchery).
Three or four switchbacks later, the hardest part of the race was in the books and I would soon be out of the super-heat that had decided to rear its ugly head during this section of climbing.
I was going downhill very conservatively at this point because my feet had finally reached their breaking point. There were numerous hot spots now and it would only take one slip across a sharp rock to rip some toes and initiate a bloody, puss-filled mess in my shoes. About halfway down I ran into my friend Jill who had hiked up in hopes of crossing paths with me. She began running with me and provided a much needed diversion from the pain which was mounting. I'm pretty sure she just heard me whine the entire time since I had 10 1/2 hours worth of complaining to vocalize, and finally had an audience! During this stretch a couple of toes decided to finally tear open, as well. We'd passed a couple runners just before and after the river crossings at the bottom of Hope, but these positions were soon to be lost after our arrival in Twin Lakes #2, once I sat down and assessed the full extent of the foot damage.
-VIDEO OF MILE 60 AID STATION CARNAGE COMING SOON-(Narration courtesy of Jill Suarez)
2010 Twin Lakes #2: 11:52 (3:52pm) -14th Overall (Yeah, this was news to me, too!)
2009 Twin Lakes #2: 13:32
I'm not going to say I'm happy about a 10 minute pit-stop, but looking back, it was this extra time and foot first-aid that ended up getting me to the finish with no further stops. This alone makes the 10 minutes well worth it.
The feeling of finally having a pacer was incredible. I liked feeling hardcore and all, because of finishing almost 60 solo, BUT hardcore hurts, and I was ready for the suffering to end (or at least be kept to a minimum). Katie and I power-hiked the grueling first climb out of Twin Lakes (doubly so, because of the steepness AND the tender, freshly glued/taped feet) but then proceeded to go to my original plan of running the flats and downhills, and just hiking all terrain with any uphill tendencies!
This worked well enough to pass one runner in the 8 mile stretch back to Halfmoon II. I covered this section slower than any of the guys in the top-10, but was probably 20+ minutes faster than last year, so I really couldn't complain.
How, I don't know, but after leaving this station I proceeded to start running with such renewed energy that I dropped my pacer almost immediately. For the 8 mile stretch back to Fish Hatchery not only did I not walk a single step, but I posted the 3rd fastest split of all runners. To put it into perspective: My split for miles 68-76 was almost identical to my morning split from miles 24-32... don't ask me how.
2010 Fish Hatchery #2: 14:56 (6:56pm) - 9th Overall
2009 Fish Hatchery #2:
After another quick aid station transition (< 3 minutes), I picked up my next pacer, James. James was slated to be my first pacer at Hardrock in July, so it felt good to not disappoint him again this time and actually let him put up with my late-race shenanigans. We were able to resume running immediately out of Fish and made it to the infamous Powerlines before going back to hiking. This stretch to the summit of Sugarloaf was covered within 7 minutes (1:06) of my night-training time 3 weeks prior, which was/is a solid time, but fails to properly acknowledge how badly and quickly the wheels were coming off... about halfway up, I performed a serious 'cat-disco' stomach pump. After puking up everything except for my internal organs, I felt slightly better, but had lost my desire to eat/drink regularly which had been my key to a great race up until this point. So by the time would reach the Colorado Trail again, my 2010 Leadville 100 would quickly become the 2010 Leadville Nighttime Suffer-fest 25k!
2010 Mayqueen #2: 17:13 (9:13pm)- 10th Overall
2009 Mayqueen #2: 20:00
I spent less than a minute at Mayqueen since survival-mode had already set in and I wanted nothing more than to be done at this point. I walked through, fought the urge to puke again, and continued without James knowing he would catch me with ease. When the concept of a sub-20 hour finish first became a long-shot possibility on top of Sugarloaf, we'd decided that he would stay with me until the finish, or until my sub-20 chances were gone, whichever came first. After about 4 miles of running around Turquoise Lake, the latter became my reality...
I began to have intense shooting pain in my right arch that could only mean one thing: Stress fracture(s) and no more running. We made it to the Tabor Boat Ramp (mile 94) and I made the call to drop James off and pick up Grant. My logic was, if I can't run, I might as well have fun and I new Grant was the guy who could make me laugh and stop thinking about nothing but pain.
After about a mile of wandering in the dark we started to pass campsites with cheering spectators. The BIGGEST surprise of this race, or any race, for that matter, came when we followed loud cheers straight into a makeshift aid station, of sorts... at least 6 women were jumping up and down topless and high fiving us as we went through!!! If Grant hadn't been with me to verify these bare breasts were real, I would have sworn I was delirious and hallucinating!
Anyway, after this nice diversion (and our next 20 minute conversation piece), we continued hiking. Soon we were back on the gravel road leading towards downtown Leadville! While running was impossible, we were walking at a 4+ mph pace which was still respectable. Despite this pace, we turned around to see headlamps rapidly gaining on us and as much as I wanted to fight them off, I could not. Grant and I just shut our lamps off in hopes of deceiving our pursuers, and walked under the bright moonlight until they finally blew past around mile 97.
At this point I just wanted to hang on and finish without being passed anymore. I'd become comfortable with the idea of a 20:15 time and lost all motivation to even power-hike. By the time we caught our first glimpse of the lights in town (approx. 1 1/2 miles from the finish) I looked at my watch to see that it was still almost quarter 'til midnight, which meant a sub-10 minute pace would still let me break 20! UNFORTUNATELY, sub-10's are much easier said than done after 98+ miles. After a 100 yard attempt to run up the hill we were on, I again decided it was impossible to run. We resumed walking and it wasn't until we were on the pavement with just under 1 mile to go that I again looked down at my watch and saw the time: 11:52pm. I no longer cared how much it hurt. I was either going to finish in under 20 hours or DIE trying (literally). I handed both water bottles to Grant to lighten my load and began running the final climb of the night.
My heartrate readlined almost immediately and I truly know of nothing to compare the pain to, but I ran with every fiber of energy I had thinking it still might be too little, too late. Cresting the hill I could see the downtown stoplight in the distance. When the pain reached a new high, I just pushed harder. Not knowing if my watch was even accurate, the thought came into my head that maybe 20 hours had already passed and this was all for naught! Regardless, I pushed until the point of near collapse, crossed the finish to the cheers of my crew, and fell to the concrete...
...somehow, I'd just run a 6:50 mile.
2010 Leadville 100: 19:57.52
2009 Leadville 100: 23:21.27
Now I'm sitting here a week later, still trying to absorb it... and cannot.
That night, back at our campsite, I was unable to sleep because of violent coughing and vomitting, combined with the adrenalin high I was still experiencing. Not having eaten enough food or salt over the last few miles of the race had pushed me to borderline hyponatremia, but I was able to ingest enough salt tabs while laying in the tent to fight off any serious reprocussions.
Never had I imagined such a strong finish. Despite still not being able to walk without limping, due to the foot injury I incurred during the race, I'm already strategizing and brainstorming as to how I can go sub-19 next year. I've known for a while a screw is loose in my head, and now you do too.
Why I think another major time improvement is feasible:
I've averaged just under 50 miles per week in training in 2010 thus far, which is easily less than half the mileage elite ultra-runners are logging. In 2011 I will make a concerted effort to average at least 75 miles a week as part of my base training, in hopes of shaving one more huge chunk of time at Leadville!
Here's to the 2010 racing season being in the books!