Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 Leadville 100 Trail Run

Date: 8/20/11-8/21/11 
Stats: 100 miles; ~16,000’ elevation gain
Results: 20:59:33; 14th overall (out of 635)

Background Info
If you're not familiar with it the Leadville Trail 100 Run it's one of the most famous and challenging 100 mile trail races in the United States. The race starts and finishes in the small town of Leadville, CO. It was founded 29 years ago by Ken Chlouber in an attempt to attract people to Leadville in the midst of an economic collapse. The race is also known as the “Race Across the Sky” because of its high altitude (starts in town at 10,120 feet, reaches a high point of 12,520 feet at Hope Pass, and never drops below 9,000 feet). If you plan on finishing you really have to believe Ken’s motto: “You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.” He repeated this about 10 times during Friday’s pre-race meeting.

course profile. it's an out-and-back, so flip it around for the second half
Jess (gf), Mike (uncle), Mom and I drove down to Leadville on Friday. Everyone involved in this adventure was a first timer…I had never run an ultra and the others had never crewed or paced. That being said, the logistics involved in this race were stressful at times. We drove to all of the aid stations on Friday and we went over the game plan multiple times. However, I couldn’t stop thinking that “the best laid plans…”. 

The excitement and anticipation going into this race were unprecedented for me. Most likely because of the “unknown” factor. Could I finish? How would my body react to such abuse? Would it be fun? Even when I competed in the 2 Ironmans, I knew that I would finish. But I had never pushed my body even close to 25 or 30 hours. Actually, I’m kind of embarrassed to say that my longest training run was 31 miles. Oh well, it was too late to worry about that now. My goal was still to finish under 25 hours. However, multiple Leadville veterans suggested that I have backup goals of 1) just finish, which is a huge feat in itself and 2) to make it to mile 70. 

Jess and me at the medical check in on Friday

Race Day
It rained some throughout the night but I woke up at 2:15am to great running weather. We got to the start at 6th and Harrison around 3:30, half an hour before the start. I just tried to relax and take in all the sights. My warm up consisted of walking to the porta-potty 3 times. I said my goodbyes to the crew so they could beat some of the rush to May Queen (first aid station). I turned on the ipod to try and stay relaxed and I took one last glance at my goal splits. The gun went off at 4am and the 635 runners were off. 

prepping on race morning
Start to May Queen (13.5 miles, 1:59)
Besides the 2 minute bathroom break, this section was uneventful, as should be for the first leg of an ultra. I was surprised at the pace of most runners. A lot of people jumped off the line like they were running a much shorter race. I settled in to mid-pack and jogged as slowly as I could without going crazy. It was tough running a 9+ minute pace given the circumstances: slight downhill for the first 6 miles, fresh legs from a 2 week taper, and all the adrenaline you could ever need. The single track around Turquoise Lake was a ton of fun. The gently rolling terrain was a great way to get in a rhythm. It was tough to pass people on the narrow trail, but there would be plenty of time for that over the next day. I settled in with a few other runners and jogged easily into May Queen about 10 minutes under my goal. Whoops. I quickly spotted Mike, Jess and my mom and dropped off my head lamp and jacket. No need to take a break this early on so I quickly said “Hi/Bye” and was off.

May Queen to Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles, 3:43)
From MQ the course climbs about 5 miles and 1,300 feet to the top of Sugarloaf Pass. The climb is gradual enough that I jogged most of it. I did walk a few short sections; not out of necessity, but I wanted to put as little stress on my legs as possible. The competitor in me found this very difficult, but I knew it was the right thing to do. At least that’s what I heard from people who have done this before. On the descent down to Fish Hatchery I ran with a guy named Ricky, who was wearing a Hardrock 100 shirt. I figured he knew what he was doing so I stuck with him and chatted a bit. It was a good way to pass the time, but I pulled ahead as we dropped down the steep section known as power line. The trail is actually a path that was cleared to run power lines. Because of this, there are no switchbacks. Just a straight drop down towards Fish Hatchery. Although I felt great, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was already expending too much energy. I rolled into FH and I could tell Jess was wondering the same thing. “You’re going fast!” she said, as she looked down at a sheet with my goal splits. I knew I was about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. 

cruising down power line

early in the race
Fish Hatchery to Half Pipe (30.5 miles, 4:48)
Pretty boring section. About 4 miles on paved roads, then another few miles on dirt roads. I did get to see the crew a few miles into the leg which is always fun. By this point, the sun was out and I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. I was going to enjoy it, because I knew that there was a 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. 

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes (39.5 miles, 6:24)
This is my favorite part of the course. It’s a beautiful section on the Colorado Trail; heavily wooded with aspens, a couple stream crossings, and mostly rolling terrain. The entire section is run-able. I did walk a couple short sections around the Mt. Elbert trailhead to conserve energy, but I jogged most of the 9 miles. 

I was starting to pass people… a lot of people. The field was thinning out which was nice. Everyone around me looked solid, and everyone I talked to seemed to have done this before. I ran with a guy from Boulder who was running LT100 for the third time (he finished in the top 10 a few years ago). He assured me that I was running “strong.” I wasn’t sure if I should read into it…he could have meant that I was running way too fast for a first timer. After all, his goal was 22 hours, much faster than my goal of 25. On the other hand, I was still feeling great. I was having a blast and still was keeping my output waaaay below my potential. 

My GPS also died in this section, which was expected. I never run without it, but it was enjoyable to run based on my effort and not worry so much about mph. Really, the only reason I wore it was to keep myself in check for the first leg to May Queen. I knew that I would have to be more in tune with what my body was telling me and not rely so much on technology. 

Arriving at Twin Lakes was amazing, mostly because of the hundreds of cheering spectators, but also due to the fact that I felt much better than anticipated.  
arriving at Twin Lakes outbound
heading across the Arkansas River valley towards Hope Pass and Winfield

Mike relaxing at Twin Lakes, ready to do some pacing
Twin Lakes to Winfield (50 miles, 9:31)
This is where the race gets difficult. I came to Leadville a month before the race to run this section, but the Arkansas River was still so high that I couldn’t get across to Hope Pass. Based on the elevation profile, I knew it was going to be grueling. The first mile crosses the Arkansas River valley (which means wet feet) and then the trail climbs 3,300 feet over the next 4 miles, topping out at 12,520’ Hope Pass. Amazingly, there is an aid station just before Hope Pass. Supplies are carried up by llamas and a couple dozen volunteers…nice work! 

As I reached the summit I was treated to some amazing views. I took a few seconds to enjoy the scenery and then gave my attention to the steep trail below me. Unfortunately, much of this is so steep that it isn’t very run-able. I took it easy, trying not to kill my quads. I was happy to have my trekking poles to help ease the impact. Since this is an out-and-back course, I also got a chance to see the leaders during this section. It was nice to see that they were walking uphill as well. 

I arrived at Winfield about an hour ahead of schedule. Jess informed me that I was in 28th place, give or take. At this point I was still feeling strong and I was starting to crunch some numbers. Maybe I could go sub-24, or sub-23. I knew these were dangerous thoughts; that it was still way too early to reevaluate. I did my best to just go with the flow and not think about it too much. I did the mandatory weigh in (down 3 pounds from the 160.2 pre-race) and took a few minutes to refuel. I quickly changed my socks and headed back towards Leadville!

the cool water of the Arkansas was refreshing

it's uphill from here to Hope Pass

topping out at Hope Pass, 3,300' above Twin Lakes (in background)

weighing in at Winfield

Derek and me leaving Winfield to tackle Hope Pass
Winfield to Twin Lakes (60.5 miles, 12:25)
Derek (younger brother) was going to pace me for this section. The plan was to have a new pacer for each section on the way back to Leadville. However, within a few miles Derek was falling behind…a result of a sore knee and lack of training at altitude. The air at 10,000 feet has just 40% of the oxygen of air at sea level. I grabbed the hydra pack from Derek, left him with a bottle of water and moved steadily to the top of Hope Pass. I felt bad leaving him behind, but he was doing fine and ended up getting to Twin Lakes just a few minutes behind me. The downhill from Hope Pass to Twin Lakes is gradual enough that I got to run most of the way back down. Because of this, I actually covered the Winfield/Twin Lakes section 13 minutes faster on the way back. 

Arriving at TL was a great confidence boost. I had just covered the most difficult section of the course and was optimistic about finishing under my goal time of 25 hours. My feet were wet from crossing the Arkansas so I changed shoes and discussed the next section of trail with my uncle, Mike, who was my next pacer. 

arriving back at Twin Lakes after the double crossing of Hope Pass

the crew taking care of me at Twin Lakes inbound

after a quick change of shoes I was leaving Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes to Half Pipe (69.5 miles, 14:25)
I was originally planning on running this section in the dark, at least the last few miles of it. However, this was not the case since I was moving more quickly than anticipated. I was happy that Mike got to enjoy this beautiful section in the day light, given that he traveled from Pennsylvania for the race. I knew Mike would be capable of running for a couple hours and I had been looking forward to his company and enthusiasm. 

When I arrived at Half Pipe I was starting to feel the effects of being on my feet all day. I was feeling tired, both physically and mentally. It didn’t help seeing a fellow racer sitting down at the aid station. It would have felt amazing to sit down, but I knew that would be a bad idea and resisted the temptation. I actually asked my crew to not let me sit down unless it was an absolute necessity. Luckily, my stomach was still feeling fine and I was not having any trouble keeping down food. I drank some soda and ate some watermelon, hoping that the combo of sugar and caffeine would give me a boost.

Half Pipe to Fish Hatchery (76.5 miles, 15:53)
Three miles after passing through Half Pipe Mike and I arrived at Pipe Line, a crew access point (no aid station). It was great to see my mom and Jess again, as it signified another section of the race was under my belt. However, I definitely took a noticeable hit in the prior half hour. It’s amazing how quickly I was deteriorating. I started to wonder if I went out too hard. I tried absorbing some of the optimism that my friends and family were dishing out.
Mike handed off the hydra pack to my mom, who was going to pace me for the remaining 4 miles into Fish Hatchery. How cool is that; I bet not many people had their mom as a pacer! I feel kind of bad for her though. This was the most boring 4 miles of the course and I was in a bad mood. I warned everyone that I would probably be cranky at times, and this was probably my lowest point of the race. 

Jess looks a little concerned as I stumble into Pipe Line
Fish Hatchery to May Queen (86.5 miles, 18:12)
Fish Hatchery could not come soon enough. I managed to jog most of the 4 miles with my mom, but the pace was noticeably slower than it had been up to that point in the race. I really took my time at this aid station. The sun had set and it was starting to get dark. Originally, the plan was for Matt (older brother) to pace me for the 10 miles to May Queen. However, since I was ahead of schedule he was actually not even in Leadville at the time. Luckily, my family met Joe earlier that day. Joe had planned on running the race himself but had to withdraw due to an injury. However, he made the trip from Chicago and was willing and able to pace. I really lucked out here; Joe was a great pacer. 

I thought the 5 mile section from FH to the top of Sugarloaf was going to be brutal. Climbing up power line (with all of those false summits, in the dark, while being really tired) did not sound fun. However, I think that the climb was actually a blessing in disguise. I had done so much jogging in the past few hours that it was nice to use some different muscles. Also, since power line is so steep, just about everyone walks up it…so I didn’t feel bad about walking here. I actually passed a couple people here. If you told me at the FH aid station that I was going to pass people up power line I would not have believed you. 

Arriving at the top of Sugarloaf was a huge milestone. This meant that the big hills were behind me, and, barring something like a broken ankle, I was going to hit my goal of finishing under 25 hours. The next five miles were downhill to May Queen; 3 miles on a dirt road, 2 miles on some technical single track. At this point I felt like a totally different person than I was at Fish Hatchery. I was rejuvenated; I felt like I was a new person. Maybe cause I got a break from running. Maybe cause I could now see the lights in Leadville. All I know is that I really took advantage of the newfound energy. Joe and I cruised down this section! I think we passed 5 racers here. I knew it was the last big downhill and I wanted to take advantage of it. 

May Queen to Finish (100 miles, 20:59:33)
I rolled into MQ sooner than my crew anticipated. This was the theme of the day. You would have thought they’d be used to it by now! But I looked/felt so bad at Fish Hatchery I can’t blame them. Matt had finally made it to Leadville and was pumped to pace me. Given the fact that I was ahead of schedule, he was still eating pizza with his shoes off when I got to the aid station. He geared up quickly while I refueled at the last aid station. I mentioned to Jess that I wanted to break 21 hours. Despite being ahead of schedule the entire day, this was the first time I actually stated a goal other than 25 hours. At this point in the race there was no point in holding back. 

Matt and I cruised along Turquoise Lake. Cruised is a relative term…I felt good considering the distance I had already covered. In reality, we were probably slogging along at 5-6 mph. However, we managed to pass a couple people here which was good for morale. After all, this was still a race. It’s easy to lose sight of that, though. Up to this point it was more about simply surviving than racing. But now my competitive juices were flowing. I didn’t want to simply survive. I wanted to pass people. I wanted to finish in less than 21 hours. I wanted to run through the pain, not settle for walking.

"running" along Turquoise Lake with Matt
With about 6 miles to go we met up with the crew near Tabor boat ramp. I took one last gel and drank some soda. After crewing all day, it was now Jess’s turn to pace me and get me to the finish line. I could tell she was psyched to finally be running. Which was good cause I wanted as much positive energy as I could get. The last 6 miles is a gradual climb back to town. At this point, even a 2-3% grade was enough to turn my jog into a walk. I was exhausted; every step was a burden. I would pick out a tree or a road sign and challenge myself to jog to it. Breaking down the 6 miles into smaller sections was a good way to keep moving with a purpose. Despite the slow pace, Jess and I picked up one spot in this final leg. 

And then finally…we made it back to 6th Avenue. Half a mile to go. The finish line was in sight. I could hear the announcer call out my name, letting the spectators know who’s headlamp they were watching bob down the road. In reality, it was only a few family members, friends and a couple locals. It was really cool because I could hear my family cheering for me from half a mile away.

I looked at my watch and saw I had 4 minutes to break 21 hours. I told Jess we needed to run. And run we did! It was such a great feeling being able to run this last stretch. Sometimes you sprint the finish of a race and then you feel like you left too much in the tank…like you should have used some of that energy over the last few miles. But this time I truly felt like I left it all on the course and I sputtered to the finish line on the last bit of fumes. There were so many thoughts going through my head at this point. I was so glad to be finished, so thankful for the support of my family and friends, so proud of myself for totally exceeding my expectations.

I crossed the finish line and collapsed to my knees. I don’t think I needed to, but it felt good to relax for just a few seconds and appreciate the accomplishment. It was such a gratifying experience, and, like every other finish line I’ve crossed, well worth the training and commitment. In this race I ventured into new territory and pushed my mind and body more than I ever had. I absolutely love that feeling and I can’t wait until I experience it again.
By the time I accepted my finisher’s medal, my finishing time was already up on the big screen: 20:59:33. Awesome! It was so much fun running in that last half mile knowing that it was going to be close. For some reason it sounds so much better than 21 hours, at least to me. 
crossing the line
every runner gets to break the tape
felt good to get off my feet
Jess and me after the race

Joe and me after the race
Mom, me, Jess, Matt and Megan
the awesome crew and pacers who helped me get through the day
the big belt buckle for finishing under 25 hours
It was such an amazing day. I can honestly say that I had a blast, except for maybe the 6 miles coming into Fish Hatchery.

The race was very well managed. Course was marked well, even at night. Aid stations were plentiful and well stocked. Volunteers were awesome.

The weather was perfect. Besides wearing a light jacket from start to May Queen, all I wore was a sleeveless shirt and shorts. I didn’t change clothes at all the entire day.

I felt extremely lucky to not have any stomach issues, cramps or trouble eating. My nutrition was solid throughout the day. I averaged about 250 calories per hour. On the trail I stuck mainly to gels and Gatorade. At the aid stations I ate PB&J, watermelon and soda. I also took an electrolyte tab about every 2 hours.

I think I paced myself really well, given my lack of experience at this distance. I had just enough juice left in the tank to finish at a respectable pace. However, I did really hold back early. I’m curious if I could have run the flats/down hills a little harder. My thought is that I’m going to be tired at the end, regardless of my pace, so maybe I will try and push it harder on the easy sections next time. I realize that there is only one way to find out…experimentation in my future ultras.

And yes, there will be future ultras.

No comments:

Post a Comment