Grand Slam Race #3
Project 2010 Race #5
Leadville Trail 100
August 21-22, 2010
Leadville, CO - 100 Miles
Cold As Ice
The starting line seemed miles away as I stood out on Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville, Co. The race starts here at the corner of Harrison and 6th St. 6th St. is all ready full of runners, and their crews. It's freezing cold, a balmy 38 degrees while I shiver and shake in my shorts, wearing a pair of Moeben Arm sleeves underneath my North Face windbreaker. 38 Degrees is a temperature I haven't felt since the beginning in May and it's a drastic contrast to the hot and humid summer we've been having in New England this summer, a far cry from the heat of Western States and the heat and humidity of Vermont. The countdown ends, and we're all off.. into the wild.
I say goodbye to Samy and Dan, my new friends from Crossfit New Hampshire who made the trek out to Colorado to help out. They seem more excited then I am. I'm cold, I'm tired.. and for the first time all year I'm nervous. So nervous that as I walked around town in the cold morning air, my lower back pounded with nervous back spasms, spasms so harsh I couldn't breath, my abs tensed up and my eyes welled up with tears. That was over now, as I ran down the 6th St. hill with the silhouette of Mt Elbert and Massive in the distance.
As we make it to the very first incline of the race, half the field slows to a walk. This incline didn't even qualify as a hill and I couldn't believe the number of folks walking all ready. Perhaps this was testament to the number of folks running their 1st 100 here in Leadville... over 450 of them. As they slowed to a walk I thought, out loud, "It's going to be a long day if you're walking all ready." I was thinking about the real hills to come, the times you'll HAVE to walk because you don't have a choice. On this lame hill, on this flat section... nows the time to stretch out and put some time in your pocket. The response out of the crowd came from an unknown, "See ya later mate." I replied, "Maybe you will..." "Hope you brought a check book." Interesting interaction for an ultra...
You Can Lead A Horse To Water...
The paved roads of Leadville soon turned into the dirt back roads on the outskirts of town. And those roads, with few potholes but plenty of wavy compact dirt, soon turned into rocky single track. Things quickly got treacherous with the single file line of some 700 runners slowing the field down immensely. I settled in behind whomever was running, and trotted along as best I could. It was extremely hard to pass anyone, and when you said, "on your left" and tried to go for it, you got a bit of attitude before they stood aside. This is what you get folks when a race is too big for its britches. Somewhere around Turquoise lake, I stepped aside for my first #2 bio break of the day. I began to wonder what happens with all the bio waste from 700 runners out on this 50 mile course. I was getting upset...
Into The Sky
The course makes its way out onto Hagerman Road, as we climb ever higher, we were rewarded with magnificent views of Turquoise Lake and the surrounding mountains that make up the valley Leadville sits within. I climbed the road with a gentleman from San Antonia, Tx who was wearing a pink wig and a pair of stylish green sunglasses. Beside me was a man by the name of John who was running in his first 100 miler ever coming over from Tri-land. These guys were such a breath of fresh air. Fun to talk to and have some real conversation. Finally, I was running a race out west and enjoying conversation with a variety of runners. Brian Gaines had caught up to me and we shook hands and said hello. I ducked off into the woods for bio break #2... I sensed a problem starting and was not happy.
I'm beginning to grow ever more frustrated at the amount of these races that advertise "mountains, tough, deathly" terrain we'll have to cross. And when we get out there and take it on, you tackle long flat sections of pavement. I hate pavement, I have flat sections. I suck at them. Today was no different. The sun is getting high in the sky, it's hot. I shuffle down the road section and am passed by a constant buzz of cars. One runners crew stopped to chat with him and while they were chatting, a car came up behind them and tried to pass them on this narrow road. I couldn't believe it and I was sure to say something to them about slowing down and taking their time. They drove a black Jeep Cherokee... they were young, cocky and idiots saying "Runners aren't supposed to accept crew here." He wasn't accepting crew, they were having a conversation and they had 3 hours, at least, to get to the next stop which was all of 5 miles away. Are you serious..??
The strange things continued. I saw a guy running in a pair of Brooks Cascadias. In my experience those shoes hurt on the road, so I asked him, "You're feet hurt in those shoes yet?" His response, "You're talking out of your ass mother f-er." Now I've been called a lot of things in my day.. a few things during races.. but never this extreme. I was floored. I told him that I was just curious and sorry to have offended him. Wished him well and told him, "By the way.. I'm not a mother f-er." His response, "Someday you might be." Ok.... seriously...
I leave Box Creek and start passing some of the folks I've been leapfrogging all day. When I catch them they chuckle... they know where I've been. I caught up to Brian Gaines again and have a brief conversation with him. I offered him an apology for an altercation we had had through e-mail. Thankfully he was accepting o my apology and we enjoyed some time together. He really is a top notch runner, attempting his 4th 100 miler.. hoping to finally finish one. I feel for him and wish him well before taking off.
As we pass the crew vehicle, the guys hand me my jacket as I prepare to take on the biggest climb in the race. I head off into the tall grasses of this wide valley, doing a shuffle trying to ease back into comfort. As I walk through the muddy meadow, I'm surrounded by tall peaks.. I continue to be blown away by the beauty of this place.
Baptism and The Gates To Heaven
After the grassy meadows, the course winds us around to a section of river crossings. As I approach the first crossing, I see a young runner sitting down to take off his shoes. I know he's just wasting time. You can see the tiny rocks everywhere, you can hear the rushing water of crossings to come. I slow down and look for a way around myself.. I snap out of it.. and just plunge in, shuffling through the frigid water. I continue forward and there is another stream... and then another... and another... and then finally.. the river itself. The first few steps in find me up to my waist in water, the runners to my right are only ankle deep.. what the hell?!
As we get to Hope aid station, I saunter in and sit down next to a few runners. I sip on some soup, the top of the pass at 12,000+ feet is just beyond here. You can see it, you can feel it. After drinking some soup and getting a few hellos from fellow runners, I rise back to my feet as Nicole asked me to head out with her. We exit the shelter and get a real kick out of all the Llama's grazing in the meadow. This is how the gear was dragged up this high as there are no roads leading to here. We thank the crews and leave.
My eyes itching, my lungs burning and my brain a mess... I walk as fast as I can towards Winfield and the 50 mile turn around. Samy came out to see if I was ok. I hurried into the aid station as fast as I could. He egged me on to run.. I was doing my best. I see the runner from San Antonio and he tells me I have a half hour to get into Winfield. I do some math... Oh Shit. I pick it up as much as I can and get into winfield at 5:45pm. As I sit in a chair, the aid workers yell out that I have until 6pm to get OUT of the aid station or I would be DQed. I am starving.. I need food. Samy makes me the worlds worst Grilled Cheese sandwhich, try and not very good, it's hard to chew and swallow. I have chips, and fruit. Runners all around me are talking about quitting while some are trying to cheer others on. It's chaos, it's madness... I stand up and look at Nicole... she's done and she mouths to me.. "Go get It."
We run down the road as fast as I can, stopping ever so often to give me legs a much deserved yet short walk break. Bryan and his girlfriend Liana drive by in the crew vehicle and hang out the window to take a few pics. They wait at the base of the climb go give us one last kick of encouragement before we head back into the woods. It's here that I really feel grateful for my friends in this world. They do so much for me without even being asked. Bryan read I was coming to Leadville and he immediately offered his services. I'm humbled by their dedication and willingness to participate.
As we break out of the tree's we watch in continuous awe as the sun continues to set. The shadows are deep now and I've left my camera behind. The flash is broken anyway and I didn't want the extra weight. Now we wished we had it, but this is one of those times in life where we own these views and they are engrained into our souls.. ours and only ours forever. I'll never be able to forget what I saw up high this day, how I felt, what I heard... how it affected me. We kept hearing screeches amongst the rocks and I finally found what is known as an American Pika. A tiny rodent that looks like a huge hamster that lives amongst these rocks.
We top out on the pass and I ask for a time update. 5 miles from Winfield to here and it took 2:15. I have an hour and a half to run 5.5 miles to Twin Lakes. In my mind I'm not sure I can do it.. but thats why I'm out here.. to see what I'm capable.. to find that human potential. I dig in again as the sun sets finally. We see Twin Lakes down low and it looks forever away. We run when we can amongst the loose rocks up high. We get into Hopeless and I quickly down a cup of soup. We take off, laughing at the randomness of the llamas in the fields. Into the woods I put my headlamp on. It's getting cold very fast. Samy's headlamp was broken at Winfield and I now realize he is without one. He's relying on my light to get by.
We run and walk understanding that not only do I need to get to Twin lakes by 9:45.. but I need to have enough gas in the tank and in my legs to get me out of there and moving down the course. With urgency, we move downhill. In front of us, a bobcat races across the trail, as we see the flash and his shiny eyes. We pass a variety of runners as we crash downhill, each time they file in behind us. I'm carrying a train of runners downhill, but as quick as they file in.. they file out. Down back on the flat we're behind a runner who asks what time it is.. and how many miles to the Aid. Samy and I both say, "Just keep running.. you need to run." Taking my own advice.. thats what we do.
We trudge back through the river crossing. Samy has been whipping me down the hill, pushing me to run harder, try harder. I've given it all I have. I'm tired, my legs burn and the cold water is not helping. My blisters have all popped from the pressures of downhill running. I'm falling apart. I lied to Samy, I told him 3 crossings and it's more like 7. I got a good kick out of it while we ran through the crossings and the grassy meadow. Samy was blown away at my effort as I ran every single step back up to the road. In the lower parking lot, I see a few runners walking. I know we're over the limit and so do they. Yet I yell out, "Hey, just because we're over doesn't mean we're done.. get running." And then.. there were 5 runners, side by side by side, running uphill to Twin lakes aid station.
I'm not sure what happened out there. I was ahead of the clock and then quickly I was chasing the clock. The elevation had no ill effect on me, I felt great the entire race. I've been thinking long and hard and can only pin point the line of runners coming from the opposite direction on Hope Pass's climbs, my constant crapping in the woods.. And then I start doing the math. I missed the Twin Lakes 2 cutoff by 15 minutes, arriving at 10:00pm. With 39 miles to go, I had 12 hours to complete the course. Some argue that the cutoffs are acurate.. and for some I'd agree. But not for this cat.. I know I could have done it. I was getting hot.. getting better. The return trip from Winfield took me 4:09. Over 30 runners who finished over 29 hours in the race took longer to do this section then I. 30% of the sub 29 hour finishers took longer... I know I could do it.. but maybe thats they story that is Leadville. It's not the course that'll get you, not the elevation.. it's the cutoffs. Either way... my quest to run the Grand Slam came to an unfortunate and unexpected halt. I gave it my best.. and had one hell of an adventure. I won't be going to Wasatch now, focusing my attention to the Vermont 50 and my October Adventure.
As far as Leadville...2011... I'm there.