Friday, August 26, 2011

Leadville Trail 100 Race Report 2011

It was still dark at half past four in the morning, the clear Colorado sky holding back some of the brightest stars I've seen. Crisp mountain air filled my nostrils with every breath. The dirt road beneath my feet was moist and soft from last night's thunderstorms as I glided softly down hill away from the town of Leadville now a good mile behind me.

I anxiously looked at my watch to make sure I wasn't getting too carried away in the moment. 9:45 per mile perfect. Yawning I looked around at the runners beside me who only minutes ago had toed the starting line of one of the greatest ultra marathons in the world with 600+ other hearty souls. 1mile down and only 99 to go.

Hundreds of headlamps bobbed all around me in front and behind.  All had different reasons and motivations for running that morning.  This race has been in the back of my mind every since I first read about the race in the mid 90's. You could almost call my decision to run this year a little mid-life crisis, somewhere inside I wanted to prove to myself that I am still as tough as that 18 year old kid with a chip on his shoulder lying on a Helena golf course puking his guts out. Little did I know how similar the picture would be today... 2 miles gone


Mile 7... I had just reached the Tabor boat ramp where Nayibe and Lance where waiting for my first water bottle refill and some energy gels. I rushed through the stop to get back on the traffic jam of a trail circling Turquoise Lake. The gravel road was gone replaced miles ago by a rutted rolling single track trail. Passing was near impossible, the pace was slow and my legs felt great. If I could just get around this guy in the yellow compression socks.

Paved road and a cheering crowd up ahead, the May Queen aid station and 13.5 miles down. The first half marathon had taken me 2:14...about 4 minutes off my target but great considering the traffic jam I'd just gotten out of and how rested my legs felt. Darn it, I gotta use the bathroom. Oh well, that's normal. I can make up the time coming down Sugarloaf pass.

I exchanged my head lamp for a pair of sunglasses, grabbed my food bag and headed on up the road. A huge smile crossed my face as I shouted, "I'm running LEADVILLE!" and I was gone.


If you're not familiar with it the Leadville Trail 100 Run it's  one of the premier 100 mile trail races in the United States. Starting in the small town of Leadville, Colorado it's also know as the 'Race Across the Sky' because of it's insane altitude. Starting at 10,120 ft, going as high as 12,600 ft and never dropping below 9,000 ft. the air is thin and the breathing is hard. If you've read the book Born to Run yeah it's that race. The race covers 100 miles on dirt roads and single track trail. It's an out and back course, basically you run 50 miles away from Leadville then turn around and run back into town the way you came. If I had a good day I felt I could run the entire course in under 25 hours, if I had an OK or even a bad day I felt I had a good chance of finishing before the 30 hours cutoff time.

I had trained hard for this day and so far I was having a great day as the Colorado trail opened up to a very runnable Hagerman Pass road. Before I new it I was running down the famous powerline trail. This was going to be brutal on the way back in the dark but I didn't have time to think about that now.  I had to get to the next aid station to use the porta potty again... what the heck!

My awesome crew met me at the bottom of the powerline climb. I grabbed a fresh bottle of sports drink and motored on to the Fish Hatchery aid station. At this point in the race each aid station is a zoo as all the runners are still pretty close together. I rushed through a little faster than I should have and was back on the road. My two unplanned pit stops had caused me to spend more time at the aid station than I wanted to and my legs felt so great I really wanted to stay on pace.  23.5 miles in 4:14 everything was still looking good, even the weather was perfect for a run.


Run 3 miles on mostly flat and paved road. Easy on paper but wait I'd just about finished a marathon at 10,000 ft. above sea level. Running up and down a pass was easy but motoring along at 10:00 minutes per mile on the flat was a rude shock to my system. Probably hadn't eaten enough at Fish Hatchery, good thing my team was going to be only another 4 miles up the road, eat an energy chew and keep going cry baby. Most of the runners around me were doing a run/walk combination on this section so I felt better that I wasn't the only one having issues with the flat, we'd be back on trails and climbs soon enough.  5:11 and the first marathon was down I wouldn't see my wonderful crew for another 13 miles just before the run got real exciting and began it's climb up to 12,600 ft after Twin Lakes.

Mile 30 just wouldn't come soon enough, I mean really I had to go to the bathroom so bad I could barely run, come on this is getting ridiculous. 5:44 finally another porta potty.  Everyone said this next section was a good opportunity to make up time. An easy dirt road and then some single track through aspen and lodge poll forests with super soft trails. This is what I run for, bring it on.  Oh wait, every time I run down hill my stomach craps up and I have to go to the bathroom again.  There's a good log over there behind those bushes, a quick stop will make me feel better. Nope still cramping, I'm wasting all this soft down hill running, drink water, eat more gels. Ouch where's that tree again?  My legs still feel great but I'm starting to think this may turn into a long day.


More food maybe some Coke or Sprite will help my stomach. At least the next section climbing up Hope Pass I'm not supposed to run, maybe my stomach will calm down on the way up.  The Twin Lakes aid station was a party, tons of people setup cheering on all their runners and me once again ecstatic to find another line of porta potties. My pacer Lance was sleeping preparing to run the last 50 miles back to Leadville with me as my beautiful wife lathered on more sunscreen, handed me a dry pair of socks for the river crossing and wished me well... 12,600 ft. here I come.


I didn't fall down crossing the river, at least I don't remember falling down. Why then are my ears popping and clogging up like I was just in a pool and I'm only at 9,500 ft.? Could it be that flu and sore throat I had for the last week and a half... darn it, I thought I was better!  Please just stay away for another 14 hours please...wait is that a log over there behind that bush... I just went but ouch... let's use the log while I got it. The alpine pass is no place to drop your shorts in front of the race camera. Why does my throat feel like it's swollen. Eat more gels drink more water... just keep moving.


There's very few things better than seeing llamas carrying water to the Hopeless Aid station.  They're making soup broth maybe that will help my stomach, it sure does taste good. Half a mile before we go downhill again, if I can run maybe I can get back on pace, or at least close enough that Lance has a chance to drag me back onto pace in the last half... why can't I still hear out of my left ear, wait now  now it's my right.. dang it.. keep moving.


Ouch that hurts, I guess running down isn't in the cards today, I'll just walk fast until I can find a good set of bushes. Maybe if I make myself puke my stomach will feel better. Nope, I'm a terrible hurler... nothing, still cramping up. Man there are no good bushes on this section of the trail... keep moving you're keeping up with the bearded man in front on you and you're just walking fast there's still a chance you'll finish.


The Winfield aid station marks the 50 mile and halfway point in the race. I had now run 14 miles longer that I have ever run before in my life. Man I was so happy to get here even though now at 12:20 into my run I'm about 2 hours behind 25 hour pace. I've still got a good chance at finishing if I can get this stomach under control.

"Step onto the scale." Winfield is also the first mandatory medical check-in during the race. "Take a seat" the medical staff said. I'd lost too much weight 7 pounds to be exact but I'd been eating as much as I could stomach.  Can I go to the bathroom before I sit?  Over 45 minutes and several cups of soup broth, some pepto and some nausea medicine later I'd put back on 4 pounds and was cleared to continue.  Back up Hope pass only this time Lance was going to be there to pace me.  Now if I could just run without my stomach cramping up we could have a great night, my legs still felt great. 12:57 since I had left Leadville.


The road out of Winfield is all a gradual downhill until you begin the hike back up to Hope pass. A perfect place to crank off some miles with you pacer. Except after all that food and waiting I still could not run without severe stomach cramps. Oh well, at least it's not that long of a road... let's get on up Hope pass... wait let me find a tree first I remember coming down that trail.

At least my legs feel good as we head up the hill, these new calf compression sleeves feel awesome! What's that my throat's swollen and I can barely swallow that hammer gel. Come on!  Ouch, great now my chest is cramping up.  Why aren't there any good bushes on this trail.


Eventually we muscle our way up to the top of Hope pass between alternating stops for chest and stomach cramps.  Thank you Jesus they had a toilet up here on top of the pass.  I downed more soup broth and tried to run down the pass to Twin Lakes as much as we could but I knew we were losing valuable time. Finishing in 25 hours was now long gone... now we were fighting to just make the 9:45 pm cutoff at Twin Lakes. just keep going.

... and I'm getting grumpy.  60 miles and 17:10 are gone but I've discovered that I can drink soup broth and eat oranges. The chest cramps were starting to worry me so I had the docs at Twin Lakes check me out. They gave me a clean bill of health so Lance and I grabbed our head lamps and gortex jackets from Nayibe, our beautiful crew chief, grabbed a banana for the road and headed out, right after stopping at the porta potty again of course.

Things didn't get any better climbing out of the Twin Lakes aid stations.  It's at this point that I owe all the credit for every foot step to my pacer Lance. Regardless of how often I snapped at him he consistently tried to shove food down my throat and encourage me to run as much as I could. I felt terrible because I know he had made the trip hoping to run the last 50 miles with me and not walking with a grumpy and complaining old man.  Oh did I mention that by now I was chaffing like a diuretic infant in a kiddie pool of vinegar.  Yeah, it was that much fun but at least this section of trail had great bushes.

With Lance's urgings and care we made the Half Pipe aid station 15 minutes before the cutoff. More oranges and soup broth, and of course another visit to the porta potty.


We were still mostly walking but we knew the cutoff was close and were pushing really hard to do a 1 minute run and 2 minute walk routine. We met Nayibe at Treeline and she took over the pacing duties from Lance for about 3 miles.  It was almost a romantic moonlight walk there under the Colorado sky with the love of my life and the moon overhead.... except for the stomach cramps, chest cramps and diarrhea, but hey for better or worse right.  Nayibe had sacrificed a lot for me to run Leadville this year and I was really happy she was able to run some of it with me.  At this point, with me not being able to run I knew that finishing in under 30 hours was going to be a long shot but I knew I'd given it all I could and I was happy with that, it just wasn't my day.

We made the cutoff at the Fish Hatchery aid station by 1 minute, I'm pretty sure that Nayibe physically pushed me the last 400 yards.  22:50 since I started. Only 23.5 miles left... and the dreaded Pipeline climb and of course another stop at the porta potty.


Pipeline crushed me.  Neither my stomach nor chest cramps went away as the we climbed up to Sugerloaf pass with the search and rescue trail sweepers following behind us just around the last corner the whole way up.  My left foot started hurting something fierce about halfway up the hill.  By the time we reached the top of the pass we had 30 minutes to drop the last 6 miles down to the May Queen check point. It wasn't going to happen.  We slowed down and enjoyed the early morning sunrise in the Colorado Rockies.  Just 24 hours ago I had run up the same road with dreams of a sub 25 hour finish now I just wanted to get down the hill and take my shoes off.

We made the May Queen aid station at around 8:00 am Sunday morning. 1:30 behind the cutoff.  I had completed 86 miles but I hadn't finished the Leadville Trail 100.  I was one of the several 100 participants who received a DNF in this years race but I had keep going until they made me stop and when you've had a day like I had that's all you can ask of your mind and your body.


I couldn't have asked for a better crew. There is no way I would have made it as far as I did without Lance pushing for those last 36 miles.  If I had just had one leg of the last 50 where my stomach was calm enough to run I'm confident that Lance could have pushed me to the finish.


After leaving May Queen we drove back into Leadville to watch some of the other runners finish. It was definitely inspiring and while I was a little jealous I knew that I couldn't have given any more and by now I could barely walk on my left foot anyway. In fact it's Friday morning right now and I'm still having issues walking. There's a chance I gave myself a stress fracture on my left foot but I'm still hoping it's just a soft tissue injury.

I didn't finish so I'm still debating on whether I get to put the Leadville100 sticker on my laptop. I'm proud of what I did. Sometimes it's just not your day and this year it was definitely not one of my days. Like life you just have to take the situation you're given and try to make the best of it.


The Leadville 100 trail run was one of the hardest things I've ever done physically but let's face it running 100 miles is a pretty selfish thing.  In preparing for this race I spent every weekend in July doing 30 mile runs through the mountains, 1 night a week running up at Bogus Basin and a whole week in Colorado relaxing while I tapered and acclimated to the altitude.  My beautiful wife tirelessly made me egg whites every morning and my kids missed out on a summer of weekend outings with Dad.

In real life hard is waking up every morning and not being able to run, not having a job, facing real pain that doesn't go away after a day, moving your family to Brazil so you can fly relief missions into the amazon or opening your house to the smelly homeless guy on your street. Now that's hard.  I just spent a day running through the rocky mountains. And whether that's 100 or 86 miles that's really not a bad day... not a bad day at all. Until next time.

Run hard... but live harder.



Lance Fisher said...

Go ahead and put that sticker on your laptop. You may not have finished Leadville, but you have an epic story of 86.5 miles at Leadville. I'm impressed with your ability to press on through the suffering. Great job!

La Mama said...

SO very proud of you! Your perseverance reminded me of why I married you. I was thankful to experience such an EPIC weekend with you.

The Breaux Family said...

Wat to go Andrew!! Seriously......WAY TO GO!