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Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2015 Leadville 100: And the Slam Continues...


43 men and women started the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this year, which was a record number of runners. By the time the Leadville 100 was over, only 16 of us remain. The majority of runners washed out at Western States, the first race in the Slam, as heat took it's toll on the entire field and the race experienced its highest DNF rate in the last 9 years. But Leadville did its best to wipe out the rest of us.

I had run (and finished) the LT100 the four previous years, on the way to my goal of 10 consecutive finishes and that BIG ASS buckle that comes along with that accomplishment. So keeping my streak alive was just as important as continuing on in the Grand Slam.

Equally important, and not to be overshadowed, was the 3rd Annual Leadville Beer Mile. For the first time ever, the Leadville Beer Mile is a part of the Royal Grand Slam of Beer Miles. These beer miles follow the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and I had won the first two events in the series.

The Leadville Beer Mile draws some of the kings of the sport. I like to fancy myself a pretty solid runner, with only one greater talent. Drinking beer. Fast. But some of these guys are unreal and I had no illusions regarding my chances of keeping my winning streak alive.

You can click the link below for a short video that sums of the best parts of this race... (Courtesy of Vanessa Runs)

https://www.facebook.com/vanessaruns/videos/1155427754471058/

Knowing damn well that I can't beat the great Patrick Sweeney in this race, I opted to go easy and have some fun.

Patrick and I at the start

Action Shot!! Going out Strong. Beer #2!

In the end, I made a solid showing and came in just off the podium in 4th place. I expect a return to the top of the heap at the Wasatch Beer Mile. Less competition in Utah...

Now...back to the "other" race.


If you've run Leadville, you know how entertaining the pre-race briefing is, especially when compared to most. For example, the Western States briefing is really just a trick to force you into a cramped, overheated room while being guilted into applauding the race officials while they present each other with awards for various mundane tasks. Like doing their job.

The Leadville briefing remains relatively unchanged over the years, and I'm pretty sure I have the entire thing memorized now, but it never fails to get me pumped up for the race.

My Medical Tag and My Good Luck, PBR Race Bracelet. All I need!

Start Line

Well rested and confident, we arrived at the Start line at 3:45 AM, ready to go. Standing in the crowd, waiting to start, has become a very comfortable and familiar setting. All the nervous energy that I used to feel has been replaced with a sense of calm, and belonging. It was nice to be standing on 6th Street with a bunch of likeminded people, ready to head into the mountains.

Ready to Start

The first 13.5 miles of this race are very runnable. Probably too runnable for most people, because I was being passed by runners that were pushing a  sub 7 minute pace as if the race was going to be decided in the first half mile. It's the same every year, and I always wonder which aid station they'll eventually DNF at. I wish I could stop them long enough to implant a microchip and apply a numbered ear tag so I could observe their species from a safe distance while recording their interesting behavior.

Ultra Tip #1: If you're running flat ground in a 100 mile race and you can't catch your breath...you're gonna have a bad day.

After leaving the Boulevard, around the 5 mile point, we duck into the woods and start our run around Turquoise Lake. In previous years, this is where the conga line started, but this year, it was far less crowded due to tighter restrictions on the number of entries. Kudos to Lifetime Fitness!!

I was feeling great. The weather was cool, almost cold, and I was enjoying the familiar run around the lake.

Sunrise at the Lake

As we got close to the May Queen aid station, I checked my watch and noticed that I was going to be about 5 minutes faster than any other year. I didn't feel like I had increased my effort at all, so I took this as a good sign for the day.

Coming to May Queen at 13.5 Miles

Jo was waiting for me when I passed through. I swapped my depleted hydration pack for a fully prepared pack and we rolled on without ever stopping. I was gone, heading for the climb up Sugarloaf.


Sugarloaf is the first big climb in the race and I always look forward to it because it gives me an excuse to hike for a while. After 13 miles of feverish running, it's nice to relax and enjoy the sunrise over the Rockies.

After topping out on Sugarloaf, we traverse the ridge for a few minutes before dropping down Powerline, a steep, rutted mess.

I made a conscious decision to take the descent slow and easy, to save my quads for the downhills later in the race. A lot of runners were on a different program and I lost a handful of spots on the descent.

Ultra Tip #2: If you're running downhill so hard that you can't catch your breath...you're gonna have a bad day.

Near the End of Powerline

After dropping off Powerline, we run a couple miles of rolling and annoying pavement on our way to the Outward Bound aid station. I was still ahead of schedule and took my time heading in.

Outward Bound


Inbound at Outward Bound

Again, Jo had a restocked hydration pack ready for me and we made a quick swap while I briefed her on the race so far. I was having fun, feeling good and all was well.

Leaving Outward Bound, on My Way to Half Pipe

This is the point in the race when people tend to settle in and relax. The day is warming up, so for most of us, the pace is slowing down. I took this time to chat with other runners in an effort to put the race in the back of my mind for a while.


The Half Pipe aid station is remote and doesn't allow crew access. I popped into the aid station tent, took a swig of cold Coke, chatted with the volunteers for a minute and headed back out.

I was leapfrogging with the same small group of runners all day, so we were getting to know each other through small sound bites as we passed each other, or ran side by side for a few occasional minutes. Most of the runners knew I had run the race several times, so they took the opportunity to mine my brain for detailed course knowledge. It helped to pass the time by giving them a step-by-step account of what was coming up.

On the Colorado Trail

After cruising through 16 miles of rolling trails and jeep roads, we make a sudden and drastic drop toward Twin Lakes, the low point on the course. This is an important aid station because it's at the base of Hope Pass, the high point on the course. It's a great opportunity to refuel and get prepared for the big climb.

Coming Into Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes is always packed with crew and spectators. It's the loudest and craziest aid station on the course and serves to give a big mental boost before climbing up and over Hope Pass.

I took the opportunity to sit, rest, fuel and get ready. I spent 5 minutes at Twin Lakes and pushed onto Hope Pass.



River Crossing Before Hope

The ascent is always a grind. There are very few switchbacks to take the pain away from slogging straight up the gut of the mountain. I was climbing better than I ever have and was taking spots away all the way to the top.

A lot of runners were suffering, several were resting and more than a few were vomiting. I continued to climb.

Ultra Tip #3: Avoid puking on yourself. The lingering smell will inspire additional puking later on!

Coming to Hopeless Aid Station, Mile 45

Hello...LLAMAS!!

When I reached Hopeless, I grabbed a cup of cold water and plopped down in the grass for moment. I sipped my water and enjoyed the view back toward Leadville. I was still ahead of schedule and wanted to spend some of that time enjoying the scenery. When the cup was empty, I was off for the final push over the top.

Top of Hope

Coming down Hope Pass sucks. Not as bad as coming up it, but it's a pretty close second. This is an excellent opportunity to blow out your quads so you can spend the rest of the race shuffling to the finish. I took it easy.

Eventual Women's Winner, Liza Howard, Coming Back Up Hope

I picked my way off the mountain, heading to Winfield. The faster runners had already made it to the turnaround and were heading back up Hope Pass, making their way home to Leadville. The descent is steep and narrow, making two-way traffic slow and awkward. But it's nice to have runners coming back at you, giving encouragement, and giving me a chance to return it. Again...it's another thing that helps to kill time and take my mind off the task at hand.



The descent took a little longer than I had hoped, but I wasn't worried, I still had plenty of time to meet my race goals and I still felt great.

Coming Into Winfield



And this is where everything fell apart...

I had developed a leak in my shoes on the way up Hope Pass, which allowed my shoes to fill with small rocks. These rocks were eating my feet up, as well as eating time up when I had to stop to empty them out. I desperately needed to change shoes. When I got to Winfield, I told Jo that I needed my other shoes from my race bag and showed her the problem with my shoes. By the look on her face, I knew we had a problem.

Keep in mind...I have NEVER changed shoes in a race before. Ever. Because of this, my backup shoes were back in the truck, which was parked way down the road. After fueling up, I headed to the truck to find them.

After the long hike to the truck, I found my shoes, which are brand new and still needed to be laced up. While the clock is ticking.

I decided to also change my socks while I had my shoes off. When I pulled my socks off, I saw the damage the rocks had done to my feet and realized I needed to do some work on my feet. Tick Tock!!

After WAY TOO LONG, I had my feet fixed, new socks and new shoes. I grabbed my pack and headed for the climb back up Hope Pass.

After being on the trail for a while, I looked at my watch and started estimating my time to Twin Lakes. This is when I realized it was probably going to be getting dark before I got there. DAMMIT!!! I turned around, headed back to the truck to get a headlamp!

And here's the best part...when I shoved the headlamp into my pack, I realized Jo had already packed one!

This entire fiasco cost me between 40 and 60 minutes of race time. Mental mistakes everywhere!

Ultra Tip #4: Don't do any of the things I did.

With my race goal now out of reach, I changed objectives and decided to focus on a slower, easier pace. If I wasn't going to meet my goal, I might as well finish this race as happy and healthy as possible, so I can be better prepared for Wasatch in three weeks.

My climb back up Hope Pass was as good as its ever been, but I was now deeply annoyed with my situation. I had been running so well all day and now my happiness was replaced by self loathing. I kicked rocks and muttered obscenities to myself all the way to the top of the pass.


On the Descent, Looking Back to Leadville from Hope

Hello Again...LLAMAS!!

 
It should be noted that the only Llamas that interest me are the llamas on Hope Pass. When I see llamas anywhere else, I never feel compelled to stop and take photos of them. In fact, I may ignore them entirely, flaunting my flagrant indifference to their entire species. Why is it different during the race?
 
Because they're a distraction!!!
 

The sun was just setting when I made it back into Twin Lakes, and as it turned out, I never really needed my headlamp. But whatever...what was done, was done.

In an unusual twist of fate, Jo and I missed each other at the aid station. This almost never happens, but rather than burn more time looking for her, I opted to fuel up and head out.

After making the climb out of Twin Lakes, I ran the rollers at a good pace back into Half Pipe aid station. I took a peek inside the tent, but refused to go in there. From previous experience, I know how easy this aid station can suck you in and hold onto you. It's warm, the people are friendly, and runners are talking about their desire to DNF like it's no big deal. More than anything, they're supporting and coaxing each other into it!

Ultra Tip #5: Avoid warm and inviting aid stations at night. AT. ALL. COSTS!


I got out of Half Pipe in a hurry, passing through Treeline and then out onto the pavement leading back to Outward Bound. On the road into the aid station, I met up with a girl, also running solo, who was convinced we were lost. On the road. The only road, which happened to have a very well lit and prominent aid station glowing in the distance. After some convincing, she felt confident that I MIGHT be right.

When I got back to Outward Bound, I was able to finally see Jo again and give her a race update. We swapped packs, chatted for a minute, then I headed out to do battle with Powerline.

I walked most of the paved road back to Powerline, because I wanted to tackle the climb on rested legs. The Powerline trail was busy with runners and the carnage was rampant. I was climbing well, so I kept my head down and tried to block out the negativity around me.

When I reached the ridge, I walked the flat section to loosen my legs up, then ran the downhill toward May Queen. My quads were screaming, but I was essentially done with them for the day, so I really didn't care.

May Queen would be my last supported stop. I made sure I had a good headlamp, an extra jacket, gloves and plenty of Hammer gel, then I pushed out.

I'm always amazed by two things on the return trip from May Queen:

    1. The outbound run around the lake is swift on a buffed out trail. The return trip on the same trail is slow and carries you over boulders and highly technical terrain. Or so it seems...

    2. The Boulevard, which was once a very gradual descent, has become a monstrous climb back to Leadville.

Compared to previous years, the return from May Queen went pretty fast. Before long, I could hear the muffled sounds of the race announcer, followed by faint cheers. I was almost there!

I topped out on 6th Street and could see the finish line below. I ran.

Finished!
 
Getting my 5th Hug From Marilee

I recorded my 2nd slowest Leadville finish, but I didn't mind. I had a decent Leadville finish and I was still slugging it out in the Grand Slam. That was enough of an accomplishment for me to find happiness in.

Walking Through Leadville with my Celebratory Beverage at 6:30 AM


Welcoming fellow Grand Slammer Joshua Holmes Back to Leadville After Barely Making the 30 Hour Cut! Good Job!

627 runners started the Leadville 100. 309 managed to make it back to Leadville to collect their buckle. I was happy to be one of them.

After a three week rest, we'll head to the Wasatch Front 100 and finish the Grand Slam right in my back yard. I go into that race with confidence and enthusiasm.

Thanks to Jo and all my sponsors for the unwavering support. I'm a lucky man to have the chance to do all the things that I do!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 Vermont 100: Because it's Part of the Slam

I ran the Vermont 100 back in 2012, where I finished, grabbed my buckle, and promptly proclaimed that I would never run THAT stupid race again. EVER.

Then, along came the Grand Slam. I agonized over my decision to run the Slam this year. Not because of the difficulty and the timing of the 4 races involved, but because the Grand Slam includes the Vermont 100. Seriously…I would rather light my hair on fire and put it out with a hammer, than run Vermont again.

But, after much coaxing from close friends, I was convinced that I would have a LOT more fun at Vermont if I just gave it another chance. After all…I was new to ultra running back in 2012, so a lot has changed. They promised I would have a great time.

They're. All. Liars. 


I'n not saying that Vermont is a "bad" race, it's just not MY kind of race. I even heard a rumor once that somebody actually enjoyed running the Vermont 100. It's an unconfirmed story, however, and it was told to me by a pretty shifty individual, but I suppose there could be some truth to it. Same dude also told me he saw Bigfoot an the VT100 course, so you can do what you want with all that.

BTW…if you want a more detailed race report than what I'm about to spew, you can read all about my first VT100, HERE.

At 4:00 AM, we headed out onto the "trail". The race starts on a rolling gravel road and aside from a few sections of paved road and jeep road, pretty much stays exactly the same for the entire 100 miles. There's very little variation, and it's a bit like having your iPod stuck on repeat while listening to a Justin Bieber song. After a while, you're like, "FINE! I get it! Next please!".

Typical Trail Section

We were fortunate that we had some cloud cover, because this race is notorious for being very hot, and ridiculously humid. So, all I had to deal with was the humidity, which sucked slightly less than also dealing with the heat.

My greatest weakness as a runner is dealing with heat and humidity, as evidenced at Western States 3 weeks prior. This is entirely my fault, because I choose to run at 4:00 AM every day and rarely find myself training in the hottest part of the day. That lack of heat training ultimately led to a nasty case of Rhabdomyolysis at Western States, which then led to a very slow and painful recovery before Vermont. All good stuff!

Did I mention the horses? Yeah…the 100 mile horse race runs concurrently, which provides us with the rare opportunity to wade through fresh mounds of horse shit, and hobble over recently destroyed trail. Where else can you get that?!?!


By the time I rolled into the Pretty House Aid Station at mile 21, I had pretty much decided that my original reluctance to run this race was well founded. But there's no way to get through the Slam without getting through the Vermont 100 first.


Coming into Pretty House

My legs were tired early on, and I knew it was the lingering damage from the Rhabdo and Western States. As much as I didn't want to be running this race, I knew I just had to deal with it and get it done so I could move on to the 3rd round of the Slam. That was my solitary focus for the entire race.



Somewhere around mile 30, I noticed some chaffing. This is another thing I'm never really well prepared for because I live and train in a dry climate. Like with most things that happen during a 100 mile race, I was trying to just ignore it, hoping it would get better.

Stage Road Aid Station

For a moment, I thought we were going to run an actual trail, but this is just a dirt road that led us to another gravel road at the top.

Vermont is a tricky race because it's actually very runnable, but the hills are relentless. Because I was just trying to get through this race, I chose to walk most of the hills, while running the downs and flats. It felt agonizingly slow, but it was the smart move.

Coming into Camp 10 Bear, Mile 47

By the time I got to mile 47, the chaffing had become a real issue. If things continued like this, I was going to have to let my hair grow out and change my name to Caitlyn. I took the time to apply some borrowed body glide. Sharing body glide between runners is either very disturbing, or very intimate, I'm not sure which. Either way, I was happy to have it.

PBR, grilled cheese and a slice of watermelon. This is pretty much exactly like any summer picnic.

 After Camp 10 Bear, I have a 22 mile loop that'll bring me right back to the same aid station, where I can pick up my pacer for the final push to the finish. I was looking forward to those last 30 miles, but I knew the next 22 were going to pretty much suck.

The cloud cover was vanishing and the sun was beating down on me. I couldn't wait for nightfall, and hopefully a big drop in temperature and humidity.

I saw my crew again at the Margarita Aid Station at Mile 58. I was burning up, so I plopped to the ground in a patch a shade while I sipped cold water and got an update on the trail ahead. As it turns out, it was more of the same.

 Coming into Mile 58

This photo clearly captures my enthusiasm and I shot out of the aid station to tackle another section of rolling gravel road!

Heading back toward Camp 10 Bear was a slugfest. The weather conditions were causing me to suffer, my chaffing really sucked and my mood continued to sour with every step. I tried making conversation with other runners as I came up on them, but everybody seemed to be in the same awful mood.

Nobody at this aid station knew how to fill a hydration pack, but their cheerleading skills were some of the best I've seen during a 100 miler.

As I was trudging down the trail, heading to Camp 10 Bear, I hit a low point in the race. I was mentally vacant and my body just wasn't cooperating. This is when the skies suddenly opened up and unleashed the a torrential downpour that far exceeds anything I have ever seen during a race. In a matter of a few seconds, I was soaked, causing the chaffing to rear it's torturous head, and the roads were submerged in rushing water.

This broke what was left of my spirit. I just stood in the middle of the road and laughed. I wasn't laughing because it was funny, I was laughing because there was nothing else left to do.

By the time I reached Camp 10 Bear, the rain had slowed to intermittent showers. I toweled off, borrowed some more body glide and took a few minutes to pull myself together.

This is also the point where I can pick up my pacer. I normally prefer to go it alone in these races, but I knew Vermont was going to be mentally tough, so I recruited a trusted friend to take me the last 30 miles. Jason Howland had paced me before, so he knew the drill and required no break in period, so this was a good match. Jason and I rolled out of the aid station, headed toward the finish.

The sun finally set, and we were running under the glow of our headlamps in quiet. I wasn't in a chit chat mood and Jason knew it.

Even though the sun had faded, it still oppressively warm and the humidity wasn't budging. If anything, it seemed worse. Even Jason commented on the conditions and he lives in a humid part of the country. It didn't appear that things were going to improve at all.

During these later miles, the course frequently leaves the gravel roads in favor of dirt roads and ATV trails that meander through the woods. In normal conditions, this would have been a welcomed distraction, but the rain and horses had pretty well destroyed the path in front of us. We slogged through miles of greasy, mucky mess.

Exhaustion began to take hold around mile 83. I don't normally get drowsy during these races, but something wasn't right and my mind was trying to shut my body down.

The first sign of exhaustion is a steady stream of hallucinations. I've experienced them enough to recognize it when it happens, but it's still hard not to react to the things I "see". I kept my mouth shut during this time, mostly because I didn't want my pacer to think I had totally lost my mind.

As my body gave into the exhaustion, I was having trouble staying awake. After nearly passing out on the trail a few times, I announced to Jason that it was time for a 5 minute power nap. I walked to the side of the road, curled up in a ball, and fell asleep instantly. I'm sure Jason would have let me sleep for hours, but I woke up after the second person came by and checked on me. They just wouldn't let me sleep.

By the way, I've heard of people sleeping on the side of the trail, and I've even seen it several times, but this was the first time I had ever slept in the middle of a race. I rather enjoyed it!

The next several miles were much the same. Fighting mud, hilly gravel roads, and eventually, exhaustion began to creep back into my body.

By now, a sub 24 hour finish was a distant memory, so I was in no hurry. I did whatever needed to be done to make this as easy as possible on myself.

We met Jo at Bills Aid Station at mile 88 and I tried to get some more calories in my belly. I had been pretty nauseous for the last 20 miles, so eating had tapered off to an alarming level.

Rather than eat, I curled up on a blanket and fell asleep again.

I could get used to this sleeping thing...

After a quick nap, we headed out. Jason and I were picking off runners at a steady rate for the rest of the race. These were people who probably needed a nap.

At mile 97, the nausea finally came to a head and I began to vomit violently in the middle of the road. I won't lie, I was a bit surprised by the volume of material that I managed to hurl onto the ground. I didn't quite expect all that. After three good sessions of puking, I put it behind me and headed to the finish.

Barely Squeaking in Under 26 Hours

I didn't need to stop and talk to anybody. I didn't need to shake hands and share stories. I needed another nap. I walked directly to the rental car, hopped into the back seat and fell asleep as soon as I got prone. How I was able to sleep over the powerful stench of my body remains a mystery, but it happened.

Thankfully, I've made my way through the first two stages of the Grand Slam and am headed to Leadville in a few weeks to get my 5th consecutive finish there. And I couldn't be happier about it!

Sincere thanks to Hammer Nutrition, Topo Athletic, Gear:30 and my great crew for playing the role you do in all my races. There's not a chance I could do it without all the great support.

Topo Magnifly road shoes that I wore in Vermont. Awesome shoe! Available in August, so look for them. They're actually a pretty shoe once you wash the horse shit off. 

See y'all in Leadville!