I'm afraid my love affair with the Leadville Trail 100 is blossoming into a dysfunctional relationship, riddled with outward hostility and coated in restrained loathing.
I realized that this is a very one-sided relationship, with me doing all the work, giving of myself 100% and finding disappointment as the end result.
I'm giving serious thought to breaking up.
I came into this race feeling strong and healthy, and had pretty high expectations. Granted, I've had a busy summer and have logged a lot of miles, but I felt strong nonetheless.
I'm returning to Leadville in hopes of leaving with my 3rd LT100 buckle in 3 consecutive years. But this time, I had my eye on the larger, more prestigious, sub 25 hour buckle that has alluded me for so long. I have managed to finish every other 100 mile trail race in less than 24 hours, but I remain perplexed when it comes to achieving that at Leadville. I was hoping this would be my year.
After spending a week in Leadville with my bride, I was amped up and ready to get the race underway. Frankly, I was tired of sitting around waiting. The only other hobby I have in Leadville is to fill a wobbly bar stool in the Silver Dollar Saloon. Even that was getting old.
Me and Jo, Pre-Race
The Greatest Pacer on the Face of the PLANET! (maybe even the galaxy)
The Leadville 100 kicks off under the night sky at 4:00 AM. The intensity of the scene is surreal. Due to the intoxicating allure of cash, the Leadville 100 now has a field of more than 1000 runners. This mass of humanity is a mixture of nervous energy, excitement, and intense fear.
Before the start, I talked with Ian Sharman, Scott Jurek, Ryan Sandes and Nick Pedatella, wishing them all good luck. They're all amazing runners and I was sure it was going to be a great fight up front.
The shotgun sounded at 4:00 AM and we made our way up 6th street, down the Boulevard and then into the single track at Turquoise Lake. I ran at an easy pace and kept my heart rate under control. I was moving swiftly, but not overworking my body in these easy miles. It's common for runners to go out way too fast at Leadville because the first 5 miles are very fast. I laid back and cruised.
My first chance for aid is at the Tabor Boat Ramp. This isn't an official aid station, but it has crew access and I've always used this in my previous races. My strategy for the early miles was to go light and I was only carrying a handheld bottle. When I came into Tabor, I saw Jo, tossed my bottle at her feet and grabbed a fresh bottle that she was holding out for me. I never broke stride and was gone in just a few seconds.
Heading out of Tabor, the trail is a bit more technical, but still fast. I was feeling good and maintaining a solid pace.
The first official aid station is at May Queen at 13.5 miles. I made it there in 2:08 and was feeling awesome. I dropped my bottle and tossed a hydration pack on my back for this long section of uphill grind. Jo had me out of there in under 1 minute, including a kiss.
A Little May Queen Loving!
Photo courtesy of Sean McCoy
After leaving May Queen, the real work sets in. We traverse a long winding uphill stretch of single track that is littered with large rocks. Despite that, we were moving pretty fast. The nervous energy had worn off by this point and the runners began to chat more and loosened up. I was having fun and feeling good. For now.
We come off the single track and onto a long, uphill climb on a switchbacking gravel road that takes us up Sugarloaf Pass and down Powerline on our way to the Fish Hatchery aid station. My uphill game is much stronger this year and I was powering my way up to the top, knowing I would be strong on the Powerline descent. Still having fun at this point...
After topping out at the pass, I hurled my body into the descent, passing a lot of tentative runners. I was sailing along, proud to be putting my downhill skills on display...when suddenly...the world went dark!
I still don't know what grabbed my toe.
I flew off the face of the mountain and made a pretty impressive arc before crashing to the ground, making a full body rotation as I landed so no part of my body would be spared from the impact. I sat in the middle of a Jeep rut, watching the blood ooze from my knees. My right knee was bloody and badly swollen already, my left knee was bloodied, my right hip was trashed and my hands were on fire.
I scanned the area for my handheld, found it, brushed the dust off and carried on. I instantly knew that there was some damage but I had no choice but to head down the mountain.
I made it into Fish Hatchery in record time. This is mile 24 and I got there in just over 4 hours. I briefed Jo on my spill as we made our gear change and rolled out toward Twin Lakes.
In and Out of Fish Hatchery
Photo courtesy of Sean McCoy
I hate this next section of the race. It starts out with 4 miles of PAVED ROAD. It was getting hot out and the exposed pavement amplified the heat. We eventually make it to some Jeep roads, then transition to double track trail and finally some decent single track. This entire section is rolling with a few steep, but short climbs.
Twin Lakes marks the low point on the course and I made a steep descent into the aid station. This stop is critical because it's my last opportunity to get things prepared for the Hope Pass ascent.
As I was making the descent, I heard Leon calling my name. Before dropping to the aid station, I got a big congratulatory hug from my buddy and headed down the hill.
A Little Love From Leon!
Photo courtesy of Sean McCoy
Coming Into Twin Lakes
After getting into Twin Lakes, I fueled up, made sure my pacer was ready, and headed up the pass.
Hope Pass is tough. Even after running this race twice, I never remember how hard it is to climb. But I knew I was making the climb better than I ever had before and I was gaining a lot of spots on the ascent.
Llamas at Hopeless Aid Station
The Hopeless aid station is extremely remote and doesn't have a great selection of nutritional choices. I had been fueling on Hammer Perpetuem all day and wanted something sweet. I downed three cups of Coke and set out to finish my climb. As I stepped out of the tent, Ian Sharman came flying past me, headed back to Leadville already. We waved and I headed on my way to the top of the pass.
Top of Hope Pass
Heading Down to Winfield
The descent is always tough because the Winfield side of Hope Pass is steeper and far more technical. I picked my way down as the lead runners were heading back up.
When I ran into Scott Jurek, he was being paced by Hal Koerner, a friend of mine. We paused to exchange a greeting, a pat on the back and headed on.
My goal for reaching Winfield was 11 hours and I pulled into the aid station right on time.
Coming to Winfield, Mile 50
Heading Out of Medical at Winfield
Photo courtesy of Sean McCoy
Leon and I Heading for FOOD
A Bit of Salt on My Visor
Fueled Up and Ready to Tackle Hope Pass...Again
Leon is an amazing friend and I was excited to get to share my Leadville experience with him. We headed out of Winfield and I gave him a thorough status update on my condition and the course we were about to run. Leon had just finished the Trans Rockies stage race two days ago and that event runs over Hope Pass, so he knew what he was getting into there. This was helpful because it had been a year since I was on that mountain and he helped me read the trail on the way up.
The ascent was slow, but we finally made it and headed down toward Twin Lakes. The slow climb cut into my chances of a sub 25 hour finish, but we pushed on as hard as I could.
View of Hope Pass From Twin Lakes
Coming into Twin Lakes
When we arrived, Jo stripped my pack off and handed me a loaded pack, all ready to go. I went into the aid station to check in and do a little junk food shopping.
Choices, Choices, Choices....
Heading out of Twin Lakes...A Bit Fatigued
Ugh...That Damn Hill at Twin Lakes Inbound!
The trail from Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery is the most unregarded section of the LT100. Outbound, this trail is a fun downhill and easy to manage. Inbound, it's a steep treacherous monster. Leon and I slugged our way up, losing time on my race plan as we went.
We eventually hit the 4 miles of asphalt that I crossed through earlier in the day. At this point, pavement was a brutal nemesis.
This is the conversation that ensued...
Me: This asphalt hurts when I run.
Leon: Yeah...mine hurts too when I run.
Me: I don't think you understand. The Asphalt is painful while running.
Leon: Yeah...mine too. Do you have any Body Glide I can use? It's really chaffed down there.
Me: LEON!! ASPHALT!!! THE ASPHALT HURTS!!!
Leon: Oh...forget what I said. I'm fine.
I was feeling terribly fatigued and my right knee was killing me from my earlier crash. My day was falling apart.
And my asphalt hurts, too.
Tired...Dragging Ourselves Into Fish Hatchery
Coming out of Fish Hatchery means we're facing the dreaded climb up Powerline. This is probably the worst part of the entire race because it's late, runners are wore out, it's cold and the climb is absolutely relentless.
I managed the ascent in far better fashion than the previous two years, but it was still a brutal grind. We passed a few runners, a lot of rocks, some deep ruts and at least one runner in the fetal position on the side of the trail.
As we passed by the site of my near fatal crash earlier in the day, I pointed it out to Leon and considered a reenactment, but my weariness won that battle. Up the hill we went.
After many false summits, a lot of tension and a few swear words, we crested the top of Powerline and headed down Sugarloaf to May Queen. I had anticipated a quick run in this section but my banged up knee disagreed entirely. We were facing a walk/jog situation at this point.
We entered the single track leading to May Queen and fought our way through the boulders, twists and turns. Within a few minutes, we could hear the aid station...then we turned away and it faded. We plowed along and could hear it again...then it faded. At one point, we could see it!!! Then it vanished.
This was a brutal mind game and we were losing.
We eventually made it into May Queen, made preparations for our final push to Leadville and headed out.
Jo met us briefly at Tabor Boat Ramp just to make sure I was still alive. We made a few adjustments and aimed our running shoes to 6th Street.
The final push to Leadville sucks. Meandering single track followed up by a grinding uphill slog that never wants to end. Things were quiet between me and Leon during these miles except for the occasional, "Seriously?!"..."Where is Leadville?!"...and my personal favorite..."Man, this sucks!!!".
We eventually found the top of 6th Street as the sun was cresting over the Sawatch Mountains in the east. I always prefer to finish my 100 mile races in the cover of darkness, but that wasn't going to be the case today.
I meandered down 6th Street and and ran my way to the finish line.
I was home again.
My Final Steps on a Long Trip
Marilee Gracing Me with my 3rd LT100 Medal
And My 3rd Consecutive Marilee Hug!
And a Great Hug From a Great Friend and Amazing Pacer
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I had announced that all I wanted was a cold beer and a warm bed. I usually like to linger at the finish of my 100 mile races, but I was done and needed to lay down. But before I could take off, the medical staff had other plans.
I went through a quick medical evaluation and was released. Evidently, the doctors felt I would likely live to see another day. I headed directly to my room at the Delaware Hotel, drank a cold PBR, slipped under my blankets, with my bride snuggled beside me, and was immediately asleep. Bliss.
Final Medical Check
I set my alarm for 9:30 AM so I could return to the finish line and watch the final runners come through before the 30 hour cutoff at 10:00 AM. This is a tradition for me at Leadville because I truly believe these are the toughest runners in the race. I admire their tenacity and drive. They struggle more than most of us, and as a result, they deserve my attention and respect.
Ken Chlouber Yelling for the Final Finisher to HURRY UP!!!
Coming to the Finish
Victorious, With 2 Minutes to Spare!!!
People can say what they want, but that man is my hero. I can't do what he does. He toughed it out, knowing he may not make it. That had to play in his head for 20 miles, yet he hung in there and got it done. There's a lesson in there for all of us.
Tired, hungry, but mostly tired, I found a spot that felt good and reflected on my race, my day and the people that love me enough to be a part of all this. Not fully content, but mostly happy. Another LT100 in the books.
Too Tired to Leave the Grass
We took a quick shower and headed to the awards ceremony that Lifetime Fitness has managed to bastardize over the last three years. It was painful to sit through it, but I got my buckle and I was happy for now.
Meanwhile, plotting my course of action for 2014. I WILL beat this race someday. Having a nemesis keeps the fire burning, and Leadville is that nemesis for me. As long as this race exists, and I'm able to run, I'll continue to do so until I beat it into submission.
Me, Leon and OUR Buckle.
I have to admit, I did some whining after my dismal finish. But there were several wise voices in my camp that reminded me that I have 3 consecutive finishes at this race and that's an accomplishment in itself. I choose to listen to those voices and can find some satisfaction in that response.
Thanks for taking the time to ready my race report! Happy Trails!!!