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)
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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!