I love Leadville. Still. The 2011 Leadville 100 was unique in many ways and I will cherish many memories (good and bad) from my 5th consecutive Race Across the Sky. Here’s how it went down:
The race consisted of over 600 runners eager to attempt the 100 mile distance which made for a tremendous buzz of energy on the start line as the final minutes counted down. I was able to chat with several of the guys prior to the shot gun start and it was clear we were all excited and ‘amped’ to get this race underway. The start was tame with several guys running fast, but the larger group of us taking it pretty easy. Dylan Bowman, Ryan Burch, Tim Parr and I chatted a bit. Seems like we all took ‘friendly shots’ at each other as we loped along. I also spoke briefly with a few of the other guys including Wyatt Hornsby and Ryan Sandes. Throughout these first 5 miles I was soaking up the vibe of being surrounded by peers that I do not see much of the year, but as we made our way onto the Turquoise Lake Trail I turned more introverted and used the time to assess where my mind and body were. Physically I felt comfortable for the most part and mentally I knew I was up for the challenge of another 100-mile race. The lingering doubt popped into my head though as I neared the Mayqueen aid-station by myself in roughly 12th place. I was running all right but the top guys were once again nowhere in sight.
I popped into Mayqueen at about 1 hour 48 minutes, which was 2 minutes faster than my predicted arrival. Mentally, this put me back on track, as I knew I was running my own race. Crewmembers Rich, Kathy, Hannah, Emma, and Lindsay met me here, swapped out my bottle and I never even broke stride. As I motored up the Colorado Trail section of course and onto Hagerman Pass road, I felt a nagging fatigue that unnerved me a bit. I simply chalked it up to it still being early (6:00am) and kept chugging, hoping that the impending sunrise would brighten my mood and energy levels. Sure enough, toward the top of Sugarloaf Mountain my energy was high as I passed several guys with ease and noted that my ‘core energy’ was close to what I needed it to be. Down Powerline we went and into Fish Hatchery. On the paved section prior to the Fish Hatchery aid-station, I was running with Neal Gorman (THAT Neal Gorman… the guy who set the Grand Slam record last year). My breathing and stride felt labored as we moved along at a good clip into the aid, where my crew took great care of me as I walked through the aid. Rich kept me focused by reminding me not to worry about where the other guys were and to simply run my own race.
Neal and I powered the next 10 miles or so together and I was feeling pretty good throughout this section of gradually flat terrain. In fact, I noted that my actual running stride felt pretty good. My stomach was feeling good, as was my general energy level, but I began to sense higher than normal levels of fatigue and tightness in my legs. Not a good sign with 70 miles to go. I ran smoothly onto the Colorado Trail section and conservatively down into Twin Lakes where I quietly confessed to my crew that my legs were having a hard time. My quads were extremely tired and sore, but with the rest of me feeling so good I simply did not worry too much about it. Through the river crossing I went and to the base of the Hope Pass climb. I had come through Twin Lakes about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, feeling good (except my quads) and entered one of my favorite sections of course… Hope Pass. I was only 15 minutes behind the lead of the race and I was in 7th place. I had every reason to feel confident. I was right where I intended to be at mile 40. My energy was high as I started the climb, but my legs were not moving that fluidly and for much of the first half of the climb I had a conversation in my head about winning this race. I asked myself over and over again: “Can you win this thing?” My answer was “Yes I can.” I felt confident that I was right where I needed to be. There was another reason for my confidence despite my legs not cooperating; I had been here before. Throughout my previous four finishes and two victories at Leadville, there had been many miles of feeling far from solid. There was always a turning point in the past and I made the deal with myself that I would ride out the low points until I could find that turning point again this year.
My climb up to Hope Pass was horrible. I drank and ate well as I climbed and came into the Hopeless Aid Station still in 7th place and with energy. I felt great at 12,000’ as I had acclimated well this summer with many miles of training above 11,000’ but my legs were not cooperating and my quads felt so tight that I was having a hard time squatting down to stretch them out. Yikes! This is not what you hope to feel at mile 45 of a 100-mile race. I had never had my legs this tight this early in a race, and the real negative here was the influence this was having on my climbing. Usually when my legs are tight it is my descending that suffers but this time my quads were tight on the climbs. I kept moving, convinced that if I put more calories, liquids, and salt into my system, my legs would come back. Despite the stiff and painful legs, I had a decent descent down to the Winfield road and the final 2.5 miles into the mile-50 turn-around. I was amazed to find that I felt fantastic on this gradual terrain again and I cruised into Winfield (Mile 50) in 8:17, 3 minutes ahead of my pre-determined pace. The aid station personnel ushered me onto the scale and I was delighted to see that I had only lost less than ½ a pound. This was a good sign that my hydration and salt plan was right on track. The whole crew got me out of there smoothly and I walked the first ¼ mile of the road section with Scott Drum who was pacing me over this section of course for the fifth consecutive year. During this time I gave Scott the status report regarding my body and ate a fair amount of food. I was in 7th place, moving well, and mostly feeling good.
The gradual Winfield Road section once again felt great on the downhill back to the base of Hope Pass but when the climb began, my legs again felt super tight. Scott kept me moving well though and I got into a rhythm that was slow but sustainable. My hydration, salt, and nutrition were spot on during the climb, but the transition into downhill running off the top of the pass was alarming as it took me a solid 10 minutes to feel like I was moving with anything approaching fluidity. This stretch of course is daunting at Leadville due to its out-and-back layout. These five miles of downhill from 55 to 60 are where the majority of the other Leadville competitors are this long into the race. Despite the two-way traffic though, I love this section as I soak up so much energy and positivity from the hundreds of other runners. I wish I could return even 1/2 of that energy and encouragement! Thanks to everyone for the cheers and encouragement on this section of trail. The kind words are incredible. Thank you! Scott set a great pace for me and I felt my legs ‘click’ a bit into high gear about 1/3rd of the way down toward Twin Lakes and my pace picked up. Scott and I ran well across the flat section, through the river crossing and into the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 60 where my crew met me with a ton of encouragement and assistance yet again. I gave Annie and Jordan (our 3-week old) each a kiss, grabbed some grub and headed up the trail with pacer Jesse Crandall.
Crandall was awesome as always. Like Scott, Jesse was pacing me for the fifth consecutive year. I was able to remain steady on the climb up to the Colorado Trail, but I knew the pace was slow. At this point I was still in 7th place and about 20 minutes back from the top 5. It was clear that the guys in front of me were likely not going to come back. Jesse and I made it to the Colorado Trail and my pace picked up for the next 5 or 6 miles. I made the decision that my legs were going to hurt badly regardless of how fast or slow I went, so I resolved to simply run fast. Jesse kept me well fueled and steady as we came to the Box Canyon aid station at mile 70. I ate a little bit more food and felt nauseous and right at the mile 70 sign I puked. This was the exact place where I briefly lost my stomach the previous year, so I did not worry all that much this time. Jesse got me moving again and we rallied into the Treeline crew access point where I stopped for the first time all race. My crew sat me down for 3 minutes while Annie massaged my legs a little and I was able to put a little bit of food down. I puked one more time before reaching the paved section and this seemed to jump start me as Jesse and I made our way to Fish Hatchery.
The 40 minutes prior to the Fish Hatchery aid station saw the weather turn a little bit with clouds forming, a strong wind from the West and a slight sprinkle of rain. All welcomed by me as I came into the aid station with 23.5 miles to go. Rich Smith picked me up here and I told him that I was making another ‘come-back’. Rich was pacing me for the third time and I was stoked to have him there as I was getting back ‘online’ and mentally I was very positive for the ensuing climb up Powerline. I passed Ryan Burch about 1/3rd of the way up the climb and moved into 6th place. Ryan was moving okay after struggling with a low but I remained worried because I knew he is a great downhill runner. Rumor was that Tim Parr was close ahead too and I set my sights on moving into the top 5. Rich kept me going strong and had me feeling good as we crested the top of the Powerline climb and began the descent into the Mayqueen aid-station. Burch was not visible behind and I was certain we were going to see Parr any minute but my pace began to lag during the Colorado Trail section. My legs were not cooperating and I entertained the notion of taking some Advil or Tylenol for the first time in 3 years. Rich and I talked about it for a second but I decided not to as I knew it could have some negative effects on my stomach or kidneys. (Especially because I had not used it in so long.) Into Mayqueen we came where I had a great desire to get in and out as quickly as possible, but instead I sat down and coped with nausea again. I stayed about 4 minutes and Annie was right there trying to get me to relax, but instead I made myself puke a little, grabbed some soup and walked out of there with Grant Ruehle who was pacing me to finish line yet again!
Just out of the aid station I puked 4 or 5 times as Grant looked on. I grabbed the cup of soup back from Grant, ate it and started to feel good once we made it back onto the Turquoise Lake Trail. I was moving well and determined to catch Parr. This was my 3rd ‘go’ at making up some ground on the runners ahead of me. I thought I could sustain the pace to the finish but I began to slow as my legs began to lock up on me and my stomach shut down with less than 10 miles to go. Jeff Browning came by me just prior to the boat ramp. He was moving so fast. Burch came by me next as I ‘crawled’ along the trail with Grant encouraging me. I put a few more calories into the system, sipped a little coke, but felt completely ‘blown out.’ I was wasted and simply wanted to get to the finish line. Charles Corfield ran past me just prior to the dam. It was here that my crew was playing a couple of my favorite songs from ‘Radiohead’ and ‘Pearl Jam’ which helped me greatly. I also decided to pop some Advil here. Grant and I ‘gingerly’ eased our way down the steep hill to the ‘5 miles to go’ sign where I began to run again and was pleased that my quads were now completely numb. We motored along as best we could talking about ‘the meaning of life’ and just how exactly to run 100 miles effectively. Grant handed me off to Hannah Smith at the railroad tracks and Hannah dragged me (not literally) the last four miles to the finish line. It was great having her there over those last miles to keep me moving. Thanks Smith! We came to the pavement and speed-hiked the last climb before shuffling to the finish line. I crossed the line in 19:11 in 9th place for my fifth consecutive Leadville 100 finish. I was pleased with the finish but underwhelmed with the poor result. Annie was right there as always to give me a big hug and kiss and tell me how proud she was of me. Thanks babe.
My energy was super low in the warming tent afterwards and I am thankful to my crew for getting me to change my clothes, eat some food and relax. THANK YOU CREW for getting me to the finish line yet again. I am so humbled and honored to have all of you in my life daily and yearly. Parr and I chatted briefly in the medical tent and it was clear that neither of us had the day we were hoping for. Parr is one of those guys that remains positive through everything though and I am grateful for his perspective and positive nature after this race. Thanks man and nice job! Thank you to the wonderful volunteers and aid-station folks out on course this year. Great work as always. You are all appreciated. Gigantic congratulations to everyone who finished the 2011 Leadville 100. Nice work. Here’s to enjoying the end of summer and early fall. What’s next? A smidgen of reflection…. Thanks all for reading. Be well. DC.