Wow. What a race. Compared with last year’s extreme cold temperatures and precipitation; this year’s race was epic in the other direction! The heat was, well… hot, and played a major role this year; with many of the top 10 (and maybe a couple hundred others) suffering either stomach cramps and nausea, or leg cramps. Tough stuff. This race produced a true champion; one who persevered and made it to the finish line first. Check out Tim Parr’s race account at: http://www.timruns.com/. This year also produced an incredibly fast top 10, and a strong women’s top 3. Great stuff. I was honored to be back at the Leadville 100, part of the family, and part of the ‘sufferfest’.
The morning started out with a temperature approaching 50 degrees: at 4:00 am. That was hot and right then we knew we’d be in for a hot day. At that point I knew we would also have many tremendous views of the mountains; something I greatly missed last year. The start line was a crazy scene with over 500 people toeing the line. I managed to line up right in front in the center and spoke with several people prior to the gun going off. I spoke with Tim Parr, AJW, Tony K, Ryan Burch, Glenn, and many others. There seemed to be many more people this year both racing, and spectating; awesome! I believe the weather, and the ‘Lance Armstrong Factor’ (carry-over from the bike race) assisted in this event being larger…. throw in the Michael Jordan of our sport: Tony Krupicka, and the fact that Vasque footwear did a tremendous job in their first year of being a presenting sponsor of this event, and the crowds seemed much bigger. (for a 100 mile running race anyway).
As the gun boomed we all trotted off the line, and within 10 minutes we were away from the crowds, and the lights, and had only eachother as company: perfect. There was some friendly banter up front, mostly making fun of Tony’s button-up shirt and AJW’s pink arm-sleeves. For the record: I thought Tony would start without a shirt; and I also thought AJW’s arm sleeves were kinda cool. Just sayin’. The pace was extremely comfortable; but fast. We knew it; I knew it. As we got onto the short little scramble up to the Turquoise Lake Trail; I tried to slow myself down by almost running in place and giving some of those guys a little distance, but as we made it up onto that awesome single track around the lake; there was a group of about 8 of us. Tony, Tim, Andy Henshaw, Nick Lewis; they were all there; along with a few others and myself. Andy H and I backed off the pace and gave those other guys a little room. He and I chatted for a while and I was very impressed with his style: great guy and very fun to talk with. About 8 miles into the race, just past the boat ramp I hooked a toe on an unseen rock (still very dark); and I went down kinda hard with a few cuts on my hand and my knee. Once I caught back up with Andy, I made the comment that I felt ‘like a 12 year old going through a growth spurt’! We laughed, but I assumed he was thinking: “Man, this guy won last year? He can’t even stand up!” We were still rolling when just ahead of us there were a few guys scampering back up onto the trail…turns out Tony had to ‘visit the woods’ and the other guys just followed him off the side of the trail. Of course I said something very sarcastic at this point, and we were all one train again. Tony caught back up, and we chatted about how fast this pace was: it was!
We rolled through the mile 13.5 Mayqueen aid station in 1:42. Tony was quoted as saying to me: “Dude, none of us, including me, should be here yet.” Exactly. But, we also noted to eachother that this pace and our running felt very easy.
At that point I rushed in and grabbed a cookie, and had Annie sprint up the road to bring me a fresh water bottle. We were heading up and over Sugarloaf with a short little section on the Colorado Trail first and it was still dark. Normally at this point I don’t need a head lamp, but this time, because we were there so early, and the race was a week later than the previous couple of years, it was still dark. So, I set off for the second leg of the journey in approximately 8th place, and I made the decision then, that I was not going to go with Tony and Tim. I knew my best chance at winning and/or having a good race was to hold back and put myself in a position to win later in the day. We shall see.
(Rob O’Dea Pic: Mile 16 ish) (Moving up Hagerman Pass Road)
I rolled up the climb very comfortably (I noticed this year that my legs were super strong; and my body seemed much more natural at this altitude) (I’d notice it on Hope Pass as well), and as I crested the top of Sugarloaf; I was in awe of the incredible scenery at sunrise! I was running by myself on the difficult downhill on the Power-line cut, and noticed my legs felt awesome. It really helped that I was by myself there; no one to talk to; and no one to keep up with or impress; so I just rolled down as if on a training run. Once I hit the Fish Hatchery aid station (23.5), I was beginning to get ‘in the zone’ and I made it through there roughly 12 minutes ahead of schedule in 3:15 total time. At that point I was in 8th place still; but knew I’d be catching a few people very soon. The course from there rolls along a pavement and dirt road section up to the Half-moon (pipeline) aid station.
I rolled; feeling very good after putting a lot of real calories into my system at Fish Hatchery: I had eaten a pop-tart, and a turkey and cheese quesadilla quarter. Within a couple of miles I had passed a couple of people, and was honing in on several others. As we got to the pipeline crew access (about mile 28)(new access this year due to the course re-route)(My thoughts and prayers go out to those families touched by the tragedy of the helicopter crash), I knew I was having a good day; the body was ‘online’ with ‘all systems go’. I rolled in and rolled out, and first Hannah sprinted up to me to hand me some food, and then my wife sprinted up to me to hand me some more food. My crew was awesome the whole day. They had to put up with me being way early at every aid station; and they also had to put up with me simply moving right through each aid station. I did not stop for them, and that made their job much harder. But, the whole crew simply worked harder; got me everything, EVERYTHING I needed, when I needed it, and kept me thinking positive thoughts!! Thanks one and all. Without you: I do not finish, let alone podium!
During this new section of race course, I just rolled along and was feeling awesome and by the time I got back onto the Colorado Trail section I was in 3rd overall; and feeling fine. I made it into Twin Lakes at mile 40 in 5:35. Too fast; but again; it had felt way too easy. I was informed I was about 20 minutes down to Tony and Tim. So; I grabbed a little real food and a ‘Vespa’ and ate as I walked for a minute. I also made the decision to take two handheld bottles out of there on the way up and over Hope Pass. Good call. I drank 40 ounces of liquid (2 bottles) in one hour up to Hope Pass.
(Thanks to Nancy Hobbs for this pic!) (About to summit Hope)
At the ‘Hopeless Aid Station’ I filled up both bottles again; and moved on down the mountain. I was feeling good on the climb, (Nick had overtaken me for 3rd; but did not gap me substantially), and I was taking it very easy. In addition to all the liquids, I was staying on top of my salt tabs: I had been taking 2 per hour since 7:15 that morning (Fish Hatchery). I was feeling good. As I got off the Pass, and down onto the road section (I had been dreading those 2.7 miles from the Sheep Gulch trail head up to mile 50 at Winfield), I was stunned to notice I felt great running that section. I actually ran that section in 21 minutes (4 minutes faster than any previous time ever). Clearly my legs were strong; stronger than ever. I was getting excited as I rolled into the turn-around at mile 50 in 4th place in 8:01. Again; way too fast; but also very comfortable with my legs feeling very good; All I wanted to do was run.
Scott Drum paced me out of there and we rolled down the Winfield road back to the base of Hope Pass (20 minutes). We started the climb very conservatively; with an eye on drinking, eating, and salting as much as I could. We did just that; took it slow; drank a lot, ate a lot, doused a lot, and took some salt. We passed Nick at the start of the climb, and just rolled up from there. By the time we got to the top of the pass; we had been hearing mixed reports on Tim and Tony; nothing we could really believe; but interesting to hear how they were looking and moving. Scott and I rolled down the Pass into Twin Lakes where I was still feeling good. The best part about his section of the race (Mile 50 – 60) is the community of people out there on trail. Since it is an out-and-back, you get to see everyone during these miles. This year was especially awesome because I was feeling good. Seemingly everyone was yelling my name; or in some other way encouraging me to go chase those other guys down. I hope I was able to encourage you all as well. I really have come to like this out-and-back section because of the ‘shared sense of suffering.’ Remember: the 16 hour guy, and the 30 hour guy; doing the same thing: pushing limits and suffering for the sake of building character and toughness.
Scott led me across the river crossing and into Twin Lakes at mile 60 in about 10 hours and 30 minutes. (At this point I was approximately 55 minutes ahead of schedule and moving well. I grabbed some food; dunked my shirt and kept moving out of Twin Lakes for the long and hot climb back up to the Colorado Trail. Josh Dalley; good friend and ski coach from Durango, led me out on this section as my pacer. We rolled; period. We made it to the top of the climb and I had been drinking, dousing, and eating very well all the way up. As we got back onto the main part of the Colorado Trail; we set a fast pace; and ran every step from there down to the Pipeline crew access. During this whole section of trail.. mile 60 – 73… there is one aid station; but no real crowds or other people, and no true open areas; so we had no idea how I was doing compared with Tony and Tim. We were just running; fast. As I neared the mile 73 crew access point I noticed some people up ahead, and as we got closer crew member Rich told me that indeed; just 1 or 2 minutes ahead was Timmy Parr. Really?! I felt a bloom of excitement. I mean; this is how I envisioned it happening; but I never thought it would!. I also heard that up ahead Tony too was reduced a slow walk. Really? Tony? Tim and Tony were both walking; and I was moving good… this was all part of the plan: “Run my own race, be conservative, and swoop in and clean up the wreckage.” This was it; this was my chance to shine. This was my chance to look like a genius!! This was my chance. I was excited; but subdued; I knew I could not hammer it home now; I just had to keep plugging and make the passes slowly. So; that is what we did. Josh was still pacing me all the way through to the Fish Hatchery, and we just kept plugging.
As we passed Tim and his pacer, I remember putting my arm around him and encouraging him. I remember saying: “I want to see you back with me on top of Sugarloaf.” Tim was moving very slowly here; and I was moving very well. When I said that; I did mean it; Tim is a good friend, and I wanted him to succeed; but as I passed him; in my heart I thought he was completely dead; he looked stiff, rigid, and destroyed: dead. I never thought I would have to deal with Tim again during this race. As Josh and I neared Fish Hatchery, spectators kept giving us splits as to how far back I was from a very slow moving Tony up ahead. I came into Fish Hatchery very excited because I had just heard Tony had left only 13 minutes before; moving very slowly. I picked up Jesse Crandall here as my pacer; and we rolled out of there. As we neared the base of Power-line (mile 78 ish): there he was: Tony Krupicka: Mr. invincible.(I don’t mean that sarcastically; Tony is a true champion and the leader of the youth revolution in this sport.) I never thought (he would agree) that I would see him walking at mile 80 of a 100 miler. I never actually thought it would be possible to be passing Tony at this point in the race. But; I was; he had 100% gone for the course record; he went for it; and was now paying for it. I take my hat off to him and his attempt at shattering the course record. Way to go man; you’ll be back leading the charge again in no time.
I went by him and into the lead of the Leadville 100 again. I just had 22 miles left and I was on pace for approximately a 17:00 flat race. I had passed Tim about five miles ago and he had looked like ‘death-on-a-stick’. I had just passed Tony, and I knew he’d be dropping out. I correctly assumed that Nick was over 45 minutes back. I was gunna win this thing. I knew it with all my heart. (The funny thing is: one of my blog posts last week mentioned that ‘mile 78’ was where ‘it’ was going to happen).(Well; ‘it’ happened; I had just moved into the lead of the race at mile 78.) Ironic, eh? Or; the power of the mind? So; at that point; with the knowledge that I had; feeling good; and in the lead; I went into conservative mode. I knew if I could just make it up the Power-line climb; with my legs and stomach intact; I knew I would win; absolutely no doubt about it; no doubt. Then about 1/2 way up the climb the nausea hit; hard. I lost my cookies; hard. I puked a lot; felt very nauseous and could not keep anything down. Despite all the planning; all of the ‘staying up’ on the water and the salt and the food. Despite all the effort and adhering to a plan; despite all that: I lost my stomach; then I lost my energy. Then I lost the race.
Tim went by me down on Hagerman Pass road; what a tough guy! He was literally a ‘dead-man walking’ about 10 miles prior to that: dead. Now he came by me, not looking good, but trudging along significantly faster than I as I dealt with my stomach. Tim was going to win this thing. He encouraged me as he flew by me… but I pretty much knew it was over. As soon as he went by me; my mind failed me. I lost the strength to ‘go’ any more. A couple miles of mental lapse on top of 11 total miles of physical distress and that was the difference. So, Timmy disappeared as I kept moving slowly, stopping occasionally for a good dry-heave or puke. Jesse was trying so hard to get me back moving fast; he was getting me to put liquids and food in; I couldn’t keep it down; just could not. We ‘crawled’ our way down the Colorado Trail section and finally into Mayqueen, where I struggled again. I tried a little broth; puke. I tried a little sprite: puke. I tried some more ginger water: puke. I tried. There was silence in the Mayqueen tent as everyone in there (crew and aid station workers) knew this was a defining moment. They knew nothing they would say would work. They knew no pep talk or encouragement would matter. All this was was a guy struggling mightily with physical and mental demons. All this was was a guy who had to make a decision.
I got up and staggered out of the tent and gamely ran down the paved section back to the Turquoise Lake Trail. I was now in the hands of pacer Grant Ruehle. Grant kept me rolling between Mayqueen and the boat-ramp; but it was not enough. (He would later say that he thought he would have to bring me back to Mayqueen; I was so bad). I would stop every couple of hundred meters, squat down and dry heave. I would stagger for another couple hundred meters and do it again. I was so hot, tired, sore, crampy and mentally foggy. Not only had I lost my stomach (happened to me before), but now I had also lost my head; I had bonked. (never happened to me during a race.) My thinking was not clear and my forward motion was interrupted by catching myself from falling sideways, and my vision was completely ‘tunnel- focused’. As we moved on and got to within a mile of the boat ramp, I knew I was in a bad situation: that’s when we started dousing me with more water and trying to cool me down a little. I did and then began to rebound. It was now dark and we plowed through the Boat Ramp. I started jogging again and started feeling better; and started to salvage the last part of the race. Grant towed me (not literally) the rest of the way and I pushed through that severe pain and heat exhaustion. I came up the Boulevard, not prettily, not daintily, but rather like a ‘bull-in-a-china-shop’. It was ugly, but I made it. Thanks to my crew and my pacers, I had overcome, I had finished.
I finished in 3rd place with an 18:26:40. Tim Parr; mentally strong human being he is: he overcame and made it home in 1st place with a time of 17:27. (The 6th fastest time ever at Leadville). A great debut 100 miler for the Gunnison speed-demon. I am proud to call Tim Parr a good friend. Thanks for the inspiration buddy! Nick Lewis; the young 100 mile rookie from Memphis, TN pounded out a tremendous race in a time of 17:44. Way to go man, excellent race. He too had come back from the dead; not once; but twice. What a race; pretty exciting; very emotional. Epic indeed.
Great job to all who finished this beast. Excellent work. Volunteers and organizers: THANK YOU! What a great race; you all should be so proud of the event you put on this year. Vasque: I am so happy to be a part of this tremendous company; great shoes; great people; great family. To all those who overcame this year, who pushed and finished, who took risks; who succeeded; who failed; to all of you: well done. I am so happy to call myself a member of the ultra-running community. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned. Live well. DC