(Note: This is a very long post. For that, I apologize. I tried to be detailed and give a snapshot of the good and the bad) (Note: I am still in the process of trying to ‘re-purchase’ my custom domain name for this blog. In the mean-time it can be found at this blog-spot address.)
I love Leadville. (I think I use that as an opening line in about 50% of my posts.) There is just something unique about the altitude, the views, the climbs, the town, the coffee shop, and the 100 mile running race itself. When in Leadville, for the race or otherwise, I simply feel comfortable in my skin. I would first love to thank my crew which once again propelled me to the finish line in a PR. Thank you to crew and pacers; you all are very special to me. Without you… a positive result simply would not be possible. A gigantic thank you is in order to Vasque Footwear for sticking by me during a relatively poor season on the results sheet; your support and encouragement kept me moving forward to another strong performance at Leadville. Thank you. Another big thanks to Ken and Merilee for hosting this race for the 28th year. Thank you to the volunteers who put this race on! Your behind-the-scenes efforts are fantastic and uncelebrated. Thank you. Lastly, congratulations to all who finished this event. Your determination is admirable. Great job all!
Annie and I made it to town during the middle of the afternoon on Thursday and headed straight for a run on the Turquoise Lake Trail. The clouds were hovering and spitting a bit of rain as we finished our respective 45 minute runs. During the run, I felt stiff, mediocre, and slightly tired, but, my legs had that underlying bit of ‘jump’ to them which happens after tapering properly for a significant race. We ran a few errands in town and then headed to the great house which Vasque had arranged for the whole Vasque team. This place was comfortable, spacious, beautiful, inviting, and served the group of 12 of us staying there very well. As we made ourselves at home, the wind, clouds, and thunder rolled in to provide an incredible 30 minute spectacle which left a visible 2 inches of snow above 12,800′ on the tops of Mt. Elbert, and Mt. Massive. Once the clouds lifted, we were all stunned to see the beautiful sunset revealing the snow. The whole group of us stood on the deck and stared at our surroundings; gathering inspiration from the natural beauty. Incredible.
Friday passed by with the medical check-in going smoothly and the weather breaking nicely to reveal perfect weather. My brother (who had flown in from Rochester, NY to help crew this race) and I headed out to Turquoise Lake to take a short hike from the MayQueen side. The day was beautiful as we hiked for about 30 minutes, at which point I threw in a short 30 minute run. This shake-out run provided a good glimpse into the overall feeling of my legs prior to race day. My stride felt fluid with a good and springy mid-foot strike going, but I did have a few nagging ‘sore’ spots. Most notably, I had two toes on my right foot that were bleeding and had ‘lifted’ toenails. This situation had developed only the night before from stubbing my foot on a stone step as I tried to find my way to the bathroom in the rental house during the middle of the night. Despite swearing profusely, the damage appeared to be minor and did not trouble me (mentally) heading into the race the next day. My brother and I next headed to the mandatory pre-race meeting at the 6th Street Gym. This event is always entertaining and serves more to ‘psych up’ the runners than provide much useful information. I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Ken is always in ‘rare-form’ with his motivational speech, and Dr. Hill provides a great monologue on serious medical issues which could crop up while running 100 miles. I believe my bro was impressed. From there we headed back to the house, ate a good lunch and generally relaxed. This is my 4th Leadville 100 in a row and I felt the most at ease I have ever been going into it. As mentioned above, I simply felt comfortable in my own skin for this one. I took a nap, read a book, and generally did not worry about the race. After a very good dinner, I crashed early to dream happy thoughts of spending a day in the mountains of Colorado.
I woke up refreshed, alert, and positive. I knew this could be a good day and I greatly looked forward to toeing the line. Despite how ‘chill’ I was, we somehow managed to make it to the start area way too early again. (3:20 am). This serves no real purpose and I don’t know why I keep getting there so early. Maybe it simply eases the slight (although lessening) case of OCD I still possess. Regardless, there we were: Annie, my brother and I, waiting for the start. I soaked up the atmosphere, headed to the ‘port-o-potties’ again, and was pleased to see much of my crew hovering around the start area in eager anticipation of a great day.
The shot-gun boomed and we (800 runners!) surged off the start line and into the early morning. After the usual mile of people blaring the ‘Rocky’ theme song, we were soon in the silence of the morning, with only each-other for company. Man… that sounds dramatic. It really isn’t. Mostly, there is some nervous chatter between friends and competitors. I rolled along in the first few miles near the front and chatted with Anton for a bit about the summer, our race seasons, the bike race and a few other things. This helped to ease my mind a bit and soon we were on the Turquoise Lake trail with Hal Koener leading the charge along with Bob Sweeney and Anton. I soon fell from the pace, as I knew it was quick. I mingled in about 5th or 6th place for a bit as the train kept rolling toward the first aid station at MayQueen. We were quick through there as I ran through in 1:43. (Same time as the ‘too fast time’ of last year.) (Tony, Bob, and Hal had rolled through in a fast 1:39). As I rolled onto the Colorado Trail section up to Hagerman Pass Road, I consciously slowed the pace down and was pleased to see Dylan Bowman right there with me. Dylan is the guy who was 2nd to me at the Leadville Silver Rush 50 miler the month before. (I only squeaked out the victory by a bit over 1 minute). Zeke Tiernan, Dylan and I ran together over the top of SugarLoaf Mountain and down the Power-line. We chatted about the race, our goals, and a bit of our plans for the race and came into the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 23.5 in 3:16 (also too quick for my plan). The nagging thing going on in my head all morning so far was the negative feedback I was getting from my body since the start. I had flashes of brilliance which lasted for 1 minute at a time, but for the most part, my legs felt heavy, slow, tired, and my stomach was a bit bloated and uncomfortable. I simply kept dealing with the legs, and started taking ginger syrup early to assist with the unsettled stomach. The legs had me worried though. In addition to the general fatigue in them, I also had a few ‘tweaky’ spots that I have never had to deal with this early in a race. The inside of my left knee was sore, the afore-mentioned toenails hurt, the right IT band was tight, and the left IT band was already tingly and a bit numb. All of this was a significant amount of negative chatter going into my brain for almost 40 miles. I had to throw a filter on the brain and make sure the negative did not become too negative.
That’s what I did as I continued to run in approximately 5th or 6th place on the road section to the Pipeline Crew Access at mile 28. There, I finally admitted to Annie that things were not going well. She turned my comments into positives and never even let me think about it. Dylan, Zeke, and I continued on within about 40 seconds of each-other through the next aid station at mile 30. (Half-moon II). At this point, there were also a few other guys around us. This meant there were maybe 5 of us all running within a minute of each-other going into mile 33 and the critical turn up to head onto the Colorado Trail section. Long story short: I was running just ahead of these other guys and noticed a turn to the right which I was positive was the way the course goes. However, there was marking to the left which turned out to be wrong. After I turned around and circled up with the other guys, we made the call to take the unmarked trail the way we thought the race was to go. Sure enough, about 30 seconds up this trail there were many course markings. This turn would prove to be significant, as we found out later that Hal and one other guy had taken the wrong turn and lost significantly more time. Also, without knowing for sure, I would bet money that someone had ‘messed’ with this section of trail.
Once back on course, I continued to run with some discomfort and had to keep battling off the negative thoughts. I then moved past Bob again and into what I thought was 4th place as we began our descent into Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail. I found my rhythm. I felt good. My stomach felt normal. My mind started to flow, and I knew I was on the verge of turning things around. I dropped down into Twin Lakes comfortably, met my crew, and was out of there quickly. They had me pretty fired up as I moved out to make the river crossing and begin the first ascent of Hope Pass. At the river crossing, crew member Rich Smith informed me that I was in 3rd place (Bob was literally 5 seconds ahead of me in 2nd). This sealed the deal on the thought I had a while back; that Hal and the 3rd place runner had gotten lost at the section of trail which had been ‘mis-marked’. Sure-enough they had. Hal gamely continued on while the other guy dropped out. Regardless, I moved forward at a conservative clip up Hope Pass, less than 1 minute behind Bob for the entire climb. I was comfortable, positive, and in a good groove. At the top of the pass, Bob was less than 1 minute ahead and I plugged on and soon caught him on the descent. This descent off of Hope is fairly steep and difficult and I have struggled on here every year. This time though, I felt good. I was moving comfortably and confidently. I was flowing. At the very bottom of the climb I saw Anton heading back up with his pacer Dakota, meaning that he had a 40 minute lead on me. Ridiculous. I felt good though and moved nicely up the dirt road to the turn-around at Winfield which I came through in 8:11. (Slightly faster than I had hoped, but very comfortable.) My crew once again provided me with everything I needed and sent me on my way back home!
Scott Drum began the pacing duties with me here (as he does every year) and took me over Hope Pass on the return journey. He had me moving forward and ‘thinking in the moment’ very well. He kept me eating, drinking, and salting as I moved well up the pass in 2nd place, about 45 minutes down to Anton, and 10 minutes or so ahead of Zeke and Dylan. The top portion of the descent down into Twin Lakes is a bit rockier than the rest and I felt out of rhythm; however, as soon as we left the Hope Pass Aid Station (near the top) I began to ‘flow’ again. This descent was incredible with Scott leading the way by clearing the trail for me. I always love this section as I get to see every other racer on course: TONS of people. Very cool. Scott and I neared the bottom in a quick time, crossed the river, and rolled into Twin Lakes at mile 60 at 2:30 in the afternoon. (10:30 into the race). I was feeling good, 15 minutes ahead of my pre-determined schedule, and 1 hour down to Anton. By this point, mentally, I had let him go. I knew on paper that he was not beatable if we were both having good days. I kept my focus on eating, hydrating, taking my salt and Vespa, and plugging away on staying honest to my split sheet. Adam St. Pierre took over pacing for me here and moved me up the steep climb well. We ran quite a bit of the climb, found a good synergy and energy, and generally enjoyed the fact that this was shaping up to be a fine podium result with the potential of a course PR time. I came into Half-moon II aid station on the return and here I suffered a low point. My stomach was a bit upset and as I ate a small PB&J on the way out of the station, I vomited. Not much, but enough to sound the panic alarms a bit. Adam was quick to move me along, get me to replace a bit of what I had lost, and kept me thinking positively. Thanks man! From there to the Pipeline crew access, we moved forward well, but I did not feel great. I knew I would have about 4 miles after Pipeline to ‘turn it around’ prior to the Power-line climb.
At the Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 76.5) I begin to feel much better. The real food I had been eating, coupled with the Vespa and First Endurance products were doing wonders on my system. Combine the much improved nutritional system with the epic support from the greatest crew and pacers a guy could have, and I was feeling psyched for the Power-line climb, which had been my ‘un-doing’ the year before. I was determined to ‘dominate’ this climb. Jesse Crandall paced me out of Fish Hatchery and onto the Power-line climb. I felt good. My stomach was there. My legs were strong, and getting stronger. I knew this would be the climb that would seal another podium result and a PR. I was moving well, and Jesse joked that I would probably see Anton at the top of the climb if I kept moving as well as I was. I knew this was nothing more than a joke and just laughed it off. Just 10 minutes before, my crew had been telling me that Anton was almost 90 minutes ahead of me at Fish Hatchery and looking good! 90 Minutes! 90 Minutes! That’s not even a race… that’s an eternity! He was killing it and apparently running controlled as well. As I climbed I knew I was racing for 2nd place and a PR and I was fine with that. I was giving the best effort that I had, and I knew it would be enough to reach most of my goals. I was eating and drinking very well as I climbed too. Just as I was eating a last little bit near the top of the climb, I saw a couple guys sitting and lying on the ground. I assumed they were spectators or photographers. Indeed, I just kept my head down and moved toward the top of the climb. What I saw next took me by complete, 100%, and total surprise.
Anton and his pacer were lying down on the side of the trail. Anton was completely horizontal and unresponsive. He had bonked and suffered from significant dehydration. Jesse and I asked what they needed. This did not look like a good situation. I mostly kept moving forward as Jesse tried to assist them with whatever they needed, but, they already had help coming. This was crazy. I did not realize the extent of the situation at the time, but thank God photographer Rob O’Dea had already been on the scene and was on his way to MayQueen to get whatever help he could for them. I was now in the lead of the Leadville 100 again. This was the third year in a row I had been on top of Power-line leading the race. My first thought was: “This changes things.” Good thing Jesse was there. He read my mind and simply stated: “You know, this doesn’t change a thing.” “All you need to do is what you have already been doing.” “Be consistent, eat well, monitor the body, and be in the moment.” This was exactly the advice I needed to hear at exactly the right time.
Jesse and I ran down the pass and onto the Colorado Trail section very well. I was moving quickly, uncertain of how large my lead over Zeke or Dylan was. We flew into MayQueen where I saw the ‘Go Slam’ sign that Hannah made. Here, too, I saw the Ruehle family; they had made the trek up to cheer myself and a couple others on. So cool to see them. My crew had to put up with me running straight through the aid station and back onto course. This was a change from last year when I had to stay at MayQueen for 7 or 8 minutes to ‘re-group’. This time around, I still did not know what my lead was on Zeke or Dylan and I was not going to wait around to find out. Rich Smith took over the pacing duties here and injected a ton of positive thoughts into my head as he set the perfect pace to get me to the Boat Ramp. This was Rich’s first time pacing me and I was glad he was there; super positive and never negative. He and I rolled into the Boat Ramp crew access where I picked up my headlamp and Scott took over again to pace me to the finish. At this point, I knew I had a 16 minute lead at MayQueen, but I still was not comfortable with it. Mentally I wanted to have that big a lead in a few more miles, once off of the Turquoise Lake Trail. Scott and I hammered along and soon came to the dam road and then down the small power-line cut to the dirt road section. As we moved toward the finish line, Scott pointed out the moon and the beautiful night we were now running through. It was beautiful.
Once to the rail-road tracks, Rich and Kathy told me I had at least a 22 minute lead. I felt a huge sense of relief, but for good measure I kept the gas pedal down as I climbed the dirt road Boulevard section. Scott kept me moving well and made sure I was still sipping on EFS and ginger-ale. Soon enough, we were on the pavement with the police escort to the finish. The police car leads with his lights and sirens blaring the whole way. New to this year though was the fire truck that snuck up behind me to assist with the escort. Just as I was getting comfortable with all the lights and sounds, the fire truck blared the horn. In typical Duncan-fashion; I jumped a mile. Once we crested the last bit of hill, the finish line became visible! Always an exciting moment. As I was nearing the finish line, Scott peeled off, and my brother Bill jumped in to cross the finish line with me. As we were coming into the finish chute, I told my brother: “Thanks for dragging me out on my first real run.” Almost 15 years ago, my brother was into running and I was not. One day, he took me out on a challenging 5-miler. I was instantly hooked on the feeling, and now here I am running 100-milers. The finish line was extremely crowded this year with media-types and spectators. I loved it. The energy was high. My crew was all there and I reveled in the fact that they got to be a BIG part of this victory. The whole crew put me over the finish line in 1st place. Absolutely unbelievable.
Funny how these 100-milers end up. On paper, there is no way I should have won this event this year. All I ever try to do is run my own race and be around when there is an opportunity. My crew put me in a great position mentally and I just kept trying to move forward. I would like to say to Anton again: Thanks for being a driving factor in the growth of this sport, particularly the growth of younger guys being in this sport. Four years and five seasons ago I watched Anton burst onto the scene and that motivated me to give it a shot too. So, thanks man! Here’s to a speedy recovery. Another Leadville 100 is now in the books. This makes 4 in a row for me. (Only 23 more to catch the great Bill Finkbeiner!) Congratulations to everyone who finished this event. Great job. Thanks again to my legendary crew and pacers. You all are responsible for this victory. There will be more posts in the coming days with pictures from Leadville. Also, stay tuned for another post on the Grand Teton 100 in a little over a week as I’ll be trying to double up on 100-milers.
Thanks for reading. Recover well. Live well. DC