The Leadville Trail 100 Run, 2008 will be remembered by all for a very long time due to the epic weather; cold, snow, rain, hail, lightening. I will remember it forever as my first 100 mile race victory. Admittedly, it was not a dominating victory, but it was hard earned, and an incredible experience. My crew, there to support me, included: Marissa, Alex, Nancy, Ray, Liz, Summer, Scott Drum, Jesse Crandall, Tim Parr, Grant Ruehle, and my amazing wife: Annie. It must be noted that not only were they there on that day, but several have lived and breathed this dream with me for a very long time, most notably my wife.
After placing 7th place last year in an agonizing 20+hrs, and finding out two weeks ago that Tony (defending champion, freak talent, and incredibly hard worker) was injured and not going to be competing, I knew I was one of the guys who could pull off the win. We showed up in Leadville early in the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 14th. Annie and I checked into our beautiful 2 bedroom, full kitchen apartment and immediately changed and headed to Mayqueen to do a short run on the Turquoise Lake Trail. Annie ran an hour, and I ran for 40 min, and then soaked in the lake. We went to the pasta dinner on Thursday night, and went back to our hotel to watch the Olympics. Friday was a day of rest and preparation for the race on Saturday. After getting the food and clothing bags packed, we went to bed super early.
My body really had not felt good since the end of February. Of course I had my high points since then, but I had not felt truly good in about six months, including the past two weeks. Despite the taper, some great soaking, stretching and nutrition, I went to bed Friday night sore, and feeling pretty tired. I then woke up to my 2 am alarm and jumped out of bed and felt like a completely different person. Completely. No exaggeration. I had absolutely no soreness, no stiffness, no fatigue, and instead I was loose, energetic and relaxed.
Annie came with me to the race start at 4 am. She helped me stay relaxed during the final 15 min. prior to the start, and saw me off. The pace was pretty quick in the early AM drizzle and dark. There was a train of maybe 10 people once we got to the Turquoise Lake Trail, and I was maybe in 8th/9th. I then hooked up with Zeke Tiernan and ran into Mayqueen with him in about 6 min. faster then I planned on. I was feeling good, and gave chase up and over Sugarloaf. I then was passed on the downhill by Andrew Skurka, and ran with him down into the aid station in 4th place at Fish Hatchery. I grabbed a super pretzel from Annie, filled up my bottle and was out of there in no time. Andrew and I then worked together on the road section until I caught Zeke and Scott Jamie. We then played cat-and-mouse on the Colorado Trail section down into Twin Lakes, where I passed Zeke and entered mile 40 at Twin Lakes in 6:06 and in the lead. I then took my time (5 min.), because I really did not want to lead yet, and ate some great food from Annie, and gave her a big kiss.
I was still feeling very fresh and ready to go. I then made several passes going up Hope Pass the first time. and moved into 3rd at the top of the pass. Going down into Winfield, I made up some big time on Skurka and passed him going into the Aid Station, just behind Scott Jamie. This is where I picked up my first pacer (Scott Drum) and he proceeded to inject a lot of positive talk into my head. As we headed up Hope Pass the second time on the way back, I was not feeling great, but soon found my rhythm and passed Scott Jamie at perhaps mile 54, just before the top of the pass. I did not relinquish the lead after this. I puked a lot of liquid up on the top of the pass, and just kept moving. Once on the down side, Scott Drum led me down in a very fast time through the whole train of people still coming up that side, and through the treacherous mud. We made it down and into Twin Lakes again, where I was still feeling good, and in 1st place by approx. 10 min. Scott Drum was the catalyst for me to get into the lead and set the mindset that I was the guy who was going to win.
Scott handed off to Jesse Crandall who was to pace me from Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery. Jesse kept me eating and drinking during my roughest patch on the Colorado Trail. He kept talking positively, and helped me get back to the Halfmoon dirt road, where we picked it up and headed down to Treeline. I was not feeling good here, and in fact puked another substantial amount of fluid up. Jesse was right there still and kept me drinking down to Treeline, where Annie gave me some Ginger syrup and mac and cheese. These items got me going again. The other huge contribution there was the Twin Labs Ultra-Fuel carbohydrate powder drink mix. I immediately started sipping on this, and did not stop until the finish.
As we were on the final stretch into Fish Hatchery, I actually dropped Jesse, which was very good for my confidence. Jesse had done his job though; he got me through that really rough patch with enough food, drink, and speed, and that set me up for a good final 25 miles. At Fish Hatchery, I continued to move right through the check-in while eating some soup and crackers.. and was running again almost instantly. Tim Parr paced me from Fish Hatchery over to Mayqueen in what turned out to be the crux of the race. (That morning Tim competed in and placed 2nd in the Pikes Peak Ascent Half-Marathon). I left Fish Hatchery in 1st place still with about a 10 minute lead. Zeke, Andrew, and company were still coming after me pretty hard. I looked back quite a bit on the Powerline climb, but Tim kept me moving forward really well; he kept me eating, drinking, and running (the last 2/3 rds. of the climb he kept me mostly running). Once to the top; he pretty much forced me to run fast; and we did.
Once down to Hagerman Pass Road, it was clear that my lead was shrinking however; Andrew was merely 1 min back, and I was feeling the pressure. Again, Parr urged me forward and once we got to the technical downhill section of the Colorado Trail again, Tim set the pace that set me up to win the race. We flew; absolutely flew. (please note: this was mile 84-86.5). I got down to Mayqueen with what felt like a huge lead, but was actually only 2 min. But, the work that made it was that last section with Tim. Had I given up my lead there, I would not have won…. and instead I left Mayqueen before Andrew and his pacer could see me. This was a huge boost for me mentally, and probably a crusher for Andrew. Tim did an amazing job.
After not stopping, and grabbing some hot soup which I ate on my way out of Mayqueen, we were off. Grant Ruehle was pacing me in from Mayqueen to the Finish. He set a furious pace from the very first stride he was with me. It was incredible. We were still in daylight, and decided to just throw it down. Grant kept up a very fast pace, kept me drinking, and breathing. He was incredible. We then showed up at the boat ramp and got a split from the rest of the crew that I still only had a 2 min. lead. We had just run that section incredibly hard, and it was a bit of “a kick in the pants” to not have opened up any more of a lead. We flew from there and by the time we hit the dam road, (some 2 miles later) I had a 4 minute lead. We flew down the steep section onto the dirt road right by Sugarloafin‘ campground. With the full moon, we turned off our headlamps in order to be incognito. We were absolutely flying. Grant just kept telling me that there was nothing that was going to get in our way. He kept my drinking, and he was running very hard. We got to the railroad tracks and were soon on the boulevard where I did not want to get passed and lose this thing. We picked up the pace. I was now actually running much faster then I ever hoped to run, and it felt “effortless”; we flew up hill from the railroad tracks and back to the pavement. I then had a police escort in from there and once I crested that final hill and was less then 1/2 mile from the finish, that is when I knew it was in the bag; no one was going to pass me, and I had won.
I finished in a good time of 18 hrs. 2 min. 39 sec. This time was about 1hr. 10 min faster than my predicted finish time, and over 2.5 hrs. faster then the previous year. Grant led me in from Mayqueen in the same split that Tony had done the previous year when he ran the 2nd fastest time ever. Of course, I had people chasing me, unlike Tony who was leading by 3hrs at Mayqueen in 2007. Andrew Skurka came in 15 min later in a fantastic time of 18 hrs 17 min. (this was his first 100 ever) Zeke Tiernan then came in for 3rd place in 18 hrs. 37 min. (his first 100 ever as well). What a day!!!
There is so much more to write, but I will wrap this up with a huge thank you to several people. First to Ray and Nancy Ruehle, Alex and Marissa Ruehle, Liz Davis, and Summer for being such a supportive group and cheering section. Scott Drum catapulted me into the lead and sent my mind in the proper direction to: “start acting like the race leader.” Jesse Crandall kept me moving well, eating, and drinking during the rough patch. Tim Parr threw it down for me, and I had no choice but to follow when the race was on the line. Grant Ruehle would not let me think about losing; he would not let me be denied. He practically lifted me up and carried me in the last 13 miles.. he absolutely flew. And of course, my wife Annie. She was the crew boss but more importantly, she has supported me throughout this entire process. She has kept me accountable to the things that really matter; she has kept me fed well, recovered well, and has done everything for me. She is the true hero of this victory. More soon: stay tuned.