2017 Leadville 100 Learnings
Part of my strategy earlier this year of finishing my first 100 mile race was to prove to myself I could travel the distance. I’m quite honest with myself and know that each race is different in terms of terrain, altitude, and cutoff times. At the same time, I have attempted Leadville before, including ending up in the Emergency Room, so knew what I was in for. My biggest fear was no longer making it through 100 miles, but doing so in the aggressive cutoff times setup.
Each time I attempt the Leadville 100, I know I need more times in the mountains at altitude. Plans are made, training plans mapped out, and great ideas of taking a couple days for a getaway running vacation.
Then life happens. Family with 4 kids, selling our house, building a new one, moving, day job, and Colfax Marathon work.
On Friday, Jim and I drove up to Leadville for packet pickup and the pre-race meeting. Smooth drive into the mountains and grabbing my bib #. Expos at an ultra usually involve 4-5 tents, so doesn’t take long to get stuff done. We had a brief conversation that if we could show up an hour before start time that it would help with altitude. Foreshadowing sucks.
We headed over to the cabin that we were going to be staying at for the evening. Jim R was there waiting for us and he graciously opened up the cabin that he had rented for all of us. It was a 70’s rustic throwback, but had all the luxuries one could need in the mountains! After some getting-to-know you conversation, we decided to head over to the pre-race meeting.
The pre-race meeting was the same as in past years. You can do it. Dig deep. If you don’t finish then you are a quitter and you suck. Good thing I don’t succumb to this peer pressure stuff.
Spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in town, grabbing a light lunch, running into runner friends, and trading stories. The goal was to keep it low-key and just like any other day before a 100 mile race at high altitude.
I didn’t really have big plans for dinner except maybe to grab some pizza. Jim was making a big batch of blueberry pancakes and homefries, so I went with the flow and decided to join in on that. After eating and some cleanup, I laid out my clothes and then decided to try for some restful sleep. Not so much.
3am alarm clock, jump in the shower, get on running gear, sip some coffee … stomach not happy. Could be nerves or who knows what. Everyone is going about their race morning rituals. I’m just kind of staring off into space.
We get to the starting line and say the usual stuff like “be sure to drink so you don’t end up in the ER again” and “forward is a pace.” I ran into some others I knew at the starting line.
Then I had to go to the bathroom. Damn it. The race hadn’t even started yet. Oh well.
4am, shotgun fired and off we go down the street.
About a mile down the road where the course turned into the forest, there was a porta-potty. Thank goodness! Quick stop there and back on the trail. Plugging forward following all the other headlamps ahead. I have run this section many times and my goal was to not trip. As I have done that and it the fall is no fun.
This section seemed to go by quickly and fairly easy. I enjoyed the sun rising as I ran around the lake and was keeping a pretty good pace. My spirits were high while actually eating some calories. Coming into the Mayqueen aid station, I was dancing to the music when I spotted Jim waving. I tossed my empty water bottle like 30 feet to him with a big smile. All was going well and pace was about as expected. Grabbed my Trek poles, refilled the 1 water bottle, and was off.
Up the hill we turned back into the forest and started a climb. Except we climbed a little to far. It wasn’t completely clear that we needed to turn left earlier and fortunately people started yelling to a group of us. Oops. Maybe we thought 100 miles wasn’t enough for a race.
The first climb wasn’t too bad as I jogged most of it. Got up to the gravel road and started to jog more which to me was a good sign. Then the climb to the top of Powerline. This is where the day started to hit me … around mile 17. I just told myself this was to be expected and one of many walls that I would run into throughout the day. Kept moving forward and still had my wits. Chest and heart weren’t all that happy however.
At the top of Powerline is where my stomach started to go south. Bloated and nauseous feeling all at the same time. Food or liquids didn’t want to stay down. Uh oh.
After cruising down Powerline and onto the road, I caught up with David Clark. We chatted for a bit about his past year of ups, injuries, and going with the flow. Was really good to feel his energy and catch up in person with him.
As we were walking down the road to the turn into the Outward Bound aid station, I heard Jim yell, “Alex get running!” To which I replied, “why don’t you get running?!?!” I was not in a good place apparently.
I trotted in knowing I was in for a tongue-lashing from my crew. Rightfully so as I was well behind worst-case scenario. With no calories staying in, that means I was a ticking time bomb. While I was still able to tell jokes, they were masking something I knew my crew was aware of.
They told me I needed to eat more. Sandra even put food in my mouth. I chewed. Swallowed. It came back up.
“You need to keep eating!!!”
“Yeah I know that, but it won’t stay inside. Look at the ground!”
Crew even played the angry card with you need to run more, we are out here to help you but you have to move, get your ass going.
I smiled brightly and said “that shit doesn’t work on me.” But I knew it was all true.
Here I am at 24 miles with a blown stomach, behind schedule, and my crew clearly not happy. What else to do but keep moving forward until the race tells me to stop.
I started out across the field. It is now 70 degrees at over 10,000 feet of elevation. Did I mention I’m running across a field? Zero shade cover. Straight-up broil setting.
About halfway across the field, I started power-walking with a fellow. He was about a foot taller than me, so he’s power-walking was that of Olympic quality. We chatted briefly about the struggles we were facing and encouraged one another to continue forward.
Around mile 32, a guy came up past me as I was walking and said “run a little so you make cutoff at Halfpipe.” I believe my exact words were “no shit Sherlock.” That’s when I knew this day was not going to recover.
I did make it to mile 34 before the cutoff. There I ran into a couple people I had helped a month earlier at the Silver Rush 50. One of them remembered me and chuckled saying “looks like we’re both in need of some help.” I laughed a real laugh for the first time all day. That felt good.
After drinking some Coke and eating pretzels, I headed out of the aid station to a lonely part of the course. At this point, I know that a miracle is going to have to happen for me to pick up the pace on the next couple mile mountain climb. Looking back, I’m wondering why I didn’t turn on any music for the day. That may have helped.
Climbing and climbing I met up with a couple more runners. They asked if I needed anything as they were done for the day. I was very excited to hear they had pickle juice! No idea why I got so excited. Well, maybe because it made think of my friend Mitch. I happily took it hoping it would be a boost that I needed to make up a few more minutes needed to hit cutoff.
I made it down to mile 37 where a small water only aid station was setup. After a couple large cups of water, I stood up. Then, I emptied my stomach of all that water. I knew I would not be running ahead and not making the cutoff at Twin Lakes.
At this point, I knew my family had arrived and was waiting to greet me at Twin Lakes. I started off on the remaining 3 miles to Twin Lakes hoping there was a chance something would shoot me. Whether that was adrenaline or an angry hunter I wasn’t sure. My emotions were low. I sent a text message to Jim to let him know what was happening. I had 15 minutes to go 3 miles and make the cutoff. A sprint didn’t seem in the cards today.
After a couple miles, I ran into Jim. He came a mile up the trail to get me.
Jim said, “Damn, I can’t breathe and I only walked a mile up here! You’ve been doing this all day?!?!”
I lost it. “I’m so sorry.”
“Everyone I let down. You and my family all drove up here to give up your weekend and I failed. I suck.”
Jim gave me a big hug and told me to shut up. That’s what you want in a crew! He reassured me I didn’t let anyone down and went 40 miles in high altitude with tough terrain.
When I got to Twin Lakes I made eye contact with the lady that cuts runner’s timing chips. I jokingly tried to dodge her and she laughed. She has the hardest job out there and does it with such incredible empathy and strength that I don’t understand it.
I was 15 minutes late. My 10yo daughter realized it was me, through down the cowbell she was ringing, and came running full speed at me. Fortunately, I saw her coming or she would have taken me out as a linebacker sacking the quarterback. It was one of the best hugs I can remember.
My wife came over and gave me a kiss, Derek was there and I thanked him for driving all the way up to Leadville, and my other kids came over to say hello. I talked with a couple other runners and friends before gathering up my crew’s stuff to head for the shuttle.
I’m sure I said a lot of hilarious things and dumb stuff at the same time, but I don’t remember. Part of me was really sad/depressed about the situation. As we were getting on the shuttle, the wind picked up and rain clouds rolled in. That made me a little happy that I wasn’t climbing Hope Pass to 12,600 feet above elevation.
In the van, Derek was kind enough to drive all of us. I decided to sit in the very back row in the middle so I could stretch out my legs. My 2 youngest daughters were on each side of me and they made sure to let me know how much I smell. Apparently I was doing something funny because they kept laughing. It was the first time I’ve ever sat in the back of that van while going somewhere. I kind of liked the leg room and the not driving.
Back at the cabin, it was decided to get pizza. For some reason, I ended up being put in charge of it. After triyng to figure out where to find the pizza menu and then locate their phone number, I made the order. In the living room, I could hear my wife and Jim talking about what we were going to different for Leadville 2018.
“Who the hell said I want to come back to this place and kick my own ass again?” I said.
“We know you.”
We headed over to get the pizza. I came out with 4 boxes of pizza for 8 of us. Maybe I ordered too much, but what do you expect?
I nibbled on a slice and tried to make conversation with Derek. Mostly I stared at the table. Not really hungry, not really tired, no real energy at all.
Eventually, we piled into 2 vehicles and headed down the mountain. I would have liked to stay the night and cheer on friends that were still out there running. My entire energy was shot and I was crashing hard.
There you have it. I fell victim to the same mistake as in past attempts: nutrition.
It drives me insane that I know the answer yet not able to get the body to comply. Maybe that’s why I keep going back is because I need to crack this damn code. The mental part isn’t my issue and I welcome pain like a long lost friend. If I can’t put fuel in the tank though, the truck will eventually stop.
2018 … still thinking on how to solve that.