Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Run Rabbit Run 2014

Of the 168 entrants in the Tortise Division, Ultra Signup had me ranked as 22nd, with an estimated finish time of 26:54:30.  This is one of the few (maybe only) ultra races that separates the “pros” from the “amateurs”.  This is a self-separation process that occurs at registration.  The Hares (pros) start later, have a shorter cut-off (30 hours instead of 36), and are not allowed pacers or trekking poles, yet they compete for the majority of the cash prizes.  RRR boasts the biggest prize purse of any ultra - $50,000, and the winners (male and female) will walk away with $12,000 each.  The Tortoises (amateurs, like me) start earlier, have a 36 hour limit, can have pacers and trekking poles, but only compete for a small portion of the prize purse – the winners get $250 each.  Additional effects of the dual start are that amateurs get to see the big-wig pros somewhere in the middle of the race, plus everyone has to run through the night.

So, even though I don’t use poles, expect to finish well under 30 hours in even the worst case scenario, and am running without a pacer, I decided to be a tortoise.  There’s no way I can place in the top 7 of the hares (sub-20 hours) to win any of the prize money, and I didn’t want to start at noon.  I figured I might have a shot at placing in the tortoise division and walking away with $100+.

As race day draws closer, the forecast gets better and better, dropping from a high of 69 to 60, with 0% chance of precipitation.  Running during the day should be perfect, nighttime might be a different story.  It’s supposed to drop down around freezing.  That would just fine for 50K or less, but the potential fatigue of a 100 makes those cold temperatures potentially disastrous.  If I have another melt-down, like I did at Leadville, it will be scary.  I did think I was going to have a pacer for a while there, but work got in the way and she had to back out.  That’s OK.  I like to be independent and self-sufficient.

The plan, as usual, is to get there the evening before for the mandatory pre-race meeting, then spend the night in the back of the car.  With an 8:00 AM start, I’m hoping to get a decent night’s sleep, since even with a perfect race, I will be running through the entire night.  My goal is to break 26 hours, though I think I can be below 24 if I run smart.  My secondary goal is to beat Cole, my Leadville pacer.  He’s a good guy and I definitely appreciated his help at Leadville, but given that he’s exactly half my age, beating him would be ultra sweet.  Third goal would be to win some prize money.

RRR is only 4 weeks after Leadville, though I hadn’t suffered any damage, it’s a bit close for another 100 miler.  But I felt like I hadn’t run at 100% and was itching for another chance to prove myself.  I had also run the Javalina Jangover 50K in Arizona only 5 days prior, which I was repeatedly warned against doing.  Then, to top it all off, I had a 5 mile trail race on Wednesday evening – just 2 days before the big race.  My thought was that I could recover from a 50K in a week (or less, in this case) and the 5 miler would be good speed-work.


As usual, things did not work out completely to plan.  They started out just fine.  I was pretty close to the fast end of my time estimates most of the day.

The race started out with a steep 3,500 foot climb up Mt. Werner.  With the pro Hares starting separately, 4 hours later, I was surprised that so much of the field was way up in front of me.  I honestly expected to be closer to the front, without pushing too hard.  I told myself that these guys were only going to blow up later and just settled into a “comfortable” pace.  Cole was with me for the first half of the climb and then slowly pulled away (or I fell back), but not by a worrisome amount.

It was still quite cold in the shade, and the tall grasses were coated with a beautiful layer of frost.  The valley below had some scattered clouds, but towards the north, it was a solid blanket of white.  It’s so awesome being up above the clouds when you’ve gotten there via your own two feet and not in a plane.  A number of spectators and other runners commented on the wisdom of my no-shirt approach, but I was pretty comfortable, and I knew that as soon as we hit the direct sun at the top, the temperature would quickly rise.  The thin gloves helped, but my fingers still became pretty useless and I had to really fumble with the first peanut butter pack I ate.

After finally cresting the mountain, we were welcomed into the first aid station by three very enthusiastic young ladies, screaming, cheering, and singing.  As nice as that was, I was hoping they would have the same level of energy at 2:00 AM when I would really need it.

I grabbed a couple of snacks, topped off the hand-held with water, and I was out at about 1:31, right at the low end of my estimate, despite the section being ½ mile long.  I figured I was somewhere in the middle of the pack at this point, which would have been just right, but I still had some lingering doubts since the really fast runners weren’t even on the course yet.

Things really warmed up on the next section as we were running through the trees, but not shaded by the mountain anymore.  This single-track to Long Lake is nice and rolling, though generally downhill.  The moderately sized field was well dispersed on the initial climb, so even though we were still sorting ourselves out, there were no back-ups.  We finally made it to the turn-off to Long Lake, which I though was pretty obvious, but I had to direct the runner in front to make the right turn.  The course markings could have been a bit better, but for anyone who had read the course description or glanced at the maps, it should have been clear.

Cole was going back out of the aid station as I was going in, so he was only a few minutes ahead.  I had a drop bag here and took just a couple of quick minutes to down a can of club soda and grab some supplies before heading back down the trail.  At the junction, I had to once again direct a couple of runners who almost followed us down, instead of turning towards the aid station.  I ran a good bit of this section with a guy from Albuquerque, who unfortunately dropped out later in the race.  The top part of the decent was quite nice, though we hit a couple of muddy, boggy areas that got the shoes wet.  Almost 2 miles down, we came across two runners who were coming back up the trail.  They had apparently turned left instead of right at the intersection and were now retracing their steps to go back up to Long Lake.  They did not look happy!

The descent got steeper and rockier as we neared the upper falls.  We passed a few runners, but progress was sometimes slow due to the steep, technical trail.  As we got lower, there were also more hikers on the trail, coming up to see the falls.  The trail finally crossed the bridge, with lots more hikers around, and climbed up a short uphill to the trailhead.

Thought he hikers encouraged us on, this was the first real opportunity for spectators.  The parking lot was crowded and I didn’t need to re-fill, so I just ran through and onto the paved road section.  Most of this was downhill and relatively fast, passing by some high-priced homes and then dropping into town.  There were cardboard bunny signs on the edge of the road, warning vehicles to watch out for runners.  One of these was laying in mangled pieces, making me ponder – if people would purposely run over a cardboard bunny, what would they do to runner?

I just missed the light at the main street and had to wait for an agonizingly long minute to cross.  A short section on the bike path, an almost-missed turn off of it, and we arrived at Olympian Hall.  Sean was there.  He told me that Cole had just left (still only minutes ahead) and that the lead runners were 45 minutes up.  I went inside the building to the actual aid station and was greeted by Enrique, who helped me get stuff out of my drop bag and sprayed me down with sunscreen.

The course continued on past the ski-jump and up the hill for a couple of miles, including the “Lane of Pain”, which wasn’t really all that scary – just a steep road to walk up.  The top was much more rolling than I had anticipated, but eventually, we got to the trail junction and onto some more single-track.  At one point, the trail followed a fence and as I ran along, I heard a weird buzzing sound.  I glanced over to see a partially decomposed deer about 3 feet off the trail.  The buzzing was coming from hundreds of flies.  I was quite thankful that we weren’t going to be running this section at night.  No telling what that would attract after dark.

The trail slowly meandered and rolled downhill towards the Cow Creek aid station.  This section was exposed and hot in the mid-day sun.  I passed through the aid station pretty quickly and headed on up the road.  Even though there was only a moderate climb, I walked much of it until we turned off onto a trail again, which got into some nice, cool, shaded aspen.  The climb back up was not nearly as bad as I had expected.  The rolling terrain made much of it runnable, though the top seemed to be ever elusive.

Once we got back to the trail junction at the top of the hill, we ran into two way traffic for the first time.  In addition to some of the slower Tortoises, there were many Hares.  I was quite surprised that by the time we got down close to Olympian Hall again, some of the Hares looked quite ragged.  Some looked like they just weren’t going to make it.

Back at Olympian, Enrique was there again to help me out.  I was also surprised to see Cole and Sean, figuring that Cole’s lead would have only increased.  I hit the bathrooms to wash my salty face, downed a club soda and grabbed a most delicious breakfast burrito on the way out.

Upon leaving Olympian, I managed to get caught at the red light again.  After finally crossing, I was back on the black-top of Fish Creek Falls Road.  The run down was fast, but going back up, I just didn’t have a whole lot of energy, so I took it easy and walked quite a bit.

After going through the trail head, and dropping down to the bridge, we started up the big climb, back to Long Lake.  A short way up, I was passed by a couple of runners and then, Sean and Cole.  I was confused as I thought they were already in front, but apparently they left Olympian after me and must not have run up the road much faster.

The sun was lowering in the western sky and the temperature as well.  The light was beautiful on the changing foliage, along with pink wisps in the sky.  I had picked up a long-sleeved shirt at Olympian and had to put it on as the sun set.  Near the flattening top of the climb, I also caught back up with Cole.  I wasn’t moving overly fast and I could tell he was running low on energy, but he wanted to push on to the nearing aid station.

I had to flip on my flashlight for the last mile or so, but we soon made it to Long Lake again.  I took just a few minutes to resupply and pull out the Ultimate Direction pack that I had stashed there, but Cole and Sean took off well ahead of me.  The temperature was dropping rapidly so I decided to put on a second shirt, gloves, and broke open a couple of hand warmers - those really saved me throughout the night.  I even put on a pair of pants – something I rarely do, even in the wintertime.  I also hooked up the charger for my Garmin, but didn’t realize until much later that I had neglected to plug the other end into the battery, so it died after a few more hours.

My plan was to use one hand-held bottle, and one in the chest pocket of the pack, but with the cold temperatures, I didn’t really want to be holding a bottle, so I striped the handle off and stuck both bottles into my chest pockets.  This actually worked out quite well and though I held onto a flashlight all night, the free hand made it much easier to eat, and swap the light to keep my hands warm.

I left Long Lake and headed north towards Summit Lake, assuming the course to be climbing the whole way.  It was actually more rolling than expected and I hooked up with a guy from Boulder running his first 100 and his pacer.  We ran together on and off for the next 10 miles or so.  The night was dark and the stars shone brightly.  We had heard rumors that the Northern Lights may be visible due to a solar storm, but unfortunately they never appeared.

I made it to Summit Lake, which was a very welcoming and well-run station.  They had a great tent with a heater in the middle and a bunch of chairs surrounding it.  I checked in and a volunteer grabbed my bag.  I had a can of Coke and a couple of cups of ramen while I replaced batteries and supplies.  It would have been nice to linger, but I didn’t.  The next 12 miles would be mostly downhill.

I left with the Boulder guys again and we ran together for the first couple of miles as an incredibly bright moon rose behind us.  After a bit of gently rolling terrain, we headed down.  There were a few vehicles on the road and campers off the sides.  At one point, not far from the top, there was a huge bon fire ahead that lit up a vast area.  We thought it might be some kind of official race thing, but it turned out to just be campers.  Once the road started to really descend, I was able to run a bit faster and took off on my own.  I was feeling pretty good running this long downhill section and eventually came to a short uphill and a volunteer directing runners into the Dry Lake Aid Station.  This one was accessible to crews and there were lots of people around.  The volunteers were doing a fine job, but this station just wasn’t as runner-focused as the others.  There was no fire or heater to sit around and a bit crowded – it just felt overwhelming after the quiet solitude of the night.

The next section continued downhill, though back on single-track.  It was not long after I hit the trail that the lead Tortoises started coming back up.  I had assumed all day that the leaders had gone out too fast and would burn out, but it wasn’t happening that way.  These guys were a couple of hours ahead of me and there were quite a few of them.  I counted runners for a while, but there were so many, that it was rather depressing, so I gave up.  I knew I was running a good race and there was just nothing I could do about how others were running.  I just tried to enjoy the rolling downhill and marked off the miles with the beeps from my Garmin, still in the back of my pack.

Just as I came within sight of the Spring Creek aid station, a returning runner greeted me.  I was a bit startled and asked who it was, than was surprised by Cole’s voice - he was still only a few minutes in front of me.  I went into the aid station, which seemed to be in some kind of a large gazebo, and went through my routine of changing batteries and resupplying while I downed another Coke.  I looked around for a FB friend who said she might come up to pace me, but wasn’t sure.  She wasn’t there and the volunteers gave me some strange and worried looks for going it alone.  I felt pretty comfortable.  I hadn’t been truly alone for any great distance and though the company would have been quite welcomed, I was able to more easily make micro-adjustments to my pace being on my own.

I kicked myself for leaving without disconnecting the charger and putting the Garmin back on my wrist.  Had I done so, I would have finally realized my goof and could have corrected it.  A short while after I hit the trail again, I heard another beep from my pack, but this one was different and I knew it had gone dead.  Oh well.  I shrugged it off and concentrated on climbing back up towards Dry Lake.

I figured that this late in the race, and on an uphill, I would surely start passing more runners, after all, I had been running a smart race and they had all gone out too hard.  Why wasn’t this panning out?  Again, I tried not to focus on the negative, gave myself a pat on the back for running smartly, and took some solace in the fact that there were still 30 miles to go.

I came through Dry Lake again, drank another Coke, grabbed some snacks, and moved on.  This climb back up the road, which I had run so well on a few hours ago, seemed to take forever.  There were still lots of runners coming down, and I passed a few going up, which kept things from getting too lonely.  All the campers had extinguished their fires and gone to bed by now.  There were a few jogging opportunities, interspersed with lots of walking.  At least I was walking pretty fast and strong, but 7.5 miles is a long stretch, in the dark, at a slow pace, and I no longer had the beeps to help me tick off the miles.

The Boulder guy passed me again, but I couldn’t move quite as fast as him and his pacer.  Only a few cars passed by this time around, but I noticed that 2 of them were sheriff’s deputies.  That seemed strange on a relatively remote road, away from town.  I later found out that a couple of runners had been harassed by some punks in a pick-up truck.  I didn’t get any more details than that, but was pleased that the complaints were taken seriously enough to send to patrol cars out in the middle of the night.

Just as I was finally approaching Summit Lake again, I came upon another runner/pacer combo.  I was shocked to see Cole yet again and we went into the aid station together.  I would have taken an extra minute or two, but Cole and his pacer rushed through, and I was a little bit concerned about being on the next section all alone, so I ran after them.  Within a half mile, I started pushing forward and left them behind.  Not long after, I had to make my first pit-stop of the race – after 80+ miles and more than 20 hours in.  I was quite pleased with the way I managed my stomach and fuel intake.  I also did a good job with the fluids as I was still peeing every couple of hours.  My “quick” pace didn’t last the whole way, and after a few miles, I was passed by a couple of runners.  I wasn’t sure if they were Tortoises or Hare’s, but I couldn’t do anything about it.  Though I had slowed a bit, I was still running “my race” and wasn’t going to burn myself out by trying to chase them.

The sky started to slowly brighten as I finally reached the turn-off to Long Lake.  I hadn’t studied the map closely enough, so I thought I was closer to the aid station than I actually was.  I passed another runner on this section and started to speed up a bit.  I was able to turn off the light before I got into the aid station, though the sun wasn’t yet up.

I sat by the fire, resupplied from my drop bag and ate a whole bunch of grilled cheese pieces.  I could have gone for some fresh pancakes, but the grilled cheese hit the spot.  I just didn’t want to overdo it with the cheese.  I then asked what time it was, since I still running “blind” without the Garmin - 6:40.  I did some “quick” calculations in my tired and sleep-deprived brain.  If I could run the next 14 miles in less than 3:20, I could make it in under 26 hours.  I figured it might be close, but would be a pretty good consolation prize.

So I took off and tried to run as much as possible.  The sun was starting to come up, but the temperature wouldn’t rise just yet.  The stretch from Long Lake to Mt. Werner was generally uphill, but rolling enough to run a good bit.  I felt like I still had pretty decent speed on the descents, but not a whole lot of power for the climbs.  About halfway through, I finally came across the 50 mile leaders.  Soon, there were lots of runners coming down the trail and they all had words of encouragement to share.

It felt good to finally get to the Mt. Werner station and be done with the climbs.  I could definitely handle some more downhill.  I put away my hat, gloves, and jacket, and would have taken the pants off, but I didn’t want to waste time.  It was now 8:18.  There’s was no way I could miss the 26 hour mark, but there were a couple of other runners at the aid station and I wanted to make up whatever positions I could.

I ran the next mile or so at a reasonable pace but then I glanced back at one of the turns and saw a runner a few hundred yards back.  I just couldn’t stand to lose a position this close to the finish.  I ran the next 3 miles at about a 7 minute pace (at least I think it was a 7 minute pace, since I didn’t have my Garmin on), and didn’t bother to look back.  I passed one runner and figured there was no way that anyone could have kept up with me.  With about 2 to go, I was just about to ease up a bit when I looked back and there was that previous runner, now only 50 feet back!

I was disheartened.  If he had kept up and even gained on me on that fast stretch, I didn’t have much hope of holding him off, but for some reason, I tried anyway.  For the next 2 miles, I pushed myself harder than ever before, running all out, and almost out of control.  This was all downhill, but after 100+ miles, I was shocked at my pace.  I just knew I was running sub 6 minute miles and the final mile was back onto a trail with nice ankle-twisting rocks.  It was too dangerous to look back, so I just ran, waiting to be passed at any moment.  With a few hundred yards left, I asked a spectator if I was being chased.  She looked at me funny as she said “no, there’s no one behind you”.  I could ease up now, but the finish was in sight and I kept pushing, crossed the bridge, down the plaza, up the half dozen steps, and into the arms of the designated hugger.

25:12:55 – I managed to finish almost 2 minutes ahead of that other runner, who turned out to be the female Hare winner, Nikki Kimball, actually beating me by almost 4 hours.  I didn’t really need to race her, but doing so probably shaved a good 10 minutes off my time and being able to sprint so strongly after all those miles made me feel good.

The race was well managed and pretty well marked.  There were a few places that could have used some more/clearer markings, but there was no excuse for getting lost if you had read the description, looked at the maps, and were paying attention.  The food at the aid stations was great - I really appreciated all the Honey Stinger products and the ramen.

The format of the race is interesting.  The separate start for the Hares & Tortoises, plus the out and back sections really kept things lively, with minimal time alone on the course.  The loneliest sections were from Summit Lake to Long Lake, and then towards Mt. Werner, until the 50 milers came along.  For a race with a relatively small field, that’s pretty good.  It was also kind of nice to finish with so many spectators around, though I would have gladly given that up to finish a few hours earlier.

In the previous two years, my time would have been good enough for 2nd place and some prize money.  This year, the Tortoise division was much more competitive and I finished 11th - a bit disappointing, but I can't control how well everyone else runs.  Cole also ran a good race, taking a couple of hours off his last year's time, but I managed to beat him by almost an hour.
I was hoping to break 24 hours, but I really can’t complain.  This race was much harder than Leadville – 5+ miles longer, 5,000+ feet more elevation gain, more nighttime running, etc.  In the end, I ran a really smart race.  I managed my pace just right and was able to run the last 14 miles fairly well, including a really strong sprint over the last 5 miles.  I managed my hydration and nutrition well also.  I don’t know that I would really change anything, except maybe to rest up a bit during the previous week, though I can’t say how much of a difference that would have made.  Other than one blister and a few days of muscle soreness, I fared well overall.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Leadville 100 (The Race Across the Sky) - 2014

I try not to put too much emphasis on a single race, just in case it doesn’t go down quite right, but The Leadville Race Across the Sky definitely stood out on my 2014 calendar.
the Big One!

Much was in flux up to the last minute.  Cole had volunteered to pace me for the whole 50 mile return months earlier but his work schedule got in the way and he had to bow out.  Then, 10 days before the race, he was back on board.  My boss, Larry, had offered to crew for me well in advance, but I thought that was going to fall through when his mom passed away shortly before the race.  He used the race as an opportunity to have some quality time with his son Jackson, who was also a big help.  And I didn't think my family would be there, but days before the race, Brenda got the use of a house form the family of a former student.

view towards the course
In the weeks before the race, I had laid out a detailed spreadsheet with a range of times for all the aid stations, as well as the supplies that I would need.  I then poured over dozens of race reports, adjusting my times by precious minutes.

I took Thursday afternoon off so I could start enjoying the Leadville race atmosphere.  I checked in, weighed in (before dinner), and volunteered to have my blood and urine tested as part of a CSU study on how ultra-running affects the human body.  I normally hate needles, but figured it would be interesting.  I then went to the pasta dinner at the school and chatted with a bunch of other first-time runners but with a couple hours of remaining daylight, I decided to drive portions of the course.  I had not been on a single part of the race course before and I wanted to get a feel for it in addition to noting some of the turns.

Just before dark, I got down to the house that my wife had borrowed for us for the weekend.  I had assumed I would be on my own and camping out in the back of my Subaru, but Brenda snagged this house and now I was going to have my whole family there for moral support, not to mention a warm bed and hot shower.  Given my lack of altitude training, I briefly considered sleeping at the top of Fremont Pass, but figured I would be better served by getting a longer, better night of sleep in a real bed.  This would turn out to be a smart move.

the infamous Powerline
My training had been going reasonably well leading up to the race, though I had not spent nearly as much time at altitude as I had hoped.  All my FB friends kept posting pictures of their high-mountain runs, which made me feel even less prepared.  I had dropped a few pounds in the preceding weeks, but was still a couple over what I thought my ideal racing weight should be.  And the summer sun degraded my lunch-time training runs into heat-surviving jogs.  All the little things that I thought would add up to my benefit weren’t quite coming together.  The one bright spot was that on Wednesday, I finished my training jog with a 1 mile sprint and took a few seconds off my PR – at least I still had some leg speed left.

Sugarloaf Pass
Friday, the pre-race meeting was all it was hyped up to be.  Ken Chlouber and his wife got everyone fired up, while the doctor’s speech had us all laughing at our eminent demise.  Afterwards, I drove more of the course and decided that I wanted to see the infamous Powerline.  Luckily, I took a water bottle with me, because my quick peak of this section turned into a hike up to the top of Sugarloaf Pass with a jog back down (in sandals).  I felt less intimidated knowing what was to come, but had I depleted myself and pushed a little too much 13 hours before the race?

We got the girls to bed and after going over my race plans again with Brenda, I hit the sack, expecting to get a good 3 to 4 hours of sleep.  After counting sheep, bunnies, and lots of other cuddly creatures, forwards and backwards, I finally rolled out of bed at 2:00 AM, after having gotten a total of zero minutes of sleep.  I was going to race through all, or most, of the following night, after getting absolutely no sleep the previous night – yikes!  At least I got a good night’s sleep on Thursday.

I rolled into Leadville about 3:30 and found a parking space just 2 blocks from the start, then spent the next 20 minutes fretting about whether this was a 2-hour maximum parking street or not.  After sending off some last minute texts to Larry, I grabbed my bottles and headed for the start, making a quick stop by the port-a-potties.  Finally in the starting chorale, I looked about for all the people that I knew.  700 runners and I didn’t spot a single familiar face.

The Leadville 100 is the largest 100 miler in the country and while only 50% of the field finishes in an average year, the top end of the field is extremely competitive.  Looking around at all the other runners was quite intimidating.  It brought back memories of my very first race, five years ago – standing at the start line of the Colfax Marathon, thinking that everyone knew what they were doing, except me.  8,000 miles and 175 races later, I still felt like I didn’t quite belong there.

With a starting temperature of 39 degrees, I debated what to wear until 90 seconds before the gun, when I threw off my shirt and shivered in anticipation.  Had it been 89 degrees, I would have still been shivering with nervous excitement.

Bang!  We were off.

Having read numerous stories about getting caught up in the “conga line” around Turquoise Lake, I started not too far off the front.  Every once in a while I would take my eyes off the road and turn back to see the endless stream of headlamps bouncing down the boulevard.  It’s a pretty amazing site.  Even though the race starts in the freezing cold darkness at 4:00 AM, hundreds of spectators lined the road to cheer us on.

After less than a mile on the 6th Street pavement, the course takes a quick dogleg to the left, onto the Boulevard, which is a nice, long gravel road, with a gentle downhill (feels less gentle on the way back).  This isn’t an exciting element of the course, but it gives time for everyone in the large field to settle into a pace/position.  The crowds dissipated in this section, but there were still some brave souls out along the road.  I was concerned about balancing a quick pace (to avoid traffic at the lake) as opposed to starting out easy, but was able to relax into an 8 to 9 minute pace which seemed to be just about right. 

There’s a steeper, rockier section at the end of the Boulevard before turning right and following the railroad tracks for about a mile.  On this section, I finally found Sean Wetstine and a couple of other familiar runners.  I also made my first, though definitely not last, pee break.

After turning onto a short section of pavement, we crossed the river and started a gentle climb to the west.  At the transition back to dirt is the Sugar Loafin’ Campground, on the right, where it seemed that everyone was up and awake to cheer us on.  Another mile on the road and we made a right turn up “mini-powerline”.  This section is steep and covered in river rock, but luckily is only a few hundred yards and provides a welcomed walking break. At the top, we crossed the road and hit the single-track along Turquoise Lake.  The trail was well marked with glow-sticks and in many places, lined with spectators from adjacent campsites.  I only took small sips of the Shaklee Performance in my Amphipod hand-helds, but was apparently over-hydrated, as I took 5 pee breaks on this section.  It was rather annoying having so many runners pass me by, even though the few lost minutes weren’t all that important this early in the race. I don’t know if I timed it right, or if it was the reduced number of runners, but there were no back-ups going around Turquoise Lake and the coil of lights around the edge of the lake was pretty cool – to think, I was racing against all those little dots of light.

About 2/3 of the way around Turquoise, I had a very rare negative ultra-runner experience.  I could hear him from more than a hundred yards back – “ON YOUR LEFT”, “ON YOUR RIGHT”.  The jerk was screaming like a drill sergeant.  I told him how obnoxious he was as he passed me, but he either chose to ignore me, or had headphones in his ears and couldn’t hear me.  I honestly felt like giving him an elbow to the windpipe as he passed.  I couldn’t care less about being passed this early in a race, but he certainly didn’t need to ruin the beauty and tranquility by screaming at everyone.

I finally pulled into May Queen (mile 12.5, not 13.5 as advertised) in about 2:12, only a couple of minutes behind schedule (damn the pee breaks) and in 168th place.  The aid station was incredibly well organized.  I had my drop bag handed to me within seconds and even had a table to open it up on.  I quickly re-stocked, filled my bottle, and dropped off my flashlight.  Crews did not have access to the drop bags so heading out of the aid station, the route was lined with crews and supporters with just a narrow path for the runners to pass.  This was quite energizing and it’s been compared to Tour de France cyclists riding the mountainous sections through fronds of cheering fans.  I doubt there was a single person in that crowd that knew me, but they all cheered like they did - what a way to welcome the morning!

After a short bit up the paved road, we turned off to a trailhead and hit another section of single-track trail that would dump us out on Hagerman Road.  Part way up to Sugarloaf Pass, the sun fell upon us, giving a preview of the day’s heat.

Coming down the top of Powerline, I caught up to Enrique and we were able to chat for a couple of minutes before I passed him. I was glad to have hiked and jogged Powerline the previous day, as it was not at all intimidating.  I was able to run most of it at just over an 8 minute pace without hurting my quads.  I think I might have been passed by a couple of runners, but I was doing most of the passing on this section.  At the bottom, a guy on the side of the trail told us our standings – I was now in 118th place.

The section to the Fish Hatchery/Outward Bound aid station was long by almost a mile, making up for the shortness of the previous section.  The aid station was visible as soon as we turned the curve by the Fish Hatchery.  It looked like a giant festival in the field, and it pretty much was. There was a huge area for parking and partying, along with a very well organized aid station.  I came in around 4:20, having made up a couple of minutes (based on overly optimistic goals) and now in 110th place.

Again, there was no crew access directly at the aid station, but all the crews were lined up right past it.  I was quickly handed my drop bag and just as I opened it up, Cole appeared standing above me.  We exchanged a few words as I refilled and resupplied again, but I didn’t take very long.  I picked up my sunglasses (to keep my eyes from getting too fatigued before the night), and dropped off one of my two hand-helds since the next few aid stations would be close enough together.  I could have actually started off with just a single hand-held, given how many pee breaks I had to take and it would have made holding the flashlight and eating much easier in the first segment.

They had informed us at the pre-race meeting that the 1.5 miles from the aid station was being re-routed through the Outward Bound property and off the pavement.  Most people were happy, as the softer surface would mean less impact than the road, but I knew that it would also mean slower times.  What we didn’t anticipate was that the route was basically a mowed swath through fields of native grasses, with many ankle-breaking holes hidden along the way.  I was lucky to only catch the edge of a couple of holes, but was quite worried about coming back later, in the dark and fatigued.

We eventually made it back onto the road for a bit, then cut across on a double-track section towards a collection of dirt roads and Treeline.  I don’t know why they call it that, since it’s nowhere near treeline, but this is an area for crew access without an official aid station.  You run along this gravel road, lined with vehicles.  It’s like a linear tailgate party at a major football game.  Again, there was no one here that I knew, but you couldn’t tell by the volume of the cheering.

The next aid station was Half Pipe, and I arrived there much faster than anticipated, in 5:21, and climbed further up to 93rd place.  There is no crew access to Half Pipe at all, but again the volunteers were amazing, got my drop bag immediately, and even a chair for me to sit on.  After the quick break, I was off again along the gravel roads.  Unfortunately, soon after leaving, I started having some stomach issues - nothing too serious, but enough to warrant a pit stop in the woods.  Normally this is no big deal, but I had to wait until there was enough tree cover, and after 30+ miles, squatting in the woods is pretty rough on the knees and quads.

The climb up to the Mount Elbert mini aid station was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Most of it was runnable and after the first couple of miles, we got onto some pretty nice single-track, surrounded by giant mushrooms from the wet summer.  The aid station was water only, but there were vehicles and volunteers there - more than I was expecting.  The water itself was in a gigantic plastic barrel with about a dozen spigots all around. I filled up quickly, dumped off some trash and was back on the trail in less than a minute.  Twin Lakes was soon visible down below, but it was still another 3 miles away.  Most was on a nice, runnable, downhill trail with only the last mile or so on a gravel road.

You arrive at Twin Lakes via a short, very steep drop, as the crowds cheer on.  I've heard of people falling here, much to the amusement of the spectators, but it didn't seem that difficult. I made it through the arch, had my drop bag handed to me and then was able to go into the open medical/aid station building to sit in the shade.  Due to my pit stop, I arrived in about 7:09, but had only inched up a single place to 92nd.  I took a couple of minutes to down a can of ginger ale, along with a club soda, as I refilled my bottle and supplies.  I also had a volunteer help me spray on a fresh coat of sunscreen. On my way out, I bumped into Corky - nice to see a friendly face.  He was very encouraging, as always, and offered to help in any way.  I thanked him but didn't need anything so I took off, and luckily only made it 10 feet before realizing that I had forgotten my sunglasses. After retrieving them, I was finally off through the little town, thoroughly lined with cheering families and fans.  I actually saw a couple of people that I knew, but for the most part, they were all strangers screaming their lungs off for me and all the other runners - way cool!

Across the highway, through the parking lot, and off through some grassy meadows we went.  The trail turns much more to the west than I had anticipated, but after about a mile we got to the water.  I was expecting a deep river crossing, but well before that, we had numerous water crossings ranging from shin deep to crotch deep.  Some were clear and clean, some were muddy with hidden bottoms, but at least they didn't suck my shoes off.  The real stream crossing was nice, cool, and refreshing.  The water was flowing pretty well, and we could have probably done just fine without the guide rope.  I was thinking it would be more useful on the way back when many runners would be feeling the effects of altitude and distance.

Now on the other side, the water quickly drained out of my shoes, and within a half mile or so, we were climbing towards the infamous Hope Pass.  Despite having downed 2 full cans at Twin Lakes, I was surprisingly thirsty and had to start sipping from my bottles much earlier than anticipated.  I was a little worried, as I had gambled in only taking a single bottle on this section.

Once the climb started, there were very few opportunities for running, but the hiking wasn't too bad.  I kept an eye on the trees, knowing that the aspens should dwindle about a thousand feet below tree line.  And as much as I love aspens, I was quite happy to see them gone, signaling good vertical progress. Soon after, I came upon Sean again, who let me know we were getting close to the aid station.  It was another mile before I finally heard it and then broke through the trees to see the famous Hope Pass (Hopeless) aid station.  I was out of water by then and thrilled at the sight.

You simply can't get the feel for this remote aid station from words or pictures.  Nestled up at about 11,500 feet above sea level, it's a small city of bustling activity full of volunteers, runners and the lamas who carried everything up.  That's right, volunteers pack everything up here on their lamas for the benefit and safety of us runners.  I had a volunteer run up ahead to take my bottle and fill it.  I drank about half, refilled, dumped some trash, and was quickly off again to the pass looming in the distance.

The pass itself, the high point at 12,600 feet, looked much closer than it actually was.  Climbing, at this elevation, I certainly wasn’t setting any speed records. Nearing the pass, the two lead runners came down, only a few minutes apart.  Stepping out of the way, I congratulated them as they ran by. I passed a number of runners who were starting to feel the effects of the altitude and going out too fast, but the beauty of the surrounding mountains made the effort seem easier and eventually, I crossed the timing mat at the very top.  I made really good time on the climb, getting up in just over two hours, 9:11 into the race, and had moved up rapidly to 62nd place.

The top part of the other side was nice and runnable, but soon it got so steep that the pace slowed down and the effort increased, just to stay on my feet.  Part way down this section, I caught back up to Max and we ran together for a while. I counted the oncoming runners, but gave up after the first dozen. Once we hit the trail junction that parallels the road, I was able to run well again and dropped Max. It was really getting hot and my water was running low.  I asked oncoming runners how far it was but none knew.  As I downed the last bit from my bottle, a guy told me it was less than 1.5 miles. This section was climbing again and went by rather slowly until the final descent towards Winfield.  Just before the road, I was greeted by Katrin's husband, David, who was sitting by the side of the trail, taking pictures.

I popped out onto the road, ran down another half mile or so and finally arrived at the aid station in 10:19, and now in 50th place.  I saw Cole just as I came in, so he was able to get himself ready and help me out too.  I weighed in with a loss of only 2.2 pounds - not bad.  I was pleased not to be too light and dehydrated. I again drank a can of ginger ale followed by a can of club soda and gathered my stuff for the return trip.

The climb back up Hope Pass is shorter, but much steeper and the hot afternoon sun was going to be at our backs, so I knew one bottle wasn't going to cut it. In addition to my hand-held, I took a disposable bottle of water that I had in the drop bag.  This was definitely a smart move as I would drain both bottles by the time we got back to Hopeless.

We took off and saw David again as we got back on the trail.  This early part was nicely runnable until we hit the trail junction and started the climb. Cole stayed right behind me on the climb back up. It was slow, hot and lots of runners were coming down, but most were very good in stepping out of our way - lead runners (those going back already) had the right-of-way, though our pacers did not.

We came across Sean soon after we got on the trail, then Katrin, Enrique, Junko, and Rachael, before we hit the top.  There was only time for a few quick encouraging words, but it was really nice to see all the familiar faces.  I wasn't setting any speed records on this climb, but neither was anyone else around me and I was slowly passing more runners. Cole was keeping track of his Runners Roost teammates and encouraged me to pass them all, which I think we did.

We finally crested the pass and I had Cole send a text to Brenda, telling her and Larry that we expected to be back in Twin Lakes around 5:15 PM. I had left them pretty large windows of time depending on my progress, but this text update would be accurate to within a few minutes. Coming back down towards Hopeless, the runners still heading up were looking more and more worn.  They were all still very polite in stepping out of the way and we exchanged encouraging words, but many were clearly suffering. It's tough seeing fellow competitors like this. Many had spent all of the previous year training, some had traveled from afar, yet most of them would not get to cross the finish line.

Hopeless was no less of a morale boost the second time around. In addition to filling up on water, I also grabbed some saltines and a handful of chocolate chip cookies (all of which had been carried up on the backs of lamas).  I ditched the disposable bottle at this time as I figured it would only be another 45 minutes or so to Twin Lakes.

The run down was fun.  The trail was steep, but easily runnable.  I had to keep Cole back, as he would have run even faster, but I had 50 more miles on my legs than him and we still had 45 to go.  We passed a few more runners, but soon, there were no more heading back up.

Cole enjoyed the river crossing at the bottom, but I think he was unpleasantly surprised by all the additional water afterwards.  We eventually made it to the parking lot on the south end of Twin Lakes when I saw my daughters waving at me.  Brenda was right behind them, but it took me a few seconds to recognize Larry. He literally had to pull me off to the side and almost shove me down into the chair he had set up. He told me he was going to do all this, but for some reason it had all slipped my mind and caught me totally off guard.

Amy was holding an umbrella to shield me from the sun as Kirstyn helped to hand me stuff.  It was nice to sit down for a quick couple of minutes.  I pulled off my socks and shoes, dried and re-lubed my feet, put on new socks, and my moist shoes.  All the while, Larry kept stuffing Cheetos and drinks in my face in between every breath. His son Jackson was there too, filling my bottle and taking care of other supplies. I dropped off my sunglasses here as I knew we would be in the shade until sunset.  I had left a note for myself to tell my fatigued brain if I would need a light yet.  We were still on a very fast pace and I knew we would make it to the next drop bag at Pipe Line well before dark, so that was one less thing to carry for now

I would have loved to stay longer, enjoying my family and friends, but the clock was ticking, I was feeling good, and there were still 40 miles to go.  I gave thanks and kisses, and soon took off through town.  We crossed under the arch at the official aid station, where we didn't need stop since Larry had already pulled all my gear, and headed off up the steep little climb.  With the stop, I passed through in 13:25, and moved up some more to 39th.

We settled into a decent fast-hiking pace up the hill but were quite glad when things leveled off enough to do some running.  A bit further and we got back to the Camelbak water station at Mount Elbert.  Water fill, trash dump, and off we went in less than a minute.

The next couple of miles were nice rolling single-track that were fun to run on, unfortunately, my stomach started to act up again, necessitating another quad-burning pit stop in the woods and then a few minutes of slow running to loosen back up.  By the time we got back onto the gravel roads, Cole had taken the lead and we were moving at a pretty good clip (good for 65 miles into a hundred, that is).  This would be the start of my biggest mistake of the day.

We eventually rolled into Half Pipe in 15:20 and still in 39th Place. I was surprised to see Larry and Jackson again, as there was no crew access to this aid station, but they had ridden their mountain bikes in for a few miles to be there. I downed 2 cans of coke and some ramen, resupplied from my drop bags and took my flashlight, as I didn't think we'd make it to Outward Bound before dark. I gave Larry an estimate of 9:00 for him and Brenda to meet us there.

We continued to push the pace, with Cole leading, on the gravel roads out from Pipeline.  But soon enough, my stomach was back at it and I was off into the woods with my knees and quads cursing my digestive system for putting them through this.  Had my intestines timed it right, I could have at least sat on a comfy seat in one of the many port-o-potties at the aid stations.

I'm sure it was frustrating for Cole to stand by on the trail as runners that we had worked so hard to pass, were now re-passing us again.  We ran through the Treeline crew area and although we didn't have a crew here, were cheered on by everyone else's.  It's amazing how many people were camped out there, just for the opportunity to see their runner for a few brief minutes, and encouraging strangers in the meantime.

We turned off the gravel roads, onto some double-track, and soon we were on the asphalt, keeping a pretty good pace, though only passing a few other runners.  I warned Cole about the upcoming section through the Outward Bound fields with the ankle-breaking holes, and soon we were right there.  Cole was still leading and about half way through, it got dark enough to turn on the flashlight.

We made it safely through the fields, came into the Outward Bound aid station and looked around for Larry, Brenda and the others, but could not locate them. We had somehow made it there more than 20 minutes ahead of our prediction (a clear sign of the trouble to come).  We ran the section in about 1:15, coming in at 16:36, and having moved up only 2 more places to 37th, despite all the hard work. My drop bag was still there so we knew that Larry had not made it yet. I drank another coke, refilled bottles and supplies, took a pair of gloves, and almost headed out when I decided to throw a long-sleeved shirt around my waist (I had been running shirtless till then). We took off, got about 100 feet to the asphalt road and I started to shiver uncontrollably.  A quick stop for me to put the shirt on, and we were off towards the Fish Hatchery. It took a good half mile for my body to warm up and stop shivering, though we were still moving at a great pace.

We got to the turn-off for the Powerline and the were a number of cars on the edge of the road with more cheering supporters.  We ran for a bit on the gravel road but as soon as we got to the bottom of the climb, my body just shut down. I was starting to shiver again, though not as severely as earlier, and I just had no fuel left in the tank. Here was the second crux of the race, an ideal section to reel some people in, and I could barely walk. The steepness of Powerline had nothing to do with my breakdown, it only magnified the time lost. I was simply out of juice and would have been slowed to a walk even on a downhill. I was finally paying the price for the fast pace we set on the previous 20 miles. Had we held back by just a bit, I would have been able to easily power-hike up and leave more runners behind.

For those that haven't gone through a serious bonk, it's really difficult to comprehend. Red-lining by just a hair will hit you like a brick wall, and by the time it does, recovery is a slow and difficult process, eating up significantly more time than you gained with the previous speed. So why would one do this, you would ask. Unfortunately, there is no clearly visible "red-line"' or needle, so you can't adjust the throttle just under it. You don't know you've red-lined, until you hit the wall, and by that time, it's already too late.

I warned Cole that I was going to need some time to recuperate. I'm sure he couldn't have been thrilled, but he stayed supportive and encouraging throughout. I ate a bag of chips, two Honey Stinger wafers and a gel, drank water, and walked ever so slowly up the hill. A few sets of runners and pacer passed us, but I couldn't do anything about it.  When we hit the dip, about hallway up, there was a pocket of chilled air and I started to shiver again. I was concerned about the temperature dropping towards the top and potential wind that could spell serious trouble. I wished I had a hat and a jacket. Cole had a long-sleeve shirt in his pack and I almost had to ask for it, but I pushed slowly on hoping to further recover before hitting the top.

I had read accounts of the many false summits on the Powerline climb, but they didn't make sense when I had scouted it out the day before and had run down earlier that morning. Now I understood. In the darkness, and especially if you're struggling, the top seems to be ever elusive. I was running out of water and praying for the climb to end but it just kept going on and on. At one point we started hearing some kind of a horn, and then music.  What the ...?  As we got closer, we realized it was an aid station, but wait, there wasn't supposed to be an aid station at the top of Powerline. Like a mirage that turns into life-saving reality, this group of stoners had driven up to the top of Sugarloaf Pass and set up an impromptu aid station/party. I could have kissed them!  I filled up my bottle with water, but they also had coke!  They had poured out lots of cups to de-fizz, as most runners like it that way. When I told them that I didn't, they handed me a 2 liter bottle. "Just chug.  That's the way we roll up here man". I did. And it was like a magic elixir. I didn't recover completely, but it certainly brought me back to life. I'm glad these guys decided to party at the top of the pass as they truly saved my race. I thanked them repeatedly before Cole and I took off into the darkness and down towards May Queen.

I wasn't fast on the way down, but at least I was now able to run and start passing some of those that had gone by during the climb. One guy, with a female pacer was loudly grunting every breath. It was almost as annoying as the obnoxious guy in the morning (maybe it was even the same guy?). He claimed he was power-breathing, like tennis players do, but I could not stand to be around him. I'm sure my less-than-cheerful disposition didn't help, but I was encouraged to run faster just to get out of earshot of him.

Hagerman Road seemed to go on much longer than I had expected but then we dropped off onto the single-track that would lead us to the last aid station. This section was also endless and due to our slow progress, my flashlight was fading. I had a spare battery and wanted to stop and replace it, knowing the fresh light would make it easier (and safer) to run, but I kept thinking that we almost there.

Just as my light got totally useless, we finally crossed the small bridge and came out into the trailhead. Just a short road section, and we would be at May Queen.
Jackson & Larry

As we made our way through the crowd (yes, there was still a crowd at well past midnight) this guy came running alongside of me. At first I thought he was another runner wanting to pass, but he was running right by my side, staring me in the face. What the ...?  What was this guy's problem? I was getting ready to use my elbow to regain some personal space, then Larry appeared on my other side.

I guess I must have been a bit out of it. It was Jackson who was running by my side. He was staring because he didn't quite recognize me now that I was wearing a shirt. With some quick pats on the back and words of encouragement, they sent us on into the aid station, where crews were not allowed.

I came through in 19:29, miraculously not having lost a placement.  I got my drop bag and headed into the medical tent where they had a heater going. Cole tried to spur me on to get this last section done, but I needed to warm up and fuel up. I only took a few minutes, but it was necessary. I took warmer gloves and a hat and considered taking an additional shirt, but I didn't. Knowing that the cold night air would hit me like a brick wall, I readied myself and sprinted right out of the tent, trying to maintain my body temperature. It didn't work. As soon as I stepped out, I was once again shivering uncontrollably. It was so bad, I thought about going back and putting on a pair of pants and another shirt, but I pressed forward and after a few hundred yards, the shivering started to subside. Eventually, I was even able to take off the hat.

Cole led the whole way around Turquoise Lake and I had to drop back a few times so that I could eat. I didn't want to burn out again like I had done earlier. At our pace and with my state of mind, the lake trail seemed to take forever. I was so glad when we were finally done with it. We crossed the road and started down the mini-Powerline. It was slow going, but luckily not too long. Down to the bottom and we were on a gravel road. Though slightly downhill, running was definitely an effort at this point.  I was spurred on by Cole running up ahead, as well as lights closing in from behind.

We made it through the intersection by the Sugarloafin' campground, across the river and railroad tracks, and then on the road along the tracks. We eventually made it back to the bottom of the Boulevard. This initial section was steep enough to necessitate walking, but once up, it was back to a run. Cole stayed well in front for the rest of the way. It was somewhat frustrating because I couldn't even see his dim light at times, but I know he was trying to pull me forward (and he did). I wouldn't have been good company at this point anyway. I was definitely struggling and I wanted to be done, but I was also pleased that I was running the whole way. We came up on a runner/pacer combo just as we got to the edge of town, passed them, and ran on up the final hill by the school. There were still a few people out to cheer at this crazy hour of the morning. I could see Cole running well up ahead in the streetlights as we had planned early on. He was going to let me finish on my own and hopefully snap a few pictures.

The finish line was visible from the top of the hill, but there was still a ways to go. I got closer and closer, and with less than a quarter mile, I glanced back to see a runner closing in. This race hadn't worked out quite like I had dreamed, but there was no way I was going to be passed before the finish line. I dug deep, pushed hard, and sprinted (at least what seems like a sprint after 100 miles) all the way to the finish without being passed. 22:38:20. A bit slower than I had hoped, but a very respectable time and more than 2:20 ahead of the big buckle time.

getting poked and prodded
Someone hung a finisher's medal around my neck and I stumbled over to the medical tent as Cole, Larry, and Jackson joined me. I didn't need medical attention but I had volunteered for a CSU medical study on the effects of ultra-running on the human body and it was now time for the post-race test. I weighed in at only 0.2 pounds less than my starting weight, and a full 2 pounds more than Winfield. Some of this might have been the shirt and a few items in my pockets, but it was still very good news. As much as I hate needles, the pre-race test had gone smoothly and I was genuinely curious to get any results, so I sat down by the heater and as Larry helped to pull a pair of pants on me, the medical guy proceeded to jab at my arm. I was tired and in no mood for more pain yet it took minutes of repeated poking and jabbing to finally get a vial full of blood.  They also handed me a cup for the urine test, but I just walked away. I had had enough.

We walked off towards the food/warming tent and I sat for a few minutes while sipping a ginger ale. I recapped parts of the race with Larry and Jackson before they walked me to my car.  Have I mentioned how much I love heated seats?  We parted ways and I drove back towards the house and my sleeping family. I snuck in around 3:30, took a quick shower and hopped into bed for a 3 hour nap.

On Sunday, I was tired and sleepy, but otherwise fine.  I drove back into town to watch the last couple of finishers squeaking in under the 30 hour cut-off.  This is a pretty amazing site and next time, I would go down earlier to enjoy this even more. While I had re-fueled, showered, and slept, these people were still out there, working their way towards the finish.  While it's fun to watch the leaders, it's these end-of-the-pack runners that are truly inspirational. They work harder and longer, are out there through more weather, and push themselves to new limits for the sheer joy of the accomplishment.
with Larry at the office

While I wasn't completely satisfied with my performance, I posted a very respectable time and learned some important lessons. If I can work the kinks out and run a smarter race, I feel like I can drop an hour, or even two. 2015, here I come!

Garmin file