Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Leadville 100 - 2015

I was a bit frazzled heading into Leadville.  With 3 full weeks since the Tushars 93K, my body felt sluggish and my weight was slowly climbing.  I had hoped to be 2-3 pounds lighter than last year but instead, I was 2-3 pounds heavier.  I tried to console myself with the fact that my best races hadn’t coincided with my lowest weight, and I at least had more miles, more experience, and more altitude training this year.

I was also going to have more helpers this year - pacers Bret White and Mitch Walma, in addition to Bret’s wife Lisa as crew.  While they were an invaluable help during the race, the logistics of preparing with other people in mind only added to my pre-race anxiety.  Also, with Brenda’s and the girls’ conflicting schedules, I would need to take Kirstyn and Amy with me, and not leave until early Friday morning.

I was a little paranoid about making it to check-in on time, but with 1 hour to spare, there wasn’t even a line.  And this year, since they weren’t doing the voluntary blood/urine tests, and not even a weigh-in, packet pick-up took mere seconds.

Brenda showed up later that evening and camped out with the girls, Bret and Lisa, just outside of town.  I chose to sleep in the back of my car right near the start/finish.  Unlike last year, I managed to get a few hours of sleep before the alarm went off during my deepest REM sleep.  I woke up and started the task of my pre-race prep in the confines of my Outback.  With all the practice I’ve had this year, I’ve got it down.

I had enough time to hit the port-o-potties and then walk around a bit looking for familiar faces.  Despite all the over-planning I had done, one important detail I skipped over was to tell Bret where I would be at the start line and what I would be wearing.  WIth khaki pants, a maroon hoodie over my face, and 626 other runners, I was not very easy to pick out.  I finally decided that I would start with my warm-up clothes in hand and toss them on top of my car as I ran by, a couple of hundred feet from the start line.  Sure enough, right after I did that, Bret came running alongside asking if I needed anything.  I told him to grab my clothes and on I went.

I felt like I was running a bit slower right off the start, but comparing to last year, my mile splits were off by mere seconds.  I got a chance to run and chat with Hawaiian Shirt Ray and Andrew Reiff, which provided good, calming distractions.

I made a few changes since last year.  I decided to start with a shirt and a hat, which made it more difficult for people to recognize me, yet I hoped it would preserve some energy.  I also drank less before the start and only had to make 2 pee stops around Turquoise Lake, as opposed to last year’s 5.

Unlike most ultras that start at or just before sunrise, Leadville starts a full 2 hours before the twilight.  Not having given it much consideration (I actually almost forgot to pack a light for the start until the very last minute), I had stocked my light with a fully charged, though old, battery.  I managed to squeeze just enough time out of it to last me till the sky brightened slightly, a bit before reaching May Queen.

In addition to feeling like I was running a bit slower than last year, there were throngs of runners passing me before the first aid station.  Apparently, I was running a bit slower as I got in 3 minutes behind last year’s time, and 5 behind my goal.  I wasn’t at all worried and was actually pleased that I made it in and out of May Queen in about half a minute.  I set a goal for this year to move through the aid station in 30 seconds, except for Twin Lakes return.

As I was leaving, I saw Katrin and later told David that she was right on my tail.  On past the aid station I went, looking for Bret, but as it turned out, he didn’t make it there, and even if he had, he couldn’t really help other than to give me a pat on the back as I ran by.  Up the short road section we went and turned into the parking lot and the trailhead.  Some #$%^&* took a huge dump right at the entrance to the parking lot.  I just can’t believe that it was a runner.  If I had seen a fellow runner doing that I swear I would have kicked them in the side of the head, man or woman.  There’s just no excuse for that.

Anyway, on  through the small lot we went and onto the rolling trail.  Runners were still zipping on by and I commented to Hawaiian Shirt Ray how they were starting out too fast for even a 50 miler.  Not to brag, but this is really where the experience and maturity make a huge difference in being able to hold back, knowing that it’s going to be a very long day, and rushing early on will only make it longer and more painful.

By the time the trail broke out onto Hagerman Pass Road, most of the passing had stopped.  Katrin had caught up to me and we were able to chat a good bit all the way up to the top of Powerline, as we passed a handful of people who were starting to pay the price for a fast start.  At the top, I took advantage of my longer legs, gravity, and my newly added weight to pull away from Katrin.  Most people argue that you should ease down Powerline to save the quads for later in the race, but I think I’ve got the downhills worked out well enough that I can really take advantage of them without any damage.  On this section, I also ran alongside Jamie Reichler and enjoyed a nice chat as we rolled on down the hill.

Despite the forecast for mostly clear skies and 0% chance of precipitation, even this early in the morning, the clouds started to build up and by the time we had crested, a light drizzle started to fall.  Soon, the drizzle turned into pretty steady, though light rain, and the powerlines that give this section it’s name, started to sizzle audibly.

Last year, at the bottom of the descent, there was a guy on the sidelines counting off all the runners.  I was looking forward to this again as I was secretly hoping to be even further back, but he wasn’t there.  After a couple of short climbs on the paved road, we came upon Fish Hatchery (the site of the old aid station) and turned into the bright sunrise towards the Outward Bound aid station.  I came in right at 4:20, making up 5 minutes on this section that I had lost on the first one, and putting me back onto my goal time.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Brenda and the girls just as I turned off the road and was able to give them all a high-five.  It’s such a mental and emotional boost to see them along the course, but I also feel bad that they have to spend so much time getting there and waiting around, just to get a quick high-five, or 2 second hug.

As I made my way over to the drop bags, Bret met me with bag in hand.  I made another quick transition, though I forgot to drink my usual can of club soda.  I love this aid station because all the spectators are lined up along the east side and everyone cheers us on.  Among all of the noise, I did hear a few calls of “go Adrian” and saw Sean Wetstine and a few other familiar faces.

For the second year in a row, the course went cross country, through the Outward Bound property.  The path was mowed through the fields, and this year there seemed to be fewer holes hidden in the grass, waiting to end an unsuspecting runners day with a twisted or broken ankle.

Back onto the paved road for a bit, then off onto more dirt towards Treeline, I was slowly “passing” more runners along the way.  I use quotes because I wasn’t so much passing runners, as they were falling back.  I certainly don’t relish anyone’s struggles, but it did confirm that my slow start was a smart move.

Treeline is another motivational spot.  There’s no aid station, but crews, spectators and families line the dirt road for a good half mile and wholeheartedly cheer all of us on.  A little further up and I recognized one of the runners - a woman from Wisconsin whom I had met the previous day.  It was her first 100, and she was looking pretty good.

This section of the course is a bit tough on the way out.  The uphill grade is almost at that fine line where it’s not quite steep enough to justify walking, but running is slow and uninspiring.  Soon enough, Halfpipe came into view.  This was the slowest aid station help of the day - I had to wait a full 5 seconds to get my drop bag.  I point this out because it was literally the slowest service of the day.  In a race with 627 starters, to wait a maximum of 5 seconds for one-on-one service is an incredible testimony to the race organization, staff and volunteers.  Clearly, the complaints from 2013 were taken very seriously.

Despite all the time and effort I had put into it, I did not have my pacing chart memorized, so I didn’t know how I was doing, but as it turned out, I was a mere 1 minute off my goal pace.  Another 30 second or less transition and I was off again.  More dirt roads, and eventually onto some nice, forested, single-track along the Colorado Trail.

I barely slowed down to get some fresher water at Mt. Elbert, knowing the next 3 miles or so to Twin Lakes were mostly downhill.  It felt like I flew down those next few miles, though in reality I was running +/-10 minute miles.  Onto a short section of rocky road, off onto the stupidly steep descent into the aid station, and I was there.  Brenda and the girls were once again there to greet me!  Downing 2 full cans of club soda before the Hope Pass climb, I took a little longer, though probably still less than a full minute.  I also stuffed my shorts with 2 bags of Doritos to fuel the ascent, gave quick hugs and promised to see them in a few hours.  I still felt good, and though I wasn’t aware at the time, my 1 minute deficit remained unchanged after 38 miles.

Twin Lakes probably boasts the greatest number of spectators along the course, but they are spread out throughout the town.  Again, I was encouraged with loud cheers from strangers, and a few who knew me, though in my rush, I didn’t recognize most of them.

Through town, across the highway (with traffic stopped by police officers), through the parking lot, and out into the grasslands.  There’s something about this short section that annoys me.  Instead of a direct path towards the looming pass ahead, you have to turn way off to the west and almost circle back again.  I guess the alternative would be to swim across the lake, but still, it seems indirect.  Though the water levels were slightly lower this year, there were still plenty of muddy water crossings before we even got to the main stream.  There was a guy in front of me who was doing everything he could to keep his feet dry for a while.  I couldn’t help but laugh as he finally came across a section where the trail and the tributary were one and the same.  There’s just no way to avoid wet feet, unless there’s a major drought.  Get over it, plod on through, and rest assured that your feet will dry as you climb.

The actual stream was a little lower than last year (only up to the knees), and the water was so cold, it actually made my feet hurt.  It was nice to wash all of the mud away, as outbound, once you cross the stream, you’re done.

Shortly after the crossing, I heard a runner up ahead being congratulated for being the 4th female.  I thought this was a good sign for me, as it meant that I was really moving up in the overall rankings.  I caught up to her and we wound up climbing most of the way together.  Unfortunately, that was not such a good sign.  I should have been able to really move up towards Hope Pass and drop quite a number of runners.  For some reason, I just had no power.  I wound up passing only a few runners, but mostly because they were hurting from the altitude.  I felt fine, except for the lack of climbing power, but was losing time.  By the top of the pass, I would be a full 20 minutes behind my goal and climbing slower than last year.

As we got closer to the aid station, we passed a runner laying on a log.  There was another person with him and we didn’t think much of it, but as we continued on, there were a couple of people running on down the trail, with fluids and equipment, clearly to help out.

The llamas finally came into view and I was ready for some cold drinks.  Going up with a single bottle was a strategic decision which I was prepared for better than last year, but I was still thirsty and needed to rehydrate a bit before continuing on the next section, which would also be a bit of a stretch with a single bottle.  I graciously accepted a cup of Coke from a young volunteer, drank greedily, and immediately spit it back out. FLAT!!  For the life of me, I can’t understand why runners drink flat soda.  It’s just gross.  I asked for a non-flat soda and was a bit miffed when I was told that there was none.  I settled for some ramen, water, took a couple of cookies for the road and headed on up towards the top of the climb, still a bit disappointed.

I knew I wasn’t moving as well as last year, but I stayed positive and appreciated that I hadn’t yet come across the leaders.  Last year, Rob Krar came flying down as I was still a half mile from the summit.  This year, I didn’t see the leaders until I was at least a half mile down the other side.  I guess we were all moving a bit slower.

I felt fine on the descent and passed a few more runners, despite the steepness, which isn't all that conducive to easy running.  Last year, I struggled a bit from the trail junction at the bottom to the Winfield.  I didn't know it was so long and rolling and I had run out of water.  This year, I was much better prepared, mentally, and hydraulically.

Though I couldn’t remember any of my other split goals, I knew that I wanted to be to Winfield in around 9:50.  As I approached the aid station, my watch read 10:18.  Only 2 minutes ahead of last year.  I was not thrilled with this revelation, though I knew full well that I was losing time as I climbed up the pass.  I still remained positive and hoped that my slower first half might leave me fresher.  If I could negative split the course and still break my 21 hour goal, that would be a doubly awesome result.  Impossible dreams seem so achievable in the middle of an ultra.

I saw Mitch as I neared the aid station and we ran in together, as I barked out instructions.  Even as  manager at work, I’m not overly demanding, so to be telling someone what to do, what I needed, was a bit of an odd experience, but Mitch and Bret performed admirably all day (and night).

One can of club soda guzzled, one in hand, 2 fresh bags of Doritos in my shorts, and we were off with another sub-one minute stop.  Normally, passing runners greet each other with friendly words of encouragement, but in this case, I let Mitch handle all the greetings for the both of us so I could save my breath.

The climb back up the south side of Hope was no faster than the north side.  I still didn't have any power.  Last year, I passed a good number of runners on both climbs.  This year, we passed only a couple.  It was a bit warm and I was doubly glad when we finally crested the pass and felt the cool wind.  Mitch sent out an update text to the rest of our gang and we galloped on down towards the aid station.  Oncoming runners were looking more and more haggard, though all were polite and supportive.

I told Mitch to go up ahead and get me a fully fizzed Coke, no matter the cost, along with some nice, salty ramen.  When I arrived, just behind him, we were informed of the reason for the flat Coke.  When you’re packing everything in for hundreds of runners on the backs of llamas, weight is an issue, and Coke is heavy.  Smartly, they had realized that carrying dozens of two-liter bottles or six-packs, was simply not an option, so instead, they brought up Coke syrup and mixed it with water.  I probably would have done the same thing were I in their shoes, but I still couldn’t bring myself to drink the stuff.  So instead, I had a few cups of ramen and broth, grabbed a few more cookies, and we headed on down the trail.

As we headed on out, we witnessed one of the saddest sights in ultrarunning - stopping runners and tagging their bibs for missing the cut-off.  Though we all know it’s for the safety of the runners and volunteers, it’s never easy.  Some of those runners had trained for a year or more, traveled from far corners of the country, had friends and family come out, and now, their race was over.  Running 45 miles should never be seen as a failure, but when you’re goal is a full hundred and a silver buckle, it’s painful to fall short.  For the remaining runners on the trail, it was hard to look them in the eyes.

Close to the bottom, Mitch and I passed the 3rd place woman.  She was moving quite well, but my downhill running abilities allowed me to catch her.  Her pacer asked us a few questions about the women’s field behind us and then tried to motivate her to speed up.  My feeling was that it was way too early for that kind of a push, but she re-passed us at the stream crossing.

The descent was a bit faster than last year, but not quite as fast as I had planned, and my deficit kept growing.  By the time we reached Twin Lakes, I would be 50 minutes behind my goal.  As soon as we popped out into the parking lot, the whole gang was there to greet us - Brenda and the girls, Bret & his wife Lisa, and my boss, Larry and his son, Jackson.  As he had done last year, Larry had a table and chair all set up.  My shoes were out and untied, along with fresh socks and a towel to dry my feet.  A cooler was filled with ice and cold Cokes (delightfully fizzy).  Despite all the friendly faces and comfortable amenities, I was in and out within about 90 seconds.  I had changed socks last year, but this was the first time that I actually changed shoes and man did it feel nice.  The shoes were literally brand new, never even having been on my feet.  The first few steps felt like I was bouncing on fluffy pillows.

Mitch stayed back with the gang and Bret took over the pacing duties.  We made our way through the frenzied crowds lining the streets of Twin Lakes, past the aid station, through the timing arch, and on up the hill.  I warned Bret that I just didn’t have any climbing power and he patiently stayed by my side as we slowly plodded up the climb.

Once up, the trail rolled with minor dips and hills.  I still had pretty good speed on the flat and downhill sections, but just couldn't muster up any power to climb.  It was a bit frustrating, but I was feeling pretty good otherwise and kept a positive outlook.  As the trail tilted more generally down, I was able to use the speed to pass a few runners, including the 3rd place gal.

We eventually made our way to Halfpipe.  Bret went on up ahead to get my drop bag, take care of his needs, and secure me some more fizzy Coke and salty ramen.  I wound up putting on a shirt just before the aid station as I didn't want to succumb to shivering and lose much needed energy.  I had regained 5 minutes and flew through the aid station in less than 60 seconds.

Generally downhill, I continued on at a decent pace, even managing a few sub ten-minute miles along the way.  Treeline was just as crazy as earlier in the day and provided much welcomed energy, along with a convenient port-o-potty.  I had managed my stomach well all day, and it was still feeling fine, but 16 hours is a long time to go, without going.

Back onto the paved road for a bit, then onto the fields of Outward Bound.  I turned on my light as it was getting pretty dark, and even though the holes were few, it would only take one to bring my race to an end.  Bret texted our team and they were prepared and waiting as we came in.  Loads of noise, energy, and excitement again at this big aid station.  I made another quick transition, dropped off Bret, and continued on with Mitch by my side again.  Unlike last year, I already donned my hat and gloves, and though I would have to remove them in a bit, they kept me from experiencing the bone chilling shivers that could quickly sap my energy.  I had regained another minute, but more importantly, I knew that I had the energy reserves that were missing the previous year.

We wound our way along the asphalt road and turned off towards Powerline.  As we made the left turn to face the climb, several lights could be seen slowly moving up ahead.  I felt good and I knew this was the opportunity I wanted to move further up the ranks.  I still wasn’t climbing quite as well as I might have liked, but better than I had on Hope Pass, and surely, most of the runners ahead would not have paced themselves as well.

Sure enough, we climbed at a steady pace and gradually started passing one runner/pacer pair after another.  I kept fueling and hydrating well, ran the downhills, and pushed up the hills as much as I could.  It’s always hard to tell when you’re nearing the top of Powerline with all of the false summits and I didn’t count them or keep track of the mileage.  I knew that we were close when we heard the horn.  I told Mitch about the impromptu stoner aid station that had saved my race and my life the previous year.  There was no way to tell if they would be there again, but I sure hoped so.  When I heard that distinctive horn, my adrenaline shot up again.  I couldn't wait to see them and thank them for the previous year.

I was blown away when we finally arrived.  Last year was a small gathering of a few people, with a table of coke, water and pretzels.  This year, they had hundreds of glow sticks stretched along the trail, lighting it up like a runway.  They used some to spell out “Nice f’ing work!”, along with a large banner reading the same.  They had more snacks, and way more people, and they were totally fired up. They had music blaring.  I wish I could have stayed up there and partied with them all night.  If for some reason I’m not running this race in the future, I will be either pacing or crewing for someone, or I will hike up to the top of Powerline and hang out with the stoners all night long.  This was simply the best aid station of any race, EVER!

Unfortunately, I had a race to finish, so I downed some more fizzy Coke, grabbed some mini candy bars and cookies, turned down a joint, and galloped on, refreshed by the knowledge that I was done with the significant climbs and the pure energy exuding from that awesome group of people.

I was really looking forward to the descent and was able to use my downhill speed to catch a couple of more runners.  One guy we passed right before turning onto Hagerman Pass Road called out my name.  Surprised, I asked who it was.  He said Bob, and it took me a few minutes to scroll through my metal contact list before I realised it was Bob Sweeney who had talked me into running the 8K cross country race back in February (and who totally kicked my ass in that race).

As Mitch and I ran down Hagerman Pass Road, I was surprised to glance back and see Bob and his pacer still close behind.  I wasn’t trying to outrun him, but usually, if I pass someone this late in a race, and especially on a downhill, they don't have much of a chance of re-passing me.

By the time we turned off onto the trail section, Bob was literally on my tail.  I pushed the pace a little and held him off as we descended, but as soon as the trail started to roll, I knew I couldn’t keep it up and pulled off to let him and his pacer by.  Mitch was running up in front of me at this point (to find and light the trail) and he didn’t notice that I had fallen back until they told him “hey, your runner is back there”.  He just saw the light behind him and assumed it was me.

We eventually made our way to the trailhead (where thankfully, someone had cleaned up the disgusting mess from this morning) and onto the short stretch of road.  As we turned off to May Queen, even though it was nearing midnight, the road was lined with energetic spectators.  We found Bret and Lisa easily, and made a quick, final transition.

Bret and I ran right through the aid station as there was no need for an additional stop.  I checked the time and felt pretty certain that we could break 22 hours.  As we ran through the quiet campground, a runner came up from behind.  Sure enough, it was Bob again.  We had apparently passed him at the aid station.  He sped by and I tried to push for a little, but 12 miles was too long for a finish sprint, so I let him disappear into the darkness ahead.

I thought we were making pretty decent time going around the lake, but my splits show a lackluster 12 to 13 minute mile pace, though I guess at the end of a tough 100 miler, that’s not too shameful.

Though in better physical and mental shape than last year, the trail around Turquoise Lake seemed to be never ending.  I was so incredibly happy to finally cross the road and stumble down the mini-powerline.  We then hit the dirt road and headed on down towards town.  Even though downhill (I definitely felt the up in the morning), I wasn’t quite moving as well as I might have liked (more 12 minute miles).  Along the creek, up the short rocky section, then onto the boulevard.  Again, I had hoped to run this a bit quicker, but it was still a respectable pace.

We had passed a couple of runners just before leaving the lake, but no signs of anyone else since.  As we neared town, I could see a faint light on the road ahead.  The runner was walking and we passed easily, with some words of encouragement.  Then there was another light farther up ahead.  We were getting closer to the end of the dirt and I couldn’t tell how far ahead he was, but I pushed on.  As we came to the edge of town and turned onto 6th Street, the runner was still a good ways off.  I pushed hard up the hill by the high school.  I put forth a final burst of speed coming down the hill, but soon realized that it was futile.  There just wasn’t enough distance left to catch up.  I eased up a bit and finally made it onto the red carpet and the finish line, knowing I had done my best.  21:54:34.  A bit closer to the 22 hour mark than I had thought back at May Queen.  Almost an hour off of my goal time, but a good 43 minutes better than last year, and feeling good the whole way.  Despite not having any climbing power going over Hope Pass both times, I ran a strategically smart race, managed my nutrition and hydration well, and ran a really good race.

I quickly moved into the warming/medical tent and took great pleasure in finally sitting down and chatting with Bob, who had finished about 10 minutes ahead of me.  A friend brought me some soup, but that final effort left me a bit queasy, and it was a good half hour before I felt stable enough to eat and the shivering stopped.  I did eat some soup and ramen, then finally made my way to the car at 3:00 AM for a few hours of sleep.  I had parked right on 6th Street, less than a block from the start/finish.  It seemed ideal since I would have such a short walk.  I crawled into the back of my trusty Outback, warmly dressed, threw on a thick comforter and fell asleep.

Unfortunately, only about 1 ½ hours later, I was prematurely awoken by the screams and cheers for the sub-25 hour runners.  Hadn’t thought about that when I scoped out this perfect parking/sleeping spot.  WIth all the noise, and my empty, gurmbing stomach, I soon gave up.

I got to watch a bunch of runners finish, then had a nice breakfast with my family, crew, and pacers.  Then I returned to the finish line to watch more runners finish.  It’s so awesome to watch the crowd continually build up as the clock nears the 30 hour cut-off.  I just can’t emphasize enough what an awesome experience it is.  Whether you’re a runner or not, if you ever have the opportunity, come watch the final finishers at the Leadville 100.

I am incredibly thankful to my wife and daughters for putting up with my crazy obsession.  I am also thankful for the time and work that Mitch, Bret, Lisa, Larry, and Jackson invested in me for this race.  They not only helped me cut down my time, but made the whole experience so enjoyable.

Though I did miss my optimistic goal of 21 hours, I had a great race that I’m very happy with.  One of the things that I’m most thrilled with and proud of is my patience and pacing early on in these long races.  As proof, this is my placement throughout the race, from May Queen to the finish; 173, 105, 81, 60, 58, 50, 46, 38, 36, 34, 25, 22.  With 10:18 to Winfield and 11:37 on the return, I clearly did not speed up, but obviously most runners slowed way more than me.