Thursday, September 6, 2012

Leadville 100 mile race report

It appears that I am the last one of the group that I went to the Leadville 100 mile trail race with to get around to posting a race report. Does that mean I am slower and lazier than my friends? Of course it does, like duh you should have caught on to that by now. You new here or what? Actually I have been slow as this is a report I didn't want to write and wanted to write all at the same time.

SPOILER ALERT - As many of you know I didn't finish. So now that we have gotten that tidbit out of the way what the heck happened out there? Here are the gory details.

Not a lot to say here. Kim and I flew into Denver, hooked up with Carlos and drove up to Leadville. This race starts in Leadville at 10,000 ft and you spend the entire race running between 9,000 and 12,600 ft so altitude is a big factor in this one. I knew that my Toronto training at a lofty 200ft above sea level and zero altitude training was going to factor into this race big time and I wasn't disappointed.

Holy crap reinforcement incident number 1. We arrive at the hotel. I climb the 2 flights of stairs to the room. At the top I am sucking wind like I just ran a 5k, unbelievable. Not a good sign at all.

Holy crap reinforcement incident number 2. JD is already in the room and is going for a short 20 minute run so I join him and Carlos as we run the last mile of the Leadville course. It is bad, real bad, obviously somebody forgot to add oxygen to the town. I am going slow and hurting just the same. I feel like I have been running all day when JD says we have just hit the 3 minute mark, what the heck? I could have sworn I was in shape before I got here.

The next 2 days fly by as the rest of our group shows up. I feel okay but have a low grade headache most of the time. Kim and I drive the aid stations on Friday so she knows where to meet me. Its beautiful along the course but one look from Twin Lakes towards Hopes Pass and I begin to get a good idea of what I am in for. Seriously folks what the heck was I thinking?

Race Start to Mayqueen 13.5 miles
The start of this race is amazing even if it does start at an ungodly 4am. There is so much energy in the corral and I have trouble remembering the last time I have been so hyped up and nervous before a race. I stay towards the back with most of our group waiting for the shotgun blast and then we are off.

Out of the gates I feel pretty good once I get going. I run along with Morgan while Steve, JD and Kendra are just behind us. Carlos who is much faster is already long gone by the time we hit mile 1.

The first 6 miles are mostly road, some paved and some dirt. Its downhill and should be fast but we keep it slow. EVERYTHING that I have read about this race (which is a lot) says the same thing. Don't get sucked in and run to fast, that you can lose your race right here if you trash yourself before getting to Hopes Pass. I stay extremely slow. It ends up being my first big mistake of the day. I am already putting my race in jeopardy and don't have a clue. At some point along here Morgan tells me he is going to speed up some. I decide to let him go and hang back (still part of mistake #1) and soon stop for my second pee break in the first 3 miles. I see JD going past and jump back in with him. We end up running a good chunk of the next 40 miles together.

Soon we are off the road and into single track trail. Its slow going as there is no where to pass along this  section so we end up in a conga line for about  7 miles. I kept having to stop and pee which puts me behind even slower people each time. As we circle the lake the sun begins to come up and we are soon into Mayqueen.

Mayqueen to Fish Hatchery 23.5 miles
Kim meets me at Mayqueen where I swap my bottles for a hydration pack, grab my sunglasses and chug down an ensure. Having smart crew is so great. I am out of the aid station in under a minute and still running with JD. The plan was to make Mayqueen between 2:20 and 2:30 but we end up being slow and come in at 2:36. I am unhappy with this but no need to panic. I  had to stop and pee 5 times which was a good 6 or 7 minutes lost. I just could not figure this out at all. If I went twice during the first 3 hours I would call that way to many times. Just one of those mysteries of life.

Soon we were into the woods and onto some really nice single track trail. We ran this at a good pace but eventually it gave way to some big climbs that dumped us out onto the dirt road that takes you 1200ft up Sugarloaf pass.  Both JD and I felt like we were making decent time as we were regularly passing people and not being passed to often ourselves.

Things continued to appear to be going well as we hit the top of the pass and started down the power lines. We were running along downhill, making decent time when suddenly JD was flying through the air sideways. He fell just about as hard as I have ever seen anyone fall and thank goodness there were some big rocks right there to help him skid to a stop. He was up quickly and seemed to be okay except for the complete lack of skin on his elbow. There was some swearing but nothing life threatening so we were back running in no time.

We went fast but not too fast down the Powerline. Maybe we should have hammered them but it was tough to know how hard was to hard. Go to hard your quads get destroyed descending the 1400 ft to Fish Hatchery but go to slow and you lose a chance to make good time.

We reached the bottom of hill and were back out onto the road which was crowded with spectators and crew. It was so crowded that we thought the aid station must be right there but we soon discovered that we had another mile of road before getting to the Fish Hatchery.

Fish Hatchery to Treeline 27 miles
I meet Kim at Fish Hatchery, down an ensure and switch to a bottle for the short leg to Treeline. It is a zoo here with huge crowds of people but Kim once again does an excellent job crewing. I am in and out in 2, 3 minutes max. JD stops to get his elbow looked at so I head out alone figuring he will catch up. Carlos and Morgan are somewhere ahead on the course, Steve and Kendra are somewhere behind.

The run to Treeline is mostly paved road so I make good time for awhile. Most people don't like this section but I didn't mind it. Around a mile before Treeline we turn onto a jeep trail which leads us to the crewing area. Treeline is not an aid station but crews meet runners here as there is no crew access at the next aid station.

Once again it is a freaking zoo of craziness with people everywhere. I wonder if I might not even see Kim but once again she is right on the ball finding me and crewing me. I switch back to my hydration pack and stop for about a minute to chug and ensure and to wait for JD who is coming up the road just behind me.

Treeline to Half Pipe 30 miles
I can't tell you a lot about the next 3 miles to Half Pipe. I think I may have blotted this out of my mind. Mostly jeep road as far as I can remember but unshaded leaving you exposed. Nothing to see here, move along.

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes 40 miles
We arrive at Half Pipe in decent time, 11 minutes off schedule overall so not a problem. We are in and out quickly and are more than an hour and a half ahead of the cutoffs. I feel good and strong. I have no worry about finishing and believe its all under control.

This is a weird section and takes both JD and me by surprise. Its mostly uphill but with lots of slight inclines. There was a lot of do you walk this hill or run it. Everyone else is walking almost all the uphills. We run the flats and conserve for the Pass. This ends up being a mistake but seemed like a solid decision at the time.

We hit the water only aid station 3 miles from Twin Lakes. It seemed to take forever to get there and I am beginning to get nervous feet. Its mostly downhill but somewhat technical through here so we really pick it up. We are flying until I fail to see a giant rock and slam my big toe into it. Thats going to leave a mark and cost me the toenail. I tell JD I need to walk for a second to recover as it hurt real bad. Here is a piece of trail running advice. Don't drop kick 50 pound rocks, it just doesn't turn out well in the end. It goes numb quickly though and we speed into Twin Lakes.

Twin Lakes to Winfield 50 miles
We meet Kim at Twin Lakes and quickly refuel. She says Morgan is about 15 minutes ahead of us and is fighting the altitude. JD and I leave the aid station in good spirits almost 2 hours ahead of the cutoff with not a care in the world.

Its a mile to the base of the climb up Hopes Pass. We traverse the river crossings and before long we are headed up the mountain. I had hoped that my experience at altitude during Pikes Peak last year would have prepared me but boy was I wrong. This was a whole different thing done on legs that had been running all day. Is there a speed slower than slow because if there is then thats what I was doing.

We climbed and climbed never seeming to make any progress. It seems to me that no matter how good your legs felt the apparent lack of air was just crushing. Eating and drinking were impossible to do unless you stopped moving as just a few seconds of not breathing as you drank left you gasping for breath.

As we made are slow death march up the trail race leader Krupicka flies past us on the way back down followed a few minutes later by 2 or 3 other runners. They go past in a blur reinforcing the fact that I am barely moving.  That said we are not getting passed by anyone going up and so we figure we are still doing okay. As you climbed up the hill just about every big rock or fallen tree had someone sitting on it trying to catch their breath.

Around half way up JD decided to stop to catch is breath while I decide to keep on pushing. At some point the long straight up trail gave way to very nasty switchbacks and then to open field as we crossed the tree line. Finally I saw the hopeless aid station up ahead.

Aid station or MASH unit I am not really sure what was happening here. It was crazy with runners sprawled out all over the place. I grabbed 2 cokes and kept right on going as it is another half mile of switchbacks until you reach the top of the pass.

Nothing I can type here can describe just how incredible the view and landscape is on top of the pass. I would call it breathtaking but since you haven't been able to breath for the last couple of hours that doesn't mean anything. Huge mountains, fields with frolicking lamas, some guy on the switchback above me pulling down his pants and mooning some other runners below me. How awe inspiring, ever see mountain man ass, let me tell yeah its no treat.

Finally I top the pass at 12,600 ft and head down the other side. I think I will make good time here but not so much. Its rocky above the tree line and once we make it down a series of switchbacks to the woods its literally straight down. The trail is so steep that you are breaking hard the entire way. Hey remember my smashed toe, well neither did I until I started down the back side of Hopes Pass.

I know we will have to climb up this on the way back but try not to think about it. Finally we reach the turn onto the new part of course. Until this year you ran to the bottom of Hopes Pass and out onto the dirt road for three miles to Winfield. This year at the last minute they replaced it with trail. I though good I like trail but I failed to realize 3 things. First the trail added 1.6 miles extra each way making Leadville a 103 mile race. Secondly you are slowed down because of all the runners coming back along the mostly single track trail. Third unlike the road the trail was not relatively flat adding about 600 ft of climb.

I see Carlos coming back the other way and he is looking like he is doing okay. He tells me its about an hour to Winfield. I curse and swear under my breath, this "new" section is adding a lot of time to my race and was not calculated into my pace chart. I plug along still feeling okay but mentally in a not so great spot. At one point I can see the Winfield parking lot way down below as we keep going past it to eventually loop around. I take a big swig from my hydration pack but nothing happens. At first I think something must be wrong with the hose but soon I realize that I am out of water. F@#K me, it takes me another 30 minutes to get to Winfield from here.

Winfield to Twin Lakes inbound 60 miles (actually 63 miles but whos counting)
It is a madhouse here, absolute bedlam. This has got to be the Arkham Asylum of aid stations. I do the mandatory weigh in. No issues I am only 1.8 pounds down. I meet Kim and try to get some food and fluids into me. Morgan is there and is struggling. This is the only aid station I spend any time at all day and its only 5 or 6 minutes. I needed to make sure I got extra fluids into me after running out of water.

JD rolls in  just as I am getting ready to leave. He tells me Steve is just behind him and Kendra is somewhere in the aid station. We discuss the time problem and whether the cut off is makable at Twin Lakes. JD has already done the same math as I have and making the cut off is going to be a stretch. The added distance and change of terrain has kind of screwed us. I tell him I am running until they make me stop and head out.

I run as quick as I can but its no stroll in the park. Morgan passes me somewhere along the new section, I want to latch on but just cant do it but I keep up a decent effort. I reach the back side of the pass and start to climb. It is so hard, so steep, so crazy. I just bury my head and keep on moving. Every time I look up all I see is trail going straight up into the woods.

Finally I hit the tree line and start up the switchbacks. Its brutally tough going and when I look up I can see ant sized runners slowly working themselves towards the top. By the time I get to the top its getting dark and I put on my headlamp. I look back from the direction I came and see a line of about 100 headlamps making there way up the pass. None of them have a chance of making the cutoff. As I run the switchbacks down into Hopeless I look at my watch and try and do the math. Its an impossible task. My brain will not function enough to figure out how long I have until the cut off or how fast I need to go.

I have a simple solution to this. I decide to run as fast as I can back to Twin Lakes. Simple, except its 3,600 ft of downhill running on rocky trail in the dark. I go as fast as I can and pass 40 to 60 people along this stretch. I manage not to take any big falls but smash my toes repeatedly on many, many rocks.

I hit the bottom of the pass and soon am at the river crossing. I race across the shallow first river and then make the mistake of following another runner across the second. Halfway across my foot catches a submerged log and I face plant in the river. Nice. Just after I make it across two runners pass me and say that there is 8 minutes left until the cut off. I look at my watch for the first time since I started my kamikaze mission down Hopes Pass. It says 3 minutes and I am a mile from Twin Lakes. I know I am done but I still run as fast as I can. I end up missing the cut off by 8 minutes.

They cut my wristband off here. I have never had a race where I took a DNF and yet felt like I could still run no problem. It sucks. I warmed up at the aid station after my late night swim and I over heard them saying that 150 people missed the cutoff here.

Carlos is the only one out of our group that manages to finish and he is super trashed by the end. There are already plans by just about all of us to return next year and I plan to be there.

Some things I learned and some positives
A huge positive for me. Notice that this race report fails to mention puking? Looks like the changes I made worked. I switched to scaps for salt/electrolytes. I ran with water only no sports drinks. Geled every 20 minutes switching flavours after every 5 gels. Worked great and I ate about 60 gels while getting a few extra calories every 2 hours by drinking ensure.

Also aid stations / crewing went great. Almost no time spent in the aid stations at all which was helped by excellent crewing by Kim.

I DNFed but this was an amazing experience and what I learned on the course this year should get me there next time.

I also learned that altitude sucks. Next year I will need to get out there at least a week early and will have to rent an altitude tent for a month before hand. What I felt was my normal pace was 20-30 seconds a km slower at the same effort level. I am just not fast enough to give away that kind of time.

See the other runners in my groups blogs post below

JD's blog
Kendra's blog
Morgans blog
Carlos's blog

Also I had planned on running back over Hopes Pass with a camera but didnt because I was racing the cutoff. I dont have any good pics of the trails but if you go to this guys blog you will see some really great trail shots for those that might be curious.

Running and Rambling 

Next up the Haliburton 100 miler in two days.

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