Pre-arrival in Colorado:
The plan was to fly out to Colorado one week before the race, arriving the Saturday prior to the race, do some hikes that got me over 14,000 feet altitude, and acclimate to high altitude. For the race itself, David Snipes (the ultra-marathon veteran that has helped me through a number of races and we have run many, many miles of trails together in many races) sent me and a few other people his description of the race from when he ran it two years ago. I also read various other recaps and looked at other people’s finishing times in order to figure out how I should approach the race. Before I left, I thought I may have a shot at finishing in under 25 hours. I was excited to fly out and get in some awesome hikes and take in some unbelievable scenery. I began taking Diamox the day before I left. Diamox is a type of altitude medication that people take when they quickly gain in elevation. It helps relieve some symptoms like nausea, headaches, dizziness, etc. These are things I normally experience at during my second day at altitude and I was hoping this medication would help me avoid that.
When I arrived, I went up the trail for Peak 9 right behind the lodge I was staying at. I tried to run but it was mostly uphill so my legs and lungs wanted none of that. As I continued walking/hiking I kept thinking, if this is what Hope Pass (the major climb in Leadville at mile 41-45 and then the way back at mile 50-55) is like, this race is going to be really tough. I gave up my sub-25 hour goal and just thought that finishing will be an accomplishment. I started to feel some hot spot on my left foot on the bottom inside near the heel. I wasn’t sure if it was similar to the tingling in my feet and hands as a result of the Diamox (altitude sickness medication) I was taking. I got to the top and spent a little bit of time up there. Not too much because I wasn’t prepared to stay up there long. I just went up in my long sleeve shirt and camelback hydration pack. So if the weather turned, I would be in a bad situation. The peak was just under 13,000 feet. On the way down, I tried to run, but it was ridiculously steep. I didn’t feel safe running. Finally, when the pitch got less severe, I began running down the hill. Yup, that hot spot was getting worse and worse. When I finally got in and took off my shoes and socks, I had my first blister in about three years. It was stupid running down because I was wearing new and untested socks and I also ended up feeling it in my quads. Just wondered how much this would all hurt on Day 2.
|I almost stepped on these birds because they look just like rocks!|
|View from Peak 9|
|Yikes! Blister! This can't be good. . . At least it happened on Day 1.|
Ouch! My quads were sore! My foot was hurting from the blister. But it wasn’t hurting as bad as last night. I hiked Buffalo Mountain (peak just shy of 13,000 feet) and it was a tough hike for not even 13,000 feet. Very rocky and not the best marked with cairns. When I got to the peak, the plan was to hang out there a long time and get better acclimated at high altitude. At first, shortly after I arrived I thought some storm clouds would be rolling in. But they turned out to be nothing and either dissipated or went in a different direction. I ended up staying at the peak for 4-5 hours. I also forgot to bring sunblock and got some very bad sunburn. At high altitude, there is less atmosphere to block the sun’s rays, so getting sunburned is easier and it also turns out a side effect of Diamox is more sensitivity to sun! My legs were still sore on the way down. But there were Mountain Goats on this hike so it made up for the difficulty. Also, I wasn’t getting sick on day 2 like I normally was so that was great! It was also good knowing that I spent a lot of time up near 13,000 feet. I did some push-ups and jumping jacks at the top for fun. However, I began having some anxiety over the race and felt like I was not prepared to take it on and wouldn’t finish. Or that something bad would happen that would prevent me from even flying home on time. Just bad thoughts.
|Getting to the top of this gnarly section was just finishing the middle third of the mountain. Then it keeps going up!|
|Like I said, it keeps going up.|
|Residents of Buffalo Mt. |
|Me on the top. Fogive my dress, I wanted to be warm and planned to throw the pants out on race day.|
|View from the peak.|
|Spent a good deal of time acclimating by reading my favorite running publication.|
|My little buddy right behind the bag just popping up to say hi.|
I had the weirdest, scary dream. I dreamt that I was running the race. I just approached mile 50, which was the turnaround, but for some reason, the turnaround here was the start/finish instead of the outward most point that you turn around and head back to the start. Anyway, when I got there, I wanted my headlamp but I couldn’t find my drop bag. All of a sudden, I couldn’t realize how I got there. The last thing I remembered was going to sleep on Sunday night of Day 2 and next thing you know I’m at mile 50. I didn’t have any of my drop bags, and I was really confused and knew that without my headlamp and some warmer clothes for the night section, I had no chance. So I took a weird boat to the next aid station and saw some NYC TNT people were there asking if I needed anything (duh!). Since they had none of my stuff I somehow decided and ended up back in my hotel room (lodge) that I was staying at. All my stuff was still scattered around as I left it before I went to bed. Oh crap! I was supposed to check out by 10AM and it’s currently 2PM. Wait, wasn’t I supposed to check out on Friday, not Saturday?! I let out some frustrating angry screams knowing that my race is done and I somehow had to explain my 5 days of amnesia and figure out what happened between Sunday night and now. Then I woke up. It was so vivid.
I wouldn’t say I woke up late but I slept more than I did the prior night. It took a while for me to get prepared for my hike and eat breakfast. I probably didn’t get to the Mt. Quandary (14,265 feet) trailhead until 9AM. The hike up was hard, but not as technical as Buffalo Mt. There was some amazing trail maintenance done and they made steps where otherwise it would have been similar to picking random giant rocks to step on and over. Looking up, I could see a section flatten out in the distance but even further out and up and steep was what I thought must be the real summit. Of course that’s what it was. The hike was a slow grind. By the time I made it to the false summit, it was around 10:30AM and it looked like storm clouds may be coming in. I couldn’t see past the peak so I didn’t know if these clouds were followed by anything else more menacing. I took my time deciding what to do and consulting other hikers. Finally, I told someone who was not planning to go any higher that I will do what this next group of hikers recommends. They said the clouds did not look good on the other side. They didn’t make it to the peak, but were able to see more than I could. So with my decision made for me, we head down and within 5-10 minutes, we hear thunder. The guy’s name was also Mike and he was also running Leadville. We had some cool conversations the way down and it was well needed. Still, that evening as I was making a list of things I needed to put in drop bags, I was still sore, still sunburned, and still had the blister and still had bad thoughts about the race. I went to bed at 9PM hoping to wake up very early and take on Quandary as the weather is more favorable with less change of rain earlier in the day.
I woke up before my alarm and got things sorted out rather quickly. I was able to start my hike shortly after 6:30AM. This time, the sky was clear but it was a little chillier. I stopped a couple times on the way up to drink water and ate a small bar on that false summit, roughly 10-15 minutes from where I stopped the prior day. Looking up, the peak still looked intimidating but I know that slowly but surely I’d make it up there, which is a strategy I would use for climbing Hope Pass during the race. About 40 minutes after the spot I turned back yesterday, I hit the peak. I hung out there for maybe 30-45 minutes drinking some coffee in a gigantic vacuum sealed mug. Funny moment on the peak: a raggedy looking guy and his dog reached the peak and took a spot behind a little cave of rocks across from me and my cave. This guy also has a mug of coffee, but his was a real mug size, not supersized like mine. Anyway, he takes out a joint, lights it up and I guess that’s it. A couple younger guys on the mountain started laughing at that and the guy responds, nothing like coffee and weed at altitude! It is legal in Colorado now. . . It was very cold on and windy on the peak and it looked like a batch of clouds that could bring rain were on the way in so I decided to pack up and head lower so I would be a little closer to tree-line if anything bad came from the clouds. So I hung out about an hour at a little over 13,000 feet. On the way down, I noticed my legs were no longer sore so I felt happy about that. Then I passed a duo of hikers that looked more like runners and asked them if they were running Leadville. They were, and they were both coming from the Netherlands. They said they were in Leadville the day before and did the hardest part of the course, Hope Pass and said it was much easier than hiking this mountain. So I started to feel better, but was still nervous and still feeling anxiety.
|Top of Mt. Quandary|
|View from the peak|
|It was cold and windy at the peak - 14,265 feet above sea level.|
|Local resident of Quandary.|
I went for a 40 minute shakeout run to test how the altitude feels while running. It certainly plays a major role. I can normally tell roughly how fast I am running based on my perceived effort. So by my perceived effort, I figured I was going around 7:15 minute miles. The Garmin GPS watch said more like 8:15. It was a very good reminder for the race that I have to be very cognizant of how I feel and to make certain that it feels very easy. If I pay too much attention to the watch’s reading of my pace then I may go out too fast, setting myself up for an epic failure later on. But if I feel very good and not expanding a lot of effort but making good progress, then I don’t care how slow the watch says I’m going! Another thing I noticed was when I stopped running, either to turn around or when I finished my run, I had severe pins and needles feelings on my hands, feet, and face. I was feeling this most of the week in random times and it was a true side effect of the Diamox. I did not want to experience the pins and needles during the race. It may mask or lead to other problems. In the afternoon I started working on my drop bag packing list. In ultras, drop bags are pre-packed bags each runner makes up on their own and the race organizers will place those bags at certain aid stations along the course so you will have whatever you specifically want during the race when you reach those aid stations. If you don’t have a “crew” – friends that will drive to these aid station locations and hold your things, then the drop bags are basically your only method of survival, unless you want to carry absolutely anything you may possibly need on you. So while making this list up, I was getting very nervous about the race again. Just bad images about different ways for me to feel like complete garbage and not make the cutoff time for certain parts of the race. Later that evening, I met up with Michael Ryan, who I had not met before and is a fellow ultra runner that used to live on the Upper East Side but now live in Jersey City. It was also his first Leadville and we got together to just talk about how we felt about the race and share other ultra war stories. It was a good boost to hear that I’m not the only one nervous. But somehow I still felt bad that night.
Today was the first day I went into Leadville. They give two days for people to pick up their race materials (bib and timing chip) and “schwag”. We also got weighed in. Most 100-milers have the participants weighed before hand and then weighed at least one time during the race to see if they have lost or gained more than 5-7% of their pre-race body weight which can be a sign of dehydration (loss of weight) or hyponatremia. It was also the night of the pre-race carb-loading dinner. At the dinner I met up with Justin Peake, who like Michael Ryan and me was attempting to run this race for the first time. After dinner I went back to Breckenridge, finalized my drop bags and got everything in order to check out in the morning. I’m still feeling negative about this race but I am able to picture some positive images such as me crossing the finish line or working hard through a rough patch and feeling great shortly after. I looked up the side effects of Diamox and noticed I was experiencing a few of the things on that list. Pins and needles, loss of appetite, being tired, sunburn easily, and depression. That last one really stuck out. I sometimes get anxious before races, usually on the drive to the race. But I get over it quickly. This time, it was an almost constant feeling in the back of my mind about failure. But there was no logical reason to believe for one that I would fail and even more importantly, that failure really isn’t a big deal. Around 50% of the starters do not end up finishing this race. So what is so bad about not finishing? I feel like something else was causing my mind to think so negatively and I think it was the Diamox. It was like I was homesick. I just wanted to be back in NYC and not take on this race. But even the feeling of dropping out of the race wasn’t giving me comfort because I started thinking of so many problems that may come up from dropping out and going home. I mean, where would I stay? Could I change my flight? All these negative feelings are not normal. I think things would have been different if Aleks were with me because she would do some funny things and distract me or at least keep me busy by telling me to do stuff. Calling her and also speaking with Snipes helped but once off the phone, my mind quickly went back to panic mode.
Wake up at 3AM to take Diamox in case I want to take my last dose around the same time on race day. I go back to sleep. Then I check out of the hotel and headed on to Leadville for the mandatory athletes briefing. After speeches by the medical doctor and race director and the inspirational speeches by the co-founder of the race and his son, who is now taking over the symbolic role and motivational speaker for the athletes, I met up with Peter Prioli, who has to complete this Leadville race in order to continue his quest for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Running four specific, 100-mile races in just about a three month period). Leadville is the third race in this series. Anyway, I was going to be staying in the Colorado Mountain College dormitory Friday evening because Peter booked a room and each room has two beds. And I didn’t have any other beds except for the rental car! We grab some burgers, do a little shopping for dinner snacks and breakfast, and then drop off our drop-bags. After that we met up with some more of the NY based ultra-running community for pizza and it helped me feel better because everyone is nervous. So what I’m feeling isn’t completely abnormal, but my degree of uncertainty and anxiety definitely was not normal. One of the runners, Jacqueline had a finger pulse oximeter which can read your blood oxygen content and if it is below 90, it means you are not acclimated and may have problems. At first, mine showed up at 93 but my heart-rate was near 100! Yikes! That’s not a good resting heart rate. I took it again 5 minutes later and the oxygen was 95 now and my pulse was at 68. Ok. That’s more reassuring. Finally, we head back to the dorms and I re-bandage the blister and try to get to sleep at about 7PM. I decided I was not going to take the Diamox on race day. I should be fully acclimated to the altitude so that I won’t get altitude sickness, and I don’t need any of the side-effects. I don’t need depression or any negative thoughts on race day!
Day 8 – Race Day - For a refresher on the Purple Tutu, see this blog entry http://tntultracoachmike.blogspot.com/2013/05/2013-bear-mt-50-miler-in-memory-of-kurt.html
Amazingly enough, I was able to fall asleep but woke up quite frequently. Still, sleep was sleep and I woke up at 2AM, about 15 minutes before the alarms were set to go off. As I ate a banana and a Fiber One bar. After getting all dressed up, we head out to the car at 2:50 and hope to get a good parking spot which we do. Since we have an hour before the race, we basically just zone out and relax in the car. Positive visualization. Finally, I’m able to picture many good images about the race. With about 20 minutes to go before the 4AM start time, Pete gets out of the car to head to the start. I decided to wait another five minutes. When the time was up, I went to the back seat, got out the purple Tutu, put it on and then walked the two blocks to the start area. It was a big crowd to start the race and lots of spectators lining the stands ready to send us off. With about 8 minutes to go, the National Anthem was sung well and then some random words of encouragement from the race director. One minute to go! Then comes the blast from the shotgun and we’re off!
|A few minutes before the start of the race.|
Start to May Queen (mile 1-13.5, 4AM-6:23AM)
Might as well tell you what I’m wearing although you will see it in the picture. Hat on backwards with the headlamp on it. Purple “IronTeam” short sleeve shirt, black arm warmers, black gloves, Garmin 310XT GPS watch and handheld water bottle. Blue shorts with zip pockets worn over short Tri-shorts. Purple calf compression sleeves, blue cammo Dirty Girl Gaiters, Drymax socks, and my Mizuno Cabrakan trail shoes. I’m wearing a blue Camelback marathoner hydration vest packed with some Blueberry Pro-bars, Shot Blocks/Gu Chomps, Pro-bar chews, Gu Gels. Ziplock bag of Enduralytes and Tums. Ziplock bag with Blister Bandaids. Ziplock bag with my Galaxy S-3 with Hyperion Battery extension attached (phone is a beast now). I wanted to carry the phone in case I ended up dropping out but more importantly, because I was using the Charity Miles App for the race. Charity Miles is an app that uses the GPS in your phone to track your distance whether running or cycling and depending on how far you go, you raise money for a partner charity that you choose from. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is one of the charities listed so it is just a no-brainer way to raise money for charity while doing something I would be doing anyway – running. I highly recommend that those of you with smart phones check this app out (Charity Miles). And in the back of the pack is my Patagonia, light running jacket packed into its Houdini pocket (Thanks Snipes!) and also two ziplock bags with toilet paper and wet wipes. Whew!
Well with very crowded race (943 starters), it was easy to find people to chat with. I tried to stay conservative. The course basically starts with a light downhill the first 5 miles (damn, that means it is uphill the last 5 miles. . .). I basically averaged a 9:45 minute mile pace here. I did not feel like I was working hard at all and that was what I wanted. After 5 miles, we turn up a short but steep rocky section and it basically begins the journey around the Turquoise Lake trail. This section is all single track with some roots and rocks along the way. It’s very small rolling terrain as well. Easily runnable. However, most people don’t have the intention of really running this section fast. It’s the right strategy in a 100 miler. But man, people were going SLOW! And most runners did not want to pass those slower ones leading in the front because they were friends talking it up or were perfectly fine settling into that slower pace. But at a pace of over 12 minute miles, it felt like and there were actual times where I was walking where I would have rather been running 10-11 minute miles. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t add up to much time saved by going 1-2 minutes faster for 8 miles. So I passed people only when there was plenty of room to do so and just told myself that the energy saved will be helpful later on. I wasn’t in a bad mood and just wanted to get to the aid station. 13.5 miles before any aid is funny to think about when most marathons or half marathons have water stations every 1-2 miles. My legs felt fine and my blister wasn’t bothering me. The one thing that worries me is that I don’t feel like eating. I take a pack of shot blocks / chomps because I know I need it even if I don’t feel like I want it. Finally, I arrive at the Aid Station #1 – May Queen.
|Somewhere between miles 5-13.5|
I fill up my handheld bottle and my camelback with water. I take a couple of the cut up PB&J sandwiches and some boiled potatoes. I also drink two cups of water. I drop off my headlamp because it’s been light out for a while now. Then off I go towards the first challenging section of the day. After maybe a mile, we get to the first part of the climb up Sugarloaf pass. This is the easy side up compared to when we have to come back. It climbs about 1,200 feet over about 5 miles with a few flat sections along the way and a number of switchbacks. Not too bad. But it basically means time to walk and digest some food. Most of this walk up was spent chatting with people about my tutu and about Keith Straw (the original Tutu ultra-man) who was somewhere behind me on the course in his pink outfit. Maybe one mile into the climb I take my first restroom break. It’s important to try and pee because if you aren’t going, then you’re dehydrating yourself and setting yourself up for some kidney issues. So just going is great, and making sure the color is not dark is good too. Check and check. As I head out from the bushes on the side I hear a voice behind me saying something like “What’s the matter with these people wearing Tutus in these races?!” I recognized the voice and I responded that I am just copying your lead. So Keith Straw caught up to me and we began to chat about many things. Mostly running. This year, Keith was running the Grand Slam of ultras but also ran the Badwater 135 mile race in Death Valley right in the middle of the schedule and was going to run Virgil Crest (see my blog post last year about the race) a couple weeks after he finishes up the Grand Slam. If all the races he has done don’t give him some type of legend status, then adding the pink outfit and tutu into the mix boosts him up there. Anyway, as we talk about how I just am not in the game mentally and try to figure out what to do about it and he says just keep going and eventually you’ll feel ok. Just talking seemed to help and I also stuck behind him for this section because I know he is a very smart runner and figured if I stayed with him, I would be entertained and also be going at the right pace (since he beat me in both Virgil Crest 100 and the Caumsette 50K). It was great having as far as I know, the only two guys that wear Tutus in ultras running right next to each other in Leadville. It entertained many people and it also kept me entertained and smiling which is so much help in a race that lasts this long and where any bad thoughts can spiral into a bad race. Also, anytime we got to where any photographers were, Keith would always say that we now have to run and smile for the cameras.
We get to the top of Sugarloaf and then begin to descend what is known as the Powerline section and its steeper and ruttier decent. We lose about 1,800 feet in 5 miles and I wonder how the mountain bikers do this part of the course because it is in such terrible shape with huge holes and craters lining the sides of the “road” and sometimes switching around and through the middle. When we finally make it to the bottom, there is a short road section of about a mile before we get to the Outward Bound aid station and mile 23.5.
|Me and Keith Straw - the original Tutu guy. He's a remarkable runner and a great person too.|
Outward Bound to Half Pipe (mile 23.5-30, 8:29AM – 9:47AM)
At the aid station, I grab my SPF50 sunblock and put it on. I also take out my sunglasses because it will be bright out and squinting wastes energy so sunglasses help there. Also, I prefer to not have burned retinas, and another benefit is that if I wear sunglasses during the day, my night vision will be better. I ask some people near me if they think it will rain and they said it doesn’t look like it will. I told them I would blame them if I got rained on and didn’t have my rain jacket. I had a crappy rain jacket (but it does the trick) in my bag but decided not to take it, hoping that I’m not taking a stupid risk. Then I drop off my water bottle but refill my camelback with water. I grab a half bagel with honey and banana and eat that and then stick a potato in some salt and wash that down with a cup of water. I take some Tums and enduralytes as well. I probably spent about 6 minutes in the aid station and then left onto a long road section. While I could have ran some parts of this faster, again, the point of this exercise was to make sure I finish, not run some sections at a fast pace. The road section then turns into dirt and then eventually into the woods. Then the gradual climbing begins that takes you towards the Mt. Elbert trailhead (tallest mountain in Colorado) but thankfully not up Mt. Elbert. After some small climbs but some runnable parts as well through the trails, I arrive at the Aid Station known as Half-Pipe. As has been my tradition, I filled up my camelback for the next 6.5 mile section which brings us to a fluid only aid station, before it continues on to the next aid station.
This section was mostly uphill. It basically has three climbs with the first one being the longest. There are some short level sections that are runnable but when you think you are done and ready to permanently head downhill, you get a short but steep climb. That happens twice. Then the long roughly 3 mile downhill begins. About 6.5 miles into this section is a water only aid station called fittingly enough, Mt. Elbert (still glad we aren’t hiking up there!). So I take advantage of it and top-off my camelback once again. It’s obviously warming up now and at higher altitudes and dry, you will be losing water without knowing it. Your sweat will evaporate and you won’t notice you’re even sweating. You’re also losing extra water from your breathing. So better to have the fluids on hand and drink when I can. My lips were usually my indication as they would get dry fairly quickly. So as long as I continued to take in my energy blocks, Enduralytes and Tums occasionally with my water, I didn’t feel at risk for dehydration or hyponatremia. However, I did notice that I wasn’t urinating as much as I thought I would be given all of my drinking. So I was paying extra attention to how I felt and when I did go, made sure the color was not troublesome. Overall, this section was good. I was feeling better and getting myself ready to pick up my trekking poles and take on Hope Pass and find out just how bad it is. When I arrive at the Twin Lakes aid station, I first grab some food. They had some cut up turkey sandwiches and I took 3 of those along with some potatoes and salt. Then I got my drop bag, finally threw my light weight gloves in that bag. But now I have to prepare for the hike up Hope Pass and the volatile weather conditions that can happen. So I take out a warmer pair of gloves and stick them in my pockets and I take out my good rain jacket and tie that around my waist. So out I go towards the toughest section of the race.
|Somewhere on a downhill section around Mt. Elbert. Cycle through these picture quickly!|
As I start out on this section I end up taking a wrong turn but am immediately yelled to by about 10 different people so I didn’t do anything except embarrass myself a little. After running about 3/4s of a mile I think on grassy terrain, you get to some really big puddles. It’s possible to wander off to the side and get around them but we all know we have a stream crossing coming up so we just walk through these puddles when we come up to the stream crossing. It’s surprisingly low relative to what I heard it could be. It was probably lower calf deep at its highest point on me. I have heard it can be higher than waist deep. There is a line set up that you can hold onto for balance and in higher water times, so you don’t get swept away. The cold water felt amazing on my hot feet and legs. Earlier in the race, I was using cups of water to throw on the back of my knees and legs to make them feel fresh. Soon after that, we enter the trail and the beginning of a very long climb with a number of switchbacks. This climb (including a little bit after the Hope Pass Aid station) takes you from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet in about 3-4 miles. The first 2-3 miles were on softer forest surface so the trekking poles were great and I was going up at a decent pace. I was trying to make sure I was not breathing very hard here, although some parts were just steep and you are heading higher in elevation so breathing will be hard regardless. I passed a lot of people going up. Many of them did not have trekking poles. I know that the “European” style of climbing involves using your hands to push off on your thighs to get you up there but trekking poles seem like a no-brainer. Or at least find a giant branch on the side of the trail and use that as your hiking stick. I think only two people passed me on this uphill section. Finally, we are out of the tree-line and it is just like hiking over a mountain, because that’s what it is! Up and up some more and I finally catch a glimpse of some tents in the distance. That must be the Hope Pass aid station (formally known as Hopeless). In the race packet, it says that this aid station is for emergencies only. So I don’t take any food there, I just refill my water, have some more gel blocks, have someone take a picture of me with a Llama, and that’s it. This picture on Hope Pass and this climb had me thinking of Ariel Fixler who I found out about when I was raising money during the Bear Mt. 50-miler wearing my tutu. Currently, she was out of an induced coma but is in desperate need of a liver transplant. All she really has is hope. Trial cancer medications and whatnot work in some ways and have helped, but they also have many side effects. So while I always think or Kurt and what he went through, now I thought about Aerial’s struggles. I’m stupid enough to put myself through this type of physical (and in some ways mental) discomfort. And seriously, it is nothing compared to others. Life is a big mystery. I would like to get philosophical here but I think you get the picture. Just do what you can to be better people while you still have time to do so. Back to the llamas.
|Llamas up at Hope Pass. This one near me was camera shy.|
Oh yeah, they use Llamas to get all of the equipment up to this part of the mountain. Basically, unless you are completely incapable of moving, the only way you are getting down from this point is on your own two legs. If you don’t make the cut-off up here in time, then you are forced to go back down the way you came (although I heard they let some people go on through to the mile 50 aid station in order to drop). No Llama ride home for you. So after this little stop there is still another 800 vertical feet to hike up, more switchbacks, and then your finally reach the pass that leads over this mountain and heads down into the town of Winfield, where the next aid station is about 4.5 miles away.
|The water crossing after Twin Lakes. The water level was very low this year.|
|The cold water felt great on my hot and tireed feet and legs.|
When I originally started out from Twin Lakes, I looked at my watch and saw I was roughly 8 hours into the race when I left. So it was noon. I decided not to take my headlamp with me because I would make it back to Twin Lakes before the sun sets. Basically, I gave myself 7.5-8 hours to do the 20 mile section from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back to Twin Lakes. It took two hours to get to the top of Hope Pass, it should have taken less time to get down to Winfield because it’s slightly less mileage and it’s nearly all downhill. The path down from the top was quite intimidating for me. It was single track, only enough room for one person at a time basically. It was very steep going down and there were loose rocks most of the way so the footing didn’t feel the best. Off to the side if you slipped the wrong way would have been a nasty fall, probably resulting in death, which is quite worse than a DNF. So personally, I couldn’t do this section fast. Plus my legs weren’t ready for downhill running yet. In addition, the front runners were on their way back up (I saw Scott Jurek and his pacer Hal Koerner one or two switchbacks from the top). So you had to make room by stepping to the non-cliff side to let them pass. After many switchbacks down this mountain, I finally get to tree line and there are some more technical running sections with bigger rocks and trees. I’m still moving along at a slower pace than I feel like I should be running, but my stomach feels like it can’t handle any food and my legs are feeling tired. With about 1.5 miles to go until I get to the 50 mile turn around and aid station, I am on my way to doing this section in 3:30 or faster, rather than the 4 hours each way so that I make sure to get back to Twin Lakes before nightfall. However, next thing you know, I see someone lying on a big flat rock on the side of the trail and another runner with him. I recognize the guy, Mike Bailey, from other races I have seen him at and have chatted with him before and read his well-written blog entries about running. He’s a very fast runner who did the Old Dominion 100 miler in Virginia in around 20:30 while I did it in 23:10. He recently moved to Colorado. Anyway, Mike is the one lying on the rock. I ask him what’s going on and he doesn’t really know except that he has been in that spot for about an hour. The guy who was with him asks if I can get him to the next aid station. I tell him I would do that. Mike has basically completely crashed. His stomach is a mess, and his legs don’t want to move. He feels extremely weak. We try to figure out what is the root of the issue and we think it might be heat exhaustion. So I take his water bottle and pour water on his neck, wrists, and back of the knees. It helps slightly and we move at a snail’s pace, maybe a 45 minute mile for a little bit before he needs a break. It is moving in small bits and stepping aside to let people pass in one direction or the other. He says that he is feeling a little better but only on downhills. As people pass us, they say the downhill is very close. We hear that for about 10-15 minutes if not longer. Finally, we get to the downhill section. He’s able to walk slowly down and I realize that by focusing on getting him to the aid station, my stomach feels better and my legs feel good. Maybe I just needed to slow down a bit. As we get about 100 meters from the end of the downhill which leads to a short road to the aid station, three volunteers come up to meet us because they heard about someone being in trouble on the course. They take his pulse and oxygen blood content and it came up normally. They ask him questions but Mike is feeling a lot better. He basically knows that it was related to the heat and just needs to get some cold packs on his body and rest at the aid station. So we saunter on and make it to the aid station. We get him to speak to the medics there and that is where we parted. I get weighed in (lost 3 pounds from my weigh in on Thursday). I eat some Ramen noodles, and then head to a port-o-potty to take care of some business. I restocked some nutrition from my drop bag and then went back out on the course. I look at the time and it is roughly 4 hours since I left Twin Lakes. I want to make sure I get back before darkness and to be safe, that means I need to be back in 3:30. I don’t know how that will go because the backside of Hope Pass going up is really steep. Ok. So now just to retrace my steps for 50 miles!
|On the way down from the Peak of Hope Pass. I believe we came from that little saddle on top of my head.|
|The way down was very tricky.|
Ok. uphill and uphill and uphill. When am I going to get out of the tree-line and into the even harder climbing?! This section was just rough. I was moving so slowly not because I was tired, well, I was tired because going up this thing was tiring, but because it was just tough! As I’m going up, I see some bushes with some small red berries on them and I pretty sure they are poisonous. I think to myself, I can just end this miserable race by eating some of those but then that got me thinking I would be stuck on this section of the course vomiting and feeling terrible and that would be pointless. So upwards and onwards. There are many runners coming towards me and I wonder when that will stop. The cutoff time Hope Pass to head to mile 50 was 12:15 or so into the race. So at some point, the runners should be stopping unless they made it through the cutoff and are just very slow (like me) on the downhill. At some point though I realize at the pace they are coming down and the amount of miles left for them, they will not make it to the 50 mile cut-off in time. Those runners knew it and you could see it on their faces. In some of their looks, it was a relief because they wouldn’t have to be chasing the cutoffs on this tough course anymore and can end their pain. Getting closer to the top, I see two deer, one young one and an older one bounding down the mountain off the trail. If only I could move like they could. Shortly after, I see Mike Ryan (another different Mike) and he tells me that he didn’t make the Hope cut-off but was allowed to continue on to Winfield to meet his crew. It sucked seeing that he didn’t make it but he understood how the course just took advantage of him and he wasn’t fully acclimated to the altitude. The runnable road sections were not runnable for him and that cost him precious time. Finally, I make it to the top and then work my way quickly down as I could to the aid station.
|Hydrating on the way up.|
|Back on the ground as close to sea level as I would get and not too far from mile 60.|
|This is on the way back up from Winfield (mile 50 aid station).|
|Trying to have fun now because it will be agonizing when the climb back up Hope Pass begins.|
Spoiler alert! As you can see from the time listed above, it says I made it to Twin Lakes at 8:04PM. That’s actually the time I left Twin Lakes. I stayed there for about 30 minutes to change the blister bandaid on my foot, change socks, get in a lot of food (Ramen Noodles and coca-cola) and digest some if it and make sure I’m ready to go before I leave. But before I got there, I spent about 10 minutes at the Hope Pass aid station. I refilled my water and had two cups of this special soup they make up there that completely revitalized me from the terrible climb back up. It was some type of potato cream soup but there was no dairy in it. I mixed it with a cup of Ramen noodle soup and it really hit the spot. As I sat there digesting, I noticed the people lying down asleep in sleeping bags with IV’s stuck in their arms. Some people were in really bad shape. I don’t ever want to be like that. So when I am ready, I go down the mountain and I’m making a pretty good pace. By the time I finally hit the bottom, I am a little tired from the downhill running and basically do a run/walk on this mile long section that includes crossing the streams again. I probably made it into the aid station around 7:30PM. So a good 1:30-1:40 was the time it took to get down. And it was still daylight when I arrived so it was a good victory for me! I change my shirt at the aid station because it will get cold at night and I don’t need a sweaty shirt on when I have a fresh one. I throw my rain jacket back in the bag because I know it won’t rain now from the forecast. I grab my good headlamp and my iPod shuffle and also my watch charger so that my Garmin can capture everything. As I’m doing all of this stuff and what I listed above in the spoiler, I see Keith Straw (pink Tutu) and about 15 minutes later, I see Mike Bailey! He is back from the dead and must have had incredible energy because he stayed in the Winfield aid station for 30 minutes so to climb the backside of hope and then run down and basically come in 15 minutes after me shows just how fast he is. I was talking to Keith in the aid station and he said now is when it gets difficult but if you are a smart runner and don’t rush things, finishing will happen.
Mike and Keith Straw leave before I’m fully ready but I pass them on the up-hill. It’s a long uphill section here and I wait to the last moment before I turn on my headlamp. It was cloudy out so not yet time to turn off the lights and look at the stars. When it finally flattens out I’m able to start running and that feels good. I get to the Mt. Elbert aid station a few miles into the section but I don’t need water so I just keep going. The next 6 miles or so seemed to take forever! I was following a train of people and that helped me stay focused. However, when they slowed down I passed them and kept going. These runners were good though because they decided to stay on my tail. After a mile at least I needed a quick break and let one or two of those who were still chasing me pass. Then I followed them. Finally, I reached the Half-Pipe aid station.
So I arrived probably near midnight and I see I have 6 hours and 20 minutes in order to break the 25 hour finish mark if I can do the next 30 miles in that time. Haha. Riiiiight. . . Maybe if it was mile 0-30, but not 70-100. I quickly get that thought out of my head and stick with the “I just want to finish theme”. What I am hoping is that I finish around 26 hours or under 27 so that I’m just not out on the course for such a long time. So I spend a little extra time in this aid station. It took the volunteers a while to find my drop bag because it was placed with the wrong numbers. Not a big deal. I could have been more pro-active and gotten up to eat more food but was happy sitting on a chair checking Facebook and texting Snipes to let him know where I am. Apparently, the on-line athlete tracking wasn’t working right so no one knew where I was on the course, or if I was still even on the course. Anyway, I finally head out and now I’m in a fairly wide open and runnable section but my stomach doesn’t really feel like running. So I do a run/walk when I can. I also turn off my headlamp a number of times because the clouds were gone and the stars were pretty cool. The big dipper was right over head. I also take this moment to put in one ear bud and start listening to some music (Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed mostly), Eventually, though seemingly forever, I was on that dirt section that leads to a left hand turn onto the road. I ran/walked what I could on the road, averaging roughly a 13 minute mile. I was running low on energy but didn’t feel like I could stomach more shot blocks. What sucks about this part of the course is that you can see the aid station and it looks a little far away but not too bad. However, you have to go such a long way out of the way to get there rather than just a straight line. Anyway, I get to the aid station and sit down right near where they are grilling and they ask what I want. Semi-joking, I ask if they have burgers and they do! I nice sign hanging up on a trailer near the grill says burgers were $3 (I think) and cans of coca-cola, $1 but it also said FREE for runners. Jackpot! I know it’s probably not going to be easy running with one in my stomach but I need some major calories so I get my burger. They also give me a cup of Lentil soup (I probably should have had 2 burgers and no lentils). I drink a cup of coca-cola with it. I tell you, I only eat this way during 100-milers! I also need all the energy I need because this section is 10 miles long and includes the climb UP the Powerline section to the top of Sugarloaf Pass.
So I head out of the aid station on my way knowing this will be a long slow climb. It takes a mile or two before I get to the climb but even that pre-climb section is still up-hill. From the write-up Snipes gave me he said that is probably takes about 90 minutes to do the Powerline section. It felt like it took a lot longer and maybe it did depending on when I should have tracked it (start of the climb or from leaving the aid station?). But I knew I was in trouble when I asked someone, “Is this the top yet?”. Don’t ask questions you really don’t want the answer too. She replied it will be the top when you are running downhill for a while. Well, we started running downhill but it didn’t last as long as I would have liked and I began climbing again for about 20 more minutes. Then there is the long section downhill that I remember I was slowing walking up less than 24 hours ago with Keith Straw in the daylight. When we get to the bottom, I’m waiting for the aid station and it never shows up. We start going through a trail section and I really don’t remember this from earlier because it is dark now but every 50 meters or so I see a ribbon that says I’m on course. Finally, I make it into May Queen at 3:39AM.
At this point it helps to say what else was going on because I don’t know exactly when it began. Sometime in the race, I noticed my right eye was dry and just a little cloudy. But in the last 10-15 miles before this last aid station, it kept getting cloudier and cloudier. I also didn’t feel hungry even though I know I needed fuel. At the aid station I got two cups of Ramen but the noodles were barely cooked. Nothing they had at the aid station was appealing food-wise. I could have gone for another burger! Still, I ate both soups and had a medic come over to help me clean out the blister so I can put another band-aid on it. A volunteer said it looked like I was stoned because my eyes were all bloodshot. It felt bloodshot but the real issue was that it was foggy out of that eye and seemingly getting worse. I was pretty exhausted and my legs were extremely tired. Finally, when it was about 4AM, I decided it was time to go. I have about 6 hours to march 13.5 miles. It’s possible I would need all 6 hours if I went into a 30 minute per mile type of walk. I was hoping I would get another boost of energy and be able to run and finish in this section in under 3 hours but for now, I was just going to walk. After 10-15 minutes I was able to shuffle and then out of nowhere, I was able to run. But it didn’t last too long and I was getting sleepy. So I took a 5-hour energy drink because they have worked in the past. After about 20 minutes, I was able to move a little faster but then I really had to use the woods! I did my business but about 20 minutes later, I started to feel extremely low on energy. This was the bonking feeling. I took my blueberry pro-bar and ate that with water. I ran a little more. Not soon after I felt low again. I felt like I could go for some shot blocks. But when I reached into my camelback, I couldn’t find any. All I had left was one gel packet! Crap! I forgot to restock my nutrition at the last aid station. Of all the sections to do it, this was the longest one! So I waited as long as I could and then took the gel. The energy it provided prevented me from wondering off course and stumbling off the side of the trail. But I could only walk here, and the walk was slow. Power walking felt difficult. It wasn’t until about 4.5 miles to go when a runner and his pacer passed and the pacer asked how I was doing. I said ok but I’m out of nutrition and bonking. She said she had plenty of food and asked what I would like in which I replied “anything right now will work”. So she gave me a pack over peanut butter crackers and they were amazing. I didn’t want to waste the energy boost it would give me so I kept with the walk but occasionally would shuffle faster. My eye was even cloudier at this point. I would close my right eye and just see out of my left eye for a few seconds and hope that when I open my left eye, the vision would be better. But it didn’t help. The last 4 miles are also all on a slight uphill. So I wasn’t going to try to run that anyway unless I was feeling amazing. It was a long walk and taking forever. I kept looking at my watch as if that would make the distance move faster but it seemed like I was going nowhere while time kept running. With about 1 mile to go, I posted that fact of 1 mile to go on Facebook. Hell, I can only walk so might as well entertain myself. A few minutes later, Snipes calls me and we chat about where I am in the race and about the other people we know doing it and he tells me where they dropped out. So as I get closer to the finish line I tell him I will call him back. This is the last little push so I turn on the video camera and run (if you can call it that) towards the finish! I finally cross the line, receive my medal from the co-race founder/director Merrilee Mauquin, and proceed right to some medical staffers to get two things checked out. I finished in 27:39:38. 497 out of 943 starters finished (52% finishing rate). I came in 228th place.
|Me holding my phone up takign a video as I cross the finish.|
|Medal given to me after crossing the finish line|
|The almighty Buckle|
After I head to the first medics right near the finish line, they weigh me (I am back at my starting weight) and I tell them about a cough I started having and I was worried it was fluid build-up in the lungs. They check all finishing athletes out for that and said my lungs sounded good. That was a relief. The next issue was my right eye. They told me to go to the medical tent and ask a doctor there. By this time, it was very cloudy. I couldn’t really see out of it. Although with both eyes open I could see well enough to function and didn’t have any visual depth problems. Before I went to that medic tent, I headed back to my car and dropped some things off and changed into sandals and into a long sleeve shirt. I drank some Gatorade and after not too long sitting in the car and charging my phone because the battery is at 10% (how awesome was it that it lasted 28ish hours with the app running!), I went to the medical tent and asked them about my eye. Unfortunately, the doctor in there was no help. He said it could go away in a couple hours or last for a week. If I was very concerned, I could go to the hospital and get it checked out. Gee, thanks. Well, I just hoped for the best. I still looked better than the people sleeping in the tent. Next stop was to get some food. The post-race food tent was right next door but unless I went into the wrong tent, it was pathetic. It had pretty much aid station food but not even a good selection. Pretzels, M&Ms, PB&J, Turkey Sandwiches, and chicken broth (no noodles). Our race bibs had two tags at the bottom you could rip off to redeem for a free Michelob Ultra. I wasn’t going to drink alcohol at this point but I didn’t see any beer vendors! Most likely, I was just in the wrong place but no one was able to point me in the direction for the right place. Oh well. . .
I contacted Mike Ryan to see how he was doing and paid him a visit. He was cooking up some breakfast (basically getting rid of the food in the place they were staying) so I had some much better food than from the finish line food tent. We chatted for a good hour or two. I stretched, rolled, showered and felt like a new person. A very sore and slow new person but still better than before. My eye was also clearing up rather quickly. Around 11ish we left to go collect our dropbags. I saw Mike Bailey and asked him how his finish went and he shocked me by saying he got cut at the last aid station. It turned out his troubles were not finished and he spent a couple hours on the side of the course that night feeling terrible again. I still feel bad for him and how this race went (his second attempt and his second DNF). I know that he is more than capable of finishing this race and finishing fast. But he has had some bad luck in recent months and it just unfortunately continued into the weekend. However, he looked fine and healthy so I know in a matter of time he will be back up tearing up the trails. And when he comes back to take on Leadville, his third time will be the charm and he will dominate it and it will make the DNFs just distant memories.
Next came the awards ceremony. Here they gave out the age group awards and also the special buckles for the people that finished this race for the 20th and 30th time. These buckles were HUGE. WWF style. Finally, they read off in fastest to slowest times, the names of the finishers and direct them to pick up their buckles and also their finishers hooded sweatshirts that have their finish time on the outside of the arm. Pretty cool. And that was that. Now I was ready to drive back to Denver to drop off the rental car, catch a bus to the airport and then wait for my red-eye flight.
It’s been a little over a week now since I finished the race and I have read other comments from finishers and non-finishers alike about the race. A lot of people say the race has become too corporate. They care too much about the money and the course is now too crowded and they didn’t have enough supplies at aid stations. I understand where they are coming from. If I picture myself 100-200 people behind in that first section of the course, it would put me arriving at the aid station probably 20-30 minutes later than I did. If I was cutting it somewhat close to the cut-offs, then I would be in trouble going up and down Hope Pass on the way out because you would have runners coming back the other direction. There is only enough room for one direction to be running. One side has to step aside to let the others through. As it seemed to turn out, the ones stepping aside are the ones further behind. I believe proper trail etiquette is to let the ones coming from above have the right of way but I don’t know if that’s true. Anyway, it’s a very hard course and is it right to make it artificially more difficult to make cut-offs because of a crowded course? And running out of food or soda at aid stations is unforgivable. Especially at a race that charges so much for entry fees. While I only had experience with one aid station that did not have coca-cola when I wanted it, I also came across a lot of Ramen soups that were diluted or didn’t have the noodles cooked enough. I could stop complaining because really, do we need Ramen soup to compete? No, but again, when you pay for something and it is promised to you, you expect to get it.
Other than those issues, my own thoughts now turn to the whole mess of anxiety I had the week leading up to the race. It was miserable. I tried so many tricks to get away from it and in some ways it worked because I ended up doing the race. But I seemed to continually have these bad thoughts until around mile 20ish. I don’t know if it was due to the Diamox. What I do know is that it wasn’t fun, and I also questioned the “fun” of doing 100-mile runs. With all the problems that one can have during the race and afterwards, I got lucky that it was just the cloudy eye and if not heart-burn, just the feeling of acid or something right below my throat made me not want to eat or drink anything until Monday after the race, or about 24 hours after finishing. I usually seem to get that after these 100s. I was lucky not to have had any major tendonitis following this like I got from the mudfest in TARC in June and the other issue after Virgil Crest last September. Both kept me from running for about 3 weeks. I would prefer to just not want to run for 3 weeks than for me to be forced to not run because of injury. So I am very happy I was able to run about 13 miles the Saturday after the race and even biked about 15 after running. 50-mile races sound so much more appealing. Usually, a week later or even earlier following a 100, when the memories of how terrible it was get replaced by the knowledge that I survived and maybe could have made the race less painful, I think about which 100-mile race I want to do next. Right now, I don’t feel compelled to decide and am happy not thinking about training for a 100 or running one again. Although way in the back of my head I am contemplating putting my name in again for the Western States 100 lottery. Also, another voice wants me to come back and do Leadville again to get a sub-25 hour finish now that I know what to expect from the course (although the weather can be much different) and also to see if that anxiety would come back. That latter voice doesn't have a lot of sway. So I’m not 100% set on giving up 100s (so you can breathe a sigh of relief ultra-buddies). Another thing weighing on me is the one-upping amongst my ultra-running friends or people I know through the sport. Now I know that nobody is trying to one-up me or anyone else., just like I don't do it to them or my non-ultra running friends. Everyone who does this ultra-distance event does it for their own challenge and experience and fun. But I think what I am experiencing is that I know of many people that have now ran the Grand Slam, or ran x amount of 100s in x amount of months. And here I am, worn out mentally more than physically from doing two in the last two months. So if I were to do the Grand Slam, what would that prove to me? What do I want to prove to myself with these runs? I know for a fact that I do not want to do this anymore if it stops becoming fun. Or at least if the fun does not outweigh by a huge margin the “suffering”. It was pretty easy for me to give up triathlons because I really didn’t like the swimming at all and was less enamored with cycling. I loved the run and I found a replacement. So naturally, it made sense to give up Triathlons and focus on just running. So maybe I will naturally give up 100s and focus on 50-mile or 100K or shorter trail runs. Or just run for the fun of it; train and race when it is convenient and if it leads to longer races, great. I think I will be happy with whatever I decide because I am making the decision in order to be happy. And most people don't think I'm an unhappy individual.
But until my next adventure, I'll gladly relax and soak in the achievement of my fifth 100-mile finish and cheer on and support my friends with all of their adventures.
But until my next adventure, I'll gladly relax and soak in the achievement of my fifth 100-mile finish and cheer on and support my friends with all of their adventures.