Monday, September 7, 2015

Grand Slam Race 3 of 4 - Leadville Trail 100 - Colorado

Race three of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is the race that usually cuts the field of hopefuls going for glory.  There are a number of reasons for that in my opinion.  First, even though there is usually a 4-5 week period between the 2nd and 3rd race in the series, people may not be recovered from those two races.  Next, this race is at altitude ranging from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet and probably averaging around 10,300.  Unless you have been living and training at a high altitude for at least a month, your performance will be a percentage of what it would be on a similar course at sea level.  In other words, you will be running at a pace (in my opinion) at least 1 minute per mile slower than you otherwise would if you were fully acclimated to the altitude.  For a 100-mile race, that means you will finish at least 1 hour 40 minutes (100 minutes) slower.  Many people may not be able to finish this race in under 28 hours so the altitude will make it impossible for them to hit the 30-hour cut-off.  For those that have the ability but are just having a bad day, that 30-hour cut-off and the altitude make finishing a challenge.  Finally, for those that aren't sure how altitude affects them, it's possible for them to get some serious conditions such as cerebral or pulmonary edema or they may just feel nauseous, dizzy, or have a bad headache.  These are all things that you don't want to happen during a 100-mile race! While our original field of 42 hopefuls for the Grand Slam went down to 25 after the first race and 23 after the second, it is likely that those people would have failed to finish this third race in the series.  Indeed, I was expecting our numbers to decline more after this race and was just hoping I wouldn't be among the list of those that DNF (Did Not Finish).

Having completed this race in 2013, I hoped my experience would help me get through to the finish again.  Knowing that I can complete this race is immensely helpful, especially because I know I don't fare too well at altitude.  Unless I take Acetazolamide (Diamox) which is an altitude sickness drug the days leading up to altitude, I won't feel nauseous just sitting in my room.  My plan heading into the race was to arrive a week early and do some hiking with Aleks and some other friends. Juerg Bandle - also running the race, and Eric Aditya who ran the Transrockies 6-day stage race the week leading up to our arrival.  Both of them were housemates and ran events at UTMB with me last year.  Juerg's son Akio also stayed with us.  We rented a house in Twin Lakes, about 15 minutes from Leadville.  During that week, we hiked Buffalo Mountain (12,800 feet with a giant talus field to navigate over), Grays and Torrey peaks (both 14,000 foot mountains.  We bagged Grays but a lightning storm was making its way over Torreys when we were 1/4 up it so we turned around), and Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado.  I did a lot of walking and then one 30 minute run on Thursday before the race.  I hoped that doing those hikes and getting some exercise at over 14,000 feet would help with the acclimation to altitude as well as make it feel easier during the highest part of the race, which hits 12,600 feet over Hope Pass (twice).  I also was carrying a pack of probably 30 pounds during the hikes (I like to be over-prepared and also carry a giant vacuum sealed canister of tea to enjoy on the peak).    

During the 5 weeks following the Vermont 100, I was feeling great.  After taking most of the first week after Vermont off, I averaged 45 miles a week the next two weeks, 25 miles the week before we left, and about 30 miles of hiking/running/walking the week leading up to the race.  I was getting good sleep and feeling good until late Thursday before the race.  That's when some anxiety started to take hold.  I had a lot of bad thoughts creep into my head about something going wrong during the race and not being able to finish, thus ending my Grand Slam hopes and then wondering what to do about my fourth race.  There is no reason to even think about the 4th race, Wasatch 100 because the focus has to be on the current race in order to get to the next one.  Another anxious moment came when I was looking to drop Aleks off for her to do a 6 hour rounf trip hike to Bull Hill by Mt. Elbert but we couldn't find the unmarked start of that trail.  Instead, I dropped her off at the La Plata trail head where she would hike for 3 hours and then turn around.  In the meantime, I would finish packing my drop bags and "relax".  When I got back to the house, I looked at my guidebook, "Colorado's Fourteeners" and it said some things about having to go a certain way or else you would get off the trail and be more on private property.  I was then worried she may not have taken the correct turn to follow the proper trail.  I was waiting for her to call me about 2-3 hours into the hike but didn't get any calls.  I tried calling but it went straight to voicemail.  Now I was starting to freak out a little.  What would happen if I drive to where I dropped her off and waited and waited and she didn't show up?  I knew there was no cell service at that trail head but maybe there was later on during the hike.  I was expecting her to be finished with the hike by 1:30.  I was supposed to meet up with my pacer in Leadville at 3:15PM and drop off my drop bags at 3PM.  What would I do if it was 2-2:30PM and there would be no sign of her at the start of the trail?  These bad thoughts consumed me.  I tried getting them out of my head because I knew they were not logical and far from the likely thing to happen.  Still, they kept pushing their way into my head.  I wasn't feeling hungry and wasn't drinking.  I was just too nervous.  So about 40 minutes sooner than I originally planned, I drove out to the trail head.  I brought some reading material but it was hot out and in the car and my worried mind couldn't concentrate on reading.  I decided to just walk out on the trail and hope to meet her on her way back.  I walked close to a mile before I saw some hiker coming back.  I asked if he saw a girl hiking by herself on her way back.  At first he said no, then after he took a few more steps he stopped and said, "wait, did she have trekking poles?".  I said yes and he said she was about 45 minutes behind him.  This brought a ton of relief so I walked a little further ahead and about 15 minutes later, I saw her walking down the path.  I tried to hide behind a tree but she already saw me.  Once getting this thought out of my head, I felt much, much better.  My bad thoughts had once again been proven silly so I had a solid reason and stronger ability to push them out if new ones about the race popped in, or so I thought.

We then drove into Leadville to drop off the drop bags for the 5 aid stations. Although, I did not have a drop bag for the 5th one, Winfield which is the 50-mile turnaround point since I thought I would be able to get back to Twin Lakes at mile 60 to pick up my headlamp.  It was still 15 minutes until 3:15 so I had time before meeting my pacer and I wanted to go into the Thrift shop we saw the day before to get a jacket because it looked to be cold at the start of the race.  I was able to find a good jacket and the tag said $8 which is great for a throw away layer.  When I went to pay for it, the cashier said $8 and then 75% off = $2.14 with tax.  Wow, that's the best throw away clothing purchase ever!  Then we waited at Mile High Pizza (Really good pizza, even by NYC standards, this pizza is great) to meet up with my pacer Regis Shivers.  Regis was referred to me by David Snipes.  I looked up some of his race times on Ultrasignup and saw that he ran Grindstone 100 a number of times and finished around 28-30 hours which is very fast for that race.  Also, because he lived in Leadville, I knew he would be great in the altitude and the most important, if Snipes recommended him, he would be great.  I quickly met him and his little dog Pearl, and we agreed that Twin Lakes (mile 60) at 6PM the earliest is when I would most likely arrive and he can begin pacing me.  I then ordered pizza, wings, and garlic bread for our house and Aleks and I met up with Eric, Juerg, and Akio so they could drive us home and I could leave my car near the start so that I was guaranteed a parking spot close by and a way to drive back to the house after the race.

We got home and enjoyed our dinner and planned our morning wake up routine (alarm for 2:30AM, leave the house at 3:15AM), then off to bed around 7:30-8PM.  Surprisingly, I was able to sleep somewhat and woke up before my alarm went off (truth was I set my alarm for 2:39 but I forgot to turn it on so I got lucky!).  I changed into my race clothing and ate a nutella and banana sandwich for breakfast and used the bathroom.  Soon enough, it was time to go with Eric driving Juerg and I to the start.  We parked (right near where my car was parked) and I used the secret porto-potty in the parking lot (although the double secret ended up being there was no toilet paper, but I always carry extra).  Then we went to the starting area and took a couple of pictures.  I ended up giving my throw away jacket to Eric to take back to the house (I guess I'll throw it away at another race).  Juerg and I wished each other a good race and I said I would see him on my way back from the turnaround point.  I then made my way a little closer to the front and waited as the countdown to the 4AM race start began.

Gear: I wore Brooks compression shorts under my standard blue shorts with zip pockets, a long sleeved Vermont 100 Finishers shirt from my 2011 (1sst 100-mile race), Drymax Trail socks, Zensah purple calf sleeves, Dirty Girl Gaiters, Hoka One One Mafate trail shoes, Brooks gloves, my 2012 NYC Ironman finisher hat, my blue APG BUFF to cover my head/ears, and my hydration pack is the Ultimate Direction PB 2.0 vest.  I had two water bottles in the front pockets but nothing yet in the bladder of the pack.

For reference, here is what the course profile of the first 50 miles looks like, the second 50 is just the reverse:

 So 18,168 feet of gain and equal loss over the entire race.  The first 4 miles is pretty much downhill.  Then, after a short and steep climb, very slight rolling terrain on sometimes rocky surface.  I start the race off running at a much quicker pace (9 minute/mile) than I would average for the race, simply because this section is downhill and very runnable, on road first and then jeep road for another 3-4 miles. I was feeling ok for the first 5-6 miles.

Then I started to notice a lot of people were passing me.  This 8 mile section of the race is mostly single track.  What usually happens is there are long trains of runners and the lines get separated based on the runner in the front.  If that runner will step aside and let people pass, then those runners may catch up to the next line.  Otherwise, the distance between the trains grows and a train from behind may catch up, forming an even longer line.  This is just how it goes.  There is no one at fault and it is not a good or bad thing, it just is.  Many times, the few runners directly behind the one in the front are comfortable with the pace and have no desire to pass.  Sometimes that runner in the front gets tired of leading and steps to the side to let the line go ahead so he/she can not feel pressured to keep up that pace.  I recall two years ago, when there was a record 943 starters of the race (after that year, they set up a lottery and limited the field to about 700.  This year there were 637 starters) I was never leading and always felt stuck behind a long line of (slower) runners and tried to pass when I could.   For the last few miles of this section, I felt like and I was running by myself.  I was ok with this but then wondered if everyone ahead of me was going out too fast (most likely) or if I was just starting to suffer too early (possibly).  I know mentally, I was not in a very good mood.  I was not looking forward to the next 40 miles, let alone 90 miles.  Going from a race like Vermont where there was an aid station every 5 miles at most made me not like these long stretches between aid that were coming.  In fact, I was already dreading the 13.5 mile stretch that I would have to do on the way back right where I was to end the race, many many hours (or one day) later.  I quickly tried to just get these thoughts out of my head and think of just moving forward.  I remembered how I felt mentally terrible two years ago and it wasn't until about mile 20 on top of the Sugar Loaf Power Line section that I began to feel better after chatting with other runners.  I got to the May Queen aid station in 2:08, roughly a 9:30 minute/mile and about 15 minutes faster than 2013.  This makes sense given I wasn't stuck behind runners this year as there were less runners and I went out a little faster the first 4 miles to get ahead of the crowd.

At the May Queen aid station (mile 13.5), I refilled my two bottles, put my headlamp in my drop bag, and changed into a short sleeve shirt from my long sleeve shirt.  I grabbed some Fig Newtons at the aid station but that was it.  I had eaten a gel earlier and was still tasting my Nutella banana sandwich.  I thanked the volunteers and then headed out on the short road section until we hit a trail section.  I remembered how in 2013 on the way back from this section, I couldn't believe how long it felt.  Now I was being reminded why.  The stretch between May Queen and the next aid station Outward Bound (formally called Fish Hatchery as it sits right next to the National Fish Hatchery) is 11 miles.  This section before hitting a long dirt climb to the Powerline section and top of Sugarloaf is rocky, and rooty and climbs a bit on the way out.   I still wasn't feeling great here.   Before we reached the start of the long steady uphill to Sugarloaf, I began to chat with people to lead my mind away from bad thoughts.  The first person I spoke with was Daniel Benhammou.  I began to chat with him because he had the same Yellow UTMB shirt from 2014 that I got from taking part in the various races they put on that week.  He took part in the PTL, which is a 2-3 person team that must run together and finish about 185 miles in the Alps.  You get about 6 days to accomplish this but the course is unmarked and you still have to go through checkpoints and cut-off times.  It sounds crazy (not Tour des Geants crazy, but close).  He also finished Hardrock (my bucket list race) 7 times and Leadville 6 times and he knew David Snipes.  We spoke for a short bit and then he took off running up the hill once we reached it while I walked it as I planned.

Afterwards, I got to speaking with another guy, James Whiteside who also happened to do UTMB in 2014.  He actually cracked a rib during that race when another runner slipped down one of the wet and steep downhill sections in the first 30 miles of the race and knocked into him.  He somehow managed to continue on and finish in 45 hours.  Having these chats with runners definitely got my mind out of the gutter temporarily. Towards the top of Sugarloaf, it started to drizzle.  I was a little concerned that it might begin to rain longer and I did not have any rain gear on me and started to get worried.  However, given that it was still early in the day, the chances of a sustained storm was minimal as the forecast called for clear skies so a drizzle for the race would actually be good in keeping the temperatures down.  By the time we got to the steady downhill of the Powerline section (you really see and hear the electricity going through those Powerlines), the rain had stopped and I was feeling better that we were heading to a faster section.

  The Powerline section is quite gnarly if you aren't looking where you are going.

The road right after the Powerline section heading towards the Fish Hatchery was quite nice scenery.

Once finished with the Powerline section and approaching the 2nd aid station (Fish Hatchery / Outward Bound), I realize that I'm just about 25 miles into the race, so 25% done!  It's now 4:38 into the race which simply multiplying by 4 gives an 18 hour finish.  Obviously this is too simplistic because I won't be running as fast the last 25 miles and let's not forget the first 25-30 miles are the easiest.  The really tough sections are from mile 40-65 and then mile 75-80 and even the last 4 miles of this race is uphill.  Still, it's good to know I'm not going as slowly as I feel.  At the aid station here I grab some turkey sandwiches and more fig newtons.  I fill my hydration pack with water as well as one of the water bottles.  However, I drop my other water bottle because I didn't feel like carrying it with me anymore and felt the bladder in my hydration pack will be more than enough.  I took out my sunglasses from my drop bag and also my iPod Shuffle because I needed more of a distraction and additional energy boost because I was still in a funk.  Then I went to the medical tent and got some sun screen because the sun was definitely going to be out and I didn't want to get burned at altitude.  It was a relatively fast aid station stop and I was off. 

The next section of the course was changed slightly from 2013.  Instead of running a about 3 miles on the road, we run across this long wide open meadow.  On the grassy section, I ran by a guy wearing a shirt that said "I run with Jesus" on the back.  I heard another runner comment to him about that and the one wearing the shirt said he will need His help today.  I commented that I would probably be cursing while saying that name.  I didn't want to offend him more than that so I didn't get into specifics but, you know, like "Jesus F'n Christ".

The views though of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive were pretty cool on this section.  Granted, you would get the same views not running this race and just driving on the road (Highway 24) but still, nice to have beautiful scenery during a run.

We then move onto the road for about 1 mile then get back onto the grass and head onto a dusty/sandy area called Pipeline.  In this area, there are tons of vehicles parked which is where runners can access their crew support as crew vehicles are not allowed at the next aid station.  It's a pretty cool area because it's another section where people are cheering for runners besides the normal aid stations.  This area is relatively flat with a couple very short hills here and there.  It's about a 6.5 mile section and I was running most of the way with occasional walk breaks.  I remember leap frogging a girl all day on this section.  She would run pretty hard (compared to my running) and then take a long walk break where I would run for 5-15 minutes and then take a 1-3 minute walk break.  I decided to throw on some music but for whatever reason, my iPod refused to work.  Perfect!  I felt that I had to go to the bathroom and hoped the aid station (Half Pipe) was fast approaching.  It did appear soon enough as I was done with this section in 70 minutes.  So I used the port-o-potty and felt better.  Then I washed up and grabbed some food (watermelon, fig newtons). The aid station volunteer was wondering why people weren't asking for or taking any of the Ramen soup to which I replied I will have some later that night in about 16 hours so save some for me! 

The next section again is a long section (aren't they all?), about 9 miles and mostly uphill with a 2-3 mile downhill to finish the section.  We go from around 9,500 feet to 10,500 feet.  While I didn't exactly like this section there was a familiarity to it because we run on the Colorado Trail and also the Continental Divide Trail if I'm not mistaken.  This was the same trail we used to go up to the peak of Mt. Elbert, although thankfully, we weren't going to make that turn and head up the Mt. Elbert trail.  This section isn't difficult, it's just that it took a while to do.  At least that's what it felt like.  About halfway through the section it began to rain again.  One of the guys in the small group I was running with was not wearing a shirt.  I don't know why (well, it wasn't cold) but he had no pack and was a little nervous of the rain continuing and possibly getting cold.  He said he hoped his crew at the next aid station (Twin Lakes) had an extra shirt for him.  Eventually we begin the downhill section.  Closer to the end there was a girl on a dirt bike.  I asked if she wouldn't mind lending it to me.  Unfortunately, she declined.  A little over two hours after leaving the last aid station, I arrive at Twin Lakes.

Now is when the race gets serious. The first 40 miles is a warm-up.  In fact, I did the first 40 in about 8 hours.  That's a 20-hour pace if I could keep it up, which I knew I couldn't but also knowing the next 20 miles are the toughest in the race.   I'm well ahead of the cut-offs and arrived at the aid station in a similar time to when I did the race in 2013.  I was hoping I could do the next 20 miles in 6-7 hours.  I thought that is what I did in 2013 (but upon further investigating, it took 8:20, but I spent a lot of time at the Twin Lakes aid station on the way back and I also helped a friend out and walked with him for a while so I don't know if 8:20 is an accurate representation or not).  Anyway, things didn't initially start off too well for this tough section and I hadn't even left the aid station.  I had to access my drop bag because my trekking poles were in them.  The volunteers, however, couldn't locate it.  At first, they said some girl had come in and taken two drop bags, with my number being one of them.  Had Aleks made it to this aid station with Eric and Akio while they awaited Juerg?  She was nowhere to be seen and the volunteers were discussing if that is what happened or if they took a different bag.  One of the volunteers told me that she will find my bag and I shouldn't worry.  I told her it was a black and white Ironman bag with the name "BIELIK" in marker on the front.  I said my Duct tape bib# that I attached to the bag must have fallen off. So while she was looking for it, I went and got some food for the long trip up to Hope Pass.  A few minutes pass and I eat some grilled cheese and turkey sandwich, some watermelon and some cookies.  They finally found my bag and I was able to get the trekking poles and my rain jacket out of the bag.  I'm able to stuff the jacket (which is packable) into my hydration pack.  I give the bag back to her for the return trip and she tells me that she will be placing the bag on the left side of all of the drop bags so I can find it later.  Then I run out of the aid station down the streets of Twin Lakes.  I see Makoto Kitamura, who is a figure I see at just about all of my races.  I met him at the airport in D.C. on a transfer on the way back from Leadville in 2013.  He's a great guy and it's funny we never cross paths except for these races since he lives and runs in NYC.  I give him a high-5 and get some words of encouragement and then I cross the street (thank the officers for stopping the cars from running me over) and head through a short grassy section. 

Then the fun begins.

Before the massive 3,400 foot climb over about 3.5-4 miles, we have to go across a stream crossing.  However, as I guess they had a lot of snow this year and maybe a lot of rain the week before the race, we had to cross about 8-10 other ankle to almost knee deep water crossings before the main one (which they put a rope up to help).  The water was nice and cold though.  Here's video compilation of some of those crossings.

Then began the climb.  There's nothing anyone can say that will make the climb easier.  It sucks.  But if you know it's coming and are prepared to go slow and just tell yourself that in 2 hours or so you will be at the top, then it marginally helps because you know it is going to take a long time and there is no use just looking at your watch to check the distance covered.  During the climb, I chatted with another Grand Slam hopefully, Kelly Agnew.  This was his 5th time doing Leadville and he was a good climber so we didn't get a chance to talk much.  It was basically he and another runner talking but then passing me.  The other runner spoke about how he DNFd the race a couple years ago because he showed up a couple days before the race with his wife and a 6-month old and basically got zero sleep.  This time, he left his now 3 year old and a 1-year old at home so he can focus on the race.  About halfway up the climb I see a female runner sitting on a log.  I ask if she is ok and then give some words of encouragement and then realize who it is.  It is Amy Rusiecki, the new race director for the Vermont 100 and husband to elite runner Brian Rusiecki.  Amy is no slouch.  She is a very fast runner and finished 2nd female in the Bear Mountain 50K this year, she also finished the Vermont 100 (before she became the race director) in under 19 hours and has finished over 80 ultras and is my age!  Obviously, she just wasn't having a good day.  I asked if she was indeed Amy and when she confirmed this, I thanked her for putting on a great race at Vermont this year.  Then I gave her some more words of encouragement and that the altitude here sucks for us sea levelers (she lives in Massachusetts).  She got up off the log shortly after that.  Then it was just keep going up slowly.  I have to admit there were a few times I just wanted to sit on a log myself and take a break.  But I kept telling myself I didn't do that last time and that I will make it to the aid station at the top, eat some potato soup they make up there and then continue up and over Hope Pass as I did two years ago.  It felt tough though.  I didn't remember it being as tough in 2013.  Although I definitely recall needing some time at the Hope Pass aid station and that final 500 feet of climbing after the aid station sucked.  Bad thoughts still crept into my head and I wondered how I could make the climb on the way back (which is shorter but steeper).  I began to wonder if I should have dropped earlier.  About 30 minutes before I reached the aid station, the lead runner (Ian Sharman) came running by me.  I've been a fan of his since I first heard about him on Talk Ultra and especially because he is the Grand Slam record holder and finished all four races with a cumulative time of under 70 hours I think.  I said "great job Ian" before he bombed down by me and he said "thank you".  The elite runners are intense but still down to Earth people.  All of them and their pacers were courteous to us as we stepped aside for them and they said "thanks" or "good job" to us average runners in turn.  By the time I got to the Hope Pass aid station, I knew I couldn't drop here (not allowed to drop at this aid station) so I might as well eat some food and then maybe things would feel better after going over the pass and doing the descent into Winfield.  I filled up my bladder thanks to the help of a nice kid volunteering and then got some of the famous Hope Pass potato soup.  It seemed to be a a little party up there with a lot of volunteers but just as many runners hanging out trying to figure out how to get through this race as this section kicked them hard.  The Alpacas (Llamas) that the volunteers use to get the supplies up to this spot is also a cool site.  I didn't waste a lot of time here though because I wanted to get down as soon as I could just to turn around and do it all in reverse. 

Video of Hope Pass aid station up at 12,100 feet; the pass is up at 12,600:

The remaining 500 foot climb to the top of Hope Pass is a pain and it was quite windy. In fact, a hat of one of the runners in front of me was blown right off and he had to go off of the trail in order to retrieve it.  Once over the top, it's a few long and steep switchbacks down and then gets technical on some portions.

I was indeed feeling better on the way down from the top but that feeling didn't last too long.  I completely forgot how long this section to the 50-mile mark was.  Every time I think we are about to head lower and onto the very short dirt road section to go into the aid station, we just go up a short climb and it each time it was filled with these small rollers.  I kept looking at my watch to figure out what altitude I was at because I thought we would have to head lower but we stayed closer to 10,500 for a long time.  I probably wasn't drinking as much water as I should have and didn't eat anything on the descent.  That was a mistake because it took 90 minutes from the top to finally reach Winfield.  Had I taken a gel or something around 45 minutes in, it probably would have helped.  I thought it would only take 45-60 minutes to do this section because I thought it was mostly downhill or flat and completely blanked on what this section actually was.  When I thought we were pretty close to the final descent into Winfield, a runner heading the opposite way passes us and another runner going in my direction asks how far to Winfield and the response was about 1.5-2 miles.  That was crushing to hear.  Again, thoughts about quitting were definitely entering my head.  What accompanied those thoughts were a few weird things.  First, how could I get in touch with Regis, my pacer to let him know I decided to drop out at Winfield?  What would he then do?  He was getting a ride from someone to Twin Lakes so unless he picks someone else up to pace, how would he get back home.  I would feel terrible wasting his time since he had to spend most of the day waiting for me and then all the time to somehow get home and he had to leave his dog with a sitter.  So how would I get in touch with him?  I was thinking I could call Aleks who could then call Snipes who could then call Regis.  But what if Regis didn't take his phone with him?  These thoughts were stupid, but they did keep me from truly deciding to drop.  That along with knowing I was well ahead of the cutoffs so aside from feeling bad, I shouldn't just quit and end my Grand Slam hopes.  I then thought about what I woul do about the next race.  If I quit, should I even bother going to Wasatch?  Should I run that race?  Maybe I could just go and volunteer since my flight and hotel were booked.  I also wondered how I would get myself back to Leadville if I dropped at Winfield.  I guessed if I dropped, I would have to wait for the volunteers to pack up and hitch a ride with them to bring drop bags back into Leadville.  These were the stupid thoughts that occupied my head and I did try to push them away and just focus on going forward one step at a time.  When I finally reached the road to Winfield I was feeling pretty tired.  I saw Makoto and told him I felt terrible.  He gave me an incredible quick pep talk and told me he knew I could finish and I just needed to go out there and do it.  It was good seeing that familiar face there who knew I could finish the race. 

At the aid station, a fantastic volunteer helped fill my hydration pack and brought me whatever I needed while I sat in a chair to regroup. I asked for a cup of Ramen soup and 2 cups of Coke.  I finished the soup and asked for another one.  I needed energy for this climb back up Hope Pass!  I looked at my watch and saw that it took me 4 hours to do this 10 mile section from Twin Lakes.  If it took another 4 hours for the way back, that would make it 8PM and close to getting dark.  My headlamp was in my drop bag at Twin Lakes.  If something happened and I was suffering the way back, I didn't know what I would do if it got dark on me.  So again I wondered if I should quit.  Regis was going to be at Twin Lakes in 2 hours and at best, I would get there in 3 hours.  I really still felt like I may want to quit and I wanted to call Aleks to see how Juerg was doing and here a familiar voice.  I asked someone if I could borrow their cell phone but they said they couldn't get any service here.  I overheard someone saying the same thing.  Oh well, if I can't call anyone to quit, I guess I can't quit!  Besides, it was 12 hours into the race and I was 2 hours ahead of the tight cutoffs for the first half of the race. I had 18 hours to finish 50 miles and realistically, as bad as I was feeling I knew I could do that.  I was just not in the correct mental state to want to go another 18 hours. The only way to fix that is to keep moving forward.

Trying to will myself to feeling better, I ran down the dirt road instead of walking until I entered the woods and the initial climb began out and back up to Hope Pass.  At least I had it fresh in my mind how long this section was before the steeper climb of switchbacks up to the top of Hope.  When I finally got to that alpine section, the top of Hope Pass looked miles away.  There were a lot fewer people now working their way down the backside of Hope towards Winfield.  They most likely didn't make the cutoffs and even those that were coming down had very little chance of making the cutoff at Winfield.  They probably continued to head in that direction because their crew would meet them there and could drive them home after they missed the cutoff.  We still said good work to each other and gave words of encouragement as we passed each other or stepped aside to make way for them to come down or for us to walk up.  I ate some shot blocks when I was about 2/3rd to the top, wanting some energy to continue on.  Finally, I crested Hope Pass and told the volunteer there that she was nuts.  They have a volunteer stationed at the top with a walkie talkie and where there is also a timing mat.  She was bundled up because it was very chilly and worse when the wind was blowing as it was as I was going over the pass.  I went to take a video from the top but my GoPro battery died.  I most likely had it turned on in my pocket and didn't realize it, while the battering was wasting away.  When I got back to the Hope Pass aid station, I asked for some potato soup and grabbed a cup of coke.  It took 2 hours and 20 minutes to get from Winfield to the top of Hope Pass.  It would likely take another 60-90 minutes to get back to Twin Lakes.  It was already after 6PM and Regis is there waiting for my arrival.  I wondered how long he would wait before wondering if he might have missed me and he would likely check with officials to make sure I didn't arrive.  I still thought about quitting when I got to Twin Lakes but dreaded having to tell him that in person because why should I quit when he is there to help get me to the finish line?  After I had the soup and coke, I headed out on the long descent back to Twin Lakes.  I wanted to get down quickly because I was still concerned about night falling before I got my headlamp.  I also remembered how at Western States this year I went pretty fast down a long path of switchbacks and that likely caused me to not be able to run as well later on.  So although I ran down this section, I made sure not to go too fast and blow up my legs and be useless the next 40 miles. Using the trekking poles on the descent helped save my legs a little as well.

I passed a number of runners on this section.  It really is a long way down.  When I finally reached the exit of the woods, I remembered the dozen or so water crossings.  I just walked through them as I didn't have a choice.  I now was debating if I should change socks at the aid station or chance that they would dry fast enough so I wouldn't have cold feet and toes during the night.  Then I decided I would just pack the spare socks in my hydration pack so I could change them later if need be.  I finally make it back into the town of Twin Lakes (still a party scene) and right before the aid station I see my pacer Regis.  The first thing I do is apologize to him about how late I am.  I told him I was having a pretty crappy run so far and he said we'll turn that around and finish strong.  I retrieved my headlamp from my drop bag as well as my charger for my Garmin.  I ate some ramen soup and had some cups of Coke.  I ate some other sandwiches too.  This is the time to fuel up well on food since there is a steady climb on this next section so I wouldn't be running much and can tolerate more solid food.  Then Regis and I leave to finish the last 40 miles of this race.

I tell Regis again that I'm sorry I was 2 hours later than the 6PM assumption but he was cool with it.  In fact, he was worried he may have missed me somewhere in the crowded aid station.  He was dropped off there at 4PM so he had plenty of time to worry and plenty of time to kill.  He was happy though.  He said he ate really well at the aid station and drank a lot of the sports drink (Gu Brew) so he was all ready to go.  He also got a chance to speak at length with the race director of a relatively new race in Colorado called the Ouray 100 (!home/mainPage  ).  If you think Leadville is tough, this race will destroy your soul.  He finished it the first year but DNF'd along with just about everyone this year as the weather was terrible for the race.  He told me of a story from this year's race where he and a few other runners got caught in a massive thunderstorm on one of the climbs and took shelter in an abandoned mine shaft.  The problem is once you stop moving, you get really cold.  One of the runners carried an emergency knife with a built in flint striker as well as a small emergency kit with some tinder.  They built a fire in there and stayed warm and after an hour or so, the storm passed and they were able to continue on.  They didn't make fun of that guy for carrying all of that extra stuff on the run after that.  So Regis was able to chat with the  race director for an hour or two and guaranteed himself a spot in that race for pretty much infinity.  So he enjoyed those 4 hours of waiting but was ready to run.  Unfortunately, running may not exactly be what we did but he has paced people before (as have I) and understands that running is a loose term for most people the last 40 miles of a 100-miler.  Regis was great at making sure I was on my nutrition and hydration; always asking if I've been drinking and eating.  He lead the way and told me to let him know if he should slow down at all.  This is where a runner can use a great pacer to their advantage.  If I was solo for this race, I know I would have kept a slower pace and taken many more walking breaks.  I used Regis to pull me forward.  I took walk breaks when I felt I was having some trouble on some uphills but generally, I would just try to stay with him and run as much as I could.  The results speak for itself.  The section from Twin Lakes to Half Pipe I did 30 minutes faster than in 2013.  Our headlamps went on maybe 30 minutes after leaving the aid station and we passed a lot of runners and Regis was very friendly to all the runners and pacers we passed; always giving words of encouragement and offering food or meds if they needed anything.  At the Half Pipe aid station, Regis got a bunch of gels and I ate more soup and some watermelon.  I filled my water bottle halfway with Coke and my hydration pack with water, then I used the port-o-pottys to pee and apply some A&D ointment to some areas that were warning to become a major problem.  Then we were off.  Regis loved all these new Gu gel flavors like Salted Watermelon and was starting to acquire a nice stash of extras.

The next section from Half Pipe to Outward Bound is the flat section and because it was also less technical, I got to enjoy the night scenery here.  I turned off my headlamp and just looked up at the amazing stars in the sky.  At some point that was ruined by the  gunfire we then heard.  Turns out some of the locals aren't fans of the racers from this race and the other races that take place in the summer.  They don't like all the visitors causing traffic and some of them are redneck like and think it is a good idea to shoot all type of weapons into the air or just at their own targets (they aren't shooting at the runners and we hoped they weren't shooting near us either) to just scare the runners.  Anyway, because they changed this section from a lot of road to more grassy sections, I was happy that I was still able to run this section as fast as I did in 2013.  It seemed like we could see the aid station but it took a while for us to get to it.  When we did, I used the bathroom and then got some more food.  It was strangely very cold at this aid station (although temps were supposed to drop to the high 30s) so I took my jacket out of my hydration pack and put it on and also put on my gloves.  I had a couple more cups of ramen soup and cups of Coke as well as some sandwiches and refilled my water bottle halfway with Coke.  Regis ate some sandwiches as well and grabbed a few more gels.  Right before I gave back my drop bag I grabbed my secret night time weapon, 5-Hour Energy just because with 25 miles left and it being close to midnight with hopefully 5-6 hours to go for the last 25 miles, I wanted to make sure I wouldn't get sleepy.  Although with Regis pacing me, I didn't think I would get tired.  I figured, it couldn't hurt to take it.  Then we headed out to take on the Powerline section.  At this point I should also mention that my right eye was about 75% clouded/foggy.  If you saw my eye it would just look extremely red to you.  To me, it looks like I'm running with goggles on and I breathed into one of the goggles and then put them on.  I could see, but not in great detail.  This has happened to me on other races but not many and never this early into a race.  I remember the first time it happened generally was during a long bike ride in 2008 and I think it was just a lot of wind and cooler airflow.  It happened around mile 85 at Leadville in 2013.  It also happened towards the end of the Tesla Hertz 100 miler last year.  I don't know what exactly causes it and how to avoid it.  It could be related to contact lenses but it doesn't happen every race.  Maybe I should see an eye doctor but I just feel like they won't know what it is based on what I've read about on various Google searches.  It usually goes away within an hour or two of finishing and warming up.  With my current condition, I could still run and I was fine, but I was hoping my left eye wouldn't begin clouding up because that would mean I would be running in a thick fog.

We head out onto the road that then goes uphill so we start walking to digest the food.  We also ran into a warm area, or at least the aid station was just located near some cold air flow.  Regis mentioned this many times during the night that the weather was really very good.  It wasn't freezing but cool enough for running without overheating.  Some places we felt a warm air current.  This was one of those places.  So I took off the jacket and gloves I had put on maybe 10 minutes earlier and we walked because it was uphill and because I was sweating a little.  I had forgotten how long this road section was before we turn onto the Powerline section.  It felt like forever and that's not a good sign because the Powerline section on the way back is so much worse and feels even more like it goes on forever.  It really did once again.  I was hoping it would go by quickly and it kind of did in some way.  I remember two years ago I kept thinking I was at the top of the section and kept being disappointed that it would just be a false summit.  This time around, it just took a while but with Regis leading the way, we got to the top and it didn't feel as long.  At the top, my left eye began to get foggy.  There was a fake aid station at the top that random people put together.  It can best be described as a Rave.  There was loud music and tons of glow in the dark objects and lights.  We didn't need anything from this place though (although maybe could have used some things they had!)  We were moving well until I felt like I had to use the bathroom.  I found a nice spot and did my business again.  Hopefully that was the last one of the race.  We were running but my stomach wasn't feeling great.  We took more walk breaks than I would have liked but that was because I didn't feel as ready to run.  When we did run, I noticed the lights ahead from other runners were very blurry and realized my vision was getting worse.  This didn't help my spirits and I just wasn't feeling being able to run as much but we did pick it up to a run pace on the way downhill.  When we finally reached the trail section, I noticed how poor my vision now was altogether because my left eye was getting more fogged up.  This section also has a lot of rocks and roots which made running much more difficult while vision impaired.  It didn't help that my headlamp was starting to dim.  It took a while, but we finally made it to the last aid station, May Queen and it took 3:50 to run the that 11 mile section.  Somehow that was slower than two years ago by about 20 minutes.  It was likely due to not being able to see well.

At May Queen I ate some more food and half filled my water bottle with Coke.  Then we tried to change batteries in my headlamp but we were 1 AA battery short.  Luckily, I had my other headlamp from the start of the race in my drop bag here and we had extra AAA batteries.  I also asked if they had any contact lens solution at the aid station to see if that may fix my eye problem.  They had Visene and I tried that.  I hoped it would work but it didn't.  We left this aid station and I was hoping this 13.5 mile stretch to the finish would go better than two years ago when I basically felt tired and terrible and ran out of food and ended up walking the last 6-8 or so miles.  I was feeling ok this time around but my vision sucked.  There are some rocks and roots on this section and I was very worried about missing a step and possibly injuring myself.  The headlamp I had also isn't the brightest and that made it more challenging.  Regis helped by having his waist light pointed to his left side to give me extra light.  He was trying to pull me on ahead and I was running whenever I could but most of the uphill section of these short rollers I would not be able to keep up and asked him to slow down for a second or told him I'm going to walk this part.  After an hour, I took a gel but it didn't taste great.  I hoped it wouldn't make me have to use the woods.  This 13.5 mile section can be broken into 3 parts on the way back.  The first is about 7 miles right next to the lake on rolling sometimes rocky and rooty terrain.  The next 2-3 is more or less on a dirt road.  Finally, the last 3 miles is uphill on Jeep road until the last half-mile which is mostly uphill on asphalt, with an uphill finish back to the start/finish.  This 13.5 miles feels very long to end the race, and why shouldn't it?  It's a little more than 1/8th of the race and without any aid stations to break it up!  Right before we got to the dirt road section, the sky began to give the appearance of sunrise.  I was happy for that because I hoped I would be able to see better.  Unfortunately, my vision was still pretty poor but I didn't have to worry about my footing here.  We would run as much as we could before I would need a walk break.  Finally, we made the turn onto the jeep road.  It was here that Regis got me into my competitive zone.  He had mentioned before but said more seriously now that this is the section where you catch the walking dead. That's basically what I was two years ago.  I wasn't in a zombie state, but I was just a walking casualty of the race.  This time, Regis would tell me he sees three runners ahead and we can catch them.  So we run the uphill jeep road.  When I say run at this point of the race, also noting that it is uphill, my pace was around a 13 minute mile on average.  Not running by many people's standards but at mile 97 and going uphill, it felt like I was moving really fast.  The process continued.  He would tell me there were x amount of runners ahead of us, I would say I can't see them, he would say that's because, "you are blind and to trust him, they are there and they are walking and you can catch them", so I kept running.  Finally, we make the left hand turn onto the asphalt and keep running.  I'm really hurting.  My legs hurt, I'm very low on energy and not wanting to eat a gel, and I'm breathing hard too.  But I know we are so close to the finish.  Regis says he sees a pack of runners ahead. I know the game he is playing and I still go for it.  I've paced people and have said the same things.  My own goal for this race has nothing to do with the people ahead of me and it doesn't matter what place I am in the race.  So why push so hard at the end to pass these people when I can just walk it in easy and finish.  Maybe part of it is still a little competitiveness.  I think the biggest reason though is that I just want the race to be over and the faster I can get to the finish line, the sooner I'll be able to stop running.  Using the people ahead of me as a type of magnet or rubber band pulling me towards them is just a method to get my mind off of all the pain and tiredness I may be feeling and go faster.  We get to the top of the first roller and I ask Regis if the top of the next one is where the course then goes down and then up until the finish line and he says he yes.  I then tell him that we'll run down this first part, then take a walk break up the next little hill and then run hard to the finish.  He's all for that so we run down the hill, walk up the next one and before cresting it, I get the final drops of Coke from my water bottle and then start running before the top of the hill so we can crest the hill and keep up the solid effort on the downhill and then use that downhill momentum on the way up. I pushed all thoughts of pain and everything out of my mind and focused on trying to lengthen my stride and concentrate on my breathing.  I focus on taking one breath in for every two steps and one breath out for two.  That's all I'm paying attention to aside from the cheering crowd of the people lined up there waiting for their own runners to come through.  I'm moving fast though and pumping my arms to get as much speed as I can get out of my tired body.  It feels like the finish line is not getting and closer on this uphill section although that may be because my vision is absolutely terrible.  I feel that I'm moving hard though and can tell my stride is great and I'm just trying to block all thoughts of hurt out and just get to the finish.  I finally can tell I'm getting really close now and pushing my run harder and finally, Regis breaks off to the left and I go through the finish line.  According to my Garmin, I was clocking low 7 minute miles that last short stretch.  I crossed the finish line and got my medal from the co-race founder.  I was finally finished with this race and part 3 of the Grand Slam.

It took me 26:44:52 (according to what was printed on my finishers jacket, 26:45:14 according to the clock) to finish the race.  Nearly 1 hour faster than 2013.  It took 4 hours for me to do the last 13.5 mile section in 2013.  It took 3:11 this year and that is with my completely clouded vision.  I only wonder how much faster I could have finished if I didn't have the vision issue.

After finishing the race, we went to the final aid station (finish line aid station) but I wasn't in the mood for aid station fare (Fig Newtons, M&Ms, pretzels) but they did have potato soup so I had a cup of that.  I also had a cup of the Gu Brew chocolate recovery drink.  Regis and I sat down and took in the race and I was wondering out loud how long my eyes will be clouded up because there was no way I could operate a car in this condition.  After 5 minutes or so, I figure the best thing is for me to get into the car, turn the heat on and just wait.  I was also going to give Aleks a call to see how everyone else is, since I never saw Juerg on on the course, I assumed he was cut off or dropped out at Twin Lakes.  So I was hoping they were awake and could drive in and give me a ride back to the house.  Regis had to go pick up his dog and then was going to work digging some holes or something like that for someone.  The guy is a machine.  So I get to my car and thank Regis profusely for his help and he then walks home.  I was able to get in touch with Aleks and they were all going to come in to pick me up so Eric could drive my car back to the house.  So I waited in the car.  I called Snipes to let him know how the race went.  About 15 minutes later an SUV drives up and Regis steps out and asks how my eyes are and if I had a ride back.  Basically, he was checking up on me.  The guy is a true class act.  10 minutes later, my ride arrives and I get home.  I shower and then sleep for 90 minutes waking up about every 15.   I get up, have some coffee and food and then stretch and roll and then we head up to the awards ceremony to receive my jacket and buckle.

To sum up this race, it felt a lot harder than I was expecting it to be.  Having finished this race before, I thought the experience would lend itself to feeling better most of the race so at least the first half would feel good and maybe I would be hurting by being fatigued towards the end of the race.  However, I felt pretty bad bad the first 60 miles.  I was not in a happy place although I did try to get myself feeling better and I think most of it was just a mental issue for some reason. Regis said that it may have felt tough this year because the jetstream/wind was pushing smoke from an enormous forest fire in Southeast Washington state into Colorado.  I remember watching the news on Tuesday before the race and they had a special on the local Colorado station about air quality being poor because of the fire and the views from the mountains starting Monday were hazy instead of perfectly clear as they were on Sunday.  Maybe that had some slight impact on making the climbs up Hope Pass harder? Speaking of Regis, I can't say enough good things and really give a huge thanks to my pacer.  I most likely would have still finished the race without him, but I think I would have finished 2-3 hours later and would have been quite miserable those last 40 miles and probably 14 hours I would have been going on my own.  He kept me entertained, safe, and importantly, moving forward at a good pace. He's the man, and I wish him the best of luck at Grindstone this year and Ouray every year.  Can I ever get sub-25 at this race?  Probably, but I don't think I want to try it again unless I'm living and training in Colorado for a few months.

After finishing the race, my legs were pretty tired the following week.  I didn't run again until the Friday following the race when I ran to work and also ran home from work (3.1 miles each way) and I felt exhausted.  It was hot and humid but my legs also felt extremely heavy.  I took off the weekend from running and ran 8.2 miles on Monday including about 13 sets of 10 burpees along my run.  I was pretty tired after that and still didn't feel fully recovered.  I ran to and from work on Thursday and felt good.  Then I ran 12 miles with Team in Training on Saturday and then 11 miles on the Staten Island Greenbelt trail with my Bear Mountain teammates from this year's race, Fabian, Jon Brause, and Meghan.  I felt ok this weekend but still not 100% recovered.  So I'm taking the rest of the week off which isn't much considering today is Monday (Labor Day) and I fly out on Wednesday after work to Utah for the final leg of the Grand Slam, the Wasatch Front 100 which starts on Friday morning.  Wasatch is a strange race in this series.  I have not run it before so I can't say from experience but usually, the Grand Slammers that are left at this point tend to finish this race.  It is much harder than the other 3 with about 40-50% more climbing and descending (26,000 feet each) and some of it at high altitude (the race is between 5,000 and 11,000 feet).  However, they give you 36 hours to complete the race and that time makes all the difference.  Temperatures vary wildly in this one, ranging from 20 degrees in some parts possibly to the 90s in others and rain and other bad weather is always a factor. About 5% of the runners who finish the race can do so in under 24 hours compared to about 25% or higher in most races.  It is a challenging course.  I would love to be able to finish in under 30 hours but I'm not focusing on that time goal.  Hopefully it happens and it will be icing on the cake.  It will be a challenge but I'm looking forward as well to this being the last one.  The course is supposed to be incredibly scenic, and I have the motivation of just having to get to the finish line of this and not have any other races to worry about afterwards. So three down, 1 monster race to go.  Stay tuned!  And if you want to help out you can donate any amount to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society here (through October)

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