Continuing from my previous Part II post....
Mayqueen to Finish (100.0)
The funny thing about 100-milers is that some are quite uneventful as far as problems, and some are full of personal drama. At my first 100--the 2007 Burning River 100--I experienced no problems and got to the finish 6th overall. At my 2008 Mohican 100, where I finished 4th overall after losing the lead, I fought ghastly diarrhea and a blown-up knee the final 20 miles, barely making it. At the next year's Mohican 100, I got through the race with zero problems--everything went perfectly--and won by 22 minutes, puking my guts out afterward. Although I did experience a bit of a bad patch after reaching 100 miles in 17 hours flat at the 24-hour national championship in Cleveland last October, I got through that race largely unscathed (but had all kinds of post-race/overuse injuries afterward).
Well, at Leadville the drama certainly reached its high point at the Mayqueen aid station (86.5), which is the last aid station of the run and, for many, a little house of horrors. Mayqueen separates you from the finish by a very long, emotionally and physically draining 13.5 miles. I could roll out of bed any day of the week and pop off 13.5 miles easily (as could any ultra runner). But when you've been running for nearly 87 miles (or, in my case, 89 miles) and enter your last aid station, which is a little more than a half-marathon and upwards of 3+ hours from the finish, yeah, you kind of have a hard time wrapping your exhausted, foggy head around the challenge. This from a runner who has always managed to remain calm and deliberate late in races.
When Mo and I arrived at Mayqueen--it was now past midnight--I was in rough shape mentally and physically despite having done a pretty good job of consuming fluids, gels and Endurolytes (a.k.a. E-Caps) along the way--not an easy task when you're running a 100-mile race at 10,000+ feet. I was devastated by the missed turn into the Powerline climb, which added two extra miles. The extra time on our feet, along with the challenge of navigating an incredibly nasty section of the course (Powerline), had wiped me out. To really appreciate the challenge of the Powerline and Sugarloaf climbs, consider that it was here a bit earlier in the day that frontrunner Tony Krupicka, an imminently talented endurance athlete with exceptional high altitude skills, had crashed and burned after such a valiant effort (Tony's report is here). Over the years, these climbs have claimed many; all lived to tell about it.
(I know I'm being dramatic in my prose. I'm a writer and my focus is on not only recounting events as I experienced them, but also on trying to put you, the reader, right there with me.)
Fortunately, I'd made it over Powerline and Sugarloaf and down to Mayqueen, but not in good shape. When I arrived at Mayqueen, where my mom and Anne greeted me, I immediately went for the soup and some Coke to try to revive myself. Unfortunately, the soup had a hideously burned taste to it (I guess the noodles had burned on the bottom of the pot, creating a wretched taste), and this really sent me over the edge. I found the nearest trash can and proceeded to vomit multiple times. Coke, gel, noodles, you-name-it ejected from my mouth in large volumes--strings of slimy vomit hanging from my lips and sticking to my singlet. I decided right then and there that my goose was cooked. Then the chills set in, and it was then that I decided my goose was not only cooked--it was burned. I was puking and shaking like a leaf--a likely case of severe bonking along with altitude sickness. I hadn't eaten well all day and this was the consequence--"The Race Across the Sky" had beaten me.
After puking up every last content of my stomach, I resisted help but eventually allowed the Mayqueen medical team to lead me to a nearby cot, where I collapsed into a heap of nothingness. Arguing with them to the contrary, I nonetheless submitted to their desire to wrap me in a sleeping bag and place warming pads all over my chest and stomach (you have to understand that, in my mind, surrendering to the cot is the last step before DNF'ing--hence my reluctance to lay down). They took my pulse-ox, consulting with Anne throughout the evaluation. As all of this was going on, runners cruised through Mayqueen (50-60 in all by the time I left). I was losing ground and losing it fast. In my four years of racing 100-milers, nothing like this had ever happened. This was uncharted territory--40+ minutes of lost time in an aid station being attended to by medics.
I was talking about dropping, saying "I'm done. I'm done...." I was shaking like crazy and my stomach was still queasy. I didn't know how I'd cover the final 13.5 miles in this state...unless I could get some fuel in me. Anne fed me some watermelon and it stayed down. She told me I couldn't drop--that I'd worked hard to get here and that I'd be fine. My mom stood by, clearly concerned as any mom would be. Lance and Mo were also nearby, quite concerned that the race was now over. In my head, I kept hearing the words of LT100 founder Ken Chlouber: "You're better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can! Dig deep!"
After a lot of back-and-forth, and with Ken's words still circulating through my mind, finally I got out of the cot and my mom and Anne gave me a bunch of layers to put on. I slid on my running pants and a sweatshirt and jacket. They replaced my hat with a skull cap and handed me bags of boiled potatoes and saltines to carry with me. Lance was ready to take me to the finish and we decided that I'd subsist the final 13.5 miles on the potatoes and saltines and Gatorade. I was very concerned about bonking there in woods, next to the lake, and shivering to death (not literally). But I wanted to finish this race and so off we went.
Incredibly, within steps of the tent Lance and I started running. I felt much warmer and my chills had gone away. With a goal of finishing in under 25 hours to get the big buckle, we made our way down the campground road and onto the lakeside trail. I knew the 13.5 miles in front of us would be a slog; they'd take a long time to cover and I would feel like crap every step of the way.
Lance kept me motivated and in a constant state of forward progress. With every step, the finish line got closer. I ran and ran some more, and when I couldn't run we power-hiked. Staying on course with the fading glow sticks and sparse streamers along the way was a challenge. A few times we questioned whether we'd strayed off-course, but then we saw a marker and breathed a sigh of relief. It was surprising that the Leadville 100, which is second only to the Western States 100 as the most prestigious 100-miler in the nation, was so sparsely marked. Maybe that's part of the Leadville experience.
This run/power hike routine carried on for the 7-8 miles you cover along the lake, passing through the Tabor Boat Ramp, where my crew was supposed to be positioned but unfortunately they were unable to find this particularly critical crew access point (which wasn't critical for me since time was of the essence and stopping would be quite ill-advised). No worries--we didn't need any assistance anyway and so we cruised past the boat ramp.
I kept looking at my watch and knew that a sub-25-hour finish would be tight. Lance also knew it would be tight, but he stayed positive and on my case about running as much as possible. We knew the lake section would be slow and that we could pick up time once on the roads into town. Lance kept telling me I'd hate him once we got on the roads--he was going to make me go hard.
Well, after what seemed like an eternity, we got onto the gravel road leading up into town. This road wouldn't end. We saw a streetlight ahead of us and at times it seemed close and at others it seemed a world apart. Relentless forward progress, I kept telling myself. Lance was fighting a groin pull and I was a little concerned. I needed his pacing help. He endured. We stuck together--pals. A friendship was forming right there in the middle of the night in Leadville, Colorado--two miles in the sky amid ungodly suffering on my part and, with his bum groin, perhaps his.
After a few turns and the ever-painful, quad-crushing rocky descent connecting to yet another freaking gravel path (my memory of the course on this section is a little foggy, so I may have a few facts wrong), we found ourselves on "The Boulevard"--the homestretch. I told Lance I was "broken" and wouldn't run a step until we were a few hundred feet from the finish. The time was about 4:40 a.m. and we knew a sub-25-hour time was in the bag, trading high fives (Lance was an unending source of cheer and positive energy). With the finish line close by, we quickly stopped to take off my warm-up pants so that the number on my shorts would be visible when we crossed (or else I risked a DQ). I was so battered that Lance had to assist.
With pants now off and just shorts on, we ran into the finish line. The announcer called off my name and number. A red carpet awaited me as I made my way through the finish line, really too exhausted to express much of any emotion. My brother and Anne were there and I quickly hugged Lance and the race director, Merilee (she hugs every finisher), and then hugged Anne and Will who were then joined by Mo. Though exhausted, I was nonetheless in a lucid mental state and so relieved this race was over. We walked over to the medical and finishers tent for a weigh-in and then made our way to the car to head back to the cabin.
My finish time was 24:47. I'd finished 92nd overall and the time when I crossed was 4:47 a.m. on Sunday morning. This was my slowest-ever 100-mile time, but without question my hardest-ever effort. I'd never run for this long--I'd gone 47 minutes longer than my previous "record" at the 24-hour last October. And every freaking step of this journey was between 9,200-12,600 feet in the sky. Yes, this truly was "The Race Across the Sky."
I had just finished one of the nation's most legendary and difficult ultras, the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run, earning the highly coveted El Plato Grande belt buckle. Only 98 of us had earned that buckle in this 29th running of the LT100. So glad I was one of them.
...to be continued...