Monday, August 30, 2010

Post-Leadville soul-searching

In the days following the Leadville Trail 100, I've found myself in a soul-searching state, trying to answer many questions tumbling around in my head:

1) What went wrong at Leadville?
2) What's next?
3) What does the future hold?
4) Will I ever learn and stop making the same mistakes over and over again?

Couldn't have earned the big buckle without this little guy, or without the love and support of Anne.

What went wrong at Leadville?
A lot went wrong at Leadville. Some problems were my fault, while others really were a result of inexperience in the Colorado high country. First and foremost, a reality check: I FINISHED ONE OF THE HARDEST 100-MILERS IN THE NATION...AND WITHIN 25 HOURS FOR THE CHERISHED EL PLATO GRANDE BELT BUCKLE. NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE THIS BUCKLE! Now for the part where I'm hard on myself: I bombed with my race-day diet. I didn't recognize that running a 100-mile race at 10,000+ feet required a unique diet. I had no real Leadville-specific dietary game plan going into the 100--mainly because I didn't know that being that high up for that long would wreak havoc on my appetite and digestive "rhythms." I simply didn't want to eat during the race. It took a lot of willpower to eat noodle soup (read: Ramen) and at no point did I partake in the usual aid station fare such PB&J quarters, bean burritos, etc. save a chip and some orange slices here and there. Most of the time I just subsisted on PowerBar gels, GU Chomps, Gatorade, and water, along with Endurolytes. I'm sure I wasn't getting the requisite 250+ calories/hour. Which greatly contributed to the nasty situation at the mile-86.5 Mayqueen aid station and the very disappointing 24:47/92nd-place finish.

Assuming I return to Leadville next year, my race-day diet will have to be different. I'm looking into Hammer Perpetuem as a real possibility for fueling my next Leadville 100. Perpetuem gives you about 270 calories and 54 grams of carbs per 21-24-ounce bottle. This would ideally fuel every hour on the hour. I could even look into reducing the calories from Pepetuem to 150-200 per bottle and use solids (PB&Js, etc.) to get to that needed 250-270 calories/hour. I haven't used Pepetuem much (read: at all). I will definitely explore the possibilities of this product as I prepare for the 2011 Leadville 100 and experiment with other foods that work for long runs. Please let me know if you have any recommendations for race-day fuel.

I'm hard on myself for my time, but the fact remains that only 99 of a field of 720+ starters earned the buckle. I'm sure glad I was one of them!

Another huge mistake I made was not taking advantage of Leadville's muling rule. I carried my Camelbak when my pacer could have carried it him/herself, relieving me of added weight. My fear of turning over my Camelbak was that I'd forget to drink and fall behind with my hydration. That's a legitmate concern, but of greater concern is the added weight of the pack.

What next?
As my former comrades in Cleveland knew, I was dialed into the 2010 Boston Marathon, determined to set a new marathon PR and go sub-2:50 in Beantown. My training started in December and was progressing quite well despite a black cloud of stress, anxiety and uncertainty hanging over the Hornsby homestead. By mid-February, our house was up for sale as we were in the midst of pulling up the roots and moving to Denver. Well, Boston never happened since the Denver move took place in April and a whole host of priorities (starting a new job, getting settled into our temporary apartment, paying a mortgage on a vacant house, etc.) took hold.

So here I am, having not run a marathon in over 15 months. It's hard to believe, but the last time I toed the line of a marathon was Cleveland in May 2009. I finished in 2:59, hardly in marathon shape as I was training for the Mohican 100. The last time I really focused on the marathon was Columbus in October 2008--a disappointing 2:59 (I guess I've been stuck in a 2:59 rut...).

It's time to re-focus on the marathon and try to set a new PR. Hopefully that PR will come at the 2011 Boston Marathon. Alas, I'm not qualified for Boston since my last marathon is out of the qualifying window. So, assuming I get my left foot in decent shape, I'll likely enter the Rock 'n Roll Denver Marathon (Oct. 17) with a goal of BQ'ing even if that means a 3:15. My legs are still shot from Leadville, and so a 3:15 may be the smartest move. But at least I will have qualified for Boston and can then focus this winter on preparing for a new PR in Beantown in 2011. Living at this elevation, there's no reason to expect anything less than a new PR at Boston.

What does the future hold?
Leadville was so humbling. My feelings are quite mixed. I'm proud of the fact that I finished "The Race Across the Sky" and earned the sub-25-hour belt buckle, but there's no question that I underachieved and my approach to the entire race was quite faulty. So I don't know what my future as an ultrarunner out West holds. One thing I do know is that I'm going to stay with the sport because I love going long, I love the mountains and I love the ultra experience. Maybe at some point I'll see improvement and get to the level where I want to be. I don't pretend to be a leading contender in a race like Leadville, but I would like to be a consistent top-25 finisher and feel satisfied with my performance.

Will I ever learn and stop making the same mistakes over and over again?
Overtraining continues to plague me. Putting in high mileage with quality is a good thing. But putting in high mileage week after week, with no rest periods, breaks you down, makes quality all the harder to achieve and ultimately leads to diminishing returns. We saw this in my Leadville 100 result, but also in my sub-par performances at the Leadville Marathon (7/3) and Barr Trail Mountain Race (7/18). Either I need to hire a coach or I need to exercise discipline with my mileage to ensure that I'm getting the rest I need, but I can't continue on this mileage-obsessed course or else I'm going to find myself injured all the time (as I am now with this plantar fasciitis). Cross-training (swimming, mountain biking, etc.) is also a key part of the equation.

Maybe I'm being too hard on myself. I'm not super-talented, and so why should I take all of this so seriously? Well, I love running and, as with basically everything else in life, I want to reach my potential--whatever potential that might be. You know when you've fallen short of your potential, and that's how I feel about the Leadville 100. I do take heart in the fact that many runners suffer during their first Leadville, falling short, only to return the next year and do much, much better. Maybe that'll be my story.

As always, your reader feedback is encouraged and welcome!


"Boogie Nights" is one of my all-time favorite films, as are many PT Anderson productions. I thought it was maybe the greatest cast ever assembled...seriously. Burt Reynolds is brilliant as Jack Horner. This is a classic scene from "Boogie Nights" in which Dirk Diggler (played by Mark Wahlberg back when he was doing sertious films) and crew are in a drug deal gone bad. If you've never seen "Boogie Nights," what's stopping you?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Leadville Trail 100 Report--Part IV (Final)

Continuing from my previous Part III post....

Thanks and Gratitude
Unlike the four previous 100+ mile races I'd done--including the 24-hour national championship in Cleveland last October--you really need a crew at the Leadville Trail 100. For me, this became evident after my first training run in Leadville back in June. I am eternally grateful that my mom and big brother took time from their lives and flew all the way to Colorado from Atlanta to help me complete the Leadville 100. This was their first experience with an ultra (my mom and dad had previously seen me run a 50K, but I don't necessarily consider that an ultra) and an eye-opening experience at that. As I previously wrote on here, coming into the aid stations and seeing them standing there cheering for me with my drop bag contents neatly arranged on the ground was deeply touching. They were so supportive. Words cannot express how much it meant--and still means--to me that they were there. I hope my dad can join us all next time--he so wanted to be there but could not due to scheduling conflicts.

The LT100 was really a pivotal moment in my marriage to Anne. We've been married for over 10 years and together for 18, but never in all that time had we experienced anything like what happened in the Mayqueen aid station. She was my strength; without her, I couldn't and wouldn't have gotten out of that cot after being so sick and covered those final 13.5 miles the way I did. This was a case of, as the saying goes, "a woman bringing out the best in a man." I owe so much to Anne for supporting me in my LT100 bid since that day in April when I decided to take on this beast. She put up with a lot, including my more than occasional over-training-related grouchiness.

What to say about my little boy, Noah? One of my goals is to always serve as a good example to him. Sometimes I fall short, but I do try. Though his dad didn't have the greatest time or result at the Leadville 100, at least I had the guts to take on this race, train hard for it and finish after a lot had gone wrong. Noah inspires me in special ways. Coming into the aid stations and hearing him yell "Daddy!" filled me with joy.

A huge thanks to my pacers:
  • Henry, who my crew fortunately found in Winfield after my original pacer bailed. Henry took me from the turnaround to Twin Lakes--a tough, tough stretch. Henry is a great guy and in a few weeks we're going to run Green Mountain in Boulder together. An additional thanks to Henry's wife, Mary, for supporting him.
  • Lance, who took me from Twin Lakes to the Fish Hatchery and then from Mayqueen to the finish. Without Lance, a sub-25 finish at the LT100 wouldn't have happened. He kept me positive and was a source of confidence. For a first-time pacer, he was a pro.
  • Maureen/Mo, who took me from the Fish Hatchery to Mayqueen. Mo's runner DNF'd, allowing her to help fill some pacing gaps for me. Mo did a great job on a very difficult section--the Powerline and Sugarloaf sections--and I thank her.
A special thanks also to Matt Curtis, LT100 finisher in his first 100(!), and his crew for their support and encouragement at various times throughout the day.

What I Did Right
I put in the training mileage--about 1,500 miles over a period of 15 weeks. My mileage and hours output was greater--but not by a lot--than any other race I've ever trained for. As we'll see below, this relentless pursuit of output also was a mistake.

I did some quality long runs of 4-6+ hours, including a 6-hour effort on the Twin Lakes/Hope Pass/Winfield section with Matt. Since Noah was born, long runs of 4-6+ hours have been hard to come by, and so I'll do lots of 2-3-hour runs. With my LT100 training, I managed to get in some nice long efforts of 4-6+, though maybe not as many as I'd have liked.

Wracked by plantar fasciitis, I did the right thing in shutting down completely with a week to go. When the plantar fasciitis in my left foot first manifested itself in June, I managed to battle through it and contain the problem fairly effectively. But, with the race about three weeks out, the PF really got aggressive and painful, causing a terribly sore arch and heel. I think it was a hard 5-mile effort on a treadmill set at 13% (on a 20+ mile day) that sent my foot over the edge. Anyway, it was a difficult decision, but the Saturday before the race I shut down and didn't run a step until race day (only swam). I also started using KT Tape to stabilize the arch, and it worked. My PF is much better and I got through the race with minimal foot discomfort except during the first 15 or so miles. I am now a huge believer in KT Tape for PF management. Yo KT Tape, care to make me your spokesman?

Lessons Learned (What I Did Wrong)
I overtrained for this race. It's not about output related to mileage or hours. You have to put in big training miles for a race like the Leadville 100. My problem was that I never took any easy weeks. This set me up for the PF problem three weeks before the race, and I think the overtraining caused me to be irritable at times, adversely affected my sleep (and sense of humor), and reduced the quality of my training runs and race performances. In early May, with fairly fresh legs from a winter and early spring of 70-80-mile weeks, I finished 5th at the Greenland Trail 50K. When you look at my race times as the summer progressed--a disappointing 4:55 at the Leadville Trail Marathon on 7/3 and a really bad 2:02 at the Barr Trail Mountain Race on 7/18--it's obvious I was overtraining and my body and performances were telling me. I just ignored the signs. Moving forward, I think I can still do mega-miles training, but easy weeks will need to be a part of the plan, or else the law of diminishing returns will continue to plague me. Bottom line: 1,500 miles in 15 weeks should have had me far better than 92nd place. Inexperience with high-altitude and mountain running surely played a role, but clearly my training lacked sufficient recovery and, as a result, my race-day performance once again suffered.

I didn't do enough training at 10,000+ feet. This isn't necessarily my fault. Starting a new job, I have very limited time off and so the weekends are the time to get into the mountains. With a toddler and Anne working every other Saturday, this isn't always easy. I often found myself running the hilly dirt roads in Parker when I should have been in the mountains. All things considered, I did the best I could. I'll have more mountain time after next April (more on that below).

I ate poorly on race day and it cost me. One of my goals this and next year is to discover effective eating strategies for high-altitude races like the Leadville 100. Being in Leadville can take a toll on your stomach. I didn't eat enough and I never forced myself to eat. I relied too much on gels and too little on real food. This, I think, led to the problem at the Mayqueen aid station. I'm going to explore lots of strategies for race-day nutrition for high-altitude events, including Perpetuem. I need to know exactly how many calories per hour I require for optimal output and how best to consume these calories.

Living here for only 4 1/2 months prior to Leadville, I was probably overly ambitious and maybe even in over my head. The fact that I finished in under 25 hours shows you that the training paid off, but I recognize that it probably wasn't the best idea to take on America's highest 100-miler so soon after moving to Colorado from sea level--and having a goal as ambitious as sub-20 hours. I think I'll be much more prepared for next year's Leadville 100 since I will have lived at elevation for close to a year and half and fully adjusted to the thin air. Lots of people suffer in their first Leadville. Hell, even Matt Carpenter had a rough first one.

What's Next?
Right now I'm taking it easy to ensure a smooth recovery. I have to get my left foot back to 100%. I'm still considering the Las Vegas Marathon on 12/5, but may instead do some shorter-distance races like a few 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons. We'll see. I'm going to look over the marathon and ultra running calendar to see what's available. Boston in 2011 is a big possibility.

The plan right now is to return to Leadville next year for the 100. I'll also likely run in the Leadville Marathon. With more vacation time after next April, I'll certainly spend more time in Leadville and at 10,000+ feet training and will aim for arriving in Leadville 3-4 days before the race. This is not Ohio anymore, and so you have to accommodate the need for acclimation.

One of my goals is to break 19 hours in a trail 100. I've come fairly close. I'm not sure Leadville is the place to pursue this goal. But it's too great of a race not to want to toe the line next August.

A hearty thanks to all who helped get me to that finish line and earn the sub-25-hour El Plato Grande belt buckle. I wasn't able to attend the awardceremony, but when my buckle arrives in the mail I'll shoot a nice photo and post it on here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leadville 100 Race Report--Part III

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. be continued...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leadville 100 Race Report--Part II

Continuing from my previous Part I post....

Winfield to Twin Lakes (60.5): 13:28
Leaving Winfield, I quickly forgot about "Mary" and focused on the task at hand. Henry was a great guy and his energy and enthusiasm lifted my spirits as we made our way down the dusty, congested Winfield Road to the Hope Pass trailhead. Henry was wearing Vibram Five Fingers and spoke highly of them. He'd never done an ultra but was out there to experience Leadville and start building toward trying the race one day.

Even with Henry's unflinching moral support and cheery attitude, I struggled pretty badly on the 2,600-foot climb up the backside of Hope Pass. The first mile or so is brutal. There are some sections on that first crushingly difficult mile where the trail is at 30-40 degrees. I stopped a few times to rest, leaning against my poles. Henry was worried. It was hard getting into a rhythm as scores of runners were coming down the narrow trail en route to Winfield as we were making our way up with Winfield a few miles behind us. I was glad I was on the up and would soon have this section over and done with.

Once you're out of the wooded section of the Hope climb and reach treeline, the trail actually gets a little easier. It's still a damn-hard climb, but you're not at 30-40 degrees anymore. You have to negotiate some challenging switchbacks, a few nasty rocky sections where footing can be an issue, and of course the thin air--as well as the very real prospect of nasty afternoon weather such as hail, snow, high winds, and rain (none of which happened on Saturday). I suffered going up the backside of Hope and was elated to reach the summit. I told Henry that once at the summit I'd starting running again...slowly at first as my legs would be tight, but eventually we'd open up our stride a little and let gravity do the work on the 3,400-vertical foot descent. We stuck to the plan and cruised down Hope, stopping briefly at the Hopeless aid station to refuel. I managed to re-sprain my ankle again toward the bottom but it wasn't bad. This was my third right ankle sprain since my Pikes Peak summit in early June. There on Hope Pass, I quickly walked off the pain and we started running again within a minute or so of the injury. But I knew I'd now have to be extra careful with my ankle as I might not be able to walk off the next respraining. (As I write this report, my ankle and foot are quite swollen--I guess the sprain was worse than I thought.)

Once down Hope, Henry and I crossed the river and the many big "puddles" and made our way across the marshy meadow to the Twin Lakes aid station, where I'd come through nearly 6 hours/21 miles ago. In the meadow our conversation turned spiritual and we connected through our faith in a very moving way. My brother was out in the field with his phone, waiting on us. He called the crew back at the car to let them know we were close. I was so glad to see my big brother and knew he was proud of me. In a race like Leadville, seeing those you love at the aid stations really means a lot--more than words could describe.

Henry and I coming into Twin Lakes.

Twin Lakes to Halfmoon (69.5): 15:28
A lot of people say that the stretch from Twin Lakes to Halfmoon is among the hardest. From Twin Lakes, which is the low point (9,200 feet), you have to negotiate a long, nasty climb of about 1,400 feet en route to Halfmoon. At Twin Lakes, I said goodbye to Henry (my brother collected his contact information for me) and ran off with Lance, a fellow Parker resident, who'd graciously agreed to pace me from Twin Lakes to Halfmoon, where my other pacer who bagged me would then take me to the finish. Well, without another pacer to help, Lance agreed to take me all the way to the finish. Yeah, he's a hell of a good guy.

At Twin Lakes.

I was really motivated leaving Twin Lakes. I take pride in how I run the last 40 miles of a 100, which in my mind are when the race actually takes place. I was so motivated leaving Twin Lakes that I actually ran most of the steep connector spur up to the Colorado Trail, a stunt I quickly regretted. But--no worries--my legs rebounded and Lance and I hiked most of the ascent in those first few miles after Twin Lakes. On the flat and downhill sections, we ran, passing a few runners along the way. I felt strong and knew that if I continued like this I'd reel in many others and possibly move into the top 25. I'm usually at my strongest after 60 miles, and this was it--the race was now on.

Lance at Twin Lakes waiting for me.

The farthest Lance had ever run was 26.2 miles (he's a 2:56 marathoner). In addition to being an outstanding master's marathoner, he's an accomplished mountain biker (sponsored by Trek) and has competed in a number of competitive races. Lance was concerned about being able to run 40 miles and so while we ran he got on his phone and managed to secure another pacer, his friend Maureen (a.k.a. Mo, whose runner had dropped). Mo would pick me up at the Fish Hatchery (76.5) and take me to Mayqueen (86.5), where Lance would then take me to the fnish. Sounded like a great plan.

Lance and I arrived at Halfmoon at 7:28 p.m. I had a great aid station stop, eating a number of orange slices and a cup of Ramen. I got my extra headlamp and we were out of the aid station in less than 3 minutes and on our way to Pipeline, where my mom and brother awaited us.

Halfmoon to Fish Hatchery (76.5): 17:18
Pipeline was three miles beyond Halfmoon and about four or so miles before the Fish Hatchery. By the time we arrived at Pipeline we'd turned on our headlamps. I was glad to see my mom and brother. They gave me my sleeves and vest, which I'd need with the falling temperature. Before we knew it, we were off to the Fish Hatchery with a beautiful, crisp, starry night falling over Leadville.

Although the stretch from Pipeline to the Fish Hatchery is fairly flat, I started to suffer a bit after Pipeline, though we continued running. Lance very skillfully found ways to motivate me if I stopped to walk. He'd tell me to run to the sign 1/2 mile up the road, and when we reached it he'd let me walk for a minute or so and then find another marker to get to. This routine sustained us on the long, dark road stretches into the hatchery. We saw an awesome sight in the silhouettes of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two highest peaks in Colorado, right there in front of us. Finally, we reached the Fish Hatchery at 9:18 p.m.--17 hours into the race.

Fish Hatchery to May Queen (86.5): 20:47
At the Fish Hatchery, I was feeling pretty rough and could barely keep my food down. I gagged when I drank a Red Bull, which I'd asked my mom and brother to have for me when I arrived. My stomach was starting to turn on me, but I wasn't that worried. Mo was ready to go and had my trekking poles, which we'd need for the infamous Powerline climb. After about a 2-3-minute stop at the hatchery, she and I were off, making our way down the dirt driveway and turning onto the hilly road that leads to the Powerline turn.

The Red Bull quickly kicked in and I was talkative as Mo and I ran up the road. I was telling her all about my bout with plantar fasciitis and generally feeling good. She told me about her job as a PR consultant for the mining industry. We had a lot in common. Suddenly, a car came up behind us and the driver asked if we knew we'd gone off course. Panicked, I told Mo to find out where we missed the turn into Powerline and began running back down the road in the opposite direction. I was hauling ass, going sub-8:00 pace, which is pretty fast nearly 80 miles into a race. Mo eventually caught up and told me we'd gone a mile beyond the turn. I was devastated. Not only had I lost a lot of ground and a top-25 finish, but these two extra miles were going to beat the hell out of my legs right when I was about to enter the Powerline climb. "How could we have missed the turn?" I kept asking.

Well, finally we came upon the missed turn, and it was marked pretty badly. I later found out many runners missed this turn. We got on the trail and Mo handed me my trekking poles as we started the notorious Powerline climb. I kept thinking about the missed turn and was perplexed as to why the turn was so poorly marked. In Ohio, most of the trail races I ran in were marked with lime, plastic plates with arrows spray-painted on them, streamers, glow sticks, signs, etc. Leadville's markings consisted only of a limited number of streamers and glow sticks. It was easy to miss a turn on this course, and so attention and focus were critical.

A few months ago a Leadville vet had told me that, in his opinion, the "crux" of Leadville was Powerline and generally the stretch from Fish Hatchery to May Queen. I think he was right. This was a tough section. Powerline is a nasty, dirt trail ascent literally under powerlines leading into town. Erosion has caused the Powerline trail to be very uneven and treacherous in the dark. But that's not even the worst part. Powerline gives way to the climb up to Sugarloaf Pass at 11,100 feet. The climb took us about 75 minutes--a long, long time when you're that late in the race. We passed a few runners and a few passed us. When you looked down behind you, you could see a trail of runners making their way up Powerline. I remained quiet, silently freaking out. I couldn't come to grips with the fact that we were still some 18 miles from the finish. Plus, just when I had started to gain ground we'd missed a critical turn. I was devastated beyond words.

Finally, we reached the top of Sugarloaf and started the descent. We could see the lights of the Mayqueen aid station, but it was still a long way from us and by this point I was running very slowly and cautiously, not wanting to resprain my ankle on the rocky road. We watched the markings carefully and made the turn into the trail which eventually connects with the road into Mayqueen. It was a trail that would never end. My spirit sank even more. I felt like we'd never reach Mayqueen and that I'd never get to the finish. But ultimately we did reach the end of the trail, and there was Mayqueen on down the road. I'm sure Mo had moments of great concern for me--I wasn't feeling good at all. I wasn't feeling it.

My race nearly ended at Mayqueen. be continued...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Leadville 100 Race Report--Part I

My initial reaction to my result at the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run, also known as "The Race Across the Sky," was one of relative disappointment. As a rather ambitious runner, I had set out to finish this race in less than 20 hours, which I knew might put me in the top 10. I knew that was an ambitious goal for a guy who'd lived at elevation for less than 5 months but I nonetheless aimed high with my expectations. Here's how the organizers describe the course:
The 50-mile out and back course is in the midst of the Colorado Rockies. Low point, 9,200 feet; high point is Hope Pass, 12,600 feet. Majority is on forest trails with some mountain roads. Pacers allowed after the 50-mile point (exceptions only by request).
Here's the elevation profile for the LT100 (click on the image for a larger view):

So basically for the full 100 miles you're running 2+ miles in the sky--hence "The Race Across the Sky."

Well, the sub-20-hour finish will have to wait for another year. In the meantime, I'll remain proud of the fact that I was one of only 98 runners among a field of over 700 starters who finished Leadville in under 25 hours (24:47/92nd overall), earning the very prestigious, sought-after LT100 gold and silver belt buckle and a lifetime of memories. Kind of like the tough-as-nails hard-rock miners who make Leadville great, in the LT100 you have to go through hell to get the gold and silver at the end.

Throughout the race, there were many sources of inspiration and motivation. I'll say more about my wife Anne and our son Noah, as well as my big brother and mom, who crewed for me, and also my pacers, Henry, Lance and Maureen (a.k.a. Mo), a little later. Here and now, though, I want to say how inspiring it was to hear some powerful words from Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville 100, during the pre-race meeting and pep rally. As Ken apparently says every year, "You're better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can!" Playing on Leadville's extraordinary mining history, he also told us to "dig deep" when it got tough during the race. Those may sound like platitudes, but when you're 86 miles into this insanely challenging race and very sick, those words start to mean something to you. More on that later.

My crew consisted of my mom and my brother Will, who flew in from Atlanta, as well as Anne who was with Noah. We stayed in a large cabin in Leadville with fellow LT100 runner Matt Curtis (27:47 finisher) and his family and friends. This was Matt's first 100-miler--pretty courageous, if you ask me. I've known Matt for literally 30 years. We ran cross country together and, in 1986, went to LA with our team, the Howard County Junior Striders, for the Junior Olympics (I didn't deserve to be there--such a crappy runner as a kid). His parents and my parents are dear friends. We now live only 25 minutes from each other and had gone on a few LT100 training runs together. It was great spending time with Matt and his family and friends. There were about a dozen of us in the cabin--a very large cabin located just outside of town near Turquoise Lake.

On race day morning, some members of Matt's crew, including his wife, Eileen, drove both Matt and me to the start at 6th and Harrison streets in downtown Leadville. It was in the 30s and the town was festive, as runners were everywhere. After checking in, Matt and I went to the front of the gathering pack awaiting the countdown. An electric atmosphere, to say the least. Finally, the shotgun blasted at 4:00 a.m. and we were off.

Start to Mayqueen (13.5): 2:00
I arrived at the Mayqueen aid station (13.5 miles) in exactly two hours, having navigated the fairly technical though mostly flat trail along Turquoise Lake while spending some time talking with Regis Shivers, Jr., who had also moved to Colorado from Ohio, and John Rice, both of whom I knew prior to the race. The trail along the lake had slowed me down a little as I'm still working to improve my trail skills. My goal for Mayqueen was around 1:50. I wasn't in the best of spirits when I arrived. My left foot, which had been hit hard by plantar fasciitis only three weeks before the race, was bothering me but fortunately it was stabilized and supported via KT Tape, which had made it feel so much better the week prior to the race. Entering Mayqueen, I was freaking out inside my head. The look on my face probably was not what my mom and brother wanted to see from me after they'd graciously traveled halfway across the country to help me. I spent less than a minute at Mayqueen and was off. Something about coming into Mayqueen and seeing my brother and mom waiting for me, with my stuff all arranged for me, was deeply touching. I knew I was in very good hands and decided that at the next aid station I'd try to be cheerier.

Mayqueen to Fish Hatchery (23.5): 3:49:45
The climb up from Mayqueen via Hagerman Pass really wasn't too bad and it was here that my left foot actually started feeling better. With incredibly beautiful elevated views of Turquoise Lake and a spectacular sunrise, I felt pretty good on Hagerman, and I continued to feel good going up the trail to the 11,100-foot Sugarloaf Pass. On the way down Sugarloaf and the Powerline descent I had decided that my foot was going to be okay and so would I! All of that said, during the Powerline descent I realized that climbing this bad boy 80something miles into the race--in the dark--on the return trip was going to be quite challenging. More on that later!

Coming into the Fish Hatchery.

After descending Powerline and running the road into the Fish Hatchery (23.5), I was again greeted by my mom and brother, who were happily with Anne and Noah at the aid station. I was so glad to see my family and, with my foot now just fine and the conditions perfect, my confidence was high. I told them not to worry about my foot--I was going to be okay and finish this sucker.

Noah at the Fish Hatchery.

Fish Hatchery to Halfmoon (30.5): 5:14
The stretch between the Fish Hatchery and Halfmoon (30.5) isn't too difficult. There are some hills, but overall this is one of the more tame stretches. Three miles before Halfmoon outbound you're allowed to access your crew at the Pipeline area, which provides ample parking for crews. Halfmoon was reconfigured a bit last year due to a nearby Blackhawk helicopter crash, and this year the race organizers mostly stuck with the reroute with one tweak--crews had to gather at Pipeline, not Treeline. All good.

Coming into Pipeline.

My brother and mom were there at Pipeline and my needs here were minimal. My greatest need, actually, was a pair of roomier road shoes, which they didn't have because I had stupidly not included a pair in my crew vehicle stuff. All of my shoes were in my aid station drop bags. The shoes I had on, Salmon Speedcross 2 trail shoes, weren't roomy enough and my toes were hurting. The descent down Powerline had been especially uncomfortable. Once at Halfmoon, I changed into my nice, comfy Asics and felt like I'd been given new feet. They felt spectacular! A little pissed that I was running behind schedule but with spirits still very high, I was nonetheless off to Twin Lakes.

Halfmoon to Twin Lakes (39.5): 6:54
By the time I reached Twin Lakes (39.5) I was feeling magnificent even as I'd arrived about 40 minutes behind schedule and had mentally adjusted my goal finish time to 22 hours (from sub-20 hours). My foot was a non-issue and my legs were now totally warmed up and turning over nicely. After dropping nearly 2,000 feet to the lake, which is the low point of the course at 9,200 feet, I came charging down the short, steep connector to the town (this connector provides such a dramatic John Wayne-type entrance) and ran into the aid station pumped up. My mom and brother had thoughtfully set up shop right next to the aid station. This was a critical aid station since the next 21 miles would bring a double-crossing of Hope Pass (12,600 feet), involving more than 16,000 feet of combined elevation change. At Twin Lakes, I got my Black Diamond trekking poles and was off, seeing Anne and Noah just as I was leaving town.

Twin Lakes to Winfield (50/turnaround): 10:12
In my opinion, the Hope Pass double-crossing (with the turnaround at Winfield being inbetween) is the most physically demanding section of the Leadville 100. On the frontside, you climb 3,400 vertical feet, and on the backside after the turnaround you climb 2,600 vertical feet back up the mountain. Add it all up (including the road to and from Winfield) and you have more than 16,000 feet of combined elevation change in that one 21-mile section. Brutal! It's no wonder many runners contemplate life at Winfield, knowing they have to do Hope Pass again.

From Twin Lakes, I made my way across the meadow, running into Paul DeWitt (previous two-time winner of the Leadville 100) who was accompanying his brother-in-law in his first 100-mile bid. We crossed the river and talked for a little while going up Hope before spreading out. I was loving how my trekking poles gave me a little extra power and stability up Hope. I kept thinking that all I had to do was keep moving forward, even if it meant hiking. Everyone not named Matt Carpenter and Tony Krupicka hikes Hope Pass during the race (I ran a good portion of the front side during training). Your race can end on the pass if you're stupid or arrogant.

About 600 vertical feet below the Hope Pass summit you are greeted by a surreal sight. There above treeline in a meadow you see a dozen or so llamas and the famous Hopeless Pass aid station. The llamas are used to transport supplies up Hope (as well as get sick/injured runners down the mountain). This is an unofficial aid station. Years ago some good-hearted, dedicated folks saw a need for an aid station on Hope Pass and so they got the race's blessing to create one. You really feel the culture and tradition of the Leadville 100--and Leadville the town--at the Hopeless Pass aid station. After partaking in food and beverage at the aid station table, I thanked as many folks as I could for being there and was off for the summit.

About 200-300 vertical feet below the pass, I saw the leader, Anton Krupicka, running down the mountain with his pacer. I love reading Anton's blog and seeing him come down the pass was really cool. His legs were turning over so efficiently and he was supremely focused. All of us yielded to him as you're supposed to yield to those going down the mountain. I wasn't struggling too badly going up the frontside of Hope. It wasn't easy but it wasn't too hard, either. The biggest challenges are knowing you have to climb this damned mountain again and making room for those coming in the opposite direction (in most cases, the latter is a mutual endeavor, though a small number of selfish runners make it your problem, not theirs).

Finally, after reaching the summit I felt some burn in my legs, which had tightened on me during the hike, and so my descent was sluggish and awkward at first...until finally my legs loosened up and I was able to coast with what was probably normal discomfort from 45 miles of high-altitude running.

I reached the bottom of Hope Pass, having climbed 3,400 vertical feet and dropped another 2,600, at about 1:45 in the afternoon and started making my way up Winfield Road, which leads to the ghost town of Winfield at 10,000+ feet. As many Leadville runners would attest, this 3-mile section of road sucks. It's at a gradual incline most of the way and it's narrow. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is the crew vehicles going back and forth, kicking up all kinds of dust. It's not the crews' fault. Hell, my crew was out there kicking dust up, too. I guess this is all part of the Leadville experience. I covered my mouth with a bandanna but it restricted my breathing too much and so I just endured the dust like most everyone else. But I suffered on Winfield Road, feeling the heat of the day and the high elevation, and arrived at the aid station in pretty rough shape at 2:12 p.m.--a little more than an hour behind my original schedule. I was staggering but had fortunately lost only 4 lbs. I'm sure my mom, Will, and Anne (who was with Noah) were concerned about me. But I knew I'd be okay--this was just a bad patch and it was, thankfully, the 50-mile turnaround!

I asked Anne about the whereabouts of my Winfield-to-Twin Lakes pacer--we'll call her "Mary"--and she said "Mary" had bailed on me. Apparently, "Mary" felt I was running too fast for her and that she could never adequately pace me. So she called Anne to say she wasn't showing up, leaving me without a pacer on the physically toughest and arguably the most dangerous section of the Leadville 100--the vicious climb up the backside of Hope Pass. Well, before I could get upset about being disgracefully bagged by "Mary," my crew had great news. Thanks to Anne's quick thinking and a little luck, they found a young guy named Henry to pace me back to Twin Lakes, and so Henry and I were off.

Leaving Winfield with Henry.

Was I pissed at "Mary"? For about 30 seconds I was pissed and had some choice words, but then I realized Henry was a million times the runner she was, and so I knew Henry was a better fit for me. But I was nonetheless shocked that a runner would bag a racer on the big day--the Leadville 100 no less. Somewhere in the unwritten rules of ultrarunning is the following commandment:

As a Pacer, Thou Shalt Never Abandon Thy Runner on Race Day. If Thou Feels Inadequate to the Task, Thou Shalt Allow the Runner to Drop You but Only After a Valiant Pacing Effort. Anything Less is Dishonorable.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Leadville 100 result--brief report

Everything was going pretty well at the Leadville 100 until I got to the May Queen aid station (mile 86.5) and, having severely bonked, threw up non-stop and developed bad chills. A medical team in May Queen, which is a notorious aid station for runners in medical need (it is, after all, after the Powerline climb), wrapped me in a sleeping bag and placed warming pads all over me. I thought I was done but Anne gave me the nudge I needed. After about 45 minutes in May Queen I got up and they dressed me tons of clothes to stay warm. I took some salted potatoes and some saltines and we were off. I ran most of the final 13.5 miles to get the coveted El Plato Grande buckle, which you get for a sub-25-hour finish. Not easy.

Final result: 24:47
Place: 92nd

It hits me that only 5 months ago I was in Ohio breathing sea level air. Not sure how I pulled this race off. Lots of people struggle in their first Leadville and I did struggle, but I am very happy that I got the buckle with a sub-25 finish.

I will post a much longer report in a few days.

Update: Click here to begin my 4-part report.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Final Leadville 100 thoughts

It's hard to describe how stressed and distressed I was after returning from last Saturday's 11-mile run with a left foot that felt like someone had fed it to a meat-grinder. Right then and there, with a very sore arch and pain in my heel, I had serious doubts about being able to finish the Leadville 100.

This plantar fasciitis in my left foot has really been tough to deal with and seems to have taken a terrible turn for the worse over the past two weeks.

Fortunately, I've taken some measures since Saturday that have resulted in my foot feeling much, much better. First off, I stopped running after Saturday and have tried very hard to stay off my feet. I haven't run a step since and have instead been swimming. I swam 110 laps on Sunday and 90 laps last night. I think I forgot how much I love swimming. One day I'll try my hand at an Ironman Triathlon.

Also, on the suggestion of a good friend, Ted, I've started using KT Tape. This amazing product comes with instructions for taping various injuries, including PF, and they also offer helpful YouTube video demonstrations. My foot has been constantly taped since Saturday and I've noticed a huge difference. With my arch now supported and stabilized, my foot seems to be healing. The three days from now to the race present more time to heal. I'll be wearing the tape on race day.

I also had a combination therapeutic/deep-tissue massage on Monday morning. According to my massage therapist, my calves and quads were in great shape, but she definitely had to work out some tightness in my hamstrings, IT bands and shoulders. I was in agony--a good kind of agony, if that makes sense--as she worked on my IT bands. I felt drained, but so much better, afterward.

As for my strep throat, I'm continuing with my antibiotic and have really emphasized probiotic products such as Kefir smoothies and yogurt to prevent GI distress, a possible side effect of antibiotics. My stomach has been great and the fogginess and drowsiness I felt as a result of the antibiotic have abated. I may take myself off my antibiotic on Friday night as an added precaution. Friday night will mark 16 of the 20 prescribed doses. I need to think more carefully about that to make sure I'm doing the right thing.

The ultimate result has been that I'm now much more confident, albeit cautiously optimistic, going into the Leadville 100. My goals for Leadville are:

1) Finish--always the #1 goal in a 100-miler
2) Sub-25 hours for the buckle
3) Sub-20 hours/placement

As far as the actual race, all plans seem to be in place. My don't-drop bags are ready. My mom and brother, who will be joined by Anne and Noah as my crew, arrive tomorrow and we'll drive into Leadville on Friday morning for the medical check-in, meetings, etc. My pacers, Lance and Michelle, are ready to go. You can only have one pacer at a time, so Michelle and Lance will take turns on various portions of the course during the final 50 miles.

This will be my last post until after the race. Wish me luck!


Few actors played the good guy better than Henry Fonda. A classic Fonda scene from "The Grapes of Wrath."

Friday, August 13, 2010

A wrench in the taper / Attica! Attica! Attica!

During the taper, you hope for no surprises. You just want everything to go smoothly--for the body to heal and feel stronger every day, for the focus to sharpen, for good health, and for the energy level to rise.

Not so with my Leadville 100 taper. Earlier today, I learned I have a throat infection that is not far from full-blown strep throat. My son, Noah, has full-blown strep and is now on an antibiotic. I too am now on an antibiotic for the next 10 days. Leadville is in 8 days.

Since I've never been in such a situation as this, I have sought the advice of two physicians who also happen to be ultrarunners. I asked them if it would be safe to run a 100-mile race with antibiotics in my system. They said it would be safe, but they also suggested careful attention to my hydration level and my salt intake. No non-steroidal anti-inflammatories during the race, they said. Tylenol would be fine. One of them also suggested increased consumption of yogurt and other sources of probiotics before the race to help prevent antibiotic-caused diarrhea during the event. Yogurt it is!

I just now realized that my own physician--the one who prescribed my antibiotic--also said I could run the race. So that means three doctors have advised that it's OK to run Leadville.

Honestly, I'm not that worried about running the Leadville 100 with antibiotics in my system. Is this ideal? No. The good news is that by race day the infection should be over and done with, or damn close to it. If doctors were advising against my running Leadville, I'd have something to think about. Right now, my thoughts are better off directed toward final preparations, and toward getting my left heel, which is stricken with plantar fasciitis, in good shape. My hope is that plenty of rest next week going into Leadville will do the trick. Right now, I wish I could say my heel is much better, but it isn't.

So, overall, this is not where I wanted to be with Leadville 8 days away--on antibiotics and with a sore heel. But no worries! I have toughed it out in many races and will do so at Leadville!


I'm now implementing a new feature with every blog post--a classic film scene. The Al Pacino of the 1970s happens to be among my favorite actors. From the first two "The Godfather" films to "Dog Day Afternoon" and other classics of the 1970s, Pacino was masterful. Unfortunately, in the eighties and nineties he really pressed his acting too much. You see a huge difference between his masterful performance as Michael Corleone in the first two "Godfathers" and his performance in, for example, "Scent of a Woman," a film rife with over-acting from Pacino. He has had his moments of greatness in recent years, though. He was brilliant in "The Insider" and was very good in "Heat," which stars another actor I adore--Robert Deniro. So, on that note, I leave you with a classic Pacino scene from "Dog Day Afternoon":

Monday, August 9, 2010

Inch by inch, step by step

I just wrapped up the first week of my Leadville 100 taper, logging 80 miles. That may sound like a lot of miles, but it really wasn't too demanding when I've been nailing triple-digit weeks for the past few months. The plan this week is 50-55 miles with a little intensity mixed in to keep things interesting.

Also this week, I'm going to step up my core and upper body strengthening, place an even great emphasis on stretching, and--most important of all--try to get my feet in good shape. No more hard-soled work shoes for the next two weeks (unless I have meetings). I'm going to be reporting to work everyday in my super-comfortable Keens in the hopes that I can get this plantar fasciitis in my left heel over and done with. I've found that my work shoes have only exacerbated the problem. If you have any magic bullet treatments for PF, let me know.


Big news out of Leadville this week. The entire Leadville race series, which was co-founded and, for the past 28 years, has been co-directed by Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin, has been sold to Lifetime Fitness, a publicly traded company out of Minnesota. Lifetime Fitness operates a chain of fitness clubs, with several locations here in the Denver area, and also sponsors a number of races.

The sale struck me as sad news, and maybe it's because I have such a distrust for corporate America. In an age when our society has become so homogenized (McNeighborhoods, McDowntowns, etc.), Leadville is such a unique place with unique people who put on this incredible race series. My only hope is that Lifetime Fitness preserves the unique character of the Leadville races and sacrifices nothing at the alter of profits. And make no mistake about it; Lifetime Fitness is out to make money. I'm sure Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin would never have sold the Leadville races unless they were sure Lifetime Fitness would take good care of the brand they spent years building. I hope they'll continue to be involved in the races.


Although Leadville will be my first race of 100 miles in the mountains, it's a good thing I have experience with 100-milers. I know that the race really doesn't begin until after 50 miles. And so I'll be patient and run my own race, not letting what's going on around me influence my decisions or thought process. In my mind, the key is getting to Winfield (50 miles) in good shape, getting back over Hope Pass (12,600 feet) and back down to Twin Lakes feeling good, and then covering that final 40 miles knowing I'm going to make it.

In the final 40 miles, it's just you and your soul. There's no one and nothing to get you to the finish except yourself. You have to dig deep. I've been there and done that and believe that, barring a significant injury, I'll have my game face on during those final 40 miles and through all the challenges that will come--Powerline, Sugarloaf Pass, etc.

Hundreds really come down to one step at a time. You have to take it inch by inch.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Taper update

So far, so good with my Leadville 100 taper. This morning, for the first time in a few weeks, I felt pretty fresh for the entire run (likely the result of a great stretching session last night), averaging about 6:40 pace for the last 6 miles of my 9-mile run. Yesterday's run started terribly but by the midway point I was cruising and found myself at about 6:50 pace.

My concern about the plantar fasciitis in my left foot is starting to abate a bit as my heel is responding to ice therapy and ibuprofen. I have some lingering soreness in my right foot from the two ankle sprains I've sustained over the last three months, and so I'm going to be icing that foot, as well. It wouldn't surprise me if in a few years my ankle has to be "cleaned out" from all the scar tissue that has likely built up.

As far as mileage, there's no reason to push the envelope at this point. As a friend of mine says, the hay's in the barn. This week if I can go north of 70 miles I'll be happy.

At last, the roster of Leadville 100 entrants has been released. There are mind-blowing 781 runners signed up to run Leadville, including more than a few big names. I'm not concerned with who shows up on race day as I'll have my work cut out for me with this being my first 100-mile mountain race. I think it's fair to say Christopher McDougall's best-selling book, Born to Run, really stirred interest in this race. My guess is that about 100 folks won't show up due to injury and other issues, leaving about 700 starters. Leadville's finisher rate is about 50 percent, so that would mean about 350 will cross the line. I plan to be among them, and I also plan to wear my big, silver buckle with pride!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why does one run ultras?

Most ultrarunners often get the following question from bewildered, even horrified, folks who find out for the first time that, yes, it is possible for humans to run beyond 26.2 miles: "Why do you do it?" Sometimes they even ask, "What are you running from?"

Then the questions get really specific. "Do you stop to sleep?" (No.) "Do you eat...what do you eat?" (Yes, lots of different foods.) "How many people do this?" (Thousands every year.) Etc.

The question, "Why do you do it?" is hard to answer, and I've thought for a long time about why I choose to put myself through races of 100 miles and 24 hours. Why do I wake up before dawn every day to train, often wearing a headlamp so I can see? Why do I run on days when I feel like a trainwreck (among the more valuable training opportunities since running when you're trashed makes you tougher)? Why am I OK giving up many material things (TV, movies, etc.) that most people would never give up, so that I can train? Etc., etc. etc. Lots of possible answers have swirled around in my head like clothes tumbling in a dyer, but ultimately no neat and tidy response comes to mind. And so my answer now is quite simple:

Running super-long distances is in my DNA. It's what I'm supposed to do, and so it's what I do. One could argue it's what we're all meant to do. Running is a means to survive, hunt and gather, and get from point A to point B.

Running ultras is so hard and so demanding that only those with a genetic predisposition for mega-endurance are going to do it. And by genetics I'm not implying anything in the way of superiority. My genetic predisposition is probably quite similar to the guy or gal who finishes a 100 in 29 hours. I might just have a tad more speed in the legs, but ultimately all ultrarunners are united by a common bond. We "get" each other. We know what makes us tick. There's no need for explanations. We understand each other. I think our families also understand us--maybe not at first, but over time our loved ones come to grips with the fact that this is who we are, and without their support it's a lot harder pursuing a life of ultrarunning. Kind of selfish, yes. One of my struggles is running like I want, without ever taking my eye off what really matters--faith, marriage, and family. It doesn't get easier. I recently returned to church after several years away, and it's hard keeping the mileage up when Sunday has always been a huge running day for me. Somehow, I get it done.

I don't think there's an ultrarunning gene per se. I think there's a genetic component to longing for physically demanding adventure, for pushing one's limits beyond the brink. When I look back on my life, it's obvious I was born with the ultrarunning/endurance gene. I used to go on really long bike rides as a kid--the farther out, the better. On these rides, I loved stopping off at the candy stand to reload on energy. Little did I realize then that the candy stand served as an aid station! When we visited my gramma's house in the North Carolina mountains, I always felt pulled to run around the lake, and finally I did. It was like I had to do it--the lakeside road was calling my name. I wanted to run a marathon since I was 16 or 17--26.2 miles was calling my name. Even as a kid, I dreamed about the Rocky Mountains--the mystery of it all. I loved long-distance hikes deep into the woods. I would often disappear into wooded areas, hiking along streams and up and down big hills. If there was a trail, I was on it. I nagged my dad to take us camping because I loved the outdoors so much--and still do. I ran cross country, but it wasn't the greatest fit for me--probably because it was too structured and involved too little adventure. And, even when I was 220 lbs. and smoking 2-3 cigarattes a day, I was still popping off 4, 5 or 6 miles at a time, wearing cheap shoes bought at Famous Footwear and cotton shirts, shorts and socks. A fire for running burned in me even then. The marathon was always in the back of my mind.

It's this passion for adventure that has led me through nearly 30 marathons and ultras and ultimately to the Leadville Trail 100. After a very intense 15-week training cycle in which I racked up about 1,500 miles--all at elevations of 6,000-14,100 feet--the taper is now here. I just finished a 440-mile July. Leadville will be my biggest adventure to date. The Leadville course makes the hills at the Mohican 100 look like parking lot speed bumps. Throw in 10,000+ feet of elevation for the entire 100 miles and you have a monster.

I'm considering a lot of different strategies for Leadville. It seems to me that the 21-mile Hope Pass stretch, going from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back, is the critical portion of the race. If you have an ambitious goal for Leadville, you have to figure out a way to cover the Hope Pass double-crossing in a way that allows you to run the final 40 miles in decent shape--40 miles that bring some serious challenges in Sugarloaf Pass and Powerline. You can blow it all on Hope Pass. My hunch is that Leadville comes down to discipline and experience, but you certainly don't want to hold back too much.

Before signing off, I'd like to mention that on Sunday my pacer, Michele, and I ran in Boulder (corrected, per reader comment) Rocky Mountain National Park for 5 hours. We reached the summits of the iconic Green Mountain (8,100 feet) and Bear Peak (8,400 feet). This was my second time atop Bear Peak, though we summitted it from a different side, but it was my first time on top of Green. Boulder's Flatiron Mountains are remarkably beautiful and unique and I can now see why Anton Krupicka loves Green Mountain so much. I am envious that he gets to run Green everyday. Between Boulder and Manitou Springs, I can't decide where I'd rather live--probably Manitou since Pikes Peak is there.

How lucky we are that we live in an area of the country with so many opportunities for adventure. In a few years, when he's ready, Noah, Anne and I will have such a great time experiencing the outdoors through camping and hiking trips in some of the world's most spectacular mountains and high country. What fun we'll have. I'm sure I'll still be running then, too. It's in my genes. Maybe it's in yours, too.