Yesterday I completed what was for me a fairly long run on a critical section of the Leadville 100 course. I ran a Hope Pass double-crossing and felt quite good except for a few stretches here and there.
After a brief night's sleep, Scott W. and I hit the road in Parker at about 4:45AM and got to Twin Lakes at 7:30 (Twin Lakes is the mile 40/60 aid station). The weather was cool and crisp, with thunderstorms forecasted for later in the day. For most of the day, though, we enjoyed abundant sunshine. Because the river at Twin Lakes is raging and dangerous and we weren't in the mood to die or at the very least risk death, we parked in a small lot just up the road from the little village area and ran a short, rolling single-track connector that quickly got us on the Hope Pass trail.
To my own exhilaration, I ran most of the way up the front side Hope (a ~3,400-foot climb), cresting the 12,600-foot pass in a little over an hour. There were just a few patches of snow and ice, including a nice little snow field at the top, but nothing bad at all. It was cold and windy at the top of the pass, but none of that bothered me because the views are always so spectacular. Then I ran pretty well down the steep back side of Hope and into the abandoned mining town of Winfield, a popular camping spot. I took the new Sheep Gulch Trail (which opened just prior to last year's race) from near the base of Hope Pass into Winfield, making it all the way to the parking lot where the 50-mile aid station is situated. I got there in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Standing there in Winfield, elevation 10,400 feet, was a bit of an emotional experience for me--it's where I dropped last year with a knee injury.
After some brief self-reflection in Winfield, I started the return trip, getting back on the Sheep Gulch Trail via the uphill dirt road. I noted that the Sheep Gulch Trail is considerably easier on the return trip than on the outbound, bringing way more downhill running. Only later (as in last night) would I find out that this year's Leadville 100 will see yet another change to this critical part of the course. Instead of running the entire 3.1-mile Sheep Gulch Trail both ways (6.2 miles total, not including the short road segment into/out of Winfield), we'll run part of it and then take a more direct route into/out of Winfield via a new jeep road. This change will get the course closer to 100 miles. Rumor has it that last year's course was about 102 miles.
The climb up the back side of Hope was, as always, hideous. It's steep and rocky and feels never-ending. There was one mile that took me 30 minutes to complete and I was giving it near 100 percent of my effort. I might use trekking poles on the back side during this year's race. On climbs like that, trekking poles could be beneficial in that your arms help power your movement. Trekking poles aside, as I was trudging up the mountain, it hit me that I need to do some training on the Manitou Incline (1 mile, 2,000 feet of climbing, and a heart attack waiting to happen for out-of-shape people attempting it) in order to properly prepare for this physically and mentally difficult section. The key to the back side of Hope Pass is to stay positive, keep it all in perspective, and take it one step at a time--never getting ahead of yourself. Almost no one runs the back side of Hope Pass.
Adding insult to injury was the fact that it felt like someone had my lungs in a vice grip as I trudged up the mountain. My chest was tightening with every step. It was here that I ran into Footfeathers (aka Tim Long), a very capable endurance athlete who is gunning for Leadman, and Stephen, one of his athletes. We chatted for a few minutes and then were on our ways. Footfeathers provide me with some encouragement, reassuring me that the back side of Hope Pass kicks everyone's ass. And it does!
Finally, I crested the 12,600-foot pass a little after noon and began making my way back down. I met back up with Scott at the Hopeless aid station area, where he'd been hanging out for a little while (he didn't go all the way to Winfield and ran a shorter route than I did). At Hopeless, I refueled with a gel and then we conservatively made our way down the pass, hooking back up with the trail that took us to the car. During the descent, for some crazy reason I developed this major craving for a Coca-Cola--a craving I'd indulge at Twin Lakes General Store.
So, on the day, I completed 21.4 miles in 4:59:55, climbed just south of 7,000 feet and descended the same amount of feet--all between 9,200 and 12,600 feet. I took in three Hammer gels and drank about 24 ounces of water. Yesterday also marked a seven-day stretch in which I ran 101 miles and climbed 19,000 feet. Pretty freaking solid. Except for the back side of Hope and a short section on the Sheep Gulch Trail outbound in which I was a little low on calories, I felt exceptionally good all day and capably navigated the climbs and descents. This was a true double-crossing because I ran all the way to Winfield and back. Then again, we didn't start at Twin Lakes but I think that was for good reason, given the dangers of crossing the river. So maybe it wasn't a true double in the truest sense of the word.
I fully intend to return and do another Hope Pass double crossing in the next week or two. I'm getting close to nailing down a job, so it's important to get to Hope again before I'm happily back to work.
I posted three videos from yesterday's adventure to my Facebook page. At some point, I'll try to get the videos on here.