Sunday, August 18, 2013

Coming Back from the Dead and Digging Deep: 2013 Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run Report

Note to reader: This race report is evolving. Please check back for new content!

If there's one thing I've learned from racing 100-mile mountain races, it's that they don't get any easier. They strip you down to your core, leaving you with little more than primal instincts. When you're out there running 100 miles, nothing matters except the task at hand.

At 2:40 a.m., I finished my third Leadville 100 run with a time of 22 hours and 40 minutes--five minutes off my 2011 Leadville PR. That was good for 39th overall out of a ridiculously bloated field of 943 starters (over 1,200 signed up!). Given what transpired earlier in the day, it's incredible to me that I even finished the race, let alone ran the grueling Powerline climb 80 miles into the race.

At the start. Photo by Rob Timko.
First things first: Having my family there, once again, to support me meant everything. I draw so much inspiration from Anne and our son, and words just can't describe what it means for my mom and dad to be there for me. As I've already written, no matter how old I get, my mom and dad will always mom and dad. They are always there for me. I hope one day my son looks at Anne and me the same way.

Not long after leaving Outward Bound inbound, mile ~25.
The first 65 miles of the race were pretty awful. When I came into Twin Lakes inbound (mile 39.5), I felt queasy and achy all over. My running to that point had been flat and uninspired. After the training I put in all summer, this was not how my race should have been going! Having fallen hard a few miles before coming into Twin Lakes, and with a broken Cambelback that made sipping water a tedious process, I was starting to get preoccupied with negative thoughts. Things were going badly. Nevertheless, with my new Ultimate Direction hydration pack (AK style) now on, I set off for Hope Pass wanting to get it on with that mountain.

Descending into Twin Lakes, mile 39.5.

Alas, Hope Pass was a disaster. I struggled up the front side, a 3,400-vertical foot climb to the 12,600-foot pass, and fought excruciating cramps in my quads (as I did last year). Given how I trained all summer, I should have nailed this climb. Fortunately, I managed a decent descent and I felt pretty good on the trail going into Winfield--the halfway point of the race. My time into Winfield was about 9:35, forty minutes off my "stretch" goal. It was a tad warm in Winfield. There, I met up with my family and Chuck Radford, who would pace me back over the mountain. It's the realization that you have to go back over a 12,600-foot mountain pass that causes many runners to DNF in Winfield. But "DNF" wasn't on my mind in Winfield. I was fortunate to have Chuck joining me at that critical time in the race. He finished sixth at the Silver Rush 50-mile run a few weeks prior and has a marathon PR of 2:42. Yeah, he's quite capable.

Arriving at the Hopeless aid station inbound, mile ~44. Photo by Rickey Gates.

Chuck and I navigated the rolling Sheep Gulch Trail, which connects to the Hope Pass climb, pretty well and I felt in decent spirits. He's a very upbeat guy and offered encouragement at just the right times. Despite my good spirits, the climb up the backside of Hope Pass was hideous. I couldn't seem to get in a rhythm, in part because there were way too many damned runners out there clogging up the narrow trail. As it was, I was climbing the mountain with several hundred runners coming down en route to Winfield. Halfway up the mountain, a guy came barreling down on "my side" of the trail, totally out of control, and crashed into me, nearly causing me to fall down the mountain. He was obviously a newbie and didn't have a clue how the trail is supposed to work. A few choice words were exchanged, which is really unfortunate, and then we were back on our way. At some point, the race organizers have got to make some tough decisions about the size of the field (the subject of a future blog post).

Simply put, I thought we would never get to the top of Hope Pass. This is a grueling 2,600-foot climb that is steep and never-ending. I felt like I was moving in slow motion and my quads were pissed off big time. The two-way traffic is far and away the worst part. But, at last, we got to the top and then started a very slow, labored descent. By this time, I started to feel extremely queasy and on the verge of throwing up. Finally, we arrived in the Hopeless aid station, situated at about 12,000 feet. The supplies at Hopeless are brought up on llamas! I took a few sips of something (don't even remember what) and then started puking in the tent while Chuck refilled my bottles. I puked easily 15 times. Chuck said my eyes were glazed over. Finally, the medical personnel took over. The lady running the show told me she needed eight minutes to get me back on track. I said I didn't have eight minutes--I need to get on my way. She got really feisty with me and used some choice words to get my attention. I could see she was sincere and wanted to help me. Before long, I was back on my feet and Chuck and I hobbled down the mountain. My quads were on fire. Clearly I'd bonked.

Going across the meadow back to Twin Lakes, I had serious doubts about finishing the race. I entered Twin Lakes around 5:15 p.m. (which is way later than planned) and was greeted by JT, a five-time Hardrock 100 finisher who offered up some serious encouragement. JT told me that it would get better and that I had to keep going. He understood where I was mentally and physically, and he also reminded me that your odds of finishing Leadville go up dramatically if you can get out of Twin Lakes. I sat in a chair surrounded by the crew and feeling utterly hopeless. I elected to go with my Hoka Stinsons shoes because I felt the cushion would help. Finally, I got up and Scott Williams and I started the next leg of the journey. Scott would be pacing me to Outward Bound, mile 75.

The hike out of Twin Lakes was awful. I had no energy and was in a bad mood. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I turned my right ankle on the side of the trail. The pain was excruciating and I told Scott this was it--I would DNF at the Mount Elbert water station. Scott tried to talk me into continuing, and finally I agreed to go to the Pipeline crew station, which is at approximately mile 72. Right around mile 65, with my legs completely dead and runners passing us left and right (this was the true low point, in my opinion), Scott talked me into eating some Fig Newtons. I hadn't really had anything since puking at the Hopeless aid station. I downed the newtons and then, incredibly, started to feel some energy returning to me. We began running and my ankle started to improve. I just basically buried the pain and tried to forget about it. Before long, I was putting in sub-9-minute miles (mind you, this was more than 65 miles into the race and at over 10,000 feet) and we were cruising along on one of the more runnable sections of the course. I felt reenergized and wanted to pass all of the runners who'd overtaken us earlier. We did! And my cushy Hokas made it all the easier!

The last 35 miles of the race were fun. I was in the zone. According to reports, apparently my splits from the Half Pipe aid station to Outward Bound and Outward Bound to Mayqueen were among the fastest of the entire race (for anyone). Scott and I passed a ton of runners from miles 65 to 75. I felt indestructible and fresh as a daisy. I'm sure the 20 ounces of Coke I consumed at Pipeline, thanks to my wife's good thinking, made a difference. I also allowed myself an ibuprofen to help take the edge off the pain in my ankle, feet and legs.

Leaving Winfield, mile 50, with Chuck.  He was with me during some
of my darkest moments on Hope Pass. I didn't know him that well before the
race, but he's quickly become a close friend.

At Outward Bound, I picked up Chuck for the second leg of our journey together. We ran up the road, past the Fish Hatchery, and then entered the trail connecting to the infamous Powerline climb, which has spelled doom for many a runner. Unlike previous years, I was excited to be on Powerline. By now, I felt the benefits of my hard training all summer and knew I had Powerline by the balls. We ran several sections of the big climb and passed well over a dozen runners--the best moment I've had in a 100-miler since 2009. I was on fire and I had all the confidence in the world in that one moment in time.

Once at the top of Sugarloaf Pass, we started the long descent to the Colorado Trail and we ran every step of it. Once on the Colorado Trail, a gnarly section in the night, I decided to run the runnable stretches and hike the really rocky patches so as to avoid turning my compromised ankle. Chuck agreed that it was a good strategy. I looked down at my watch and noted that we were making up a lot of time. As I said to Chuck, "I can't change the fact that Hope Pass took 7 hours [it should have taken more like 5 hours, 45 minutes]. What I can control is how I run the rest of this race."

We got into Mayqueen, mile 86.5, around 11:15 at night. The place was electric. Needing a jolt, I swigged some Coke and then immediately began puking again. I puked 5-10 times and then was directed to a cot, where I proceeded to puke some more. In between pukes, I talked briefly with Gary David, the co-host of Elevation Trail. One of the medical volunteers offered me an anti-nausea pill, which I learned would DQ me. I refused the pill and was actually kind of irritated that they didn't first try to help me get back on my feet before offering me assistance that would mean a DQ. A DQ at mile 86.5 should always be the last resort!

Fortunately, the puking stopped and we were back on our way--the finish line a little over 13 miles away. Leaving Mayqueen, Chuck gave me a ginger chew that seemed to work well. We ran probably two-third of the stretch from Mayqueen to the Tabor Boat Ramp (mile 93), hiking only the super technical stretches in order to protect my ankle. In the process, we passed a few runners. I was still feeling good but I could feel my strength starting to taper off. Chuck offered many words of encouragement and stayed on my case about drinking.

After the Tabor Boat Ramp, I simply couldn't run as much as I wanted, and so we down-shifted into power hiking mode. Whenever we came upon runners, I began running in order to pass then, and then we started walking again once we'd overtaken them. The last seven miles are mentally taxing, especially the long Boulevard section that seems to go on forever. I also would be remiss in not mentioning that the descent on "mini Powerline" in the pitch-black dark was hideous. But that's Leadville. It ain't supposed to be easy, folks!

Turning onto Sixth Street, with the finish line about a half-mile up the street, I felt pretty destroyed physically but quite mentally engaged. No one was behind us so we hiked up the street. Anne greeted Chuck and me about a quarter of a mile from the finish. She was really excited and proud of me for finishing so strong. Knowing that my wife was proud of me for gutting it out and then turning the tables on a rough patch made me feel so good. I'll be honest here: When you're a guy, there are few things better than knowing your woman is proud of you.

With the finish line about 100 yards away, I ran in, overwhelmed with joy, pride and relief. I had finished my third Leadville 100 and earned my third big, sub-25-hour buckle. I was overjoyed! Last year's DNF was behind me!

Overjoyed in the finishers' tent.

At the finish line, Anne, my dad and Chuck took care of my needs, helping me to the tent for some warmth and then to the medical tent for some Tums to relieve my sour stomach. Although I figured puking after my finish was imminent, incredibly I never barfed after crossing the line.

The hardware. My third sub-25-hour Leadville 100 buckle,
along with my finisher's medal.
There are many takeaways from this race that I'm still processing. I will say that in my darkest moment, when I felt tempted to DNF, I ultimately decided to stay in the race because of my son. I didn't want to let him down by quitting when things got tough, and I also didn't want to let down Anne, my family, Chuck and Scott, everyone who was pulling for me, and the readers of this blog. My refusal to give in ultimately paid off big time. I am forever indebted to my family, Chuck and Scott for being out there to support me. Thanks to their love and support, I fought through the lowest of lows and came back from the dead. The last 35 miles of that race were awesome and some of the best miles I've ever had. I feel like those last 35 miles were something of a psychological breakthrough with Leadville.

As to why it took me 65 miles to get in a groove, I have no answer to that. In time, I hope to work through what went right and what went wrong, because I believe there's a lot to be learned in my race.

Here are some interesting stats from the race:
  • 1200 entered
  • 943 started
  • 494 total finishers (52% finisher rate)
  • 137 finished under 25 hours (14% of all starters and 27% of all finishers) - I'm d to be in this select group!
I'll write more in the coming posts.


  1. Well done on a fantastic effort! Getting through the bad part and then hanging on for so long still and get the sub 25 is awesome. Congratulations! Rest well!

  2. I got a little worried when I saw you were down to 62nd place. Then I saw you finished 39th. Now I know why. Congratulations!