Monday, August 22, 2011

Digging Deep at Leadville; 2011 Leadville 100 Race Report

"Ken (Chlouber, Leadville 100 founder) had never run a marathon himself, but if some California hippie (Gordy Ainsleigh, Western States 100 founder) could go one hundred miles, how hard could it be? Besides, a normal race wouldn't cut it; if (the town of) Leadville was going to survive, it needed an event with serious holy-shit power, something to set it apart from all the identical, ho-hum, done-one-done-'em-all 26.2 milers out there. So instead of a marathon, Ken created a monster. To get a sense of what he came up with, try running the Boston Marathon two times in a row with a sock stuffed in your mouth and then hike to the top of Pikes Peak. Done? Great. Now do it all again, this time with your eyes closed. That's pretty much what the Leadville Trail 100 boils down to."

--Born to Run

Running 100 miles is really hard. Running 100 miles in the Colorado Rockies, with every step between elevations of 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet and with four mountain passes and 32,000 feet of combined elevation change sprinkled in, is just downright epic and beyond "really hard." The Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run takes every ounce of your energy and resolve and pushes you to the edge. If you are to finish the Leadville 100, you have to believe in the race's motto deep in your heart, with no reservations:

"You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can."

If you don't believe in those words and what they mean, you are never going to make it. If Hope Pass doesn't do you in, Powerline will break you in half. Believing in those words is your only way through the dark moments and your only ticket to the finish.

Anne and me at the pre-race meeting
I kept saying those words to myself when I was climbing Powerline with about 80 miles on my legs, and when I was digging deep in the last 10 miles, barely able to keep my eyes open and my legs functioning. I crossed in 22:35 and in 29th place overall. This was a marked improvement over last year's 24:47 and 92nd-place finish, but I'm still not satisfied. I believe in my heart I can still break 20 hours at Leadville...and I will!

First Half Goes as Planned
The first half of the race was mostly fantastic! I got to Mayqueen (13.5 miles) in 1:48, a 12-minute improvement over last year, and felt really good. For the first 7-8 miles, I was running with guys like Ryan Sandes (winner), Timmy Parr (previous LT100 winner), Duncan Callahan (previous two-time LT100 winner), Dylan Bowman, Neal Gorman (2010 Grand Slam winner), Michael Arnstein (Vermont 100 winner) and Jeff Browning. Finally, I asked myself, "Should I be up here with these fast guys so early in the race?" Realizing I had no business up front with these high-altitude studs, I backed off a bit and wound up running into Mayqueen with Brandon Fuller and another guy, but still clocked a very respectable 1:48.

Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles) came in 3:34, with some nice climbing up Hagerman Pass and, of course, the famous Powerline descent mixed in. As I entered Fish Hatchery, I was greeted by Anne with Noah on her shoulders. They ran after me as I made my way up the driveway and into the tent. Seeing them and my parents for the first time in the race was wonderful. This day would bring us all closer. I am so grateful for their support and send my heartfelt thanks.

Leaving Fish Hatchery outbound
The Half Pipe aid station (~29) came in 4:43, with a brief stop at Pipeline (a crew-only point). The big goal splits I had were for Twin Lakes (39.5 miles) and Winfield (50 miles) and I nailed them both. I got into Twin Lakes in 6:15, cruising pretty much the whole way and just feeling amazing. The trail and jeep road dropping into Twin Lakes, with spectacular views of the lakes, are just incredible. You can really fly on this stretch. From Twin Lakes, I got to Winfield in 9:15. Having crunched the numbers for a sub-20-hour finish, I knew that 9:15 into Winfield was critical.

Leaving Pipeline outbound
Wrong Shoes on Hope Pass
Unfortunately, I forgot to change into my Salomon Crossmax trail shoes after Twin Lakes outbound, when you cross the Arkansas River and climb and descend 12,600-foot Hope Pass. It's a 3,400-foot climb followed by a 2,600-foot drop into Winfield. So I was forced to run Hope Pass, which has some rocky, steep sections, in my Hoka One One Bondi B's. The Bondi's, while excellent shoes, offer very little (read: no) lateral support. As I was descending the mountain, my feet were shifting around and my toes were pressed against the front. I was in agony. And, of course, as almost any LT100 runner would attest, Winfield Road, which connects the Hope Pass trailhead with the turnaround aid station in Winfield (a ghost town), just sucks with all its dust and traffic. When I arrived in Winfield (mile 50), my crew went right to work on my feet and I got into my Salomon Crossmax trail shoes. I was in Winfield for about 9 minutes--a very long stop.

Llamas at the Hope Pass aid station

Descending Hope Pass.
With my pal Lance, an accomplished runner and mountain biker, pacing me (he also paced me in 2010), we climbed the very challenging backside of Hope Pass, not far behind Lynette Clemons, the eventual women's winner. From Winfield to the summit of Hope Pass, you're climbing 2,600 feet of steep trail with hundreds of runners coming down the mountain in the other direction. I had a few bad moments going up Hope and told Lance not to worry about me; once at the summit it would all be downhill into Twin lakes (60.5 miles). Unfortunately, the descent wasn't much better. My legs were really tired and non-responsive and I had a difficult time navigating a few rocky sections. This was probably due to the fact that I didn't train enough at 10,000+ feet this summer. But I never feared a DNF as I knew once I got back "down" to 9,200 feet (Twin Lakes), I would feel better.

When I arrived at Winfield my feet were really messed up.
Here's a photo of Jane helping me get some new shoes on.

Leaving Winfield new and improved...and with Lance by my side.
Sure enough, by the time we got into Twin Lakes, I was feeling much better. I was strong as we crossed the meadow, the river and the five or six "puddles," though the dark clouds forming above were indeed a concern. Unfortunately, my time into Twin Lakes was about 12:20 (4:20 p.m.), which meant a sub-20-hour finish was now doubtful. Simply put, my Hope Pass double-crossing time (about 6 hours flat) put me in a hole that would be tough to get out of. My goal all along had been a double-crossing of about 5:40. I didn't let it discourage me. I changed shirts and got into my Salomon XA Pros. My crew made me leave with my North Face rain jacket, which I tied around my waist. I didn't have a pacer for Twin Lakes to Pipeline, but that was OK.

Lance with his girlfriend, Debbie, at Twin Lakes.
Strong Leaving Twin Lakes
Leaving Twin Lakes, you have a pretty hefty, but gradual, climb and then get onto beautifully smooth, single-track trail under heavy tree cover with a gradual drop into the Half Pipe aid station. This was one of my better sections, though I had to make a pitstop about 3 miles out of Twin Lakes and got passed by two runners (who I was able to catch up with after my stop). I arrived at Half Pipe (~70 miles) in 14:34 feeling mentally upbeat and physically strong. Just a few more miles and I'd once again meet up with my crew at Pipeline (~mile 73) and also pick up Jane, an Ironman triathlete who would pace me to Mayqueen.

By the time I was closing in on Pipeline, it was about 7:15 and sunset was coming. I'd forgotten to take a precautionary headlamp at Twin Lakes and was hoping the daylight would hold until I got to the crew truck at Pipeline, which is a crew-access-only point (not an aid station). I was also hoping the dry weather would hold. At a few spots between Twin Lakes and Pipeline I felt some drops of rain and a few gusts that signaled an approaching storm, but a downpour never came, thank God. The night before, we'd gotten a horrendous thunderstorm that kept me up (more on that below), and as I was making my way to Pipeline I hoped and prayed for dry conditions as the temperature would surely drop with darkness, creating a nasty combination of cold and wet.

At last, Pipeline...where I got my headlamp, put on a light vest and my sleeves, and met up with Jane. Anne and Noah weren't there--she'd taken him back to the cabin for bed, and so my crew consisted of my mom and dad, who took care of all of my needs. The next segment would be a short one; from Pipeline to Fish Hatchery you're on dirt and paved roads that are mostly flat. It can be a grueling section for many, but I welcomed the change of scenery, even if it meant an annoying game of leapfrog with a really impressive female runner who I *think* finished fourth in the women's division. She wasn't concerned about me, though. Bearing down on her was a gal who was also a Hardrock 100 finisher. They were duking it out for the third woman spot. The last person you want to duke it out with is a Hardrock finisher; they're as tough as they come.

By the time Jane and I arrived at Fish Hatchery (mile 76.5), it was fairly dark and my mood was decent. The time was about 7:55. I got a second headlamp and refueled (with some awesome potato soup my mom made), and off Jane and I went with the Powerline climb looming. My mom was going to head back to the cabin to relieve Anne, who was watching Noah while he slept, and then Anne and Dad would be there at Mayqueen to help get me to the finish.

Powerline...what else to say about it except it's really hard mentally. It was here about 17 years ago that Juan Herrara passed Ann Trason en route to his incredible win (as told in Born to Run). Last year I missed the turn into Powerline, adding an extra two miles to my race that mentally crushed me. This year I nailed the turn, which still wasn't marked quite the way it should have been, and we got right to work on the ~3-mile Powerline climb, which comes at a time in the race when you're just wasted. This is when you have to tell yourself you can do it. Bad thoughts swirled through my head, and when I saw the 20-miles-to-go sign I about lost it. Here I am trekking up this steep bitch of a climb, in the pitch-black dark, when I get a reminder that I have 20 more miles to go. Talk about a slap in the face. Jane heard me utter all kinds of negative words and did her best to keep me positive, even as we were running low on water and my Perpetuem had long-ago started to taste pretty awful. She'd run Powerline only a few weeks before and remembered all the false summits, and so she was able to coach me up the climb.

After Powerline, you descend Hagerman Pass and then enter a ~2-mile section of fairly technical single-track trail that never freaking ends. It was here that we caught up with Oz Pearlman and his pacer. I hate this section of the course so I wasn't in the greatest of moods. The best that could be said of me was that I was quiet. Really quiet. Actually pretty introspective. Oz, a really good runner from New York with a sub-20 at the 2010 Western States 100 on his resume, was fairly talkative and upbeat. I really admired his spirit.

Nausea at Mayqueen
Nausea set in as we approached the Mayqueen aid station (mile 86.5). Last year at Mayqueen I started puking and wound up in a cot for 40 minutes with a serious case of the chills--while several dozen runners passed through. With my stomach churning as we got near Mayqueen, I felt like it was deva-ju all over again, as they say. We entered Mayqueen at around 18:45, or 10:45 at night. I sat down in a chair while my crew refueled my bottles and attended to my needs. My dad stood in front of me, encouraging me to battle through the final 13.5 miles. I was so nauseous that I told Dad to move or else he might get ralphed on. So he moved to the side a bit and I began drinking this incredibly salty broth that about did me in. The watermelon at Mayqueen was far more enjoyable. Luckily, I didn't puke (yet). Lance and I then headed out of Mayqueen, with the finish being our next stop unless I needed to take a break at the Tabor Boat Ramp (93), where Anne and Dad would be waiting for me.

Fighting to Stay Awake
From Mayqueen to the finish, I mostly walked and fought hard to stay awake despite Lance's fantastic motivational techniques and friendly needling. I've never had such a difficult time staying awake late in a 100. I think the storms on Friday night, which literally shook our cabin and kept me up until past midnight, did me in. I got maybe three hours of sleep despite the fact that I was in bed by 8:30. The storms were that nasty, and I admit they freaked me out because I kept wondering what the trails would look like the next day and what I'd do if it stormed while I was out there. By the time I really fell asleep, my alarm clock went off at 2:50. Unlike many 100s, Leadville starts at 4:00 a.m., not the usual 5:00 a.m.

Things got a little nasty at Tabor Boat Ramp. I was in desperate need of caffeine and asked Anne to fetch me some Coca Cola from the truck. As she ran off, I leaned against the gate and literally fell asleep. Somehow I woke myself up and we left with me sipping on the Coke. Within seconds, it all came back up when I started barfing and dry-heeving. All kinds of stuff came up--from watermelon and Coke to gel, etc. It was a nasty mess, and after a sip of water there I was again dry-heeving as I walked down the trail along Turquoise Lake. Lance took the Coke from me and I was glad to give it up regardless of how much I needed carffeine. Yeah, even though Turquoise Lake is amazingly beautiful, this section of the race sucks. The trail is just technical enough to really slow you down when you've just run over 87 miles at 10,000 feet.

From Tabor Board Ramp on, the story was simple: I fought hard and dug deep to stay awake and keep moving forward. I wanted desperately to lay down on the side of the trail and, later, the side of the road, but with temperatures now in the 30s, that was just a really bad idea. Lance and I were both very cold.

The Finish
At last, the finish line at 6th and Harrison was in sight, but I was so tired that very little joy came over me until I literally crossed the red carpet and broke the tape. About an eighth of a mile before the finish, Jane joined Lance and me and we ran to the finish together. Dad and Anne were there cheering me on. After crossing, I walked up to a man I thought was my dad but couldn't figure out why he wasn't hugging me. In my foggy state, I looked closely at him and realized he wasn't my dad. I also couldn't find Anne. Finally, there they appeared and we all embraced. Dad walked me over the medical tent for my final weigh-in.

I forgot to hit my watch as I crossed but someone told me my time was 22 hours and 35 minutes--an improvement of 2 hours and 12 minutes over the 2010 race. The next morning I learned of my 29th-place finish--an improvement of 63 places over 2010.

Another Leadville 100 in the books!

Bottom line: This is a really hard race. When we lived in Cleveland, any run was good training for my 100s (Burning River, Mohican, North Coast). When you're training for the Leadville 100, the runs that really matter are the ones on mountain trails at high altitude, with monster climbs and descents. It's not enough to put in mega mileage around the 'burb, even if you live at 6,100 feet like we do in tame Parker, Colorado, which lacks anything resembling a hardcore trail. As I learned in May after the Jemez 50 miler, you have to train in the mountains to perform well in the mountains. Mega mileage isn't going to mask sub-par mountain trail fitness. With a full-time job, family and house that is 45 minutes from the mountains, mountain training isn't easy for me schedule-wise, but I did my best (got to the mountains usually twice a week) and am proud of my finish. I will once again gun for a time under 20 hours next year and will once again make it a point to get to the mountains as much as possible.

You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can!

Lessons learned to come!


  1. Wyatt,

    Congrats!!!!You did an outstanding job and all of your hard work and smart training paid off!
    I could hardly wait to read your race report, so when able, please add more details....

    So,without any indication from you, other than doing Leadville faster, what is next ?.


  2. Hi Sarah:

    I appreciate all of your encouragement!

    Leadville went fairly well. I learned a lot and made some mistakes hopefully I won't repeat. I feel like I left at least an hour on the course I could have made up with some better strategy. I will continue my race report--I was going to write it all today but got pretty tired. My brain isn't quite at full power right now.

    My next race will likely be either the California International Marathon in Sacramento or the Moab Marathon. I'd like to go for a marathon PR but it's so intense training for a marathon PR and I need to decide if I'm ready to take on that challenge so soon after Leadville. So Moab it may be!

    Thanks again!


  3. Awesome Job Wyatt!!!

    Thanks again for allowing me to be part of your amazing accomplishment.


  4. Congrats on yet another solid finish at Leadville. You keep demonstrating how to get it done there. Encouraging to see you continue to want to whittle the time down too.

    Since you ran with me to May Queen, all the comments on my blog indicate that we are idiots for running that split into May Queen. I have been debating it but the crowd seems to believe it was wrong. So maybe conserve there a bit next year and pick up more time later in the day.

    Interesting comment on the Hokas. Was unsure how that was going to go for you since it was new. Saw a ton of them out there though this year.

    Maybe next year we can train a bit together...I got a place...

  5. Lance: You once again rocked it as an all-star pacer! I value our friendship greatly and hope we can spend some time together when I'm not in agony trying to get to the LT100 finish! That said, I'm going back in 2012 and would like to put in an early request for your services....

    Brandon: Yes, I think 1:48 into Mayqueen was a tad fast, even as it felt good. I realized quickly that running with Duncan, Timmy et al was a mistake. But I still ran to Mayqueen too fast and I kind of wish my split had been more like 1:55. Anyway, for next year there is no getting around the fact that I need to make time to get to Leadville for some runs. I really need to get my Hope Pass split down to about 5:40. I will keep in touch with you and would love to do some runs with you.

  6. Congratulation Wyatt on your huge accomplishment! Sounds so incredibly daunting!

    Enjoyed the race report and wish you continued success!

  7. I decided to make the LT100 in 2011 my first 100. I live about the same distance you do from the mountains, and did my best to hit elevations and gnarly trails each week. Hope Pass nearly did me in, and I mentally gave up on Powerline. I definitely lost time because of this. If I'd kept strong mentally, I believe I wouldn't have been cut due to time at May Queen. I'll be back to finish what I began, but it'll have to be in the next few years. Thanks for a good race recap!