Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 Leadville 100 run

I just looked up the lyrics for the Hank Williams Jr song and was going to alter them to my Leadville race experience, but couldn't do it. Which song? It's called "Family Tradition".

The Leadville 100 has become a bit of a family tradition (not all intentionally) although this year was to be a little different. I'm pretty sure I'm the most stubborn of the 690 racers that gathered in the corral at 4 AM on 6th and Harrison. I wanted to finish this race more than any of them. I have failed to do so in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and was back again in 2014 with a little more 100 mile experience under by my belt (with removable buckle - ready for the race finisher hardware).

This year my training was somewhat minimal, usually running about 25-30 miles a week with 6000-8000 ft of elevation gain. I tried each week to get in at least 1 high altitude run (going over 12,600), but didn't worry too much about the rest. I got in a couple 20 milers, the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, and a climb of Cerro Chirripo (highest peak in Central America, > 26 miles with >10,000 vertical gain).

As with most of the other years, I rented a house in Leadville to provide a base camp for my parents who always come out to cheer me on from NC, and my girls. Hannah is only 5 but has cheered me on in Leadville 4 times now! Same 4 trips from NC from my parents. It has become a family tradition.
We went up to 10K on Thursday and I weighed in at 148.8 lbs and picked up my race number 418. Hannah had some kind of funk in her throat and I was hopeful it wouldn't invade my body. Thursday night she had a tough night and I didn't get quite the rest I was wanting. Friday we watched the iconic Stewart Smalley-like motivation speech where I had to recite out loud that I wouldn't quit. This has always caused annoyance because I wouldn't quit if they didn't make me due to time cutoffs.

Views from base camp. Very peaceful.

I've analyzed the course and previous splits in excruciating detail and found that inbound Twin Lakes cutoff is the serious one. I felt if I could make that one, I could finish. I went out with that mentality. So how do you most efficiently make a time cutoff that involves so many variables? For me, I was to cruise through the first 40 miles, fully focused on the 40-60 section which involves 2 huge climbs.

Me and Dad at the Start line at 4AM

Race morning I crawled out of bed at 2:40 AM after another nite of rough sleep and got dressed, ate breakfast and Dad and I went to the start line. We were plenty early and stood around in dark and people-watched while other runners greeted each other and made last minute gear choices. At 4, the shotgun went off and here we go again. I made good time to Mayqueen 6:35 AM at mile 13 and was right on pace. Dropped off my night gear and continued on. I just fell in with a group of others and went up and over the first big climb and descent. On the road to Outward Bound aid station, I bumped into an old friend (Steve Nicholls) giving Leadville another go after previously finishing it in his only attempt in 2006.

Chowing some watermelon at mile 25
We had a great time pacing off of each other, talking race survival tactics and just banging out the miles. We ran together all the way into Twin Lakes at mile 40 at 12:34 PM. We got separated in the massive aid station crowd. I had my mind on the impending climb and wasn't sure if I was ahead or behind Steve as I left. I was focused.
Prepping my Pack at mile 40

I switched from handheld water bottles to a pack and got to the base of the climb and just started marching hard. I passed a huge number of runners on the way up and was ecstatic to reach the top of the climb 2 hrs after leaving Twin lakes. I sent a text to my crew letting them know, started to cry/get choked up and headed down. I made it into Winfield at 4:30, an hour and a half faster than previous attempts.

I was met by my crew of pacers - Chai Engtrakul, Matt Yung, and Ryan Crisp. We made efficient use of the aid station, I weighed in at 144.6, we filled a ziplock with food and left that ghost town on a mission. Chai was my first pacer over the hill. We worked our way through the crowds for a couple miles and then hit the climb proper. I focused on powering to the top and again made it up without stopping once. Sent out another text and began the long crazy descent into Twin Lakes Inbound.

Hopeless aid station at mile 55

We finally arrived well over an hour ahead of the cutoff and I took my time preparing for the night section as darkness arrived. I switched shoes into a brand new pair - never worn - of Hoka Huakas, one size too big to allow extra room for my toes. Seemed like a good idea and it turned out to be fine.

I switched pacers to Matt and we left the aid station with exactly an hour of cushion. It was an awesome feeling hitting that cutoff with so much cushion and energy left in the bank, I felt it was in the bag, I just had 40 more miles to go! Matt and I talked and motored our way through the night arriving at the Mt Elbert aid station to a dance party. Made a quick pit stop and then headed back out. I was mostly walking and knew all I had to do was maintain a sub 19 min/mile pace so Matt kept track of that and we were doing fine.

It started to get cold and I was thankful for the ramen noodles at Halfpipe aid station. I again bumped into Steve, so was happy he was still doing great as well. Ryan took over at the treeline informal station and paced me to Outward bound where it began to really get cold. I got a puffy jacket and chemical hand warmers and was annoyed that there wasn't a heated tent - in reality it could have been a great thing that there wasn't. Jimmy took over pacing from mile 74 and we caught up on his recent travels on the road section over to the last big climb. I was mostly eating chips, pretzels, and saltines out of a large ziplock bag that all of my pacers had refilled and passed on to each other. As soon as we hit the steep climb up powerline, Jimmy handed me a bagel with PB&J. It took me like a half hour to eat that thing but I got it down. The climb seemed to drag on forever, even though I ran a training run there 2 weeks prior. We kept hearing a trombone blasting in the woods and knew that must have been the top of the climb. Finally we arrived to an awesome rogue aid station, complete with Shamrocks, pot, a dancing gorilla.

Time was on my side so we just moseyed down to the next aid station Mayqueen at 4:45 AM - just over 24 hrs from the start. Jimmy was a great pacer but I was really looking forward to Tabor boat ramp where I'd pick up Heidi who was ready to pace me for the last 7 miles. We got there just after sunrise and Heidi and I headed to the finish.

Selfie at mile 98!

We kept a pretty good hiking pace on the roads leading to town but it seemed hard to predict how much distance was left and I was ready to get this thing over with! We crested the final hill and I saw my crew and Hannah joined Heidi and I as we ran hard the last 1/3 mile to cross the finish in 28h53m. It seemed everyone was cheering extra hard because they knew of the long road I'd taken to finally get to this point, but they must do that for everyone. It was glorious. I got the trademark hug from Merilee and a hardy handshake from Ken. I'm so thankful for all the support I've gotten from my family and friends through this long journey. Thanks for my crew and pacers staying up the whole night with me and tending to all of my needs.

We drove back home and had a backyard barbeque to celebrate 4 birthdays at once and surprisingly, I could still walk and function fairly normally. Other than some chapped lips, understandable soreness in my legs, and a overworked stomach, all is well!