Saturday, August 28, 2010

Finding Limits in Leadville



My goal for the 2010 LT100 was first and foremost to finish. Then sub 25 and on an ideal day, maybe a sub 20 hour finish. No matter what, I was going to finish though and get that buckle.

I could not have been set up better for achieving this goal. My friend Jeff and Josh were pacing me. They had flown me to Leadville on Wednesday in Jeff’s company jet. Talk about convenience. Only a two and half hour flight from Poteau and I was in Leadville! Compare that to a grueling 14 hour drive.

Ideally, I would like to have three weeks to acclimatize to the altitude but with my work as a school teacher, that will never happen. At least not until I move to Colorado or retire.

The race started great with perfect weather. I took it pretty easy around the lake with hopes of coming in around the sub two hour mark. I hit it in around 1:54 and felt the pace was contained. The climb up Sugarloaf was so gradual that I ran almost the entire thing. I had expected a lot of walking so this was a surprise. Maybe in the future, I should walk anyway but it really felt easy. The backside of Sugarloaf is a lot steeper and I just let gravity take me down the mountain without putting forth to much effort.

I came into Fish Hatchery at mile 24 and felt very easy and comfortable and I knew I was ahead of sub 20 pace without looking at my watch. In and out of Fish Hatchery and down the three or more mile stretch of paved road. I felt a little tired here and just got the impression that those I were running with were pushing the pace here too much. I slowed up a little but again, I probably could have slowed up some more here and even took some short walking breaks.

My crew met me again at Pipeline which was a nice surprise and I just kept moving at a decent pace. I had a few tired spells through the next aid station at half moon but then as I was coming down toward Twin Lakes, I was feeling really strong. I was really cruising and felt relaxed. This was easy.

That is about the same time that I no longer saw any course markings. As I went further, I became concerned. It is an all too familiar feeling that makes your stomach tie into knots knowing you maybe off course. It was about time that I saw two runners climbing back up the hill. One of them was Western States legend Hal Koerner. That certainly confirmed that I (we) were definitely off course. I looked at my watch (5:53) and began running back up the hill to the point that we made the wrong turn and looked again at my watch (6:04). Approximately 20 minutes spent off course.

The funny thing is, it really did not bother me. I was not going to let anything stop me from having a good race. I opened it up a little bit on the downhill to Twin Lakes and still felt great. My crew was there and I was in and out and ready to take on 12,600 foot Hope Pass.

The Arkansas River crossing surprised me at how deep, cold and swift moving it was but the river as also fun and refreshing. Now the climb up Hope could begin in earnest. It really was not that bad and did not seem to last that long. Down the other side and into Winfield we go.

The dirt road to Winfield is as everyone had said. Boring, long and dusty but knowing you are almost at turn around get you there. Winfield is exciting. A lot of energy envelops you at Winfield because you are half way. You also get to check where you are in the standings. At this point I was around 15th. I guessed I would have been around 7th had it not been for the time off course. Anton Krupicka was way out in front, already 2/3rds of the way back up Hope Pass when I saw him.

I pick up Josh, my pacer at mile 50 at Winfield and take a look at my watch - 9:02!  Wow, even with time off course, I was still five minutes ahead of my best projection.  I was very excited and so Josh and I take off toward Hope2. The road is thankfully downhill before you get on the trail to climb Hope so you can make some good time here.

The climb up back Hope was a struggle. I know I should have seen Paul S but never did or I do not remember. Paul had great race and could not have been that far back from me. Next I said hi to Po Dog and later up the mountain, Paul Turner was in great spirits.

On the way to the top of Hope Pass

Hope 2 was hard. No doubt. I even became a little emotional as I made it to the summit. I’m sure this was because at that point, the hardest part of the course was over and I felt confident in finishing the race. The emotions were just a little overwhelming. I cruised back into Hope aid station, in and out, kiss the Llamas and down the mountain. I probably ran the best part of the race coming down Hope 2. I flew down the mountain, energized and excited that I was heading toward the finish line. Across the valley and through the river and I was at Twin Lakes.

In and out of Twin Lakes, I continued running strong up the mountain and toward Half Moon aid station. I am still having a near perfect race minus the time spent off course.  Looking back on it, that may have been the best 70 miles of my life.  It was such an awesome adventure and I know now what I can do at Leadville.  But then I begin to struggle for the first time.  I have to walk every now and then and my legs do not have much pep to them.
But not too worry. I have been here before and knew that I would come out of it so long as I persevered. So I struggled along and began to do a lot more walking. From Half Moon (73) to Pipeline (76), I was walking more than running. I met up with my next pacer, Jeff at Pipeline and by that time I was reduced to a constant, slow walk. I just could not run.

This was not like the end of the Traveller where I am tired but can still run at a pretty good clip. No, this was different. I just could not get my legs to run at all. I convinced myself to drop at Fish Hatchery. It is amazing how quickly things fell apart. How quickly I went from being strongly determined to finish to being finished. But then on the walk to Fish Hatchery, I thought if I could just make it back up and over the 11,600 foot Sugarloaf climb, then I would surely finish the race as it was nothing but flat after that. Amazingly, I had new resolve, even if I had to do a slow walk to the finish.

Josh continues to be pumped up at Fish Hatchery and is a most enthusiastic crew member. He may not of known it, but he really boosted my spirits on many occasion. Jeff and I began our ascent up Sugarloaf. I do remember a moment when I started to climb pretty well. I actually felt just a hint of muscles responding to what they were being asked to do. But then, the moment was gone. Sugarloaf is steep on this side and has a dozen false summits. Do not even begin to think you are at the top of this mountain, because you are not even close. I changed socks while climbing the mountain and though I had no blisters, my feet were pretty beat up and the change of socks felt really good. I’m really crashing now and want to lie down and quit. At this point, my mind tells me that I just need to make it to May Queen so that I can safely drop out and not have to be rescued on the mountain.

As we begin going down Sugarloaf, it is dark and I cannot even run downhill! This is a new experience for me because I have always been able to run downhill. I am very discouraged and now, there is no question that I will drop with only 12 miles of flat terrain to go.

In hindsight, as we finally arrived at MayQueen, I wish I had found some mental strength inside of me to just stop before the aid station, turn my mind around and then just continue through the aid station. But this point of exhaustion was new territory for me. I had never experienced it before and it scared me. When I do Leadville again, I know now what to expect and am sure I can overcome it. Maybe I will even be able to run better the latter part of the race but if not, I am sure I can persevere to the finish.

Certainly at the time, I was done but I am excited about the DNF. That is because I now have a challenge before me to overcome. What a great experience that can only get better as I begin to better understand what is possible.

Leadville was great!  The people, the vibe, the excitement, the mountains, the beauty of it all literally took my breath away and I cannot wait to return!

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