After two attempts, the third time is the charm and I can finally say I am a Leadville 100 Mile Trail run finisher. For those who haven't read my previous blogs, I dropped at mile 87 two years ago after a great start and a sub 19 pace through 65 miles. Then last year I dropped at mile 13 (May Queen aid station seems to have it in for me since I dropped there both times) for probably mental jitters more than any physical problems.
I really feel like that first year should have been a finish. Although I had blown out my quads and could only walk slow, I am sure that I could have walked it in around Torquoise Lake for a 21 or 22 hour finish. But I had never felt so bad before and never had not been able to run before and so rather than fight through it, I just gave up.
But not this time! After all of my hard training including 140 plus mile weeks, I was ready to go and hopefully burn up the course. My mission was to stay positive the whole time. My goal was not only to finish but to never drop the f-bomb even at mile 90 when I'm feeling at my worse. No, only positive thoughts would remain in this head. Any time a negative thought entered my head, I would simply banish it. If for instance, I thought to myself, "I'm tired and don't need to do this anymore" or "I'm really hurting, my head hurts, lungs, feet etc" - gone with those thoughts and only the good.
So off we go at 4:00 a.m. and I feel pretty good and relaxed and definitely very positive which is completely opposite of last year when I was a nervous wreck! For those attempting their first Leadville, I cannot emphasize enough the power of staying positive! It is the difference between a finish and a DNF. My two other 100 mile finishers were also when I had kept positive thoughts and I think I may have figured out how to keep out the negative.
At about mile 11, a group of four of us are running together and one of them asks what we hope to hit the aid station in. They expect about 2:05 and I said, I hit it in 1:49 the last two years and would expect the same. They kind of dismissed me as being crazy but they had not run it before and sure enough I hit it exactly 1:49 just as the last two years. I felt very comfortable at this point as if the race had not even started. I was ready to go and after the aid station I was very much alone for the rest of the race although there was a lot of leap frogging with runners all day.
The run over Sugarloaf was great and so easy. It's amazing at how fast and effortless you can get up and over that first mountain on the way out and then on the way back it is the longest climb ever. Descending from Sugarloaf mtn, I eased up purposely. I did not want to blow my quads this time and so I tried to run a little more conservative especially on the downhills.
In and out of the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 24 and I am feeling good. After Fish Hatchery, there is a lot of road and it is long and boring. I tried to run conservative and this is where I first saw my crew, Josh Snyder and his dad. I can't say enough about how helpful they were and they always stayed positive as well. I told them as they drove by that I haven't even started running yet and I really felt that way.
As you pass the half pipe crew access point, the course goes into a long slow gradual climb for about seven miles. I again tried to kind of take it a little slower than two years ago but not much. I also began to feel some fatigue here but nothing too bad. Finally, we make it to the three mile downhill section that takes us into the Twin Lakes aid station before tackling Hope Pass.
Still feeling good at Twin Lakes but not quite as energized as two years ago. Josh is there and he says, "Don't worry about the time." I told him, what do you mean, I thought I was doing pretty good because I had not even looked at my watch since mile 13 (Twin Lakes is mile 40). I have a rule in ultras where I don't look at my watch until the turnaround. Just because I do not like to obsess over time. I like to just enjoy the moment. But Josh's words would haunt me for those grueling ten miles up and over Hope Pass.
As I'm climbing Hope, I'm thinking what does Josh mean, 'Don't worry about the time.' I must be going very slow. I know I am running conservative but did I really slow down that much. Positive thoughts! Don't worry about it. And so I don't. As I begin the climb up Hope, I start to pass about a half a dozen runners. I'm really cruising up this mountain! But as would happen on every climb, the higher I got in elevation, the more I slowed down and the more other runners would pass me.
Flatlander! - I do not think that those that live at altitude fully appreciate the advantage they have nor do they appreciate how much more difficult it is for a flatlander to finish this race especially if they've had no acclimation. I had arrived on Thursday night and had no time to acclimate. As with every mountain ultra I have done, my finishing place dropped dramatically. But there is nothing I can do about that and so positive thoughts and who cares where you finish anyway as long as you finish.
The climb up Hope was not too bad, I just have to take it slow. Then down the other side and I take the new trail to Winfield. This did add quite a bit to the course and it seems mostly UP going out so be prepared for that. My time at Winfield then was 9:37. 35 minutes slower than two years ago and two years ago I had gotten off course for 20 minutes. But, two years ago did not have the extra mileage so I am thinking I was about 30 minutes behind my pace I hoped for to make sub 20. Obviously, if you hit the turnaround in 9:37, you are not going to make sub 20. Especially if you feel as I felt at that point.
I was hurting but I was going to stay positive. So positive that at every aid station I was sure to come in with a huge smile and lots of waving. The crowds loved it! I guess most runners come in serious and focused but I was going to be positive and fun. It gave me such a boost to have these people cheer for me and they would just go nuts! That was probably the funnest part of the entire race for me. At Twin Lakes outbound, some people start shouting at me - "There's the happy runner!" I laughed and said, "Yes!" and "I'm having a great time!" And then I would wave my hands in the air and they would cheer and shout and clap. What a thrill!
Thereafter, at every aid station, they would say - "There's the happy runner!" And we would repeat the scene and I would be even happier and energized by their support and enthusiasm. What fun!
I am so grateful for Josh and his father and their help. Apparantly it is some drive to Winfield and Josh left his Dad with the car as he began to pace me. Josh was worried that I might drop him if he tried to do 50 miles with me but it became obvious pretty quick that that would not be a problem. I was by this point just kind of run/walking and would pretty much do that to mile 87 and walked the rest of the way in from there.
We did pretty well getting up and over Hope Pass but I did have some nausea that would stay with me the rest of the day and anytime we got above 10,500 feet, my head would get really stuffy and groggy. Josh suggested soup at the aid station to settle the stomach and it did seem to help. Back to Twin Lakes where the 'Happy Runner' received loud cheers again.
I hoped to really start moving after mile 60. This is where the race would begin. In past 100s, this is where I will begin to really exert some effort but at Leadville, I just could not do it. I just could not go. I was nauseous and had the headache and I could only manage to walk and run at a slow pace. Positive thoughts. Just keep on moving. Enjoy the day. Who cares where you finish, as long as you get there!
We reach half pipe and it is getting dark. Two years ago, I was half way up Sugarloaf before it got dark - negative thought - out of my head - you are doing great! It was around half pipe that came one of two very low moments. Mentally I remained strong but physically, I felt like I might pass out. This feeling lasted only a mile or two but it was not much fun.
Josh and I reached a downhill to a paved road we could see a half mile or more in the distance. I told Josh, let's be bold and run all the way to the paved road because I had been walking for so long (albeit at a fast clip). So we do and it goes well. We would start running more and more and it turned out that this was the beginning of a very nice rally.
Into Fish Hatchery at mile 86 (Oh crap, a full marathon to go! - bad thought - be gone) Here is the happy runner! Yeah!! Everyone cheering! It's the happy runner! People really excited, and then I try to deadpan as my smile quickly turns to a frown and I tell them, "Ya, I'm full of shit too." And we all had a good laugh because joking around also meant I was still happy and still had a good spirit. I called my wife Suzanne and told her to go on to bed because it would be another 6 hours before I finished but that was doing well. That helped my spirits too.
Josh and I really motored up and over Sugarloaf. Two years ago, it took me over three hours, this year it was only 2 1/2 hours so we passed quite a few people and really began to rally.
But that rally would fade after Mayqueen. I was just going to do a fast walk in from there. I really just didn't feel as though I could run anymore and the nausea was bad. Not as bad as this one guy though. I think he was from Australia and he would just violently vomit and we would pass him, then he would pass us and then he would vomit again and we would pass him again. How is there anything left in this guy's stomach?! I'm grateful I've never vomited in any race ever but am not sure that it would not have helped in this instance.
As we made our way around the lake, the temperature dropped and we got much colder. I began shaking and we had no jackets. We make it to other side of the lake and begin heading into town past Sugarloafin campground to the railroad tracks and the turn right and I feel like I am on the verge of hypothermia (in reality, I was probably no where near it). But it was going to be tough to finish like this even though we are only four miles away.
I really felt like a DNF within sight of the finish line was now possible because we were soo cold! Two things help us out as we are freezing. On the dirt road after the lake, in the trees my headlamp spots some clothes hanging from the branches. Josh, I yell, 'Get those clothes!" He graps them and it is a brand new Hello Kitty shirt for 8 year old girl and matching black capri pants that still had the tags on them. What the heck were those doing in a tree in the forest?! I put the Hello Kitty shirt on and wrap the pants around my head to trap in the heat. What a sight! The happy runner with hello kitty apparrel on. (If I didn't still have the clothes, I would have thought it was one of those hallucinations that ultra runners sometimes experience.)
But that was not enough to keep me warm and I'm still shivering. I try to run to warm up my body, but my legs just do not want to go. At this point, Josh saves the day because he pulls over a car and asks them for jackets. They are so nice to give him the jackets off there backs and Josh runs to catch up with me and this nice warm jacket is just enough to keep me warm to the finish line. We gratefully return the jackets after crossing the finish line but I kept the Hello Kitty outfit and gave it to my daughter.
The finish was somewhat anti-climatic. I had imagined crossing the finish excitedly and having a beer at the local bar if I finished early enough and just basking in the glow of finally having done it. Instead, I was so sick, nauseous, headache, cold and miserable, that the happy runner could only manage a brief faint smile as I crossed the line and proceeded to a warming station to try to feel better.
But of course, as I am now recovered, the finish is truly wonderful. The happy runner and the power of positive thinking carried me through and I hope to apply that in all things in my life. Attitude is a choice, the most important choice you will ever make!