Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 Leadville Trail 100 - Race Report

2 for 2 at the Leadville Trail 100 (Final time: 25:36:21)

"Eggs and Bacon".  That's my new nickname apparently.  My pacer this year affectionately came up with this little moniker for me as it represents a "half-grand-slam".   Because I again did 2 of the 4 grand slam races this year (Vermont and Leadville), I am only "half-grand slamming".  So instead of the usual eggs, bacon, pancakes, and toast slam...I'm just eggs and bacon.

I came into this year's Leadville Trail 100 significantly more prepared than in 2009.  My mileage totals were much higher as was my overall fitness level.  My diet has been much improved, and my weight has been ideal.  Coming into this race as the mid-packer that I am, I feel that I couldn't have really done much more to prepare.   I simply cannot run more than 60-70 miles during a peak week...and frankly don't want to.  I have a life outside of running that I enjoy very much.  I have no aspirations to be a professional runner, nor do I have the natural, elite physique for it.  

Upon finishing the Leadville Traill 100 in 2009, in 29hrs 13minutes, I posted a short blog post titled "Infinite Well".  It was based on a pep talk that Ken Chlouber gave at the pre-race meeting.  Here is the entry:  Infinite Well.  This is how it read:

"Inside each and every one of us is an infinte well.  An infinite well of determination, drive, guts, grit, and will.  At any point we can tap this and accomplish things that we would normally think to be impossible. We just have to believe, and that well is endless.  When you need more, you just have to dig deeper.  Each of us can do more than we think we can, and is capable of more than we think we are"

One year ago tomorrow, also marks the one year anniversary of completing my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike...a journey of which these simple words often motivated me.  There were countless days when I was knee deep in snow postholing in the Sierras, or swatting at swarms of mosquitos, and missing home, when these words above popped into my head, and I slogged on.  True to form, Ken gave his speech again this year, and it was again very moving and inspiring.  Watch for yourselves: now on to the

My goal for this race was very similar to that for Vermont.  I simply wanted to improve on my split times, and thereby improve my overall time.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had kind of thought there was a small chance I might be able to break 25 hours...but it was WAY in the back of my mind.

I showed up in Colorado on Wednesday morning, a full day sooner than in 2009.  A single day probably doesn't make a huge difference for altitude, but it couldn't hurt.  I had also spent almost a month in Colorado back in June, but any benefit from that was more than likely gone.  I drove up to Leadville and settled in Wednesday night at the Hostel again.  Thursday morning I did something rather stupid.  Thursday and Friday were supposed to be rest days.  I had religiously stuck to my taper schedule leading up to the race, and for some idiotic reason, I thought I'd go for a nice easy hike at altitude to loosen up my legs and lungs.  The problem is that for a natural hiker like me...the idea of a "nice easy hike" is to do the 9-mile round trip climb up and down the 14,440 ft Mt. Elbert, the second highest peak in the lower 48.  Putting aside the fact that the climb has over 4500 feet of elevation gain, doing any strenuous activity this close to race day was simply a bad judgement call.  I simply couldn't resist though and somehow had justified it as a way to shock my body into dealing with the thin air.  Thankfully, by race day, the soreness in my legs from the hike was gone.  I'm sure it probably still slowed me down a little though.

After my idiotic Mt. Elbert escapade, I spent the afternoon doing what I should have been doing, resting.  I made my way up to the runner dinner at the 6th street gym where I finally met my pacer, Sophia, in person.  I hooked up with Sophia through a random blog posting here..  Her friend had seen my pacer-request post, and sent Sophia my way.  After a few email exchanges, it seemed like we were a great fit for the race and both had similar attitudes as far as my overall goals: To have fun, finish, and break my '09 time. We ate together and talked about race and pacer strategies.  I was immediately excited by her incredible energy level and eagerness.  I knew it was going to work out well.  After dinner we split and I headed back to the Hostel for a good night's sleep.  On Friday, we met up again briefly to go over a few more details, but mostly I simply focused on keeping my legs off the ground.  I rested a lot and tried to think about nothing all day.

Weather-wise everyone was worrying a lot.  It rained hard all night Friday before the race.  It absolutely poured.  We all knew that even if the rain stopped, that there would probably be some wet and/or muddy parts.  The forecast was definitely a little worrisome too.  It was calling for 40-50% chance of rain with night temps down into the 30's.  Thankfully, by 2:00 am, the rain did stop and the skies began to clear.

I went through the same routine as in '09.  Woke up about 2:00 am, had a hearty breakfast at the hostel, and trotted down to Harrison Ave for the start.  I bumped into several familiar faces while standing around in the cold and chatted it up for quite a bit.   Just before 4:00 am, over 600 runners started the 10 second countdown and we were off on our quest to move 100 continuous miles in and around the mountains of Leadville Colorado.  Without a crew this year, I had to be a little more careful with my gear selections and had decided to go with the simple belt/bottle combo until Twin Lakes at mile 40, where I had planned on switching to my nathan backpack.

Starting Gear:
Nathan X-Mutation belt with added extra pouch, Amphipod handheld, Patagonia Nine-Trails shorts, Brooks Cascadia 5's, Darn Tough socks, long sleeve tech shirt, headsweats cap, 2 photo micro LEDs, Polar RS100 heart-rate monitor, Casio Pathfinder watch w/altimeter (yes I wore two watches), and bandana.

START to MAYQUEEN outbound (Miles 0 - 13.5)
This part of the course is fast, but often with punctuated frustration.  I knew in order to improve on my fairly fast 2009 split, that I had to get up a little further in front during the first few miles of wide road running.  Once the course pinches off to single track, it is literally a squished conga line.  It is very difficult to move up once you are stuck within that chain gang of runners.  I pushed it a bit hard for the first few miles and probably hit a heart rate a little higher than I should have, but I was able to get up to a good spot in the line.  I simply wanted to improve 5-10 minutes on my 2hr 25min 2009 time.  This part of the course goes by considerably fast considering it is a half-marathon and over 2 hours of running.  I got stuck a few times behind some traffic jams, but managed to keep a good, solid, and steady pace throughout the entire 13.5 miles.  I ran probably 95% of this leg and rolled into Mayqueen feeling good just as it was starting to get light out in a time of 2 hours 13 minutes (12 minutes faster than in '09).  I had nothing to swap out in my drop bag and no one to meet up I was in and out in about a minute.  Overall, I was feeling great at this point.  Unlike 2009, I decided to forgo trekking poles for the upcoming climb up Sugarloaf Mountain.  I had sent my poles ahead for the climb up to Hope Pass.

MAYQUEEN to FISH HATCHERY outbound (Miles 13.5 - 23.5)
The first real test for runners at the Leadville Trail 100 is the climb up Sugarloaf.  It's early in the morning, the climb gradual, but it still tops out over 11,000 feet.  It is a sort-of teaser for what's to come for the climb up to Hope Pass later in the day.  I did ok on this 10 mile section in '09, but not great.  This year I made a considerable effort to improve on this leg.  I made my way quickly up the short road section after Mayqueen and hopped on to the Colorado Trail for a short 2 mile stretch up to Hagerman Pass Road.  This is a fun little technical trail section that I power hiked fairly quickly.  The mile or so up Hagerman Pass Rd is very gradual, but I remember walking most of it in '09.  This time, I ran it all.  Even when the course turned off the road to the steeper jeep road that climbs up to the top of Sugarloaf, I continued to run.  Only when the trail go sufficiently steep, did I tone it down to a power hike.  At an rate, I was pushing hard and making good time.  I was actually pleasantly surprised when I looked at my altimeter watch and saw that I had already hit the summit.  For some reason I had remembered the climb being much tougher...but I wasn't going to complain.  I was so glad I remembered to wear my altimeter this go round.  In '09, I was going mad trying to figure out how many feet I left in the big climbs.  There something about knowing how much further it is to the top that is rather comforting to me.  From the top of Sugarloaf, I ran a strong and steady pace all the down the very steep power-line cut to the road leading into fish hatchery.  I made an extra effort to go easy down the steepest parts so as not to annihilate my quads and knees too soon.  I gladly let others blow by me.  There was still 80 miles left in the race and I needed my quads for the big descents later.  Nutrition and hydration were going ok.  I had been putting down a gel here and there, and had been concentrating on salts as well.  I made the decision a few weeks ago to switch to S-caps for my salts.  They offer higher levels of sodium and potassium without anything extra (more bang-for-buck sort of thing).  Up to this point, the weather was cooperating, my clothing choices seemed ok (although it was getting a bit hot), and I had remembered my sunglasses.  I was still firing on all cylinders.  This leg of the course took me 2 and a half hours in '09.  I was hoping to drop that down closer to 2 hours flat.   When I hit the paved road at the bottom of the power line drop, I told myself I would run the entire 1.5 mile uphill stretch to the Fish Hatchery Station.  I ran into the station with a 2hr 1min split and a total time of 4hrs 15mins (over 35 minutes ahead of my 2009 time).

Going up Hagerman Pass Road

FISH HATCHERY to HALFPIPE outbound (Miles 23.5 - 29.1)
This stretch of the course, while along the same route as in '09, was shorter.  They moved what was called the Box Canyon station in '09 up a mile and renamed it Halfpipe.  Most of the stretch though still involve the less-than-ideal paved road run.  I kept it simple here and simply put my head down and shuffled along at a nice jog.  If anything, this section at least allows for a somewhat "easy" place to make up a little time being very flat sand smooth.  It was considerably cooler this year during this leg.  My eyes kept looking up ahead at the intimidating Hope Pass, looming off in the distance.  Thankfully, the skies were still cloud-free.  I cruised around the paved section, excitedly declaring to everyone around me at mile 25 that I was half-way to my pacer, and came through the "Treeline" crew access area.  Since I was crew-less this year, I didn't even stop at all.  After a short 1hr and 13 minutes, I found myself coming into the Halfpipe station.  This station doesn't allow crew, so it's much quieter.  I took a couple minutes to enjoy some food, and refill my bottles.  I knew the next section of the course up to Twin Lakes was a very nice and run-able part of the Colorado Trail and I was really looking forward to it.  Nothing like some smooth single track to get me all excited.  Pace wise, I was doing fairly well up to this point.  I wasn't thinking about any sort of finish time yet (as this would be foolish with the two Hope Pass climbs still to do), but I was content with my progress.

Coming down the "powerline"

HALFPIPE to TWIN LAKES outbound (Miles 29.1 - 39.5)
I was very excited going into this section, but that excitement was quelled rather quickly.  Not long after leaving the aid station I was hit with some fairly significant stomach issues.  Similar to the problems I encountered at Finger Lakes, I tried to focus on other things, specifically the beautiful and very run-able trail beneath my feet.  It wasn't working.  I went for the ginger chews hoping for the best....and thankfully the issues became more manageable.  Regardless, the whole experience made this 10 mile section feel longer than it should have considering the trail-tread.  I found some good company to run along with and managed some decent conversation.  The long stretch was broken up by a water-only stop dubbed the "Mt. Elbert Water Station" about three miles from Twin Lakes which help too.  The really nice part about this spot, was that it was right before the big descent down to Twin Lakes began.  I knew this would be helpful on the return know exactly when the climb would be over on my way up.  Once I began the descent down to the Lakes, I began feeling much better, and once I was in sight of the the aid station, my spirits improved significantly.  I have always had a soft spot for Twin Lakes as it was here that I had a great hostel stay on my Colorado Trail thru-hike.  I arrived at the aid station I knew that I had to do some serious gear reworking.  I quickly grabbed my drop bag and began the mad shuffle.  I replaced my handheld amphipod and Nathan mutation water belt with a Nathan pack with some extra gear and clothing.  I also grabbed my trekking poles, chugged an entire gatorade bottle, ate copious amounts of food and set out...

TWIN LAKES to WINFIELD outbound (Miles 39.5 - 50)
And so it began.  The monster.  In 2009 I was terrified of the 3500 foot climb up to Hope Pass.  This time though, I was confident.  I was ready to tackle it and knowing I had an altimeter was a huge mental booster.  I never had to wonder how much more climb I had....I would know.  I made quick work of the mile-long run across the field to the base of the climb.  With all the rain Friday night, it was a muddy disaster.  I knew there would be the one big stream crossing, but I wasn't prepared for all of the nasty ankle-deep mud puddles.  I slogged through them all and when I made it to the big stream crossing , it was about knee deep and frigid.  They had a rope strung up to help the runners and there were some photographers there taking pics.  Hopefully mine don't come out with me looking too miserably cold.  I made it to the trees and saw that the hard part was about to begin.  My goal for the climb was to simply not stop.  In '09, on several occasions, I found myself stopping to rest while on the climb.  This year, I simply wanted to keep moving no matter how slow.  Short and consistent steps, while really using the poles, was my plan.  For the most part, I kept to it.  For the entire climb, I kept moving.  When I felt the need to take a quick rest, I simply slowed way down and took tiny steps....but kept moving.  the climb went by so much faster than in '09 (which seemed like it took an eternity) and I broke through tree-line at about 12,000 feet.  I actually picked up a slow jog for the 1/4 mile up to the Hope Pass aid station and checked in with the staff.  This aid station is absolutely incredible.  There are hearty volunteers camped at 12,000 feet in small tents, eager to help, and llamas littering the landscape.  It's truly a sight to see.  I was in and out quickly and began the final steep 600 foot ascent up to the pass.  Just as began the climb, I heard one of the aid station volunteers say, "We have our first return runner coming over the pass!".  Sure enough, South Africa's Ryan Sandes had just crested the pass on his return from Winfield and was screaming down the trail with pacer, Anna Frost, charging in front.  I offered my congrats to him as he passed and I couldn't help notice how completely fresh he looked.  It's just baffling to me that these elite ultrarunners can look so good after 55 miles.  Not far behind Ryan in 2nd, was Michael Arnstein (who had just won the Vermont 100 five weeks ago).  By the time I made it to the top of the pass, I had been passed by several more runners including last year's winner, Duncan Callahan.  I took a moment at the top of Hope Pass to again admire the view.  The weather was still cooperating, but the afternoon storm clouds were beginning to form.  I knew I had to be quick about getting down the mountain so that I could get back up and over on the return as quick as possible.  The last thing I wanted was to have to worry about lightning.  I made haste down to the Winfield Road.  Somewhere about half-way down, the top two women runners (Andrea Metz and Lynette Clemons) passed me within a few minutes of each other.  I hit the notoriously dusty and nasty road for what is considered by most to be the worst three miles of the course.  With the rain the night before, and a morning spray-down of the road by race crews, the road was noticeably less dusty this year.  I unremarkably made my way along the three mile stretch and finally made it to the half-way point at the Winfield ghost town aid station in just under 11 hours.  It was at this point that the thought of maybe breaking 25 hours began to seriously creep into my head....but I tried not to think about it too much.  I still had the worst climb of the race to come: The climb back up to Hope Pass, up the steeper backside.   As I turned at the halfway stanchions toward the aid station, I finally met up with Sophia.  Was I glad to see her too.  I was hoping her positive energy would come my way...I was in need of it.  We gathered ourselves, and I grabbed my headlamp.  In 2009, It got dark before my return to Twin Lakes, so I instinctively put my headlamp in the Winfield drop this year because that's where I had picked it up in '09.  Needless to say, i looked a bit ridiculous wearing my headlamp at 3 pm...but whatever.  I guess I could have squeezed it into my Nathan pack...but I honestly didn't really care.   So we left Winfield and began the three-mile road run back to the base of the big climb.

The creek crossing its deepest.

Hitting the Hope Pass Summit

Coming down from Hope Pass

WINFIELD to TWIN LAKES inbound (Miles 50 - 60.5)
We managed to run almost the entire three miles back to the base of the climb, passing several incoming runners along the way.  Sophia was excited and it was so nice to have that positive energy beside me.  The climb back up to Hope was definitely more difficult than the outbound climb.  I struggled a lot.  Despite my mantra of not stopping, and even with Sophia's company, I found I had to stop a couple of times to rest.  The compounded miles of the day, combined with the altitude, and with the fact that I was actually bonking and didn't realize it....was just too much.  I was hitting my low point of the race.  I was starting to become very negative as well....probably not the most fun person to be around.  But, Sophia kept laying on the positives thick...and eventually we made it up to the 12,600 foot pass for the last time.  We had passed by dozens of runners that were coming down.  Some of the later folks I felt bad for knowing they likely wouldn't finish.  At the top, I walked over to the marker and gave it the traditional middle finger, and it felt damn good!  I was utterly spent, but knew I would feel 100 times better once we started the descent.  We scurried down to the Aid station in less than 10 minutes, and I enjoyed a wonderful cup of salty ramen noodles, tons of fruit and cookies, and some good conversation with the volunteers.  Already, my spirits were lifted.  The hardest part was over.  The rain clouds overhead were thick, but managed to only spill a few drips on us up to this point.  I kept telling Sophia that we just needed to make it to the trees and I would feel safer about potential lightning and cold rain.  Somehow, the full on rain and lightning never materialized though despite very ominous looking storm clouds.  The descent down from the aid station went very well.  We ran it all, and again I went somewhat conservative so as not to destroy my quads (which up to this point were still doing remarkably well).  The flux of outbound runners had now stopped as those this far back had been cut-off.   Sophia was managing her role as pacer better than I could have hoped too.  She was on top things like my salt intake, making sure I stayed hydrated, and most importantly keeping me fueled between aid stations.  It turns out I wasn't doing very well on the fueling and had actually bonked pretty hard.  Thanks to a steady flow of gummy chews from Sophia, I was back in my A-game.  When we hit the field at the bottom of the descent it was still light out.  This was a bit strange as when I made it there in '09, it had already gotten dark.  The creek crossing was ridiculously cold, but I knew that I had dry socks and shoes waiting at Twin Lakes less than a mile ahead.  In no time, we were back at the aid station and I was rummaging through my drop bag again.  I had decided to keep my gear the same for the remainder of the race and even hold on to my trekking poles, especially since there was a nice little 1000 foot climb up back up the Colorado Trail out of the aid station.

Coming in to Twin Lakes inbound

Not in the best of moods with wet, muddy feet

TWIN LAKES to HALFPIPE inbound (Miles 60.5 - 70.9)
This leg of the course was mentally the longest.  While the climb up out of Twin Lakes did go by rather quickly, and the arrival at the climb-ending Mt. Elbert water stop was gratifying, the final stretch to the Half-Pipe station went on for an eternity.  I really struggled through this part.  I ran a lot, and so felt that it should have gone rather quickly.  The problem was that I was remembering various sections incorrectly and it was really upsetting me.  I was getting aggravated that it was taking so long, and like waiting for a pot to boil, waiting for that Halfpipe aid station sign just wasn't coming.  Like I said, we did run a lot of this, but it didn't seem to help.  I was hungry too...and for real food.  Not gummies.  The negativity was starting to grow and I knew I needed to address it.  Sophia had told me at one point that she could tell when I was on a sugar-low because I would start to whine....well I was whining.   The sun finally set about 30 minutes before the aid station, which was a nice change of pace.  There is something I just love about night head-lamp running....especially on some eerie mountain top in the middle of nowhere at 2 in the morning (more on that later).  We finally arrived at the halfpipe station what seemed like an eternity later (really more like 2hrs 40mins), and I knew what I needed.  I grabbed some food, took a few deep breaths and told Sophia that I simply needed to sit for a minute.  Sitting during an ultra can be a very bad thing.  In 2009, I sat at the Fish Hatchery station at mile 76.5 and almost didn't get up. I wasn't sure what Sophia was going to say, but I really just needed a minute.  I told her, under no circumstance, no matter how much I beg, not to let me sit more than three minutes.  So, I sat.  And it was magical.  It was glorious in fact.  Waves of happiness began to come over me and I pleasantly smiled and drifted away a bit.  Then I thought of......"HEY, YOUR THREE MINUTES ARE UP!  LET'S GO!"  Wow.  It is so easy to give in.  It's like a drug or a temptation that's right there taunting you.  I was ready to give into it.  Thankfully I had Sophia to mentally slap me.  I then thought of my dad, and how it was his birthday, and that I was running for him today.  I thought of Ken Chlouber's pep talk speech where he says, "Commit, don't quit!".  I stood up out of the heavenly chair to very angry and stiff legs, looked at Sophia, and said calmly, "I'm ready", and we left.  I did it.  I fought it off...again.  I had a new sense of urgency now, and was thankful that the next section of the course was short and very clearly defined.  The road running would be a welcome change of pace, if only that it was something different.

HALFPIPE to FISH HATCHERY inbound (Miles 70.9 - 76.5)
Very quickly after leaving Halfpipe, we arrived at the Treeline crew access area.  There were literally hundreds of people standing around their cars waiting for their runners and cheering us on.  It felt great to be suddenly overwhelmed by such an awesome support group.  It gave me a new sense of energy.  One of the race volunteers yelled out and told me that I was number 100 to come through.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Sophia was still so energetic and full of positive energy through all my ups and downs. She tried to help pass the time by playing little games with me, like, "name that actor", or "what movie", etc.  She would always try to get other runners involved was actually pretty funny.  The whole time we were running, she always made sure that I didn't walk too long either.  If I had been walking for a while she'd say, "Ok 50 steps of running", and we'd literally count out 50 steps.  She was clever though and a lot of times she would tell me she was counting in her head...and would count to 100 instead.  I was so out of it, I didn't notice, and it got me running more.   She really was an excellent pacer.  After Treeline, we made quick work of the 3 mile road section around to the Fish Hatchery.  We went in, ate a bit, had a cup of ramen together, and enjoyed the heaters blowing on us.

FISH HATCHERY to MAYQUEEN inbound (Miles 76.5 - 86.5)
When we left Fish Hatchery, it became immediately apparent that we enjoyed the heaters a bit too long.  As soon as we started down the mile-long road stretch to the base of the Sugarloaf climb, I started shivering uncontrollably.  I took my pack off, put on my light coat, hat, gloves, and started running.  Soon, I eventually did warm up, and just in time for the dreaded final big climb of the course:  The inbound Sugarloaf climb.  In 2009, this climb absolutely destroyed me.  I simply fell apart then.  I was very nervous that this would happen again.  As the steep powerline climb began, I told Sophia that I just wanted to take it slow and easy, and hopefully not stop for breaks.  The backside climb up Sugarloaf can be very demoralizing.  There are about 4 false summits and it can really break you down this late into a hundred miler.  But, this time I knew what to expect and I had the altimeter.  We plodded slowly, but surely, throwing in punctuated 50-step runs here and there.  Sophia was great about keeping me moving and kept the gummy chews coming.  I was fading fast though.  When we reached the final and actual summit of the climb, I finally felt like I could exhale.  The big climbs were over.  Now I just had to finish.  On the descent down from the top I could see various headlamps bobbing away in the distance below me, but there weren't any near me.  I love this part of the race.  You are all alone, in the middle of the night, a sky full of stars overhead, breathing in the cool/crisp air.  It's very surreal, and for that moment you are no longer in a 100-mile race.  You are just another animal, standing on a mountain.  I love that feeling.   After my little profound moment of "taking it in", we ran the entire way down to Hagerman Pass Rd and the mile along the road, catching and passing several runners in the process. At the Colorado Trail junction I took off, in a similar fashion to my 2009 performance.  Going along rocky and rooty trails with my trekking poles in hand is where I excel.  I can move, and move quickly by using what I call my hike-run-pole-maneuvering.  It's my quick way of moving along trails that I've perfected over my years of thru-hiking in bad weather or when trying to get to a post office before it closes.  I use my poles to sort-of vault along the trails at a quick clip.  I passed at least 5 runners over the last two miles of this leg leading up to the final aid station: MayQueen.  Sophia was pleasantly surprised by my late stage burst of energy as we arrived to the cheering volunteers.

MAYQUEEN to 6TH STREET inbound (Miles 86.5 - 99)
The volunteers at Mayqueen were fantastic.  They gave me fresh pancakes, coffee, and loads of fresh fruit.  I was loving it.  Unfortunately, time-wise, it was now apparent the the slow pace up and over Sugarloaf was making a sub-25 hour finish nearly impossible.  It would require me running most, if not all of entire 13.5 remaining miles of the race.  I was in no condition to do this.  I had not been really paying attention to the time for the past few hours and was now visibly upset that the sub-25 was likely out of reach.  Sophia brought me back to reality by telling me not to dwell.  My goal was to have fun and remember my goal of beating my '09 time.  I was still on pace to shatter it.  I had to get the sub-25 out of my mind and fast...I still had 13.5 miles to go.  And so...I did.  I gratefully thanked the volunteers, put on a big smile, and set out to trot along the nice single-track around Turquoise Lake.  In 2009, while running this section of the course, I got to experience the sun rise.  This time, it was still 2 in the morning and rightly dark.  This is when I realized something else that made me very excited.  I had always thought that more than finishing sub-25, it would be awesome to finish the Leadville Trail 100 before the dark.  I realized that as long as I made a good effort, I could still do this.  I knew it wouldn't start getting light until about 5:50, so I just had to get to the finish by then.  I told Sophia that I had a new goal....finish in the dark!  She was all about it.  We knocked out the 6 long miles from Mayqueen to the Tabor Boat ramp.  It was long, but nice running along the peaceful lake.  We didn't see or hear a single soul along this entire leg.  No one.  No runners passed us, and we passed no one.  It was fantastic.  Just the two of us.  We didn't talk much, and simply enjoyed where we were, and what we were doing.  At the ramp, we turned and began heading around the East end of the Lake through the various campgrounds until we finally dumped out at road outside of town at the top of the steep powerline cut.  A short mile later we were on the jeep road moving up towards the bottom of the 3 mile boulevard road that leads back to town.  Finally, we were in the last stage of the race.  The final climb up to town.  For three miles we alternated between fast hiking and slow jogging, Sophia's patented 50-step move.  We were making great progress and had actually caught up to another runner.  I politely passed him and pushed on ahead.  This must have upset him a bit because after about 5 minutes, we turned around and saw that he was trying to catch back up to us.  This was not going to happen.  I would not be passed in the last mile of the race.  I told Sophia we needed to run for a while.  I wanted a good cushion.  We ended up running all the way up to the paved road a mile from the finish putting about 200 yards on him.  I knew I was fine.  I got so distracted by this little exchange that I didn't even realize that I was now only one mile from the finish.  I had made it to 6th street.  The final leg.  The finish line was nearly in sight....and it was still dark (only 5:30 still).  I was starting to get that little dizzy feeling.

THE FINISH (mile 100)
When we crested the hill on 6th street and I could see the finish line stanchion I let it all go.  The slow jog that I had been maintaining since reaching the pavement, had suddenly become a run.  The volunteer along the side of the road a half-mile from the finish radioed my number up ahead.  I could hear Ken on the megaphone at the finish announce, "John from State College, PA is coming down 6th Street Now!  Everyone let's give him a warm welcome and cheer him on home!"  I looked behind one.  I looked ahead of me to the finish about half-mile one.  At that moment, I OWNED 6th st.  It was mine.  It was my moment to shine.  Sophia, me, and my old man were the only ones running down the street...and it was something that I will never forget.  The most incredible moment I've ever had at any race.  My running...became a full on sprint.  I ran harder than I've ever ran....tears flowing, goose bumps up, hair standing.....and, it was still dark.  I never stopped running.  I hit the red in carpet full-on sprint mode and a moment later I broke through a pink tape, and was simply standing....standing on the other side of the finish line. I had done it again.  I had again set out to finish the Leadville Trail 100, and I did....AND besting my previous time by over 3 and a half hours.  I crossed the finish line in the dark, with a time of 25 hrs 36 mins 17 secs, at 5:36 AM.   It truly was a moment that I will take with me forever.

Thank you dad for running with me every step. I know it was you that brought me back when my spirits were at their lowest.  I'm pretty sure you had something to do with the weather holding off too.

Thank you Sophia for the wonderful pacing.  You are a gift to the ultrarunning community and I hope that I get to return the favor and pace for you someday.  Thank you also for all the Powerbar Gummies...they saved me from my bonking.

In hindsight, I truly believe that for me to break that mythical 25 hour barrier at Leadville, I would probably have to not only train a little harder, but make Leadville my focus race.  In other words, not run Vermont five weeks earlier.  This year, my peak race was Vermont.  It was the one I was most trained, AND most  rested for...hence my 21 hour 48 minute finish.  Trying to run a sub-25 Leadville Trail 100 five short weeks later is just asking a little too much.  With this said however, I do feel I could have made it much closer this year had I not spent so much time at some of the aid stations (particularly Twin Lakes return) and not had to rely on drop bags.  If I had had a crew, I wouldn't have had to futz around finding and digging through drops.  Also, I probably would have done better had I not hiked Mt. Elbert two days before the race.  It truly makes me wonder if I would have gone sub-25 had I not been an idiot on Thursday morning.  I guess that's to be left a mystery.

My Prize this year

I had a lot of fun out there this year.  I really did.  I love coming to Colorado and I absolutely love the mountains.  What is life if we don't truly find the things that bring us some happiness?  I mean the important part of this little life we all get really is just how well we live it...right?  I have said so many times before, and that I have permanently inscribed on my PCT mug, the words of Thoreau can't possibly be more true...

That's it for now...thanks everyone for reading all the way through.

-John "lakewood"

Disclaimer - I did buy, and have permission to, all of the Zazoosh photos.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Leadville Trail 100 Finished: 25hrs 36mins

I have again moved through the Sawatch Mountains outside Leaville Colorado for 100 continuous miles.   On foot.  Earlier this morning I crossed the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100, for a second time.  I missed the sub-25 hour buckle by 36 minutes, but still beat my previous time by almost 4 hours, so I am thrilled.  I have not really slept much, so this will be my first priority before any sort of race report.  

I will say, one of the most exciting aspects to my experience this year was actually finishing in the dark.  More than finishing sub-25, I have always wanted to break the tape at the dark.  Crossing the finish line at 5:36 am this morning, I was able to complete this goal.  10 minutes later, the sky began to light up.  Also, I finished completely alone.  I ran down 6th street with no one in front of me and no one behind me as far as I could see.  I managed a full-on sprint down the street towards the finish line while everyone was cheering for me.  It was incredible.   Lastly, my pacer was incredible.  I will go into more detail in the race report, but the short story is that Sophia ran all 50 miles with me, and I wouldn't have done as well as I did without her.  So thank you Sophia.

More to come later.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Live Tracking for Leadville Trail 100

If any of you want to follow along as I plod my way along the course tomorrow, here is the link for live tracking:

Click the real-time tracking and either enter my last name or my bib number: 322.

Here we go!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Leadville Pre-Race Fun (and Mt. Elbert)

Well...I was able to get all checked in and weighed in today.  All that's left to do for the race is to meet up with my pacer, go to the mandatory meeting tomorrow, and organize all my drop bags.  This year I weighed in 16 pounds lighter than in ' a very ideal weight of 145.4 lbs.  I was also assigned bib number 322...which also happens to be the highway that runs through State College.  (State Route 322).  There is a racer dinner tonight that I am going to head up to here in a few minutes, so that I can stuff my face with yummy carbs.  Tomorrow is all about doing nothing.

Today was supposed to be a rest day, a day for doing nothing too....but being the idiot that I am, I couldn't resist the beautiful mountains off to the West.  So, I went for a little hike to see how my lungs would do.  I drove to the Mt. Elbert trailhead a few miles outside of town with the intention of just hiking a few miles in and then turning around.  When I hit tree line though, and I could see the summit, I couldn't resist.  Let's hope I didn't destroy my legs too badly two days before the race.  I did surprisingly well at altitude.  Sure, I was a bit tired above 13,000, and with climbing over 4000 feet of elevation, but never got dizzy or a headache all the way up to 14,440.  One interesting altitude side-effect I've noticed, is the bizarre dreams I have at night.  Oh are some pics from the hike...

Just past treeline

Nearing the summit

Another 14er! (2nd highest peak in the lower 48)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Leadville Trail 100 Race Preview: 2011

Mile 16 - 2009 

Sitting here, jammed into a middle seat on my flight to Denver, going over the upcoming Leadville 100 in my head.  Did I remember all of my gear?  Did I train hard enough?  Will the altitude affect me this year?  Will I do ok with just drop bags and no crew?  Will the different course (from '09) screw me up?  So many "what-ifs".  So many in fact, that I've decided it's not worth fretting over.  I signed up for Leadville this year completely on a whim.  I had known that I wanted to re-run the Vermont 100, but Leadville was an impulsive registration.  Honestly, I signed up simply to "get in" before it filled.  With that said, I am not one of those people that books a spot just to have it with no intention of truly running.  Once I signed up, I had mentally committed, at least to a 75% level, that I was going to go run.

The Leadville 100 race will be my 10th official ultra since I first ran the Vermont 50 back in 2008.  I can't think of a better place to celebrate this milestone.  Of all the races I've done since I began really running after my AT thru hike 4 years ago, the 2009 Leadville 100 was my proudest moment.  I sincerely did not think that I was going to finish the race or even make the cut offs.  At the Winfield station half-way point, I almost didn't…squeezing in just 30 minutes ahead of the final cut off.  I had race directors telling me there that I should consider dropping because most people that arrive that late don't actually finish.  I stuck it out and crossing the eventual finish line, even if it was after 29 hours, was still an accomplishment I have a hard time wrapping my head around today.  

The course at Leadville is notoriously tough and has a historically low finish percentage (50-60%).  While this is due to the high elevations, and tough climbs, it's also due in large part to the open registration.  There are no entry requirements, and anyone can enter to run.   This means there will inevitably be a high drop-out rate from underprepared runners.  In 2009, I was fairly well prepared, and still barely finished.   This race is not one you can simply show up for with the thought that you'll just "wing it" or "power hike the course" in under 30 hours.  It's too tough for that, especially if you're coming from a lower elevation.  My plane will be landing here, be continued....

I had originally planned a grand pre-race post here, but there really isn't that much more to say.  I've arrived here in Leadville now (a day earlier than I had originally planned-long story), and am ready to go.  Tomorrow, I am going to go for an easy hike around the Mt. Elbert area to get my lungs working here.   Driving through the mountains today was wonderful.  I truly feel in alignment when I am amongst the big peaks. I am going to enjoy my few days of relaxation before Saturday.  I'm ready, I'm excited, and I'm going to kick this races ass.  Bring it! 

I will post again after all of my pre-race meetings, medical checks, and pacer discussions. 

Wish me luck,

2009 Start

Monday, August 15, 2011

Katahdin +4, and a day in New York City

Well, here we are again at August 15th.  Four years ago on this date my life changed forever.  I walked up to the final summit of what seemed like just another random mountain, fell to one knee, rested my head upon a sign that read "Northern Terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail", and finally exhaled the long breath that I'd been holding in for 2 years.  I had made the crazy decision to not only quit my job, go back to school, and start a new life at the not-so-young age of 30, but to attempt a thru-hike of the entire 2174 mile Appalachian Trail.  Sure I liked a good hike now and then, and I considered myself fairly fit, but hiking and camping for over 100 straight days while carrying my entire life on my back was something I was not truly prepared for.  I had no idea what sort of mental ups and downs I would go through (nevermind the actual ups and downs of the trail).  I learned a lot about what is important, as well as what we really don't need (despite thinking we need).  Things about my life, that I struggled to see and understand clearly before the hike, became crystal clear as the fog that hovered around me finally had a chance to lift.  I have so many vivid memories from my 2007 adventure.  The people I met, the funny trailside stories, the weird hostels, the friendly trail angels, the great hiking partners, the bugs, the weather, the roots, the rocks, the PUDS and MUDS, and of course those moments....the ones where you are completely taken off guard.  Those precious trail epiphanies when everything lines up perfectly and you are gazing across a spectacular valley from the top of a beautiful mountain.  The breeze is perfect, temperature cool.  There are a few clouds speckled across the sky and you are alone with your thoughts and this perfect image.  The goose bumps come up, you breathe in the cool air....and for that brief moment you are moved beyond words.  I live for these moments.

Since this magical day in 2007, I have been so very fortunate when I think about what I've been able to see and do.  I have been able to experience Antarctica three different times, participate in several 100 mile (and 50 mile) ultraruns, play in the woods and mountains of New Zealand, thru-hike the Colorado Trail, complete a Masters Degree in Geoscience, begin a PhD program (and pass the entrance candidacy), get my first paper published in a scientific journal, and of course....Thru Hike the 2663 mile Pacific Crest Trail last summer.  Also, I've met some of the most wonderful people since that day.  I've made new friends, and found happiness again.  I couldn't be more content with how much I've been able to do since this day four years ago and how alive I've been able to keep that passion within me.

my railroad spike thru-hiker

On a different front, this past weekend, I also finally had a chance to experience New York City in all its glory.  I had a weekend family gathering in Southern Connecticut, and decided to finally do the NYC detour.  I spent a long 10 hours traipsing around the famous spots in and around Manhattan.  Despite having family on Long Island for my entire young life, I have only really been deep within NYC one time...and that was to see the Natural History Museum.  This was my first time really exploring.  Here are some highlights:

Empire State Building

Part of the Skyline

Liberty Island

The proverbial Statue shot

Ellis Island

New WTC Tower

9/11 Memorial Wall

FAO Schwartz Lego Indiana Jones

Times Square

Grand Central Station

On a Leadville Trail 100 Note:
The training is all but done, just have a few miles to run this week before the big day Saturday.  I am flying out on Thursday morning and everything is set.  I just need to pack and get out there.  Not much else to say about it.  It is going to be a mad house this year with over 800 runners....ugh!  My goal is simply to finish and hopefully beat my time from '09.  I will have a dedicated and detailed Pre-Race post here in the next day or two so stay tuned!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Leadville Peak Week

A long and tiring week has come to an end.  My self-imposed Leadville peak training week was tough on many levels.  I had a rough goal of breaking over 60 miles, which for me, is a lot.  I realize the elite runners do 100+ mile weeks, but I have never done more than 55 in training.  Add to this, a very demanding week in the lab, and needless to say...I'm a bit pooped this Sunday night after having finished a 63 mile week.  Tomorrow, I am taking a well deserved day off, and then I get a nice and easy two week taper up to race day in Leadville.

While I am tired, I'm also very pleased that I was able to meet my training goals.  I feel much more prepared for Leadville this year than I did in '09.  I feel strong, fit, and mentally ready.  I have found a pacer, I have typed up my splits and drop bag details, and I have my travel details in order.  Now, I will calmly and patiently wait for my big day.  I am excited to take another stab at this monster of a race, and I know that I can improve on my 2009 time of 29hrs 13mins.

Not much else to discuss here.  The race this year actually falls on my dad's birthday (Aug 20th), so I've decided to run this year's race in his honor.  Along with this, I've also decided to re-promote my charity memorial site:  I had this memorial site set up for my PCT thru-hike last year and it raised almost $1300.00 for the American Heart Association.   So, if you're feeling up to it, and would like to donate a little something to charity, please consider my dad's memorial page.  Thanks!

I plan on posting several pre-race reports soon, so keep an eye out.

happy trails everyone,