Almost a week has passed since I ran my first true 100 miler, the Leadville 100. Being from Houston, I was very concerned about the altitude and the climbing. I don’t think that either were a real factor in my performance, however, I am still trying dissect what went wrong (and what keeps going wrong) in my ultra-distance races.
I arrived in Denver the Sunday before the race and stayed the week with my awesome Niece Susanna and her husband Philip. I slowly acclimated to the elevation with daily hikes to 10k, 12k, and 14k. I believe that this was a good plan, as all the symptoms of altitude sickness passed by Thursday when we travelled to Leadville.
Friday was pretty laid back as I picked up my race packet and just chilled until the race briefing. Sarah (my sister), Susanna and my nephew Gavin just hung out and saw the sights of the big town of Leadville. Friday night, the rest of the support crew arrived we went over race plans and nutrition.
Start - Mayqueen - Outward Bound (mile 24.5)
I lined up at the start about 10 rows back from the front. My plan was to run by HR for the first 24 miles or so, and I was able to keep everything in check for the most part. Climbing wa good and the 1200 ft descent on Powerline was controlled fun. Nutrition was spot on with a bottle or Perpetuem, a gel and a salt tab every hour. Rolling into the Outward Bound aid station, I was right on schedule and feeling pretty good. I restocked on gels and got a new bottle, ready to go.
Outward Bound to Twin Lakes (mile 40)
The first part of this section was kind of a pain with lots of grass and road running. From there it started to climb and I just power hiked up the switchbacks until I reached the top. The descent down to Twin Lakes was some of the most fun single track I’ve run, especially when it got steep toward the bottom. My crew was supposed to meet me at the top, but couldn’t get in. So, with only one bottle of liquid and minimal fueling, I started to get behind on my nutrition. When I rolled into Twin Lakes, I was really behind from the hard downhill running and no nutrition for over an hour. I ate too quickly while getting my gear ready for Hope Pass. I used the Solomon Ultra Vest with flasks for water, along with some trekking poles for the climb.
Twin Lakes to Winfield and Back
I set out for Winfield and from the start didn’t have a lot of energy. I walked the water crossings to the start of the climb, and start the 3,600 ft ascent to the top. About 400 ft or so into the climb I started to get very woozy and had no energy. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and keep trying to power through it. Things got so bad, that I was literally stopping every 10 ft or so to relieve the dizziness I felt.
I was finally able to puke, but that didn’t really do much for my energy level. The remainder of the climb was me climbing, stopping and puking. I just couldn’t believe I was being passed by so many people, and it was getting me angry. I painstakingly reached the top of Hope Pass and stayed at the aid station for awhile, looking for anything that would get my stomach back in line. The magic cure was the potato soup that was probably 30% salt.
The descent to Winfield wasn’t fast, but it was faster than everyone else at the time. I didn’t have any climbing power, but could just let gravity do the work. I stayed in Winfield (halfway) for about 10 minutes and tried to eat and drink. Then I heard that the cutoff was only 15 minutes away. What? I’m battling the cutoff? That was not in my race plan, but I knew I needed to get going.
The climb up back up Hope Pass was faster, mainly because I kept my effort low enough not to need to stop. I still felt dizzy and weak, but eventually made it to the top. It was already getting dark when I sat down by the fire to put on my warm vest and headlamp. All around me, people were saying that there just wasn’t enough time to make the cutoff, and some were just trying to will themselves to get up.
It didn’t take me long to decide that I was not going to quit, and I wasn’t going to miss the cutoff. I started thinking about my wife, daughters and race crew that had sacrificed so I could race. Even though my race plan had gone out the window, I just wasn’t going to stop.
So I ran down the mountain in less than ideal conditions for going fast. It was dark, I had my headlamp low for fear of running out of battery, and the trail was pretty technical for nighttime running. I passed everyone I could see and finally made it to the water crossings. I honestly didn’t know how much time I had left because my watch had run out midway down. I just prayed that I would make it in time.
With about a mile left until the aid station, Susanna and Katie were waiting on the edge of the last water crossing. They had been there for over two hours, with no information about where I had been the whole time. All they knew is that I was cutting it close. They ran me into the aid station and the crew was waiting like a Nascar pit crew. I sat down, while they changed socks and shoes, refilled bottles, got me some broth to drink and sent me on my way with Sarah pacing me. I was one of the last people to leave Winfield with just minutes to spare before the 9:45 cutoff, but I had made it. 60 miles in, 40 to go.
Winfield to Half Pipe
Leaving Winfield was a straight climb up again, and my stomach wasn’t yet back. Sarah coached me through some tough, slow climbs and helped me keep going after puking a number of times. We started asking everyone who passed me if they had some ginger (I had some in my bag, but never thought to carry it). The first ginger chew I took and kept drinking my drink mix (mistake). I puked again a couple times, but kept climbing SLOWLY. Someone else offered 2 of their precious ginger chews, and I took them one at a time with nothing else. Sarah was an amazing pacer through this section, seeing the worst of me, and still finding ways to coax me forward. I can’t thank her enough.
Slowly, my stomach started to feel better and the sugar helped me feel a lot better. We finished the segment pretty strong, and were now 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I finally felt like I might just make it.
Half Pipe to Outward Bound
Katie took over pacing duties and we just kept moving quickly the whole way. I wasn’t running yet, but fast hiked the whole way, taking in more and more food and starting to feel strong again. Despite the biting cold wind, that whole segment was very enjoyable. She and I had great conversation and just kept passing people the whole way. When I arrived at Outward Bound I only had 24.5 miles left. But with the Powerline climb ahead of me, I was just sure that I would slow again to a crawl as I did on Hope Pass.
Outward Bound to May Queen
Susanne took over pacing duties and we made our way to the start of the climb. I kept telling her not to make fun of me for climbing like a 90 yr old grandma with a walker, she didn’t make any promises. We looked up the climb and it looked like a ski lift with lights all the way up from the headlamps of other runners.
As soon as we started, I just felt good. After about 5 minutes of solid climbing with no nausea, I told her we were going to catch every light we could see. We proceeded to do so all the way up the never-ending climb. I’m not sure how long we climbed, but it seemed like forever. Most of the people we passed looked like they belonged on the set of a Living Dead episode or something. To my surprise, my legs started feeling stronger the more we climbed. Frankly, this was what I was expecting out of my legs the whole race, but it seems that adequate fuel is a requirement for such exertion.
We made our way to the the trail, and started on the pretty technical section to the Aid Station. Susanna really surprised me with her ability to keep up that kind of effort on that kind of terrain. I still can’t believe she isn’t a runner, she sure has the stamina and endurance for it. We had a blast on this whole section, passing everyone we could and having fun going fast on the trails in the dark.
Finally we made it to the last aid station, and I had probably gained over 30 minutes on the cutoff on the last section. She stayed behind to get picked up while I started on the 13.5 miles to the finish.
May Queen to Finish
I ran/hiked about 6 miles to where my final pacers would be waiting at Tabor Boat Ramp. My legs were feeling strong for nearing the end of a 100 miler, and I just kept things moving. The sun was rising and I had the most amazing view of Turquoise Lake for the whole way. I can’t tell you just how beautiful and sublime this section was, running alone and thanking God for everything good in my life. This wasn’t the first time I had prayed, but it was probably the only time I felt truly grateful.
A random pacer picked me up about 3 miles in, and we ran together until we met Sarah and Katie waiting to pace me in. The final 8+ miles were a mix fast hiking and running. I had tons of fun running fast on all the downhills, and scared my sister a bit with my downhill antics.
With about 5 miles to go, we started our ascent into Leadville, and this is where the road seemed to last forever, all uphill. By that time I was just fast-hiking and we kept about a 12 min/mile pace to the end. The last mile I just wanted the race to be over, but Sarah kept reminding me to relish in the final moments of the race. My crew met me at the high school, and we finished together. It was truly a team effort, and I’ve never been so grateful for the sacrificial support of a team in my whole life. It took me 28 hours and 57 minutes to finish this race, but to me, the time didn’t even matter anymore. I didn’t quit and I didn’t give up, despite being against the ropes for so long.
There were 600 who started the race and only 320 finished. This was a little better finishing rate that average, probably because of the beautiful weather. This means that, since I was one of the very last to hit the cutoff at mile 60, I passed about 100 people over the last 40 miles. If I could only redo that 20 mile section over Hope Pass and back, it would have been a decent race. Now I have something to beat when I go back for the big sub-25 hr buckle.
Conclusion Thanks to everyone who supported me, prayed for me, and stayed up all night to watch my progress. I felt like my wife Natalia was with me the whole time, even though she couldn’t come out to Colorado with me. I certainly kept things exciting for people.
Now, if I could just figure out that whole eating on the run for 20 plus hours thing.