Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run
Looking down the back of Hope Pass from about ¼ the way up
Colorado is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, from the countryside to the Mountain Tops it’s just breath taking. As you can guess, we are in Colorado, you knew there would be trouble when you see a sign approaching the town of Leadville, "We Love Living in Leadville @ 10,200 Feet." Yes, the air is a little thin up here, and even for this hard-core "Easterner" in getting there the day before the race, I suffered. To acclimate requires a good week or two of light running and hiking, just to let your system get shock-proofed, so we'll mark it up to experience, even for an old fart at 53.
Themar, Michael Jr., and I flew into Denver, and with a rental car drove up to Leadville, which took only about two hours, not a bad drive. Only problem is that we didn't get to Denver until after 10pm and held up there with baggage claim and car rental lucky to get going about 11:30pm. Arrive around 2am, I called the hotel/motel the day before and they said the room #9 (out of 10) would be unlocked and the key inside (were living big here). Didn't take much to fall asleep, after working all day and catching the 5:35pm out of National Airport in Washington.
Check in was on Friday from 8am to 11am, when we got up there were only two towels and no soap, you've got to be kidding a hotel with no soap, of course there was no one in the office, so I went across the street at the gas station and bought a couple of bars. So far the Mountain Peaks Motel has a rating of less the "1" star and going down.
Checked in at around 140lbs, I sometime have a problem with loosing too much weight, but not in the past couple of years. Mandatory meeting at 11am with the Race Director "Merilee O'Neal" and "Ken Chlauber" (quite the distinguished, Irish character) with this belt buckle on about the size of a frying pan (1,000 =10 Leadville Finishes). After some story telling and history of Leadville and the 20 previous runs. There was a standing ovation for Aspen's Aaron Ralston, famous for cutting off his hand in a freak climbing accident, planned on being a pacer this year. Note: before the 1980 shut down of the mines and 50% unemployment the town's population went from around 4,800 to what there is today likely to be under 2,000.
After a little shopping at the local shops, we had hardly the carbo-loading supper, since the only thing on the menu was Sirloin Steak (12, 14 & 20 oz.) So, along with a salad and baked potato, felt very satisfied for today?? Took a couple of Unison pills and slept like a baby (the last couple of races I hardly get any sleep). At 3am the alarm went off and packed up for today's journey. Checked in at the start, temp was 45 degrees, so had my short tights with running shorts. Got out the Flex-all 454 and rub it in my legs, calves, and hamstrings real good, now I don't feel half as cold. Went from wearing a socking cap, to a ball cap, to just my headlight.
If you have ever heard a shotgun go off at 4am you would think someone is out pouching (deer or something) at this time in the morning. Ken also advised, "Hold on to your dogs", unless you didn't want to see them again for a couple of hours. So off the 520 some of us started down the hill on 6th street. I ate a PowerBar, banana, Aleve and my vitamin pills and drank about two bottles of Gator/PowerAde before the start and found myself in the tree-line woods after about two miles. Well better get rid of it now, and felt better back on the dirt road to Tabor Boat Ramp (no aid station here) but some crew were there cheering us on. The first aid station was 13.5 miles into the course at May Queen, seemed like a long time, but I had a waist Camelbak that held about 40oz of Gatorade, so wasn't a problem.
We ran along side of the Turquoise Lake, the trail got kind of narrow so you didn't want to veer very much, or a slide down the embankment, wouldn't be good at this point. Dumped my headlamp, Penzo hand-held flashlight and jacket, swapped out my Camelbak bladder, piece of banana, fig bars, couple chips and was on my way out of Queen May Aid Station. Michael said I wasn't drinking enough, (I'll work on it). Time was 2 hours and 7 minutes (9:40 pace).
Now we were around 10,000 feet and started climbing Sugarloaf Pass a little over 11,000. It didn't take much climbing before I had to take off the long sleeve (coolmax) shirt and tie it around my waist. Trails are very well kept, so other than the 1,000 foot climb this didn't take that long (around 5 miles). The slope coming down was steeper, but good footing made for some fast time descending to around 9,700, and the fresh air seemed a lot easier to breath. I pulled into the Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles) around 3 hours and 59 minutes (10.17 pace), Camelbak bladder empty (about a mile or so back), got rid of the shirt, stuffed my mouth with some chips, M&M's and peanut butter sandwich, washed it down with some coke, and got back on the road with a protein bar in hand.
Here came a long stretch of blacktop road, across a meadow, then dirt road on a constant climb. Only problem here was that you could see Tree Line miles before you got there (like a mirage). Arrived at Halfmoon (30.5), everything filled up and ready to start climbing as was the temperature (probably around 55 to 60 degrees) pulled down my coolmax tank top to my waist, just so my belt-pak wasn't cutting into my hips. We are around 10,500 before we dropped to around 9,500, so this was another easy breather. A little mist, felt good when I came into Twin Lakes (Medical Check), I dropped my belt with Michael and saw the scale and automatically got on it (the volunteer) said "you don't have to weigh yourself now.” Since I was already there, I just wanted to check to see where I was at. 144 lbs, so gained about 3 or 4 pounds, which was water weight, I really only pee'd about twice so far today (drank between 100 to 140oz). Gobbled down another peanut butter sandwich, fig bars, chips, coke, and protein bar for the road.
This is where we cross a river (about knee deep), ran across a meadow, and climbed, climbed, climbed (from 9,500 to 12,600 feet) over Hope Pass. Shortness of breath, I was forced to try and get in as much oxygen as possible, taking ½ breaths. You know that it is not possible to blow your nose at this height, trying several times it just don't work. The weather was hanging in there for now, but the temps were dropping as we got up to tree line this is where the Hope Pass aide station was. You ask how did they get up there, with all the gear (Tents, water, food, supplies) for 500 plus runners and pacers??
Well there was about 25 llama's out grazing in the meadow around the aid station, so I guess that about answers that, I ask a volunteer lady "how long did it take for the to get up there?" She said "four hours," which sounded pretty good to me, it seems like it took me two hour to just get to this point, and I'm not carrying anything except for myself!
Grabbed couple of snacks, and washed it down with two cups of coke, and off I go since we still had between 30 to 45 minutes to get over the ridge yet. As I looked at the switch back's going up to the top, it looked like a bunch of mountain goats strung along the rocky trail on the side of the mountain. By the time I finally got on top of this summit, where there was a pole of flags (donations from the day before) the wind was sort of brisk here, only one man was standing up there. I'm thinking that I would bring my disposable camera up on the return trip and have him take a picture of me. Simply awesome view here, sort of get dizzy looking down, keep your eyes on the trail, when we passed runners one would lean one way or the other so we could navigate without a problem. I notices that my hands where getting like the "Nutty Professor," and it's a good thing that I didn't have a bottle, cause I don't think I could have squeezed or held on to it. Must be due to the altitude, what's really different is hearing your ears pop, the same as if your driving up the mountains.
Ok, coming down on the switch-backs about ¼ of the way is when I meet the leader (Paul Dewitt) of Woodland Park, CO (who finished in 17 hours and 58 minutes) over an hour ahead of the second place finisher. He was really moving along, uphill at that. Making pretty good time running at a good pace, by the time I got ¾ down, here comes Scott Mills pacing Derrick Carr (VHTRC charter members), looking great (as always) wished him good luck (finished in 6th place at 20 hours and 10 minutes) great job for one heck of a run.
So where was I, got through the bottom of the pass where there was a crew access point, Michael met me about ½ of a mile up the trail and said I had about 2 ½ miles to Winfield Aid station all on a dirt road. This was a gradual slow incline that took some time, clouds coming in, and light rain by the time I hit this aid station at the Ghost Town of Winfield. Didn't look much like a Ghost town to me, with bunch of cars, lots and lots of support volunteers, pacers, and crewmembers. When I was refueling inside with baked potatoes dipped in salt, chips, M&M's and coke, the sky opened up and down poured buckets. No problem, I just got my Montrail ball cap and light raincoat on and I was ready to rock and roll. The time is around 10 hours and 29 minutes into the run, (12.58 pace) not that bad. The first hop over Hope Pass took around 2 hours and 15 minutes, note: Twin Lakes to Winfield is only about 12 miles (the steepest climb was about 2 ½ miles) so you know that's how steep it was.
Going back down this 2 ½ mile stretch wasn't half bad, since it was now a steady decline. But, and there always is "a-but," you would see the lightning flash, I counted one thousand one and BOOM!! When you're in the mountains and it's thundering it sounds like you have your head between two symbols (like in the band) and wham! Makes you crunch and duck, this happened several times but by the time I got to the base of Hope Pass and at the crew access. The rain lightened up so I exchanged my hat and raincoat for my disposable camera with Michael and Themar.
Back up to the summit, climbing we go, about ¼ the way up here comes another fellow VHTRC member (Mike Bur), this is his 4th 100 mile run so far in the past couple of months, two more to go for a total of six hundreds this year, whew! He looks great, I'm sure he's conserving himself. I also informed him that Kerry Owens is waiting to pace with him by the crew access point, it always brings a warm smile when you see a friendly and familiar face.
So I glanced at the camera and it looked like it was on number 3 or 4, so I'm thinking only that many pictures have been taken so far. I click at a couple to nice shots going up to the summit, and the next thing you know I keep on winding the camera and it's not stopping -- oh no, I really wanted it up on the top of Hope Pass, but guess I'll have to run it again next year to get some good pic's. Just before I ascended to the peak, here comes King Jordon (also of our VHTRC members running today, so were all accounted for). He was going for his 1,000 mile buckle today (10 finishes at Leadville), good luck.
By the time we hit the top, and descending to Hope Pass Aid station looking at all of those llama's grabbed a cup of soup and banana with pretzel or two. Had to be careful now on the trail, since it was wet and a bit slippery in spots, you take in a lot more when your walking verse running on this trail. Made a note at places that looked familiar especially the 12,000 foot sign, wouldn't have to see that again this year. As I hit the bottom crossed the meadow and river, figured on changing my shoes for the last 40 miles on my return trip to Twin Lakes. The second 12 mile pass took be around 3 hours. Quite relieved to have the steepest climbs behind me now, refueled and with some moral support. A bit of a queasy stomach at this point, still plenty of light it was around 5:30pm but we were going from 9,500 to about 10,600 feet. As I was slowing down, since not much else except walking on this avenue and after 9 miles got back to Halfmoon (69.5 miles). Themar decide to start pacing at the Fish Hatchery, so now I had something to look forward to. Not eating too much starting to develop and pain in my stomach, maybe from mixing the Powerade and Gatorade or ?? I can remember this long stretch of road in the AM and hit the blacktop not going real fast. Good thing I got my headlamp since darkness was setting in before I got to the Fish Hatchery.
Themar was all ready to go, got a hat and jacket with gloves. Now we were around 9,700 and before us was Sugarloaf Pass which climbed up to 11,200 feet. This was at 76.5 miles and the climbing didn't allow any run or jogging, up, up, up that is all I can remember. Turn a bend in the trail and you would see another chem. Light up another 50 yard ahead, once you got there another after another still in sight up on the trail. We could only walk about 100 yards or so and stop for 10 to 15 second bunch of deep breaths and continue. As we went along on the slowest climb of the day, it started to sleet, some bits of ice bigger than the others, but snowing in August, hmmm. We finally topped Sugarloaf and hit the wind, temps now in the lower 30's, with the cold wind-cutting trough you. Winding down the trail, there wasn't an aid/access point as when we came up the pass, so had to endure the 10 mile journey until we hit the May Queen Aid Station (86.5 miles).
Michael relieved Themar, I got my running suit pants and jacket, since the cold set in was about frozen. I tried to jog a bit but the pain in my stomach only allowed me to walk (maybe I should have forced to vomit) that could of relieved the junk/gas and what else I have been putting in my belly all day. Michael was chatting away and we kept a good pace, I know he misses Cross Country that he excelled in High School (what else can you do at 4am, huh?) Winding around the river and for 7 ½ miles we journeyed until we caught up with Themar at Tabor Boat Ramp. Now I was on my own to bring it home, as the daylight approached this finish was a long drawn out slow incline (I remember in the morning before we were flying down).
So at a pace of about 3 miles per hour, I could put my sights on the finish banner. I'm surprised at the number of supporters cheering you in at around 7am. Finishing time of 26 hours 58 minutes and 35 seconds for 64th place out of 206 finishers. It should be noted here that only about 40% of the 525 or so starters finished. A special event at the finish was that everyone got to break the tape, a major accomplishment no matter what time you finished.
I want to thank my crew (Themar and my son, Michael) always for the great support and keeping me on track all day, even though I was down at times, picking me up (literally one or two times), and knowing just what to say to get me going. Also to my loyal training partners, my wonderful wife Aleka and best friend Pat, and great children that keep me on the go. Of course love goes to my mother, who called on Sunday, to see how the candles worked again.
Until next time--see you on the trails. (I haven't decided what's next, yet, but standby)….thks Mike