Monday, August 26, 2013

Leadville 100 Trail Run Race Report

Starting off with a few shout-outs!
Crew and Pacer - I couldn't have made it back to Leadville without Cindy and Howard getting me to the finish. This was really a team effort. Hundred mile runs start well before the sound of the starting gun with all of the preparation and they both had me dialed in and confident before and during the race. I saw awesome crew and pacers the entire run (of course mine was the best!). Really - of the 5 hundreds that I've run I've never seen such an awesome group of support teams getting their runners to the end. It was inspiring. The video clip below where I hit the top of Hope Pass the 2nd time and Howard is encouraging me is just a very short snippet of his 17 hour shift of encouraging, motivating, and keeping me on track. This doesn't include the 25 miles that he actually carried my hydration pack (muling allowed at Leadville). I can't thank Cindy and Howard enough for their selflessness and friendship.

Brooks - another hundred mile run without equipment issues. Two new pair of Brooks ASR 10's held up well - including some mountain climbs in wet feet after the river crossing at Twin Lakes. My Brooks 5" essential shorts were great all day and caused zero chafing issues - and my running pants and hat kept me warm once it cooled off.

2013 Leadville Trail 100
I made it to Colorado on Wednesday night to give my body a few days to adapt to the high, dry mountain air of Colorado. Prior to leaving TX I got a prescription for Diamox to help with altitude sickness – and it did seem to prevent the headaches and the typical lethargic feeling you get when you go to higher elevations. The side effects that I felt were tingly fingertips and some issues with my taste – both of which I thought were a fair tradeoff.

Thursday morning my pacer Howard and I decided to scope out some of the course – and hike part way up Hope Pass to give my body an idea of what the steep climb was going to be like. We started by heading off to Twin Lakes and walking down to the river crossing which Howard indicated was lower than most years. Then we headed over to Winfield and went to about tree line for some spectacular views of the mtns. The climb was as expected – steep and I was winded in the thin air. After Winfield we stopped in Leadville and got checked/weighed in which was literally a 2 minute process – and headed back to Breckenridge for some carb-loading.
Low River Crossing Year - But still got wet feet!

Hope Pass is just beyond the ridge in the photo as seen from Twin Lakes
Friday morning we made the drive back to Leadville in plenty of time to grab a seat at the gym for the pre-race and crew briefings. No surprises from either – and we were on our way in the early afternoon to check out some more of the course – the flatish section between Fish Hatchery and halfpipe –  the infamous powerline – Hagerman Rd and May Queen. I felt really good having seen a majority of the course and had a pretty good mental idea of what to expect on the sections I hadn’t seen based on race reports.

Best Crew and Pacer at Leadville Trail 100!

Drop Bags - very few things could have happened that we weren't prepared for!
Saturday morning wake-up came at 1:30 and we left at 2am for a 2:50am arrival in Leadville. We expected to see tons of people, activity, excitement – but instead pulled into a virtual ghost town with only a few people wandering around. We grabbed a parking spot about 50 yards from the start line and hung out in the car going through last minute supply checks. The weather wasn’t as cold as I expected – and I decided to head off in shorts instead of pants which was a good move since I was already warm when we made it to the end of the first 3 - 4 mile downhill section and started climbing the short but steep and rocky trail up to Turquoise Lake.
My strategy was to go as smoothly and evenly as possible through the first 13.5 miles  – never over-exerting but also not holding back since I wanted to get ahead of the cut-off’s early. Even though I stuck with my plan til May Queen – I just didn’t feel 100% when I got to the first aid station. The last ¼ mile into the aid station is paved and flat – and I walked almost the entire section trying to figure out what I could do to get my energy level up because I just didn’t seem to be feeling it. I had Diamox-like feelings with the tingly sensation – but instead of it just being my fingertips it was also both arms and my face. Wha? I snagged my drop bag – downed an Ensure and some other calories – switched my warm cap for a baseball cap and left my long sleeve shirt – and headed out for the first decent climb of the day.

Looking down at May Queen Aid Station from Hagerman Rd
The first few miles after May Queen on the Colorado Trail are nice single track – rocky in places – and mostly uphill. I had a ton of people pass me in this section – again I just didn’t feel like I had any energy. Once on the road – wide and gradually uphill – I decided I would powerwalk to the top which is about 3 miles. I continued to get passed – but everyone that was running was not making a lot of time on me so I decided to stick with my power walk and focus on getting some calories and hydration in me.
Once at the top of Sugarloaf at a little over 11K feet we finally got some downhills – and I was pleased to see that I had good leg speed going downhill. I bombed the section all the way to the base of powerline – and continued on down the paved road pass Fish Hatchery to the Outward Bound Aid station at mile 23.5 which I hit around 4:30hrs. Right about on the splits that I wanted to hit which was great since I hadn’t felt 100% since the start.
Leaving Outward Bound there’s a long paved section. Most race reports I read talked about this section being hot since it’s wide open and exposed – but luckily there were some clouds so it wasn’t too bad. Still not feeling 100% I ran/walked about 50%/50% all the way until the paved road switches back to a dirt road when I finally got some legs under me and ran til the Halfmoon aid station at mile 31 which I hit in a little over 6 hrs. After the aid station there’s a little bit of up and down – nothing too bad – as you wind your way to the top. At the top, you have a nice long downhill section that you can really make up some time. I ran all of this – even the rockier parts towards the bottom – and made it to Twin Lakes in a little over 8 hrs (8:06) which was right on my target pace. Not bad since I was only feeling only about 75%.
Coming into Twin Lakes there were mobs of people. Really – there were massive crowds and I almost wasn’t sure where to go. I crossed the mat – went under a shelter where the drop bags were kept and looked for my drop bags. No drop bags. No worries – I knew my crew of 1 - Cindy had them – I just needed to find her in the sea of people. I walked around aimlessly – at one point having a guy come up to me and ask if I was ok and if he could carry something for me. No crew. The pre-race briefing said not to leave for Hope Pass without waterproof gear and something warm. I had a light water resistant wind-breaker with me and nothing else but a short sleeved shirt. That would have to do – because I didn’t want to spend any more time at Twin Lakes looking and wasting time. I walked out of Twin Lakes not having eaten much and without warm gear and trekking poles – but it somehow seemed like (and was) a good idea to keep moving.
I walked the flatish section down to the river which Howard and I had walked a few days before – then made my way across the calf-deep ice cold water and headed on to Hope Pass. The first part of the climb was rocky and fairly steep – it was a slow slog until about mid-way up when it seemed to flatten out a bit and give way to better footing. Mid-way up I saw the front runners heading back down – and there was a constant routine iofstepping off of the trail to let them by the rest of the way up which allowed a few seconds every now and then to catch my breath. Once at the Hopeless Aid Station – which I thought was the best aid station on the course where I had soup mixed with mashed potatoes – the trail got very steep and rocky again until the top of Hope Pass. Brian 1 Hope Pass 0.
The descent to Winfield was as expected since I had hiked a lot of that section on Thursday. Steep but runnable.  I had not been on the connector trail however that leads to Winfield once you’ve made your way down the mountain. I was expecting this section to be flat – but instead it was mostly uphill which was a mental annoyance. Once I got onto the main road – I could see Winfield chaos up ahead – and was happy when my pacer Howard got my attention and pointed me in the right direction to get weighed in (exactly 171 which was my starting weight) and to sit for a few minutes and catch my breath. Dazed and confused – but half way finished – and on my target pace about 12 hrs 15 mins into the race.

Down but not out at Mile 50

Howard and Gayle at Mile 50 - it was awesome to see them there!
Howard let me borrow his trekking poles for the climb out of Winfield and up Hope Pass. I remember reading a blog that said the way to attack Hope the 2nd time around is to accept that you have to get it done – and to just get up and over and move on to the rest of the race. So – this is exactly what we did. Rather than whine and complain and worry about tired legs – Howard and I just went for it. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t without some stops, and it certainly wasn’t with a heartrate any less than 150. When we got above treeline we stopped for a few minutes at the place we had hiked to a few days before; it was great to see some familiar territory. We eventually moved on and made our way to the switchbacks that led to the timing mat and confirmation that we had made it. The view from the top was awesome – and we took a few minutes to soak it in and put on some warm clothes since it was windy and the sun was starting to go down. Brian 2 Hope Pass 0.

The first part of the descent down the other side was again steep and rocky – but flattened out some after the Hopeless Aid Station where Howard snagged some photos of Llamas. It seemed a little longer than I remembered to get down off of the mountain and back to the river crossing – and we walked into Twin Lakes in the dark where it was still a chaotic scene – although this time we connected with our solo crew Cindy which was a great mental boost.
With a fresh pair of socks and shoes and some warm clothes we headed out of Twin Lakes. The first part of the trail is steep – about a 1500 foot climb – and seems to go on forever. We were we cold when we left the aid station but apparently it was from lack of movement because we were really warm through this section once we got going. In fact, I took off my gloves and hat and put them back in my pack. We made it to the top of the climb and started down the other side making really good time on the descent – not running but walking really fast. We passed a lot of people through this section – nearly everyone with their pacer – and moved well all the way down to the halfmoon aid station at mile 71.  Howard said we were walking a 12 – 13 minute pace – this is definitely a section that you need to take advantage during the race.
Shortly after halfmoon we saw Cindy again – in LED lights and lit up like a Christmas tree – which was a huge mental boost. Typically the worst time for me to stay awake in a 100 mile run is right before sun-up – but I was really, really sleepy through this section which I finally decided was because of the earlier than usual race start (4am). We made our way along the paved road – with Outward Bound Aid in the distance. It seemed like a mirage way off in the distance that we were never going to get to – but we finally made it about 1:30am. We re-supplied – which for me included a 5 hour energy shot and double caffeinated gels– and I never had any more issues with falling asleep. (try it!)
Once through Outward Bound we headed up the paved road past the Fish Hatchery to Powerline. I had been dreading this climb every since I bombed down it Saturday morning. I looked up and saw all of the headlamps ahead – and told Howard I was going to go as slowly as I needed to but I was going to keep moving. Well – that was a good plan but it didn’t last long. The first part of the climb is really steep – and not long after heading up my breathing was out of control. We finally got high enough where it started to level off and we thought we were getting close to the top – and then we started to go down. This is never a good thing when you know you’re supposed to be climbing since that means all of the elevation you just gained you gave back and have to re-claim again. We started going up again – and way off in the distance could see headlamps way up high. It seemed to take forever to get to the top – and we must have been passed by 50 people – but it felt good once we made it knowing that there were no substantial climbs the rest of the race. We started to walk fast again – passing people and making up some time – down the flatish/slightly downhill Hagerman Rd to the Colorado Trail which was a little more rocky and rugged than I remembered. We finally made it to the trailhead before MayQueen where we hoped to see Cindy – but didn’t because of traffic issues – and rolled into MayQueen at 5:15am with over 4 hours to walk it in to the finish.
One thing to note – somewhere in the middle of the night my breathing became a little raspy. I think part of it was from all of the dust that I had been breathing in for hours and hours. Every now and then I would cough up a mouthful of nastiness. Also – earlier in the run I was chomping on an energy bar and crown came off. Yah – not a good thing to happen when you’re in the middle of nowhere – but what can you do about it except push on? This kept me from eating as much as I probably should have though I tried to do as many liquid calories as possible. Even though I was hydrating well – my mouth was so dry it was on fire. I think this was from breathing the dry air in so fast (erratic breathing).
We spent a few extra minutes at MayQueen mile 86.5 – and started doing the mental math on our walk out to make sure we didn’t miss the 30 hour cutoff. A few of the folks we talked to along the single track seemed to think we were really going to cut it close – so I tried the best I could to jog a few of the downhills. Howard told me not to use a ton of energy doing that – so I must not have been jogging much faster than I was walking! Once we got to the boatramp which was about half way to the finish – the trail flattened out and was smoother and sandy.
Along the way people were telling us how far we were to the finish. At the boat ramp someone said 7 more miles – at the dam we were told 5.5 and 6 miles – and after walking a long, long time and when we thought we were almost to town someone told us 3 miles. The miles sure were ticking by slowly. Eventually we made it to the school where the pre-race briefing was and made one last turn onto the paved 6th St where we walked it in with townspeople on both sides cheering us on. It was a pretty sweet finish and great to see everyone out.

It was a great feeling to cross the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100. Definitely a race I would call “iconic” in the ultra-trail running world. Before the race I read many, many race reports. Very detailed descriptions of the course – strategies on how to get to the finish line in less than 25 and less than 30 hrs – course flyovers, etc.  My best recommendation for anyone attempting this run for the first time is to stay ahead of the cut-offs early on. I told my support team I didn’t need to see them before mile 40 because I was going to stay completely focused on staying on my target times. This was a strategy that really worked for me – and even though I didn’t feel 100% from the start and did a lot of walking the first 40 miles – there’s enough downhill and runnable sections that you can make up time if you take advantage of it. By making it to Twin Lakes in 8 hours – and making it over Hope Pass twice in a little over 8 hours I had nearly 2 hours of cushion leaving Twin Lakes the 2nd time so I never really had to stress about cut-offs.
The other recommendation I have is to not overlook the last 2 climbs leaving Twin Lakes and leaving Outward Bound (in-bound). There is so much attention given to Hope Pass – and rightfully so – but both of these climbs will knock you in the teeth at mile 60 and mile 78. They’re tough. They’re really, really tough.  The good news is that after each one you have some very runnable or fast walkable downhill if you have energy. You have to take advantage of this to make up time you’ll lose on the climbs.
One last thing - there were way too many entrants (1200 registered and almost 1000 started) in the race which caused major headaches for support teams trying to get to the aid stations. Not meeting your crew until mile 40 is a great strategy not just for you – but for them as well. Also, I highly recommend having a game plan on where to meet your crew ahead of time. At Winfield Howard and I had a pre-determined location on where we would meet if we couldn’t find each other. We should have had the same strategy at Twin Lakes because there were just massive amounts of people lined up for a few blocks. It was really chaotic and stressful for everyone involved! Also, DO NOT depend on your support crew. We expected to see Cindy at mile 86.5 - but who would have known she was stuck in a traffic jam trying to get there for 1.5 hours at 3am and never made it? Be prepared to run off of your drop bags - and if you see your crew consider it a bonus!