The 2009 Leadville Trail 100
Video headed down Hope Pass - outbound to Winfield
Video going over Hope pass on the return to Twin Lakes.
Hope Pass from timberline on the - Outbound.
About 1,000 ft. below the top
Over Hope Pass and headed for Winfield
Near the Top of Hope Pass on Winfield side.
The finish, and it only took 29 hours and 32 minutes
Observations From the Back-of-the-pack
I now have a new “Hardest thing I have ever done,”
Or better yet, “The Agony and the Ecstasy.”
Now that would be a great title for a book!
Actually, it was not from the back-of-the-pack until almost halfway. I was running under a 28 hour pace and very comfortable when I reached Twin Lakes outbound.
I left Twin Lakes headed for Hope Pass feeling great. By the time I was a few hundred yards into the flats out of TL, I realized I was very thirsty. I had come through the aid station so focused on getting out quickly and grabbing needed supplies, I failed to drink or eat anything other than a third cup of soup. I was thirsty and the temperature was about 85 degrees. In Colorado, that is HOT. As I continued across the flats I also realized I would run out of water before I reached the pass. I started rationing my water. By the time I covered the two or so miles across the valley floor to the start of the climb up Hope Pass I had almost drunk all the water in one bottle. I was a long way to the aid station near the top of Hope. Within minutes I started feeling really bad and nauseated. Every step became a struggle. As I finally neared the top I was sure I would never make it back over the pass, and certainly not by the cutoff. I was sure my race was over. That is a very discouraging and disheartening thought. After over a year of training, and all Marye Jo has gone through to help me get here, now I am not going to make it.
All through the most difficult sections of the race I kept reminding myself of two ultrarunner sayings. “The pain will pass” and “Never give up”. Just as we started up Hope on the return trip we passed three signs. The first said, “If You Can’t Run, Walk”. The next said, “If You Can’t Walk, Crawl”. The last said, “Just Keep Moving”. And that is exactly what I did. I kept moving for the next fifteen and one half hours and did beat the 30-hour cutoff.
Leadville - The Event: Leadville is an experience like nothing else I have ever done. The only thing that comes close is an Ironman. When you start looking at he shirts people are wearing at the pre-race meeting you realize the caliber of the runners at this race. Western States, Wasatch Front, Hard Rock, lots of Hard Rock shirts, just to name a few. Every time I started talking to someone about various races they had done, I would find out they had run one or more or in several cases all of the afore mentioned races, multiple times. Many runners were introduced at the pre-race meeting that had completed Leadville 10 to 20 times.
I also found out that a lot of Hard Rock runners will not do Leadville because it is so hard to make the cutoff at Winfield and especially the Twin Lakes Return cutoff. That did not help my confidence. Then at he meeting Ken announced that the cutoff at Twin Lakes, outbound and been reduced by one hour. Originally, the cutoff has been 2:30 PM at Twin Lakes1. Now it is 1:30.
There were at least 712 entries, and about 503 actually started the race. At least that is the number that reached the first aid station. At the start, it looked more like 2,000. There were people everywhere. Hundreds, besides runners were all around the starting area. And remember; the start was at 4:00 AM.
The Race: At 4:00AM Ken Chlouber fired his shotgun and more than 500 of runners took off into the dark. We ran all the way to the steep hill about 6 blocks form the Start and all started walking. As we topped the hill we again charged off into the dark. The next 6.5 miles is all down hill or flat and we ran just about all of it. I kept thinking I should walk some, but them “downhill” miles are “very cheep miles”. Then we hit a very steep power line cut for a short distance up the dam of Turquoise Lake. The breathing suddenly got heavy going up that hill. Then we were off around Turquoise Lake. This section is a lot like running at Oak Mountain. The trail followed the lake for 6 miles of rolling single track that is very runable and not too rocky. After a couple of miles by the lake I started hearing a lot of noise. People were cheering and music was playing. I started thinking we were approaching May Queen but I realized we are nowhere near the aid station. As we came around a bend in the lake and into a campground we ran into a large group of people. The area was lighted and everyone was yelling and cheering us on. It was probably about 5:30 and still very dark. Pretty amazing!
After what seemed like hours, we reached the end of the lake and the May Queen campground. We followed the pavement for a few minutes and there was the aid station. Everyone zipped through this one pretty quick, and as I headed out, someone yelled, “See you in a few hours.” My response was, “I certainly hope so.”
After a short run up the road we entered the Colorado Trail for a fairly steep climb up to the road that leads to Sugarloaf Pass at about 11,100 ft. For several miles we continued up a very smooth dirt road at a gentle grade. I actually ran part of this climb. Finally, we reached the crest of the climb after about 4.5 miles, although you are never sure exactly when you are on top. After a mile or so of up-and-down you begin the descent down “Power line.” After a really tricky 3.75 mile run down a washed-out and fairly steep dirt road, we reached the pavement about 2.5 miles from the Fish Hatchery Aid Station. You are now 23.5 miles into the race and beginning to feel like you are getting somewhere. Marye Jo was there to meet me with my supplies and sunscreen. The next 6 or 7 miles are on open roads and trails in the direct sunlight. There was a place for the crew to meet runners about 5 miles ahead but it is all on paved or level gravel roads so I told Marye Jo to just meet me at Twin Lakes and not bother with the Halfmoon AS.
This year, the course is slightly different than previous years. The army was having maneuvers in the mountains around Halfmoon Campground and the area is closed. We took another road that seemed to climb (gently) for miles. Finally we reached the Halfmoon/Box Creek aid station. It seemed to be in the middle of no-where. Actually, I don't remember much about it except that by the time I arrived, one of the volunteers was handing me my drop bag. I grabbed what I needed and took off. Next stop, Twin Lakes. We climbed a while after the AS and finally reached the Colorado Trail. I was feeling great and ran all the level sections. After several miles we began the drop steeply down to Twin Lakes. As you run, you can see the lakes far below. You run, and run, and run some more, and you see the lakes again. They do not seem any closer. Eventually you do make it down the 1,500 ft. descent to Twin Lakes. This is a really steep and tricky section. I kept thinking, in about 8 hours I have to come back up this. At the time I felt strong and I had run almost all of the last four or five miles.
Finally I reached the aid station at Twin Lakes. That is where the trouble begins. I tried to get through too fast so I would stay ahead of my estimated 28 hour pace schedule. In doing so I failed to eat or drink anything in the aid station or at our room. The temperature was about 85 and the intense midday sun was extremely hot, even for someone from the south. To make matters worse, there are no trees on the two-mile wide valley floor. I started rationing my water less than half a mile out of the aid station. Just after the creek crossing I met Anton Krupicka in first place headed back to Twin Lakes. He looked really strong at that point. I did not see the second place runner for quite a while. By the time I reached the trees at the start of the climb up Hope Pass, one of the two 20 oz water bottled I carried was almost empty. I knew I was in trouble. I started drinking as little as possible and drinking too much of my “Hammer - Perpetuem”. In 15 or 20 minutes I hit the bottom. I really did not think I could make it up the approximately four-mile climb to the pass. The situation seemed increasingly hopeless as I slowed to a crawl.
Early in the climb a number of runners passed me and disappeared up the hill. That was even more discouraging. I did notice that there were people on both sides of me that were going as slow as I was, some even slower. There were a few that violated the first law of ultrarunning, Never Stop Moving Forward. They sat down. I realized some of theses people were in worse shape than I was. That seemed to offer a little encouragement (for what ever that was worth). I did keep moving up and never sat down or even stopped. I finally did reach the Hopeless Aid Station, located at timberline on the outbound (north) side of the pass. Everything at this aid station has to be carried up form the bottom. Some time in the past, a group of lama owners got together and decided it would be fun to create an aid station up near the top of the pass. They spend a couple of days hauling everything up and spend two days and nights on the pass making a big party out of the whole thing. It is still very hard work and they usually spend two days in some pretty bad conditions: (Everything from thunderstorms to hail storms to snow storms). This year was an exception. The weather was beautiful. They were a welcome sight. I did learn, I cannot eat AcelGel's for more than 9 straight hours.
I did spend a few more minutes at this AS eating and drinking. More time than I had spent at any others AS. I felt a little better until I started of the final 1,000 feet to the top of the Pass. Again I slowed to a crawl and felt as bad or worse than before. Upon reaching the top I thought I would do better, but I did not. This was a section I had run during the training camp with no trouble although it is very steep. I had planned to run about 75% of the descent. I was not able to run more that a few hundred yards all the way down this 3 mile descent. I also had to walk the 2.5 miles form the bottom of Hope to Winfield. Again I was sure the race was over. I did not think I would ever make the cutoff at Winfield, much less the one back at Twin Lakes. Despite all the walking I did make it to Winfield about 30 minutes before cutoff. When you come into Winfield you are escorted to the medical tent to be weighed. Friday at the official weigh-in, I weighed 170.1 lbs. At Winfield, I weighed 160.2, and acceptable loss over 50 miles. Marye Jo was encouraging and helped me get plenty to eat and drink. She found a chair for me to sit in and rest for a few minutes. By the time I left the AS I actually did feel better. I still walked about half the distance back to the second climb up Hope but I was able to run too.
The first 2 miles going back up the South side of Hope Pass are the steepest consecutive 2 miles I have ever climbed. The last mile eases off a little, but not much. I fell in behind a runner that I figured out had done the race several times. Her pacer was timing every drink of water and sport drink she took. The pacer was carrying two baggies containing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One was labeled 7:00 and the other 8:00. That is organized. They were moving up at a very slow but steady pace. I decided to drop in behind them and follow their pace. As we climbed I actually began to feel better and stronger than I had coming down earlier. By the time we reached the top I felt good and was able to all the way down the other side back to Twin Lakes. I stopped by the room and changed to dry shoes and socks, grabbed supplies and headed off the Official Aid Station. I was out of there (after eating and drinking) about 10 minutes before cutoff. By now, I knew I had a chance to make it to the end and I felt good.
The 1,500 ft climb out of Twin Lakes proved to be the hardest part of the race for me. Even though I felt good the climb was extremely challenging. It seemed to go on forever. The Climb is extremely steep starting right out of the aid station. Once you reach the top, the trail levels out and is enjoyable running over several miles of rolling hills. At some point out of the dark the Halfmoon/Box Creek aid station magically appears. It was a very welcome sight. No crew is allowed at this AS so the volunteers do everything. They are GREAT! After Halfmoon the trail is downhill or flat for several miles, all the way back to “treeline”. (Nothing to do with timberline) This is the area where the crew is allowed to meet runners instead of Halfmoon. I was glad to see Marye Jo again. It had been a long time since Twin Lakes. It was sometime in the middle of the night and she had been sitting out there for at least 2 hours in the cold. I felt awful that she had to do that but I sure was glad to see her. I had lost my flashlight somewhere along the way and she had a backup for me. I did not want to be totally dependent on one headlamp. A headlamp works great for trail running except that the light source is so close to you eyes that no shadows are visible. That makes everything appear flat and it is very difficult to see rocks or even holes in the trail. I aim the headlamp a little further out the trail in front and sweep the ground in front of me with the flashlight. By holding the flashlight low, the beam produced a distinct shadow behind all irregularities on the ground. The combination works great.
The aid stations: They are a story in themselves. Having never run a major ultra like Leadville, I was really not sure what to expect. I had heard stories of how they could be overwhelming. Everything I had heard was true. As you approached the Aid Station people were yelling and cheering for you. Each aid station consisted of at least 2 very large tents. One had drop bags, chairs and a medical area with cots and blankets. The other was the food tent. As you entered the AS you were met by a medical tech who would talk to you a minute to be sure you were OK. A volunteer would bring you your drop bag if your crew had not already picked it up. When you entered the food tent enthusiastic volunteers greeted you. They offering to help in any way in any way they could. Food tables ran down one side and across one end of the tent. Chairs were usually on the other wall. The selection was mind-boggling. There would be at least 2 types of hot soup (and they were actually hot), all kinds of sandwiches and rollups, and they would custom make your sandwich if you did not see something to your liking. There were chips, pretzels, cookies, potatoes, candy, oranges, apples, bananas as well as the standard GUs’ and gels and cokes, sprites and sport drinks and a lot of everything. Oh yes, don’t forget the coffee. And every aid station form May Queen 1 to May Queen 2, 26 hours later, was exactly the same. The volunteers never lost their enthusiasm. Ken Chlouber is truly amazing. I do not know how he can find so many dedicated volunteers in a small town like Leadville. I think he inspires them.
After leaving treeline we start down Halfmoon road for a mile, then pick up the pavement for the 4 miles to Fish Hatchery. By now I really felt good. I ran 400 steps and walked 100 all the way to the AS. I also passed a lot of people. I kept thinking about the Power line Climb coming up just after FH but I saw no reason to slow down. I will walk the entire climb anyway and I knew that would be no problem. Again, there was Marye Jo at the Fish Hatchery AS. She rushed me through and got me on my way in a hurry. While there, I ran into a friend, David, from the training camp. He had been struggling with stomach problems for much of the night. He was not able to eat anything and did not think he would be able to finish. He did make it to May Queen but either missed the cutoff or felt too bad to continue. We are now 23.5 miles from the end. I knew I could do that.
The Final Climb: We ran 2.5 miles on a paved road to the start of the Power Line Climb to Sugarloaf Pass. I walked the final 300 yards to the start of the climb to build up a little reserve of energy and headed up. I noticed some sort of ATV with two flashing red lights on back a ways above moving along the road. I figured someone was checking on runners or replacing glow sticks that lined the course all night. The light sticks had been burning for quite a while by now. After climbing about a mile, the road turns abruptly left and traverses across the mountain. At that point I glanced back to see an awesome sight. I could see the all the way back down to the paved road below. There were probably 50 headlamps (hopefully with runners attached) headed up the trail in a long straight line. Each lamp lighting a tiny space in a very dark abyss. I stopped for a moment and wished I had a camera. Then I headed on. There was a long way to go. The ATV was getting closer but still moving around up ahead. After several “false summits” we finally were on at the to of the pass. For a mile or so the trail is rolling before starting down. As I came over a hill the ATV was a short distance in front of me. It was a person with a flashing red light on the back of her hat. My contact lenses, at a distance, make the one light look like two.
As we started down the girl with the flashing red light and another with a green flashlight moved slowly ahead of me and I again picked up my pace a little to stay with them. I wanted to keep them in sight while headed down the road. I knew somewhere ahead we turned of on the Colorado Trail, but I did not know where. At this point, I did not want to miss a turn. We pick up the Colorado Trail for a steep 2 miles back to May Queen. As you start down form Sugarloaf Pass there are several beautiful views of Turquoise Lake far below. It was still dark but it was beginning to get light in the East. As I looked down at the lake I again saw a long line of 10 or 12 Headlamps stretched over the 5 mile long North shore of the lake. They were snaking along the shoreline trail at an almost imperceptible pace. They were, however, two hours or more ahead of me! Again I would love to have had a camera.
The Final Aid Station – and another disaster: Once again Marye Jo met me and hurried me through the food tent. I was still not sure I would make the 30-hour cutoff, but I was certainly going to try. We came out of the tent to pick up my supplies and our bag was gone. Marye Jo was using the backpack that runners were given as the race packet at registration. So was everyone else. We did a quick search of the area. No bag. I went in the tent again to see if a volunteer might have taken it back with the other drop bags, but still no bag. The missing bag created a couple of problems. My sunglasses were in the bag and the last 2 or 3 hours of the run I would be headed directly into the sun. The more serious problem was that our car keys were in the bag. Marye Jo would be stuck once I left. She sent me on before I wasted any more time but I was a bit worried. Marye Jo is, however, very resourceful. She got a ride back to Twin Lakes to look for the other set of keys, but, of course, it turned out they were locked in the truck. She then got a ride to the finish to wait for me.
I had forgotten to drop off my toboggan and headlamp so as it got warmer I stuck the hat in a pocket and used the headlamp as a headband. I happened upon a runner and his pacer that were making very good time and I decided to stay with them. They seemed to know what they were doing. As before the pacer was reminding the runner to drink at regular intervals and carrying discarded clothing as it was no longer needed. I started to ask him if he would carry my headlamp, but decided against that. Without the hat, the lamp was really bouncing around. When I emptied one of my water bottles I stuck it in the bottle. I did ask if he thought we were going to make the 30-hour limit. He said we only needed to maintain a 17-minute per mile pace, and that is pretty easy even after 90 miles. I did ask if they minded that I was using them as pacers and they said of course not. “That is what it’s all about”, the pacer said. A little later they took off their jackets and I realized the runner was Scott, who Ken had introduced at the pre-race meeting as the CEO of the Coleman Company, one of the sponsors of the Leadville Trail 100. I stayed with them until we hit the mile long, level road, below the dam. They were running a little faster than I wanted to so I eased off, but stayed about 100 yards back. We were alternating run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes.
I continued the 2 on, 2 off and caught them by the time we started up the Boulevard, the 2.5 mile dirt road that is uphill all the way back to town. I really wanted to continue running as much as I could but they said they were going to walk all the way in. We had plenty of time. I hated to pass them after they had really helped me maintain my pace the 7 miles around the lake. It felt pretty good to just walk. When I reached the school at the end of the boulevard with one mile to go, I called Marye Jo and asked her to meet me at the top of the hill about 6 blocks form the finish. I would not have made it without her help and I wanted her to finish with me. When I got up the hill, there she was, as excited as I was. We hugged and walked to the end. I still wanted to run. It is against my nature to walk to the finish, but everyone else was walking and I felt like it would be sort of an insult to run past them now. Besides, it would make absolutely no difference in anything, and I might fall flat on my face going up the very long, 6 block hill to the finish. So we walked.
The Finish: People were lining the street on both sides form the hill all the way to the finish. They were yelling and cheering for every single runner. Hundreds crowded the last two blocks. I never experienced anything like that and I will never forget it. After the finish, Ken came over and gave me a hug. I think he is always glad to see those that attended the training camp finish. I told him I could not have done it without what I learned at the camp and thanked him for all his efforts. I was escorted over to the medical tent. At medical check in, Friday, I weighed 170.1. After 100 miles I weighed 169.7 lbs. That was a little surprising. I grabbed a few things to eat and drink (including a Coors Light) and walked over to a shady spot to sit down and drink. (And I didn't have to get up until I was ready!)
Marye Jo told me she found out the a team called “Team Turtle” wearing green shirts had been next to her at May Queen and they probably were the ones that got our bag by mistake. I remembered on of the runners from that team. On the descent down form Sugarloaf Pass to May Queen, he had come flying by me. He as a memorable runner because he had a heavy, full beard and probably weighed 225 pounds or more. Not the typical ultra runner. I happened to see him at the end, congratulated him and commented on how fast he came down the hill. I also asked if there was a chance one of his crew got our bag. In the meantime Marye Jo had found another Team Turtle member and a few minutes later someone walked up with our bag and our keys. We were saved. I sat down on the grass while one of the team members took her out to May Queen to get the truck. When she finally got back we headed back to the B&B at Twin Lakes, ate lunch and crashed for about an hour. Of course, we missed the awards so I had to send off for my buckle and finishers shirt. That is perfectly fine with me, so long as I get them. I could not finish the beer!
Now there is the problem of next year. I am going to register for The Hardrock 100. I would like to register for The Wasatch Front 100 too. Both have a lottery type entry system and you have about one chance in five of getting in either. Now I want to do Leadville again, especially of several people I know that decide to run the LT100 also. No decision has to be made now. We will wait and see what happens with the lotteries. Leadville can accommodate so many runners it does not fill, so I can register anytime. Hardrock is 6 weeks before Leadville so I think I could recover enough to do those two. If I did not get in Hardrock but did get in Wasatch, I would have to make a decision on Leadville. Wasatch is only 3 weeks after Leadville and that is not much recover time. Of course, I may not get in either. That will solve those problems.
These pictures & videos are from the Training Camp, not the race
Click the image to see the full size picture
The Run for Kids Challenge
12 Hour, 50K, 5K
May 28, 2011