I was consumed by Leadville like no other race and preparing for it revealed to me the dark side of ultra-endurance events. Since March 7th, the day after the GeekGrl and I ran Old Pueblo together, I have lived within the confines of the Leadville Trail 100. What began as an exciting adventure became an insistent demand. In my world there was simply Leadville and non-Leadville thoughts, people and activities. The former were welcome and the later were unhelpful distractions. In the end, however, I was finally able to see more clearly and to attend to my priorities as they should be attended to.
For obvious reasons I was careful to cut almost all fiber from my diet in the week prior to Leadville but for some mysterious reason at 1:30 in the morning just two and a half hours prior to the start of the race, quite inexplicably, I decided to have a large breakfast that was high in fiber and topped off with coffee. I didn’t specifically choose a high fiber breakfast, I was on the hunt for carbs; I just didn’t pay attention to the fiber hiding therein. I coupled my misstep with solids by earnestly following the third commandment of endurance racing “Thou shall start every event well hydrated.” For the first 35 miles of the race I was like a mad prospector searching the high Colorado mountains for a bathroom bonanza and my innards felt like the Hindenburg forever expanding and exploding, oh the humanity!
I had several friends running Leadville and of one it has been said “She never makes a mistake.” I always make mistakes. I have said it before and I’ll say it again; I am the Homer Simpson of the endurance world. I wish I could claim some Steinbeckian “The best laid plans of mice and Men…” situation where the world uncaringly and unconsciously conspires to bring me down but alas my dramas are mostly of the “temporarily distracted by the pink frosted, candy sprinkle coated doughnut” type. Still, my gaff ended up working well with my actual race plan.
I intended to run Leadville nice and conservative for the first 30 to 35 miles in order to negate any possibility that I would go out too fast and die too early. My plan was to run the first 13.5 miles to May Queen at an 11 minute pace but when I finally arrived my average pace was an 11:43. I obviously knew I had missed my goal but I really didn’t know what to think. I looked around to see who all was running near me and suddenly I saw a very experienced ultrarunner I had recently met and asked him, “What do you think of our pace so far?” to which he replied “too fast.” Armed with that new bit of data I departed the May Queen aid station at an easy canter and headed for the first climb of the day, Sugarloaf.
Climbing up the “outbound” side of Sugarloaf is easy. There is a little more than 1,200 feet of elevation gain but you get about 5 miles to do it in and add to that the fact that you are still fresh and the temperatures are still very mild. When you get to the top of Sugarloaf you are rewarded with a huge view of Turquoise Lake. The descent off Sugarloaf is a different story it’s about a 1,400 foot drop in maybe 3 miles, much of which takes place on a deeply rutted jeep road. One of my strengths in trail running is my ability to attack ugly looking descents at unreasonable speeds. I’m confident enough in this strength that I am confident that anyone near me in a race should not stand a chance in keeping up. As I was descending Sugarloaf two guys flew past me. I could see that they were pouring sweat and I could hear their breath shudder with every footfall. It looked like a blast but seriously, at mile 19 of a 100 mile foot race that features a double crossing of a 12,600 foot mountain pass? Not smart. I continued my mellow cruise into the next aid station, Fish Hatchery.
I really don’t remember a great deal from the first 35 miles of the race, the GeekGrl and various friends and acquaintances would appear and disappear as I moved easily through one landmark after the next, Tabor boat ramp, May Queen, Fish Hatchery, Pipeline, Half Moon 2, all the while sticking to an overall 30-hour pace like clockwork. However, once I reach mile 35 two important things changed. First I was freed from the self-imposed 35 miles of holding back and running easy and second I was suddenly aware that I was missing my constant companion from mile one to now, gastric distress. Because mile 35 occurs at the beginning of a descent along the Colorado Trail down to the Twin Lakes aid station and because I was free of constraint I picked up the pace and enjoyed rolling and winding run through the woods passing one person after another.
I was prepared to run triumphal into Twin Lakes swinging like a boxer but when I arrived no one was there. The GeekGrl was at Twin Lakes and was waiting for me but at the moment I came running in she was taking care of her own needs. I looked around, jogged through the aid station and finally left without seeing her. It was a weird feeling not having her there ready and waiting but I understood that with so many people out there and so many different possible things that could prevent her from meeting me I knew it was a real possibility. I headed out to face the climb over Hope Pass figured I’d see her and Tim, my first pacer, once I was on the other side in Winfield.
The climb up Hope pass is something I have done twice before in both directions and I couldn’t be happier that I had included that experience in my training. As a relatively large guy I expend a lot of energy climbing and even though I have gotten pretty good at hiking the steep stuff the cost is not worth the miniscule amount of time that can be won. I climbed slow and steady, painfully slow, as numerous people past me. Each time people approached me from behind I would simply step to the side of the trail, lean on a tree or my knee and take a breather. In addition to the climbing the day was also starting to heat up and heat is another thing that I do not do well.
I made it to the top of Hope Pass feeling much less exuberant than when I had come running into Twin Lakes so I sat down at the Hopeless aid station and drank down about six cups of soda and rested a bit. The Hopeless aid station is run by a bunch of folks who hike up to the Pass a couple days before the race and pack all their supplies in on llamas. It is a unique experience in the world of running to be tended to by caring people in the midst of indifferent llamas.
Despite having given myself permission to run harder after the 35 mile mark I still took it relatively gently down hope pass though I did catch a number of people. Once I hit the bottom I looked at my watch and saw that during the course of the race I had banked enough time to allow myself the luxury of walking the two and a half miles to the Winfield aid station, which was a good thing because the Winfield road is hot and dusty.