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Leadville 100 Reflections

Just keep moving…“Do you need anything?”…If I walk at 3.8 mph I can still finish in time…“Keep it up, Runner!”…If I walk the rest of the way, I can make it in under 24 hours…”Drink some water”…I don’t think I can drink another drop…”Drink some powerade”…I f’ing hate powerade!…”This reminds me of a quote from Pico Della Mirandola”…Isn’t that the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy…”I’m surprised at how good of spirits you’re in”...I’m freezing…”839, you got this!”…only two more switch-backs to the top…”Who likes to rock the party?”…I like to rock

The Leadville 100 was…is…an experience. I surprised myself. And I humbled myself. I saw the fittest fall and the oldest attain astounding heights. In short, this may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, which may make it the thing I’m most proud of accomplishing. But that being said, Leadville is just like any other race. I’ve trained for months. I’ve fallen into bed exhausted after 8 hour runs. I’ve foregone drinking with friends to head to the mountains early in the morning. I’ve gone drinking with friends and then headed to the mountains early the next morning and then regretted drinking, or running, or both. And for what?

All runners or endurance athletes at some point ask themselves that question: “and for what?” I didn’t do it for the belt buckle (although I will wear it when I figure out how to put it on a belt). I didn’t do it for the medal (which I will never wear). In actuality, I didn’t do it for the run itself. If the only thing I wanted to accomplish was the run, I probably wouldn’t have finished. But that’s the same for all racers, whether they are running their first 5K or Leadville.

When I ran my first marathon, I trained for four months. I ran, rain or sun, nearly every day for those 4 months. When I finished that marathon, it had lasted just over 3½ hours. For some reason I had expected something profound to change in me. This was na├»ve, I know. But I still thought I’d be a better person or something like that. Running a marathon is a great goal, but it’s an arbitrary distance. So is 100 miles. It’s a nice number. It’s an impressive number. But that doesn’t make it any less arbitrary. And for what?

The countdown began: “10…9…8…7…” then before I knew it *bang* the shot-gun blast that has commenced the previous 27 Leadville Trail 100 runs started another. I ran a few miles with Rick, a good friend of mine from Denver who was attempting Leadville for his second time. I looked around at the runners, wondering how many would quit before the 30 hours were up, how many would still be on the course in 30 hours, which one of these fools would be running as hard as possible toward the finish when that same shot-gun that jolted us to a run at 4am would stop them in their tracks minutes, if not seconds, away from obtaining a coveted Leadville Under 30 Hours belt buckle? Only time would tell.

After a few miles with Rick, he wished me well on my way and ducked into a bush to ‘use the facilities.’ I continued on, trying to find a group that was going a pace that I liked. It took me 5 or 6 miles until I fell into a group that doing a pace I liked. A fellow from Arkansas was talking about some race in Arkansas. The other person in conversation gave half-hearted responses. I just listened, enjoying the fact that someone (from Arkansas no less) was attempting conversation before 5am. I made it to the first aid station, May Queen, in just under 2 hours. Perfect. I didn’t want to go out too fast or too hard. In fact, I was a little faster than I thought I should be going, but 1/8th done. And for what?

From May Queen, the course follows the Colorado Trail up to Hagerman Road. The CT was beautiful. Muddy in parts and rocky in others. There were bridges over the streams, which kept my feet nice and dry, but a little part of me thought there shouldn’t be any. But I guess there isn’t any reason to make the race harder than it already is. The road to the top of Sugar Loaf pass isn’t anything great. The road down the other side, Powerline, is even less impressive. It’s steep and if you can hear over your breathing, you’ll hear the buzz of the power lines overhead. I felt good through this entire section. I walked the steep stuff, and ran the downhill sections slowly, to ensure that I stayed in control and didn’t crush my quads too early in the race.

I rolled into Fish Hatchery with a fellow I met named Zach. I rolled out of Fish Hatchery with Zach and he was very welcomed company along the asphalt stretch from Fish Hatchery to Pipeline. This was by far the least inspiring section of the entire race – flat, straight, and asphalt. I kept running without doing any walking. I felt good all the way through here – 1 Marathon down, 3 more to go.

I hit the Half Moon aid station at 9am, 5 hours into the race. My pace was nearly perfect for a 24 hour mark and I was still feeling good. I walked some sections, but from Pipline to Half Moon is hard-packed dirt road. Not great stuff. The section from Half Moon to Twin Lakes was great and I was feeling well. I talked to some fellow wearing an Ironman shirt, who said he had completed the Madison Ironman 4 times. We spent a few minutes debating whether or not that was crazy and I still maintain that running a marathon is more fun than swimming 2.4 miles (I saw this guy finish nearly 20 hours later. I’m wondering if he is Mike Davenport from IL. If anyone knows, contact me). Whether you’re into the tri-thing or not, it’s always good to see those nuts out enjoying the trails. Hopefully it gives their crazed, split-following, transition-area-ing, super expensive bike purchasing asses some perspective on what the outdoors are about. This entire section felt really good. Mostly because I wasn’t worried about pace and the trail was gorgeous. I think that I resolved at this point that I would avoid races, especially hund-O's, that have significant amount of road.

The downhill section into Twin Lakes was fun. I took it slow and made sure, like always, not to stress my quads. Surprisingly, I passed someone limping along. He was complaining about the downhill. I’m not sure the poor bastard knew what the following 20 miles would bring. Then again, I’m not sure Poor Bastard made it any further because I didn’t see him from that point on. Tumbling down the hill into Twin Lake was great. I think this may have been my favorite part of the race, solely because of the crowd. I rolled in there, and I know it’s their ‘job’ to cheer, but it felt like they were genuinely psyched to see me. Not that I knew any of them, or that I’ll ever seen them again, it just felt good. The aid station was nothing more than a pit stop: water bottles filled, ate some grub, thanked the volunteers, and I was off. I didn’t hang around because (1) it was too early in the race (only 40 miles) to rest and (2) I was excited to see my crew.

My crew wasn’t there. I think they probably got stopped in the awful traffic, but that’s ok. I didn’t need them, it just would have been nice to see them. I was a little sad not to have their support, but so long as they made it to Winfield I’d forget the matter (clearly not, since I’m writing about it though). The only section of the course that I’d run previous to my Leadville bid was the over and back from Twin Lakes to Winfield. That was the only section, in retrospect, that I needed to know in advance. I had my strategy laid out – run to the base of the Hope Pass trail and power hike the shit out of it, run down the back to Winfield. Run back to the Sheep Gulch TH, power hike the pass, run into Twin Lakes. So planned, so executed.

The first hike up HP was wonderful. I wasn’t working too hard, I was gaining ground on others who had gone out too fast, the altitude didn’t bother me, and I enjoyed the views. What more could you ask for? One switchback from the top, Tony passed me as he nuked it down, followed by Dakota. I wished him good luck and he responded. It was just before 12:30. I started doing the math, wondering to myself whether he’d get the CR if he stayed on that pace. I decided not too worry about it and run my own run.

As I hiked over the summit of the pass, I slowly saw those giant mountains (you know the ones if you’ve been up there) come into view. Each step revealed a little more; the higher I went, the lower they crept into the valley. Absolutely amazing. Made it to the top and started my descent – running but conservative. Once again, I was worried about losing the quads too early. I made it below treeline before I saw Duncan heading up. It looked like his pacer was doing a good job of keeping him entertained. It looked like he was at least 30-40 minutes behind. I don’t remember looking at my watch because I was having too much fun on the descent. I’m glad I had fun there because the road to Winfield sucked.

Heat, dust, and cars, punctuated by a well-wisher leaning out the window telling me how well I was doing. I walked a bit, ran a bit, and was very relieved to make it to Winfield. I ran in and saw a friend from high school running out. I had been wondering where he was on the course, so I was relieved to see him on the course, but a small part of me (the competitive side) said “you’ve got someone to chase now.” It only helped that his name is Chase. He warned me to “watch out for the scales.” I didn’t really think about it, but I figured that at the very least it portends something bad.

I got into Winfield. No crew. I ran into the green tent. Down 9.8 lbs. That’s bad. I sat and started chugging. I thought back to the run and realized that I hadn’t peed since before Hope, not since before Twin Lakes. Time to drink and drink much more quickly. If only I had a pacer for the way back. Damnit! Where are they?

“Yo, Steve. You’re kicking ass.”

“Oh hey, Pat. What’s up, dude?” Rick’s crew-man, Pat appeared from around the tent and handed me a water bottle. At least I’d have a little company I thought. We made some small talk and then I asked him to go see if my crew was around. He left and not 30 seconds later, Dave, my fearful pacer appeared. He went to sign the pacer-waiver while I pounded water and stuffed my face with potato chips. Water without salt isn’t going to work out well.

One of the volunteers, maybe a doctor, came by and asked how I was doing – almost assuredly wondering about my weight loss. I reassured him that it was ok because, “my pacer’s here.” He looked at me skeptically, but I was right.

We left Winfield – some running and some walking along the road. I didn’t run as much as I would have liked, but that’s fine. We made it to the Sheep Gulch Trail Head and began the long slog up. Dave, the silly bastard that he is, kept my spirits high with songs and snide remarks. He was integral to getting me over that pass a second time, and in a pretty fast fashion. We passed several people along the way, and, I’m sure, annoyed lots of people with our terrible renditions of Flight of the Concords songs.

Near the top Dave started complaining about his GI tract (I believe he said something about "sharting" and "all over" and "soon" or whatever). I convinced him to wait until we got over the pass to use the facilities because the Hopeless Aid actually had a “pooper.” We made it up and over, saw Barefoot Ted and countless other people, and made it to Hopeless. Dave headed to the can. I headed to the food table – got some cheese, and more water. Dave was taking his time in the john, so I told him to catch me. I didn’t see him again til mile 99. I was feeling good. My legs were a little tight, but I still had some juice, so I ran down. I ran the entire way down Hope. Along the way I caught Chase. He told me he had lost 16 lbs and his kidneys were hurting. Not good. Not too at all. I made him drink some water and some powerade. And we chatted all the way into Twin Lakes.

I weighed in and was only down 6 lbs. I would stay at -6 the rest of the race. I was feeling good. I was peeing and eating, so nothing to worry about. I was a little nervous that my crew wouldn’t make it there. I didn’t see their car along the road. I didn’t see them sitting along the road. I made the left turn to get to the aid station, and I didn’t see them there. My spirits sank. Damn. No pacer. No crew.

“Hey Steeeeeeve!” They were there! My wonderful, lovely sister and girlfriend to greet me at the entrance to the aid station. I don’t know where they parked, but I didn’t care. They had my bag, gave me a clean shirt, some new socks, some Vaseline (left nipple, crotch), and then I bitched, breaking the first rule of ultra-running (no whining). I needed to get it out of my system. I knew there would be a tough climb out of Twin Lakes, and Dave wasn’t there. Poor me. I got over it and then decided I’d get over the hike. They told me they’d meet me at Pipeline and said that if Dave showed up they’d send him out after me if he made it into TL in good time. I learned later that Dave’s GI tract wasn’t very kind to him and he had to stop several times on the way down.

I hiked up the hill, enjoyed the view of TL and eventually reached the CT. I reveled in it, knowing that a few miles down the road lead to more jeep trails. I felt good, I felt strong, and I was having fun. 62 miles done. 63. 64. I started see-sawing some guys. The pacer was strong, from Highlands Ranch, lives next to Scott Jamie, I think. The runner wasn’t feeling so good. I learned that he had won Kettle Moraine this year, but was having some stomach issues. It was good to talk with them and have someone to leap frog. It kept me focused and in the game. At Half Moon, or whatever the Ski Patrol, aid station was called, I sat. It was the first time I actually sat. 68 miles in and I needed a breather. I asked for some pasta with sauce and relished the warm meal. The server looked at me strangely. Maybe people weren’t asking for pasta, maybe it was for the volunteers. I didn’t care. I needed calories.

With my resolve fortified, I headed back out. I knew it was only a few more miles to Pipeline, where I’d hopefully find my crew and Dave. This section wasn’t superlative, but at least it wasn’t asphalt. I started feeling a bit sore, so I decided to keep it together with the ribbon game: every other ribbon run, then walk, then run, etc. It kept me focused and it was working well. I lost some ground to Mike, being paced by Andy Henshaw, and Susie, another pacer-less racer, but was feeling happy and enjoying myself.

Finally, I saw Pipeline in the distance. “Run there. Run strong and make it all the way in.” No problem. Upon arriving, I was stoked to see not only my crew, but also friends from Denver, who were waiting for Rick. No words. Just Dance. It felt good. It felt worse when Dave wasn’t there. It felt way better when Taylor told me that she was my pacer. For the worst part of the entire course, I’d have some conversation. As the sun dropped on up, we slowly made out way to Fish Hatchery. The ribbon game continued, but without ribbons. Instead we played with objects along the road. It worked and we got into FH around 8:45. At this point I was an hour faster than my 24 hour pace. Awesome. And for what?

Fish Hatchery saw the love affair with coffee renewed and the affair with potato soup commence. Anything warm instantly became my friend. I kept pounding water, and after having that awful section behind me, looked forward to the hike and run down Sugar Loaf.

Tamaru hiked with me the entire way up Sugar Loaf. I explained how unaesthetic it was, but she didn’t mind. Of course she wouldn’t – it was dark. In the distance we saw lights, we hiked them down and put them behind us. Soon enough, we were at the top. The run down Hagerman wasn’t thrilling, so we continued the ribbon game, only this time with the glow sticks. Finally we hit that sweet CT section. We ran almost the entire way into May Queen. Actually that’s a lie. We ran all the way until we hit asphalt. Tamaru summed it up perfectly, “Ouch. You don’t realize it until you go from trail to asphalt, but it doesn’t give at all.”

We walked it into the Aid Station. The crew was there. They were great. I was feeling cranky. 87 miles down, 13 to go. A half marathon. No sweat, but after 87 miles. Ugh. The time was 12:?? And I had less than 4 hours to go 13 miles to make it under 24 hours. I figured that I could walk it in, if I walked just over 3 mph. Tiffany, the sweetie that she is, said she’d booked a hotel for us for when I finished…in Frisco. I didn’t want to go to Frisco, I wanted to finish this race. I, quite rudely, crushed her hopes and told her I didn’t want to go to Frisco. She relented and called off the reservation. In retrospect, I should have done that. It would have been way nicer than tossing and turning in a small tent with legs that had just run 100 miles. My advice: if your girlfriend books a hotel for you to rest in after running 100 miles, take it. Don’t be a dick. Just thank her, give her a kiss and a hug and run on. You’ll appreciate that hotel room later.

Tamaru traded positions with Taylor, and we left the aid station, walking to the trail. It was great to be on the Turquoise Lake trail again. The moon was out and it was bright. The sky was clear, the lake was calm, and the moon shone upon the water like some mythological tale of yore. I was running the flats and the downhill’s well, until we hit the boat ramp. My friends were there, but I was set on getting to the end. I was rude: I said hi but didn’t stop. It started getting cold. I was getting stiff. 93 miles to go.

As we headed around the lake, the glow sticks started to fade. I got lost, I got pissed. Just continue, I told myself. Keep it together and remember to smile. No smiles were forthcoming. I was tired. And I was cold. I donned my jacket, huddled over and set my sights. Ran a bit, but mostly walked. Someone offered a beer. Sooooo tempting. But no! Focus! Get to the end, then beer!

We finished the lake trail and hit the road. I asked how much longer. Someone said, “it’s as far to the end as it is from May Queen.” I almost exploded. I knew that wasn’t right, so it seemed like she was just being mean. She probably wasn’t ill intentioned, quite the opposite in fact. I hunkered down. Keep going.

I could tell that Taylor was starting to get tired. I knew she was wishing to be done soon. I tried to give her encouragement. She pointed out that it should be the other way around. Little did she know that I was also talking to myself. The dirt road into Leadville was interminable. It went on forever. Maybe my pace had slowed so much that it just seemed like it went on forever. It’s hard to say 23 hours into a race whether time is slowed or you are slowed. I now know it was I who had slowed.

We walked almost the entire time from the road at Turquoise Lake to the road entering Leadville. I kept stopping to pee. It was an excuse to stand still. I turned onto 6th street. Tay ran to catch me. We went over a hill and in the distance we saw some lights. Taylor exclaimed that was the end. I said that it couldn’t be. It was too close. After coming so long, I couldn’t believe that the end was there.

Dave was the first person we saw, “who likes to rock the party?” My spirits buoyed. We picked up the pace a bit. Two blocks later was the rest of the crew. Cheers started. Someone asked, “you’ve just run 99 miles how do you feel?”

An attempt as smart-assery: “I just ran 100 miles, I feel terrible” was the response. We ran it in. In the last of 100 miles, I found myself surrounded by my crew and friends. As we neared the start/finish, I could hear the announcer, then I could hear the crowd (all 10 of them), then I saw the red carpet. I just kept it up.

I was so happy to be done, I think that I lost track of where I was. Friends appeared from all over: Kevin, Kat, Tiffany, Taylor (hug – *thank you*), Tamaru, Liz, Tiffany, and Dave. Thank you! Without your help and encouragement, this wouldn’t have been as successful or as fun as it had been. And for what?

What is it for? There aren’t words to explain why. It’s a challenge. It’s fun. It’s a day out in the wilderness with 700 other trail-freaks who also understand what it is for, but cannot explain it.

At some point in my education, I was told that if you cannot explain it in words then you have nothing to explain. Well, I’ve explained this in words, but I haven’t done more than scratch the surface. And it doesn’t mean that there is nothing to explain. I told you about 23 hours and 35 minutes in my life. What I didn’t tell you was the hours and days, months and years that I’ve spent running around the neighborhood or through the mountains, or drinking beers with Rick while discussing our next long run through the Indian Peaks…

That part is life, followed by an ellipses. What does that ellipses mean? For everyone it’s different. That’s the space between and after words, when there is nothing left to say.

I guess the question is: what are you going to do with your ellipses?

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