Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is considered the grandaddy of all 100 mile ultra marathons to most ultra runners, including me. As I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge (TNF50) in San Francisco on December 7th, 2013, the lottery draw for Western States took place. I ran TNF50 with a hip injury which had me on the verge of tears from about mile 22 and I just pushed through the pain through the full 50 miles because the course was so beautiful and amazing. During the race, I found out I was drawn for Western States. I was so happy and kept thinking about that through the rest of that race.
After getting home from San Francisco, I was plagued with pain in my hip for months which forced me to change my usual training schedule. I was running very short mileage weeks (<20) for at least a month and even took a week off. I just hoped that my hip would heal so I could train properly for Western States. The next few months went by quickly and I never got back to my full training schedule but I felt ok and ran a 50 mile race, a 50k race and even completed a Rim to Rim to Rim run. Western States was definitely going to happen.
The day arrived and I flew out to Sacramento, CA with my crew/pacer, Scott Lumpp. I knew Scott would be a good crew and pacer for me and he trained very hard to carry me through to finish Western States. We drove from Sacramento to Squaw Valley in our rental car and met up with 2 friends, Marc Thomson and Greg Grady. Marc was also running the race and Greg was his crew/pacer. The 4 of us enjoyed relaxing around the lodge area in Squaw Valley on Thursday night. We talked about our race strategies and made plans for Friday’s events.
Friday was quite the busy day full of registration, drop bag drop-off, more race planning and socializing around the lodge area with other runners. We kept ourselves busy which I think helped keep me calm so I didn’t freak out too much about what was to come the next morning as we toe the line to head up the escarpment. The energy around the village was incredible and it helped feed my spirits which were already high at this point. I just kept thinking good thoughts and talked about Sunday morning when we would be crossing the finish line. I was determined and knew I could do it even if I only averaged about 45 miles a week during the bulk of my training. I was ready to run and I was going to give it everything I had in order to finish.
Saturday morning came quick. We woke just before 4am and got our race gear ready. We were out of the room and rode the elevator down and walked a couple of hundred yards to get our race bib near the starting line. About 15 minutes until the race was about to start. The weather was nice already and we had perfect conditions in the forecast for the entire race. A few last gear checks to make sure I had everything and Marc and I got ourselves in position, ready to climb the escarpment.
The gun blasts and the nearly 400 runners are on their way. We take it easy up the first 3.5 miles which went uphill all the way to the first aid station near the top of the escarpment. Right after this, we were basically climbing a short, steep cliff from the road to the peak where we were to meet up with the Western States Trail. By the time I reach the top, Marc had already gotten ahead of me and I knew it would be a slim chance that I’d see him again until Sunday morning. As a group of us head out running at a medium pace across the trail, a few people make mention that this is the time to take it easy and save energy for later in the race. This was my plan anyway and we were running a similar pace so we stuck together as a group and enjoyed this part of the journey together.
I was surprised at how many first time 100 milers I had met already. This was my first Western States but I had run a couple other 100 milers before. Quite the way to break into 100′s. I hope they know just how lucky they were to be there. LOL The time from the top of the escarpment to Duncan Canyon (23.8 miles) seemed to go by with ease. The worst part about this section was how dusty the trail was. Lack of rainfall in CA made the trails quite dry and dusty. It was hard to breath at times – I had to pull my Buff over my mouth and nose just to be able to breath ok at times. Scott was at Duncan Canyon and he had my water bottle filled with Tailwind and I only spent about 3 minutes total in this aid station and I was back on the trail again.
I soon fell in line with another group of runners keeping a decent pace and just took in the scenery and listened to them talk while we moved forward to the next aid station. Some rolling hills kept us fresh while we hiked some of the steeper uphills and ran the downhills and flats. I was feeling good and we quickly came up Robinson Flat (29.7 miles) where I knew I was to see Greg. He was ready with more Tailwind for me and a Clif Bar. The temperature was still pretty cool and the day was going smooth so far. I had been eating PB&J sandwiches at aid stations along the way as I can usually digest them pretty easily. As I grabbed a few bites, I look up and search for Greg and realized they weren’t letting crew in this area. I’d have to meet him on my way out of the aid station.
I took a few steps and I see Marc walking towards me. This confused me. Did I catch up to him? Had something gone wrong? Was his foot injury coming back and bothering him? I ask him what’s going on and he tells me he had lost at least 6 pounds and wasn’t feeling well when he made it to the aid station. Medical kept him there for 20 minutes while he gained a couple of pounds back and started to feel better. They still didn’t want to let him go but I talked with the medical staff and assured them that we would walk a little and I let them know I’d stay with Marc at least until the next aid station to make sure he was ok until then.
As we headed out on the trail, I started to eat the PB&J I had grabbed and quickly learned that solid foods were a thing of the past for me. Only 30 miles into the race and my stomach no longer wanted solid foods. I would have to rely mainly on Tailwind for 70 more miles. Marc and I finally found ourselves running and both feeling better as we moved along the trail. Who knows when one of us might blow up and drop back. For now, the company of the person I train with most on a regular basis was nice to have by my side in one of the biggest races I’ve ever run.
As we moved along, we mixed hiking and running for the next 8 miles until we got to Dusty Corners (38 miles) where Scott was waiting for both of us. I’m not sure that he expected both of us to enter the aid station at the same time but he handled it like a pro. He helped us get our water bottles and packs filled with ice and water and made sure we had all the gear we would need for the next section of the race. We knew the next section was going to be tough but we were feeling pretty good still. We got in a few calories and headed back out on the trail. The famous Canyons were coming up pretty soon.
As we moved along the trail, we finally started to descend the first long quad-crushing descent into the Canyons. This descent seemed to go on and on and on without letting up as we made our way through the switchbacks to the bottom. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to hike some of this section just to give our legs a break but we kept pushing on, running almost the entire way down. Once we reached the bottom, there was a sense of relief as we knew that part was over and we could climb our way back out giving our muscles a chance to work a little differently.
Working through the aid stations and moving forward the best we could, we just kept pushing on. The second descent into the Canyons seemed to be even more torturous than the first. We headed down to El Dorado Creek but it just never seemed to come. On and on downhill running almost the entire way. Around one corner and then the next. Down, down, down. We finally came to El Dorado Creek and were a little relieved to climb back out again. The next climb was tough though and we took a couple of minute long rest breaks to keep our heart rates in check. Again, one foot in front of the other and eventually we made it to the top. (Photo courtesy of Cristian Rios)
Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles) where we planned to meet both Scott and Greg. They were there waiting for us and had our gear ready for us. Marc was having blister issues and had to get his feet looked at. This took longer than we’d hoped. I was enjoying running with Marc and even though I was ready in less than 10 minutes of getting to the aid station, I waited for him and we headed back out on the trail after about 20 minutes or so. We just had to get to Foresthill where we would both have pacers to help us get to the finish line.
The next section had some decent, runnable sections and we found ourselves just trying to get to Foresthill before the sun set. We had our headlamps but it was a goal we set for ourselves and knew it would help push us to run. The tall trees at times made it seem like the sun was setting sooner than it did and we finally did make it to Foresthill (62 miles) just at sunset where we met up with our pacers and checked our gear before we started running in the dark.
My first pacer was a runner from CA, Kent “Bull” Dozier who I knew was a much faster runner than me. This made me a little nervous but I knew him as an experienced ultra runner and knows everyone runs their own pace. He told me early on that he was going to push me and make sure I didn’t slow down too much and I was fine with this. I changed into a new shirt at Foresthill and was soon on my way out of the aid station. Marc and Greg had headed out just ahead of us and I ran to catch up with them.
As we headed out on the trail, Greg took the lead and he was moving at a good pace. It was tough to keep up at first but I just pushed myself until I got in a groove. We were picking off runners as we ran. I couldn’t understand why there were so many runners walking here as this section was very runnable, even if it was slow. Either way, it was good motivation for me and kept me moving forward. I just kept wondering when we’d pass the next runners. We talked, laughed and enjoyed the night. Marc ended up getting a little sick in this section and we ended up separating a for a couple miles here. I don’t know how I did it either but I was running a 8:25 minute per mile pace for about a half mile around mile 70. My legs felt good and I just got in the groove.
Making it through Cal Street, we finally made it to Rucky Chucky Near (78 miles). I couldn’t believe we were actually here. The famous river crossing I’d heard about and seen in countless videos. Marc made it to the aid station just behind us – he picked up his pace as well and was moving well. We stopped quickly and got a bite to eat and headed down the stone steps to the river. My legs were a little stiff but I was looking forward to getting across and climb the hill to the next aid station.
Stepping into the river was quite shocking. The water was freezing cold and we had been hearing all day that the water level was maybe thigh deep. I was quite surprised to learn that it was more like belly deep in the middle and it was really cold just before 2am. The volunteers were amazing and guided us across the river. This was a really neat experience. The volunteers, the clear water and glow sticks at the bottom of the river guiding us along the rope. Incredible! I wanted out fast though start moving uphill to keep warm.
Marc and Greg stopped at Rucky Chucky Far (78.1 miles) to change into dry clothes while I climbed 1.8 miles up the hill to where Scott was waiting at Green Gate (79.8 miles) for me with dry clothes if I needed them. He was also set to pace me for the remainder of the race. I did end up changing my shirt and my socks but kept everything else on. I was warm enough and knew my wet shorts wouldn’t be an issue as long as we kept moving. Scott and I decided to get moving and thought Marc and Greg would catch up soon.
We moved at a good pace and ran as much of the next sections as we could. Walking uphill and running the downhill and flats as much as possible. Scott tripped on a rock and took at tumble at one point. I heard him fall and as I turned to look, he was rolling off the right side of the trail where it sloped down. It was dark and I couldn’t tell how far it sloped but he stopped himself quickly and got right back up and we started running again. I was still feeling good even though I felt my pace was slowing down. Then, somewhere around mile 85, I felt the skin on the bottom of my right foot shift as we were running down a hill. Hours of running with wet shoes and socks had finally taken it’s toll on my feet and I knew I had a blister on the bottom of my forefoot.
I didn’t let this get to me and I just kept moving on. I knew I could find a way to change how I ran to overcome the pain and I finally did after about a mile or so. It hurt mostly on the downhill so I was fine. Then, it happened again. Only this time it was now my left foot. Both feet with a blister right where my feet land with my normal running stride. My mind quickly took note and I just started to change my gait and ran how I felt most comfortable. This however turned my run into more of a waddle or shuffle. As long as my legs would still carry me forward, I didn’t care. I could tend to the blisters after I finished.
We finally ran until we go to my one and only drop bag at Highway 49 (93.5 miles) where we grabbed the Tailwind I prepared and dropped some of our nighttime supplies. No Hands Bridge was next and I knew that would be the moment where the finish was in my grasp. We got to No Hands Bridge (96.8 miles) and a feeling of excitement took over my body. I was getting tired before this point but this seemed to give me a little rush of energy. We had a slight climb after this up and then we would be on our way into Auburn, then to the track and across the finish line.
The hike uphill to Robie Point (98.9 miles) seemed longer to me than I was expecting. I kept thinking it was just ahead but it never seemed to get there. Then, we started to see folks out hiking and exercising. One older woman passed with her dog just out for a walk. We approached another gentleman and I asked him how far to Robie Point. He indicated it was about 100 yards ahead and I got excited. I pushed on and we finally made it there.
Scott and I were met by Kent as he had run from Placer High School to come out and see where I was. He didn’t run far before he caught us. He assured me that I didn’t have far to go. We just had to climb up this small hill in front of us and then it was a short way down the pavement to the entrance of the track. I was so happy to be here and I hiked as fast as I could up that hill. We got to the top and the 3 of us started running. I ran as fast as I could and finally made it to the entrance to the track. I heard my name called out and jogged the 3/4 of the way around the track to the finish line (100.2 miles). I made it! I finished Western States 100 in 27:01:05!!
Rain, sleet, temperatures in the 40′s and wind gusts of 35+ mph along with ankle-deep mud that could pull off your shoes and rivers swift enough to sweep you off your feet. That about sums up this year’s race in one sentence. This year’s Old Pueblo 50 Mile Endurance Run will most likely be talked about for years to come.
I arrived at the start and set my drop bags with the others waiting to be taken out on the course. I didn’t have a set crew and I planned my drop bags for strategic points in the race – miles 7, 29, and 40. The forecast called for cooler temperatures and heavy wind so I packed a waterproof jacket in my drop bag so I could pick it up by mile 29 if I needed it. By the end of the day, I was so glad I packed my rain jacket because I was going to need it.
As I was pinning my bib number on my shorts, my friends all started to arrive. Trevor, Marc, Kristin, Scott, Jon and I were all gathered together and we had moments before the race was to begin. It seemed like the time went by fast as we gathered ourselves and headed to the starting line and moments later we were crossing the starting line and heading out on the course.
Marc and I ran together for the first 3 miles until we made it to the single track trail and Marc ended up pulling ahead of me. I decided that I’d just take it easy and fell back into a comfortable pace. By mile 5, I had pulled behind 2 other runners and we all started talking about how wonderful the morning was. The sun was just starting to peak above the mountains in the distance. The wind was blowing hard but it was still a great morning so far. As we made our way through this section over to the mile 7 aid station, we enjoyed some good banter as we watched the sun rise. I remember saying at one point, “the running gods must be looking down on us on this beautiful morning. I hope this weather sticks for a while.” Little did I know just how the day would turn out.
We reached the mile 7 aid station and things were going well. I didn’t have a crew but I did have a few friends that were at this aid station that checked in to see how I was doing. I didn’t need much assistance and simply needed to fill up my water bottle and took off my outer shell. It was warm enough that I didn’t need it at this point in the race. The 2 runners I had been running with had crew and they made it out of the aid station a little before me. I remember thinking I wanted to try to keep up with at least one of the runners I was with so I hurried up and headed back out.
Not far into this section, I found a small group of runners were gathered looking confused. The course markings had been orange and white up until this point. There were now green and yellow markers on the right which we assumed meant we needed to take this sharp right turn. A couple of us were confident we remembered this turn from previous years and started down this section which led us downhill and eventually to a softer, sandy section of the course for a couple miles. I had caught back up to one of the runners from earlier and the 2 of us started running together again. We were leading this small pack of runners and soon found ourselves far in front of them. We chatted for a while and finally introduced ourselves. Andy was his name and he ran with Racelab, out of Scottsdale.
We soon realized that the course markings that we had relied on for the first couple of sections of the race seemed to be almost non-existent now. Luckily, both Andy and I had run this race before and between the 2 of us, we remembered the course enough to navigate with relative ease. We eventually made it to the mile 13 aid station with relative ease. The wind was still blowing hard with gusts around 30mph. I don’t recall spending too much time at this aid station. Andy and I both just made sure we refilled our hydration, had some food and moved on.
The rain still held off and we made our way up the climb to mile 15 to the top of Gunsight which is one of my favorite parts of the course. We start making our way down the loose rock at Gunsight and before long we’re at the bottom of the hill and making our way over to the mile 19 aid station. So far this race was going quite well and we were moving along at a good pace…even without course markers. Making our way through this aid station with ease, we set a nice easy pace making our way forward.
As we started to climb the hill at mile 20 into 21, we looked up and the sky looked quite dark and ominous. Andy commented, “looks like rain up at the top.” The wind gusts were picking up and it looked like we were about to get soaked. The wind was coming right at us from the front and we started to feel a little moisture in the air as we climbed. I stopped, took off my pack and started to put on my outer shell. Andy grabbed a large trash bag he had been carrying and poked a hole in the top and put it over his head. Just as we both finished putting on an outer layer, the rain started coming down in buckets. The wind blew so hard and the rain had a little sleet in it as well that it felt like little pellets of sand being whipped in your face. It stung. We pushed on and eventually got to the top of the climb.
As we made our way up and over and back down the other side, the rain had subdued. Looking out at where we were headed, we could see a huge rain storm off to our right. We pushed on down the hill and ran at a good pace just hoping to stay away from that storm as it slowly made it’s way towards us. We ran through this section with the next climb in view. The clouds up at the top of that climb looked even darker and more ominous than anything we had seen earlier in the day. Our goal was to make it to the 25 mile aid station in good time and then head out on the long climb up to the 29 mile aid station. That’s where I had my rain jacket and I knew I’d need it by then. The skies were about to open up and we were going to get wet.
As I run into the 25 mile aid station, I see a friend Greg who was there to crew for our friend Marc. The rain was already coming down at this point and I ran up to the truck where Greg waited. He looked at me and said, “I see you’ve moved up in the field.” I was puzzled by what he meant and he then notified me that he hadn’t seen Marc or Trevor who were both ahead of me so far in the race. Due to there being little to no course markings through the last few sections, the only thing we could figure is that Marc and Trevor took a wrong turn somewhere. Come to find out, they had made a wrong turn somewhere back about mile 12. There was a sharp left that wasn’t marked that they missed. I was lucky to have remembered that turn from last year and hadn’t lost my way getting here.
Andy’s crew helped him and they got me a trash bag to put over my outer shell to keep me warm and dry. Andy put on his rain jacket. We both finished getting our stuff together, grabbed some food and made our way back out onto the course again. We had been making great time so far. We discussed it fast-hiking the next climb up to the 29 mile aid station. We both remembered this section to be a long, energy-draining climb for about 4 miles. We jogged to the bottom of the climb and then started our hike. The hike didn’t take as long as we thought it might and luckily the strong gusts of wind were not working against us.
At the 29 mile aid station, I grabbed my rain jacket, refilled my water bottle and grabbed some extra calories to take with me on the go. I also folded up the trash bag I had and put it in my pocket for a “just in case” moment. Trash bags not only help keep you dry but they also help keep in body heat. The temperature was dropping and I wanted to be prepared for anything. The rain was also getting heavier by the minute and it didn’t seem like it was going to let up any time soon. Greg was also at this aid station and he helped me get ready to head back out. He mentioned that Marc wasn’t far behind. He confirmed that he had taken a wrong turn a ways back but only ran an extra 2 miles.
On to the next aid station at mile 33. We knew as we headed out of 29 that we had a little climb as we got back onto single track that we ran earlier in the race. The trail was getting muddy and a little slick. This was a mere precursor to what was to come later. With less than 20 miles left in the race, I hadn’t imagined how much damage the rain was going to affect our pace. After all, the first 25 miles only took us about 4 hours and 38 minutes.
We didn’t have a long distance to cover to the next aid station but time seemed to slow down and the rainfall was getting heavier. Both Andy and I started to get a little worn down and our legs were starting to feel a little heavy. We just focused on moving forward. This is the point where we both enjoyed having company out on the course. It would have been very easy to fall into a slump now and we all know how that can change your race, especially in unfavorable conditions. As time slowly ticked by, it seemed like the next aid station showed up out of the blue. We got there and we found about 8 other runners there, huddled together under the canopies just trying to stay out of the rain and hoping to get warm. We followed suit and quickly found ourselves under cover looking for food and comfort.
This seems to be the aid station where the carnage really started to take place. Within a few moments, I started to shiver along with the rest of the runners posted here. I remembered that I had that trash bag with me and decided to take off my hydration pack and rain jacket and poke some arm holes in the trash bag, put it on over my base layers and proceeded to put my rain jacket back on over the trash bag. I knew this would provide some extra warmth and would also help prevent from getting wet if the rain happened to soak through my rain jacket. I looked around and feared that some of the runners would soon become hypothermic if they didn’t do something fast. I showed as many of them what I had done with my trash bag and others started to follow my lead. As this was going on, my friend Marc came into the aid station. He too huddled under the canopy and I mentioned the idea about the trash bag to him. He decided it may help and got his own bag and put it on as well. After being here for a few minutes too long, Marc, Andy and I decided to leave and head out on the 7 mile journey to the next aid station.
The rain was coming down even harder and the trail was getting muddier and more slick as time ticked on. It didn’t take long for Marc to get ahead of me and I thought about trying to keep up with him for a few moments and decided that I’d just take it at my nice, easy pace. At this point, I wasn’t focused on how fast I’d finish the race…I simply wanted to finish without drowning or becoming hypothermic.
I don’t recall the small details of this section but I recall that Andy and I hadn’t spoken for what seemed to be long sections of this part of the race. We simply wanted to get to the mile 40 aid station. We were in search of “comfort” and recalled how festive the mile 40 aid workers are generally partying and having a good time by the river. This is when we started guessing just how bad this river might be. We knew we had several small streams to cross on our way to the finish but wondered how deep they may be and if there would be more than normal. We just pushed on through the mud and puddles and soon arrived at the river about a half mile before the aid station. At first glance, it looked like it was going to be kind of nasty. As we got closer, we noticed there was a smaller, more narrow section just off to the right of the trail that we could hop across the river without really getting our feet in the water at all. Our feet were already wet but not having to cross the stream still felt like a little win on the day.
The aid station is about a half mile up from the river and we got there and took cover under one of canopy’s again. We had discussed putting on another layer, a dry layer underneath what clothes we were already wearing. We didn’t hurry here. The Racelab crew was here and they were so much help to not only Andy, but also to me as we ate some food, changed clothes and refilled our hydration bottles. We hesitated a bit here as we gathered ourselves and grabbed a few more calories to eat and got on our way. Next stop, the 46 mile aid station – the last one before the finish.
With my mind just set on crossing the finish line, we reach the 46 mile aid station and spend just a few minutes here. I ate some potatoes and had a handful of blueberries as well. And it’s back out on the trail. I plan to take the last section just one step at a time. The rain is coming down harder with every step I take. I knew we’d have at least one more stream to cross but had no idea what it would look like at this point. At this point, I simply want to finish before sunset which I knew would be easy to do.
We quickly reached the last stream which was visibly deeper and flowing faster than any of the others we had already crossed. We paused for a moment to assess the situation. With little hesitation, Andy says he’s just going right through. He takes 2 steps and the water is only about ankle deep. On his 3rd step, he sinks into the river up to his knees. I take note of where he sank down and plunged forward into the water. We crossed the stream with relative ease, laughed and moved on.
The last section of the race is generally most runners favorite section of the race. Nice runnable single track most of the way to the finish line. This year however, the rain made this section a bit different. Large pools of water collected along the trail and where there weren’t pools of water, there was mud thick enough to tug on your shoes. Slipping, sliding, and splashing along the last few miles became quite comedic to me. There were times where you could run alongside the puddles on the grass but that didn’t help much either because you’d just sink into mud anyway.
Andy and I ran and walked all the way to the last mile and then decided we’d just walk across the last field until we got through the gate where the last section on the road near Kentucky Camp and the finish line were. We laughed a bit and talked about how nice it would be in a few minutes when this madness was all over. We got to the road in a short few minutes and jogged up the road and crossed the finish line together. We ran about 45 miles together and it was a great experience. Normally, I run my own race and don’t worry too much about others and I’m sure Andy does the same but there was something to be said about going through this experience with a new friend. We supported each other quite a bit along the way and at one point it just made sense to stick together to the end.
At the finish line, we’re rushed into the small cabin at Kentucky Camp where there is a fire going in the fire place. We’re asked by several people where our dry clothes are and told we should change into something dry as soon as possible. A couple of friends were here at the cabin already and they helped me get my shoes and wet clothes off. I went into a side room and changed. As I came back into the main room with the fire, I was handed a hamburger and soda. As I sat there, I didn’t even think about the fact that I didn’t get my buckle before coming into the cabin. Someone went out and asked the RD and came inside with my buckle. I opened it from the wrapping right away. I just had to check out that new, shiny bling (bottom buckle in pic) after going through all of that torture to get it. I smiled and everything was ok now that it was over. I sat and rested a while and shared stories with other people in the cabin. Even though this day was difficult, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a race so far.
*All photos of the race are courtesy of Kristin Steele.
The Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run is at the top of my bucket list as far as ultras go and this year I registered early and setup a training schedule that was to set me up to be in top condition to run the race. The question still lingered in the back of my mind…was it going to be enough to finish one of the tougher 100 mile races in the country? I certainly hoped so. With a race or fat ass run of 50K or 50 mile distance scheduled for each month this year prior to the LT100, I felt like I had it all figured out. And I felt very strong going into the race.
August 17, 2013 – 4am Approximately 940 runners prepared for the race to begin. My gear was ready, my drop bags waiting for me out on the course. My pacer, Jon Roig and I spoke a few last words before I entered the coral joining all of the other runners. The temperature was cold but the air was electric. I looked around for a friend, Trevor Davenport, who was also there running the race that weekend. While looking around, I found a couple other friendly faces of runners I met during last year’s Mogollon Monster 100 race – Faye Guastamacchio and Dennis Connor. I decided just to stop and chat with them and hope to run into Trevor somewhere along the course.
The countdown begins and the runners and spectators all start shouting with the announcer, “…eight, seven, six…” and at that moment I realize that even before my race begins, my race could be over. Somehow, in the excitement of it all I forgot to put my timing chip on. I left it back at the motel and having to go get it would surely be the end for me. The gun went off and I weaved my way through the crowd to the starting table and let them know what I had done. They quickly gave me a chip and had me cross the starting line. I was officially the last person to start the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run.
Start to May Queen 1
As I head down the street following all 940+ starters, I decided that I would take advantage of being on fresh legs and started at a faster pace than I had planned. I was careful not to go out too fast so I paid close attention to my heart rate and breathing. Keeping those in check, I found myself making my way to the middle of the pack within just a couple of miles. Around 2 miles into the race, I found Trevor and eased my pace at that time. I figured I was probably in a good location to ease into a manageable pace now. Trevor and I ran the next couple of miles together. Before long, we came to a small climb and Trevor had to make a quick pit stop. I continued on and power walked up the short hill thinking I’d see him again at the top.
I felt good once I reached the top and slowly started back into a jog after catching my breath. At this point I realized that I may not see Trevor for a while because we started to hit some single track as we made our way around Turquoise Lake and there really wasn’t much room to pass runners in front of you. I settled into place and just kept the pace of the runners in front of me. I felt good and we were moving at a decent pace. I smiled as the sun rose and spectators lined the course cheering us on. It felt great to have people this early on taking interest in what we were doing out there.
Eventually, I made it to the May Queen aid station feeling good. 13 miles done and I wanted to move in and out of the aid station as quickly as possible. This was one of the rare times I had a quick transition at an aid station that day however. Someone helped me refill my water bottle. I put more Tailwind in my bottle, closed it up tight and mixed my liquid calories as I headed on the course for the next 10 mile section.
May Queen 1 to Outward Bound 1 (Fish Hatchery)
I was looking forward to this next section but feared going up Sugarloaf, the back side up Power Line. I had heard that Power Line was extremely tough and feared what it was going to be like making a substantial climb up this early at altitude. Moving along the trail, we eventually reached the climb and I immediately eased back and started to power hike. After a short distance, I decided that it wasn’t as bad a climb as I thought so I started to pick up the pace and found myself moving at a slow climbing jog. I did slow down a few times when I felt my heart rate rise a little but picked up the pace when I felt myself feeling better.
Making it to the top of Sugar Loaf wasn’t as bad as I thought and I was still smiling and then we reached Power Line. As I started down the hill, I thought to myself that I should take it easy here and save my quads for later in the race. That thought didn’t last long however and I found myself moving at a pretty decent pace running all the way down the hill. Halfway down, I made a mental note that not only would I be using my trekking poles to climb Hope Pass but I would also want to take them with me to have for the climb back up Power Line. Once at the bottom, I slowed my pace a little to let my legs take a little break. It started getting warmer and I shed my long sleeved shirt, beanie and gloves just before reaching the aid station.
Coming into OB1, I still felt great and I was about 35 minutes ahead of my projected arrival into this aid station. With almost a marathon distance on my legs, I felt as though I just started running a few miles ago. My pacer met me just before the aid station and he helped me refill my hydration pack, water bottle and got me some food. It wasn’t long before he was pushing me on my way back out on the course and onto the next location. I wouldn’t see him again until mile 40. Here we go…
Outward Bound 1 to Half Pipe 1
I was a little confused through this section as I overheard someone say it was 15 miles to the next aid station as I headed back out on the trail here and I couldn’t remember for some reason how far it really was to the next aid. After running a few miles on the road and then back across a field, we found ourselves running through a short wooded section and ended up in a dirt parking lot where lots of cars were there with crews helping people that may have just pushed right through the last actual aid station. “15 miles” to the next aid station kept bouncing around in my head. I stopped and asked someone if I could just top off my water just to be safe and as I thanked them, they assured me that I only had a few miles to the next aid.
Things started to fall back into place for me and I just kept moving. Running was top priority for me still and I kept my legs moving at a good pace. This whole time, I just kept in touch with my heart rate and breathing and everything was going well so far. I was passing runners still and started to notice some people were already feeling the effects of the altitude. I asked a few runners if they were ok as they were obviously struggling. I was assured by each one that they were fine and kept moving along. As I pushed on to the Half Pipe aid station, I ran where I could and walked anything that I deemed a hill at this point in the race. Soon enough, I found myself at Half Pipe and topped myself off with food, water and mixed my Tailwind and kept on moving. I was still making good time.
Half Pipe 1 to Twin Lakes 1
I was enjoying everything about this race so far and was very pleased at how things were going. The months of preparation were paying off. I just had to get up over the next steady climb before dropping back down into Twin Lakes 1 aid station where I’d see my pacer again and then I was to face the hardest part of the race. Little did I know just how hard things were going to become. I tried not to think about Hope Pass and just focused on my current place on the course. I power hiked much of the uphill section but also ran the less steep sections of the trail all the way to the top of the climb.
Once we got to the top, there was a moment where the trail just started to drop back down. I started off conservative but soon found myself picking up speed. A few other runners and I were keeping the same pace and we made our way down the hill talking and laughing which helped pass the time quickly. One or two times, we found ourselves slowing down just a bit to try to save some energy for the daunting climb that lay ahead of us. We eventually made our way down to enter the Twin Lakes area. I dropped down into this aid station with ease and was still feeling great.
It took only 8 hours and 15 minutes to make it the first 40 miles of the race. I knew tough climbs were ahead. I refueled, grabbed an extra layer in case it was raining, hailing, sleeting or was just plain cold at the top of Hope Pass and started on my way.
Twin Lakes 1 to Hopeless 1
I left Twin Lakes and headed across a field. I ran at a slower pace across this field until we came to the one and only stream crossing. The day before, we met someone who mentioned that the water level was low enough that we could cross without getting our feet wet. Reaching the stream, I realized that this just wasn’t the truth. But stream crossings are just part of what you do in an ultra so I didn’t let it affect me and I pushed on into the shin-deep water. It only took 2 steps to realize that this water was as cold as ice. I crossed the stream and hoped that my feet would dry before climbing the mountain to avoid any blistering and potentially cold weather. The last thing I really wanted to deal with was cold, wet feet at the top of a frigid, windy mountain. Luckily my feet dried rather quickly but the climb up Hope Pass soon grabbed hold of me and slowed me down to a snails pace.
I had grabbed my trekking poles at Twin Lakes and started using them as soon as I started climbing up Hope. Climbing is not one of my strong suits in trail running and I quickly realized that this part of the race was going to be very difficult for me. I slowly climbed up and up and up. I stopped along the way to lower my heart rate and catch my breath. I found myself leapfrogging with a couple of other runners as we took short breaks along the trail most of the way up. I was being passed by other runners but I was ok with this. I knew I wasn’t a strong climber and I was doing the best I could. It seemed like a relentless climb and it was painful but I pushed on. A few long, slow miles later I made it to the Hopeless aid station which sat about 800 ft below the peak of the climb. I was so glad to get here and my adrenaline took over. I felt a bit stronger, refueled, took a couple of pictures of the llamas that carried the aid station gear up the mountain and headed back out to climb the remaining 800 feet to the top – 12,600ft above sea level.
Hopeless 1 to Winfield
I pushed up the rest of the way to the top of Hope Pass. This short section, while just as difficult as the climb before, seemed a bit easier. I guess it was just the adrenaline and excitement of reaching the top. Once I reached the top and crossed the timing mat, I took a moment to take a couple of quick pictures and a short video and headed on my way down the trail. As I caught my breath, I found myself moving a little faster with each switchback going down the mountain. Having to stop and let the front runners go by (out of courtesy), I simply put my mind on the task at hand – make it down to Winfield and get back up and over this hill.
Eventually, I found myself moving at a good pace running back down the mountain and my legs felt somewhat fresh again. Being a true Arizona trail runner, I love rocky downhill trails. I took full advantage of running to make up some lost time going up the other side. I found myself speeding along on a rocky section while hearing someone say, “…and I thought I was good at the downhills…” to which I turned and shouted, “thanks!” and kept moving on. I moved as quickly as I could the rest of the way down to Winfield only slowing down to let other runners pass by as they were coming back up the hill. As I approached the bottom I was glad to see Michael Miller coming back up already. He looked strong but mentioned he was feeling a little tired. I assured him he was fine and told him to keep pushing on. He did and finished with a good time too.
Winfield Aid Station to Hopeless 2
I came into Winfield slower than I wanted but I was still about an hour ahead of the cutoff. It was just past 5pm and the cutoff was 6pm. I weighed in and found I had lost about 8 pounds from when I weighed in the day before the race. I was advised to eat, take in fluids, have some salt and make sure I felt good before heading back out on the course. I did just this. I took some time to sit down for a few minutes while Jon, my pacer, gathered some things and got us ready to go. He helped me refuel and made sure we had all the gear we would need to head back out on the trail and back up the mountain. I told him before we left, “2 things are really going to suck…going back up this mountain and climbing back up Power Line later in the race.” He replied, “awesome! Let’s do this.” At that point, I knew that I had a good pacer to help me through the rest of the race.
We headed back out on the trail and made it to the climb back up the mountain. The trail is steep right as we start heading up and Jon soon realized that I wasn’t joking when I said it was going to be a tough climb. But we were there to keep on moving and that’s exactly what we did. He helped me keep my pace and urged me to continue on when the climb got tough. After making it up and out of the tree line, Jon was amazed at the distance we had already gone up. After looking at the valley below and basking in the beauty a little, he reminded me that we hadn’t gone that far in terms of distance and just needed to push on. I told him I simply wanted to make it up to the peak before sunset and we did. We took a moment to take a picture and so he could enjoy the majesty of being up on top of Hope Pass and then headed back into Hopeless aid station.
Hopeless 2 to Twin Lakes 2
The sun went down by the time we made it into Hopeless and we didn’t want to spend much time here. We had some soup mixed with mashed potatoes, refilled our water and headed on our way. We were told we had 1 hour and 15 minutes to make it 5 miles to Twin Lakes. Panic set in and I thought I wouldn’t make it. It took me about 1.5 hours to get down from the top of Hope Pass to Winfield and now we were going to be heading down the hill in the dark. We had to move or we wouldn’t make it. I couldn’t let my race end without a fight. Jon let me set the pace and we ran as much as we could. There were some sections of the trail that were littered with roots and rocks and I slowed down a bit here just to make sure I didn’t twist an ankle.
We were moving at a good pace and we ended up passing a few runners along the way. A few people passed us as well which made me pick up my pace a little to try to keep up. Time was ticking and I was about to time out of the race only 60 miles in. I didn’t want to call it a day just yet so I moved as quickly as I could. We finally caught up to another runner who was moving at a reasonable pace and we stuck with him. He had a good grasp on time and knew he was going to make it no matter what. I liked his drive and stuck with him. We kept going and going and the river just never seemed to come. We were just looking to get to that cold river to go back across and then we knew we just had to cross the field and Twin Lakes was right there.
We finally made it to the river and I warned Jon that the water was going to be cold. We pushed on and as we both got 2 steps into the water, we both shouted out and drove our bodies across the frigid stream. I wasn’t too worried about my feet as I knew I had dry shoes and socks waiting for me at Twin Lakes. Now I just had to make it before the cutoff. The clock kept ticking and I knew I was cutting it very close. I lost a lot of time going up over Hope Pass 2 times. We got to the field and it just seemed like it kept going on and on. We were quickly losing the race against the clock. Other runners caught up to us and a few people mentioned that we weren’t going to make it. We only had a couple of minutes and had too far to go. The race was over and a few of us started to feel defeated. Until…someone shouts, “you have 4 minutes! 4 minutes to cross the timing station! Go, go, go!!!”
5 or 6 of us start into an immediate sprint which kept getting faster and faster. We had about a half mile to go with only 4 minutes to get there and we all had 60 miles on our legs already. As we pushed on, one runner grunted with each stride, I was shouting, “I’m going to puke! I can’t do this! I’m about to…” and pushed on as fast as I could. The crowded streets cheered on and people kept yelling things like, “you’re almost there!” and “you got this!” We finally hear, “you have 30 seconds to get up around the corner!” and we all dug a little deeper and came around the corner to the timing station. Each one of us crossed the line with mere seconds to go. I crossed and turned to the timing table to make sure I made it. She assured me I made it right on time and told me to keep on going. I was so happy and knew this was all worth it whether I finished or not.
Twin Lakes 2 to Half Pipe 2
Happy to have made it this far. We stopped at this aid station and took inventory of our gear and attempted to refuel. It was at this aid station that we realized the race was starting to run out of food and supplies. I chalked it up to being one of the last runners to make it to the aid station but I guess they had been running low for a while. Needless to say, we found some food and gathered our gear. I changed my shoes and socks and was pleased to see my feet were still in very good shape this far into the race. My toes tend to blister during an ultra and I saw only 1 small blister that wasn’t even bothersome. Within minutes we were pushed out of the aid station so we didn’t lose any more time in the race.
We headed out on the trail and found ourselves moving at a slower pace. Naturally you start to move a bit slower this far into a 100 mile run. I had moments where I felt ok to run and picked up the pace where I could. I realized that I could power hike at a pretty fast rate and took full advantage of this. We caught and passed a few runners along this trail. I felt pretty good and knew we’d make it to Half Pipe and keep going. We passed the time with great conversation among ourselves and with other runners we caught up to along the way. We finally made it to the aid station and did our best to get in and out of this station as quickly as we could. We had made up a little time but we were still only about 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff. We knew we had to pick it up or we wouldn’t make it. After being told how much time we had and the distance we needed to cover, we headed out and knew what pace we needed to keep.
Half Pipe 2 to Outward Bound 2
Leaving Half Pipe, I felt good still. My pace was slowing a little but we tried to just keep up with others that were powering along and even ended up passing a few people along the way. There were a couple of climbs that I didn’t quite remember and there were a few times that I started complaining about the fact that the gradual climb just wasn’t fair. We pushed on anyway and did what we could to just keep on going. After all, we had time to get to Outward Bound and would keep going. We enjoyed the late night atmosphere here and even turned off our headlamps a few times to enjoy the dark wooded mountains. The moon and stars were bright. It was such a treat for 2 city guys to be out on this trail enjoying one of the most popular races in the country. We soaked it all in and were in good spirits.
We pushed on until we finally reached that parking lot area where I was a little confused earlier in the race. I wasn’t as confused now and knew exactly how far we need to go…or so I thought. We crossed this section and made our way out of the wooded section to the field. We did some interval running here just to keep the pace going and to change things up a bit. We had been moving at a fast paced hike for a while. We ran “to the next glow stick” and then “to the next fencepost” and so on. We eventually made it to the road and all of a sudden the temperature seemed to drop a bit. We started down the pavement and could see the next aid station in the distance. We’re going to make it.
We push on down the road. It was difficult to run. I planned to make it to the next aid station, take my first 200mg caffeine pill and move on to climb Power Line. But the road just kept going. We were to get to the end of the road we were on and take a left onto the next road which led to the aid station. But the turn never seemed to appear. In the dark, it just seemed like the more we moved on, the further the aid station seemed to be. We pushed on. We caught a few other runners and were passed by a couple as well. I tried to run but it was just too hard. I started to grow colder and colder. Then reality set in. We were passed by another runner who told us we had but mere minutes to get to the aid station. At this point I would have to sprint again to make it so I could continue beyond mile 76. This didn’t seem right as we had 7 hours to go 24 miles to the finish. I still thought I’d be fine and pushed on. But I kept growing colder and slowed down.
After doing the math, I knew I wouldn’t be going on past the 76 mile point of this year’s Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run. I felt defeated but put on a smile and approached the aid station where I had to turn in my timing chip and call it a day. My race was over for this year. I was bummed out that I wasn’t going to bring home a new buckle but felt like I accomplished a lot which made me extremely happy. As we approached the aid station, Trevor and his Pacer, Jon Nelson drove up in their car and congratulated me on how far I made it. They had been out trying to find where I was on the course. Trevor had timed out a little while back but wanted to continue to enjoy the race by cheering on others. It took me a moment to realize who pulled up beside us but I was so happy to see them. The 4 of us had spent a great deal of time together the couple of days before the race and it was great getting to experience this race together with them.
I warmed up in the tent at the aid station and we all conversed about the race a bit. I drank some hot chocolate and had some water. Still feeling pretty good, we all decided it was time to go and get a little sleep and meet back up in the morning to watch the final runners cross the finish line and get some breakfast. Jon and I got a ride with Trevor and Jon (yes, 2 Jon’s and they were both pacers for me and Trevor) back to the motel where we cleaned up and got some sleep. It was a short nap and before long we were up and out making our way to watch runners cross the finish line. Trevor and Jon met us over on the bleachers and we cheered on the final runners until the very end of the race. I got a little emotional inside as we sat there watching and decided that I will go back and finish this race in 2014. I plan to focus on climbing a lot over the next year to be able to tackle Hope Pass faster and make it through the aid stations without having to sprint to meet any of the cutoffs.
Until next year…
I want to thank everyone who supported me before, during and after this race. While I feel that I’ve left things unfinished, I’m still proud of what I accomplished. I feel a sense of urgency and pride at the same time. And I feel like this race only made me both physically and mentally stronger. I even went out for two 6 mile runs just days after the race. My legs and body feel great and I’m ready to do what I love to do…run more trails.
I’m calling 2013 the Year of Ultras for me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I’m already registered to run more ultra races this year than I have run total in the past couple of years. I am dedicating a lot of time to running this year. There are a few areas that I want to become stronger and more efficient and I plan to spend much of my time analyzing and practicing good habits while out on my training runs. I learned a lot in 2012 and will carry that over into this year. The main thing I learned last year was to embrace the lows during training runs. This really helped me overcome obstacles a lot easier than I have in the past. By focusing on low points on training runs, I was able to use what I learned during my last race in 2012. I am certain that by doing that and practicing that, I was able to get through the most painful points when it mattered.
Another thing I learned late in the season was also at my last race when I learned to focus on getting from aid station to aid station at a race and not to stick around at the aid stations for very long. By thinking about a race in terms of 5 to 10 mile segments, it becomes easier to wrap your mind around that and just focus on completing each short section at a time and looking at those as small accomplishments in themselves. During my first 100 mile race in 2011, I spent too much time thinking about the overall picture and also spent way too much time resting at aid stations. This was not a good strategy and I found it much easier to just take care of business (refill fluids and take in calories) and then focus on the next segment of the race. I like to know how far it is to the next aid station simply to allow my mind to keep things simple.
The second reason I’m calling this the Year of Ultras for me is because I’m running one of my bucket list races this year. I registered for the Leadville 100 Mile Run yesterday. So for 2013, my race schedule looks like this:
Jan 12 – Thunderbird 50k (Fat Ass Run)
Feb 17 – IMS Marathon
March 2 – Old Pueblo 50 Mile
April 6 – Crown King Scramble (tentative)
April 27 – Zane Grey 50 Mile
May 11 – R2R2R (Fat Ass Run – tentative)
June 14 – TARC100
July 20 – VT100 (Wait List)
Aug 17 – Leadville 100 (one of my bucket list races)
Sept 28 – MOG100 (Pacing only as of now)
I was taking it easy after developing some pain in my right foot a couple of weeks ago. I started doing some speed work and I think I went out too fast and my Achilles Tendon started to ache quite a bit. Everything pointed to Achilles Tendonitis and the best thing to do is to rest and ice it. To keep my legs in motion, I was only doing some easy 2 to 4 mile runs around the neighborhood and avoided the trail while. I figured this would be the best medicine. After going a couple of weeks without hitting the trail though, I started to get an itch that I had to cure. So I decided to go for a nice easy run/hike in the White Tank Mountains which are only 10 miles from my house. I’m new to running the trails there and have wanted to explore so I went out there with a running friend. We took it easy and mixed in quite a bit of hiking, especially on the climbs. Overall, I ended up going 18 miles with just over 3,300 feet of vertical gain. I felt great throughout the run and even feel good today. No real pain to speak of. Here’s a little preview of the trails out there. I will be going back again soon.