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.