We started the day at 2 am Saturday morning to be ready for a 4 am start in downtown Leadville. I had the very best of crews; Roswitha my wife, veteran of many such adventures, Jesse my son, and Shannon, Jesse’s girlfriend. Both Jesse and Shannon are recently back from 15 months in Iraq. Shannon had two previous tours. Rick Hessek, who finished 4th overall in the Leadville Trail 100 run last year was my pacer/mule for the last 50 miles.
Since I had earned the big buckle in the 100 mile MTB race by going under 9 hours, I wanted to go for the big buckle in the run by finishing under 25 hours. No Leadman had ever "big buckled" in both 100 mile races. However, I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that haunted me throughout the race. “My farthest run this year was only 37 miles. How can I possibly hold this pace for 100 miles?” My plan was to go out at a 24 hour pace, which would give me an hour cushion if any problems developed.
Getting ready to StartStart to May Queen 13 miles
And We're Off!
The first leg is a 13 mile jaunt to the first aid station starting in Leadville to the May Queen campground. We began with a little over 3 mile descent down the infamous Blvd. I was feeling really good and opened up with a comfortable pace. I heard in ultra-running if you go out at a comfortable pace your probably going too fast. If I was going to break 25 hours I had to take that chance. After the Blvd we climbed up a steep rocky trail to a 6 ½ mile single track around Turquoise Lake. The trail is rocky in places and can be a bit tricky running in a crowd at night. The guy in front of me stubbed his toes and tripped several times. It was just starting to turn daylight when we reach the May Queen. I was ahead of schedule. My goal was 2 hrs 12 min and I arrived in 2:05. My crew was ready, we swapped camel backs and food bottles. I dumped some clothes and grabbed my sunglasses and continued on. Very efficient pit stop.
May Queen to Fish Hatchery 24 miles
From the May Queen we jumped on the Colorado Trail to Haggerman Pass Rd. This is a very rocky trail that requires a bit of boulder hopping. I’m not very good at running these kind of trails and found myself getting passed quite a bit. Once off the Colorado Trail we headed up Haggerman Pass and Sugarloaf mountain. The same route as the mountain bike race. In previous runs, I walked a lot of this section since it is uphill and I wanted to save my energy for later. This time I ran all the way to the top. I passed a lot of people that passed me on the Colorado Trail. I did have that haunting thought in the back my head though. I knew I could be blowing the whole Leadman by running this section, but felt I had to, to break 25 hours. Once at the top we descended the Powerline. The same powerline as the mountain bike race. A long steep descent. Again I was passed quite a bit, as I am not a very good downhill runner, especially on loose rocky trails. I tried to open it up the best I could, but still I got passed. Once at the bottom, my legs felt a little beat up from the downhill running but nothing major. So far so good. We ran a ½ mile or so of rolling pavement to the next aid station, the Fish Hatchery. My goal time – 4:10, actual time 4:04. Approximately one marathon down, three to go.
Fish Hatchery to Pipeline 27 miles
At the Fish Hatchery, I dropped the camelback and any extra weight since it was only three miles to the next aid station. The run to pipeline is mostly flat to slightly downhill pavement. It’s kind of boring, but at the same time nice to be able to just run without concentrating on not tripping over rocks and roots. I arrived a the Pipeline starting to feel the effects of the running and started to become worried that I went too hard in the first 27 miles. I wasn’t feeling great and started to fear that I may not finish. I got a quick massage from my crew, new camel back, food bottle and was off.
Pipeline to Twin Lakes 40 miles
Things started to thin out after leaving the Pipeline, and we ran some beautiful trails for the next 13 miles. I rarely saw another runner and was alone for most of this stretch. I was also beginning to hurt. I tried all my usual tricks; enjoying the mountains, telling myself how much I loved running, how lucky I am to be doing this, and trying to find my "happy place". I was having all kinds of positive pep talks with my self, but nothing seemed to work, I was hurting. Finally, I just turned my brain off and ran. I ran a long slightly uphill section of dirt road that eventually led to the Colorado Trail at the base of Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado. Once I hit the Colorado Trail I was cruising. For some reason, Jim Hendrix’s “Sweet Angel” started playing in my head:
“And i said fly on my sweet angel
Fly on through the sky
Fly on my sweet, sweet angel
Tomorrow i shall have you by my side”
Next thing I knew I was running painless and felt like I was flying through the mountains. I even started singing out loud. If anything it may have scared off any bears in the area. Eventually, I came off the Colorado Trail to a jeep road that led to the town of Twin Lakes. After a short steep descent (that I almost biffed) Jesse met me and ran with me to where the crew was patiently waiting. My goal pace 7:25, I arrived in 7:13.
Twin Lakes to Winfield 50 miles
Starting the Climb up Hope Pass
The run to Twin Lakes was just a warm up. Now we faced the notorious double crossing of Hope Pass. A brutally steep climb and descent up to 12,600 ft. I left Twin Lakes feeling about the best that could be expected, which wasn’t great. About a mile out of Twin Lakes is a creek crossing that is usually between knee and waist deep with a pretty strong current. Runners typically have to use a rope to get across. This year the creek was very low. It was now approaching noon and Leadville was experiencing record high temperatures in the mid 80s. The ice cold water felt great. I kneeled down in the water to cool off my legs. It felt so good! Climbing Hope Pass destroyed me. I started with a power hike that rapidly turned to a survival shuffle. By the time I reached the Hopeless aid station near the top, I was just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. The Hopeless aid station is quite a sight in itself. At this point the trail is so remote that the whole aid station is packed in via llamas. After the Hopeless aid station we continued up a long single track above timberline with several switchbacks. For me it was brutal. I was digging very deep to just keep going, one step at a time. Finally, the top. Oh that hurt. The descent is very steep, rocky, and for me very slow going. It seemed like dozens of runners passed me while going down. At one point I tripped and did a face plant in the side of the mountain. Luckily I fell on the mountain side of the trail, as the other side was a pretty steep drop off. I was so happy when I finally reach the bottom. Once down we ran a approximately two miles on a slightly uphill dirt road to the beautifully restored ghost town of Winfield. Winfield is the turn-around, the half way point. I checked in at the aid station and was weighed in. My weight at the start was 163.5 lbs, I now weighed 157. I was on the verge of dehydration.
Winfield 50 mile Turn-around
Winfield to Twin Lakes 60 miles
At Winfield I took a short break. I was hurting and my moral was starting to sink. My crew was fantastic. They massaged my legs, switched out my camel back and shoved me back into the race. Rick joined as my pacer, and carried my food bottle, along with gels, and anything else I needed. It was so great to have someone to talk to. Rick was incredible and has to be one of the best pacers on the planet. He is among the top ultra runners in the country and has done his share of suffering. He seemed to know all the right things to say, and had incredible experiences to share just when I needed them most. Throughout the next 50 miles, he ensured I was taking in the proper amount of calories and fluids, carried my stuff, as well as ran back and forth taking pictures and just kept me going.
Back up Hope Pass was brutal. It was hot. Even at 12,000 feet it felt like 90 degrees with the sun beating directly down on us. Even though I felt like I was crawling, we did pass a few people. There was quite a traffic jam as we continually encountered people coming down from their first crossing. As in the first crossing, the climb practically destroyed me.
Back up Hope Pass
Close to the Top and Dragging
Rick & Me at the Top
Headin Back Down toward Twin Lakes
Again that haunting thought of my longest run only being 37 miles came back. Once at the top, we slowly descended to the Hopeless aid station. My lack of descending skills had to be frustrating for Rick, as he is an excellent descender. He kept telling me I was doing fine, but I thought “yea right, your just saying that, your really thinking my grandma could run faster”. At Hopeless we refilled camel backs and continued down the mountain. Strangely enough, I was able to run a good portion of the descent at a decent pace. I caught my foot several times and fell at least twice but only a couple people passed us, and we actually passed a couple ourselves. Once off the mountain, we crossed the creek and I laid down in it to cool off. It felt so good. Back at Twin Lakes, we met Jesse who escorted us to the rest of the crew. Again they sprang into action. Change of shoes, clothes, camel backs, gels, flashlights and we were off. We were now 14 hrs and 26 min into the race.
Twin Lakes – Pipeline 73 miles
At Twin Lakes the Crew Again Springs into Action
The route out of Twin Lakes to the Colorado Trail is a steep climb of about two – three miles. We power hiked this section and I started feeling a little better. I guess being down a 10,000 feet vs. almost 13,000 made difference. Once the trail flattened out a bit we began running again. The problem with walking is it is so hard to start running again. It took a little while to get the pace back up, but once we did we started to cruise. We were trying to get as far down the trail as possible before dark. As I ran my haunting thought came back and I started to hurt and slow down. Finally, again I just shut off my brain and ran. Nothing but focus on running as efficient and relaxed as possible. No other thoughts. Just shut up and run! We left the Colorado Trail and ran the long slightly down hill jeep road to Pipeline. It was pitch dark, but Jesse met us and ran us to the rest of the crew. I sat down and Shannon massaged my legs. It was excruciatingly painful, but I think it did some good.
Pipeline – Fish Hatchery 76 miles
Since it was only three miles to the Fish Hatchery, I didn’t take a camelback. Just a water bottle that Rick carried. A good part of that three miles is slightly uphill. It felt like a very long three miles. Again, I had to turn off my brain, dig very very deep and just run. It hurt. I was still close to goal pace though. My goal pace was 18 hrs, we arrived in 18:13.
Fish Hatchery – May Queen 87 miles
When we arrive at the Fish Hatchery, for the first time, I started to believe I might actually make it under 25 hours. Sure I was hurting, but I was seeing and hearing about a lot of other people that were a lot worse. I was on target pace and we were about to climb the Powerline. After consistently running for so long, I actually welcomed the climb because it was more of a power hike then a run. As I reported in the mountain bike race, the powerline is a long steep climb with several false summits. Rick and I powered up in what seemed like no time, passing several other runners, including Paul Smith of CRUD fame. Once at the top we ran down to the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail was very rough on me. My feet were pretty beat up from running on rocks all day, and this trail is very rocky and slow going. Especially at night. We made slow progress and I tripped several times. I was so happy to be through that trail when we finally exited. The trail beat me up pretty bad and my moral started to slip. Jesse met us outside May Queen, and ran us to the crew, but I was having a hard time keeping up.
May Queen – Finish 100 miles
96 Miles Down, 4 More to Go!
At the May Queen I was hurting and demoralized. I couldn’t see how I could run the next 13 miles of single track through the night to the finish. Jesse picked up on this and said “Dad you are right on schedule, you have 45 minutes to play with to go under 25, and you could walk in and still make it under 30” (30 hours is the official cut off for a finish). For some reason this flipped a switch in my brain and I was raring to go. “Cmon Rick Let’s Run!” We took off from the May Queen and ran and ran. I tripped over some rocks a couple times but no damage. We were passing people along the way that were trashed. I don’t know how, but we kept running. I was reaching as deep inside myself as I ever have and just kept running. About 6 miles from the finish the chem lights and trail markers disappeared. We couldn’t believe the course was so badly marked and went off course several times. Luckily Rick trains here often and knew the course well, but in the dark, it was sometimes hard to follow the trail without a chem light in the distance to guide us. Eventually we came upon runners that were wondering around looking for the trail, some had been lost for a while. Eventually we found a pile of chem lights and course markers laying in the middle of the trail. Someone had gone through and tore everything down. What a cruel trick at 94 miles. Rick led us out the right way and finally we reached the dam and a course marshal. We informed him of the situation and he set out to remark the course. Once we crossed by the dam we descended a steep loose rocky hill to a dirt road that led to the infamous Blvd. Rick & I continued to run, passing people who were walking. We encouraged them and tried to get them to run with us, but most said they were just going to walk it in. I just wanted to get done! We ran. The Blvd is a 3 mile dirt road climb into Leadville. In the dark it seems to never end. I told Rick “This is the third time I’ve been up this thing this week. I’m really getting tired of it”. We finally came into Leadville and walked the final hump that tore my lungs out the previous Sunday in the 10k race. Once over the hump we ran through the finish with my fantastic crew waiting for us. 24 hrs 10 min 35 sec. Big Buckle and the first Leadman to big buckle in the MTB 100 and Trail 100 Run. I was absolutely wasted. It took over an hour in the medical tent for me to recover and leave with the assistance of Roswitha and Cubby a former co-worker.
Crew, Pacer and Runner - All Glad to be Finished!
This was an incredible journey with many hurdles and obstacles as well as incredible support and friendships along the way. Just as in the 100 mile run, the Leadman Quest had many ups and downs, but the key was to keep on going. It’s what life is all about and I thank everyone who had and encouraging word, who trained with me, who supported the effort and was in any way part of this adventure. Team CRUD, ProCycling, the Urban Assault Gang in San Diego were all huge in making this whole adventure so enjoyable. Roswitha is the most incredible woman in the world, not only did she put up with all my training, but crewed at every race. Rick Hessek is not only an amazing ultra runner, he is the world’s best pacer. Thank-you everyone!
Ken Chlouber the race founder talks about an endless well of strength, determination and courage deep within everyone of us. He talks about how in this race as well as in life we will face moments where we will have to dig deeper than we ever thought possible to pull out some of that strength, determination and courage. Then we will have to do it again, and again, and again, and if necessary, again. I found out exactly what he was talking about. The motto of the Leadville Trail 100 is “You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can”. I believe it. All of us are better than we think we are and we can do more than we think we can. I hope everyone following this blog takes that to heart and goes out and does more than they think they can. It’s been a great adventure. Thanks for reading.