Leadville 100 2009: A Sandbagger's Journey – Part 2
OK… there’s been a bit of the delay since Part 1 of my 2009 Leadville 100 report. Please excuse that. Since then I’ve paced at the Grand Teton and Wasatch 100s, gone for some runs on the east side of the Tetons, and returned to my new home in California. I assure you that this was all far more tiring than the Leadville 100. Speaking of which, you can check out my recap of my first 40 miles of the Leadville 100 or continue reading if you want to get straight to the juicy stuff! At over 5,000 words, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy at work today!
Twin Lakes 1 - mile 39.5 – 6:07 (??) – 6:34 (20th)
While at Twin Lakes, I pick up trekking poles – a pair of Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Carbon trekking poles – for the first time ever in a race. I feel good departing Twin Lakes after a smooth crew exchange and a brief pit stop. No problems running the mile or so across Twin Lake Flats to the river crossing either. In fact, I feel great. My only issue, albeit minor, are hot spots on the outside of my right heel (common for me) and the inside of the ball of my left foot. Before the aid station I decided that neither warranted a shoe change, but that I’d monitor the situation. I continue to the base of Mount Hope without resistance.
I’d climbed up the north side of Hope Pass twice in 2006 (in race and a trial double crossing) and as part of a double crossing two Wednesdays before this year’s race day. It’s never easy. In fact, it seemingly gets harder every time I attempt it. While there’s no exceptionally difficult section on the climb up to the pre-summit Hopeless aid station, the climb, in full, still measures 3,400′ and reaches 12,600′. Folks that summit is on order of two and a half miles above sea level. The air is rare up there, indeed. The Wasatch folks can talk about Chinscaper, but this right here is the real deal!
This year, the real deal hist me real hard! Not more that third of the way up to Hope Pass, I realize that I can’t breathe deeply. I adjust my heart rate monitor’s chest strap to little effect. It doesn’t take long for this shortness of breath to turn into something bordering on my first ever ultramarathon-induced panic attack. I can’t recall exactly what I was thinking… but it was crazy. I never thought about turning around, but I was far from comfortable in the moment. Whether it was the poles or lack of access to oxygen my legs never bother me on this climb. Before reaching Hopeless the panic subsides and I cruise in to lllama territory in fine spirits.
Despite the apparent problems, I’d traveled from Twin Lakes to Hopeless in 5 fewer minutes than in 2006: 1:29 vs 1:34. Could it have been the trekking poles?
Hopeless (Hope Pass) 1 – mile 45 – 7:44 (16) – 8:08 (??)
After a quick n friendly fluid refill (I was wearing a Nathan HPL #020), I made the final rocky ascent to the saddle of Hope Pass. With a whoop, I was off the top and careening down the far side.
The upper mile Hope Pass’s south side consists of a narrow, scree-covered, switchbacking trail. The trail is far from impossible, but it can send you tumbling if you don’t pay attention. In other words, it’s no time to take in my favorite Sawatch Range view of Missouri Gulch. Next time. With the help of my BD poles I descend the scree and cross the brief talus field. The only notable occurrence was the sighting of Anton Krupicka who had a big lead, but was walking and not looking so good.
After the talus, the trail enters shady aspens. While the respite from the sun and growing heat was welcome, the trail’s pitch increases and the path is far less fluid. In my mind, this is the most technical section of the course. I encountered Tim Parr early in this section. He, too, was walking and not looking particularly good.
Far back and not far from the bottom, I came across Duncan Callahan, who I’d come to know in the week prior to the race. I told him that neither Tony nor Tim were looking good and that it was time for him to be the salvage man and to clean up the wrecks in front of him.
In my own run, I was feeling the downhill a bit towards the bottom. No problems or dead muscles, per ce, but it’s hard not to feel 2,700′ of descending in less than half an hour (2 2/3 miles).
It was warm when I hit the road to Winfield. I’d say this is the most underestimated 2.5 miles of the course, but anyone who’s run it during the afternoon knows to give it the respect it deserves. The road section is largely exposed and, while it climbs only 400′ over its length, the road’s upward pitch feels unrelenting after 47 miles of mountain running. As if to kick dirt in the tied fighter’s eyes, all the crew vehicles also drive down this dirt road kicking up clouds of dust as they go. Fortunately, one of these vehicles gave me a huge mental boost.
A van full of good friends, including Adam Chase, Martin Gaffuri (my TransRockies Run partner from last year), Devon Crosby-Helms (with whom I’d just spent a week camping), and Gordon Wright, drove by while I was running up the road. These kind souls were en route to this year’s TransRockies Run, but decided to take a side trip to cheer on friends and strangers alike at the Winfield turn around. I’m glad they didn’t miss me!
All things considered, I felt decent on the road and ran much more than I walked. I mixed in using the poles through this section.
Winfield – mile 50 – 9:04 (??) – 9:26 (??)
It’s turn around time baby! Though I didn’t take much time to reflect during the race, I might as well do it here! I came through Winfield in 9:04. Not a bad 50 miler in the mountains and it was 22 minutes faster than my 2006 split. Project out that 22 minute improvement for the full distance and I’d be at the finish in 19:58. I’m glad I didn’t have my 2006 splits on me during the race or I would have started getting ahead of myself. It’s interesting to note that while I’d built a 20 minute advantage over my previous run, I ran nearly the same time from Hope Pass down to Winfield both years.
Again, no time to reflect in the race. Winfield is full of my peeps. Crewman Steve, the TRR folks, and my pacer Jaime are all there. No time to chat. I say so much to my TRR friends… I trust they understood!
In and out of the aid station in under a minute. I am to use the same Nathan HPL 020 again, so I hand it to Steve, and he replaces the empty bladder with a full one as I leave the aid station.
Ah, company! Since Garett and I had parted ways around Fish Hatchery, I’d more or less run the past 25 miles alone. I’d had interaction here and there, but it was so nice to have a companion on the trail…. and what a companion! Jaime begins her duties by running that hydration pack to me. She then proposes carrying the pack down the entire road section…. and she carries my trekking poles, as well! This frees me up to enjoy a cup full of watermelon that I’d picked up at the aid station. I’d first provided my own race day watermelon at Leadville three years prior and had loved it. It was even more delicious in this year’s heat!
Speaking of heat, it was good and hot by the time I turned left at Sheep Gulch for the climb back up Hope Pass. I don’t have the actual race day temps, but it’s widely thought to have been the hottest Leadville 100 ever. Sure the air temps might not have cracked 80F, but I challenge any one to climb 2,700′ to 12,600′ on a south face and tell me it’s not freakin’ hot! ;-)
… Anyway, I start the backside climb up to hope Pass in good spirits and good company. By this point, I’ve told Jaime that I’m not racing* and that’s a good thing. I start out at a reasonable effort, but quickly feel bad for the first time all day. Even though we’re still in the mostly shaded bottom section, the steep pitch, south face, and the heat of the relatively lower elevation punch me in the gut. I feel hot, am sweating bullets, and starting to feel nauseous. Jaime is still wearing my pack (less weight on the climb) and she tries to fill the cup that previously held my watermelon. It’s a fiasco.
* [I use the term "racing" a few times in this report, mostly in reference to my not doing it. As my usage may differ from others and some folks have questioned the sincerity of my statements surrounding it, I feel I need to explain what I mean by "racing." By racing, I mean specifically trying to beat other runners in order to garner a high placing. By "not racing" I mean I am not concerned with my position relative to others. That's not to say that by not racing, I'm not pushing it. Rather, what I was more concerned with was running my own best effort. I was racing, but it was truly against myself and the clock. Colloquially, I wasn't "racing."]
Jaime, being a trooper, manages to fill the cup via pinching the hydration bladder’s nozzle. It’s slow and tedious, or so I can imagine. I’m still climbing while Jaime does this. I open up a gap and it takes her a while to catch up. She does so as I sit on a rock in the shade. It’s mile 53 or 54 and it’s the first time I’ve sat all day. I get up as soon as Jaime arrives. I drink the cup and move on. Shortly thereafter, we determine a new, socially awkward though very efficient technique – we stop and I drink from my hydration pack’s nozzle while she wears it. Works for me!
Despite feeling like crap for most of the climb, I am faithful in pressing on. As we get out into the more open upper half, it’s great to discover that it actually feels cooler. Sure we’re higher (and, therefore, the temp was likely a few degrees cooler), but the slight breeze was the key. I love it! The only problem with the open upper half of the climb is that you can see the top… and the many switchbacks yet to go. Fortunately, as I climb I see more and more friends on the trail. This out and back section can be a morale booster for both outbound and inbound runners.
Eventually, I crest Hope Pass for the second time. I pause to take in the view, Jaime snaps a few pics, and then it’s off to Hopeless aid station. The descent into Hopeless is always tricky and is made even more so by the bidirectional traffic. Despite one close call, I make it to the aid station without incident.
Hopeless 2 - mile 55 – 10:47 (??) – 11:09 (??)
Wow! I was dead on my 2006 split from Winfield to Hopeless inbound. I must have been moving alright despite feeling horribly, as I remember the climb as a good stretch in 2006. Once again, those BD trekking poles were out in full force. Speaking of which, I handed them off to Jaime during the brief aid station visit.
Finally some nice runnable downhill! The first bit below Hopeless aid station can be choppy as the trail is but a narrow ditch here and there; however, it soon opens up into wide single track beneath lush conifers. Truly a trail runner’s dream. The only downer is that as I descend I see runners who have little chance of making the 6 p.m. cutoff at Winfield… and then those who have no chance. Many press valiantly onward, while one was turned back and is retracing his steps toward Twin Lakes.
In contrast, I am feeling quite good. The bout of nausea had passed somewhere atop the mountain and I running problem free. My left quad is a bit sore, but this is the last descent for which I needed to save my legs. With that in mind, I open up my stride and go with it. Toward the bottom where the trail gets steeper and more technical, I find myself breaking slightly. I go through my mental checklist and find what I was looking for – lean forward from the ankles. That was all I need. I lean forward a bit and my stride rate picks up instantly. No more breaking. Good stuff!
Once Jaime and I reached Twin Lake Flats I tell her that I want to run every step to the aid station. With two worthy exceptions, we accomplish that goal.
En route to Twin Lakes, I did decide that I do not want a shoe change at the aid station. I have only two significant blisters, and I feel that neither s likely neither is likely to alter my stride by race’s end. With that in mind, I stop and sit on a log right before the river crossing and quickly emptied the grit from my shoes and socks. The whole process was done in well under two minutes. (It would have been quicker with Boa lacing).
I soon stop again. The river is wonderfully refreshing, so why not take advantage of it? I lay down up to my neck for 30 seconds or a minute. Nick Coury, who I had passed at the beginning of the flat, comes by as I took my break. I suggest he join me, but he isn’t up for it. I pass him soon after I restart.
After the race, I learn that two friends who used poles for the first time at Leadville didn’t like carrying their trekking poles across Twin Lake Flats outbound. Me, I love having my poles here. In fact, while I could have had Jaime carry them inbound, I choose to use them. I find that they help me gain a little speed on flat single track.
Twin Lakes 2 – mile 60.5 – 11:44 (11) – 12:09 (??)
Upon entering the aid station (and a restroom), I change my now wet shirt and shorts. The temps are now more mild and it feels good to be in clean cloths. I’m not sure where I made up time between Hopeless and Twin Lakes, but I was 3 minutes faster than 2006 even with the “shoe change,” the river soak, and the clothes change (the official clock is well beyond where I changed. Perhaps, it was Jaime or the poles on the flats or something else entirely. Whatever it was, it worked.
Twin Lakes is where I was supposed to leave Jaime, my hydration pack, and my poles. I left only the first two. I set out from the aid station with a one bottle belt, my poles, and Ashley, my new pacer. To say I am excited climbing out of the aid station is an understatement. I feel like I’d just put on shoes and stepped outside. I have no significant problems and my energy levels are fine. Time to go get ‘em.
As we begin the climb out of Twin Lakes, I remind Ashley that I’d had an awful time of this section in 2006. In fact, I walked the first 7 miles out of Twin Lakes when my energy levels fell to zero. I was so convinced that I was dropping during this stretch in 2006 that I was picking up lots of garbage along the trail. Not this time. Nope, I was out for revenge…. and I got it.
To keep it short, I have a great time running through the aspens with Ashley. We chat a bit, but I mostly stick to running. In a complete reversal of 2006, I run the majority of the climb out of Twin Lakes (I ran none of it then) and run smoothly on the rolling sections after the climb. I continue running problem free down the Colorado Trail or the dirt roads into the Box Canyon aid station.
Box Canyon 2 – mile 69-71ish – 13:13 (10) – 2006 - Halfmoon 2 - mile 69.5 – 14:33
While this was a new aid station in 2009, it’s location down the course is roughly equivalent to where Halfmoon was in 2006. It is certainly close enough to show I had my vengeance on previous section. What had been a 25 minute advantage over Bryon ’06 at Twin Lakes was now 80 minutes!
Of course, that was improvement over a dismal comparator. What of real comparisons? Well, it just so happens that I passed Andy Jones-Wilkins in this aid station. I’d made up 10 minutes on him since Twin Lakes. I’d also cut 12 minutes into the large cushion Garett Graubin’s had built on me.
Ashley and I keep pressing on. I still fell good and have no problems running the three and a half miles to the Treeline aid station where I am in and out without breaking stride. The only detractor is that the watermelon my crew had for me had either gone bad or my sense of taste was switching up for the worse. Either way, I couldn’t eat it.
I absolutely tore up the section from Halfmoon to Fish Hatchery in 2006. If I recall correctly, I had the fastest split for that section of any racer. I don’t need split times to know that the road run from Treeline to Fish Hatchery was no where near as quick in 2009. I don’t blow up here, but I am far from speedy. I try to have Ashley block the light wind. It doesn’t help. She offers her encouragement, but I stick to my heart rate limit of near 150 bpm and that means running slowly. As we approach the aid station and the road tips upward, my pace slows even more. My legs are tired and my energy is ebbing.
Fish Hatchery 2 - mile 76.5 – 14:35 (10… or 9th as Anton dropped out here) – 15:33 (??)
I have to admit that I’m really enjoying looking back and comparing my 2006 and 2009 races. For instance, I am amused that I was at Fish Hatchery this year in nearly the same time as I was at Halfmoon in 2006, which means I was a full 7 miles ahead of my 2006 race! Oh, if only things stayed so smooth!
My split into Fish Hatchery is a good indication of how things were changing as this year’s race progressed. Again they’re not directly comparable, but this year it took me a 1:22 to get from Box Canyon to FH where as it took me only 59 minutes to cover the ground from Halfmoon to FH in 2006. While I may have slowed, I wasn’t in an awful spot…. not yet.
At Fish Hatchery, Joe replaces Ashley as my pacer. He’d run the race before and had run the upcoming stretch to May Queen well in his race. This section was also a highlight of my 2006 race, as I was slower only than Anton. I was really looking forward to this section… until I got there.
I set out down the road with Joe. As usual, this road lasts longer than I like. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the previous slow road miles, so I’m happy when I turn on to the single track ahead of Powerline. After a flattish approach, we start climbing Powerline. This climb is not my friend this go around. The Shot Blok-containing puke that stained the climb (I would later learn those were Garett’s red Shot Bloks) should have tipped me off.
I start the climb hard and quickly become nauseous. I go quiet. I pass someone and they say there are 4 more runners within five minutes ahead of me. I respond I don’t care. I sip some water in an attempt to quell the nausea. Not so much. The nausea persists. I keep climbing and see some runners in the distance. Eventually, I catch and pass Garett. He’s green around the gills and I try to give him some encouragement. He says something about my placing and I respond “I don’t care about place.” It’s true – I’m worried only about not puking. Oh well. Shortly thereafter I’m at the side of the trail, hands on my knees, having a good puke. Mmm… watermelon. Garett passes me back. I puke some more. It was the first time in my seven 100 mile race attempts that I’ve thrown up. Truly a momentous occasion!
[Trail Tip for Garett: Have your pacer get at least one of us on film puking so we can be famous like AJW.]
I get up and get moving again. No point in standing around looking at vomit all day. It’s not long before I pass Garett again. He amiably quips something along the lines of “If you don’t care about place, how come you keep passing me?” I retort, “I merely want to be done this as soon as I can.” Aside from joking with Garett, I’m not having much fun at this point. It’s hard to believe, but five miles later I’ll be wishing I was having so much fun and feeling so good!
Umpteen false summits in the books, we finally crest the Powerline climb. It’s still light enough to descend all the way to the Colorado Trail without lamps. Although I’m not feeling great, I run the entire way down at an acceptable pace.
Headlamps or not, progress slows once we hit the Colorado Trail. As always, this stretch drags on. It’s not hard, but it’s far from easy. Unless you are fresh, it’s impossible to keep any momentum. There are far too many rocks and shifts in momentum for that. On this evening, the third and final bridge never seems to appear. Aside from the difficulty, the only thing that I can remember from this section is that I had my pacer drop way back. I wanted some alone time and also did not want to feel any pressure from behind while navigating the seemingly difficult terrain on tired legs.
May Queen 2 - mile 89.5 – 16:51 (Tie-7th) – 17:50 (??)
Just over 10 miles to go and still an hour lead over my 2006 time. Through some miracle, I was only a minute slower from Fish Hatchery than in 2006 when I smoked it. I don’t know what sort of space-time anomaly occurred, but I’m most thankful for it. I’m also befuddled by it. I’ll need to figure out how exactly I pulled this off! Regardless, the wheels were about to come off!
There’s something about hte May Queen aid station I can’t handle even though there’s only one other racer in it. Still too many people in an enclosed area. It’s weird that it bothers me, but it does. Anyway, I get out of there in a hurry. I leave the aid station without drinking water, as was my intention.
I’m not making great time, but do run some of the paved road. As I hit the dirt, I run less and less. I have Joe go ahead with my “Oh Shit” Light – the Petzl Ultra. He walks enough while I’m running that I have drop behind me. It’s too demoralizing for me to see him walk.
I’ve not eaten more than a gel or two in a couple hours. No sports drink either. I’ve got some flat Coke with me, but I can only drink a sip here and there. Not surprisingly, my energy starts to flag. Soon I can only keep my heart rate at 135 bpm. From prior experience, I’ve concluded that’s a sign that I’m only burning fat. Then my heart rates tops out at 125 bpm. Next up, a 115 bpm cap. Yikes. My ship is sinking and sinking fast. Woosh. Garett blows by after having made up the entire 10 minutes I had on him at May Queen. I cheer him on. Weakly. I have little strength for more.
The second HR trough is the mega-bonk around Turquoise Lake!
I try to keep walking on, but three or four times I sit on a rock or the uphill slope along the lakeside single track. I remain slightly nauseous and am now feeling faint. Not a good combination! I have no idea how long remains to the unofficial Boat Ramp aid station, though I suspect it’s about 2 miles. I am seriously uncertain whether I can make it that far. I keep walking… slowly.
Along the way to the boat ramp, I inform Joe that if I make it there, I’ll sit and eat for 10 or 15 minutes. I know that I’ll keep moving toward the finish for as long as I can, but things aren’t going improve from the very slow walk unless I manage to take in and hold down some calories.
Tabor Boat Ramp 2 – mile 93 – 18:17 (9th) – no 2006 split (8th)
Forever and a day later, we see the Boat Ramp. Joe runs ahead to tell Steve the plan. They quickly set up a chair and get to work on pulling refueling supplies. I make it into the aid station with the cheers of AJW’s boys before walking off the trail and into the lot where my car is parked. I sit down in a chair for the first time all day.
Steve pours me a Coke and I slowly take a sip. Joe and Steve keep pulling food out of the car and offering it to me. Nothing sounds good. I ask for Swedish Fish and they dutifully hand me a bag. I take some out, eat one, and hold on to the rest. I don’t do much more for the next 6 minutes or so. Eight minutes into the aid station stop, I decide that this isn’t doing any good – I’ve only managed a few sips of Coke, a little water, and a few Swedish Fish – so I get up and head for the trail.
The moment I hit the trail, I lay down and puke my guys out. Total rejection! My stomach wants no part of the eating business. I lay there on my side emptying my stomach on the ground… and then simply retching. I get up, brush myself off, and tell my pacer, “Let’s go.”
And like a light switch, I was on again! I wasn’t fast, but I could run and run I did. Not long after leaving the aid station, I hear more cheers from Andy’s boys. AJW is close behind me. I keep running. I have Joe go a good bit ahead with the Petzl Ultra. I’ve got plenty of lumens to light the benign trail, so his job is to pick his way through the open understory and keep us on the trail. So long as he’s within 30 meters, I pay vague attention to how he is moving for a sense of the general trail while I pick my own lines on the trail immediately in front of me.
As we round the east side of Turquoise Lake we receive a wave of cheers. It’s not even 11 p.m. and many of the folks camping around the lake have stayed up to give us a boost. As we head for the dam, the second, echoing round of cheers behind me keeps sounding of more and more quickly. AJW and his pacer, iRunFar contributor, Kevin Sullivan pass us. I cheer them on, too. AJW tells me something about place and I tell him I’m not racing, I’m only hoping to break 20 hours. He says, “It’s in the bag.” I’m not convinced.
I follow Andy’s and Kevin’s gradually disappearing lights down the dirt road to the Sugar Loafin’ campground and then the paved road. I’m encouraged that they take time to disappear. I keep running as we turn to the south on some double track. I walk the steep start to The Boulevard, the dirt road that takes us to town.
I keep looking at my Garmin. While I’m not sure how many miles I have left, that doesn’t stop me from checking the distance… or the time… frequently. Then the Garmin’s battery dies. I no longer even have an of idea how much time I have left to break 20 hours let alone the distance to the finish! I run on. In fact, I run almost the entire Boulevard. After the first climb, I don’t recall walking more three times and each of those was for a short, discrete amount of time.
I dig deep. I bear down and use my trekking poles for all they’re worth. I know I can save a few extra seconds per mile with them on the flats and maybe a bit more on this slight incline. My shoulders are burning more than my legs.
Eventually, we see the light at the end of the Boulevard. I ask Joe for the time of day and it’s something like 11:42. I think I’m under 20-hours but (1) I don’t know if and by how much Joe’s watch and the race clock differ and (2) I’m not there yet. It feels like it takes 8 minutes to reach the pavement in Leadville proper. Joe tells me the time again. I feel good about things. Joe takes my poles.
As we make the turn on to 6th Street I start to walk up the steep hill that greets us. Joe tells me that I need to run it. Twenty hours is too close a call to walk. I run up the hill. Joe drops off to give me my moment. I walk briefly near the top of the climb and then run again. I open up on the descent that brings me within two blocks of the finish. I then give what I have left in a “sprint” for the finish. I don’t see the official clock as I close in on the line. I break the tape. I’m done.
Finish – mile 100 – 19:54:26 (10th) – 20:42:26 (6th)
I immediately walk over towards the finish line bleachers, climb over the plastic fencing barricade, and lay down on the first row bleacher bench. I ask if I broke 20 hours. After a pause someone responds, “Yes.” It was all worth it. I’d broken 20 hours at the Leadville 100 and, for the first time, I had finished a 100 miler the same day I started.
I lay there for a few minutes before a race official asks if I’m ok. I say I’m dehydrated, but lucid. They decide to take me to the med tent. It takes a few attempts for me to cover the 30 meters even with assistance. They put me in a cot. I occasionally joke with Garett (7th) and AJW (9th), who are also receiving attention in the tent. After awhile I’m sick… and this time I find out that I’ve torn something in my stomach. Oh well, it’s still worth it! Even after another round of retching in the shower later that night, it was something I’d do all over again.
The run was hands down my best 100 mile race and I managed to have fun through the vast majority of it.
I couldn’t have done broken 20 hours without Steve taking care of me the whole way. Having a veteran 100 miler on my team was a huge asset!
Then there are my angelic pacers. I know they often felt like they weren’t helping me at all. They said as much, but they helped more than I can ever pout into words. However, as briefly as possible, they were off the charts in how willing they were to mule and were that extra presence and piece of mind with me for the second half of my race. [Speaking of pacer's, check out my former Western States pacer, Morgan Wilkinson's blog on which he discusses hiking the Colorado Trail this summer!]
What really made this race unique was having Garett [GG's short race report... still waiting for the full version, Garett] and AJW [AJW's race report] out there with me. To share the trail with these two friends was a treat. Being out there with them on a day in which we all broke 20 hours at Leadville – simply amazing. It’s something I’ll always cherish.
If you’re looking for more to read about the 2009 Leadville 100, I suggest you check out:
- 2009 Leadville champion, Tim Parr’s report on his first 100 miler!
- Third place finisher and 2008 Leadville champ, Duncan Callahan’s race report
- Anton Krupicka candidly writes about his record setting pace… and subsuquent DNF
- Vasque Product Manager, Brian Hall’s account of his first 100
- Andy Jones-Wilkins’s concise report, in case you missed it