The Leadville 100 has captivated me from the moment I first heard about it as a kid. I grew up in Aspen, just over Independence Pass from the town of Leadville. I drove through Leadville every time I went to Denver, so when I heard about a local Aspenite, Skip Hamilton winning a hundred mile race in Leadville, I was intrigued. Then in 1999, I had the opportunity to crew my college friend and CU teammate, Jay Pozner, who finished second in the race. Now, I was really hooked! I knew I had to do this race. It took nearly a decade for me to actually toe the line at Leadville, but I did so in 2008, finishing third, and again in 2010, finishing second.
Therefore, when the headlamps lit up Sixth Street just after four last Saturday, I was filled with excited anticipation. The chatter down the boulevard was somewhat restrained as we moved through the pre-dawn morning. With the exception of Thomas Lorblanchet’s fall, where he took out another runner as well, the trip around Turquoise was smooth and swift. At May Queen (mile 13), my crew flawlessly switched empty gels with full ones and traded me for a full bottle of water. I shut my headlamp off shortly after the aid station as a group of five of us, including: Nick Clark, Tony Krupicka, Mike Aish, Thomas and I climbed to the top of Sugarloaf Pass. I joked about who was gunning for the $500 prize at the top of Hope Pass. The only response was Tony’s reminder that there were many miles before Hope. The pace felt quick but comfortable, and we rapidly descended to the Fish Hatchery (mile 23).
Upon leaving the Fish Hatchery, our group of five had slightly splintered, but it regrouped along the road. Mike was worried about the pace being too slow, while Thomas said that we were too fast, ahead of Matt Carpenter’s course record pace. Being a watchless runner, this was the first I heard of our quick pace. I knew we were running fast, but I felt pretty comfortable to this point. Immediately following the paved section, we hit Treeline crew point where my orange clad crew had looks of concern. It was shortly after this point that I made the decision to back off the effort just a little. This seemed to do the right thing to do physiologically, my body felt better, but mentally it was a setback as I lost contact with the leaders. When I arrived in Twin Lakes (mile 40), I had pretty much resigned myself to finishing fifth, or possibly fourth if someone up front blew up. I forgot that this was a hundred mile race.
Lackluster, that is how I would characterize my ascent of Hope Pass. My head was really trying to get me to slow down. Unbelievably, just after beginning the decent I passed Mike Aish, who indicated that his competitive day was done, due to shot legs. Suddenly, I was in fourth and the podium was within reach, but I had no visual on third and soon ran into Tony, then Thomas, hot on his heels, as they began their climb back up hope. I thought to myself, that’s the last I’ll see of those guys. I suffered through the new Winfield trail; desperately wanting to descend to the aid station as I ran right past it. Just a few minutes outside of the aid station at Winfield (mile 50) I bumped into Nick Clark running strong up the dirt road. A glimmer of hope returned as I was not too far behind him.
At Winfield I picked up my first pacer, Jeremy Duncan, a training partner and dear friend who finished third at Jemez this spring. Jeremy’s presence immediately lifted my spirits. He knows me well as a runner and kept reminding me of the training I had done. My curiosity got the best of me when we were leaving the aid station, and I asked Jeremy what time it was. He told me it was twelve, meaning I had run the first half in eight hours. We climbed back up Hope steady but not fast. Near the summit of the pass we got visual on Nick; it seemed we had made up some time during the climb. I descended as fast as I could, thoroughly enjoying the well wishes of the rest of the runners who graciously stepped off the trail. Thanks for your encouragement!
Running into the Twin Lakes aid station (mile 60), I heard the cheers of my big sister, Beth. I was so happy to see her until she informed me that I was eight minutes back from Nick, and thirty-three behind Tony who was leading Thomas at the time. This was not exactly good news. Then, the most incredible surge of positive energy slapped me in the face. I turned the corner from the parking lot to cross the road and my normally large crew had ballooned into a giant mass of orange. (My crew had orange t-shirts with a picture of me riding a mechanical bull.) It fueled my emotional and spiritual reservoir and I marched out of the aid station with my new pacer, Zach Woodward, headed for the Colorado Trail.
Zach, a first year law student at DU, had joined me on several key training runs this summer and so he too knew just how to motivate me. Zach and I keep a good pace and we heard from the Mount Elbert aid station crew that Nick was only four minutes ahead, so we had again made up time while climbing. When Zach and I pulled into the Half Pipe aid station (mile 70) my childhood friend, Matt Fields, was waiting with two delicious looking cups of Coke. I swallowed those quickly, stuffed my face and hands with watermelon and headed down the dirt road with Matt. We hit a nice headwind as we were making our way to Treeline where team “Viva Zeke” was really getting worked up. It seemed Nick was still only five or six minutes away and Tony’s lead had shrunk to seventeen minutes. I was feeling totally uncomfortable, but manageable and strong. Matt escorted me to the Fish Hatchery (mile 77) where I picked up my final pacer, my brother, Alex Tiernan.
Alex had paced me over the final twenty-three at Leadville twice before and it was not pretty either time. I was reduced to walking huge runnable sections of the course. This time we were determined to finish the race. He had paced me to a brilliant last twenty in June at Western States and we wanted the same result in Leadville. We got it! Marching to my brother’s mantra of, “methodical, baby, methodical,” we steadily climbed the Powerlines, where we were greeted with a visual of, not only Nick, but also Tony. We charged down the hill passing Tony and his pacer, Scott Jurek, but Nick maintained his lead until we hit the grated road where Alex and I passed him and his pacer, Dylan Bowman. Suddenly, I was in second place and feeling pretty strong still. Then a spectator told us we were only ten minutes off the leader and we got super excited and ran too fast for fifteen or twenty minutes. The spectator was likely mistaken, because when we hit May Queen, my sister, Beth, updated us that we were fifteen minutes back. My crew was surprised to see us as they did not expect us so quickly, and we pretty much just rolled through the aid station.
The run back around the lake was unlike any run I had done there prior because it was light out. When I looked over my shoulder and saw the fading sun I began to realize I was running a fast time, and even if Thomas held his advantage, this was still going to be a pretty special race. Running through the twilight, rarely speaking, enjoying the cheers of the shocked campers as we blazed past their campfires, with my brother is something I will always cherish. Another Leadville first occurred when we hit the Boulevard, I was actually running! Finally, when we hit Sixth Street, I asked Alex the time. He told me it was 8:40! I was stunned, but immediately began to muster whatever kick I had left. I crumbled in the arms of my wife, tried to kiss my little girl and searched for something carbonated. Leadville has been a part of me since childhood and I love running there.