Leadville 100 (aka Pipeline 72.5)

Leadville 100 (aka Pipeline 72.5)

August 21, 2010

I don’t even really know where to begin. Six weeks ago, there was no way I would have signed up for this race. I was wanting to wait until the Silver Rush 50 in order to decide whether I was ready for the 100 or not. But with the gobs of people signing up, they moved the last registration day up to July 15th instead of the 31st. I thought hard on it for a day or so and figured the only reason I would not sign up was because I was scared of failing again… so I signed the dotted line and figured the worst case scenario would be a DNF.

Silver Rush went great. Training went extremely well. I was ready.

In 2007 I jumped in with both feet, but was completely unprepared. I didn’t have a clue what it took to run 100 miles. I was undertrained, over tapered, went out too fast, and tore a hamstring early in the race having to drop at Twin Lakes outbound – 39.5 miles into the race. Pathetic and embarrassing. To make matters worse, I didn’t do what it took to heal and kept re-injuring the hammy for over a year. Lucky, meeting my bride to be, and doing the long distance relationship thing, then going through the first year of marriage kept me way off of anything resembling ultra training, and the hamstring healed! I started running again in January of this year and my first run of 3.75 miles (Lake Estes Loop) had me so sore I could barely sit on the pot! But I kept at it, increasing my mileage every week and in a couple of months was feeling good. Finished the Greenland 50k in 5:45ish and Silver Rush 50 miler in 11:22.

Now I found myself in Leadville, with a stomach stuffed full of butterflies, standing at 6th and Harrison, waiting for Ken to unload some buckshot into the dark high country night sending 800+ runners out on a jaunt to Winfield and back.

We were off. I have been using a low interval heart rate training method this year, so I didn’t have a clue what my pace would be, I was just going to keep my heart rate around 140 – 145 and see where that took me. I wasn’t even going to check any times until Twin Lakes and just wanted to be there around noon.

Me and my sugar just before the race.
Me and my sugar just before the race.

Start to May Queen (to mile 13.5)

My pace was nice and slow. I never got winded and just enjoyed doing what I love. I didn’t keep track of specific landmark splits, but felt like I was moving okay. It was nice to listen to the conversations around me, hear peoples stories, and just enjoy the excitement of the morning. I will say, it was nice to get to the single track around Turquoise Lake… after all, this is a trail race!

Going around the lake was a tad slower than I’d have liked, but I just settled in and enjoyed the easy pace. As the sun came up I got my usual dawn burst and was feeling perfect! I came into May Queen in 2:17. Nice and slow, but not lallygagging either… so I was happy. Jamie, Abbey, and Phil, my amazing crew, were in wait and I was soon heading up Sugarloaf Pass.


May Queen to Fish Hatchery (to mile 23.5)

Climbing Sugar Loaf Pass.
Climbing Sugar Loaf Pass.

Now it was the first climb of the day. My only plan was to keep the heart rate low. I settled in around 140, give or take, and had a very enjoyable climb up to the pass. At this point the sun was getting higher and it was an absolutely beautiful morning. That, coupled with the fact that I couldn’t have been feeling better, made me a very happy camper. I feel like I made good time on the climb and clipped right along the steep descent, keeping my speed in check on the very steep powerline section. I was having a ball. Running in the Leadville 100 and feeling infinitely better than I felt back in ’07.

I got to the paved road below the pass and basically just walked it into Fish Hatchery, running the flat or downhill sections, as I felt appropriate. I was in great shape as far as time goes so just took it easy. I was leaving Fish at the 4:30ish mark. I ran out of Fish in great spirits and was looking forward to the only 4 miles until pipeline.

Fish Hatchery to Halfmoon (to mile 31)

About mile 26.5 nearin Pipeline
About mile 26.5 nearing Pipeline

This section is broken up into two parts. It’s almost split down the middle by a crew access point known as Pipeline. From Fish to Pipeline it is pretty quick, and it’s a good thing because it is the least appealing part of the entire 100 mile course! It’s all paved and gradually uphill for the most part. The views, however, are great! I moseyed along making good time… I think I got here to Pipeline in 45 minutes. Jamie was there waiting for me again, and got me on my way in no time. I did stop to stretch out my hips, as they were getting a little tight, but got it done quick and I was soon heading down the dirt road on my way to Halfmoon.

This section, from Pipeline to Halfmoon, seemed a lot longer than it should have, and I had my first little low funk during this stretch. The road climbs gently through open hillside then through thickening forest. It’s hot and a bit dusty, but I just kept plodding along and made it to Halfmoon 6:19 into the race. The volunteers at this aid station were on it! They grabbed my bottles, filled them and had them back to me in the time it took me to grab an orange slice or two and head out of the station! They were awesome!

Halfmoon to Twin Lakes (to mile 39.5 miles)

Now we’re talking! I was super excited about this leg of the race. It’s one of the most beautiful and enjoyable to run. It climbs gradually along the Colorado Trail through aspen groves and sub alpine forest. I was feeling okay here, but the low was hanging around so I just settled into it, pumped the fuel in, and enjoyed being out in the mountains. My heart rate was staying low, which was good, I just kept feeling like crap. Fatigued and tired. I tried a NoDoz, and it helped a little, but that drained feeling hung around. Even though I wasn’t feeling too great, I was sure enjoying being where I was. There is simply nothing like trail running in Colorado… nothing!

I fell into a good group that kept me moving pretty well and we were all soon descending down towards Twin Lakes. It’s a steep and rocky descent, but goes by in no time and I pulled into Twin Lakes around the 8 hour mark. 39.5 down. At this point, I was not feeling very confident about my chances of finishing. My body was not responding well and I was very tired; not that my muscles were tired, I just felt drained and systemically fatigued. But other than that, I was okay, so I just told myself I’d plod along and see what happened. Now for Hope Pass!

Twin Lakes to Winfield (to mile 50)

Nearing the top of Hope Pass (looking NNE)
Nearing the top of Hope Pass (looking NNE)

From Twin Lakes, there is a flat mile or so with a few stream crossings before you start to climb up Hope Pass. I just power hiked this section hoping my low would go away. And it started to! I’m so glad it did because I was a little scared of the 3000+ foot climb ahead of me. I settled in, got a good rhythm going and marched up the hill! As I got higher I started feeling better and better and before long I was walking into Hopeless aid station, a station at tree line on the north side of the pass. This is a breathtaking place! The tents are nestled among the small trees, llamas and alpacas, how they get all of the supplies up to this remote spot, are scattered throughout this high valley, towering 13,000 foot summits stand guard high above, and hope pass, our two way door to Leadville glory, waits for us five hundred feet over our heads.

I grabbed a cup of powerade, and as I was turning to walk out of the aid station I noticed fellow Idiot Olan Young. He was sitting with his back against a log looking like a zombie! He hadn’t been able to keep anything down since Fish Hatchery and was definitely having an off day. I touched base with him, he assured me he was okay, so I wished him well and went on my way. Leadville is a vicious animal. Olan, with a solid finish in ’09 and even more and better training under his belt this year, was feeling the effects of this brutal course (as were many other runners I would put in a class much higher than my own!). You just never know when you get into these kind of distances. But that’s why we run them! It never gets “easy” to run 100 miles, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

I wished Olan well, and started the last push to the top of the pass. I was in my favorite place in the world, Colorado’s Alpine Tundra, in the race of races, and feeling great, aside from a little “type 2 fun” style pain! I set a pretty good clip and topped out in about 16 minutes from Hopeless. What a view from up here! Leadville looked so small and far away in the north end of the Arkansas River Valley. Wow! Now I had a brutal descent ahead of me so I re-focused and started jogging down the south side of the pass. This went by pretty quick, aside from passing all of the people coming back up for round two. I saw Pete Stevenson here with his pacer, Eric Lee, fellow Special Idiots. We chatted for a few minutes touching base on how the rest of the crew was doing. It was awesome to see some familiar faces on the trail!

I kept on keeping on and soon made it down to the road leading to Winfield. I was way ahead of the schedule in my head so decided to just walk it into the 50 mile mark. It’s a 2+ mile stretch of dusty dirt road and I had 50 minutes to get to Winfield to make my 12 hour goal, so I took it nice and easy, stopping to talk to friends as they were heading back down the road and simply enjoying the day and relishing in the fact that Hope Pass made me feel stronger!

I jogged the last little bit into the aid station and was there around the 11:45 mark. I sat with my crew, drank some, chatted about the pass, then went into the aid station to get weighed and make the 50 mile mark official. I was spot on with my hydration and nutrition up to this point. At the medical check before the race I was exactly 165 lbs, and there at Winfield I was 164.9. I was pumped! I came out of the aid station with Brian, my pacer, and we were soon heading back down the road. We left Winfield 11:55 into the race.

Winfield to Twin Lakes (to mile 60.5)

Cruising back into Twin Lake - Mile 60.5
Cruising back into Twin Lakes - Mile 60.5

Brian and I made decent time back down the road. Running a bit and walking a bit, just keeping the heart rate low. It was here I saw Olan again and he looked a little better. He would drop at Winfield, unfortunately, but it was a good thing as he was in pretty bad shape. My good friend Mike Poland had to drop at Winfield as well. In a sub 20 hour attempt, he rolled his ankle at mile 8! It was a bad sprain too and looked like an ostrich egg at Winfield. He made the good decision to bow out and save it for another day.

So, now back up Hope Pass, and this is the bad side! I definitely hit my worst low of the day here. It’s super steep and after running 52.3 miles, it hurts like hell! I have never heard of anyone having a good spell here… it flat sucks, or I guess I should say, it steep sucks! As bad as I felt, I did get a good pace set and just kept it steady for the most part. Up towards the top I was feeling like complete crap and did take a couple of short (1 minute) sit down breaks. These didn’t help so I kept them to a minimum. After what seemed like two years, we were finally getting close to the top. I don’t know if I have ever been happier getting to the top of a pass as I was here. It’s a monumental moment in your Pbville 100 experience. Maybe you didn’t “beat” Hope Pass, but you, at the very least, meekly settled on some sort of agreement with it to let you by. Either way, great job! It’s behind you! As is most of the climbing you’ll do during the race!

Since I did have such a crappy low on the way up, I decided to walk it into Hopeless. Here Ning and Mike Priddy (her pacer) passed us. We’d leap frog with them for quite a while and it was tons of fun to see them… Ning’s awesome and a blast to run with, and Mike is a joy to be around. So it was a good duo to flip flop with! Below Hopeless I started to run and had a small pain in my left ankle. I didn’t roll it, so just figured it was one of those normal running pangs. Looking back, I felt the same thing coming UP Hope on the outbound ascent, but it had gone away in a minute or so… no big deal. With this one I just decided to walk a bit longer to loosen it up.  This seemed to work and within 10 minutes we were running very well down toward Twin Lakes. So good in fact that I was running sub 8 minute pace for a while as we descended. I was feeling great! Strong, tons of energy, getting more excited by the mile and actually feeling stronger with every mile that passed.

Brian and I were enjoying the evening light as we made the stream crossings once again. I was just hiking this section with little spurts of running as I saw fit and it wasn’t too long before we were cruising into Twin Lakes.

I took an extended stop here to use the toilet, get extra layers, make sure I had my headlamp, etc. Again, with my great crew I was all set!

Twin Lakes to Halfmoon (to mile 68)

Here was where my race would be decided. My goal for this race was to be able to run strong along the Colorado Trail on this leg and from Halfmoon to Fish. There was a 1300ish foot climb I had to get up first, then there were miles and miles of gentle downhill terrain that if one could run, you could make up hours. As good as I was feeling, we blew up the climb in about half an hour, a kiss more. My heart rate had really settled in and I had it pegged at 140, nice and easy. If I had to walk most of these last 40 miles, I was still looking at a sub 27  hour finish, given everything else went okay. As strong as I was feeling, if I could run to Fish, I would be looking at a 25+ hour finish, which would be absolutely incredible! I was more than excited and was itching to top out of this climb so I could run.

By this point the headlamps were on and the terrain had flattened. It was time! I broke into a jog and OUCH! That ankle was not liking the running. Okay, same as before. I’ll walk to get the downhill systems working again. We walked for 10 minutes or so, then I tried to run again. OUCH! Even worse. Okay, walk some more. But this time it didn’t go away as I walked and kept getting worse. The pain wasn’t unbearable, so I figured I’d just walk until it got better. No worries. My main goal was to finish and any good time would just be gravy. I had plenty of time to walk it in, so, though dissapointed, I was resigning to the fact that this may be a long and ugly finish, but a finish nonetheless.

So we kept walking. I was trying to suck it up and not wince at the pain, as it was getting pretty bad. The trail is tilted here on the Colorado Trail, from left to right, and this angle was excruciating. So much so that it was starting to get me nauseated. Brain, being the awesome pacer that he was, went out into the woods and found me a good walking stick. This helped for a while, but soon anything that wasn’t slightly downhill and level made me want to puke. I was starting to get scared that my chances of even finishing were slowly being flushed away into that cold mountain night. One step at a time. Let’s get to Halfmoon, get this thing taped up, and go from there. So that’s what we did. I limped into Halfmoon, spirits still high and energy still there, but limped in.

Halfmoon looked like a war zone. People strewn out all over the place. One chick was bent over shaking violently and vomiting while her pacer was trying to urge her out of the aid station to continue. The medics were arranging ambulance rides for a couple of people. It was a mess! I felt bad taking the attention away from someone who actually had a legit reason for medical help while I got my ankle taped. But, oh well, what are you gonna do? The medics looked at me like I was crazy when I told them that nothing happened, that I had not rolled my ankle. They asked, assumingly, if I did roll it but just forgot. I laughed and told them it was a totally reasonable question considering the state of so many people, but no, I definitely did not roll it. He looked it over and told me it was posterior tibial tendinitis. He taped it up, gave me some tylenol, and sent me on my way.

Halfmoon to Pipeline (to 72.5 miles)

It felt a little better for a few minutes, then got far worse. I was nauseated again and started throwing up some frothy throat bile, trying my best to hold back the full blown puke… I needed those calories. The pain was just too intense. If I was on level ground that was slightly downhill, I could still move over three miles per hour, but ANY pitch to the trail and I was hunched over trying not to spew. Luckily the road to Pipeline was nice gentle downhill with mostly level terrain. But there were these pesky pot holes and wash outs that I wouldn’t catch until it was too late and stepping into one of those was like getting hit in the ankle with a baseball bat. The pain really started to take it’s toll on me and my ankle. I was getting drained and the ankle was getting worse, so my pace slowed to a crawl.

New game plan. Get to Pipeline, rest for a few minutes, then get on the paved road to Fish Hatchery and see if anything improved with the consistent, even surface. I still had hope, but knew it would be ugly. And the thought of sugar loaf pass was pretty dang scary because of the rough uneven terrain.

Barely able to walk down the dirt road we finally came into the large open area that is Pipeline at approx 19:40 into the race. I was in bad shape, but again, not nearly as bad as some of the poor brave souls hunched over and shuffling down the trail. This did give me some more hope and I was anxious to get on the paved road. I finally made it to Jamie and the crew vehicle. I sat down, ate some crackers, drank some gatorade, and was feeling pretty good with the weight off my ankle. This definitely lifted my spirits, as I knew I still had many more strong miles in me if this ankle would settle down. In hindsight I was being way too optimistic, which is a trait I will take pleasure in keeping, and had a skewed view of what I should do. I asked Brian if he wanted to go for a little hike, he was game, so I stood up and started walking toward the paved road and Fish Hatchery, just 4 miles way. But 40 yards out and I was frothing at the mouth again, hunched over in instant and intense pain. Damn it! I knew, right there, my day was done. I could push it to Fish, but getting over sugar loaf would have taken me 10 hours with how I had to walk on anything even remotely uneven. Not good for a 100 mile trail race.

I walked back to the car, still in too much pain to be dissapointed yet, and told my crew that I was done. Jamie had tears in her eyes, she knew how bad I wanted this. And to drop for something stupid like this… out of the blue and with no previous issues before. If I was totally beat I may feel better about it. But my legs felt great (other than the ankle), and my energy level has only increased since the top of Hope.

The reason I dropped? Yes, the pain was bad, very bad. But I dropped more so for the love I have for mountain running! Sure, I could push to Fish, attempt sugar loaf, but I knew, for a fact, I would not make the cut off at Mayqueen.  With the pain and how I was having to move to attempt (unsuccessfully) at keeping the pain down, something was seriously wrong in that ankle and if I had pushed, there was no telling what damage it could have done. Yeah, I know. Excuses. Bottom line, I DNF’d. It doesn’t really matter why. But I want to run this fall, this winter, and be back in even better form next August. Continuing would have jeopardized those mid range goals. Almost two weeks later and I’m just now able to jog without much pain in the ankle. Anyway.

Red dot = where I had to drop... so close!
Red dot = where I had to drop... so close!

Afterthoughts

Even with the extreme disappointment, I left Leadville far more confident than when i arrived!

In 2007 I had no business attempting this race. I was not in any kind of condition to run 100 miles and it was obvious. This year was different. I approached training 100% differently. Miles, time, heart rate, nutrition, flexibility, climbing, etc. Everything about this race, aside from the ankle, went almost perfectly. My pace was exactly what I wanted. Fueling, hydration, and nutrition were just about flawless. My volume and type of training paid off and it showed in the fact that I got stronger as the miles rolled by. And the fact that I had absolutely NO soreness (none) anywhere but the ankle in the days following the race was remarkable, in my opinion.

So all in all, I’m happy. I extended my longest run by 21.5 miles. My body, in general, performed very well, and I had an absolute blast doing it. Obviously I’m extremely dissapointed in the fact that I Did Not Finish.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow for sure. But a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, so I’m trying to look at the sweetness of the day to take into my training and future races.

It has been a mental issue in this week or so after the race. This was completely out of left field as I’ve never had any issues like this before. Especially since I felt as if I prepared so well, got my systems and muscles in incredible shape, and was otherwise ready for this race. Just goes to show that a lot can happen during 100 miles! Oh well… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! Here’s to Leadville 2011!

A HUGE congrats to all of you Leadville 100 finishers! What a spectacular race and a fantastic group of people. It was a joy to be out there with you all and I can’t wait until next year!

It’s amazing how many miles we’ll run in order to find out what’s right inside of us! I guess that’s why we’re Special Idiots!

So sorry the video is so long… mainly for my family’s sake, as they were not able to be there. Watch if you want and enjoy! Pics below as well!

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3 thoughts on “Leadville 100 (aka Pipeline 72.5)

  1. You captured the odyssey that was Leadville ’10: the peaks; the valleys; the exhilaration of seeing friends on the trail; the struggle to keep on moving in the face of pain and fatigue and sabotage by body and the seemingly endless hours of night.

    I have not yet composed my own thoughts of my experience at Leadville, not quite knowing where to start, but your insights and candor and enthusiasm (as well as your gritty resolve) have sparked the desire, at least, to articulate what the race meant to me.

    Thanks so much for this and for sharing the experience. Seeing you and Brian on the trail was truly one of the great highlights of the race for me. It was during those times that I felt I had great company, wrestling with that wily, patient, ferocious tiger (the race; the mind; the fight).

    Have an adventure-filled year of training — may it be amazing and incredible and inspiring — and see you on the trails!

    Ning.

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