2009 Leadville 100 Trail Run

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog.  This is mostly due to laziness on my part.  Besides that, everything I have been doing this summer was in preparation for the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run.  Instead of going back and doing individual writeups for each trip, I’ll briefly describe them here.

Lake below Bishop Pass-Sierra Nevada, CA

Lake below Bishop Pass-Sierra Nevada, CA

In July I went to the Sierras for some mountain running with my friend Shane.  On the way out there we stopped in Beatty as this dive Mexican restaurant where, amazingly, this knock out Romanian broad was working.  I managed, mostly-well not at all, to keep my tongue in my mouth.  We camped outside of Bishop and spent 3 days running from the major trailheads in the area; North Lake, South Lake, and Lake Sabrina.  I had a great time on this trip.  We didn’t do any huge mileage runs but we got a lot of time on our feet.  In addition to the runs, camping at 9500′ provided some great altitude training.  One day we visited the Manzanar Internment Camp.  This was one of the major Japanese internment camps during WWII and one of only two preserved.  I guess it’s not exactly proper to say I greatly enjoyed the experience but for lack of a better expression, I did.  One of the most moving stories in the exhibit is that of Sado Munemori.  He was posthumously, he jumped on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  This medal was presented to his mother, in Manzanar.

View of Mt. Rainier along race

View of Mt. Rainier along White River 50

Next I went up to Washington for the White River 50 ultramarathon.  This was my first event outside of the Southwest.  I was also excited to run in the forest and in some cooler weather.  The race went well although they had some record temps for the event.  While it was cooler than Vegas by a long shot, the humidity got to me and I got sick about mile 44 (second race in a row I got sick at mile 44).  I couldn’t even keep water down after this but luckily I only had about 8 miles left.  These were pretty rough miles and I stopped several times to let my stomach settle.  I ended up finishing in 9hr 43min.  Which isn’t too bad for this tough race.

Mt. Langley on right. Cirque Peak on left, I think

Mt. Langley on right. Cirque Peak on left, I think

The next weekend I was already feeling pretty good and decided to make an impromptu trip back to the Sierras.  I drove up Friday afternoon and camped just outside of Lone Pine.  In the morning I packed up my camp and drove up to the Horseshoe Meadow trailhead.  I ascended Mt. Langley which is one of the California 14,000 ft peaks.  It took me about six hours and I felt pretty good in the altitude.  The next day I ran up and over Kearsarge Pass.  This is one of the main entry trails into the Sierras and I hadn’t been on it before.  It was very beautiful and perfect for running.  The pass was about 11,7o0 feet and I dropped on the other side for a few miles before turning back.  This ended up being a really fun trip and I was really happy not only how good I felt just a week after a 50 miler but how well I was doing at elevation.

Leadville

After a long summer of training and anticipation, the time for Leadville had finally come.  The Tuesday before the race I started driving up after work.  Around nine I found a sweet campground about 30 minutes north of Cedar City Utah.  I ran a few miles in the morning and headed East.  I had plenty of time to get to Leadville so I stopped at all those view points you see along the highway.  Eastern Utah is quite beautiful and none of them disappointed.  As I pulled up to one I there was this beautiful car.

San Raphael Swell

San Raphael Swell

I got to Leadville in the afternoon and found a campsite at Turquoise Lake.  I just hung out the next couple of days.  I read a lot and hung out in town.  Leadville is a really cool town.  In the late nineteenth century it was a wealthy boom town that rivaled Denver in importance.  A couple of days before the race a Black Hawk helicopter went down on Mt. Massive. Amazingly this is the second race I’ve done where a military helicopter crashed in the days before the race resulting in fatalities.  I’m not superstitious at all but this was kind of eerie.  Four soldiers died in this crash while doing routine exercises.

The night before the race I didn’t sleep much.  This was due in part for my excitement for the race, and partly due to the riff raft that came in on Friday and decided to blow it out.  I finally crashed around 11:30 and felt surprisingly refreshed at my 2:30 wake up time.  Before I knew it I was standing with over 500 other nut jobs at the starting line on 6th Street in Leadville.  Despite the 4am start time of the race the town was buzzing.  Several businesses were open and people were in their yards vigorously cheering us on as we passed.  This course was an out and back meaning once you hit 50 miles, you retraced your steps back.  The race went by fairly quickly early on.  The sun came up as we passed Turquoise Lake; unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the views much because we were fairly tight together and rocks kept me looking at the ground.  I entered the May Queen aid station (mile 13.5) about 2:20 into the race.  I grabbed some fruit and headed out.  The next section got a little more interesting with our first climb of the day.  It was fairly long but not too bad and soon enough I crested and steadily made my way downhill.  About 4:30 into race I arrived at the Fish Hatcher aid Station (mile 24.5).  I was happy with how things were going although I was concerned with my shin.  It started hurting a bit about mile 20.  I couldn’t do much but hope it didn’t get worse.  After a few miles of paved and dirt roads I started climbing again.  I was still feeling good but it was really starting to get warm out.  Warm, that is, for Leadville standards.  Last year’s race had sleet, snow, and many runners dropped from the severe cold.  The next aid station was at the top of this climb and I decided to leave

Near campsite at Turquoise Lake. Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert in background

my headlamp because I had another waiting for me at the next aid station (mile 40/60).  This decision almost proved to be an end to my race because my drop bag never arrived at the next aid station.

I still had plenty of strength and energy but my shin was slowly getting worse.  Moreover, the outside of my right knee started hurting.  One expects running 100 miles to hurt so I didn’t worry too much.  Again, there wasn’t much I could do but keep moving and see what happens.  Not much happened for the next couple of hours.  However, this was all about to change as I started up Hope Pass.  Hope Pass at 12,600 feet is not only the high point of the race, but it is by far the toughest climb of the day.  Moreover, because the race is an out and back, you have to cross it twice.  I hiked up at a brisk pace but kept in mind that I still had a long way to go.  For the third race in a row I got sick at mile 44.  This was pretty ridiculous and enjoyed the irony even as I sat along the trail next to a pile of cantaloupe and ham.  Once the retching stopped I continued up Hope Pass.  I caught up with a guy, LT, I had met at another race and kept in contact with.  We ended up staying with each other for the rest of the race.  Sometime around the end of time I finally reached the top of Hope Pass and I looked down at the 4000 ft decent I was about to take on.  Of course, soon enough I was going to have to come back up this stretch.  I was hurting pretty bad when we reached the bottom and walked 3 miles along this dirt road to the Winfield aid station (mile 50).  I was really starting to doubt if I could finish.  I actually wanted to quit pretty bad at this point.  I sat there and had some Coke and soup and eventually started to feel better reached the turnaround in 12 hours and had 18 hours to finish the race  under the cutoff.  As bad as I felt, I figured I could finish in this time.  Additionally, as other runners poured into the aid station, most of them looked worse than I felt.  LT had an extra headlamp so I couldn’t use that excuse to quit either.  After sitting for about 45 minutes we set out.

LT and I at the half way point

LT and I at the half way point

The climb back up Hope Pass was pretty brutal.  My legs actually felt pretty good and we got in line with a few other runners.  Finally, we reached the pass and entered the Hopeless aid station.  I had some soup and coffee before heading down.  Being that I had given up on all of my finishing goals, I spent quite a bit of time at the aid stations.  I’m afraid to look it up but I’m sure I spent around 2 hours in aid stations the second half of the race.  Spending so much time gave me some time to rest but also caused my legs to tighten up and I felt horrible leaving each one.  I knew wasting time in aid stations is an ultrarunning no no, but it felt pretty damn good so I broke with logic.  LT and I flew down the hill back to Twin Lakes.  It felt good to be running again after several hours of walking.  We may have over did it a little but I actually felt pretty fresh.  Having hardly eaten since 4am and this was about 6pm, the coffee felt a lot more potent and this probably contributed to my energy burst.  At the bottom of the hill we crossed a shallow river and darkness came as we entered the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 60.

Again we wasted way too much time here.  I was having some more soup and I looked over and LT had a beer in his hand.  After a double take I asked for some and we shared a beer in the middle of a 100 mile race.  While not advisable this was pretty damn awesome.  We finally got off our asses and started into the darkness.  Shortly I had to make a pit stop in the woods and LT moved on.  The soup didn’t sit right almost from the start and I dislodged it like the Exorcist once I stepped back on the trail.  Two guys passed by me without saying anything and I kind of laughed at how it must have looked.  I tried to power up the trail to catch LT but gave up after about a half hour.  I still had 35 miles to go and needed to save some energy.  By this time my shin wasn’t just an annoyance but downright excruciating.  I had the energy to jog still, even uphill, but every time I tried it just hurt too bad after a few steps.  So I was content to walk for now.

Cresting Hope Pass

Cresting Hope Pass

As I entered the next aid station (mile 70) I found LT chilling with some coffee.  I was glad to see him again because I wasn’t really looking forward to walking through the whole night alone.  We kept calculating how much time we had left and how many miles to go to make sure we were on schedule to beat the cutoff.  At this point in the race this wasn’t as simple as it sounded.  I don’t remember too much until we got to the Fish Hatchery.  I felt pretty bad but couldn’t think of a good enough reason to drop.  Even though we were about 75% done with the race we still had 25 miles to go.  We shuffled down the road until we got to the turnoff back on trails to the last big climb of the race.  Of course, somebody came through in the hours since we had descended this same track and at least tripled it’s length.  By some miracle we reached the top and finally started back downhill.  Unfortunately, going downhill hurt my shin a lot more than uphill but there really wasn’t any quitting at this point.

A couple hours later we reached the final aid station.  We still had 13.5 miles to go but it didn’t involve any huge climbs or descents.  The sun rose for the second time as we traveled along Turquoise Lake.  This time I made certain to enjoy the view.  This made for some very beautiful sights.  However, once we left the single track along the lake the race really started to drag once we were on the dirt and paved roads leading back into town.  At one point we were about 1 mile from the finish but the course veered in the opposite direction and we still had about 4 miles to go.  We had plenty of time to finish but I was hurting, tired, and really just wanted to be done.  LT’s back was killing him and we stopped a few times and I stuck my thumb into it…his sore spot….on his back.  At last I was on 6th Street heading along the final mile of the race.  I couldn’t keep up with LT’s walk so he “sped” ahead.  Even though the people along the street didn’t know me from shinola, they were cheered loudly as I crossed the finish line.  The race director put a medal around my neck and somebody led me to the medical check where I was weighed.  According to the scale I had only lost 5 pounds during the race but I don’t think this was accurate because I had lost 7 by the 50 mile mark.  Nevertheless this wasn’t a dangerous level of weight loss.  LT was laying down and he congratulated me on my first 100.

Finish

Finish

Even though it was killing, I couldn’t feel sorry for myself about my shin.  Other runners were in really bad shape.  After laying there for about 10 minutes one guys stood up, took a breath, and fell back down on the cot.  Another guy had obviously taken a bad spill sometime in the night and his leg was pretty jacked up.

I went back to my camp and sat in the lake for about 10 minutes to hopefully reduce some swelling.  I didn’t have time to sleep because there was an awards ceremony at noon.  After getting our finishers’ buckles, we went and got some food.  Despite having run 100 miles and being up for 34 hours I wasn’t all that tired yet.  After finally getting some real food I went back to camp and laid down in my tent where I promptly zonked out.  A few hours later I was waken by the rain hitting my tent.  After thinking about the situation I decided to break camp and get on the road.  I drove a few hours to Grand Junction, CO where I got a hotel.  My foot and ankle had swelled up like a balloon and I limped down the hall to get some ice.  This head start really helped the next day on the rest of the drive.

Under 30 hrs buckle

Under 30 hrs buckle

It’s been a few weeks since the race ended.  I’m just now got to this write up because I’ve been a lot busier now that school has started.  I was hurting for about a week and a half after the race but that has subsided.  I may not be 100% recovered but  I felt pretty good on a 22 mile run today.  I finished the race in 29:23.  While finishing was my ultimate goal, I wish I did better.  On the other hand, given my injuries I couldn’t have gone much faster.  I’m already looking for something to do next.  Probably another trip to Grand Canyon in October and maybe a 50 mile race in November if I can find one close.

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2 responses to “2009 Leadville 100 Trail Run

  1. Dave Blankenship

    Enjoyed your Leadville write-up. I’m running it this year as my first 100 and have some Colorado buddies crewing. After reading your experience I can only imagine what it’s going to take as a “flat-lander” (Ohio) to get through it.

  2. Appreciate your article. I am also from the midwest. Would like to know how u prepared for the elevation while at home. I plan on running Leadville in 2011.

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