Strains, Pains, and Belt Buckles

leadville-logo“I believe that if you set out on an adventure and you’re absolutely convinced you are going to be successful, why bother starting?” — Sir Edmund Hillary

The temperature was in the mid-40s at the start of the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 run.  I was one among more than 500 fidgety runners trying to stay loose while thinking about the big race ahead.

Then at 4 AM, the shotgun was fired and we were off, heading downhill and out of town under beautiful starry skies.

The first five miles are mostly gravel roads, which are great to warm up on. Then there are a couple steep, rocky climbs before we start on 8 miles of rolling Turquoise Lake singletrack.

Somewhere along the trail, I get passed by a real quick woman wearing knee high white socks. I thought it was a hot fashion statement, but they’re compression socks. Many of the ultra-runners were wearing them. They apparently improve circulation and speed recovery.

The first aid station, Mayqueen is at mile 13.5 and I’m in 58th place. Not bad. I’m trying to start a little slower than in years past.

As planned, I don’t stop and continue on the Colorado Trail, climb Hagerman’s Pass, run down the very steep Powerline descent and eventually head into the Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 23.5). The temperature is really starting to warm up, so I remove my arm warmers. I also try eating a Balance bar for protein but it takes me forever to finish it off while running.

After 30 miles, I arrive at the Box Creek aid station. So far, it’s been an uneventful race. I don’t feel fast but I’m doing fine. The sun is really coming out in full force and making this a hot race — which I typically don’t do well in. Anticipating that, I’m starting to consume about 2 electrolyte (salt) tablets per hour.

During this section, some older, skinny gentleman catches up to me. He’s got a thin bead of snot between his nose and lip. As he passes me, he looks back at my crotch. Then again.  Then a third time.

“Dude, can I help you?”

He responds that he is just trying to read my race number. At Leadville, returning racers are assigned numbers based on their finish the previous year.

“I’m number 120.”

Fine, it was a suitable excuse for the look backs, but wipe your nose, runner.

At mile 37 the race became a whole lot more eventful. I turned my right ankle hard while stepping on some small boulders. I hear a few pops and nearly fall to the ground. I start limping along the trail and swearing (only as a means to relieve pain. Uh-huh.) Am I going to finish now? I was so convinced at the start. Damn it, Hillary!

My limp turns to a shuffle as I press on. While the trail is very narrow, my sprained ankle is on the upslope side of the trail, so there’s less chance of my rolling it again. On the descents I trying keeping my right foot angled outward, again to reduce the chance for more damage.

Eventually I hobble into Twin Lakes aid station at mile 39.5. I track down a race medic and get my ankle wrapped. She does a great job. It’s really tight but she assures me it’ll loosen up over the next 60 miles.

I’d started this race in running shoes because most of the early course sections include gravel roads, paved roads, and Jeep trails. In looking back, perhaps that wasn’t the best idea since road shoes can be less stable than trail shoes. No matter, I grab my trail shoes from my drop bag, pull them on, and head back out onto the race course.

During a big river crossing, I wash the salt residue from my face and reapplying sun screen. The cold water feels great.

Next up? A 3,600 foot climb up Hope Pass. Fortunately the wrapped ankle doesn’t feel too bad when heading upward.

However, the descent off of the mountain is another story. Going down super steep and rocky descents requires a lot of ankle strength. I stop often to let other runners pass.

Another racer’s video from the 2009 event

Once off the mountain and into the Winfield aid station (mile 50), a spectator yells, “Keep your chin up!” I stop in my tracks and ask, “Really? Do I look that bad?”

Apparently, yes.

I’m overheating in the hot sun. The race volunteers have started measuring our weight at each stop to make sure we don’t get too dehydrated. I’ve lost 5 pounds in 10 miles, which doesn’t seem to phase them. I eat some warm watermelon and half a PB & J before starting the second half of the race.

I think the climb back over Hope Pass is perhaps the toughest part of the race. It’s a long, steep, hot struggle uphill. Then, just as you clear the tree line, you look up and see the tiny human ants still higher up on the Pass and realize you have a long ways to go.

I really thought about dropping out but I then I’d have to justify it on this blog and Facebook. And my long term goal is to get 10 run finishes. Dropping out only prolongs that and this race isn’t getting easier.

So I press on and make it up, over then back downhill into Twin Lakes. Here I see my friends Kevin and Shelby Bauman who happened to be nearby during the race. More warm watermelon, another half PB & J, and I’m off.

The sun is behind the mountains now and my headlamp is on low. For some reason, I’m feeling pretty good. Perhaps everyone else has just slowed down to my speed. I’m not running fast, but I’m consistent and passing other runners.

In and out of the Oak Creek aid station and I’m back on the road segments. My Nathan water pack had been leaking a little, but I wasn’t losing too much. But now the drink valve (aptly called the BiteMe™ valve) comes off and won’t go back on. Nice. I suffer for a few miles without water.

At the Fish Hatchery, I sit down and drink hot veggie soup with noodles and cold watermelon. Yes, it’s getting cold out, so I pull my arm warmers back on along with gloves. I’ve got 8 hours to finish, so unless the wheels fall off during the final marathon, I should finish before the 30 hour cutoff.

At this point I’d gone through my entire stash of electrolyte tablets, about 30. Not wanting to take chances, I successfully begged some tablets from a helpful crew.

Now the final mountian climb is before me — the Powerline. It’s not crazy steep, but it’s a total tease. There are many false peaks that make you think you’re done climbing when you’re not.

Near the top of one peak, I look back to admire the long bobbing line of lights climbing behind me.

Perhaps it’s the heat and everyone drinking more, but there seems to be more urine and vomit along the trail this year. The former is from the talented runners who can “go” as they continue walking. They leave a long damp streak on the trail. At one point I comment to a nearby runner about the length of one streak. The urinator must have had an ultra-bladder. Impressive.

Once over the peak, it’s a quick downhill run to the Colorado Trail. Last year my headlamp batteries died here. This year I’m using two lights, one on my head and one in my hand. I’ve brought spare batteries just in case, too.

My Princeton Tec LED headlamp has a bright mode which really lights up the trail. It’s pretty amazing for such a light piece of hardware. But, the problen with headlamps is there are no shadows. Without shadows, the human brain has a more difficult time determining the trail surface irregularities. For that reason I’m carrying a very bright SureFire G2 LED flashlight. The combo works great as I pass other runners on the toughest part of the trail as if it were daylight.

The final aid station is Mayqueen and I don’t stay here long with just 13.5 miles to go.

My ankle wrap led to blistering and swelling during the Leadville Trail 100

Actual post-race footage

At this point my foot pain is really starting to increase. Stuffing that ankle bandaging and swollen foot into my running shoe isn’t good. I’ve got 4.5 hours to finish, so I mostly hike the trail.

The sun soon rise over Turquoise Lake and there’s a single scull rowing across the relatively smooth lake. And no, it wasn’t a hallucination — not this year.

With four miles to go, Charlie from Boulder starts running with me. He’s not in the race, but is thinking about 2010. He’s asking me a bunch of questions about the run, training, etc. He talks about his job where they produce material flow sensors that among other things can accurately determine the amount a fuel loaded into large navy vessels. The things you learn at mile 98…

Off the boulevard, a left, a right, one hill, and there it is. The finish line. One can’t help choking up a little. There are cheering spectators all along this final stretch. I pick it up to run across the finish line. Race promoter Merilee puts a finishing medal around my neck and  gives me a hug as I say “Your race kicked my butt.”

With just 23 minutes left before the cutoff, it was my slowest finish. I head to the medic tent and find the woman who wrapped my ankle 60 miles ago. She was very pleased if not surprised to see me there. I held up my medal and thanked her for helping me finish.

As I hobble towards my car, I cheer on the other runners still finishing. (275 runners finished in total.)

I drive a couple blocks (only stalling once!) to a gas station and buy a 20 pound of ice. I drive to the award ceremony building, lay the ice across my quads and fall asleep.

Two hours later, I wake up, walk over to the awards ceremony and pick up my buckle and custom sweatshirt.

My fourth finish is not pretty but it’s official and it’s over.

Just six more to go.



2008 Leadville Trail 100 Run

Looking thrilled just minutes before the start

Looking thrilled just minutes before the start

You know you’re going to be in a death march when bad weather prevents you from driving the posted speed limit on the way to a race start.

Running 100 miles at high elevation in the Rockies is tough as it is. Driving through freezing rain with the occasional lightning hitting the nearby mountaintops makes it surreal.

Fortunately there was only an occasional drizzle in Downtown Leadville prior to the 4 AM start. And unlike the Leadville bike race, there was no jockeying for a good starting position among the 466 runners. Everyone basically stands around nervously making small talk and waiting for Race Promoter Ken Chlouber to fire the shotgun. (more…)


I’m Dreaming of a White Leadville

It’s official. Snow is now in the forecast for tomorrow’s Leadville Trail 100 running race.

Snow showers likely and slight chance of thunderstorms in the morning…then rain showers likely and slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Snow accumulation around 1 inch. Highs 45 to 53. Southwest winds up to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation 60 percent.

Because there will be a mix of snow and rain, it’s going to be very tough keeping my clothing dry, especially critical items like gloves.

Also, racing in cold weather makes me want food with higher fat content. Typically I would do this race with just Hammer Gel and a protein-supplement. Now I plan on having raw cookie dough on hand.

The Race Medical check in is underway now. The race starts with an early morning shotgun blast at 4 AM.


Leadville Weather Looks Sketchy

Leadville 100 weather

Leadville's weekend weather forecast

It’s just a couple days away from the start of the Leadville Trail 100 running race.  Running 100 miles at altitude in the mountains is epic in its own right.  The race doesn’t need to be made tougher with lousy weather.

It appears Mother Nature wasn’t made aware of that.

This weekend’s weather looks wet and cold.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw snow.  I’m glad I packed some winter running gear.  It’s going to be interesting!


Trail Running at Rifle River

An American Badger

From Wikipedia: An American Badger

Rifle River is a great state recreation. It’s relatively large and very scenic with camping and some great trails for running. If you don’t mind the occasional sand, the trails are fun for mountain biking as well.

And it’s only a 2.5 hour drive from the Metro Detroit area.

Unfortunately the flies were bad yesterday in many spots. It really made me pickup my running pace to try and “drop” the flies.

Any one who hikes, runs or bikes trails is familiar with the sounds of scurrying critters. Normally in Michigan this has been deer, chipmunks, squirrels, or the occasional skunk. I have been fortunate to see a couple porcupines at times. Last week I came across a small possum at night that stared me down and refused to yield the trail.

But yesterday at Rifle River I came across a badger about 5 feet off the trail. His fur was more brownish than the Wikipedia photo on the right, but his face markings were unmistakable.

Oddly enough, he wasn’t fierce or apparently too worried about me as he slowly waddled away. It made me wonder what the University of Wisconsin was thinking when choosing mascots.

I should mention that a half marathon will be run on these trails September 13th. It’s the Ken Willard Memorial River Trail Half Marathon. The registration form notes the challenging hill and I will back them up on that. You can register for the event on-line.


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