The Last Great Race (Part 5) - 2019 Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run

8/18/2019 12:05:00 PM

View of "backside" of Hope Pass.
Time flies, when you're having fun. The Leadville 100 crept up on me at record speed. While its cumulative elevation gain isn't any more intimidating then the other races I'd already run this summer, it's its altitude that it definitely intimidating. The majority of the Leadville 100 is run between altitudes of 9500' and 12500' and it's exactly this fact that has pushed runners of all abilities to their limits. Past results have shown that more than half of the 800+ starters are usually unable to finish this race and this year would prove to be no different. I did not want to be part of this particular statistic, so I decided to come out 10 days early to try to acclimate to the altitude. I had seen too many friends struggle with the altitude in years past and I wanted to give me the best chance possible to complete this race and continue on in my quest to complete "The Last Great Race" of Ultrarunning.
Friend and fellow Huntsvillian Jerry Abbott also got into the Leadville 100 and had the same plans as me, get there early and acclimate. A friend of his was kind enough to let us stay in his massive camper, so we set up permanent camp at May Queen campground on Turquoise Lake about 25 minutes outside Leadville, CO, where the actual race would start and finish.
View from the outbound Powerline Climb.
My plan was simple, stay at high altitude for 10 days leading up to the race and hike/run a couple of 14ers in an effort to adjust to the thinner air and to avoid altitude sickness and anything else that comes with running at high altitude when you live at 650'. I kept an eye on my resting heartrate and as expected and hoped, it started 10 beats higher than usual and came down 10 beats after having stayed at 10000' for about a week. 
I only struggled with the altitude during our climb up Mount Massive, when I developed a headache as we approached the summit. Luckily, it has subsided by the next morning with a little help from Mr. BC Powder. The time leading up to race day was both pretty uneventful (as I experienced no mayor physical issues) and exciting (how can it not be when you're surrounded by 14000' mountain peaks all around you). This place is nothing short of amazing and I was stoked to be here once again. As race day got closer and closer, I got more and more nervous. However, there was one thing that happened that actually refocused my nervous energy for a day. The weekend prior to the Leadville 100, friends of mine arranged an opportunity for me to check another item off my bucket list. I never expected to ever do this, but sometimes things just work out and on Sunday morning, bright and early, I lined up at a temporary pin in downtown Buena Vista, CO to meet my donkey "Buddy" so we could run the Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race 13 Miler. I have never had so much fun and frustration in the span of 3 hours:-)
As we entered race week, I started to finalize my race plans. I felt confident that I had acclimated sufficiently, so that altitude sickness and its common symptoms would not plaque me during the race, not even during the Hope Pass crossing. While I was correct on that account, one remaining factor definitely affected me on race day, but more about that later.
Initial view of Twin Lakes.
Both my excitement and nervousness rose exponentially as race week progressed. The town of Leadville slowly filled with runners and crew and it became more and more difficult to get a cup of coffee in a timely manner at the local coffee shop. But as well all know, waiting for a good cup of coffee is almost always worth the wait. I mostly spent race week keeping my feet up and being lazy. I felt rest was more important than any more activities.
Twin Lakes.
When the mandatory pre-race briefing finally rolled around on Friday morning, I was ready to go. Jerry and I made sure to cut out just in time to be first in line at the expo at 11AM sharp to pick up our race packets and check out the extensive number of shops that lined the expo grounds. When you're an ultra runner, it was also extremely difficult not be let the fan boy all hang out. Clare Gallagher, Magda Boulet, Anton Krupicka and David Goggins were just some of the folks one would run across before, during and after the race.
Twin Lakes.
After meeting up with friends and fellow runners, I quickly left the expo and headed back to the camper. The plan was to eat dinner by 5PM and to hit the sack early enough to get some sleep before the 2AM wakeup call.
As expected, I didn't manage much sleep. While I did call it a night pretty quickly after Jerry's wife Wonda prepared a delicious carb loading pasta dinner, I just could not get my mind to quiet. So I laid there restlessly until it as time to get up. Thankfully, I got a full night sleep a night earlier, as I usually expect to have the pre-race jitters and plan accordingly:-)
Descent into Twin Lakes Aid Station.
On race morning, all that was left to do was tape my feet, grab all of my gear and decide what layers to wear for the 38 degree 4AM start. The energy at the race start was electric and something that reminded me of the high energy at European ultra races. I managed to snap the obligatory pre-race photo with Sean, the only other "Last Great Racer", but when Ken Chlouber finally shot the shotgun to signal the race start, I was pretty much on my own, meaning I saw no familiar faces running near me. In fact, I wouldn't see another familiar runner until after the 50 mile turnaround point of the out and back course. 
Twin Lakes to Hope Pass section.
 While I ran the first 13 miles until May Queen aid station exactly as planned (to hit the sub 25 hour goal), I realized very quickly that something was off. Running downhill should not feel so hard. Next up was the powerline climb. I settled into a decent hiking ace as we continued to climb. By the time we got to the top, I was ready to let lose on the downhill. My quads had no problems handling the descent, so I made up some decent time. By the time I finally arrived at the Outward Bound aid station, I was moving a lot slower than expected. I wouldn't fare much better during the next section to the Half Pipe aid station. What was meant to be flat easy running turned into something closer to a death march. WTF, I was only 25 miles into this thing and already unable to run? My heartrate was severely spiking into the high 150s even though i was barely running 10-11 minute miles. Rather than run entirely by feel, I decided to start monitoring my heartrate. I would start walking as soon as I hit 150s and continue to walk until it lowered to 130s. I'd start running until I hit the 150s and once again start walking, and on and on. 
Creek crossing after Twin Lakes before heading up Hope Pass.
I now figured I'd hike the uphills briskly and run the downhills as fast as possible to try to make up time somehow. I maintained this strategy until the 50 mile turnaround. Rewind to mile 38. I was rolling into the Twin Lakes aid station for the first time. If my spirits were low, I don't remember it, because the energy in this aid station made me forget all that. So many spectators and crew lining the path, the energy was contagious. 
The largest of many creek crossings after Twin Lakes.
 I decided to take my time in aid stations to allow as much recovery as possible before continuing on. I was thankful for my crew Ashley Saloga and pacer Brian Metzler for taking care of me all day and all night. They provided the boost and support I needed to keep going when thing started to get difficult. I left Twin Lakes feeling refreshed and ready to take on Hope Pass for the first time. I settled into a steady hiking pass, but as I got closer to the top, I was finally passed by a couple of other runners as I struggled to get sufficient oxygen into my lungs.
Looking down from below Hope Pass.
 Once I reached Hope Pass aid station, I was ready to hit the rest button once more. A bowl of broth and some mashed potatoes later, I was on my way to start the final climb across the pass before descending 5 miles into Winfield aid station, the halfway and turnaround point for the Leadville 100.
Approaching Hope Pass Aid Station.
Once again, I was glad to see me crew and even happier to finally pick up my pacer to drag my ass across Hope Pass once more. After some time to refuel and rest, Brian and I started the climb back out of Winfield to cross Hope Pass once more. It had taken me 11:30 hours to cover the first 50 miles, which meant that I was still on track to break 25 hours. I would reassess that goal in another 2 miles, when I would arrive at Twin Lakes once again 62 miles into the race.
Looking back from Hope Pass Aid Station.
 The second climb across the pass was way more difficult than the first. I had slowed significantly, even with Brian doing a fantastic job to keep me moving. By the time we finally made my way over the pass, in and out of Hope Pass aid station the second time and back to Twin Lakes aid station, I had lost more than 40 minutes and the sub 25 hour goal was no longer a reality. After a short pow wow with my crew and pacer, I made my peace with it. 
Lamas grazing after having carried all supplies to the Hope Pass Aid Station.
 However, knowing that I would not break 25 hours also affected how I felt physically and mentally. My motivation to move was just a bit lower than before. Before I knew it, I had fallen in with another runner and his pacer as we made our way through the early stages of the night. This was a tremendous help for me as I started to get sleepy. A lively conversation between the three of us kept me engaged and more importantly, awake. The other runner had sustained a hip injury, so we spent the next 16 miles almost exclusively walking. I was completely fine with that.
Lamas grazing after delivering supplies.
 By mile 78, Brian would be pick me back up to take me over the powerline section one last time and all the way to the finish. He was a trooper as I was no longer either capable or motivated to run. Every time we'd try to shuffle or resemble any running motion, my breathing would accelerate and become labored and I'd slow down again. Temps had now dropped into the 30s and I was wearing a puffer and gloves to stay warm. But we continued on, one step in front of another. 
View of Twin Lakes from Hope Pass.
 I can't say it was easy, but it wasn't painful either. It just took a bit longer than I had hoped. By the time Brian and I turned onto the final .7 mile stretch leading to the finish, I was ready to be done. With the finish line in sight, I was able to break into a slow shuffle. I crossed the finish line in 28 hours and 10 minutes, happy to be one of the 44% of finishers to have completed the Leadville 100 this year and to be one step closer to completing "The Last Great Race".
Looking back while climbing Hope Pass the first time.
 Thanks to Ashley Saloga and Brian Metzler for being my crew/pacer for this adventure and for pulling me through. I couldn't have done it without you guys. Thanks also to the entire crew of volunteers that took care of us along the way. The Leadville 100 was quite the memorable experience. The altitude is no joke and I now understand the consistently low finisher rates. Three more weeks and it's time for the last race in the series, The Wasatch Front 100.
Fellow runners climbing Hope Pass the first time around.

Train of runners approaching the top of Hope Pass.

Small snow bank atop Hope Pass.

Looking back towards Hope Pass Aid Station.

Nepalese prayer flags marking the top of Hope Pass.

Looking down the backside of Hope Pass prior to descending towards Winfield Aid Station, the 50 mile turnaround point.

Descending towards Winfield from Hope Pass.




Steep single track leading down from Hope Pass towards Winfield.

Small boulder field en route to Winfield Aid Station.

Nice single track before the steep descent to Winfield Aid Station.



Headed down the Powerline section early in the race.

Finishing this beast with the support and pacing of Brian Metzler.

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