When There is Nothing Left to Burn, Set Yourself On Fire!
Right from our delayed arrival in Denver things seemed different. The nervous energy I had in the two previous years was gone replaced instead with a healthy dose of fear. Not a crippling fear though, more of a respect for where I was fear but the challenge seemed balanced with ability. Friday morning medical check and weigh in were an easy effort and before I knew it we were listening to Ken’s speech that could have a million men march over a 5000 foot cliff and believe they could outlast the fall. Following the trail brief and rally a few of us headed to lunch and my pre-event carbo load meal. Following lunch we made our back to our hotel for an R2K crew meeting and rally of our own. We worked through our team meeting quickly and in short order there was now nothing left between me and the gun except 11 hours….. and reality of being back in Leadville starts to set in, and my excitement builds….quickly!
Race morning starts with the alarm at 2 a.m. I awoke from a 4 hr slumber feeling alive and ready to roll . Once I check and see that that the thunder and rain has been replaced by a crystal clear sky and the brightest twinkling starts you’ve ever seen, I come alive and head to the breakfast nook in the lobby. Waffles, coffee, orange juice and nervous chatter are for breakfast this morning. Another coffee to go and breakfast is over and is time to suit up and head over to the start corral at 6th and Harrison.
The mood at the start is a light one and with only minutes to do a final check and tighten and loosen laces I wandered over and found a place 2/3 s back in the pack to start from. As the 30 second countdown to the gun began I remember a calm settling in and having an absolute appreciation for having the chance to be here again.. BOOM! With cowbells and whisltes blowing we are off and the constant bleep of the timing chips setting off the timing mat echo as we begin to march into the dark of Colorado night. The easiness of the first mile masks what awaits off in the darkness but their is a feeling of hope in the air and looking around its an eerie thought knowing 1 out of 2 of us aren’t coming back up The Boulavard to the red carpet finish. Cresting the hill at the 3/4 mile mark early morning cheers and high fives from locals have us dancing in the streets and as CC’s saxaphone solo in Springsteens “Born to Run” fades in the distance behind us the cadence crunch of 650 runners becomes as load as thunder, I put my head down, grin and begin to mentally prepare for the day that lays ahead.
Its not long before the dawn begins and we find ourselves nearing the end of Turquoise Lake trail heading to the crew stop at Mayqueen Aid at 13.5 miles. Walking through the tent I grabbed 5 or so orange slices and locate my crew and reload within minutes, trekking poles in hand, I push out and head towards the trail leading to Hagerman road. The narrow trail eases up over uneven ground and a few hard climbing steps pop us out onto Hagerman, fully exposed to the amazing sunrise to the east. Unwilling to repeat any missteps from the past, I plug in to the iPod and find my groove and make short work of the 2 or so mile climb to the switchback where the incline steepens and the footing worstens. Determined to keep pushing forward I continue monitoring cadence for the entire duration of the climb up over 11,000′ and once I recognise the true summit. I am quick to return to a running gait and not lose time up here. Rolling over the final transmission tower hill I jumped into an efficient but speedy descent back down to the lower sections and made the right turn on the road towards Fish Hatchery. I knew I was quicker over this section than years past and arriving into FH almost 45 minutes earlier was a nice way to answer the days first challenge.
The next 16 miles from Hatchery through Treeline, HalfPipe and Mt Elbert water station went by without much ado. I knew at various points that I was ~ 60 minutes ahead of previous years paces and I was continuing to run through these sections easily and efficiently. Then I flaked. Coming down the final drop into Twin Lakes at 39.5 miles I had issue remembering check in times and believed I was in at the same time as 09-10 and believing I had lost 60 minutes somewhere. The correction came quickly and relief soon followed. After reloading and a quick break I was back on foot and making way towards the Arkansas river crossing. The flood plain leading to the river was very wide this year and we were soaked knee deep at least 3 times before making the near shore for the crossing. Emerging from the far side of the river refreshed from thigh deep mountain run off I felt strong and ready for the steep ~3400′ ft climb to Hope Pass.
Falling back into the same rhythm of the Powerline climb I began to visualize that I was a steam locomotive making the ascent and removed any idea of pain from my legs. Head down and chugging along the climb seemed shorter and easier than years past and emerging from the treeline Hopless aid station came into view. A water reload complete I was through in less than a minute and pushing the final 900′ climb to the summit. A deep breanth atop the pass and I made adjustments for the descent. A quick controlled pace brought me down the switchbacks, across the scree fields and onto the lower trail, a right turn and I was on the approach road to Winfield and the 50 mile turn-half way home. The 3 or so miles clipped off quickly and a self scan left me feeling well but aware that hot spots were developing under the toes but I figured new socks, shoes and a quick bite to eat would do and we could do a full stop at Twin inbound at mile 60.
Sitting down for the shoe swap felt good. The 50 mile turn is a bitter sweet moment, half way home but aware the night changes things. Final prep done and pacer ready to go we pushed out from the crew spot crossed the timing belt and began the inbound journey feeling really strong, confident and aware how foot issues quickly changed the May 100 mile run to a grind. Before long we were back at the Hope trailhead and beginning the assault on Hope Pass once again.
For this section of the course we are veterans and for the third time in as many years we are quicker, stronger and much more relaxed on the climb crossing the saddle and making the Hopeless Aid in very good time. For most of the descent we go without torches but as we near the bottom artificial light becomes necessary and we are joined by a group who’s batteries have died and we form a little convoy behind Christa-Lynn’s bright lights. Crossing the river and through flood plain aggravated my feet and the full stop is no longer an option but a mandatory decision. Pulling in and finding our station I sat down and started to eat and peel off socks. As Tracy began to assess the situation, poof, a really bright light illuminates the darkness and a movie camera is now focused on us and a voice asks how the double crossing went. Squinting I respond and an interview begins that lasts about 3-4 minutes, which served as a nice distraction for me while foot work was being done. After the camera man volunteers up some duct tape Tracy finished up the foot repair and all that was left for us to do before leaving was have me turn my tights around so they were on the correct way
As Ken and I pushed out from Twin Lakes there was a different feel in the air and the first steps up the steep incline out of the camp felt easy and effortless. We knew we were 3.5 miles from the first water at Mt Elbert and then 6 to Halfpipe aid station, the next cut point. Moving well and feeling very strong through the Aspen Grove climb that ended my race last year left me feeling stronger than I had in hours and after a good push out of the trees we were leveling off onto the dirt road that would take us through the check point. Power walking with high tempo and a short slow burst of running got us down the dirt and into the HalfPipe Aid station and saw us making up time over the cut, checking in taking more oranges and pushing out we were only in the station for ~ a minute. Once back on trail the cadence picked up and we were within 3 miles of treeline and the pacer handover.
Inbound through treeline and out onto Halfmoon road puts a runner about 72ish miles into the run and for me that ment near 22 hours and I was really starting to feel the weight of the day. The first real signs of fatigue and nausia set in for me here but after a quick vomit and some water I felt like a new man and we continued to plot towards Fish Hatchery now only a mile away from and the second last check point.
Although there was still 24 miles left in the day being here and ahead of the cut by a little more than an hour had me excited and beginning to allow myself to feel the energy rise as the sense of the pending accomplishment drew closer step by step.
Leaving Fish Hatchery is a bit bittersweet as well. I was excited and a little fearful of meeting the Gatekeeper at 80 miles. The Powerline Climb. So much had been made in Leadville lore of the mighty Powerline, it’s enough to plod 80 miles out and back over Hope Pass and the Arkansas river but then to face a nasty climb that will take you back over 11,000′ and shell your psyche with false summits and hope that its over only to make you dig in for climb after climb in the dark of night just doesn’t seem fair. But its the reality of getting back to Leadville. Ken and I had discussed a 90 minute climb time to the summit as a goal and as we passed through the trailhead and began to climb I took a deep breath and dug in feeling like a 2.5 year journey was going to come down to a 90 minute climb. Insert cliche here.
We managed to find a groove and a cadence that allowed us to chew up the hill a bit. As we climbed we could see the glow of torches up trail and kept grounded at every turn knowing there are at least 3 false summits to the top. As we climbed I fell deeper back into training days gone by and began to recite mantras and pep talks from coaches from my teens. Mixed into all of this were ten second breaks every 15 minutes or so for a mouth full of food and fluid. All the while the only words in my head were:”I’m a bullet, I’m a missile, I’m a rocket to the moon-I’m a bullet, I’m a missile, I’m a rocket to the moon-I’m a bullet, I’m a missile, I’m a rocket to the moon”…over and over ..As we crested the summit a piece of the weight from the last few years chipped off and we began down the back side on a rocky descent to Hagerman road.
The next thing I remember is Ken radioing down to the crew that we were 2 miles out, we were nearing the final check point at Mayqueen. A few runners and their pacers pass us as we approach the end of the trail and it pops out onto the lead road to Mayqueen but it doesn’t bother me in the least we rolled through the check point with 13.5 miles and 4 hours and 5 minutes to the final gun.
As the light of the second sunrise begins to warm the trail around Turquoise Lake Anya has taken pacer duties over and we are heading for the boat launch where she’ll hand off to our mother Ruth who has been waiting for this opportunity since 2009. Anya and I make the ramp near 7:25 a.m. a little quicker than expected and with 2:35:00 left for the remaining ~6 miles. A quick change of clothes and a fresh pacer and we are off, next stop The Finish. A mile or so into the last leg we lost power on my watch and with it time/distance info. We continued to power along hard as the heat of the morning seemingly rose by the second. Not having pace info or any real mile markers left me less than relaxed. Ruth and I continued to push hard and finally after nothing but what seemed like climbing came a knowledgeable volunteer, ” Your 2.5 miles from the finish Hun, to the top of this road and the The Boulavard is yours”! In other words keep climbing a mile and then climb some more.
With the end of the dirt road in sight we got a shot of energy when Christa-Lynn came down trail to join in the push followed shortly there after by Anya. As we emerged from the trees I could see Tracy, Adam and Ken standing at the corner of the miracle mile, before I could think about it we made the turn I have visualized about for 3 years, now flanked with pacers and crew we began the push for home. Slow and steady over the crest of the Boulevard and 6th and Harrison came into sight. Moments later we picked up Karin and my father as the pace picked up I felt like a horse smelling the barn, trying to kickstart my motor to get up and go took a few seconds but passing through the cones all I could see was the Red Carpet. Fighting off the emotion of the moment I was able to get on my horse and burn off 2 years of heartache and disappointment. With only steps to go the sense of relief was enormous and upon crossing the line and breaking the tape I stood in disbelief as a volunteer asked how it felt to finish the LT100? The look on my face probably sums it up….I said:’I don’t know’.
Now after being home for a week I can answer her question with a little more. It feels great! To be honest it still hasn’t totally sunk in. But it feels great. A lot of energy was burned thinking about Leadville over the last 2+ years. I took the challenge on thinking I knew what I had to do and how to train. I was wrong. I knew nothing. This event took everything I had to complete. But it didn’t take from me. August 20-21, 2011 wrung every last ounce of energy and will power out of my body and forced me near a point that the only thought was the next step. Bringing me to a very simple place and focus of what was right in front of me. Clarity.
The only thing that matters is whats right in front of you.
What was right in front of me was all the love and support from family and friends anyone could wish for. For that I am eternally grateful. As for Leadville, we’ll be back soon not 2012 but soon. The event and town brought the best in me out and helped me define myself a bit. Returning there the last 2 years felt very comfortable but it may be my personal history there, like two old enemies meeting again realizing they are as close as old friends.