Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Round #3, Leadville 100

Well, the Leadville 100 is done, I survived just fine.  My fears of failure were unfounded.
There was five weeks between the Vermont 100 and the Leadville 100.  This allowed me to take a week off completely, train hard for two weeks, then taper for the remaining two weeks.  My hard training consisted of a couple of 60+ miles weeks, including running the Speedgoat 50K race at Snowbird. 
My main concern at Leadville was the altitude.  The course itself isn’t particularly difficult, it’s just that it’s all above 9000’.  So my goal for training between Vermont and Leadville was to get up high as much as possible.  Thus my running of the Speedgoat 50K. At Speedgoat, I had all sorts of people calling me crazy for doing a race that difficult in between two key 100 mile races.  Yeah, I have to agree, it was kind of crazy.  I managed a finish, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.  I bonked pretty hard over the last ten miles.
Ken and Marilee doing the prerace pep talk
The Thursday before Leadville, Karen and I drove out to Frisco, CO, where we were staying.  After checking into our hotel, we drove over to Leadville to check in for the race and just look around.  The one thing we both noticed was a headache from the altitude.  I got a little worried, but knew it would probably disappear after a bit.  The Leadville area is beautiful.  The town kind of sits in a valley, but that valley is 10,000’ above sea level.  You really feel like you’re on top of the world.  We stayed in Leadville for the pre-race dinner, then headed back to our hotel.  After breakfast Friday morning, we drove back over to Leadville, finished the check in process (drop bags), stuck around for the prerace briefing (1200 people in a gym got pretty warm and stuffy), then drove part of the course so Karen could get familiar with where the aid stations were.  She was going to crew for part of the race with Carolyn Luckett, my pacer.  We met Carolyn that afternoon, discussed all of the logistics, concerns, etc., then headed back to our hotel for the evening.  I usually get a lousy night’s sleep the night before a race, and this was no exception.  It didn’t help that we had some noisy neighbors and I had to bang on the wall to get them to shut up.
Still sleepy at 3:45
2am came awful early, but that’s when we needed to get up in order to make the 4am start.  Why oh why can’t most 100 mile races start at a decent hour?  Say 6am at the earliest?  Or be like mine (the Buffalo Run) and start at noon.  Sleep in, nice leisurely breakfast, mosey over to the race start, then wait for the gun to go off.  Nope, we have to start at some ungodly hour when it’s still cold and dark out.
So anyway, the gun goes off at 4am and about 620 of us make our way across the starting line and into the dark. I was glad the first few miles were essentially downhill. It let me warm up without having to really exert myself. Especially since I didn’t know how well I could do at 9000’. 
Now, corporate owned, bigger and better?

By the time we made our way the 3-4 miles to Turquoise Lake, the pack had strung out some.  As we made our way along the trail beside the lake, you could look back and see a huge string of headlamps going back for over a mile.  It was actually a pretty cool sight.  There was some conga line action along this trail, but by the time I made it to the May Queen aid station (13.5 miles), crowd conditions were better.  In fact, after May Queen, there never really was a point where the runners bunched up.  After May Queen, we began the ascent to Sugarloaf Pass going up the powerline. 
The ascent up powerline to Sugarloaf Pass
This pass was just a hair over 11,000’ and would give me an early idea of how I would fare at higher elevations.  I was glad to find that I was doing just fine.  I really didn’t seem to notice the altitude at all during the race, even going over Hope Pass twice.
After Sugarloaf, we made a long decent into the Fish Hatchery aid station.  In and out.  Karen and Carolyn met me there, fueled me up with a dose of 1st Endurance Ultragen (320 calories) an kicked me out.  Then began a few miles of paved road, followed by a gradual climb up to the Half Pipe aid station.  Once again, in and out.  Next stop, Twin Lakes.  Karen and Carolyn met me here and fueled me up again.  I spent a few minutes talking, then left for the trek up to Hope Pass. 
Hope Pass off in the distance
River Crossing at Twin Lakes
You could see it in the distance and it was a little intimidating.  3400’ of climb up to 12,600’.  All over about 4 miles.  Not tremendously steep, but not a walk in the park either. It was along this section that I caught up to Tom Remkes and had Cory Johnson pass me.  These two are usually quite a bit in front of me, so I was a little surprised to see them so close to me after 40+ miles.  Nonetheless, they pulled ahead of me and I only saw them again on their way back up Hope Pass.   
Once I got to the treeline, there was the Hopeless aid station.
Hopeless aid station with Twin Lakes down below
This is a group that has been doing this aid almost since the beginning.  They pack everything in on llamas.  And they have quite the setup.  It was definitely a cool sight to see about two dozen llamas staked out in the meadow grazing, occasionally looking up to
see what was going on.  It was during the last ¼ mile to the top of the pass that the front runners started coming through on their way back.  This meant that they were about ten miles in front of me.  That sucks, but oh well, happens all the time to me.   
Once I got to the top of Hope Pass, my cell phone let me know that I had several messages.  Funny how down lower I didn’t have service, but up on some remote Rocky Mountain Pass, I did.  I spent a couple minutes sending a couple messages, enjoying the scenery and views, taking a few pictures, then headed down the other side to the Winfield aid station.  Going down the backside of Hope Pass was definitely more technical than the way up.  Steeper, rockier, although with less vertical. 
I have no idea what the couple was doing in the background.  Hypoxic yoga?
I finally made it into Winfield after 11:30 of running.  I still felt great, just a little tired.  I wasn’t going quite the speed I had hoped, but I knew that it was a more realistic time.  The key thing was, I felt great, no altitude issues at all. 
Heading down the other side into Winfield
I spent about ten minutes at Winfield, then took off for the return journey to the finish line.  Everyone complains that the trek back up Hope Pass is demoralizing, but I didn’t find it that way at all.  Steep, tiring, had to dodge out of the way of runners still coming down, but I knew that once I hit the top, the hardest part of the race would be over. 
Top of Hope Pass, yeah buddy!

One of my new buddies
Once again, at the top of Hope Pass, I had some texts to look at.  I answered them, then headed down.  I was in a good mood.  I felt good, I knew I had seven miles of downhill running ahead of me.  I spent a little more time at the Hopeless aid.  Took some pictures of the llamas, had my picture taken with one, then headed down.  This section of trail was a blast.  Nice easy running, not too technical.  You could get some speed up and make up some time.  This I did, passing several people on the way down.  I finally came out on the flats near the Twin Lakes river crossing and made my way into the aid station.  Karen and Carolyn were there, fueled me up again and I took off, this time with Carolyn to pace me the rest of the way.  Going out of Twin Lakes, I knew we had a 1200’ climb to greet us, but I also knew that after that was a long rolling descent.  We made the climb, then once we hit the descent, I felt really good and really picked up the pace.  I’m not sure I’ve run that fast at that point in a 100 before.  I think I was clocking right around 8 minute miles, and they felt easy.  By now it was dark, and we could see the runners in front of us and it became fun to try and pick them off one by one.  We must have passed well over 20 runners during this section.  But once we got into the Half Pipe aid station, my stomach was starting to bother me.  I always felt hungry, not to the point of wanting to throw up, but close at times.  I also was starting to have some lower GI issues and had to visit the woods a couple times.  In hindsight, I think it was the continuous use of Ultragen that did that.  Needless to say, after Half Pipe, my pace slowed considerably.  I was still able to run, just not at the same pace.  We still had a downhill run to the Fish Hatchery, so I tried to make the most of it and run as much as possible.  One cool sight on the way into Fish Hatchery was a badger that I caught in my headlamp.  He had a burrow in the bank alongside the road.  Kind of had a confused look on his face.  We didn’t get too close.  The Fish Hatchery had some wonderful potato soup.  That stuff hit the mark and I had a couple of cups.  I did sit here for about 20 minutes just to take a little break.  I also had some coffee here to try and keep me awake.  I don’t remember what time we came through, but it was in the middle of the night.  After Fish Hatchery, I knew that we had a pretty steep climb back up powerline and over Sugarloaf Pass.  It was a grind and I hated it.  What didn’t help any was that my lungs were getting weezy.  We were thinking it might be HAPE.  It also got a little cold up here, probably down in the upper 30’s and a little breezy at times, but not too bad.  We either passed or were passed by others grinding their way up as well.  At the top of the pass, we could see the May Queen aid station in the distance.  I still wasn’t moving too fast, but I trotted when I could.  I got into May Queen at about 24 hours.  They had pancakes!  I had couple of those with syrup and a cup of milk and that hit the spot.  I spent about 15-20 minutes there and when I got set to leave, I couldn’t find Carolyn.  Come to find out, she had taken off thinking I had taken off.  I ended up doing the last 13.5 miles sans pacer.  No big deal, but the trek up the “boulevard” was truly a drunken death march.  I was so tired and sleepy, I would walk up the road with my eyes closed.  By now the sun was up, and it was interesting to look at the stragglers making their way to the finish line.  As I got closer I could hear the cheers as each runner crossed the finish line.  Finally I made it to 6th street, the last half mile.  Karen and Carolyn met me about ¼ mile from the finish and jogged with me for part of that.  I found out the story behind my pacer mix up.  Anyway, I crossed the finish line in 28:20 and got the best hug from the lady that put my finisher medal around my neck.  I just stood there and enjoyed it for a minute.  
I was still pretty wheezy at the finish line, so I went over to the medical tent and asked them to evaluate me for HAPE.  They did a pulseox and listened to my lungs and pronounced me just fine.  My lungs were clear, pulseox was normal given the elevation.  In talking with them for a bit, we figured it was probably my asthma acting up.  Nothing that really slowed me down, but noticeable anyway.  Guess I should have remembered to bring my inhaler. 
Karen and I took off for the hotel to shower and get cleaned up a little.  After that we grabbed some breakfast and drove back over to Leadville for the awards ceremony.  We thought about hanging around for the post race BBQ, but the prospect of a nine hour drive home meant that we hit the road as soon as I got my buckle.
By the numbers
Time – 28:20:22
Placing – 193rd out of 622 starters, 22nd in my age group (50-59). 
Shoes – I wore my Hoka Mafate’s until the return through Twin Lakes.  After that I wore my La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0’s.  My feet survived just fine.  Just a couple of blisters of no consequence.
Calories burned – 12,500
Calories eaten – 6,000.  Maybe 6,000.  I forgot to bring all of my Liquid Shot and had to devise a backup.  Thank goodness I had the Ultragen in my drop bags.  I also ate more solid food than I usually do.
Next up, Wasatch 100 on September 9th.  I’m looking forward to this one for a few reasons.  First, it’s the last one of the slam, second, it’s on my turf, third, I have lots of friends either running it or pacing others.  Should be a good time if I feel good.  I’m hoping to finally go sub-30 hour this year.  Wish me luck.
Some Post Race Thoughts
A couple of weeks ago I happened to check on the ultralist and noticed a thread about corporate ownership of races, particularly Leadville, and what it means for our sport.  Ultrarunning has always been a small, little, grassroots sport that typically draws not only the hardcore athlete, but athletes who are generally eglitarian by nature.  Many believe that any race should donate all proceeds to some sort of charity, or should be non-profit.  As our sport grows (the number of participants has roughly doubled since 2000), it will draw the interest of companies looking to sell us stuff.  It will also draw compaines that see races as a profit center to be exploited.  Last year the Leadville Race Series was purchased by Lifetime Fitness.  Lifetime clearly saw an opportunity to enter the extreme sports genra and make some money.  Is this bad?  Some people would say yes it is.  It takes away from the sport's nature. 
Here's my take as I posted to the ultralist. 
"As an RD I have to weigh in on this a little bit.  If Lifetime Fitness wants to charge that much for a race, let them.  Why can't they make money doing this?  They are in the business of making money, fitness products are they means to that end.  That is the prime reason any business exists, including mine.  Whether I, or any other RD, chooses to donate all of the proceeds to charity or to their own pocket, is beside the point.  In order to donate or line your own pocket, the bottom line is that you still have to make a profit.  Since I am not independently wealthy, my family budget cannot and will not take a loss just so my race is cheaper (they're already pretty inexpensive even by Utah standards).  Lifetime is clearly charging what the market will bear.  More power to them.  If the market won't bear what they are charging, they will be forced by economics to lower their entry fee, it's that simple.  As it is always said on this list, if you don't like what's being charged by the organizers (including my events), find another event or start your own.  Free enterprise is one of the things that make this country great.
Oh, and I'm running Leadville this Saturday, yeah the entry fee was a little high, but I willingly chose to enter and pay it."

For Leadville, I don't think corporate ownership detracted from the race.  Yes, there was the usual corporate shilling going on during the pre-race, etc., but each aid station was still like the typical ultra aid station.  With well over 600 runners on the course, did that take away from the experience?  This was my main concern, the "crowds".  I don't think it did.  By the time I got past May Queen, the "crowd" had thinned out and it wasn't an issue.  Yes, I was generally always in sight of another runner, but so what?  Ah, but the key questions is, would I go back and run it again?  Probably not, it was beautiful, the organization was impeccable, but there's other races I want to run, and I do have something of an aversion to crowds.  I'd rather run smaller races, but that's just me.

1 comment:

  1. Great job! As for too many runners (I won't go into corporate stuff) - was it difficult to file into a single track around the lake outbound? I had problems in 2005, and there was only 300 starters or so.
    Good luck!