The sky was that late afternoon, hazy sort of bright and only just beginning to turn shades of purple and pink as the sun began its slow descent behind the mountains, but inside my head all was dark and suffocating. I fell into the abyss and was scrambling to climb out but found myself with nothing to grasp. It was like a bad dream, but it was so very real.
I kept thinking to myself, "How did I get here?"
As I pulled off the steep trail at a switchback, I leaned down and grabbed onto a smooth log on the ground and sat on it, sobbing with heaving gasps, unable to catch a full breath. "I can't, I don't want, I just, I can't, how?..." I couldn't even form a sentence. I had words in my head, but they came out solo between short breaths, not quite stringing together to form a coherent thought. I felt...dreadful.
The mountain had beaten me. It had beaten me good. You do these sorts of things, you step outside of your comfort zone (in this case, I took a running, pole-vaulting leap outside of my comfort zone!) to learn more about yourself, to see what you are made of. I didn't like what I saw. I saw fear, weakness, frailty. I saw my race ending, a smug race official clipping off my medical wristband, thinking to themself, "rookie." But what gripped me most and only tightened the further up that mountain I headed was the fear of damage not just to my ego, but to my well being. It was over for me, I knew this, but it needed to be on my terms at that very moment. The lack of nutrition, salt and oxygen in my body surely blinded my judgment, but I knew deep down, this was it.
For the first time in a race, my mind got the better of me. The one thing I really had going for me was actually failing me.
LEADVILLE TRAIL 100 RUN...A Lesson in Futility.
Waaaay back in January was when it all began, officially. Geof, Brian and I submitted our race entries, paid our fees and set the plan in motion. I had all the time in the world to prepare myself mentally for the challenge ahead of me. And, after pulling through a dark spot during Rocky Raccoon 100 the following month, I felt confident in my ability to push through the muck and get it done. But lets be real here folks, Leadville ain't no joke and I knew it was going to hurt in more ways than one and that the challenge was going to be greater than anything else I'd put myself through. There was no way to gauge just how tough I was going to need to be to get through it successfully.
Well, now I know :)
The flight and drive out to Leadville went very smoothly, and after a stop off at 11,990 ft. Loveland Pass...
Medical check-in went smoothly...
...followed by the pre-race meeting (which was P-A-C-K-E-D). The gymnasium wasn't really meant to hold 700 bodies so I found myself heading outside to catch a breeze to avoid a fainting spell! Geof and I stood in the doorway and just as we planted ourselves there, in walks Tony Krupicka. I'm not gonna lie, I was a little star struck. But lets not over analyze that :)
High Mountain Pie to give our taste buds a delightful, doughy treat. We all gave them 16 thumbs up for the food and general awesomeness of the place.
After lunch, we headed back to the Hostel to begin organizing our drop bags. What a pain in the butt it is to do these, but a very necessary pain in the butt. It's tough to put these together when you have no idea what to expect from the weather, not to mention your stomach. I think we spent about two hours on this little task, and got to the courthouse lawn just in time to drop them off before race volunteers hauled them off to the various aid stations along the course later that evening. Once that was done, I felt like I could finally relax. I had my crew bag all organized and ready to go, my clothes and shoes laid out for the morning, a delicious lasagna dinner in my belly, and, for the first time pre-race, not a single non-water beverage (maybe that was my first mistake!!). Surely, I kid ;)
Turquoise Lake...we would be running around this gem in the dark wee hours of the next morning, so I'm glad we got a chance to check it out in the daylight beforehand. Not too shabby, huh?
We set our alarms for 2:00 a.m. (gross, right?!) and somehow I managed to wake up at 1:37 without assistance...that was weird. At least I got a very good night's sleep that night and the previous one. Wild Bill (one of the proprietors at the Hostel) insisted we "evacuate" (his words, not mine!) as soon as we woke up, eat and then get ready. I decided to take his advice and it seemed to work out just fine :-) The rest of the troops awoke without any pushing and very soon the Hostel was buzzing like a generator! Whew, talk about excitement in the air, and we weren't even at the starting line! I focused on keeping my cool though as my heart rate was already going to be elevated due to the altitude, I didn't need nerves raising it any higher.
At 3:15 we headed for the starting line at 6th and Harrison just in time to do a final racer check-in and then play the hurry-up-and-wait game. Suddenly, it was all very real. We were there, finally. It was no longer a story playing out in my mind, a visualization, it was actually really real.
Geof and I with our amazing crew: Rob, Tom, Rina and Lucy
With Brian and Geof
As you can imagine, it was a bit of a zoo with almost 700 runners toeing the starting line. After some quick words, the RDs sent us off into the cool morning to begin our 100 mile journeys.
I'll not give a blow-by-blow of the course because I think everyone else and their mother has described the LT100 course in painful detail...emphasis on painful. Anywho, after a really great warm-up of a run down a dusty dirt road and then some wide double-track trail around the lake, the sun began to rise over the mountains, casting a beautiful glow between the trees. I should note that even though there were a gagillion runners out there, I never had an issue with the "single track" which was actually quite wide and allowed plenty of room for passing in most sections. Coming out onto a road, we were led into the first aid station at 13.5 miles, May Queen. At 2h:35 minutes, and just five minutes behind schedule, I was pumped to see Rina standing to the left of the tent, and to my surprise, so were Rob and Tom! We planned on having Rina stick with me all day, and the boys were going to take care of Geof since he was planning on shooting for a sub-25 hour finish and thus moving much quicker than I.
"So what are you guys doing here? Where's Geof?"
I look like a bug with my clear-lens sunglasses :)
I look like a bug with my clear-lens sunglasses :)
Turns out, Geof was only about five minutes ahead of me at that point. Rina had a fresh bottle o' Perpetuem ready for me and the guys handed me more gels and swapped out my clear lenses for my dark lenses since the sun was up now. This was a smooth and fast turn around and I was out of there quickly. I couldn't remember what the next section was, but as I headed up the road out of the AS, I knew it wasn't going to be a fast one.
It's a rocky climb up some mound of dirt and I recall thinking to myself, "what the eff is this?! And why wasn't this on the course description?" I found myself stuck in the middle of a long train of chatty dudes and decided to just zone out rather than plug in the iPod. Eventually, the climbing shut everyone up pretty well :) Sherpa John passed me for the first time here and I smiled as he passed and said hello. I love seeing familiar faces on the trails. Eventually, the climb gets out of the trees and we're on a steadily climbing and switchbacking dirt road. I still had no clue where we were. I was looking for powerlines, thinking maybe it was Sugarloaf, but it just didn't seem like I'd come that far already, and it certainly wasn't anywhere near as bad as a lot of people described it.
Turns out, we were climbing Sugarloaf Pass :)
I caught up to and then passed Brian, making sure we could keep our own paces. I was power hiking like a mutha and really enjoying it a lot. Eventually, the steep Powerline descent began and Brian shot by me like a bat outta hell. I gingerly ran down, saving my knees and quads for later battles. Sherpa John passed by me again here...wait a minute, what? He was having some GI wars with nature. We eventually got onto a boring road section that went on for a ways, and then brought us to Fish Hatchery. This is a place where fish...hatch. I didn't see them, but I did see Rina's smiling face running out into the road telling me to run up to and through the barn, grab some more gels, and then come back to her on my way out. I loved that they were stocking my favorite gels, Powerbar Gel, so I grabbed a buttload of them and brought them back with me. Rina, of course, was on top of everything and had my next bottle and gels ready for me to swap out. I was then on my way to Treeline.
I don't really remember the run up to Treeline, but I feel like it involved roads again. Then again, I may be confusing it with the lead-up to Fish Hatchery. But, I digress. I was feeling groovy, swapping spots with Brian, back-and-forth. He's a great downhiller and I'm more of an uphiller. Nothing really stands out here, other than I noticed that all the aches that ran with me the first part of the race were now non-existent and everything was feeling great. Treeline is about mile 27 and replaced the original Halfmoon AS, which was inaccessible to crews. However, there is a new Halfmoon (II/Box Creek) that is at mile 30, so aid was close together here, unlike the rest of the course. Coming into Treeline, Rob met me along the dirt road, "I have a surprise for you!" "What? Is it Geof??" "It is!" I couldn't help it, I teared up I was so freakin' elated!
Geof decided it was futile to push to chase a time he wasn't going to hit, and miss out running together, so he decided to wait for me at Treeline. After a quick shoe change (into my La Sportiva Wildcats) and removal of my warm top layer, we were off on the trail, together. My favorite way to be :)RecoFit leg sleeves kept my legs warm and feeling really good. And, of course, my Atayne CHUG shirt just looked smokin' hot :) And, yes, I did in fact wear my treasured racing pearls under my Buff.
I was on cloud 9 now that Geof and I were running together. He keeps me moving faster than if I were on my own, but still within my comfort zone. Plus, how could you NOT want to stare at those legs for another 70 miles?! :) Again, I digress. It was a quick jaunt up to the Halfmoon II AS where I grabbed a couple more gels and Geof topped off my Perpetuem. After that, I think the trail actually skirts around Mt. Elbert, which is pretty cool. Lots of gorgeous terrain, shady, quiet, calm. Eventually the course takes a downhill turn and you ride that all the way down to Twin Lakes, which was the antithesis of that serene trail we were just on. It's a very rocky final descent and super steep, but then your are in the middle of a full on human zoo. Watch out, runners coming through!! Geof's friend Julia met us at the trail head and ran with us to our crew. Geof changed into trail shoes and I grabbed a long sleeve shirt to tie around my waist. I decided that since I hadn't peed since earlier in the race, and we were now at mile 39.5, I should try to make amends with my bladder.
This was a great waste of time. I wasn't concerned though since my hands weren't puffy and my stomach and legs felt great. I just needed to drink more water. I was, however, starting to get moody, which usually means I need fuel.
Heading out of Twin Lakes, and towards the motherload: Hope Pass
They say you should get out of Twin Lakes before you see the front runners coming through, so we were feeling good when we were halfway through the marshes out of TL before we saw Tony Krupicka running towards us. Bam! So, yea, how about those stream crossings? These were another thing that got a lot of "hype" and were actually nothing. Yea, there were about seven in a row, but they were shallow, and the actual river crossing had a rope across it to help you stay upright, and it wasn't any deeper than my knees. The cold water felt GREAT on my hot spotted feet. I decided to do without gaiters for this race and subsequently got a good amount of dirt and debris in my shoes, nothing too horrible, but my Drymax Socks were unhappy with my decision. Ah well, I still only ended up with one blister that disappeared in a day :)
As we headed for the Hope Pass trailhead, Geof strongly suggested I take a gel, as I was now Ms. Crankypants. So, I did, and as we ascended higher and higher I noticed I was feeling better and better. Isn't that weird? I could tell throughout the day that breathing was slightly more labored up in the higher altitude, but it wasn't bad and just required me to take it a tad easier to avoid going anaerobic. However, climbing Hope Pass was a slightly different story. While we were both getting winded more easily, climbing 2499 feet in about 2.5 miles (or something like that), we kept on moving. We did stop a number of times to sit on a log along the trail and get our heart rates down to a human level. We also spent some good trail time with Monica Scholz, chatting it up with her. She is just lovely! Her Leadville finish is her 16th or 17th 100 mile finish of 2010. Freakin' amazing. Anywho, little by little, and baby step after baby step we made it out of treeline and before too long, we came upon the Hopeless Aid Station at just before 3:00 (an hour and a half to spare on the cutoff time!), just under a mile from the top of the Pass. Llamas are the only way to get all the AS supplies up top, so they were grazing in the open field. We stopped for a short bit to lower the HR and get some water, and then trudged on, finally tackling the rocky stretch that led us to the top of the Pass.
I wish I had had a camera for the top, but I'll tell you it looks just like all the amazing photographs I've seen of it. Breathtaking...literally! Standing 12,600 some feet above sea level, drinking it in. How cool! It was windy and brisk up that high, but at least the sun was out in full force. Not much time to kill here, so we immediately set about the steep and ROCKY southern descent, moving aside for all the uphillers because we are just nice peeps :) Holy EFF, where did these rocks come from? It's like they imported them from the Sucky Rock Place in Suckville, USA just to make this section suck worse than it already did. It was a long trail of suck, causing a suckfest to commence in my head.
I should have told myself to shutup. This was the first crack in the foundation.
Finally we make it back below treeline, and it's more moving to the side for others, smiling, saying hello to familiar faces and generally enjoying myself, but still knowing there's a major battle about to wage war in my head. I was not hungry so I hadn't had a gel for a bit, and my hands had become pretty puffy by the time we hit Hopeless AS, and I still had yet to pee a second time. I knew this meant to stay off the salt, and keep up with the liquids to force myself to pee. Of course, no salt meant my stomach was going to start going south, not to mention my mental faculties. (Who has a faculty in their head? I dunno, but that's what they say :))
People were very encouraging, but I was starting to get really irked by everyone saying the bottom was "really close" "just a few minutes down the trail" "you're almost there!" Honestly, runners who've been on the trail for 50+ miles, at altitude, should NOT be giving distance estimates, ha! So, when we did finally reach the bottom of the trail and turned onto the dusty road to Winfield, I was only slightly demoralized. Then we determine it's another 2.5-3 miles UP this really awful road to get to the turnaround. My mind entered a whole new level of darkness. To add insult to injury, we'd managed to lose almost all of our time cushion and were now pushing the cutoff at Winfield. We had just 45 minutes to get up there and turn it around. AND the dusty crappy road was filled with crew cars flying by us kicking up dust and dirt so I pulled my Buff up over my face to keep it out, but still managed to fill my lungs with it.
Geof was getting more vocal about his worry surrounding the impending cutoff and I quietly ran behind him a few strides, sulking and falling ever deeper into a strange feeling of despair. Every corner felt like it was going to be the aid station, but it was just another long stretch of hellish uphill road. I couldn't believe how quickly I'd fallen in the last couple of hours. I was trying to channel that happy place I felt running through a random mountain meadow on the climb up the north side of Hope. Nothing. As we finally neared the aid station and could hear the buzz of a packed house, Geof waited for me to get to him and grabbed my hand. I was now hyperventilating. Whoa, where did that come from? I couldn't form tears, so clearly I was dehydrated, which set me off into a mental tailspin. Geof voiced his concern over missing the next cutoff since we were so close to this one, but added, "You know we have to leave this aid station, right? We have to try." I came undone.
Finally getting into Winfield...I was bummed to say the least
After getting weighed in the med tent (I'd actually lost .4 pounds, but my hands still looked like jumbo marshmellows!) and moved along, our crew made quick business of getting us out of there. Rina was jumping in with me and Tom was joining Geof. I finally managed to pee, hooray! and down a Starbucks Doubleshot. Rob gave me a S!Cap and then we were out of there, with 8 minutes to spare. This was far too close for comfort.
On the road back out, Rina was saying all the right things and being such a good sport, and I was such a basketcase. All I could think about was how we had only 3h:45m to climb up and over Hope Pass, when it just took us almost 5 hours to do it the first time, on far fresher legs! I couldn't come up with a way that it was going to happen. I was pissed. I choked down a gel, thank goodness, and drank water like it was my job. But something was still off. I felt like I was teetering on the edge of something, but what, I couldn't tell. We ran and walked that 3 mile stretch and I hated every footfall. Tom and Geof were just ahead of us, mimicking our stride. Eventually, we made it to the trailhead and began the climb up. I almost immediately began talking myself out of it. It was so strange to actually be in the spot I was in, totally demoralized and completely stripped of any happy place. I was toast, and it happened so quickly; I never saw it coming.
Not more than a mile up and I'd had it. My breathing was heavily labored and short, my stomach was souring, my hands were getting puffier, I didn't want anything to eat that I had on me and I was starting to shiver. This was it. I was sobbing, shamelessly, uncontrollably. Geof was holding me trying his best to comfort me, to convince me to go on. I couldn't. Tom did his best to make me laugh, and I couldn't even muster that. I knew that if we continued on together, neither of us would make the cutoff, but I knew that Geof, on his own, would make it. I just knew it. I begged him to go on, and after quite a bit of this, he finally decided he'd go on. I could tell it wasn't easy for him and that it hurt maybe as much as it hurt me to turn around, but I knew I was only going to hold him back. Heading back down that mountain was crushing in a way I've never been crushed. The last 8 months flying through my mind, seeing Brian shuffling up the road to Winfield, having missed the cutoff, and telling us to, "Keep moving, go get it!" and seeing all the haggard souls snailing up the mountain in front of us. This hurt, but there was no turning back now. Coming upon two trail sweepers, it suddenly became completely undoable. They clipped off my medical bracelet, officially ending my race...and I completely lost it again. How did I get here?
I'll reiterate, Rina was SUCH a good sport and had nothing but positive and encouraging things to say to me. It actually softened the blow of my very first DNF, so for that I thank her deeply. Riding in the back of a Search and Rescue truck on the way to Twin Lakes, I stared out the window and did my best to compose myself, knowing I had a long night ahead of me still. My race was over, but Geof's was just beginning.
THE LIGHT SIDE OF THE MOON :)
Geof came screaming into Twin Lakes with Tom at 9:25, 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff...yes, that means the dude ran up and over Hope Pass in 3h:25m...um, who DOES that?! Rob, Rina and I were momentarily speechless. Snapping to it, we got him into dry shoes and warm clothing. He was a man on a mission. I knew right then this was his race and he wasn't going down without a fight!!
The rest of the night went much like this and I was SO proud to be out there crewing for him, getting to see this bare-knuckle-fighter side of his running. Everyone was frustrated with the ridiculous cutoffs, and Geof managed to fuel his run with that frustration, moving back through the course as smoothly as he had the first half of the race. I was blown away! While the night was long and cold, mixed with intermittent sleep and plenty of laughs thanks to Tom, it certainly turned into a far more rewarding experience than I had envisioned as I climbed down Hope Pass, defeated and broken. How did I get here, again?
As the night faded and slowly turned into a gleaming day in the mountains, the sun warming our faces again, we headed out of May Queen for the final time. After showering at the Hostel, we grabbed Brian, Kelly and Deanna and walked down to the finish line to await Geof's arrival. I was struck with bouts of sadness as I stood there, overwhelmed by those crossing the finish line, knowing they fought the good battle and came out the other side, knowing that on this day they were far stronger than I. I struggled in those final hours with how to balance my intense disappointment with myself, and extreme elation over Geof's incredible accomplishment. How can I be envious and overjoyed at the same time? I decided I needed to forget my own selfish issues and revel in the awesomeness of what Geof was about to do. As he suddenly appeared at the bottom of the hill, easing up towards the finish line with Rob I was overcome with this all-encompassing feeling of complete happiness. He was doing it, he was really doing it! That's MY man!
As soon as he crossed the line, he walked right over to me and held me tight. We both were completely overcome and I could feel it coursing through him as his torso shook in my arms. Talk about an emotional finish! Ay yaya, I'm getting all misty just typing it! With a time of 28h:21m, Geof got 'er done. Take that Leadville, with your crappy cutoff times, high altitude and 45% finishing rate! :)
And now for some deep thoughts. I don't know that I'll be back at this one, but I sure am glad I tried. It did show me that I have ginormous...gonzagas...for even attempting this one, as a flatlander, with low-mileage and very little hill training. So I do give myself credit for it. I honestly feared this race, and it's the first race where deep down I knew there was a high probability of not finishing. And yet, I still went for it. I'm patting myself on the back :) This race also showed me that most, if not all, obstacles reside within your mind.
"If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." (Not my quote, I'm not really that insightful, but someone else is, I just can't recall who.)
This experience has taught me not to take my mind for granted; it is a powerful tool that must be reigned in before it gets out of hand. I'm not sure where I lost it out there, but I did manage to find it before we left town. After a few days of letting my first DNF sink in I think I've finally gotten over it. I don't feel bitter, as I thought I may, and I certainly don't feel like I need to rush back there to get my "revenge". Actually, it's the opposite. I respect that race and what it is, and I respect the fact that it's not really my thing at this juncture. Those mountains take no prisoners, and that's fine with me; I think I'm a better person for the experience. Cool, huh?
We had amazing crew support for this and I am very much indebted to Rina, Rob and Tom for all their help. A big thank you to Joe Judd for showing up at Twin Lakes, dressed and ready to pace, and there I was bundled up and a hot mess, feeling sorry for myself. Luckily, Joe was able to find another runner to pace. Thank you ALL! Rina, you are truly wonderful.
Ya' know, maybe one day I will return, if only because it's a beautiful course, but it would only happen after having lived at altitude with plentiful access to really awesome mountain running :) I do see many Colorado mountains in our future...muhahaha!
I'm thinking we should just change the name "2010 LT100" to the "2010 LT54" :-) Hey, I got a pretty decent long training run in. And it would be irresponsible to have all this training under my belt and not use it...watch out!!
So you actually were looking for a successful LT100 race report? Oh, okay, well you can read Geof's race report HERE :)
This picture cracks me up and I wanted to share it...Brian and Geof, on the way to medical check-in :)