Race Report: 2012 Leadville Trail 100
2007 - volunteer 2008 - DNF @ mile 77 2009 - 24:44 - 55 2010 - 27:52 - 180 2011 - 28:23 - 198 2012 - 28:45 - 226
I have a little history with this event.
History has not been kind to me.
For the fifth year in a row I found myself standing at the corner of 6th and Harrison in the cold pre-dawn darkness waiting to start the Leadville Trail 100 mile race. I volunteered at an aid station in 2007 to fulfill a requirement for another 100 miler, and have been running the race ever since. Things have changed quite a bit since then. There were less than 450 starters in my first one, today there were 800 – and entries had been locked out since January. Due to yet another change, I would be running my 3rd different course variation.
Let’s get the excuses out of the way first.
My training for the summer could barely be considered ‘maintenance’ at best. I logged one of the lowest mileage totals out of all the years I have been doing this. My bread-and-butter training for Leadville is multiple long runs of 20+ miles. Some years, I have done 2 or 3 in a week for several weeks at a slow pace. Emphasizing my training philosophy for these things:
Beat the crap out of your body, as gently as possible.
I was only able to get in a single 20+ mile run in each of the May, June, July, and August months. Nowhere near what I would consider necessary, let alone optimal.
May+June+July (20+ milers up to race day) 2008 - 670 miles (3) 2009 - 790 miles (13) 2010 - 929 miles (9) 2011 - 796 miles (7) 2012 - 721 miles (4)
On the bright side, I had been running consistently. I had been doing more regular tempo work and intervals than I had ever done before, and I set a half marathon PR in July. I had some injuries that were firmly in the annoying category (especially my calves), but nothing debilitating. My only goal was a finish, preferably as drama-free as possible. The time didn’t matter, my training didn’t justify any thoughts of going for a certain time.
Despite needing to work Thursday night, I headed up to Brandon’s BBQ and enjoyed a burger, chips, and way too many cookies. It sucked having to work the whole time, but it was great to still get to hang out and talk with a bunch of like-minded people.
For the first time ever, I had my drop bags packed up before I drove to Leadville. That was a huge effort, but very worthwhile as it freed up my Friday afternoon that is normally spent doing last minute packing. Since I don’t utilize a crew, my drop bags are critical to my success and need to be packed very carefully. There isn’t any room for errors like leaving my lights in the wrong place, etc. After I got them dropped off, I was able to spend the rest of the day chilling out up in the hills taking pictures and relaxing in the fresh air.
I lined up towards the back of the group at the start, and wanted my pace to be painfully slow for the 13 miles it would take to get to the first aid station. I had to hold back for a while, but soon settled down and just shuffled along. I figured it would be a day to gradually work my way up through the field.
I arrived at the first aid station (May Queen) in my slowest ever time, 2:30. This is where the plan backfired a little. I got bored, antsy, whatever – and rebounded with my fastest ever split to Fish Hatchery at mile 23. Getting there in 1:59 while passing about 600 people along the way.
I should have either continuted to be patient and hold back, or just run a more consistent pace from the start. While I did get in too much of a hurry there, I was feeling pretty good at this point and felt optimistic about the day ahead.
Running into the Fish Hatchery aid station is always great. A huge crowd of runner’s crews is gathered there – screaming and clapping. Definitely a big boost. It was also the first of about 400 times I would see Rob out on the course taking pics and cheering on friends.
The road section to Pipeline always sucks, but I ran it about as well as I ever have. Getting back onto the dirt, I started to have some intense foot pain and was constantly shifting my stride to compensate. I love the New Balance 110s, but something in the sole of my latest pair aggravates the hell out of my foot and has developed a painful neuroma on the lateral metatarsals of both feet. I finally got some relief when the terrain shifted to a more rolling nature.
I was starting to get a little tired, which is to be expected after getting up at 2:30 and having 30 miles on the legs so far.
Now the trail was climbing up into the aspens and I started pulling out of my slump. I follow a pretty simple nutrition plan – one gel every 30 minutes, and only water to drink (except for a cup of coke at the aid stations once in a while). It keeps things running smooth for the most part, but you still never really know how your body will react every time you take something in during an event like this. Kind of like pulling the handle on a slot machine.
For whatever reason, the routine gel I took in during this section came up triple 7s. I felt so energized! I rode the wave for several miles into Twin Lakes, bombing down the trail, enjoying it while it lasted.
Running from the start to Twin Lakes is pretty much an auto-pilot affair for me as you can see by my arrival times over 4 years:
2009 - 7:37 2010 - 7:42 2011 - 7:37 2012 - 7:42
Another huge crowd awaits your arrival at Twin Lakes. The celebration is short lived as you realize what is coming next. The dreaded ascent over Hope Pass. The dread became reality as the next 20 miles to hit Winfield and come back to Twin lakes would take me over an hour longer to cover than the first 40 miles of the race. Ouch!
Going outbound went well enough. A little slow, but my attitude was good and I was just taking things easy and enjoying myself. The new trail to Winfield went on forever and sucked significant life out of me by the time it was over.
I got there in 11:45 elapsed time, which is about 40 minutes longer than normal. My feet were killing me again and I opted for a shoe change here. Donnie jumped in as my impromptu crew and was a huge help in getting me sorted out and headed back to Hope Pass.
The five hour trip to cover the 10+ miles back to Twin Lakes was almost unbearable. For the 3rd year in a row, the back side of Hope Pass had kicked my backside. As I sat on a rock, cursing myself for signing up for this stupid race again, I thought about what the remaining 40 miles would hold for me after getting to the next aid station. It would be tough. Really tough, to get to the finish. I had been there, done that, and didn’t want to do it again.
I nudged the elephant that was sitting on my chest making it difficult to breathe and started shuffling my way up the mountain again. Hurting. Demoralized. But not yet defeated.
One thing that kept me going was knowing that my good friend Stuart was waiting at Twin Lakes to pace me the last 40 miles of the race. All day my main goal had been to get to him in decent shape and then we’d get it done from there. I couldn’t even accomplish that much.
The fact that he had taken time away from his family on a weekend to spend the night running/walking/crawling 40 miles with me meant a great deal to me. I had to at least try to make it.
I normally run these things without a crew or pacer. I’m a do it yourself kind of guy and have just never really bought into the whole pacer/crew extravaganza, but I could see myself changing my tune after a race like this one.
Stuart hopped in behind me on the trail through the marsh and I was so fried I didn’t even realize it was him. He and Rob got me all taken care of at Twin Lakes and we set out for the long night ahead.
It would end up taking us exactly 12 hours to cover the 40 miles to the finish. Slow going. Even when I thought I was moving well, it baffled me to no end to constantly get passed with such regularity. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember, but it sure seemed like a steady stream of people were going by us all night long.
We shared some good laughs, and Stuart’s company out on the trail was nice to have. I especially liked how he could respond and interact with other racers/pacers while letting me conserve my precious oxygen. The weather was fantastic, just a tiny bit on the cold side. I don’t recall any major drama other than my lungs being the main thing that was limiting me. I was just slow and tired.
The powerline climb took a while, but wasn’t as bad as I had feared it might be. Once we got down to Hagerman road I ran the whole thing at a pretty fast pace, showing that I had plenty of leg left – but the lungs were toast.
The May Queen aid station is such a great milestone to reach, the last one of the race – but it’s depressing as well because you still have 13+ miles to go! I moved a little better along the lake when Stu calculated we were going to be cutting things close. I put in several long running stretches and seemed to be able to breathe a bit better, even running many of the hills. Finally passing people, which felt great.
Our MQ split to the finish was 3:21. 30 minutes slower than 2009, but over an hour faster than last year. Hit the line in 28:45 and was very happy to have another finish and to have been able to share the journey with such a good friend.
When I got the big buckle in 2009, I really thought that was going to be the ‘norm’ and that I still had quite a bit of room to improve. It turns out that year has been the exception. While it has been frustrating to endure the past three years of rough finishes, I still made it. That counts for a lot and has given me great experience and confidence. I couldn’t really care less how I stack up against others (for the most part), but I am very competitive with myself. That 2009 guy better watch out, I gunning for him big-time next year!
Stuart wrote an excellent report on our 40 mile jog together. See that here.