Leadman – A Rough Finish

“That’s the mark of a great crew. When your masochism weakens, their sadism strengthens.” – Jim Knight

It’s hard to know where to even start, but that quote definitely sums up my race.  I love running 100’s and out of all ultra’s, they are my strong distance.  I have a great ability to suffer and just keep going.  I always know a 100 will hurt, but going into them, I always know that I can persevere and finish.  I was not so sure for the Leadville Trail 100 this year.  After 2 massages and a chiropractor visit, my back was not much better.  On Friday I drove to Aspen for what I called a full body reboot.  I visited a deep tissue release specialist.  It really felt like a full body reboot.  It left me sore, but I felt many times better than prior to ‘the reboot’.  This gave me some great mental strength going into the race.  Friday night was spent in the normal fashion, dinner, crew briefing, and early to bed.

I awoke Friday morning excited to race.  We were staying 4 blocks from the starting line and I was going to use this as a quick warm up.  I quickly realized on the way to the starting line that my back was not in good shape and I started having real doubts about running 100 miles. I resorted to my backup plan and took a Percocet and put 2 more in my pocket. 

LT100 Starting Line – 3:50AM

When the race started, I was not able to run at all.  I jogged the first 3.5 miles downhill and then resorted to walking with short bursts of jogging.  I was not able to run at all and the fastest jog I could maintain was ~10min/mile.  At the boat ramp on Turquoise Lake (mile 7), I was ready to quit due to the pain.  Since my crew was not going to meet me until May Queen (mile 13.5), quitting wasn’t an option.  I walked most of the rest of the way to May Queen arriving around 2:40 instead of my planned 1:53. I told my crew I was quitting as I was in severe pain and couldn’t imagine suffering another 87 miles and 24+ hours.  My crew talked me into continuing convincing me that my back could loosen up (it is not uncommon for me to feel crappy the first 12-15 miles of any long run) and that I don’t want to throw away Leadman quite so quickly. 

Emily Sullivan convincing me not to drop at Turquoise Lake

I felt moderately better climbing up to Sugar Loaf Pass and was able to pass many people.  Unfortunately, I was not able to run much of the downhill on Powerline due to the stress it put on my back.  I made it to Fish Hatchery (mile 23.5) feeling miserable, but no worse than before.  Since my stride was so screwed up from my back, I had to do some foot work due to already having sore feet.  I left Fish Hatchery willing to give the suffering another chance.  Similar to my experience around Turquoise Lake, I was not able to run the flats (especially the paved parts) and walked the next 4 miles to the Pipeline Crew Stop.  I sat down and said I was quitting and they should go climb Mt Massive since we are so close to the trailhead and I would sleep in the truck.  My crew (or sadistic crew according to Jim) would have nothing of it.  They convinced me that if I took poles, I could take the stress off my back and I would feel better. 

Brent & Emily convincing me not to take poles and keep going at Pipeline

I left Pipeline with poles and it definitely helped.  I was able to keep a slow, but consistent jog and the flats, gradual climbs, and descents.  I came into Twin Lakes still miserable, but for the first time, actually looking forward to moving on.  I kept moving through the aid station and continued on for the long climb up Hope Pass.  The climb went well and since climbing is my strong suit, I was able to pass quite a few people and was enjoying getting up high.  I only stopped long enough at Hopeless Aid Station to fill my bottles and kept moving.  The next 6 miles to Winfield went by quickly as I was meeting many friends and it was great to cheer people on and get cheered on.  There is a new section of the Continental Divide Trail that allowed us to avoid the horrible and dusty Winfield road.  The trail added about 2.5-3 miles round trip, but it was well worth it as it was a great section of rolling single track and I would do anything to avoid the cars and dust of the Winfield road.  I arrived at Winfield in about 12:40, one of my slowest 50 mile paces, but I was happy to still be making ‘relentless forward progress’ (a statement that had become somewhat of a mantra for me during the day), and excited to be picking up Emily S as a pacer.  As with all aid stations, I sat down to eat, drink, and hopefully reduce some of my pain which was now in my back, glutes, hamstrings, knees, and feet.  Emily S and I headed out of the aid station for the long slog up Hope Pass.  Emily pushed me just hard enough and we made the pass in good time and soon were on our way back to Twin Lakes.

Happy to be at Hope Pass, the 2nd Time

Twin Lakes River Crossing

The face of someone who has been in pain and miserable for 60 miles and 16 hours.

At this point I was just in the mentality of keep moving forward at whatever pace wouldn’t kill me whether it was walking or jogging.  Due to my messed up stride, many other muscles and joints were getting more beat up than my back.  My right glute and hamstring were in rough shape so Emily S gave them a good massage at both Twin Lakes and Pipeline (mile ~73)

This is how you know you have a GREAT pacer!

Emily S continued pacing me out of Twin Lakes and we had a long stretch to Pipeline.  To add to my misery, my stomach had also gone south.  Emily S had her work cut out for her in the next 13 miles to Pipeline where. We continued the standard of walking as fast as possible and a slow jog and were happy to see Brent and Emily B at the crew stop.  Since my feet hurt so bad I decided to try running in Hoka’s. I bought a pair this summer but had only run in them for 20 miles and had not liked the way they felt.  I usually wouldn’t try something new in a race, but at this point, I had nothing to lose.

I was not looking forward to the next 4 miles of road to Fish Hatchery.  I was unable to run it at mile 25 so I doubted I could run it this time – I couldn’t.  Since I couldn’t run, Emily S marched me at a 13:30 min/mile pace all the way to the Fish Hatchery Aid Station.  It always feels good to pass people who are running when you are walking.  Upon arriving at Fish Hatchery, I changed into my magic tights in hopes of helping relieve some of my knee and hamstring pain, filled up with food, had 2 Advil with a Red Bull chaser and took off with Brent for the next 10 mile section up Powerline and over Sugar Loaf Pass.

Brent and I set off on my normal pace of the day, but after about 30 minutes my Red Bull/Advil cocktail started to kick in and I started feeling better than I had felt all day (although just a lower degree of miserable).  I had trained hard on the Powerline climb and knew it was 3.2 miles and 1,600’.  Brent pushed me hard with happy thoughts of skiing powder and using good skimo climbing form.  We continued to catch racer after racer and made the May Queen Aid Station (mile 86.5) at close to my 22 hour goal split pace.  I made it through May Queen just wanting to get done with a modified goal of beating the sun rise (my original goal was 21:45 and I was now hoping to squeak in around 26:30).  I refueled with pancakes and sausage as I walked out of the aid station and had my best pacer (my wife Emily B) taking me to the finish.  I continued to suffer (sometimes worse than others) over the next 13 miles, but we continued to push and to pass people.  It was amazing as I was passing people who were 2-3 hours ahead of me at Winfield.  I didn’t feel good, but I didn’t feel any worse than I had felt the entire day so I was able to slow down much less than other people who were suffering.  Emily pushed me the entire way to the finish line.  I was doing great, but at 500M from the finish line my back totally went out and it was all I could do to keep a jog across the finish line for a finish time of 26:12.

My 2012 Leadville 100 was my second slowest 100 run, but I learned a lot about the power of a motivating crew and my ability to persevere and suffer. Had I dropped, I would have had a very long mental recovery for not finishing Leadman.  Having finished, I have a solid 2-3 weeks of recovery ahead of me, but I also have the extreme pride of being able to persevere and become 1 of only 124 people to complete Leadman with a total time of 46:26. In the last 8 days I have raced ~212 miles and I have learned a ton about how my body reacts (both positively and negatively) to this type of intensity and duration.  I am extremely happy to have finished Leadman and I am looking forward to a fall with no races on the calendar and lots of adventure running.

Leadman Hardware

Final Note: I can’t thank my awesome crew of Emily B, Emily S, and Brent enough.  Without them, I would not (and probably could not) have finished.  They had their work cut out for them with my back issues, but when I didn’t think I could go on, they kept me on track to become a Leadman.

Leadman Events 3 & 4 – 100 Mile Mt Bike & 10K Run

It was a great week after Boom Days.  I rode and ran some final miles, relaxed, made sure I was getting lots of sleep, and eating well.  Emily and my parents arrived on Thursday.  We spent Thursday and Friday preparing for the race, driving around some of the old mines, getting a great tour of Hopemore Mine, and checking out the local Leadville sites.

The Leadville 100 Mile Mt Bike was my first endurance event back in 2004.  At that time, there were only about 750 racers.  This year, there were close to 1,800 riders at the starting line.  Due to the large number of racers, the start racers in corals based on the prior 2 years of finishing times or times of qualifying races.  Since I had not done either, I was put about 60% back.  In hindsight, I should have tried to get moved up based on my Leadman time since there were ~1,000 people in front of me and this easily caused me to lose 20 minutes over the first 10 miles.

Friday was busy with check-in and the pre-race meeting. Unlike most events, the Leadville pre-race meeting is a big ordeal. This year, Lance Armstrong surprised everyone by showing up to give a few words of encouragement to all the racers.

     Lance, Marilee, and Ken

One of my habits from running is to know my splits and the climbs. When running, I carry a small split chart, since I wouldn’t be able to read this while riding, I opted to write the splits on 1 quad and climbs on the other.

     Splits and Climbs

The LT100 Bike has a comfortable start at 6:30AM.  I left the RV at 5:45 feeling great and ready to ride.

     Ready to Race

The race start was very chaotic. The first 4 miles is downhill on asphalt.  It was shoulder to shoulder riding at 30+ mph.  Once we hit the gravel and the narrow climb of St Kevins it was still shoulder to shoulder, the speed slowed to less than 4 mph, and it was shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip bumping the entire climb.  This climb was painfully slow.

     The first 1/3 of the riders lined up waiting for the start

Once at the top of St Kevins, the field opened up for the fast descent around Turquoise Lake, but quickly slowed again on the climb up to Sugar Loaf Pass.  The descent down Power Line was slow which was good as it kept it safe.  We reached the road and had a fast pace all the way to the Pipeline Aid Station where Matt  Hart met me with a fresh water bottle and a couple of turkey sliders.  It was a quick 10 miles from Pipeline to Twin lakes that had some of the best riding of the whole race with some winding single track.  Coming into Twin Lakes was crazy.  Crews lined the trail for around 1/2 mile.  Knowing it would be difficult to find my crew (Emily, Mom, and Dad), I had them fly an NDSU Bison flag so I would be able to find them.

     My crew at Twin Lakes Aid Station

I had a quick stop to swap water bottles and get a new bottle of EFS and was off for the 7.5 mile and 3,200’ climb up to Columbine Mine and the race turn around.  The climb started 2.5 miles from the aid station and right from the start, I had no energy.  I crawled for the first 5 miles of the climb getting passed by probably 100 riders.  Once we got above tree line I started feeling better and was able to pass some riders, but by then, the trail had narrowed and passing was very difficult.  I reached the turn-around about 15 minutes off of my goal splits with the hopes of making up time on the descent.  As luck would have it, I got caught behind someone who did not know how to descend and went 10mph.  I was stuck behind this person for the first 4 miles of the descent before I was able to pass.  This was a frustrating time as all I could do is hold the brakes and wait for an opportunity to pass.  Reaching Twin Lakes the second time I was feeling quite good.  I spent a couple of minutes swapping bottles and eating some real food and then I was off.  We were treated to a strong headwind for the next 15 miles.  I got stuck between groups on this section unable to keep up with the group in front of me to draft on them, and not wanting to go as slow as the group behind me.  I exerted much more energy fighting the wind on the way to Pipeline than I had wanted to. 

     Pipe Line Aid Station

I was able to get into Pipeline and leave very quickly in order to latch onto a group on their way out. This turned out to be a huge benefit. We had a group of 12 who spend the next 7 miles working together into the head and cross winds to the base of the Power Line climb. By this time I was tired, my I/T band hurt, and I was really looking forward to being done with the race (there was only 18 miles left). Power Line was as difficult as I had expected, but was made easier by the fact that I had rode it several times in training. Once at the top of Power Line, there was only 1 short climb (mostly on the road left). I wasn’t losing more time at this point, but I was going to be very close to not being able to finish under 10 hours. Even at the top of St Kevins, I was not sure I would make it. Luckily, at the bottom of St Kevins, I group up with another guy who also wanted to go sub-10 and together we were able to pull each other at a fast pace to the base of the Boulevard and then up the final 3 mile climb to the finish line and finish in 9:51. My goal was 9:30 for the 100 miles. The race is actually 103 miles so I was able to meet my goal average speed (10.5 mph), but not my goal pace.

The Leadville finish lines are always an extravaganza. You run or ride up the red carpet and are greeted by Marilee to give you your finishing medal.

After getting a couple of recovery drinks in me, we enjoyed a bite to eat and an Oskar Blue beer before heading back to the RV for an early night since we had another early morning.

Sunday morning was a 7:30 awards ceremony followed by the 10K at noon.  My glutes were definitely tired and my right I/T band was very tight.  I spent lots of time warming up and stretching before the 10K and was going out to run it at an easy pace.  From the starting line, I was running with 2 other guys doing Leadman and we settled into a fast but conversational pace.  The race was an out and back on the Boulevard which meant basically downhill all the way to the turn around point.  I was dreading the uphill return, but other than the first hill after reaching the pavement, the return was not bad at all.  I was able to finish in 50:05 which I was pleased with.

My problems started after the 10K as my lower back and pelvis got completely out of whack from the run.  Once I stopped at the finish line, I was hardly able to walk.  3 days later, I am still very sore and have not been able to run.  I have had 2 massages and 1 chiropractic adjustment.  I think that at this point, I am a little sore from the massages and adjustment and I have my fingers crossed that I will wake up on Thursday morning feeling better.

I went into the LT100 Bike expecting to lose about 1 hour on my overall Leadman placement.  With the current standings, it appears that I lost from 60-75 minutes.  I also dropped from 8th to 13th place.  My Leadman goal was top 5.  I am currently 1:45 off of top 5.  This is nothing going into a 100 mile run which is my strongest event of the series (if my back/pelvis heals).  With my current health, I am not confident I will be able to run a strong 100 or even finish the 100, but I am focusing all of my attention on doing it.

Getting Ready to Finish Leadman

After Silver Rush 50 on July 15, I drove all the way back to Park City as I was excited to get home and see Emily after 21 days.  It was a busy 11 days at home spending time with Emily, getting caught up with things around the house, seeing friends, recovering, training, unpacking, cleaning and repairing gear, re-packing, and having family in town.  I left for Leadville again on July 27 with the goal of riding most of the LT100 Bike course over the first weekend.

Instead of camping, I found a large RV (it has 5 beds) to rent for the 3 weeks.  With the afternoon thunderstorms this would be better for my training and recovery and it is also large enough for Emily and my parents when they are here for the bike, for Emily, Emily Sullivan, and Brent when they are here for the run, and for some other friends who have talked about coming through town.

     Kitchen/dining/living area of the RV.  The photo is taken from the bedroom/bathroom and there are 2 full size beds behind the closed door.

I have not been pushing my training too hard since the Silver Rush 50 as I feel as though I have been balancing a fine line between recovering and needing to continue to train.  Due to this, I wanted to get out on the LT100 Bike course, but make sure that I didn’t over-do it.  In the first 2 days back I rode 70 miles of the course and all but 1,500’ of the climbing.  I had a great ride from the starting line to Fish Hatchery and back on my first day.  This got me on 4 of the 5 big climbs of the course (St. Kevins, Sugarloaf Pass, Powerline, and St. Kevins).  The next day I rode miles 40-60 which took me up and down Columbine Mine (the longest climb of the race at ~7 miles and 3,500’).  Both of these were great rides and I averaged a much faster pace than I thought I would be able to.  Seeing the course and having a good pace definitely helped me build mental confidence for the race.  I have since climbed St. Kevins, Sugarloar, and Powerline an additional time to get just a little bit more comfortable with the climbs.  My running has definitely taken a back seat the last 2 weeks with only 3 runs.  Mentally, that has been challenging since I am placing the most weight on the LT100 run, but I know that I am in running shape and this is the best thing to do.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, balancing the running and biking training has been one of the biggest challenges of preparing for Leadman. I definitely could not have been as prepared as I am without the help of friend and coach Matt Hart.

     Chad at Columbine Mine – mile 50 of the LT100 Bike

Every year the first week of August marks Boom Days in Leadville.  Boom days celebrates Leadville’s mining history and includes things like a parade, numerous mining events, and a 21 mile burro race (running 21 miles with a burro packing 37 lbs of gear).  I was excited to be able to be in town during Boom Days and watch some of the festivities.  The festivities started on Friday night with some motorcycle competitions (not sure how this relates to the mining heritage, but they were entertaining).  Saturday had the parade and numerous mining competitions (single jack leg drilling, spike driving, hand-mucking, singles hand steeling, and more). 

     Leadville Trail 100 Parade in the Boom Days Parade

I have never had a chance to check out Park City’s mining competitions, so this was a great opportunity.

     Spike Driving: see who can drive a spike the farthest into a rock in 5 minutes – quick video

One of the things I most wanted to see was the burro race.  After having heard of these races for many years and having tried to deal with a burro in Ladakh when we were helping harvest, I couldn’t imaging getting a burro to go 21 miles.  The burros were as stubborn as you would expect, and it was a lot of fun to watch both the start and some of the finishers.

     Start of the Burro Race

On the Saturday of Boom Days, Matt came out to get some acclimatization and for some scouting of the peaks for his and Jared Cambell’s attempt of Nolan’s 14.  It has been great having company out here even though I am bummed I cannot join him on his daily runs.

The days are counting, each day more and more racers are showing up in Leadville and by Friday the town will be hopping.  It is exciting, but I also find myself hiding away in the RV resting and focusing.  The next 12 days will likely be some of the most physically and mentally challenging days I have ever had as I prepare for each race, race, and recover only to do this 3 times in 8 days.  Excitement and nervous anticipation are the words the currently best describe my feelings.