Since dropping out at mile 60 of the Leadville 100 in 2006, it’s always been in the back of my mind to get back out there to finish it off. This year was the perfect opportunity as I had three motivating factors: 1) make up for dropping out in 2006; 2) an odd way to celebrate turning 40 years old; 3) motivation to recover from a spinal fusion in September 2013. Eric and Steve were easy to talk into signing up also. After registering on the first day that it opened (1/1/14) every workout and every run had me thinking about this race. A slow trail marathon in March was a “test” for my healing neck that went well, 38 miles of the Jemez 50 in May was good suffering in terrible weather, the Frisco Solstice 46 miler in June gave me serious doubts, and a few good long runs/fast-hikes in July had me as ready as I was going to be. My left foot and Achilles tendon started to become really sore and pushed me into an early taper, which really had me worried, but could’ve been a blessing in disguise. I even had a picture from Trail Runner magazine of Ken Chlouber staring down a shotgun hanging in my office staring at me every day! With just a couple weeks until the race, Jean and Miles were both sick and doing everything possible to keep the germs away from me. I was terrified, I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the race, and started obsessing over details. I tried to convince myself that this was just a “healthy respect” for what was upcoming, instead of my cocky attitude in 2006.
When you have a goal that you're reaching for that takes you out of your comfort zone, you’ll find some talents and abilities that you didn’t know that you have.
Go time…. Miles would stay with my folks for the weekend, Jean would be my amazing and selfless crew, Jason would be my solid pacer for 43 miles then Jean would take over. Steve and Danielle picked me up Thursday evening and we stayed at Melanie’s place in Salida so we could get to Leadville Friday morning to check-in, get weighed, and hear the “you may die tomorrow” speech. I felt sick to my stomach, my heart was beating way too fast, and I felt like I was about to have a panic attack every 10 minutes. The pre-race meeting was filled with energy, funny stories from Dr. John (“the first thing to come up when you puke is your motivation”), and emotional encouragement from Ken. After chilling out in the hotel for a couple hours my crew and Eric’s crew met in the parking lot to go over a few time/place details. We inhaled crappy Pizza Hut pizza, I went over my piles one last time, and tried to get to sleep around 9pm. I slept solid for a few hours, then kept nervously waking up until 2am when I threw in the towel and just got up and hung out in the bathroom drinking coffee and eating a bacon sandwich. Jean was awake tending to her nagging cough.
If it was easy, everybody would do it.
The hotel hallways were active with other runners as we headed out at 3:20am to meet up with running friends/crews/pacers at the house that Melanie had rented one block from the starting line. As we were walking past the starting line, the one and only Ken Chlouber walked over and shook my hand saying “congratulations, you’re the first one to the starting line!” I took this as a good omen. Jean gave me one last big hug, huge smile, and words of encouragement. Last minute chit-chat with everyone took us to just a few minutes before the 4am start then Eric and I weaved our way through the crowd to about a third of the way back. Steve, Danielle, and Melanie ended up going around and way in the back of the pack, we wouldn’t seem them until the turn-around. The energy was amazing and I finally felt ready to go for a long run with 690 other folks. Jogging down the street Eric and I joked around as usual and laughed the time away. About 55 minutes in, we hit the Turquoise Lake trail and settled into a rhythm knowing it was wasted energy to pass many people. There was a very bright light across the lake and we thought it may have been Ken on a Ski-Doo lighting the way! Another fun conversation was starting sentences with “May Queen….” since that was the name of the first aid station. Headlamps were soon turned off and the miles ticked away through the chilly morning over the rocky trail wrapping around the lake. We arrived at the May Queen Aid Station (13.5 miles) at 6:25am, about five minutes ahead of our planned time. The aid station volunteers are amazing, they come right up to you asking what you need and help out all of these complete strangers in every way possible. Our goal was a fast transition so we refilled bottles, grabbed whatever food we wanted and started moving. Billy and Lucas were along the way so Eric could ditch his warm clothes.
You are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.
The course continues up a hill on pavement then cuts over to a trail that traverses over three rivers towards Sugarloaf Pass. More joking around as Eric and I marched the five miles up the Pass. At one point he pushed me and said I was disqualified for receiving assistance, HA! The sun was warm and felt great. Next was five miles of downhill along the deeply rutted 4x4 road with careful attention to each step. We hit the pavement and knew it was just two miles to the Outward Bound Aid Station (24.5 miles) around 8:45am where Jean and Jason would be waiting. We arrived there just a couple minutes ahead of pace, and found them right away. Being a crew in a race like this takes an amazing and selfless person…. Often they sleep just as little as the runner and speed between aid stations just to wait hours for their runner. Once you arrive they cater to your every need while getting handed smelly socks, refilling bottles, making sure you have sunscreen and food, making sure you don’t linger too long, give words of encouragement, telling you that you look fresh despite actually looking like you got hit by a truck and dragged through a latrine, then getting you moving again when all you want to do is sit or curl up in a ball and cry. Jean even filled a giant backpack up with stuff that I would potentially need and carried it (and a chair) several times so I wouldn’t have to go the extra 100ft to the car. AMAZING and I’m forever indebted.
If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm.
Out of the Outward Bound Aid Station and across a couple miles of field, then a couple miles of road to the Pipeline trail. It was warming up quite a bit and Eric said he was going to walk while I kept on jogging. I had been eating consistently all morning and felt great so I kept on jogging at an aerobic pace along the double-track dirt road. I just cruised along this section arriving at the Half Pipe Aid Station (31 miles) just over an hour later, around 10am. I refilled my water bottle, inhaled some chips and watermelon, and was out of there minutes later. Still feeling great I cruised along the road, got on the Colorado Trail, and jogged all of the flats and downhills while chatting with an Australian couple. Soon there was music pumping and I came across the Mt Elbert trailhead knowing there was just three miles of downhill to the Twin Lakes Aid Station (39.5 miles). I was ahead of schedule and turned on my phone to text our neighbors that I was going to be at Twin Lakes before my 12:30pm estimate. At first, I didn’t want anybody at the race except Jean, mainly because I did not want to face failure in front of friends or have to make up excuses why I quit. Our awesome neighbors insisted, and I’m glad they did because their positive energy and enormous amount of support was a very welcomed sight. At 11:50am I checked into Twin Lakes and Nicole and kids were right there with big smiles, high fives, and hugs. A quick visit, then I re-filled water/food and headed south towards Hope Pass still feeling great. There are over a thousand people at Twin Lakes and everyone is cheering and going nuts, it’s easy to feed off of the energy.
When life knocks you down try to fall on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up.
Through the field and across the swamp, knee deep water crossings, unavoidable puddles, then the actual river crossing with a rope across it. It was about thigh-deep and the freezing cold water felt AWESOME on my feet and legs. Back into the woods and time to begin the 3400’ climb up to Hope Pass. I was looking forward to this because I love going uphill and can frequently pass a ton of people. Still feeling great and inhaling food, I started reeling runners in. Some were sitting on logs, some were hardly moving, and some were spewing their guts on the trail. The three lead runners came flying past and it was slightly depressing knowing that they would be sleeping in their own bed tonight and I still had a loooong night ahead of me. Treeline came and it was odd to have such great weather in the afternoon at 12,000ft. The “Hopeless” Aid Station, which is stocked by alpacas, came into view and I took several pictures during a quick water refill. Just a few more switchbacks to the 12,600ft pass. I let out a victory yelp and carefully started down the steep descent after a quick text to Jason that I was comin’ in hot. I also received a text from Eric that his knee was hurt and he was going to drop out. That really bummed me out. Careful footing as wet toes jammed against the front of my shoes. Two steep miles down, then two cruel and warm miles west along the trail to Winfield. Plenty of runners were coming the other way so there were lots of stops, starts, and shimmying by each other. Doing the math in my head the idea crept in that I could kinda push it on the way back at hit 25 hours for a big belt buckle. I tried to immediately dismiss that idea knowing that I would blow up at some point and that my goal was just to finish feeling good. I arrived at Winfield (50 miles) at 3:12pm, over an hour ahead of my planned time. Winfield is another party scene, but I had business to take care of. Jason was ready to run and stoked about my time and good mood. Jean was tending to my needs to get me back on the trail within 15 minutes. And I was reveling in how great I felt versus eight years earlier at this same spot.
You have this opportunity of a lifetime, it means absolutely nothing if you don’t take advantage of it in the lifetime of this opportunity.
Jason gave me the two minute countdown and then off we went. Pacers, like crews, are another set of unique individuals. Completely selfless and willing to slog along through the night with a grumpy runner who often can’t do more than just mumble obscenities and complaints. Jason is also the person you want in this role… he’s incredibly strong on the mountain trails with several 100’s under his belt and his good attitude is unwavering. We discussed how each other’s days were going and cheered on runners going the other direction while enjoying that every step was one closer to the barn. Two traversing miles went quick then the turn north for 2400ft up the steep trail to Hope Pass for the second time (aka, The Soul Crusher). My quads did not like this but I motored on at a good pace, glad to have my poles. My mouth started turning dry and Perpetuem was tasting terrible. Next was a few dry-heaves. Chewing on a little square of chocolate took way too long. I was bonking but couldn’t get any fuel in my stomach. It took an admirable 90 minutes back to the top of the pass in still great weather then down down down. We jogged some short sections and cruised right through Hopeless Aid Station. I tried to eat a Gu, and no sooner did I say “I hope this stays down long enough to absorb a little bit”, did I start puking Gu and water. It was an interesting orange color. I wiped my mouth with my hat and started to jog. Man, that felt good… but I knew I would seriously be hurting for energy soon. Water was staying down and a side-stitch was developing, but I felt better. We speed walked most of the way with brief bouts of jogging, then back to the river for another chilly soak.
What reason can you remember to call on that can make you get back up? Find that reason.
Pulling into Twin Lakes (60.5 miles) at 7:11pm still over an hour ahead of schedule, and there’s Bob, Sharon, and Steve C. waiting to pace Steve, Danielle, and Mel. Always great to see these awesome friends. Next was Kyle with Molly, then Colette and the kids, then Nicole and her kids, and another surprise was Gary and Mia! Jean shuffled us off to their crew spot and got to work swapping my shoes/socks, food/water, and handed me nighttime supplies. The mood was festive, the kids had a big sign, and everyone was super stoked for me. I hate attention, but this really got me amped up and I would feed off of it for hours! 15 minutes went way too fast and a few of the kids jogged up the road with us after hugs and high-fives. I am a very fortunate person to have such caring and supportive friends and family.
Greatness is a lot of small things done well. Day after day, workout after workout.
We climbed for three miles on the smooth and kind-to-sore-feet Colorado Trail BS’ing about everything under the sun. Junior Mints really hit the spot and it was good to get something in my stomach. Music was blasting at the Mt Elbert Trailhead again and we soon picked up the High Line trail. It was inevitable… time for headlamps. The pace is always slower at night and things get funky when sleepiness sets in. Shadows play tricks on you and your world consists of no further than a circle of light. At 9:35pm we pulled into Half Pipe Aid Station (69 miles) over 2 hours ahead of schedule. Jason and his never satisfied appetite recommended against the soup yet gave two thumbs up for the boiled/salted potatoes. I got a few Band-Aids and tape to fix up some painful blisters under three toes. As soon as I started walking it was evident that the tape would cause blisters in other areas.
Turn your pain into greatness. Allow your pain to push you from where you are, to where you want to be. Your pain is going to be a part of your prize.
Small sage bushes looked like a herd of mini-sheep and I swear I saw a bobcat run along the trail. Slow jogs were combined with fast marching and we occasionally passed, or were passed, by other runners and their pacers, always exchanging pleasantries and encouragement. We hit the alternative crew zone with dozen of cars and crew members bundled up in sleeping bags in chairs. Shortly after, Jason made a quick stop and I continued knowing that he’d catch up in minutes. Soon there wasn’t another runners headlamp ahead of me, no lights behind me, no trail markers, and the trail was curving towards the road. Somehow I missed an obvious turn and started backtracking. Nothing like adding some extra distance! I shouted Jason’s name a few times figuring he was already way ahead of me. I texted him, and fortunately he had his phone on, and said he was already at the pavement and was running fast thinking I was farther ahead. HA! He waited for me and we stomped along the pavement to the Outward Bound field. We had to dodge all of the gopher holes and saw the Outward Board Aid Station (75.5 miles) in the distance. We arrive at 11:20pm, 2 hours and 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and I headed right to the port-a-potty while Jason found Jean. Hot Ramen noodles tasted amazing and Jean got us all stocked up again while the cold of the valley set in. Before leaving we spent a few minutes next to a smoky fire warming up.
When the messenger of misery visits you, what are you going to do. what will keep you in the game?
As we left I realized how freakin’ cold it was and wished I had more than a couple shirts, gloves, and a buff. Two miles of slight climbing on the pavement, which fortunately warmed us up, then the last big climb… under the powerlines and up 11,071’ Sugarloaf Pass. I knew we had approximately 90 minutes of hell, then easy miles to the finish. I thought the rocks and tree stumps were beautiful crystals like geodes, but it ended up just being frost. And why can’t they put a trail with good footing on either side of this hell?! Three false summits later we could hear horns in the distance and what sounded like an incredible party! At the top of the pass we were greeted by a group of loaded dudes who were having a blast jamming Grateful Dead, each had multiple beers in hand, a giant sign that said “NICE FUCKING WORK!” and a guy in a gorilla suit jumping up and down. Awesome! Six miles of downhill was next on the menu, mainly on old beat up roads, then the way too long traverse to the west side of Turquoise Lake. May Queen Aid Station (86.5 miles) came into view around 3:15am, still 2.5hrs ahead of schedule. Hot chocolate and potatoes hit the spot and I still wasn’t ready to admit that I was going to finish this race.
When you die, die on “E”. Leave no dream or opportunity left behind.
I texted Jean that we would be at the Tabor Boat Ramp in two hours, where she would pace me for the last 7 miles to the finish. Miles and miles of rocky trail covered in roots with many short uphills that I did not remember from 24+ hours ago. Both Jason and I turned on robot-mode as our tired speech was slurred and legs barely shuffled. Somehow, we made up some more time and surprised Jean at the Boat Ramp at 4:45am instead of 5:15am! She quickly got ready and off we went. I was happy to hear that she got some sleep and fortunately she was talking because I could barely mumble. Off the trail and onto roads meaning about an hour left. The sun popped over the ridge blinding us while shuffling along “The Boulevard”, but gave some much needed warmth. One final turn onto 6th Ave around 7am, and tears started rolling down my face as I tried to say “I did it!, I fucking did it!”… but couldn’t get a single word out. Jean started crying too, so it was good to get it out of our system before embarrassing myself by crying in front of a crowd at the end! A small hill, a couple blocks of downhill, and then the cruelest uphill finish in the world…. We jogged every step of it as if on fresh legs. The crowd goes absolutely ape-shit for every runner and ya feel on top of the world! We crossed at 27 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds.
You’ve got to want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe.
I received the signature hug and medal from Merilee then turned to Ken for a handshake and hug telling him that I’ve waited eight years for those two hugs. Immediately the medical staff scooted me off to be weighed and see if I was going to pass out. Our neighbors were there, Jason brought beers from the car, and our fellow runners/crews/pacers were all around. My legs instantly hurt and sitting down never felt so good. The next couple of hours were a blur of laughing, cheering, limping, and celebrating. We said our goodbye’s after Steve came in just under 29 hours for his second finish and then we started home. Jean drove after a couple of double-shot coffees and I immediately fell asleep. Every painful step for the next couple of days was a sweet reminder of success.
Placing: 134th of 360 over all (690 starters), 123rd of 308 males, 42nd of 104 age group (40-44)
Dig deep, then dig deeper.