Leadville 2011 Race Report
Note: The following is my race report that I sent out to those who donated in support of me running the Leadville 100 mile trail race to raise money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.
People act like running really long distances is something crazy. There is a quote out there, “Any idiot can run a marathon. It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultra-marathon.” Then there are those who try and make it sound natural by quoting aboriginal studies and making references to Sparta. You don’t need to go that far back.
During the Civil War there was a whole series of battles in New Mexico waged between Union troops and Confederates out of Texas. In fact, the two opposing officers (Col Canby and Col Sibley) were friends who had served together before the war in New Mexico. Another interesting note is that Colonel Kit Carson was fighting for the Union and commanding the local militia. He was chosen because he had married a local Taos woman, converted to Catholicism, and was accepted by the locals.
A group of miners from Colorado rallied to the cause of New Mexico and hastened by reports of Union setbacks in New Mexico began a forced march from the mining camps around Denver. Over the course of just a few days these miners covered the distance between Denver and New Mexico on foot. As more and more reports of Union setbacks came in the miners increased their pace until they covered over 92 miles in one 36 hour stretch. Keep in mind that this was while wearing lousy shoes if any and eating God knows what.
My point is that no matter how much technology and science and plastic and safety there is in our lives we will continue to push ourselves to do something big for a good cause. Even if we have to manufacture the run a bit. Pushing ourselves to the limit of our own endurance for what we believe in is part of what makes humans human.
We eliminated most of the real dangers in day to day life and now have to search for a way to get back to the reality provided by long runs, extreme climbing and other sports. That’s a good thing. When we can run to raise money to support the smartest people doing research into cures instead of having those smart people develop weapons to protect our society we’re in a pretty good place. Now we just need to not give up.
Science figured out how to split an atom when the stakes were high enough. Let’s make the stakes high enough to find a cure. I guess I’m preaching to the choir.
Thanks again for all your support. I kept going when the suck factor got high in part because I knew you all were out there cheering for me and contributing to beating NF. We raised over 600 dollars for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. I will repost the race report below with pictures on my website www.yetifunk.com once I have the pictures put together.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
- T.S. Eliot
I took off work on the Friday eight days before the race so I could drive with Dogface, our half pitbull, half black lab mongrel, to Colorado so that we could start acclimatizing for the Leadville 100. I overslept so we didn’t make it into Colorado Springs until almost 11PM. I pulled up to my coach’s house (Paul Dewitt) and texted him to let him know that we were outside. After he let us in we settled into the guest room and got to sleep. I didn’t get much sleep because I was worried that Dogface was going to pee on their carpet and kept taking her outside to go to the bathroom.
At 6AM we woke up and drove up to Pike’s Peak summit where we met up with a number of other runners. We were getting ready for the 3:2:1 workout to help get used to the altitude. This workout involves running three miles down the Barr trail from the summit of Pike’s Peak, climbing back up, running two miles down, back up, and then one mile down and back up. Dogface did well and we wrapped up the workout and then drove up to Frisco, Colorado where we spent the night. The next day we drove up to Leadville and set up our campsite at Turquoise Lake at ten thousand feet above sea level. We were going to camp here for the next week in order to get used to the altitude.
On Monday I met up with John D from Iowa who was also running Leadville. We drove up a dirt road east of the town and started hiking up Mt. Sherman. Mt. Sherman is a non-technical 14k mountain. Dogface, John and I started at about 9:30 and were on the summit ridge in about 45 minutes. I tied Dogface into her leash to prevent any unfortunate mole chasing incidents on the summit ridge and made it to the top in just a few minutes. I was feeling pretty good despite the altitude and we quickly made it back down the mountain after taking a few mandatory pictures.
On Wednesday Wendy flew in to Denver and on Friday the rest of the crew made it in to Leadville. Wendy was going to take care of all the crew duties. She was making sure that I had the right food, water, and any extras I would need at every aid station. Dan Fettig, Shauna Fettig, and Anna Andressian would be pacing me on the second 50 miles of the run.
On Friday night we all set our alarms for 2:45 AM and tried to get some sleep before the race start on Saturday morning.
“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”
- Tim Noakes
“… so as we walked along the river toward Rucky Chucky, I said the words that most men say to a pretty woman as they walk along the river under a starry night on their first date: “If you were a real hardass, you’d stick your finger down your throat and clear your stomach and if you won’t do it, I will.”
- Stan Jensen, pacing Sarah Lowell at WS’97
9PM the rain started. And it was raining hard. Before long rain was pouring into the tent through the rain fly. Wendy moved from her spot underneath a leak to the dogbed which was in a dry spot and I thought “Well, it wouldn’t be Leadville without some first class misery.” Luckily the rain passed at some time during the night and when the alarm went off at 2:45 AM the sky was clear.
I met up with John D at the corner of 7th and Harrison at 3:30 AM. We both weighed significantly more than most ultra-runners (I weighed in at the pre-race check in at 186. The guy before me weighed 140). We both ran similar 50 mile times. We figured we would run together for the first 50 and then move on ahead if we felt good.
At 3:50AM the national anthem was played and just a few minutes later we were off. The first mile goes along Sixth Street before turning down a dirt road that leads to Turquoise Lake. We ran down the road, climbed a steep trail and then started around the single track that circles the lake. Before long we were in a half mile single file line. In the dark we looked like a giant glow worm, our headlamps lighting up the night. At 6AM I was able to turn off the headlamp and 15 minutes later we came off the trail at the MayQueen aid station. At 6:20 I saw my coach, headed into the aid station and out the other side looking for my crew. I yelled the “Strange Brew, Fleshy Headed Mutants” yodel and Dan responded in kind so I knew where to go. After changing out my hydration pack and dumping my headlamp I was ready to go but John D wasn’t there. I waited a minute, then asked the crew to tell him I was walking down the trail and would see him in a few.
I started up the road to the trailhead for the Colorado trail. The course follows the Colorado Trail from Mayqueen up to Sugarloaf pass. A few minutes later the course flattened for a bit and there was still no sign of John D. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and started running down the trail. A couple of minutes later I heard a yell and John D came walking out of the woods. “I told my crew to let you know I was walking on ahead” he told me. I laughed and we moved on.
As we started up the pass I tried to eat some goldfish (one of my favorite energy crackers) and immediately yacked. Not good. Since I couldn’t keep the food down I stuck with perpetuem and kept moving. A little while later we topped out. John D and I fist bumped. One mountain pass down. Five to go.
We ran down the mountain and into the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 23. We checked in and then I met my crew at the outlet of the station. Wendy asked if I wanted more goldfish and I told her about my stomach. I told her I was ok, put on my iPod and started down the road, zoning out to the music. A minute later Paul Dewitt ran up.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m ok” I told him, “My stomach is just funky.”
“You need to keep pounding water and salt pills” he told me.
Two seconds later Wendy ran up with a handful of electrolyte tablets.
“Here,” she said “Paul said you need to take more.” I popped a few more tabs and kept moving. A minute alter John D caught up and we started covering distance fast. We ended up averaging ten minute miles for the next 4 miles. Not bad considering we were 27 miles into a 100 mile race.
I met with my team one more time at Timberline before heading into the Mt Elbert trailhead. We had 13 miles to go to Twin Lakes at mile 40. We kept a steady pace, slowly climbing the hill until the descent. Once the trail started down John D and I fist bumped a second time. Two down. Three to go.
As I started down the hill John D yelled out to be careful. It was good advice. The trail was rocky and it would not do to roll an ankle at this point in the game. We rolled into the next aid station at noon, 30 minutes ahead of schedule. My crew was surprised to see me that early and had to scramble to get my stuff ready. Paul told me to start moving while I ate.
“Run as much of the flat as possible before you hit Hope Pass” he said.
Wendy walked with me as I ate a pudding snack and then I handed her the garbage, hugged and started running down the trail. A few minutes later I caught up with John D.
Hope Pass is just brutal. In fact, Leadville runners refer to it as “Hopeless Pass”. After dropping to the low of the course (9,200 feet) you cross a river and then climb to 12,600 feet over 3 miles. We ran through the flats which this year happened to be mostly under water. This meant we were wading through calf deep water before we ever hit the river. Then we started the long slog up the mountain.
John D and I were passed a few times at first but we quickly overtook the people who passed us when they puttered out a few hundred feet on. Slow and steady sometimes works. A while later I saw the first llamas that pack the supplies up to the aid station. Two minutes later a bunch of school kids ran out to grab our packs and refill our water while their parents served us chicken broth mixed with potato soup. We thanked them and then finished the last 600 feet of climbing to get over the mountain. We fist bumped. Three climbs down. Three to go.
Then we started the long run down. Running downhill sounds great until you realize it was at a 15% grade on loose rock. By the end of the downhill my knees were screaming! We pushed through though and then ran into the halfway point at just under 12 hours. This was my second best mountain 50 mile time ever! Now I just had to turn around and do it again!
“You are better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can. But I will make you a deep and abiding promise; it’s gonna hurt. You need to commit that you won’t quit”
- Ken Chlouber (founder of the Leadville 100)
I quickly downed some soup and then met Dan Fettig who was pacing me back over Hope Pass. We started down the road to the trail head running the downhills. As we approached the trail head I saw my coach.
“Just get over this hill,” he said “and you have this thing.”
He talked with Dan briefly as I kept walking uphill. Dan caught up and we hit the real climb. Some other runners were on the trail moving faster than me and then stopping every few minutes for a breather.
“Don’t sweat it” Dan commented, “you’ll catch ‘em.”
We kept up our steady pace with no breaks and sure enough about halfway up the mountain I started reeling people in. Someone made the comment as I passed them, “He’s like a mountain rat or something, the higher he gets, the faster he goes.” I laughed. The key was that the altitude didn’t bother me and the trail was flattening out. Still, I wished I had “Flatlander” stenciled on my butt so they would know that a guy who trained at sea level just passed them.
A few minutes later we topped out and started down the long trail to Twin Lakes. 4 climbs down. Two to go.
As we ran down the hill Dan started doing the pace calculations on what I needed to do to finish in under 27 hours. Within a few minutes of talking we had a plan together (I’d be lying if I said I remembered it) and then we were down and hitting the river crossing. The cold water felt good on my ankles and then we started through the marshy area. A few minutes later we were at the aid station and I was changing my shoes and socks. I raised my foot for a quick snapshot of my trenchfoot. Little did I know how big a part my trenchfoot would play in the rest of the night.
A few minutes later Shauna and I started up the next climb. After two hours we finished climbing the Mt Elbert portion of the trail. Five climbs down. One to go.
I was struggling now though. My feet were hurting and I was tired. I was still able to run though. After about 4 hours we rolled into Timberline. I ate some pudding snacks and then Anna started pacing me. We ran a few hundred yards, walked a bit and ran some more. Anna asked what I needed.
“Just talk” I said.
“You want me to tell you about mythology?” she asked.
“How about what’s going on on Facebook on the G-Force page?”
For the next hour Anna talked about the Jesuit school she just started teaching at and the comments on Facebook. It helped me keep going. By now I was really starting to feel it. We passed the 75 miles sign. Two miles later we rolled into the Fish Hatchery. I ate some more and then Anna and I started out on the last major climb.
Now my feet were having serious issues. We were hiking up the powerline to the top of Sugarloaf Pass. The lines were humming with electricity above us. I could see headlamps below us and above us. And every time I stepped a shooting pain would shoot up my leg. My trench foot was in crisis mode. It had translated to massive blisters on the balls of my feet. If I pushed off it hurt. If I stepped on a rock it hurt. If I ran? Fughetaboutit.
We struggled up the hill in the dark. Two hours in I lost it.
“When is this mother @@#$%## hill going to end? This goat ###$#$ tomato $$$#@@hill!” I screamed it at the top of my lungs.
Anna laughed at me.
Thirty minutes later we topped out and started down the other side. I tried to run which was a bad idea. I wish I could have ignored the pain in my feet but I couldn’t. We settled for walking. Six climbs down. Zero to go.
One more hour in and we made it to MayQueen. I stopped in the medical tent. They drained my feet quickly with a knife and a needle and then wrapped them in duct tape to help reduce the pain from walking. Right before they stuck the needle in my foot they asked for my number.
“Wait,” I said, “This won’t disqualify me will it? If so I’ll make do.”
They assured me they just needed it for tracking purposes. Two minutes later I walked out with some fresh duct tape on my feet and a little less pain.
I met Dan and we headed down the trail. Three and a half hours later we hit Sixth Street in Leadville. I tried running now and then but the pain was overwhelming. Finally we made it to the last block. Everyone was cheering. They started announcing my name. I muttered an obscenity under my breath and ran it in. Who can walk across a finish line like that? I ran across in twenty eight hours and thirty one minutes, one hour faster than last time.
850 people registered. 605 people showed up. 347 finished. I finished in 207th place. Last year only 4000 Americans finished a hundred mile race. I guess 207th at Leadville is ok.
Some other thanks:
I want to thank my crew again. They don’t get a belt buckle for their efforts and they don’t get to put a race medal up for their efforts but they donated significant time and money to come out and support me while running. I would not have made it over Hope Pass or through the last 13 miles without Dan Fettig kicking my butt to eat when I wanted to puke and run when I wanted to just stumble. Shauna and Anna kept me going through the never ending middle of the race when the excitement is gone, the finish line is distant, and the race seemed like I had stumbled into a ring of hell where you ran in the cold dark forever but got nowhere. Wendy put up with a really smelly husband who spent every free moment on the weekends running and then asked her to use her vacation time to make sure that he always had a fresh bottle of perpetuem when he stumbled into an aid station in the dark. She rescued me from heatstroke multiple times this summer when I ran out of water in hundred and twenty degree heat in Oklahoma.