I was surprised at how calm I was. For the last few days I was actually itching to run. Having a full five weeks between races had been much better to me than the short three weeks between Western States and Vermont. I felt rested and ready to go.
Last year I flew out a week ahead of time to acclimate. Since I really didn't have any trouble with the altitude I decided to just come out on Thursday this year. Amy and I took a bumpy flight from Manchester to Denver where we met my brother Barry at the airport. I was really psyched to have both of them as my crew. This would be the fourth time they have crewed me together and they know exactly how to take care of me.
So here I am, at 4 in the morning, lined up with 650 other runners about to head down the hill on sixth street in Leadville Colorado. As we took off I felt elated. My body felt strong, but I couldn't help but wonder how I would hold up. Three 100 milers in three months. At what point would my body decide enough is enough? Or would I actually start adapting and getting stronger? Since this is all new to me I had no idea.
|New Balance MT110's|
As we headed down the road and onto the dirt road towards the lake I concentrated on keeping my heart rate low and my stride light. I had taken a big risk and started the race in a pair of New Balance MT110 early production shoes that I had just received a week before. The longest run I had used them on was 7 miles. I also started in a new type of sock, the Wright Sock, a double layer thinner sock. There is a very common warning that all runners give each other. Don't ever try something new on race day. I threw caution to the wind as I needed to try to do something different to fix the constant blister problem that I have with 100 mile runs. Plus, I absolutely love these shoes. My only concern was that they wouldn't offer me enough cushioning for the full 100 miles. I really didn't think it was that much of a risk because my crew had my Altra's and Dyrmax socks ready for me at each aid station in case I needed them. My plan was to just wear them until there was a problem and then change back into what I knew from there.
I made my way around the lake feeling great. As the trail dumped out onto the road into the first aid station, Mayqueen (mile 13) I looked at my watch and was shocked to see 1:56. Holy crap. Last year I pulled in at 2:08 and I was strong last year!! I ran through the timing section while looking for my crew. They had done the same thing they did last year, bought a bright orange bicycle flag so I could pick them out. It was dawn and the crowd was very loud. I couldn't see them! I ran all the way to the end of the crews and had to turn around and go back to find them.
My mood quickly turned from elation of being so much quicker to slight panic of not being able to find my crew. Every body kept asking me what I needed as I was running backwards against the crowd. I finally saw them, standing three people deep. They seemed shocked to see me. They had been listening to the announcers who had been calling out the runners numbers, but they just didn't hear my number called.
I have to admit, I wasn't in a very good mood at that point. As I grumbled and Amy refilled my gels, Barry struggled to get my water bottle back into the handheld. I grabbed it from him and did it myself. I knew I was behaving like a child, but I was frustrated. As I bolted out of the aid station I realized that I still had my headlight and my winter had on. Damn... That meant I needed to carry the headlight for the next 10 miles until I saw them again at the Fish Hatchery.
As I headed into the Colorado Trail I mellowed out. I still felt awesome and I knew that having my hat and headlight on was no big deal. I forgot all about them and went about running up the rocky climb to the road towards Powerline. As the sun came up I got an incredible view of Silver Lake and then started my decent down Powerline. A few runners passed me as I was being careful and deliberate. I wanted to be sure not to blow my quads out as there was lots of downhill running still to come.
Before long I was out on the road heading to Fish Hatchery, which now has been renamed to "outbound". The station is about 23 miles into the race and I left at a hair under 4 hours. For the next four miles the course is a flat paved road and you can see almost the entire 4 miles in front of you. It is a mental drain to run this section, but I knew that I had to run every step of it because this is where you make up the time that is lost on some of the tough, slow climbs. I put my head down and went to work. In my voice recorder I stated that I felt really good and that I hoped that things would stay this way.
At Vermont I fell apart at mile 21, or about three hours in. I was hoping that I wouldn't have a low point like that and so far so good. It wasn't much after 5 hours that I hit the 30 mile mark. I knew that I was moving well but I didn't know where I was in relationship to last year. The weather was beautiful and I was enjoying the run, even if I was feeling a little low on energy.
|Taking the time to get the grit out of my shoes really paid off|
At 7 hours and 2 minutes I had just left Twin Lakes, Mile 39.5. My crew switched me from two handheld bottles to my Nathan backpack and I was off to tackle Hope Pass. I was still wearing the NB MT110's and I was psyched at how good they felt. No blisters yet and my feet felt great. The only downside was that I had to take the shoes off at each stop and remove the grit from them. It didn't take long to do and it seemed worth it for what a great fit and feel they had.
As I crossed through the freezing cold streams and headed out towards Hope I was noticing that I was starting to get tired. Not really a big surprise, as running 40+ miles in the high elevation Rockies is sure to make almost anybody tired. It was now hot and sunny without a cloud in the sky. It was a perfect day to tackle Hope pass.
At 8 hours and 20 minutes into the race I pulled out my recorder as I passed by a beautiful babbling brook on the way up Hope. I said "This thing is a KILLER!, I'm not even at the tree line yet and I am TIRED!!, Holy crap, this thing just keeps going up and up and up. I am really worked over and I still have the steepest part to go. My God, I'm getting worked over here...."
It was at this point that I started to notice something that had me very concerned. The tendinitis in my ankle was really starting to flare up. It hadn't bothered me for months and now only 45 miles into the race it was throbbing. In the past when this happened it got worse and worse until it eventually stopped me. I was scared that I was going to have to deal with this pain on top of another 55 more miles of running.
|The Llamas at Hopeless|
I got to the top of Hope at exactly 9 hours. I took a few seconds to look around, then started to run down the steep switchbacks that lead down to Winfield. I noticed that there were some clouds forming and I knew that I needed to get my but moving if I wanted to get back over Hope before the typical later afternoon storms blew in. Traveling down the backside of Hope was a blast. The top part of the trail is rocky switchbacks that are runnable. About halfway down the terrain gets very rocky and the last mile or so goes back under the cover of trees, but is very, very steep.
As I was heading down the leaders were just about done with the return trip climb. This is where I get to see how far behind the leaders I was. At this point I was at least 3 hours behind them. Amazing. As I passed a LaSportiva sponsored runner he looked up from the ground and said, "Hey, where did you get those shoes!?!" He was the only one who noticed all day.
As I got to the bottom of the pass and headed out on the dirt road towards Winfield I couldn't help but think that it was almost a carbon copy of last years race for me. The weather was almost exactly the same, I was running in the same spots, I was walking in the same spots and I was roughly at the same exact time. The run up the road seemed easier than last year, and a little less dusty too. The sun was beating down and I was starting to get tired.
I ran for the next couple miles down the road and I had just taken the left turn through the parking lot that leads to the beginning of the climb when I heard Amy yelling at me. She had come back with my Ipod!! Sweet!! It was so nice having it and seeing her again so quickly. Now I was ready to rock back up Hope.
Alas, it was not to be. I was doing no Rockin! Last year this is the place that I really started to fade. This year was no different. This climb is so hard and steep. I was stumbling up it, but unlike last year when a lot of people went by me, almost everybody around me was in the same condition. Most worse. Within a mile I had seen people just stopping dead to sit down and others puking their brains out. The guy right in front of my threw up so violently he looked like a fire hydrant. I happened to notice that it was all very clear and I thought to myself, how much water did that guy have to drink to throw all that up? As I passed him I said, "there you go buddy, now you'll feel much better". He grunted at me as I passed and puked again.
I climbed up for what seemed like forever and finally made it to the top at 4:22pm, or 12 hours and 22 minutes into the race. That means that it took me 3 hours and 22 minutes to get from the top of Hope on the outbound to the top on the inbound, which is only about 11 miles!! It was now starting to rain. I thought about putting my Jacket on, but decided to just get moving. I ran down most of the switchbacks to the Hopeless aid station. I stopped and had two cups of noodle soup and a little coke. There were still lots and lots of people coming up Hope and most of them didn't look so good. Some of the runners who were on the way back inbound didn't look so good either.
I was looking forward to this section all day. After all that climbing it is really nice to open up the stride and let it rip. I still didn't have a single blister and that helped my mood considerably, even though I was tired. I cranked up the tunes and let gravity do it's thing. I was singing at the top of my lungs as I FLEW down the trail. I passed a ton of runners and their pacers and just threw caution to the wind. I was having a great time and looking forward to my usual "second wind" that I get as the day wears on.
As I was going through the wet fields heading to Twin Lakes I noticed that I wasn't running as good as last year. Last year this is where I started to get really strong. Now I was struggling to run. I was running behind David Clark and his film crew was running behind me with the camera at our calf level getting footage. I didn't feel like running, but the camera crew was incentive to keep running strong. I pulled into Twin Lakes, 60.5 miles into the race, at 5:44pm. Once again I cleaned out my shoes and switched socks. Amy had a bowl of rice with avocado in it and it was delicious. I ate as much of it as I could. I spent 11 minutes there and then headed towards the short steep climb out.
|Amy talking me through a tough patch at Twin Lakes|
Amy walked with me. I told her that I wasn't having fun anymore. I was tired. She said that she knew that I wasn't moving as well as last year and that bummed me out. I asked her where she though I was, if I was even in the top 100. She thought I said am I below the top 100 so she said no. I said really? I'm not even in the top 100? That bums me out really bad. Then she looked at me and explained that she meant that I was not OUT of the top 100, I was probably in the top 50 or so still. I gave her a big hug and went back to work. Thank God she explained that to me. I would have spent the next several hours feeling bad for myself.
It turns out that I spent the next several hours just feeling bad. The climb out of Twin Lakes is a long one but once you finally reach the top there is some beautiful single track on the Colorado Trail. It was at this point that I realized that I was having a hard time running. I was running out of energy and I was slowing down. At mile 70 I pulled out my voice recorder and said that I didn't think that I was going to get the big buckle. I couldn't do the math and thought that I only had 7 hours to get the big buckle. I was 16 hours into the run. I eventually realized that I still had 9 hours and decided that I had to harden the f' up and get to it.
I pulled into Treeline, mile 74 at 8:28. It had been dark for about 10 minutes. Last year I got here in the light and it was just getting dark as I left. I couldn't believe that I was only 20-30 minutes behind last year as I was feeling considerably worse. I spent 9 minutes there and headed towards the lonely 4 mile stretch of road towards Fish Hatchery.
I managed to run about 2.5 miles of the 4 miles but by the time I got to the station I was super tired. I changed out of my shoes into my Altras. I still had no blisters, but now that I was walking more the New Balance's were starting to feel thin underfoot and I wanted more cushioning. I was now 76.5 miles into the race and was getting worried. I left the station at 9:44pm and I simply could not run. I only had a little over 7 hours to cover 23.5 miles and I have never been a very strong walker. On top of that, the dreaded Sugarloaf climb was coming up. I knew that I had to cover at least 4 miles an hour to get the big buckle and that just didn't seem like it would happen after I factored in that huge climb.
As I got to the start of Sugarloaf (powerline) I just put my head down and kicked ass. I passed a few people and hoped that when I got to the top I would finally be able to run again. From the top it is mostly downhill and last year I flew through that section. When I finally reached the top I realized that I had made good time and tried to run. I couldn't. I mean, I just could not run. I started to get cold and put on my jacket. Again, I started to get really worried. My A-Goal for this year has been to buckle at all the races. So far I had accomplished that. Last year getting the big buckle had been relatively easy, this year it wasn't feeling so. I wasn't worried about finishing. The only way I wasn't going to finish is if I slowed down radically or had an injury. Even then I vowed that the only way I would quit would be if I missed a cut-off.
|Sugarloaf (powerlines) in the daylight. This goes on for almost 3 miles|
When I got to the mile or so long stretch before the Colorado trail I finally ran. I passed a few people who had passed me earlier and I thought "finally, I am getting my second wind". It wasn't easy to run, but I hoped that as I did it more I would loosen up. I ran down a small portion of the Colorado trail but from that point I didn't run one more single step of the entire race.
I got to the Mayqueen outbound aid station, mile 86.5 at 12:40. Now I was an hour behind last year and I couldn't run. I kept doing the math. I had 13.5 miles to go and 4:20 to get the big buckle. I can do this. Even walking. I put my head down and walked as fast as I could. A ton of people passed me as I made my way around the lake. I tried not to let it bum me out. At this point I didn't care what place I finished in. I just wanted to cross that line in under 25 hours.
It took me a little more than 1.5 hours to get to the boat ramp, the unofficial aid station between Mayqueen and the finish. My understanding of the course has always been that the boat ramp is about 6 miles past Mayqueen. I realized that if I could keep this pace up I could get the buckle. I don't know why I thought it, but I kept thinking that it was only about 6 more miles to go. I walked hard. My hip flexor hurt. I now had blisters and they hurt. I was so tired when I stopped it felt like the ground was moving. A few times when I got off the trail to let people by I completely lost my balance just trying to stand still. I had stopped eating. And the only thing I cared about was keeping moving forward as fast as I could.
I got to the dirt road ("the boulevard") heading back into town and turned off my headlamp. The half moon was beautiful and the sky was clear with only a few clouds. I couldn't believe how lucky we were. The forecast had called for thunderstorms. I was beat up and exhausted but I had the bit between my teeth and was going to get than damn buckle.
At the first road intersection I couldn't see where to go so I asked a lady who was parked there which way to go. After she showed me I asked her how much further I had. She said about 5 miles. 5 MILES!!!?? I said "NO, can't be, the boat ramp is only 6 miles and I was there a couple miles ago". I must have caught her off guard with the quickness of my answer, or maybe she was just tired, but she then said to me, "YES, I've done this race 8 times and the boat ramp is 8 miles from the end, YOUR WRONG". It took everything I had not to call her an arrogant bitch. Knowing that I was in a pretty raw state, I decided it was best just to ignore her and get out of there.
It took a lot of wind out of my sails. I can't remember how much time I had left at that point but I remember saying out loud "I'm not going to make it". There was nothing I could do but to just keep going as fast as I could. I tried to run, but once again I could only go a few steps. I've never not been able to run before. It was frustrating.
It wasn't too much later that I turned onto 6th street and finally realized that I was going to make it. People along the street didn't even realize I was a runner because I was walking. It's funny, but running down that street in the morning seemed to take about 3 minutes. Walking up it took me forever!! As I approached the finish line Amy appeared with a huge smile. I walked it in with her and crossed the line with her at my side. 24 hours and 34 minutes in 74th place. Merelee placed the finishers medal on my neck and I was done. It was a very anticlimactic finish to an incredible day, but my A-Goal for the Potentially Painful Summer was still intact. I got the big buckle!!
|Amy and I at the finish|
|All that just for this?? The Big Buckle!|