Like all races, this one started a few days prior. My crew (brother Fran, sister Nic, sister’s b/f Jesse, Dad and the g/f) took charge of packing large quantities of supplies, rehearsing the plans, pre-driving the cours, pre-running the course… and so on. I mostly sat around and got yelled at for being too vague and in the way.
Race morning I got up at 2:41 AM … I meant to sleep in a bit more, but I had to pee like crazy, and once I woke up, there was certainly no going back to bed. I got dressed, used the bathroom, and starting putting my race outfit together. The rest of the family got up and soon the house was a little beehive of pre-race activity.
I walked over to the race but they told us there was no pre-race check-in, so we went back to the house and chilled for a bit. Christian (guy I met at the LTR 100 training camp) came over (they parked in our back yard) and we hung out for a bit. He had done the race before, so it was good to have someone to lend some experience to the morning!
Some other runners were supposed to come over… Ska Runner Dan, Carlo, Jeff, and I thought maybe Matt might rock up, but only Christian did. It meant I was unable to find anyone at the start of the race to wish them good luck, or to run with them, as I had hoped. Matt and Dan were going to go out faster than I was (planning for 10:30 to Winfield versus my 11:09) but the others I thought were all going to run similar splits to me. So I was pretty bummed about that, but knew how things could get hectic on race morning, so didn’t agonize over it.
We eventually headed over to the race start, lined up, and after a short countdown, we were off. 4:00 AM. Timer is started. I had been looking around for my various buddies, but found no one. Thankfully I had Christian to run with!
1. Start to May Queen – ETA: 6:17 AM
My goal for this entire race was to run even or negative splits. Essentially unheard of at Leadville (or any ultras?), although it should be easy on this course, since it’s mostly faster on the inbound direction, because of the gradients of the hills. As discussed in my Leadville 2011 data analysis, it seemed the faster runners ran more even splits. So I thought: why wouldn’t the slower runners?
So the target for the first 13 miles of the race was 2:17. This is pretty slow, pretty laid back. The running was very nice and easy, cool but not too cold. Christian and I ran together, in silence (which was great). The odd time there was some idiot yammering away we ran away from them. I skipped my normal “walk for a minute every 12 minutes” plan, because I knew the lake section was going to be a bit slower, from the single file line-ups.
The running went without a hitch. The road section flew by quickly. The lake section was glorious, hundreds of runners padding along in the dark, no one talking. The dude in front of me tripped and laid out flat on the ground, but was fine. I stopped 2 or 3 times to pee (despite not making any attempt to pre-hydrate for the race. My in-race water was going right through me.) Christian stopped at the same time, so we stuck together. We didn’t hold each other’s weiners or anything like that, I just meant we stayed as a group. Jeez.
My headlamp, LED Lenser H14, was a shining star. It is super bright, and if there was a brighter headlamp out there, I didn’t see it. The only downside is that it has the 4 AA’s as a battery pack, so I use it only with a pack, where I can put the batteries in my pack, via the little extension cord. That, and on full brightness they don’t last too long. Not an issue when you have a super crew, like I did.
We ran through Matchless boat ramp (the first one, not Tabor) in about 1:03, basically perfectly on schedule (I had done 1:05 with Matt in our practice run), and rocked into May Queen at 6:16 AM. 1 minute early. Goddamn perfection.
My crew was positioned poorly, which was the fault of the aid station volunteers, but I just dropped my headlamp, gloves and arm sleeves, grabbed my next pack, got some sunscreen sprayed directly into my ear by Jesse, and was off. You can’t even see a slowdown on my Garmin plot; it was seamless. The temps were about 40 F (5 deg. C) but I wasn’t as cold as during my race rehearsals. My super pro (and brand new) Pearl Izumi top and my matching arm cooler sleeves were perfect. Topped off with a pair of gloves and my beanie, and my Salomon pack, I was perfectly dressed. Didn’t sweat a drop.
Timer: 2:16 vs 2:17 – 1 minutes ahead of schedule
Split: 2:16 vs 2:17 planned – 1 minute fast
Split distance: 20.17 km (12.53 mi)
Total distance: 20.17 km (12.53 mi)
2. May Queen to Fish Hatchery – ETA: 8:29 AM
It was quite light out leaving May Queen. I’ve heard people say “You’ll be tempted to keep your headlamp, but don’t” … but there was no question that a light was unnecessary. I guess if you got there 30 minutes faster, things might be different… (but if you’re running 1:45 to May Queen, you don’t need advice, other than “slow down”.)
Christian’s crew just handed him a bottle, and we were off. The paved road out of May Queen felt steep. I wasn’t 100 % sure how hard to run, but I knew my splits were slower than most people’s, so we took it easy. I ran into Jeff on the road, and he was going nice and slow. He had already run the race, so I was kinda nervous passing him. But anyway, I did. Finally we hit the trails, and it was still quite crowded. I did some passing, because of people pissing me off, usually, not because they were slow. Irritating, but I wasn’t held up by anyone. We ran more than I thought we would, on the Colorado Trail section, and very soon popped out on Hagerman Pass road.
The sun was coming up, and it was really super nice out. I love it up there, the rocky mountains in the background. We jogged the entire of Hagerman Pass road (uphill, but only slightly) and then walked the entire Powerline uphill track. It was here I remembered my Garmin wasn’t set to “Auto lap”, so I hit the lap button at exactly the peak of the trail, at 3:28. So 1:12 out of May Queen, with 1 hour to go to Fish Hatchery!
The downhill was fine, although I was pretty worried about my knees and feet holding up for 100 miles, so I took it easy. Some people might have passed me. Jeff passed me on the downhill, and I was glad to see him again. I knew he was pretty fast on the downs, but I expected to see him on the road section, as I knew his plan was to run-walk it pretty slowly. I did not even remotely concern myself with other runners, except to sneer at them with contempt as they ran by. Anyone running slower than me was going to DNF because they were too weak! Anyone faster than me was going to DNF because they were too impatient! Haha.
We got down in great time, but I commented at some point to Christian that my legs didn’t feel that great. Once we hit the road, I permitted myself some joking and chatting with a few strangers, but I was walking the uphills and not feeling particularly good. I was questioning my taper, and irritated that my legs didn’t feel 100 %.
The road to Fish Hatchery is long, and winding, and hilly. We worked our way hither and yon, and did our best to cut corners like an F1 car. I did this, incidentally, quite conscientiously throughout the entire race. Do I think it makes a difference? Hell yes it does.
Fish Hatchery is my favourite aid station. I ran up the hill and hit the mat, then ran down and met my crew. I needed almost nothing, so just dropped my Gregory pack and grabbed a Nathan handheld (about 20 oz) and my sunglasses. My bro sprayed some sunscreen on me, and the g/f ran along with me for a while. Christian waited a few seconds for me while I Bodyglided my chaff prone areas, but in total I am sure we were only about 30 seconds at the station.
My official time at Fish Hatchery was 6:22, and my goal was 6:29. So I was now 7 minutes under, of an allowable 10 minutes. Again, absolutely perfect. I kept updating Christian about our perfect pacing, but he didn’t seem particularly stoked. I tried to just keep my mouth shut and run in silence, but my habit is to analyze my time / distance data continuously! I wanted and needed reassurance that my plan was solid, and we were doing great!
Timer: 4:22 vs 4:29 – 7 minutes ahead of schedule
Split: 2:06 vs 2:12 planned – 6 minutes fast
Split distance: 16.38 km (10.18 mi)
Total distance: 36.55 km (22.71 mi)
3. Fish Hatchery to Treeline – ETA: 5:28 AM
This section is great. A roughly 9 km section of road, the sun rising to the East, and only a bottle in my hand.
It’s actually pretty tough to run this section fast, as it’s really subtle in its lack of flatness. Slight rises and dips, and very, very long stretches of straight highway. Cars passing you the entire time… and a fair few runners on the road. All these factors make it tough to get into a rhythm.
Of course, that being said, my target time is so laid back that I didn’t have any trouble maintaining it. I did my run 12 / walk 1, and had a good time. Christian was still running with me, and we were having a good time. I did notice he seemed to be working a bit hard… But he’s a giant dude, so I figured it was normal for him to be sweating a lot more than me.
We finally hit the turnoff along the fence (new trail section) and I was stoked. This is, for some bizarre reason, one of my very favourite sections of the course. Why? I have no idea. I like dirt trails. I like Antelopes. Antelopes hang out here. I have no idea. Anyway, I ran kinda hard along the fence, because I enjoyed it, and passed a few people. Christian was starting to work harder, and I think he walked at one point, so I waited up for him. After a short break, we ran again, and still made great time to Treeline, where our loving crews awaited.
I came in exactly 5 minutes fast for this section, so in total I was ahead by 13 minutes, of an allowable 15. Still doing great, and still feeling fine.
My crew handed me a couple of full Camelback handhelds, one with Perpetuem and one with water, both with gels in the pockets. I got a hit of sunscreen and was on my way. Another great transition that costed me basically no time at all.
Timer: 5:15 vs 5:28 – 13 minutes ahead of schedule
This split: 0:54 vs 0:59 planned – 5 minutes fast
Split distance: 7.79 km (4.84 mi)
Total distance: 44.34 km (27.55 mi)
4. Treeline to Twin Lakes – ETA: 7:49 AM
Leaving Treeline I was excited. Christian caught up with me right away, but then suddenly said he needed water. I told my sister to run back and grab some, but some random guy had a small bottle that he handed him. Christian drank the water, and we jogged on. Right away he says to me “I think I drank that water too fast…” and suddenly spews all over the road. Then spewed some more. Lots of water. I said something like “Damn, that is a ton of puke!” but I doubt he heard me. He was barfing, Leadville style.
I know that watching people puke often makes other people feel sick, but it didn’t bother me at all. I am blessed, I suppose, with a near total lack of empathy and/or sympathy. He puked, I watched. He puked some more. Finally, he was feeling a bit better, and we jogged on. He was working hard, still though, and I reluctantly said to him: “Man. You need to run your own race. Don’t chase splits. If you feel bad, slow down. Run harder later, when it cools off. Don’t push the pace if it doesn’t feel right.”
I felt like a dipshit saying that, though it’s always true, for everyone. But the guy is a sub-24 hour, multiple time Leadville finisher. I certainly didn’t want to sound like I meant “Don’t chase me.” Just, it’s a long race to run if you’re sweating and panting and puking. He readily agreed though, and gave me insane encouragement, told me to go on without him. Damn, I nearly got emotional. I am like a “leave no man behind” US Marine or some shit. The guy is just so motivational, and his words really meant a lot. In the end, he told me he spent over 4 hours in a medical tent puking and trying to recover, so something was wrong that day. Which should remind us yet again: everyone can have bad days. Such is life. Such is Leadville.
So from here, I ran on alone.
Treeline (really, “Pipeline”) drags on forever and ever. It’s uphill. It’s tough because you want to run it, but you know you should go easy. I jogged a bit, ran a bit. It was very sunny. I took Matt’s advice and stuck to the shadows. I passed some people, and some other people passed me. It was slow and steady going. I knew the trail well, but it really goes on for a long time.
I caught up to Dan and his buddy Brian Manley. I was happy to see him, and he was really encouraging. His buddy was really being quiet and not friendly at all, so it really threw me off. I wanted to keep chatting and jogging with Dan but I felt awkward and so I had to leave. I had wanted to run with Dan, Jeff and Carlo for the whole trip to Winfield, really, so it was a bummer to move on.
I passed another guy I knew, Chris, right at the start of the single-track section. He looked pretty good, but said he wasn’t feeling great, but still gave me good encouragement, so I kept moving hard. I was powerhiking like a beast, and excited to hit the Mt. Elbert section.
I finally reached Elbert, which meant I started heading down towards Twin Lakes. I got a brief water refill at Elbert station, but needed nothing from the other one (Half-pipe). I passed another dude I recognized, Brandon Fuller (read his race report here), just coming down from Elbert station. I wanted to say something, because I was really stoked for his 3rd Leadville race, having read all his blog stuff, but I couldn’t think of anything good. So I just ran by in silence. It had taken me 1:13 to run from Half-pipe to Elbert (and another 25 mins to get to Half-pipe from Treeline)! Quite a long section, but for the most part runnable, if you wanted it.
My legs didn’t feel great coming down the steep hills to Twin Lakes, but I was glad to be getting to Hope Pass. My knees didn’t hurt at all, my body felt good in general (other than slightly limp legs) and life was good.
My crew was ready to roll, and I grabbed my pack with a ton of water. I crossed the line in Twin Lakes at 7:25 hrs (11:25 AM), which was 24 minutes earlier than planned, meaning I’d taken only 28.5 mins to get to Twin Lakes from Elbert. I only allowed myself to be 20 minutes early here, so I took 4 minutes to chill. I got some sunscreen, a cold towel, and a couple of Gu chomps. The g/f walked with me, and then after 4 mins, I ran off.
Timer: 7:25 vs 7:49 – 24 minutes ahead of schedule
This split: 2:10 vs 2:21 planned – 11 minutes fast
Split distance: 17.53 km (10.89 mi)
Total distance: 61.86 km (38.44 mi)
5. Twin Lakes to Winfield – ETA: 3:09 PM
The crux of the outbound course loomed: Hope Pass. First I had to cross the Twin Lake flats though. This is a marshy, grassy, shitty section. I was feeling pretty slow through here. Some red-headed chick kept passing me, dudes kept passing me, and I felt like ass. It was hot, muggy, and gross.
All the big puddles were dry, so I reached the river with dry feet. I decided to take my shoes and socks off, and kept my shoes dry. Was nice to clean my feet, and was really nice to not have wet shoes. It only cost me a minute, but was probably worth it.
Shortly after the river crossing, I caught up to (or was caught by) Katrin, a friend of Dan’s I’d hiked Hope with earlier in the month. So we hiked up the hill together. I have to say, I was struggling to keep up with her. My lungs started bothering me here. I was really, really having a hard time taking a deep breath. My legs felt rock solid, and I could have gone faster, but I just couldn’t breathe to save my life. Was irritating. I had to ask her every once in a while “I’m stopping to take a gel” or whatever. I also thought she was going too hard, but probably that was mostly my ego thinking, haha. She is truly a machine.
But really, it wasn’t the ideal place to have someone to hike with. Eventually she either moved ahead, or fell behind and I kinda got to hike alone. This was a lot better, as I didn’t feel I needed to explain my pace, you know? I just kept moving.
We hit the Hopeless station together, and Katrin was super stoked about the Llamas. She got her camera out, took some photos, but I kept going. Again, I needed nothing from this station.
The top section was lovely, and all my climbs up Hope (14 times!) paid off greatly. I had a great time. I felt 100 % (despite my lungs) and I was passing a ton of people. I love Hope Pass!
I finally met the leaders. Tony Krupicka ran by, then a few other dudes I didn’t know. Then Nick Clark. Then various other dudes. I saw “The Fruitarian” (Michael Arnstein), but not many others that I recognized.
I got to the very top of Hope Pass at 9:20, so 1 hour and 51 minutes from Twin Lakes, after my 4 minute rest. Not bad at all. I had always thought the timing mat was at Hopeless, but it was right at the very top of the hill.
And then I was down, to the new section of trail.
Katrin and I kept running along. She was going faster than I wanted to, so I kept reminding her to be patient, and walk it in. She then ran out of water! I helped her here and there, with some of my own, but could only do so much. She drank out of a stream (which I’m sure is totally fine) but … she was getting stressed. I know the feeling, but I also knew that she could recover easily from it once we got to Winfield. She kept asking everyone how far until the finish, which was depressing, because I swear every time we asked, the answer was “3 miles”. That goddamn trail went on for ever. And not only was it long, but it was uphill. We were hundreds of feet above the road. And climbing, climbing, always. It was really dry, no tree cover, and hot. They say the road section was terrible, but this was also nasty.
I finally saw Matt, who looked super strong. I was really impressed, and the competitive side of me was depressed! He must have been about 1.5 hours ahead of me, and looked fresh! Well, I was happy he was doing great, and his plan was working out well for him. Jen Segger was just a short way behind him, but didn’t recognize me as she ran past.
Finally we saw the aid station, and all the cars, but it must have been another 20 minutes until we got down to it. Then there were cars everywhere and I was running literally down the middle of the road, splitting lanes of traffic. What the fuck!? There was poor course markings, but it was pretty obvious where to go, I suppose. Although I knew the course already.
My time into Winfield was 10:49, which was 20 minutes less than my target of 11:09! I had maintained my 20 minute lead on my plan, despite the extremely lengthy new trail section. From the top of Hope Pass, it had taken me from 9:20 to 10:50, so an hour and 30 minutes to get down and across that hell trail.
I ran down the “corral” and then met my sister. I had my first weighing, and as only 2 lbs under. Too heavy, but felt fine.
It was a bit of a fidgety gear swap, since I needed to charge my Garmin. My sister didn’t have a pocket to put it in, so we ended up just holding the whole fucking thing, charger, cord, Garmin… was very irritating, but the Salomon pack wasn’t well suited to carrying random shit.
I had made it halfway, and was headed for home!
Timer: 10:49 vs 11:09 – 20 minutes ahead of schedule
This split: 3:20 vs 3:20 planned – 0 minutes ahead (despite much longer trail)
Split distance: 19.71 km (12.25 mi)
Total distance: 81.57 km (50.69 mi)
Ok, so here’s the outbound Garmin plot:
The goal, as you recall, was for me to run even splits. I had run 20 minutes faster than intended… (More like 50 minutes, if you consider how much longer the new trail section was.) I wanted to run even splits, but my plan (The Johnson Plan) had me getting back at 23:56… and 23:26 was still the current primary target. So therefore I had 12:37 to get home…
But if I ran even splits, which was my “A+ goal”, I was now aiming for 21:40. A beastly, superhuman goal that had me both excited, and afraid. Mostly excited. Had I gone out too hard? Was something that ridiculous even remotely possible?
I felt really good, but had a long, long way to go.
Follow the link to Leadville 100 2012: Race Report Part 2: Inbound.