Race Report: Leadville Trail 100 (Outbound)

The alarm was 2:30, the hours of sleep I had just had was about 3 and the race of my life was starting at 4. This was the start of crunching numbers over the next 28 hours from time of day, mile pace, glucose, carbohydrates, calories, elevation and distance. The hardest, longest biggest running test of my life was literally about to begin.

LT100 Elevation Profile

Sub-24 LT100 plan. Arguably more thorough than German engineering.

The plan I had prepared for my crew and pacers for times I would be at various aid stations, pace, distance etc. wasn’t likely to stick over 100 miles. That strict German like statistical plan had its first change as early as 2:17am. My body clock alarm knew beat than the electronic one. The BlackBerry didn’t get a chance to pump out its merry tune at me and my three peacefully sleeping pacers; Rui, Francis and Keila.
I showered and came back to the bedroom with all lights on and Chariots of Fire playing. These pacers sure knew how to get me going! I put on my gear (next track Rocky) making sure not to have anything loose in my feet, socks or Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. Yes, that much detail was needed to have a successful race. I wore my compression shorts with my Brooks shorts over, where my bib number 260 proudly showed*

Uncle Dave was an avid hiker before his cancer. Leadville seemed a fitting tribute to him and his courageous battle.

*Something I have not mentioned on rundiabetes before is my charity work I have done for Leukemia and Lymphoma Research, for my Uncle Dave’s favorite charity. He had been fighting this cancer for 8-1/2 years and my family sadly lost him shortly after his 60th birthday earlier this year. What was to be one of his final goals in life was to reach that huge birthday milestone and celebrate it with Aunty Rosie and my cousin Graham. Being given that numbe “2-60” by race organizer, Shannon Gipson, let me pay him the respect he deserves, my hero, my inspiration. He would be with me every step of the way on this journey even more so now.  If you care to, my sponsorship page is still taking donations: http://www.justgiving.com/Stephen-England-100-for-Uncle-Dave
I went down to the hotel breakfast with the gang at 3am. We all ate and shared small talk and jokes like nothing big was about to happen. I wasn’t nervous, I was ready. This was it. They drove me the 1/2 mile down Harrison Avenue to the start line on E 6th Street with about 15 minutes to go. Any longer hanging around there and I knew I would just get cold and impatient.

15 minutes to go with Keila and Frankie seeing me off!

On top I had my Leukaemia T-shirt with Brooks arm warmers, long sleeve top and rain jacket, new Leadville wooly hat with headlamp and my backpack with its 50oz water bladder and 20oz of Gatorade in my water bottle with blood tester in zip-lock close by, food supplies and salt tablets. This was ultimate business mode. Not one thing had been forgotten. Well, OK, so I did forget to bring my gloves to the start but let’s forget that! Frankie’s offer of using his socks as gloves was very kind but I turned him down. I decided it would get warm quickly and it wasn’t freezing cold, I think about 45 degrees.
Start to May Queen (0-13.5)

4am start line – 802 runners raring to go!

Final blood glucose check before the race; 210. Perfect. My basal rate was set to -70%. I would check blood glucose every hour of the race and consume at least one S!Cap salt capsule (more if my legs cramped and when the sun would be out later on).

The US anthem blared, the gun was fired and we were finally off heading west out of Leadville towards Turquoise Lake. 11:24/min miles was the planned pace for this 13.5 mile section. I had never ran that pace ever before. I knew where mile 1 and 2 were from Thursday’s shake out run. All i neededto remember was, don’t go out too fast. 802 headlamps were shining down E 6th Street and then down a dirt path road. Everyone was talking and laughing. Everyone was buzzing! The view of headlamps from the middle of the pack was beautiful and inspiring, everyone here trying to finish this race for different reasons and different goals.  The reality of the race though was that only half would come back up this road. The statistics tell you from the previous 29 years of this second oldest 100 mile race, that only 42% will actually finish. The completion rate is the lowest in any 100 mile race.

Heading west down E 6th Street from the start line

The wide dirt path road took a sharp right and we went from runners to climbers up a steep single track trail. We got back on road and hit Turquoise Lake at about 6 miles, now back on single track around the perimeter where passing was not really an option. Probably a blessing in disguise. I looked up ahead and saw a line of bright headlamps lights stretching for over a mile. This image was simply breathtaking. On went the iPod shuffle. ‘Who Needs a Road’ by Signpost Sound. Not me. This was absolute heaven.

Running at Turquoise lake: an endless line of light

After another 7 miles of this huge lake, I entered May Queen aid station 4 minutes slower than my predicted time. That was pretty good as I was not using my Garmin’s GPS to tell me every fine detail. Why? The battery life of my watch is 6 hours, the course record is 15:42. Doesn’t work. It wasn’t so much that my pace was so true though, it had more to do with the fact I had 4 pit stops to do what bears do best in the woods! My stomach did not seem at all impressed with my pre-race Pizza Hut dinner.
I had so far eaten two granola bars and sipped on some Gatorade, approximately 500 calories in total. If I could maintain that caloric intake between aid stations for the whole race, I had a good chance of ‘keeping my stomach’ which basically means not throwing my guts up, a common occurrence in ultra running. One slight problem with my food intake plan though, my glucose results for 2, 3 and 4 hours were all 300+. Until I could bring that back down under 200, any food would just keeping pushing that number up and up and making me feel diabetic sick, let alone vomit sick.
I grabbed some water and some fruit and adjusted my insulin basal to +10%. I have never gone into the plus while exercising before so this was new territory but I had to get it lower so I could start eating. A 100 miles was a new experience as was controlling my glucose for it.
May Queen to Fish Hatchery (13.5 to 23.5)
After this short aid stop that also involved taking my shoes off to shake out a mini stone which would have otherwise caused a huge blister, I walked up a steep road while talking to a familiar face, Michelle, a hardcore ultra girl I had met at the Massanutten Mountain 100 race in May that I had paced Chris Solarz at. She only ran the toughest 100 mile races all with mountains but ironically lived in Florida! I asked if she was going to see her crew at Fish like myself. She said she didn’t have any crew or pacers for the whole thing! Some egotistical men in my shoes may have felt really small and weak at this point. Not me! I was feeling even more lucky to have Team England around, waiting for me down the road in ten miles. Hats off to Michelle though.
We climbed Sugarloaf Pass for about 5 miles as the sun rose over the mountains. The headlamp was long gone and stored in my backpack to hand off to my crew. The views were spectacular, a huge factor in why I chose this race to be my first 100. I knew later on in the race, these kind of views would serve the perfect distraction to my tired engine. Someone referred to this race as the devil due to its altitude a while back. I looked at it from a different perspective though. This was mountain running at its finest.

Asthmatic meets diabetic at 11,000ft. #mutual respect

I talked to a guy, Mike Poland, on the climb, at first about the course as I had overheard him earlier discussing it so I picked his brain on how long this climb was. He had completed it once in 23 hours so I knew I was going roughly the right pace for sub-24 although he had also not finished it three times. Yep, this was Leadville alright. A beautiful course but real tough too at no lower than 9000ft up to 12,600ft not once but twice.

The conversation shifted to health. He was 45 and I was impressed with his fitness. He reminded me of Francis in many ways and I talked about him to Mike. This was the first year Mike was taking on Leadville though with a new hurdle; asthma. My reaction was “what the hell are you doing here in mountain thin air?!” But then he saw me doing a blood test and we suddenly just realized we were just two peas in a pod who wouldn’t let anything stop us from achieving things we really wanted in life.
At the top of Sugarloaf I pushed on and descended 5 miles, a famous stretch called Powerline. It wasn’t famous for the descent though.  The return ascent to come in the dark is where most runners stagger up it like zombies, a real brutal section for later. I descended at a fairly quick pace clipping off quite a few places. The final stretch of downhill was in a straight line for over a mile with mini plateaus. So much fun.  A film crew was at the base using a camera on a panning tripod. I milked this moment for all it was worth, pointing to my ‘260’ bib while flying past hearing the shutter continuously open and close. I felt like a Leadville rock star except I had 80 more miles to go before getting too ahead of myself.

23.5 done and all smiles at Fish Hatchery

I ran along a road into Fish Hatchery and saw my pacers for the first time since the start, almost 5 hours ago. I had almost run a marathon at this point and was glad to see them. They asked me how was it going? What did I need? I wanted to sit down in the chair we had purchased and get a cold Coke on board as my sugar had just dropped to hypo level at 74 after being at 300+ for hours. Neither of those items were there. They were in the car. For whatever reason, we had our first error. Well, I forgot my gloves at the start so it was the second one I guess. I was annoyed but not too much. How could I be? My friends had flown in from Arizona and New York for me, woken up at 2:30, started playing Chariots of Fire and now here they were doing their very best to support me and help me complete this race. We borrowed a chair and I think Francis ran to the car to get a Coke. Problem resolved quickly. Great work team.
Fish Hatchery to Twin Lakes (23.5 – 39.5)

25% done with Hope Pass looming in the distance.

I pulled out of Fish back to some rare asphalt running. I remember thinking how hot it had quickly got. I was now in my lightest of clothing options with just my Leukaemia T-shirt, backpack, visor and Oakley shades up top. This was not a day to go shirtless with backpack combo. Chaffing was already becoming a slight concern down south. The crew car unexpectedly pulled alongside me and gave me some cheers and then completely unplanned, pulled to the side of the road and got ready to greet me again. Great, I thought. I can now get more sugary food in case I go low again (something I should have done at Fish).

An improv pit stop with the crew

I did another blood test before grabbing any food as I had just been low. I was now 236. Wow, good job i checked. I had shot up so quickly. Scrap anymore simple carbohydrates! I readjusted my basal % once more and kept going.
The road swept right and went on for at least another mile. I thought at this point, thank god I was not running the New York 100 that Keila did which was all on this stuff. I saw my pal, Gary Brimmer from Brooks (crewing for another runner) who checked in on me. “Anyone told you that they love you yet today?” I was a bit taken back by ex-army tough guy Gary’s approach! I mumbled a no. “I love you” said Gary as he slapped me on the back. What a great feeling that was, probably why he is a coach!
I re-entered the trail towards the woods leading to Half Pipe. This became the music mile. What am I talking about? I passed a guy who without any introduction exclaimed to me “Dude, I’m listening to Vanilla Ice!!” I said I couldn’t compete with such a class act, I had on 30 Seconds to Mars and gave him a well deserved high-five. I found this moment so funny and random that I then asked a lady I was passing what she was listening too. She had no idea who she was listening too! I helped her out and informed her it was Red Hot Chili Peppers. She defended that her son had made the playlist for her. What a cool mom tearing up the LT100, I bet her son was proud of her! As nice as she was and after losing round 1, I had to inform her that I had Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” which trumped RHCP. We laughed about it and cracked on!
This was typical small talk between runners on the outbound journey. Most of us had crew/pacers but in between those aid stations, we socialized with other runners making new friends along the way. They were anything but competitors. The course was enough competition. They were companions sharing the road.
I ran through Half Pipe aid station (a small no crew and fluids only stop) and kept going at a nice pace on a flattish dirt path for miles. The last few miles turned into descending switchbacks on single track and dirt path. I passed Jason Friedman from NJ, the guy who beat me by half a mile at Running with the Devil. He didn’t look too hot and said so himself. Twin Lakes became visible as two small lakes but these quickly became much bigger as the descent continued.
As I was behind my sub-24 pace after Fish, I used this downhill section to gain some time back. A bit too much though as i took a lovely spill here. I was passing several runners and shouting “on your left” meaning they should get the hell to the right ASAP! Two runners were side by side as I approached looking for my gap through when down I went, hard on my right hand and elbow. I got up pretty quickly as these guys were probably thinking, what are you doing going so fast! I brushed myself off and kept going. I did a quick check and saw I had nice layer of skin missing from my hand and elbow. I tried to wipe the blood off on my shorts but accidentally got it on my bib instead. I looked at the bib and couldn’t help to raise a smile up to the sky. My 260 bib was now blood, sweat and tears. How very fitting I said in my head to my uncle.

Roaring into Twin Lakes aid station in front of Team England!

I came down one final steep hill to roars of cheers from the Twin Lakes crowd. Loudest of course was Team England. My parents were now there with my pacers all wearing their Leukaemia T-shirts and waving Union flags (Frankie tells me it is only called a Union Jack flag when it is on the back of a boat. I believe him!) What an absolutely awesome reception! I told them I made some noise back there referring to gaining time back, flying the descents as I love to do. Their may have been an f bomb in that sentence too, which for once my parents didn’t call me out on. This time, the chair was there as well as all the food and clothes choices. The team was working better than a professional pit lane crew!
My blood sugars had been around 100 for this last 16 miles. I continued to snack on granola bars and Gatorade through that section. My blood glucose at Twin Lakes was 177. More cheers from Team England! It was so pleasurable to see my friends understand what my blood sugars meant. Cheers when they were good, ask what they could do when they were too high or too low. They were definitely understanding diabetes at a fast pace. I took down a Coke and some mini burritos. The key was to get me eating as much real food as possible before my stomach would shut down.
Twin Lakes – Winfield (39.5 – 50)

Rui giving me the pre-Hope Pass pep talk

After 7 of my planned 10 minutes break I was up and going again. The hardest part of the course was coming up. You couldn’t really miss it. Hope Pass mountain was 3,400ft above me standing at 12,600ft above sea level higher than treeline aka where there’s not very much oxygen. Rui walked me out of the aid station and I said to him, “see you in 3” referring to the planned hours it would take me to ascend and descend Hope into Winfield where he would jump in and starting pacing me back home.
I ran through green meadows looking straight up, not worried or imitated by Hope Pass, just intrigued by how hard this was actually going to be and how good the views were going to get!  I passed Tom and Casey, crew for the Team Type 1 athletes, Ryan and Jon. I had just met them officially the day prior and was surprised when they asked me if I needed anything which was super nice. More about Team Type 1 another time, but its exciting news worthy of its own blog.

Ice cold Colorado river crossing – I didn’t need waking up mind, I was so ready to climb Hope Pass!

I soon heard the running water of the river. The first river crossing was about to happen. I had read that the river can be waist deep after heavy winters. Not so, this year. It was just below the knee but ice-cold as it should be. I didn’t take any huge risks here as i held on to the rope as i crossed quickly. Such fun! My shoes were now double the weight. I knew the sun would dry them off in no time so there was no need to worry about blisters or cold feet. It was refreshing. Good thing too, I was about to climb and climb hard.

I turned right onto a single track in the woods where the climb officially began. My planned pace on my wristband was irrelevant. I knew the only way to tackle this was for me to take it up at an honest pace that I could maintain the whole way. At first we climbed some switchbacks and along the river once more that only the runners would get to see. It seemed like a secret place as you would never know or imagine this was here by looking at Hope Pass from far away.

Hope Pass; 3,400ft in 3.5 miles

The grade got steeper and didn’t let up, some times with my heels without a chance of touching down before the next step forward. Forward relentless progress I kept telling myself. If I was moving, I was doing enough. Without much warning Anton Krupicka and his pacer Dakota Jones bombed down the mountain in the lead of the race. I gave him a shout as clearly he knew me now after we had met for 5 minutes yesterday at Safeway car park! He actually did give me a shout back. Maybe Scott Jurek had told him to give me some encouragement when he saw me?! Next came Team Salomon’s Thomas Lorblanchet and pacer Anna Frost, who i personally believe is the best female ultra runner around right now. They were about 7-8 minutes behind. A few of us started talking about the leaders. Would Anton win? Where was Nick Clark? It was so exciting. I was watching one of the biggest 100 mile races unfold in front of my eyes. Hang on a minute…I was in this race! Focus!
After about 2 miles, we started climbing through open sections so I knew the treeline was close and then there it was, open space ahead towards half a dozen tents, the Hope Pass aid station. At this point, I was the front engine of about seven runners working as a unit up Hope Pass. It was great teamwork. As for the aid station, I was expecting a small table and a few gallons of water. It was so much better. Volunteers ran towards us and asked what we wanted in our water bottles. I was tempted to ask for oxygen but went for the more reasonable request of water from a kid who took my number and flew back up the mountain to refill it and return in less than a minute. I joked to him it was better than service at the Ritz-Carlton. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get it or just thought I wasn’t funny. I have had time to reflect on my joke and now firmly believe it was the latter.
We passed llamas hanging out on the open fields. I peeked into the tent where several runners were slouched on seats taking a break, eating soup or worst of all throwing up. Their stomachs were already giving out at mile 44 ish??! I didn’t spend much time looking at that image. This was not from an unconcerned perspective, they were in good hands from medics, I just didn’t want to see any negative stuff to put me off my game.

The view north from 12,600ft – I had just run 45 miles to get here

From this aid point, I knew it was just a half mile more to the top of Hope Pass; 12,6000ft. Single track all the way. You could see the route as runners were spread out zig zagging up over the switchbacks, some hiking, some hands on knees exhausted. My train carriages had all departed for soup and chairs at the aid station but I was on the express track. I kept the pace going, I stuck to my plan. I think it was about a 2 hour climb, I try to forget even now sitting at home typing this. Whatever it took, the views were worth it. I turned back as I remember reading as a ‘must do’ and saw just how small Twin Lakes now looked and even further away, how small Turquoise Lake looked. Yep, I had come all this way on two feet and so far it felt great. No time to hang around though, the wind was blowing hard and the temperature was about 30 degrees less than Twin Lakes.

Loving the Hope Pass descent!

As was becoming the norm, I descended the back of Hope swiftly except when going over huge rocks that were part of a mountain landslides and when the grade just became too steep to stay in control. I knew this side would be steeper coming back up and their was the proof. When I put the brakes on downhill, it’s steep. A small group of guys at a bridge crossing at the bottom said “just down here to Winfield.” OK, great news chaps, I thought.

In previous years, the course took you onto a dirt road here for 1.5 miles into Winfield. This year, they made a last-minute course change that was confirmed at the pre-race meeting; a single track trail into Winfield to avoid runners and cars sharing the road. Rumors flew around that this  had extended the course between 1.5-3 miles in each direction. The crowd cheered when this news was confirmed. Being a “newbie” to the Leadville family I had no idea if this was good or bad but took it as good news as the majority cheered.
From post-race research, I found out it was an extension of 2.5 miles in each direction making the course about 105 miles. I would have taken car dust over 5 more miles any day but I’m sure my new buddy Mike Poland disagrees! The trail at one point gave a good view of Winfield aid station with the car pack absolutely packed. All I cared about was seeing it, knowing I was so now close to the halfway point. Oh no, no, no, not so fast newbie! This new trail section went past the aid station and looped around for another mile or so. What a head spinner!

The new section; single track trail into Winfield

I started asking inbound runners who were sharing the trail (the course is out and back) how far was it to go. Some said 1 mile, others said 2. It was pointless, just keep going, then you would know, I said to myself. I finally saw some people sane enough to not be runners so I knew it was close..ish. One female spectator shouted “finishing is winning”. I thought it was cute, but not my game plan.
I saw Ryan Jones from Team Type 1 walking up the road with Tom and Casey. We shared a quick exchange. He wasn’t feeling too hot and I said that Hope had taking me longer than I thought plus the trail sucked for being long. He agreed and said he was shooting for a 27-28 hour finish. I responded saying, I guess now is a good time to give up on my sub-24 plan then? We all laughed and realized our race expectations were quickly turning into the ‘let’s just finish in the allotted time’ plan. The race was definitely starting to hurt now, especially my stomach and I couldn’t help but think the spectator who just shouted “finishing is winning” was pretty close to the truth.
At the same section I also bumped into Brooks ID ultra runner Shannon Price pacing his friend for the entire back 50! We have been Facebook friends for years cheering each other on but had never met until that moment. It was nice seeing all these people I knew from my crew, Team Type 1 guys and Brooks ID friends.  The respect between runner to runner and between runner to spectator was incredible. You knew you were part of something really special.

Time for a break. 50 miles and my stomach wasn’t so happy.

I recall Christopher McDougall talking about his Leadville experience in New York in a not so positive light. He was so relieved to be told he had NOT made the cut off time to keep going when he hit Winfield!
I rolled into Winfield aid an hour behind my plan at 11:47. I got weighed to make sure I wasn’t dangerously over weight (from over hydration) or under weight (from lack of fluids/foods). I had dropped 7lbs. If only I was on America’s Biggest Loser instead of halfway through Leadville 100, this would have been really good news. The medical staff had every right to keep me under their watch until I had put back on some weight. If I had lost double this, the worst scenario would have come into play and they would have had the right to pull me out of the race. I didn’t spend much time thinking about that scenario! The medics gave me a look that said eat more, or you’re going to get in trouble. I went over to my crew like a naughty school boy and told them all about my weight issues!
I slumped into the chair, now a little depressed for the first time. It wasn’t the loss of weight though, being tired or doubting myself to finish. It was the fact I was now an hour behind my goal plan of a sub-24 finish and I knew it was gone.  My glucose was however on the money at 158 so that brought some good news back my way. Everyone knew how important it was for me to eat real food with lots of fat to get the weight back on. My stomach was knotting up and I overheard Keila saying “he will lose his stomach real soon”. Great, just what I didn’t need. Throwing up all over the mountains while trying to run 50+ miles back to Leadville. This was a real low point for me and I was so pleased I had pacers all the way home. I ditched the iPod shuffle, I now had my brother Rui for company up and down the Hope Pass return. I ate some Ramen soup with noodles and crackers and some cheese. I couldn’t take much down though, my stomach was fighting me. After a long rest stop it was time to get this thing going again. As Ken Chlouber’s son, Cole said in the pre-race pep talk, it was now time to do it all over again. I looked at Rui with eyes that said “Let’s roll”.

3 comments

  1. Mike says:

    Love the pictures! Especially the one of the line of lights.

  2. “Hang on a minute…I was in this race! Focus!” I love those out-n-backs too. They are a rare opportunity to see some of the biggies. Nice write-up. Can’t wait to see if you finished or not! 🙂

  3. Jason Friedman says:

    Great to see you on the trail!

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