Tag Archive for Leadville

Feeling Good at the Vermont 100

Green Vermont mountains. Photo credit: Amy Rusiecki

Green Vermont mountains everywhere. Photo credit: Amy Rusiecki

Pre-race Goal Setting & Strategy

The Vermont 100 aka the VT100, was probably my first real race since school XC days that I approached it without any fixed goals. No time splits, average pace stuff and no finish time predictions. I did have one clear goal however; to run as fast as possible from start to finish ‘feeling good’. But that was it, nothing more. A new approach to running a very long way.

VT100 logo -

‘One step at a time’, a fitting slogan for my race strategy.

My former runner brain told me to be obsessed with breaking 20 hours. I knew the course would potentially allow for this with a great race but I respected and trusted my coach to guide me into a new way of setting running goals. By running on feel, my ability would do the talking for me. Perhaps I would break 20 anyway or maybe it would be 22 or the flip of that, 18? By not obsessing over numbers, I no longer would be able to feel like I was ahead or behind during the race (goodbye anxiety and stress). Just look at what Kilian produced at Hardrock the week prior. He ran ‘easy’ for 70 miles and then took off for the last 30 because he felt so good. He even dropped his more than capable pacer (Rickey Gates) because he began moving so fast. But alas, I am not Kilian, nobody is, but I and we can learn from the best and their style of running.

The day prior to traveling up to Vermont, I listened to my trusty source of trail running tips and humor from Trail Runner Nation. It was ironically fitting that the topic of conversation was Vermont and how to race on feel with guests Jimmy Dean Freeman – attempting the six original 100-milers in 13 weeks(!!) and my coach, Ian. For those intrigued, here’s a link to the podcast to what I’m talking about by running on feel;

JDF – Original Six Hundo – 2 Down – Mentor Ian Sharman | Trail Runner Nation

Listening to this was like getting a last-minute pep talk. Just in case, I wanted to say screw it, this approach sounds so vague, listening to this reassured me, this was how to do it. The detailed OCD sub-20 hour plan I had scribbled on my elevation profile chart weeks earlier was handed over to my crew on the 5-hour drive north Friday morning. Luckily for me, I had never re-read it to memorize any of it. It was now just a very basic guide to where I would possibly be for my crew of Tiffany, Francis and Rui (both paced me at Leadville in 2012) at each major aid station. Typical of them, they didn’t blink an eyelid to my very new approach which speaks so highly of who they are. They respected my strategy even though it would make it harder for them to track me down. Tip 1 for new 100 mile runners – get awesome crew!

My crew of Rui, Tiffany and Francis were priceless all weekend long. #VT1002014

My crew of Rui, Tiffany and Francis were priceless to me all weekend long. #VT1002014

VT100 course elevation and aid stations

VT100 course elevation with various aid stations.

Like Jimmy did recently at Western States three weeks prior, I couldn’t quite tear myself away from all my race data and planned to wear my heart rate (HR) monitor for the first 20 to 30 miles to guide me, capping my efforts at 150 bpm up the early climbs. And of course I would have my Garmin Fenix to keep track of all the data, yet I set my screen to only show elapsed time and my HR information.

July 19th – Race Day

Waking up at 2:15am Saturday morning felt anything like it. I had managed four hours of shut-eye and I was now ready to get going, my adrenaline was in full force. First things first though; a blood test. I was perfectly steady in the mid-100’s and I went to the kitchen to consume a couple of bowls of Honey Nut Cheerio’s, a yogurt, granola bar and a banana. Feeding the body calories now seemed to be the best move knowing a few hours later on in the day, I would not be craving real food so enthusiastically.

3:59am. VT100 start line at Silver Hill Meadow

3:59am. VT100 start line at Silver Hill Meadow. Photo credit: Vermont 100

In the dark fields of Silver Hill Meadow, 300 runners set off down a wide dirt road at 4am. As I had been warned, some runners leapt out in front at marathon pace. My extent of course knowledge was limited to knowing what sections were up or down and the names of aid stations only because I was carrying a laminated course elevation chart in my shirt pocket. I was basically out there just following yellow plates with black arrows or the guy ahead of me hoping he or she was paying attention. After a mile or so of road, the route turned sharp right onto a trail with some rocks and mud (that I was surprised to see on the course) and we began the first climb of what would be many. The course was renowned for being a relentless series of hills in humid conditions. Nothing too long or too steep but it would equate to 14,000 feet of ascent by the time we had covered the distance. This was great prep for Tahoe 200 (40,000 feet) and was a big factor why I was here. We all lucked out on the humidity factor though. This was not to be a hot race compared to years past. On one hand, I looked back and was annoyed I had put in  all those runs in Central Park with four layers on for what?! But on the other, I was relieved. 100 miles is hard enough without having to drown in sweat all day and worry about body temperature.

After an hour and change, the headlamp came off. The sun hadn’t quite risen but the openness of the land plus the non-technical terrain allowed me to be free of my Petzl Nao’s mega bulb. That headlamp is serious business people, highly recommended! At 5 miles, a hike up Densmore Hill was the first time to test out my strategic patience. Being able to resist the run and hike up gradients seems to be all part of the game at Vermont. This early on, everything feels great, my goal was to feel great all day long. Lots of folks around me pushed on while I went to power hike mode. My HR hovered at 151 and I knew I was now at my limit.

My ‘feeling good’ approach to the race took its first turn south at mile 10 however. Some very abnormal stomach cramps set in and I scrambled to figure out what was going on. After a little internal freak out, I nailed it down to nothing more than nature calling and took a detour into the woods (note; this was not someone’s property line! Last year, a runner pooped in a local’s blueberry bush which as you can imagine, caused quite the stir in town). Of course, this ordeal meant losing some time but the bigger picture was that I immediately felt better. Embarrassingly to admit, this scenario played out another five times throughout the first half of the race! I took the positive spin on this that I was definitely not going out too fast with all of these breaks.

Rolling into Pretty Horse (not feeling good!) with a veteran VT100 runner going for #11.

Rolling into Pretty Horse (not feeling so good!) with Prasad Gerard; a veteran VT100 runner going for #11.

Apart from my bathroom needs, the legs, lungs and mind were all feeling great. “How am I feeling?” was the question I would repeatedly ask myself. This could be to do with anything from drinking, getting calories down, salt pills, blood glucose levels or my effort level. The various topics were the same from mile 1 to mile 100. It was like the wheel of fortune landing on a different number (in my case, topic) each time. Doing so took focus and is why I didn’t care when I read in the pre-race literature that music was banned from the course. To not have any music as a distraction for me over 100 miles would be a first but my assumption of the rule was that running alongside horses was probably deemed a fairly dangerous situation! That’s right, this race was run alongside horses!

Not your average 100 miler!  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Not your average 100 miler! Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Sidenote: For those not in the know, this 100 mile malarkey that I can’t seem to get enough of came about 41 years ago because of a 100 mile horse race gone wrong for a guy called Gordy out in California. His horse went lame so the next year he ran the distance on foot and finished it in just under 24 hours. The next year more runners showed up and that race became known as the Western States 100. I talk about it from time to time!

This was my (and likely many others) first time ever running a race alongside horses. It took some good communication skills from both the rider and runner how to let the four-legged guys go by without any ugly mishaps. When the first horse ran up behind me (their race started an hour or so behind ours), I shifted to the left of the trail slowly and let them by while still running. The guy in front of me took a slightly different approach leaping off the trail and then standing still, looking petrified! Either he was in for a long day of this or I was doing something very wrong and about to find out about it.

To my surprise, I caught back up to one of the handful of horses that passed when descending a somewhat steep stretch and passed them back. “Oh. Think you’re getting away from me do you?!” heckled the rider to me. I assured her my ego was not that big that I thought I was going to beat her horse, I just wasn’t much enjoying standing behind a big horse.  These were the only occasions you would (if dare) rarely pass them. The other time would be when they were drinking from their troughs on mandatory 45-minute breaks. While we ate gummy bears, M&M’s and gels, our four-legged friends were more into grains, carrots and apples (I am not a horse expert – a rider kindly filled me in on all this info).

Taftsville Covered Bridge at mile 15

Taftsville Covered Bridge at mile 15. Photo credit: Vermont 100

One of the highlights of the day came early descending a long hill to Stage Road aid station. The runner ahead turned as I approached and said “Oh, I thought you were a horse!” In any other scenario, I would have taken being called a horse as highly offensive but this was one of the highest compliments I think you can say to a runner on the Vermont course! All I was doing was letting the grade take me downhill swiftly refusing to break to try to save my quads. It resulted in quite the fast pace, definitely nothing manageable for a long period of time.

At 30 miles in, the legs began to finally get that tingly sensation in them, the kind all ultra runners know. At this point I had caught up to Keila and Karen (running together) and felt a bit more assured when Karen mentioned her legs felt the same way. All three of us ran into Stage Road aid together and saw a bunch of our friends there. It was like Cayuga 50 all other again, so fantastic to see so many friendly faces.

Cranking through the miles and loving it once more!

Cranking through the miles and loving it! Photo credit: Nanci Photography

Rui ushered me over to the crew area like I was a plane needing fuel which wasn’t far from the truth. My blood glucose was now 98 and it was time to get some carbs in to push that number back up. My crew had everything ready spread out on a blanket (I heard later kids looked enviously on at the goodies on display).

This was a bit smoother than the first aid station at Pretty Horse ten miles earlier. Tom (Elaine’s fiancé and crew chief) had asked me if I wanted my drop bag. “Drop bag?” (I didn’t have any) I said, “No. Where’s Tiffany?” I then turned to my right to see a very stressed and fast approaching Francis and Rui charging towards me. I got a good chuckle out of it, they didn’t find it so funny as they were about a minute from missing me.

While Tiffany was getting more ice into my bandana and cap, Rui was grabbing me foods and drink that I requested for my pack which left Frankie rubbing Aquaphor on my legs.  Bug spray, sunscreen, by whoever was free next and then off again. What may sound like chaos was fairly well controlled, everyone with a job to do. All hands were on deck at aid stations but these interchanges were definitely the highlights of the day for me. Giving them a review of the last X miles, how I felt at that given moment and then normally me making an awful joke about something. This was what it was about, having fun with my friends while doing something crazy because after all, 100 miles is crazy. I’m fully aware.

Through the second and final covered bridge (Lincoln) of the day at mile 40 took me towards the hardest climb yet up to Barr House. I had asked my buddy Tony Carino a week before for course knowledge (he ran a sub-20 in 2013) and he said everything was runnable until 70. I forgot to remind myself that Tony is a monster climber!!! I happily put my head down and hiked the steep pitch up until finally reaching an unmanned table with water and Gatorade – the sign that the climb was over.

By now, I had discarded my heart rate monitor. I was well into my groove so had no need to risk chafing my torso for some almost irrelevant heart rate readings going forward. As the sun was now up, my concern was more on staying cool with ice, hydrating smart and getting calories in constantly. My stomach pains were coming and going but now they were more to do with the running. Luckily, my palette was taking well to Honey Stinger waffles so I went through a good few of those which clocked up 160 calories each time. I knew by keeping some sort of food in my hand as much as possible, it would remind myself to keep grazing. As for now, this food plan was working like clockwork.

Walking out of Camp 10 Bear with words of encouragement from Tiffany and Rui.

Walking out of Camp 10 Bear with words of encouragement from Tiffany and Rui. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

I arrived at Camp 10 Bear, mile 47 (the main aid station which doubled as mile 70 where I would pick up my first pacer later) expecting a carnage of people and cars, much like you get at Winfield in Leadville. But this was Vermont and although one of the major four 100 mile races in the States, this was not what I call a big aid station. The welcome and energy from other crews made it great regardless. I hopped on the scales and hoped to see no weight loss from my Friday medical. One pound up in fact. I blame those waffles!

Shy of halfway, all was going well. How did I know? Because I asked myself “How are you feeling?” and all that mattered was my answer to that question time and time again. My crew brought me lunch as we had discussed the importance of real food as much as possible. A toasted bacon and cheese panini sandwich with arugula. Remember tip 1 for new 100 mile runners? Get awesome crew! I took half of the sandwich with me, restocked the bag and rolled on. Tiffany and Rui checked in with me as they were more aware than me that I was moving well and well under the taboo time of sub-20 but I assured them I was running my own race and was feeling good. The sandwich was a challenge however. It took me well over an hour to eat it. My stomach could handle waffles but this was a different story. My body was beginning to fight back, that darn stomach of mine.

At the halfway point according to my GPS ‘during my lunch hour’ I caught up with Otto climbing up to Pinky’s. Otto is quite simply a nut job. He runs more 100’s than I run training runs and is incredibly funny, I just can’t figure out if he means to be funny! He was in shock to see me coming from behind when I welcomed myself. “What are you doing here?!” he said in shock seeing me behind him. Otto is famous in our ultra circle for starting out fast and crawling home, but always making it home. I don’t think he has ever quit any of his many races. My response was simply “What are you doing here?!” He then questioned the situation “Either you are slow today or I am doing something wrong”. We laughed about it and pushed on ahead wishing him luck, not that he needed it. He just needed to pace himself and would be on for 21-22 hours. I knew where I was too now. I was just over 9 hours on the clock and my mind started to drift ahead to a sub-18 goal. This was probably a bit suicidal but I knew I was in that mix, especially if I could get to my pacers feeling OK. I remembered my strategy quickly though going back to the present “How am I feeling?” and continued on up the hill.

Restocking at Seven Sees with the crew.

Restocking at Seven Sees with the crew. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

At Pinky’s aid, I wasted no time passing a weary looking Kevin Shelton-Smith looking to feast on all the goodies to get out of his low. He had bombed off the front with Brian Rusiecki (the race favorite), something Kevin likes to do. I wasn’t just passing my friends from NYC though, I was clipping off new friends too and having great conversations or small talk with all of them from Megan running solo to Dave who I recognized from Western States last year to high-fiving Jimmy Dean who I had barely met a few hours earlier when we small talked about his podcast. I love the interaction in this sport because the respect for one another is honest and we truly care for each other out there no matter how much we want to beat the other to the line.

A long ascent got me to mile 58 and the Seven Sees aid. It was the last crew meet up before pacers as they would skip Margaritaville because Francis had to get ready to pace me back at Camp 10 Bear. I knew he of all people was sad to miss out on that aid station! As rumors had it, this pace was decked out to the nines and would be my number one place to volunteer at in the future. They turned me down for an ‘adult drink’, not because I didn’t have ID but because I was too early the volunteer told me! 38 miles with a margarita on board might not have made the most sense anyway.

Back on the scales at Camp 10 Bear. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Back on the scales at Camp 10 Bear. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

I had definitely taken a cut back on my calorie intake the last 20 miles. My stomach was struggling to accept anything. What drove me forward with momentum was the excitement of getting to run with my pacers soon. Up and over a climb, I ran strong into Camp 10 Bear. At 70 miles, it was the furthest I had ever run solo (Tahoe 200 will have the same rule in effect). Back on the scales for the public weigh-in, I had now lost my one pound from mile 46 and was back to square one. Tiffany offered me the other half of the sandwich from lunch to which I almost vomited just thinking about real food. My stomach was definitely my weakest link. I pretended to myself this wasn’t an issue but I knew it was or would eventually be. With the sun going down, I decided to ditch the hat and neck bandana which had been my ice holders all day long in the sun. But I kept the pack on, kept the same shoes and socks on. I wanted to simulate Tahoe as much as possible.

30 miles to go, now with my trusty pacers. First up, Francis.

30 miles to go, now with my trusty pacers. First up, Francis. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Mile 75 and feeling good! Photo credit: Francis Laros

Mile 75 and feeling good! Photo credit: Francis Laros

My only change was a fresh shirt and I was set for Francis to be my companion for the next 7 miles. We had decided as group to flip pacers more than normal. Francis would get a 7 and a 6 mile leg (mostly uphill) and Rui would get a 12 mile stretch and the last 5 (both mostly down) suiting their strengths (Tiffany unfortunately just found out the week prior to the race, she has a serious hip injury so had to work the crew chief full-time shift. I know it was tough for her to be there around all these runners and not get to pace. She is a tough cookie and I’m so happy she could put on a brave face at a very frustrating time for her. She is amazing and I love her so much for everything she does for me.)

First off, we had what I was told was the hardest climb of the day back out of Camp 10 Bear. To be honest, I barely recall it. We talked easily and hiked efficiently. It was an absolute blast to have company and for those that don’t know Francis, his company and endless stories are second to none. With a couple of winding single track downhills thrown in to the section, we moved well. Francis was almost giggling to himself during one stretch because it was so effortless. My watch had long died since mile 60 so I was completely running by feel. He told me we clocked a 7:35 mile at one point. I did not believe him but he insisted it was true.

Entering Spirit of 76 aid after 7 fantastic miles with Francis.  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Entering Spirit of 76 aid after 7 fantastic miles with Francis. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

A fifth and final climb took us over a road and up to the welcoming aid station of Spirit of 76. The volunteer at the top pretended to pull us up with some rope while we demanded to use the ski lift. All stupid stuff but it shows you how much fun we were having out there on Saturday night, now with over 76 miles in my legs.

Spirits are high at Spirit of 76.  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

Spirits are high at Spirit of 76. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

My buddy Jun was departing the aid station as I approached. We smiled and waved (it took me until the next day to realize he was running solo – no crew, no pacers, the same as Otto – RESPECT!). At every aid station, I really had two crews. Mine and Keila’s (Heidi, Benny and Denie) because she was always a few minutes behind since halfway. It was so great to have a handful of friends always there for me ready to do anything I needed. But no one got Francis’s Aquaphor job!

Rui’s turn and little did I know but this segment would be the hardest yet by a stretch. It was the old duo back together. Rui and me have great memories of bombing down Hope Pass two years ago, maybe too fast in reality and we were out to seek some more great downhills now. For the first five miles everything was working out that way, moving good, power hiking ups, never really walking anything. And then at mile 83 on a flat road, that all changed.

I felt my skin go pale, my head go faint and I started to stumble around with no energy whatsoever. My stomach hurt once again and almost immediatley I was dry heaving onto someone’s lawn (sorry!) with my fingers down my throat. There’s not anything much more painful than being sick I find. Unfortunately, because I had been failing to put solids in well the last 25 miles or so, I was failing to bring anything decent back up. Jimmy passed me by and gave me some encouragement, “suck it up bro” or similar words. It was kind of a blurry low in my race so forgive me for not remembering  it exact but I appreciated it. He was right, suck it up. This was really my first low of the race at mile 83. Not bad really!

I gingerly stood up, took a couple of deep breathes and then we continued. Really slowly at first. Rui insisted on me getting in some S-caps and i washed them down with Tailwind (it was the best I could do for calories at this point). Within minutes, I was back to running and we caught up to Jimmy and his pacer Scott. He was in a bit of shock to see me but we joked I was back from the dead! I explained to him while we ran as a group of four my last few hours of running. Amazingly, Jimmy completely nailed what had happened to me because it had happened to him before. By removing my cap and bandana full of ice (at Camp 10 Bear) because I deemed the evening time not necessary to use them anymore, I had begun to overheat. The humidity had very subtly got higher as the sun went down. He had ice-cold water in his bottle and I sprayed the back of my neck and felt the difference. Now I just had to get to Bill’s aid (88) and get the ice back on! We ran together for a couple of miles before I had to back off the pace again. But before I reached Bill’s, I noticed my insulin insert had fallen off my stomach due to the sweat and ice dripping down it all day long.

Our pace went back to a hike and I had to drag my ass to Bill’s having now, my second low point in the span of five miles. Rui put his headlamp on but I stubbornly refused. I had set a new goal to get to Bill’s headlamp free and did that although barely. I knew Rui was concerned but he kept me moving. At Bill’s, I wandered over to the medics at the barn and got on the scales. I was down to 176, a 4 pound loss. “How do you feel?” the medic asked me. It was a great question, one I must have been failing to ask of myself for a few miles now because I felt awful. My grumbled response of “OK. Tired” wasn’t my best ever performance of faking the good life but she understood. I was at mile 88, my weight was steady enough and so they let me go over to my crew to proceed.

I walked over to the crew area set up at a section of grass and decided enough was enough and  lay down on it. It was my first time off my feet in 88 miles. I had beaten my previous best of 80 miles at Western States.

My crew grabbed me hot noodle soup that I had been craving for about 7 miles now but was only available for the first time now. As they got my headlamp ready for me and some food into my backpack (just in case I could miraculously eat anything else for the last 12 miles) I checked my glucose which was now higher than planned due to the insert incidence. Perhaps another factor why I had probably had a really rough patch. I made some adjustments with my insulin, had yet another bathroom break and then I was back on the trail with Francis. It had been the longest aid stop by far today.

As soon as we left, my walking very slowly increased and Francis made it a point to tell me. After a half mile or so, we reached the next downhill and just like that, I began to run again. All the way down and then all the way back up to Polly’s aid (95), Francis kept me going strong. It was as if the sickness, the long aid station stop at Bill’s belonged to a different race. That’s the magic of ultra running right there. Those miles seemed so straight forward so soon after a chaotic five-mile stretch.

When we approached Tiffany and Rui for the last hand off, we already knew what we needed to do. Be efficient. Francis announced to them, this was going to be a quick aid stop. Blood test, refill of water and electrolyte drinks and go. It was all business mode again now and I caught Rui off guard by this turn of events.

No time to stop with 5 to go as Francis and Rui do a Garmin exchange.  Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

No time to stop with 5 to go as Francis and Rui do a Garmin exchange. Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

I looked over at Rui as we left the aid, realizing he was wearing three layers. “What are you wearing Rui?” I asked him puzzled. “Well, you looked pretty bad back there so I put some layers on”. You have to realize that Rui got given the last leg at Leadville too where we army marched 10 miles home between 4am and 8am in the freezing cold. He started to shed layers as it soon became apparent that we were about to kick the last 5 miles apart together pretty efficiently. I asked him where we were for time. I wanted to know if we were over or under the 20 hour goal time. He did the math and knew we had to run 14 minute miles to go under.

Running a gradual descent, this was exciting news. We were both so pumped, we knew it would take a real curve ball now to screw that up. And then, we came to the end of the road, looked left, looked right and couldn’t see anymore of the green glow sticks. We kind of just wandered around looking for them and then Rui told me to wait while he ran back the way we had come. I just stood in the dark and waited for what seemed a very long time……..”Come back!” I ran so hard back up that hill to find him by a huge arrow on the ground and two yellow plates ushering us off the road to the left. “Better make that 13 minute miles I guess?” I said to Rui. We both laughed our heads off and got moving.

We ran everything, yes everything all the way in. He pushed me home taking two more spots up the last big climb along the way. We weaved around single track the last half mile as hard as possible and then turned a last corner to see the red neon ‘finish line’ sign crossing it in 19 hours 37 minutes. A new 100 PR for me by almost 3 hours. Yes, a different course, temperature, terrain, I know all of that. What I was most happy with was to nail sub-20 without having that as my focal point all day long and getting caught up in the numbers. The plan had worked and worked really well. I also just found out this week that I beat a horse! A few dropped out so I won’t count those guys but I beat a horse on my own two feet!

19h 37 minutes, job done. Thanks to everyone in this picture a thousand times over. #VT1002014 Photo credit:  Heidi Tanakatsubo

19h 37 minutes, job done. Thanks to everyone in this picture a thousand times over. #VT1002014 Photo credit: Heidi Tanakatsubo

At the awards with Jimmy Deen Freeman (3 down, 3 to go for him, amazing!)

At the awards with Jimmy Dean Freeman (3 down, 3 to go for him, amazing!)

Work in Review and Looking Ahead

I asked myself at mile 99, could I keep running if I had to (thinking ahead to Tahoe 200) and I’m pleased to say with confidence, the answer was most definitely yes. I wanted to finish the race tired but not screaming for medical treatment and I achieved that fine line of effort perfectly. Overall, I was very satisfied with the whole race. Tiffany, Francis and Rui were outstanding. Their support and care for me is impossible to repay but I’ll try my hardest too. I am forever grateful to them.

I know where I made mistakes but I also know where I made good decisions, solved problems and ran smart. I will use all of this information to my advantage in a few weeks time. Excited to go beyond the 100 mile mark and explore a new chapter in my ultra running journey. Thank you all for your love and support. Roll on Tahoe 200!

My third 100 mile buckle and bib for the archives. I can happily call VT100 a success.

My third 100 mile buckle and bib for the archives. I can happily call VT100 a success.

Race Report: Leadville Trail 100 (Inbound)

Winfield – Twin Lakes (50 – 60.5)

Winfield aid station

With Rui by my side, we strolled out of Winfield. I was now wearing gators over my shoes as I was sick of wasting time, stopping to remove stones. I was digesting food on the road back to the trail section so it was a pretty slow start. Even so, I was excited to show Rui Hope Pass. He would be my witness to how tough this was! I had two concerns going on. My stomach wasn’t happy and climbing Hope from the south side was going to be a steeper grade and test me.

Winfield to Twin Lakes via Hope Pass at 12,600ft

The trail was a little congested with runners coming towards us making their way to Winfield. An unwritten rule is that whoever is in front has right of way,  so it got under my skin when some of these folks didn’t seem to care about this and made me wait for them to pass. It reminded me of the NYC subway system, a complete free for all with people getting on the train before allowing people to get off. When the terrain was flat or down, I ran, if it was uphill or slightly technical underfoot, I went back to walking.

All smiles towards Hope Pass climb with Rui

We reached the sharp left turn, the start of a 2.5 mile climb up approximately 2,400ft. Embedded rocks acted as steps and skinny trees acted as a handrail to propel me up the mountain. When these natural objects weren’t available, it was good old-fashioned steady relentless steps, the ‘no stopping’ rule again in full force.

Rui reminded me to drink water. I guess the altitude wasn’t making me believe I was sweating and therefore threw my brain off the necessity to hydrate. Also as we climbed, the temperature was dropping, another factor as to why I wasn’t dying of thirst. I had a sip or so every time he said it but it was not easy. Eating and/or drinking going up is tough. You’re trying to take down energy or fluids while your body is going up. Not a great combination.

About halfway up the climb, Rui pulled me to the side of the trail to eat. My glucose was in the low 200’s so we opted for some potato chips, carbs without the sugar. This was also the best food source to fight off nausea as well, so it had a double effect at 11,000ft. I took down two chips real slowly. I’m pretty adamant my face looked no different from when I was 7 years old refusing to eat my greens while my Nana told me how good they were for me! Rui was doing a good job playing Nana. He didn’t let up. He made me eat several more before allowing me to continue the climb.

As a big group came towards us up the climb, I was down to the last chip. We didn’t want to get stuck behind this group so we jumped back on the trail, onwards and very much upwards. The surrounding trees soon thinned out which meant we were close to the top (if you count a mile as close). We climbed a section where it was hands and feet stuff before getting onto the switchbacks to the top.

A few runners were sitting down with their patient pacers. I gave them a high-five or a tap on the leg to try to get them going but refused to focus too much on their agony, it could be me any minute if I let my brain think about. The climb was now really tough with the thin mountain air in full effect. Certain parts involved climbing on tippy toes. If you were to put your heel down, you would have fallen backwards. I was playing real life Snakes and Ladders and I refused to land on any snakes! Rui paced slightly ahead and we were in a groove rolling double sixes all the way up.

For the first time in the race, I felt rain. On went the rain jackets. I borrowed one from Francis only the day before. It was a thicker jacket than the one I planned to use. I wasn’t motivated to throw it on because of the rain though, this was just drizzle to a Brit. The reason lay in the temperature drop. It was significant and the winds were now swirling all around us.

Looking back from atop Hope Pass

We hit the top of Hope Pass. We looked back, we looked forward. Such incredible scenery. I instinctively grabbed a rock to keep as a memento.

Rui adjusted his jacket as the wind was kicking our asses all over the place. His brand new cap flew off his head and he could only watch it as it flew away. He thought it was cool rather than  getting annoyed at his misfortune.  I didn’t want to hang around to lose my hat so off I went descending the trail. I was pretty confident he would catch up!

Looking ahead atop Hope Pass. Hopeless aid just below and Twin Lakes in the distance

It was half a mile to Hopeless aid station. I had run further than ever in my life while climbing Hope Pass twice. A guy called Donny told me Thursday night “Don’t quit, you’re going to want to quit. Probably around mile 55”. Donny couldn’t have been more wrong.  Me and Rui were two big kids flying down this famous mountain without a care in the world. We startled a few runners ahead with our enthusiasm and energy. Should I have held back a little bit? Maybe but I wasn’t going to win this thing, I was here to enjoy the experience and I was most definitely doing that.

Hopeless aid station was full of runners refilling water bottles, getting hot soup or fixing their feet. We stopped and I did a blood test; 193. I took off my rain jacket and grabbed some water and a cup of soup.  I wanted to keep the descent going to bring the glucose down but Rui again held the reins on me and told me to eat before we continued. Besides, when would we next eat soup next to llamas again?! My stomach was already feeling  better than back at Winfield. My pacers persistent caloric intake was working, even though my brain was saying ” just run”.

Hopeless aid station. Tip of my woolly cap for those volunteers!

We thanked the volunteers and said our goodbyes. We had 3 miles of descending to do. Without doubt, this section was the most fun. Not too steep or too technical so we upped the pace all the way down making up some time from the outbound section, whizzing past cautious runners. As Rui was ahead I had a path to follow. If it looked good I followed, if he had to move his feet out of a tricky situation, I took a different route.

A section of single track expressway Rui and myself tore up…or down?!

What felt like sub-7 pace was actually 8:30’s. The average pace of last years winner Ryan Sandes was 10/min miles for the whole race so if I could just sort my climbing out I’ll one day start cashing checks for having this much fun! Here’s to dreaming. The trail widened and flattened out as we reached open meadows. This meant the river crossing was near and I was far too excited to share this experience with Rui. He wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as me to run through the iced cold water. It was about 7:30pm, sunset. I guess he had a point that cold feet with no sun isn’t the best mix. But we had no choice!

I went first and showed him how much fun it was. I ran through as fast as possible. It seemed to have got deeper than four hours ago and I had forgotten there were two parts to it. The second part, even deeper. What a great way to stay alert!

A couple of girls were running alongside us. The pacer of their group had a radio hanging off her backpack with M83 playing. I ribbed Rui for not having one of these as we ran into Twin Lakes with them, laughing as the music blared. I don’t know what Rui did, but I was feeling so much better after that stretch. I was ready for fresh clothes, some food and my next pacer, 49 years young, 2:41 marathoner, Frankie Bubble aka Francis.

Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery (60.5 – 76.5)

I sat down and had a large choice of what to eat. Francis and Keila had gone off to buy me sandwiches from a deli (god knows where they found one!) Savory food items were something we did not factor for as much as we should have. Complex carbs with fat and protein. This was ideal food to put on some weight while not spiking my blood glucose. I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich and some chips as roadies. The one definite savory item that was working for me provided by the aid stations was the Ramen soup with noodles and crushed crackers. Never try something new in a race. Screw it. 100 miles was new and it was working out just fine, the same way I borrowed Francis’s jacket over Hope Pass.

After 60 miles and more importantly, two river crossings it was also time for a wardrobe change. Off came the shoes and compression socks. I looked for blisters although I felt confident this wasn’t that necessary a procedure as my feet felt pretty good. I found about five, oh the power of adrenaline! I slapped on Vaseline, put on new socks and a fresh pair of Cascadia’s. This pair actually belonged to Francis, another late decision. We realized how little give the trail road gave from our Thursday shake out run and my own spare shoes; Brooks Pure Grit (a light weight trail shoe) and Brooks Ghosts (a neutral road shoe) wouldn’t be as suitable. Thank god we were both 11.5!

I changed leukaemia T-shirts, threw on my long sleeve Brooks top and my thin weatherproof Brooks jacket. Lastly, on went the wooly hat and the headlamp. I didn’t think I would need this until the end of this section but it was getting slowly getting dark. Off we went saying goodbye to my parents, Rui and Keila.

Couple of night owls about to knock out 16 miles

This 16 mile section was known as being the most runnable but first we had to climb. I told Francis a statistic I remembered about the race. If you make it out of Twin Lakes inbound, you finish the race. Hope Pass was over with. If he was worried about my mental state, he needn’t of as I confidently told him that. I felt like I was back in the game and the sub-25 buckle was still very much a tangible goal.

I had forgotten that this ascending section was quite long before I could try to run. The plan was to knock out 16/min miles for 10 miles (to Half Pipe aid) and then 14’s into Fish which was flat for 6 miles. My blood glucose was hovering around the 200’s and my caloric intake was still not hitting 500 calories between aid stations but my stomach was trying its best to understand what I was trying to get done out here!

We hit double track trail which was great news. We could run side by side on a track each. We could run! And run we did, at least that’s what it felt like to me in the pitch black with our two headlamps and a flashlight to guide us. I drank a lot more here. Why did i start to drink more now? Probably because it was flatter terrain, I was running and I knew I needed to put on weight for the dreaded next weigh in, especially as I was still under-eating. That had to be at Fish Hatchery.

We arrived at the aid station feeling good, looking good, talking all the way there. Half Pipe sure was a busy Saturday night hang out for the middle of nowhere. Lots of runners looked far too happy to be sitting down and chilling for my liking. I said to Francis, let’s make this a quick stop. I chugged two cups of water, grabbed some fruit and Ramen soup. Maybe Ramen soup will sponsor me for my next 100? That’s right, I was definitely not in a “never again” kind of mood, this was fun, this was what I had trained so hard for over the last six months.

Off we went for 5.6 miles of runnable miles to go. Francis kept encouraging me by telling me the average pace was dropping quickly and we were heading towards the planned pace for the section. We passed through a crew section which was pretty lively. We didn’t use it for Team England and I was glad. My crew needed some sleep and me and Francis were having a grand old-time anyway.

The dirt path road turned a corner and we saw car lights in the distance. It was route 24, the main spine road through Leadville that crew cars had been using to hit up all of the aid stations. Then we saw closer car lights and I knew that was the asphalt road that led me 2 miles into Fish Hatchery. I went for another sip of water from my bladder. It was mostly air.

Rather than waste time and pour water from Francis’s bladder to mine, we adopted the scuba diving ‘buddy breathing‘. He tucked me under his wing as I took water from his mouthpiece whenever I needed it. We had a good laugh at how ridiculous this looked yet no one was actually around to witness it.

Next came the realization I was still wasn’t eating enough food for the weight watchers medics eagerly waiting for me. I ate the second half of the grilled cheese sandwich and some chocolate. This was the plan. Eat and definitely don’t pee in the last miles coming into Fish. I was also now adopting Francis’s warmer jacket as a fourth layer over my backpack. Apart from a water bottle sticking out of my chest, it would take an eagle-eyed medic to realize I was wearing my backpack under the jacket (the crazy ideas you think of at midnight!). I also had on my hat, headlamp and two pairs of gloves. After all I was in the Rockies!

We heard some wild Texas music up ahead. Wow, the aid station is pumping out some Cotton-eye Joe pretty hard we thought. Then we realized it was two southern dudes doing their thing to motivate the runner. We had buddy breathing and ideas to cheat the scales, they had cowboy music. Two different ways to pass the time and entertain ourselves!

Twin Lakes aid station: but where were the dreaded scales?

We ran into the aid station. The pros had all finished and I’m sure a boatload had not returned from Winfield either due to time cut offs or pure exhaustion. I ran into the food area alone. Frankie had done his shift and done it awesomely. I looked for the dreaded scales left and right. Nowhere. I walked ahead. Nothing. Should I ask someone? By the time I considered that I was out of the aid station and back with Francis, Rui and Keila ready for her night shift. No weigh-in, after all that deceiving and well thought out plan!

Fish Hatchery to May Queen (76.5 to 86.5)

My feet felt fine. No need to address them or change shoes. We filled my empty water bladder back up to the max 50oz, reloaded the hand-held with Gatorade and tried to eat a granola bar and some fruit. From the calculations we had done, if this could be a slightly faster than planned 10 miles, Rui would have the chance to whip me back to the finish in sub-25. We all believed it was on.

Keila and I walked out of Fish Hatchery shortly before 1am.  I was eating (nibbling) and needed time to digest it but unfortunately I now had an even more painful area to deal with than my stomach. I was chaffing in my groin really bad. I know, not pleasant reading. Trust me, it was far more uncomfortable trying to knock out the last 23 miles in the discomfort. I had  been adding Vaseline at every aid station all day and night but for whatever the reason, my body and my Salomon compression shorts were not getting along down there. I’ll leave it at that.

The road rolled up and down, to the right and then dipped left onto a dirt path. This was all very runnable stuff but I wasn’t running now. I just walked it as fast as possible towards the start of pipeline climb to the peak of Sugarloaf Pass. I knew the climb would be slow and grueling so I justified that walking towards it would converse what little energy I had left for the long climb. Neither Keila or myself knew the exact distance, we just knew it had several false summits.

The first section was straight up for one mile. We saw a spectacular view of headlamps ahead of us. From memory, this climb then turned left and kept bending around the mountain for at least another two miles. Just like Hope Pass, I told Keila this wasn’t the time to focus on the average pace plan for the ten-mile stretch. This was about what pace could I go without having to stop.

The pace was good. The path up was very smooth if you discounted the huge cracks we kept jumping over in the trail where water must gush down at a frenetic pace during thunderstorms up here. We were however lucky with the lack of rain for the race. The straight up section was done in no time. After two more miles, I found I was only being passed by runners/pacers with trekking poles. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of these accessories in ‘running’ events. Did they work? Absolutely. We’re they anything to do with running? Absolutely not. I asked a guy who seemed experienced (yes he had trekking poles!) how much further until we hit the summit? He confidently said one mile.

One mile later I was still disappointed that it wasn’t the top. People with trekking poles are also liars!  Keila felt my frustration as I would say “this is definitely it” for the umpteenth time. I wish I never had asked anyone. I wish I had said at the bottom it was at least 5 miles of climbing and then I wouldn’t have got myself into this emotional mess of false summits. I was warned but the newbie in me didn’t listen or research this section enough.

Finally, we made the top. It was now freezing. I still had my two pairs of gloves on and four layers so felt warm enough however. This was now the time I had been waiting for to descend the remaining miles into May Queen. I had told Keila “don’t you worry, when we get to the top of this, we are going to run all the way down to the aid station”. The words were positive but somewhere over Sugarloaf Pass, I let my brain do some more calculations. Even if I could have run down this section, I would have needed a sub-2 hour half marathon finish to get the bigger belt buckle; the under 25 hour finish. Francis had told me earlier that it helps to be really, really stupid in these races, meaning don’t think, just do.

Unfortunately for me, my brain would not shut down. I had run over 80 miles and I was still alert, still calculating, still not being sick! But atop Sugarloaf, my brain told my legs, forget it, that big buckle is not happening, not this time anyway. My legs went into complete sleep mode and would not run. I wanted to, I wanted to so bad but their was nothing. I knew I was going to finish, even if I just walked in. I think i also and knew that if I had tried to run in for the last 18 miles to a sub-25, I risked a very high chance ending up in hospital for a long time. So, I was  caught between two not very appealing options and dragged ass to finish in that huge five-hour window.

We walked and talked all the way downhill on very runnable road to single track to road where a row of cars were parked just before May Queen. We almost kept on going but then realized one of the cars was Team England! It was 4am and it was now the coldest part of the race so far. Sorry Keila, I gave you ten miles of walking but you sure helped me keep moving all the way.

May Queen to Finish (86.5 – 100)

Francis had the chair ready by the side of the car and was open for business! “What do you need Stevie?” I probably muttered something sarcastic like “to finish this race”. Rui was bundled up  head to toe. This was August 19th right? My Mum also looked unrecognizable in numerous layers shaking her hands. This wasn’t triumphant shaking, this was freezing shaking. I pleaded with her to get in the car which Keila had already done to get warm where the heat was on full blast. She finally listened to my advice. Looking back at this scene now reminds me how much determination and positive energy I had the whole time. We got a great tip from Gary Brimmer the day before the race; don’t let him (me) see the car ever. We liked it. We also didn’t use it and it never crossed my mind even for a spilt second to jump in the warm car and call it quits. I had six hours to complete a half marathon and therefore complete my first 100 miler in Leadville, the highest ultra marathon in the States. You could have shown me a warm bed, a shortcut, a free pass to the finish line. Would not have made a difference. I was going the way I came and Rui was going to get me there, absolutely no question.

May Queen aid station at 4am

Off we marched down the road into May Queen aid station. Again, it was jam-packed. Runners camping out trying to get warm, taking their time, some contemplating if they would ever get going again. I wanted something hot unsurprisingly. I said to Rui I wanted Ramen soup and a cup of cocoa. He advised against this combination so I changed up the menu and just went for the cocoa. A nice hot roadie with enough sugar to keep me from having any hypo problems. We broke this last section into two. 7 miles of single track along Turquoise Lake until we would see Francis again at the boat basin (a crew area).

This stretch was my real low point. The sub-25 game had long gone as we walked the trail by the lake. What I remembered as easy trail running on the outbound had now become a really hilly and technical section. I started to get dizzy and told Rui to slow down (he was going as slow as possible) in case I passed out. I tried to munch on some potato chips and sip water as this was the best cure. It worked but then repeated itself every few hundred yards. I think we knocked out those seven miles at about 25/minute per mile. Sounds impossible right? I guess I like making the impossible possible but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind! Rui told me I looked like Iron Man. I corrected him and said I was Ultra Man! The humor didn’t last long. When I saw a face in a rock I knew I needed to wake up fast. I guess after 25 hours I had finally become tired.

Sunrise over Turquoise Lake: Amazing, although I don’t think I appreciated its beauty as much in the moment!

Just as I had told Keila earlier, I told Rui as soon as we get beyond Boat Basin, the trail flattens out and the road widens up to the finish. I promised him I would get faster. I felt this huge amount of guilt that he was having to go so slow in such cold conditions when only hours before we were two kids flying down Hope Pass at 8:30 pace.

Before I could start thinking too much about how far Boat Basin was, Francis appeared on the trail. What a great sight! The car and that comfy chair couldn’t be far away. We high-fived and kept walking. Only a handful of spectators were siting outside by the lake watching the sunrise. My Mum and Keila were passed out in the car but Francis had it all under full control. I needed more Vaseline I exclaimed! I sat in the chair for a while with the throw over me to try to get warmer. My sugar was over 200 but I didn’t care. Better than dealing with a hypo at this stage of the game. Runners were passing through slowly. I noticed that none of them looked cold. They also had less layers on than me. That was it. To hell with all these layers! I took off my track suit pants, gloves and one of the jackets. If I was cold now, I would just to have to move faster!

We left and immediately walked at a really brisk pace. It was probably around 15/min miles. Rui said “We are going to walk like bad asses all the way into the finish line and take back some places that belonged to me!” A random woman sitting right there said “Hell yeah!” We had no clue she was there but were amused she was a ‘fly on the wall’ to our crazy army talk!

Off we went. The first few steps were so excruciating, I cannot find clean enough words to describe the pain. But as soon as I got into astride, the pain numbed (slightly). It sure felt better going faster than 25/minute miles. I hadn’t gone this fast since running into Twin Lakes over 17 miles ago. We marched down a dirt road as the sun kept rising. We were passing people. One guy, then another, then one more appeared. The best part about this was they were still in running motion, we were power walking and it was no contest.

Rui knew it was 3.5 miles of gradual uphill to the finish. I had forgotten this part completely. He told me to swing my arms as if I was running while maintaining the brisk walking technique. Who was this guy? An English teacher or a marine? Our pace went from 15/min miles to 12:15’s with this technique! More people were passed.

Turquoise Lake at 6:30am. Who needs sleep with views like this?!

This wasn’t to say it was easy. Far from it. I was real beat up doing this but happier than dragging ass into the finish. He had a game plan and I trusted him with my life. Occasionally Rui would ask the random spectator the actual time. His plan was foiled when one person responded “You can break 28 if you keep going like that”. I liked his plan, until he told me we would need to run the last mile. The last mile was 2/3 uphill and he wanted me to run it?! Would have been so easy, if only I hadn’t run about 104 before it!!

He firmly shouted “Go!” and we started running. Another runner said “You’ve got plenty of time” referring to the 30 hour limit. He obviously didn’t have a Rui pacing him home! After 100 yards of running though, I stopped and went back to walking hoping Rui wouldn’t notice. He turned and said “Come on!”. For one of the rarest times in my life I said the words I hate most “I can’t”. He didn’t let up and said it again and again. “Rui, you know me, right? If I could I would but I just can’t. Sub-28, 28 and change. It’s the same thing. Let me enjoy the final mile rather than kill myself. Their will be other times.” He sighed and gave in to my plea, maybe because I implied this wasn’t going to be a one and done 100 mile show. But what a pacer. This guy had never paced anyone before and here he was with these techniques and motivational words all the way home. 4 hours to cover 13 miles. I owe you lots of pacing brother!

We met Francis and Keila with about 3/4 mile to go on E 6th Street. I whipped off my backpack, jacket and top. I had to showcase the leukaemia T-shirt for the final stretch. Their was no need to run anymore  but I instinctively did anyway. I ran that 3/4 mile as hard as I could with my three amazing pacers alongside me.

6 months of training and 100 miles comes to an end. What a journey!

At just after 8am, I stepped onto the famous red carpet and broke the tape, a nice touch the organizers do for all official finishers. My eyes swelled with tears as I sent a little prayer up to heaven to my uncle. 28 hours and 2 minutes. I received my medal from a woman I recognized from the Leadville Race Series store. We hugged as if we knew each other for years, not two days. Then  I was surrounded by my pacers for high fives, big smiles and more hugs and then my Mum which was such a special moment. We didn’t say much but I’m sure we were both thinking of what I had achieved in honor of Uncle Dave. Medics took me into a tent for a mandatory check up and weigh in. I was up 2lbs from Winfield, must have been all that buddy breathing with Frankie!

Post-race with the best pacers anyone could wish for!

I left the finish area staggering out. Moments earlier I had just run across the finish line but now my body was in complete shut down. The brain is so powerful, its scary. I found a space on a bench and dumped myself onto it guzzling cold water next to Rui who looked as beat as me. He had run a marathon in total and not eaten or slept well for a long time either. That’s the thing about crewing/pacing, you are as tired as the runner and I fully appreciated that and everyone’s commitment. I did my post-race blood test; 178, OK, great. No need for any sugar or insulin, my brain could shut down. Francis got the car and we drove back to the hotel. Although it was only half a mile away I still managed to fall asleep during the ride! I got carried up the stairs to the room and I crawled into bed, fully clothed. Out cold with a smile on my face. Finishing is winning? Darn right, especially in Leadville.

Now that it’s all done and dusted, I’ve had lots of my friends ask “What was the worst part about it?” That’s a pretty negative question and my answer is relatively short. If they were to ask me “What was the best part?”, they would have heard what you just have read. Everything about it was the best part. From the training, the leukaemia fundraising, the build up races, the research, my friends and parents coming out to Leadville and of course finishing it. My place was 169 out of 364 finishers. A very low 45% completion rate. Those numbers make me feel proud, I’m forever part of the Leadville family as are my parents, Rui, Francis and Keila.

What a journey. Leadville is in my heart forever just like my hero and inspiration, my brave Uncle Dave.

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”.
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