Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pins & Needles

Update:  The project has ended earlier than expected.  See Bill Wright's post about halfway down this page on

I was at dinner last night with a group of friends who were full of questions about my 26-hour jog/hike at the Leadville 100 a couple weeks back. They were genuinely impressed with the fact that I moved myself that far over that terrain. They asked why I didn't talk more about it...what I didn't tell many folks I was running the race. They said I was humble.

While I am definitely proud of the fact I completed a 100-mile race, it pales in difficulty and required endurance to the project Homie is now in the throes of.  

How can one not be humble about a single 100-mile race finish when one knows what Homie is trying to do out there?

Read Bill Wright's hair-raising and anxiety-producing updates here.

Go, Homie, go!  We're all pulling for you and the whole support team!

Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 Leadville 100 Race Report

"100s are teachers," said a text last week from endurance runner extraordinaire Scott Jurek. After my first go at that distance, I can attest that 100s are, indeed, teachers.  But, am I an apt pupil?

So, what does it take to finish a 100-mile race? Prior to last weekend, I really didn't know. After experiencing the 2012 Leadville 100, I think I figured it out.  It takes:
  • Some well-timed and poignant words from one's wife.
  • Just the right amount of encouragement and prodding from one's pacers and crew.
  • Noodles.
The race for me began with a bit of a panic. As the national anthem was playing and 800 or so runners were lined up on 6th Avenue in Leadville, I was among a small group of runners frantically trying to figure out how to get into the start corral. 

About the time we got to the part where "...the flag was still there," I was finally there in the crowd waiting for the 4 a.m. shotgun blast to set us off.

And so it began...
I had a very detailed race plan, which pretty much entailed running easy and eating a lot. I'm sure there could be more to a race plan, but that's all I could come up with.  I had given my crew splits for a 24:30 finish, just to give them something to plan with, but I really had no idea what to expect.

I came into the race feeling under-prepared. Work and work travel, family obligations and an uninspired training regime all contributed to that feeling.  In the six months leading up to the race, I had two runs longer than 25 miles, including the June 30 Safaricom Marathon in Kenya and an eight-hour slog in May climbing over downed trees in the Mt. Evans Wilderness. Since the race took place at an elevation that averaged more than 10,000 feet, I prepared for that by running above 10,000 feet exactly twice, including that May run in the Mt. Evans Wilderness and an early August run with Todd G. off Kenosha Pass. 

So, with those complex race plans in my head and focused training in my legs, we were off.

The Scintillating Meat of the Race Report

The run to the Mayqueen aid station at mile 13.5 was easy and uneventful. Just an easy jog in a conga line around Turquoise Lake. Steve Y., who had agreed to serve as pacer and early-morning crew hoss, called me out of the crowd and took my headlamp and extra shirt and off I went without stopping. The Colorado Trail stretch up to Hagerman Pass Road went by quickly and uneventfully.

The pace continued to be easy, but steady as I ran up Sugarloaf to the top of the Powerline descent. I jogged down Powerline into Fish Hatchery and was met by Steve and David W., who would handle crew hoss duties into the night. I swapped hydration packs, dropped a layer and headed out onto the pavement.

By the time I got to Treeline, I was cursing the course. It's too damn runnable. My legs were feeling a bit tired. I was ready for a change of pace and some hiking, but the grades just didn't require it, and I wasn't smart enough to walk anyway. So, I kept running, er, jogging.

By the time I rolled through the Colorado Trail section and down into Twin Lakes, I was really starting to feel it. I began to think I might be in trouble. This 100-mile thing is hard!  It ain't a 50-mile run where you can beat the crap out of yourself the last 10 miles and survive. I was feeling like crap and still had 60 miles to go.

The maltodextrin/water mix in my hydration pack was not sitting well, nor was the watermelon I crammed into my mouth at the aid station. My stomach was in near-revolt.

Steve Y. and Nick P., who was there supporting Brandon F., advised me to eat, eat and eat. After a few minutes sitting and eating and drinking, I left Twin Lakes with a sandwich bag of chews, Fig Newtons and M&Ms, headed out through the meadow, crossed the river and made my way over to the start of the climb up Hope Pass. I had jettisoned my hydration pack in exchange for two handhelds of just water. I couldn't stomach any more maltodextrin.

Houston, We Have a Problem

The climb up Hope was my un-doing. About half-way up, the wheels really came off. I bonked, and bonked hard...harder than I ever have before. Ever. The higher I went, the less steady I became. The pace slowed. I started to feel light-headed and out-of-it. I was on the razor edge of puking...and often wanted to upchuck just in hopes of feeling better. I had to sit down 3-5 times to get my wits about me. A steady stream of runners passed me, nearly all asking if I was OK.  "Yep. OK. Just tired," I would reply.

Each time, I finally got up and moved a bit further up the trail. At the Hopeless Aid station, I refilled my handhelds, grabbed a cup of Coke and lay down in the grass. I must have lain there for 15 minutes. I watched Tony K. and his pacer Dakota Jones come down from the pass and through the aid station.

I made my way up the pass just as the other lead runners were coming over. I staggered down the backside of Hope. On the hike/jog down, I started thinking about ending my misery. Soon, I had a good set of excuses why I would quit at Winfield. 

By the time I got to Winfield, my excuses had solidified into really awesome reasons why quitting was the right thing to do.
  1. The reoccurring problem with my right IT band was back and hurting. 
  2. My stomach was in knots.
  3. I can't haul myself back over Hope Pass. I just don't have it in me.
  4. I didn't train for 100 miles.
  5. I didn't want it enough.
I walked through the check in area and made my way to my crew.  My wife, Jeanine, and son, Jack, and friends Trevor and Nicky had joined Steve and David. I plopped down in the way-comfy camp chair they had set up and proclaimed myself finished. Time to cut the wristband.

I'm so happy.
I laid out my excuses. Everyone offered gentle urgings to not be rash, not give up. I told them I had thought about it a lot. I sat there. It was hot. It felt good to be done. I didn't care.

Steve brought me some noodles and potato soup, and fed me a bottle of Ensure. David opened a Coke for me. Jeanine looked me in the eyes and said, "I know you have the mental strength to get this done."

Jack asked me if I wanted to play Frisbee.

Steve, dressed in running gear and set to start his pacing duties, told me he could get me to the finish.  He then looked at his watch and said, "You know, you can walk this thing and still finish by the cut-off." 

Jeanine then threw out the Big One. "Think about Caroline." She was referring to our 11-year-old daughter who eight days prior had crashed on her mountain bike riding down a steep Forest Service road and suffered a compound fracture of the two bones in her right forearm. For those who skipped first aid class, a compound fracture means a broken bone is poking through the skin.

When the accident happened, we were six rough miles from pavement and over 25 miles from Lake City. Needless to say, it was a scary accident. Fortunately, 911 was able to get a doc over to the closed Lake City clinic. He cleaned things up, put on a splint, surrounded the break with ice and loaded her into an ambulance for the 55-mile drive to Gunnison. Fast forward a couple hours and she's in surgery getting her bones re-set, three pins inserted and a cast up to her bicep put in place. (Big shout out to Dr. Rhett Griggs of Alpine Orthopedics in Gunnison.)

Caroline, who was incredibly brave, endured everything up to the surgery without any pain killers, and a very calm attitude.  (Update: she's doing great now. Everything is healing up fine.)

After calling a "unnecessary roughness" penalty on Jeanine for tossing out the "think about Caroline" line, I got up and walked around a bit. I realized my legs were feeling better. Moving felt OK.

Jim:  "Mmmmm, soup."  Steve: "I wonder if there's anyone else that needs a pacer."
So, I walked back over to Steve and said, "Alright Steve, let's go for a walk." Before I could change my mind, I picked up my bottles and started walking and told Steve to catch up to me.


By the time we got onto the new trail section above Winfield, I was feeling much better. Steve took my bottles and we started running. We soon had worked out a system. I moved. Steve offered encouragement and regular reminders to eat and drink. 

The hike up Hope Pass was hard (man, there are some steep sections on that ascent!), but we marched up it without stopping. We had a nice long pause for oranges, noodle soup and Coke at Hopeless aid station, just over the top of the pass.

The descent, while far from speedy, went quickly. Before I knew it, we were in the flats headed to the river crossing outside Twin Lakes.

Much to Jeanine and David's surprise, I came into the Twin Lakes aid station with a big smile on my face. I was back from the dead. Feeling good, or at least as good as I could expect to feel with 60 or so miles in my legs.

After a quick re-fueling in the increasingly awesome camp chair, Steve and I headed out, power-hiking up the climb to the Colorado Trail. I felt really good on this climb and set a strong hiking pace. Once on the Colorado Trail, we alternated with some jogging and a lot of power-hiking. Just past the Mt. Elbert water stop, the headlights came out and the march through the night was officially on.

Thanks to Steve's incredible (truly) support and encouragement on the trail, I had long banished thoughts of quitting or not finishing. Completing the 100-mile run was now a certainty. The question was how long would it take, and how much would it hurt.

Through the night, we motored on, jogging what I could, power-hiking everything else.

We cruised (high-school-slowly-through-a-parking-lot-type cruising) through Treeline, ran the double-track down to the pavement and played the "run-to-the-next-light," "run-three, no-five, no-seven- telephone-poles" game all the way into Fish Hatchery.

Headed for the Finish Line

Dave and Jeanine were again there at Fish waiting for us. They were joined by some friends -- Brooks, Eddy and Thad -- from Denver that had come out to experience the carnage and spectacle that is an ultrarunning trail race. I got a real boost from seeing these guys. We were laughing and carrying on as I refueled and prepared to head out.

I bid adieu to wonder-pacer Steve as David took over pacing duties and we set off for the climb up Powerline that I knew awaiting. David picked up the pacing routine right were Steve left off. "Drink, Jim. "Eat, Jim."

We marched steadily up Powerline, passing a bunch of people along the way. We continued passing folks on the gentle descent down Sugarloaf, jogging what I could and power-hiking the rest (a now-familiar theme). We ran pretty much all of Hagerman Pass road, marveling at the falling stars and the quiet beauty of the night in the mountains.

Back on the Colorado Trail headed into Mayqueen, we came across Brandon F. and pacer JT. We exchanged greetings and kept pressing on.

After checking in at Mayqueen, gulping down more noodle and potato soup and finding Jeanine and the comfy camp chair, I quickly got moving again telling David to catch up to me (not a demanding feat given my early morning pedestrian pace).

Next up was the endless lake-side trail around Turquoise Lake, which easily is my least favorite part of the course. (I'll have to check it out in the daytime some day.) It was in here that we finally were passed by a runner and his pacer, the first time we'd been passed since Fish Hatchery.

From there, we just kept moving, and moving, and moving. Endless.

Finally, we emerged from the trail, stumbled down the mini-powerline section (oh, my poor quads) and onto the dirt road (ran it), the paved road, then the railroad section (ran most of that) and, finally, the Boulevard (steady march).

At long last, we passed the big school, took a left onto a paved road, then a right onto 6th Avenue. A woman there told us, "You're there. This is the last turn in the race."

After a short final climb, and a half-jog past some houses, David called ahead to let Jeanine know we were close. Damn close.

From the top of the 6th Avenue hill, we could see right down to town. The finish line. I was flooded with emotion. Over a day of constant motion. Back from the dead. Surrounded by friends. Whooped.

We soon were a block from the finish. Jack jumped off the sidewalk and joined David and I as we approached the red carpet. What a great feeling. Gratifying. Satisfying. Sublime.

Thanks goodness for rapid shutter speeds. The big sprint finish!
Done. With Jack and David.
That's what it's all about. Jack and Jeanine. Awesome!

26:33; 104th overall.

I missed my time goal by 1:34, but I didn't really care. I was thrilled to have completed the race. I ran 100 miles. That felt good, all by itself. So did being surrounded by good friends and family, especially with emotions so raw and body so knackered.

After a quick weigh-in (162 pounds, just a hair over what I started with), I headed over to a the medical tent for the grand unveiling of what I expected to be shredded feet. I knew I had some blisters and the bottom of my feet felt like hamburger (no shoe or sock changes during the race). The medical guy did a quick examination, pointed out a few blisters, said something about "trench foot" and sent me on my way with instructions to clean up, dry off and elevate.  (Turns out that other than a few blisters on the end of a couple toes and in the middle of my right forefoot, all was well.)

Trying to stay warm post-run on Leadville's main street
After a final series of smiles and hugs, we all went our separate ways. Jeanine, Jack and I went over to a friend's place just of Harrison Street for some well-earned sitting and rest. Steve, Tiffany, David and our Denver friends all headed off back to the Front Range and bed. Sorta anti-climatic, but appropriate given everyone's lack of sleep.

The Big Wrap-Up

Without question, the 2012 Leadville 100-Mile Trail Race was an incredible experience. This 100 was, indeed, a teacher. The most enduring lesson, for me, was one of selflessness.  I didn't run Leadville alone, ever.

I never would have gotten there without Jeanine and her encouragement, patience and understanding.

I wouldn't have gotten out of that chair at Winfield and rallied so well without the experienced, watchful and masterful help of Steve Young. Since I've never run a 100-mile race before, I never had cause for a pacer or a crew. With that caveat, let me say that I can't imagine a better guy to have at your side than SY. He's experienced, smart, good-humored, patient and has pacing and crewing down to art forms. I learned a ton from this guy. Thank you, Steve. I owe you...big time.

I was reluctant to ask anyone to provide crew support. It's such a big ask. Battle crowded, dusty roads. Sit around for hours. Worry about where I am, and whether you're in the right place. Stay up all night. Deal with the emotional ups and downs of a runner pushing well into new endurance territory. Still, when it came down to the ask, one guy came to mind. David W. David is organized, patient and always up for new experiences. He signed up without missing a beat. And, as it turns out, he too is a pacer-extraordinaire. I couldn't have asked for a better partner in this thing. Thank you, Dave!

Finally, a big shout-out to Brandon F. for the pre-race lodging, encouragement and willingness to share his knowledge of the race. And, a special thanks to Steve and Kathi G. for opening up their Leadville home for a pre-race dinner and post-race napping and recuperation.

So, the next question always seems to be:  "Will you do it again?" I have to say that, yes, I think I will. I learned so much, it would be a shame not to put that knowledge to use...wouldn't it?  Plus, there's that thing about finishing in under 25-hours.

Sub-30-hour finishers' belt buckle.