Leadville Trail 100 - (50 Mile DNF)

A fantastic weekend in Leadville all things considered. Old Tearbritches and I had done a tiny bit of recovering after Burning River but were still a little concerned about how we were going to hold up on a hard mountainous race. Looking back on the past few months we’ve hardly had any actual training runs. All my runs recently have been more recovery or staying loose.

Except for the run the Wednesday before the race. I had purchased some Gus (including the new salted caramel, bleh) and Honey Stinger Chews (good stuff!) at the Heartbreak Hill running store down the street. It was there I heard that they do a hill running clinic every Wednesday. I figured I’d go out and do some easy repeats to keep my hill climbing muscles fresh. It was going pretty well till my ego got the best of me and I hammered out the session as hard as I could. The DOMS would linger into Saturday’s start.

We landed in Denver and drove out to Leadville to an interesting little house that we had rented. The owner was an architect/artist and had built the house himself with some concrete/waste wood mixture called Durisol. He was more than happy to talk to us about the myriad of benefits for the construction material. It was a beautiful house with radiant stone floors that you could “water” to add humidity to the house. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it when I walked in but it was definitely evident that the ambient air reminded me very much of home.

The most stunning aspect of the landscape that still takes my breath away is just the SIZE of the mountains. Even 50 miles away Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive filled the field of view with a wall of stone. The town of Leadville is nestled among these giants along with some other peaks whose names I have not learned. The profile of Massive and Elbert have become familiar enough to me that I could actually call them out as I ran along the course.

After checking in and settling into our place with some grub we headed out to town to grab some beers and dinner. The small town buckles under the weight of the race series. It’s fascinating to think that the town had 100k occupants at some point in its history. It would have made an awesome state capital, and an awesome highest city in America.

Friday was spent at the expo and doing some final preparations. Old Tear Britches and I joined a BBQ with several other runners and their crew. One of them had rented a house with an absolutely spectacular view of the town and surrounding mountains. I kicked back two beers and tried to embed the memory deep in my mind. The expansiveness of the view, delicious home made food, great company with those who we’d share in misery with in the coming day(s).

My alarm went off Saturday morning at 3 AM. I was groggy and stirred into existance wondering where I was. Leadville. Why was in Leadville? Awww shit. The temporary plush reality of my dreams was replaced with hypoxia and cold. Same old routine. Drank some ensure, tried to shit, packed my bags. It really was freezing outside. I wore my Saloman tank/shorts and arm warmers with the BoB buff around my neck.

Last year I felt like I waited forever at the start but this time Old Tearbritches crew dropped us off with 10 mins to wait. I stood alone in the corral till my buddy with a huge package found me. After the start we hung together for about a minute before I was alone for the rest of the race.

Overall the race was a lot of the same as last year. The first 20 miles are spent with your nose up someones ass. The sound of hundreds of feet crunching on dirt trails penetrated my brain and agitated my early morning psyche. I told myself to snap out of it. I heard the usual ultra chatter around me and wished it away. Stay in the moment. I looked up at the stars to try and tried to get lost in the fact I could see the Milky Way Galaxy for once.

The course seemed to slip by a lot quicker than it had last year. I arrived at Mayqueen before I knew it. Last year I felt like after Mayqueen I was finally by myself in the open, this year it didn’t work out as well. It wasn’t until Sugarloaf that I would be able to pass people freely and get into my own groove. At one point before then someone shouted at me as I passed them “Where do you think you’re going?!”.

It’s pretty typical to see the winners trounce down hope pass as the back of the back starts the climb. About ¼ of the way up I got to see Aish, Sharman, Clark, Jurek and Koerner which was awesome. Koerner’s personality absolutely blasted from him in the brief moments I saw him. He was handsome as hell and had a giant grin on his face. He hopped on top of a log, turned back to Scott and jovially shouted “Big Log!” and DROPPED down the trail like he was trouncing a 5k. After that the rest of the field trickled down. For the first 20 runners or so it was easy to step aside and shout something cheerful but as the pass grew higher it was getting more and more frustrating to step out of the way for the 600 or so people in front of me.

The race is definitely growing large and it’s felt on the course. 900 participants + those who bring pacers is a lot of people for an out and back course with single track sections. The section where this was most frustrating was at the very top of hope. I had arrived at the Hopeless aid station an absolute wreck. The cutoff we were told was 4:15 PM. I got there at 3:30 PM. I thought I had 45 minutes to sit and recover before starting the trip up the remainder of the pass and down to Winfield.

As I sat down on a log an aid station worker came to ask me how I was. By this point I had not urinated in 6-7 hours and I let her know. She grimaced a bit and got me some fluids. When she came back she handed it to me and said, “You have about 5 minutes to sit here but you have to get to the top of the pass to make the cutoff.” The 4:15 wasn’t for the aid station, it was for the top. Oi.

Hope pass is the highest point on the course and I had about 8/10 of a mile to get there. I suddenly didn’t know if I *could* do that in 40 mins. I settled my stomach as best I could and started up. My heart rate pegged as I tried to hike and control my central nervous system. At this point people were pouring down from the top of the pass. As they crashed down and took advantage of gravity my lumbering, breathless self couldn’t get out of their way. Sometimes I’d slip on the rocks on the side of the trail or just fall down trying to keep my balance. I wanted to shout at them “I have 20 minutes left to get my ass to top the top!”. The argument was valid on both sides though.

About 100ft from the top I had a bout of emergency vomitting. It came on suddenly and I had to push myself off the trail. The effort required to vomit pegged my heart rate harder and I struggled to catch my breath. I turned my head to the side and glanced at the scenery from the top. On my desk at work I have kept a picture of some racers cresting the top of the pass and I laughed because it was the same view I was looking at now. The absurdity of the situation was humorous in that moment. Why the hell do we do this? It was the hardest I had pushed myself all day, maybe even in my life. I didn’t even know if my kidneys were still working and I sure as hell wasn’t even worried about finishing the race anymore. I apologized to those who had to hear and see me wretch along the trail.

The trip up Hope at the back of the pack is a party affair. People slowly slogging up the mountain in their own worlds of pain and nausea and doubt. Granted it's not a *terribly* dangerous situation it is uncommonly uncomfortable. Despite this the human condition shines through and humor abounds. Talking with strangers about your urination and retching habits. As one lady out walked me she said,

"Don't worry, this too shall pass. Hah, Get it?"

Overall I think the problem was dehydration due to an electrolyte loss. In the middle of the race I saw Old Tearbritches and he was coated in salt. It didn’t occur to me at the time that it was a sign of his body being unprepared for the level of fluid we were processing. It’s harder to manage hydration when you can’t even tell you’re sweating. At Leadville the moisture disappears from your skin as soon as it emerges. The ambient temperature doesn’t feel that warm but the intensity of the sun is draining. I started throwing up at mile 32 and it was all fluid. Even when I sipped Gu Brew slowly for 30 mins I’d eventually throw up about the same quantity of fluid that I took in. My body was doing a poor job of absorbing whatever was in my stomach.

After cresting Hope I decided I would drop at Winfield. I had tried to urinate a few times just to verify it was a yellow color and not the Guinness Sir Speedy was releasing at VT100. More than fear was an overwhelming sense of apathy towards the race. It was replaying much like last year and I knew what that felt like. I had no interest in repeating the same pain. I just didn’t want to slog through another 100, period. I felt burnt out from my other races and had very few mental reasons to suffer through it. I just didn’t want to. It was then I decided I wouldn’t do Grindstone and I would make Sawtooth my last 100 for the next 8 months or so.

It was on the flight out to Colorado that I began to feel that I am living a very spoiled year. Not that I don’t work hard for things in life but it’s been an outrageous time so far. I need some time off to build excitement for races instead of consuming them like candy.

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