Leadville Trail 100 Race Report

Here’s a little video highlight of the race. Thanks Angie for capturing video. Leadville Video

Man oh man, where to start. This was an epic adventure for my 12th 100 miler. I’ve had Leadville on my list for several years and just hadn’t been able to make it back to Colorado to run it. I knew about it back when I lived in Denver in the late 90s but was only a recreational runner back then and thought it was CRAZY. I was mainly a mountain biker back then. Fast forward 13 years and I don’t think these things are so crazy any more. Funny where life leads you.

Pre-race Build Up: Lots of Balls in the Air
This season has been my most hectic yet. Not only did I turn 40 in August, my wife and I welcomed our third child into the world in May. Needless to say, my life is busier than a one-armed paper hanger. Being a working and family man, coming out to Colorado early to acclimate was definitely not an option, so, I opted to sleep in an altitude tent for 6 weeks leading up to the race. This proved somewhat challenging and I thank my patient wife, as having a new baby in the house made any thought of extra sleep this entire summer simply not an option. Pile on the fact that I took a graphic design director position at a local internet company and still have my graphic design consulting business, I’ve basically been working two jobs this entire summer. Working 4 full days (Mon-Thurs), then Sunday through Thursday nights catching up on my consulting projects after the kids are in bed, made for a challenging summer. According to my training log, my average sleep for the entire summer is 6.2 hours/night. Not the best for recovery when putting in 12-16 hours of training a week. There were times when my work and family responsibilities just didn’t allow me to run, so I would cram in a night run at midnight and sacrifice sleep. So now that you get the snapshot of my crazy life, I’m blessed just to get to the start line in one piece.

Travel Mishaps: Learning to Roll With It
The plan was to fly into Denver Thursday morning, have my folks pick me up at the airport (they were driving from NW Missouri) and be in Leadville by late afternoon. No problem right? Wrong. After hitting Whole Foods in west Denver on the way, we started to drive up out of Golden into the mountains. Less than 10 miles up out of Golden, my Dad’s car overheated and we pulled off, called AAA, waited. That’s okay, Jeff, just roll with it, man.

After 30 minutes, the car had cooled down. We cancelled AAA tow, drove back to Golden and dropped the car at a local repair shop and planned to rent a car. To our dismay, NO ONE in ALL of Denver had rentals available. Finally, I reserved a rental car at Denver Airport through Expedia on my smartphone, 40 miles in the wrong direction. 80 miles extra driving. Yep, just roll with it.

Luckily, my cousin, Angie, lives in Denver and picked us up, drove us to DIA to pick up the rental and by 6pm we were on the road to Leadville. We arrived about 9:30pm Thursday night, checked into the Timberline Motel, hung out a bit and then went to bed. My father, who is 64 and pretty darn out of shape started coughing and hacking about 11pm. The coughing got worse and by midnight, he couldn’t lay down, and was almost constantly coughing til he gagged and hacked up stuff. His left lung had fluid in it. The start of Pulmonary Edema. Leadville, at 10,200 feet, was proving just to high for his body to handle. Uh, still rollin’ with it.

I woke my Mom up and sadly informed her that she had to drive Dad back to Denver to lower elevation immediately. So, after reloading the rental car, I sent my folks back to Denver about 12:30am to find a hotel. I laid down and slept soundly that night. It actually was a blessing in disguise, as my Father’s snore is louder than a 747 (no offense, Dad), so, having a completely peaceful motel room to myself was nice. Silver lining.

At the pre-race meeting on Friday, it really started to hit me how deep in tradition Leadville is with regard to this race. The race started in 1983 and would be the 29th running of the event in 2011. Cool. Over 800 people had entered and 640 showed up to toe the line at 4am on Saturday morning. The biggest 100 miler in the U.S. and the 2nd oldest. Very, very cool.

My cousin Angie stepped up to take my folks spot for driving and crewing, while my buddy, Dave Bowman, drove up Friday from Glenwood Springs to crew and pace the last 23 miles to the finish. Note to self, roll with it.

Grabbing some quick calories at first aid station, May Queen, mile 13.5

The Race

I got to the line Saturday morning about 5 minutes before the start and squeezed my way up front. For an ultra, it felt more like a marathon start with so many runners. With a shot of the shotgun to signify the start and the Leadville Police car escorting us down 6th, we began. I settled into a group of 12 runners, slightly behind 3 guys who shot off the front. My garmin showed us running conistently 7-7:20 pace for the first 5 miles and our group quickly gapped the remainder of the field. This start is pretty unique for a 100 mile trail race, as you are on a gravel, double track then, pavement for most of the first 7 miles before hitting Turquoise Lake trail. We all were chatting and joking and as I took inventory of the runners in the group, it really dawned on my how deep the field was this year. The deepest in Leadville’s history for sure. Lots of fast, solid elite runners.

After cruising the north shore of Turquoise Lake on the technical singletrack we popped out at the campground and through the May Queen aid station at mile 13.5 at 5:45am. I was surprised at how packed it was. Tons of spectators. After May Queen, you run up a road and into the Colorado Trail and climb up to a gravel road, then onto rough double track up and over Power Lines and Sugarloaf Pass at 11,100 feet. I started settling in and arrived at Fish Hatchery at 7:22am, swapped bottles and gel flasks with Dave and hit the highway, then Halfmoon Road section to Half Pipe aid. I started catching a few guys in this section and moved onto the Colorado Trail up and over and down to Twin Lakes at mile 40. About here I started to get a little dehydrated more and more at each aid station. I made the mistake of not drinking an extra bottle at the aid station, then topping my bottles. This mistake started to add up with the long sections between aid at Leadville. NOTE: Leadville has some of the longest sections at any 100 miler, with 9-10 mile sections between water. I carried two 24 oz. bottles and drained them dry on several sections before getting to the next aid station.

So, as I launched into the section across the marsh and creek crossing from Twin Lakes to the start of the Hope Pass climb, I really was progressively getting farther and farther behind on drinking. Not my normal thing. I’m usually good at catching it, but I was for some reason lazy this time. I rushed through aid stations when I should have stayed an extra 30 seconds and got more water down. That’s okay, Jeff, just roll with it, man.

Crossing creek at mile 41, on my way to Hope Pass

I got up and over Hope Pass at 12,600 feet and up to the ghost town of Winfield and the half way point in 9th place. I got into Winfield pretty dehydrated. Dave ran with me about a mile out of Winfield to check in and see how I was feeling. Not good. I got to the Hope Pass trailhead 3 miles down the gravel road from Winfield and had already almost drained both bottles. Luckily, Sean Meissner was sitting on a rock (he was passing through on his way to TransRockies Stage Race, which started the next day) and had a big jug of water. I bummed some water off him. Chugged a bottle and refilled and got power hiking up Hope Pass again. I got over the top and down to the aid station just above treeline and refilled and got moving down the big descent to Twin Lakes at 9,200 feet. About halfway down, I had already almost drained both bottles again. Still several miles from the aid station at Twin Lakes, I opted to dip out of the fast rushing creek that paralleled the trail coming off Hope Pass. I chugged a bottle, dipped and got going again. I was starting to feel better on the marshy swampy section over to Twin Lakes and came into Twin Lakes at mile 60 and met Dave to swap bottles and gels. We walked and he had a Nalgene Bottle with water. Again, I chugged about 25 ounces and dumped the rest over my head and shoulders. 8th place was 15 minutes ahead of me when I left Twin Lakes—pretty sloshy in the belly from all the water. I had downed over a gallon of water in less than an hour. It took me most of the climb up and out of Twin Lakes to get my electrolytes and salt levels back balanced with all the water I’d consumed. But about 45 minutes out of Twin Lakes I started feeling better, which in turn meant moving better. About 66 ot 67 mile mark I caught 8th place and kept plugging away.

I arrived at Half Pipe aid, mile 70 and asked how far up the next guy was…30 minutes. Dang. I figured I was now racing for 8th place. 30 minutes up meant I needed to run 1 min per mile faster over the next 30 miles in order to catch him. I kind of accepted my fate at that point and trudged the road section over to Fish Hatchery to pick up Dave as my pacer.

I arrived at Fish Hatchery feeling, well, less than motivated. At this point, with little incentive, I just wanted to get finished. So, that’s easy, just kept moving. Dave offered me my Yerba Mate special concoction (I call Giddyup juice), I declined. Was kinda in a funk. So, Dave and I slowly but surely got up and over Sugarload again, with all it’s false summits and cruised down the double track to the Colorado Trail section. This section we hit right before dark and I was starting to feel pretty good. I wanted to get through this technical trail section to May Queen before dark so I picked up the pace here and ran that pretty quickly. And sure enough, we made it to May Queen right at dark.

When we got in, my dad, mom and Angie were there to greet me. They asked if I wanted the Giddyup juice. No. Just tryin’ to get ‘er done. But, to my surprise, I was informed that 7th place was only 5 min in front of me. That kind of lit a fire under me and I looked at Dave and said, “get the Giddyup Juice, dude!” He smiled, turned and ran back to my folks and Angie and grabbed the 6 ounces of Giddyup juice. I chugged and we flipped on our lights and headed into the 6 mile Turquoise Lake trail section. This section is pretty technical and undulating along the North Shore of the lake. This is the kind of trail conditions I thrive in and really started to click.

Within 15 or 20 minutes we saw lights ahead. Sweet. It was Montrails’ Ryan Burch and his pacer. We went by them and I kept pushing to gap them. Within a few more minutes, more light and we blew by Duncan Callahan and his pacer. At this point, I was pumped, I had moved up two places in about 15 minutes and felt pretty good. I kept pushing low 8 min/miles and to my even greater surprise came upon Timmy Parr sitting on a rock, looking rather white. That put us in 5th and I just kept plugging away with the goal to hold my position.

We were getting near the end of the Lake trail when Dave informed me he couldn’t keep up the pace anymore. So, he stuffed 3 gels in a pocket of my Ultraspire handheld and said “Go!” I left Dave and soon was on the road making the final slog back to town. This section is REALLY long. It feels like it takes forever. But, I soon was on the outskirts of Leadville and onto the pavement of 6th and topped the hill and could see the finish line. I crossed in 18 hours, 27 minutes for 5th place. Solid day, even though is wasn’t an “A” performance with the massive bonk I had over Hope, but all in all a good day. The buckle is HUGE. Leadville style. Giddyup.

Thanks to my family, crew, friends for all your love and support. Also, thanks to Patagonia, Ultraspire, Black Diamond and FootZone of Bend. All your generous help. You all are awesome. Thanks.

The "Dinner Plate" Buckle

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