Leadville 100-Mile Trail Run
Starting at 10,200 feet of elevation and climbing to 12,600 feet, it's deamed the highest 100-mile race in the states. It happens to also be one of the most challenging.
A great group of guys from Michigan toed the line at 4 a.m., August 20. I had the honor and pleasure of crewing and pacing this epic event.
My primary job was to crew Steve as he took another stab at conquering this mountain. Last October, Steve volunteered to pace me for what was supposed to be a BQ in Chicago. It was an utter disaster. And he stood by my side the entire race. And believe me it was ugly! Coming off of his DNF at Leadville, he knew exactly how I felt. I told him that I had his back for Leadville 2011. I knew I couldn't pace him because altitude in the past had not be my friend and I'm just not as strong of a runner. But what I could do is crew and support him.
Friday, August 19, 2011
I wanted to get a run in. My plan was to have one of the guys drive me to the first aid station, May Queen and then run 13.5 back to Leadville. However, I woke up with the worst headache. Fearing that altitude was winning, I told the guys I wanted to just run a few miles in town to see how I felt.
I started out the door and to my amazement, my headache is gone, I feel amazing. Before I knew it, I had run 5 miles out on Leadville 100 course. I suddenly realize I'm thirsty and have no water. Time to turn around. I ran 10 miles at 10,200 feet on trail at a 10:35 min pace, and it felt easy!
Steve, Keith, Kevin, Don and I drove the course so I could get familiarized with where I'm going and we designated meeting places where I would be so Steve didn't have to waste time trying to find me. This turned out to be the best idea ever!
Saturday, August 20, 2011 - 4 a.m.
Alarm clock rings, 2 a.m., we get dressed and head out the door by 3:30 a.m. Keith decided to crew with me for the morning until Winfield (50 miles) where he set out to pace Ken. Don, Kevin's brother, was crewing Kevin and we stuck together for pretty much the first half of the race. It was great having another person to help out and keep me company.
May Queen - 13.5 Miles
Traffic was a mess! We had to park about 2 miles out from the aid station. I attended the crew briefing the day before and was warned about this. I decided before the race start that being portable was key. I kept Steve's clothing items in one bag I could throw over my shoulder and his food items in another reusable grocery bag (actually the one they gave to the runners at the packet pick up).
Steve carried 3, 16 ounce bottles with him on the course and gave me 3 empties to have ready for him when he came to the aid stations. One problem, he was missing one lid! He told me that I would have to just take one of the lids from the ones he was carrying with him. I filled Steve's bottles with Cytomax, grabbed some food from the aid station for him and waiting at our spot.
Looking at my watch, I knew Steve would be coming by any minute. Then someone kicks over his water bottle, the one with the missing lid.
Worried that I would miss him and completely FAIL my first assignment, I ran to refill his bottle while looking over my shoulder for him. Luckily I made it back in time to my spot.
Steve had put together an amazing plan with what time he anticipated coming into all the aid stations and how many calories he wanted to take. We talked about the types of food he wanted and when. However, when he came through May Queen he grabbed half of what he said he wanted, threw half of it back at me and said he didn't want it, spent less than 20 seconds there and was off. So being a mom, I'm now worried that he's not taking in enough calories. But after a few aid stations and saw that he was running strong, I figured he probably over estimated what he really needed in terms of calories.
Fish Hatchery - 23.5 miles
I had a great crew meeting location where I could see Steve coming into the aid station and he had to go up to the timing mat and back. I remembered that Jeff had a backpack in the car and he uses the same bottles as Steve. I borrowed his lid. This time I was set. I got smart and laid out the food in baggies for him to choose and his bottles were all ready. As Steve ran up to the timing mat, I took his old bottles and on his way back down, I have him the new ones. But he throws me for a loop again and said, I'll take the other one at Tree Line.
Originally, we weren't going to meet at Tree Line, which is a crew only point along a dirt road. It's only 3.5 miles from Fish Hatchery. It dawns on me that I don't have a lot of time to walk to my car (again, not close), fight the traffic and get to Tree Line. Oh and I can't find Keith! Keith was up the hill taking pictures and I'm freaking out that Steve is going to get to Tree Line before me and without water!
Found Keith and we zip over to Tree Line. Got set up and this time we have the full buffet going on! Ice, food, drink, you name it, we got it! Since we had time before heading over to Twin Lakes we were able to see all the Michigan guys come through.
Steve, Matt and Mark all came by around the same time. Steve and Matt headed out very quickly. And Mark sat down for a few minutes. Turns out his stomach was not doing well and he threw up. But being the amazing athlete he is, he got up and headed out again.
Kevin came in next and also sat for a few minutes. He said he just felt like his energy level was zapped. Kevin is participating in the Grand Slam, three 100-mile races, one a month. This was number three. I think he was a little down about where he was in the race and I tried to give him a little pep talk and told him to just keep going. Soon enough, he was back at it.
Next comes Ken! This is Ken's third Leadville attempt. He was looking great and I was so happy to see him running so strong! I gave him a hug and sent him off and told him I'd see him at the next one.
Waiting for Jeff, I started getting worried that something happened to him. Several minutes later, he comes running up the road. Phew! But he says to me, "Remember that elephant you told me was on your chest last year? It's on mine." My heart just sank. I felt so bad for him. He was at 27 miles and struggled every step. But he the best attitude. I told him how sorry I was and he said, "I'll either finish or they'll pull me off the course." (You have to make it to each aid station within a certain time or you get pulled from the race). He was smiling, I gave him a hug and sent him off.
Twin Lakes - Mile 39.5
Keith, Don and I headed over to Twin Lakes and once again, the traffic is nuts. We had to park a good 2 miles out. Steve's pacer number 1, Bob, was to meet me there so I could drive him to Winfield with me and his car would be at his ending point. Steve's pacer number 2, Kenyon, had camped out in Twin Lakes the night before and also met me there.
Once again, Steve zipped in and out of the aid station in less than a minute. He was focused and didn't say much at any of the aid stations, but looked really strong. I could tell he was concerned about coming into the first aid station 10 minutes late. The picture below pretty much illustrates his time spent at the aid stations!
Winfield - 50 miles
WHAT A FREAKING NIGHTMARE! It took over an hour to drive to an 8-mile dirt road, followed by 2 miles of two-way traffic with runners coming both directions. The race officials had stopped traffic because there was no parking at the aid station location. We waited about an hour in line and finally got in. I think we were all getting pretty nervous about getting there in time. But we made it with a few minutes to spare. I saw Steve come in, looked at my watch and realized he was 15 minutes ahead of plan AND made up the 10 minutes he was behind from the beginning! In other words, he went up Hope Pass (3,000 foot ascent in 3 miles) 25 minutes FASTER than he had planned to. He weighed in and for the first time all day, he smiled and cracked a joke. This was the point of his DNF last year. And it was such an amazing sight to see him smiling and looking strong. At this point, this was his day. Leadville would be a success.
At Leadville pacers can mule (in other words carry the runner's supplies), I got smart and loaded Bob up with food for Steve. I told him he hadn't had any protein and keeps eating just the fruit. So Bob told Steve he could have his fruit AFTER he ate his turkey sandwich. HAHA!
Because I had some time before Steve would get to Twin Lakes, I stayed around to see all the runners. Not having cell coverage, I didn't know how Mark and Jeff were doing. I headed over to the white board and saw Mark's name as dropped. I was so sad to see his number up there. He had been running so strong all morning until Tree Line. I looked for Jeff's number and didn't see it. But it was getting close to cut off and I was starting to get worried.
Ken and Keith took off and Kevin sat down for a few minutes. He was still looking tired. I started worrying about his cut off times. I'm not sure if he wanted me to tell him what to do, but I told him he needed to go now. He didn't come into the race with pacers and picked some up. I told him that I could run him in for the last 13.5 if he wanted to. He asked if Steve would be ok with that. I hadn't asked him at this point, but I pretty much figured Steve would want Kevin to finish. So I just told Kevin yes.
Driving back out on that road, I was searching for our runners. No sign of Jeff. The cut off was in 10 minutes and none of these runners on this 2 mile road were going to make it to Winfield in the allotted 14 hours. My heart sank for all of them.
Twin Lakes - 60.5 miles
Steve comes into Twin Lakes alone. He out ran his pacer. Kenyon was a genius and brought a chair. Steve sat down while I changed out his shoes and socks since he just went through a water crossing. It was starting to get cold and I threw his sweats on him and gave him some coffee and soup. He was only there a few minutes and off they went. About 10 minutes later Bob, his pacer, came in.
While I was changing his shoes, I asked him if he would be ok with me pacing Kevin in. He wasn't really focusing on what I was saying. I told him, I'll crew you through May Queen and I'll pace Kevin in, he needs someone. But that means I won't be at the finish when you finish. I think after repeating this a few times, he finally focused. And said, that was fine.
Don had found Kevin another pacer to take him for the next few aid stations. I couldn't wait any longer for the other boys to come in and was just about to take off when I saw Jeff. He was all smiles. We talked for a few minutes and he ended up getting a ride from a race volunteer he knew from Michigan.
I headed back out to the crew only location of Tree Line. It's pitch black and there is a line of cars and flashlight waiting for runners. Luckily Kenyon had his cell phone and we could text. I told him I'll have my flash light on strobe. Um, everyone did that. But they spotted me! Steve was sleepy and tired, but was still running strong. I realized that next time, I string of battery powered Christmas lights to drape on myself would be the best idea. Just look for the Christmas tree!
Fish Hatchery - Mile 76.6
I found Lauren and Allison, Steve's pacers for the final two legs. I told Lauren what Steve's needs are and told Allison that she needed to push him as hard as she can for the last 13.5 miles. Not because I'm a mean girlfriend, but Steve and I talked about his race strategy and this is what he wanted. I loaded Lauren up with food and again told her that he was eating less than plan, but seems to be ok.
Turns out the girls ran Steve harder than anyone and wouldn't let him stop. He would ask to sit for a few minutes and they would say no!
In between all of this, Mark called me and was feeling much better. We chatted for a few minutes and he said he wanted to pace Matt in for the last 13.5. So I grabbed him and we headed to the last aid station.
May Queen - Mile 86.5
To my surprise, May Queen was a mess again. Had to park at least a mile away and hike in. Mark, Allison and I headed in and got checked in as official pacers.
Steve and Lauren came in, I had some coffee and soup ready for him. He ate that, sat for two minutes and was off. The race was in the bag. Steve vs. Leadville 2011 and Steve won! He came in at 28:13 and it was an amazing race!
I went back to the car to change. Talked to Don's brother and he JUST made the Fish Hatchery cut off. I started to FREAK OUT. I knew that Steve had 4 hours on his plan to run May Queen to the finish. Last year, Andrew ran it in 4 hours. Knowing how long it took Steve to get to May Queen from Fish Hatchery, I knew it Kevin was going to just make cut off again. This would mean 3.5 hours to finish this leg.
I tried to sleep for a few minutes. I think I got a 20-minute nap in. And tried to get some food at the aid station. Matt and Mark had already headed out. I'm waiting with Don for Kevin. Thinking to myself now, crap, if Kevin does not finish, it's on my head. I'm going to be the reason why he is out of the slam.
Everyone home in Michigan starts texting me to see how it's going. I told Andrew I was freaking out. He called me. And coached me through. He said that I had to run Kevin on the downs and the flats and keep faster than 17:00-18:00 minute pace. Having run the first five miles of the course on Friday, I knew that four miles were up hill.
Kevin comes in at 6:18 a.m., 12 minutes before cut off. He walked through, I waited while Don gave me a few of his things and I said I would catch up to him.
I asked him how he was feeling and the answer was not good. Having been up for 30+ hours and hearing lots of different miles from spectators, I was confused on how many miles we had left and what pace we needed to keep. I texted Andrew to figure out where the boat launch was in relation to the finish line. He called me back and was coaching me through it all. In the meantime, Mark was texting me at where he and Matt were at. I figured out that we could probably make it in at 29:41. But at this point, Kevin had figured out that he didn't need to move as fast as I was moving him. But being the PITA that I am, I kept pushing him.
We came to the section I had run the other day and powered up the hill much quicker than I had thought. On the dirt road, some spectators said, 2.5 miles. I said, "Really? Are you sure?" She said, "Yes. 1.5 miles to the road and 1 mile on the paved road."
Mark had called me, confused as to where I said we were and confirmed the distances.
Kevin finish strong and ran up the last hill. Finishing time 29:41! And that plan of having to keep him below 17-18 min miles, well we ran that in 15 min miles.
I had an amazing experience. It was my first time crewing and pacing at an ultra. It's always a great feeling to reach your own goals. But I have to say helping others achieve something so amazing was an even better feeling!
Here's a little video I put together from the weekend.