Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Leadville 100 Race Report 2013

If you know me you know that I am usually very rarely at a lost for words but after everything that went on at the Leadville 100 this year I find it hard to know what to say. I feel amazingly conflicted over the event but positive about my actual run even though I DNFed. Confused? Yeah me too.

If you have read my blog in the past you know I am also rarely critical except about my own running but this time there is just no way around it. I promised when I started writing this blog I would be honest about what goes on out there in my running world and so I will be. I have decided that I will do this in two posts in an attempt to keep some separation between my own run and the actual race / event. Here is part 1 which is my actual race report on my run. Part 2 about the overall event will follow shortly.

Leadville 100 race report
I can honestly say I don't think I have ever been more prepared for a race in my life. Its been a year of training, plotting and planning my revenge after DNFing at Leadville last year. The good news is I know the course, am healthy, well trained and have a great crew. The bad news is that there is still no oxygen on Hopes Pass and no mountains in Toronto to train on. I also dont have any pacers but heck from past experience all they do is eat all your food and make fun of your snail like death shuffle pace anyway.

I arrive in Leadville in a long black hearse also know as the rental car on Friday morning for medical with Kim and JD. I blame JD for me being here as it was his plan to return after last year that convinced me to sign up. He takes no ownership over my registration and at one point a few months ago even tries to tell me that we are both adults. Now thats hilarious!

At medical/weigh-in I find out that I am fatter than I expected and then head into the Leadville store to buy some running crap. No danger in that because I feel great and am definitely going to finish this year. I mean I feel really good for a fat guy that cant seem to breath and already has a headache from the altitude. We settle on Pizza and beer for dinner. Its the perfect fat guy food and I really need a drink but when the beer shows up its 3.2%. Yummy thats some really tasty beer flavoured water. Apparently the low alcohol content of beer bought in Leadville restaurants have something to do with tourists and altitude. You can get the real deal at building with the big sign that says Liquor but we figure our water beer is good enough.

We head back to the hotel to get a couple of hours of sleep then its back downtown for the 4AM race start. Is it just me or is this race corral really crowded this year?

Start line to Mayqueen (13.5 miles)
Last year I started out too slow and ended up getting caught up in traffic so this year the plan was to make sure that didn't happen. JD and I ran the first 5 miles of road / dirt road at a good pace but still made sure to not be too fast. I have to say I was feeling really good. Okay I know I had 95 miles to go but I felt great. We kept the pace solid as we hit the early part of the trail and I chatted with a couple of guys from Chicago for the next hour or so. Just before we came into the Boat Ramp at 7.5 miles I looked back along the lake. There was a line of headlamps extending back around the lake for a very long way. Man there was a lot of people on the trail.

A short distance past the Boat Ramp you are into single track trail. Last year I really got hung up here as the number of runners created a slow moving conga line. At first it looked like it might be the same thing again as things slowed down but after passing a couple of slower runners the trail opened up some with everyone right in front of me running a good pace. As it got light out I glanced behind me but no JD. I figured he would catch up soon enough.

I cruised into Mayqueen in 2:24 which was 4 minutes faster then planned. It was going great and I was stoked as I crossed the timing mat and stepped into unbelievable chaos. The aid station area was a zoo. It was nuts last year but this was bedlam. Both sides of the paved roadway crammed with people that were pressing in on the runners. I kept going along the gauntlet looking for Kim until finally getting to the end and the main road. No Kim, good grief. I turned and headed back towards the aid station watching for her but realizing that I was probably going to have to just hit my drop bag instead. Finally I saw her (she still didnt see me).

Kim felt so bad when she saw me coming from the wrong direction and that she had missed me. I made sure she knew that I didn't blame her. It was nuts there. She said other crew kept pushing their way in front of her and then standing there making it hard to see anything. I swapped hydration vests and headed back onto the course. My 1 minute stop ended up being 5 but I was still 10 minutes ahead of last year.

Mayqueen to Outward Bound (Fish Hatchery) 23.5 miles
A very short run on the road and we are back on the trail. This is one of my favourite parts of the course. I cruise along the single track trail still in great spirits and am quickly out of the wood and onto the road along Hagermans Pass. Its a pretty big climb but the terrain is not difficult and the views are spectacular. We cross under the powerlines and I know that its almost all down hill from here. The couple of miles of running down the powerlines is great fun but I know enough to keep it reigned in. There is a great oppurtunity to damage the quads here so running downhill stupid is not a good plan. Just before the bottom I catch up to the guys from Chicago and chat a little more.

The course at the bottom of powerlines where we hit the road seems different to me from last year. There was no announced course change here, maybe I am just remembering it wrong which sometimes happens. I ponder this for the next mile of road as we make our way to Fish Hatchery.

This is a big change for the race. The aid station is no longer at the Hatchery which you now run past and go further up the road for about a quarter mile. I check my split as I pass it to compared to last year. I am 3 minutes slower than last year for the section but still 5 minutes ahead of my planned pace. I arrive at Outward Bound soon enough.

Outward Bound to Treeline
The aid station is a joke. It is complete and total disaster. Anything I write here will totally fail to convey just how amazing awful, disorganized and dangerous it was. Kim sees me just before the turn off the road and into the aid station. I might not have even know where to turn without her pointing it out to me. There are cars parked all along the road and people everywhere but even worse there are cars leaving the aid station "parking" right next to the timing mats. To leave these cars then have to pass right through the line of departing runners coming out of the aid station. Honestly I think that its a miracle that nobody was injured or killed here.

I drop my hydration pack and pick up my bottle for the short run to Treeline. Kim asks me if I want to take my other handheld but I say no. Its only 4 miles to treeline where I will meet her and switch back to the pack. This turns out to be a very big mistake on my part.

I leave the aid station having to dodge cars just to get out onto the road and then its a couple of miles pavement until you hit jeep road. The first mile is scary as the traffic coming and going from the aid station is heavy and we are running with traffic so you cant really see the cars coming up on you. I run this section really well and glide into the crew area at treeline.

Treeline is not an aid station but is a crew access point and that means there is no race aid here. Something very strange is going on. There is very little crew here. Last year the field was packed with cars and people but not this year. Have I missed the Rapture? Has the zombie Apocalypse started without me? I hope not I have big plans for that one and I left my machete at home. I arrive at the spot I am suppose to meet Kim. We actually picked an exact spot because it was so crowded last year. Is that a tumble weed rolling by? Kim is not here and its not hard to tell because the place we are suppose to meet is nearly empty.

I dont need to consult with Stephen Hawking to know that the aid station mess at Outward has caused her to miss me. Now I have got a big problem of my own making. I am running with a single bottle instead of my pack and that is just not going to cut it. I should have enough water to get to Halfpipe but just barely. Oh did I forget to mention that its around 10 AM and is starting to get hot. Looks like my timing is perfect.

I run this section to Halfpipe really well but I am forced to carefully ration my water instead of just drinking which worries me. I arrive at the aid station and take a couple of minutes to rehydrate a bit before heading back out.

Halfpipe to Twin Lakes
This section is 8.5 miles of mostly awesome running. I am good as far as gels go but water will be an issue. Luckily there is a water only station at 5.5 miles so I might be okay. Why the heck didnt I take that extra handheld with me? For the next 5 miles this thought gnaws at my brain like the larva from a Ceti eel (hows that for an obscure reference kids).

I somehow manage to run out of water just before the water station but refill there. Still I am off my nutrition and hydration slightly which is not good for me (see pasts posts involving all my mid race exorcist impressions). The next 3 miles are beautiful single track and then lots of downhill which carry me into Twin Lakes.

Twin Lakes to Winfield
I arrive at Twin Lakes 12 minutes ahead of schedule wondering just how that happened. The aid station is crowded but somewhat normal and organized. Kim sees me right away and guides me to our crew area. She tells me it took her over an hour to get out of Fish Hatchery and drive the 3 miles to treeline. She also tells me that JD was about an hour behind me at that point. I feel good and still strong but am a little worried. I take some extra time to try and hydrate plus I lose some time "using the facilities". Still I am out of the aid station and headed towards the Pass well ahead of last years time.

I promised myself while relaxing on the couch in my living room that I would run the entire field swamp section to the bottom of the pass. Man that seemed so easy a thing to do while I was surfing the sofa but not so easy in real life. The field is hot and EVERYONE is walking it. I run, walk, run, walk. My lack of discipline here is disturbing but the oxygen deprivation makes it all seem just fine.

I soon start the long climb up Hopes Pass. I get passed by the guys from Chicago again but keep a decent rhythm and keep moving. I have never used poles before but find they help me a fair bit. Everyone is struggling here, well everyone expect the elite guys that are passing us going back down towards Twin Lakes. Just before we hit the switchbacks Scott Jurek flies by. I begin to think about taking up bowling or maybe lawn darts. There are no 3.5 mile hills in bowling and your table has a little cup holder for your beer. That sounds just about perfect.

It takes forever to get to Hopeless aid station. I seem to remember the course all wrong as there is a great deal more running above the switchbacks and not one but 3 fields. Guess the no O2 at 12,000ft really does affect you. I grab a coke at Hopeless and have them add some water to my pack. I would rather not stop but worry I might run out of water on the back side of the Pass like I did last year. I also hear some of the aid station people talking about having to recycle cups as they are running out. Given less than 20 runners have passed me going inbound this is not a good thing.

Out of the aid station I make the last half mile climb and am soon on top of the pass. I pause briefly to soak in the scenery. Okay maybe I was just trying to catch my breath but it was still awesome. The back side is steep but a good 2 miles of downhill which I run pretty fast. The poles worked great allowing me to open it up without busting up my quads or falling. Unfortunately there are many runners coming back up the Pass and the trail is narrow. That means a lot of stopping and starting trying to let people pass.

Once out of the downhill its 3 miles across the Colorado trail and then down into Winfield. I am slow along this section and it seems to have a lot of climbing. I also begin to feel the first signs of stomach trouble which is a very bad sign for me.

Getting into Winfield is an absolute joke. Cars block the way and there is hardly enough room to get by them just to get into the aid station. I see Kim and give her my pack and poles. She tells me I have to turn around and go back in through the chute to weigh in. I totally didn't see the chute due to the F@$#ing cars. I weigh in 7 pds light while last year I was only 2 lbs down. This only confirms what I already suspected, I am dehydrated and my nutrition is messed up.

I know I cant stay here long but try to rebuild a little as I am an hour ahead of the cutoff. I go to grab some Cokes at the aid station but all they have is Diet Coke. I find this stunningly ridiculous. Why the heck would you have something with zero sugar and calories at an Ultra Aid station. I mean its not like anyone needs to get calories in them after running 13 hours.

I head back out and by the time I am on the Colorado Trail again my stomach is freaking out. I run this next 3 miles at a quick pace mainly because I have to if I want to have any chance of making over the pass in a decent time. I see JD sitting on a rock along this section and he looks tired. By the time I hit the bottom of the climb back up the pass I am in big trouble.

I find a rock and sit for a few minutes contemplating what to do as I stare at tiny chunks of chewed up roma noodles that are now adorning my shoe tops. I do the math and know there is no way for me to rebuild while making the climb. It will be a long puke filled trek up the mountain. I have done the vomit dance many times and kept going but I am really worried about the dehydration and also that I will be so slow that I am going to have a cut off issue. I have gotten sick at exactly the wrong spot in the race. After some  contemplation I decide I dont want to risk getting stuck on the pass. My race is done.

This ended up being a really tough day for me and really I don't think I will run this race again. Kim says she will NEVER crew here again unless she has at least 2 other people with her. JD dropped at Winfield and said he is never coming back. My DNF is on me, everything has to go right for me to have a chance to finish this race due to how the altitude messes with me. It didn't but thats how it goes sometimes. That said Lifetime Fitness has really messed this thing up. Stay tuned for part 2.


  1. Hurry up! Can't wait. I love your reports.

  2. Thanks Chris for the personal and informative report. I was rooting for you as I know others were also but you gave it your all and that is what counts. I look forward to the Part II. Sounds like a real clusterf*@# out there. Oh, and didn't you know that drinking American beer is like making love in a canoe? FUCKING CLOSE TO WATER! See you at Hali and glad you opted for 100 to keep me company. Alex

  3. I can only imagine what a bad taste that must leave in your mouth! It's frustrating when you do things right, only to be derailed by the overcrowded, disorganized conditions at the aid stations.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your nice report, as usual ... thanks for sharing it, Chris. I look forward to reading the Part II.

  5. Sorry to hear that things didn't go as planned there. From the sounds of it, the dymanics of the race itself were a huge factor. Must be very frustrating. Congrats on what you accomplished though, I still think that's awesome. Congrats to Kim as well, I'm sure her job was very tough. I'm sure part 2 will be very interesting!

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  7. Holy shit, you don't have much luck do you? Sounds like you were up against with the poorly organized aid stations etc. Can't wait to hear part 2.

  8. "Diet Coke" .... say no more OMG WTF and so on a so forth! To do justice to this race you really need to live at altitude before hand. Perhaps this race is a good one for a retirement bucket list of must do events ... you will be back!

  9. dont' give up. the course is doable if you spend 10 days or more at altitude before the race, in leadville or some other location at 7'000 feet or more. i did this and it paid big dividends. the crowds are absurd, but then again that is just a glimps of the future now shaped by social media, best selling books and corporate america all talking about 100 mile races. stick with it. everything can't be bliss, even in our sport! leadville to me is the definately the wild west ultra...the oldest, no trail work required, and no qualifyer required. much unlike what could be described as the elitist races of western states, wasatch etc.

  10. Looking forward to part 2... I can't understand why a race of Leadville's stature has crewing issues. At Beast of Burden, there are strict rules on accessing runners and aid stations. And BoB gets about 50 runners???

    It's hard to believe that you are still LEARNING what to do at ultras. I guess running ultras gets easier after the first 65 years... It appears that being sufficiently trained and having an intelligent plan are not enough for Leadville.

    Time for something easy like HURT or Barkley!

  11. Hey Chris, I know you wrote this long ago (since the race was long ago)....I read it back then from my phone and couldn't comment from it, and then I just forgot to get back to you.

    I was stalking you on and off after I did the PPM that day and was hoping things were going to go well for you. Gah, I'm so sorry. It's so hard to invest so much time, energy and money into something and it turn out so poorly. I feel bad for the Leadville race series and hope they learn a lot of lessons from the circus it was last year ... but don't give up on it, I know it has a lot of good in it's soul and there's something in you that draws you here each year.

    Wishing you great success for 2014!!


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