2009 was the year of the 3-peat. I did the Leadman events in 2007 and 2008 and this would be my third year in a row to try them. Also, of note, is that I would be the only person to have completed the events three years in a row. Others have done it twice in a row and two people have finished the Leadman events on 3 occasions, but so far no one managed (or, more likely, wanted) to string together three consecutive seasons. The Leadman events consist of the following:
Silver Rush Mountain Bike Ride (50 miles) or Silver Rush Trail Run (50 miles)
LT100 Mountain Bike Ride (100 miles)
Leadville 10k (6.2 miles)
LT100 Trail Run (100 miles)
After the 2008 season, I ended up with a sore hip. After much physical therapy and lots of trips to the doctor, the orthopedic surgeons were thinking that I had a labral tear (a tear in the cartilage lining the hip joint). By January, I had been to see three surgeons and all suggested the same diagnosis, so it appeared that I was headed for surgery and would not be running or biking in the summer of 2009. Then, in February, as a diagnostic tool to get a better handle on what was going on with the hip, one of the surgeons recommended a steroid injection in the hip joint. That is done with ultrasound and of course a needle and the procedure was peformed on February 3, 2009 by Dr. John Hill. As it turns out, John is the race doctor for the LT100 events and had signed up for the Leadman series of events for 2009.
The injection was suppose to provide almost instantaneous relief and did nothing of the sort, but it did seem to improve the pain in my hip over the next couple of weeks. I gradually started running, keeping the mileage to 3 miles every other day for a couple of weeks and then ultimately building up from there. In March, I ran 64 miles and in April I managed 147 miles. By May, I was up to 252 miles for the month and I was beginning to think about the Leadman events. I had missed the deadline for entry (which was January 31st), so I had that hurdle to overcome in addition to the (lack of) training obstacles. I emailed Ken and Merilee and although it probably took three weeks for them to sort it out, they confirmed that they would make room for me if I really wanted to engage in another season of pain and suffering. I gladly paid my money and was pretty excited that I would have a chance at a third consecutive season.
Marathon (July 11, 2007). The 2009 Leadman events begin with the Leadville Marathon. It starts in town and ultimately climbs to the top of Mosquito Pass (13,188 feet) – the climb up to Mosquito Pass is a relentless 4 mile climb that really has a way of taking it out of you. It was definitely a struggle, but I ultimately made it back into town in 6:15 (my slowest time for that course in the 4 years that I have done it). A little rain on the course, but no big issues or problems, other than I felt like I was moving slow.
Silver Rush Mtn Bike (July 25, 2009). The Silver Rush is a tough ride, but one that I have done on 4 previous occasions, so I knew what I was getting myself into. Plus John Hill and I had trained on the course on a couple of weekends. The one thing that had me worried was the potential for mechanical problems. Last year, my rear derailleur broke on this ride and I ultimately fixed the bike (after a couple of tries) and got going again (with a single speed configuration), but I missed the 4 hour cutoff at the turnaround, so I was sent packing after 25 miles. This year, I made it to the turnaround in 3:29 and I was feeling pretty good. No mishaps or gear/mechanical issues for the day and I managed to finish in 6:49. Definitely not my fastest time (as a matter of fact, my slowest), but it was done – two Leadman events successfully completed.
Silver Rush Run (July 26, 2009). This event is the day after the mountain bike ride. 2008 was the first year for this event and I did it even though I thought I was out of the Leadman running by that time – having not finished the mountain bike ride. After the 2008 run, I emailed Ken and Merilee (at Travis’ suggestion) to see whether they would take it for purposes of the Leadman series in lieu of the bike ride (same distance; same course). To my surprise, they did and I was still in the running (so to speak). In 2009, Leadman contenders could do either the bike or the run for purposes of that series, so I guess I paved the way for that. This year I had finished the bike successfully, but I was still doing the run. I figured that I had nothing to lose and that the run would be good training for the 100 miler – in Leadville (so at elevation); after 6+ hour effort the day before.
Sylvia arrived Saturday night and was there for the run on Sunday to crew. It was her first experience crewing and, after dinner with Christian, Katie and the Deugans, Sylvia and I drove to the various aid stations as it was approaching dark. She was busy scribbling notes as to the location of all of the aid stations and I think she was a little worried about being able to find everything the next day (which turned out not to be a problem).
When we woke on Sunday, it was raining!! I was not very excited about running in the rain and joked about going back to bed, but we rallied, loaded the gear in the car and headed to the start/finish line where we saw Christian and Jeff who were running and the Deugans who were spectating. The race stated at 6:00 am and the rain had mostly stopped by the start time. I was in a poncho, which I wore for the first 8+ miles. Sylvia met me at the first aid station (mile 7 – Black Cloud) and then again at Painter Boy (mile 14), Venir (mile 18) and Stumptown (mile 25).
At the turnaround point (Stumptown), everything seemed to be going okay – no real issues and the legs felt pretty good despite the bike ride the previous day. On the way back to Venir (as I was crossing the back side of Ball Mountain, there was lightening, followed by rain and hail. When I got to Venir, I took refuge in the car, put on some additional gear (a coat and a poncho) and headed back out. As soon as it stopped raining, the coat and poncho combo was too much (too hot) and I ultimately ditched the poncho with another runner’s crew.
At Painter Boy, I saw Sylvia and she loaded me up with food and fluids. At that point, I knew that I had a long climb up to the Mt. Sherman trailhead – not steep, but a steady uphill. As I hit the uphill, 4 Minutes by Madonna and Justin Timberlake came on and that really revved me up. I must have played it 6+ times and I motored up the uphill – shuffled the entire way and I was very happy with that effort. Then, as I was headed back to Black Could aid station, it started to rain. At Black Cloud, I saw Sylvia and my parents who had come over from Breck. After quick “Hello’s” and refueling, I headed off for the last stretch to the finish line. It rained off and on for the remainder of the run back. I crossed the finish line in the rain at 10:31 – about 12 mins slower than last year, but an effort that I was very happy with. After the run, I showered at Christian’s and Sylvia and I, my parents and Christian and Katie went out to dinner.
At that point, Sylvia had seen her first ultra event and I think it can generally be said that she enjoyed it, but it was definitely a different experience. For the most part, the crew stops are fun and it is a friendly crowd – the days tend to move along pretty quickly despite the fact that the event is something akin to watching paint dry.
LT100 Mountain Bike (August 15, 2009). This event has a 12 hour time cut-off and that always seems a little tight for me. In the past I have finished anywhere from 11:10 to 11:46, with my times to Columbine Mine (the turnaround point) ranging from 5:39 to 6:03. This year I managed to get to Columbine Mine in just under 6 hours. Although I was hoping for better, I knew from past years that the second half of the course was faster and that I should be able to make it back in less than 6 hours if I kept up the pace and did not suffer from any mechanical problems. Sylvia was on the course as my crew and it was nice to have her out there – she met me at Pipeline (26 miles and 74 miles) and on Lost Canyon Road (42 miles and 68 miles). The weather was good for the entire day. I got to the Turquoise Lake aid station in 10:10 and thought that I might have a chance to break 11 hours or at a minimum best my previous time. As it turns out, it takes more than 1:05 for me to get in from that aid station. Perhaps if I had been more motivated or had a gun to my head I would have been able to do it faster, but I knew that I had the run coming up and the 10k the next day and I just could not muster the enthusiasm to push to the point of hurting. A little disappointing, but it was a good time and I finished with a comfortable safety margin under the 12 hour cutoff.
In 2008, Lance Armstrong competed in the LT100 MTB race and came in second to Dave Wiens (who won for his 6th consecutive year and set a new course record of 6:45). The race was somewhat of a comeback event for Lance and (along with the Olympics) got him interest in racing again. This year, Lance was racing again (after having finished 3rd in the Tour de France) and was talking about lowering the course record. This event is already crowded (1.203 riders started this year) and the addition of Lance to the mix has not only increased interest in the event from the rider perspective, but it has really increased the number of spectators and camera crews out on the course. It definitely creates a buzz around the event that has not been there pre-Lance.
LT100 Trail Run (August 22, 2009). The run started at 4:00 am on August 23, 2009. It was a clear day and there were 503 runners who began the race. It was chilly at the start and I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, vest and gloves and, of course, I had my trusty iPod (and a spare, just in case). The run starts by going out the Boulevard and then heads towards Turquoise Lake. I felt pretty good and it was nice to finally be running – the 100 miler had been looming on the horizon for the entire summer and it was good to be under way. Coming up the mini Powerline before Turquoise Lake I was passed by Sus Brozik – I recognized her from other ultra runs and knew her to be an accomplished ultrarunner (I knew from past experience that she would be way ahead of me by the end of the day). She seemed to be setting a reasonable pace as we hit the trail around the lake so I decided to see if I could just hang with her for a while. She did not seem overly anxious to pass folks around the lake and a couple of times I was wishing that she would, but decided that I should just chill. She ultimately passed a few folks (including the guy in the yellow coat and pants who looked like he was expecting to run up on a hazmat site) and I just stayed behind her. We rolled into the Mayqueen aid station in 2:10 – slight ahead of my 2008 pace (2:18). Sylvia was there with Jennifer Kjellsen. I dumped my headlamp and flashlight, got some additional fluids and decided to keep my vest and gloves since I was headed up over Sugarloaf.
I headed up the Colorado trail and felt like I was making reasonable time. I think it took me about 1:15 to get to the top of Sugarloaf and about 40 min to get down to the road to Fish Hatchery and another 10 min to get to the Fish Hatchery. At Fish Hatchery, the whole gang was there and it was nice to see everyone. Grant and Tanner were taking pictures, Sylvia was there with food and clothes (I changed to a short sleeve shirt) and although the pre-race plan contemplated a change of shoes, I decided that I would not change there. That was the first silly decision of the day. For some reason I decided that I would stay in the initial pair until Twin Lakes. I headed out of Fish Hatchery with half of a ham sandwich and walked while I got that down. I then proceeded to run, but that portion of the course (over to Treeline/Pipeline) really took it out of me. I felt like I was moving slow and that it was taking me longer than it should to cover that stretch of land. I pulled into Pipeline about 9:10 and with mostly empty water bottles – the heat was starting to kick in. Sylvia had new shoes out so I decided that I should go ahead and change. I did that, had some crack cookies, topped off the fluids and headed off to the Box Creek aid station [NOTE: due to the crash of a military helicopter on Mt. Massive several days before the race, the course was rerouted and we did not go up to the Halfmoon camp ground and aid stations, but instead we headed down Pipeline and about 1 mile from Pipeline we headed up a road to the Box Creek aid station and ultimately from there to reconnect with the Colorado Trail].
I made it into Box Creek right at 10:00. I meant to soak my hat there before I headed out, but could not seem to remember that when I went through the aid station. After Box Creek, you run up a jeep trail for a couple of miles and then connect with the normal course along the Colorado trail. I felt like I was walking too much and that I wasn’t making very good time. In addition, when I got to the downhill into Twin Lakes, I had some knee pains (left leg along the IT band). I intended to put some biofreeze on it when I got to Twin Lakes, but I did not remember that when I arrived (but I did remember in Winfield). Despite the perceived slow pace, I pulled into Twin Lakes at 11:46 am (7:46 of elapsed time). I found Sylvia and the cast of crew characters and they were all very cheery and helpful. I reloaded on provisions and thankfully Jurney suggested that I take my pack with me. I ended up needing the water from the pack, so it was a blessing to have it. The river crossing was pretty tame, but the climb up to Hope Pass was a big effort – it took 2:06 to get to the Hopeless aid station from Twin Lakes. I refilled fluids at the Hopeless aid station, but otherwise kept moving. I was hoping that the downhill would go a little better than the uphill, but the left knee was bothering me again and I just could not muster much of a pace for the decent.
When you get off the trail from Hope Pass, you hit the road to Winfield. It is a slight uphill for 2 miles and I managed a combination of walking and running. About half way up the road, I passed Trygve (who was going the other way), he looked strong and seemed to be in good spirits. This was his first 100 miler and I was psyched that he was having a good run. When I pulled into Winfield, it was a about 11:45. That is a good time for me and I was surprised by that given the struggle going up and down Hope Pass and the other efforts of the day. It just did not feel like I was moving all that well, but the clock was indicating otherwise.
After checking in at Winfield and weighing (I don’t think they have done that before – I weighed 172 lbs as opposed to 183 lbs at race check-in on Friday – they were not checking that information against the information on my wrist band or otherwise), I found Sylvia and the rest of the crew and they starting tending to my needs. No new shoes, but I changed socks and my shirt and I dumped the iPod since I now had a pacer (Mark Semenoff). I reloaded on GUs, refilled water bottles and the pack (with a big emphasis on ice – the cold fluids really helped with the warm temperatures). I was feeling okay, but I was not looking forward to another climb up to Hope Pass. Without too much delay, Mark and I headed out of the aid station area and onto the road out of Winfield – we were walking since I was eating a ham sandwich. It took us about 30 min to get to the trailhead and then we climbed and climbed and climbed. As on the uphill side, the climb was a struggle. The legs felt okay, but I felt like the lungs were struggling for oxygen – just ask Mark; he will confirm that I was sucking wind on the climb. We crested the top of Hope Pass at 5:55 and we were down to the Hopeless aid station by 6:15. More water and fluids and a cup of ramen and we were on our way. The trip down was not particularly speedy, but it felt like we were at least moving. After the river crossing I had a bunch of debris in my shoes and I thought about stopping, but just kept moving along until we got to Twin Lakes.
At Twin Lakes, Sylvia and Cameron had everything set up and it was nice to see some familiar faces cheering me along. I was feeling okay and glad to be at the 60 mile mark. I changed shorts, shirt, shoes, socks. I kept the pack and Cameron loaded it with lots of ice. After a little food, I checked into and out of the aid station and Jurney and I set off on our climb out of Twin Lakes. I was eating a sandwich, but there was no running to be had even if I had not been. The reports on Trygve, Jeff and Darcy were good. Deugan had been having knee issues at the 50 mile mark and we weren’t sure whether he was still running (later we found out that he had to stop at Winfield).
As Jurney and I neared the top of the climb, which is about 2 miles, we passed someone sitting on the side of the trail. By then it was dark and we were wearing our headlamps. Jurney checked to make sure that the runner was okay and he said that he was. I moved past him and did a quick look with my headlamp (not wanting to shine the light in his eyes). I thought I recognized him, so I took another look and it was Trygve!! I sat down next to him and called Jurney back. He was not doing well – he left Twin Lakes about an hour ahead of us and had been throwing up and nauseous. So, what do friends do on a 100 mile run? They get their friends moving!! – 100 mile events are all about relentless forward motion. Trygve obliged and got moving – he had ski poles that his pacer over Hope Pass (Jim) had left with him and he was relying heavily on them. He said he felt a little better, but anytime we hit any uphill incline, he ended up puking. At one point, he thought he needed to puke, but could not make it happen, so he downed a GU and up came the puke. I was joking with him about the shirt that he had on – from the San Juan Solstice – he, Jurney and Deugan did that run earlier this summer and all of them had to stop due to weather conditions (blizzard up on the continental divide). Anyway, I was saying that he was feeling bad because the shirt was cursed and was going on and on about how we needed to get him out of that shirt as soon as possible. I found the whole tirade highly amusing (and I think Jurney did too), but Trygve does not remember any of it.
When we ambled into the Box Creek aid station (10:30), Jurney took Trygve to the medical tent and they sent us on our way. No way was he leaving there for at least an hour and we left thinking that he was done for the night. That was a little disappointing and we left Box Creek feeling a bummed about Trygve’s condition.
Next stop was the Pipeline crew stop where Sylvia and Cameron met us. Jurney made sure that Jennifer knew what was going on with Trygve and Sylvia ran with me from Pipeline to Fish Hatchery. Earlier in the day she had been worried that she could someone screw up the run (I think by being too slow) – Jurney assured her that that was not the case, but I don’t think that she really believed it until she and I got going. The runners are not moving fast by that time (and I was no exception). Iit was nice to have her out there and I think she enjoyed being part of the run. When we got to Fish Hatchery, Jurn and Cameron were there. I had another sandwich, some crack cookies and who knows what else. The water bottles were refilled and Jurn and I headed up the road to Powerline. The Powerline/Sugarload climb was definitely no foot race, but it felt okay. I think it took us about 2 hours to get to the top from Fish Hatchery. I was thinking that we made reasonable time, but that now seems a little slow and was a forewarning of things to come. When we got to the top of Sugarloaf, I could not manage a shuffle on the downhills. The legs just did not have it in them – I tried, but they would not move any faster than a walk (despite going downhills). So, the downhill took FOREVER and Jurn and I pulled into the Mayqueen aid station about 4:30 am. I was definitely melting down. I knew that I had plenty of time to get to the finish line within the 30 hour cutoff, so I was not worried about that, but I was wondering how long it was going to take to get around the lake and then into town.
We probably spent a little longer at that aid station as I tried to regroup. Sylvia looked a little worried – I am sure that I looked like shit as the magnitude of the effort was beginning to take its toll. We spent most of our time in the tent, but then we went outside and I decided to change my socks and as I was sitting there, I started to get cold, despite having on a long sleeve shirt. So, I put on a coat and then a vest and gloves. As Jurney and I headed off it was about 4:45 am. In the past, I have always been able to muster a reasonable run from Mayqueen into town. This year was different. Although I did shuffle the entire way around the lake, it was not a fast shuffle by any stretch of the imagination. The coat proved to be too hot and I took it off and put it around my waist, but I kept on the vest.
At the end of the lake, Sylvia and Chris met us – actually, Sylvia met us part way down the trail since I think she was getting worried about us (given how I looked at Mayqueen) and needed to do something. It was nice to see them and we took just a few minutes to have a piece of birthday cake with Chris. It was his birthday on Sunday and earlier in the week, I had baked a chocolate kahlua cake for the celebration. After that, it was down mini-Powerline and onto the various roads into town. I had dumped the vest when we saw Chris and Sylvia and for a while I was thinking that might have been a bad idea, but then it warmed up and I was glad that I did not have it. As we hit the boulevard, I tried to shuffle, but I noticed that Jurn was walking and keeping pace (and in some cases gaining on me!!), so the shuffle was clearly breaking down. There was more walking than I would have liked on the boulevard, but once we hit it I knew that we only had 3 miles to go and that was a good feeling.
As we crested the hill on 6th avenue, I could see the finish line and that was a welcome sight. Shortly before the finish, Grant joined me and we ran holding hands up to the finish line. Ken was there passing out the finisher’s medals and I gave him a hug and my eyes started to well up. I am not sure exactly what emotions I was experiencing –probably more relief than anything else, but also a big sense of accomplishment. It is a HUGE effort and even though I have done it before, you just don’t know how the day is going to go or whether you will be able to finish. Anything can happen over the course of 100 miles and 28+ hours. Anything!! There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment at having pushed the body to do what many people would say is NOT doable. Also, for me, there is the Leadman piece of it. This was the third consecutive year of doing the Leadman events and successfully completing all of them. While it falls in the category of ultra-absurdities, it is something that no one else has done (probably no one ever wanted to) and it felt good to be finishing another season of events. I did 332.5 miles of events in Leadville over the summer of 2009 and that is a damn long way to go. Add to that the training miles and you really have to love what you are doing.
Recap: Every year I am struck by what a huge effort these runs are and how many people it takes to pull them off. The 100 mile run is definitely a team effort and I was blessed with a great team that helped me from start to finish and at all points in between. A great team and great friends who were willing to take a weekend out of their life to help me complete such an insane event. Sylvia, Cameron, Grant, Tanner and, for part of the day, Jurney were the crew and Mark (Winfield to Twin Lakes – 10 miles) and Jurney (Twin Lakes to finish – 40 miles) were my pacers. They all made it possible. It was particularly nice to have the boys on the course – Travis could not join us since he had orientation for Colorado School of Mines that weekend. Grant gave me a hug at every aid station to send me on my way and Cameron was a huge help – he really stepped up and took charge. He drove the other boys around, got them food and generally made a huge contribution with crew duties and responsibilities – both Jurney and Sylvia commented on what a huge help he was.
Report on Trygve: Trygve managed to get up and get going again after an hour or so in the Box Creek medical tent. He managed to hold down food and fluids and the medical people cleared him to get back out there. At Pipeline, he met Jennifer and she paced him in from there (about 28.5 miles). Jennifer had indicated earlier in the evening, that if he made it that far, she was going in the rest of the way with him (the original plan had been for her to join him at Mayqueen). He was still throwing up as he climbed Sugarloaf, so his issues continued throughout the night. When he came up the road to the finish line he looked pretty out of it – eyes mostly closed, but moving the legs and those ski poles to keep the forward momentum going. The kids and Chris were walking with him (I am not sure that he knew they were there), and it was great to see him cross the finish line. A true story of perseverance. He easily could have quit at Box Creek or any point after that, but he was determined to finish the run and managed to do so with 14 minutes to spare. Very impressive!! He definitely reached into that inexhaustible well of grits, guts and determination that Ken talks about in the pre-race meeting.