The Leadville Trail 100 Ultra Run 2005
A couple of years ago I would never have imagined I would run 100 miles in a continous 30 hour period. Sitting here now with legs that feel like they have been punched all over repeatedly by a midget for days on end after having completed my first ultra run, the Leadville Trail 100, I'm not sure I'll do it again. However, for me it is an awesome accomplishment to have completed the run and I now have a grand respect for those who complete more than 1 ultra per year.
I've never really considered myself a runner. I ran a couple of times per week sporadically to keep in shape but never concentrated too much on the sport. But then, last year, October 2004, Bill talked me into running the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque two weeks before the event. When I say, "Talked me into [it]," I mean he signed up for it--That was enough to egg me into signing up as well. Bill is about the same as me regarding running--we run to stay in shape for climbing mountains. He hadn't been training specifically for the marathon and neither had I. We just decided to do it and see what happens. Then there was talk among our friends of trying to beat a four hour limit. A good challenge. We ran the DCM in 3 hours, 55 minutes and I rather enjoyed the experience despite not being able to walk the next day.
Then, another friend of ours asked us to run the Canyonlands Half Marathon with him in March 2005. We trained a bit more for that race and ran the course in under 1 hour, 40 minutes and, again, enjoyed the experience. And after 13 miles, we could actually walk just fine this time.
Well, we had completed a marathon and a half marathon so the next thing logical race to run is an ultramarathon--any distance over 50 miles. The Leadville Trail 100 came to mind as it is a race in the heart of Colorado taking runners through some incredibly beautiful mountainous terrain. I love mountains and am beginning to love running so entering the LT100 made sense. Bill and I trained quite a bit more for this race as we knew it would be very demanding physically but mentally as well. We did long runs and long hikes through the night to help prepare us for running and hiking for nearly 30 hours straight.
Our goal was simply to finish within the time allotted. So we planned our estimated aid station times based on a finishing time of 29 hours and 30 minutes. We also planned to stay together for as much of the race as possible but also we thought that realistically, this would be difficult and wouldn't be upset if one runner had to leave the other in order to finish.
Friday, August 19th
Saturday, August 20th
Bill, myself and my Mom near the starting line on Saturday morning.
Start Line to May Queen. 13.5/100 miles. Our time: 6:23am. Pace: 10:35 Cutoff time: 7:15am.
The pack slowly lurched forward and we all began a slow downhill jog down 6th Street. After about a 1/4 mile the road goes up a hill and most everyone began what would end up being the pattern for the event--run on the downhills and flats but walk up the hills. This is a good practice to get into as the change in pace changes which muscles you are working the most and allows one to go longer. After about a mile we turned down a dirt road continuing on a downhill grade before turning right onto another dirt road back to the paved road by the Sugarloafin' Campground. On pavement again for about a 1/4 mile before getting back onto a dirt for a bit and then turning up a steep and nasty (but thankfully very short) dirt road to reach the southeastern end of Turquoise Lake by the lake's dam. Our crew was waiting here by the road crossing to shout words of encouragement and Aron said, "Last chance to pass" as we dropped down onto the trail that runs along the east and north sides of the lake to May Queen. He was right. The trail is in great shape but is quite narrow and steep on the side dropping quickly to the lake so we concentrated on staying on the trail! We continued, in unison, with the other runners speed walking on the uphills and running the rest of the time. Looking up the lake and back towards the dam was a cool sight--hundreds of blue LED headlamp lights quickly moving along the lake's edge in the dark with the reflecting moonlight on the lake's water. I wanted to take in the view a bit more but had to concentrate on my feet so I wouldn't trip on a tree root or rock in the trail.
Bill and I did find the opportunity to pass in a few spots and arrived at the May Queen aid station around 6:23am as the sun was beginning to rise. Our crew was there to greet us with a change of clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses and some food. But we found we really didn't need any of the food we brought as the aid stations are very well stocked! I ate some banana, fritos, and M&Ms and washed it all down with some Coca-Cola. Breakfast of champions! We changed into short sleeve shirts, left the gloves, hat and headlamps and began running again after about 10 minutes at the aid station.
May Queen to Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery. 23.5/100 miles. Our time: 8:30am. Pace: 11:42 Cutoff time: 10:00am.
From the aid station we turned right up the paved road for a short distance before getting onto trail again heading up towards the Hagerman Pass road. This trail is a good trail but had some decent sized rocks embedded in it. We were wishing we had kept the gloves a bit longer as our hands were getting cold since we were in the lake valley. Bill and I passed a number of runners on this portion of the trail before reaching the Hagerman Pass road and turning right on the road. At this point, my left knee began giving me some pain. I was expecting this. For the past month or so it has been "clicking" often when I'm just walking. I suppose it's a cartilage thing. Anyway, I was hoping it would hold off hurting until at least mile 50 but as luck would have it, the knee began to hurt at mile 16. Damn. As we turned off the main road up a side road towards Sugarloaf Pass, the knee was really aching. I fished out some Aleve and took two. Probably should have taken more. We ran over the top of the 11,200' pass and began descending to the Fish Hatchery. This descent got awfully steep towards the end and my knee was killing me. I nearly told Bill I was going to quit at Hatchery. But I thought back to Ken's pep talk the previous day and about my family and friends that had come to Leadville to help me through this race and I'd be damned if I was going to quit even if I had to eat Aleve like candy along the rest of the route. Once we reached the mostly flat paved road into the Fish Hatchery, the knee didn't hurt as bad. It only really hurt on the descents. We strode into the aid station among cheers from our crew and other folks watching. I heard a encouraging and familiar voice yelling "Alright Jason!" and looked to see Theresa Daus-Weber. I had met Theresa a couple years ago through Aron and we had shared some long and fun 14er endurance events together. She's an 11-time finisher of the LT100 so hearing her cheering me on gave me quite a boost.
OB/Fish Hatchery to Halfmoon. 30.5/100 miles. Our time: 10:08am. Pace: 12:08 Cutoff time: 12:00pm.
After eating some more M&Ms, bananas, flat cola, sandwich pieces and chips, we left the aid station building and met up with our crew outside the station to change clothes. I switched out my shoes from the super-stability Sauconys I was wearing to my North Face Terra Ridge trail shoes. My thinking was that the Sauconys had too much stability and were causing my knee to hurt. Not sure that was true but anything had to better than the pain I was feeling. I couldn't get any worse I figured. I also changed into a sleeveless shirt as I assumed the next leg would be hot. Allison filled my Camelback up with some more water and we were off again. This section involves about 5 miles of pavement running and then a few miles of dirt road to the Halfmoon aid station. An unofficial "crew stop" at a place called "Treeline" is used by many crews along the dirt toad to Halfmoon campground. Crews cannot go all the way to Halfmoon because of the massive vehicle congestion that would take place on that dirt road. Bill and I made great time along the pavement as we got into a groove and held a strong pace for having basically ran a marathon already. As we ran into the "Treeline" area we didn't see our crew. I then noticed them headed from the parking area towards the road and waved to them. We had beat our crew! The likely staged this on purpose to make us feel better about our running and it totally worked! We didn't really need much and made a quick stop to stretch and eat some dried pineapple. We still had a few miles to go up the dirt road to the real aid station. The dirt road was a constant uphill grade for the most part but went quite smoothly. We entered the aid station where they were blaring music. The vibe was great. A volunteer filled up my Camelback, we ate some more snacks and Bill took care of some growler business in the outhouse and we carried on. I was envious of his bathroom break as I felt I needed one too but the restroom was a busy place. I found another one just up the road along the course. There are numerous restrooms along this section because of all the campgrounds along the road.
Halfmoon to Twin Lakes. 39.5/100 miles. Our time: 12:27pm. Pace: 13:53 Cutoff time: 2:30pm.
Continuing along the Halfmoon road for another mile, we reached the Colorado Trail and turned left up the trail. Ah, familiar territory! This trail is in great shape and went quite smoothly for the first bit. A few hikers coming down from Mt. Elbert gave us words of encouragement as we passed by them. Bill and I also talked with another runner named Tom who had done the grand slam of Ultras this year and was running in his fifth LT100 run. Tom is 52 and was very encouraging towards us after we told him this was our first ultra. He vowed to push us from behind and make us finish if he saw us on the course later! More positive motivation! We reached the the split where the CO trail leaves the Mt. Elbert trail and continued on the CO trail towards Twin Lakes. This section to Twin Lakes was very beautiful. Aspens and hidden beaver ponds really added to the feel of the run. About a mile from Twin Lakes we came up on a woman going at a great pace. I talked with her briefly and stayed behind her for a while as her pace was perfect. I would later learn a great technique from her on Hope Pass. My left knee gave me more great pain during the somewhat loose and tough descent into Twin Lakes. As we entered the area, I heard another positive and familiar voice--Dan Hadlich. Dan had driven up from Albuquerque to pace us from Winfield to Twin Lakes and from the Fish Hatchery to May Queen but had arrived early so he came to Twin Lakes to give us some encouragement. Awesome!
Me and Bill coming into the Twin Lakes aid station. The hill in the background was very steep and loose and apparently caused numerous runners to slip and fall.
Twin Lakes to Winfield. 50/100 miles. Our time: 4:19pm Pace: 23:24 Cutoff time: 6:00pm
Our crew set us up with rain jackets, gloves and hats in our Camelbacks while we ate and drank at the aid station. It did indeed look like rain was coming. We paused for a picture with Hope Pass in the background before embarking up towards the pass. We heard rumors that Matt Carpenter was on his way back and that we should expect to see him shortly. Holy crap! I can't imagine running that pace for that long.
Me and Bill posing for a quick photo before heading up Hope Pass. The pass is behind us over my right shoulder.
From here, each step Bill and I took was a new distance PR for each of us. None of our training runs or hikes had taken us longer than 37 miles so we were very excited to moving at this point. It was all a bonus from now on. Running across the flats on the west end of Twin Lakes involved running through numerous large puddles/streams before the knee-deep crossing of the creek flowing into the lakes. There was a rope strung across the river as a handline to help us keep our balance as we crossed. I was not looking forward to the crossing but if found it refreshing on my feet and actually dunked my left knee for a few seconds to cool it down a bit. That felt great. Once across, we began hiking up towards Hope Pass. I had to duck off the trail once with a case of the LQGs but other than that, the going was sure and steady. As we ascended, Matt Carpenter, the winner and new record holder for the LT100 passed by us on his descent. He looked fresh and in control. Amazing! We caught up again to the woman from Denver whom we had followed for a short bit heading down into Twin Lakes. Her pace was again great so we just stayed behind her and we all talked about the race and other races as it rained lightly on us. She was quite accomplished and this was her third LT100 among a handful of other ultras. We reached the Hope Pass aid station, a station at nearly 12,000 feet that is made possible by Lamas packing all the gear up and some hearty volunteers. This is a very helpful aid station given its location on the toughest part of the course. I ate some warm soup, some more snacks and thanked the teenage volunteer for filling my Camelback before we headed to the top of the pass ahead of the woman from Denver. The trail was surprisingly good to the pass. I expected worse. What a view from the pass! 14ers dominate the view to the south! But then we were staring at a steep descent that was sure to be a knee killer for me. I waddled and shuffled down for a few minutes and then looked back to see the woman from Denver hauling ass down. "How is she going so fast?" I asked myself. Then I noticed she was skipping. Arms and hands out just like a school girl. She passed us in short order and kept skipping down. Hmmm... Anything had to be better for my knee I thought as I broke into a full-on skipping action. Holy crap, it was totally working. No knee pain and I was actually going much faster than I would descend normally with a strong knee. This was awesome! At first I was slightly embarrassed and would stop skipping as others came upon me but by this time numerous other runners were working their way back into Leadville and there was too much traffic for me to stop for each runner. So I endured the funny looks and the one comment ("Oh, the skipping guy, I heard about you!") from some dude and was very happy to reach the Winfield Road with Bill right with me. Here we saw all of our crew and they told us to continue up the two miles to the aid station and stop back here with them on the way back to change clothes and what not. Winfield was further up the road than I had remembered but we got to the station at 4:19pm or so. This was a busy aid station. More soup, snacks, cookies, cola and crackers went down the hatch before another short porta-potty visit and we headed back towards our crew along the Winfield road.
Winfield to Twin Lakes. 60.5/100 miles. Our time: 8:40pm Pace: 23:20 Cutoff time: 9:45pm
But first there was a surprise! Our third pacer, Kate, from Los Alamos had driven up to Winfield and met us there with Bill's dogs. Bill was excited to see them as they were him. I think this was a good boost for Bill. Kate walked along with us for a bit before going back for her car. Dan trotted up the road and hiked back with us to the crew point.
Me, Dan and Bill along the Winfield road heading back.
Bill and I both changed socks and shirts. From here, we still had 48 miles to go to get back but Aron and Dan were now with us to keep us company and encourage us. A huge boost! I wasn't looking forward to going back over Hope Pass but the good company and conversation made it go by quickly. The rain came in and came down fairly hard for a short bit. We could see fresh snow above 13,800 on Belford and Missouri across the valley. Once over the pass again, I carried on with my skipping as we descended back to the Hope Pass aid station. More soup, snacks and yummy Boston Baked Beans were consumed before we headed down to Twin Lakes. We arrived at Twin Lakes at 8:40pm.
Twin Lakes to Halfmoon. 69.5/100 miles. Our time: 11:45pm Pace: 12:47 Cutoff time: 12:45am
It was great to see our crew again just after the sun had set. Dan did a fantastic job of pacing us over Hope Pass and was now going to try to sleep for a bit before joining us again at the Fish Hatchery. We again changed socks after crossing through all the water. Bill changed shoes. The aid station volunteers weighed us but the scaled show 182 for me. I had weighed in on Friday at 175 so I figured the scale was broken. Oh well. We ate more food, I drank some coffee and cola and we headed out. This section was tough mentally as we were in the trees for most of it and couldn't see much of anything. The moon was obscured by clouds and there was a slight drizzle for much of the hike/run. But as often is the case, hiking in the dark keeps you from seeing how far you have to go and before we knew it, we were getting close to the Halfmoon aid station. Aron and I told some jokes that were admittedly bad but made us laugh and kept us "in it mentally". Then Bill came up with a joke: "A mushroom walks into a bar and asks for a drink. The bartender says, 'No, you better leave, we don't serve your kind here.' The mushroom says, 'C'mon, what do you mean by that, I'd like a beer please.' The bartender replies, 'I said, we don't serve your kind, now get out.' The mushroom says, 'Aw, c'mon, I'm a fungi.'" Jokes like that kept us going. We got into the Halfmoon aid station at 11:45pm. Making it quick, we drank some soup and mashed potatoes, drank some cola and I put down some more coffee.
Halfmoon to OB/Fish Hatchery. 76.5/100 miles. Our time: 1:51am Pace: 11:36 Cutoff time: 3:00am
Hiking the uphills and running the rest of the time, we me our crew at "Treeline" around 12:30am. We didn't do much at that stop besides eat some chocolate-covered espresso beans and head out. I'm sure the crew could see our fatigue. Running along the dirt road to the paved road was quite chilly in this valley. Once on the pavement, Aron suggested we run intervals. We'd run for two telephone poles and then walk for two telephone poles. Those poles weren't that far apart but at this point each interval felt like a mile of running! But this system worked very well and allowed us to make good time back to the Fish Hatchery. It was awesome to see the crew there again and to meet up with Dan who actually met us along the pavement about a mile from the Hatchery to pace us again into May Queen. I drank more coffee as I was nearly falling asleep while running along the highway.
OB/Fish Hatchery to May Queen. 86.5/100 miles. Our time: 5:40am Pace: 23:00 Cutoff time: 6:30am
This promised to be the toughest section and I wasn't enthused. The guy sitting next to me at the aid station was surrounded by his crew and pacers as they tried to talk him out of quitting. He was tired, sore and said he couldn't continue. They disagreed and wouldn't let him quit. End the end, he got up and starting going and later we saw him finish after we finished. I'm proud of that guy. He was at the point of giving up after working so hard for 86.5 miles but he dug deeper than he likely ever had and found the reserves to continue. Indeed this section was tough. As we made our way back up Sugarloaf Pass, I had a very hard time keeping up with Bill, Dan and Aron. Bill was holding a strong pace up the pass and I couldn't understand where he was getting the strength to move so quickly. As it turns out our pace was an average 23 minutes/mile but that seemed really fast at the time. After we crested the pass and were descending the road, I was definitely falling asleep while hiking. I would kick a rock and that would wake me up. I'm not very good at hiking between the hours of 2am and 4am it turns out. I think the guys noticed this and took it easy on me. We reached the Hagerman Pass road and again did intervals of running/hiking along the road before finding the left turn onto the trail that would take us back down to May Queen. This next section was the hardest of the whole course for me. We basically paralled the road and could see the lights of the aid station for a long time but kept traversing and not descending. It was frustrating in my tired state to know that right down there was the station but that we had to keep going on this traverse before we could head down. Again I was falling asleep while hiking down this trail but the voices of two anonymous runners came up from behind. "Hey, Joe, what's that I seen in front of us?" Joe replied, "I see a group of finishers, that's what I see! C'mon guys, almost there, you can do it." Man, who can be that positive at 4am in the darkness that was this trail? Thank you guys. Everyone was super positive and encouraging. We finally reached May Queen around 5:40am. What a relief!! Our crew was there along with Kate. Kate would take over for Dan from here and pace us along with Aron to the finish line.
May Queen to Finish. 100/100 miles. Our time: 9:32am Pace: 16:27 Cutoff time: 10:00am
The sun was getting close to coming up and the light made all the difference in the world for my psyche. Those that have hiked through the night know the mental boost that the rising sun can bring. It was huge. We left the aid station running the pavement until the dirt trail along the lake. Aron did a fantastic job of keeping us on pace while Kate made some jokes referencing Chris Farley in his "motivational speaker" role on Saturday Night Live. We'd run the downhills and flats and again walk the uphills. Before we knew it, we reached the Tabor Boat Ramp and got to see our crew again.
Do I look like I've been running for 27 hours straight? Not quite the smiles that I had 24 hours ago!
From the boat ramp we only had about 6 miles to go to the finish. We ditched our pants and went back into shorts here along with ditching any other non-essential warm clothing. We jogged quite a bit on the trail along the lake back to the intersection near the boat ramp. For a moment Aron had me entertaining the idea of trying to finish sub-29 hours but that would have meant some relatively quick miles to the finish and I was ready to go for that. We mostly race-walked the dirt road back and talked with our crew one last time near the Sugarloafin' campground. They would meet us a couple blocks from the finish line to cross the finish line with us. We could see numerous other runners in front of us and behind us all slowly staggering in. Everyone of the runners we could see would at this point would be finishers. We had all grunted it out and looked deep inside our souls to compete and complete a very difficult undertaking. We'd done good. We were there and it was about to be over. As much as I was looking forward to the finish line, in a surreal kind of way I did not want it to end. Dan met us about a mile from the finish line and took some last photos with Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest peak, as the backdrop.
Bill, Aron, me and Kate striding up the last bit of dirt road before the pavement to the finish with Mount Elbert in the background.
As we walked the final mile, Allison and my mom joined our group. Allison gave me her cell phone and my dad was on the other end. He had driven his motorcycle up from Los Alamos to be at the finish line when I crossed. (We had borrowed his van for our crew vehicle!) Apparently he had faith that I would finish. As we neared the finish line, Aron gave Bill and I the cue and we broke into a "finish line sprint" which was hardly a sprint at all but it was faster than walking and looked better for the photos. Bill and I, bib numbers 433 and 434, crossed the line together with our friends and family cheering us on. We finished in 29:32:20, two minutes after our projected time! Does this sound sappy? Well, if felt sappy and I loved it. In the end, we finished 183rd and 184th out of 213 finishers and 478 competitors.
Sprinting as hard as we could towards the finish after 29 hours and 32 minutes of constant moving.
Merilee was there, as always, to greet us with our finishers medals and give us a hug. A wonderful moment indeed. Hugs were all around as Bill and I were congratulated by our family and friends. I nearly cried.
Without the aid, assistance and encouragment of our family, friends and the hundreds of volunteers at the LT100, an event like this wouldn't happen and Bill and I would not have been given the chance to compete in such a difficult yet rewarding experience. I want each and everyone of you that volunteered your time to this cause to know how much I appreciate your efforts. Thank you so, so much!
Written by Jason Halladay on 22 August 2005.