Well, that was a different way to spend a week. For the last five years, I have spent as much of August as possible in Leadville. I hosted night runs. I had gatherings. I tapered. I raced. Not this year. None of that happened. I actually stayed away until late Friday night where I arrived to a sleepy town who would come to life in just a few hours for the race start. I had a bit of guilt not going over to the start but I decided I would be better served getting my rest for the long night ahead. I woke up and went out on course to a few of my favorite spots. Away from the crowds. Where I would have a stream of runners coming by one by one all to myself. It was fun to watch them starting their day and saying hi to so many familiar faces. Even the unfamiliar faces. Lots of folks saying hi to me by name with accolades like “I love your blog” or “why aren’t you running” or “good luck next month” or “thanks for all you do”.
I went back to the house and got some chores down while watching the live tracking. It seemed spot on this year. No issues, outages, or delays at least for me. Worked great. Ultra tracking always is such a shit show but for today it worked great. After a few hours, I headed down to Twin Lakes. I went dressed in my pacing gear even though I knew I would have a few hours of waiting ahead of me. I arrived and found a parking spot just 300 feet from the road crossing. Not bad. The place wasn’t packed to the gills like in years prior. Seemed pretty well balanced.
My runner, Shad Mika, had been through hours ago and we were awaiting his return. I got to see the leaders come back through. Ian Sharman was first, a bit to my surprise. Followed by Mike Aish, which I had hoped was leading by this point. Mike seemed a bit off but still his jovial stuff. Spent the next few hours walking around, chatting with everyone, helping out various crews, and relaxing.
When Shad came in, his pacer, Rebecca, told stories of the puking and general fatigue on Hope Pass. But he seemed to gain new life on the descent to see us so I was luckily getting him on an upswing. We changed out shoes, gear and such and then I started in “You have 2 minutes”. We were on the clock. Everyone in the crew was a bit antsy as Shad had lost some time on Hope Pass and they were hoping for some recovery. With that, we headed up the hill out of Twin Lakes to climb “The Wall”. After sitting and eating all day, the climb kicked me in the chest there for a few minutes. I wasn’t quite warm yet. I gave Shad his poles and we motored. He was hiking hard by the time we hit the Colorado Trail. Frankly, I was doing my decent hike pace and we were just staying together. He was strong.
We started talking finish times a bit. I knew the #1 goal was to finish. Leadman was at stake. So I tried to focus him on that. I was trying to see if I could get his mind off the stress of the time and focus on the run. I told him he could walk from here and finish in under 30 hours. It was true. I have done it. But he wasn’t content. He knew that big buckle (25 hours) was in sight. We had a lot of miles to go yet and I didn’t want to get too caught up in pace math. Let’s just run what you can and see how it goes.
We got rolling nicely when we topped out on the slopes of Mount Elbert. Shad was great uphill but a little stiff on the downs. The quads were hurting. We focused on those climbs and the flats and took it easier on the descents. Ran for quite a while before pausing to put on lights. Shad was also peeing more than I was. Encouraging. Everything was going his way.
We motored right into Half Pipe, which was 8.5 miles into my night. Nobody was there. Maybe another runner or two came through. I am used to seeing a shit show there. It was early. Shad sat for a pre-determined amount of time and then we got out of there. I was texting his crew who was waiting for us out at Treeline that we were close. It is only 1.5 miles to them. We ran nearly all of that and arrived at the truck. “We are here”, I said as I pulled in seconds ahead of Shad. They were surprised I think. As the crew attended to Shad, I lurked over to a chair in the dark to get a quick rest myself. My lungs were being shitty tonight and Shad was keeping on it. No rest for me. I did some time checks there and knew exactly were we were. We were in the game on sub-25.
We pulled out of Treeline and Shad was still doing great. I kept offering him clothes but he wasn’t accepting. This trick let me know that he was running hot. Exerting effort appropriately. If he had been getting cold, then it was a sign something was off. It was in the 40s by this point. I was cold. I threw on another layer as we got out onto Halfmoon Road. Shad was still on fire out here. In fact, he just started rolling off ahead of me and I let him go. He would gap me by 100 or so feet and then I would reel him back in on the downs. Depending on when I checked the watch, we were 10 minute pace, then 9, then 8. Crazy.
We went through the Outward Bound field and Shad was still on fire. He led me and I was just trying to tip toe through the field and not twist an ankle on all those cow holes. Damn. We came into Outward Bound and the crew took over again. I attended to my needs and was coughing like crazy. I had my pacer bib covered up by my long sleeve shirt now so nobody knew if I was running or what. So medical came over and asked me if I wanted to go in the tent and get checked out. I guess that cough gets their attention. I just identified as a pacer and they let me be. Shad was ready to roll so we headed out. I left after him as I was finishing stuff so when I ran by the checkout folks, they commented “You look so strong!”. This was ironic to me because last year when I was running, I am pretty sure they said “that guy looks like death”. I didn’t correct them by saying I was pacing. For just a moment, I felt like I was the runner.
I caught up to Shad and let him know what the timing was now. The traditional 25 hour plan has you at Fish Hatchery at 10:30pm. We ran by it at 10:20pm. Of course, we didn’t have to stop either. This put us 20+ minutes ahead of pace. We were in the game. Now, I almost regret telling him that because Shad then proceeds to start running 8:30 pace on the pavement to Powerline. WTF. I was holding on for dear life. I am not getting dropped by this boy is on a mission.
We hit the bottom of Powerline and I figured Shad would implode. This is where people impode. Me included! Nope. He took the poles and began hiking like he was fresh out of bed. We passed every runner we came upon as if they were standing still. As we kept getting higher, Shad started gapping me. This made me nervous. Am I getting dropped by a guy with 80 miles on his legs? Ouch. But more, is he going to blow up? I need him to be conservative. Oh well. He ended up topping out in 50 minutes. WTF. Strava after told me that was my 2nd fastest ascent this year of that section. Wow.
But as soon as we moved downhill, the tone changed. The baby head rocks were killing Shad‘s pace. The quads were beat. We mostly kept it to a jog but there was a lot of zig zagging. He was getting a side stitch from time to time to that we slowed to address. It was eating into pace but he was ahead after the monster ascent. So maybe the move worked. He put the chips on the bet he could make. We didn’t need to keep banking time. We needed to maintain. And we did. The run on the Colorado Trail just flew by for me. Hell, all the sections were over so fast. I never had a minute of “wish we were there”. We hit the pavement into Mayqueen and I ran ahead to signal the crew. We were here.
We grouped on the bridge into Mayqueen. Shad had time to do what he wanted to here but he didn’t. He wanted to move on. Been there before. I told him we got that last section with 15 minutes to spare. He had 3:15 to get to the finish. He would really have to fuck up to ruin that. But I got the sense he wasn’t done. I left him in Donald’s capable hands and stopped my watch.
The crew took me home and I grabbed a hot shower. It was about 2 AM and I was ready for that warm bed I had dreamed about earlier. But I checked the live tracking and saw that lots of friends were still out there. So I put on my warmest clothes, with down jacket, hat and gloves and headed out to the finish line. I arrived to a pretty empty sight. Nobody is out there that time of night. Race staff might have 5-6 folks. But there are no spectators. No cheering fans. The bleachers are empty. Things come alive when a runner shows up. The family and crew quickly appears, cheers their runner in, and then disappears to the med tent or a warm car. It is so anti-climactic.
I saw lots of friends finish but I was there for 2 people.
George Zack was supposed to be close so I walked down a block and waited. And waited. A few runners came through but it wasn’t him yet. Finally, he appeared in sea of runners. He had his lights off and I wasn’t sure it was him. I noticed others and then jammed myself into the group to congratulate him on getting this done with such force. He was toast. He was moving but it was gimpy and he only had a bit more to go. I was able to run through the finish with him and his crew. It was cool to be there for his moment. I spent time helping him get situated after and got him loaded into a car and he was off.
Back on the course, we were waiting on Shad. He was close. Probably 40 minutes after George, Shad appeared solo. On the last couple blocks, he just started running full on as he was close to breaking 24 hours even. He missed by seconds. I chased him with a camera through the arch. Amazing. He sat and was all chatty. Guy was on cloud 9. He seriously appeared to be able to keep going. Impressed. We all dream of those finishes. He did it.
I walked back to my car a few blocks away in the dark contemplating my life, my friends, this town, this race. While I didn’t race it this year, it is still a part of me and I was pretty amazing to see it for the first time from the other side. The sacrifices that go in by the pacers and crews. The time spent. It is draining. People asked me all day if I was coming back, as in racing here again. The answer was always the same — “someday”. The vision crystallized this weekend.