Well, that didn’t go as planned. 60ish miles in 17 hours and change. I ended up a DNF at Twin Lakes inbound. Here is how the day unfolded…
Start to Mayqueen
The start was surreal to be there again. Felt like home. So many friends swapping best wishes. Before you knew it, we were off down 6th Street. I started up towards the front but quickly fell back with my intended slower start. Nothing hard. I just wanted to be in a nice easy gear to Mayqueen. Made a few stops along the way and was relatively calm the whole time. I hit the pavement in 2 hours and came through the aid station at 2:05. Felt easy and about right. Got some food. Dropped my light off in my bag. Opted to keep my layers on as it was still cold and overcast.
Mayqueen to Outward Bound
Got behind a pretty choppy line of folks up through the Colorado Trail. I was OK running all the ups but they were hiking. Lots of passing. Felt like work though there dealing with traffic. I have run that section basically alone before in the race. So this was odd. Got out onto Hagerman road and started trying to convince myself I should be eating more. I was getting solids at aid stations and gel in between. My mouth knew this was going to be a long day already. Climbing Sugarloaf I started having my first coughs of the day. Temps were rising and those changes always get me going. I had to pull over a few times to hack up a lung. People would stop and ask if I was OK as my eyes were watering from the deep coughs. This is just what I do, I would reply.
The descent down Powerline was easy. Had my Hokas on and knew the lines so I was just cruising down passing those that got me during the coughing ascent. Hit the road and felt out of gas as usual. That hill sucks. Pulled it back together and jogged into Outward Bound with a guy from my night run. The aid station at Outward Bound was meager. They weren’t filling water with pitchers when I was there. You had to line up and hit a drink cooler. Took time. Oh well. Forced rest. I grabbed my usual fruit platter and was messing with my drop bag when I suddenly barfed up the bananas I had just eaten. Dang it. What’s with that? I cleaned up and then proceeded to eat more fruit and then make my way out of there.
Outward Bound to Half Pipe
That road usually is hard but today I tucked in behind a couple guys and just tagged along the whole way. Ran every bit of it. Was pretty excited. Figured that would move me closer to my goals as I had never done that before. Ran through the Pipeline ad-hoc aid without stopping. Figured I would save minutes there too as that is usually a crew stop for me and I find myself whining about how this is going to be a long day. The day was heating up now on those dusty road to Half Pipe but I felt OK. I was leap frogging this guy and girl who seemed to be running together so I tried to keep myself within reach of them until the aid station.
Half Pipe to Twin Lakes
This is a fun section of trail when you are rested but I don’t seem to run it as hard as others around me. I started getting passed more here. Oh well. I figured things would even out later. My stomach was in a knot by this time and my kidneys felt tight. I hadn’t peed since forever. Only 1 on the run and we are 8 hours in or something. Not good. I was excited to pick up my pack at the next aid station to see if that changed my intake. Finally, bombed down into Twin Lakes. They couldn’t find my drop bag. 492…492. Its green. What? Oh, the lady finally sees on my bib I am 429. My bad. Mentally, I was a bit slow. Did the walk out of Twin and saw a bunch of friendly faces telling me I was doing great and looked great, etc. I played it all off because it didn’t match the inside view.
Twin Lakes to Winfield
The crux of the race for me. This is where I burn time every year. Would this year be different? 100 yards up the trail I knew the answer. It would be worse. I instantly went into granny gear and was barely mustering a shuffle up the hills. Streams of runners were blowing by me like I was standing still — because I was a lot. I felt like I was suffocating. Just no air intake. My legs seemed OK but just didn’t have anything in the blood to power them. I am a good hiker fresh. Heck, I can run up this trail fresh. But with 40 miles on me, I had nothing. My lungs were burnt. But what the hell else did I have to do? So I continued. The leader at that time, Michael Aish, came blowing by me on those good switchbacks down low. I haven’t ever been passed so low. He was either going real fast or I was slow or some mix. Mike was yelling out to me how he was sorry he missed the night run because he had to work. When the leader of the race is apologizing to you during the run, you must be important!
I kept grinding. I would stop and pause and people would annoyingly keep telling me not to stop and keep moving. I need a break. Its not 3 AM and I am not curling into a ball. I just needed to breath. Finally I figured out if I did some stretching motion they would leave me alone. So I did that a lot. Suddenly, I see a guy walking down trail towards me. Its Tim Long. Son of a bitch. This only means 1 thing. He is done. He was. We sat on a log and shared misery stories. I was tempted to turn with him but figured I should continue on.
After an eternity, I got to the Hopeless aid station which is just before the summit. This place always looks like a MASH unit. Today was no exception. I grabbed a little chair and sat. They brought me a bunch of drink, filled my pack, and got me soup. I was content sitting. One of the medics came over and gave me the usual round of questions. We talked about my lungs. You have asthma. Exercise-induced most likely. Well, that has been my own Internet diagnosis too. But I am not doing anything about it nor did I ever factor it in. I just hoped it went away. Its not. It was worse. So she told me to get that soup down so I took one sip. 6 seconds later I turned my head and vomited it all out over the field I was sitting in. 3 more heaves until down. Maybe I will stick to this cola instead.
More friends were coming in or by. The leaders were now returning. I was improving and having fun chatting with folks and watching the leaders. They had a fire and it was warm. Finally the aid station captain came over. Lovely woman. Told me I had outlasted my welcome and I needed to stand up and go up or down this mountain. NOW. She was mean. Tough love. She mentioned to someone by her that she has done this for so many years that she knew the situation. So I stood and headed to the summit. I was a bit better and within a couple hundred feet of descent I was on a roll. High-5s to all my friends I was crossing paths with. I felt back from the dead. I was moving well down the descent. Never passed once. Passed a ton of people who were still hobbling down with sticks. Felt great.
Hit the road and popped into Winfield to find Justin Mock standing there. I am taking you back to Twin Lakes he said. This wasn’t planned but I welcomed it. I told him it was going to be a painfully slow endeavor. He said he was ready. We went into medical for my weigh in. I was down 10 pounds. They said they would not stop me but they figured I was way under hydrated. When did I last pee? I couldn’t even tell you. Mayqueen? Damn. Usually at this 1/2 point, I would pop an IB to perk myself up but I knew with 0 pee, that was just a recipe for renal failure. So I didn’t. I always have fun talking with Justin so we did just that down the road.
Winfield to Twin Lakes
The ascent is so terrible. Such a small trail. People going both ways. My lungs were fried again. So the pace was slow. Former paces can attest. However, today I think I made a bit better consistent progress. Justin was not letting me off easy. No 30 second counts. I just shoved me back in line after I let faster people pass. It worked. We stayed conversational a lot of the way up too. Made the time pass. We hit the summit and it was chilly. But I was glad to be through with this pass for today. I was a bit more stiff than I thought I would be for the descent back to the aid station at Hopeless. Didn’t bode well for the rest of the way. 1 IB would have fixed that. Not in the cards.
We pulled into the aid station and they were about out of everything. No fruit. No coke. Just soup — but no cups. Justin improvised by pouring it into a water bottle. Since there was no food to sit and consume, we decided just to motor on. People were getting out lights at this point for the descent. Justin asked if we should get them out too. My lights were down in my bag at Twin Lakes. Oops. Never been here this late. Plus, there is a cutoff at Twin Lakes coming up and people were scurrying to make that.
We left the aid station walking and I took a sip of the soup. Within 10 seconds I was bent over heaving that soup back into the field. Something in that soup this year did not agree with me. Like a food allergy reaction. I just opted to tough it out and not eat and just get down. So we jogged for quite a ways. The darkness started setting in and it got harder and harder to see between the rocky sections for foot placement. Started walking at one point in there and that was it for my running today. We got into the field and crossed the river in the dark. Luckily the full moon was providing some lighting. We made our way across the field stumbling through the holes that exist in the trail. At some point, I see a green light ahead and a man with a bucket hat on. JT! JT was there to pace me to the next aid station. He came out looking for us. I gave him a hug.
We all chatted and strolled into the Twin Lakes parking lot. Never been there at night. All lit up and stuff. I then explained to everyone my decision. I am not continuing on. There were many reasons for this. One that last descent I had made up my mind. After the 2011 DNF, I told myself I would not do that again. Well, guess I was wrong. Here was the reasoning:
+ My lungs were burnt. They were not going to improve. That meant 12 hours of walking to make the finish.
+ I walked this in 2010 from here and barely made the cutoff at Mayqueen. I don’t want to suffer for 9 hours to see if I get to walk 3 more.
+ The big buckle? It was way out the window. It was my goal.
+ JT is running the Pikes Peak Marathon in the morning. What a great friend to come out and support me today but I don’t want him to trash his race because I trashed mine. I lost the chance to run with him when I failed to get here on time.
+ My feet were cold and wet and I had no change of shoes. This would have been fine during the day but they weren’t going to dry by moonlight.
+ My kidneys hurt worse. I had drained my bag and 2 water bottles but I was still dehydrated.
We were about 15 minutes in front of the cutoff so we had made it but instead I asked them to cut off my band. I was going home. Luckily, Justin was too so he gave me a ride back to my house in his warm car with his dog on my lap. Its was good to be done.
I walked back into my house to find a dejected household. There was Tim fresh off his DNF. Out walks Nick P. who also DNF’d where I did earlier with massive hip pain. Then I look on the couch and Nick C. is curled up in a ball all nauseous. Granted he finished in 2nd place but he looked out of it. We sat around and swapped stories for a bit. Then the power went out. We are on a well with a pump so we instantly had no water or lights. When we really needed creature comforts, we were back in the dark. They didn’t return for 12 hours.
Much thanks to Justin Mock for picking me up at Winfield and getting me back over the hump. He didn’t judge (at least out loud) he just pushed me to keep moving and see how things went. After resolving to be so solo on this outing, it was instantly satisfying to have help and somebody in your corner. Then to give me the ride back home. I owe him one.
To JT, Katie, and Holly for sitting there as if they are my family and waiting for my slow ass to come into the aid station. JT would have went out with me and delivered a stellar pacing performance. I just wasn’t comfortable doing it from any standpoint. I owe him one.
My Leadville friends! So many people with shout-outs on the trail. Some were introductions for the first time. Some were people I met years ago. The one that stuck with me the most yesterday was standing in the tent at Winfield. A guy goes…”Hey, your race reports gave me the desire to be here today”. I hope he got what he came for.
Basically, I tried to run this race like I had here 3 times prior and get a different result. That was not smart in retrospect. The problems I have faced here are the same year after year and I fail to address them sufficiently. I just seem to hope it will be different next time. And it never is.
1. Lungs – I need to figure that one out. Its a daily problem for me now. I don’t write about it because its become normal. I run a mile every day. Hack out a lung until my eyes water. Then feel 10x better. Then finish my run. Normal. I ignore that sign. I need to fix it. And I have no clue where to start. Probably a doctor giving me an inhaler? I will get on it.
2. Nutrition – Continues to kill me every time. Sugar is not working in mass. Leadville aid stations have shit choices for the rest. I don’t know what to do next. I saw Clarkie with bottles of some new formula which seemed to serve him well until the end. I just need to experiment more. And I don’t. I am lazy about it.
3. Step Up – The plan of not working harder than ever before didn’t pay off. I saw other friends who stepped up their game and delivered the goods. Bravo. I did less and got less.
And…finally. This was part was coming regardless of the outcome of this race. I really hoped I could say it with a big buckle in hand. But that didn’t work out. So with 4 runs here. 2 sub-30 finishes and 2 DNFs…
I am retiring from the Leadville Trail 100.
After 4 years of making this race the center of my universe, its time to pursue other things. Running or otherwise. For some friends that were pre-briefed on that, it was not shocking. Brandon, you know there are other 100s, right? Yes. But there is something about this one. But I am going to let that go for now. I may be back someday. Who knows. I didn’t put my name in the Western lottery this year even after the amazing experience of 2012 because it fundamentally boiled down to 2 things: 1) I had nothing new to offer that race, 2) I wasn’t interested in the time/expense of it. This Leadville decision is much the same. I need to step away and refocus. Maybe fix my hip which takes you off your run for a year. Maybe cross-train finally. Maybe I will get on a MTB up here. Solve some of that other stuff. Get faster. I don’t know right now. But having a clean slate with allow me to consider opportunities.
Oddly, I came to Leadville to race in 2008 and now we call it home part of the year. And the stuff we do here that isn’t about the races has become more fun that the race itself. Plenty of other trails to explore. Plenty of days to spend with family outdoors not having to choose between some boring long run and kids who are growing up too fast. I could go on but I won’t. Hope it makes some sense to you. Does to me.