22 August 2013

Leadville 100 Pacing Report

“…I run to feel. I run for the experience. I train hard and prepare as best I can, but I do not want every race to have an expected outcome, to go just as I had planned. Where is the value in leaving out discovery and self-examination?” 
–Joe Grant
Start/Finish Line
Date: Aug 17 - 18
Location: Leadville, CO
Distance: 40 miles 
Time: 12 hours

Let me start off by saying how difficult this report has been to write. Between my impressions of the race, the stories of the various runners I encountered as well as my own feelings of being a part of this weekend’s events, I’ve had a hard time whittling it down to a concise narrative that won't bore the average reader. I hope that after having a few days to chew on things, I’m able to put something together that both shares my story & perspective well within the confines of this format. If you've never been to Leadville, please at least read my thoughts at the end of the post. You ought to know what you're going to experience there before paying the fee. 

Ok, here goes…

As with all the races this year, this was my first time participating in the Leadville 100 Trail Run, the most popular (or rather, populated) 100-mile race in the country. Over 1,200 entered the race this year and about 950 started. It is on a beautiful out-and-back course in the Colorado Rockies, with the high point being Hope Pass at 12,600 feet. Total elevation gain is around 15,000 feet. Runners leave Leadville and go over Sugarloaf and then Hope Pass to the Winfield aid station. They then return back to Leadville retracing their steps back over Hope Pass and Sugarloaf. It requires no qualifier and historically has about a 50% finisher rate. It's also the only 100 miler that is corporate-owned as far as I know and the difference in culture from other mountain 100s was striking. I’ll get to that later.

Sheila and I had high hopes that it would be a good day for her. She's finished this race twice (after battling her usual stomach issues) and loves the course. She was feeling great, excited and ready to race. Unfortunately, despite an iron will and muscles that are able to endure through 100 miles, her stomach keeps shutting her down around the 40 mile mark. Her race ended at the Hopeless Aid Station with an IV in her arm. It was terribly frustrating for her to be stopped yet again and unable to recover.
Sheila leaving Twin Lakes
I was waiting at Winfield (mile 50) when I got the news, so I headed back to Twin Lakes (mile 60) with plans to pick up another runner as there’s always someone in need of a pacer. There were two people in particular that I wanted to check in on – Hans-Dieter Weisshaar and Jeanne Kysar-Carey

Hans (who I wrote about in my Hardrock report) was going after his 1,000 buckle, after DNFing last year. I saw him as he was leaving Twin Lakes at mile 40 and he gave me his customary kiss on the cheek before heading up Hope Pass. Made my day, sweet little man. With this finish, he's closing in on 140 100-mile finishes at the age of 73. Respect!

Jeanne (who I wrote about in my Bighorn report) had inadvertently signed up for Transrockies the same week, so she started LV with 56 miles on her legs and only one day to recover. I knew she was tough and would gut out a finish if she had to.  

This is what Jeanne looked like at Mile 40 before going up and over Hope Pass (she went over it during Transrockies too, I might add). She looks ready to get after it, doesn't she?
"I grew my legs here!" she says.
While waiting for them both, I found out from Hans' wife that he had a pacer for the remaining 40 miles of the race, so I hung around for Jeanne to see if she needed one.
The Jester, Ed Ettinghausen coming in to Twin Lakes
SPOTTED: TK lookalike
She arrived back in Twin Lakes around 7:50p after bombing down Hope doing 8 min miles and dropping her pacer at the top. I helped her get ready for running overnight with extra clothes, lights, change of shoes and food. We saw her pacer briefly when he showed up around 8p and she grabbed a few things from her pack that he had carried for her down Hope. With that, I assumed pacer duties and we took off as the sun was setting.

The climb out of Twin Lakes is tough when you have 60 miles on your legs so we walked it and she took 5 sec breaks to rest as she worked her way up. Her legs were pretty tired from the descent, but we knew that the worst of the climbing was behind her now. Once we got to the flatter sections, she began to run again and we pretty much kept a 4 mph pace during that final 40 miles. I was impressed, considering that Jeanne wasn't running LV on fresh legs to begin with. 

We had our headlamps on within 30 min and I found that my Black Diamond Icon gave me a good strong beam until 6am the next morning when I was finally able to shut it off. As with Bighorn, I had no issues running overnight; in fact, I really enjoy it. Pacing generally requires doing it at night, so that's a plus for me. I did take a few of Sheila's Redline pills, which kept me awake without the jitters. I felt good the entire run, despite being up for 26 hours straight.

Other than a few blisters that formed, which she would address at the aid stations, Jeanne just seemed to get stronger and stronger as the night went on. She would hike up the hills and run the descents and on the flatter sections would do a run/walk combo, running approximately 30-45 seconds and walking about 15-20 seconds. I saw how effective that was in keeping her going at a good clip, without using up too much energy. She struggled a bit with her asthma since she forgot to pull her inhaler from her pack at Twin Lakes, but took some prednisone and grabbed another inhaler at Fish Hatchery.

In the early hours of our run together we would be leapfrogging with a lot of the same folks (16-20 pacers/racers) with them passing us on the climbs and us passing them on the descents. That went on until we finally passed a lot of them for good coming off Sugarloaf, as I didn't see them after that.

Jeanne was quite concerned about cutoffs and I assured her that we were leaving each aid station with roughly two hours to spare. Nonetheless, when we left May Queen at 4:45a with 13 miles to the finish (final cutoff @ 10am), she began to push the pace a little more. By the time we got off the rolling terrain around Turquoise Lake and hit the pavement with about 5 miles to go, I was ready to strip off my overnight gear. The sun was up, the finish was secure and I was hot. Jeanne however, was pretty focused on finishing asap, so I let her go as I stopped to take things off and get a bit more comfortable. 

Since I ran in the dark up until this point, my picture taking started here:
Early morning views of Turquoise Lake
"Welcome to Leadville!" - The final rocky climb 2 miles out
Jeanne finished in 28:08 and I lollygagged in at 28:17. Found her shortly afterwards and took this lovely snap before we bid our farewells:
156 miles in a week and happy to be done.
I knew Jeanne was badass after seeing her resurrect herself at Bighorn. She is one of my UR heros and it was a joy to pace her and experience the whole Leadville course for myself (after a double pass of Hope a couple weeks ago). Jeanne didn't need me to push her or remind her to take care of herself; it's just "more friendly with two", as Pooh would say. I think my main service to her, besides keeping her company, was giving her our splits so she knew she wasn't skirting cutoffs. 

Besides the beautiful trails, it's the people are what make these race experiences so wonderful. I met Leon Lutz in my hotel lobby, hung out with the FoCo pacing gang on Friday night (Katie, Slusher, Mindy & others) along with Nolan's 14 finisher Eric Leedubbed "Baby Soft" after showing me his silky smooth stems. Slusher paced ClarkieKatie paced Adam Bohr and Eric paced Nick Pedatella. Ran in to Faster-Than-Shelby Aaron at Twin Lakes as we were waiting for our respective runners. I'll see him again at The Bear. 
Me & Katie at Twin Lakes

Leadville "Virgins" -- please read:

If you have not been to Leadville, you need to understand that this mountain 100-miler is not like any other one you'll find here in the US. (Someone in the know can correct me if I'm wrong on this.). Mountain hundos tend to have small numbers -- a few hundred at most -- and are low-key, family-style affairs with a unique, personal touch. This is not the ambiance of the 1,000+ participant, Corporate-run Leadville 100. If you're hoping that your $300 fee will get you some sweet schwag, you'll be disappointed. This year, runners got a plastic water bottle and if they went to the expo, a t-shirt. Your aid stations, while manned by a wonderful group of volunteers, will be standardized with not enough food or supplies for the back-of-the-packers. No special homemade potato soup, no grilled cheese sandwiches, no pancakes & bacon, no perogies, no candy sushi rolls, no music, no disco balls, no costumes -- no personality to them whatsoever.

In contrast, the aid stations at other trail 100s take on a personality of their own and while they have the standard fare, they often include special homemade treats since they are run by different groups of people. The Barr Trail Mountain Race has a contest among the 9 aid stations which are manned by local high school cross country teams. Since runners vote for their favorites, these volunteers aim to impress. The winning AS gets a portion of the entry fees for their XC program. Wouldn't you like run through those aid stations, knowing they want you to remember them at the end?

Those of you who plan to crew/pace a runner for the first time need to understand that traffic at Fish Hatchery, Twin Lakes and Winfield are terrible due to the number of crew vehicles for the runners and no good parking/traffic plans. Winfield is the worst. Avoid that one, if possible. Many people, despite allowing plenty of time, had to walk 1-2 miles to get to the aid stations in order to try and meet their runner on time. If there is only one vehicle trying to get to all the aid stations, you can expect to be very frustrated and stressed as you sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic behind 40 other cars. 

After we sat for over an hour trying to get to Winfield, I finally got out of the car and hit the road on foot, along with a lot of other folks. I had about two miles to walk and I was trying to save my legs, knowing that I had 50 miles to do still. I was so angry at the race management at that point that it took me a second to notice that a car coming the other way had stopped next to me. The window rolled down and it was my friend, Meghan. She was leaving the aid station after covering the race for iRunFar. I briefly choked up to see a friendly face on that dusty road. I bitched about the logistic nightmare and she lent a sympathetic ear. She encouraged me to hitch a ride with a car headed in and that's just what a did. Got in an SUV with five other crews/pacers including RunColo's Justin Mock. I was thankful for the lift and to avoid breathing in any more dust from the road.
A bright light in a dark moment
I'd suggest that it's best to have two vehicles arriving at least two hours ahead of time, if you plan to crew someone who is in the mid to back-of-the-pack at all the aid stations. Otherwise, just park yourself at Twin Lakes and plan to hang out all day to make for the best crewing experience.

For more first-hand impressions of what it was like to run/crew/pace at Leadville this year, just read other 2013 race reports as well as the comments section of the following links:

I encourage you to get the facts before you hand over money to Lifetime Fitness. As long as they have 1200 people wanting to enter the race, they have little incentive to change things. If running LV is important to your running goals, then please be prepared and help prepare your crew ahead of time for the logistical mess so they can plan accordingly.   

If like me, you get stuck in Winfield with a bottle of Ginger Ale for your runner, one way to keep it cool is to stick it in the river that runs along the road:
How's that for improvising? 
Then, look up and enjoy the Westerly view...

...keeping in mind that despite the hassle of getting yourself there, you have the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful scenic trails with hundreds of other folks. Be grateful for legs that work and let this be a kind of benediction for you before you take off with your runner up the steep climb to Hope Pass.

As for me, I think this may be my one and only Leadville pacing experience. I find the smaller mountain hundos much more to my liking. Glad I did it once, but I expect it to be my last.

On the homefront, I now have a preschooler and a 1st grader. He just lost his second tooth and she is wearing big girl underwear and keeping 'em dry. 
Life's a trip. I love these kiddos.

What's up next for me? I'll be pacing a friend over Mt. Princeton as he goes after the Nolan's 14 on Labor Day weekend. Wasatch is the following weekend. Looks like I'll be pacing a guy from DC in his first run there (after finishes at WS, Grindstone and two others). I expect it to soundly kick my arse, but it'll be good prep for The Bear. 

In musical news, Tired Pony has just released their second album...in the UK. We get it here in October. Here's the video of their first single. You're welcome.

Happy Trails,


05 August 2013

Monday Miscellany

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” 
- Flannery O'Connor
Wildflowers smothering the single track at Limbaugh Canyon
Things are finally settling down into a routine in our house after two months of house hunting, packing, pacing, moving, vacationing & settling in. School starts up in a couple of weeks and I'm looking forward to the fall race events coming up in a few short weeks.

The past couple of weeks I have been bringing my training back up to the levels where it was at prior to the Bighorn taper. It's been pretty inconsistent since mid-June and now it seems to be back on track. 


Lots of changes going on, starting with my eating habits. I took the kids off cows milk and we now drink almond milk. I tried my first coconut milk yogurt today and really liked that. Just plain, greek style, with a few drops of agave on top to sweeten it up. I love mixed berries with greek yogurt so this way I can still keep it on the menu. 
Kale sauteed in avocado oil
I'm eating more veggies and am researching a wheat-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diet in order to see how it impacts my weight and my training. Feel free to comment on what you know about this -- I want to be ever-so-careful not to lose muscle mass as I hope to lose the weight that I acquired decades ago. There seems to be a lot of "-free" diets that work for endurance athletes. I hope to keep as many whole foods in my daily menu, but keep it simple so I'm not having to cook too terribly much. I'm keeping lean meats as I can't live without a bit of that each day.


With Leadville and Wasatch coming up in the next 5 weeks, I've been kicking around the idea of running The Bear 100 with Sheila at the end of September. Not just pacing her, but joining her for the whole thing. My pal Steve thinks that with my 50 mile pacings over the summer that I'd be ready for it. He also thought that Sheila would enjoy the company all the way through. Prez told me that it would be a good first mountain 100 and that after pacing 50 over the summer, I'd be wanting to run my own race by September. Yep.

Meghan was the voice of moderation asking me why I felt I needed to do it this year when these races will be around for years to come. Good question to ask. I feel that this is the opportune time to do it as I have the time to train that I won't have when I start working again and I'm already getting the training runs in with pacing Sheila. This has been the year of taking advantage of opportunities that come my way and taking risks I never have before. Made sense from that perspective. But I totally get where she's coming from, as it's a common problem to overdue things in in this sport.

I continued to chew on it, not making any real commitment as the race hasn't filled up. Last week, I shot off an email to ultra-running coach Ian Torrence, gave him my running resume and asked what he thought. (The dude's done over 150 ultras in the past 20 years, so he knows plenty.) He said with my pacing duties and benefit of personal coaching over the next 8 weeks, I'd have the tools needed to support my goal of finishing The Bear. So, I signed up with McMillan Running for two months to ensure my training is dialed for attempting my first hundo.

I'm working specifically with Emily Harrison, who is an elite marathoner that has burst onto the ultra scene in the past year and had three solid performances at JFK 50 mile (2nd place), Moab Red Hot 55k (1st place, CR) and Western States 100 (7th place). She is coaching ultrarunners along with Ian, who reviews training plans and is also available to me as a resource. Ready to get my arse kicked around a bit between now and Sept 27th.


A couple of weeks ago, I found out that one of my tweeps (Twitter pal) was going to be in Denver for the week and we enjoyed a fun 13 miler at Mt. Falcon. He totally smoked me on the climbs, but I was able to get a little redemption on the descents. Say what you want about social media, it's been a great way to meet and get to know runners to share trails & stories with. Thanks, Slang!
Tweep run
Red Rocks
With Leadville less than two weeks away, Sheila and I headed over to Twin Lakes to go up and over Hope Pass and back again. 7 hours, 20 miles and 6,200 ft of climb later, I was done. I. was. done. Get it? I am glad to only be going over that pass once on race day, tho' climbing the steep side may still have me cursing between hyperventilation spasms. Leadville may be easy to get in to, but it averages about a 50% finisher rate... clearly, its climbs and elevation are tough. I got a taste of it this weekend.

Crossing Lake Creek
Sheila heading up
Mt Hope
Looking back at Leadville
Leaping for joy with Belford & friends looking on
Talus is tolerable with stellar views
My Bajadas wanted a break. I complied.
Sheila and her Masochists had to go and show us up, dangit.
Saw our friend Samantha as she was headed up
Pretty Aspens
Looking at the saddle and the end of the steep climb
Rushing water for nature sounds on the way down
7 hours later, the winner is... Mountain Masochists
Besides Samantha, we saw two other familiar faces on the trail -- Adam, who I met at Hardrock where he was pacing 11th place finisher Jonathan Robinson and nano-celeb-turned-micro-celeb Nick Pedatella. I'm sure he totally recognized me as the chick who introduced herself at the sole aid station during January's Fat Ass run in the Springs... Though he seems to fly under the radar with no blog to promote himself, Nick is a solid performer out on the trails and if you follow this sport, you know who he is 'cause he's been at the big races and gets on the podium. He won The Bear, for cryin' out loud. Even on a Friday afternoon, you just never know who you'll run in to. This world of ultrarunners is really quite small.

The Civil Wars' second album releases tomorrow. This new album, written and recorded after their public separation last year and admission of internal discord, only increases the intensity and deepens the textures of their music together. As Joy has said, "If you want to know what happened to the band, listen to the album". Here's a start:

Happy Trails,