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,



  1. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of the race!

    And love the picture of the kiddos. Man they are getting so big!

    To your previous comment - ran the half marathon in May. Had stomach issues, so my time ended up being slower than I would have liked, but did it!

    You have a wonderful time of year to be unemployed, running and training. : )

    1. Cat, awesome job on your first half! I told you that you could do it.

      Now of course, you need to plan on doing full on 26.2. Remember, if you can walk/run, you can get it done!