The Leadville Trail 100 is 11 days, 13 hours and 30 minutes from now. To say I am excited for this event is a gross understatement. To suggest I haven’t gone to bed each night, or woken up the following morning, for the past several weeks in a row, thinking of the race, would be a herculean underestimate of my focus and desire for a good race. What is not to be excited about as Leadville nears? How is it possible to over obsess on something that one considers as valuable to life as sunshine to a tree? Why does a stream flow downhill is nearly as relevant a question, in my opinion. The answer is just as obvious.
Given the fact that I am enjoying the pretty side of August summer weather high up, in the Rockies, with trails leading into the forest in every direction, except down, I can’t say that I am fully excited about tapering at the moment. Imagine yourself in elementary school during recess, seated Indian-style in time out, staring out to the playground, watching friends run, swing and laugh; you, squirming against a brick wall, chomping at the bit. Yeah, it’s kind of like that here for me now. The sun is shining. The aspen leaves are swirling and dancing in unison as the wind passes through. The mountains are tall and green. Beckoning. And I’m mostly sitting on my ass. Damn this chair! Damn the taper!
Yes, this is one of the ways we running fanatics, naturally pre-disposed to obsess, obsess over upcoming races. We complain when we’re not doing anything other than running and then we complain about not running when we actually stop running. It’s a crazy, mixed up world.
Given that Leadville is now 11 days, 13 hours and 28 minutes from now I thought I might share my 2010 Leadville Trail 100 race report with the readers of this blog, the goal being to perhaps provide inspiration for first time Leadville runners, or hopeful future Leadville runners, or merely provide a wee bit of semi-entertainment for those with nothing better to do. By the way, during August, 2010, the editors of this blog had yet to coalesce around a media stratagem, thus the launch of “Tails and Trails” had yet to occur until just before Wasatch only weeks later. Therefore, what you are about to read below was emailed (gasp!) to family and friends in the days after the event.
Leadville started Saturday morning like pretty much every other ultra race I’ve ever run: early and cold. It didn’t take long for the excitement to build as a critical mass of 630+ runners toed the start line at 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville, CO. I was calm and ready, despite a lackluster night’s sleep. Sure, I had been in Colorado the past few weeks acclimating to the dry air and lack of oxygen at high altitude but race day was here and surviving Leadville’s 10,200 base elevation over the course of 100 miles would prove a great challenge.
Like every morning the clock eventually struck 4:00am only this time a sea of thoroughbred runners from over 40 US states and numerous countries began hightailing it due west on 6th Street. Though not something I require for motivation or generally seek out in races, the energy of the town during the Leadville Trail 100 is palatable. 6th Street residents huddled in their pajamas on their front lawns, blaring music, cheering and spinning glow sticks as we sailed by. Clearly, we runners we not the only scantily dressed loonies hanging outside at 4am in 39 degree weather. The excitement was fun while it lasted but the day beckoned, and the mass of runners headed for the first marked trail out of town.
I mentioned this race was crowded but what I failed to mention was how ambitious the crowd appeared to be. I came to Leadville planning to run the first several miles, like 40ish, conservatively. I wanted- nay- needed to warm up my legs and my lungs. Proudly, I succeeded in this goal and immediately realized others did not share my vision. I pulled into the first aid station, MayQueen – mile 13.5, in 40th or something place. Fine by me. I was happy to let these runners carry on, able bodied or not. I knew they would come back to me later in the day. And I didn’t care much really anyway if they didn’t. My obsession over the race in the preceding weeks taught me that if I hit my time goal an overall satisfactory finish place would be secure. After all, this was the 28th running on the Leadville 100. Ready data exists and I took advantage.
Leaving MayQueen I ran with Rod Bien and Jason Lantz, two very kind and capable athletes, all the way up to Sugarloaf summit, minus a bit of speed hiking at the base over steep pitches of technical grade. We passed several runners through this stretch. Unfortunately Friday’s meals did not sit well with me up to this point so I marked the trail a few times. I pushed it only slightly going down the backside of Sugarloaf, aka “The Powerline”, and into Fish Hatchery, mile 23.5, because I wanted to make up for unwelcomed pit stops and maintain a certain level of consistency with desired split times. I breezed through Fish Hatchery and kept running in the company of Jason and Rod, and a few other runners we picked up along the way. I was content and ‘running within myself,’ as they say. This part of the course, scenery wise is excellent, only the actual course itself is not. Flat, paved road for about 5 miles. Trails and gradual hills soon returned and we arrived at Halfmoon aid station, mile 30. After Halfmoon things spread out a bit in my company and I motored up and down rolling trails often by myself to Twin Lakes, mile 39.5. This is where I saw Gaby for the first time. I arrived in 17th place and behind on my time goal. “What’s up” she asked. “It’s hard” replied. I realized then and there my overall goal time was likely a bit too ambitious but also knew I could easily pull ahead of several runners still in front of me. And that I soon would.
Twin Lakes crouches beautifully at 9,200 feet, the lowest elevation grade of the course, and at the antapex of several large, imposing mountains. From here the course crosses a river and traverses a beautiful meadow for about 1.5 miles and them, bam!, winds straight up Hope Pass to 12,600. By the time I reached Hope Summit, mile 45, I was in 8th place. My name is Neal, and I like to climb. Running down the backside of Hope then up to the 50 mile turnaround point at Winfield was exceedingly beautiful but otherwise rather uneventful. I remained in control, ate, drank, etc. and stay focused on the real work ahead of me: grunting back up Hope in reverse. This is an extremely daunting task under the best of circumstances- altitude or not, race day or not. Negotiating trail space with the plethora of descending runners as I re-climbed Hope was tricky, even though most of the runners were very gracious and granted me right of way since I was head of them. All was well. During my re-climb up Hope I was, shockingly, passed by a very loudly wheezing runner and his pacer, and then I also passed two additional runners. 7th place. I re-entered Twin Lakes, mile 60.5, moments behind Wheezy. I saw Gaby again, joined up with my extremely fit pacer, Tony Stafford from Boulder, CO, and exited the aid station in 6th place. Wheezy was apparently content to hang out at the aid station longer than me.
Tony and I motored up the climb out of Twin Lakes and back on to Halfmoon with the hopes of making up some of my lost goal time. We succeeded and actually gained a few minutes over this stretch. The only persistent and annoying problem I continued having all day up to this point was drinking too much water, which caused me to pee. A lot. The calorie soaked Cliff blocks I gleefully munched on all day made me feel more thirsty than I probably actually was. So I drank. And I peed. This sucked. Seconds count. Even in a 100 miler. Anyway, from Halfmoon it was on to more flat trails, then back on to the terrible paved road section once again, where we saw 5th Jason Koop plopping along roughly 1.5 miles off in the distance. Tony assured me not to worry about him at that moment, focus on running- and not walking- into Fish Hatchery. We made it to Fish Hatchery after a sad pace on the roads. At this point I would need to eat and drink in preparation for tackling the day’s next great challenge: grunting up Powerline. Gaby hustled us in and out of Fish Hatchery, expeditiously as usual, and we were on our way up Powerline. It didn’t take long to catch Jason on the climb. He was very fatigued. We exchanged pleasantries and he pointed out that it was at about this point in the race at Western States in June where I passed him. “Really?” I thought. “Pleased to meet you” I responded politely. Then kept going. 5th place. My stomach is usually excellent during races and could digest an anvil if need be. During these hours of the race it taught me who was boss and I was forced to ingest calories the way Mom had always taught me- though I never properly learned- slowly. Heck, it could have been worse and I knew it. Fortunately a swig of water with every bite made things tolerable.
Fortunately we rounded out Sugarloaf summit and moved somewhat sprightly down the front sloping side to Hangerman Pass Road, then on to the final technically trailed wooded base of Sugarloaf during the fleeting moments of sunlight before landing back at MayQueen, mile 86.5. Ah, MayQueen…the final pit stop before finishing. As we threw on our left turn signal and pulled into the MayQueen some spectator shouted “you’ve moved up all day. Great job. You’re in 4th.” “4th” I thought? Gaby swooped on the scene like a paramedic, the way she always does, and whispered “Anton DNF’d”. I inhaled a small cup of burnt noodles, a few other things I can’t remember, drank three types of fluid, ate some more, picked up a light, and was gone through the backside of the tent in which I had entered about 14 hours earlier. Leadville lights glimmered in the distance.
The Turquoise Lake waterfront trails were nice. Oh how it would have been fun to run them in daylight. Unfortunately however for the second time this day I would half-circumnavigate Turquoise Lake courtesy of my not-very-powerful LED headlamp. I kept eating and Tony kept the pace. I was far behind on my time splits and as a consequence was unwilling to surrender my hard earned 4th place. So we plodded along. I figured any place greater was unlikely thanks to the raucous campsite cheers we heard in the distance as my nearest competitor, Dylan Bowman, passed through. We finally made it off the lake trails and on to gravel roads for the last few slow and ascending miles back to the finish at 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville. With no other competitors in sight we anticlimactically crossed finish line threshold at 18:47:54. All in all a great day. A big thank you and congrats to Gaby, Tony, race official people, all of the great volunteers, spectators and competitors. I will definitely return to Leadville. No question.
Race results here. Race pictures here. The first few pictures are from Aspen and Independence Pass the weekend prior. And, yes, those are pictures of Christopher McDougall (Born To Run author), Jake Gyllenhall and Peter Skarsgard in the mix. Peter is a runner and paced for a friend. They came in not longer than me and we chatted for a bit; I didn’t recognize him at the time and impolitely texted race results like a teenager during our conversation. The next morning he and Jake approached me and Gaby at our breakfast table and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation about the race, running in general, running shoes, my Grand Slam endeavor and a few other fitness related topics. Peter seemed very interested in learning more about possibly progressing into ultras. Jake on the other hand was very engaging thogh not as talkative. (I think he liked Gaby.) They both stated they will keep an eye on my Grand Slam progress through Wasatch. The pressure! By the way, this is as much celebrity gossip as you will ever hear from me. So, enjoy.
Thanks for reading.