Saturday, December 1, 2012

Leadville Trail 100 Race Report

There is only one word to describe the Leadville Trail 100 run – EPIC. 

Living in Nashville, the thing that concerned me the most about running Leadville was the altitude. I went out to Colorado two weeks before the race to acclimate and ease my concern.  I was able to stay in Boulder with a good friend of mine (thanks Lucas!) who helped me relax before my big day. Thursday before the race I picked up my mom and wife, and we drove to Silverthorne where we stayed the night.  On Friday morning we drove into Leadville so I could check in and enjoy the pre-race atmosphere.  I was happy when I weighed in at a light 138.6 lbs.  After check in and registration, I went over some last minute details with my mom and wife about their job responsibilities as my crew.  They were an important part of my race and I had all the confidence in them.  That night I fell asleep surprisingly easy and slept soundly until it was time to get up at 3 a.m.

Standing on the start line at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, I tried to soak in the atmosphere as much as possible.  The time was here.  I worked the last nine months for this moment.  I wanted to enjoy this day as much as one possibly can during a 100 mile run.  If you have never experienced the Leadville Trail 100 it is something I highly recommend. 

All 800 runners were standing on the corner of 6th and Harrison - anxious and ready to run a legendary race in which they will be tested to the limit, both physically and mentally.

Start to May Queen 0-13.5 miles

The gun goes off and 800 runners run down the Boulevard towards Turquoise Lake in the early morning darkness.  I kept reminding myself that I had 100 miles to run, and I needed to take it out slowly.  I settled in to a nice 8:30 pace within the first few miles.  I made my way to the front of the group I was running with so I would have a clear trail to run on. I knew it was nearly impossible to pass on the Turquoise Lake trail.  My goal during this part of the race was to make it to May Queen without falling and to get there in less than two hours.  As I turned off of the trail and onto the campground road, I could hear and see the crowd.  Hundreds of people lined both sides of the street to cheer on the runners.  I looked at my watch and saw 1:55.  PERFECT.  I found my crew and handed them my jacket and shirt.  I swapped water bottles, grabbed some medjool dates and a banana, and then took off running.  After running a few steps, I realized I forgot the most important thing – so I ran back to kiss my wife.  This was the routine at every aid station for the rest of the race.

May Queen to Fish Hatchery 13.5 – 23.5 miles

Hagerman Pass Road
After leaving May Queen aid station I had to run up the Colorado Trail to Sugarloaf Pass, the second highest point in the race at 11,100 feet above sea level.  As soon as I hit Hagerman, which is a dirt road leading to Sugarloaf Pass, I started power hiking.  Looking down to Turquoise Lake was absolutely stunning.  The sun was rising over the lake, and I was able to concentrate on the breathtaking views rather than the running part of the race.  I did not want to destroy my quads on the 3-ish mile run down Powerline to Fish Hatchery, so I took it nice and easy.  I chatted with Darcy Africa, the winner of Hardrock 100, for a little bit. I arrived at Fish Hatchery at 3:42 into the race.  I gave my water bottle to my crew and then checked in.  Inside the aid station I grabbed a handful of watermelon and headed back to my crew.  They filled my pack with dates.  I grabbed another banana and stole another kiss from my wife. I was feeling great and refreshed - Tree Line was my next destination.

Fish Hatchery to Tree Line 23.5 to 27 miles

This is a flat four mile section on paved road.  Most people complain about this section but I actually enjoyed it.  Maybe I enjoyed it because I do not mind running on road and also because you have Mt. Elbert (14,433 feet) and Mt. Massive (14,421 feet) in the background. I started feeling pain in my legs when I was running into Tree Line at mile 27.  There were only a few cars parked at Tree Line so it was easy to find my crew.  I grabbed more dates, a new water bottle and some Advil.  Of course, before I left I kissed my wife.

Tree Line to Twin Lakes 27 to 39 miles

I started to feel my first low point of the race during this section as the thought of running 30 hours crept into my mind.  I was trying to stay optimistic but I was beginning to hurt.  I passed through the Half Pipe aid station and made a rookie mistake.  I did not fill up my water bottle even though it was only half empty.  As I left Half Pipe, I had about 9 miles to go before reaching Twin Lakes.  I was trying to eat as many dates as possible in order to stay ahead of my nutrition.  The lowest point in my race came about 5 miles from Twin Lakes.  I ran out of water and I was walking.  One runner caught up to me and told me there was a water station just around the corner.   When I arrived, I quickly filled up my water bottle and took off running again.  As I ran down the last steep downhill into Twin Lakes, I felt a burst of energy.  I looked at my watch and saw 6:27. I was about an hour ahead of schedule and in good spirits.  I was on a runner’s high and wanted to spend as little time as possible at Twin Lakes’ aid station.  I grabbed a bunch of fruit and had my crew fill up my water bottles.  While I was changing my shoes my wife informed me that I was around 33rd place.  I was excited but at the same time I realized I still had 60 miles to go, and I knew the toughest climb of the race was yet to come.  I told her I wasn’t thinking about what place I was in because my goal was to break 25 hours.  I kissed my wife and headed to climb up Hope Pass.

Twin Lakes to Winfield 39.5 to 50 miles

I had so much energy after leaving Twin Lakes that I had to restrain from running too fast in the marsh leading to the base of Hope Pass.  I crossed the river, which felt good on my legs, and ran as far as I could up the climb (which wasn’t very far).  I had climbed the front side of Hope Pass twice so I knew what to expect.  I settled into a hiking pace that I felt I could hold to the top without destroying my legs.  As I came out of the tree line I could see Hopeless aid station.  This made me smile as I knew I was only a few hundred yards from the top of the climb.  Hopeless aid station is Leadville’s most famous aid station because it is staffed by llamas and their farmers.  A kid came running up to me and asked what I needed.  She grabbed my bottle and ran ahead to fill it up.  By the time I got there my bottle was ready.  I grabbed some fruit and continued hiking my way to the top.  I did not want to spend any time on top of the pass so I leaned into a jog and made my way down the backside of the mountain. 
Top of Hope Pass
I had not seen this side of the mountain so I did not know what to expect, other than what I read in race reports.  At certain points while running, I had to grab hold of a tree to slow myself down.  I got a couple of miles from Winfield and saw Mike Arnstein going up the mountain.  He told me I was looking better than most people in the Winfield aid station.  This information helped me remain on a runner's high.  I continued to run down to the aid station slowly. I turned the corner and saw Winfield.  I looked at my watch and noticed I was 9:36 into the race.  I was about 1 ½ hours above my goal time.  I saw my crew and dropped my water bottles off with them so that I could weigh in.  136.2 lbs. – perfect.  I had only dropped two pounds. 
Running into Winfield

The night before the race, Mike Arnstein sent me a text asking if I wanted a pacer to pace me for some of the race.  Since I didn’t have one lined up, I said yes.  Mike gave me Zach’s number and told my crew to call him in the morning.  Zach met me at Winfield, and we headed off to climb the backside of Hope Pass.

Winfield to Twin Lakes 50 to 60.5 miles

As I was running out of Winfield with Zach, I updated him on my energy levels, goals for this section and expectations from him.  There were only a few things I needed from Zach.  One was to make sure I eat every hour and the other was to GET ME TO THE TOP.  We settled into a nice hiking pace.  To say the back side of Hope Pass is steep is a complete understatement.  The 25% grade made me want to quit at times but Zach did a great job keeping me focused.  Once we crested the top of Hope Pass, we could see our destination into Leadville.  It was a long ways away.  We arrived at Hopeless aid station, where I refilled my bottles and grabbed as much fruit as I could.  I ate plenty of watermelon, bananas and oranges.  At this point in the race, I had high spirits and wanted to get back to Twin Lakes aid station as quickly as possible.  The river crossing is just under a mile from Twin Lakes.  I had Zach run ahead of me to find my crew and let them know I was coming.  I got into Twin Lakes at 12:52 into the race.  Once again my crew did a perfect job and had everything ready for me.  My wife told me I was around 30th place and once again I told her I did not care. I changed back into my dry shoes, stuffed my face with watermelon, refilled my bottles and kissed my wife all within 3 minutes. 
Short Steep Hill leaving Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes to Tree Line 60.5 to 73 miles

I climbed up the short steep hill out of Twin Lakes and made my way towards Tree Line without Zach.  With less than 40 miles left in the race I decided to test my limits.  My game plan coming into the race was to make it to the 60 miles mark feeling well and then start pushing, so that is what I did.  I caught a couple of people and ran along side them for a few miles.  We started chatting, and they asked me about my goal time.  When I said I hoped to finish in less than 25 hours, they told me I could now walk to the finish line and get in under that time.  After hearing this, I had a burst of energy go through my body and started to run.  I pulled into Tree Line where my crew was waiting for me.  Knowing I only had 4 miles to Fish Hatchery, this stop would be less than a minute.  My crew refilled my bottle - I kissed my wife and then started to run again.

Tree Line to Fish Hatchery 73 to 77.5 miles

I knew I would have to climb Powerline after Fish Hatchery, so I decided to take it easy in this section.  I settled into a run/walk combination until I could see the lights of Fish Hatchery.  It was starting to get dark, and I wanted to make it to the aid station before sunset.  I ran into Fish Hatchery at 16:15.  Full of energy, I dropped my bottle off and told my crew what I needed as I ran into the aid station.  Once again I grabbed as much fruit as I could and went back to my crew.  Zach was nice enough to pace me for another 10 mile section.  I kissed my wife, and then Zach and I took off for Powerline with our headlamps. 

Fish Hatchery to May Queen 77.7 to 86.5 miles

While hiking up Powerline, I could only see one set of headlights in front of me.  I knew I was somewhere in the top 25 but I didn’t want to worry about my place in the race until I got to the top.  A lot of runners end their race at Powerline.  It is a cold, dark, long and steep climb.  So once again Zach’s job was to get me to the top.  Another reason Powerline is so demoralizing is because it’s full of false summits.  Every time you think you’ve reached the top, you turn the corner and have to start climbing again.  I knew this coming in to the race, but after 80 miles of running,I forgot exactly how many false summits there were.  It was cold and dark but my spirits were still high.  When I caught the guy in front of me we were at the top of the climb. I remembered Mike Arnstein told me once I reached the top of Powerline, I can run as fast as I can down and into May Queen.  So that is what I did.  I told Zach to give me my handheld flashlight, and I would see him at the finish.  I took off at what felt like a full sprint down the dirt road.  I knew that I was going to finish well under my goal time, so now I began to focus on my finishing place.  After a couple of minutes of running, I looked back and saw no one.  I was running so fast that I left the other racer as well as my pacer.  I was at a full out sprint and my next destination was May Queen.  As I turned off of the dirt road and on to the trail I could hear the music playing at the aid station but I knew I still had a couple of miles to go.  I kept a fast pace and kept an eye on the trail.  The last thing I wanted to do was fall.  When I got off the trail and stepped onto the road, I was yelling at the top of my lungs.  I was 18:43 into my race with only 13.5 miles to go.  I passed my crew and went straight to the aid station.  I grabbed all of the fruit I could fit into both hands.  My wife hooked my iPod to me, I kissed her and took off running into the darkness; only wearing my shorts and a light jacket around my waist. 

May Queen to the Finish 86.5 to 100 miles

Finishing in less than 25 hours was a given at this point, however I knew I was in the top 25 and wanted to stay there.  I left May Queen and began running on Turquoise Lake trail.  I had a routine of running for as long as I could, and then allowing myself to walk for 30 seconds when I felt like I could no longer run. After running up a small hill, I noticed someone in front of me walking.  I passed him and then another person along Turquoise Lake trail.  It was in the middle of the night and getting cold.  To keep my mind from concentrating on the cold, I started trying to figure out what place I was in.  I came up to a road and was unsure where to go.  To the right of the trail was a runner curled up in a sleeping bag with his crew surrounding him. One of his crew members was nice enough to point me in the direction to the finish line.  I was approximately 6 miles from finishing! Once I got back on the trail I started running again until I reached a dirt road. I knew this meant I only had 5 miles left until I reached the finish. I turned onto the Boulevard and began the three mile climb.  I settled into a brisk hiking pace until I reached a point where the Boulevard is not so steep.  I looked up and saw four sets of headlamps in front of me.  This gave me the opportunity to pass two more runners.  Before I knew it, my competitive side was out in full swing. I immediately began running again.  As I passed the first person, he told me to go and get the guy in front of him.  I took his advice and was off.  I turned onto 6th Street, which was the final mile.  I crested the top of the last hill and could see the finish line.  I took one more glance behind me to make sure no one was coming.  I soaked it all in and crossed the line yelling and screaming in 21:26 hours.  I had finished in under my goal and would get a BIG BUCKLE. I finished in 19th place and 4th in my age group.
Feeling like a million bucks!

Post Race

One of the great traditions about Leadville is that the race organizer, Merilee, gives every finisher a hug and medal after crossing the finish line.  After receiving my hug and medal from Merilee, I walked over to the med tent for my final weigh in.  134.6 lbs. - I only lost 4 lbs during race!  You would think I would have been exhausted after running 100 miles in the mountains, but I was full of energy and unable to sit still.  After I ate some food, I slowly made my way back to the hotel.  Finally, the soreness started to kick in.  I took a shower and laid down to go to bed; however, my mind kept racing with the events of the day.  Everything about that race was perfect. 

I ended up getting only 3 hours of sleep that night.  I woke up the next day to watch the rest of the finishers come in.  I have so much respect for the runners who are out there all night.

Having finished Leadville in 19th place in only my second ultra and my first 100 miler, I came to one realization - the all raw fruit and vegetable diet works.  It worked better than I ever imagined it could.  I ran the entire race on bananas, dates, watermelon and oranges.  I consumed 3 gels during the race, only because I needed quick calories in between aid stations. 

As you can imagine, I had a lot of people question my diet during my training. However, I experienced great results, largely in part to eating only raw fruits and vegetables. If you’re interested in learning more about this diet, please visit 

Me, Mike Arnstein and Zach Newquist (all Fruitarians)
Most importantly, I have to say a huge thank you to my wife and mom.  They were my crew and a big part of my race.  I made a lot of sacrifices while training for Leadville, and I’m blessed to have a very understanding and supportive wife who encourages me every step of the way. I would also like to thank my pacer, Zach.  He kept my spirits high and made sure I stayed focused.

Leadville is the most exhilarating race I have participated in, and I look forward to returning to beat my current finishing time within the next three years!

El Plato Grande

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