Earlier this summer, Whiting mentioned that her husband, Doug, was going to be racing the Leadville 100 Trail Race for the fourth time, and she asked if Trent and I had any interest in pacing him. Any interest? Are you kidding?! We jumped at the chance to be involved in this iconic event: a 100 mile ultrarun that begins and ends in Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated city in the United States, sitting at 10,200 feet above sea level.
Even though Doug had sent detailed instructions for pacing, Trent and I really didn’t have any idea what we were doing when we drove up to the mountains on Saturday morning. We met Whiting and the rest of the crew in Twin Lakes, which is where one of the checkpoints is located. We left my car in Twin Lakes, jumped into Whiting’s car, and headed to Winfield, which was the turnaround point of this out-and-back race.
|Doug's detailed instructions for my leg.|
Each runner has a Crew Chief. Doug’s was Whiting. This person is in charge of meeting up with the runner at each checkpoint and providing fresh shoes, clothes, food, drink, and support. She was also in charge of Doug’s pacing crew. Once a runner reaches the halfway point, they can have a pacer to run along with them, keep them company, remind them to eat and drink, and basically do whatever it takes to get them to the checkpoints along the course before the time cutoffs. Doug had 4 pacers: Trent, me, Maggie, and Ariana. Each of us would take a section of the course after mile 50.
I still can’t wrap my head around what it means to run 100 miles in a row. The Leadville course record is somewhere around 16 hours. The final cutoff is 30 hours. I've completed more than a couple of ironman races around the 15-hour range. I cannot fathom completing that and then TURNING AROUND AND RUNNING BACK. This is what these athletes intended to do.
I was told that less than 50% of the ~700 entrants finish the race each year. As I watched the runners entering the halfway checkpoint at mile 50, I started to understand why. Nobody looked cute or happy. By that point, they had been running for at least 12 hours. They had crossed over a mountain pass (Hope Pass), where they were rained and hailed on. They were having stomach issues, likely from the heat and altitude. Most of them looked miserable and hopeful at the same time as they ran into the checkpoint at Winfield.
We stood waiting for Doug to come around the corner. And waited. And waited. Waited until his expected arrival time had come and gone. Waited until there were only 15 minutes left before the 6:30 pm time cutoff. And then he came running around the corner, and we all cheered. Yelled at him to hurry up and cross the timing mat to make sure he was officially within the time cutoff. Trent carried a backpack containing food, water, and gear for both of them, and they ran away again, up and over Hope Pass, back toward the town of Twin Lakes where they had to arrive before the cutoff time of 10 pm.
|Doug accompanied by Trent, Whiting, and Melina, their daughter.|
|Maggie is pointing at Hope Pass from Winfield.|
After a quick transition, Doug and I were off and running. Well, hiking. At this point, it was 10 pm and Doug had been racing for 16 hours. And we were walking straight up a gravel hill. As I huffed and puffed, Doug nonchalantly said, "this part lasts about 4 miles, and then it levels out a bit." As we climbed, the air temperature dropped. Eventually we could see each breath in the light of our headlamps.
We stopped every few minutes for Doug to take water from the hydration pack that I was wearing. He was great about remembering to eat. We paid attention to the time; we had to be at the Half Pipe checkpoint by 1:15 am. It took us nearly 3 hours to hike/walk/run/shuffle the 8.5 miles that it took to get there. We arrived with 10 minutes to spare.
We needed to complete our next 6 mile segment by 3 am. A 16 minute mile pace is what was necessary, and although that sounds easy, it wasn't. When we were "fast hiking" we went at a 16:30ish pace. When we were running, we ran 11:30s.
I learned that Doug moves faster when he's talking, especially when he's talking about Whiting and his girls, but as we continued into the night, there were longer silences. When my legs became tired after several hours, I couldn't possibly complain, because Doug had been on his feet for nearly a day. There were green glowsticks tied to the trees to guide us, and we ran from glowstick to glowstick, willing each other to move forward.
In the 14.5 miles that I traveled with Doug, we ran/hiked on singletrack trail, jeep paths and asphalt. The final mile was across a prairie dog field, where we had to be aware of holes we might fall in. The course seemed beautiful, but of course I couldn't see it. Every once in a while I glanced up at the sky, and beyond the glow of my headlamp I saw the brightest stars I've ever seen. The experience of running at night in the middle of nowhere was surreal and beautiful.
|The night sky. Photo by Daniel Benjamin Morefield, a local photographer who was camping at Twin Lakes.|
We knew that Maggie's section would be a challenge because it covered some difficult terrain and Doug had no time to spare to slow down. He needed to arrive at the May Queen checkpoint by 6:30 am. He didn't get there in time, and after 87 miles, the race officials at May Queen cut his wristband.
|Doug: Ultrarunner Extraordinaire|
I left Leadville on Sunday feeling sore, tired, and completely inspired. Although I've learned to enjoy trail running, there has never been anything appealing to me about ultrarunning...until this weekend. As we were leaving the cabin on Sunday, I told Whiting that I wanted to try a trail race. I think she surprised both of us by agreeing that she'd like to try one too. So of course, the next logical step was for both of us to sign up for a 50k at the end of September! I'm so excited to be excited to have something new to train for. There's no expectations because this will be our first one, and I love that. I can't wait!
I've told them a few times but I want to say it again here: I'm so grateful that Whiting and Doug invited us to join them this weekend. It was such a powerful experience and has opened a new chapter of things to come. When we signed up for the 50k today, I felt giddy with excitement and fear. I haven't felt this inspired in a while, and I love it. Hopefully I'll have a great race report for you in approximately 6 weeks!