Saturday, September 8, 2018

Leadville Trail 100 Race Report 2018

Three weeks ago today, the sun was beginning to rise over Turquoise Lake and I was a little more than 2 hours into the Leadville Trail 100. My day would officially end about 5 hours later at the third checkpoint. It doesn't normally take me almost a month to write a race report - I usually write them right away when the experience is fresh in my mind - but this one has been difficult to do. I'm not really sure why that is.

Maybe I'm a little bit embarrassed that I only made it 31 miles before missing a cutoff and being pulled from the race. Maybe I'm questioning my decision to start something that I wasn't sure I could finish. Maybe I should have waited another year to use my coin. Or maybe it was just such a big experience that it's difficult to cover in a blog post.

After pacing for Doug last year at Leadville, I was immediately inspired, as many people are, to begin an ultrarunning journey of my own. It's been a really cool and strange year as I've spent the first season in 9 years focused on something other than triathlon. As a beginner at both trail running and ultrarunning, I spent a year learning about a community that I increasingly want to be a part of, while at the same time feeling a bit like an impostor.

Doug! The inspiration and reason we have the "blame a Leary" hashtag
Four months ago I shrieked "Adventure!" and jumped headfirst into the Leadville series at the marathon, and after the first race I realized that this "summer of Leadville" would be more about chasing cutoffs than setting PRs. Subsequently, my mindset as an athlete changed over the last few months - I became more grateful about start lines than determined about finish lines.

That being said, I wouldn't have taken the coin for the Leadville Trail 100 if I didn't think I could actually finish the race. I knew it would take a perfect day for me to get to the finish line in 30 hours, but I did believe that it was possible. If not 100 miles, then I'd definitely be able to make it 50 - to the halfway point - because I had just completed a 50 mile race last month. But then I didn't. What happened? The very simple answer is that I just didn't go fast enough.

The Course
The race is an out-and-back course that starts in Leadville and winds around to the ghost town of Winfield. Along the way, you run on single track and jeep paths, past gorgeous lakes and through the aspens, up and down and finally UP as you climb to just under 13,000 feet over Hope Pass, descend into Winfield, and then turn around and head back to Leadville. There's a stupid amount of elevation gain in this event that starts at 10,200 feet. You get 30 hours to complete the race and earn the finisher's belt buckle. 

Preparing for the Event
Preparation for this race took more than the usual event. Yes, I ran a lot. I ran at altitude and I ran for many hours on many Sundays on terrain that simulated the race course. I practiced hiking up to the top of Hope Pass. But I also had to gather a team to crew for me, and I had to figure out what supplies would be needed for a race that would take 30 hours (or more) to complete.

Dad on top of Hope Pass during our training hike. I'm so disappointed I didn't get to this spot during the race!
At this race, after 50 miles, you can have pacers to run with you, carry your food, keep you company, and help you continue moving forward. I decided on a team made up of a crew chief and 3 pacers. The crew chief would be in charge of all the transitions in the aid stations where my team could help me. She'd be in charge of the schedule of picking up and dropping off pacers at the checkpoints where I'd be expecting them. The pacers would run/hike/walk/shuffle with me in 12-15 mile segments throughout the second half of the race.

I imported a fabulous crew chief and 2 amazing pacers from Texas: Dawn, Shelly, and Aixa, three tough, strong, smart athletes and incredible friends. My final crew member was my masters swim lane-mate Josie. She had run the Heavy Half in June when I ran the marathon in Leadville, and after that race she offered to pace me for the 100 if I got in. I jumped at the chance because she crushed it up Mosquito Pass in June and she's naturally motivating, positive, and inspiring - she'd be great at pacing over the Hope Pass segment.

The five of us had a great time on the Friday before the race, attending the inspiring pre-race meeting, unpacking our supplies at the airbnb, and planning the logistics of the next day. We all went to bed early and I slept well. We were up at 2:30 am to pack up the car and drive to the start line, nearly 30 minutes away, for the start of the race at 4:00.

The crew! Aixa, Shelly, me, Dawn, Josie
Race Day
Standing on the start line in my headlamp in the dark with 750 people was surreal and eerie. Doug and I began the race together, and as the gun went off, I felt lucky to be a part of this iconic event. I looked around and wondered how the people around me would do. I knew that only half of us would finish the whole race.

Trent drove up that morning from Denver to meet us at the 4 am start line.
My plan was to pay attention to my heart rate and to find that pace that feels like you can run all day and then run slightly slower than that. Every time I felt an urge to speed up, I squelched it. This is going to be a long day. You have to be patient. That's one thing about the race that was the same as at an ironman.

Doug ran ahead after about 2 miles. As I trotted alone through the forest, aware that people were running around me and leaving me behind, the enormity of 100 miles began to roll around inside my head. Each time I started to think about it, I pushed it away, willing myself to stay in the present. I took small victories. Every time my watch beeped with the passing of a mile, I congratulated myself for running a faster pace than the pace needed to meet the cutoff for that segment. When I crossed the first timing mat with 15 minutes to spare at mile 13.5 at the Mayqueen station, I raised my arms in victory as if it was a finish line. After the sun came up, I looked around and marveled at the views. As instructed by Doug, when I reached the top of the first climb on Sugarloaf Mountain, I celebrated to myself that I was taking part in the famous Leadville Trail 100. Me, a triathlete in disguise, running in this famous ultra.

And then my feet, in new shoes because I've spent the summer searching for the right trail shoe, began to develop hot spots that I couldn't ignore. As I tried to run down the famous 4-mile Powerline hill, my heart sank as I understood that my descending skills are still not what they should be, and I wished for my hiking poles that I wouldn't be picking up until mile 40. I texted my crew and asked them to bring my mile 40 shoes to the mile 23.5 checkpoint.

I reached the Outward Bound checkpoint with 10 minutes to spare and my panicky crew hurried me in and out with a quick shoe change and a refill of water and food in my pack. It had been raining for about an hour and I finally took the time to put on my raincoat. I had an hour and 20 minutes to make it to the next checkpoint 6 miles away at Half Pipe. If I'd done a little more research, I would have known I needed a bigger time cushion coming into Outward Bound to make it to Half Pipe before the cut. But I hadn't, and as I did the math on the way out of the aid station, I knew I wouldn't make it to Half Pipe in time to make the cutoff.

Running into Outward Bound in the rain
My crew and Doug's - Aixa, Shelly, Dawn, Whiting, Maggie
Hustling through the Outward Bound station
I kept moving forward at my too-slow pace, and when I arrived at Half Pipe 13 minutes too late, there was no fanfare. I took note of the other runners standing around, some of them crying, as I walked up to a volunteer standing in the middle of the path. I asked him, "Is that it, then?" And he said yes, my day was done. I asked if it was ok for me to continue on to Twin Lakes, 8 miles down the road where my crew would be waiting, and he said that would be fine but he'd need to take my chip.

I communicated with my crew what I was going to do, and as my jog down the trail to Twin Lakes turned into a walk, I had plenty of time to think about everything that I'd learned that day. Shelly met me 3 miles up the trail from the town at Twin Lakes and as we walked back together, I joked that at least she got to spend some time on the part of the trail that she was supposed to pace me on later that night. We met the rest of the crew about a mile from Twin Lakes and they cheered me up with hamburgers (right away) and wine (later).

With Shelly, I finally took a few minutes to stop and take a picture of the scenery.
All the love for this crew
Leadville! What a summer! It's almost too enormous to take in, especially the 100. Of course I want to do it again when I'm faster on trails and stronger at climbing and descending. The day after the race, several friends who paced or crewed drove down the mountain from Leadville as inspired as I was last year and I know several of us will be back next year in some capacity. That's my favorite part about Leadville - you can't help but catch the bug. Adventure!

My Big Sexy Racing teammate Terry Wilson interviewed me on his podcast about the race. If you want some more details about the day - listen here.

Thank You!
Thank you to Doug who inspired me in the first place and spent a year giving me advice about running trails in the mountains. To Whiting, the incredible Leadville crew chief to Doug and my awesome SwimRun partner, thank you for your relentless positivity and unmatched planning skills. Thank you to Nell Rojas, who agreed to coach me on this journey with only 6 weeks until race day! To my friends who believed in me, in particular Maggie, Linda, and Orissa - thank you for your encouragement throughout this season. To my parents who spent a weekend up in the mountains with me as Dad joined me for a practice hike on Hope Pass, thank you for being supportive of all these adventures that I've chosen to take part in. To my amazing crew, Dawn, Shelly, Aixa, and Josie, thank you for giving up a weekend to travel to Leadville and be such a huge part of this experience. I'm honored that you shared it with me and I'm sorry that you didn't get to do all the the things that we planned on (maybe next time?). Of course a huge thank you to Trent who spent the entire Summer of Leadville up in the mountains as well, even though there were a million other things we could have been doing. And as always, if you're reading this - thank you for your support and encouragement! I can feel it every time I toe the line.

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