|Photo: Rob Timko|
The 100 mile run is the one that got it all started at 10,200 feet, some 31 years ago. It gave birth to the marathon, the 50 miler, the bike races, all that stuff. As such it sits as the finale in the Leadman series, the last hurdle to be overcome in a long summer of high-altitude races. Unfortunately, it wasn't just the Leadman participants that seemed tired on Saturday; the race itself did. I'm just not sure the race series understands ultrarunning anymore. And herein lies a major conundrum for our sport.
Leadville is the country's biggest and best-known 100-miler. It got me into the sport and it continues to inspire countless others to do the same, whether as a one-time bucket-list thing or as a longer-term passion. I fear that a lot of people new to the sport this weekend saw chaos where they should have seen community. To those that saw that, I say sorry. That is not what our sport is about. If you're still intrigued, go run a smaller event managed by runners for runners; there are 100s of them around the country.
With that said, I believe that Lifetime can turn this around. Indeed, I implore that they do. Yes, the company owns the series and can do whatever the hell it wants with it, but they don't own my sport. Maybe I'm being naive, but I believe Lifetime has a duty to honor (and understand) the legacy that they have purchased.
I had the pleasure of meeting the race director and a few of his staff a few months before this year's race at the annual training weekend. Josh is a good guy and a long-term resident of Leadville, but he's got a lot on his plate with many large and complex races going on throughout the summer -- not just in Leadville but around the country. Coming as he does from a biking background, I'd suggest that Lifetime have him focus on the Leadville bike series, the regional bike qualifying races, in addition to the overall series management, but it is quite apparent to me that somebody who understands ultrarunning needs to be put back in charge of the run series. I'm available.
Leadville 2014 needs to be a success.
Of course, I was blissfully unaware of race management issues as my race day was unfolding. I could have used some ice at the aid stations (yes, that should be a requirement for each and every aid station during a summer hundo), but other than that I had everything I needed and my crew was able to get around without issue. One of the blessings of being off the front, I guess.
The cruise around Turquoise was a bumbling affair. I neglected to put new batteries in my headlight prior to the race and paid the price with numerous turned ankles and a minor digger. The pace was slow, but I chose to roll with it rather than push because I'd decided pre-race that I was going to pace the early stuff moderately this year in an effort to feel strong late in the day. We were six minutes off last years's pace at Mayqueen (12.5) and ten off at Fish Hatchery (23.5), but I was okay with that.
Unlike last year, I kept the pace coming down Powerline totally under control. I watched a couple of guys slay it like the finish was at Fish Hatchery, but wasn't even remotely tempted to join them. Instead, I slotted in with Ryan Sandes and picked my way down. I was in and out of Fish Hatchery without breaking stride. Heading up the road, Mike Aish was already out of sight 10 minutes ahead with two other runners a few steps up on me and Ian - the shadow - Sharman a few steps behind.
|iRunFar with the Elbert money shot.|
I put a small gap on Ian heading up to the Elbert trailhead, but by the time we were rolling into Twin Lakes at mile 40 we were back running together, much as we have at points along the way all summer. I spent a couple of minutes with my crew at Twin Lakes getting myself prepped for the Hope double crossing - the crux and heartbeat of the race - but figured I'd make up the ground I'd given to Ian in no time as the air got thinner.
|Rolling into Twin Lakes at Mile 40. iRF|
But it goes quickly.
The contour trail was a pleasure, if a little longer than I remembered it. I was surprised to not see Mike coming back the other way until the new cut down to Winfield. I felt like I'd eaten into his 20 minute lead from Twin Lakes. Running in third now, I was beginning to think that a win might even be plausible, but quickly reminded myself that there was still a lot of running to be done.
The boys were there and waiting at Winnie. I did a bit of lost sheep standing around before picking up the wizard sticks and heading out with my Swashbuckling Ska Man Pacer, Scott Slusher. We took stock of the race in front and behind. Ian was a good five minutes up on me, Aish 16, Ryan looked like he was hurting, and then it was a sizeable gap back to the rest of the top 10.
The sticks were a disaster. When I wasn't jabbing Scott in the testicles with poorly purchased stick placements, I was jamming the stupid things between my legs and tripping myself up. I'm sure with work the sticks could prove beneficial, but call me old school: no more frigging hiking poles.
Above timberline, we caught a Sharman sighting a couple hundred feet above. In the hypoxic environment of upper Hope, he looked an awful long way ahead. If it wasn't for the sticks, however, I'm pretty sure I would have caught him.
|Topping out on Hope coming home. Sticks abandoned. Photo: Glen Delman|
There were a couple of groans from runners coming up who saw Scott lamp his noggin, but he didn't break stride, insisting that he was okay. I therefore thought nothing of it and we were soon down in Twin Lakes getting a fresh pair of socks, and switching from the uber-cushy PI Trail N2s to the more supportive M2s.
We'd heard numerous gap reports on the way down, anywhere from five minutes to 20; I assumed 15. Lucho had the stopwatch going and gave me an accurate rundown at Twin Lakes; Sharman at +10 minutes and Aish 4 up on that. I was a little concerned at how well Ian seemed to be moving, but thought that Mike could be in a little bit of mid-race trouble.
|Exiting Twin. All pics from this series: Timko.|
|Lucho filling me on race standings.|
|M2s for the N2s. Crew in Action.|
I had hoped to really get going from Elbert, much like I did last year, but my caloric intake coming back over Hope had not been great and I was now stuck in a one-gear situation with a slowly deteriorating stomach. The pace wasn't terrible, but it certainly didn't feel like I was mounting any kind of charge, so I was pretty surprised to come across Mike and his pacer off the side of the trail sitting on a rock. Now in second, I was intrigued to learn what the gap to Ian was.
The Half Pipe Aid told me 18 minutes. That seemed like a lot, but with 30 miles still to go, it was by no means insurmountable. A few miles later I picked up my good buddy Mike Hinterberg, handed off my bottles and we went about the business of covering the road miles to Fish. He said 15 minutes to Ian. I did what I could to get calories in, but largely wasn't interested. Eyeing up Poweline from the road, I was eager to get it under way. I knew the climb would be pivotal if I was to claw back time on Ian, but first I needed to get off the road.
|Alistair helping his Old Man get it done, coming into Fish. iRF|
The climb up Sugarloaf was decent, and I was able to follow Mike's lead in breaking into a jog on the shallower gradients and then managed to not be too pathetic with the hiking cadence on the steeper stuff. By the time we hit the top I was feeling good and also like I might be able to mount a charge. The calories still weren't going in, but I had adrenaline pumping and I had an instinctual feeling that I was moving better than Ian. We descended well and I felt like I negotiated the tricky Colorado Trail section better than last year. I was throwing myself at it; I wanted to win.
By Mayqueen the race was on: 10 minutes down with 12.5 miles to go. But I was starting to feel like I'd overdone it coming down off Sugarloaf. My stomach was in knots, which was frustrating as my legs felt like they had plenty more to give. I tried broth and supplemented with Fanta. The combo looked terrible coming back up two minutes later just 50 yards outside the aid station.
Brian - Wesir - Stefanovic wanted to get after it, and I can't blame him, but I was now in disaster-avoidance territory. There seemed to be a red line for my stomach with regards to effort level. Anything too aggressive and the stomach shut things down and threatened to erupt, so I was forced into a bumbling jog around the lake. It took me six miles to dissolve a single gel block, craftily tucked away in my cheek.
We hit Tabor and nobody mentioned the gap; I knew that was a bad sign.
With six miles to go, I was on life support. Brian was bugging me to eat, but I just couldn't. I agreed on a second gel block once we hit the pavement on the way to the Boulevard. Shortly after tucking the block in my cheek I inhaled a bug. A violent eruption ensued. This was getting ugly. We cantered up the first third of the Boulevard, but with two miles to go, I just couldn't do it anymore and I was reduced to the walk of shame, wretching a couple more times just for good measure.
It was disappointing to miss a 16:xx finish for the second year in a row due to an inability to close, but I'm still proud of fighting out a low-17-hour finish. I would have been happy with that the day before the race; I just didn't know that Ian was going to have such a ridiculously strong day.
|Finishing it up with the family. Timko.|
And that's all I've got to say about that.
Lifetime: Get your act together and make 2014 a year to remember!