Thursday, August 22, 2013

Leadville 2013: A Report & Some Reflections

Photo: Rob Timko
I cut my ultrarunning teeth in Leadville. Indeed, one of the first things I did when we moved to Fort Collins in 2006 was sign up for Leadville 2007. I ended up toeing the line in a compromised state that year, knowing I wasn't going to finish, but I do remember distinctly wanting to at least start and be a part of the weekend. The atmosphere was electric. It still is today, but unfortunately the race - and the sport - was not represented in its best light this past weekend. Not even close. I'm not talking about traffic congestion, under-resourced aid stations, overcrowded trails, and general disrespect for the land; that's been and continues to be hashed out in other forums. I'm talking about the soul of the race, the legacy and the future.

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.
By Pipeline, Ian and I were running as a tandem seemingly content to jog the early miles together in fourth and fifth. As we made our way along the forest roads and up onto the Colorado Trail, Mike was in the process of building his lead to 20 minutes while Ryan and Andrew Catalano were also out of sight in second and third.

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.

Wrong.

Rolling into Twin Lakes at Mile 40. iRF
I ran a little deeper into the climb than I did last year before I dropped to the run/hike combo. My legs were feeling good. Yet it still took until about halfway up the 3,300 foot climb to get Ian within my sights. As it happens, I'd never fully catch Ian, but would pass both Andrew and Ryan before the pass at 12,600 feet above sea level, and precisely seven hours into my day. The descent seemed a lot looser than in years previous, with some of the marbled-out switchbacks forcing an almost dead stop.

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
The descent off Hope towards Twin Lakes is classic, iconic ultrarunning territory. From the llamas at the Hopeless aid station to the well wishes of fellow runners coming the other way to the head of steam you build as your quads re-find their rhythm on a section of trail that was built for lacing. Scotty was having the time of his life leading me down off Hope last year, shooting off early warnings to those coming up, belting out tunes and essentially being Scott. In his excitement this year, he chose to duck under a semi-downed tree that was barring passage. On the way up, I had followed the use trail around the tree; Scott in his state of euphoria didn't see it and ducked hopefully.

Thud!

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. 
Halfway up the climb to the Elbert trailhead, Scott handed me back my bottles and told me that he was having trouble keeping up. I was moving decently, but not well enough to be dropping Scott. He said he was suffering from nausea, but as it turned out it was the thwack to the head coming off Hope that was slowing him down. He told me to stay steady and then I was alone (Scott would be fine). The guys at Elbert told me a foreign dude wasn't far up and that another foreign dude was winning; they couldn't pinpoint which one was British-foreign and which one was Kiwi-foreign however.

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
We stayed steady and by Fish, we were a reported 16 minutes behind Ian, so no longer losing ground. I drank a good bit of soda coming into the aid station and then stood there for 30 seconds feeling a little befuddled. Buzz Burrell was there letting me know that the race was on, and so we got going.

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.
With one race left in the Grand Slam, I believe it is still all to play for. Writing this five days after the race, my legs feel great (seriously) and I'm already excited for Wasatch. To claw back 70 minutes on the Sharminator is a big ask, but I have every intention of giving it my best shot. I already have a plan in place and if I can just execute on race day, then I'm hopeful that I can still walk away from this summer of racing with the Grand Slam record to my name.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Lifetime: Get your act together and make 2014 a year to remember!

58 comments:

  1. I've been taking notes on all the complaining and have already started writing about how awful the Black Squirrel half is going to be...

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    1. Forward all complaints to the corporate offices.

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  2. Like you, I was mostly unaware of many of the problems going on during the race, although I heard some stories from my crew later on. Seems as though a lower entrant cap may be in order.

    Good work out there. Nice to hear that Hinterberg got to do some running during his pacing duties...by the time he picked me up at Mayqueen, I was in "hike and bitch and moan about my blisters" mode. But, hey, at least we didn't get lost.

    As for those ultras put on for runners by runners, I know of one in South Dakota... ;)

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    1. Chris - I tried to tire Hinterberg out, but alas much walking while he was with me too.

      I'm gonna run that there Black Hills race one of these days.

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  3. It's been so fun watching you and Abby crush 100 after 100 this summer. Great runin Leadville (despite the late in the day issues)! We will be cheering loud and proud for both of you here in Colorado. Good luck at Wasatch!

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    1. Maybe the lucky sunnies for Wasatch? Abby is my new hero(ine).

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    2. Okay, wrong Amy.

      Ms. O'Connell (not Perez of lucky sunglasses fame) - thanks for the note. Congrats on your finish - it was fun seeing you up there at the top of Hope!

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    3. Ha! I was wondering if I missed a "sunnies" joke somewhere :) You looked so strong coming up Hope - made getting the to the top a little easier after I saw you. Looks like I'll be making the trip to Wasatch to see you two finish this damn thing! PS - Love the new header photo...

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  4. Ah, Nick. Such a good guy. Was talking of that very thing this AM to someone from out of town and discussing the FC scene. I can't think of anyone in the community not wanting you to run the Pb scene.

    Now go win the dam slam or make Sharman break some enamel on the teeth to get it. Cheering for you.

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    1. Thanks, GZ. Gonna give it the ol' college try.

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  5. Well like in golf, if you can walk off the course first at the top of the leaderboard, you never know what might happen. Worst case you own the new GS record for a least a little bit.

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    1. That thought has crossed my (and Ian's) mind .. leader in the clubhouse, if only for a few short minutes.

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  6. Getting to Winfield, way after you'd left, the volunteer trying to hold cars back a few miles in told us, "sorry guys, it's every man for himself up there." I guess I thought it was funny more than anything though.

    Hate to speculate about anyone's job, but if Lifetime was to hold a national search to hire a new run series director, wow...be really curious what (who) came out of it.

    Good work out there, hell of a summer. Kinda wish you guys would've had a film crew tagging along though.

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  7. Superb Write-up Nick. Great insight and ranting with solution. Big Boi Style. Go and get that Grand Slam thing!

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  8. "I tried broth and supplemented with Fanta" don't you mean broth-supplemented Fanta? ;-)

    Have a great race at Wasatch!

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    1. No, that was what came second as a surprise in my Fanta (only) bottle.

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    2. Yup...that was disgusting. After you said that I tasted it in disgust and quickly poured it out...

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    3. Here I thought that was part of your secret plan for Wasatch.

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  9. Nick, you had me running scared and I know I'm going to remember this summer for a long time. So glad we have the whole back-and-forth thing through each race since it's definitely spurring me on to run harder. Not many things warrant this word, but for me at least, this is epic.

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    1. It will only qualify as 'epic' if I beat you by a minute or less (over all four races). But yes, the back and forth will be what I remember most this summer. One to remember for sure.

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  10. Nick,
    Tried to email. Got failure notice.

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    Replies
    1. Jer - try the email link off the 'about me' thingy up there on the top right sidebar.

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  11. Wasatch, the great equalizer! I head they changed the last 15 miles this year... What gives?

    Pulling for you, bud!

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    Replies
    1. Rerouted from Pot Bottom. Supposedly ~ 20 mins quicker.

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  12. Around the tree? Well now that seems obvious in retrospect.

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  13. Great work Nick! Go get that slam record at Wasatch.
    BFish

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  14. "Put a bird on it." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XM3vWJmpfo

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    1. Ha - that pic is still waiting in the wings...

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  15. Looking forward to the Wasatch battle! As for Leadville, take over the directorship, and we all be grateful. May be I'll even give it another shot.

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  16. vote for nick!
    great job!
    good luck rounding out the slam!

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  17. After crewing/pacing for the first time a LV, I was scratching my head as to why anyone would choose to run there when so many smaller, better mountain 100's are out there. Thanks to sharing more of the legacy of the race and the bigger reasons why it should be saved.

    I loved everything about Quad (well, except that it kicked my ass) and would return to LV if you were in charge of it.

    Great profile pic with your boy. See you at Wasatch -- hope it's a great battle out there with Ian.

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    1. I'll keep to the small-town races. I was just kidding about the LT100 RD'ship. Josh is a capable guy and will get things figured out for 2014.

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  18. Nick - It was a pleasure to see you hitting it hard this past weekend. I believe you can give Ian a run for his money - go get him. Go Colorado Dads!

    Patrick

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  19. That was a totally enjoyable piece of writing. Thank you. John M.

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  20. Great writeup Nick, I enjoyed it. Fire up for Wasatch..what you are doing is amazing.

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  21. Epic effort you put in there. You hardly used aid station supplies at all, and your crew was able to get around reasonably quickly...yet you focused much of your report on most* of the drawbacks that affect both the sport itself and the historic race (which have been getting worse in the last 2 years).
    (* Obvious potential for better post-race beer in Colorado)

    Such class, and good writing, isn't entirely a surprise.

    You *were* flying down Sugarloaf and the CT, totally focused: the gamble was getting close enough to Ian and you were giving it everything you had. Can't wait to see what happens at Wasatch!

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    1. Regarding the post-race beer. I believe the reason Oskar Blue's pulled out being a sponsor was lack of interest. Much of the beer that was given to the race last year was returned unused. Although in my circles this is blaspheme, I think the masses really do like swill beer.

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  22. It's been a fun summer following you and Ian, Nick. Thanks to both of you. You guys slaughtered the competition last weekend.

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  23. Even though I wasn't there, I followed you like I was. Strong work out there Nick! Always cheering for you!

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  24. Maybe you know this already, but the Wasatch website doesn't have you down as having submitted your trail work form. If you've done it, you should find out what's up.

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    1. Taken care of, but thanks for the note.

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  25. As always, solid report, outstanding race effort. Just an amazing summer so far for you and pulling for you out their along the Wastach Range!

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  26. Great write up Nick, and another brilliant run! So good to see two Brits up ahead and pushing each other hard...
    Your comments on the soul of the race are both accurate and poignant, you are right, it does need a runner to be in charge of a race like this, to understand what makes it special. You would be a good candidate!
    Keep on running my friend!

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    1. Thanks Terry - the me being available line was meant as a joke, but the sentiment about a runner being in charge was real. The series is a big one and the run itself needs a dedicated RD, IMO.

      To have to focus on the MTB 100 and then the Run100 on two consecutive weekends is a big ask of one person, especially with all the other LT-related events in Leadville & across the country going on throughout the summer.

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  27. Nice post and best of luck in the concluding race to the series. It will be fun to follow the duel.

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  28. Hey, great job, Nick. This has been exciting for us to follow from afar. Your grit and determination is impressive. Hope this summer ends up Epic for you.

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  29. Great job Nick! You and Ian have been hands-down the most exciting part of this summer so far, can't wait to see how this story ends at Wasatch :) Will you be doing another installment of 'Clarky's Corner' on Ian's TalkUltra podcast? Hope so...

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    1. Tony - I chatted with Ian a couple of days after Leadville and that is up on the current episode of Talk Ultra. We'll do another one after Wasatch I'd imagine.

      Looking forward to the final leg of the Slam...

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  30. Your loyalty to moronic pacers is enviable (I guess). First time he's in the crapper when you run through, next time he hits his head on a tree?

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    1. He was flawless last year. One out of three ain't bad, right?

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    2. I'm offering up my services to Ian for Wasatch, you cool with that?

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  32. Well done Nick. I was able to get a neat photo of you and your "pacer" crossing the finish line.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ragfield/9594651562/

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  33. Thanks for sharing..
    It is exciting,running at mountain.

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