Monday, August 24, 2009

Leadville '09

Enjoyed a great, but exhausting two days in Leadville this weekend. I was out there to pace Harry Harcrow through the last 25 miles of his bid to break 19:30. As is often the case in these races, things didn't quite go as planned, but I ended up being amazed at the ability of the human body to overcome severe stress in obeying the commands of the cranium. Further evidence that if the mind wants it enough, the body - if physically possible - will oblige.

Dana, Alistair and I rolled into town soon after seven on Friday. We were all excited to be up in the mountains, looking forward to the epic day ahead. After talking a bit of race-day strategy, Harry was soon tucked up in bed, and the rest of us weren't too far behind. I set the alarm for 4:45 in order to be at Mayqueen to watch the lead runners and other friends pass through in the early going.

By the time I got to Mayqueen at 5:30 it was still pitch black out. There were probably six guys in the lead pack, although it was so dark I didn't get a read on who they were. I hung out for another 20 minutes to see how others I was pulling for that day were doing. Nick Pedatella came through a few minutes after the leaders, looking fresh and ready. Harry followed soon after that, and Ryan Burch a few minutes later.

The early morning scene at Mayqueen

Ryan picking through the goods on offer

After watching the lead action through Mayqueen, I high-tailed it back to Leadville to grab some breakfast and pick up Alistair and Dana, before heading back out on the road to the Fish Hatchery, aide #2 on the day. We were just pulling in as the lead runners were arriving. The lead pack had been whittled down to Anton Krupicka and Timmy Parr, who were pushing hard on the road out to Half Moon. It was good to see them pushing each other, but I couldn't help thinking that the pace looked as if it might be a bit too hard. The sun was just coming up above the mountains at this stage and it was looking like it was going to be a clear, hot morning.

Anton heading out from Fish Hatchery

Nick P coming into Fish. Note the smile: good sign

After watching Nick, Harry, Ryan and Corey Hanson file through, I met up with Bryan Goding and we jumped into the truck and headed out to Twin Lakes.

Justin Mock
was already there hanging out watching the action with Karl Meltzer and a few others. Justin had just been out for an easy training run in preparation for his big adventure in the week ahead at the Transrockies stage race. Karl was settled in, kicking back with a cooler full of some nasty-looking beer (NatLite, I think), waiting for the action to unfold. After chatting for a bit, Bryan and I headed out to the top of Hope for a look at the action from on high.

Hopeless Aide Station

From the top of Hope

We got to the top of Hope in short order and were rewarded with picture perfect weather - for spectating. It was getting hot, even at 12,600'. Tony was the first to summit, and was hiking/running hard. Tim was about five minutes back, but moving slower and apparently suffering from cramps. Third through sixth were between 30 and 60 minutes back on the lead two.

Tony power hiking on the pass

Up and away

Tim working up Hope

Anton on Hope, in addition some close-up trail footage (!)

After watching the top five come through, I jogged down with Nick P for a bit before taking off to meet Dana in Winfield. Nearing the bottom of Hope, I passed the two lead runners coming back up. Tony looked like he might be hurting a bit, while Tim said he was feeling much better. The gap looked to be about the same. The rest of the top five on the Winfield road were already a couple miles back.

I hung out for a long time at Winfield watching the top 30 or so runners come through. There was some definite carnage, and a number of people DNF'ed here. The sun was now very strong. Harry pulled in right on schedule, and was soon out on his way back up Hope towards Leadville. Ryan B was in soon after Harry and was still looking great. I was beginning to think that he was finally going to get the 100-mile monkey off his back.

By the time we got back to Twin Lakes, the lead runners were already through. We hung out there for a long time waiting for Harry, and watched a bunch of runners who had been behind him at Winfield file through. Not a good sign. Ryan came through and told me that he'd passed Harry sitting on a rock complaining that he was exhausted. By the time Harry finally arrived, it was evident that he was in a bad place. He was trembling uncontrollably and was having a very hard time getting anything down. In addition, he had emptied his stomach somewhere on Hope - classic signs of heat stroke. He took 20 minutes at Twin Lakes before finally heading back out.

Harry (Jr) and Alistair oblivious to the plight of Harry (sr) at Twin Lakes

Who needs toys when you've got a big pile of dirt to play with!

From Twin Lakes, Dana, Alistair and I headed back to Fish Hatchery and fed the fish, chatted and generally killed time waiting for Harry. I got a call from his wife, Gina, saying that he was running again, feeling better and just three miles out from the aide. Coming into Fish Hatchery, he looked to be in a better place, but said he still felt like crap. With the big climb up Sugarloaf Mountain ahead, I had a feeling that I was in for a long 25 miles of pacing.

We ran the road out of Fish Hatchery at a moderate pace and then settled in for the long hike up the Sugarloaf powerline cut. We settled into a pretty strong hike and were soon passing Jamie Donaldson, second in the women's race, who was moving very, very slowly. About half way up powerline, Harry stopped abruptly and emptied the contents of his stomach, which didn't amount to much, but included everything he had attempted to get down at Fish Hatchery. Oh, boy!

Despite the latest of Harry's many puking sessions, he was soon moving again, although a little more gingerly now. The top of the climb did of course finally come and we were soon jogging down the jeep road to Hagerman road. Harry managed to run this section without too much trouble, albeit at a very slow pace. By the time we hit the Colorado trail and the last mile or two before Mayqueen, things slowed considerably, to a walk in fact, even though we still had gravity working in our favor. Maybe a mile before Mayqueen, the lowest of Harry's many low points that day left him hugging a big rock in the middle of the trail dry heaving what bile was left in his gut. There was pretty much nothing I could do at this point, so I just stayed close and attempted to sympathize with his plight. He was telling me that he had no idea how he was going to finish, to which I responded that the finish line was unimportant; we just needed to find a way to get him to Mayqueen. Once the stomach contractions stopped, Harry managed to get to his feet and we walked the remainder of the trail to the road, after which we were able to break out a jog into the aide tent.

After weighing in 10 pounds light, and failing to get much food down, the nurse on duty told Harry that he needed to take a nap and then reassess. We gave him 45 minutes on the cot, and at midnight woke him up. The nap, it seemed had worked wonders. Harry was alert, talking up a storm and inhaling potato soup and electrolyte drink. A further 20 minutes later and we were up and running (literally). We ran almost every step of the Turquoise Lake singletrack, passing well over ten runners. By the time we emptied out onto Dam Road, Harry was running out of juice again, but we were now down to 10k to go, so it was just a question of keeping forward momentum and mental positivity.

Having been through the travails of a 100-mile race, I know how impossibly far the last 6 miles can seem, but somehow Harry found the legs to get it done, and even managed to pass a few more runners up the Boulevard, pushing out a run when the grade allowed. The finish line finally came into view, and despite the brutality of the day, Harry was able to cross in a still-respectable 23 hours and 10 minutes.

At the 83 mile point of my first 100 miler this year, I was telling anybody that would listen to me that these races are complete and utter insanity. After watching Harry go through the depths of despair up and over Sugarloaf Mountain, I was reminded of that moment, and also how relatively easy I had actually had it in Wyoming. The only issues I really had to deal with were severe fatigue and some moments of major doubt somewhere in the middle of the night. I'm still not sure I ever want to do one of these events again, but I'm sorely tempted to give a fast course, such as Leadville, a shot just to see what I can push out. I told Harry on Sunday that he is now indebted to pace me sometime in the future, and I'm beginning to feel like that might be Leadville 2010.

Finally got to bed at close to 5 in the morning after waiting for Harry to regroup for an hour in the med tent. Although I was desperate to get to bed, I was lucky enough to find a stash of beers, four of which I put away while watching Brooks Williams, PitBrownie and Corey Hanson, among many others, cross the line. Good times. After getting back to the rental house, I was immediately asleep, only to be awoken three hours later to the sound of screaming kids. Life goes on despite the stupidity of us adults and our ridiculous undertakings!

Congrats to Timmy Parr on pushing through and getting it done (and proving me right in the pre-race predictions game). Congrats also to Nick P for meeting his sub-20 goal and his strong sixth-place finish; to Ryan B for finally getting the LT100 monkey off his back; to Corey Hanson on completing his quest for Leadman status; and to the many, many others who got the job done.

If after reading this you have any doubts about how hard it is to run 100 miles up and over mountain passes at high altitude, take a read of Anton's blog and his shot at Matt Carpenter's course record. On a cooler day, I think he may just have gotten the job done.


  1. Thanks for the report. Nice to see hear it from a pacer's perspective. Join me in Leadville for 2010. Surely, it will be another puke-fest.

  2. It was nice to see you out on the course on Saturday. Harry definitely showed resilience to keep going with the day he was having - I think I would have dropped well before that.

    I think the heat made things a lot more difficult. Puking on powerline seemed to be the common theme in the med tent at the finish (among AJW, Bryon P. and Garret G. at least). I fortunately kept everything down all day and even felt good enough for a Sierra Nevada at the finish.

    Hopefully the rest of your Dublin training goes well and you have a good race.

  3. I think you have this race in you for 2010. I'll start planning my aid station/creative signs for you and my brother b/c you know i'll be there cheering you on!

  4. Thanks for being out there! I owe you a brew for Tim's win. Almost owed you another one for damn near bringing Harry back to me!

  5. Brandon - If I do run it, I hope I can maintain my standard of having never puked during a race. I can't even imagine puking as much as Harry did and then running again. Ugh!

    Natalee - Don't waste you energy on me. If your brother plans on puking his way around Leadville, he's gonna need all the help he can get!

    Nick - I know I would have dropped. Congrats again, and let me know when you're ready to get back out and run some trail.

    Brownie - Looking forward to claiming my prize. One of these days you're going to win one of your beer bets.