Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Leadville 100

The Leadville 2012 start. Photo: Rob Timko
There is no such thing as an easy 100; I am now convinced of it. I thought Leadville would play to my strengths, but nah, it broke me just as much as the next one.

In the moment, each and every one of these ridiculous events seem to suck just as much - if not more - that the last one, but yet we never come to that realization until it's too late, until we are committed to the pointless road to the finish. It makes no sense. The pain is so tangible, the desire to quit so real, and yet we find a way to gloss over it all and repaint with bright colors and sweet smelling tales of absurdity. Maybe it's the human condition to commit ourselves to tasks of complete and utter pointlessness - I certainly wouldn't be the first to suggest such a thing - and there is compelling evidence in the sport of ultrarunning that this is the case. And so you process these thoughts and continue moving forward. You find ways to finish what you've started, just so you can sit down at the end of the day feeling wrecked and abused. That's how I felt Saturday afternoon as I was ever so slowly making my way up towards Hope Pass for the second time in less than two hours. 

Then it dawned on me that the Slushmeister - my pacer and good friend - was having a merry old time on the mountain. He seemed to think, or at least pretend, that there was some kind of reason to all of this. We were involved in a race and I needed to do everything in my power to win it - or at least not fall apart too tragically. And so I played along, using the energy-conservation card as an excuse for hiking every single step to the top of the pass. Scott bought it, and even encouraged it. I'd like to say that I at least hiked with some kind of authority, but in all honesty it was a pretty miserable effort. But I digress. One should always start from the beginning - not the middle - and then conclude with the end. That's how stories go.

I had been dreading the start of the Leadville 100 for days, weeks, even months. After you've done enough of these torturous events, you know that the fairy tales you tell yourself on comfortable 20 mile training runs are nothing more than endorphinated pipe dreams. There is no way in hell you're going to come down Sixth Street with the sun blazing, angels singing, and the clock just ticking over to a thoroughly impressive 15:30 course record. The reality of it is that you're going to turn onto Sixth with a mile to the finish and it will seem like you still have a marathon to go. Your stomach will be a mess, your legs will be screaming, and you'll have given up caring - many hours ago - about the vacuous goals you'd set in a previous (positive) life. It just won't matter anymore.

The top three, as it turned out.

Sharing some laughs and pretending that this one wouldn't hurt.
Despite the dread, there I was with 800 other fools ready to get this day started. The 1:41 course record pace down to May Queen felt subliminally easy. But that is standard operating procedure at Leadville. There was no reason to stop at May Queen with the pre-dawn being so cool and fluid needs so minimal.

Negotiating the singletrack in the dark, the only way to tell who was on board was by the banter. Jay was worried about the Olympian peeing on his Armani button-down shirt, Thomas was rugby tackling Zeke, Tony was banging on about arm panties, the Fruitarian about trail tourism and me about dead headlights. By the time we popped out onto the Haggerman Road for the trip up to Haggerman Pass, the sun was just beginning to illuminate matters. The pack was down to five. Who exactly was pushing the pace was uncertain, but with a 3:05 split to the Fish Hatchery, things on paper seemed fast.

The 3:05 Express, running ahead of schedule.
The transition through Fish Hatchery was by the playbook - just how Dana and I had drawn it up the day before on our little aid station scouting run. She took my empty bottle, my light and my stink-infested cold-weather gear, while I scooted through the check-in, picking up my First Endurance trucker hat, sunglasses and fresh bottle from Dana on the return leg of the aid station U-turn. And she got it all done with a toddler attached to her hip. Give that woman a belt buckle!

Photos: Timko
And then we hit the road; Tony and I now with a lead of a few meters over Zeke, Thomas and Mike. 'Retarded' was, I believe, how Tony described our pace up to that point. Given that he'd run the event four times before, I took note and slowed it down a notch. Tony said he was going to jog the whole way to the next aid station. Zeke seemed to be on board with that plan, while Thomas and Mike forged on ahead. I ended up somewhere in the middle for the next five or six miles. That was about how long it took to lose sight of Mike and Thomas, although I would occasionally see Mike stopped and waiting for Thomas to catch up; he seemed a little nervous about building a lead.

Get me off this road!
Zeke dropped back and Tony caught up, declaring his need for a mountain to summit. The Mount Elbert option was there, but he didn't take it. I let Tony go after a mile or two on the Colorado Trail, while enjoying some of the best and most scenic running the course had to offer. By Twin Lakes, I was a reported five or six minutes back from the lead three. As planned, I went straight through the aid station and met my crew at the last picnic table before the meadow. A bit of this, a bit of that and a clearance of gravel from the shoes and it was off up the pass.

I found some good energy on the first third of the mountain, running essentially everything, but then proceeded to get lazy after convincing myself that running a third of the mountain was plenty adequate for this stage of the race, with any more possibly spelling disaster for later in the run. Ah, the games we play. But this was the first hike break in 40+ miles of running, so perhaps it was warranted.

Given that my hiking was largely decent and somewhat convincing, I felt like I might be clawing back some time on Thomas and Mike, if not Tony. I was eager to get a view of things as I broke above timberline. From the Hopeless aid station I could see Thomas making his way up to the pass and, to my surprise, Mike was behind him. He looked like he might be heading for the casualty list - the first one of our lead pack of five to submit. In that short distance from the aid station to the pass, I made up ground very quickly on Mike and by the first switchback of the descent I was going past him. His day from a competitive standpoint looked to be over. I offered some shallow advice (what else can you do?) and forged on with what felt like a pretty good descent to the new contour trail.   

Ah, yes, the new contour trail. Much moaning about the added mileage and vertical, but it came and it went. I timed the Winfield turnaround cheers for the lead two at 15 minutes and 13 minutes respectively. Both Tony and Thomas looked strong as I passed them coming back the other way, and given that I was now beginning to feel pretty gassed, I was mainly concerned with just getting the job done and finishing this ridiculous thing. But I hadn't considered the Slush factor. He had his stoke on and he wanted to get after it.

Given Scott's energy levels, I couldn't start him out with a hike back up the Winfield road, and so we ran. I did, however, forewarn him that we were hiking every step up Hope once we got off the contour trail and to the base of the climb. As noted previously, he was on board with the plan. We passed Zeke on our return at what looked to be about an 8-10 minute gap, and then it was a long way back to fifth.

The climb back up Hope on the far steeper south side felt pathetically slow. It was no surprise to me whatsoever that Zeke was just a few minutes back on us once we crested the hump, but seeing my good friend Alex May moving well over the pass and seemingly in good spirits was uplifting enough for me to want to get back after it, even if I could feel my stomach beginning its typical back-half revolution.

I knew I was pretty much on fluids from here on in. I gulped Coke at the Hopeless aid station and then let Scott clear a path as we bombed our way down the hill. Scott was clearly having fun with the descent and was undoubtedly the right man for the task at hand. LOOKING GOOD, RUNNER COMING THROUGH. The shout-outs coming down were insane. To see so many familiar faces was a joy - to those of you that I missed, I apologize, but I'm sure Scott had some fine words for you.

And then we hit the flat, exposed meadows before Twin Lakes. Deflation. Nonetheless, this meant that I was 60 miles in with just two climbs left. Dana was there at Twin Lakes with the kids and some aid station goodies. I slipped on the new Pearl Izumi E-Motion M2s and instantly my feet thanked me. These will certainly be my shoe of choice when they go into full production in spring 2013.

Photos: Eric Lee
The scene in Twin Lakes as I was leaving with Justin was off the charts. PI was there with a big ole' tent and the crowds up to the aid station were wall to wall. Nonetheless, I told Justin to get ready to hike the majority of the way back up to the South Mount Elbert trailhead. He was on board and pushing the calories. I managed to get some Gu Chomps down and found that the climb was a little less severe than expected, meaning that we jogged out a fair bit more than I'd planned.

Photo: Timko
Justin paced me to about the best finish I've ever had in a 100 miler back in the 'Unbreakable' Western States of 2010. I closed a 50 minute deficit on King Kilian in the last 20 miles that day, pushed the whole way by Justin. On Saturday, he picked me up with a 30-35 minute gap to close on Tony and 20 minutes on Thomas. Racing was not where my head was, but it was certainly where Justin's was.

The guys at the Mount Elbert fluid station told us that we were no more than 10 minutes behind Thomas. I dismissed that as total bunk, as we hadn't been moving nearly well enough to have closed that much. Nonetheless, I downed a can of cold Coke and we proceeded to get after it. The section from there to Half Pipe was easily my best of the day. I was breaking down and barely getting enough calories in, but was somehow managing to stay loose enough to run pretty much everything with a good degree of authority. I was worried about energy levels down the road though. Nothing sounded good to my stomach.

And then we met the trail angels taking a break on the Colorado Trail. They had cherries. Never, in my whole life had anything sounded so good. They could sense my stoke and they gave me the whole bag. I ate about half of them as quickly as possible over the next quarter mile. And then the magic wore off and the cherries were placed on the banned substance list along with everything else.

'Four minutes.' That was the reported gap at Half Pipe. It seemed like Thomas was cracking. But then it was 15 minutes (Tony) and 12 minutes (Thomas) two miles later at Treeline. Regardless, we were definitely closing. And then we hit the road and all life was immediately sucked out of the rally. Wind, sun and long-ass road vistas did a number on me. We slowed considerably by the time we got to Fish Hatchery, but the math still seemed to be in our favor, and it was now pretty clear that Tony was in trouble, just 10 minutes ahead of me and two minutes behind Thomas - now the leader.

Getting ready to run the last 23 with the Epic Stoke Machine. Photo: Slusher.
To say that Dylan was ready to roll would be an understatement. I told him what I had told Scott and Justin upon leaving the aid station - we were hiking the climb, no ifs, ands or buts about it. At the top of the first raise on Powerline we saw someone. Dylan thought it was Tony, but it was a photographer. Seven minutes he told us. It seemed like the pass for second was just a matter of time now. And then we looked back and saw Zeke a quarter mile back.

There I was, once again, stuck in this odd third-place time warp. I could sense that Zeke was moving better than me, that we'd catch Tony soon enough, and that Thomas was probably juiced enough about leading to be able to hang on. Dylan was trying every trick in the book to get calories in me, but I just couldn't do it. My stomach was riding the line. Any solids and it would have been chunks, but liquids I could just about consume. Dylan (to his immense credit) had three options for me: Coke, EFS sports drink and water. I stuck to mainly EFS and Coke and so we shuffled on.

'A little jogging?' Dylan would prompt as Zeke got ever closer up the Powerline climb. We jogged a bit, I got some spasms in my calf, we hiked. But we made it to the top of the climb before Zeke. And immediately we saw Tony. I laughed inwardly at the situation. I was about to take second only to hand it back in the next mile or two to a charging Zeke. The downs were still working okay for me though, so I was able to hold off Zeke until just before the turn onto the Colorado Trail. I was even able to keep him in sight for a good third of it. And then he was gone and I came to terms with my predicament.

I couldn't get enough calories in to mount a charge, so I had to play defense and maintain what I had, which was a podium finish and possibly a sub-17 clocking. Dana looked concerned when I arrived at May Queen - you know you're in trouble when your wife looks at you like that. I took some time at the aid station, unconcerned about Zeke and his three-minute lead. I ate a couple of salted potatoes and washed them down with a couple of shots of Coke. Dylan wanted to get after it - I was just plain tired and desperately wanting to be done. But there were 13 long miles still left to cover.

All things considered, the torturous trip around Turquoise Lake went surprisingly well, with just a few short hike breaks on a couple of the steeper rollers to recharge the fading batteries. By Tabor, Zeke was no more than seven minutes up we were told, which meant that we'd been largely holding our own. I was still getting some EFS down, but I had no competitive drive left in me. The course had ground it all out of me long ago. There were cheers behind that were worrying, but made no sense, as we progressed through the campgrounds. Surely Tony wasn't mounting a charge. The cheers were enough to keep me running though.

Six or seven miles to go. Turquoise essentially done. Photo: Slush

We hit the Matchless parking lot and saw the family and crew. Scott said third was in the bag and that Tony was 15 minutes back at May Queen. I was still paranoid about those cheers though. Two miles later and four miles from the finish, just before the Boulevard turn, a car stopped and the guy inside informed us that he'd waited 17 minutes at Tabor and nobody had come through. Boom, just like that I made the executive decision that we'd be hiking the whole of the Boulevard. There was nothing left to play for and nothing left to defend. Yes, I could have run for the sub-17 (and in hindsight I wish I had), but I was just so done with running at this point that a nice three-mile stroll on a beautiful Leadville evening was where I wanted to be.

Dylan and I chatted a good bit and then I started getting nauseous again. The roller coaster was apparently not quite over. With a mile and half to go, I was once again fighting off the chunder monkey. We hiked absolutely everything, with the exception of one very short downhill stretch, until we were overlooking the finish on Sixth. Slusher and Stefanovic were there and jogged down the road with me. Some girls joined the parade, there was Justin and Dana, Stella and Alistair. The glow of the finish line clock turned into distinct numbers, and then, finally, I was done. Third again.

I was so done, about as done as I've ever been at the end of one of these ridiculous races.
The two man 'get me to the finish' 100 mile stare.

So good.
Thank the sweet baby Jesus. Where's the chair?
Just a few of the Fort Collins Trail Runners in town for the weekend.

So enough of this melodrama. Yeah, it was a long-drawn-out day, but I'm sure others had it worse than I. And what the hell? In the final analysis we choose to inflict this pain on ourselves, so we should probably just shut up and quit boring people with the details.

Thanks, of course, to everyone who had a hand in my day, and congratulations to everyone who found a way to reach their own personal finish lines on Saturday and Sunday. One hundred miles in one push hurts; it takes conviction and dedication to get it done, and those, I believe, are traits worth celebrating.


  1. Great write-up. I've now only run one of these damn things, but can say that I shared many of the same thoughts...just much further back in the crowd.

    Congrats on putting another one in the books, and doing so once again in such an impressive fashion. Cheers.

  2. Holy Heck that was an entertaining read. I have to say put the fear of Zeus into me as I have my own showdown with 100 coming up this weekend. Perhaps fear is a good thing? Do you think the altitude affected your stomach more than is normal in your 100 mile efforts?

    Congrats on another podium finish!

  3. Great job Nick. That was my favorite write-up yet. It's comforting to know that the fast guys feel the misery too.

  4. JP - great to see you out there and awesome work getting it done.

    John - for sure the altitude was a factor with the stomach issues, but fueling has just become a hard nut for me to crack. Pretty much my default fueling plan these days is to run on gels for the first 50 and then burn fat and liquid calories for the final 50. It's not always pretty, but typically gets the job done. Good luck this weekend, BTW. Just keep moving forward and that finish line will come.

  5. I had no idea you were actually thinking out there.

  6. The first two paragraphs of this report might be the best synopsis of the sport ever written.

    But I'll disagree with you on one thing. There are a lot of people out there who truly enjoy all the stupid little details. Not just for bad-a$%es like you, but for the mid-packers, as well. After all, rugby players, golfers, and tennis enthusiasts don't each have individual blogs. But we do.

    Congrats on another amazing run!

  7. Nick- Awesome run man, way to hold it together! And Dana is a rock-star!!!

  8. Nice work! But your fans are really getting tired of these third place finishes.

  9. What a terrific read. Great effort on the course, too. You had that sour stomach look on your face the few times I saw you but you're one of the few people about whom I've NEVER said to myself, "He could drop." Somehow, it never occurs to me that you wouldn't finish a race near the front. Congratulations on such an effort.

  10. So much for cherry picking an easy one, eh? Fabulous performance and engaging race report. You always bring it and your toughest competitors all respect you for it. Glad to know you. You motivate me to work harder.

  11. Nick, Good to see you come through at was was indeed the Twin Lakes madhouse. Thanks for the brutal honesty and candor. It's both comforting and disturbing to know that the elites suffer just as much as anyone in the pack. Great write-up.

    1. Couldnt' agree more Jay, reading this definitly helped me to realize that these guys don't just go out there and do this and feel great, they suffer like crazy and have the mental toughness to just put the hammer down.

  12. Nick, that's one of the best pieces I have read about running 100 miles. Helps motivate me for next weekend.

    Keep smiling and thinking about that 2013 summer BG.


  13. What a tremendous effort, Nick. Congratulations! My favorite part:

    "I had been dreading the start of the Leadville 100 for days, weeks, even months. After you've done enough of these torturous events, you know that the fairy tales you tell yourself on comfortable 20 mile training runs are nothing more than endorphinated pipe dreams. There is no way in hell you're going to come down Sixth Street with the sun blazing, angels singing, and the clock just ticking over to a thoroughly impressive 15:30 course record. The reality of it is that you're going to turn onto Sixth with a mile to the finish and it will seem like you still have a marathon to go. Your stomach will be a mess, your legs will be screaming, and you'll have given up caring - many hours ago - about the vacuous goals you'd set in a previous (positive) life. It just won't matter anymore."

  14. dOOd!!! i so need a EFS trucker hat!
    great report... great running!!
    thanks for sharing.

    you are an inspiration!

  15. Best 100 mile race report ever! Congrats on another fine race.

  16. Good job out there Nick. It's good to know you guys also sometimes wonder what the hell you're doing out there. At least I think that's good. Entertaining report as always

  17. Probably ought to be a pre-req reading for anyone ever thinking of doing one of these retarded events at some retarded pace.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. [Oops! Wrong blog!]

    Based on the tone of this play-by-play, it appears that you crossed the line, then immediately were given a laptop to write your report!

    Way to tough out another strong 100. Also, nice nicknames: I especially like "Epic Stoke Machine". Maybe yours needs to be "All He Does is Podium".

    Out on the West Coast, we keep our nicknames short: OOJ, LB, AJW (defacto)...and now "BGD". I guess yours could be, "AH-DIP"...

    Congrats again, and way to keep the Standard of Toughness so incredibly high.

  20. LOL at the first paragraph. Reminded me of Tony's post race interview where he talked about how silly and stupid these races are.

  21. Nick, I really appreciate this post. Thanks. It's always great to watch you race and to particpate in events with you...and by participating I mean seeing you at the start and then not again because you are so amazingly fast. :-) You are an incredible inspiration, keep it up. Looking forward to hooking up for a run along the front range with you at some point.

  22. Nick,

    Well done and well written. Congratulations on another fantastic year.


  23. Nick,
    Great race and an outstanding report!
    I don't think anyone could ever describe what the later part of a 100 feels like better than your first two paragraphs. Each 100 may get easier physically, but I feel they only get harder mentally.

  24. Nice work Nick! Congratulations on a great hard fought run.

  25. 100 milers are just stupid! Let's share some endorphinated pipe dreams on a run together soon.

  26. Nick,

    Congratulations on another great run! And, your race report is really well-written and, at times, laugh out loud funny. From my perspective you are once again the GWWAKARJUROY (Guy With Wife And KIds And Real Job Ultra Runner of the Year) for 2012. Hope to see you at Squaw in 2013 if not before.


  27. Great report (possibly up there with WS '10's report?). Dana is a rock-star for sure. Way to gut-out another one, inspiring as always. Go play in the mountains, finish the season strong, and I'll see you on the start line of WS (or maybe QR50 again?).

  28. Yes i have to agree with you AJW... GWWAKARJUROY 2012 for sure!

  29. Nice work again, Nick. Great summary of the ridiculousness and yet worth of 100 mile running.

  30. Great write-up Nick. I dig your writing style, and think that's an awesome TR from a podium finisher.

    Congrats on the finish!


  31. My only real goal for the race was to top Hope on the way out before you hit it on your way back. After I accomplished that, I pretty much walked the rest of the way to the finish. It was great to see you out there and awesome to get updates on how you were doing along the way. Great run! I love the family finish with Dana, Alistair and Stella. Good stuff.

  32. Nice first 2 paragraphs, Nick. I was rooting for you. Not that it mattered in a big scheme of these 2 paragraphs:)

  33. Congrats on finishing. Looking forward to running it in the next couple of years. Jim

  34. "chunder monkey"

    Mike M - ATX

  35. Pumping up the post count: Helluva job and great writeup!

  36. Keep rolling that rock Sisyphus...

  37. Really inspiring stuff.

    How do you find time to train with young kids? I have 3 and 5 yr olds and fit in a run as and when

  38. Nice race and great RR, your an inspiration to us that can only man up to running silly 50k's and just dream of going big Someday!

  39. "There is no such thing as an easy 100"...yup, it's true. I thought maybe it would be just a tad easier having done it last year, but I was wrong. I agree with GZ that the first few paragraphs need to be required reading before any 100 attempt.

    Truly enjoyed running out there with you even though I saw you once. I loved the night run doing something I'll never get to do in a race...leading you around the lake! Hey, I'm still working on getting you that elevation data. :-)

  40. Please don't quit boring us to death with your race reports- they are thoroughly enjoyable. I read the first 3 paragraphs to my (somewhat) tolerant wife.

    Nice race, too. Mr. Consistent.

  41. Quite possibly the best race report I've ever read. Thanks and congrats on the solid run.