The 4 am start was full of energy (something I'm most definitely not used to, this being my first organized ultra...) and it was pretty amazing. 800 or so runners all crammed into downtown Leadville all psyched up.
I knew, from good advice from many friends with 100 mile experience, that I should make sure to take it really easy at the start even though there is so much energy so that I don't wreck myself early. So, when the race started I tried to go out at my set pace and not worry about what was going on around me.
I felt like I did a good job of this all the way to the first aid station at May Queen (mile 13.5) where I got clocked at 2:02 which was only about 10 minutes faster than I was hoping for. I was feeling really good and not pushing to hard so it seemed a reasonable enough split. To this point it was just fun running and a beautiful star studded early morning of running in the dark.
After May Queen, the course goes up and over Sugar Loaf and much of the first part of that went well too. In the first morning light, looking back down at Turquoise Lake was stunning with cool morning fog hovering over the water. I kept my pace easy and jogged only flats and slight up hills and walked everything else. Real easy.
I really didn't have any issues until part way down Sugar Loaf on the 'power lines' section. For no reason (obvious to me, anyway...) my quads started to struggle a bit. I just didn't feel like I had the normal crank in 'em that I usually do when going up and down big climbs like this. I felt a bit concerned about this but not to concerned as sometimes things feel good and sometimes things feel real sh-ty when doing these long runs. I figured I would chalk it up to the legs warming up and it would work itself out later in the race because, otherwise, I felt great still.
Well, by the time I ran the bit of paved road to Susan and the second aid station Fish Hatchery (mile 23.5) I actually felt really beat up in my quads. I was still thinking that they would work out the kinks later in the run but they most definitely felt worse than expected. At the aid station I commented to Susan that I didn't have much fun on the 'power line' and paved road sections leading up to the Fish Hatchery and my legs weren't feeling very good but that I assumed it would work itself out sooner than later if I was patient. I was still moving well with split of 4:02 which was almost an accumulative 30 minutes under my predetermined time so far. I didn't really push to get there so even though my legs felt bad the pace still seemed good.
The next section of paved road (maybe 5 miles or so) was horrible. I hate running roads anyway but this section seemed to really do some damage for some reason. I figured I would be able to recover my legs a bit as the road section is pretty much flat but instead I just kept feeling worse. My legs just didn't seem to have any pep. I was really starting to get concerned about it but continued to try to be patient about a turnaround later. Along the paved road section was where I started to notice people steadily start passing me.
Once off of the paved road, the course followed dirt roads to Halfmoon Aid Station (mile 30.5) which I entered at 5:21, still 25 minutes below what I thought I would do to that point but my split was a little slower than hoped for.
Luckily, for my sanity, the course got much more fun after Halfmoon with some really nice single track in some aspen groves and I tried to really enjoy it. After all those road section, this was like heaven. To bad more of the course couldn't have been on single track!
I did continue to suffer along this section and I continued to get passed (the passing thing didn't really bother my all that much at the time but later in the race...well, you'll see). It was weird. I had the mental drive to move a little faster and knew that I needed to do so to keep on my set pace but it seemed that I was in slow motion. People kept passing me, I kept trying to go faster to keep up with them (as they were going the pace I expected to be going...) but I just seemed to get slower. I just couldn't figure out what was going on with my legs.
I did get a little mental uplift as I entered the Twin Lakes Aid Station (mile 39.5) from the hordes of people there and seeing Susan again. She quickly got me set up to continue and then I was on my way toward the big climb of the course, Hope Pass. My split at Twin Lakes was 7:19 and only 10 minutes below my predetermined pace. I lost a lot of time on this section which was a bummer as it is pretty cruiser terrain and I was hoping to get some recovery before going up Hope Pass. I really needed to crank up Hope Pass to keep on pace but I wasn't sure what was going to happen up there with the way things were going.
Well, the 'hike' up Hope Pass was seriously rough on me. I don't really remember the last time I took it so easy and still felt so worked doing a climb like this. I felt the same way up Hope that I do at the end of an all out R2R2R PR effort. This was not good...or even remotely expected. For how much easier this course is to this point and the easy pace I was going I should have felt way better. I was getting really worried.
Once up closer to tree line, I really noticed for the first time just how many people were passing me. I knew I was moving painfully slow but I just couldn't muster a faster pace. My legs felt totally shot. All the while, people just cranked past me as if I was standing still. Brutal.
Once over Hope Pass, it became pretty clear that this was not a good day for me and I had better readjust my goal for the day of going under 25 hours. I just needed to try to keep it together for the rest of the run to go under the 30 hour cut off and finish.
On the down hill to Winfield I felt, for about 2 miles, the best I had since about mile 10. For some reason I did pretty well and moved o.k. through this section and it gave me hope that I could still somehow get my legs going again.
Up to this point I had basically felt good for the first 15 miles and then felt like crap for the next 30 miles. I know that running this far isn't supposed to feel all happy and wonderful (I am used to that and prepared for it) but something was different, something was most definitely off.
Once off Hope Pass and then finished with battling the hordes of cars driving down the dirt road we have to run to get to Winfield (...lame section of the run), I finally made it to the Winfield Aid Station (50 miles) with a time of 11:21. Brutal. I was just over an hour behind my predetermined pace now (...and that was a conservative predetermined pace!). I had lost a full hour just on this section. Oh boy.
At Winfield I met Frank and Gina and they got me ready to head back over Hope Pass and back toward Leadville.
After jogging back down the dirt road I started my climb back up Hope Pass...and, oh, what a slow climb it was. If over 100 people didn't pass me back up the pass then I would have been surprised and I realized for the first time that I may not even be able to finish if I couldn't get my quads in order.
By the time I reached the top of Hope Pass I had started to feel a bit depressed and embarrassed that I couldn't move faster. Literally, everyone was moving faster than me that was headed back up Hope Pass and every time they would pass I would try my hardest to keep up with their pace (which was also a slow painful walk). Each time I wouldn't be able to muster it for more than a 1/2 dozen steps before faltering and going back to my barely moving death march.
Headed back down Hope to Twin Lakes I hoped to gain some time and move a bit better again to get my act together...in fact, I felt determined to do it. The result? A bit more running but not as much as I would have hoped for and by the time I reached the crew at Twin Lakes I had lost another hour and fifteen minutes off of my, hoped for, pace. I entered Twin Lakes Aid Station (mile 60.5) at 15:30.
At Twin Lakes Aid Station the whole crew was there (Susan, Frank and Gina, Matt and Jess) and that is where I picked up some moral support and pacer Matt for the next while. I was glad to have Matt along at this point as I hoped that having him there would help motivate me to keep clawing at it and moving forward at some sort of reasonable pace. In fact, when I picked up Matt I felt a renewed positive attitude and really felt that I might be able to find another gear to get myself back on track. The next section, all the way to Fish Hatchery, was pretty easy anyway so I felt hopeful to make up some time.
All that started to fade away after it got dark again and I stopped being able to run flats and down hills. It didn't have anything to do with it getting dark though, they just happened at the same time. My legs finally started to just flat out not want to move anymore and even though Matt fought valiantly to keep my positive and moving I would falter anytime I tried to get any kind of run going. It was probably be comical for the other runners passing me if they could look back as I would, every once in a while, get super determined and, after someone passed me walking or light jogging, I would try my hardest to run after them for a couple hundred yards and then falter and they would disappear easily and without any apparent effort out of sight and into the darkness ahead of me.
By this point, I started to marvel at how every single person that was on the course would, after catching me, easily pass me as if I were standing still even though many of them were walking. I couldn't get over how extremely fast and easily they moved. Every person looked like a speed walker to me. I was in trouble.
A few miles before the Halfmoon Aid Station Matt mentioned to me for the first time that I had better get my ass in gear or I wasn't going to make a cut off at Fish Hatchery or May Queen. I again, adding to an uncountable amount of times, promised myself that I would try to move as fast as I could and again, for an uncountable amount of times, kept getting a bit slower with every mile and got passed by faster moving walkers and joggers...but I kept trying.
Finally, we met Frank, Gina and Jess at Treeline Aid Station (mile 71ish) at...I actually don't know what time...and they got us in and out pretty darn fast and I, now with lots of warm cloths on and feeling closer to the finish, felt a bit revitalized. I made a pact with myself and told Matt that I was going to run as much of the upcoming 5 miles of flat road as I could, no matter what, to make up some time and get things on track so I could still come in under the cut off.
The running lasted for maybe a mile and my pace was so slow that Matt was walking faster than I could run. After that first mile of running I fell back into my painfully slow walking pace that sadly got slower and slower all the way to Fish Hatchery.
By this time, I was getting passed like there was no tomorrow and there was nothing I could do to move faster. I started to get super depressed about my ability to move forward at this point. I knew that I needed to move faster as all the people at this point were on the edge of not making the cut off and they were all moving considerably faster than me. If I wasn't able to start following these people then I wasn't going to have any chance at all.
The last mile or two, walking into Fish Hatchery, felt out of control, sad and embarrassing. I realized at that point that no matter how much I wanted to finish (because mentally I was still all there and motivated) my legs just weren't moving fast enough. I just didn't know how to get them moving any faster any more. I had tried and tried over the course of 65 miles (the point where my legs first felt 'off') to get things on track and instead it snowballed into my stumbling along with worthless legs into Fish Hatchery contemplating if I am physically able to move fast enough to beat the next cut off at May Queen, let alone the next at the finish line.
So, Matt and I got to our crew of Frank, Gina and Jess at Fish Hatchery (mile 76.5) (Susan was a head at May Queen sleeping so that she could pace me the last 13 miles to the finish) and we discussed the matter. I arrived with a time of 21:36 (4 hours behind my prerace splits). I had just less than 5 hours at that point to get to May Queen if I wanted to beat the cut off and I had to cover 10 miles.
With some quick and easy math I realized that I would have to average at least 2 miles an hour to make it happen and that is if I left at that exact moment. I still had to climb the 1,000+ foot Sugar Loaf 'power line' section and then go down a long section of loose rocks and technical trail to get to May Queen. It didn't look good...in fact, it looked down right impossible.
I figured, at best, in my present condition, I could manage 1 mile an hour up Sugar Loaf and then if I got feeling a crazy late charge on the down hill to May Queen somehow, then I could maybe average 3 miles an hour down hill if I was lucky. That would maybe, just maybe, get me there before cut off and that's way above expectation, best case scenario. Then I would have to navigate the final 13 miles from May Queen to the finish in less than 4 hours (average of just over 3 miles an hour...) and that just seemed impossible to me. Even after a miraculous late charge to May Queen my legs would be completely shot and there is enough technical trail and rolling hills to the finish that I could never keep a true running pace through it all.
I had to make the decision of beat the complete crap out of myself and try to work against some extreme odds and try to finish or call it good right here and now. While I contemplated the math I also contemplated family, friends and everyone out there who supported me through this. I contemplated why I do ultra distance running and just how much I really needed to prove and to who by beating the garbage out of my body for the next however many miles until I stopped being able to continue moving forward.
It was weird. The whole length of the run, I had no tears, I was calm, clear headed and felt like I played it as smart as I knew how. Yes; I had bouts with sadness, depression and embarrassment due to my effort and the hundreds of people that passed me but through all of that I kept coming back to trying to be smart about what I needed to do and keep moving forward and near the end, Matt did a wonderful job of helping me control my intake of water and food when we needed to change things up and helped mentally keeping me focused on the goal.
So, what was so weird was that even though I was mentally all there and wanted to succeed my body just didn't have what it took to push that day. It was literally all in my legs. From the waist up I felt great from stomach to mind but my quads just didn't have anything. Literally, nothing to give to the table and I just couldn't move fast enough. Because of that, I was looking at not finishing because of a cut off. Something I had no control over. Really hard to take.
After another 20 minutes or so hanging out at Fish Hatchery and way to much time ticking away from the clock I finally 'fully' committed to the DNF (not finishing the run). In the end, it just wasn't worth it to me to beat the crap out of myself like that just to get stopped later on before the finish.
I was done. That was it. Race over.
With it all said and done and a few days to look back on my decision I still feel strongly that I wouldn't have made either the May Queen or the Finish cut offs and feel fine with my choice of stopping. Looking back on other runners much better than I and seeing that they have made choices to take them selves out of 100 mile races because of a 'bad day' makes me feel a tiny bit better about it too.
Greats like Anton and Geoff have all pulled out of 100 milers because of their body not 'being there' that day. Even (I heard this one through the grape vine...) Barefoot Ted pulled out of this years Leadville 100 Run at mile 28 (not much further from where I first was feeling 'off').
I'm not throwing these names out just to make myself feel better (well, maybe a bit...) but to help me realize that it doesn't matter who you are, 100 milers are super hard and you have to be on it to perform well and succeed. You need to listen to your body and sometimes you will crush, sometimes you will suffer hard and squeak through and sometime you will go down in a ball of flames. This is something I am getting better at rationalizing. It is a fact of life, I guess.
In the end the two reasons that my performance is hard to deal with is that...
1. I thought that I was a better runner than that. My performances running in the last year or two have far outshone my effort at Leadville. I have had no indicator that I would have so much difficulty moving well. I mean...what happened to my legs? I'm still trying to figure that one out...
2. Susan, Frank, Gina, Jess and Matt put their lives into this also to help me on race day and my parents, family and friends have all been wonderful for cheering me on and supporting my dream of doing these things and I guess I have that feeling of letting them down along with letting myself down.
I guess I just feel a bit bad about it all.
Well, being a poop won't make anything better. All I can do is recover from this setback and learn what I can from it and become a better and stronger runner. If I enter Leadville again in my life hopefully I can do better, if I enter another 100 mile race then hopefully I can take my lessons learned to that one and succeed and if I just continue doing ultra length 'unorganized' trail runs in the wilderness then I can only be stronger for those too. I know I will be stronger for this...I just gotta learn the lessons that are hidden in folds of my Leadville effort.
To Susan (my wife) for supporting my through all of the training and on race day. She even said that if I ever wanted to go back and beat the crap out of myself at Leadville again she would be there for me. She is crazier than I am. Love you Susan.
To Frank, Gina and Jess for being there for me on race day as support crew. You guys were awesome and super supportive. I can never thank you enough.
To Matt for running with me and keeping me moving as my body fell apart. Again, I can never thank you enough.
To end this post, I'll throw out a couple of my favorite funny moments from the run...
-On the way to Hopeless Aid Station (on Hope Pass) on of the Llamas they use to move supplies broke free and ran crazily down the trail past us with aid station crew far behind but in quick pursuit screaming and flailing their arms. That was funny.
-On the trail, just after Twin Lakes (coming back), we walked past a runner puking while his pacer was taking photos of him. The pacer was having a great time with it laughing and trying to get the runner to puke more for more photos. That was funny.