Leadville 100 – My First Attempt

My First Attempt  – LT100

The Leadville Trail 100, “Race Across The Sky”, has a mystique all its own amoung the ultra running community. High altitude, mountainous terrain, incredible vistas were the challenges that enticed me to give it a try.  What peaked my interest most was not so much the beauty, but the challenge of push my limits farther than I ever had.  Leadville demands that you give it your all and then, when you think you have nothing left, give more.  At 4:00 AM Saturday, August 18, 2012, there I was, at the starting line at the corner of 6th and Harrison Avenue in Leadville, CO, which at 10,200′, is the highest elevation city in the US.

Unfortunately, my first attempt at the Leadville Trail 100 ended at approximately 11:00 PM Saturday night at 60.5 miles at the Twin Lakes check point on the way back to Leadville.  Rather than a story about the final result this is my story of the journey. My goal was to finish but this was more about the personal journey I took to get to the starting line and then the story of those 60.5 miles.

My motivation.

When I turned 40 (10 years ago) I ran my first Ultra, Sunmart 50 Trail Run. I loved it,  and decided a bigger ultra would be my next challenge. The Leadville Trail 100 came to mind, as our family vacations regularly in Colorado. Of course, it took me 10 years to get to the starting line! Perhaps it was facing another milestone year, turning 50, that finally made me  commit. I can’t say exactly why I felt this was the time to do it.  Do I have any second thoughts? The answer is simple, No Regrets! I also decided to make another commitment, something I had not ever done before ~ run the race for a cause, specifically to help raise awareness and funds for the Be The Match Registry, the National Marrow Registry Program. Last year, I had become involved locally in the cause as the race director for the Houston area Be The One Run. I did have some mixed feelings with this decision.  Putting myself out there for myself was one thing, announcing to friends what I was doing and setting as my goal to raise $1000, (enough to add 10 people to Be The Match Registry) made me nervous.  I knew doing so added more pressure to myself, if attempting to run 100 miles wasn’t pressure enough. I am definitely glad I did! If you missed the chance to donate there is still time to do so. I’m going for 5 more donors to add to the registry. Check out my personal page at Be The One Run Houston.

Pre-race Preparation.

Checking out the LT100 Race Start and Finish Line.

My Crew Giulia Hattan and Donna Sterns.

My crew consisted of Donna Sterns and Giulia Hattan.  They had trained hard with me throughout the summer,  slogging out miles in the heat and humidity of Houston. They deserve so much credit in helping me with all my race preparation plans. The key to a successful race (even with a DNF) is to have a positive and self-motivated crew – I am proud to say these two gals receive A+ marks in all aspects. We arrived in Colorado with plenty of the right stuff for me to make it to the finish and then some. All told, we had 5 large bags filled with gear. Good thing we rented an SUV.

Arrival Leadville, CO August 16

We departed Houston mid-day on Wednesday and spent our first night in Vail, CO as our pre-altitude adjustment night resting comfortably at 8,150 ft.. On Thursday morning we loaded the SUV with more gear, compliments of Donna’s long time friend Brigett and headed to Leadville. First stop–one last Q&A session with Camille Yarbrough, who shares time between Houston and Leadville. Camille had provided me with a wealth of pre-race information for the past four months. I was praying she wouldn’t quit checking her e-mail, since I flooded her inbox with questions as it grew closer to race day. Chuck Cofer, her husband, had given me a step by step account of the course earlier in the summer.  In June, we ran the LT100 course split up into sections over a three days. It definitely seemed easier when you did it in baby steps. Thanks, Chuck for this personal tour of the course!

Packet pick-up & Medical Check-in

Drop Bags filled and ready for drop off.

Next stop, packet pick-up. It was no ordinary race check-in. First I picked up my race chip, so everyone could track our performance through out the race – a small box- like device attached with a secure band around my wrist.  Next, my alphabetically assigned race number (I was #912), finally, a MANDATORY medical check-in complete with weigh in scales. Runners losing more than 7% of my body weight risked removal from the course. The rest of the day was focused on planning out the route for my crew to get around the course–a very important task. Donna and Giulia planned to meet me at the 6 different official crew points. Timing is everything, especially for an ultra race when hurry up and wait becomes the norm for crew members. They wait for hours just to help you hydrate, refuel, change clothes all in a span of 2-3 minutes, just so they can wait some more.  That night we attended the carbo-loading dinner with about 1,000 other people in the 6th Street Gym. It was a fun night to share optimism and personal goals for finishing with both first timers and veteran runners.

Final Preparation August 17

Mandatory Pre-Race Meeting

Last minute race details were announced at the MANDATORY Final briefing.  As the meeting implied, all entrants were required to attend. The  6thStreet gym was packed leaving standing room only as we all listened with great attention to the pre-race announcements and introductions. This year they announced two changes to the course, one was a change to the Half Moon check point and the other would be on the trail to Winfield, moving the runners off the road leading into Winfield and onto the new extension of the Colorado trail. I don’t think I have ever stood up and cheered at a pre-race briefing or felt like I was part of a Ultra Cult rally – yelling …… yet there I was at the end of a motivational talk by Cole, son of race founder Ken Chlouber, chanting I Will Commit, I Won’t Quit! Ken, as I was led to understand, typically gives the final pre-race send off speech, but was unable to attend this year due to the recent loss of  his brother. Cole’s pre-race speech left me AWESTRUCK. I was definitely on a rocky mountain high ~ ready to start the race!  The hours before race start were ticking down. An early dinner and a restless night, waiting for a 2:15 AM alarm were all that was left between me and the race.

Start to May Queen – 13.5 miles   Race Start Time 4:00 AM

4:00 AM Race Start Time. Ready to Go!!!

We had decided the night before I would go to the start and Donna and Giulia would immediately drive to the first check point at May Queen. Giulia was the lead driver and we went to the start line around 3:30 AM. I admit my nerves were working overtime, my mind was over thinking and I was second guessing everything we had talked about the night before.  Donna was the lead on technical items. She had figured out the light source I was going to use for the first 13 miles. My biggest challenge was to turn on my light! Race morning was 39 degrees and with all my nervous energy I quickly warmed up. Just 10 minutes before race start, I was surrounded by 800 runners headlamps on and ready to go. The energy was electrifying and I probably should have taken something to slow me down because when the gun went off at 4:00 AM I was off. Rumor has it the first mile was under 8:00 min.  The first few miles were on a paved road heading out of Leadville toward Turquoise Lake.  Starting down hill in the dark with the excited chatter of the runners all around me did nothing to slow me down.

Before I realized it we were on the trail running single file around Turquoise Lake. My biggest challenge up to that point had been keeping myself on the trail.  I quickly realized the small dots of light hanging from tree branches were  glow sticks used to mark the course, so I stopped worrying about staying on course. After a few miles,  I had fallen in with a small group of runners, bad news I was leading. Every once in a while you could see all the lights moving up and down in front of you and hear the friendly hellos of runners as a few skirted by in the dark. The time went by quickly and just as the sunlight began to creep into the horizon we exited the trail and arrived at May Queen campground. I made it to the first check point, so far so good.

May Queen to Fish Hatchery – 23.5 miles

The descent from Sugar Loaf Pass.

Donna and Giulia met me on the road just before I made the turn uphill to connect with the Colorado Trail. It was a quick change of clothes, drop the lights add the poles, grab some food and water.  I had hoped for a two minute pause, but it might have taken more like 4 minutes. Every minute counted.  This next stretch was in the early morning light, sun coming out and the wonder of the day ahead. We joined up with the Colorado Trail for a short segment. It proved to be one of my first missteps of the race.  I stepped on a rock as I turned a curve on the trail and rolled my ankle.  UGH!!! When have I ever done this before?  With a few shout outs I put my foot down and kept telling myself just to keep my mind on moving forward.  Soon after we were heading up Hagerman Pass Road which was uphill and therefore, a reason to walk. I was given sound advice, run the flat and down hills and walk all uphills, even small short uphills. Don’t  bother wasting your energy running.  This long stretch eventually led to a jeep trail that climbs up to the top of Sugar Loaf Pass, at 11,000 ft.  By this time, my ankle was sore and stiff but manageable.  I finally reached the top of Sugar Loaf Pass. My heart was working overtime, but I felt strong and  ready for the next long section–  a steep down hill on a dirt road.

Donna at Fish Hatchery Crew Aid Station.

All trails lead somewhere and this one led to the next check point, Fish Hatchery at mile 23 1/2. It was still going as planned until I felt myself go out of control on the down hill. I had been using hiking poles (lightweight black diamond trail poles – awesome!) but they didn’t help me when I suddenly stumbled, causing another clumsy mistake and pulling something in my right knee. AlthoughI am not known for my grace, this was not going as planned. I gathered myself on the trail and took a quick mental note of how my legs were feeling…Ok, quads fine, knee not so good.  Keep on going. Heading in to Fish Hatchery, I was not in the best of spirits and met up with my crew.  The crew’s job is to get you turned around and heading back out quickly and with positive vibes. They met me with Tylenol (good for the spirits), food, drink and sunscreen!  Soon, they had me back on the road heading out of Fish Hatchery on my way to Half Pipe Aid Station.

Fish Hatchery to Half Pipe – 29.1 miles 

Loading up with fuel at Fish Hatchery check point.

This section was to be an easy run.  Nice and flat with some modest climb. Rule number 1:  Plans change, so learn to adapt.  My knee was getting stiff and the ankle was still sore.  Originally, I thought this section would let me gain time.  But after my falls, I had to challenge myself to a game of run 30 seconds/walk 30 seconds and try not to let myself walk more than I ran.  The sun was definitely getting warmer and I had to focus on drinking. Looking back I realized how little I ate at the last two stops in comparison to what I should have eaten. I read with great interest veteran Leadville runner Dana Roueche’s “Strategy to Finish Leadville Trail 100″  and he stated the key to running under the 30 hour time limit is to consume 12,000 calories.  Basically, this involved consuming 500 calories at each aid stop  I figured I was falling behind this goal. I focused on consuming a few more PowerBar Energy Blasts before I arrived at Half Pipe.

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes 39.5 miles

Just came down off the Colorado Trail into Twin Lakes Check point.

LT100 fans showing off their colorful side.

I arrive at Half Pipe having walked more than I wanted, I was still way ahead of my target time according to Giulia who was keeping track of my time. You learn to play all sorts of simple mind games to pass the time.  At this point, the runners are spaced out. Runners that started slowly (should followed their example) have now started to pass me. Occasionally, I would catch up with a group of runners while doing my best power walking imitation. Actual “running” was becoming more difficult especially on any down hill sections. On leaving Half Pipe we were on on a forest road until we connected back with the Colorado Trail. Love the dirt trail – don’t love the down hill. I kept dreaming of “Twin Lakes” and kept my mind on the Dr. Pepper that was waiting for me.  There was another mini rest stop near the Mount Elbert Aid Station before we hit a 3 mile down hill section into Twin Lakes. Downhill became a bad word in my mind. I started to struggle with my knee on all of  “down”sections and actually wished for uphills.  I could power up but not down.  Of course, as if it was a cruel joke the way in to Twin Lakes was a steep and I mean steep down hill trail.  Giulia met me as I entered the aid station giving encouragement and guiding me to my chair.  The crowd at this point was AMAZING.  I needed a little lifting of my spirits at this point.  I planned for a 10 minute break at Twin Lakes and we used every minute. Donna did her best to put KT tape on my knee, but even with the help of Duct tape it would not stick. Too much sweat, dirt and grime was already on my body from the 40 miles before. We were going through my list of things to swap out and change before going up over Hope Pass. Donna and Giulia giving me food (nothing was tasting very good) I did consume a cold Dr. Pepper as promised to myself and a bottle of Ensure. What a combination! No wonder my stomach needed a TUMs–or was it the anxiety I had about this next section of the course?  Can I make it over and back  Hope Pass? The clock was ticking and I was losing precious time with all my power walking.  I mention power walking because it wasn’t a stroll in the park.  I was moving as fast as I could.

Twin Lakes to Winfield – 50 miles (Turn around point)

Twin Lakes Grocery, Gas Station, Post Office all in one.

Hope Pass elevation 12,600

Heading out of Twin Lakes we then cross a marshy field. At this point, I prayed that I was ready for the biggest challenge of the course, the climb to the top of Hope Pass Elevation 12,600. Of course, I came prepared with my high tech Garmin to keep me on track of each passing feet of elevation ~ right?  Wrong, my Garmin had just run out of battery life and was showing me a blank screen. I guess the best technology only goes so far. I then turned to my trusty $25.00 Ironman Timex watch.  At least I new how long I had been on the course. Before I reached the trail head to Hope Pass we had two water crossings. Outbound, it was an easy “walk through” the water wasn’t deep coming just below the knees.  The ice cold water was actually a welcome relief to my legs. I started to focus on the task at hand, a long hot climb upward. I was optimistic on the outbound thinking steady and slow. The next aid station was just below the peak at Hope Pass. A few hearty soles trekked in using llamas to carry supplies up the mountain to the check point.  Entering the aid station I greeted with high fives and a shout out for water.  Both, I gladly accepted.  At this aid station I took a breather – literally the air was thin and I was becoming light headed. I grabbed water, food and a few minutes of well deserved rest before making the ascent 1/2 mile to the top.  At this point, my knee was throbbing and I was thinking about how best to handle the steep down hill on the other side of Hope Pass. Without the ability to run downhill, I was struggling to move quickly. It was just after cresting the top did I hear the shouts coming up the mountain, “First Runner” shouts of who it might be were exchanged between groups. I finally reached Winfield and passed the mandatory weight in.  After checking my time I realize this section took me twice a long as planned. It was after I picked up my drop back looking for Tylenol, that I realized my biggest rookie mistake.  No light. I hadn’t plan to need any lights until after going through the Twin Lakes checkpoint Inbound. No phone service, no crew, feeling tired and foolish I went to the “Head Volunteer” for this checkpoint. As I explained my situation, a pacer, Gary David, had heard my situation and without hesitation offered to be my pacer, and he had an extra light source. He had waited 5 hours at Winfield for his friend to arrive and had just learned he had dropped. His loss my gain.

Winfield to Twin Lakes – 60.5 miles 

I tried to be very clear to Gary that my pace was going to be slow and it was going to be tough going back over Hope Pass.  His optimism and excitement to go hit the trail and go over Hope Pass would was more than enough for the both of us.  Immediately, another runner joined us willing to walk until the pace I set got to slow and he then moved on.  The last two miles on the inward side of Hope Pass are said to be a 30% grade and I agree.  I moved very slowly, resting every 10-15 steps.  It was the falls that surprised me the most. I just couldn’t keep on my feet. Gary caught me a number of times and helped pull me back on my feet. What an impression I was making. There is a unique bond between runner and pacer. It seemed as if my pacer go sense my steps and was ready to give a positive comment when I felt at my lowest.  But, it is the trust you give to your pacer that I couldn’t understand.  Not having met Gary prior to the return to Twin Lakes I trusted him to help me make it back to Twin Lakes. We crested Hope Pass with lights as darkness came quickly. With headlamps we made our descent.  A short stop at the aid station on the way down. Gary was feeling altitude sick and headache that just wouldn’t stop and I was just surviving. The trek down was quicker than the up but I knew without looking at my watch making the cut-off time at Twin Lakes was unlikely. The last challenge was going back through the two water crossings. Luckily, a rope was placed at the first crossing, the water was almost waist high instead of knee deep on the outbound.  The last mile Gary led and I followed and another runner had joined us. Heading into Twin Lakes we passed a number of people cheering on runners, as I passed one such person yelling, “Good Job” I replied back, “Thanks” and to my surprise it was Donna. Donna, Gary and I  joined up with Guilia and walked into the Twin Lakes checkpoint.  My first LT 100 had ended at 11:00 PM, missing the cut-off time.

Thank You!  “Only those who Risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”   T. S. Eliot

This was an experience of a lifetime. I am so grateful to Jerry, my husband, and kids (Reilly, Kylee and Kody) for their support and encouragement as I prepared for and ran the LT 100. To Donna and Giulia ~ I can’t thank you enough. Gary thanks for pacing me and good luck in your Ultra. And, to everyone you followed me via Facebook and e-mails, giving me words of encouragement, thank you.

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