This is not a simple race report, but a story of how I got where I ended up. Be informed that this does contain personal information(which I am sharing with all), and it will take a while to read in its entirety.
Leadville 100 "Race Across the Sky"
By Eric J Lee
"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in"
THE ROAD TO LEADVILLE
The Leadville 100, is a 100mile ultra marathon run in central Colorado. It covers a 50 mile out and back course through the high mountains, with a peak elevation of 12600ft and an average elevation around 10500ft. My journey to Leadville began not in the summer of 2007, not even with the start of training in January 2007, but with my first ultra marathon (the Bishop High Sierra 50mi) in 2006. After my first race, the friendly atmosphere and beautiful scenery had me hooked. As training in the Spring of 2007 began, it saw me signed up for the Greenland 50K, San Juan Solstice 50mi, all culminating in the Leadville Trail 100. The Greenland 50K went much better than expected, seeing me finish in 4:46. The San Juan Solstice proved to be a much tougher race, but I was able to push through and finish in just under 12h at 11:59. Training went very well after the San Juan Solstice, seeing me out for 65-85mi per week and 15h+. While my physical training was going well, my mental and emotional training wasn't quite so stable.
In the beginning of July I was watching a repeat of the 2006 Kona Ironman when I learned that an old friend had passed away. Mr Jonny Blais, whom I had worked with at REI in San Diego for nearly 2 years, had lost his fight with ALS, but not after completing the Kona and raising a lot of money and awareness for ALS(www.ALSwarriorpoet.com). Not long after learning about Jonny's passing I received two messages from old friends asking me to call them back immediately. After hearing those messages I knew something had to be wrong. After speaking with my friends I discovered that one of my best friends from high school and college had succumbed to the severe Schizophrenia that he'd been fighting for 5 years and had taken his own life. A quick trip back to California brought me back together with many old friends to remember those that have passed on. I never thought I'd lose two friends before watching one get married.
OFF TO LEADVILLE
After the rough month of July I made a vow to never forget my friends, and to never give up, no matter how tough things got. I spent the last two weeks before the race, resting and working a lot in lab. The week before the race the planning and logistics went into full swing. I had dinner with my pacers and crew; going over the aid stations, pacing, and layout of the race as a whole. Every aspect of the race was running through my head the entire week, packing bags, writing up directions, planning every leg of the race. I've never done anything where the logistics were so consuming, even overwhelming. Thursday finally rolled around, and I was off to Boulder to pick up Peter and Tressa before heading down to Leadville. On the car ride down the logistics and race talk never stopped, though a nervous air surrounded it all. My Subaru was piled high with race food, bags of running clothes, numerous pairs of shoes, and a few pairs of casual clothes.
We arrived in Leadville just after 3pm, 1h before we could check in to our house, 2h before dinner, so Tressa and I decided to go for a jog on the first few miles of the course. During the last part of our jog we got hit by the beginning of what was to be a torrential down pour, lasting all night. We spent all night watching the weather, hoping for improvement on Friday. We got lucky, as the storms cleared and Friday only saw light rain. We had a weigh-in in the morning (138lbs strong :) ), race briefing at noon, then the remainder of the afternoon was spent pouring through drops, resupply bags, clothing, By dinner time the house had calmed down, piles of bags were set aside, waiting to be picked up by their respective crews, and we all settled in for a nice mellow dinner. After a second night of gorging on pasta we plopped down to watch a movie, Wedding Crashers, before hitting the sack between 8-10pm. Judy and Zubin(my crew) rolled in just after 8pm after a horrid bout with traffic on I-25. I filled them in on the plan for the morning, showed them my gear, then it was off bed, sort of.....
I lay down at and shut my eyes, but my brain was going a mile a minute, I wish I could have just started the race at that moment. I ran through the entire course in my mind, thoughts of old friends and the events of the past months, apprehensions on whether or not I was ready, worries about everything that could go wrong, and so on. I glanced at my watch, 10pm, dammit, why can't I fall asleep. I finally dozed off sometime after that, awaking with my alarm at 310am. I rolled out of bed, fully dressed from the night before, and immediately bounded downstairs to finish prepping my gear. A quick breakfast of poptarts and juice and some God Smack blaring in my ears, must be race day. 340am, the time had come to head for the start line, we are all anxious just to start going. Weeks and weeks of planning, packing, and worrying had culminated in this; a gun shot and 50miles of road/trail ahead.
401am, BOOM, the gun explodes and the 580+ mass begins its trudge on down the road. Peter, Tressa, and I jog off at a mellow pace, letting many others take off ahead. We chatted and jogged through the night, Peter decided to lay off a little more, so Tressa and I continued on. As we turned down one of the dirt roads before reaching Lake Turquoise, we shut of our headlamps, and looked up, staring in awe at the millions of stars and the Milky Way above us. Between the sky and the 45+miles of trail ahead of me, I felt quite small. Tressa and I ran together off and on around Turquoise Lake, mainly due to my numerous bathroom stops. I met Judy briefly at mile 7 to refill my water before heading off to Mayqueen. I flew around the Lake, making much faster time than expected on the smooth rolling trails, arriving at the first Aid Station just after 610am. I refilled my water, grabbed some bars and Gus, and was immediately off for the first climb of the day, Sugarloaf. I strolled up, as I had promised myself to not run ANY of the uphills. I met runners from North Carolina, Virginia, Pittsburgh, California, and all over Colorado. We were all feeling great, so chatted, shared some laughs, and cruised up the last bit of dirt road to the summit of Sugarloaf. Here I took off, leaving many behind, holding a solid 6-7mph pace down the rough powerline road. I cruised in to Fish Hatchery (Aid Station #2) at 813am, over 30min faster than I had planned, oops! I had told Judy to rest, and not meet me here, so I refilled my water and Gu stocks, then promptly headed off to the Halfmoon Rd treeline crew station.
I was running way ahead of schedule, but still thought Judy and Zubin would be able to catch me at the next Aid Station. I ran the entire way to treeline, as the road was mostly flat, and very easy to run. I cruised into the treeline crew point, glanced at my watch, 855am!! Oh shit, I told them I'd be here around 10am, after a short frantic lap of the crews, I realized they weren't there. Some nice people refilled my water, and I set off for the Halfmoon Aid Station, 2.5miles away. This mishap was completely my fault, as I had told Judy and Zubin my time to the Aid Station, not the Crew Station(2.5miles apart), and I was running 30-45min ahead of schedule. Luckily I had a drop bag waiting for me at the Aid Station, so I plodded on uphill, reaching the Aid Station at 9:27am. I grabbed some food and refilled my water for the long haul to Twin Lakes.
The stretch from Halfmoon to Twin Lakes seemed like one of the longest sections on both the outbound and inbound trips. I played leap frog with numerous runners, Hollis from Boulder being one (we ran the Aspen 4 pass loop together a month prior). We all alternated jogging and walking, as the terrain rolled up and down, up and down. Finally I crested a ridge and the trail dropped precipitously down into huge forests of aspen. Twin Lakes was directly ahead of me, but some 12000ft down. I made short work of the steep and rocky decent, arriving into Twin Lakes just before 1120am. As I jogged through the crowd of spectators and crews I began to worry that I would not see Judy or Zubin. I crossed the road, and there plopped down in my camp chair was the happy couple. I literally jumped for joy and cried out "Horray, my crew!", this made both of them laugh. Here I sat down and had a small lunch(turkey sandwich and pretzels), changed shoes, grabbed my camelback, rain jacket, and more food for the long haul over Hope Pass. I apologized one last time for the mishap earlier in the day, and said my goodbyes, as I would not see this duo again until Fish Hatchery on the return. My friends Clem and Sharlyn would take over crewing and pacing duties at Winfield(mile 50).
It had been two weeks since I had last climbed Hope Pass. The meadow was just as green, river just as full, and the pass just as far. The river was cold, but felt great on my muscles, which had been going for over 7 hours by this point. Then up up and away, a 3500ft climb up to Hope Pass. As I climbed up, clouds began to consolidate, but that wasn't my first concern. My right knee had begun to ache just left of the knee cap. I also had a strange pinch in one of my hip flexor muscles, sending occasional pains down my quad. Every 15min I had to stop to stretch and massage the two points. I was able to prevent any increase in pain, but was concerned it may worsen. As I climbed toward the Hopeless Pass Aid Station the clouds began to close in, a thunder boomed over head. The heavens began to open up, and the rain fell gently at first, then increased to a steady shower. I hiked along side a number of others, including Chris Labbe who I shared much suffering with during the next 8h. As we neared the Hopeless Pass Aid Station 600ft below the pass, the sky began to clear, the rain let up, and we were greeted by llamas and the hardy workers of the Aid Station. A little warm soup, some pretzels and water did wonders, as I was soon back on the trail to Hope Pass. The final bit went by quickly, and I was staring into the expansive Sawatch Mts, with Huron Peak looming over Winfield somewhere in the valley below.
I snapped a few pictures, and took off downhill, oh was it great to be heading back down after 2:20 of climbing. The trail was as steep and rocky as advertised, but still mostly runnable. I finally popped out on the Winfield road and was greeted by lines of cars zipping to and from the town, kicking up dust and many not seeming to notice the other runners as they sped by. The jog up to Winfield seemed much harder than 2mi and 400ft should be, but I finally made it just before 3pm. There I found my new crew waiting for me with new clothes, food, and a friend(Clem) to share the rest of my pain. Sharlyn saw the two of us as we headed home, HOME. After 11h I had turned the corner, and was on the return trip back to Leadville, how exciting it felt until I realize that meant I still had 50 miles to go.
From the get go I could tell having Clem along was going to be wonderful, he pushed me just hard enough and was great company. I did my best to entertain as well, signing Sesame Street songs and making lots of stupid comments. On the jog back down the road I ran across Peter and Alan, both said they were doing well, I told them to keep on plodding and I would see them at the finish line. I was getting worried as I had not seen Tressa yet, whom I had expected to be right behind me. Clem and I jogged down the road back to the Sheep's Gulch trailhead and the precipitous climb back to Hope Pass. It hurt, not the worst pain I've ever felt, but it did hurt. On the way up I came across Tressa and not far behind Mike. It just wasn't Tressa's day, so after a hug she told me to push on and not make her cry, I sadly obliged. Mike said his knees were shot and didn't know how much further he'd make it(he made it back to Twin Lakes, tough guy). I hard learned back at Winfield that Michael had dropped due to a pulled hammy, already our group was dwindling. Clem pushed me up, as the thin air and fatigue were definitely beginning to take hold. Still, we made decent time to the pass, then came the sweet sweet downhill. My knees were feeling better, I still had downhill strength, and it was good to get some more soup at the Hopeless Pass Aid Station. While the downhill was sweet, the river crossing at the bottom was even sweeter. My joints and knees felt like new when I stood for a minute in the river. The cold water soothing all the aches and pains away, I could have stood there forever.
WHERE THE RACE BEGINS
I had been told my several experienced ultra runners that the race to Leadville didn't actually start until mile 60. I did not truly understand what that meant until I cruised into Twin Lakes with 40 miles to go. I could tell I was starting to tire and from here out it was going to be a fight. Clem and I met Sharlyn just before the Aid Station, threw on some new shoes, refueled and headed for the climb to Halfmoon with headlamps and jackets. The climb wasn't as steep as Hope Pass, but my body was struggling just the same. Clem pushed me on, up through the aspens, through the pines, and into the fading sunlight. With the fading of the sun, so went my energy, leading me to my first low of the day. I crashed, and I crashed hard. It started with an upset stomach, then moved into fatigue and shivers, finally culminating in complete exhaustion. My mind began to wander, I had to put all my efforts into focusing on each step, everything else became secondary. Through it all Clem pushed me on, letting me take only short rests, forcing me to eat a little, take in fluids and salt. I felt like I was tromping through a dream, hazy and dark. Chris Labbe, whom had suffered a similar fate heading up to Halfmoon, had recovered a little sooner and passed us. He told me to hang on and fight through it, this was the last time I was to see him(finished at 5am).
I started to feel a little better as the trail leveled off, and Clem got me jogging a little again. I was still hurting though, and was definitely not the same person I was 3h before coming down Hope. After reaching Halfmoon Rd around 930pm, I sat down, had a salt cap and some water, and stretched my aching muscles. All of a sudden it was like someone had flipped a switch in my head. My mind woke back up, a little strength returned to my legs, and I proclaimed to Clem, "I'm ready to jog, lets go". It was like the last 2h had never happened, and I was back on the move. We cruised into Halfmoon, grabbed some food and headed down to treeline where Shar would be waiting for us. As we reached the crewing point at treeline we were met by a huge line of cheering crews, lamps blazing, and cars decked out with lights. It was truly a sight for those of us who had been running for 18h+ at this point. Finally we came across Sharlyn who had some warm clothes, caffine, and good news for both Clem and I that Judy and Zubin were waiting to take over at Fish Hatchery. Clem and I took off for Fish Hatchery, mixing a good dose of jogging into our power walking.
This portion of the race follows the roads all the way to Fish Hatchery, and Clem and I chatted as cars zipped by us in all directions. When we finally arrived at the Fish Hatchery it was almost midnight, and the area seemed deserted. Judy and Zubin were hanging out awaiting our arrival. Both had a nice rest and were ready to push me in the last 24 miles. After thanking Clem and Shar for their wonderful aid, we parted ways, and it was Judy's turn to be my slave driver. I was still feeling good so we jogged up to the base of Sugarloaf, the last big obstacle of the night. It was midnight and I had 10h to finish, all I had to do was keep moving, simple enough, right? We pushed up Sugarloaf, slowly but surely we made progress. About halfway up I began to regress back into my delirious state. The shivers returned, my mind had trouble focusing, and I was no longer talkative. Judy offered me her jacket, and I finally took her up on the offer, donning her lovely baby blue windbreaker. Judy kept me moving uphill, a hill that never seemed to end. Right, left, right, left....and all of a sudden we had rounded the corner and were heading down the Hagerman Pass Rd, when did this happen?? I didn't question it for long, as I was excited to be over the final major obstacle of the race.
We jogged a little downhill, but by this time the ligaments in the front of my left ankle had become quite sore, and I was obliged to walk a bit more. The road was a nice change; smooth, flat, and wide. Even though we were heading downhill I asked Judy almost a dozen times if the road was slightly sloped uphill, she assured me it was not, and it was just my fatigue playing games with me. What cruel games they were. The lower section of this stretch was really rocky, thus we weren't able to do much running(I was quite exhausted still). Even worse was the long traverse the final portion of the trail took for what seemed to be a mile AWAY from the Aid Station. Follow the green lights, just follow the green lights, and finally they led us down to the road, and Mayqueen. When we left the trees it seemed as though the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees. We arrived at Mayqueen around 350am to people bundled in blankets and huddled around space heaters. We quickly jumped into the aid tent, where every runner I had seen for the last hour(20+) was desperately trying to warm themselves. Some were buried under sleeping bags, others clutching hot cups of soup or coffee, while a handful simply plopped down in chairs for a rest. I sat down to eat some potatoes and drink so water while Judy went in to search for Zubin. A few minutes later Zubin walked in with the needed extra clothes, so I return Judy's jacket and bundle up in all the clothes I could find. I put on 3 layers on top, tights, a wool cap, and my fleece gloves. Maybe a little overkill, but it was chilly and I knew it was going to be a slow walk around the Lake.
We took off ahead of the crowd back into the darkness. The middle of the night had passed and with the early morning nearing my mental and physical state had revived, not to say I felt strong, but awake. We took our time heading around the lake, jogging a little at first, but in the end a quick walk/limp was the final pace. As the sun lit the morning sky, hues of orange and red reflected of Turquoise Lake and the few clouds in the sky. Except for a few runners passing by the trail was dead quiet. This was by far the slowest 13.5 miles I've ever run/hiked. At 8am Judy and I finally reached the turn that would take us up to Leadville, 500ft uphill, what a finish. The sun was shining and the temps had finally warmed up. I hobbled uphill toward the finish, making good time. We finally turned onto The Boulevard and soon enough the finish line banner came into view. Eventhough the last 24 miles had taken almost 8h, it was so great to be finishing. Finishing, wow how did this happen. 100 miles, lots of joy, lots of pain, new friends from all over the country, wonderful people who gave up their day to selflessly help runners they never knew, and 29h later I was about to complete something few people in this country ever even attempt. A huge crowd lined the streets, Terry and Tamara, Todd, Michael and Jessica, and Zubin were all waiting at the finish line. I strolled across the red carpet and under the finishing banner in a time of 28:55:57.