Monday, October 3, 2011

Leadville

It was six weeks ago that I woke up at 2:30 am, ate some yogurt and cereal, gathered my gear and headed to the corner of 6th and Harrison with my family and friends for the start of the Leadville Trail 100.  I had never prepared so seriously or invested so heavily in any running event as I did for this one.  I signed up for this race in December and trained hard for 8 months.  I regularly put in 80-100 mile weeks with long runs, hill runs, runs in the mountains, twice a day runs, night runs, a 55K race, a 24 hour relay, a road marathon, two 50 mile races and anything else I could do to prepare me to run the race of my life on the trails and through the mountains around Leadville, CO.  A finish at the Leadville Trail 100 is an accomplishment for any runner, but my goal was the big buckle given only to those that complete the course in under 25 hours.

running in to Fish Hatchery Saturday morning with Maddie
Well, as many of you know, it didn't quite go as planned.  I felt good at the start line and ran well to the May Queen aid station at mile 13.  After that, things started to fall apart.  The climb leaving Turquoise Lake was tougher than it should have been and by mile 15, my legs started to feel really fatigued.  My quads ached the way I would have expected after 85 miles of running, but at this point, I still had 85 miles to go.  I decided not to worry about it and keep going as best I could.  I hit the Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 23.5) about 15 minutes behind my goal pace and I knew that the race was not going the way I had wanted it too.  I took a short break here with my crew as they filled my water and gave me some food.  I headed out and kept running trying not to worry about the 25 hour goal and focus instead on steady forward progress.  The 16.5 miles from Fish to Twin Lakes was rough.  I was able to run a lot of it, but it was painful and slow.  I got to Twin (mile 40) an hour behind pace and it was hot and I honestly was ready to be done.  My family and crew were encouraging and they got me going again after a break with food and water and I headed off to tackle Hope Pass.  The river crossings felt great as it was very hot and I splashed some cold water on my increasingly aching quads which helped a bit.  The climb up to 12,600 feet was slow.  I walked all of it and was forced to stop and catch my breath and rest my legs for a couple minutes several times.  I was glad to get to the top after what seemed like an eternity, but the trip down the other side was just as tough and discouraging.  The condition of my legs made the steep, rocky descent torturous.
heading out of Twin Lakes - Hope Pass looms ahead

Celeste helps Kyle prepare for pacing duties
When I finally made it down to the Winfield Road, I was wasted.  The 4 mile stretch to the turn around that I had ran easily two weeks earlier went on forever.  I did finally make it to Winfield at 5:00 pm (2 hours later than planned).  I had long since given up the 25 hour goal and was now working to get to the finish.  I was still an hour ahead of the cut-off and I knew I'd have Kyle to help me back over Hope.  I took a pretty long stop at Winfield to eat, drink and rest.  I checked my blood sugar and it was okay.  My crew reloaded my pack and Kyle carried extra clothes, water, gatorade and headlamps.  We got back on the Winfield road and started running.  I felt better here for a while.  It was great having Kyle's company and the road here was mostly downhill. We ran pretty decent splits and my finishing prospects were looking better.  I knew the climb back up Hope was going to be painful, but I felt that once I got over the top the toughest part of the course would be done.  Kyle was great and he kept me moving and we made good time up and over the pass.  It was hard, but our split for the 10 miles from Winfield to Twin was faster than my split from Twin to Windfield on the way out.  It as dark when we got to Twin and I was starting to push up against the cutoff, but I was still very hopeful.  Celeste, going way above and beyond the duties of crew chief, changed my socks and shoes and even cleaned my feet.  My crew got me food to eat and stuff to drink.  Kyle geared up for the next section and we headed out.

We started moving up the trail and I felt a bit better with dry socks and shoes and some food in me, but the thought of 40 more miles that were surely going to take me through the night and well into the next day was pretty daunting.  I again tried not to worry about it too much and just keep moving. Kyle did a great job helping to set small goals and keep me going.  We ran the downs, shuffled the flats, and hiked with purpose on the ups.  We tried to maintain a better than 20 minute per mile pace to make up some time on the cut off. It was a beautiful night and I didn't feel too bad.  My legs were just spent and I was tired and discouraged about how things were going.  We made it through the Half Pine Aid Station (mile 70.9) and I was still under the cut off and staying positive.  Kyle filled my water bottles and I kept going.

Not too long after this point, as we headed past the Treeline crew access point and down towards the road to Fish Hatchery, my legs got to a place where I really just couldn't move faster than a slow walk.  20 minute mile pace was a lot of work and I could barely hold on to it even on the wide dirt road with a gradual down hill.  Earlier, as I struggled over hills and rocky trail, I was confident that when I got to this section of the course that consisted of a few miles of smooth flat road, I would be able to run and make up a lot of time.  Now I was struggling even to walk briskly and even though my Garmin had died hours earlier, I knew time was running out and I wasn't going nearly fast enough.  Kyle must of been reading my mind because he looked over at me and asked if I was having "dark thoughts".  I was and as Kyle and I talked it became clear that after 22 hours and about 73 miles, my race was over.  I knew I could probably just make it to Fish Hatchery at mile 76.5 by the 3:00 am cut-off, but from there I would have 23+ miles with some significant hills ahead of me only 7 hours to do it.  At the 20 min/mile pace I was averaging on this easier section, I still wouldn't make it.  Kyle and I talked through it a bit more, and the decision was made to stop at Fish Hatchery.  Those last three miles that we still had to cover to get to the crew, the car, and warm clothes were painful.  I lost all my fight and was just crushed.  The night had turned very cold and now that I wasn't producing much heat, my teeth started to chatter.  I hoped that somehow, Ean would sense my suffering and drive out to pick us up, but really I knew I had to finish this walk of shame.  Many runners passed us making triumphant efforts to meet the cut-off.

After an eternity of walking along the road not seeming to get any closer to the aid station, we got there and were greeted by my family and crew who had been waiting for us for unending hours in the cold.  It was 3:00 am and I told them I was done.  It was quiet as they walked with me to the camp they had set up and we all soaked in the disappointment and defeat of the day.  Cat went to the checkpoint to tell them I was dropping and came back with scissors to cut off my bracelet.  Mindy wrapped me in her sleeping bag to ward of my shivering.  I think I ate and drank a little.  I was relieved that it was over, but crushed that I had failed.  I think I really gave it all I had on that day, so I don't feel like I gave up, but that doesn't help deal with the fact that all I had wasn't enough.  It took me and Kyle 10 hours to cover the 26.5 miles from Winfield to Fish Hatchery.  Definitely the slowest, most painful marathon of my life.

Many people have asked me the same question that I kept asking from mile 15 on, "What happened?" and I still don't really know for sure.  My best guess is that I was over trained going in.  My legs were beat up and had not recovered from the many long, difficult runs that I had done in the weeks leading up to the race and the two easy, low mileage weeks just before the race weren't enough to get back to fighting shape.  My legs ached for much of the to weeks of taper, sometimes they throbbed so much as I lay in bed at night that I couldn't sleep.  Some said that this was a normal part of tapering and I hoped that was true, but I think now that it was more.  Lessons were learned for sure and I will definitely take rest and recovery more seriously in the future.

Will I attempt Leadville again?   .     .        .      .

Yes.  I am almost feeling ready to commit to giving it another go, probably next summer.  I will take the lessons learned this year and go back to conquer the beast that is Leadville.

August 2012 is a long way off and for now I will have to just keep running.

3 comments:

  1. Great recap, Alex. I was wondering when you were going to exorcise the demons and write this up!! While I'm no ultra expert, I agree that the likely issue is overtraining the weeks 3-5 before the race, but it was also likely combined with a healthy dose of "it just wasn't my day", as you did taper pretty well and should've been able to run a lot farther before your legs gave out. Here's to a great fall and winter of running!

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  2. Glad you wrote it up, agree with Kyle.
    "My legs ached for much of the to weeks of taper, sometimes they throbbed so much as I lay in bed at night that I couldn't sleep."

    I consider this OK for 1-2 days after a very hard run or race, but other than that, not a good feeling during taper -- did you feel that way earlier in the summer?

    Hoping for good news in WS lottery all around, and then watching you nail Leadville with no worries next year!

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  3. Your race didn't turn out the way we hoped, but I know I speak for ALL of us when I say we are extremely proud of you and inspired by your strength, determination and attitude. You are awesome, and I am certain that you will kick Leadville's ass next year.
    I'm in for pacing in 2012 if you want me.

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