Friday, December 21, 2012

Leadville 100 2012

I trained and prepared and waited a year for the event that occurred on August 19 at 9:42 am at the corner of 6th and Harrison in Leadville, CO.  It didn't go exactly as planned, and it wasn't all pretty, but at the same time it was beautiful and amazing and I wouldn't change anything about those nearly 30 hours.  I am very proud to say that with the support of an outstanding group of my family and friends (Angels) I finished the Leadville Trail 100.
It has been quite a year since my first and unsuccessful attempt at the LT  100.  My whole life has changed in many ways and it has been a time of loss, sorrow, growth, and renewal.  I tried to keep in touch with the reality that this race was just a run in the mountains, but at the same time it was loaded with meaning and significance not just for the unfinished business of last summer, but as part of my new lease on life and a statement of my personal strength and commitment to myself.  Along with all the personal, internal meaning to this race, I was supported in Leadville by a team that included my wonderful children, Micah and Maddie and five of the best friends I could ever ask for: Cat, Celeste, Mike, Mindy and Nora.  To keep with theme of '80s TV shows, our team this year was "Alex's Angels" and the name could not have been more appropriate since these people have been watching over me, caring for me and running/walking along beside me through the many challenges and joys that life has brought during the last year.

Nora, Micah, Maddie and I drove up to Leadville after work on Thursday and were very fortunate to be able to stay in Al and Markey's wonderful blue house on 7th Street just a block from the start/finish line.  We arrived late, unpacked the car, then Nora and I went out for a little walk to stretch our legs and meet up with Rob "Honey Badger" who was running Leadville as well.  We enjoyed some good conversation and a beer with Rob and his friend and then headed off to bed.  Friday morning, the kids slept in and Nora and I walked over to the packet pick-up and medical check-in.  This is where a lot of the very tangible excitement of the race begins and we ran in to a bunch of other friends in town to race, pace and crew.  It was a pretty relaxed morning that included a first and second breakfast enjoyed on the front lawn of the blue house.

We met up again with Rob and Team Honey Badger at the incredibly crowded pre-race briefing.  It was a worthwhile hour sitting on the floor of the Leadville gym listening to the race director, race doctor and a welcome surprise were the inspiring final words given by the son of the race founder, Ken Choubler.  He told the story of how he had lined up on the starting line as an 18 year old and dropped at Winfield.  He shared his 20 experience of regret and the satisfaction of coming back last year and finishing.  He ended his talk and the meeting with a moving chant that we all joined in on of "I commit, I will not quit!"  I was feeling it and I made a silent oath, that I was going to get to the finish line, whatever it took.

We spent the morning and early afternoon relaxing at the house, eating, playing Set and then Nora and I went for an easy run to shake out the cobwebs and do a final gear check.  We ran a 3 mile loop on the Mineral Belt Trail from the house and finished with the final mile of the race up 6th Street.  All felt good.

Somewhere mid-afternoon the rest of the team arrived and things got crazy.  We all enjoyed a good pre-race dinner of pasta, salad and bread out on the front lawn and then there was Celeste's famous chocolate cake (a Leadville tradition) and gifts for an early celebration of Maddie's 12th birthday. There were Charlie's Angels poses, jumping pics and pyramids, games of Magic, hugs, laughing, teasing and an all around good time.  

By 9:30, I was getting pretty tired and I knew that race wake-up would be coming all too soon, so I headed upstairs to try to sleep.  I was able to get about 4 hours of moderately restful sleep before my alarm went off at 2:30 am and I got up to put on my running gear and eat a bowl of oatmeal.  Within a few minutes, the rest of the house was up and getting ready, including the kids who seemingly never went to sleep.
By 3:15, we were all ready and were unable to contain our energy in the house, so we headed out into the cold, dark Leadville morning for the short walk to the race start.  At the start line, we ran in to Rob, Eddie, TNC and many other friends ready for a full day of running, pacing and crewing.  The excitment was palpable and with a few minutes to go 'till the gun, I peeled off my pants, hat and jacket and found a spot in the starting coral. 

The shot gun fired and we were off down the road with headlamps shining.  The pack of 800 runners stayed pretty thick through the first several miles all the way down the Boulevard and up to Turquoise Lake.  I had decided before the race started, that I was not going to push this section at all, so when I got stuck in the conga line on the single track around the lake, I just settled in and stayed relaxed instead of wasting energy to try to pass other runners.  I came in to the May Queen Aid Station at mile 13 in just over 2 hours as day was breaking, stuffed my head lamp and gloves in to my pack, grabbed a couple things to eat from the aid station and kept moving.  
I ran the Colorado Trail section smoothly and met up with Chris S. on Haggerman Pass Road.  This was Chris' 1st hundred and we ran together for a while and talked about our plans to take these first bunch off miles very easy.  It was on this section last year at 15-16 miles in that my legs felt beat up and I knew things were not going well.  This year, I felt great and cruised up over Sugar Loaf and down the Powerline Trail in to Fish Hatchery with no problems.  I made it to Fish Hatcherery at mile 23.5 in 4 hours and felt good.  So good in fact that when Mindy met me on the way in to the checkpoint to fill my pack and ask me how I was feeling, I replied with a very cocky, "I'm just getting warmed up,"  I ran the road out of Fish Hatchery towards Half Pipe and kept feeling good.  I continued to roll along up on to the Colorado Trail, past the Mt. Elbert Trail and down to Twin Lakes at mile 40 arriving in just under 7 hours.  I took a nice stop at Twin Lakes to eat, check my blood sugar (it was a little high, but okay) and get a leg rub and sun screen applied.  I felt and looked a little like a stock car getting it's tires changed by the pit crew.  My team was good.  They took care of me and sent me on my way for the first trip up over Hope Pass.

Last year I died going over Hope Pass on the way towards Winfield.  I remember every step being tremendous effort and I had to stop and take a break every few minutes.  This year I ran and hiked steadily up to the top and passed people the whole way.  It was still plenty tough and I wasn't moving very fast, but I kept moving and felt pretty good.  Just after I crested the high point of the pass and started running again on the way down, I crossed paths with The Nick Clark, currently running in third place, and his fearless pacer Scott Slusher.  Nick gave me a big smile, a double high five and some heartfelt encouragement.  Scott was full of enthusiasm and positive energy and we exchanged some running hoorahs as I headed down towards the turn around.  Passing these guys, two of my favorite people on the trail and otherwise, was a huge boost and I picked up my pace and ran down the trail.  My pace slowed pretty quickly as the trail on this side gets really rocky and technical and this kind of terrain remains a challenge for me, especially on tired legs.  I got to  the bottom and enjoyed the new side trail in to Winfield as it rolled along above the heavily trafficked, dusty and stressful Winfield road.  It was a great feeling getting in to Winfield- the halfway point, where my whole crew was waiting.  I went through the checkpoint, got weighed 153.2 (my pre-race weight was 156.7, so this was okay), grabbed some food and headed back towards my crew.  At the suggestion of the crew, I changed from my navy blue FCTR shirt to my neon green Blevins Cross Country shirt which meant I be matching my pacer back over Hope.  My pacer for this section was the one and only Celeste O'Connor.
Micah and Celeste waiting happily at Wnfield
Coming in to Winfield 

Celeste took me back over Hope as only Celeste could.  She sang to me and the other runners and pacers on the trail.  Some laughed, some cheered, some sang along.  Celeste also kept me moving steadily up to 12,600 feet and then back down the other side.  She encouraged me, she pushed me, she forced me to eat (at the top of Hope she handed me a Gu and when I told her I couldn't eat it, she just looked at me and said, "I'm going to count to ten," . . . . so I ate the Gu), she insisted that I keep drinking, she never let me stop, and she constantly demanded that I run . . . faster.  It was a tough section and I was hurting most of the way, but we got back to Twin Lakes hours before the cut off and even before the sun had gone down (last year it was long after dark by the time I got back to Twin).  60 miles down, it was now 8:00 pm, I was tired and a little beat up, but the big climbs were behind me and I now had Cat to take me through the next 27 miles to Fish Hatchery and on to May Queen.
Cat is another amazing woman and good friend.  Earlier this summer, Cat finished the Vermont 100 in 21:40, which besides being an amazing time, it was a nearly 7 hour 100 mile PR.  Cat is one of the toughest people I know and also one of the most giving and caring.  I progressed slowly out of Twin Lakes and up towards the Mt. Elbert Trail.  Cat was patient and encouraging.  She kept me going and engaged with stories of the history of the building that her vet. clinic is in (built in the 1800's) and tales of her family.  Cat checked in to make sure I was eating and drinking.  I was slowing down and pretty quiet through this whole section.  It was very clear by now that I was not going to be finishing in under 25 hours, but I was still feeling very good about finishing.  It was 17 miles from Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery where my race had ended a year ago.  I knew I just had to get past that point and I'd be on my way to the finish line.  When we got back to the road 'three miles from the aid station, I got a boost of energy, and with encouragement from Cat, I started running again and we moved steadily passing several other runners on the way in to Fish Hatchery.  I was glad to see the whole crew when we got there, including Maddie and Nora who had gone back to the house to rest after  Winfield.  It was 1:00 am, two hours before the cut-off and the time I had gotten here a year ago, I was really tired, but I was still in it.  I ate some soup, drank some coffee, visited the porta-potty and then Cat and I headed out towards the Powerline climb and Sugarloaf.  As soon as we started up the steep section of Powerline, I knew I was in trouble.  My legs were heavy like dead weight and I was very suddenly so tired (sleepy) that I was having trouble staying awake and on my feet.  You'll have to ask Cat about what happened for much of the next 3 hours, because I have little memory of it.  Cat tells me of 38 minute miles and a very cold, very slow, very long trip over Sugar Loaf.  I had some serious doubts about my ability to finish, but Cat never gave up and would not let me stop.  I do remember heading down Haggerman Road with a bunch of other runners and pacers around and Cat calling out, "I need some help, my runner is going to sleep"  Another runner offered us a no-doze and even though I had never taken caffeine pills before, I was willing to try anything.  I popped the pill and within minutes everything changed.  I don't know if it was the pill, a placebo effect or just coincidental timing, but all of a sudden I was awake again and I could run.  We turned off the road on to the Colorado Trail section that would lead us in to May Queen.  Pretty soon, Cat and I were making goals for splits and timing to make it in to the last aid station with plenty of time before the cut-off.  I knew that Nora was waiting at May Queen to run with me the last 13 miles to the finish.  I couldn't wait to see her.  We hopped off the trail and on to the road in to May Queen just as the long night in the mountains was turning in to a new day.  The Angels were all there and glad to see us and they helped us get through the aid station and off towards the finish line. 
Nora was brimming with smiles and positive energy and helped give me a good jolt of confidence that there was a Leadville finish in my immediate future.  I was still pretty tired, but I was inspired by the beauty of the sun rise over Turquoise Lake on this new day.  Nora kept her eye on the time on the GPS watch she was borrowing from Mindy and didn't let me slack on the pace.  She had carefully worked out with the rest of the team what we'd have to do to make it back to Leadville before the shotgun fired at 10:00 am and she was determined.  She was also positive and fun and at one point a few miles in, she turned to me on the trail and said, "There is nowhere else that I'd rather be right now."  Despite my fatigue and sore feet, I felt the same way.  When we crossed the road to head away from the lake and back towards town with 5 miles to go and 2 hours left on the clock, I knew we were going to make it.  The sun was up, the day was getting warm and it was just a short trip up the Boulevard to the finish.  I had been on my feet moving for 28+ hours by this time and I was in good spirits, but I was moving pretty slowly.  Nora and I kept going and talked with some of the other runners and pacers that were doing the same thing.  When we got to the top of the Boulevard to turn on to the pavement with just a mile to go, there was Hinterberg full of energy and encouragement and ready to take us in.  He chastised Nora a bit for not carrying my pack which she quickly corrected and we took off to get this race done.  With less than a mile to go, I started running and then the rest of the Angels joined us and we all ran as hard as I could up 6th street and across the finish line.  At the line, I hugged Nora and Celeste put the finisher's medal over my head.  It was done.

Team Fort Collins

Monday, December 10, 2012

Western States 100

I first learned about the Western States 100 as a senior in high school when my cross country coach, Earl Towner, was training for it. I knew about Earl's big crazy runs on the trails around Southern California. I knew that he was an ultra runner. The training and events that Earl did intrigued me as a new runner. When Earl talked about Western States, I was quickly pulled in to the draw of the challenge of running 100 miles through the Sierras from Squaw Valley to Auburn. At 17 years old having never run more than 8 miles, I knew that I wanted to run that race.
I continued running after the cross country season that year and ran my first marathon in April in Los Angeles. Earl ran with me and we finished in 3:14.  I went to college in Santa Cruz that fall and I fell even more in love with running trails. I ran a few more marathons and some trail races and spent hundreds of wonderful hours running along the coast and through the redwoods of central California. After college, back in So. Cal. I kept running and got involved with A Snail's Pace Running Club where I learned about higher mileage training and met a few ultra runners. In 2003, I ran my first ultra in Ridgecrest, CA at the High Desert 50K. It was tougher than I had anticipated and I struggled through the final 6 miles, but I loved the whole experience and the culture of ultra running. I was hooked.
In 2006, I moved to Fort Collins, CO and started running with the Fort Collins Trail Runners. With the FCTRs I learned about running mountains and I learned the joy and freedom of spending a whole day out running trails in the Rockies. In 2008 I ran the San Juan Solstice 50, my first mountain ultra, and it was certainly the hardest thing I'd ever done. It took me over 15 hours (well over the WS qualifying time) and it was beautiful and painful and awesome. I went to Steamboat that fall for the Run Rabbit Run 50 and took a couple hours off my time. The following summer I ran the Big Horn 50 in WY in 12:30, once again improving my 50 mile time, but still missing the 11 hour Western States qualifying requirement. In August of 2009 I ran the Lean Horse 100 in South Dakota. I finished (26:43) and this qualified me to put my name in the Western States Lottery for the 2010 race.
I didn't get in, but I watched with excitement as my friends Nick, Pete and Eric trained to run it. I sat at my computer on an off that day in June hitting refresh and watching the race unfold. Maddie and I held our breath as Nick and Killian battled it out for third. Maddie loved seeing Alastair run with his dad across finish on the track in Auburn. I told her she couldrun with me on that track when I go to Western States.
That July, I went to the Grand Mesa 100, but dropped after 60 miles after a frustrating race of getting lost and very tired. My first DNF was painful for lots of reasons, one of them was I was without a qualifier for the 2011 Western States lottery.  I corrected this by going back to South Dakota in August and running 23:16 at Lean Horse. I entered the lottery again (this time with 2 tickets), but again I didn't get in.
In 2011 I ran the Leadville 100, but timed out at Fish Hatchery (mile 76.5). It was another tough DNF, but I still had a WS qualifier from the Big Horn 50 that June. I registered for Leadville again in November (unfinished business) and I put my name in the lottery again for Western States 2012. On the 2nd Saturday in December of 2011, I got back to Nick's house after a tough, snowy 26 miles on the Chubby Cheeks course to find out that I had not been chosen . . . but my good friend Mike had. I immediately asked if be needed a pacer. He did and plans were made to travel to Tahoe in June.
The Western States experience was pretty amazing. From the beauty of the course to the race organization it was great. I ran with Mike from Forest Hill to the finish (40 miles) and loved it all. In addition to having a great time running with Mike and enjoying all of Statesmas (Christmas for ultrarunners), I was very fortunate to share crewing duties with Mike and Jessica's friend Nora. That weekend at Western States was the beginning of what has become a relationship that has exceeded all my dreams of happiness, love and joy.
I went back to Leadville in August and thanks to my amazing crew and pacers, I finished (race report is coming). I have taken a bit of a break from serious running (and blogging) since Leadville, but the WS dream never faded.
A couple weeks ago I put my name in for the lottery again. This time I had 4 tickets giving me a 28% chance to take one of the less than 270 spots open for the 2013 race. Yesterday, after a full morning at the ice rink with Maddie and a very late start at the Chub, just glad to get out for a few miles on the trails, I ran in to Mindy coming up the trail with news of a FB post by the Honey Badger congratulating me on my name being pulled. I decided not to celebrate until I saw the list for myself, but the hope carried me the last couple miles back to Nick's. Eric's smartphone confirmed that I had finally been chosen to run the Western States 100. So I am on my way to the race I've been thinking about for over 20 years. Training starts today. June 29 is just around the corner and I'll be ready.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sorry for the delay - he made it!

Will recap the race later, but wanted to update with the final results - Alex and his whole crew crossed the finish line with a time of 29:42, making the 30-hr cutoff and deserving of a Leadville 100 finisher's buckle. Everyone is in good spirits and Alex is resting up after an amazing dig-deep finish. More to come...

This shirt says it all!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Midnight hour

Alex and Celeste made it through Twin Lakes for the 2nd time around, getting Hope Pass out of the way with a renewed sense of purpose alongside some singing thanks to Celeste. She reported some light wind and impending clouds, but the weather held and they rolled in around 7:45pm. Cat took over pacing duties and we are back at Fish Hatchery waiting for them to come through - it's a mild and beautiful night with a smattering of bright stars above, appropriate for the "Race Across the Sky." Looking for "our" bobbing headlamps to come ambling into the aid station amidst the faint sound of cow bells and encouraging voices...

Made it to the 50 mile mark @ Winfield

After a long bumpy car ride in on a rutted dirt road, we set up a comfy camp in the shade of the Winfield aid station, a perfect place to eat, nap, play Skip-Bo, and relax among the aspens with Hope Pass looming in the distance and surrounded by mountains. Alex came into the madhouse of arriving and departing crew cars - think stop-and-go rush hour, but on a mountainous backroad! - around 3:20, looking tired from the infamous Hope Pass climb and descent, but was in good spirits and broke into a huge grin when he saw his crew of angels ready to jump in where needed. After some refueling, a quad rubdown, a new shirt, and cold-weather gear and a headlamp, he took off to tackle Hope from the other direction, with Celeste by his side, full of encouragement and a shot of exuberant energy and tough love. The matching neon green pair disappeared into the aspens and will will pick up Cat as the second pacer at Twin Lakes. I brought the kids back to town so we can all rest up and I'll see him next at Mayqueen to run him into the finish at mile 87. I will try to update news from the crew remotely (it's hard to skip seeing Alex at aid stations!) if I can. Here's to a strong and steady second half of the race...

Twin Lakes check-in

Didn't have reception at Winfield, so this is a bit outdated, but here it is:

All is well @ Mile 40 and Alex is on his 25-hour predicted pace, coming through the Twin Lakes aid station in 7 hrs, 17 min. Grabbed cold-weather supplies and headed up towards Hope Pass. So far, weather is holding and the intensity of high altitude sun is upon us. off to Winfield to pass off Celeste to accompany Alex back over the pass.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

4am start & he's off...

I was introduced to the guest blogger role for Mike H.'s Western States race a couple of months ago and happily volunteered to take on that role again for Alex over the next +/-25 hours, so please bear with me and I hope you enjoy following race progress throughout the day. ~Nora

The whole crew was up and going by 2:30am - hanging out in the kitchen with Alex, who sat down to a pre-race meal of oatmeal & blueberries, homemade banana bread and strong French press coffee, serenaded by Danielle Ate the Sandwich's melodious voice and surrounded by a surprisingly boisterous crew after only a few hours' sleep. It was confirmed that Micah never even went to bed at all! Alex was relaxed and well-rested (as much as you can be with 3 hours of sleep) as we all trooped the 2 blocks towards the starting line on 6th Street in the still and clear 37-degree morning. The buzz of excitement was palpable in the growing crowd of ~800 runners and their friends and families. After a few pictures, last-minute wardrobe changes, and hugs and well wishes, Alex disappeared in the sea of headlamps, hydration packs, compression socks, water bottles, brightly-colored running shoes, and GPS watches, and was off at 4am...

We (Maddie, Micah, Cat, Mindy & Celeste - aka "Alex's Angels") are back at the house resting up and will meet him next at the Fish Hatchery aid station at Mile 23.5. Stay tuned for updates along the way and keep Alex in your thoughts as he tackles the good ol' Leadville Trail 100 surrounded by all of his Angels.

Alex's Angels

Crew and pacers in Leadville and ready to go. Race starts at 4:00 am. I'm feeling great and looking forward to the fun, adventure, and challenges that lay ahead. Should be a good day and night on the trails. Check back for updates tomorrow.