The Leadville 100. 16,000 feet of elevation gain and 16,000 of elevation loss. The infamous double crossing of Hope Pass and yes 100 miles above 9,200 feet. WHY in the world would someone do that???? What is the point to put your body through the pain and suffering? There is no point or there are many points. It is for the individual to go deep inside themselves and create a mental framework that you can do anything. Any challenge...Any project....Any goal. Anything! It makes you believe and it takes you so far down that it brings you up to places few have been.
I decided to go on this quest in January 2010 (I had to get the OK from my wife Porfidia). I was not much of a runner. I could run about 10 miles comfortably at a 9:00 minute pace, but I knew I was fast in the mountains. I love the mountains. My wife is from Leadville and I have always wanted to do the race across the sky. I ran the Pikes Peak Marathon a couple of times and felt pretty good about it. A 100 miler would be much more of a challenge and I started to train for it. I did countless hours of research and immersed myself in the Boulder running community (Fast sickos). I got a training plan and went for it.
Training for a 100 miler is by far the most difficult part of the journey. Everyone is struck at some point by Injuries and fatigue. You are getting your body ready for a monumental undertaking and your body fights it along the way. When the mind starts to fight it too then Houston we have a problem! There are approximately 10% of the people that don't even start the race due to injury and over training.
During the first few weeks of training, I decided if I was going to beat up my body it might as well be for a good reason. I decided to raise money for a school in Uganda called St. Paul. The assistant Principal before me at Coyote Ridge visited there and I wanted to continue to help the school. The Mwebaza Foundation to support St. Paul, was started by an incredibely dedicated 1st grade teacher in St. Vrain school district name Dale Peterson. His dedication to students across the globe shows a lot of integrity and I was happy to support in any way.
The start of the race was amazing. The smiles and hugs going around could be felt. There certainly was a nervous buzz because everyone knew that it was going to hurt to a certain degree and their loved ones knew it too. That night I was suffering from nervousness and I had a huge stomach and head ache. I hardly got any sleep. I hate to have doubt before a race, but I certainly knew that I would have a good excuse if I did not perform well. I think the nervousness came from how much I had riding on this race. I put in countless hours of training and planning. I put my family through a lot. I put my body and mind through the ringer. I put approximately $2,000 into the race with gear, travel, and food. I put students and friends on my back to support a great cause. I had a lot to think about before the start and it made me suffer. I wish I could have just shut it off. My heartrate before the race was 120 and I was just standing. I cannot believe I worked myself up so much. Once the gun went off I knew it would be shut off.
The 715 starters (845 were signed up and only half would finish) were lined up on Harrison Street. It was the most the race had ever seen mostly in part to the New York Times Best Seller Born To Run. Apparently, Hollywood is turning it into a movie and actor Jake Gylenhall was at the start. I handed Porfidia my jacket and pants and the gun went off. I hit my watch to start.
We started down the road.., it was a huge swarm of 700 runners with headlamps. It was quite a sight. The four miles of the race was downhill. I was running at an 8 minute pace and checked my watch. I was at 170 heartrate not good, but I felt fine and just kept cruising. I knew there was about 100 runners in front of me and I was good with that number. We got to Turquoise Lake and hit the single track trail. It is an up and down rocky start. I saw several people eat it and trip on a root or rock. They would pop back up and keep cruising. I was far enough ahead I did not have to worry about the backup around turquoise. It can get congested. It was beautiful as the light of the morning began to appear. The shadows were a welcome as well as mountains. I reached the Mayqueen aid station at 6:07. 2:07 into the race. Wow I went out a bit too fast but I was just going and I had abandoned my plans of worrying about splits. I did not put the splits into my pocket or my head. I was just going to run when I felt like and walk when I did not.
It was a welcome to see Mike and Porfidia at Mayqueen. I grabbed a peanut butter and jelly filled my bottles and was out. I did not train on the course so I did not know what was in store for the next section to the fish hatchery. We got on some nice single track trail and I recognized another Broomfield Runner who I met at the Silver Rush 50 miler a few weeks ago. He was looking strong and I kept up with him for a while. I fast hiked up to the powerlines on Sugar loaf pass. I got passed a lot but I was feeling fatigued by such a fast start. I knew it was going to be a long day so I did not push it. I ran down the steep powerlines to the road before the fish hatchery. It was a brutal 1,500 foot drop. I got to fish at 4:11. 23.5 miles in and feeling pretty good about the climb and descent. I saw Porfidia again and she slapped some sunscreen on and I handed her my shirt. I grabbed the basics again… powerade water and some fruit. I loaded my handheld water bottles with gels and cramp busters.
I knew I was going slow but I was ok with that. I ran/hiked to the tree line where Mike and Porfidia said goodbye. This was the last time I was going to see my crew until mile 40 at Twin Lakes. I headed out with shorts and my handhelds. That is it. The weather was perfect out. I got to Halfmoon Aid station at 10 a.m. . I was feeling tired but no major issues. I was really missing my family and I wanted to get to Twin lakes as fast as I could.
The next part of the trail took me to the Colorado trail on Mt. Elbert (highest mountain in Colorado). It is a up and down trail through a gorgeous forest. I remembered doing it with my dad about 12 years ago. I loved this part…single track, flowers, towering pines and aspens. The trail was soft and it would be heaven to have vibram five fingers on this trail. I noticed my knee was acting up at this point. I kept thinking, oh no not the IT band again. If it is starting at mile 35, then I am in big trouble. I was getting the depressed about not finishing. Jamie Peters, a runner from Leadville, stopped at mile 93 last year because of his IT band. Ouch, what was that pain. I just felt a sharp pain in my knee. Slow it down, Slow it down. I began moving slowly hoping to allieviate the pain. I stopped and stretched. A few fellow runners asked if I needed anything. I responded,”A new Knee!” I got a couple of laughs and kept moving. I was descending 1,200 feet to Twin Lakes when a running buddy of mine flew by me. “Shad” I yelled. He stopped and we began chatting it up. It was great to see him. He DNFed two years ago and trained with a vengeance to beat Leadville up. He was looking so strong and I eventually forgot about my knee as we were cruising down. He was looking forward to getting to Twin Lakes and I told him to go ahead. I did not see him again!
I got down to Twin Lakes and was feeling good. It is one of the best feelings in the world to see your family as you approach an aid station. It pumps you up and energizes you! The power of people! I grabbed the basics again and ate a Luna bar. Porfidia was frantically rubbing my legs down with arnica gel and my sister in law was hitting me with sunscreen. I grabbed Mike’s USA shirt. Nobody had a shirt for me to go up Hope Pass. So USA it was!. I also grabbed my poles and jacket (Just in case of snow….I was up on LaPlata Peak next door to Hope pass the week before the race and got slammed by 70 mph winds and snow). I cruised through the river crossings and the ice cold river felt good. I tried not to look up at the ominous Hope pass. Whoever named it hope pass had a positive attitude.
Let the climb begin. I slowly moved forward and was really struggling. A couple of runners asked if I was ok and I mumbled I don’t know yet. It was hard! The good thing was my knee was feeling better. I am not sure what happened. Maybe the lord was looking out for me. I kept going up and up. It is a 3,400 foot climb and steep in some sections. I felt nauseous a few times, but kept moving. I got to treeline and knew the aid station was near. I spotted a few llamas which is how all the gear gets up there. I sat down and thought I was done. I drank a couple of cokes and ate raman noodles and cookies. I looked over to a couple of runners and told them I was spent. They said I would feel better in a bit. That was encouraging. The encouragement during this race is fundamental. I got up and moved out to do the last 600 feet up switch backs.
When I got up to the top of Hope, I hollered and checked out the view. I then pushed the pace to Winfield. I was running and passing people. I felt strong and it was clicking. I passed several people going down and moved out of the way of the people coming back up. I got down to the road and hiked up to Winfield.
Winfield was a zoo and the start of a new 50. There were cars and dust and people everywhere. Harry Camp is the aid station director and we stayed at his house during the race. He yelled “Donnie great job welcome to Winfield!” The time was 3:53. I got weighed in and I weighed 170, only 4 pounds less than my initial weigh in. That is a great sign! I met Miguel and Gabe…Porfidia’s brothers and gave them hugs. I was excited to have Gabe an in shape college wrestler as my pacer back to Twin Lakes. I saw a few people I knew and said hello and took off. I ate as I walked and started to jog with Gabe.
One thing that is nice about Leadville is you can have a pacer after mile 50. They are allowed to carry all your gear and hound you about eating food and drinking liquid. We got to the base of Hope pass and started climbing back up another 3,000 feet. This is the steepest section of the course. It is an 18% grade nightmare. I just put one foot in front of the other and never stopped. I ended up passing 20 runners before we reached the top. I could not believe how good I felt. Gabe kept saying good job lets pass these guys. Ok next victim. It is hard passing people that are struggling, but this race those same runners could fly by you in a matter of minutes. Lots of highs and lows.
We ran down to the Hope aid station and got some raman noodles cokes and fruit. I sat down for a bit and got up to run. We were jogging at a nice speed. It felt good to run and my doubts and apprehension was fading. I started to cry because I was so happy to feel good and alive. I ran faster and passed a buddy of mine Brandon Fuller I met online while researching running. When we got to the river I had a thought of just stopping, getting some sleep, steak dinner and a fine IPA. But that all stopped when I saw my boys and family with big grins on their faces when they saw me. I grabbed my next pacer Justin (You are my boy Blue) and we headed up a 1,200 foot climb on the Colorado trail. It was just getting dark and the views were amazing. The almost full moon was rising and we were moving good. We ran most of this section and seeing the shadows fade made things go faster.
85% of runners who make it out of Twin Lakes will finish the race. It is a great thought When I reached Halfmoon aid station, I thought I could go under 25 hours. I was running and moving easily at a 10 minute pace. If I could maintain a 14 minute per mile pace the big belt buckle would be mine. Silly thought but it peaked my attention. Mike, who drove up all the way from Oklahoma, was my next pacer. It was great to run with him like we used to in cross country. It brought back memories of Oklahoma sweat and lake side adventures. I made it to the tree line and ran down the road for a bit.
I started to walk and I felt my shins hurt for the first time. It was painful to run. I pushed it but then winced in pain and finally said I can’t run. I gave up the 25 hour idea right before the Fish Hatchery. It was too painful to run and I did not want to take any ibuprofen to mask the pain. I wanted to feel it! Mike went into the Fish Aid station first with my list of needs and I noticed my brother was not there. I got up to the aid station and they weighed me. I weighed more than my initial weigh in. Sweet! I looked for my brother Sammy but could not find him. I was waisting time and decided to let Mike know that he was going with me to Mayqueen. We headed out and I decided to yell out one more time and Sammy popped out of nowhere. "Sorry I missed you guys!" Sammy and Mike swapped gear and we headed up the powerlines.
Sammy could not be more perfect for this section. He is not a runner like me. He is a mountain guy and our adventures together made it easy. It is just another day in the beautiful Rockies he told me.
This part was tough and certainly not fast but we pushed it and made it. I walked it into Mayqueen despite the hallucinations and sleep deprivation. Mayqueen was warm and nice. To make matters worse I saw runners curled up in sleeping bags. The race directors need to put those people away from the food..Damn. I got going and made it halfway around Turquoise to the boat ramp. Porfidia was waiting for me there to hit the homestretch. It was so nice to see her there. She pushed me to the finish and we got to see a wonderful sunset.
We finished at 7:45. We finished 165 out of 365 finishers. I was happy and there was no way I could have done it by myself.
It was a humbling experience and I hope the experience continues to teach me things. A lot of life lessons can be summarized in a long run like the Leadville. I hope a long run can summarize and simplify the importance.