I signed up for Leadville knowing I needed a kick in the pants, both in running and life. I was craving an adventure and my running had been lackluster since knee surgery a couple years ago. The mountains have always had a hold on me; I grew up in California camping and hiking in the mountains as a kid, and while I’ve never been interested in a road ultra, a 100 mile trek through the mountains sounded like an incredible adventure. I signed up for the lottery on a whim with my running friends, and then… we got in! I hadn’t even run a marathon in two and a half years. My first thought was “crap, I better get training!” … or something along those lines. Fast forward 8 months and boy did training for this give me a kick in the pants! I ran a beautiful trail marathon in Berkley, CA, with views of the San Francisco Bay, an incredibly difficult 50-miler in Fairplay, CO, and then found myself in Leadville with my family and friends in August. “Ready or not, here I come…” The race started as planned; lots of excited runners huddled together at 3:30 am, some racing to win, many first-timers just hoping to finish, and others back to have their revenge on the mountains that bested them the last time. After the first big climb we were rewarded with one of the most incredible views I had ever seen. The fog was rising in a column above Turquoise Lake and the sun was rising over the mountains. It took my breath away, possibly even more than the high altitude and lack of oxygen!
I fought a queasy stomach the first 16 miles or so, but finally got my breathing under control and settled in. At the Outward Bound aid station (24.5 miles in) my husband Jeremy and brother Josiah were there with smiling faces, food, gear, and sunscreen. My brother had flown in from CA and it was so good to see him and get a big bear hug. The next stretch was warm and sunny. Sadie and I found each other and shared a sandwich, some miles and conversation! The mountains were looming in the distance and I was excited to get to them and begin the big journey over Hope pass.
The first real rough spot for me was around mile 31. As I was hitting a bit of a wall, a strong, seasoned looking ultra runner came up on me commenting with much bravado on how he was doing this as a shakeout run after a 200 miler. I shrank a little inside. He noticed I was struggling and asked, “are you hydrating?” Yes! I retorted, in sort of a “duh” tone of voice. “You taking salt?” I admitted I wasn’t. “You should be.” I begrudgingly figured he was probably right and made sure to get lots of salty food at the next aid station, Twin Lakes. My kids all met me at Twin Lakes and oh was it good to see their sweet faces! They were so excited for me and had my change of shoes and trekking poles ready to hand me for the big climb over Hope Pass. Hope was tough, but we had hiked it a few days earlier, so I knew what to expect. I began to see the front runners returning and was in awe as they FLEW down the mountain with such ease. They were so inspiring!
The stretch from the top of Hope Pass to Winfield, the turn-around point, felt like it took forever. I was fighting returning traffic on a very narrow trail, and there was a lot more uphill and rock than I expected, but the grandeur of the mountains and the thought of my pacer waiting for me in Winfield kept me going! I knew my pacer, Brent, through mutual running friends, but had never actually met him. He was so excited to run in the mountains that I knew I absolutely had to get there and give him at least a few miles. I passed Jill and Eric returning from Winfield, and Jill told me to “get my butt into Winfield”, while Eric and company started praying for me. Different tactics, to be sure, but I needed them both! I arrived in Winfield with just 9 minutes to spare; it had taken me 4:25 to make the trek from Twin Lakes. I ran the numbers in my head and realized I would have to make the return trip in 3:45 to get back on time. My heart sank a little as I was pretty sure I couldn’t take 40 minutes off of that climb over Hope Pass. I settled in though, determined to go as fast as I could and see what happened. Hope pass just made me thankful to be alive! The sunset lit the mountains on fire, and I was sure I had never seen anything so beautiful. I was thankful for God’s creation, for the ability to run, walk, and climb, for my family there supporting me – it was overwhelming and wonderful, and I felt SO blessed to just be there in that moment.
Once I made it back to the top, we kept as aggressive pace as I could handle on the way down to Twin Lakes. I was nursing an injured ankle from a sprain a month earlier, so running down a rocky mountain in the dark made me a little nervous, but thanks to a good head lamp and a better pacer, I made it down in one piece. I knew I was so close on time, but just might make the cutoff. The last stretch before Twin Lakes takes you across a huge prairie with multiple stream crossings. My watch died and Brent had to stop to take shoes off, so I was on my own for the last mile and a half running into the aid station. To say it was intense would be an understatement! I felt like I had never run so fast in my life. I knew it was going to come down to minutes; seconds perhaps, and I just ran. I could see the lights of the town and at times the trail would curve away from the direction I knew I needed to go, and I would just run faster. It is amazing what you are capable of in a moment like that. I began to see people lined up along the trail, and they shouted at me that I was going to make it, keep going. I ran through an inflatable arc and thought surely I had hit the timing strip. But no, “keep running!!!!” they shouted. “Up that hill, past that sign!” I finally ran over the timing strip and collapsed with only 1 minute, 48 seconds to spare. My family was all there, saying so many things at once and asking what I needed, and I was like “guys, I just need a minute!” I couldn’t believe I’d made it. Things got easier after that. I was determined to build up a time buffer for the last big Powerline climb around mile 78. The little things are so wonderful when its cold and dark and you’ve run 75 miles. Brent sharing his glove liners when my fingers were numb with cold; my sister bringing me hot chocolate (oh, that was heavenly!); chicken noodle soup in cups; the surprise aid station at the top of the powerline climb with its neon lights, cold water and stale chips. Much of the race was just about making it to the next aid station and enjoying the journey, with no judgement as to whether I was going to finish or not.
My leg began to hurt somewhere around mile 80, pretty intensely. I had a torn muscle in my lower calf. The downhill pounding was painful and at one point I pulled my headband off and wrapped it around my calf for compression. I taped it at the last aid station and told my family that I really didn’t know if I could keep a fast enough pace to finish – but that they had been amazing and I wanted them to know that I was ok with that. My brother jumped in to pace me at this point and he was incredible. He was calm, reassuring, helped me alternate between walking and jogging, and was so confident that I began to believe him. He told me that once when we were kids, he wanted to give up on something and I told him that once we start something, we don’t quit… and that had stuck with him all his life. He told the rest of my crew that I had never quit anything, and he was sure I was going to finish. I was so moved. I loved every minute of that time with my brother, and as the miles passed I realized I was going to finish Leadville. My kids, husband, sisters, brother, in laws, and friend Brent all walked me in the last mile. I am so thankful for them – for their belief in me, the time and effort they spent out on the course to make this possible, and just for the love I felt each and every mile. Often, when I close my eyes, I see images from the Leadville 100. During times of intense struggle we make lasting memories and realize what we have and are capable of. I will be forever grateful for this experience.