The Leadville Trail 100 Run was the best running experience I’ve had to date. This seems strange to say because it seems that running a 100 mile race has to be one of the most asinine activities in which a human being can participate. You will be starting before sunrise, running all day and into the night/next morning, wandering around the woods concerned you may have missed a turn, climbing and descending mountains, eating terrible food, suffering from sleep deprivation, and experiencing major pain and chafing. But, it was truly an amazing experience, and I am so grateful I was able to complete this race. Leadville is a special town with awesome people, and they know how to organize and execute an incredible race.
The Leadville course takes you through a beautiful section of the Rockies via, roads, jeep trails, and sections of the Colorado Trail. Eric Fortner and I traveled to Leadville the week before the race. We used that time to run, hike, and drive most of the course. I do not think the gravity of this endeavor hit me until that week. This was going to be a tough race, and I knew I was going to have to be very disciplined in my execution. We spent many hours going over our strategy for each section of the race.
When August 20th finally arrived, I was so ready to start running. My goal was to finish the race in under 30 hours, but I told myself no matter what happened I was not going to quit. If I was pulled off the course for health reasons or I missed a cutoff time, so be it, but I was not going to give up.
The gun went off at 04:00 MDT, and we were on our way. As I crossed the start line, it was so weird to think that I would not return to this spot until the next day. Eric and I settled into our target pace. We wanted to be conservative but not too conservative. Five miles into the race you hit single track trail that makes it difficult to pass. The cutoff times can be an issue if you burn too much time on the first sections.
We elected not to have our crew at the first aid station. We briefly walked through filled our water bottles and consumed some calories. The course is still very congested at this point, so it was important to get back on the trail as fast as possible. We had our crew at 3 of the aid stations on the first 50 miles. Their presence and assistance was critical to our success. I cannot thank Kristal Fortner, John Meaney, and Drew Richard enough for crewing for us. They provided awesome encouragement and assistance. Eric and I stuck to our plan for the next 37 miles. I was feeling great, and I was able to stick to my nutrition plan without any stomach issues. The Hope Pass climb and descent went well, and we pulled into the Winfield Aid Staton several hours ahead of the cutoff. Winfield is the halfway point, and you are allowed a pacer from this point forward.
John Meaney and Chad Prichard were our pacers. Running with these guys was a much needed injection of energy. The climb back over Hope Pass is extremely steep, and we hammered the leg back to Twin Lakes. At Twin Lakes we changed shoes, all the water crossing was behind us, and grabbed a warm layer and some food.
The sun was going down as we climbed out of Twin Lakes. We had just under 40 miles to go, but we were feeling good. The sunset was so pretty, and we could see a string of lights on the trail behind us from runners still descending Hope Pass.
The night went fast, and we were able to keep a quicker pace than we had planned. I could no longer stomach any food with a sugary taste, so my night time running sustenance came from potato soup and chicken noodle soup. All of the aid stations had wonderful volunteers and were well stocked.
The last major climb is called Powerline, and It’s a 3 pitch climb that is 3.5 miles long and ascends approximately 1500 feet. This is definitely the crux of the last 50, and you just have to keep moving. We made it to the top without stopping and enjoyed a nice easy run down the other side to the Colorado Trail junction. The CT would take us to the last aid station 13 miles from the finish.
When we pulled into the last aid station, I was not excited about stopping or eating, but I knew I needed to do both. It was such a great feeling to leave the last aid station. Just 13 miles to go!
The last leg, like the whole course, did not disappoint on the scenery. Turquoise Lake looked absolutely beautiful in the predawn twilight. It is a huge lake, so you have plenty of time to enjoy the view.
We crested the hill by the Lake County High School around 8:00 AM, and we had our first glimpse of the finish line. I felt a jolt of adrenaline, and we started a nice easy pace run to the intersection of 6 Ave and Harrison, the Finish Line! Crossing the line was emotional. My first thought was that I couldn’t believe it was over! This seems crazy to say, but the whole race went by so fast.
Running ultra distance races is certainly about hard work and pain management. I enjoy the physical challenge, but the mental conditioning, the human camaraderie, and the enjoyment of the great outdoors is really what attracts me to this type of endeavor. In these events, as in life, you hit some extremely low points. It is so important to train yourself to look beyond your current circumstance and know that it is only temporary and that your situation will improve. These events also demonstrate how participants, volunteers, and crews can help fellow human beings work towards a common goal.