2008 Leadville Trail 100 Run

Looking thrilled just minutes before the start

Looking thrilled just minutes before the start

You know you’re going to be in a death march when bad weather prevents you from driving the posted speed limit on the way to a race start.

Running 100 miles at high elevation in the Rockies is tough as it is. Driving through freezing rain with the occasional lightning hitting the nearby mountaintops makes it surreal.

Fortunately there was only an occasional drizzle in Downtown Leadville prior to the 4 AM start. And unlike the Leadville bike race, there was no jockeying for a good starting position among the 466 runners. Everyone basically stands around nervously making small talk and waiting for Race Promoter Ken Chlouber to fire the shotgun.

Mile 0

I’m feeling great during the downhill start out of town, down the Boulevard, and over to Turquoise Lake. Here we jump on some excellent singletrack and make our way over to the first aid station.

Last year I tripped and fell hard on this section which left me sporting a bloody knee for the rest of the race. This year I’m staying upright and somehow up in the top-20.

The run continues up Hagerman’s pass towards Sugarloaf and that’s when the rain begins in earnest. The higher up the climb, the colder and windier it becomes. The rain then turns to sleet just before cresting the mountain pass and starting down the steep Powerline trail.

Running downhill is really tough on a flatlander’s legs and feet. Our bodies are not used to trying to slow down while running. We’re not used to the heavy pounding on our feet. Last year I tried the small steps and slower speed method. This year I trying the “just let it go” strategy. I’m not sure which is better, but fewer people are passing me this time.

Mile 24 (4 hours)

Once off the mountain, we arrive at the second aid station – the Fish Hatchery. We leave here and run a handful of miles on the road. Now the rains and wind are really picking up. I am running with my hood cinched tight and my head turned to the side to avoid being pelted in the face with rain.

I am also starting to play a “dropping out” scenario in my head. My big goal is to finish and get a third running belt buckle. Long term, I want to get the 1,000 mile buckles for finishing ten races.

Starting to look rough somewhere around the halfway mark

Starting to look rough somewhere around the halfway mark

Somehow I can’t find Karen at the next aid station and that is real unfortunate. I had taken off my two-bottle waist pack since it was a short 7 mile road run between aid stations. I need to carry much more water for the upcoming 11-mile trail run, so I slam a couple bottles of Powerade at the rest stop, fill up my small water bottle, and carry a third Powerade bottle by hand. Getting dehydrated in this race isn’t pretty — I’ve been there.

Fortunately the rain has mostly stopped as I make my way to Twin Lakes. I started the race with a couple blisters on my heels from earlier training runs. The rain and the mileage aren’t helping those any.

Mile 40 (7.5 hours)

However, my feet do feel much better after a few frigid white water river crossings. The river is deep this year and my shorts get wet. In the pre-race meeting, Chlouber said the water was just up to his shorts. What I didn’t consider is he wears his short really high as anyone who’s done Leadville will attest.

The next mountain climb begins here. It’s so steep and the air’s so thin that it’s basically a power hike that climbs over 3,000 feet. There’s very little chance to run.

Of course the rain had to return during this climb. And as I continue climbing the rain increases before switching over to an outpouring of pearl-sized hail. It hurts. It hails enough that there is a half-inch accumulation on the now white, mushy trail.

But finally the precipitation lets up as I approach the Hopeless aid station just below Hope Pass and just above tree line. It’s cold enough that some of the llamas are wearing sweaters. Llamas? The trail is so steep and inaccessible that they’re used to transport supplies to the aid station.

After another 1,000 feet of exposed climbing and a 2,600 foot steep descent, I’m just down the road from the ghost town of Winfield, an aid station and the halfway mark.

Mile 50 (11 hours)

I feel pretty good but my feet are a mess. I’m getting trenchfoot. I change socks, but it’s just been very difficult to keep my feet dry in these conditions. Every foot step hurts.

The 2,000 mile buckle!  Hmm....

Wearing the 1,000 mile buckle and holding the 2,000 mile buckle! Hmm....

Once out of Winfield, it’s time to retrace our steps. I’m slowly climbing back to Hope Pass, which is about a 1.5 miles higher than Denver. There are a lot of runners coming down the hill as we head up. Unfortunately many of them are getting pulled off the course for not meeting the aid station cut off times.

The hail has melted and the trail is a slick muddy mess on the way back down the mountain. This downhill is absolutely brutal on my soft feet.

Mile 60 (15 hours)

Back at Twin Lakes, Karen provides great support and once again has all my stuff ready to go. Former Michiganders Kevin and Shelby Bauman are also here to cheer me on.

Unfortunately I need to take my lights. In 2002 I got one aid station further before needing lights. I won’t be setting any personal records this year.

I’m still running as the night falls. It gets lonely. Every now and then someone passes me and I pass someone else. Nothing is all that exciting until the lightning and thunder start with about 8 seconds between them.

Mile 70 (18 hours)

Soon the rain returns with some very cold temperatures. And just as I get into the Half Moon aid station, the rain becomes a downpour. I grab a couple cups of broth and take the last open chair around the propane heater. It’s a circle of rag tag runners, most with a dead stare fixated on the heater. The rain is slamming the tent as soaked and weary runners occasionally stumble in. The super supportive volunteers are trying to work magic and keep us in good spirits.

But as the rain becomes just a sprinkle, some of us break the circle, slowly stand up, leave the tent and head down the road.

I meet up with Karen again and put on some warmer clothes. Just as I sit in the passenger seat and start to rest, she kicks me out of the car. Tough love.

How to quickly wear in a pair of trail shoes

How to quickly wear in a pair of trail shoes

It’s more running on the road. Leadville is lit up but we’re not running directly there — that would be too easy. Instead we turn away from town to the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 76. I eat more broth, potatoes, and Fritos then head out towards the Powerline climb.

I actually like this mountain climb, at least on foot rather than on a mountain bike. It seems to go by somewhat quickly, up and over Sugarloaf pass, then down towards Turquoise Lake. I love my iPod, too.

Just before jumping back on to the super rocky Colorado Trail, my headlamp flickers and threaten to go out. The batteries are nearly dead. Not good. I start running without a light. Fortunately the runner and his pacer behind me have four lights between them. They let me borrow a flashlight and I run between them on the trail.

Their quick pace pushes me to the point of nearly falling many times. It’s difficult to keep my head in the game as we hike quickly through the rocks, jumping streams, and dealing with more muddy conditions in the pitch black night.

Mile 87 (24.5 hours)

I’m now at the last aid station. Unless the bottom drops out, I should make it to Leadville before the 30 hour cutoff. I only have to run a half-marathon now!

Winners got whiskey that Chlouber says will make you feel like Jesus and talk like Jesse James

Winners got whiskey that Chlouber says will make you feel like Jesus and talk like Jesse James

I slam more broth and hit the singletrack along the lake.

It’s becoming clear that I am starting to lose my mental wits. I’m starting to see things in the woods that just aren’t there: the large white tent that’s actually just a boulder, the boat in the lake that’s just a log. The worst comes as I run past some rocks and a small gray mouse pops his head out of a hole and stares at me. I’m absolutely amazed that this mouse isn’t scared and running away. I look up for other runners that might be coming behind me to point out this cute critter. But when I look back at the mouse, I see that it’s just a small pool of water with a couple pine needles. Whoa. It’s going to be tough shaking that off.

Another mental goof occurs when I decide to walk on some rocks to avoid the muddy trail. If I had 100% of my motor skills, this would be simple. But nearly drunk-like, I slip and fall, slamming my thigh into a rock. Not good. Maybe the bottom is falling out.

Moving forward again, the sun is starting to rise for a second time during the race and that helps to wake me up. And eventhough my feet are absolutely blistered, I’m close enough to keep pushing on. I’m running when I can, recovering, and repeating.

Eninem’s “Lose Yourself” comes on the iPod and I pick up the pace. I replay that song a half-dozen times and pass a mess of other runners.

The course makes its way up the Boulevard and eventually into town. My feet are screaming but my legs feel real decent and I muster a bit of a sprint to the red carpet and finish line.

Mile 100 (28 houts and 50 minutes)

It’s over. It’s my slowest finish in three tries, but I’ll take the buckle. Three down and just seven more finishes to go!

The story of the race was the weather. It has really taken its toll on the field this year as only 186 people ended up finishing (40%).

Of course I really couldn’t have done this without Karen and her support. She had a long, long day (and night and day) as well. Luckily she’s awake enough to drive us back to Frisco for a shower and long nap.

Compete Leadville run results

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