Thursday, August 21, 2008

Leadville 2008

I returned from an excellent, restorative, peaceful and fun vacation in Colorado on Sunday night. I left the previous Friday, August 8th in the evening and drove to Idaho Springs. The next morning I woke up early and boarded the bus to Georgetown for the 25th annual Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half marathon. The race is all downhill (literally 1,000 feet of elevation decline) so it was fun and easy! I finished in just under 1:59:30, which I was really happy with starting elevation at 8,500 ft. The altitude didn’t seem to bother me that first day.

Allen Smelser and his son Scott met mid-afternoon to drive to Kite Lake. We set up camp with the back of their truck and my borrowed mini-RV. We ate camp stove cooked meals and enjoyed the sunset and mountain views and cool, dry mountain air at 12,000 feet. We slept literally from sun up to sun down. The next day (Sunday), after eating pancakes, we left on a hike to climb four 14,000 ft peaks. My firsts. We summited Mt. Democrat first (snowing!), then Mt. Cameron (an unofficial peak though above 14k), Mt. Lincoln, and then Mt. Bross. We always hiked up, but often ran down and ran the flat spots. Incredible vistas!

The next day we went trail hiking near Kite Lake off the main trails and ended up rock climbing, which is a whole lot more fun on the way up than on the way down! Monday afternoon we traveled to our campsite at Turquoise Lake near Leadville.

The next several days consisted of long sleeping sun down past sun up, trail running, mountain biking, road biking (a miserable experience “up” and a glorious experience “down”), and lots sitting in a chair by the fire reading (I finished Revolution in World Missions, Blue Like Jazz, and read some of A Time to Kill and my sleep research book). It was always cool, often cold! Always dry and beautiful, even with the rain – which usually fell at night when I was sleep in the dry RV.

On Wednesday, Scott and I hiked Mt. Massive – the second biggest 14er in Colorado and third biggest in the lower 48. The mountain is truly Massive! A spectacular and stunning view from the top.

Thursday morning, Nancy and the oldest Smelser son, Mark, who is only one year younger than me, arrived after driving all night, along with one of Mark’s friend, Tanner. Ron Smelser, Allen’s hilarious first cousin, also arrived Thursday morning. Thursday evening was the spaghetti dinner. Friday morning was the medical check-in (where they give every runner a hospital bracelet) and then the inspirational and necessary information meeting to all participants and crews. One of the race directors, Ken, after explaining all the rules and regulations and the conditions of the course, with the fury of an evangelist, asked all who were willing to give it all they had to finish to stand and commit to grit, guts, and determination! Powerful! Friday afternoon I dropped off three drop bags of supplies – including dry, warm clothes and extra shoes to be sent out to the specific aid stations.

A cold front rolled in Friday and I don’t think the temperature ever got above 50. It was very cold on Friday night. I accidentally woke up at 1:00 am Saturday (time zone difference on my alarm). I couldn’t fall back asleep. Everyone else’s alarms were set for 2. I got into my running clothes and coats and jeans on top. My 2:00 am breakfast was oatmeal, a banana, and my half coffee/half hot cocoa. By 3:15 we were on our way to downtown Leadville for the start. We had to check in by 3:45 and waited in the truck until about 3:50 because, well it was snowing and raining and cold!

The Leadville Mayor fired a shotgun at precisely 4:00 am. We took off – slowly. To run 100 miles, you really have to pace yourself. The first aid station was 13 ½ miles away. This section was pretty easy with trails around Turquoise Lake. The conversation on the trails was fun and engaging and interesting. You meet so many interesting and nice people out there – with always much to learn about running. The Leadville Trail 100 start line is downtown Leadville, CO, at 6th St. and Harrison at 10,200 ft.

A couple hours in, right about day break, we were running through a thick forest trail stretch and everybody ahead of me was screaming. And then I was too! Bees! I was stung on the back of my right calf. But we kept going and laughed about it later. Right as we were arriving to the first aid station, the more intense cold rain began to fall. I put on my rain jacket I had tied around my waist. Miles 15 – 20 are uphill, over Sugarloaf Pass (11,060 ft). It wasn’t too steep overall but it was a long uphill. We mostly power-hiked uphill – getting colder and colder the higher we went. At the time it was thundering, lightning, and yes, of course, snowing! I hated the lightning but loved the snow. At the top, we ran about 5 miles steep miles down fast! Allen, a better downhill runner than I, beat me by a couple minutes to the Fish Hatchery, the second aid station at about 24 miles. We changed into dry shirts, socks, and shoes, put bandaids on my feet to cover the blisters obtained by wet footed down hill running and set out for an easy stretch of flat running until we started climbing again. We got to Halfmoon aid station, mile 30, or so and ate Ramen Noodles. A just a couple minutes, we took off for another long stretch on mountain trails, including several long climbs. Once you start descending rapidly, you know you’re almost to Twin Lakes, the aid station for 40 miles. When I arrived there, I felt fine, legs relatively fresh, energy up, and spirits high. I ate and changed shirt and shoes again (I was wet from hail and sleet and rain in the last stretch of running) and took off toward Hope Pass. Allen left the aid station about 10 minutes before I did.

After leaving the aid station in high hopes of making it to the half way point by the cut off time of 6:00 pm (14 hours clock time), I set out for miles across a flat swampy meadow. Right before you get to the Hope Mountain trailhead, you had to cross a river – that is a snow melt cold water river! But at this point the sun had come out and it was warm and the cold water felt very good. You held on to the rope to cross the three channels of the river. At the trailhead it was up, up, up! No switchbacks, just up! After a couple miles, my head began to pound and my heart began to ache and my breathing became more desperate. Eventually, I knew I was in trouble. I reached what is ironically known as the Hopeless Aid Station right near the top of Hope Pass still under the cutoff time for that station, sat down on a log and ate chicken soup. The aid station is at 12,190 ft. The Summit of Hope Pass is 12,600 ft. It was cold and windy up there – but such an incredible view. I began to doubt myself at this point and and begun to believe that I wouldn’t make it before the cutoff, and even if I did, I wouldn’t make it another 50 miles all the way back to Leadville! My legs weren’t really that shot, just my breathing and my head – Hope Pass psyched me out!

Coming down the back side of Hope Pass, I guess I had resigned myself that I wouldn’t be a finisher that day so I didn’t let my downhill pace get too out of hand! After having my bracelet cut off to signify my disqualification from the race, initially I was relieved! Only later was I sad about it. But now I am just excited to one day go back and tackle Hope Pass again and have a successful Leadville finish one day. I understand that only 1/3 of the participants actually finished this year – which makes Leadville a really tough course. But it was very fun and as far as I am concerned now, there will be a round 2 with Leadville!

My next attempt at 100 miles will be in October – Heartland 100 – through the flint hills of Kansas (should be easy compared to Leadville!). Hopefully then I'll be a real 100 mile finisher!

Thank God for such a great week!

Unofficial Race Results for Winfield: