|Returning to Twin Lakes AS after the River Crossing - iRunFar.com/Bryon Powell|
As I’ve become more experienced at running ultra-marathons, I’ve learned there are a few things that contribute to me having a good day. Things like a sushi dinner the night before, a fine cotton button-down shirt to run in, and a dump before the race starts. When I learned the Leadville Trail 100 started at 4:00 am – I became anxious that I might not be able to muster a super early morning constitutional.
That anxiety likely contributed to my failure to perform, so to speak, that morning. As I toed the starting line, I accepted that I would be bringing yesterday’s breakfast and lunch along for the adventure.
My goal for the day was to go sub 18 and along the way break the masters (50+ years old) record of 19:09 set by Charles Corfield. I was confident that was achievable until I heard that approval had been received from the Forest Service to run along a trail to/from the Winfield Aid Station rather than the dirt road used in years past. It was rumored that this trail would add an extra 1.5 miles. None-the-less, sub 18 was still the goal.
The race started at a brisk pace and I joined the lead runners down the “boulevard” to Turquoise Lake. The mood was jovial with Nick Clark teasing me about my pirate costume (he was referring to the bandana I was wearing under my headlamp). Liza Howard was with the lead group and I tried to absorb as much of her good energy as I could for use later in the day. Michael Arnstein advised me not to get stuck in traffic along the lake. As we neared Turquoise Lake the pace picked up as we jockeyed to be near the front of what would be a conga line along the single track around the lake.
As we ran along the lake I was literally pinching myself to be so lucky to be running with Anton Krupicka, Thomas Lorblanchet, Nick Clark, Michael Aish, Zeke Tiernan and Michael Arnstein. In my head I amused myself with thoughts that my $275 registration fee was much less outrageous given the celebrity ultra-running fantasy experience I was having. In fact, I told myself I’d pay $275 any day to be able to have the honor of running with these guys.
We were running about a 7:30 pace which felt comfortable. However, I was worried about tripping given that there was very little distance between each of us and the trail was moderately technical. We were running more by feel, than by sight. You could hear different runners scuff their shoes and knew that eventually, someone was going to go down. I was pretty sure it would be me. As I was having these thoughts I heard Thomas trip behind me. As I waited to hear where and how he went down, I felt him clip the back of my left leg and down I went. He apologized profusely in French and English. As I started to run again my mind become focused on listing all the French words that I know: non, me, voir, voyage, courir, and on and on…. Thomas had inadvertently allowed me to start going to that other place, enabling me to disassociate and get into my mental groove.
As we neared May Queen AS (mile 13.5) I was amused by the precision of my biological clock. Yep, it was just about 6:00 and it WAS time for my regular morning dump. I pulled over at May Queen and let the lead runners go.
As I started running again, I realized that my dump might possibly have saved my race. I could now see the trail and was no longer staring at the back of the person in front of me, I didn’t feel obligated to keep/follow the pace of others and felt that now I could run my own race. I thanked my lucky stars that my biological clock was so precise.
I consciously brought down my pace on the climb up to Sugarloaf pass. I let several runners pass me. I focused on Zen running – being light on my feet, quick turnover, effortless breathing. It was important that I be able to stay comfortably in that other place through the day for as long as possible.
|Fish Hatchery - iRunFar.com/Bryon Powell|
I moved through Fish Hatchery AS (mile 23.5) quickly looking forward to the next 15 miles, which are relatively flat. I was able to run several miles in the good company of Michael Arnstein (super cool dude) who I had met last year at the Desert Solstice 24-hour run. At Desert Solstice we had literally been 200 yards apart, running on opposite sides of the track, for 100 miles never having a chance to talk. I enjoyed hearing about Badwater. He asked if I had any interest in Badwater. I explained that I had a blood pact with my running buddies that did not allow any of us to ever run Badwater. In fact, our pact dictated that if anyone of us ever said the word “Badwater” we were allowed to punch them in an effort to bring them back to their senses. Before I got to ask my 101 questions about his diet and did he wear Fruit of the Loom underwear he pulled away.
After Fish Hatchery there was a group of us including Robert Mueller, Michael Arstein, Aliza Lapierre and Andrew Catalano that changed places a number of times with no one person really breaking away or dropping off. As we started the climb to Twin Lakes Pass I realized that I was climbing faster and with less effort than the rest of the group. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good climber, but this gave me the confidence to know that I could likely loose this group over the 2X Hope Pass crossing.
|Twin Lakes - iRunFar.com/Bryon Powell|
Motivated with that confidence I moved quickly through the Twin Lakes AS (mile 39.5). I had an amazing crew (more about them later) that enabled me to pass through aid stations without having to stop. I was looking forward to Hope Pass. My legs needed a break from running and I knew some power hiking would be good for my hamstrings, that had been in the background nagging me all day.
I felt strong climbing Hope Pass. While I’m not a fast climber, I do enjoy climbing. The best I felt during the entire race was probably on this climb. I was tentative on the descent. I debated running faster, but was concerned about potentially working my quads. I promised myself that if I wanted to bomb a downhill, I would have that opportunity on the return. Near the bottom of the descent I suddenly came upon Michael Aish walking. WTF?? Something was terribly wrong if he was walking this section. We each exchanged shallow words of encouragement. I picked up the pace knowing that now was the time to start earning back some places…
|Winfield - iRunFar.com/Bryon Powell|
At Winfield AS (mile 50) my pacer Christian Johnson joined me. The return miles on the connector trail went by quickly as I updated him on the race and my condition. We monitored who was behind me and how far. We got to say hello to a number of acquaintances and good friends. However, once we started the climb back over Hope Pass my energy suddenly seemed zapped. My turnover was slow. I was out of breath. I didn’t feel strong. I apologized to Christian and he assured me that pace didn’t really matter – what mattered most is that we keep moving. We climbed on…
I found passing the downhill runners on the climb to be taxing. Stepping to the side to give trail. The inability to keep a pace due to the starting and stopping required to let runners pass. The exhausting effort of acknowledging each runner and providing some word or words of encouragement. What was taxing on the climb became downright dangerous on the descent. The runners climbing up to Hope Pass would often be staring at their feet, in some outer world, completely oblivious to my warning that I was coming their way, and often completely unwilling to share the trail.
I was also shocked and a bit appalled by the condition of many of the runners near the back. First, let me unequivocally state that I have the greatest respect for runners who are at the back of the pack. To be out there, on their feet for 24+, even 30+ hours blows my mind. I have nowhere near the grit, guts and perseverance that they demonstrate. That said, in my opinion there is a basic respect of personal health and dignity that suggests that all of us should not undertake an endeavor that one does not fully understand or is at some level prepared for. On two occasions Christian stopped to assist runners who were in severe distress. We witnessed too many runners who were grossly ill prepared for Leadville. Perhaps a qualifying race or some demonstration of experience and aptitude should be considered for entry?
I reflected back on the promise I made to myself to be able to bomb this descent if I wanted to. I was glad I hadn’t bombed the other side, and knew that I had no business bombing this side. During the descent I started to get a hot spot underneath my right heal. As I tried to place my feet in a manner that didn’t irritate the blister, I knew that this need to be remedied, and soon! Christian indicted that he would run ahead and alert my crew that I needed some tape.
Time for a quick intermission from the race report for a shout-out for my crew – my wife Adrienne, Christian Johnson, and local Wasatch Front runner Ben Corrales who when we found out was camping with his family at Turquoise Lake was immediately recruited into “Team Old Fart.” Until the second time into Twin Lakes for treatment of a blister, I never had to stop once. At each aid station I would exchange my Gregory waist pack and bottles without missing a step. They intuitively knew what I needed before I did. And, they completely understood me and knew how to manage me. Thank you Adrienne, Christian, Ben and Kya (Ben’s lovely daughter).
Christian and I got a rhythm going out of Twin Lakes. He pushed me on the up-hills, I relaxed and opened it up on the flats and descents. We were making good time and from all indications were starting to open up a lead on the runners behind me. While I was starting to get tired, all in all I felt good.
After leaving Half Pipe AS (mile 71) I hit the wall. Almost without warning my tank was empty. It felt as if I was running on fumes and the engine was starting to sputter. I thought some music might help and asked my crew for tunes. Within minutes of leaving the aid station the iPod battery died. In some way the death of the battery was a small death for me. I recognized that sub 18 was not going to happen. I was in a funk. I was desperate. I needed to get my sh*t back together. I felt I had to make a bargain with myself. Some sort of concession that acknowledged I was trashed, but would also reward me with the outcome I was seeking. I made the deal that I would run the entire distance to Fish Hatchery AS (mile 76.5) in exchange for allowing myself to run whatever pace I needed to honor that bargain. I limped along the paved road to Fish Hatchery at a 9:15 minute pace (my pace chart had me running this section at 8:15 minute miles)
|Fish Hatchery - iRunFar.com/Bryon Powell|
At Fish Hatchery I learned that I had enough of a lead over the runner behind me that my race strategy became one of moving at solid clip and making no mistakes. I counted my lucky stars that I was in this circumstance. I was spent and wasn’t sure that I had any more “racing” left in me. For several miles I contemplated why I felt so spent. Towards the end of a 100 I am definitely tired, things are hurting, focus becomes a challenge. But, there always seems to be something in the tank. Today was different, there was nothing in the tank. Did I go out too fast? Was the altitude a factor? Was I tired from too much racing this year and too little rest? Was age catching up with me? Some or all of the above?? I dragged my tired ass into May Queen AS (mile 86.5) and gave Christian the explicit instructions to keep me moving and get me across the finish line in under 19-hours.
Unbelievably I didn’t fall along Turquoise Lake. I had 15-20 close calls with Christian admonishing me to be “careful.” In my mind I replied, “Dude, do you think I’m purposefully being careless? Do you really think I get pleasure from kicking these rocks?” I tried to care about running faster, but I couldn’t. I trusted that Christian would do whatever was needed to get me back to Leadville under 19-hours. I belonged to him.
The climb up the “boulevard” seemed to go on forever. I knew it would be like this so I wasn’t surprised. Yet, I wanted it to be over. Finally we hit the pavement and made the final push for the stoplight. I crossed the finish line in 18:42 for 5th place - with conflicting emotions that seemed to neutralize each other and resulted in almost no feeling whatsoever. I had placed well. Yet, knew I hadn’t run my best race. I was disappointed in the time. Yet, I was pleased I had broken the masters record. I was glad to be done. Yet, I wasn’t on a high like I usually experience at the completion of a race. I just wanted to get in the car, leave Leadville behind, and go home. Which I did…