Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Leadville Trail 100

This whole summer my entire focus has been to run Leadville and to run it well. I received a ridiculous amount of support from my husband in pursuit of this....and a ridiculous amount of encouragement from my friends, family and running partners. I can't imagine life without these people.... and I CANNOT imagine trying to do Leadville without crew and/or pacers, hands down, there is no way I would have finished without them. The race certainly didn't go the way I had envisioned, planned or hoped for.... but I got it done.

Erik and I drove out to Colorado Springs on August 15.. a week before the race. Since the beginning of July my life has been stupidly busy. I had no idea that shutting down a business would take more time and energy then opening one! My band also had our first show just days before we left for Colorado which meant lots of extra practice and since Erik & I are leaving from Denver to fly to Australia for a month just days after Leadville, all my ducks HAD to be in a row! We spent a few days in the Springs, relaxing and adjusting to altitude, and then on Wednesday we drove to Leadville. The days leading up to the race were full of full on panic and fear mixed with strange calm mixed with dread. I tried to just concentrate on getting my stuff together and staying off my feet as much as possible.

Thursday night was packet pickup and the pasta feed and it was good to hang out with a bunch of my KC area friends. There was a whole huge herd of KC folks coming in over the next few days, runners, pacers, crew and groupies.... yes, runners have groupies! I admit to a bit of star struck, girly, squealing when I caught sight of Anton Krupicka on Friday morning at the pre-race meeting, but I wasn't the only one! Thursday night after the pasta feed, my good friends Mac and Angela called to tell me.. Surprise! They were flying in late Friday night and would be in Leadville by start time to watch me race. I almost fell on the floor....and it almost made me not want to race! I knew that everyone was going to be having such a good time hanging out at aid stations and partying, I wanted to be there with them! OK, that was probably just the nerves talking...

Friday morning was the med check and pre race meeting. Due to a helicopter crash on Mt. Massive, the race had to be re-routed a bit, and rumours had been flying about how the course was going to go. After the meeting the day seemed to crawl by in slow motion, I tried to get a nap in, but finally gave it up and started getting all my aid station food ready. I wasn't going to do drop bags since I had such a bad ass crew (5 people dedicated solely to me.. not including 2 pacers.. I felt like a rock star!) but I wanted to get everything as organized as possible so I could just grab food and go. My plan was to spend just a minute or 2 in each aid station especially in the beginning and try and bank as much time as possible. It finally got dark and I drank some chamomile tea and hit the bed.... I slept much better then I thought I would, but by 2:30 I was half awake before the alarm went off. Getting dressed, number pinned on and eating felt surreal...it sure didn't feel like the race I had prepped for all summer. I forced food down my throat, grabbed my stuff and walked the 2 blocks to the start. In front of the video store, the whole KC crowd met up and exchanged hugs, stories and good lucks.

We made our way to the start line after what seemed like a million pictures were taken by friends.. Nick and I planted ourselves kinda in the middle of the packs and waited for the shotgun blast. While standing on the start line, I realized I hadn't gone to the bathroom, but it was too late.. BOOM and we were off! It was a slow start with just over 500 runners starting, and we had time to look around and find Gary and Willie and Adam... more KC runners. We ran past a house that had Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" blaring at top volume and probably 40 people standing out front cheering us on with beers. The morning was surprisingly warm, which did not bode well for the rest of the day. I felt good so instead of starting out slow and holding back, I would run at a comfortable but quicker pace until I started feeling like I needed to back off.

By the time I hit the first aid station at May Queen, I HAD to stop and use the bathroom on the way in.... I dropped off my long sleeve shirt and headlamp with my dad, grabbed some watermelon to eat and was off again. I caught up with Nick and we spent some time running with Anita Fromm, who holds the record for fastest DOUBLE Badwater.... she proceeded to scare the crap out of both of us by telling us that Leadville was way harder then Badwater. Not really what you need to hear at less then 20 miles into the race!! Nick and I stuck together climbing up Hagerman Pass road and then I got in front of him a bit coming down the Powerlines section... I was trying to go slow and save my quads but not so slow that I trashed them by braking too much. It's a fine line and I definitely have some serious work to do on learning how to run downhill. Maybe someday when I'm living somewhere that actually HAS long downhills, I'll learn.

When I hit the pavement on the way to Fish Hatchery, I realized how hot it was getting and how my stomach wasn't feeling real great. I was trying to think ahead to the aid station and what I might want to eat but nothing sounded good. Coming into F.H was like coming into a party, people were cheering their heads off and everyone was having a great time. I checked in and pretty much right out again and headed towards my crew... they got my water refilled and I tried to interest my stomach in some food, but a few watermelon pieces and some sips of a ginger drink where about all I wanted. I was hoping the ginger would settle things by the time I hit the next station, but I had plenty of food in my pack in case things improved quickly. I was starting to get a bit concerned about the lack of calories, once you get into a caloric deficit it can be really hard to make it up.. there is only so much food your body can process at one time.

I caught up with Nick on the way out of the aid station and we cruised along together on the road. This section pretty much sucked.. it was either wide open pavement or wide open dirt road for about 4 miles. The sun was blazing down and it seemed like an endless section. During 1 point I had to pull over and use some bushes and then a few miles later, when I got to the aid station I had to use the bathroom again.... my stomach was not very happy with me. I had a few sips of a peach/strawberry smoothie and tried some cookies but nausea had set in good. I left my crew and headed off, a short bit down the road Nick's family had set up a small aid station that was just a few yards from their house and Shane offered me some ginger chews that helped for a short bit, enough for me to get down some Hammer Gel anyway. I finally caught up with Nick again and we decided to stick together at least through Twin Lakes.

It was so very helpful to have each other to push on with. I think at this point we both did a bit of bitching and moaning, we were both having issues but quitting wasn't an option for either of us. It was absolutely breathtaking scenery and we'd look around occasionally and decide that life didn't suck. We may have been hurting, but damn... we were able to run allllll day and allllll night in the beautiful Colorado mountains, with amazing crews to tend to us and see to our every need and at the end of the race there was a red carpet to run down and a shiny new belt buckle waiting. Going into Twin Lakes there is a super steep rocky downhill and Nick warned me not to fall... I didn't but I did have a close call or two and let out a few girly squeals. Coming into all the aid stations was so much fun! The cheering crowds were amazing and everyone wanted to help right away.
I sat down for a couple of minutes at Twin Lakes for the first time and tried to come up with something to eat.. once again, a few sips of this and a few bites of that were about all I could stomach. My mom soaked my hat and bandanna in cold water and that made me feel a ton better. I hit the porta potties AGAIN on the way out. Nick and I started out together but at some point I was chattering away with some other runners and lost him. The stream crossing wasn't very high.. only about knee height on me, I was hoping for about waist high so my quads could get a nice icy immersion. I guess I could have stopped and spent some time in the river, but I had forward motion going and I didn't want to stop!! I was about 2 minutes into my climb up Hope Pass when Anton blazed past me down the hill on his way back to Leadville.... all I could do was stand aside and cheer for him.... he was running like the hounds of hell were after him, chasing course record ghosts. I succeeded in that, I wanted to at least be ON Hope Pass before I was totally passed by the leaders.. but knowing that these people were going to finish in the daylight is totally mind boggling! I have such admiration for the speedy guys and girls!

Going up Hope my nausea got worse.. I figured it was a combination of heat and altitude that was doing me in... but it seemed to be doing everyone in. I have never seen so much puke on the sides of trails before! I made some contributions and knew that I was in real trouble. If I couldn't get food in me, I didn't see how I was going to be able to finish. It was the first time that I thought about a DNF. Hope Pass is a hard ass climb, but I just put my head down and kept going up, I stopped when I needed to stop and pushed on when I could. I chatted with a bunch of people on the way up and I always stepped off the trail and gave the speedy ones plenty of room as they flew down the trail heading back to Leadville. It was a great excuse to stop and rest in addition to being able to cheer them on fully.

When I finally hit the Hopeless Aid Station, I filled up my water and took a minute to look at the gorgeous llamas up there. The aid station stuff is all packed in on llama back and those people who run it are bad ass!! It is such a help having them up there and gave me a definite lift. I grabbed a few saltine crackers in hopes of calming the guts and continued upwards. I hooked up with Josh who was a KC runner now living in Manhattan, Kansas and he really helped me get over the top and down most of the other side. He, too was having stomach issues and I offered him everything in my pack hoping he could keep something down.. but no such luck. The descent on the back side of Hope was quad and knee killing. I almost fell, I don't know how many times and the trails are so narrow that trying to get out of the way of the runners coming back up was a bit hair raising at times. Your choices are either a steep drop off on one side or such a severe side slope on the other that you'll bust an ankle trying to stand on it. I ran some bits on the descent but the constant stopping and letting people by disrupted any rhythm. By the time I hit the dirt road and had 2.5 miles to go to actually get into Winfield... I was out of water. This section was pretty miserable, the cars were stirring up so much dust that I was wearing my bandanna like a mask, I was waterless, I was totally out of energy and still puky. Those were some of longest miles I've ever been on!

I made it into Winfield and was weighed at the aid station..I was afraid I'd lost too much weight but surprisingly I was up 2 pounds. (I deliberately waited to go to the bathroom until AFTER weigh in) My crew swung into action and got me ready to make another Hope crossing... they tried everything possible to get me to eat. Coming into Winfield I told them I was in real trouble, I was totally out of energy and had to come up with something that stayed down. Luckily for me this was also the point I picked up my first pacer Debbie. She packed her bag with all sorts of things to eat and we headed off down the road with my spirits considerably lifted. We chattered away and as we headed down the road we came up Nick on his way to Winfield. He looked bad and my heart was breaking.... we gave him huge hugs and in my heart all I could do was pray for him to make it. A bit further down the road we came upon our friend Rick, now normally Rick would have been a good 20+ miles in front of me... he had kicked some butt at Western States, but today the altitude and heat got to him too. He had been resting at Hopeless Aid Station when I went through and I didn't even realize it. When he hit Winfield, he had already passed the time limit, but his weight was down so much that he would have been pulled anyway. My heart was breaking for him.
Debbie kept my spirits up and kept me moving over Hope... this was the very worst of the nausea, and it took me forever to make it back over. I kept having to stop and breathe and try and keep from puking. Debbie put up with some serious whining at this point but ignored me and kept prodding me upwards. When I hit the top of Hope again... I stopped and yelled as loud as I could "SCREW YOU HOPE!!!!" and started running down. At this point it was obvious that the majority of my problems stemmed from altitude sickness and not just heat since the quicker I dropped down in altitude the better I felt. I thought it had taken me so long to get over Hope that I would have timed out at Hopeless, but apparently I had plenty of time, so onward we went.

Originally I had planned to be at Twin Lakes again before the sun went down, but luckily my crew knew that there was no way I would make it, and stuck my headlamp in my pack. On the way down, we kept blinding baby mice on the side of the trail and they would get confused and try and run under our feet, so we had be careful so we didn't squish any of the little things. When we hit the water crossing, I sent Debbie ahead to tell my crew to make up some oatmeal, since finally something was sounding good to eat!!! At about this point Nick and his pacer Ben Reeves came up behind me and I have never been so darn happy to see someone in my life! Nick has this amazing ability to come back from the dead and keep running! Ben kept us moving
into the aid station where I peeled off to the bathrooms again....(you can skip this next section if you don't want to hear my poop musings ) I was constantly amazed at the amount of crap I was producing... I had hardly eaten all day but stuff was coming out of me from both ends like I had been hoggin' at Country Buffet all day. It amazed me that I was still able to move forward at any sort of speed given the fact that I probably hadn't even consumed 2,000 calories over the entire day and most of those had come out of me in one form or the other.

I grabbed my oatmeal from my crew and quickly checked in and out of Twin Lakes aid station, after which I could take a minute to stand around eating it... it was hot and tasted pretty good, I also downed a few watermelon pieces. Debbie and I were off again into the night. I had forgotten how much climbing was in this section and I was back to moving VERY slowly. At this point I started getting very, very sleepy, and found myself dozing off and stumbling all over the trail. I kept begging Debbie to just let me lay down and sleep for 5 minutes, but all she would give me was 2. So I did that a few times until Nick and his pacer Shane came by us like a freight train but stopped long enough to ply us with caffeine pills. Debbie had the sleepiees too, so she took one a tried to keep me moving. I feel awful about this part of the race.. I was exhausted, crabby, and mentally I couldn't imagine climbing up powerlines again. I told myself at this point that I was quitting when I saw my crew again. All I wanted to do was crawl in a warm sleeping bag and sleep for a few days. I started voicing these thoughts to Debbie, but she didn't want to
hear them. She really took the brunt of my absolute depths of despair and kept me moving.

When we got into the Box Creek Aid Station, mentally I was telling myself that I only had 3.5 miles to go and I would quit when I saw my crew. I was sitting in a chair with my head in my hands and the uber helpful volunteers at Box Creek were trying so very hard to help me out. Finally I took a few handfuls of watermelon and some sips of coffee and we were off. I started to enjoy myself a tiny bit at this point because mentally I was checked out of the race. I made Debbie turn off her headlamp so we could enjoy the AMAZING array of stars. It was a gorgeous night and instead of plodding along with my head down, I started looking up. When we finally hit the road where the crews were waiting I told them I was done. I couldn't officially drop out there because it wasn't a true aid station but I wanted a ride to Fish Hatchery where they could snip my med bracelet and I could go to sleep. Unfortunately for my plans, my crew was having none of this. They told me I was going to have to get to F.H on my own 2 feet. I cried at my husband, and whined at anyone that would listen.. but they weren't actually listening.

So I found myself once again heading down the road to Leadville and I felt kinda confused as to how they bamboozled me into 4 more miles. I walked this entire stretch of road, there was no attempt at running, but I have a pretty mean power hike so we were actually moving fairly quickly. I kept turning down food from Debbie and telling her, that I didn't need it since I was dropping out in 4 miles. I spent half the time trying to justify it to her and myself, I kept telling myself that it was amazing I had gotten as far as I had on so few calories and it was impressive that I had continued on being as sick as I was. I was almost able to make myself feel good about dropping out. We hooked up with a group of guys a few miles from F.H and they kept us entertained, but my mind was still made up.

When I got into F.H, my crew descended on me and hustled me to check in and then out since I was so very close to the cut off. I kept saying it didn't matter, but they said I wasn't allowed to make any decisions until I had had some soup. So I ate a cup of some amazing vegan broth and the next thing I knew I was changing into tights and putting on new socks (my feet had some yucky blisters). This was where I was dropping off poor, beleaguered Debbie and picking up Christy (who was quickly being briefed about my mental state by Debbie). My mom made me eat a spoonful of peanut butter over my protests that I was not going on, I almost puked it all up again but I managed to keep most of it down. I stood in the middle of this group of wonderful people, whining my head off about not wanting to do powerlines but they just ignored me, and kept telling me to move on out. At this point my dad gave me a huge hug, and told me that I had his strength and had to finish... we both got all teary and that was it. A switch had flipped in my head and I was going to finish this damn race. As Christy and I moved down the road, I kept quizzing her to make sure we had enough time... I didn't want to do powerlines only to be timed out at May Queen. She assured me we could do it so off we went.

When I was in Leadville in June, I remembered the climb up powerlines as being super steep and I was thinking it was going to be like Hope Pass, but my thinking was faulty and I think that broth was magic, becuase it felt like we flew up that section. I'm not entirely sure how many people we passed going up (powerhiking) but it was quite a few. Christy just kept pointing out glow sticks so I was concentrating on passing those instead of going up hill and the next thing I knew, we were going down Hagerman Pass. Christy kept telling me stories and making me talk and we kept passing people on our way down. At one point we came upon a guy who was NOT doing well, he had a pacer with him and they asked us to send help when we got to May Queen. We picked up the pace a bit more and a mile or so down the road a Search and Rescue truck was on it's way up the hill, so we flagged him down, gave him the guys number and crossed our fingers that it wasn't anything serious. When we finally got off the hill and onto the trail again, my memory started to go, I had thought the trail section was much shorter then it was and I started getting SUPER cranky when the trail just kept on and on and on. I snapped at Christy a few times and got a bit hysterical that I wasn't going to make the time cut off. But finally we hit the paved section and got to the aid station in time.

Another cup of broth and another stop at the porta johns and I told my crew that I would see them at the finish line. Christy told me I was going to have to make up some serious time going around the lake since I was only 4 minutes ahead of the cut off, so I put my headphones on and we ran, from ribbon to ribbon, and powerhiked the hills. When we hit the Tabor Boat Ramp and found out we only had 7 more miles to go and almost 3 hours to do it in, I knew short of disaster, that I was good. I settled down into my powerhike since running was making my blisters scream in excruciating pain. Once we got off the trail around the lake and onto the dirt road I felt like I was homefree, but I didn't realize just how long this stretch was and once again started to get super cranky and panicky when it just continued on and on. My bits of running here were nothing more then a shuffle punctuated with me grunting in pain. Christy offered me an advil and I gratefully accepted... I should have grabbed a few more from her, but advil can be so very bad for your kidneys during long races so I had kept myself to taking a total of 4 over the 30 hours. Finally, after what seemed like lifetimes long, we could see town. Spectators kept saying.. it's not far.. and I had to restrain myself to keep from screaming.. How far is not fucking far?????? I was at the height of my crankiness and poor Christy finally just dropped behind me a bit, (she would have had every right to just push me off the nearest cliff!) When we hit the pavement, it was like I was a new person... and I could see the finish and hear Christy sobbing behind me. She gave me a huge hug and Dad came out and met me a bit less then a mile from the finish and ran me the rest of the way in. Scattered along the way were my KC friends and they cheered me on in. All I had eyes for was that red carpet and finish line banner, and then finally I was running down it and into the arms of my crew. 29:48:07.

There was much hugging and crying and then Merrilee put my medal around my neck with a big hug and then I was swept off to the med tent and weighed in. I was up 3 pounds and by the amount of swelling I had going on in my hands, face and feet, I was surprised it wasn't more. I grabbed a few pieces of watermelon, found my crew and sat my butt on the grass. I guess everyone had been freaking out thinking I wasn't going to make the time cut off, but I knew I was. Christy and I had been keeping such a close watch on things, and since my legs weren't totally shot, if I had to run fast.... I would have. My feet would have been hamburger but I could have done it. Just a short 12 minutes later we heard the shotgun blast to announce the end of the race and my heart ached for those people still coming down the hill. Not an official finish.. but they finished in my eyes.

I really tested my crew and pacers at this race and I'm honestly shocked they are still talking to me much less willing to hug me afterwards! There is no way I could ever repay them or make it up to them, I would absolutely have NOT finished this race without them.

My husband Erik is an absolute angel, he kept urging me on even when he knew how badly I wanted to quit. He spent 30+ hours driving around, trying to get me to eat and giving me support. I won't ever be able to repay him. My parents were amazing... my mom thought she had retired the crew chief hat, but gladly took it out again when I asked. She is truly a selfless woman. My dad.. who inspired me to keep going and kept telling me I could do it. Mac and Angela, who flew in for a super quick weekend, and would not take QUIT for an answer. Apparently I had told them not to let me quit, and they were bound and determined not to let me. All the other KC folks, Laurie, Stacy, Kyle, Caleb, Shane, Ben R, the Lang family, Julie, Ireland Dave, Angel, Tony, Rick, Josh, Gary, Willie, Adam, Darin, British Mark, David, Stu and Deb, all the encouragement, hugs and advice you gave were oh-so-very helpful. I stole bits and pieces of your energy and it helped get me through. Nick, my friend who I can't seem to run a race without.. thanks for all the support... as always it was a pleasure to run with you... next year though, I'm gonna kick your ass ;) ! Finally, Christy and Debbie... my pacers extraordinaire, once again I couldn't have done it without you. I'll never be able to repay you guys this one... you truly saw the absolute worst of me, but continued on with me anyway. Thank you from the bottom of my heart..... I owe you beyond words.
Ultrarunning is such a selfish sport, but somehow this selfish runner managed to find an amazing group of family and friends (who ARE family) who are completely selfless and loving. I am blessed beyond words.


tweetypy2000 said...

Oh.My.God! WoW! What a story and achievement Coleen! I bawled just reading it (well it is THAT time of the month but...how emotional)!!! Well done a hundred times over! :D Louise x

Kristi said...

"Awesome", Coleen, in the true meaning of the word. Wish I could have been there to cheer you along. Thanks for the report!

Nick said...

"How far is not fucking far??????" HAHAH I know exactly what you mean, i felt so bad for Laurie cause she was dealing with me when I was super cranky and snappy. The Blvd was by far the worst section for me:(

Way to go! I'm so proud of you! I'm so happy to hear your crew has selective hearing! I wouldn't have let you quit either.

Have fun in that other hemisphere. When you get back we gotta figure out what race to do next! ;)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Coleen. I'm soooo proud of you for sticking it out. I felt the same way Christy did with the runner I picked up at Twin Lakes. I didn't even know the guy but I was ready to breakdown myself when he knew he was going to make it under 28 hours for a PR. It's a very powerful race. I'll pace again one more year then give it a shot in 2011.

Slomohusky said...

Bravo! Really good show! Wonderful achievement. Thanks for sharing.

mark said...

i'm starting to understand this thing. you do know how proud of you i am, right?


Deb J. said...

What a great race report! Very inspiring - you dug deep and kept going to the finish line. Have a wonderful time in Australia!

Lee said...


HappyTrails said...

Yay Colleen!!! We have been waiting anxiously for your race report - thanks for sharing your memorable "fun" with us. You should be proud - what an awesome accomplishment - great job! Yes, I think you are very blessed! Have fun in Australia!

Sam said...

At the risk of sounding cheesy, you really are an inspiration. I don't know if 100 miles is in my cards, but after reading your race report, I know why you want to. When you're back in KC, I'd love to get together for a run.

Mark said...

Wow, great race and report - very impressive.

rob horton said...

awesome! thx for the kick-ass race report.

David Ray said...

Yay! Excellent report. Loving all the gory details. Congrats to you and your crew on a great race!

Happy Trails said...

Awesome Coleen.

T Z said...

Gruesome yet awesome. You have an amazing crew getting your grouchy ass back out there to finish your job. What a tough and gritty finish! Congrats.

Slomohusky said...

PS - Great Pix with your Dad. Again, great effort Coleen.

Lori said...

What a great crew! ...and what a great race! Congratulations on finishing that one!!

HappyTrails said...

Hey Coleen - you made a cameo appearance on one of Andy Jones-Wilkins videos from Leadville:

Paige said...

I know I'm way behind on this, but wow, what a great race report! I was just about in tears towards the end, good grief! There's something about these Leadville RRs that just tug at the heartstrings. You are amazing and congratulations on the finish!

Schwinn A40 said...

Wow. That's awesome! I am looking to do a race similar to that in the coming months, I'm just not sure which one yet.