Race week for the Leadville trail 100 race started off a little differently than any other race week. I had never registered for a race that added two miles and significant climbs each way of a 50 mile out and back race course with less than a week before race day. I wasn’t happy or worried about the extra mileage at the time. All of the participants would have to deal with it.
My race plan was already tight. To reach my time goal of breaking 25 hours on the course I knew that it might come down to making it with a half an hour or less to spare. I had developed an abscess in my chest during the prior week and had to get treated in the ER just before my medical check in at race headquarters on Thursday. Talk about bad timing. I was at the same hospital one year ago during this same week for separate incidents after a mountain bike crash and a gallbladder issue. After the ER visit the medical check went well and I weighed in less than expected. I was quite surprised considering I was tapering and on vacation with the Family and enjoying vacation food. The buffalo burgers in CO are awesome!
I awoke at 1:30 AM on race day and drove to Leadville. I was lucky enough to find a parking space close to the start. At the start it was about 37 degrees as expected. I started in a pair of Brooks Cascadia’s which were better suited to the road mile sections of the race and planned on switching to Inov8’s for the technical trail sections, climbs and river crossings.
I had way too many nature breaks during the first 35 miles. The first 40 miles to Twin lakes went along as planned. It was all uneventful. I did manage to see a few friends from training camp and some folks from back East. I met Jason Friedman for the first time while ascending Sugarloaf Mountain 1. At twin Lakes I switched to Inov8’s and remained on schedule. The river crossing was not significant. The water was about thigh high.
I started up Hope Pass 1 and passed a few more friends from training camp. One of my friends from Texas was sitting on a rock well before the tree line. This was not a good sign for him… I arrived at the turn around at Winfield at 11:30 A.M. My plan was to be there at Noon, but that was before the added miles. Today I was hoping to be at Winfield in 11 hours for a nice cushion. It was the first time during the race that I wasn’t happy, but I got a nice surprise to see my Wife and three youngest children there to greet me. They had dropped off my pacer Mike Randall from Boulder by way of Austin, Texas. He had my gear ready and we got out of Winfield pretty quickly. In hindsight I made an error at Winfield by dropping my rain jacket, which was not needed for the ascent of Hope Pass 1.
The ascent up Hope Pass 2 was steeper on the return and I now had to deal with the runners coming at me towards Winfield on single track. Many of the field was using trekking poles which took up more room on the technical single track. There was not a lot of trail etiquette here. Runners on the return were supposed to receive the right of way. I pushed on and after a while I had no qualms about lowering my shoulder. As I approached the tree line of Hope Pass 2 the temperature started to drop. Soon rain followed. I had no jacket at this point so I had to borrow my pacer’s rain jacket. Luckily the rain did not last long as I caught it at a good time, which was in between aid stations. Later I heard that a lot of runners were being held up at aid stations because of the weather. It always pays to move forward as best as you can in the event that this situation occurs. Luckily this did not cost me any time. As I reached the summit of Hope Pass 2 I was getting a little tired. I was leading a group of 5 runners and pacers. I used trekking poles for a short bit even though I did not train with them. They did help, but when my arms gave me initial signs of fatigue back to my pacer they went.
I summited Hope Pass 2, got a quick look at the Llamas that were used to bring supplies to the summit and tore off down the trail. One of the Llamas reminded me of my teammate Randy, Just kidding! As my pacer and I approached Twin Lakes aid station 2 we were still on the race plan schedule. When we got to the aid station my pacer’s drop bag was nowhere to be found. After some unlucky inquiries he was able to borrow a headlamp, but he had to run in wet shoes and socks. I wasn’t stressed about the situation and my pacer handled it well too. I am not sure that I could have gotten out of the aid station that much faster. This stop took about 18 minutes, but I changed my socks and shoes and tended to my usual foot and blister issues. I had to tend to that myself. A crew would have really helped here. The lack of a crew for the entire race would be one of the factors in reaching my goal time for this race.
Leaving the Fish Hatchery Aid station 2 stop I lost time because the course was not marked very well and I thought I was off course. The glow stick lighting was already dimming and could not be seen from a distance. After some doubling back towards the aid station after three quarters of a mile only to find that I was headed in the right direction. This was a loss of loss of precious time and energy.
The climb up Sugarloaf Pass 2 was the most brutal ascent that I have ever encountered for three reasons; the sheer steepness, not enough trail markers and fatigue from the previous miles of the race. As I hiked up I felt like I was kissing the trail. My back ached across my shoulder blades because I had sunk into bad power hiking form. I kept waiting for the sounds of the power lines to give me an indication that I was near the top. They did not come soon enough. Only one voice popped in my head on this race day and it was during this climb. It was Ken Chlouber’s voice with words of his famous pre-race speech of “dig deep.” He wasn’t kidding.
We reached May Queen 2 with 3 hours to run 13 ½ miles and break 25 hours. I knew that this was tight for time. What I didn’t realize until after the race was that my plan was to leave May Queen 2 one hour earlier than this. I guess that I knew better, but had lost track of time. My pacer took charge instinctively at this point of the race. Although he had never paced anyone before he was doing an awesome job trying to get me “home” from 50 miles out. There is no way that I would have come close to the goal time without him. He guided me through the trails and gave me the best shot at accomplishing the time goal. He pushed me when the course allowed for it and advised me to take walk breaks when I needed a breather.
Running at altitude makes you a different kind of tired. I don’t remember a lot of detail from May Queen 2 to the finish. Only that the trail was hard to follow and that I fell twice, once coming around Turquoise Lake. I remembered thinking that I had not fallen during a race for 5 years and now I had fallen at both the Vermont 100 and Leadville. I could not run without pain during the last 7 miles after reaching the Tabor boat ramp. Maybe it was even before the 7 mile mark. I just can’t remember. I was worried about this after the descent at Sugarloaf 2, so I was expecting this. Thank GOD it was not a bad as Vermont last year and I could still power hike at a good pace. When I ran I was shuffling as fast as I could, but I felt that I was a lot faster power walking, so I stuck with it. After the race my pacer told me that at times I was power walking at a 13:40 minute pace or less.
As a made the turn onto 6th Street with a mile to go and the reality set in that I was not going to make the goal time. As I started the last descent with a ½ mile to go a spectator said that I had 3 minutes to run a ½ mile. I can run sub 6 minute miles, but this wasn’t going to happen after 99 ½ miles at altitude. I tried to run, realized the futility and ended up walking it to the finish. That was a long haunting ½ mile. I managed to pick up a shuffle down the red carpet across the finish where Merilee was waiting for me with the ceremonial hug.
There was no happy ending here like at the Vermont 100 when I finished just under the goal time by 5 minutes. I finished in 25:08. 8 minutes over my goal time. 8 minutes being a factor in a run over 100 miles!
After the race I ended up in a heated trailer trying to warm up. I went over to the medical tent because they had cots and sleeping bags and I wanted to try and sleep, but it was too cold and my fingers went numb. I made my way back into the heated trailer to warm up again. Not sure what the temperature was, but it was “warming up” close to 40 degrees.
I think that my pacer said that I came into Winfield in 203rd place, but I finished 82nd overall and 5th in my age group. This was out of 796 starters. My pacer also said that he counted me passing over 40 runners during the first 4 hours of the return to Leadville. This still isn’t bad for a flatlander.
Read Harry's pacer, Mike Randall's pacer report, click here.