Harry Hamilton's, The Leadville Trail 100 "Good race plan, good execution and perfect pacer!"

When you toe the starting line for a 100 mile race needless to say that you never really know what is going to happen on race day.   That goes double for racing at altitude and climbing some of the toughest terrain in the ultra-world.  

The Leadville Trail 100 mile run is a 50 mile out and back 100 mile trail run that starts in the city of Leadville at 10,200 feet of altitude.  This race “Across the Sky” was established in 1983.  The highest climb is up to 12,600 feet at Hope Pass at miles 45 and 55.


Photo by Julian Vicente

I wore Montrail Mountain Masochists (Harry's Shoe Review) during the whole race.   They are stable on technical terrain, but also have nice cushioning for your feet when running on jeep roads.   They also work well for me to control my feet blistering issues.

I had unfinished business here at Leadville after the 2012 race.   I missed my goal time by 8 minutes.   There is nothing worse than being a ½ mile from the finish line with 3 ½ minutes left to break 25 hours.  After running 101.5 miles on the extended course last year and being slightly incoherent I was still able to do a few quick calculations and determine that I could not do a 7 minute mile pace to the finish in order to accomplish the goal.  I trudged into a death walk and finished in 25:08.  My one goal for this race was to break 25 hours.  Anything after that was as they say, “gravy.”

Photo by Julian Vicente

I knew that in order to break 25 hours this year I would need a little cushion which required me arriving at the 50 mile point of the race at the Winfield aid station in 11 hours.   If I reached Winfield 10 minutes late I knew that I’d have to hoof it to go sub 25.

A few ultra-runner friends had sent me Facebook well wishes a few days before the race.  I remembered asking them to send me energy at mile 86.   What I got at 86 was far from energy.   More on that later…

The first 50 miles of this race was uneventful and went according to plan.   I only had two coffees to start  (a tradition started at the Manitou Revenge race earlier this year).  This reduced the number of nature breaks.  I also planned to pick up the pace from my 2012 race.   I felt that I went out too slow last year, but was cautious not to go out too fast and blow up during the first 50 miles.

Photo by Julian Vicente

From miles 20 to 50 I was running with friends Keith Straw, Mike Randall and a few of his fellow Rocky Mountain Runners from the Boulder area Ryan Patrick, Alberto Rossi.   The majority of us had finishing goals from 22 hours to 26 hours, so I knew that the pace was right.    

There was some slight rain up the initial climb at hope Pass, but not enough to warrant pulling on a jacket.   Luckily there wasn’t any hail this year.   As I descended down Hope Scott Jurek was on his return to the finish.  He looked strong and it was good to see him back on the trail.  

The first time that I used trekking poles was at my last race at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100.   They did help on the Diamond peak climb of that course.  I was hoping that the poles would help me make up some time on the climbs at Leadville this year.   I was using Black Diamond 110 cm ‘Z’ poles.   They are lightweight and fold up nicely in a pack when you are not using them.   They also fit in the Victory Bear II drop bag, which is quite nice for aid station drops.  While it didn’t feel that the poles helped on the Hope Pass climbs at Leadville, it could’ve been that I still had a runner’s hangover from Tahoe.  It was clear to me that on the return 50 miles to the finish I only had average climbing legs on this day.

The altitude definitely affected me this year. I had a labored breathing the whole second half of the race. My breathing was so loud and heavy that I wasn’t going to be able to do my trademark sneaking up on and passing people.  I’d pass them, but they definitely heard me coming.

I arrived at Winfield at exactly 3PM.  11 hours on the nose!  How is that for punctuality?  My pacer was fellow MPFit Campmor teammate Julian Vicente who graciously made the trip from New Jersey to pace me for the return 50 miles of the race. 

Photo by Jody LaPar 

At the 50 mile point Jody LaPar a MPfit Campmor teammate surprised me about a quarter mile from the aid station and guided me in to my bags, gear, nutrition a quick fill of water bottles before heading back out on to the course after a few quick pictures.  Phil Germakian, another teammate, caught up to me for a quick hello on the road before Julian and I turned on to the trail for the climb back up Hope Pass. 

Photo by Jody LaPar 

On the climb up Hope Pass we ran past Adam Mayer who was descending.   I never saw him, but Julian said that he was smiling (surprise, surprise).   I was wondering at that point where Jason Friedman, a fellow New Jersey runner was.  I never saw Jason until after the race at the finish (he made it).

During the Hope Pass climb I remember my pacer Julian telling me that we were at 11,700 feet elevation.   I knew that we had another 30 to 40 minutes of climbing at this point.   My response was less than polite.  Something to the effect that I don’t care about that stuff (only I didn’t say stuff).   I had done this climb 5 times previously and I knew what was ahead.   My approach to climbing is simple; respect the mountains, but never be intimidated by them.  The altitude level was just another test to get through.  As we reached the summit and climbed over the top of Hope we stopped at the aid station for some quick refills, said hello to the Llamas and down towards Twin Lakes we went.   

During the descent of Hope Pass we had to keep the pace in check, so as to not fry the quads.  After the descent down Hope there was a small river crossing.   I had to make up my mind whether to change my shoes and socks at the Twin Lakes 2 aid station stop at mile 60 or run as long as I could before I had to tend to any feet issues.    In the past I have had issues with blistering on my feet, so it was just a matter of time before it started to slow me down.   When we got to Twin Lakes 2 I decided to do a quick change to dry shoes and not waste time changing my toe socks.   For those of you who wear toe socks I wear the Injinji trail socks that really help me get in 60 or more miles before my feet start to get hot spots.  Without these socks I would start to blister around mile 40.  I decided to worry about the feet and socks later.  I had packed extra shoes and socks in my drop bags on the way to the finish if I really had to make a prolonged stop for foot care.   

Photo by Julian Vicente

After Twin Lakes 2 we started the climb up Mt Elbert.   Mt Elbert is the highest peak of the Rockies in North America at 14,440 feet, but we do not climb to the top.  We only climb to about 10,400 feet.  All that this climb required was patience.   There is no way to run it (unless you are Anton).   As long as you are making relentless forward progress, all is good.  My pacer Julian did quite well on this climb too.   

It was obvious that Julian had studied the course and my race plan.  I had never seen this side of Julian.  Not that he did not have it, it’s just that I had not seen it.  He was totally prepared and totally aware of what to look for in my running; when I needed nutrition, fluids and picking up the pace.  For a newbie to this level of altitude Julian made a seamless transition and pulled me along the course when I needed it the most.   I see success at this race for Julian in the future.

The seven miles from the Half Pipe 2 aid station stop at mile 30.5 from the finish to the Outward Bound 2 aid station at mile 23.5 were a key part of this race.  I have to thank Julian for pushing me to run this entire stretch and giving me more time in the bank for reaching my goal time.   My feet were really starting to hurt at this point, but he pushed me through this and we gained a lot of spare time towards the goal time.  

When we reached Sugarloaf Mountain I was hoping that my hiking poles would help me get up the mountain faster than last year.  This was the one climb that I lost time on in 2012.  This climb never seems to end.   The poles helped me during this climb.  To have the extra stability from the poles and be able to conserve a bit of energy as opposed to power hiking by using your hands on the your quads is a big help.  As anticipated this climb did go on forever.  I remember at one point Julian stating that “we can put away the poles now.”   My reply was that “we are not done yet.”  It was at least another 29 minutes of climbing.  Once that climb was finished there was a nice downhill to take advantage of before coming into the May Queen aid station. May Queen was 13.5 miles to the finish.   Up next was the run around Turquoise Lake.  

May Queen was at 13.5 miles to the finish.   I forgot that I had written in my race plan that there was a chance that I would puke at mile 86.5.   I figured if it happened at all that would be the spot.   I must’ve have seemed low on energy or Julian realized that I was not getting proper nutrition because he suggested that I eat a whole banana at May Queen.  That was the right call.   At this point of the race I had not had any solid food for over 6 hours and was running on gels, a bit of fruit and broth.   I German Shepard’ a banana, had two of the best cokes that I ever tasted and swallowed a couple of Tylenol for the pain in my blistered feet.  This was the last aid station before the finish and off we went.  I had not gone 100 yards before everything came up in two vicious projectiles.   If I could actually see the spot in the road where they hit I am sure that there would’ve been a crater in the asphalt.  I was not happy about losing my last two Tylenols, but I had a few sips of water and went back into my running shuffle towards the finish.  

I remembered thinking that I had to respond to those listed on the Facebook post where I asked for energy at mile 86.  I did not ask to soil the streets!  I had forgotten, but Julian reminded me that it was in my race plan.  Not the self-fulfilling prophecy that I wanted…  

As Julian stated at the time, it seemed like we were running around Turquoise Lake to the finish for hours before we crossed the Tabor Boat ramp (really at 8 miles to the finish not 7!) before crossing back on to the road and the gradual climbs to the finish on 6th Street.  My feet were pretty trashed at this point and it was too painful to run the last 8 miles.   Julian did some quick calculations and determined that if I walked 20 minute miles I would still break 25 hours.    I was really hurting at this point so I went into power walking mode.   I only managed 16 minute miles at this point which is well below my usual pace, but it would have to do and would still allow me to reach the goal.   Although this is not like me at all, I really didn’t care about breaking 24 hours at this point, which would have been relatively easy to do.   I was happy with my elapsed time at this point in the race and knew that all I had to do was continue the pace to get that big fat buckle.  So far I had made no big time consuming mistakes in the race and we did not get lost once.   Julian was tracking the time for the return to the finish, which was a big help for me to concentrate on moving forward on the trail.   

I had forgotten how long that last four miles was with the steady incline from the year before.  As I came upon the last ½ mile and the point, scene and realization of last year’s disappointment, the time was 24:08.  Exactly one hour faster than my finishing time from the year before.   I crossed the line in 24:17.  This flatlander finished 7th in his age group.  Mission accomplished!  

Photo by Julian Vicente

Photo by Julian Vicente

In 2012 when I finished this race I was in a shivering ball in a sleeping blanket at the medical tent and heated trailer.   This year was not as bad as I was sill in a ball in a sleeping bag (thanks Julian for the Facebook tag), but not cold and not nearly as tired.  Maybe next year I will try for the Leadville 100 MTB race.

Harry Hamilton