Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Leadville 100 mile run - pacer report

Mauling John Fogerty's lyrics, I kept singing in my head,
          You got to hidey-hidey-hide
          You got to jump and run
          The old men.. go down the road
It was a new experience for me to confront an endurance event where I was not at all certain I could finish. That's just the last 25 miles of pacing too, the whole 100 is beyond imagination. Naturally I projected calm confidence at all times in the buildup to the race and during my pacing stint, though our wives were not fooled I can only hope runner Carl was.

Here he is on the top of Hope Pass, completely focused. It turns out old ski poles are functional as running poles, cheap (free) and lighter than many of the adjustable running poles. Of course there  are carbon-fiber folding running poles for hundreds of dollars but we are pragmatical functionalist old guys, who like to use the stuff we already have.

When I signed up for pacing, only slightly inebriated, I had visions of running over the mountains in the sunlight. Instead the section from Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery to home went on from midnight until 8am, deep in the darkest moonless night. There were shooting stars for consolation, and we did get to see the morning come up over the Rockies like hope and glory.

Start happened at 4am but I did not attend, instead concentrating on sleeping late. That didn't work but at least there was time to think. Carl hit May Queen aid station, 13.5 miles of rocky trail at 10000ft plus, in 2:09. My current half-marathon best expected time is just slightly faster than that.

Here's a pic poached from Instagram of the runners heading out from Outward Bound aid station in the morning. That is a different year I think, we did not have so much snow on the peaks.

Six hundred-odd runners started, most of them only slightly odd, and headed up to Hope Pass. At 12600ft any kind of weather is possible. Carl reported flurries of sleet which turned the already treacherous scree slopes into a bit of a nightmare. The Denver Post had this picture of snow on the pass.

Down around the turnaround in Winfield construction added some 0.8 miles to the race distance, for extra credit. There isn't anywhere to modify the route to take away the added distance so this year's edition went long. The cut times at some of the aid stations were adjusted but the 30-hour finish cutoff was not. Brutal.

I showed up late but in earnest (sero sed serio, the motto of the Kerr clan, my Scots ancestors) at the Twin Lakes aid station on the inbound evening leg.

Parking went on for a couple of miles out from the aid station itself. There were shuttle buses, for which we were most grateful, lugging coolers and gear wasn't the warmup I was looking for. Carl and pacer David ran in like heroes. By this point the attrition had started with many runners behind the cutoff time, others puking and dropping out, yet more injured and limping into the hills with a desperate sort of hope. Our man looked tired yet strong and quite coherent after sixty miles. His feet were cold and wet from the last stream crossing so his family/crew took care of the disgusting task of rubbing Glide over his dirty cold toes - greater love hath no wife than this.

What I noticed about the women running through, and the women pacers, and the women crewing, is that they looked like anime characters - slim, bright eyes full of humor and intelligence. Really I was quite smitten. This is from Camille Heron's Instagram feed, just before she had to drop due to hip problems. This picture has not been photoshopped.

We went back to the hotel, ate, and lay down for a bit: while the runners ran on. Back to Outward Bound in dark midnight hours with bonfires at each end of the station and crews singing merrily to keep spirits up. Our indefatigable crew had a dusty blanket for my legs as we waited, since the fleece-lined tights adequate for running in the low 40 degrees were not enough for waiting in the cold. Runner lights stretched out over the inbound field to the limits of perception. The runners here appeared generally in better shape than at Twin Lakes - the cutoff times are mercilessly efficient, leaving only the runners with a real shot at finishing. Pacer David looked as if he'd just had a pleasant warmup after 25 miles of rough trails including some thousands of feet of climbing.

We shuffled off into the night, not feeling 22. Selfishly I was glad that the fantasy schedule of 25 hours for the big belt buckle, was out of the picture. The Army taught me I'm not much good at barking commands and dispensing tough love. Once I tried to pace brother Charles to a sub-4 Two Oceans finish and was afraid I was going to kill him in the later stages. We finished there in 4:00:48 most frustrating.

The first few miles here are on the road past the fish hatchery where it was possible to keep up a 13-minute mile pace. We had matching Garmin 205s. Carl's died later in the night, I had forgotten to turn off autostop which meant mine was wholly inaccurate. By the finish it was an hour off the actual running time and nearly five miles wrong. Oops. That day I learned. Luckily my runner was keeping track of the miles and knew where we were at all times, a deeply impressive feat.

The despair that takes hold in the wee hours of the night after sixteen hours of running did show up once we hit Powerline climb and dropped to 20-min miles.  There were comments to the effect of, "we'll be the last ones in", etc. I mentioned that I'd reviewed the board where the numbers of the incoming runners were written at Outward Bound and there were not more than a hundred of those, plus the Athlinks updates had consistently placed him around the 115 mark. This produced silence if not consent and we moved on to happier subjects, such as our kids' college swim careers. Powerline is a grim climb up a deeply rutted jeep track with poor footing. My 200-lumen headlamp was not enough to keep me from stumbling. Next time (may never happen) I'll invest in one of those ludicrously bright 500-lumen light-up-the-night portable searchlights. No pictures here since I was concentrating on moving on and feeding/watering my runner.

At the top of the climb there is a somewhat unofficial aid station sounding off a vuvuzela or similar air horn, a horrid noise but most welcome to climbing runners. They had cookies, gatorade, and 'sweet green buds !' which were sold hard. "If you're having stomach trouble, these sweet green buds are the best thing !" quite true but fortunately unnecessary. It is essential to eat and keep eating, though the stomach is not very willing to do its digestive tasks while the selfish legs are taking all the blood and oxygen. It burns about 16 000 calories to run for 100 miles. Carl was tired of EFS shots by now so I fed him whatever he would accept, ramen noodles and warm mashed potatoes at the aid stations, handfuls of bite-size Snickers and Kit-Kats on the run, cookies, Fig Newtons, etc. I'm not a forceful personality, preferring discussion and consensus to bold decisive proclamations, but stopped asking for his opinion about eating and drinking. "Here ! drink !" or "eat !"

A steep winding descent on a slightly better jeep road offered some opportunity for running. We tried a shuffle until Carl stumbled and fell. His headlamp was shining like a pair of anemic glowworms by this time, which I should have spotted but missed. We exchanged lights and I dug my spare out of the pack, plus a hand-held flashlight with a bike tube/duct tape handle, to give a better foreshadowing of the roots and rocks. On down the hill to a mile of actual dirt road, more run/walk, then plunge like fate into the blind Colorado Trail. This section is a kind of tunnel through the trees, black night and evergreens unrolling over grey rocks. The course was beautifully marked, glow sticks hung from the trees at regular intervals with streamers of pink tape in between. Thank you the organizers.

Out of the woods and onto the short road into May Queen campground and aid station. The crews waiting for their runners applauded and cheered our every step, fortunately it was dark to cover my few tears of emotion. The night skies opened up to a broad brilliant dome of stars, a line of lights snaking down from the 11 1600ft of Sugarloaf. This was proof visible that we were not in fact the last ones out there.

Turquoise Lake trail is mostly runnable if you have light and strength. We having neither kept up a stiff walk, 16-18min miles, Carl's poles clicking off the steps. Several young teams of runner and pacer passed us along this stretch, motoring along at 15min miles or better. I pointed out that even if you added the age of the runner to that of the pacer, it still wouldn't add up to even one of us: a century of life lived moving down the trail, ghosts driving meat-covered skeletons yet made of stardust.  It gets kooky out there in the bleak pre-dawn hours.

Light grew as we came off the dam wall and down the last steeps onto the dirt roads home. We began to suspect that we might even survive. Bright sun in our eyes as we moved up the Boulevard, a 3.5 mile climb to the finish. Two runner/pacer teams and a single runner passed us and we kicked up the pace to 16min miles. The family came down to the last mile to walk and run in. We were discussing how far it was and if it would be possible to get to the visible banner in the minutes left before 8am, when a bright-eyed spectator chimed in, "zero-point-three miles !"  Carl started to run, I ducked off to the sidewalk and watched his finish in 27:58, 121 (I told him so) of 287 survivors. Here we are, holding each other up.

Thank you Carl, for the opportunity to run with you into the night and through.

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