My 1997 Leadville Experience


In 1995 I read an article in Runners World about the 1995 Leadville Trail 100 and was really inspired and said "wow, I gotta do that thing". So here it is two years later and I'm here writing a race report about my successful completion of the Leadville trail 100. Completed the course in 27 hours 55 minute which put me at 72 out of the 149 that finished of the 325 that started. The fact that there was only two hours left in the race and half the field finished in that period tells me that this is one hard race and that most, including myself, fight to stay ahead of the cut offs. Had I known that it was going to be as challenging as it was I probably would have waited another year or two and put a few more 100's under my belt before I jumped into this one. Learned a lot about myself, learned many do's and don'ts, met lots of people, made new friends but most of all my wife and I had a great time in Leadville and really enjoyed the experience. Enough of the intro stuff...

Last month I ran the Vermont 100 as a training run and confidence booster. Dropping my time four hours (form last year, 1996) and finishing at 18 hours 24 minutes I thought that I might actually run Leadville in a pretty decent time. I tried to figure out how my Vermont time translates into a Leadville time and all I can say is that it doesn't. No comparison between the two.

Arrived in Leadville a week ahead of time to catch the end of the Leadville 100 mile bike race and to acclimate. My wife and I ran the Leadville 10k the next day, got headaches, took naps, woke up and felt fine. On Tuesday we hiked the Winfield side of Hope Pass. Wednesday we got together with Karl King and his training partner Diane and repeated the Winfield side but, following the advice of others, only went as far as the tree line. That's all the altitude and physical acclimation that's necessary and any more might be counter productive this close to the race. On Friday Scott Rafferty, my wife and I drove around to the various aid stations to get a better handle on the course and finalize our strategy. It still didn't look that bad.

At the pre-race dinner was surprised to hear that not only could we (runners) have a pacer but the pacer could also mule (carry our stuff) . Wimps, I thought. I'm doing this thing without a pacer let alone a mule. 24 hours later I would eat my words.

With the start of the race I felt good and was running at what I thought was a conservative pace. A few miles from the first aid station (May Queen) I slipped and fell on some slippery rocks and scraped my right side and got a real stinger of a hand hurt. After 4 miles it worked out but decided to wear my PolarTex gloves to protect the cut and lessen any other blows that I might sustain to my hands if I slipped again.

Was in and out of May Queen and running strong up and down Sugarloaf all the way to the Fish Hatchery. After a brief bite to eat, was out on the road feeling good. There's about a 6 mile stretch on the road to tree line (2 miles before the Half Moon aid station) and I ran it like a 10k. Idiot! Was so happy about being on the flats that I wasn't paying attention to my speed and was quickly depleting my energy level. By the time I hit tree line was pretty tired. My crew, wife Mary and brother-in-law Tom, tried to slow me down but I wasn't listening. Thought I'd recover by the time I hit Halfmoon. Unfortunately I didn't and I learned a good lesson in patience.

Moved out of Halfmoon and made my way though the trail. Was so elated to make it to Twin Lakes that I stood in one place long enough for Dave Cooper to take a picture of me. Was really hungry and asked if we had any food. Mary was surprised because I always run without eating any "real" food. The only thing she had was some cookies so while I ate them she re-loaded my bottles tried to spray me with bug spray while I was hastily leaving.

A very wet field crossing, a few small streams, a big stream with a guide line and there you are at the bottom of Hope Pass. Holy Smokes what the hell did all these mosquitoes come from. It was like a bad horror movie, they covered my body. Couldn't stop or they'd swarm all over. I've gotta rest, I'm tired, the swarm attacked, can't stop, push on, gotta rest, can't, there's a stream over there, I don't care I'm going to jump in lay down and breath through a reed like they do in spy movies... no can't do it, will be too wet for Hope Pass, not enough time, have to push on. People pass me like I'm standing still, which I think I am. Everyone asks if I'm O.K. and provides much encouragement. Jay Hodde passes by with his hiking poles looking too good and reminds me that everyone is feeling bad. I want to mug him and take his poles. I don't cause I like the guy, instead I grab a walking stick. After much delay make it to the Hopeless aid station. It begins to hail. I put on my jacket, pull over the hood sit down and wait 10 minutes until it passes. Make it to the top, run the downside. Hit the road and run as much of it to Winfield as possible. At Winfield (50 mile point) I begin to get a little emotional but don't take off my sunglasses because I don't want my wife to see the pain (a guy thing). I ask my crew if they could please try to find a pacer for me a Twin Lakes. I'm weaving a bit on the trail and feel my mental capacity a bit taxed. Mary says she's going to pace me to the trail head. We take off and quickly realize that the mole skin that was covering the huge Vermont blister has come off. Mary turns around to get the van and I wait. Mary and Tom show up with the van and the necessary repairs are made. Before we continue I run a comb through my hair. This makes them laugh and wonder if I really know what I'm doing. I feel better, after all looking good is part of the battle.

At the bottom of Hope Pass I pick up my walking stick that I now call Hope Pass and head up. After a short climb I see a pacer standing on the trail and a runner squatting. I shout man or woman and hear woman shouted back. Being the gentleman that I am I gladly wait until I'm passed by another runner who doesn't care. I don't care anymore and walk by (looking away of course). What is the etiquette on this anyway? I walk, sit, walk, sit, lay down, and repeat that process all the way to the top. Frank Probst and I flip flop one another all the way up. The only one looking worse than us is a German guy who I couldn't get to say a word. Perhaps he was taken back at my feeble attempt of speaking German. At the top it's... I'm gonna run all the way to Twin Lakes if it kills me. I do run it... well as much as I could, and when I don't it's a really fast walk that's almost a run. Here comes the swarm again I reach around pull out the cutter spray (picked up at Winfield) and bath myself and kill as many of those little buggers as I can.

Upon arriving at the Twin Lakes aid station Mary and Tom tell me they have found a pacer for me which made me almost fall to the ground with elation (I didn't... the guy thing). The Albuquerque Road Runners club was there supporting a couple of their runners. One runner had dropped leaving some pacers available. Roger Sack was like a gift from God. A big guy who is an accomplished hiker and able to go the distance. He and another guy named Kurt had questioned Mary about my disposition, abilities, gear, hydration etc. So by the time I sat down to change shoes Roger had put a nap sack on stuffed with any gear I might need for the rest of the race. Since we only had my water belt between us the decision was made for him to wear it and I would grab water when I needed it. He waited patiently while I got ready.

We headed out of Twin Lakes at a slow pace but still 1.5 hours ahead of the cut off time. It was a long hike up the mountain and I had a tuff time and sat down every so often. Once at the top we began a fast walk/trot on the trail. Roger was a GREAT pacer he told stories, stayed behind me, gave encouragement and was committed to getting me across the finish line. I hadn't been keeping up with proper hydration so it began to hurt when I relieved myself. I knew what was next and sure enough blood began to appear. Oh well another lesson learned and a very painful experience.

By the time I hit tree line (crew access) I had a blood blister on the side of my right foot the size of a golf ball. I took out a pin and tried popping it. bandaged it up and we took off towards Fish Hatchery. Made the Hatchery in good time and I got to sit down while Rodger took care of his needs. One big mountain left, Sugarloaf. At this point was beginning to feel better. I've found that I come alive around mile 80 and tend to run much better. Up the seemingly endless side of Sugarloaf, passed a number of people. Did I say pass? Ran the dirt road, through the woods, down the pavement into May Queen. Mary and Tom were still awake and ever vigilant. We refueled and were on our way.

The barn door was open and I smelled the bacon. 13 miles to go. I was now back in my element. After realizing that I suck on the big up hills was glad to have the rolling trail around Turquoise lake. It reminds me of the Appalachian Trail at home so I began to run at a good pace. Heard Roger laboring so we walked every now and then for relief. By the time we hit Tabor boat ramp Roger's right knee was killing him, he couldn't move his neck without hurting and needed some pain relief. He got some Naprosyn from Mary and while he was attending to business I got really anxious. Someone told me to go on and Roger would catch up so I did. I kept shouting my location and he finally caught up. Despite going farther than he had ever run/hiked in his life and experiencing considerable pain he was in he was still positive and encouraging. Roger was discounting his own discomfort for my success. I had made a new close friend. We increasingly passed more people. With about 5 miles to go on a gravel road that's a constant incline we looked at our watches and decided a sub 28 hour was possible if we pick up the pace. Run, very fast walk, run was the routine. At the last hill before the finish a boy asked us our numbers so he could radio ahead and let the finish line announcer know we were headed in. We see the finish line look at our watches and broke into our last run. Humping it up the hill we would not be denied we slapped hands right before the finish line. Roger went left I went right and heard the announcer shout 27 hour 55 minuets and xx seconds. An instant hug from Mary, handshake from Tom, a finishers medal then a heartfelt handshake and hug (the hell with the male thing) from Roger.

In a much overdue conclusion it was the hardest physical and mental challenge that I've ever thus far. Learned a lot about keeping myself healthy and areas in which I need work. Now I'm part of the group that has completed this course and I can sit back and look at my sub 30 hour belt buckle and be content that even when faced with blood blisters, blood in the urine, bruises, scrapes, complete physical and mental exhaustion I persisted and finished. What really makes me happy though is that even though all this Mary had seen me at my worst and she still believed in me, didn't want me to quit and supports this hobby with full enthusiasm. Am I lucky or what.

Next up IAU 24 Hour at Olander Park September 27, 1997... can't wait... a flat 1 mile loop.