Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Leadville 2008 A Lesson on Limits

Saturday, August 16 was a great day to run the Leadville 100 mile Race Across the Sky, if you were a tree frog, a newt, or a fish. 

Being none of those, I’m pretty pleased with my progress and distance.  The quick fact: I did not finish... again.  In fact, I traversed about 4 miles less than last year. 

Nevertheless, there were several great aspects to the run; 1) I stayed ahead of last year’s pace by about 5-10 minutes every mile, and 2) I traversed the entire 50 miles to Winfield without my trusted, and distance-enabling running partner Pete.  I’ve become very accustomed to running with Pete and benefiting from his steady but relentless ability to “march” on.  The prospect of running without him was probably the most terrifying aspect of this year’s race.

So, how did it end? 
I left everything out on the trail. 
When I got to Winfield I was done. I knew it.  There was nothing in me that could have ascended the backside of Hope Pass.  It took me nearly one hour to run down that slope.  Along the way, I passed numerous runners coming back up.  Every step down was for me a painful premonition of what the return would be like, and I was done climbing hills.

Of course, today, with a stomach full of food and a decent night of sleep, I’m thinking that maybe I could have.  But at that moment of decision-making, I knew I had nothing left.  Nothing in me desired to climb one more ascent.  Pete did a great job of telling me that we’d make it back over Hope, that he’d help me make it.  But I knew what it had taken me to climb Sugar Loaf (and the climb up power line before going down power line that no one ever talks about), the incredible ascent on the Colorado Trail after Half Moon (all three of them), and finally, the hour forty minute ascent up Hope Pass.

The Run, Part I
The day started at 2:30am; dressed, ate some cereal, drank some coffee and out the door to Leadville, thirty minutes north.  Pete was up when I left.  In Leadville, the temperature was 42 and spitting drizzle.  I checked in at the corner of Main Street (Highway 24) and 6th Street, used the porto and sat in the van until 3:50.  Without a full crew, the start this year was anti-climatic.  Others were hugging, talking pictures.
My goal for the first section to May Queen was to get ahead of those who walk on the single-track trail around Turquoise Lake.  Getting to this first aid station in a timely fashion is an important first step in a long day.  The cut-off is 7:15am.  I wanted to be in by 6:30, but I did not want to go out too fast.  Well, God has a way of keeping me humble.  Between miles 5 and 10, I sprained my left ankle three times.  Now, I’ve sprained this same ankle many times, and to different levels of seriousness.  A slight twist is about a 2 on a scale from 1 to 10.  A full inversion leaving me unable to walk is about a 9.  Every year I succeed in several 3s or 4s.  

The first twist on Saturday morning was a 7, causing me to falter, skip, hop and then walk. The popping sound was louder than I would have hoped.  As I started moving more quickly again, I decided I needed to choose my steps more carefu… Ahh!! I did it again.  This time a solid 9 on the ankle-sprain scale. I stepped off the trail to get my breathing under control because it hurt significantly.  This time, it took more walking to get it to loosen.  After about 5 minutes, I was able to run again.  But every uneven surface was a challenge.  Wearing two headlamps helped considerably.  At mile 10, about 2 miles before coming off the single-track trail onto a paved road, I landed on a rock poorly again and received a sprain of about a 6 on the scale.  Once again, stop, hobble, walk, then gingerly run.  At May Queen, Pete reminded me to take some ibuprofin, so I took 400mg.  I never sprained it again.  The ankle remained very sore until Twin Lakes, and I had to be extremely careful every step.

Pete was a great crewer and a delight to see at each aid station. Even before getting to an aid station, I envisioned seeing him and looked forward to how he might attend to my needs. It might sound kind of creepy, but I’m certain that people who climb together or have running partners know this feeling.

I was looking forward to the march up Sugar Loaf because - it’s a smooth gravel jeep road (great for a sore ankle) that winds up and up and up with incredible views of the lake and other mountain ranges.  But, I had forgotten the several miles of not-so-fun trail before reaching the smooth gravel.  The gravel road was all I had hoped.  I settled into a 14-16 min/mile walking pace, put my head down and just started walking.  Lots of people were running up this road. Last year, and this year in training, Pete taught me much about the merits of walking up the inclines.  This proved true as I later passed about 70% of those running up Sugar Loaf.
While it was only raining during the first section, the march up Sugar Loaf included 3 bouts of hail, one of snow, and continuous rain.  Half-way up, the wind grew pretty intense, and I was forced to put on a jacket, something that I rarely do because I overheat very quickly.  Power-line down on the other side was not as sweet as last year.  The clay was wet and slippery, so there were several un-runnable sections.  I was, however, able to run some of the road into Fish Hatchery, and by this time, the rain had stopped.

Pete helped me through the aid station, and I took more food with me than I had at May Queen.   I walked the entire way to the first right turn toward Half Moon.  There, I ran 30 seconds, walked 30 seconds until I met John who was running telephone poles.  I adopted his approach.  I walked the entire gravel road up to Half Moon except for a few declines.  I took a 4 minute stop at Half Moon aid station.   I found that a cup of chicken broth, two cups of Coke, watermelon and a few M&Ms did me well.  The hike to the Colorado Trail was fine and I assumed that trail would be rolling and enjoyable.  Wow, had I repressed this section.  The first incline of the Colorado Trail was the worst part of the whole run for me.  It was rocky, steep and relentless.  I had to resort to a high altitude shuffle-walk, and still had to stop and rest a couple of times.  Once at the top, I knew there were two more less-daunting climbs before the long down-hill into Twin Lakes.  Those two climbs were really not less-daunting and did not leave all that much of a down-hill into Twin Lakes!!

Finally, the best part of the whole run – the 3 miles into Twin Lakes. Soft, pine-needle laden, rolling trails.  This ends with a 20 solid minute less pine-needle laden, less rolling and more steep run on a jeep road into Twin Lakes.  Down the embankment at Twin Lakes where Pete is waiting: check-in #277, get some food, water in the CamelBak, check-out #277.  Pete and I walk to his car, regroup.  I unload as much as I can from the GoLite pack to be lighter – only the essentials to get over Hope Pass.  At this point, I’ve been taking S caps every 15 – 20 minutes to stave off the cramps and keep my electrolytes up. In spite of the cold, I’ve been dripping sweat from the start.  Now, I load up on more salt tablets, grab my bag of food and set off.

Hope Pass, Part II  (next time)


tiffany said...

jeneva will be running her first race (1/2 mile) on Labor Day. i'm so excited for it! :)

keith said...

that sounds like an intense, incredible journey! you learn the most from the most challenging ones...recover well!