Wednesday, I got a call from Emily, a personal trainer at Life Time Fitness, to see if I would be interested in pacing a runner at the Leadville 100 Trail Run on Saturday. I jumped on the opportunity right away without hesitation! WOW! Leadville! I had paced marathons and half marathons in the past, but had never done a trail run before. This trail run would be like no other, it would climb to 12,580 on Hope Pass.
Our weather had been less than co-operative over the days leading up to the race. The Leadville area, along with the rest of Colorado, experienced large amounts of rain and mud. I wondered how the route would be on race day. Saturday arrived, what a great day for a race! The weather was BEAUTIFUL!!! The car was packed up and I was ready to head East for a great adventure.
At about 3pm, I arrived in Leadville. Found the Start/Finish line, so I got out and checked it out. It was pretty much a ghost town since the race had started at 4am and all where on their way.
After a bit of exploring, I headed to my pacing start, Twin Lakes. When I arrived, the highway was lined with cars on BOTH sides of the road, and every possible spot off the highway was packed with cars! OMG how am I EVER going to find anyone in this?! Pulled into the parking lot and did find a grassy area to park. I got out, and walked around a bit to get the lay of the land. Found where the runners enter the parking lot, which from there they continue up a side road and into the Check Point. Life Time Fitness had a tent set up next to the Check Point, and the only people in it, at the moment, were those seeking shade. I did run into Kathy, a Life Time Member from Parker, then later Katie, from my location.
This is an out and back course. The runners would go 50 miles then turn around and head back. The portion I would be pacing with my runner was the 60-70mile markers (miles 40 to 30 on the elevation profile). They would just be getting back from climbing over Hope Pass TWICE (the large spike on the profile)! YOWZA!!!!
While I waited for the 7pm to 8pm mark to roll around, I ate a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some string cheese, carrots and then drank Gatorade & Water. I tried to take a short nap in my car, but I was too amped up. Finally around 6pm I decided to change into my running gear. Doing this in the front seat of a car is quite the challenge.
Now I am ready to go! Grabbed all of my stuff and headed to the Life Time Fitness tent to meet Emily, Phoenix & Katie. We cheered on the runners that were continuing on their way – which was STRAIGHT UP A STEEP HILL! I said “Ummmmm… I’m NOT going up that… hee hee, just kidding”. Some kids were playing on this hill and getting in the way of the runners, so Phoenix went over and had them move out of the way. Of course one of them fell and got hurt, a kid that is, not a runner.
At the tent, we had a wipe-off board crew members could write on to request a pacer for their runner. Katie took one of the runners from the list when they arrived and was off. Shortly after Katie left, Emily took off with Kamil, another Life Time Fitness member who was running the race. Several times two women came over to the tent to check on pacer statuses. I told them to keep checking, because pacers were coming in and may keep going.
I had been pre-arranged to pace Kathy, a Life Time Fitness member from Minnesota, so I was anxiously awaiting her arrival. Most of the early evening I had scoured the area for her crew, but it was next to impossible to find the right people if they were not at their vehicles with their runner’s number listed on it. So I decided to hang at the Life Time tent. Time goes by, and finally Kathy arrives, but with another pacer! I introduced myself and said, “Do you have another pacer? Do you not need me any longer?” Kathy said, “Yes, I’m fine”. GREAT! I thought to myself, NOW WHAT?! So, I went and found the women that kept checking on pacers, and asked if they still needed one. They were a mom and daughter looking for a pacer for the husband/dad. They said “YES!” and I told them, “well I’m your pacer”. Cheers of joy errupted!
Terry, my new runner, was set to arrive at about 8:30pm, which was about 30 minutes away. The sun was starting to set, and by the time Terry arrived it was dark. Headlamps were now our new best friends. I helped Terry’s wife & daughter get him ready for our leg of the race. He changed shoes and socks, they were soaking wet from the several creeks he had to run through. Long shirts were pulled out and he ate as much food as he could tolerate. After about a 10 minute rest he was ready to go.
The first part of this next leg was straight UP! We scrambled up the side of this mountain and made it to more of a single-track trail. Several race officials were coming back from hanging green glow sticks from sporadic trees to help mark the trail. These came in real handy a few times when it was hard to tell which way to go. Terry had me go in front of him, so that I could guide him in the right direction and warn him of the many roots and boulders along the trail. We got to know each other a little bit and talked a lot about different races we had run.
As the miles wore on the terrain varied. We had to hike up the inclines, then we would run along the semi-flat portions and the downhill runs. Those darn hills were INSANE! I could hear my heart beating in my head – OH YA, my heart rate was HIGH! I didn’t need a heart rate monitor to tell me that!. Every once in a while we would have to pull over as far as we could on the single-track to let other runners bye. I took these opportunities to let my heart slow down a bit. These were short breaks, but they helped. The first creek we came across, my right foot slipped off the rock and SPLASHED right in the FREEZING cold water – NICE! At one point Terry said, “Did you ever think you would be hiking and running in the middle of the night?!” That got a good laugh out of both of us. Laughing was good, for it made you forget that your legs were starting to feel like rubber… DANG! How do these people do 100 miles, when I’m dying 7 miles into only 10 miles?! Ok, they have trained for it, I have not. The altitude was brutal, if it was not for that I think I would of been fine.
There were about 2 miles left to the check point, where Terry and I would part ways. We had pulled to the side of the trail to let some runners by. I looked up and he was gone! Well, he must of slipped in between the passing pack, so I continued on. More runners went by and I still can’t see Terry. GREAT I’VE LOST MY RUNNER!!!! I just kept running along and made it to the checkpoint. I checked at the table to see if he checked in, I said “I lost my runner”. Luckily he had JUST checked in, so they said he was probably in the food tent. Looked around and didn’t see him, then he came up behind me. I apologized for losing him. He said, no problem, I had gotten him through the toughest part and he was very grateful to me. We went and got some food, well he did anyways, I had one potato chip.
Phoenix was suppose to meet me at this check-point. Unfortunately, we found out that cars were not allowed there and I had 4.5 more miles to go! OH CRAP! Terry said, well I know this was as far as you were going to take me, so did I just want to pace myself and he would go on. I said sure, and wished him luck. So I decided to rest a little, then continue on. Well, that all changed in a matter of minutes… I sat down to rest and started to feel really weird. Then all of the sudden, I thought UH OH! Got up from the chair and ran around to a tree and lost everything I had in me (sorry gross). After that fun time, I felt really dizzy, so I went over to an aid person and told them what happened. Altitude sickness was the likely culprit – we were at almost 11,000 feet. They took me to the medical tent, put me on a cot by the heater and covered me up in a huge heavy blanket. I could not stop shivering. They brought me chicken noodle soup and some water. I was in the tent with 3 other runners. Two were injured (one an ankle the other a foot), and the third was delirious and suffering from altitude sickness.
After about 30 minutes they told me and the two injured runners that someone would be here shortly to drive us back to Leadville. It ended up being one of the runner’s crew that drove us down. The only problem, was that my car was at Twin Lakes, which was about 20 miles from Leadville. I kept trying to get a hold of Emily, but no answer, and I didn’t have Phoenix’s number. It was a long slow bumpy ride down the trail to the main road. I had them drop me off at the finish line, figured I could find someone that was going to Twin Lakes. They were off to Denver to DIA, so they could fly back to Arizona.
It is now around 1am. I watched a few runners finish, one of which was the FIRST woman of the race to finish!!! WOOT!!! Shivering again I went into the food tent to warm up by the heater and get some soup. I asked if anyone was going to Twin Lakes, no luck. Several more finishers came in. A couple of them had raced their hearts out to finish before 2am so they could hit last call at the local bar! I talked to the main medical guy and told him I was trying to get to Twin Lakes, that I couldn’t get a hold of any of my crew. He pondered it and said he would see what he could do. About an hour later, he came back and said I think I have a ride for you in about 20 minutes. I told him I loved him – LOL!
Search and Rescue was my ride. She asked me if I was allergic to dogs, and I said nope, I have two and love them. So along came her Border Collie – oh what a sweet girl she was! I thanked her up and down for the ride. We talked about how she got into Search and Rescue – her husband was also in the business and was running the mobile command center for the race. Got to my car and she made sure it started before she left.
Ah… home sweet home for the night, my car! I stripped down, dried off and put on warm dry clothes. I had gotten the seats in my car all read to sleep on – the front folds down to the back seat, which also folds back to make a bed. I crawled into my down bag and continued to shiver… 3am, and I was cold and couldn’t sleep. At some point I did fall asleep, for my phone woke me up at 5am when Emily texted me to say she was still pacing her runner – OMG I bet she is going the whole 40 miles to the finish with Kamil! I rested for about another 30 minutes, and turned the car on to blare the heater to try and warm back up. Ok, lets just get up and head back to Leadville for some coffee and watch the finishers.
6am and I’m back at Leadville. The local coffee shop just opened, so I got a coffee and a ham/cheese croissant – YUMMY! Walked over to the finish area, and the runners slowly came in. Made some new friends that were waiting for their runners to come in. At about 7am, it was time to break out the sunglasses and cheer on more finishers. This was great! These people had just finished running 100 miles! Then I heard some great news! Barefoot Ted, from Seattle, was nearing the finish line – SWEET!!! Yes, this man runs races barefoot. For trail runs he uses special sandals, like those you read about in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run.
When Ted got near the finish line, I recognized his pacer… it was Chris McDougall! OMG! I was soooooo excited!!! Two great men, that I admired, were right here and finishing together. They looked GREAT! Hard to believe they had just completed 100 miles. Only 10 of it kicked my ass.
I had texted Emily when I got to Leadville to see if she had finished yet. After Ted finished I got her answer, NO. WOW she is going to come into the finish with Kamil – that is AWESOME!!! So I decided to walk to the top of last hill the runners come up before heading down to the finish.
It was probably about a mile to the top, so it was a nice walk to loosen back up after standing around for so long. The sun was now shining down on us and I was getting warm, which really felt good. Got to the top of the hill and watched runners walking up on the other side. The sighs of relieve were big when they reached the top and saw the finish was down the hill.
I didn’t see Emily yet, so started to head back to the finish. About 100 yards from the finish I spotted Phoenix. We met up and he said Emily had called and she was close. So back up towards the hill we went. Now I had a cow bell, and we both shook them as each runner went by. As we got to the top of the hill, we spotted Emily and Kamil. They were spent! I so did not blame them. Emily said that around 5am, they pulled over to the side of the trail and took a 15 minute nap. They decided that once they were down the hill and closer to the red carpet, that they would run in the rest of the way. Phoenix and I ran them both in, ringing our cow bells the whole way.That was AWESOME! Kamil’s Dad had found us, he was Kamil’s crew. We got them checked in and to the food tent. The runners are weighed at the start and finish of the race. Some were immediately taken to the medical tent. It was a variety of delirious runners to those that look like they could keep running.
The Life Time crew was going to head to breakfast, but I opted to head back home to beat the I-70 Sunday traffic. This was such an incredible experience. Would I ever run an entire ultramarathon? HELL NO! Would I ever pace one again? Mmmmm maybe, but I would have to train better for it, like running in higher altitude. For now, I think I’ll just stick with Half Marathons, like the Boulder Half in September and the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in October.
Terry, my runner, finished the Leadville 100 Trail Run in 29:17:06.5 – so proud of him! WAY TO GO TERRY!