Leadville Phil

Leadville Phil

By: Philip Snyder

The Leadville 100 turns 35 this year, and is one of this country’s oldest 100 milers. I have had a love affair with it for the last seven years. Back in 2009, I barely knew what an ultra was, let alone one that would have such a profound effect on my life. My love affair with Leadville started innocently enough. My buddy Sully and I had signed up for the Vail 10k @10,000 Feet as well as the Leadville 10k on the same date, the start times gave us enough time between races to do both, and since Lance was racing the 100 mountain bike the day before we thought we would check it all out and see Mr. Armstrong race across the sky.

We got up to Leadville about an hour before the leaders were expected to get to the finish, using our LIVESTRONG chalk we wrote all kinds of things on the last little paved hill on 6th, and sure enough Lance didn’t disappoint and was the first one off of the boulevard having ridden the last ten miles on a flat (doesn’t speak well for a bike shop owner, but shows that “who needs air when you have good ol’ EPO.”)

The next day, we had fun running our two 10k’s at 10,000 feet. Sully passed me with a quarter mile to go at Vail and beat me by thirty seconds. After a quick parking lot PBR we headed up to Leadville and ran the Leadville 10k, which is almost an afterthought in the race series, and seems only to be there to torture those brave souls going after Leadman (a summer long series combining the bike and run series). I beat Sully by a few minutes there, while our friend Dick Dime took second behind some hotshot kid. Sully went up the following weekend and volunteered at the Mayqueen aid station for the hundred mile trail race and came back wide-eyed with fascinating stories.

The following year we both made the trek up to volunteer and worked the overnight shift at Mayqueen. A lot had changed in a year, new friendships, new heroes, a greater appreciation for trail running, plus a little more understanding of the importance and myth of Leadville after having read Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man and Chris McDougall’s Born to Run. One of those new friendships was with the local New Balance rep Greg Tyndall, who was up there to support our new hero Anton Krupicka. Anton had won the race in 2006 and 2007 and was coming off of a strong Western States battle with Geoff Roes, and was looking to better Matt Carpenter’s course record. Anton was the first runner in to Mayqueen, but he did so on the back of an ATV, as his race performance had blown-up after the climb up Powerline. Anton’s day was over, but our night was just beginning. We saw the first runners come through, and as night fell, you could watch the runners descend Hagerman Pass by the light of their headlamps. Sully picked up a runner needing a pacer around two in the morning and ran the last thirteen into town with him, I stayed and helped up to the cutoff time. Supposedly Jake Gyllenhaal was hanging around the race that weekend, as there was an effort to make Born to Run into a film back then, I never saw him though.

Sully had caught Buckle Fever and proceeded to sign up that winter for the 2011 race as well as the training camp. My thought at the time was that one hundred miles was too damn far to run, but that it might be fun on a mountain bike. Winter turned to summer, and mid-August came much too soon. Sully chose me to pace him over Hope Pass as I was a better climber than he. I arrived up there the night before the race and missed some of the pre-race rituals of racer briefing, last minute Safeway gear shopping, drop-bag packing and repacking, etc…

4:00 am comes mighty early at 10,000 feet. We sent Sully off into the darkness, and like any good pacer would I went back to the cabin to sleep for the rest of the morning. By the time Sully rolled through mile 40 at Twin Lakes, his race had started going off of the tracks. His mom and aunt had gotten lost on the way to a crew-point and he didn’t get the change of shoes he had wanted, we got some food and a lemonade in him and his mood changed a bit. We sent him off over Hope, as I rushed around to the Winfield side to meet him. The “hurry up and wait” law definitely applies to Leadville, as we sped off to the other side of Hope Pass, only to come to a dead stop 4 miles from the ghost town of Winfield. The decision was made that my friend Cassie, who was pacing another runner and I would run the 4 miles in to the aid station where we would start our pacing duties. With a sense of urgency, I ran into Winfield, only to wait for two hours for Sully to come running in. I was a little miffed that the rest of the crew was unable to make it, but at least I had dry socks for him. We proceeded down the dusty road out of Winfield and then made a left straight up Sheep Gulch. The initial climb caught me off guard, but it felt like we were making pretty good time as we kept see-sawing with other runners and their pacers. As we neared tree-line I could tell Sully’s asthma plus the altitude was getting to him; I had his Garmin on and we had slowed to a thirty minute mile pace. We made it over the pass and into “Hopeless” aid station before dusk, a surreal place to watch the sun going down in a high alpine meadow with llamas – used to porter the supplies to the aid station. As we made our way down Hope Pass towards Twin Lakes, Sully came to the sobering realization that we were running out of time to beat the cutoff at mile 60. This realization, and acceptance, that his effort was probably going to come up short at the Twin Lakes aid station gave him a second wind. We crossed Lake Creek and several smaller and increasingly boggier streams before making the final charge across highway 82 into the small town of Twin Lakes. Our friend’s daughter Margo, who was around 8 at the time, ran the last quarter mile with us. Sully was basically sprinting at the time as he felt that even though he was coming in within ten minutes of the cutoff, that his day was done. Margo’s parents were there to crew and take over pacing duties. They sat Sully down, got him some soup, and somehow convinced him to keep going into the night. I wished Sully luck and took Margo and her brother back to the rental cabin.

A little after 2:00 AM Cassie returned to the cabin saying that Sully hadn’t made the cutoff at Halfpipe. Sunday morning came and Sully still hadn’t made it back, I drove back to town to the finish to check athlete tracking only to get a call that he was back at the house. He had made the cutoff at Halfpipe and made it by the skin of his teeth at Fish Hatchery (now the Outward Bound aid station). He had the sweep vehicles follow him up Powerline, and by the time he made it down Hagerman towards the Mayqueen aid station he had run out of time. He made it 37 miles farther than he had ever ran in his life – small victories. That evening over conciliatory drinks at the local saloon, my buddy Ed and I made the pact to run it the following year…

To be continued…


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