The Leadville Trail 100 Run this past Saturday was everything I expected. And a whole lot of what I wouldn’t have expected. And quite a bit of what I probably should have expected, or could have expected. It was a crazy, yet ordered, yet seemingly random day. It was completely off-the-wall. I’ll tell you the story.
Toeing the Line
When the (literal) shotgun fired this past Saturday at 4 AM at 6th & Harrison in Leadville, CO, a little more than 700 runners ran nervously, confidently, apprehensively, smoothly out of town. Each participant was lucky to be there, with an incredible opportunity in front of them. I was one of those lucky to have a chance to run and compete near the front; my aid station splits over the course of the day were designed for an 18-hour finish. This goal was a little scary, and there were many times within the two weeks before race day I questioned whether or not it was appropriate to chase such a performance. However, this time was reasonable, so reasonable the emotions of the upcoming day couldn’t shake me from it. We’d see what was to come. The first many pieces of these races seem so uneventful, however they are so powerful and important. Running relaxed yet with purpose early on. The coming of light over the day. The many genuine smiles despite the anxiety of still having so far to go. I came through the first 13 miles (May Queen aid station), the first 24 miles (Outward Bound aid station), and the first 40 miles (Twin Lakes aid station) running relaxed yet purposefully, within only a few minutes of my established 18-hour pace. I was feeling pretty good. But as the time came to make the first ascent of Hope Pass, it was cool, rainy, and the high country looked…sketchy.
With jacket and high hopes on board, I ran a solid ascent of Hope, and took it easy going back down, again arriving at Winfield aid station (50 miles) right on my splits. By now the weather had turned to sunny, so I put on sunscreen, refueled, and headed back out, still feeling pretty good and in 4th place. I would now re-trace the same course back to the finish line. As soon as I began the climb back up and over Hope Pass – things changed. My legs, and my mind, started to lose it. I, slowly, made it back up over and wasn’t able to run as well down the earthy, less-steep single track that greets you on the descent back towards Twin Lakes and the 60 mile mark.
At Twin Lakes I picked up my first pacer, Jeff Friedman, refueled with calories and water, and left in a crowd of myself, two runners who had caught me, and pacers. Things continued to go further south. I made it without any enthusiasm to the next major aid station, but then I walked to the next crew point, a non-aid station referred to as Treeline (mile 73), and I completed my descent to my low point. It is pretty common for me to be emotional during a 100 mile race. However, this was the lowest I’d I ever gotten. I had a complete and total emotional meltdown, sobbing uncontrollably for several minutes. Thank goodness my crew was there to provide a chair. Then I got up and started walking forward with Jeff.
I am not sure why I slowly, from approximately mile 53 to 73, lost it emotionally and physically, and I pondered a lot of things over those 20 miles. Had I gone out too hard? Was 18 hours a silly thing to have pursued? How could I have not seen how completely obvious it was that 18 hours was a super silly thing to have pursued? Had I just worked way too hard going up Hope Pass the first time? Is this just not my day? I’ll never have answers to these questions. By the time I had shuffled slowly over to the Outward Bound aid station, I had somewhat put myself back together emotionally and physically. Still running, albeit slowly, I was a little over 45 minutes behind my 18 hour splits. However I was now prepared to put a little fight into the last quarter of this race. I was in 7th place when I left Treeline, and I started to believe I could hold my position, maybe getting to the finish line in the low-19 hour range, which would put probably me somewhere 6th-8th place. That seemed like an awfully positive result, all things considered.
I made a very strong climb back up over Powerline, the last climb of the day, doing mostly hiking and moving pretty well. We took a little cold, biting rain up near the top, but luckily it passed without too much mayhem. On the descent I started to really re-discover my legs, running well into May Queen (87 miles) just before dark, now really believing I had a good chance to run a time less than 19 hours. Also by this point, my reliable gels hadn’t sounded very good for several hours, however I had gotten by well on just saltines, M&Ms, and pretzels. I ate some more saltines, switched pacers to my friend Dave Keller, and we headed out into the fresh darkness with two hours and 39 minutes to finish under 19 hours. Leaving the aid station I told Dave I had closed the race from this point in about two hours and 20 minutes five years ago (actually split was 2:23), and I didn’t think I had that in me, but I didn’t need to. I was going to shoot for that sub-19 mark. Soon out of the aid we moved into 5th place and things started to click. My stride started to feel smooth and powerful. I began a very unexpected charge. I knew 4th and 3rd place were quite a ways ahead, but I also knew a lot could still happen. What was going to happen didn’t matter much; I had come back to life.
We moved into 4th place with about 5 miles to go, and 3rd place with about 3 miles to go. I was rolling. And I have no idea why, or how. The finish line at 6th and Harrison welcomed me home 18 hours, 15 minutes and 29 seconds after I had left it. I was the third runner to arrive back. I closed from May Queen in 1 hour and 56 minutes. For my trip back up through the small town of Leadville, I was repeatedly announced as the name of the 4th place runner, and after I finished I was asked about training in Del Norte (I live in Golden). May each and every one of you know the joy of mixing up the race results of an event so hard over the last stretch that the race administration still thinks you are someone else even after crossing the finish line.
That’s the story. Man, it was bonkers.
A big thanks first to my crew. My wife Erin, my sister Emy, brother-in-law Doug, and brother Devin. My friend Anna. Thanks for hanging in there when things didn’t look very good. In addition to these folks I had numerous friends out spectating and cheering me on, some of which I am very close to, and some of which I know less well. Either way, I am deeply grateful for all the cheers and support. Thank you to the Runners Roost staff who cheered me on all day. My finish line was a small, amazing ruckus.
A big thank you to my pacers Jeff Friedman and Dave Keller. I gave Jeff a tough job. I want to give a special shout-out to my friend Dan Thurnhoffer, who had run so well all year and trained so diligently to join me and the other runners at this year’s Leadville 100. Dan had a very late injury and illness, which kept him from having the same opportunity to try his hand out there. Thanks for still coming out for the race Dan! I also want to thank New Balance, who is such a great supporter of our Runners Roost Mountain Ultra Team, as well as Andrew Letherby, our New Balance sales rep and fellow 2018 Leadville Trail 100 finisher. Thanks to all the volunteers out there that made this race possible. From those that directed traffic for the race meetings to those that kept me supplied with fluid and snacks and everyone in between, thank you!!
In addition, a huge thank you to Runners Roost. First, for the opportunity to compete in this year’s Leadville 100 while representing Colorado’s finest and largest locally-owned, full-service running specialty shop. Second, for a little over seven years of employment. During my time at Runners Roost I was given numerous, daily opportunities to serve the Colorado running & walking community, to develop my own professional skills, and to interact with fantastic people, both fellow staff members and customers. I have just recently left Runners Roost to pursue a Masters of Public Administration degree in an accelerated format at CU Denver. I had my first class a little less than 33 hours after I finished the Leadville 100.
And finally, thank you to YOU for reading this story. Some days it clicks, some days it doesn’t, but either way let’s all get out there and see what is there within us.