Sunday, August 24, 2014

Leadville Trail 100

LT100 Race Report

~ Chuck Radford (Guest Post)

I hesitated to write a report of what went down on the Leadville 100 course mostly because I’m not a blogger and I don’t feel I have much to offer. However, when you accomplish something as monumental as a 100-mile foot race in Leadville, Colorado, you should celebrate it. I can’t promise inspiration or comedy. I can only recount the incredible journey I took with fellow racers, family, crew and pacers.

Something happened to me in the past two years while pacing friends at LT100 that “moved the needle” from "running 100 miles is ludicrous" to "HELL YEAH." After running my first 50 miler last year in Leadville, I caught the bug. As the registration date approached, I told my wife (who I once told I would NEVER do 100 miles) that I was going to register for the 2014 race. I stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve and pulled the trigger. I then went to bed and thought “I’ll worry about it tomorrow.”

I ran some “Fat Ass” events early in the season to kick off training and then settled into a loose training plan that entailed 8 to 10 mile runs at MAF heart rate during the week and a long run with fellow running friends on the weekend. Intensity picked up just slightly as the winter ended and the spring was upon me. I ran the Quad Rock 50 miler in May, ran the Leadville Trail Marathon in June and then followed that up with the North Fork 50K a couple weeks later in June. July was filled with a training weekend in Leadville with my buddy AJ and then the Leadville Night Run hosted by Brandon Fuller as my final long run. All this to say, that my training for Leadville really entailed races, plenty of slow long runs and a few high intensity runs mixed in through the summer. This allowed me to stay as healthy as I’ve ever been in a training cycle.

Before I knew it, the “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” lax attitude was no longer appropriate and the race was upon me. All the final details were put in place and I headed up to Leadville with AJ (my crew master and good friend) the Thursday before the race. We stayed busy by doing the medical weigh in and registration packet pick up and eventually headed to Mike Aish’s soiree and then to the New Balance BBQ. Friday activities included a shake-out run, the athlete/crew meeting and expo, the arrival of my wife, daughter and AJ’s daughter and eventually my other buddy and pacer Mike. After dinner it was time to get all my clothes and gear ready for the early morning start the next morning. As expected, very little sleep was had and I was up and getting ready for the race. It was “go time.”

4 am and all smiles ...for the time being.

The Start to May Queen ~ 0 to 12.5 miles

My crew and I all walked to the start line together. After a family photo and giving a kiss to my wife and daughter, I pushed my way up to the front ¼ of the starters. It was a heavy feeling knowing that I wouldn’t see my family and crew again for 3 hours and wouldn’t see the finish line for another 20+ hours (possibly 30 hours as I really had no idea what I was capable of). With a heavy gulp, I turned on my headlamp, heard the gun shot and headed out for a LONG day.

The goal to May Queen was 1:55, which meant a controlled and easy pace down the slight descent from town all the way around the lake. I tried to stay far enough ahead to not get stuck behind the conga line along the lake, but it was unavoidable. I turned on my music and put my hands on the hips of the person in front of me, kicked when I was supposed to kick and just waited it out. When I rolled into the May Queen aid station, I refilled my water bottle and moved right through not even losing a minute (which was good because that section ended up being slower than I wanted).

May Queen to Outward Bound ~ 12.5 to 25 miles

I mentally prepared to hit the Colorado trail leading up to Hagerman Road and eventually the Powerline climb. I started passing quite a few people and was worried I’d blow my plan to pace this section smart. However, every time I looked down at my watch, I was never going too fast, so I pressed on. I had that awful thought, “Am I pushing it like one of those people who blow up early?” Only time would tell.

As I crested the Powerline ascent, I mentally prepared for the steep descent back to the road. I was executing the plan flawlessly in regards to pace and eating. About half way down the descent, I fell and fell hard. In moments like that, you do your best to minimize impact, but they happen so fast, you often can’t do anything to help the situation. After I stopped rolling, I rolled over onto my butt, sat there, took inventory of the injuries, got up, dusted myself off, looked around to see if anyone saw and then just started running again. The pains were there and the blood began to flow, but I knew it was nothing worth throwing me off my game and I just powered on.

After leaving Powerline and the fall behind me, I hit the road and ran almost all of it. I came into the Outward Bound Aid station to see my family and crew for the first time. We had a bit of an awkward exchange of water bottles and food and I ensured them that I was ok from the fall.

Outward Bound to Halfmoon ~ 25 to 31 miles

New to the course this year was a section of meadow that was opened up to avoid some of the road. While I was initially pleased to hear the news, I was horrified at the conditions of that section. There were postholes as deep as my knees and ruts everywhere. It took me about 3 minutes before I fell for the second time. Luckily, it was a nice soft landing, but I was just fuming about it for some reason.

Once out of the meadow, the remaining part of this section was relatively benign and I could really make up time. I was feeling fine physically, but noticed that my stomach started to feel a little “off.” I continued with the plan of running smart and eating well and noticed that while trying to eat a Bonk Breaker bar, I couldn’t swallow it. It was dry as cotton and my throat would not have it. After swishing around some water to reconstitute it, I got the whole bar down, but knew at that moment, Bonk Breaker bars were not going to do the job the rest of the trip. As I came into the Half-moon aid station I was moving well and unknowingly was ahead of schedule. I was rounding the corner to the station and BAM …down I went for a third time. This fall was not as soft as my last one and I did further damage to my hands and knees. Again, I brushed myself off and ran into the aid station. A medic asked if I wanted him to look at my knee and I very disrespectfully (Sorry Mister Medic) scoffed at him and went over to the water to refill and head out.

Half-moon to Twin Lakes ~ 31 to 40 miles

I enjoyed this next section as it was primarily all along the Colorado Trail. It was beautiful, wooded and I was alone the whole time. There was a long gradual climb before heading down into the small Twin Lakes town. My stomach was getting a little worse hour by hour and I was less and less motivated to eat. However, my body was holding together well and I was flying and feeling good. There’s something VERY cool about coming down into Twin Lakes. It’s almost like a fashion show where you have a runway (a ridiculously steep runway) and everyone has a clear unobstructed view of you coming in strutting your stuff. In reality, because of the nature of the ridiculous descent, you slip and slide all the way down looking like a drunken fool trying to problem solve stairs or curbs.

I saw my family and crew at this aid station and sat down in a chair to switch out shoes and started complaining about my stomach. I gave all my extra food to AJ and he immediately noticed I was getting behind my nutrition. His best advice was to take my time because I was 20 minutes ahead of schedule into this station. Once my shoes were on, I ignored AJ’s advice, gave a kiss to wife and daughter and headed out for the big climb ahead.

My crew girl asking for my trash (her very important job).
Happy once again to see family and friends.

Twin Lakes to Winfield ~ 40 to 50 miles

I worked my way through the little town and finally made it to the meadow. I was immediately struck by the smell of bog and started hitting mud and water quickly. After making it through about 4 muddy ponds, I ran into my friend Matt Curtis, whom I had seen a few times earlier. We ran through the remaining ponds and river crossing together chatting about our stomachs and how we were feeling. This section is brutal with over 3000 feet of climb. I down shifted into power hiking mode and was continually reminded of how bad my stomach was feeling. After gagging down a gummy, dry wad of Lara Bar in my mouth, I knew it was going to be gels, fluids and possibly almond butter for the rest of the race.

After some serious climbing, I skipped right through the small Hopeless Aid station and kept my motivated feet moving forward all the way to the summit. Unfortunately, my legs were NOT ready for the ridiculously technically steep descent. I was a dainty princess skipping down the trail trying not to land on my butt again. I caught Matt again (after he and I passed each other a few time on the front side) and then we just ran together for almost the remainder of the descent into Winfield. Matt and I took turns complaining about our sour stomachs, each one making moaning noises throughout the descent. About half way down we saw Mike Aish and Nick Clark coming back up. About five minutes later we saw Rob Krar solo. They make running look easy.

I lumbered into the Winfield aid station where my first pacer Mike greeted me. After messing around at medical weigh-in, I was guided over to my crew where I sat down for a few minutes. Even though I felt good passing people up Hope Pass, I not only lost my 20-minute gain at Twin Lakes, but also lost another 6 minutes. Hope killed me and I was feeling defeated. I continued to complain more about my stomach as we tried to problem solve what to give me that would help me continue to race. I ended up taking a sip of Red Bull (bad idea) before drinking an Ensure (blah).

Running out through the meadow to the base of Hope Pass.

Winfield to Twin Lakes ~ 50 to 60 miles

The good news is that I had a pacer and a good friend at my side (Mike, whom I’ve known and been on running adventures with for the past six years). The bad news was that the Ensure was revolting in my stomach. Mike took the race vest off my back, leaving me with just a hand held (my back was relieved). As we started up the backside of Hope Pass, I prepared Mike for the horrible ascent we had in front of us. What I didn’t prepare him for was all the complaining I would be doing the whole way up. Mike knows me very well and he knew the right times to push me and the right times to let me rest. After another tough climb to the top, we were once again met with technically steep trail leading all the way to the base. The added difficulty now was crossing paths with all the outward-bound racers still climbing the front side of Hope. Fortunately, everyone was VERY gracious and let us pass them by moving to the side.

A little more than half way down the trail to the meadow, my foot caught a rock and I went down AGAIN. These falls on the steep descents are the scariest, never knowing if they’d end your race or not. A couple more scrapes and bruises, but again, no bad damage. Mike lifted me up and we began running again. A little bit of adrenaline helped me make a good final push down the last section of trail leading into the meadow. When we hit the river crossing, I took the opportunity to wash my wounds in the cold, cold water. I felt like an old miner standing in the stream taking a bath. Finally, the double-crossing of Hope Pass was behind me. There was a little joy in that only to be clouded with an upset stomach that was ruling my day.

Mike ran ahead to the crew as I was greeted to applause and support of MANY fans and fellow racers’ crewmembers. Once I found my crew, I sat down and started changing out of my wet shoes and one sock. I complained more and more about my stomach. The obvious answer was to get calories in any way possible, so the crew filled water bottles with Roctane (a high calorie drink) while I started to dance around from a terrible cramp in my hip. We found a GREAT guy (Robbie) to step in and replace pacing duties for my injured friend AJ. A couple drinks of soda and I headed out again.
Those small looking ants are people suffering right along with me up the backside of Hope Pass.
Couldn't resist adding the amazing view from the backside of Hope Pass (photos by Mike Mizones).

Twin Lakes to Tree Line ~ 60 to 71 miles

As we headed up that steep hill out of the aid station, that climb was the closest I came all day to actually vomiting. I tried to talk to Robbie, but couldn’t talk as my voice was quivering and my stomach was ready to blow. I stopped talking, power hiked up it, refocused and avoided “the exorcist” inside me. There was about a three mile climb leading to the Colorado Trail and it hurt. Once we hit the Colorado Trail, my whole world was rocked! After hours of pushing my body to the limits with very few calories, it was no longer working with me. I was bonking. I’ve never bonked in my life and that feeling was startling. I got dizzy, disoriented, and no longer had any energy or interest in continuing on. I told Robbie I needed a break and put my head against a tree. I was stripped raw and needed to find a way to climb out of the abyss. As much as I hated it, I asked Robbie for a gel. I got it down, dealt with the familiar turning stomach and told Robbie I was ready to try and move a little. We started moving a little faster than a stroll and about fifteen minutes later, I asked for another gel. I was coming back from hell and Robbie was key in keeping me moving, helping me refocus on something other than the negative and even got me to run. It was a hard blow and we lost about 30 minutes all in all, but what happened next was nuts. I started dropping a couple 8-ish minute miles heading into the Tree Line aid station. Robbie got me going and we hardly stopped. We caught about three other runners heading into Tree Line and I felt like I was back in the game, only 10 minutes behind schedule. Robbie was a Godsend pacer and brought me back from the dead.

We made it to Tree Line and a happy crew welcomed me with lots of praise. I asked for bacon and powered that down. I grabbed my new pacer, Jon, who is a fantastic runner and friend. He had his hands full with the next 20-mile segment, including Powerline and the lake trail …in the dark!!

Tree Line to May Queen ~ 71 to 86 miles

The bacon didn’t sit well, of course, and I immediately started complaining to Jon again about my stomach. If there is one regret I have about this race, it’s that I complained so much to my pacers and my crew. To that point, I apologize to you all. But I digress! Jon and I were actually running pretty well heading back into the Outward Bound aid station. We made it to the horrible field again and I warned Jon about all the holes. I did not fall, fortunately, and we made it into the aid station, where I grabbed my headlamp from the crew. We were in and out fast. As much as I wanted to be happy about knocking each aid station off my list, I was still finding myself in a negative place where I could only think about the hardships still ahead of me. That’s something I need to work on for my next race …positivity.

We took the long road out of the aid station with some run/walk intervals and made it to the base of the infamous Powerline. Noteworthy for its 1800 foot climb with around 80 miles on your tired legs, we started to power hike immediately. Jon and I had discussed it leading up to the base (in between my constant pissing and moaning about my stomach) and he knew I’d give what I had, but that I’d need some breaks on the way. It was evident the harder I pushed, the less happy (if it’s possible) my stomach would get. There’s nothing fun or fantastic to say about this section. I was broken, my body was aching all over and I was beginning to feel very beat down. I was trying to accommodate Jon’s positive and upbeat attitude (he even recited the Gettysburg Address perfectly to motivate me), but I just couldn’t. We were entering nighttime once again and I started to let more and more negativity infiltrate my thoughts. I was starting another bonk and wanted no part of it. I tried to keep powering down gels and fluids to fight it off, but it was clearly winning. We made it to a surprise makeshift aid station at the top of Powerline and those people were having fun. Fun I was NOT having. The good news was we had crested Powerline and it was time to go down again and on mostly runnable trail. The bad news is that my legs, completely shot, were aching in the knees, the hips and my feet …yeah, the whole she-bang.

The bonk passed and we were on Hagerman Road. I honored my earlier deal with Jon and ran all of Hagerman Road. We hit the Colorado Trail again and I was honestly scared of the pitch dark, technical trail awaiting me. We tackled the trail slowly and ran the runnable sections and walked the bad ones.

We stuck it out, made it through, and popped out on the road leading to the May Queen aid station. We ran into the aid station and were greeted by my family and crew. They were cold and it was evident. Some crew clothed me in arm sleeves and gloves (literally clothed me) as others refilled water bottles, replaced my headlamp batteries and stuffed more food in Jon’s pack. I was behind and knew finishing under 20 hours (my A goal) was no longer in play. I wasn’t defeated, but rather somewhat relieved to know that I could stop worrying about it. I was horribly tired, stripped raw and needed something. So I put my head on my wife’s shoulder, put my arms around her and just stood there in her warmth for a minute. It made me emotional (and still does), but I needed the TLC. After that, Jon and I were gone again off into the dark.

May Queen to Tabor Boat Ramp ~ 86 to 92 miles

I wasn’t looking forward to running along the lake because it was dark, technical in places, and I was getting more and more tired and lazy in my running form. About a quarter mile on the trail, Jon remarked how he hadn’t tripped all day and he tripped right in mid sentence. Not more than a minute later I went down straight into a Superman pose. I saved my knees by sacrificing my hands and wrists. I stood back up, started running again and fell even harder into another Superman pose. This did not do much for my outlook, but I couldn’t stop. Not now. We lost a good chunk of time here unfortunately, but the only way to get to the finish was alive. Jon pushed gels when he could and kept me drinking every couple minutes. You could hear the water lapping up against the shoreline, but could not see it. Jon did his job and he did an amazing job at that. He did me proud and I can only hope I did him proud. We ran up to the crew station to one last greeting from family and friends before heading to the finish. Jon handed off the baton (race vest) to Mike and we shuffled onward.

Tabor Boat Ramp to The Finish ~ 92 to 100 miles

Still plagued with negativity, that sour stomach and a shredded body, I mentally prepared for the long and final stretch of 8 miles. This was going to be the biggest mental fight. We traversed the campgrounds, were cheered on by late night partiers and supporters and never got lost. We popped out on the short road that lead us to the trail section and down “mini-Powerline.” It was just before we hit this section that, out of nowhere, Matt Curtis came blazing past us and said, “I’m sure you’ll be passing me again soon.” We had flip-flopped positions all day, but I knew this would be the last and he had me. I cheered him on, encouraging him to finish strong. I did my little princess dance down the short, steep trail and knew we were done with “technical” trail running.

Once we hit “The Boulevard,” I once again was encouraged by Mike to do a run/walk interval the whole way to the finish. I’d give two minutes (sometimes pushing myself to three minutes) and then walk a minute. I can’t deny that there were times I was cussing Mike out like a drunken sailor, but never verbalized it and knew he was doing the right thing. The Boulevard is known for being long (or feeling that way) and being a slight uphill battle the whole way. Mike and I kept trying to figure out how far away we were, always being on the short end of our calculations. Hell, I couldn’t add 2x2 at that point and really didn’t care any more. Low and behold, up ahead of us was the middle school, which meant we were in the home stretch. One step in front of the other now, relentless forward progress, don’t stop (even though time was standing still)!!

As we headed down 6th St., we saw my wife and daughter there waiting for me, so I grabbed each of their hands and started jogging and chatting. I kept asking where the finish was because I couldn’t see it. When my wife explained where it was, I stopped running, dropped their hands and said, “We can run again when we get closer”. As we got closer, we came upon AJ, Jon, Savannah and Robbie and the motley crew all headed towards the finish. Once we got to the gate, they all told me to go get my buckle. I jogged along the red carpet right up to the finish line with my hands in the air as I looked up to God and finished what I started over 20 hours earlier. Marilee (co-founder of the race) was there to put my finisher’s medal around my neck and to give me an incredibly warm and welcome hug home. Official time: 20:46:32, 17th overall and 3rd in my age group (next to Bob Africa and Dave Mackey).

That was it. It was done. I was done. I greeted my family and my crew giving each of them a hug (even those that didn’t want one). When I got to my wife, I got incredibly emotional and couldn’t even hug her because I leaned over with my hands on me knees and teared up. Off we went into the late night/early morning towards the house and a very restless night ahead.
It's not pretty, but it's not supposed to be after 100 miles.
The Big Buckle for my efforts.
Radford selfie at the award ceremony.
Age group podium with great runners Bob Africa (2nd) and Dave Mackey (1st).

Final thoughts

I’ve been told that as a runner I have “natural talent” and that I’m “fast” countless times over the years. While you would assume I’d find that to be a compliment, the truth is that it frustrates me. It insinuates that I don’t put in the time, the effort or the commitment. Or that I’m perhaps not as dedicated to this sport as others. In truth, I do log fewer miles than many runners, but I like to think that the miles I choose to log are smart, effective miles and not junk miles. I have a history of injuries and many of those injuries are the result of too many hard efforts and too many miles. 50 to 60 miles is a good balance of miles for me. I know some people don’t understand how I can run so few miles and still be a “fast” runner and perhaps that’s where the “natural talent” comes into play, but it shouldn’t diminish my efforts and commitment to the sport. I worked eight long months for this chance to race the epic Leadville Trail 100, and I can only hope that I showed someone, anyone that “volume” is not the only answer to successful ultra trail racing.

It’s cliché and I don’t really care, but I could NOT have done this without my family, my crew and my pacers. I’m not an elite runner, or an amazing athlete that has youth, experience, or a deep knowledge of how to be a solo trail runner. I’m a family man, with responsibilities, balancing what I love to do most (running) with what is most important to me (family). These people stuck with me through the lowest of lows, listened to me complain, pepped me up and kept me moving with no personal gain or reward. They gave the ultimate sacrifice of time, sleep and comfort just for me to have my day. They were all at their VERY best when I was at my VERY worst. You can never thank them appropriately through words or expression and can only acknowledge their selfless efforts. You can only hope to repay them someday when they are in need.

I was told by AJ prior to the race to “make sure to enjoy it.” That’s a hard thought to process. As much as I wanted to truly enjoy it, it was almost impossible to enjoy the pain, the sour stomach and the fatigue. Perhaps it’s more about enjoying exactly those things because they make you feel alive. They make you feel human. This race exposed me, made me very vulnerable, and yet somehow made me stronger. You never know what you are capable of unless you put yourself out there and with that risk, comes suffering and an equal amount of reward. I don’t pretend to be better, tougher, or stronger than anyone. I was just lucky to be one of the few this year that was able to prove that I’m better, tougher, and stronger than I ever thought I was. And in that, I enjoyed it.


  1. Awesome report, Chuck. Thank you for taking the time to post what went down and your post-race thoughts. Yes, you are "fast" and you do have "natural talent" but neither will get you through a 100 and neither got you through Leadville. You put in the work plus some (I know, I tracked your runs on Strava and had the pleasure of running a few miles with you over the spring and summer). I really respect the commitment you brought. There are many ways to skin the 100-mile cat and you figured out the best way for you to do it. Having said all of that, I would love to see what you could do on a flat, fast 50-mile of 100-mile course! Well done, my friend.


    1. Thanks Wyatt. I appreciate your advice and support leading up to and through the race. We'll see what the future holds, but I'm pretty sure I'll be doing another 100. May take next year off from the 100 mile distance and try to hit a 100K (the only distance missing from my resume). Hope you are fully recovered and running well again.

    2. I too would love to do a 100k...preferably a flat, fast 100k like Mad City. I will do a 100 next year but it may be on a fast, paved course.

  2. Somehow I find comfort in knowing you struggled to understand the pain and experience like my first 100. Hopefully, we can figure out something together at Bear 100 in a month :). Maybe we can find the key to doing well. I suspect a part of it is just embracing the journey and not dwelling on the negative. Nonetheless, you did this about as well as can be expected from a first timer -- from training right through execution on race day.

    1. Thanks "coach" ...I know you hate it when I call you that, so I'll actually call you my "mentor and friend", which is more appropriate. Or I could call you "Mr. Miagi" and you can call me "Daniel-san"? Thanks for everything. Looking forward to your journey in a month.

  3. I've never run a 100 mile race, but I've crewed and paced many (and paced this year out of May Queen to the finish) and I can tell you there there is reward in doing these for others; it brought tears when my runner was in totally misery for 10 hours yet somehow found the strength to finish. We we minons get something out of it, too :).

    And, having never run 100 miles, I can only go on speculation, but I have been around enough of them to think that everyone has some serious lows in endurance events this long and everyone will complain when they feel like dog food. A friend recently told me that if you have to walk in a race, you failed (he comes from a track background where walking isn't part of the game)...but I disagree. The accomplishment is fighting through the demons out that are screaming at you to stop.

    And you did. And that says a lot in my book. Well done!

    1. Thank you Jill. I guess if both sides of the coin love what they are doing, everyone wins. I appreciate the support.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Great read! I don't care, you can have all the natural talent and ability in the world. You're not having the race you did without working hard for it.

    I find it interesting that we had similar experiences in regard to how we felt at specific places along the course. Your ability to push allthat aside and press on is amazing to me. Great job out there and thanks for sharing your race with us!

    1. Thanks Mike. I suspect we were in good company throughout the day with fellow runners experiencing the same sour stomach we had. Seems to go with the LT territory.

  6. Try some ginger chews next time. Settles stomach. ZombieRunner sells them.

    Fantastic race!

    1. Thanks Brandon. I chewed on about 5 ginger chews through the day, unfortunately with little success. Maybe I need to make a ginger tea concoction and sip on that all day? I obviously need to test some different options out for the next one.