Sunday, August 17, 2014

Leadville 2014 / Crewing Chuck Radford

Wow, so much to say...

The first thing that I have to say is congratulations to my friend Chuck Radford. He made his debut at the 100 mile distance and killed it. He finished in 20:46, 17th overall, and 3rd masters. Even more impressive was surrounded by accomplished ultra runners (even some former champions) that finished within an hour of him: Dave Mackey, Liza Howard, Timmy Parr, Duncan Callahan, Bob Africa and more... I know the day did not unfold the way he had visualized in his mind, but keeping that kind of company at Leadville is astounding.

It was a very rewarding experience for me to watch his day and race unfold. People kept asking me how he was doing and I just kept using the word "wrecked" because I didn't know how to describe it any other way. The simple version is that he had a sour stomach and never really could eat, leading to a myriad of other problems like cramping, falling, and a few minutes off his goal. The more complicated version of it is that he now understands the journey that is your first 100 mile race. It starts with a dream to enter into a race like Leadville. Then you train, plan, and obsess for more nearly a year, pouring your attention over and over and over again into every detail. By race day, people can only describe you as nuts. Then the race starts and everything you thought you knew goes out the window. You are standing on Hope Pass hemorrhaging time and wondering if you are ever going to finish the race. After you survive Hope Pass, the Colorado Trail climb kicks you in the teeth. Once you recover from that, you are on Powerline. You stagger home exhausted and just glad to be done.

After the race ends, the only word to describe how you feel is overwhelmed. You are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Everything you worked for has come to fruition, but somehow it doesn't feel at all like you expected. 100 miles is way more than a race and you have to witness it firsthand to understand. In a twisted way, the pain and the suffering are your reward for your year long dream. There are no words to make someone understand. Seeing it from outside the ropes reinforced everything in my mind. I remember all the compliments my pacers and crew gave me and now I understand. Watching someone struggle like that an push on is beyond inspiration.

The other thing that I have to say is that Leadville had a great day! They deserved it after taking so much criticism last year. To have three runners the caliber of Sharman, Aish, and Krar (not to mention all the other great athletes and former champions) in the field was a treat to watch. I have met Mike Aish several times and think the world of the guy. He is very entertaining and genuine and just plain fun to root for. To be honest, I wasn't sure he'd ever figure out the 100 mile distance. And, when I saw him pull into Winfield (and later Twin Lakes) looking labored, I thought he'd blown it again. But he put on the greatest finish in the history of that race (sub 1:50 over the final 13 miles) to close out a 2 hour PR and 2nd place. At one point, he and Ian Sharman were separated by 30 secs with just a few miles to go! What a battle and congratulations to them both.

Watching Rob Krar was just plain impressive. I don't really know how else to say it. He was all business and didn't even seem to break stride all day. He went off course for a little more than a mile and still ran the 2nd fastest time in the history of this iconic race. He looked like a machine with his precision execution.

Rob Krar getting iced down and drinking some kind of nutrition fluid at Winfield
I think my lone complaint about the race was sheer number of changes they made in response to last year. I know they took a ton of heat and had to respond accordingly, but Twin Lakes and Winfield are impossible and now overcome with so many rules that the crew chief's head will spin. Crewing for a front runner like Chuck made it easy, but I really felt for mid and back of the pack runner crews. You almost have to choose between Winfield and Twin. It is complicated and I don't have all the answers, but it is a very frustrating situation. I think maybe they should go back to the 2012 course and just let crews all the way into Winfield or just close it entirely. If I run Leadville again, I will strongly consider skipping Winfield for both pacing and crewing.

One other thing that I find a bit annoying is their propensity to announce course changes so close to the race. In 2012, they added 3 miles to the race and no one knew until the week of the race. It cost me 45 minutes on my finish time. I think that is a detail that should be communicated sooner. This year they announced a change allowing runners to run through the field near Outward Bound instead of going onto the road. And, while I am sure most runners would prefer that, it was an unknown. No one has trained on the field and it wasn't exactly a designated trail for runners. In fact, Chuck expressed concern to me about the number of post-holes in the field, causing him to fall at least once. I imagine that wasn't a ton of fun in the middle of the night.

One last topic, a personal one about me, my upcoming 100 and potential future 100s. I don't think it is any secret to those around me that I have had a tough time embracing running another 100. Leadville in 2012 just took so much out of me. As I mentioned earlier, it is really an experience of just emptying one's self and laying everything bare. I've been worried all summer about running Bear 100 because most DNFs start with a runner that doesn't believe or doesn't want to be there. If you are not steadfast with belief and desire to be there, you'll crack. Guaranteed.

I think this YouTube video sums up how I feel about it after watching Chuck yesterday -- "there's some stuff in the basement."

I think perhaps I am not psyched about running another 100 because I know how hard I worked in 2012, and, yet, I know there is another level in me. My belt buckle was nowhere to be seen this weekend because I am not satisfied with a sub-30 finish. That DOES NOT mean I am ashamed of it. I worked hard for it and am damn proud. I executed almost flawlessly that day, but I never really put myself out there enough to know if sub-25 was realistic. That said, I know I can run 100 miles and get the "big buckle". I just have to prepare myself to suffer that much again. It is frightening thought. But, perhaps a new spark has been lit.... Perhaps returning to Leadville for this year's race allowed me to finally move on.


  1. I'm only one day removed from LT100, but feel much the same way as you about wanting to it, or another 100, again. My goal was sub-25, but lacked the mental toughness it takes to push through and get to that next level. Power Line finished me off yesterday. I'm not ashamed of my little buckle either, this weekend was a great experience that I'll never forget. Just to finish at all after feeling completely broke down at the top of power line is an extremely satisfying feeling. I just wasn't able to recover or get another wind after that.

    I saw Chuck coming up that backside of Hope and to me he was looking really strong. I guess he was doing a great job of masking the pain. Glad to read he went on to run a great race!

    As for the changes, I didn't like crossing the field at all. Twisted my ankle 3 times coming across at night, but fortunately no real bad rolls or falls.

    I'm guessing, but I think I may have been in the top 3rd of the pack when I came into Twin Lakes (based on my what my crew was telling me). They pretty much set up camp there, and then two pushed on down to Winfield once I left. They seemed to think it wasn't that bad getting in, but I'm sure some crews probably had problems bouncing back and forth between TL and Winfield.

    For me and my crew we have no complaints at from this weekend, but I have nothing to compare it to. It was my first time up there for this event in any capacity. The aid stations were all well stocked when I came through, the volunteers were all in great spirits and very helpful, and my crew was able to get around with no problems. Obviously I cannot speak for those ahead or behind me.

    Nice write-up, Andrew.

    1. Mike - congrats on the finish. I think you have to run a few 100s before you dial it in!

      As for the race day logistics, I just think Leadville has some unique challenges with it being and out and back course. There are no perfect answers. But, doing what they did (closing Winfield partially) just encouraged ppl to do what you did (and we did) and split crews. In a way that just doubles the traffic to each aid station. I think they should either go back to the 2012 course -- so runners never hit the road -- or close Winfield to pacers and crews unless the pacer is near cutoff and in danger of going over Hope alone and in the dark.

  2. Great write up with very kind words regarding my race. Crewing has to be hard, but you did a killer job. You were there when I needed you, made decisions for me when I couldn't, efficient in and out of the stations and kept me on my feet and moving forward all day. Could NOT have done it without your help, coaching and friendship. I will definitely be there to pace for your next jump at Leadville because I KNOW you can go sub-25.

    1. Chuck - the ride was a good one. I lived vicariously through you and was somewhat jealous I didn't toe the line with you that day. Not sure my "coaching" helped you much, but I'd like to believe a played a small part in your success. As for LT100 in my future, we'll see :)

  3. AJ - I think I can understand where you are coming from in regards to your next race. I think every now and then I get to that place to - LT was different - it was my first race and finishing was by far THE goal for me. I put a lot into that race, RRR I've done more training than LT, but my mindset is just different and I don't really know how to explain it. I do think you are going to have a GREAT race, what you've done up until now in your others are proof of that (to me). You gutted out a few things that may or may not have broke others so the resolve is there and your base is there as well.

    I know you know all of this, I just wanted you to know that someone else knows it also - and maybe that little nugget will help you believe it can be done. Because it can - just one foot in front of the other - there will always be 'another level' but they probably will never resemble the effort of the previous race - its just your level for the day. Anyway...I can't wait to read about it.. :)

    1. Sandra - Thanks for the encouragement. It is good to hear from someone else doing their second one hundred. I am very familiar with the first time emotions, but the second time has been different. I also have a hard time identifying what exactly is different, but it is. The first time is mostly excitement for the challenge. So far, the second time has been excitement tempered with my vivid memories of exhaustion and pain. I get to see how your race turns out before I start mine, so please lie to me and tell me it is 100-fold easier!