Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Leadville 100 ~ 2015 Race Report

Guest post ~ Chuck Radford

Here it is …a race report only because I want to look back and recall some of the unfathomable events that happened on this day …this crazy, cool, amazing day.

A bit of history: Signing up for the Leadville Trail 100 was an impulse reaction when I did not get into the coveted Western States 100 race for 2015. However, when I found out in January that I got into the Leadville Trail 100 race, my emotional reaction was, “YES …CRAP …well, time to get on board.”

I officially started training at the end of March bleeding my off-season training into my regular training and not really seeing much difference except a little more structure. I ran a couple tune-up races to prepare for my LT100 adventure including the Dirty Thirty (50K), finishing 15th overall in a talented field and the Leadville Trail Marathon, finishing 3rd overall. I banked a couple long training runs with my final one being up in Leadville for a double Hope Pass crossing with good friend Mike Mizones. Unfortunately when we finished, we tried to relax with our feet in the water, and I fell, throwing myself (and my knee) into a rock to prevent myself from floating down the river.

I then dealt with a patella contusion for the next month …my PEAK training month, trying to work through pain, frustration and doubts. My peak training ended and I had logged a measly 50 miles a week before officially shutting it down a full week with no running the last week of July. That turned out to be the best decision of the month as it allowed my knee to fully heal and for me to log some “taper training” unlike I’ve ever done before. I was then faced with glute and IT band pains leading into the race, leaving me extremely doubtful, concerned and incredibly “stuck” trying to find a way to rise to the occasion.

Days before the race, I learned that iRunFar included me in their “Men to Watch” LT100 Preview, completely flabbergasting me. I actually found it to be an additional stress, even though my friends and family tried to get me to see that it wasn’t undeserved (it was solely based on my Leadville Trail Marathon finish, which I didn’t think translated into a small write up in the LT100 preview, but there it was).

With all the small details planned (house, pacers, crew, pacing plan, nutrition, etc.), AJ Wellman and I headed up to Leadville for a nice easy Hope Pass hike to get my legs flushed a few days before the race. We hit the race check in where I picked up bib, shirt and race bag, but something was just missing this year as there wasn’t the same excitement in the air. It was almost as if it was all business this year. I later realized that’s exactly what the whole race was about …business. AJ and I had numerous talks about things that didn’t go well last year and the goals for this year and how I could accomplish them. Goal #1: Stay positive; Goal #2: Eat less, but eat smart (approximately 100-150 calories/hr); Goal #3: Troubleshoot through the race; Goal #4: Keep it simple.

The next two days passed with some relaxation, the pre-race meeting, greeting my pacers, friends and family, and then trying to get a good night’s rest before race morning. Always easier said than done as you sit pondering on the pain, struggles, highs and lows you’re about to experience WILLINGLY the next morning on your 100 mile journey.

Race Morning:

As I did last year, I woke before my 2 am alarm, not able to sleep in anticipation and nervous energy before the race. I dressed, made coffee, eggs and bacon, and then woke everyone interested in going to the race start with me. I believe my comments to my wife were, “Oh my GOD, 100 miles!!!!” as a wave of anxiety ran through me. This was about to go down.

Jennifer (my supportive wife), Mia (my amazing daughter), Mike (my crew chief and section 2 pacer), Heidi (Mikes wife and a great friend), and Savannah (AJ’s daughter) all accompanied me to the race start. We took the obligatory family pictures, I gave kisses and hugs to all, tried to find my game face and lined up with all the other 100 mile hopefuls, as we waited for the official gun shot to kick off this little shin-dig of a day.

I stood in quiet, not able to find the spark or drive I thought I needed at this point to have a stellar day. I was curious how the day would play out. Ten second count down …headlamps turn on …watches start to beep …BANG …game on.

To MayQueen (Mile 13.5)

I found myself immediately running faster than anticipated with the goal out to the first aid station being around 8:35 pace. I tried to reel it in, but had a hard time knowing if I slowed too much, I’d fall into the train of people around the lake, so I kept moving, trying not to be irresponsible. We quickly moved down “The Boulevard,” up “Mini-Powerline” and around the lake and I realized I was running alone. I love training with friends, but prefer to zone out and run solo in races. I find the added chitchat and stress of passing or being passed an unnecessary stress that I don’t cope well with. I came into MayQueen about eight minutes faster than my plan. More than being concerned about being a little off my plan, I was noticing my glutes really talking to me already.

Hagerman Rd to Powerline
Race photos courtesy of Athlinks
To Outward Bound (Mile 24.5)

I spent only a minute at the MayQueen aid station and got right out onto the Colorado Trail up towards Hagerman Road. I traveled well through this section, continuing to feel my glutes, but passing runners and still not having any kind of feeling (good or bad) about how the race was going so far. I was kind of in a “blah” state of mind, but with 86 more miles to go, I guess there was time to figure all that out.

As I ran up to the top of Powerline, I saw my friend Matt Curtis, with whom I also ran a lot of LT100 in 2014. Knowing Matt better the other runners, I had no problem chatting and passing some miles with him leading into Outward Bound. While a supporter informed Matt and I that we were in 17th and 18th place, we both agreed that we were committed to running our own races regardless of place.

As we entered the Outward Bound aid station, I was energized knowing I was going to see my crew for the first time today after 3 and half hours. I ran straight up to them as they strategically placed themselves right next to the water station. I immediately noticed a small weather front moving through and worried my crew would be cold, but luckily it didn’t stick around long and even provided a nice rainbow (sign of things to come???). We replaced bottles, I ate an Epic bar, dumped my warm clothes, yelled “Peace out,” and headed out.

OB Crew station with AJ, Jon and Mia with a weather front behind us
To Halfpipe (Mile 31)

As part of my goal to stay positive, I made sure to smile, wave and thank all the great supporters and fans every time I saw them. Running up to Halfpipe is a nice non-technical area that allows you to grind out some good miles. While some of it is uphill, I tried to start pushing the pace a bit and gain some time. I was patient enough out to the first two aid stations and knew it was time to move with more effort if I had it. This is where experience comes in and knowing when you are pushing too hard or too little.

As I made my way to Halfpipe, I simply replaced water and some Skratch and blazed through it, high fiving a couple volunteers obviously eager to see the mass of runners heading their way.

Colorado Trail Section ~ Beautiful
To Twin Lakes (Mile 39.5)

This final section through the Mt. Elbert water station and further up the Colorado Trail was a good section for me last year. I find miles 30 – 39 are mentally tough as you really haven’t hit any big mile markers and you still have a TON more to do. This section is so amazingly beautiful and secluded that you have to take a few moments to soak it in. I encountered a few more runners and passed them, moving up a few more places. I was eagerly anticipating the hill down into Twin Lakes where you are displayed for all to see …and cheer.

As I ran down the hill into Twin Lakes, I once again was excited to see my family and for the first time realized I was feeling strong. I flexed my muscles coming in thinking that’d give them an idea of how I was feeling, but really ended up looking silly. I quickly sat down, changed my shoes, ate another Epic bar, took some Tylenol, swapped water bottles, gave kisses and felt incredibly confident all of a sudden. If there was a place to feel that kind of confidence, now was the time. Hope Pass killed me last year and was where I lost all the time I made up at that point in the race. It was time for revenge.

Flexing muscles - dork
My crew taking care of me like a race car
To Hopeless (Mile 45)

I headed out towards the meadow to a TON of cheers and even seeing some fellow running friends on the way. I made it to the base of Hope and started to ascend with a mission. I knew this was where my race could actually be made …or ruined. This was the official point where I decided to put myself out there and go for it, regardless of the result. I hiked with fervor and aimed to not stop once all the way to the Hopeless aid station. That’s exactly what I did. I never saw anyone in front of me or behind me and felt that I had my position locked at that point in the race in 8th place. I was hiking like I was on fresh legs and not 40+ mile legs.

To Winfield (Mile 50)

After leaving Hopeless, runners ascend to the peak and then it’s a hair raising downhill descent into Winfield. As I worked my way up to the 12,600 foot peak, it started to rain and blow, leaving me a bit cold. However, that gave me more motivation to get off that mountain and down into Winfield. I peaked and to my amazement, I was able to actually run the downhills. It was becoming more and more apparent to me that my energy level and strength were so completely different from last year that it left me baffled. I eventually caught the 6th place runner and we flip-flopped spots all the way into Winfield.

Back to Hopeless (Mile 55)

Because this aid station is so remote, we sent a critical crew only into Winfield consisting of AJ, Mike and a good friend Jon, who came in early to be a part of the race. I quickly made it through the aid station, sat down in a chair, ate another Epic bar, swapped water bottles and exchanged a few words with another friend Wyatt Hornsby, whom I paced over this section in 2013. Winfield is the first section you can pick up a pacer, so I grabbed AJ (a great mountain climber) and we moved on out back towards the backside of Hope Pass.

If you don’t know, I fell six or seven times in last year’s race, leaving me frustrated and injured. I was happy I had made it 50 miles without falling once. Unfortunately, that was to change on the Sheep Gulch Trail, as I shortly took my eyes off the trail and went down hard on my hand and leg. I quickly jumped back up and tried to shut out the pain, but it stung badly. With the 6th place runner right in front of me, I was committed to keep him in my sights, knowing full well that not only had my confidence been building, but so had my competitiveness.

All it took was one fall to do enough damage
After getting off the Sheep Gulch Trail, it was a hard turn left and up the belly of the beast, facing up to 40% inclines, a lack of oxygen and heavy humidity. We worked and we worked hard up that monster, claiming the 6th place position and moving in quickly on 5th place. AJ and I were all business while cracking jokes keeping the levity light. AJ reminded me numerous times that I was doing well and to just keep doing what I was doing. At times I worried I was going to pay for the workload I was giving now later in the race (I think even AJ was concerned). We caught the 5th place runner at the top of Hope Pass, but once we reached the peak, he floated away to an eventual 2nd place finish!

After some coaxing, I pledged to AJ that I’d climb hard to the top, where we were met with some technical downhill into Hopeless. Unfortunately we were also faced with a ton of outbound runners and a lot of cross traffic. After hitting Hopeless, AJ made me fill up my bottle with Skratch in the event he and I got split up on the downhill.

Back to Twin Lakes (Mile 60)

Again I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was running downhill …how was this possible? It goes back to my eating goal and having energy and good energy at that. The cross traffic runners were amazingly accommodating and moved out of the way, as I made my way down. I made it to the meadow, through all the water sections and back into Twin Lakes with no more falls, but finding myself a little low on energy after all the effort I just put out on Hope Pass both ways. Running into Twin Lakes pepped me up though, as there were a ton of fans/supporters cheering me on.

Apparently everything was "thumbs up" at this stage of the race
Back to Halfpipe (Mile 69)

As I sat down at Twin Lakes, my wife (a Godsend) changed my wet shoes and socks for me (now that’s love) as I drank, applied sunscreen, replaced bottles and chatted strategy with crew. My daughter was immediately concerned about my cuts and bleeding, but I assured her I was fine. I thanked AJ for his pacing duties and picked up Mike, as we headed out up the underrated 1400 foot climb out of Twin Lakes and out to Halfpipe. I started to feel my stomach going “South” on the uphill climbs and let Mike know I’d do what I could. We worked a good run-walk strategy all the way into Halfpipe and troubleshot some ideas on what I could eat, as my eating rate was dropping quickly. Like miles 30-39, I find miles 60-69 equally as difficult mentally, but Mike did well keeping me "up" and moving well through those sections. I had some watermelon with salt on it at the aid station and set out for a good long running section.

Back to Outward Bound (Mile 76)

Mike and I ran well six good miles with only a couple breaks and passed the time with good chatter. As we came into the unofficial Treeline station, my daughter was running up towards me. She turned and we ran back to the crew hand in hand. There was nothing really for me at Treeline except my amazing family and crew who continued to pep me up knowing this is where the race REALLY gets mentally (and physically) tough. I realized back at mile 40 that the intense body pain was manageable …not fun, but manageable, and that it’s the mental side of running that keeps you in the game late.

Still smiling 70+ miles in
After a short four mile road run and back through the field, we made it back to Outward Bound and to our crew again. A quick note: running is a raw sport and ugly things happen. Mike can attest to me running down the road with my shorts half way down (bare-butt to the world) as I rubbed some Biofreeze on my glutes before pulling my shorts back up. That’s ultra running at its finest ... but I didn’t pee on myself like last year sooooo …

Back to MayQueen (Mile 86)

I was once again hitting a bit of a low after dropping Mike off and picking up Jon for the final 24 miles. However, with a change of pacers, comes a change of venue and Jon really helped me pep up a bit heading up to the final HUGE climb up Powerline. 

Pep talk from Mike
Heading out for the final 24 miles with Jon
As we ran the road to the base of Powerline, we were informed by supporters that no one was behind us, but the 5th place runner was just ahead of us. Rejuvenated, we turned the corner and there he was. Even though I had little energy, I found the needed energy to pass him and busted a move up Powerline. It was a struggle beyond struggles, but I was once again so much stronger than last year and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was now in the TOP FIVE!!!

Last year at this same time, we were dawning headlamps and preparing for the dark. Jon and I made it this year all the way to the top of Powerline with tons of sunlight still shining. We came upon the unofficial aid station at the top. I sat down and we chatted for a few seconds with the fun volunteers. They informed us that the 4th and 3rd place runners were just ahead of us and none of them looked as strong as us or were moving as well as us. That was motivation to get out of that chair and MOVE.

We made it down a couple of switchbacks and up ahead was a runner. As good of a friend as Mike Aish is, I did NOT want to pass him. Unfortunately, he was struggling and we came up to Mike and Nick Clark and they very graciously cheered us on to catch the next guy. This put me into 4th place …CRAZY!

Back Home (Mile 100)

As we entered the MayQueen aid station, I realized just how hard I worked over Powerline and was really starting to feel it. Knowing Jon was eager to catch the 3rd place runner, I voiced my concern to my crew stating, “Jon’s gonna work me too hard.” ...and said it a couple times. I got a little negative, but gave hugs, grabbed my headlamp and we worked our way around the lake into the night hours. We did well moving up and down the rolling hills, taking breaks as needed, and I was running as much as I could.

We got to Boat Ramp, and I secretly made a personal pact that I was going to run all way to the parking lot (2+ miles) and I did. From there it’s a final struggle back up into town where we never did see the 3rd place runner, meaning he was moving as well as me.

We saw the lights of town FINALLY and then made our way to 6th St.. As we ran 6th St., we came across my wife, daughter and Mike. We all ran the final stretch and there I was …at the red carpet. I ran down the carpet, threw my hands up in the air as I crossed, and immediately fell, tripping on the carpet ...yeah, that JUST happened. I bounced up and laughed knowing NOTHING was going to ruin that moment and gave Marilee (race co-founder) a hug and received my finisher’s medal.

Finish line

My recreation of falling across the finish line the next day
My goal was a sub-20 hour run …I finished in 18:43:14 in 4th overall and 2nd in the masters division. Business was conducted and I had accomplished my goal of having a good gut day, lots of energy and staying positive, which all contributed to a win for my family, my crew, my supporters and friends.

We headed home to some beer, a shower and some VERY uncomfortable sleep. I got up the next day and had the best breakfast burrito of my life before heading to the awards ceremony to claim my award, buckle, and sweatshirt.

I am absolutely blessed with an amazing crew. These people were my inspiration through the day, my light when I was dark, my motivators and my comfort. My wife and daughter are my rocks, my long time friends Mike and Heidi help me have fun and enjoy every moment, my friend Jon is always a running inspiration who often reminds me of my potential and skill, and AJ is my coach/training partner/blood brother. I truly hope they celebrated the day as much as me.

Left to right: Jon, AJ, Jennifer, Mia, Me, Mike, Heidi, Savannah ~ The "A" Team
If you know me, you know I am a humble person, a family man and a trusty friend. I live life like any other average Joe, balancing family, work and running. I prioritize things the best I can and try to prevent my passion of running from interfering with my family as I constantly sacrifice sleep to do so. Are there challenges?  Of course, but I only hope I can be a strong role model to my children and other runners. I am open and honest and am more than willing to give my thoughts, advice and support to anyone seeking it. If you ever want my thoughts, please reach out to me.

A shout out to Epic bars, Fuel 100 Electro-bites, Skratch Labs, Tailwind  and Vespa as my running nutrition and to Hoka (Stinson) and Brooks (Pure Grit) as my running shoes. Anyone want to sponsor me? Please?  

Parting thoughts

Running 100 miles is like living 100 years full of challenges, opportunities, celebrations and struggles. In life we start fresh, ready to take on anything and we are a bit ignorant of what’s in store. We learn from our failures and sometimes fail to learn along the way. As time progresses we know that each step could have a positive or negative reaction and yet we compel ourselves to move forward either putting ourselves out there or sitting back and watching. With each phase we grow, we learn to adapt, we are reminded fully of pain and how to mitigate it or accept it. We get tired, cranky, fed up, and yet life’s challenge somehow wills us on. We lean on our support systems more and more and we find new motivation and inspiration from those we love and those who want nothing but success and happiness for us. In the end, you inch closer and closer to an amazing reward of satisfaction, peace, accomplishment and a love of living. These thoughts somehow helped me piece together “why” we do this crazy sport of ultra-running live!!

**Special thanks to AJ for letting me guest post on his blog.  Check it out's got a wealth of information on it if you haven't seen it already.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Leadville 2015: Pacing and other thoughts

Warning, this one could ramble a bit....

First, I should set the stage. I've been running seriously for about six years now. My journey, as has been the case with my life, has always been about exploration and learning and tinkering. One core value for me has always been health. After ballooning to nearly 250 lbs before my 30th birthday, I decided that my 30's would be a decade where I focused on health, hoping that it would pay dividends later in life. Through that lens, I have always explored running as means of getting healthier and improving my life, not just performance. Not coincidentally, as my health improved, so has my performance. I have learned more about nutrition and physiology than some people who study them in school, because I have dared to follow those people teaching outside the box. Train easy to race fast. Eat less to run farther. Eat fat -- gobs and gobs of fat!

About half way into my journey, I met Chuck Radford, a co-worker of mine. As co-workers, we obviously saw each other quite a bit. But it was our mutual interest in running that really got us to be friends. Chuck is also an eager learner and has watched what I've done and taken what I've learned and applied it to his own running. I don't think of myself as his "coach" per se, but there is definitely an element of that in our relationship. These days, I really am just more of a friend and someone who can give him my thoughts and sometimes advice. I jokingly call myself his "mental coach".

Anyway, Chuck and I have been together through all of our ultras, pacing, crewing, and generally supporting one another. Our mutual friend, Jon, called it a "blood bond" we've made with one another. I like to think that my break-through race at Western States 100 this year inspired Chuck. This weekend, he took the lead and inspired me to wonder if I have new levels I can achieve, finishing 4th at the Leadville 100.

When Chuck signed up for Leadville I agreed to pace. I was also to be his pacer in 2014 before injuring myself on a training run the day before and having to stick with crew duty. We joked that year that none of us would be able to keep up with him. As it turned out, he had a pretty good race (as ho-hum as sub-21 hours can be!), but none of his pacers struggled to keep up with him. This year, I requested to pace him for 25 miles, thinking I was going to be able to hang. As the weeks went by, I decided give up some pacing miles so I could spend more time in the mountains that weekend and not have to "taper" for the experience. I enjoy climbing and getting out in nature on adventures and figured that would be a good compromise. That was such a good decision....

Chuck went out at what we thought was an aggressive pace (hindsight suggests he went out quite conservatively) and we knew it was game on. He was at least 25 minutes faster than we expected into Twin Lakes and we hurried out to Winfield to await him and my pacing section. Last year, Hope Pass really gave him a tough time and it took nearly 6.5 hours for him to do the double cross. This year, he arrived at Winfield just a bit before 12:30 and ready to rock. He was focused and composed. Without much lost time, we took off and by the time we got on the Sheep Gulch Trail, he was already pushing me. PUSHING ME. This guy has 50 miles on his legs and I am working hard to hang! I stayed a consistent 15-20 yards behind him, trying to keep up and trying to yield the right away to the runners (he was in 7th place, so pretty much the entire field) coming at us. It was difficult jumping into a pacing section in the heat of the day and without having had lunch. I was sweating like crazy. Mercifully, we started going up the mountain and I was able to catch up and chat with him. He moved very well, rarely stopping, but climbing is definitely a strength of mine. Plus, the wind was blowing near the top of the pass and cooling me off. We saw many of our friends (Matt C, Woody, Trevor, Jeremy B) coming back at us along the way.

Cresting the top, we caught two runners. One runner we easily passed on our way to Hopeless aid station. The other, Kyle Pietari, seriously floated down the mountain on his way to a 2nd place finish. That was quite impressive. I helped Chuck fill his water bottles at Hopeless and told him not to look back for me going down, sensing he was going to drop me easily. And he did. Within a tenth of mile I could barely see his orange shirt up 100 yards in the forest. I was on the way to breaking everyone of my Strava segment PRs on this section and I still couldn't hang! (Jon later told me he and I ran the second fastest split over this section all day.) Once again, I tried to yield to the on-coming runners, many of whom were just starting their first Hope Pass ascent and likely not going to finish. But, I had to have looked like a rhino rumbling down the mountain and many of them got out of the way just out of fear, I think. One or two even joked about him "working me hard". Indeed. I wasn't even thinking about pacing at this point, just trying not to get dropped and the teasing my friends would have given me back at Twin Lakes. Oh, and trying not to do a face plant on the rocks and tree roots in my path.

We arrived at the meadow and he seemed to slow a bit, allowing me to go into threshold pace and actually catch him. I got to jog (for him, run for me) the final few miles into Twin Lakes where he seemed to gain some energy as I began exhaling. I survived. No way I would have lasted the next 16 miles with him -- so glad I "gave up" those pacing miles. I will let him tell his story, but the short version is that he had just done a double Hope Pass crossing in 5 hours after running 40 miles!!! That was the moment we all knew he had a chance to make it a special day, and he pushed on for 40 more miles and delivered (4th overall in 18:43). I retired to a chair with some beer, happy for my friend and knowing I'd be sore as hell the next day.

This is about as close as I got to him during my "pacing" section. Who's pacing who?

A big thanks to my daughter for capturing my humbling moment

I am still thinking about 2016, but, as I said, Chuck has inspired me to think about new levels I may have. I thought maybe my 23:30 at Western States was my ceiling. Of course, I thought his ceiling at Leadville was 19:30. In fact, I am pretty sure I told him outright I didn't think he could break 19-hours at Leadville, something only a few dozen runners have ever done. He proved me wrong in a big way. And maybe that's the kind of thing I need moving ahead. Leadville is definitely on my short list for 2016. A big buckle is still one of my few remaining running goals. If not for the lottery, I may have already committed to that plan.

I keep thinking I'll give up 100s, but it is addicting. So much happens in those 24 hours that you just cannot explain to people. So much life. So much pain. So much joy. So much bonding. It truly is a transcending experience, impossible to explain to someone not present in that moment. Thanks to my daughter, I recently started listening to Zac Brown Band. And when I hear their song "Beautiful Drug", I think of running 100s. What a perfect, beautiful drug....