Race Report #2: The 50 run


I knew that race #3 was going to be tough.  Not only was it 50 miles in length above 10,200 feet but it was also 14 hours after I finished the 50 mile mountain bike race.  I'm always up for a challenge.  In fact, the run isn't even part of the Leadman series.  Am I crazy?  Of course but why offer a 50 mile run the day after a 50 mile mountain bike and not mandate it as part of the Leadman series?  Don't know, which is why I added it.  

So after another night of sub-par sleep and having to wake up at 4:30am for a 6:00am race start, I was ready to embrace challenge #2 for the weekend.  As I awoke, my training partner informed me that it was raining outside.  As I peered out the window, I corrected him.  It was pouring!  The next thing out of his mouth was, "maybe they will cancel this race".  HA!  I said.  I politely informed my best buddy that this was Leadville and they don't care if it rains, sleets or snows. The race will be on so get your head in it.  To boot, there was a 40% chance of rain all day with a high of 60 degrees.  Yeouch!

I must say, my excitement was a bit less than on Saturday.  My body was tired and could have used about 2 hours of additional sleep.  That didn't bother me though.  I knew this day was good preparation for the 100 mile run.  I needed to get used to running while sleep deprived and fatigued.

My training partner had not wanted to run this race.  After finishing the mountain bike race the day before, he assessed the run and was faced with mixed emotions.  I told him that I would run the entire race with him.  He would not be alone.  This proved to ink the deal and we arrived at the start around 5:15am in the pouring rain.  We sat in our cars until about 5:50am, made a quick bathroom pitstop and I went through my neuromuscular and dynamic warm-up exercises before the shotgun went off.  The run followed the same course so I was well-versed and knew where I could run and would need to powerwalk/hike.

The gun went off and the 150 or so rabbits navigated the steep ski slope start.  Once we made it to the top, the race was on.  Now, I should designate my goals for this race before going any farther.  The cutoff time at the halfway point was 7 hours with a total cutoff time of 14 hours. My primary goal was to make it to the 25 mile mark in around 6 hours.  The main "push" of the race was the first half to make the cutoff.  Once I made that, the second half would be a "cruise" so I could get back to training as soon as possible.  Goal number two was to get in some good mental preparation training for the 100 run in 4 weeks.  My last goal was simple: have fun!  

We ran in the rain for about the first hour and fifteen minutes then, amazingly, the clouds parted and we were greeted with sunshine and partly cloudy skies.  I only had one short time where I wasn't feeling good in the first 25 miles, which I attribute to my sinus infection as my head did feel like it was going to explode at any moment, but after than 45 minutes or so, all was good.  Luckily, this was the one time when my training partner was feeling good so he was able to keep me from going to that dark place.

We were making unbelievable time without really pushing the pace.  We walked when we needed to but ran the majority of the first 25 miles.  We felt great at the 25 mile mark and came in at 5 hours flat! Can you even believe it?  We couldn't.  We had set around 6 hours so as you can realize, when we turned around in 5 hours we were ecstatic!  Goal number one was achieved!  Half the race was over and now we needed to shift into our last 25 mile mentality: be smart, stay aerobic and minimize the damage to the body.

We knew the climb back up Ball Mountain would be a doozy since we just did it the day before in bike shoes pushing a 27 pound mountain bike.  What we didn't expect was the feeling of it being harder with running shoes on not pushing a bike!  Wow!  It was a challenge but all of the vertical feet I climbed in training proved its worth here. Unfortunately, this is when my training partner started going to his dark place.  The altitude seemed to be getting to him and more specifically, his gut.  He wasn't drinking too much and not able to eat as much as planned. It was slow going on the climb to Ball Mountain and we had to take it easy on the next few miles as the rapid descent was also causing him issues.  

We knew after making it to the top of Ball Mountain, we were only facing one more significant climb so we did share a bit of emotional reprieve.  However, true to Colorado summer weather, a storm was a brewin' and right as we reached the top of a moderate climb, it became very dark and gloomy.  My friend had been running with a man from Canada as I was a few steps ahead of them and as I was reaching into my bag for my rain jacket, lightning struck.  I didn't see it but the man from Canada did and very quickly looked at my while scurrying backwards and said, "what do we do now".  I responded, "you're not from around here are you?".  I told him that we are on top of a mountain, above treeline and had no shelter.  We had to get down as fast as possible.  "Just run", I said.

I looked at my friend and said, "man, I know you are not feeling good but we have to run now. No if's, and', or but's.  We need to get down."  It just so happened that Mother Nature thought it would be funny if she pelted us with BB sized hail.  Yeah, I normally go inside when hail starts coming down but what do you do when you have no shelter and you are staring at the clouds eye to eye on top of a mountain?  Yep, you run.  And run fast!  The only thing I could feel was the hail pelting the bare skin on my legs and my bouncing off of my head.  At times, I was running with one hand on top of my head trying to protect my ears.  Luckily, the bill of my running hat was protecting my face.

I made to the next aid station in about 10 minutes and quickly sought shelter under their tent. It was a smaller aid station with a few people volunteering and all were soaked but still had smiles to greet us.  As an aside, the volunteers around the course were awesome, even in the inclement weather, and I truly appreciate them being out there.  I provided my sincerest gratitude every time I saw them.  

Back to the hail.  After a few minutes at the aid station, I grabbed my training partner and took off in the now water flooded trail.  Socks and shoes were soaked but I knew that the storm would break as we got lower.  Mother Nature finally presented us with rain instead of hail and it was a sigh of relief!  There was a short reprieve from the rain which allowed us to dry off a bit but that didn't last long!

We made it to the second to last aid station which meant we were 14 miles from the finish, certainly a time to celebrate but not so for my training partner.  He was not in a good spot and we both knew that we had the very, very long dirt road ascent to 12,000 feet that seemed to never end before we were blessed to have downhill.  We knew what was in store for us and we progressed step by step.  My friend was getting slower and slower with his steps and I would walk ahead and then wait and repeat this a bit to try to be his rabbit.  About three-quarters of the way into the climb it happened for the third time: RAIN!  Grab the rain jacket again but this time, it was getting cold.  The previous rains were not this cold.  I had to revert to putting on my skull cap underneath my running hat. It felt like the temperature was plummeting as we rose in elevation.  After almost an hour of walking, we finally reached the top.  I assessed my friend's status and it was worse than when we began the climb.  

We had about 9-10 miles left with no major climbs, only descents.  However, the trail was a stream now and the weather was starting to sneak up on me.  It was at this time where I could not maintain my core body temperature.  I had all of my clothing on, it was pouring rain, cold and I had no warm beverages.  I knew we had about 3 miles to the final aid station and had hoped they had something warm to consume.

We ran what we could on the downhill to the last aid station.  Walked when the trail (and slippery conditions) forced us to.  I began shivering.  My friend was progressively getting worse.  What were we going to do?  Get down as fast as we could!

As we walked into the last aid station, we were greeted again by very positive volunteers.  No warm beverages though.  Not good.  I filled up my water bottle and rung out my gloves.  Seven miles left.  A very long seven miles.  I tried as much as possible to get my friend to run whenever possible.  Possibly for selfish reasons of staying warm and trying to get my core temperature up but that was a no-go.  He wasn't feeling it.  Gut was giving him serious problems now.  I had been here before, mentally.  I knew this feeling.  It hit me during the 100 years ago.  And I knew what to do: walk fast.  A good ultra-runner has an innate skill to walk fast when the opportunity arises and now was the time.  I told my partner to watch my heels and keep up.  

I was in the zone.  It's hard for me to explain what this is but it is an out of body experience.  I was shivering uncontrollably now.  Teeth chattering and I could do nothing to stop it.  I didn't want to drink cold water because that sent more chills to my body.  It was still raining and I knew we had at least 2 hours to the finish if we kept up this pace.  Would my body be able to make it being this cold?  We forged on step by step.  I increased the pace as we got closer.  I could smell the finish line and the only thing I could focus on was sitting in my car with the heat blasting.  That was my motivation.  My inspiration.

Needless to say, the last 7 miles were very long for us but very positive in retrospect.  Throw away the hypothermia that I had, the gut distress that my partner and what you are left with is the most intense character building 7 miles of the weekend.  This was true grit.  There are no shortcuts at Leadville and we started adversity directly in the face.  

One foot in front of the other.  I knew when we had a couple of miles left and it was a sigh of relief.  I put my arm around my training partner and told him that he was going to finish and we were going to make it together.

The last major climb, as we faced on the mountain bike race, crippled us to a slow walk but we knew that after reaching the top, we were almost home.  We ran the last 1/8 of a mile to the finish line and I was able to quiet my shivering enough to cross the line with my friend, slapping him a high five at the line.  The volunteer in the timing booth ran over to us and asked who finished together.  I politely offered, "We started this race together, we finished this race together".  And with that, I looked at my friend and said, "You did it man!  Congrats.  You deserve it and you are now ready for the 100's".  

Then I disappeared to my car where I quickly changed my clothes, blasted the heat and curled up in the fetal position until I was warm enough to drive home to see my family.

The weekend was a success.  True to Leadville, it was nothing shy of tough.  It forces you to reach deep down inside and find that next level of motivation, of mental toughness, to simply cross the finish line and be rewarded with an internal "I did it".  There is nothing fancy about the Leadville races.  I do them to constantly test the physiological, psychological and nutritional limits of the human body. 

Total time: 11:54:15

Next up is the Leadville 100 mile mountain bike race on August 15, followed by the 10k run on August 16 then the big one, the Leadville 100 run on August 22-23!

Oh and yes, metabolic efficiency holds true once again!  Here are my hourly nutrition averages for the 50 mile run:

Calories: 152
Carbohydrate: 26 grams
Protein 3.5 grams
Fat: 3.5 grams
Sodium: 684 milligrams (about 300 under my hourly goal!)
Fluid: 16 ounces

No feelings of bonking at all.  Sustained energy levels the entire way. 

Until next time...

Coach Bob