I am a Leadman!

Yes, it is true.  The goal that I set for myself back in January when I sent in my registration form and entry fee for the Leadman series in Leadville, Colorado has been accomplished!  As of 8:10am on Sunday, August 23, I became part of a small group of ultraendurance athletes claiming the title of "Leadman".  

Yes, and true to the Bob Seebohar nature, this will be a longer blog entry.  C'mon, it's a 100 mile run for goodness sake!  What do you expect?  A Cliff notes version?  No way, too much good stuff to share!  Get comfy, relax and enjoy the read.  I probably should have published this as a book but hey, who has time for that!  :-)

The Leadville 100 mile trail running race was the last race in the series and it did not disappoint. Leadville always has a way of making it a tough day of competition at and above 10,200 feet but strangely enough, this past weekend was atypical.  It was actually sunny and warm.  Yes, warm. In fact, it was predicted to be record heat in Leadville!  I was asked whether I would prefer it to rain on me during the 100 bike or the 100 run and I could not answer that question.  You see, when competing in Leadville, you come to expect what others call the unexpected.  Nothing is unexpected in Leadville and my mental state was prepared for anything Mother Nature would throw my way.  This was the last race between me and becoming a Leadman and nothing, I mean nothing, would stand in my way.  That's just the way it would be and was it ever!

So it started with coming off of completing the 100 bike the weekend before and methodically planning my recovery splashed with a bit of running in the mix to get the memory of running back in the legs.  I only ran twice before the 100 run and felt pretty darn good.  Body seemed to be in good working order.  The Achilles pain did not progress and was stable, I wasn't sick, I was fit and in a good mental state.  I was ready to tackle this challenge and give it my all.

I arrived in Leadville on Friday morning to do my medical check-in and pre-race meeting. Found out that part of the course had been changed due to an Army helicopter crash on Mount Massive (a momentary pause to remember the troops who died in that crash.........).  No worries though.  I had already begun remapping my mental picture of where they would take us and although one good climb up Mount Massive would be avoided, I was sure more would be in its place!

I spent the rest of Friday relaxing around Copper Mountain then waited for the crew to arrive. I had a nice briefing with my crew and my training partner who was also doing the race and it was off to bed.  I never sleep well before races and usually find myself awake every hour looking at the clock but for some reason, I slept like a baby the night before.  Albeit, I only got 4.5 hours of sleep but it was quality sleep.  "Wonder what that means?", I asked myself.  Guess I would find out how that correlated with my run performance.

Up at 2:15am to get ready and head to Leadville.  I was a bit tired but jovial in the morning with my crew.  I wasn't overly excited or nervous.  It was like the calm before the storm only I didn't know what the storm was.  It was certainly an eery feeling, one that I have never felt before.

We arrived in Leadville with about 25 minutes to the start.  A quick trip to the bathroom, check-in with a volunteer then off to do my neuromuscular and dynamic warm-up.  Yes, I do this routine even before 100 mile runs!  Call me crazy but trust me, it provides the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments exactly what it needs in terms of preventive "medicine".  My training partner and I seeded ourselves up towards the front because I knew that after the first 5 miles, it is singletrack and very hard to pass.  You need to be in a decent position before that.

And now, I will provide you my journey based on each segment of the race...

Start to May Queen (13.5 miles).  
Easy start at 4:00am.  The shotgun goes off and it's all aerobic.  I had set predicted times of my finish for each segment and given it to my crew so they knew when to look for me but more importantly, so I could keep on pace.  After the first few miles of paved and gravel road, it was a short and steep climb up a rocky road to give me my first taste of an anaerobic effort.  I knew what the 100 miles would feel like.  I did it before in 2005 and I knew better than to go out too hard, too soon.  Thus, I held back, powerhiked up the hill and waited patiently (one thing I am not good at!).  Once on the singletrack around Turquoise Lake, I felt like an army ant in a line to get into the nest.  There weren't many gaps in the field but I was able to find a few as I accelerated past some slower runners that I got caught behind.  With only a headlamp to guide me, I prayed that my ankles would hold up to the hundreds of rocks and roots that I could not see until it was too late.  I twisted my ankle a few times but nothing severe.  Something about trail running has made my ankles somewhat resistant to ankle injuries!

I reached the first check station in 2:10:00 (this is cumulative time as you will read throughout), 11 minutes under my predicted pace.  It was just starting to get light and I was feeling strong, incredibly positive and ready to tackle the challenged that awaited.  A quick stop at my crew to fill up water and hand off some clothes and I was off.  The next part is where Leadville showed its true nature.

May Queen to Fish Hatchery (10 miles):
Okay, coming out of May Queen begins the climbing.  A quick ascent up a paved road then it was a very undulating singletrack trail that was filled with boulders, jagged rocks and river crossings (over bridges).  After a few miles of this heart-pumping piece, it was onto Hagerman road for a couple of miles until the real fun began.  After getting off of the nicely tuned, gravel road, Sugarloaf Pass was the first real challenge.  I was only running in shorts, a short-sleeve shirt and arm-warmers and was a bit chilly.  Really couldn't feel many of my fingers as I was holding two water bottles thus I was eager to begin the climb more to increase my core temperature.  Now, I had been up Sugarloaf on a bike and foot and can quite honestly say that I had never felt so good going up as I did on this day.  I ran up almost the entire way, feeling effortless like running on clouds.  My cadence was high, I was landing on my midfoot and feeling like a true runner.  I embraced this for I knew a gnarly descent was waiting for me. 

Enter Powerline.  If you remember from my Leadville 100 bike blog, Powerline is that part of the course that everyone is just a bit worried about.  It is plagued with man-eating ruts and relentless, quad destroying downhills.  For runners, the latter is like the devil!  I am normally a very aggressive runner on the downhills but knew that I was only about 18 miles into my day so I approached the Powerline descent intelligently and navigated the descent with more finesse rather than focusing on speed.  I knew it would pay off in the long run.  It's funny because a few people blazed past me but I knew that I would see them in about 3 miles.  They obviously were not familiar with this course!  After coming down from Powerline it as a quick run on a dirt road only to be greeted with a very rolling hill paved road.  This is where I saw (and passed) the runners who sped past me a few miles back.

I rolled into the next check station at 4:05:00 (15 minutes ahead of my predicted time). Grabbed more fluid and lathered on the sunscreen.  It was 8:05am and without a cloud in the sky and 16 miles to go until I saw my crew again, I knew that Mother Nature would begin to show herself.  

Fish Hatchery to Twin Lakes (16 miles):
The last part of this section is one of the most beautiful of the entire race.  Although it starts with a few miles on paved road and moves to 4x4 roads for the next few miles, it eventually progresses into beautiful singletrack that literally feels like running on pillows.  Very soft ground in the most phenomenal forests of Aspen trees.  Simple breathtaking!  

It was getting warm and I was armed with two bottles of water in my hands.  There was a remote aid station about halfway through this section so I figured I would be fine with the quantity of fluid I was carrying.  Wow, was I wrong!  I tried and tried to ration my fluids until I reached the middle aid station but it was getting hot (for the mountains) and I was getting thirsty.  I was popping electrolyte tablets (Saltstick) like they were PEZ candy and only drinking enough water to wash them down for fear I would run out before reaching my oasis.  

There it was, in the middle of nowhere on a dusty old jeep road in a field of Aspen trees, the mysteriously placed aid station.  Much of my reservation in saving my fluids was due to not knowing where this new location for the aid station was but I made it with but a sip of fluid left in my bottle.  I entered the aid station tent and drank 12 ounces of Powerade and filled up both bottles with the sports drink.  I knew I was getting dehydrated and it was only getting warmer and warmer!  A few miles of the somewhat boring dirt road and there it was, my little piece of heaven.  The next 5 or so miles were filled with unbelievable backcountry scenery, singletrack and astounding views of Twin Lakes, Colorado.  Carefully, I took my eyes of the trail on occasion to fully engulf my senses of the beauty surrounding me.  

The descent into Twin Lakes is always fun.  Well, I suppose I should define fun.  It is scattered with steep descents that start to really get your quads attention.  Add to this that part of it was on a dirt road scattered with loose rocks.  Certainly, an ankle sprain waiting to happen!  I held back again on my aggressiveness going downhill knowing that Hope Pass was my next challenge and if I blasted my quads now, I would not make it down Hope Pass.  I rolled into the Twin Lakes check station at about 7:06 (24 minutes under my goal time).  I was on fire and feeling good!  I met my crew and put on my Nathan hydration pack and carried a 20 ounce bottle in a GoLite waistpack.  In 2005, I climbed Hope Pass with two bottles and finished them before I reached the summit and got dehydrated.  Live and learn thus I carried 90 ounces of fluid with me this time!  Yeah, it was extra weight but I would play that card any day over the dehydration card.  I did a quick shoe change into my La Sportiva Crosslite shoes because they are light and very low to the ground, which I desperately needed for the descent down Hope.  "See you in about 4 hours", I told me crew and off I went, onto tackle the 12,600 Hope Pass.

Twin Lakes to Winfield (10 miles, over Hope Pass):
From an elevation perspective, this was the most difficult part of the course.  You climb from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet in about 5 miles.  In 2005, the altitude bit me hard.  Didn't know what to expect but had a hunch that my attention to hydration would do me well and did it ever! 

Once the climb began, I switched into hiking mode.  Aside from the top finishers, it is just impossible to run many parts of the ascent.  I didn't try.  It wasn't worth expending the energy and I had taught myself to be an efficient power-hiker.  The only thought in my head was "conquer".  Hope Pass would not get the best of me, no way, no how.  I was more than prepared for this.  Weeks earlier, I did repeats up The Incline in Colorado Springs (a 1 mile climb up a mountain that has an elevation gain of 2000 feet).  This prepared me more than I could have imagined.  I am certainly not saying the climb up Hope was easy but it was much, much easier than I had remembered.  In fact, I knocked about 6 minutes off of my ascent 5 years ago!  I reached the Hopeless aid station which is always a thrill.  The volunteers hike up with llamas and it is just the coolest thing seeing a herd of llamas grazing at 12,000 feet.  Yes, only 12,000 feet because the aid station is not at the summit.  

I am feeling like a rock star as I pull into the aid station.  Sure, I can't breathe as well and my heart feels like it is going to explode out of my chest but that is the least of my worries.  I still have the insurmountable task of getting to the top of Hope.  This is part of the course that you never forget for it is the one where you walk so slow, an infant can easily pass you...crawling! I only filled a water bottle at the aid station then looked up at the top, took a deep breath and went for it.  Surprisingly, it didn't take me that long to get to the top.  Was it my fitness?  My positive mental state?  Who knows!  All I knew was that I still felt good with no signs of altitude sickness or any ill feelings at the summit.  Ah, this was a good day!

As always, I stopped for a brief moment at the top to take in the view.  It is simply incredible what you can see at 12,600 feet.  Okay, enough of that, I knew I would be back shortly.  Ahead of me was a very, very challenging downhill.  Imagine jumping off of a two-story house repeatedly, onto bed of rocks!  Get the picture?  Yes, it truly does feel like that!  I was very careful coming down as I didn't want to slip on the loose gravel on the steep sections or twist a knee or ankle on the rock fields (yes, we had to go through rock fields!).  At times, I just wanted to stop to ask Mother Nature how she could make something so beautiful yet so painful!  I made it down unscathed and was greeted with a very unpleasant part of the course: a 2.5 mile rolling hill (mostly uphill!) gravel road.  This road would take me to the 50 mile turnaround.  I looked at my watch and was in shock at how fast I had made it up and down Hope Pass.  "No sense in putting that to waste", I thought, so I ran as much of this road as possible.  Something, I had not done before. 

I wasn't in pain.  I wasn't mentally out of it.  I wasn't dehydrated.  I was feeling pretty darn good.  Despite all of the dust I was inhaling from the cars traveling back and forth to the turnaround point, I was feeling somewhat fresh!  I made it to the 50 mile mark at 10:36 (39 minutes before my predicted time).  39 minutes early?  Holy cow!  What was going on?  I was feeling great!  A quick weigh-in by the medical staff showed that I was down about 4 pounds and they told me to drink more.  Really?  C'mon, I knew that.  It was hot outside, I had just finished 50 miles and had another 50 to go.  What do you think I'm going to do?  Anyway, quick pit stop with my crew and I was off to tackle the second part of this race.

Now, the 50 mile mark has another significant meaning other than being the turnaround.  It was the point in the race where you can finally pick up a pacer if you want one.  Between myself and my training partner who was also doing the race, we had 4 crew members and one was pregnant.  All were experienced as they had crewed for me before.  However, we had to split them up between two runners which meant I would not have a pacer to go back over Hope Pass.  I had made this decision well beforehand thus I was ready for it and actually pretty excited to take myself over Hope (yet another challenge)!  As I ran the dirt road to the bottom of the back side of Hope, my second crew vehicle passed me going the other way.  I found out my training partner was still on the trail but had suffered an ankle sprain and was moving slow.  After yelping "I am rocking this course!", I shuffled on, eager for my second ascent up to 12,600 feet.

Winfield to Twin Lakes (10 miles, over Hope Pass, again):
The climb over the backside of Hope is a bit tougher than the front side as it is steeper and a bit rougher.  To boot, you have to finesse your way on a narrow singletrack trail to avoid the runners coming downhill (who cannot stop too well!).  It was a bit scary at times but I kept my head up when possible to avoid any collisions.  Did the "altitude shuffle" towards the top, embraced the view at the summit and was on the descent again.  One thing was bothering me though.  I hadn't passed my training partner and by my calculations, he only had a few minutes before they would pull him from the race due to not making the time cut-off.  My crew had told me he left the last aid station so that either meant he fell down the mountain or he was moving slow due to his ankle.  Turned out the latter was true.  I zipped in and out of the Hopeless aid station and soon met my friend.  I looked at him and after a long embrace, we both knew what was coming.  He told me to go and I told him that I was proud of him, for everything that he accomplished.  

On the descent, all I could think about was my friend, the journey he went through in reshaping his life in preparation for the summer of Leadville racing.  He lost almost 30 pounds, improved his health, had a positive influence on his kids and proved to himself that he could do more than he thought he could.  I had so many emotions floating through my head. I was proud of him but mad that an ankle sprain, something out of his control, would end his journey without proving that he could finish the race.  This gave me even more fire to finish my journey, for myself and for my friend.  I would not let him down for I knew he would want me to finish no matter what.

I reached Twin Lakes in 14:15 (45 minutes ahead of my predicted time).  Okay, so my quads took a beating going up and over Hope Pass twice and they were starting to let me know about it.  I walked into Twin Lakes to greet my crew, sat down and put my compression tights on and some warmer clothes.  The night portion was fast approaching.  Bad news was that my stomach was starting to give me problems and I had 40 miles left.  

Twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery (16 miles):
Because of my training partner's exit from the race, I was able to have a crew member now as a pacer for this section.  I desperately needed it.  Not because I was losing it mentally but because I knew the first 5 miles were nothing but uphill and I needed my pacer to do just that: pace me. I always have my pacers ahead of me so I keep their pace and it pushes me.  My first pacer, Trish, did a great job at this.  It wasn't until about mile 65 where things began to change.  It was then when the lower leg fatigue really took its toll and the soles of my feet were beginning to hurt. Add to this that my stomach just not feeling right and I knew my race strategy was beginning to change.  

Not to worry though, I had been building up quite a buffer from my predicted times and was 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  I planned the second 50 miles to allow for more time due to fatigue.  I just wasn't planning on the stomach issues.  I trudged along and was doing some jogging/walking spurts after the 5 mile climb but once I reached the aid station in between Twin Lakes and Fish Hatchery, my race was halted to a powerwalk.  I was okay with this because I knew that I could maintain at least 4.0-4.3 miles per hour on my powerwalking on level ground.  However, that was not accounting for this lower leg and foot issue I was having.  I had never felt something like this before.  Imagine what your body would feel like after running down the steepest, rockiest hill barefoot and that was close to what my body was going through.  A strange feeling for sure.

Not to worry though.  Bob was on a mission and nothing, I mean nothing, would get in my way of finishing this race.  I slowed to a walk and greeted my next pacer, Theresa (our pregnant crew member) with about 4 miles to go to the Fish Hatchery.  Theresa pulled me the 16 miles 5 years ago and was a blessing as she was this year.  We chatted a bit on our walk but my pace was getting slower and slower.  I constantly checked my watch and began calculating my finish time.  As we pulled into the Fish Hatchery at 18:44, I was 14 minutes slower than my predicted pace.  Yes, my race was changing and I had 24 miles to go.  Only 24 miles!  I had to sit for a few minutes before leaving the aid station and rolled out at 19:00 with my pacer David.  I had 11 hours to go 24 miles.  I was cautiously optimistic because I knew although my legs and feet were tired, that was the least of my worries.  My gut had now decided that almost any food I delivered to it would cause distress.  

Fish Hatchery to May Queen (10 miles):
I had Powerline to go up.  Powerline, the unforgiving ascent with about a million false summits. I was completely prepared for this though and David and I muscled up it faster than I had expected.  We were being passed but I was still moving forward without many stops and that was a good thing.  I knew I need calories so I tried a few things only to find that strawberry newtons were the only thing that would not cause severe intestinal distress.  At 50 calories a pop, they are definitely a good "bang for your buck".  I took in a few at a time and after shouting a few celebratory words at the summit of Powerline, we began the harsh descent down Sugarloaf Pass.  

Sugarloaf is scattered with sharp, jagged rocks and loose gravel and quite honestly, is probably the worst feeling you can have on the bottom of your feet with about 20 miles to go.  It hurt so bad. It felt like someone was repeated jabbing the soles of my feet with daggers, step after step after step.  I could do nothing but try to shift my mental focus and attempt to get in "the zone". However, my blood sugar abruptly interrupted that.  I had never had the feeling that I had coming down Sugarloaf.  In a matter of a second, I felt my blood sugar drop like a rock and it sent me into a dizzy spell.  I immediately called to David for some newtons and inhaled three.  I was better but then I got extremely cold.  Luckily, my crew had packed David well and I put on a hat, gloves and a warm coat and began the descent again.  I knew this mountain and what was coming and even though it was getting a bit tough now, I was still ready for the challenge.  "Bring it!", I whispered under my breath.

After finally dumping out on Hagerman Pass road again, we trekked the few miles of the pillow soft dirt road until encountering the unforgiving singletrack plagued with quad bursting, rocky descents.  I have to say, there is a time where you just don't feel your legs any longer due to the fatigue and I really wish I had been there!  I felt every step and every turn as I repeatedly stubbed my toes trying to lift the deadweights I called my legs over these rocks.  This was one of the worst parts of this course because you can see the lights of the aid station but you have to travel on the trail that goes around the backside first before dropping down.  Seems like it took forever. Ugh!

Everything becomes fine all of a sudden because as we pull into May Queen at 22:57,  I note that we are a few minutes ahead of what I told my crew 10 miles ago.  I was about 2 hours and 15 minutes off (slower) than my predicted pace but was still on good pace, regardless.  I greeted my crew and had to sit down.  It was almost 3:00am and it was getting cold as was I.  I bundled up with more clothes and grabbed a bagel and some broth in hopes that it would settle my stomach for the last 13.5 miles.  Yes, I was only a half marathon away and I had 7 hours to do it.  I had done this portion in 4.5 hours 5 years ago on a stress fracture (but no stomach problems) so I knew I would attain my goal.  

May Queen to the Finish (13.5 miles):
Wow, talk about the most grueling half marathon I have ever done!  Julie, my pacer, was awesome.  This was by far the hardest part of the race for me-mentally, physically and nutritionally.  I wasn't able to eat much but kept my fluid intake stable.  I was so tired that I could have fallen asleep while walking (which, by the way I tried a few times and almost fell over).  But...but, my mental state was holding together.  Remember what I said earlier? Nothing would stop me from finishing this race and becoming a Leadman.  Nothing.  

The first 7 or so miles were on singletrack that I navigated on the outbound about 22 hours prior, in the dark. I knew it was long but for some reason, this segment felt like the entire 100 miles!  Wow, did it hurt!  For the first time ever, I felt a desperate need to be off the trail.  I wanted nothing to do with rocks or roots any longer.  However, I knew if I planted those thoughts in my head, they would invade the only part of my that I had left that was pulling me through this.  I didn't let them take over and when they did, I looked down at my wrist at the band I was wearing with the words "dig deep".  That's what Leadville is all about.  Testing your physical, mental and nutritional boundaries.  Digging deep enough into your soul to embrace the person you really are and forge on no matter what obstacle is thrown in front of you.

That is exactly what I did.  I will admit, it wasn't pretty and I had to slow my pace significantly but Julie kept me going, one foot in front of the other.  I made frequent stops to stretch my back and allow my legs and feet a few seconds reprieve.  We finally navigated off the trail onto the dirt road and I knew I had about 4.5 miles to the finish. I couldn't celebrate though for most of it was uphill (yeah, it's Leadville!).  

Right before the sun came up I got extremely cold once again. My body temperature was dropping quickly and lucky for me, my crew was about 1/2 mile up the road waiting for me.  I think I put on all of the clothes I had brought and continued on, still shivering.  The sun soon came up and it wasn't until about the last 400 meters before the finish until I started giving my jackets to my crew.  

The second most emotional time hit me as I crested the hill next to the high school.  The hill that I had been on a week prior and the one that you know when you reach the summit, you have unofficially accomplished your goal.  With the finish line in sight with the beautiful mountains in the background, I grin from ear to ear for I knew that I was a Leadman.  I didn't know what I would do at this point in the race as it was something I was thinking about the last 24 miles.  Would I cry?  Would I be happy?  Would I break down?  The simple smile of accomplishment is what surfaced and all the thoughts of the past 28 hours began to flood my memory banks.

It took me over 5 hours to travel the last 13.5 miles with a finish time of 28 hour and 10 minutes (1 hour and 26 minutes faster than 5 years ago!).  A 13.5 miles that I didn't think my body could go.  For me, this "race" began at mile 87.5 and it was at this point where my true character came out.  I did not quit.  I did not let the mountain beat me.  I did not let anything stand in my way of accomplishing my goal, of showing my kids that you can do more than you think you can and the human body can be pushed farther than we know.  It was the last half-marathon that defined me as an athlete, a human being and as a father.

For this, I sincerely thank Leadville for you have taught me the true meaning of determination. This was for my family, my crew and my training partner.  Without all of you, my journey would not have been successful!  

What's next for Coach Bob you may be wondering?  Keep wondering.  I need a few weeks to get my body back to normal!

Thanks for reading the novel...until my next blog...

Coach Bob