DISCLAIMER: True to my nature and my story telling tendencies, this race report will not be short. Consider yourself warned so you may as well pull up a chair and enjoy!
In my 17 years of competing in endurance events, this race was my best ever...and I did not finish! "Huh?", you may be wondering. Yes, you heard it correctly. To better understand this, let me take you on my Leadville 100 run journey. I did my first 100 in 2005 and finished 24 minutes before the cut-off due to a tibial stress fracture. I knew I had a better time in me so I signed up in 2007 to try to better my time. It didn't work out as I planned that year as I made the decision to quit at mile 60 due to illness. Obviously, there was a burning fire inside me to conquer the race again so I signed up for the entire Leadville Leadman series in 2009 and successfully accomplished all 6 races and set a personal record for the 100 run. When I signed up for the 100 run this year, my initial goal was to see how fast I could do it. That ambition was interrupted as my Achilles was giving me more problems so I was lost as to why I was really doing this race.
With the formation of my non-profit, Kids that TRI, I quickly saw a great opportunity for my athletic endeavors to benefit kids and getting them more active so I set out on seeking pledges from people for every mile I finished. I had found it and with a renewed purpose of the "why" behind my race, I was ready. I would race to show kids that the body has few boundaries and would raise money for them to participate in sport.
Fast forward to the start on Saturday, August 21, 2010. Supposedly there were 800 runners entered this year (a record and one that will continue to grow). This posed a problem because after the first 5 miles or so, the course goes from dirt/paved road to singletrack trail, in the pitch black. If you get stuck behind a slow group, there is very little opportunity to pass and run your own pace. Thus, I seeded myself toward the front. I knew I wanted to get a good position getting onto the trail but also knew that it was a long race and there is no need going anaerobic.
I should mention that I had not done any exercise for four days prior to the race due to an illness my kiddos brought home from school and some travel. I hoped that would help and it proved to be extremely beneficial...for about the first 2 miles. After that, I never seemed to feel like I had my mojo. However, upon entering the first and second aid stations, I realized I was about 4 minutes faster than my initial predictions so my body must have been feeling better than my mind was communicating.
It was gorgeous weather throughout with no complaints from Mother Nature. The infamous climb up to Hope Pass (outbound) did not phase me too much and honestly, my race never really began until about mile 49. That is when it happened.
You would think with me perched at 5800 feet where I live that altitude wouldn't bother me too much but I have had a few run-ins with high altitude situations at Leadville in the past and they have been correlated more when I enter the race with a bit of an illness. True to this point, at mile 49, just 1 mile before the turnaround, a wave of nausea, dizziness and feeling lightheaded hit me like a ton of bricks. Altitude sickness #1. I made it into the aid station and they kept me there for about 19 minutes until I felt okay to head back to Leadville. I was a bit behind in schedule at this time, having left at 12 hours and 19 minutes (I was planning on 11 hours), but that did not worry me. I was feeling better and made the 2+ mile run to the bottom of Hope pass on the inbound side.
About 1/3 of the way up it hit once again like a ton of bricks. Only this time dizziness was quite scary because it was affecting my balance and on singletrack going up to 12,600 feet, that's not such a good thing. I struggled hard to summit Hope the second time and dropped to the Hopeless aid station to visit the medic. Altitude sickness #2. Adding to my list of symptoms were uncontrolled shivering. I knew I had to drop in altitude but I also knew I needed to get my core temperature up before doing so. They put me in the medical tent in a sleeping bag for about 15 minutes and after two guys showed up with complaints of his airway closing and another who was just freaking out, I decided I needed to get out of there.
As many know, I have had Achilles issues for years but much to my surprise, they did not bother me as much as I thought they would. I think the CEP compression socks that I got from Kompetitive Edge did the trick! However, for some reason, I had a serious bout of IT band syndrome that happened around mile 40. I haven't had that since my Ironman days so this was a bit of a surprise. For those who have never had this, upon every step going down on my left leg, it felt like someone was driving a dagger into the outside of my knee cap. It was painful but you get used to that when you do Leadville. I also had a few blisters on each heel to contend with which made descending all the more fun. I mention this things because it seemed as if the extrinsic factors kept piling up and to be honest, it was starting to wear on my psyche.
So, back to the Hopeless aid station. There was no other way to get off the mountain other than making the 5 mile descent to the Twin Lakes (mile 60) aid station. I was losing light and am prone to dropping body temperature fast so I knew I needed to get going. However, with two bouts of altitude sickness underneath my belt, IT band issues and blisters, I was extremely doubtful of continuing the race. To ease my wife's mind, I carried my phone with me (since I did not have a crew or pacers) so I called her when I began my descent and told her every reason why I was ready to stop and why I would call it a day once I got to Twin Lakes. She agreed and I was on my way. But then, the turning point. I made one more phone call to my best friend who knows me but does not have the "spousal worry factor". I told him what was going on and having a little pity party for myself and he asked me when the cut off time was for Twin Lakes (there are cut off times for aid stations and if you do not make them, you cannot continue). I told him 9:45pm. It was 7:45pm.
To the best of my memory, here's what happened next. He says something like, "Okay, you have 2 hours to get down a gnarly 5 mile descent with rocks, trees and roots and it's getting dark. Get down to Twin Lakes as fast as you can". Did he not remember me telling him that I couldn't run but had to walk/hobble fast? He didn't care. "Get down now.".
And then it clicked. All of a sudden, my entire Kids that TRI team entered my head. I did an inventory on each and every child who I have inspired throughout the year. I pulled up their smiling faces in my mind and it was then that I decided that I was going for it. I was going to make the cut off at Twin Lakes. There was only one more minor problem. When I reached to turn on my headlamp on my head, it was gone. It must have fallen off when I was laying in the sleeping bag in the medical tent. Ugh. That's okay, I was determined now and wasn't going to let lack of a light source stop me. I picked up a glow stick that was hanging from a tree and figured it would at least provide some light. I also tried to draft other runners going down but since I couldn't run that didn't work out too well. Until I found a great runner from Michigan who gave me his flashlight. Wow. Seriously? Only in the ultra-running world! This provided me exactly what I needed.
As I navigated the crazy steep descent, the only thought in my mind was the real reason I was out there. To prove to kids that you never give up no matter what obstacles stand in your way. I made it to Twin Lakes 6 minutes under the cut off time and had a grin from ear to ear. I had just made it 60 miles and the volunteers thought I was crazy because I didn't look tired. I was on top of the world. At that moment, I was unstoppable and I was not going to let Leadville dictate my outcome. I wanted to be in charge of my destiny.
Now the funny part. As I hustled out of the aid station, I called my wife and told her that I was continuing the race. There was a bit of a pause and she said something along the lines of, "Huh? I thought you told me you were done?". Yes I told her but I was not going to give up. I don't expect my Kids that TRI team to give up so why should Coach Bob? I was going to fight this thing. I think she sensed my excitement and while she was a bit worried, she was very supportive.
I think I had forgotten from the previous year how difficult the section is coming out of Twin Lakes 8 miles to the next aid station. The volunteers were trying to get me out of Twin Lakes because the cut off to make the next aid station was 3 hours. No problem I thought. Eight miles in 3 hours? Yeah, that's until I remembered the first 5 or so miles were a climb. Uh oh, I had not processed that before I left Twin Lakes.
At about 10,500 feet, I was abruptly visited by the altitude bug again. Altitude sickness #3. For some reason, I was on such as "high" at Twin Lakes (altitude of 9200 feet, lowest point of the course) that I had forgotten that I needed to climb again and I had at least two more climbs about 10,500 feet. This 8 mile trek was not fun nor the most productive. I was trying to move my feet as fast as possible to make the cut off but they seemed as if they were in slow motion. No matter how much I demanded my body to step up, it fought me every step of the way. The dizziness, nausea and feelings of lightheadedness where then accompanied by vomiting. Only twice but definitely not what I needed at that point. As much as I could, I did not let it get me down. One step in front of the other. That was my mantra.
I kept a close eye on my watch and without knowing my mileage, I had no idea of my progress except for trying to remember this section hours ago when it was daylight. I kept going though, eagerly looking for the lights from the aid station. Step after step, no lights, no aid station. Me against the clock. The descents were excruciatingly painful and I welcomed the climbs even though the altitude sickness would hit hard.
10:45pm. 11:45pm. I had until 12:45am to make it to the Half Moon aid station. My window was closing quickly and I had no idea how close I was. I kept searching for the glow sticks marking the trail. Locate one, head down and forge ahead as quickly as possible. The next glance at my watch as 12:30am. Hmm. Fifteen minutes and no sign of the aid station. 12:45am struck and overwhelming thoughts of my Kids that TRI team overcame me. I knew I would not make the cut off and that my race would be over and the lesson to my kids was then solidified.
The 2010 Leadville 100 run was initially about the outcome goal to see how fast I could do it. It was very selfish now looking back at it. I think we often get caught up in speed versus the real reason we do the sport. Leadville for me became a race of process goals. Just as I inspire my Kids that TRI team, my best friend inspired me to dig deep and keep going. I doubt he knew the underlying message he sent but I am truly grateful to him. Leadville 2010 was about perseverance, never letting anyone decide your destiny and overcoming obstacles.
I am grateful and indebted to Leadville for teaching me these lessons throughout my 68 mile journey and while I did not finish, I did not give up. I can only hope that provides inspiration to not only my Kids that TRI team and my kids but also to every child in the world who has believed that they couldn't do something or aspire to be a better person through sport.