It was a month ago today and it's still hard to find words. Last week's finish at Superior took the edge of the pain but did not eliminate it. The thing I find hardest to move beyond is that it was 100% avoidable, all I had to do was drink. To do poorly here hurts. Leadville has always been, and I suppose will always be that "special" race, the one I really focus on, every runner has one, for most it's probably one they do well in... as for me, I am 1 for 6 at Leadville? But it's that one finish, just weeks after my Dad had passed away, that I suppose keeps me coming back. While in someways every DNF makes that finish, and the memory of my Dad carrying me through the night, that much more special., it is more than just a little frustrating to come here year after year and go home empty handed. Until this year my only DNF's came on these trails. And so I finally bring myself to document this year's effort if for no other reason than to move on.
In 1969 a young Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 and for over 40 years now he, his son, Michael and his grandson Marco as well as nephew John have tried to get the Andretti name back to victory lane. Every year they come with quality cars and high hopes that this will be the year. Every year they go home frustrated, certain there is some sort of "Indy" curse that has been cast on their family.
Since my only Leadville finish in 2005, I have been back four times, each of those times my race against the clock in the mountains near Leadville came to an early end. This year was perhaps the most disappointing of the four. Struggling from almost the very first step, running out of water twice and eventually watching my wristband get clipped along the Winfield Road at 6:05 Saturday evening. It was perhaps the least enjoyable race I had ever run. A day that lacked everything I enjoy about this sport. A meltdown that could have been avoided.
The race started at 4:00 AM, the same as every other year, the only difference was this year we started in short sleeve shirts. This was a stark contrast to last year when runners lined up with sleet falling and 34 degree temps. The unusually warm weather we were enjoying had been forecast all week giving all of us ample warning to re think our gear selections and fueling plans. Despite the forecast I decided to stick with my plan of carrying two bottles, providing me with 20 oz of water and 20 oz of electrolyte (NUNN) drink every 2.5 hours or so. (One of the complexities of Leadville is the distance between aid stations. With aid stations distanced every 10 miles, there is little room for error)
The day started off like most other "Leadvilles" however it was even before the sun came up I could feel the impact of the warm thin air on my respiratory system, none the less I arrived May Queen just five minutes behind schedule.
Now heading up Sugarloaf with the sun overhead I began drinking more than normal but found it hard to keep my breathing under control (this aspect of my day frustrated me enormously and really began to work on me emotionally. At great expense I came to Leadville two weeks before the race, hoping the extra week would prove significant in my bodies ability to acclimate to the high altitude of Leadville's 10,152 ft. when it became obvious that the extra week had meant nothing in terms of my bodies ability to adapt I could feel myself grow agitated) I struggled more through this section than any previous attempt and arrived the Fish Hatchery aid station 25 minutes behind schedule and very down with myself.
The next 17 miles really became the race, or should I say the end of the race, for me. I became so hot and so dehydrated through these two sections I could hardly even run the downhills without feeling like my chest was going to explode. I ran out of water 45 minutes outside of Twin Lakes and arrived at the aid station a complete basket case over an hour behind schedule. I really felt bad for my crew. Karen, Zach, Dave, Jessica and Anthony did everything they could do, but I was a mess. It took medical personnel over 20 minutes to get my respiratory rate down as they pumped over a half gallon of liquids down my throat. I now had cut offs creeping up on me and had to get moving, unfortunately the only direction to go out of Twin Lakes is up, 3,500 feet straight up Hope Pass to 12,600 ft, not the best environment to recover in.
I headed out of Twin Lakes now with 70 oz of water on my back and another 20 oz in my hand. It was obvious this was the set up I should have had since May Queen if not the start. Had I gone with the Camelback the entire way how would I feel now? This is obviously a question that can never be answered, but I would have to think I would be far better off and much farther down the trail. Instead I was dragging my overly depleted carcass up a mountain. A mountain that usually forces you to bundle up a bit, but not today. The climb was hot and steep and dry, with not even a slight breeze offering relief. Although I drank almost the entire 90 oz between Twin lakes and the Hopeless aid station, I was too far behind with my hydration and my body was slow to catch up. Although I made it through Hopeless ahead of the cut off it had become obvious I wasn't going to be so lucky at Winfield. I struggled over the top of Hope and down the other side. It was here, as I made my descent off Hope, passing friends that were on their way back up and then on to Leadville, that I finally started feeling better. Too little, too late as they say, but still, it felt good to breath. It also felt good to see so many people I knew.
Congratulations to Paul Schoenlaub on his seventh Leadville finish and to Greg Burger on his first. Congratulations also to Coleen Voeks on a "gutsy" finish, persevering through the night, overcoming her demons and crossing the finish line with just twelve minutes to spare, and to Nick Lang who came back from the dead, sneaking out of Winfield just before the cut off, then finishing in a strong 28:51. And a special congratulations to Gary Henry who is now one up on me, collecting his second Leadville buckle with a sub 29 hour performance. All in all seven Kansans finished this year's Leadville Trail 100. I believe that's a record!
So another Leadville has come and gone and left me empty handed and broken hearted. This should have been the year. I was in great shape and injury free. I had two full weeks to acclimate and plenty of time to get focused on the task at hand. I had a decent weather and a great pacer (Dave Wakefield) waiting for me at mile 50...I never got there! I made a stupid mistake on something as basic as hydration, and while there are races where you can make a mistake and still sneak by, Leadville is not one of them. Leadville has a way of making you pay for you mistakes.
As I allow myself to think about 2010, a hiatus from Leadville is probably in order. Perhaps this race has taken on an unhealthy importance in my life. Perhaps a year off might bring perspective.
So on to Minnesota where I started running trails. Northern Minnesota has always been the place I feel most at peace. Although I know the Superior Hiking Trail is brutally rugged and times at this race are slow (The Superior Sawtooth has a 38 hour cut off), it will be good to be back home.