2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
View north from Hope Pass in Colorado

 

Runtrails' Home Page

Bighorn

Hardrock

Leadville

More Photos

Appalachian Trail Journal

 

 

CT trail marker

 

Map from the Colorado Trail Foundation's poster.

 

SPONSORS:

 

 

 

 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 
 
THE LEADVILLE TRAIL 100-MILE
RACE ACROSS THE SKY
 
SUNDAY, AUGUST 20
 
 
"SILVER  . . . GOLD . . . & GUTS"
 
- logo on 2006 LT100 race calendar
 
 

 

Paying tribute to Leadville's gold and silver mining booms in the 19th century, the finishers' awards for the trail 100-milers are either gold- or silver-plated belt buckles, the color depending on their finish time. They also get hooded sweatshirts with their name and finish time printed on one sleeve. Overall and age group winners receive beautiful gold- or silver-plated trophies, plates, necklaces (for the women), and other goodies.

This year's classy black race poster features a photo of the gold winner's trophy, with the words "SILVER . . . GOLD . . . & GUTS" figured prominently in the poster design:

At 4:00 AM on Saturday, August 19 three hundred and eighty-nine runners toed the line at Sixth and Harrison Streets for the Leadville Trail 100-mile foot race. Their determination and fortitude - guts - would be tested over the next thirty hours on the challenging mountain course.

Only one hundred ninety-nine of them would finish in the allotted time, 51% of the field, a typical finish rate for this race.

They would face altitudes ranging from 9,200 to 12,600 feet; long climbs and descents, some quite steep; rocks, roots, and slick mud; some dirt and paved roads with annoying crew and tourist traffic; creek crossings, one swift and deep enough to require a rope assist; and the usual hail, sleet, rain, and wind that plague runners most years on or near Hope Pass.

Some of the runners would develop blisters, nausea, headaches, oxygen deprivation, and/or hypothermia. Some would fall and get bloody or strain a  muscle. All would get bone-tired and feel some level of pain. Many would want to quit at some point. Most pushed to their limits. Half either chose to stop or were forced to stop before reaching their goal.

To a non-athletic person, this probably sounds like complete masochism. Why in the world would anyone put themselves through something like this voluntarily???

Are they NUTS??!!

Even some athletes don't understand the concept of challenging themselves in an individual sporting event like running or cycling. Some choose to set their goals low enough that they can always be attained - a certain time, or just a finish. They don't want to risk what they consider "failure."

I contend that anyone who hasn't yet DNFd (did not finish) a race simply hasn't challenged themselves enough! How can they know what they are capable of if they don't at least occasionally reach too far and "fail" to meet their goal?

Folks with mindsets like Jim's and mine enjoy testing themselves against difficult courses and/or other competitors, even if the odds are against them. We don't consider it a "failure" if we don't meet our goal. We're just more determined to reach it the next time!

CHALLENGING THE ODDS

As Jim and I age, it's become more and more of a challenge against the courses. We aren't very competitive against other people like we were in our 30s and 40s. As we too-rapidly charge toward our 60s, it's more a matter now of beating time cut-offs than caring whether we beat anyone else in our age group to the finish line. We're happy for others who get there, even if we don't.

One of our friends, Pete Stringer, reported after the race that only five of the thirty-one men in the 60-69 age group finished. He wasn't one of them. That got me thinking: what percentage of folks in our age group (50-59) finished this year?

Jim recently turned 58. There were at least 95 men in his age group registered for the race, per the web site (maybe more at the last minute). I don't know how many actually began the race, but only 36 finished it. That's only a 38% finish rate, just over a third.

I am 57. I believe there were only ten women 50-59 who were entered. Guess how many finished? Only TWO! No women 60 and over finished.

With its 30-hour cut-off, this is definitely a younger person's race. Women don't fare real well here, either. Only 24 of the 199 finishers were female (12%).

Youch!

Two more revealing statistics about the difficulty of finishing this race within 30 hours: of the 199 finishers of all ages/both sexes, fully 53% (105 runners) finished in the last two hours. Sixty-one of those finished in the LAST HOUR, a whopping 30.7% of the finishers!! Even Ken Chlouber hasn't been able to finish his own race for several years because of the tight cut-offs.

GIVE IT UP? NOT LIKELY!

Jim and I both have become more and more familiar with DNFs, especially at our favorite distance of one hundred miles. I think I've finally realized the futility of entering tough mountainous hundred-milers; as much as I love the LT100, I had no pangs of longing to enter this year and am quite proud that I showed enough restraint to not enter at the last minute! I'm not saying I won't EVER do it (or another mountainous one) again. I was just more focused on the Colorado Trail this summer than training for another hundred.

Jim, on the other hand, isn't anywhere near ready to give up 100-milers. In moments of frustration he says he should. But I know him too well to believe those thoughts will last.

After one finish and three DNFs on the Leadville course, Jim was more than  motivated this year to finish. Mental preparation is as important to finishing an ultra marathon as the physical preparation. If you don't have determination and a positive attitude before and during an ultra, there's not much point in even starting the race. You will be tested.

Jim's training has gone well. He's been living between 9,800 and 10,200 feet since the end of June (two and a half months), training from 8,000 to 13,000+ feet since the end of May, and doing specific LT course training for a month, including half a dozen or more single and double ascents of Hope Pass. Except for speed work, his training is probably the best it's ever been for a high-altitude 100-miler.

Jim's health has also been excellent. Our diet on the road this summer has been better than it was last year on the Appalachian Trail trek (less fat and junk), so his weight is low and his muscles are lean. He's had no more foot problems like those that plagued him the last several years (neuromas, bunions, tight gastrocs). He's been training successfully with a liquid diet (Hammer Nutrition's Perpetuem) on his long runs so he can hopefully avoid nausea and get through aid stations faster during the race.

If he lacks anything, it's speed work on the roads. Neither of us does enough of that because we don't enjoy it.

Would that come back to haunt Jim?

SHOW TIME!!

Friday night we were in bed before it was anywhere near dark, earplugs in, alarm set for the ungodly hour of 2:45 AM. Neither of us slept either deep or long enough, typical the night before an ultra (or even a shorter race).

I jumped out of bed when the alarm rang, eager to take care of Jim as well as he takes care of me on the mornings when I'm preparing to hit the Colorado Trail. Turn on the coffee, make sure the water is heated for a shower, fix some breakfast.

The first thing I did on race morning, however, was to go outside to see what the sky looked like. It rained a lot Friday afternoon and during the night. Jim was dreading a rainy start of the race, knowing how miserable the dirt "Boulevard" section in the second to fourth miles would be.

Great news, honey! I can see lots of stars!!

I knew that message would cheer him up and get him going on a more positive note. I could tell as he got ready that he was nervous with anticipation. My role as crew was to help him get ready and up to the start on time, and keep him focused on the job at hand.

Our campsite at the end of Sixth Street was less than a mile from the start. For a shorter race, we would have walked to the start as a warm-up, but we don't do that in 100-milers. We found a parking space about three blocks from the start line. Jim checked in with race officials so they'd know he was starting the race, we wished our friends well, and walked around to get muscles warmed up and release some of the tension.

It's somewhat of a madhouse at the LT100 start, with hundreds of runners and their families/friends milling around the streets with bright lights glaring and loudspeakers blaring into the darkness, quite a contrast to the solitude of being alone on the trail when the sun went down again later that evening.

AT 4 AM the gun went off and three hundred eighty-nine intrepid souls loped into the darkness to challenge their bodies and minds against the LT100 course. It took guts for them to even begin this journey.

To my surprise, I felt no twinges of regret that I wasn't among the runners. I was happy with my role of trying to be the very best crew person I could be. For me, that's progress!

I watched the lights bob up and down Sixth Avenue in a blur as the runners headed toward the Boulevard. It took the back of the pack about ten minutes to clear the end of Sixth Street so I could drive back to the camper. I spent a couple of hours getting myself, the dogs, and all our crew supplies ready for the long day and night ahead, then headed out for the Fish Hatchery Aid Station.

Since I didn't know when it would be convenient to return to the camper, I took the dogs with me in the truck. They love to ride - anywhere - and seem quite content to sleep in the back seat. They've crewed with me several times before. Although many folks had their dogs at the aid stations, I left Cody and Tater in the truck except to "go potty" and stretch their legs. When I am crewing, I want to focus entirely on Jim and not have to watch what one or both dogs are doing. Fortunately, the weather was cool enough that I didn't have to worry about them roasting in the truck.

Although the sky was pretty clear when the runners started the race, by the time I headed out around 6 AM it was overcast and quite gloomy. As long as it didn't rain, that would be good for the runners.

As in 2004, I skipped the first aid station (Mayqueen) at thirteen miles because the mid- and back-of-the-pack runners are still pretty tight there, crew parking is a nightmare, and Jim would be in and out in a flash. He did a great job of getting into and out of the first four aid stations and the crew point at "tree line" in two minutes or less in each place, whether I was there or not. That saved him some valuable time. So did using primarily Hammergel and Perpetuem, an energy drink which has protein, fat, and carbohydrates for endurance events, and only minimal aid station food and beverages.

FISH HATCHERY OUTBOUND

I arrived at the Fish Hatchery (mile 23.5 outbound/76.5 on the return) at about 6:30 AM, over two hours before Jim expected to be there. I was too hyper to sleep, so I read for a little while in the truck and then got out to mingle with some other ultra runners I know who were crewing for friends and relatives (Mike Hickman, Sean Andrish, Scott Brockmeier, Hannah Lugiano, and others).

I've shown some photos of the fish hatchery before. It looks quite festive on race day, with hundreds of people volunteering and crewing for the runners. The runners veer off the paved road (county road 300) and head slightly uphill for several hundred yards past the crowd to get to the aid station,

which is probably the most spacious one on the course. It's nice because it's in a real building and not a tent, an advantage when it's raining, cold, or dark.

I did the same drill at each aid station: about an hour before Jim was due, I checked out the food choices so I could let him know what kind of soups, sandwiches, and other foods and beverages were available inside, in case he wanted something besides the Perpetuem.

I also asked the volunteers for his drop box, and carried it outside where I had a folding chair and the crew supplies I was carrying in the truck. On his drop box list, Jim noted what he definitely would need in each box, as well as the other items in the box that were optional. We each carried a copy of that list, and it was part of my responsibility to make sure he got those items each time I was present.

After Jim left each aid station, I returned the drop box inside if Jim would be going back to that station later in the race. If not (i.e., Winfield, at the turnaround), I kept it and put it in the truck.

I mentioned Friday how we put dry Perpetuem powder in thirteen bottles for Jim's various drop bags, which wasn't enough (that's all we had with us). One of my jobs was to fill those bottles with water before he came into the aid stations. I noticed right away that there were no bottles in the Fish Hatchery box, just two baggies with the powder. That meant I'd have to get Jim's two empty bottles as he came into the aid station, put the powder in them, and add water as fast as possible. I went back to the truck to get a gallon of water; I thought that would be faster than doing it in the aid station, which was quite busy when the mid-pack runners came through.

I was very happy to see Jim coming down the road just before 9 AM, more than ten minutes ahead of his predicted time:

He was running smoothly and looked great! The runner in the blue shirt and orange shorts is Joey Anderson, a friend of ours from North Carolina:

I ran up the fish hatchery driveway with Jim as he told me all he wanted was two new bottles of Perp and two Hammergel flasks. I got his empty bottles and stopped at my crewing spot as he went on up to the aid station to check in and out. Jim got back to me so fast I had only one bottle filled up! He helped me with the second one, gave me a quick kiss, and was gone back down the driveway to the road.

Good job, buddy!

TREE LINE OUTBOUND

On to "tree line," an official crewing spot without an aid station. It's about four miles away for the runners but longer for the crews, who have to bypass part of the dirt road the course follows. I carried the crew box a quarter of a mile to the spot where the runners went by and hung out with Scott Brockmeier. I took a couple photos of the gloomy sky until Jim appeared.

The clouds almost completely obscured Mt. Elbert, which wasn't a real good sign. I wondered what Hope Pass looked like.

Jim got to tree line in good time. He still felt strong and was managing his fluids well. At that point, he ditched his double bottle waist pack, moved several items into the Camelbak back-pack he was wearing, and put his bottles of Perpetuem in the rear mesh pocket of the pack. Instead of the water bladder, he had foul-weather clothes in the pack. The Camelbak was more comfortable for him than the waist pack and he continued to use that system the rest of the race.

In less than two minutes, he was off to the Half Moon aid station at 30.5 miles (69.5 miles on the return). In the photo below, you can see why this is called "tree line" - it's where the runners enter the treed portion on Half Moon Road. It's really a misnomer because it's not the tree line associated with the tundra. That's Jim in the gray shirt and rust-colored shorts, trudging up the road. It's a slight uphill most of the way to the next aid station.

As I headed back to County Road 300, I noticed the summit of Mt. Elbert peaking out above the clouds. Cool. I stopped to take this photo, then noticed that two other crews stopped past me to take the same picture!

I was very happy to see some blue sky behind the clouds. They didn't look quite so menacing any more. I got more hopeful about Mount Hope.

TWIN LAKES OUTBOUND

Crews can't go to Half Moon, so I drove on to the next crew point at Twin Lakes. I've shown photos of this town previously, when it was nice and quiet. On race day, it's a madhouse. Parking is limited, so crews that aren't there really, really early have to park along busy Hwy. 62 and walk up to a mile to the aid station.

Although there was a line of crew cars headed to Twin Lakes, I couldn't help but stop to take photos of the dramatic clouds along Hwy. 62. The views to Mt. Elbert to the east and Hope Pass to the west are spectacular anyway, but were even better that morning:

A bunch of cars got ahead of me while I stopped, extending my walk to the aid station. It was worth it. I had to park about half a mile away by the time I got there (about 10:30 AM). I got this photo near my parking spot, looking southwest across the valley:

Since Jim didn't expect to reach Twin Lakes until about 1 PM, I sat in the truck with the dogs for about an hour before heading down to the aid station with my chair and crew box. By then, the blue sky had morphed to gray clouds over Hope Pass to the west. Weather changes rapidly in the mountains.

The Twin Lakes aid station, located on a dirt street a block off Hwy. 62, is the only other aid station on the course that is inside a building. This one is smaller than at the fish hatchery, and got quite crowded when the "bubble" of runners came through outbound and on the return.

Lots of crews and spectators lined the street between the aid station and the highway, waiting patiently for their runners. The joke is that "CREW" = "cranky runner, endless waiting," although at only 39.5 miles, most of the runners were not yet cranky!

Some runners had multiple crew members attending to them in two or more vehicles so they could get well ahead and find great parking places near the aid stations. One of these groups had matching shirts with this comical message printed on the back:

I wanted to know what a caffeine shake was, but this fella didn't know. He laughed and said, "I just wore it because they told me to!"

I found some friends to talk with, including Don Adolf (red jacket), Bill "Sooper" Dooper (gold shirt on right), and Mike Hickman (gray sweatshirt):

I can't remember the man's name on the left in the vest. If you know, please tell me.

Dan Baglione (red shirt) and Karl King (red, white, and blue shirt) were watching for runners to come down the steep little hill west of the aid station:

It was fun to watch the runners come down that hill. Many saw the crowd below and raced down to their applause. I wondered if they'd regret it seven miles later when they descended the steep southern slope of Mount Hope! I saw only one person fall on the loose dirt and rocks. Some came down quite tentatively.

Jim appeared at the top of the hill seven minutes before his predicted time of 1 PM and used great form to negotiate the hill at a reasonable pace:

 

 

 

He was in excellent spirits, happy to still be on pace and 95 minutes before the cut-off. He's had trouble making the next cut-off at Winfield (on the other side of Hope Pass) the last three attempts when he's had an hour cushion or less. This much time gave him confidence that he could make it to Winfield OK without trashing himself on the trip over the pass.

He sat a couple minutes outside the aid station to rest. I didn't realize until hours later that he'd jammed his toes in his shoes coming down the steep Powerline (before Fish Hatchery) and that his feet were hurting. He had other Highlines in the Twin Lakes drop box, but they were the same size so it was no use changing shoes. He was about to get them all wet in Lake Creek anyway.

This is the view toward Hope Pass as I left the aid station around 1:15 PM. The sky looked better than it had a couple hours earlier, so I was hopeful Jim might get over the pass before a storm blew in.

The runners have to cross the busy highway near the parking area above, which was manned until quite late that night by law enforcement personnel. Runners and crews went back and forth across the intersection all morning and evening.

Jim was out of the aid station quickly again, loaded up with Hammergel and new bottles of Perpetuem and an extra bag with powder that he could mix below the pass at the Hopeless Aid Station. The ten-plus miles between Twin Lakes and Winfield are the longest time-wise between crews and/or drop bags in this race.

I'm sorry I wasn't up there to see the llamas at Hopeless. Crews aren't allowed there and would have to hike in over four miles to reach it if they were allowed. A dozen or more volunteers hike up on Friday with pack llamas loaded with aid station supplies and spend two nights camping out just above tree line on the north side of the pass. They set up two large tents for the runners (one for food, one for medical) and provide excellent care, so crews and drop bags are unnecessary. There's a high lake nearby for water. It's very cool to see the llamas lying about when you go through that aid station as a runner or pacer.

My job done at Twin Lakes, I said good-bye to some remaining friends and headed down the road to the next crew point, Winfield, which I wrote about when we camped for two weeks on Clear Creek Reservoir Road. It was interesting to drive by our old campsite and see a new bunch of people in their RVs and tents enjoying the area.

WINFIELD TURN-AROUND

The first four miles back to Winfield are kept graded because of the large Clear Creek Ranch. The road was just as rough as ever the last eight miles back to the ghost town, only this time there was a lot more traffic going in and out. You could tell that most people were in rental vehicles because they drove like madmen and women over the rocks, holes, and "corduroy." People driving their own vehicles went much slower!

For the first time, crews weren't allowed to stop to aid their runners at the trailhead at Sheep Gulch, but had to continue on to Winfield two-plus miles farther west. It's a nightmare for the runners, who have to dodge vehicles going both directions on this dusty or muddy dirt road after they've gone 50+/- miles and ARE getting cranky. Although three volunteers stopped every driver before the trailhead and gave them a heads-up and flyer about the runners, I saw some rude drivers who had no consideration whatsoever for the runners. Most had crew tags hanging from their mirrors! That's a real shame.

Supposedly the Forest Service is building a new trail soon that will parallel the road so hikers and LT runners will be off the road. That should make it safer, but it will make the 50-mile cut-off even tougher to beat (it's easier to run on the road than a trail).

This time, I found a great place to park. Usually our big truck is a liability at aid stations because of the space needed to make turns. This time it was an advantage. The parking lot was full, so the volunteer controlling the flow of traffic into the area pointed to a nearby opening in the woods and told me to back into it.

Perfect! Only one other car could park next to me, it would be easy to get out, I had a good hillside view of the whole area, it was close to the aid station, and there was room for the dogs to roam and be out of the way:

In the photo above, do you see the guy in the red shirt and blue jeans walking in the background? That's our truck behind him at the bottom of the mountain. One of the aid station tents is to the right. Very convenient.

And check out the blue sky. That was a good sign for the runners on the mountain. Although the two photos below are facing west, the sky also looked good to the north and east over Hope Pass.

 

I arrived at Winfield about 2:15 PM, well before Jim's anticipated arrival at 4:50 PM. I tied the dogs to their 15-foot cables back in the trees,

walked down to the aid station to buy some lunch from a vendor selling food there to crews for the first time (I got a pretty good Asian chicken salad), and sat in the shade with the dogs for a while to relax, read, and kill some time.

Just before 3 PM, the clouds rolled in back toward Hope Pass and the sky darkened at Winfield. Not a good sign!

I had just gotten Jim's drop box and set up my chair near the entrance to the aid station so I could cheer the runners as they came in and visit with other crews. No one was happy that the weather was deteriorating.

And that's the last race photo I took. Most of the remainder of the day was wet, and then it got dark.

About 3 PM it started hailing. Not rain, not sleet, but HAIL. That was at Winfield at about 10,000 feet elevation. If it was hailing down here, we all wondered what it was like for the runners who were on Mount Hope at elevations up to 12,600 feet. As you can imagine, runners later reported that it was even less fun up there.

The medical and food tents were cramped, so I stayed outside under an umbrella like most of the other crew members. Some sought refuge inside, which is a big no-no unless your runner is inside. There just wasn't enough room for extra people inside. (Some folks need to take Crewing 101 so they know how to behave.)

The hail soon turned to sleet, then rain. The parking area became a muddy mess. I remained near the aid station, however, in case Jim came in early. This is a very critical aid station and I didn't want to miss him.

Meanwhile, Jim was in the hail, sleet, and rain as he descended the steep south side of Hope down to the road. Runners going down had to be careful they didn't slide in the mud and fall. Runners going back up felt like they were going one step up and two steps back. Nobody was having any fun anymore.

Jim appeared at Winfield at 5 PM, only ten minutes behind his predicted time there. It's the earliest he's ever gotten to that aid station, even when he finished the race in 1999. The cut-off is 6 PM, but as long as you make it an hour ahead, you should be able to get back to Twin Lakes (60.5 miles) by the cut-off there.

We were both happy about the time, but I could see that Jim's "spark" was gone. He was clearly tired and in some pain. We found a chair inside the crowded medical tent and I helped him get into dry clothing (socks, two shirts, a different jacket, gloves, hat).

Jim told me his feet and right ankle were sore, the first I knew about this. What he needed were the same aggressive-soled Highlines but in a half size larger. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any Highlines in a larger size! There was a pair of the larger Vitesse model in his drop box, but they don't have enough tread to do well in mud. Jim knew he'd need the Highlines to get back over the pass, then could put on the Vitesse at Twin Lakes.

He slid a Spenco support on his sore ankle and put his wet shoes back on over dry socks. Fortunately he had no blisters.

By this point Jim wasn't drinking as much Perpetuem as he should have been. He lost his taste for it, but took two bottles and a pouch of the powder for the return over Hope Pass. I encouraged him to eat some warm, salty chicken soup with a potato in it, and it seemed to make him feel better. He wasn't nauseas, just tired and losing his appetite for food.

Another runner in the tent was puking repeatedly, almost making me retch. I knew I needed to get Jim out of there fast. We went into the food tent, where he drank at least three cups of plain water before heading out, looking much better than when he arrived fifteen minutes earlier. I consider that fifteen minutes well spent. He could afford the time.

It was 5:15 PM, forty-five minutes before the cut-off. Yes! He did it!!

I've mentioned previously that Hope Pass kills the dreams of many runners in this race. Getting up and over it the first time is a major hurdle, and many people get pulled at Winfield for missing the cut-off. That's happened to me twice and Jim the last three times. So this was definitely progress!

Because of storms, race management sometimes extends the cut-off there, but runners don't know that until they reach the aid station. I heard the cut-off was extended a few minutes this year. I wonder if any of those people made it to the finish. If you're not out of Winfield before 6 PM, it's really tough to make the remaining cut-offs.

As I drove back down the road, I saw several of our friends in the two-and-a-half miles of the course between the Sheep Creek trail head and Winfield. Would they make it in time to go back out?

Unfortunately, Karen Pate, Jim Ballard, and Joe Lugiano didn't go back out. Kathie Lang and Pat Homelvig were able to keep going.

When I passed Jim about half a mile from the trailhead, he looked much better. I told him how good he looked, reminded him to run when he was going downhill, blew him a kiss, and said I'd see him soon. I wished I was pacing him, but he wanted to do this race alone. (Runners can pick up their pacers at Winfield.)

Jim's predicted time at Twin Lakes was 8:25 PM. It was now about 5:25. Three hours, Babe. You can do it!!!

TWIN LAKES RETURN

Then began a hectic three hours for me. Part of me was glad I didn't have to trudge through the mud back up to Hope Pass, risk further storm activity, and wade through the waist-high Lake Creek with a rope assist. But I had my work cut out for me - an hour's drive or more back to the camper, feed the dogs, eat some supper, get a couple things for the night-time that I decided would be good to have, re-organize the crewing supplies, go to the laundromat to dry Jim's Marmot jacket and fleece gloves, and get back out to Twin Lakes (about 25 miles) before he arrived.

Would I make it before he did?

I did all this as quickly as possible, getting back to Twin Lakes about 8 PM. I had to park on the road again, but was only about four blocks from the aid station this time. By now the runners and crews were more spread out and the aid station wasn't as hectic. It was starting to get dark.

First things first. I was concerned that maybe Jim had beaten me to the aid station and was already gone. That would be great in one respect - it would mean he was running very well indeed! But he'd have been worried about my absence. So the first thing I did was check with the timer when she wasn't busy to be sure Jim hadn't come in yet.

No, he hadn't. OK, I could get his TL return drop box from inside, set up the chair, and relax a bit.

Ha!

There is nothing "relaxing" for a crew person waiting for a runner closing in on a cut-off. The cut-off time at Twin Lakes on the return is 9:45 PM. Jim hoped to be there at 8:25.

Lots of runners were coming in now, and it began to rain again. Oh, joy. The aid station was packed with runners and crews. I remained outside under an umbrella, peering into the oncoming headlamps and flashlights to see if one of the runners was Jim.

8:25 came and went. Several runners who had been near Jim at Winfield came and went. Nine o'clock came and went. Where IS he?? I was getting increasingly nervous as the clock marched closer and closer to 9:45. Even though the cut-off was extended at Winfield, it was not likely to be extended here. JoAnn, the Cut-Off Queen, confirmed that. I wanted so badly for Jim to come in looking good and get out quickly before getting his wristband unceremoniously cut off! This was the best chance in several years that he'd finish.

Brent Craven and Scott, the guy Kathie and Jim were staying with in Leadville, tried to offer me support as I fidgeted. Both planned to pace runners that unfortunately had dropped out, so now they were just waiting for Kathie and Pat to come in. I asked several runners we know if they'd seen Jim, but no one had seen him since Clear Creek (Winfield) Road.

I couldn't stand not knowing what had happened to Jim. About 10 PM I finally bothered the radio guy when it appeared he wasn't busy. Could he please check to see when Jim left the Hopeless Aid Station? I explained how good he looked at Winfield, the time he left there, and the fact that he should have been here well before now.

The radio guy was willing to check, but just then a distress call came in regarding a male runner in trouble somewhere between Twin Lakes and Half Moon. He had to gather that information and send out an EMT with oxygen before he could check on Jim. That took a good ten minutes. When he finally had time to respond to my request (from HQ back in Leadville, I believe), the answer was that Jim had not left Hopeless until 8:05 PM.

Oh, no! No wonder he wasn't here yet. What happened??

Then I did the math. He still should have been at Twin Lakes by now unless he was injured (that sore ankle, for example), had slid down a cliff where no one could see him, had dead flashlight batteries (although I thought he had spare batteries), or heaven knows what else! My mind conjured up all sorts of disasters. I knew Bill Moyer was the sweep for this section and he'd assist Jim if he came up on him as they made their way down to the river and Twin Lakes.

If he could see him, that is. What I didn't understand was no one seeing him on the way up or down the mountain during the last four hours.

By now I was across the road where the trail comes into the parking lot between the visitor's center and bathroom, several blocks before the aid station in the return direction. Nattu, a friend of ours, was there waiting for a runner and offered support, but there wasn't anything he could say to alleviate my fears. All I could do was wait and hope that Jim wasn't lost or injured. Some runners said the glow sticks had burned out or were missing in the flat wetlands between the base of the mountain and Twin Lakes. The trail isn't clear through there, so that added to my worries. Even though Jim had negotiated that area several times recently, would he be out there all night, lost, unable to find his way in the dark?

I got the most worried about 11 PM when Kathie and Pat came through the parking area. Neither of them had seen Jim since Clear Creek (Winfield) Road. I was almost in tears at that point, wondering if I should request help from Search and Rescue. (We have CORSAR cards.) Runners kept trickling in well past the cut-off, full of tales of wicked weather, terrible mud, no glow lights, and inability to find the rope crossing at the fast-moving river (Lake Creek, but it was high and wide enough this month to look like a river).

Finally about 11:30 one of the lights belonged to Jim. Thank goodness!! We hugged each other and I shed some tears in relief. As we walked the four blocks to the aid station I heard most of Jim's story and was pretty peeved at the radio folks by the time we got there for Jim to report in and get his wristband cut off.

Turns out, Jim apparently ARRIVED at the Hopeless Aid Station at 8:05, spent over an hour in a sleeping bag in the medical tent for nausea and hypothermia, and didn't leave until 9:40, waiting until a raging hail/sleet/rain storm subsided. He either had to get going then, before Bill-the-sweep started out, or stay all night up on the mountainside with the aid station crew, as did at least two other runners and a pacer.

Jim chose to leave. He didn't want me to worry and he felt much better by then. In fact, he made it down to the aid station in two hours, which wasn't bad considering his fatigue and lack of calories, the nasty storm, the slick mud, the lack of glow lights, and inability of his small group of runners to find the rope across the river!

Now I knew why our friends didn't see him in that section: he was hunkered down in a sleeping bag in the medical tent. Kathie, Pat, and others were only in the food tent and had no clue that Jim was several yards away from them in the other tent!

Jim knew I'd be worried about him, so he asked the radio guy at the Hopeless aid station to notify headquarters the time he was leaving that location. He waited to hear the transmission, then left. He said the radio guy emphasize that he LEFT the aid station at 9:40 PM. That message somehow got misinterpreted at the other end because the information I received was that he left at 8:05. I still would have been concerned about him down below, but much less so if I'd known when he actually left up there.

Don't get me wrong. I know how long and hard the radio folks work at 100-milers. They are volunteers, and I greatly appreciate what they do. We've both helped with timing in and out of aid stations, and know how easy it is to make a mistake. I'm just trying to convey how I felt Saturday night, completely "in the dark," is it were, about Jim's situation. I felt pretty helpless.

"MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING"

Jim's high hopes of finishing the race were dashed as he climbed back up to Hope Pass after I saw him on the road at 5:15. The going was extremely slow in the slick mud. One step forward, slide back. Repeat endlessly. It was raining again, and his energy waned. He was nauseas and lost the soup he'd eaten at Winfield, as well as the calories he'd ingested from the gels and Perpetuem. What had been a two-hour climb or less in training (over the pass and down to the Hopeless aid station location at tree line) translated into almost three hours during the race.

The nausea was a complete surprise this time, considering how much he'd acclimated. In previous races we've blamed it on codeine-containing meds he took to mask painful neuromas in his feet, but those have all been surgically removed and he wasn't taking any pain meds. He also hoped that by using mostly liquids and gels for his energy needs, instead of solid aid station food, nausea wouldn't be a problem. Maybe he shouldn't have eaten the soup. I heard another runner say he was OK until eating it. We're back to the drawing board on that one . . .

Jim's feet were also getting more and more sore as they swelled into his now-tight shoes. A major mistake was not getting a couple pairs of the Highlines a half or full size larger. If he'd made the cut-off at Twin Lakes, he would have switched to the larger pair of Vitesse in his drop box. This is an easier problem to remedy next time. We'll make sure he has shoes in two or three sizes.

Another mistake, perhaps, was not wearing proper orthotics. Jim's custom orthotics self-destructed earlier in the summer and he decided not to get them repaired (difficult when you're "on the road"). He's been using just the back half of them for several weeks, which probably wasn't adequate support for such a long event. When we get home, he needs to get sturdier OTC or custom inserts. I'm having good luck after switching several months ago from expensive custom orthotics (which my insurance doesn't cover) to Montrail's "custom-moldable" Enduro-Soles (only $21 with our discount). At least Jim's policy covers custom orthotics, if he goes that route again.

Hypothermia didn't set in until Jim sat for a few minutes in the tent at Hopeless to get out of the storm. His dry clothes from Winfield soon got wet on the ascent to Hope Pass, and he was wearing only an inexpensive nylon jacket, not his Marmot Precip. It had gotten soaked inside and out before Winfield and he didn't want to put it on over his dry shirts. I got it dry before he returned to Twin Lakes, but by then it was too late. He was out of the race. Perhaps we need to buy him a second rain jacket (I offered him mine at Winfield, but it was too small for him).

Even with two shirts, a jacket, Marmot Precip rain pants, two pairs of gloves, and a fleece cap, Jim still got hypothermic. Keep that in mind if you ever enter Leadville!

Finally, Jim lists "insufficient training" as a cause for his DNF. I'm not so sure about that. He got in a lot of long runs all summer, including long ascents and descents, plenty of altitude training up to 13,200 feet, and his overall mileage should have been sufficient for a 100-miler.

If he lacked anything, it was speed work. Neither of us likes to run on roads or do speed work, but those are important elements for a race like Leadville with so many road miles. If he does Leadville again, he'll have to incorporate more speed work into his training.

Although we are both disappointed at another DNF, I am very proud of Jim's efforts to train for and run this race. I know he did the best he could to deal with the various problems he encountered. We've both learned a few new things for "the next time" (I'm pretty certain he's not done with the distance yet!) and I'll be there to support him as he stretches his limits yet again.

He'd do the same for me.

RACE RESULTS

We got back to the camper and into bed about 12:30 AM on Sunday and slept fitfully until about 9 AM. We were still tired and didn't want to get out of bed. We could hear spectators cheering for the last runners as they made the turn onto Sixth Street a couple hundred yards from our camper. They were getting closer and closer to the 10 AM cut-off three-quarters of a mile away. I was silently cheering them on. In 2004 we stood on that corner waiting for Jim Ballard to come by (he just missed the cut-off that year), but we were too zonked and dispirited to go out again this time.

It was about all we could manage to get breakfast and get up to the gym for the awards presentation at noon. We rounded up the last three of Jim's drop bags at the courthouse first, then walked a block to the gym and found a seat up in the bleachers so we'd have a good view of everyone.

As usual, Ken asked the folks who DNFd to stand (Ken didn't make the Winfield cut-off either), then the crews/families of all the runners. Both groups received a lot of applause. Ken and Merilee like to emphasize that everyone who has ever attended the race as a runner, pacer, or crew is "part of the Leadville family."

Finishers receive their awards from slowest to fastest, which I like. In races where the awards are handed out fastest-to-slowest, many people leave before the last finishers get their awards. It's human nature, I suppose, but not very considerate. This way, most folks stick around till the end.

You can see the full results on the LT100 website. The link is at the top left of every journal page. I've already mentioned that only 51% of the field finished this year, a typical finish rate for a 100-miler with altitude and no qualifying requirements (i.e., anyone can enter, whether they've ever finished a 100-miler or not). I reiterate that only 12% of the finishers were female, and younger runners fared much better than those over 50.

Jim and I have never heard of either the male or female winner (Anton Krupicka   and Diana Finkel), which is unusual. Both are young, in their 20s and 30s, and live in Colorado. Anton's time (17:01) is the second-fastest behind the record Matt Carpenter set last year on the course. Diana was 7th overall in a time of 20:43, just ahead of recent Hardrock finisher Karl Meltzer, who told us on Friday that he was using his first run at LT100 to learn the course. Watch out for Karl if he decides to go for the win!

None of our closest friends finished the race. Marge Hickman stopped at Twin Lakes outbound (39.5 miles), Karen Pate, Jim Ballard, and Joe Lugiano at Winfield (50 miles), Kathy Lang and Pat Homelvig at Twin Lakes return (60.5), where Jim was pulled. Runners who make it past there have a good chance of finishing.

ADIOS, AMIGOS

We said our good-byes to friends after the awards ceremony and treated ourselves to a yummy veggie supreme pizza at High Mountain Pies because neither one of us had the energy to cook. Brent was already gone when we got back to Jack's (we'd already said good-bye and encouraged him to hang out with us at Hardrock next July). We spent the afternoon catching up on e-mail, doing laundry, and cleaning up/organizing the supplies in Jim's drop boxes. That process is quicker than filling them!

The end of the race was sad for us in many respects. It would have signaled the end of our most excellent summer out West even if Jim had finished, but his fourth DNF in five attempts made it sadder. We also hated saying good-bye to friends we won't see again until next summer. We'll probably see the ones from the East at races before then, but not our western buddies. But then, we didn't see them for months at a time when we lived in Montana, either.

Neither of us is ready to leave Colorado. However, the time is nigh because of an O'Neil sibling reunion planned for next weekend in Illinois. Jim is more eager to get back home to Virginia than I am. The gypsy in me would be happy to stay in Colorado until the snow starts to fly!

We debated about my running Segment 6 of the Colorado Trail tomorrow (Monday) versus Tuesday. It's the longest segment on the entire trail (33 miles) and one I want to do before leaving the state. We were both too tired to do it justice tomorrow. It'll probably take me nine or ten hours and Jim will be out all day because of the distance to the trail heads. I think we've come up with a good plan for Tuesday that will allow me to do two more sections before we leave Colorado.

Tune in to see what happens . . .

Next up: Segment 6 of the Colorado Trail.

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil