2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  LEADVILLE TRAIL 100-MILE RUN: PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES  

FRIDAY, AUGUST 17

 
"This is the only medical check-in I've done that has beer for runners at 10 AM."
- Tom Mayno, race doctor
 

 

Just one of several things that sets the Leadville Trail 100-miler apart:

  • beer served along with water and soft drinks at registration and the med check,
  • serious medical warnings delivered by race docs with sometimes-raunchy humor to make the point,
  • muling* not only allowed but even encouraged,
  • Ken Chlouber (what can I say?),
  • Ken's trademark motivational speech that comes with a denial that he's trying to deliver a motivational speech,
  • special additional awards for the tough women who finish the race,
  • "Hopeless" aid station with supplies delivered via llamas, and oxygen if you want it,
  • more starting runners than any other 100-miler in this country (and typically one of the lower finishing rates),
  • etc., etc. It's a unique race! Many folks love it, and some won't come near it.


Race directors Merilee O'Neal and Ken Chlouber

* Muling means having a pacer to not only PACE the runner, but to also carry supplies for the runner. This is grounds for disqualification in 99% of the other 100-milers, but in Leadville it is permitted because of the mining heritage that is celebrated here; mules were necessary to haul equipment and supplies up to 12,000 or 13,000 feet elevation to the mines back in the 1800s.

I've even seen friends, family, and pacers practically carry exhausted runners up Sixth Street before the finish. At Leadville, this is all OK. Don't try it in any other race, though!

Activities for volunteers and runners before the LT100 run are similar to those about which I wrote for the bike race but they start on Wednesday, not Thursday. This entry will focus on both volunteer and runner activities.

Volunteers are crucial to the success of ANY race, and Leadville is no exception in this regard. This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the race and more runners than ever are entered: nearly seven hundred of them! Despite the web site warning of a deadline of May 31 to register, runners were allowed to enter up till today, Friday, the day before the race. Ken announced at the pre-race briefing that there are seven hundred volunteers this year. I don't know if that's just for the run or includes the bike race, too, but that's a LOT of volunteers. Jim and I were two of them and proudly wore our dark green volunteer shirts during registration on Thursday and Friday.

Here's a rundown of activities the past three days and photos of lots of volunteers and runners. My indoor photos aren't as good as my outdoor ones, and for that I apologize. I did pick up some helpful pointers from Blake Wood over the weekend, however, so the awards photos are better than the ones in this entry. (I still have a lot to learn about my camera.)

WEDNESDAY: SHIRTS, POSTERS, & BAGS

When we arrived at the gym at 4:30 PM we started folding the very cool entrants' shirts and boxing them according to size. Hannah Lugiano is in the foreground below:

This is the only the second time we've seen technical shirts for the runners instead of cotton ones, and they are very nice: black medium weight long-sleeve Poly-Dri (moisture management or "technical" fabric) shirts from Colorado Timberline. They have a four-inch logo on the front and course profile and sponsors on the back:

 

Don'tcha just love those course profiles that are so scrunched from side to side that the climbs look like you need a ladder??

When the "assembly line" to fill the canvas sports bags began, Jim moved over to that operation.  Runners received the same attractive black bags with blue trim as did the cyclists, with many of the same goodies inside. Since there are fewer runners than cyclists, only (!) about 600 bags were filled this time and it wasn't quite as hectic as last week. Even with fewer volunteers this week, it took less than an hour to fill the bags.

Jim was in the middle of the line between Kathy Lang (dark top next to pink top) and King Jordan (tan t-shirt):

In the photo below, Mick (gray shirt) receives the filled bags, which were packed in large boxes for distribution at check-in:

After I got done with shirts, I moved over to the poster-rolling operation with Jim Ballard (tall fella to the left in the photo below) and several other volunteers:

We rolled about 600 posters for the runners this year and it made distribution MUCH easier at runner check-in. Previously we had to roll them while we were doing registration. I really like this year's design. It was a favorite from a previous race and updated for the 25th anniversary:

That design will also be on the finishers' sweatshirts.

At 6 PM we were again rewarded with several kinds of delicious pizza from High Mountain Pies. Food is never far from an ultra runners' thoughts!

THURSDAY: RUNNER CHECK-IN & DINNER

Food again!!

But not until late afternoon. During the day, Jim was busy packing his drop boxes. He modified last year's list a bit and we went over it again and again to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything.

Runners can have drop bags at any of five aid stations at Leadville. Since it's an out-and-back course, they hit four of those aid stations twice. Jim packed a total of seven boxes: one each for May Queen, Fish Hatchery, Halfmoon, and Winfield; two for Twin Lakes (one box contained dry shoes, the other his Camelbak pack for the trek over Hope Pass); and one for me to physically take to "tree line," a crew point but not aid station.

We've always used drop boxes in 100-milers even if one of us is crewing all day. Some folks rely totally on their crew(s). Jim and I are too anal for that. Even though nothing has ever prevented one of us from reaching an aid station on time (vehicle problems, traffic accident, whatever), STUFF CAN HAPPEN and if the drop boxes aren't there, the runner could be screwed. So we always have Plan A and Plan B.

This year we had to come up with Plan C thirty minutes before the race. <sigh> More about that later.

The photo below shows Jim with his finished boxes. He clearly indicated on his drop bag lists exactly what he wanted me to have ready for him at each aid station (bottle of water with hand carrier, bottle with Perpetuem for him to put in his single pack, and a flask or two of Hammergel -- at minimum). I knew what was in each drop box, what he wanted to leave or pick up, and the times he expected to arrive. Jim wants to get into and out of each aid station as quickly as possible, often not using their fluids or food. It's so easy to lose time in aid stations if you don't know exactly what you need to do or if there are a lot of other runners there at the same time.

Here he's busy printing out his pace charts from the computer. I laminated the two that he'll carry so they don't get wet and smudge. I have his goal splits on my copies and on the drop bag lists so I'll know about when to expect him and can remind him of the next cut-off. He modified the charts from last year, based on the times he arrived at the aid stations then and his current goals:

 

We arrived at the gym at 4:30 PM to eat supper before the runners arrived. The same catering company from Copper Mountain ski resort (or was that COOPER Mountain?? they are both north of Leadville) provided delicious salad fixings, fruit, bread, a choice of vegetarian or spicy meatball sauce over spaghetti, and white or chocolate cake for dessert. The meal is included in the race fee, and families/friends don't have to pay extra.

About a dozen volunteers quickly ate dinner, then positioned themselves for the onslaught of runners checking in before, during, and after the meal. Entrants showed their IDs to get their numbers, then they went down the line to pick up their bags, shirts, posters, and crew tags. Unlike some of the cyclists last week, none of the runners had any trouble understanding the concept of going down the line in an orderly fashion!

Jim and I alternated checking off names on the shirt list and handing runners their shirts. This is our favorite job at registration, especially when the shirt is nice.

We knew the runners with numbers from 1 to 199 finished in those positions last year. Those with an asterisk after their names were going for the "Leadman" award and ones with a "carrot" did the 100-mile bike race, so we were able to give these folks extra encouragement to finish the run. There are no "Leadwomen" in the run this year, but nine men are still eligible for the award. It means they've completed all five of the races organized each summer by Ken and Merilee: two bike races (50 and 100 miles) and three runs (10K, marathon, and 100-miler). The 100-mile bike race was only a week ago, and the 10K was the day after. Whew! The run this weekend is the final race of the series.

The gym was closed about 7:30 PM and our job was temporarily over. From the names checked off, we estimated about half the runners picked up their bags and shirts at dinner. That meant a bunch still needed to pick up their numbers and bags the next morning at the medical check-in. It was fun to see so many of our friends and meet others for the first time. I was too busy to take as many photos as I wanted, and those I took didn't come out well enough to post here.

FRIDAY MORNING: MEDICAL CHECK-IN, CONTINUED REGISTRATION, & PRE-RACE BRIEFING

All entrants in this race must have a cursory medical check the morning before the race. Volunteers who are doctors, nurses, PAs, EMTs, etc. note the runners' weight and get information about their health status. The weight and any pertinent problems are noted on the bright plastic wrist band that is attached to each runners' wrist. Runners must weigh at several aid stations in the second half of the race to be sure they have not gained or lost too much weight, either of which could indicate serious medical problems. Medical support is good in this race, but not as strict as in some others.

We arrived half an hour early so Jim could go through the medical check with the other runners who were volunteering at the registration tables. Jim and Joe Lugiano (bright red shirt in the background, below) compared weights on the three scales to make sure they were the same. Jim was very happy with his weight! That's Jo Ann Beine, volunteer extraordinaire, in the blue shirt being checked in:

From 8 to 11 AM about six hundred runners lined up for the medical check-in. Most of the time, the line was out the Sixth Street door. In the photo below you can see only about half of the line that was inside the gym at that moment:

Once the runners reached one of the six medical volunteers, they were processed quickly:

I looked up and saw Tyler Curiel-of-the-bright-tights just after he weighed himself and put his shorts back on. He had on a different pair of colorful tights at Hardrock (see July 13 entry). Tyler is one of about a dozen entrants who finished the Hardrock Hundred only five weeks ago:

Runners who hadn't picked up their numbers, bags, shirts, etc. visited us at the registration tables. Jim and I resumed our same jobs distributing the shirts, which ran large this time. We had to explain that runners whose shirts didn't fit would have to wait until after the race to exchange them for a different size. I know some people were disappointed by that, and I know how they feel because I've been in the same predicament at several races. When you pay about $200 for a race, you expect a shirt that fits! It's so hard to know what size to put down when you register for a race, especially if you're a woman. Is it a cotton or synthetic shirt? Is it men's or women's sizing? And even if you know those two things, fit varies by style and manufacturer. It's as much of a headache for race management as it is for the runners. I hope everyone went home happy with their shirt.

At 11 AM Ken began the pre-race briefing for the runners. The gym was packed almost as tightly as for the bike briefing even though there were about three hundred fewer entrants in the run. It was a standing room-only crowd:

Even though the drill is about the same each year, I enjoy the pre-race briefing. Regulars know all of Ken's jokes and stories from prior years, but it's still a lot of fun to hear it again and see how newbies react. Ken emphasizes the "Leadville family" theme, and tries to make everyone feel welcome, runners and families alike, whether it's their first or twenty-fifth time at the race.

Ken first mentioned the seven hundred volunteers and thanked them. That was nice. I like his priorities! He also introduced representatives from the major sponsors and thanked them.

He introduced Leadville's mayor, Bud Elliot, who welcomed the visitors to town and emphasized how important the race is to the town's economy. Mr. Elliot is standing to the far left in the photo below.

Next, one of the two race doctors (Tom Mayno) spoke about the ten most common medical hazards in the race, including hypothermia, high altitude, dehydrating sunshine, lightning and other storm activity, overuse of NSAIDs, wildlife, etc. The race docs are seated in the rear of the photo below in the red shirts. John Hall is on the left, and Tom's on the right behind Ken and Merilee:

Then Ken launched into the focus of the briefing: the runners. As usual, he had all the first-time LT100 runners stand up and be recognized. It was a large group! He also asked all the first-time LT crews and pacers to stand, emphasizing how important they are to the runners.

Ken gets one of his bigger laughs each year with his comment about how many states are represented and how many countries. This year runners come from six other countries, which he named, then paused to add . . . "and Arkansas."

Next each ten-year age group stood up, first the women and then the men. It's typical for the largest ultra running age groups to be 30-49 for women and 40-59 for the men, and this year is no exception at Leadville.

I didn't write down all the numbers, but there are only 17 women in my age group (50-59) and only one woman over 60. There were a lot more women in the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups. There are 164 men registered age 40-49, 114 age 50-59, a whopping 39 in the 60-69 age group, and two in their 70s (Don Adolf and Karsten Solheim, who is in the Grand Slam).

Although there are more and more men and women in their twenties who are running ultras now, it's still a relatively small number compared to older folks. Ken quipped that the men and women in their 20s "should have something better to do on a Saturday night" than run this race! That always gets a big laugh, of course.

Past male and female champions were introduced if they were present this year, including Marge Adelman Hickman, Julie Arter, Kirk Apt, Paul DeWitt (who's running with his father Jim this year), and Anton Krupika, who won last year.

Multiple finishers are always recognized, especially those who have finished ten or more times. Folks who have won their huge ten-year buckle always wear them to the pre-race and post-race events. They have every right to be proud of them! In any photo of Ken in this journal you can see his buckle. Ken has the multiple race finishers stand up. Those who are going for their ten-year buckles or eleven-year jackets are recognized first.

Then he gets to the ones who have completed more races than that, such as Marge Hickman with thirteen finishes, until only Bill Finkbeiner is left standing each year. Only two men, Garry Curry and Steve Siguaw, have finished eighteen times. Bill has finished an astounding twenty-three times!! I don't know what happened the twenty-fourth time -- he either didn't start or didn't finish one year.

Ken warned the runners that Lake Creek was running high after the big rainstorm on Thursday; we got several inches and our camper was surrounded by huge puddles again. There will be one or two ropes to assist the runners across the creek during the race. Ken also gave instructions about crewing at Winfield, which is a challenge for both runners and crews.

Then he launched into what I call his motivational speech. He began by mentioning the prayer flags runners could purchase for a $5 donation to the foundation Ken and Merilee run for underprivileged children in the community. The flags are very impressive flying up at Hope Pass during the race. Runners can write whatever they want on the flags. Ken quipped, "I've looked at some of you and all you have is a prayer" to finish the race. Kinda motivational in a negative way? The audience always laughs anyway.

He made the same joke again about "believing in the hereafter -- here's what you're after:" nice long-sleeved hooded sweatshirts for all finishers with their name and time screen-printed on the left sleeve; a medallion on a red ribbon at the finish line; silver buckles for all finishers between 25 and 30 hours; and larger gold and silver buckles for runners under 25 hours. Women receive a gold and silver necklace at the awards ceremony and a bouquet of flowers at the finish line. Sweet! Age-group winners three-deep get more goodies: a mining plate and bottle of cider. The overall male and female also get a huge trophy. You do get quite a bit of schwag if you finish this race, compared to others.

You also get to finish on a red carpet!

If all that isn't enough motivation beyond each runners' personal goals and reasons for finishing the race, Ken gives them more food for thought. He reminds them of the sacrifices their families are making to get them across the finish line. He talks about the runners' inexhaustible wealth of personal power, strength, and ability to withstand pain when their minds and bodies are screaming at them to quit. He tells them to reach into that deep well again and again and again during the race. He says it takes a lot of courage to reach in there when it really hurts, but to finish they must do it. He promises them that they will hurt for only up to thirty hours if they finish the race, but they will hurt for 364 days if they quit.

He finishes by repeating his rousing trademark slogan about three times: "You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can."

And even if you've heard it twenty times, and even if you aren't even IN the race, you go out of that gym at 1 PM believing him.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: DROP BAGS

Runners must take their drop bags and boxes to the courthouse between 3 and 5 PM the day before the race so aid station volunteers can pick them up and take them to the proper locations. Since the race begins at 4 AM on Saturday, the first aid stations are set up Friday evening or during the night. I think the volunteers who work the aid station near Hope Pass go up on Friday, too, and spend two nights up there in tents. The Twin Lakes, Halfmoon, Fish Hatchery, and May Queen aid stations see runners coming and going, so they are open for many hours.

After the briefing Jim had to put only a couple things in his drop boxes, like fresh ginger to combat potential nausea. He got all his clothes and gear ready for the next morning and was pretty much bored and anxious to get started. I got some things ready for crewing and made a list of what I'd need to do right after the race began. I always take more fluids, food, gear, clothing, and supplies in case Jim wants something that isn't in his boxes, and I need things for the dogs and me for up to thirty hours, too. Better to take too much than not enough!

We took Jim's drop boxes to the courthouse and talked with other runners for a little while. That's Kirk Apt and Rickie Redland-McManus below. Both finished Hardrock in July and are back for more high-altitude fun:

Dave Westlake, below left, writes his race number on the tags on his drop bags as other runners and volunteers mill under the big tent. Dave is one of about twenty runners who are still in the Grand Slam, having already finished Western States and Vermont this summer. Two down, two to go!

After an early supper in the camper Jim was getting antsy. It rained again in the late afternoon and he had cabin fever. When the rain ended, he went to the grocery store for last-minute items to hold us over the weekend and saw what he described as one of the brightest rainbows he's ever seen:

 

I hope that is a good omen for his race tomorrow!

We were in bed about 8 PM, well before dark. We had several alarms set for 2:30 AM for the  uncivil start time of 4 AM. I don't think either of us has ever overslept before a race, but we didn't want to set a precedent. I told Jim to wear earplugs this time and I'd keep mine out so I could hear the alarm (I'm usually the one who wears ear plugs). Neither of us slept much, of course. I felt just as much responsibility as the crew person to get us up in time as I would have if I'd been the runner.

Both of us did doze off eventually, wondering what tomorrow's weather would bring: rain? sleet? hail? high winds? heat? cold? Jim was prepared for anything. We were both optimistic that he'd finish the race this time.

Next entry: the race on Saturday.

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

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