2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 

  LEADVILLE TRAIL 100-MILE RUN: THE RACE

SATURDAY, AUGUST 18

 
"Dig deep within yourselves. If you finish the race, you will hurt no longer than thirty hours.
If you don't finish, it will hurt for the next year."
- annual motivational words from Ken Chlouber, co-race director 
 

 

After little sleep, we were up at 2:30 AM when the alarms sounded. I went outside the camper to check on two important things: the sky (clear with millions of stars!!) and Brent Craven's camper across the woods on Jack's property (lights on mean he's up). Forty-six degrees outside, typical nighttime temperature in August for Leadville.

So far, so good.

We got ready for the race start about three-quarters of a mile away. Jim had his clothes and race gear laid out, so all he had to do was take a shower, eat a little bit of food (our brains or stomachs aren't ready for much food at 3 AM), and get dressed. His biggest decisions were which jacket to wear at the start and whether to keep long pants on. He left the pants and Marmot Precip jacket with me to give him later, if needed, and started the race in shorts, a short-sleeved technical shirt over a long-sleeved one,  a light pair of gloves, and a thin nylon jacket he could leave at one of the early aid stations if the weather was nice.

ADAPTING TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES

One of the most important lessons Jim and I have learned through ultra running and our AT journey run is to be flexible and adaptable when your best-laid plans go awry. We usually have alternate plans for any training run, race, trip, or other endeavor, and still occasionally have to come up with additional alternatives if those won't work. Life, and running, have lots of variables.

Today we were put to the test again.

Our F-250 diesel truck, which had been running just fine the day before the race, decided to croak on the short drive to the start. The engine sounded horrible and the truck wouldn't go over 10 MPH without sounding like it would self-destruct. The "service engine soon" light glowed ominously.

Great timing, we thought. (I won't repeat the bad words we really used.) How would I be able to crew for Jim all day and night??

Jim managed to get the truck within two blocks of the start on Sixth Street. It was obvious I couldn't use it for the race today, so with half an hour to spare we had to come up with Plan C.

We had several options. I could maybe rent a vehicle but no one, even local residents like Ken and Merilee, knew if there was a rental agency at the little Leadville airport. I could possibly ride with another crew person, but that can be a problem if one runner is appreciably ahead of the other or one drops out. The best answer seemed to be using Brent's truck if he'd let us. He was in the race and had no pacer or crew that would be using it.

The next challenge was locating Brent with twenty minutes to spare before the race began. We'd left our camping spot before him, so we had to find him in the dark among six hundred runners and their families and friends at Sixth and Harrison. Unbeknownst to us, he was parked just two vehicles behind us on Sixth Street and somehow we'd missed him as he walked by us to check in at the beginning of the race! We found him at the start with less than fifteen minutes to go. We're glad he's tall!

Bless Brent, who immediately said it'd be fine for me to use his Chevy Silverado truck to crew for Jim. We walked fast down Sixth Street two-plus blocks so he could give me the keys and then we all scrambled back up the street to the start. Jim and Brent had about three minutes to get their thoughts together and position themselves before the gun went off.

Whew! I knew I was in for an interesting day and night, and felt sorry for the extra stress on Jim. I knew he was worried about what was wrong with our truck, how much it would cost, where we'd get it repaired, and how long it would take (not that we're in any hurry to get home to 100-degree temperatures and high humidity!). I just hoped he wouldn't obsess so much about the truck -- and whether I'd be at any of the aid stations -- that it would negatively affect his race.

Later he did tell me he thought a lot about the truck on the thirteen-mile trek to the first aid station, but he pretty much forgot about it after that. He did wonder if I'd be at Fish Hatchery at 23+ miles, the first aid station where I'd go. Although he had most everything he needed in his drop bags, he was counting on me to make each aid station a quick pit stop to exchange empty bottles for filled ones. I also had the Montrail Hardrock shoes he wanted to put on at Twin Lakes for the Hope Pass double crossing, and his pants and Marmot Precip jacket. (He had Precip pants and a warmer water resistant REI jacket in the Twin Lakes drop box, which were better options for the mountain.)

So. There's always a first time when a crew can't get to an aid station. That's why we prepare drop boxes with supplies we might need in case "stuff" happens. We narrowly dodged the bullet today, and I was able to crew for Jim OK. But it reinforced our strategy of Plan A and Plan B. Using Brent's truck today was a fortuitous Plan C.

In retrospect, we're glad the truck died when it did. It would have been terribly inconvenient for the problem to surface, say, out at the Winfield aid station on a crummy dirt road about forty miles from a town. Worse yet, it could have happened on some hot stretch of freeway on our way home to Virginia, pulling the camper. We are grateful it happened when and where it did, if it had to happen at all.

SHOW TIME!!

Despite the uncivil 4 AM start time for the LT100 run, and whether I'm the runner or the crew, I always enjoy the bright lights that illuminate Sixth and Harrison, the hundreds of runners and spectators milling around with energy and high hopes they can barely contain, and the veteran race announcer giving words of encouragement before the final countdown. What a rush!

When the gun goes off, it's an amazing sight to behold several hundred runners with glowing headlamps and flashlights start their long journey. Spectators whoop and holler as the participants run several blocks until the first climb to McWethy Boulevard. Runners laugh and joke with nervous energy, excited about finally getting started after several days and weeks of tapering.

Anything is possible at this point, and most are optimistic.

This year 592 runners began the race, the largest field in race history. It's also the largest field of any other 100-mler in this country. Only 210 of them would cross the red-carpeted finish line before the thirty-hour cut-off at 10 AM Sunday, which may be the lowest finish rate this race has ever had.

With about two minutes to spare, I kissed and hugged Jim, wishing him well and advising him to forget about the truck or whether I'd be at the aid stations. I promised him I'd do everything humanly possible to be there for him. He didn't want me (or anyone else) to pace -- I push him more than he wants to be pushed! -- so all I had to do was crew for him. Even if Brent's truck broke down, I was determined to find a way to crew.

My start photos turned out too bad to put here. Take my word that's it's a cool sight to see those lights streaming down, then up, Sixth Street. It's not as exciting as watching 900 bikes whiz around the corner at Sixth and McWethy, but it's cool. Even more cool is watching the lights bob up and down through the woods along the trail beside Turquoise Lake when I've run or crewed at the Tabor boat ramp, but I wouldn't be out there today. If you ever run this race, turn around to see that sight as runners arc around the lake.

My first task was to get some things out of our truck and put them into Brent's truck. Fortunately I hadn't put many of the crewing items in our truck yet.

Back at the camper it took me longer than it should have to get ready to go to the fish hatchery. I was stressed out about the truck, too, and it took extra time to load things into an unfamiliar truck. I decided to take the dogs with me, at least while it was cool. That worked out well last year and would save a lot of time and gas by not having to return to the camper every few hours to let them out, feed them, etc. They love to travel, and adapted to Brent's truck as if nothing was different. If only I was that adaptable!

I also had to carry everything about a hundred feet between the camper and truck while dodging mud and huge puddles of water -- with a knee that could buckle at any time. I over-used it Monday on my climbs to Mts. Oxford and Belford and could barely stand on it the next day. It's been getting better, but I still can't walk much.

Before loading Brent's truck I had to relocate the things he had in his back seat so the dogs and I didn't ruin it while crewing. I don't remember even seeing Brent's cell phone, which I placed with some other small items into a plastic bowl in the back end of the truck under the camper shell. That made for a long search after the race when Brent couldn't find his cell phone and almost cancelled his service Sunday morning. Somehow he found it while I was at the awards ceremony. Oh, me. Sorry, Brent.

I'm very grateful for the use of his truck, which was easy to drive once I figured out (in the dark) its unique qualities and where all the controls were located. In fact, it was a little easier to maneuver at the aid stations than our larger truck.

FISH HATCHERY AID STATION (23.5 MILES)

I enjoyed the early morning drive to the fish hatchery on the eastern flank of Mt. Massive. I took several photos of the low-hanging fog in the valley. In the photo below you can see the sun casting a soft pink glow on Mts. Elbert on the left and Massive on the right:

I got to the fish hatchery about 6:50 AM, well before most of the other crew vehicles. I was shown to a grassy area along the road where the runners go into and out of the driveway up to the aid station. Other crews said the first runner had not yet been through, so I just stayed in the truck for a few minutes, watching the road for some action.

Soon I heard cheering and could see Anton Krupika, the first runner, turn off County Road 300 and run up to the aid station. He came back out quickly, taking off his shirt to give to his crew farther down the road:

Every picture I've seen of Anton running has him shirtless! This would be the last time I'd see him for nearly thirteen hours. A traffic volunteer who has worked this location for many years said it was the earliest he's ever seen a runner come through this aid station. It was just after 7 AM.

Wow. Would Anton be able to break Matt Carpenter's course record, set two years ago? I love it when course records are broken!

I don't remember who was next or how far behind he was. I was busy getting Jim's drop box from the aid station and setting up a place nearby with a chair, another drop box with miscellaneous items I'd packed to take to each station, a backpack with various clothing, and a cooler. I walked around less than usual but still estimate I put in about three miles today on my bum knee, carrying things to and from aid stations and walking the dogs. With more runners and crews in the race this year, I had to park even farther out at "tree line," Twin Lakes, and Winfield than previous years. I'm not complaining, though. It's still easier to crew at this race than some others like Western States.

After getting Jim's next two bottles of water and Perpetuem ready I sat and enjoyed my front row seat to the action as runners passed me on their way to and from the aid station. Jim was hoping to avoid going into the building, but the timers told me he'd have to do the loop through there because "it's part of the course." Whatever. It's not like this is a short course; it's already more than a hundred miles with the relos on the Colorado Trail and Mount Hope.

It was fun to watch about half of the runners come through before Jim got there. Liz Walker and Scott Brockmeier, east coast friends, are shown below. Liz is one of the participants who finished Hardrock five weeks ago:

Jim's goal was to reach this aid station about 8:45 AM. Soon after that, Han-Dieter Weisshaar came by, basking in the cheers he always receives at aid stations. I cheered for him, too, of course! He's one of my favorite ultra people. This is Hans' 101st hundred-miler in about six years, and he's 67 years old. He's another Hardrock finisher five weeks ago, and he's doing two more hundreds the two weekends after Leadville. I joke that he's bionic. He's on the right, below, with Stephen Plumb, #260:

Hans told me that Jim was only about twenty second behind him, and he was right. I didn't get a good picture of Jim because he was behind a couple other runners. As he tossed me his two empty bottles, I informed him he'd have to go past the timers, into the building, and back past the timers. He wasn't real happy about having to go through the building, but knew he'd have to do it like everyone else.

He was back to me in a flash. I gave him his two new bottles and a gel flask, asked if he wanted the warm hot dogs he'd requested there (he took a quick bite), and checked to see if he needed anything else (nope). Bye!

"TREE LINE" AID STATION (27.5 MILES)

I didn't wait around for any of our other friends to come in because Jim had only four miles to run to the next crew point at the tree line on Halfmoon Road. I knew it would take me about as long to drive there and hike in to the road as it would for him to run and walk the four miles on the race course. I returned the drop box to the aid station; it contained things Jim would need inbound during the night. I carried the rest of the items to the truck and got out of there, driving carefully past the numerous runners on paved CR 300 as they headed for Halfmoon Road.

Crew vehicles aren't allowed on the dirt portion of Halfmoon Road when the runners are outbound because of the dust and danger. Vehicles are routed on another dirt road and must be parked in a field east of Halfmoon Road at the "tree line" crewing point. In the photo below you can see lots of runners heading south on the road toward this crewing point:

There is no aid station at "tree line" (27.5 miles). The next one is on down the road at 30.5 miles but crews cannot go there at any time during the race. The road the runners use has more than enough vehicular traffic on the weekends as it is because campers and hikers use it to reach two popular trail heads for Mts. Elbert and Massive. When runners are coming back later that afternoon and through the night, crew vehicles are allowed on the road to the tree line but not down to the Halfmoon aid station.

"Tree line" is the last place to crew before Twin Lakes at 39.5 miles. Although Jim had a drop box three miles later at Halfmoon, he was hoping he could bypass that box to save time and just use it inbound. It would be twelve more miles until I'd see Jim again, so he packed a little box for me to take to the road as he passed by. I also took my bigger box of miscellaneous items, and those hot dogs and some soup.

I had a longer walk here, about a third of a mile, because I'm not as aggressive as some crews who want to get as close to the aid station as possible, no matter how crowded it already is. There were quite a few crew folks assembled along Halfmoon Road when I arrived and a steady stream of mid-pack runners coming through:

Look at that bright blue sky in the photo above! Mt. Elbert is in the background to the left, the lower peaks of Mt. Massive on the right.

I recognized runners who had been ahead of Jim four miles earlier and knew I'd probably beaten him there by five or ten minutes. I decided to use one of the porta potties while I waited for him. These people waiting in line probably thought I was goofy for photographing the potties, but I wanted to make the point that Leadville has convenient restrooms at every aid station for the runners and crews. There are also several forest service toilets farther along this road that runners can use.

You can see more of Mt. Massive and the clear weather in this photo, too:

Although the bright sun could dehydrate runners more than overcast skies, I was happy it wasn't raining. We've gotten a LOT of rain here recently, and it would so nice if there weren't any storms over Hope Pass this year (very low odds of THAT, however).

Soon I saw Jim coming. His goal was to reach this spot at 9:45 to 9:47 AM. Since he was six to eight minutes "late" at the hatchery, I thought he might be a few minutes "late" here. He arrived about 9:55, a time consistent with the last aid station. Jim's on the left, below, lookin' good:

He was also feeling good! This isn't one of our favorite parts of the course, so I was glad he was in good spirits. We quickly swapped bottles and he was off to Halfmoon and Twin Lakes:

Hans ran by a few minutes later and said Jim would be along shortly. I laughed and said he had already gone by! Hans was surprised because he didn't see Jim pass him. Hans spent more time at the fish hatchery, where Susi had their camping van, and Jim got out faster. Hans ended up passing Jim between the Halfmoon and Twin Lakes aid stations and stayed ahead of him the rest of the race.

TWIN LAKES AID STATION (39.5 MILES)

When I got back to the truck I let the dogs run around for a while in a big field and nearby woods. I had plenty of time to get to Twin Lakes but knew the parking situation there is a hassle. I wanted to beat some of the other crews, so I headed out after a few minutes. The weather still looked great, although the clouds were starting to build over Mt. Elbert, below. The course follows trails and a jeep road through the forests on this side of the mountain on the way to Twin Lakes:

I drove into town to see if perhaps there was a parking spot large enough for Brent's truck but I didn't see any. If I'd had a smaller vehicle, I might have gone up some of the side streets, but that's not advisable with a truck. I returned to Hwy. 82 on the east side of town where I've always parked before and found a grassy spot at the intersection of the little road above and the highway. It was about half a mile from the aid station, but the closest place I could find without being a jerk and parking in front of a store. I could tie the dogs to some shady shrubs and kill time waiting in the truck reading and writing.

You may already know the acronym for CREW: "cranky runner, endless waiting." Fortunately, Jim wasn't cranky and the waiting is usually fun for me because I can find enough things to do by myself or chat with lots of runners and crews.

I wasn't expecting Jim for another couple hours. It would have been fun to spend that time at the aid station so I could socialize and watch the other runners, but it was getting warm and I couldn't leave the dogs in the truck that long. I ate some lunch, walked the dogs, and waited about an hour before heading to the aid station. By then the sky was getting overcast and there was a breeze. That was good for the dogs and me, but would Jim get into a storm? It still looked pretty good over Hope Pass, where he'd be heading next:

Jim predicted his arrival at Twin Lakes at 12:25 to 12:35 PM. Shortly before noon I began the ten-minute hike to the aid station with his Hardrock shoes, my box of supplies, a back pack with extra clothes, and a cooler. The chair was too much; Jim could use one of the chairs in the aid station to change shoes.

The streets and aid station were packed with people waiting for their runners to come in at either 39.5 miles outbound or 60.5 miles on the return. Even Anton hadn't come back through this fast, however. Jim saw him about 1:10 PM between Clear Creek and Twin Lakes, the earliest he's seen the lead runner in six times at this race. We've always seen the lead runner on the ascent through the forest up to Hope Pass (neither of us ran in 2005 when Matt Carpenter set the course record, however).

Anyway, Anton was flying.

In the photo below, anxious crews are watching outbound runners come down the steep little hill into the aid station:

See that gray cloud? Storms can come in really fast in the Rockies. We could hear thunder and it sprinkled a couple times as I waited for Jim to arrive, just enough to put on my Precip jacket. Jim barely got wet. I was concerned because I knew he didn't have a jacket with him. He did have a featherweight plastic poncho he used for a few minutes, then he didn't need it again.

I went into the aid station, below, to get his drop boxes (two here) and set up just outside the door on the right behind the vehicle, out of everyone's way but close to the chairs:

Then I waited at the base of the hill and watched the various techniques runners used to get down the hill quickly and safely.

Hans came in, as did others who had been in front of Jim. Hans told me he'd passed Jim several miles back but assured me he "looked good." I began to get concerned as 12:45 PM went by, and no Jim. That would have been consistent with his previous AS times today. The cut-off time was 2:30 PM so I wasn't worried about him missing it, but I knew he wanted about a two-hour cushion of time here and at Winfield so the return would be less stressful. It's no fun running close to cut-offs for a hundred miles!

A few minutes before 1 PM Jim popped out of the trees at the top of the little hill with a group of other runners. He's second from the bottom in both pictures below:

 

He checked in with the timers in the aid station, we grabbed a cup of chicken noodle soup and a chair, and went just outside to where I had the boxes and shoes. While Jim was changing from Montrail Vitesse shoes to Hardrocks for more traction up and down the mountain, I switched his bottles and gel flasks, asked if he wanted things like Vaseline (no) or ginger (yes), and got his Camelbak out. He had warm clothes in the pack in case the weather was cold and/or wet at 12,600 feet.

I'm proud to say he changed shoes, kissed me, strapped on his Camelbak, and was out of there in about three minutes -- not quite as fast as an Indy pit stop, but pretty fast for an ultra! He took the soup to eat as he walked the next block. He was getting increasingly tired after forty miles and concerned about slowing down, but still in good spirits with an hour and a half cushion of time. He faced Hope Pass with more anticipation than dread, although the sky wasn't looking so great in that direction now either:

Off he went to face the wetter-than-usual wetlands between Twin Lakes and the base of Mount Hope, the flooded Lake Creek (AKA "the river"), the 3,400-foot moderate climb up to Hope Pass, the steeper 2,400-foot descent to Clear Creek Road, and the trudge along the road to Winfield with crew vehicles going both directions and stirring up dust (or splashing mud and water) on the runners.

Yeah, that sounds like fun!

[Note: as a runner and crew person, I HATE that section of road/runner traffic and think crews should be banned from Winfield. However, since so many runners drop there, it's a Good Thing that there are adequate vehicles to return them to town. The volunteers alone can't do it. Maybe they need a bus there, like at Porcupine AS at Bighorn? It's a major hassle for the runners to dodge traffic, especially since some of the crews drive too fast. We've heard that the forest service or Continental Divide Trail volunteers plan to build a trail paralleling the road, but it hasn't happened yet. That would certainly help, although it would increase the time it takes runners to get to Winfield. It's a tight cut-off for many of us as it is.]

WINFIELD AID STATION (50 MILES)

Although I thought it would be about three and a half hours until I'd see Jim again at Winfield I knew what the parking situation would be like so I high-tailed it down there. I left Twin Lakes too fast, however, remembering the dogs (!) but forgetting their cords. Despite being in the perfect shaded parking spot at Winfield (although about as far from the aid station tents as I could be), I couldn't tie the dogs out while we were there. Their leashes aren't long enough. They did get to walk around twice and the truck was shady and cool for them to sleep on the back seat.

Haste makes waste.

I drove carefully from Twin Lakes back east on Hwy. 82 because cops were patrolling for speeders (lots of potential victims today), headed faster south on Hwy. 24 to Clear Creek AKA Winfield Road, and slowly made my way twelve miles west to Winfield. It took me about an hour total from Twin Lakes to Winfield. Clear Creek Road is always slow, but today I could go no more than 10-15 MPH on much of it. The road was in much better condition just five days ago when we went to Missouri Gulch and Sheep Gulch trail heads.

What happened? Several inches of torrential rain happened. Clear Creek Road was in the worst shape today that I've ever seen it. Near the now-drained reservoir, below, the road was badly eroded on either side from the recent torrent of rain. On my way back out, I saw a truck mired in the mud, probably from moving over for an oncoming vehicle. The road needs a lot of work, and I'm glad we aren't camped down there any more. The lakebed isn't particularly attractive right now. The water was drained for maintenance work on the dam.

I was heading toward the mountain in the far distance, above. It looked like it might be raining over Hope Pass (to the right behind Quail Mountain) but it was clear all the way back the rutted dirt road filled with more and more holes the closer I got to Winfield. Like I said, it was in the worst shape I've seen it in the seven years I've come here since 1998.

I lucked out getting a shady spot at Winfield. The field around the aid station tents was already pretty full at 2:30 PM. I wasn't expecting Jim until about 4:30, so I had plenty of time to walk the dogs, eat some more lunch, and reorganize my boxes. About 4:15 I got Jim's box from the aid station, set up a spot for him to sit, and chatted with friends, many of whom were planning to begin pacing their runners from here.

I had fun talking with Matt (not shown below) and Ann Watts (in chair), John Cappis (on the ground), Karen Pate (yellow shirt), Scott Hirst (standing left), and many other running friends who were waiting:

This race is one big reunion! Here are other scenes from this busy aid station:

 

This is what the runners saw as they made the last left turn toward the aid station tents (photo below). Unfortunately, they had to deal with vehicles coming and going through here, too. I was appalled at how inconsiderate some of the drivers were, not giving runners the right of way! If their runner was coming, they'd have been furious. And preoccupied spectators would sometimes block the pathway, totally oblivious to the runners.

What are some people thinking?? There were excellent volunteers here, but not enough to police this area continuously. They shouldn't have to, for Pete's sake!

I was happy to find a food vendor at this aid station even though I packed plenty of food for all day and night. This year the Lake County Search and Rescue organization was selling lunch items, including the delicious chicken teriyaki I purchased. I asked the folks what they'd do if they got a call, and they said they were already on standby for an injured hiker on Mt. Elbert but his friends thought they could get him down.  Fortunately, there had been no calls yet for anyone in the race.

The skies looked good in most directions until about 4:30 PM:

Then it began looking more stormy back toward Mount Hope:

I wondered what kind of weather Jim was experiencing coming down the steep trail on this side of Mount Hope or along Clear Creek AKA Winfield Road. Since he was about due at Winfield, I was hoping he was already on the road and getting close to the aid station.

I left my chair and drop boxes and stood at the turn on the little road to the aid station and waited with other anxious crews who badly wanted their runners to appear RIGHT NOW:

Hans came in, then others who'd been just a little ahead of Jim at Twin Lakes. Marge Hickman left with a smaller margin of time than she wanted, but still looked strong and determined to get her fourteenth Leadville finish, the most of any other women. Go, girl!!! (She's about my age, too.)

No Jim yet. I was getting worried as 5 PM came and went. He wanted a two-hour time cushion here, and he was down to less than one now. I knew he'd be ultra-stressed when he DID come in, and maybe want to quit if he didn't think he could get back over Hope Pass to the Twin Lakes aid station before the cut-off there at 9:45 PM. Even though there is usually good running back down the north side of Hope Pass, it often takes runners more time on the return to Twin Lakes because of increasing fatigue and the steep ascent to the pass up Sheep Gulch on the south side.

5:30 came and went. I was getting really worried. Could I have missed Jim earlier on a trip back to the truck to check on the dogs? Our friends hadn't seen them, but they were busy talking and might have missed him, too. Was he having problems with nausea or blisters? Was he sitting in the Hopeless aid station, injured or hypothermic or needing oxygen? Had he gone back to Twin Lakes?

About this time several of the Lake County Search and Rescue folks went screaming out of the aid station in one of their vehicles, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Now that would be comforting to all the runners in earshot, I thought! I didn't worry that it was Jim, but wondered who it was and what was wrong.

I was beginning to get pretty stressed out and show my "worried face" in the photo below that was taken near the aid station:

By 5:45 PM I was going a little nuts. Not only did runners have to be IN the aid station by 6 PM to be permitted to go on, they had to check OUT of the aid station by then. I figured Jim could do the turn-around in just a few minutes, but I knew he'd want to stop even if allowed to continue because of the time pressure going back over Hope. We've both been known to do that in races before when we really should have continued on until we missed a cut-off and were pulled by race officials.

To be sure I hadn't missed him, I verified with the timers that he hadn't been in or out of the aid station yet. By then, I wished he was having a super run and I'd simply missed him! Then I tried to ascertain if he'd dropped at Hopeless and gone back down to Twin Lakes, which I did one year during a hellacious storm on the mountain. The radio guy didn't have an updated list of drops and Jim's number wasn't on his older list.

All I could do was wait some more.

Ken Chlouber, who was unable to run this year for the first time since the race began, was standing at the turn with a lot of hopeful crew people who knew their runners' races were over. It was almost 6 PM and I couldn't see Jim. I walked back to Ken and dejectedly remarked something to the effect of "here we are again."

Both Ken and Jim and I have timed out here. I guess it wasn't a very sensitive thing to say, but I thought Ken would understand my frustration. He knows how much Jim wanted to finish this thing. I was surprised when Ken ignored me and walked back to his vehicle nearby. I wanted some empathy, not silence. I felt worse.

Jim appeared shortly thereafter, about four minutes past the cut-off. I was again surprised by Ken, who walked with me to Jim and put his arm around him as both shed a few tears of frustration. Then I felt better about Ken's reaction to my comment. I think he was about to lose his composure and he needed to just walk away. I was crying, too, knowing how badly Jim needed to finish this race, not just to avenge several DNFs but as a qualifier for Hardrock next summer.

THE AFTERMATH

DNFs just never get easier for either Jim or me, whether we're the runner or the support person. Jim was tired but could have continued if he'd had time. With another hour, I believe he could have finished the race. (With two more hours, I'd even try it again.)

He had plenty of company, with 65% of the field not finishing the race this year. I've never seen so many crews and dropped runners at Winfield before. Several runners in the last half hour decided not to go back out, and many more came in after Jim did. Our friends Kathy Lang and Jim Ballard came in before we left, and we saw others out on the road as we were driving back to Hwy. 24. Volunteers were scrambling to find spaces in departing vehicles for crewless runners who needed transport. Scott Hirst, who was going to pace a runner, rode in our back seat between Tater and Cody because there was no longer room in the car in which he was riding.

After Jim sat down for a few minutes and drank a Coke we got going on the long drive home. Long because we'd have to negotiate bumpy Clear Creek Road again and dodge incoming runners for over  two miles, runners who were well past the time cut-off, tired, and dejected. It's never a pretty sight and it's less fun if you're the runner. Been there, done that, only a few minutes late to Winfield.

Never again for me, though. After two DNFs I won't enter this race again unless the time limits are extended, and I never see that happening.

Jim said "never again" in Scott's presence as we made our way out to the main road. We both knew he'd change his mind, of course. He's an optimistic ultra runner, after all. Maybe he won't run Leadville again, but I know he's not ready to quit running hundred-milers.

Jim had heard the rescue squad vehicle as he descended Mount Hope and later saw it parked at Sheep Gulch. We also passed this med-flight helicopter a little down the road:

The helicopter took off a few minutes after we passed it. Scott, Jim, and I thought it'd be pretty cool to be up there as EMTs, flying through the valley over Clear Creek. We never did find out who needed rescuing. Jim passed a hiker in sandals going up the south side of Hope as he was coming down. The hiker seemed to be a little out of it and shaking, but refused help (Jim's a certified EMT). Now Jim wonders if he had a seizure or concussion or something, and required rescue.

I had to drive back to Twin Lakes to retrieve the two dog cords I left tied to the bushes along Hwy. 82. While we were so close to the aid station, I decided to get Jim's two drop boxes. I was able to park close to the aid station this time because Scott knew a "secret" way in. Now we just needed to pick up three more boxes on Sunday at the courthouse when the aid stations returned them.

We drove past the start/finish line at Sixth and Harrison a little before 8 PM to take Scott home on the north side of Leadville. We could see Merilee and a photographer at the finish line, surrounded by a good crowd of people, and figured someone must be getting close. We couldn't see anyone for a half mile down Sixth Street, though, and there wasn't any place to park so we continued to Scott's house.

Several minutes later when Jim and I got back to our camper at Sixth and McWethy, about 3/4 mile to a mile from the finish, we saw shirtless Anton Krupika make the turn onto Sixth Street! Wow, that meant he was going to finish in just over 16 hours, the second-fastest time in the race's twenty-five year history! Good job, Anton.

Brent watched him go by, too. Unfortunately, Brent had to drop at Twin Lakes outbound. He'd been back home a little while and was sorry to hear Jim was out of the race, too. We sat around commiserating and talking about the race in our camper for a while, then decided it was time for bed. We were all very tired, but able to rationalize and empathize and talk about future plans. Both guys were still in the "I'm never going to do this race again" phase, but we all knew that was BS.

SATURDAY NIGHT QUARTER-BACKING

So what went wrong with Jim's race?

He's not sure. Nothing went wrong during the race, other than the truck thing right before it started. That would have been enough to compromise my race, but he doesn't blame that factor. He didn't encounter any really nasty weather up and over Hope Pass, which was a first during the race for him. (Other runners weren't so lucky, but the storms weren't as bad this year as usual.)

He never got nauseas, which has often been a problem after fifty miles. He was able to properly digest the Perpetuem and gels just fine and still had an appetite at Winfield. He supplemented the energy drink and gel with soup a couple times. He didn't ever feel really hungry, as if he needed more food. He didn't have any swelling or cramping but craved salt after stopping, so be may have needed more electrolytes.

Even though he wore very new Hardrock shoes (only walking around in them one day) in the ten or eleven miles between Twin Lakes and Winfield, he had no problems with them; last year he had blisters from shoes that became too tight as his feet swelled during the race. He didn't fall or have any injuries. He was plenty warm the whole way, but not overheated.

Jim really doesn't know how he could have trained any more thoroughly for this race. He certainly had the miles and the altitude training. Maybe he didn't do enough speed work after recovering from Bighorn. Maybe he should have found a 50-mile or 100K race between the two races; we looked, but nothing close by was still open for registration so he hoped the 32-mile double-crossing over Hope was adequate three weeks ago. He was determined mentally to finish, but simply lost time going up to Hope Pass (despite maintaining a steady, comfortable pace) and lost the 90-minute cushion of time he had.

Will he ever run this race again after several DNFs? Who knows. We'll at least come back in the future to volunteer, see friends, run the trails, and climb the mountains around Leadville.

Next entry: the awards ceremony and results.

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

Previous       Next

2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-