2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  LT100 RUN: PRE-RACE ACTIVITIES &
THE BLACK HAWK TRAGEDY ON MT. MASSIVE

FRIDAY, AUGUST 21

 
Friendly runner on the Turquoise Lake trail: "Hi. Are you Mrs. O'Neil?"
Me: "I guess you ran into Jim! He's my husband but my name is Sue Norwood."
Friendly runner: "Sue Norwood!!! You're an ultra running ICON!!"
Me, so surprised I'm both laughing and stammering, "Um, I don't think so!"
 
 
One of the reasons we keep going back to the Leadville 100 so many times is socializing with so many of our friends -- and meeting new ones like Tim Hicks, the uber-enthusiastic gentleman both Jim and I "ran into" on the Turquoise Lake trail on Tuesday. We both recognized him but neither of us knew his name or remembered talking with him when he ran (and finished) the race two years ago. When Jim turned around and came back toward us, Tim said, "You're married to an icon!" Jim got a good laugh out of it, too.

Tim's just real happy when he meets folks from the internet ultra list or runners he considers role models, such as Matt Carpenter, who he met last weekend at the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado Springs. Matt also has the LT100 course record by a wide margin. Too bad he's not here again this year; he's a friendly fella, too.


The gregarious Tim Hicks

I can understand Tim's enthusiasm. I remember meeting well-known runners like John Medinger, Aaron Goldman, Stan Jensen, and Geri Kilgariff when I ran my first 100-miler in Vermont in 1998. They were all active participants in the sport and on the ultra list. I was impressed with their knowledge and abilities, and the memories of meeting them in person have remained with me for eleven years. Since I've been contributing to the ultra list for 11 or 12 years, my name is well-known by now, too.

As Tim said, everyone he's met from "the list" at races is just so nice in person. I've found that to be mostly true, also. Hopefully, he feels the same about Jim and me! We ended up talking with him some more at the packet-stuffing on Wednesday night.

A LOW-HYPE RACE

In this entry I'll talk mostly about volunteering for the various pre-race activities for the runners this week.

The pre-race agenda is a bit different than last week for the cyclists. Volunteer activities start one day earlier for the run, the pasta dinner is on Thursday and not Friday, runners have a more comprehensive medical check, and they have not one but two opportunities to pick up their packets and numbers.

That also means more opportunities for Jim and me to volunteer for the run. That's great -- we know a lot of the runners but almost none of the cyclists. It's more fun for us to volunteer for folks we know.


Same tote bags/backpacks for the runners, but many fewer of them to fill

Although the LT100 Run is the flagship race that began the whole series of run/bike events in Leadville 27 years ago -- and pretty much put the town back on the map economically -- it has become much more low-key in comparison to the bike race since Tour de France celebrities like Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis have been competing here. The bike race has become a huge money-maker with over 1,400 cyclists participating. This year there was a slick video on the LT100 homepage about the ride, helicopters flying around during the race, film crews seemingly everywhere, a live for-pay web cast so folks in cyber land could see some of the action during the race, and real-time chip timing that broadcast the riders' times at aid stations and the finish.

None of those things were done for the run one week later. I speculated why in an earlier entry.

I'm glad in some ways and disappointed in others. Has the LT100 run become the stepchild of the two 100-mile events? I'd prefer that it not become as hyped up as the ride but there is room for some improvement, particularly regarding timing and results. Since we had an inside view of that process this year, I'll expound on that issue in the next entry.

WEDNESDAY, 4:30-5:45 PM: PACKET-STUFFING + PIZZA

The last few years when we've done packet-stuffing for both the ride and run, the task for the run is accomplished much faster and with many fewer volunteers.

Why? Because there have been "only" 500-600 runners registered in recent years and we've stuffed bags for about 90% of that number, allowing for no shows. That's less than half the bags we've been stuffing for the cyclists. In addition, there were fewer sponsors' items for the runners in their bags this year than for the riders. Our job was relatively easy this week.

When we arrived at the gym late Wednesday afternoon we didn't have to hang sponsors' banners or set up hundreds of chairs; they were already in place from the bike race.


Karen Pate,. Marsha Talley, Jim, and Bill Heldenbrand unwrap the runners' bags.

Jim and I assisted with unwrapping the same nice tote bags/back packs and stacking them for the assembly process while other volunteers arranged the items to go into the bags along several tables. Then we joined in the stuffing line and had all the bags ready in less than an hour:


Foreground, L-R:  Karen (red shirt), Dave C. (brown shirt), Jim (black shirt)


Bill Dickey, L

When we finished we all enjoyed our reward: more pizza selections from High Mountain Pies! I'm not as big of a pizza lover as Jim but I do like this company's "pies."

During supper we got to talk more with our friends Bill Heldenbrand and Jean-Jacques d'Aquin. Bill's entered in the race for the first time and Jean-Jacques will be pacing Hans-Dieter Weisshaar the second half of the race (Jim helped pace J-J for a while at Hardrock last month).

Before leaving the gym we discussed our communications assignments for the run with Bruce Talley, the ham radio director for both of the LT100 races. I'll go into more detail about that in the next entry.

WEDNESDAY ~ 2 PM: TRAGEDY ON MT. MASSIVE

A terrible accident happened mid-afternoon on Mt. Massive but there was no mention of it during packet-stuffing a couple hours later: an Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed on the eastern flank (the side facing Leadville) near the summit of the 14,421-foot mountain.

Jack Saunders, our "campground host," told us about it that evening after hearing on Fox News that two or three people had died in the crash and another person was missing. Little did we know for a day or two how much that would affect the town of Leadville, the surrounding mountains, and the race itself.


Mt. Massive from Half Moon Road (photo taken Thursday, 8-20-09)

The Army was slow in releasing the news on Wednesday because of the remote area in which the 'copter went down and the sensitive nature of its mission. Jim drove over 60 miles down to Salida on Wednesday to have some warranty work done on our truck at a Dodge dealer. He didn't hear a thing on the radio about the crash on his way back to Leadville late in the afternoon. We didn't hear the news on TV that evening (no reception in our camper here) and didn't see it on the internet. All we knew was the little bit Jack told us. We did hear some other helicopters flying in the area in the afternoon and evening, but that isn't unusual in the summer.

We were concerned about Jack's news but had no clue how this would affect life in Leadville and beyond. Early Thursday morning, Jim and I knew something BIG had happened.

THE IMPACT FELT 'ROUND THE COUNTRY

On Thursday morning Jim wanted to run about 15 miles on Mt. Elbert and the Colorado Trail, a challenging and beautiful triangular route I enjoyed two years ago: up the main trailhead on the NE flank of the mountain, down the SW side toward Twin Lakes, and back on the CT. This section of the Colorado Trail is one of the prettiest parts of the LT100 course, undulating and full of aspen trees.

My plan was to go at least partway up the mountain, and if that was too strenuous for my cracked ribs, I'd just walk on the Colorado Trail portion.

We headed out Half Moon Road, passing Bruce and Marsha Talley's camper in a dispersed campsite in the woods. Shortly after that, however, we ran into an unexpected roadblock before reaching the location of the Half Moon aid station or the Mt. Elbert/Mt. Massive trailheads.

The state trooper politely told us that only military and government officials were permitted back the road while they were recovering the bodies of three dead soldiers and parts of the super-secret helicopter. He confirmed that all four men in the aircraft had died (one on the way to a hospital in Denver on Wednesday). Folks who were camped farther back on Half Moon Road had to vacate the area Tuesday night and no one was allowed in to hike to either Mt. Elbert or Mt. Massive.

Needless to say, we had to regroup and go elsewhere to run. We were allowed to proceed farther up the road to turn around, but we knew there would be another roadblock beyond that so we didn't try to sneak in. Nor did we attempt to go back to Elbert again before we left the Leadville area, although we later read on the internet ultra list about one runner who hiked on Elbert today (Friday).

The minor impact on the two of us was nothing compared to the profound tragedy for the four families who lost loved ones. The men were part of 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment stationed at Fort Campbell, KY and were training in high-altitude mountainous conditions similar to those in Afghanistan where their unit is often assigned. According to the unit's website, the MH-60 Black Hawk is frequently used for infiltration missions and to bring supplies to special operations forces in the field. The helicopter is also used for rescue and medical evacuations, and an armed version is used for escort and fire support.


Mt. Massive from the road that leads to the Leadville National Fish Hatchery (8-20-09)

Although the flight recorder was recovered the day of the crash, we haven't heard anything yet about the cause of the accident. An investigation team from Fort Rucker, AL arrived on Thursday but reportedly had significant problems searching for bodies and pieces of the aircraft at 14,200 feet. Some of the rescuers apparently had to be rescued themselves because they couldn't handle the altitude.

Hey, it takes time to get acclimated to 14,000 feet! Just ask about 500 runners here for the LT100 run on Saturday.

Too bad the Army doesn't trust the already-acclimated local search and rescue teams to recover the bodies (one of which reportedly was packed in ice Thursday for recovery on Friday -- that came from what I consider a credible source).

Nope. They might steal some secrets. Don't you just love military/government regulations?

THURSDAY: A LAST-MINUTE RACE RE-ROUTE?

We heard both accurate information from the LT100 staff and plenty of rumors from other people at runner check-in late Thursday afternoon.

One of the facts was that RD Merilee Maupin was informed by the US Army that the course would "probably" need to be re-routed away from part of Half Moon Road and the Colorado Trail (about 28-36 miles into the course, outbound).

In addition to a re-route of about eight miles of the course, a completely new aid station location had to be found -- and the aid station set up to serve over 500 runners on the outbound and perhaps 300 on the return -- to replace the one on Half Moon Road. The military rescuers' reconnaissance area was located very close to it.


Jim (in white shirt, center of photo) walks through the tree line crewing point
toward the Half Moon aid station several miles south during the 2007 run.

Merilee and crew had only hours to make these changes. The whole process was very stressful on not only Merilee and Ken, but also their key volunteers. They couldn't just wait until the race started on Saturday to see if it was OK to run the regular course; a decision had to be made on Thursday in order to get the course marked and the aid station ready.

The decision was to re-route the course part way back Half Moon Road, use a portion of the bike course in the valley, then send the runners back up to the Colorado Trail closer to Twin Lakes. The Half Moon aid station tents and supplies were moved to this section and renamed Box Creek.

The crash became more personalized to Jim and me as we learned more about it and how it was affecting life in Leadville (and 'way beyond). We were able to gain more information from internet news sources during the day, which seemed more reliable than all the rumors floating around town.

After I got done running on Thursday, I did laundry in town. Jim was still out running his alternate course. I had a great view of the entire eastern flank of Mt. Massive from the windows on the upper level of the Laundromat. I couldn't keep my eyes off the mountain, searching for some activity near the summit. Throughout the day Jack was also looking from the deck of his office at the end of 6th Street (we're camped behind his office building). Even with binoculars neither of us could see any activity near the summit or locate the crash site. The whole incident kind of mesmerized us.

THURSDAY, 5-7:30 PM: RUNNER CHECK-IN & THE PASTA DINNER

Jim and I arrived at the gym about 4:15 PM on Thursday to help set up the registration tables and pick our jobs. We took time to eat dinner with the other volunteers (at least half, runners in the race) before the doors opened at 5 for the race entrants, their families, and crews:

 

That's one of the things included in the rather high race fee: "free" pasta dinner for the runners and their entourage. Many races charge extra for that.


L-R: Bill and Jan Moyer, Jim, (unknown name), Jean-Jacques d'Aquin, (unknown name)
discuss runner check-in procedures on Thursday.

This time I chose a less-stressful job than I had for the bike check-in: handing out the tote bags/ backpacks as the runners came through the line before or after eating dinner. Jim handed out numbers and manned the emergency contact sheets again. His job was easier this time because he didn't have to explain nearly as many things to the runners and they understood the emergency contact sheet better. Neither of us ended up hoarse this time!

I'd guess about half of the 587 registrants picked up their bags, shirts, numbers, posters, and crew tags on Thursday, which made our job that much easier on Friday morning when the remainder got theirs.


A runner picks up his shirt at check-in.


Nick Coury (L) waits for his shirt. His mom and two brothers
came to pace and crew him in his first LT100 run.

It was so much fun to see friends we hadn't seen for a while --and to have many of them thank us for volunteering! We got virtually no thanks from any of the cyclists last week.


Alan Holtz


Susi Seidel (Hans-Dieter Weisshaar's wife), Larry Hall, Beth Simpson Hall


Chrissy and Stan Ferguson

In addition, several people had read our journal and knew about my bike crash. I really appreciated them asking me how I was doing and sharing stories of their own or others' wrecks. Misery loves company!

Here are a couple more pics of folks who checked in on Thursday:


Marcy and John Beard


L-R:  Jim Fisher, Bill (last name??), and Tyler Curiel, who is going for his 10th LT100 finish.

By 7:30 PM the runners and their guests had finished eating dinner and checking in. The Moyers ran us out <grin> and locked up the gym for the night.

FRIDAY, 7:30-8 AM: A DEFINITE RE-ROUTE

Jim and I arrived back at the gym this morning about 7:30 to handle runner check-in again.

While we were getting set up, Ken Chlouber came over to talk with one of the men who volunteers many hours to the race each year; neither Jim nor I can remember his name. Both men are in the foreground in the photo below; Ken is on the left  in the black Lifetime Fitness shirt and the volunteer is on the right in the green shirt:

Jim was close enough to hear much of the conversation. Ken was describing the re-routed part of the course and asking the volunteer to go out and mark it. That was when we knew for sure that the course was being modified.

One of the questions I had about a re-route was whether a possible new course or age group record would be recognized. Anton (Tony) Krupika, who won the race in 2007 and has the second-fastest time on the course, has made it clear in his blog that his recent training has gone better than when he won the race two years ago. Everyone assumes that he intends to go after Matt Carpenter's course record of 15:45 hours, set in 2005. In addition, last year's winner, Duncan Callahan, is also entered this year.


Tony Krupika willingly let me take his photo when he picked up his shirt today.

Fortunately for Tony and anyone else gunning for records this year, Ken made it clear during the briefing that any new records would be recognized. He explained that not only has the course changed numerous times over the past 27 years, but every year the vagaries of the weather are also a big factor in the runners' times. Last year about 28 out of the 30 hours the course was open the weather was cold, wet, and miserable. This year would prove to be the opposite: hot and dry (and still miserable for many of the runners!).

I'm sure Tony was up in the balcony breathing a huge sigh of relief when he heard that a new course record wouldn't have an asterisk after it (denoting an altered course) and knew it was just up to him to improve on Matt's time.

FRIDAY, 8-10:45 AM: MEDICAL CHECK-IN & CONT. PACKET PICKUP

All the runners are required to have their medical checks done the morning before the race, and about half still needed to pick up their bags, numbers, shirts, etc.

The doors were opened a little before 8 AM for the runners to begin their medical checks. Weight, blood pressure, pulse, allergies/medical problems, name, and runner number are recorded on a plastic wrist-band that is worn throughout the race. Runners are weighed several times during the race to be sure they haven't gained or lost too much weight. If they have, they are held until  they have adjusted their fluid levels appropriately.

Fortunately, they spaced themselves out pretty well between 8-10:30 and they all didn't wait until the last few minutes to come in. Everyone must finish both medical and packet pickup several minutes before Ken delivers the briefing at 11 AM. Things always get a little hectic near the deadline, though. Some people simply don't want to make two separate trips to the gym.

We were short by a few volunteers this morning so we helped each other out when things got hectic. Jim handed out numbers and took emergency information again. I helped Jan Moyer hand out tote bags/backpacks and another woman (shown front R in photo below) with the shirts.

The bags were no problem -- they are "one size fits all."

The shirts are another matter, made more complicated by the fact that they ran one or two sizes too big this year.


Volunteer Jean-Jacques holds up an attractive technical runners' shirt so I can photograph it.

Management knew that and ordered accordingly. We were to give the runners one size smaller than they requested on their entry form. Even so, we ran out of large and extra-large sizes before the runners all got their shirts. Some men were cheerful and said they'd give their too-small shirt to their wife or child; a few weren't happy at all, and you can guess who they complained to.

Next time I think I'll stick to handing out bags!

FRIDAY, 11-12:30 PM: COURSE BRIEFING

This time Jim and I did stay for Ken's inspirational and humorous briefing, which we've heard at least eight times before. He does change it a little from year to year but it always end in a crescendo of "You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can!"

Attendance at the briefing is always good but this year the gym and balcony were even more packed with runners, crews, and pacers. Everyone was curious about the re-route they'd been hearing might occur.

After preliminary thank you's to the sponsors and volunteers, Ken introduced RD Merilee Maupin and praised her for the great job she has done with the event series this summer and especially her handling of the current re-routing crisis due to the Black Hawk crash. Although she was all smiles during the briefing, earlier in the morning she had been crying more privately from all the stress.

Merilee is always content at the briefing and awards ceremonies to let Ken run the show. He's a flamboyant and articulate speaker -- aren't most former politicians?? -- who relies on Merilee to prepare notes about the topics he should cover and the particulars, such as who is going for his 26th finish (the amazing Bill Finkbeiner) and which previous race champions are in the audience. He often turns to Merilee during the briefing and awards ceremonies to be sure he's covering everything. Merilee keeps the sheets he uses in order (see below) and continually hands him new ones or whispers something in his ear.

Guess that's the LT100's low-tech version of a teleprompter!


Ken (L) gets a kick out of John's comedy routine during the briefing.

Ken knows other good speakers when he hears them and he's willing to share the stage. That's why he's laughing in the photo above at something Dr. John Hill is telling the audience. John's medical briefing has gotten more entertaining each year. He presents very serious medical warnings about dehydration, high altitude, overuse of Ibuprofen, and other relevant topics with great humor.

John has been the race's medical director for several years. This summer he is taking on the huge challenge of finishing all five of the LT100 events to become an official "Leadman:"  the Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush 50-mile bike or run, the LT100 Bike Race, the 10K Run, and the LT100 Run. He has completed all of them in the past few weeks except the 100-mile run. That's quite an accomplishment.

Ken always acknowledges runners who are new to the LT100 run, asks crews and pacers to stand and be recognized, introduces runners who are going for significant numbers of finishes, and has participants stand up by their age groups. Everyone cheered wildly when seven men in their 70s (including Ken) stood up. There were about three times that in their 60s -- but no women are entered who are 60 or older. I don't think any women over 60 have ever finished this race, either.

Ken spent several minutes describing the course re-route and how it will effect the runners, crews, and relocated aid station. The new section is less hilly and a little shorter than the regular course on Half Moon Road and the Colorado Trail. Some runners are excited at the prospect of a personal record on the altered course, which should be a little faster, while others are disappointed they can't run the old course.

Jim's glad he isn't running this year. Not only is the Colorado Trail section on the way to Twin Lakes his favorite part of the course, but the weather is also predicted to be uncomfortably warm and dry. After all the time we've spent at high altitudes this summer, neither one of us is heat-trained.

Will this be one of the few years when runners haven't had rain, sleet, hail, or snow on Hope Pass??

After a crescendo of encouragement to the runners to give the race everything they've got, the briefing was over at 12:30. The runners dispersed to pack and deposit their drop bags, relax, and get a few hours of rest before the 4 AM start of the race tomorrow morning.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON & EVENING: VOLUNTEERS IN ACTION

All day Friday many volunteers were busy, too. Aid station captains picked up their drop bags and supplies. Volunteers at two or three aid stations will be in place by dark this evening: Mayqueen, where over 500 runners will descend early Saturday morning between about 5:40 and 7:20, and the  "Hopeless" aid station at over 12,000 feet, where llamas haul up the supplies and some of the volunteers spend three nights sleeping in tents. Fish Hatchery, the second aid station, may also be mostly set up tonight. Box Creek, Twin Lakes, and Winfield will finalize their set ups on Saturday morning and be ready to welcome the runners on the outbound and inbound.

This evening Jim and I met again with Bruce Talley, who organizes the ham radio volunteers, and Dick Daugherty, a local retired teacher who will spend the weekend at "net control," the main headquarters for the communications and timing operations. Both of their wives, Marsha and Anne, will also put in long hours on their ham radios. There's a shortage of ham operators this year; most will be working in pairs while their aid stations are open, then report to net control after their aid stations close to see if more assistance is needed there.

I'll talk about our role with the radio/communications and timing teams during the race in the next entry.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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