|Picnic at Twin Lakes|
Going in, the altitude was my main concern, but it's not like there's anything I could do about it in Philadelphia. I might be able to do a little better than the 460' I reach training at Baldpate Mountain in NJ, but there's no way I'd get to 5,000 feet, much less the 10,200' of the start/finish or the 12,600' of Hope Pass. All I could do is go out a little early, which we did, flying to Leadville on the Monday before the race.
The funny thing was, the altitude didn't seem to be a factor! We got to Denver, the mile high city, no problem. We drove to Leadville, the two mile high city, and sure our ears popped a little on the way, but it wasn't like we were getting headaches and vomiting or anything.
That is, until I carried a suitcase up a flight of stairs. Wowsers! Instantly lightheaded, heart racing, oh, dear. Well, there's always tomorrow.
|Descending from Hope|
Anyway, we failed to live up to the Hollerbach legacy of four 14ers in one week. I did walk a few hilly miles of the Mineral Belt Trail with the double stroller on Tuesday, and I hiked up to Hope Pass from the South side and then jogged back down the same way on Wednesday. That one was part of our scouting expedition, visiting the various aid station locations and so on. (And a good thing we did, because the crew directions were atrocious!) I made it up from the trailhead in 70 minutes, with a few pauses to admire the scenery. Going back down, I practically had to jog, gravity was not going to let me get away with a casual stroll! (Also, we had agreed to meet in two hours and I had taken a further 5 minutes on photos at the top…) The problem was, my quads were complaining a little by the bottom -- ruh roh! At Vermont and on a few training runs since then I've been like Mister Downhill -- and this was really like an easy jog -- why the heck was this a problem?!?
|The Bubble Chamber|
Friday brought the prerace meeting, which was mobbed. Clearly they need to rethink either the race limit or the venues! I sat on a staircase in the corner of the gym, but a lot of people were standing. The meeting wasn't that helpful; it seemed to me to focus more on making introductions and encouraging people to finish than those trivial details like trail markings. The medical lecture was perhaps the standout, being both entertaining and practical ("If you see someone sitting on the side of the trail with that thousand-mile stare, talk to them, help them up if they need it, get them to an aid station… be there for each other."). The subsequent crew meeting was likewise not that useful, talking about how to pack a car but specifically declining to discuss how to get from one aid station to another, even the station whose location was changed just before. At least my legs were feeling better, though I still had to wonder how long it would take for them to totally recover. In the evening I packed my crew bag and finish line bag, and tried to get to sleep at least a little early (not that it worked; I was awake until after everyone else went to bed anyway).
|Pre-race meeting in the gym|
The start area was also mobbed, though thankfully there were multiple people with clipboards available to check runners in. I gave them my number and then went over to one of the coffee shops that had opened early, trying to keep warm until the start. I got a seat, gave my shoes the final double knot, and waited. Everyone else cleared out early, but I didn't go over until 5 minutes before -- I mean, it was like 40 degrees, why just stand around? But the time came, and I made my way through the crowd toward the front, only to discover that I was on the wrong side of the fence and had to go back and do it again. Oh, well. I didn't want to be in the front row (I saw Anton taking his place), but I figured toward the front was good…
There were a few short words, then a shotgun blast, and we were off! The first mile or so just took streets out of the town of Leadville. I tried to settle in to the pack behind the pack, but it didn't work. Everyone seemed to be pushing to go faster, but Anton was having none of it -- he held to the pace he wanted, and no one was willing to pass him. It was a pretty weird effect that the fastest guy there was slowing everyone down! It was also weird that I was running like 20 yards behind him.
Then the altitude kicked in. Adrenaline or no, I really wasn't going to be able to go out fast on this one. I slowed a little until it felt right again. But there were a lot of people in front of me! Either they were all newbies lured in by the lack of qualifying requirements, or there were a lot of fast people here today! Anyway, by the time we hit "the Boulevard" (a gravel road from Leadville down toward the nearby Turquoise Lake), everything had spread out a little. There were still twice as many people here as any ultra I've ever done, and it would be another mile before I needed to turn on my headlamp, even in the 4 AM darkness.
It was a little weird that the first couple miles were all downhill, but then we turned onto another gravel road, and finally got to the first brief uphill -- a nasty rocky patch of "road". But it was over quickly enough, and we headed onto a paved road for a little while before going onto a nice trail around the lake. At one point I noticed that I hadn't seen any course markings -- I was just following the lemmings. I hoped that wouldn't be a problem on the return (being an out and back, we'd be coming back the same way at the end). This was especially concerning when we briefly broke out onto a parking lot, crossed it, and headed back onto trail -- all without a single marking that I noticed. Well, whatever.
The first time I'd see my excellent crew (Erin, my dad, and the kids) was the Tabor Boat Ramp, an informal stop about halfway to the first real aid station. We were circling Turquoise Lake on the trail, and I thought we'd get to the boat ramp pretty quickly, but the first hour of the race came and went with no sight of it. The trail weaved inland and then out toward the lake again, and finally I heard voices ahead. Suddenly at about 70 minutes, we broke out onto what I was sure was the parking lot, because the world lit up with a solid corridor walled by people, maybe 6 feet wide and 100 yards long, all screaming encouragement for the racers. Wow! (Incidentally, I was mighty confused on the way back when we didn't go into the parking lot -- I guess all those people were lined up in the woods!) Halfway through I heard Erin calling my name, and had to briefly double back to say hi. I didn't really need anything yet -- it was too cold to be drinking at a high rate -- so I just checked in and headed out. I confessed that I was feeling a little slower than expected, and she pointed back and said "Look, you're still way in the front!" Indeed, there was a line of headlamps all the way back and around the end of the lake -- it was beautiful, really.
Toward the very end of the line I felt the concrete as we crossed the actual boat ramp, and then we were off into the woods again. The next few miles was a more proper trail -- more up and down and in and out with some rocky bits and some sandy bits and more differentiation between trail and foliage and so on. It highlighted how the previous trail had really just been a totally flat tour through the woods. There were still quite a number of people on the trail, and it was a little awkward -- I took the downhills faster than the mob in front of me, so I always wanted to take the uphills slower to let them get a little ahead, but then I felt like I was holding back the mob behind me. It was really too crowded to pass much -- even if you could have gotten around the occasional person, there were just 10 more after that. But I thought back to running with Nikki Kimball at Bear Mountain, where she said "see, what we're doing here is great, talking to each other and keeping each other from going too fast early in the race." Now that was a joke in two different ways -- we were a good distance into the race, and I was stretching my pace to reach her "holding back." But still, I figured it wasn't a problem to run a little slower here, before we had even gotten to the first aid station. I'd have plenty of time to stretch later in the race.
I also remember a runner right around me saying "Now ain't this the life!" talking about the nice trail. Yeah, it was nice, I had to admit, except we couldn't see the lake! "Well, use your imagination!" I mean, I saw it driving by the other day and it was spectacular, but now, it's just a big hole in the night. And the thing of it is, I wouldn't be seeing it during the daylight on the way back, either. (It didn't occur to me then that I wouldn't have to miss my goal by much to be seeing it during the daylight -- probably 26 hours would do it.) I also forgot (or almost forgot? Now I've forgotten.) to dump my trash (gel wrappers) with the crew at the Boat Ramp, so I was determined to remember what I needed to do at the next station -- I made a little chant of T-S-V, which is to say, Trash, Sunscreen, Visor. I needed to clear out my trash pocket, and I wanted to tell my excellent crew to get out the sunscreen and my visor for the following station, when it would be starting to warm up.
|Feeling good at Mayqueen|
It was a slow departure, uphill on a road, but fortunately that didn't last long. We turned and quickly headed onto a trail. It was, if anything, slightly more technical than the previous part, which had been more technical than the part before the boat ramp -- I started to wonder where the logical conclusion of this pattern would fall… But it was an enjoyable trail, and the pack was spreading out enough that you had company but not obstacles, and could pass as warranted. Seemingly very quickly, the trail turned dramatically uphill, and the Sugarloaf ascent had begun. After walking a tough climb on the trail, we broke out onto a dirt road that was only slightly uphill, and that part I could jog. Then it took a sharp left and got steeper. I jogged what I could, which I think was 3 or 4 minutes at a time, with walk breaks to rest in between. As we headed up to the pass just over 11,000', I recalled a race report saying "Even the frontrunners walk 3 times -- up Hope Pass both times, and up Powerline on the return." (Powerline being the other side of the climb I was presently engaged in.) Notably absent was up Sugarloaf outbound (or, as I would discover later, up from Twin Lakes on the return). I told myself that run/walking wasn't just walking, but the reality was, I wasn't a frontrunner. I estimated 100 people ahead of me, which is further back than I'm used to being in an ultra, but with 650 people, darn if this wasn't a big race!
But then, without any fanfare, the road leveled out, and even began a slight descent. Was this it? Were we done? I saw power lines, a promising sign, and then the downhill got steeper. Within minutes, I was convinced we were done with one of the 4 major climbs in the race. (Again, only because I somehow missed that there were actually 5.) The road down went quickly. It was the same dirt road, with the same occasional rocky bits and potholes, but all the irregularities came at you a lot faster on the way down! I enjoyed the few brief moments when it leveled out or turned up, as I got a break from the pounding of the downhill -- and then apparently promptly forgot about them because I was expecting one solid climb on the return. Sigh.
|Coming in to Fish Hatchery|
|Here be asphalt|
|Along the Pipeline parking area|
Then I went on for quite a while, and saw another ski patrol sign. And another quite a while for another sign. By this point, I was starting to feel like I was in a space warp. We came right around a corner and I was sure the station would be there -- but all I was treated to was a view of the road curving gently to the left again. Aargh!
|Main accomplishment at Pipeline|
To top it off, I had a long aid station stop, since I had a drop bag with my next supply of gels there. I had to repack three pockets on my hydration pack to fit them all. The volunteers were great, topping off my water and having my drop bag ready by the time I sat down in the tent. Though they did say it was 7 miles to the next station, which didn't match my memory of the pre-race info at all (looking afterward, it says 9 miles). But maybe they were right and it was closer to 9 from Fish Hatchery and 7 to Twin Lakes? Also, I was now 20 minutes behind the 24-hour finish time splits, and this was only a third of the way into the race -- which seemed to mean my buckle hopes were actually in danger? I got out as quickly as I could, but all this crap was swirling in my head and I felt terrible. It was right back onto the gently uphill gravel road, and I just started walking. I wasn't feeling any better, so I quickly decided I'd walk for ten minutes and then try to pick it up again. Sometimes I set out to do that and feel a little better and take off sooner, but this time, it was close to ten minutes before the road leveled out and that worked out just fine.
So then I started jogging, and it wasn't long before we took a right off the road onto a steep trail and I was walking again. But the trail turned out to be rolling, and this saved my spirits. I rocked the downhills, passing a number of people. We'd hit an uphill again and I'd walk, sure someone was going to pass me again, but no one ever did. I did have one more frustrating point, when the trail ended in a T with no course markings whatsoever. I was sure I had been on the right trail, but now to go right or left? I looked closely. Nothing. More closely. Finally I found a streamer tied high to a bush on the right -- but there was only the knot. The long dangling part of the streamer was gone. It was very nearly invisible. I checked the trail behind me and headed to the right. Someone was just catching up. I couldn't decide whether to begrudge them that they'd just be able to follow me, or feel good that I spared them the search. I ran on.
|It was great to see those Twin Lakes|
|There's that little hill in the on the right|
|Leaving Twin Lakes|
|Now with the jacket at the ready|
|Crew loved the dirt|
It didn't take too long to hit the climb, and it was hard not to notice. I started walking almost immediately, about a half hour since leaving Twin Lakes. In the first ten minutes or so, I jogged the flatter sections, brief though they might be. But I soon gave up on that. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from Western States was Devil's Thumb. I walked that hard, trying not to lose places, and while I felt fine going up, I was devastated at the top. Now add the altitude, going from 9,200' at the river to 12,600' at the top. Why bring that on myself? Already I could tell my heart was going faster than I expected for the level of effort I was putting out, and trying to hike hard or jog just made it that much worse. I figured I'd walk at a relaxed pace, and save myself for the downhill. I did, and I was passed occasionally, and sometimes more than occasionally. There was a nice sounding waterfall, and eventually I caught glimpses of the stream running down the mountain, which the trail sometimes paralleled and other times switchbacked toward and away from. I passed a few people sitting by the side of the trail looking crushed, and happily I wasn't that bad. Though, as I went up, I did start to feel pretty crappy. I couldn't make a tight fist; my hands were swollen. I figured I had been drinking too much water in the earlier, colder parts of the race. Even now that it was warm, it wasn't hot like Vermont. I cut back noticeably on the amount of water I took in, both with gels and in between.
|Living Large in the Crewmobile|
|Thanks Guys! (Photo Credit: Sherpa John Lacroix)|
|View ahead from Hope Pass|
The top was spectacular, as in my hike a few days earlier. I took a quick look in both directions to appreciate it. Then I headed down.
|Heading down the mountain again|
|Hitting the treeline|
|One of those nice streams|
|The mountains at Winfield|
|Couldn't this be the summit?|
|Nice bit of single track|
|Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake from Hope Pass|
|One of those switchbacks down the mountain|
The rest of the trip to Twin Lakes passed, and that's about all I can say. I maintained my place in the line after the ponds; good enough. No problem getting across the parking lot -- someone was there shouting directions. And I remembered the key turn in town, marked but nearly invisibly with the crowd around. I hit the aid station just about 3:20 from Winfield -- 10 minutes faster than the outbound leg, and pulling still closer to my 24-hour goal split! The only wrinkle was that my crew was not there, nor was my drop bag. I stuck my head out and yelled, figuring they must be nearby with the bag, and two people with seats just on the exit side of the barn jumped up! Not far then; we just hadn't noticed each other when I came in. They got me my bag (with the all-important lights that I had to jam into the hydration pack), and topped off, I headed back out.
|I was Happy to reach Twin Lakes again|
|They were happy to be there too|
|Sean's diggin' this ultra thing|
|But Caelan's maybe a little tired of it?|
The next part was great, as it was basically a gentle downhill all the way to the crew stop at Pipeline. OK, maybe some flat, but no uphills and a nice dirt/gravel road. I took off and felt like I was making good time. It was getting on toward dark, so I broke out the lights. First I made it out of the woods, then I started seeing those Ski Patrol signs in reverse, then I saw car lights in the far distance! Well, it was still a good couple miles before I closed the distance to the station, but the distant sounds and lights drew me on. As the road flattened I spent a little time dodging the potholes and puddles in the dirt that I remembered from the outbound trip. I kept an eye out for the "No LT100 Crew Vehicles Past This Point" sign, which had seemed to be a ways down from the actual parking, but when I finally hit it this time, it seemed like I was basically at the station by then. I started passing cars and crews in the twilight, wondering whether I'd miss Erin and our minivan, when suddenly I heard her voice!
As it got dark it got cooler, and I had decided to switch into warmer nighttime gear -- I've been very heat-acclimated and at this point wanted much more to be too warm than too cold. So when I pulled over, I asked for a winter shirt, gloves, and warmer hat, to which I added my jacket. So I lost a little time to the change, but felt much cozier heading back out for the rest of the night. I didn't need the gloves quite yet so I zipped them into my jacket pockets, but this was me prepared for the last 7 hours of the race.
|How'd they get to the aid station with HIM driving?!?|
Finally, I saw the lights ahead bobble around more than usual, then bear off to the left, accompanied by a couple glowsticks. When I got up there, the turn seemed clear. And the road seemed more solid and less sandy -- perhaps at night the solid part of the trail stood out a little more? That section passed quickly and I was back on pavement -- but somehow I had lost the runners ahead. I knew I was going the right way… It was just a little weird out there in the dark night. Now I just had to make it up this road to the left onto the Fish Hatchery road.
I spent the whole time watching cars. A lot of cars were coming at me down the road I was on -- I could only guess they were taking a roundabout route from Twin Lakes toward Pipeline. A lot of cars seemed to be coming and going from Fish Hatchery, or at least on the road perpendicular to this one. I ran on, watching a mob of traffic at an intersection ahead, and then it all disappeared and I was alone in the dark. Then another burst of traffic far ahead, and more close to me. Why wasn't I getting there? It couldn't have been more than a mile or two! Why was I still on this road?!? I had seen a single glowstick on the road, but that was ages ago. I looked hard for more, and maybe saw something, but I was blinded by oncoming headlights. They passed, and more came, and passed. I looked again, nothing. I looked far ahead -- an intersection, not at all close, no runners or headlamps or glowsticks. Did I miss something? I looked behind. No runners or headlamps or glowsticks. There was cross traffic back in the distance. Closer than the intersection ahead? I couldn't tell. Had I run right through the Fish Hatchery intersection without even noticing it during a lull in the traffic? There was just no indication either way. I stopped. A car was coming, and I waved madly. They turned their lights down. No, that wasn't it, I kept waving. They seemed to be trying to dodge me, but eventually slowed to a stop and rolled down windows. "Which way to the Fish Hatchery?" Just keep going the way you're going, take the next left. "Thanks." It was just an eternal road, I guess. I kept running.
Finally I saw a stop sign ahead, but it still took ages to reach. I made the left. I ran a long time, only to come up to the "Mile 1" sign. Terrible. I had seen "Mile 3" between Powerline and Fish Hatchery on the outbound, and I thought it was maybe closer to the Hatchery. So 2 miles to go. How could it be? It was only like 4 miles to Pipeline, and I must have done at least that much already! I struggled on. I got into the long row of "no parking" signs on the side of the road -- they wouldn't have run those for miles out of the station, right? I was feeling good that I must have missed the Mile 2 sign and be getting pretty close, when out of the dark of the night emerged "Mile 2". Aaargh!
Fortunately, I quickly saw a parking turnoff, and knew I must be really close. Then I saw a car turning in ahead on the left, and someone directing traffic. Yes! I finally made it to that person, and asked which way runners go (it was again, unmarked). He told me to head across the grass. There was a fence or something along the far drive. Was I supposed to stay on the near side in the grass, or sneak out onto the pavement? Why were there no markers? I made my way onto the drive and ran for the barn. There at last!
My dad was waiting just before the barn, and as I came up, he asked "would you like a pacer?". Uh, yeah, of course! "OK, I've got one!" He indicated a woman standing next to a tent and did a brief introduction. OK! But we weren't at the station yet. I carried on to the barn and my dad took my pack to refill it, while I found a bench and someone else came up to me. He was a volunteer or spectator who works for Sun, and saw my crew bag (a JavaOne conference giveaway), and asked if I worked for Sun? We talked a little about Sun, Oracle, and open source. About the last thing I would have expected during an ultra. We had a few minutes while my dad figured out how to close up the Nathan pack, and it was a nice change of pace.
|More mountains ahead|
I held off a long time but eventually needed a sit break. She seemed fine, and in fact could have climbed much faster than me at that point. She told me she had just hiked Mt Elbert (the highest in Colorado), and after some of her mountain bushwhacking expeditions, this trail was actually only moderately steep. Holy cow! I got moving again. Even when the steepest straight line portion passed, I continued to need the occasional sit break as we headed for the pass. The occasional person or pair closed in or passed while I rested. As we hit the summit, we ran into one guy who had gone off-course for nine miles near Halfmoon! He said he turned when he should have gone straight, but saw course markings and followed them, nearly back to Twin Lakes! Apparently they were markings for the bike race, and identical to the run. That could have been done better! He pulled ahead but I passed on the descent.
|"Ready and Waiting" at Mayqueen|
I enjoyed it all the way down to the sharp turn onto the more level road. Without the gravity assist, I slowed a bit. I mentioned the turnoff onto the trail, and we kept an eye out for it, but it didn't seem to come. I knew we'd be hitting downhill again on the trail, so I wanted to keep the speed up to bridge the gap, but it wasn't happening. Oh, well. Worse yet, we could see the Mayqueen aid station again, and we were running away from it! Eventually I spied a concentration of glowsticks, and called out, thinking that must be it! We rounded some woods and they were gone. What? But then around the next turn, there it was -- the left back onto the trail. We started down, though as it was at least moderately rocky and technical, it didn't go as fast as the road. And the downhill didn't seem to last all that long before it pretty much leveled out. Still, we passed a few more people here and there. Then it just turned into a long push to reach Mayqueen.
One last wrinkle awaited in this final stretch. Priscilla had bio issues and couldn't run any more without taking a break. So, sadly, we parted company before the intended end of her leg. (She did come into Mayqueen just before I left, and confessed that she wasn't in shape to go farther anyway.) I pressed on for the last couple miles, alone again, save for the runners I overtook here and there. But then we came out onto a road, and I recognized the downhill into the station. Yes!
I met my dad inside, as I had one last drop bag and set of gels to pack away, and I wanted to sit down for it. It was fiercely hot in the tent, and that really bothered me, but what was I going to do? I waited for my dad to close up the pack again so I could stuff in the gels, then I got that taken care of and headed back out. I planned to walk a bit to get going, but I was immediately hit with such a fit of shivering that I had to jog! Why oh why couldn't they have turned the furnace down in the tent? Or set it up so the runner stuff was on the border with open air and we could have done everything without actually going in to the tent? Well, I guess that's one way to make sure you get back up to speed upon leaving… In any case, I had made my 3 hours; beat it by almost 10 minutes in fact.
And I really enjoyed the trail from there to the boat ramp. The funniest thing happened on this stretch -- I was running along Turquoise Lake, maybe 30 or 40 feet above water level, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a spectacular Christmas tree lit up below! I mean, it was what must have been an enormous pine tree, perfectly shaped, absolutely stuffed with glittering white lights. I marveled at the time it would have taken to string all those lights, and thought how neat it was that someone went to the trouble, obviously just for this race (OK, maybe for the bike race too, but you know, outside the normal season for such things). I did kind of wonder how anyone living there actually got to their residence (we hadn't crossed a driveway, that's for sure!), but whatever. I was bummed not to take a real close look, but I needed my attention on the trail.
Except about 10 minutes later, it was there again, down and to the right. What? Had we circled around a lagoon or something so that I was facing back toward the same place as before? It didn't feel like it. But there couldn't have been two! I put it out of my mind.
The third time, I just paused and looked at it straight on. And you know what? No tree. It was the reflection of the moon on the water. It made a perfect triangle toward me, and if at the moment the wind on the surface was causing it to be a little more coarse than the million scintillating points of light I had seen earlier, it was easy to believe it could have varied a little back then. So bright, and so amazing!
When I wasn't admiring the light of the moon, it was the lights of Leadville and the Boat Ramp. You could clearly see the town in the distance, so the end was in sight! Kind of unfair actually that it was well in sight from 10 miles out, but hey. And occasionally, I saw a fancy string of lights along the shore that I figured must be the boat ramp. Nice that they'd set all that up at an unofficial station! But then we'd turn back into the woods, and it would disappear from view. It was so hard to judge distances in the night -- I'd see the boat ramp ahead, then gone. Then out of nowhere we'd pass a lit-up house, and I'd wonder if it had all been that? Then lights ahead. Then gone.
At one point, I was really wondering where the heck it was, and why I couldn't see it coming up sooner, when I heard "Oh! Aaron!" to my left. I pulled up and looked, and I was on the boat ramp! There was Erin and the kids, virtually alone, sitting there on the concrete in the dark. I was stunned -- not only was it not lit up, there were only maybe 5 people there! (Last time I came through it seemed like thousands!) I just said hi and maybe dumped some gel wrappers, I didn't really need anything more at this point. I heard "See you at the finish!" as I headed out. Then I had to stop and ask where to go, because I thought we had headed through the parking lot before, but didn't see any obvious markings that way now. "Just follow the trail, straight across!" I did, feeling wrong about it. But I hit a glowstick, and figured I was OK. I had made great time to the boat ramp, and was feeling pretty good.
|All my hard altitude training, starting to pay off!|
Finally, finally, we hit the paved road. That went on longer than remembered, and had a problem of its own. I came to a massive intersection, with no markings at all. Come on! I stood around in the pitch black and looked, blinded by the traffic going by, but even in between there were no visible glow sticks or markings. A pair caught up and the pacer said "don't we go straight?" and the runner said "I don't know, I don't remember from the morning." I didn't either. We called out, and finally, someone on the other side said "come on across, go straight until the train tracks and then turn right!" For crying out loud! I left, but looking back, there were like 10 people lined up right behind me. What?!? Frustrating, as I had been running better than everyone I saw, and now they were all right there!
As I was nearing the tracks, a pair of runners blew by. Aargh! We turned onto that short nasty rocky descent, and past that onto the dirt road leading back toward the Boulevard. I remembered some of the potholes and overgrowth on the sides. Better yet, the runners ahead were walking. I pushed, but never could quite catch up -- they'd start jogging again before I got too too close. Well, I went on. Then I saw the lights ahead bear left, and we were there -- the Boulevard. I pushed hard and got at least close enough to call out -- "How far do we go on this?" I thought maybe 3 miles, but couldn't remember. "What?" I had to push a little more, get a little closer. "How far?" "Oh. One mile." It was 23:10. If there was a mile to go, we had a sub-24 in the bag! It was uphill, and they were walking fast, so I shifted into power-hike for probably the first time all race. There seemed to be a crowd around now, all walking. I sure didn't want to fall further behind! But once my arms were pumping I wasn't so comfortable at the walk, and besides, I didn't think a mile was right. I began to jog. It was for sure the first time I steadily jogged an uphill since Sugarloaf the first time! But I managed to keep it up. I wanted that sub-24 even if it was 3 miles! I passed a driveway with two empty chairs -- the people sitting there on the outbound said they'd see us finish, but I guess only if we were a lot faster or slower.
I took a walk break to take a last gel, and in my glasses there was a reflection of a headlamp. So. I wasn't the only jogger. Damn! I picked it up again. The Boulevard went on for a pretty long time! I could see a bright light in the far distance. Was it the end of the road? Some car parked? I passed another runner walking, and he said "half mile to go!" To the end of the Boulevard? Or to the finish? It was too late to ask; I had left him behind. That light wasn't getting much closer. Eventually I closed in on it, and it was on the side of a house. Not the end. But close -- the road wiggled a bit and then we came out on pavement! But I quickly got to an intersection with -- you guessed it -- no markings. I could have screamed! Someone was on the other side. "Where?!" Just go uphill to the finish. That way! And sub-24, baby! I turned right, and uphill. I heard the sub-24 cheer again only moments behind. I saw a light ahead, and thought I might be catching someone, but shortly it resolved into someone coming down toward me. Oh, well.
|With the finisher's medal|
|Found a cot!|
And that's about my Leadville experience, from beginning to end. I made it to the awards ceremony, and we even did the train ride around town that afternoon. We all fell into bed about seven o'clock, though, and the bulk of the packing had to wait until morning.
|Picking up my buckle|
|Parting shot of Hope Pass trail|
In any case, my takeaways are that Leadville (the area and the course) is actually wonderfully scenic, altitude acclimation matters and while 5 days is good, 5 months is probably better, and, well, my crew is the best! Thank you thank you for being there at every stop, and coming up with everything, whether it was sunscreen or long sleeves or just a depot for my sticky gel wraps. Thanks to Priscilla, queen of the mountain, for getting me over the Powerline and back to Mayqueen. Thanks to all the volunteers for getting me in and out of those aid stations, getting my crew in and out of the parking, and everything. I had a ball.