Thursday, September 2, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Leadville Trail 100

Picnic at Twin Lakes
Leadville, perhaps most feared of the 100 milers.  I mean, no one takes on Hardrock or Barkley unless they're well prepared.  And there are harder races than Leadville, but they have more generous cutoffs.  Only Leadville has the combination of big climbs, high altitude throughout the race, and a tight 30-hour deadline.

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
I should also say that the area is incredibly scenic.  Somehow going in, I had this impression that it was sort of a bleak and sterile landscape, and pretty uninviting.  But instead, there were beautiful mountains, streams, and lakes, lots of trees and greenery -- a very inviting outdoors.  I overheard someone in Leadville call it a valley which made no sense (isn't 10,200' practically the definition of "on top"?).  But it's true -- if you walk just a little out of town so the buildings aren't blocking the view, you can get a 360' panorama of mountains all around.  Not all close, but they're there.

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
On Thursday, my quads were downright sore, which I wasn't happy about at all.  I resolved to eat more protein and take it easy until the race.  We spent the day at the Children's Museum in Denver, which turned out to be a great one (even for those who can only claim to be "children at heart").  The only problem there was when Caelan stepping into a pit of bubble solution, and even after about 5 minutes under the faucet his shoe was oozing bubbles for the rest of the day…

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
Then my alarm went off!  We were only a few blocks from the start line, so the only reason I was up two hours ahead of time was to eat far enough in advance.  I killed some time on the Internet before my final prep and then woke Erin and my dad and headed over to the start.  I had waffled on attire for the race -- high 30s or 40 at the start, up to 70s or 80 during the day.  I thought short sleeves and tough it out, long sleeves and change, long over short and rip 'em off when it warmed up…  But then I had the fortune to run across my arm sleeves from the Western States schwag.  So in the end, I went with short sleeves, the WS100 arm sleeves, slightly thicker HAT Run hat, and gloves.

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
And, almost before I knew it, we hit the Mayqueen Campground aid station.  Again there were loads of people, and I passed Erin, the kids, and my dad on the way in.  Erin asked what I needed and I mentioned the sunscreen and visor for next time.  She fell in behind with the stroller, following me toward the buffet, and some volunteer told her to get out of the way.  Out of the way?!?  She was just bringing my bag!  Sheesh!  Another volunteer told me "Right if you want the tent, left otherwise."  I couldn't think of anything I needed a tent for, so I headed left.  But then noticed there was nothing there.  "Where's the water?"  "In the tent!"  Aw, come on, they couldn't have said "Right if you want food" or something?!?  I doubled back to the tent, also remembering to hand my headlamp over to Erin, who had been trying to direct me into the tent as well.  I finally made it to the tent and was hit by a wall of hot air -- whatever heating system they had going there was sure working!  They helped top off my hydration pack and I headed out again with another wave for the family.  It had been just over two hours for 13.5 miles, which was a pretty good clip, altitude or no!

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
After winding around a bit we hit the real steep slope down toward the next Fish Hatchery aid station.  On this one, I actually stopped on the downhill to take walk breaks, because it was so long and so steep and I wanted to save my quads a bit for later.  Had this been broken up just a little more I would have hammered it, and I debated because I know I do well on downhills, but I just didn't want to take any chances early in the race, so I held back.  It still passed quickly, and we came out on the road at the base where there were a bunch of cheering spectators.  Apparently some crews meet here rather than at the Fish Hatchery, and it was pretty lively!  But I took the turn onto the road, enjoying the brief respite of an uphill, before it turned down for the remaining mile or so to the station.  I saw the cars first -- large fields full of them, and then the buildings, and then the hordes of crews and spectators calling out and cheering for all the runners.  I followed the path up to a large barn, and saw runners coming right back at me -- I was briefly bitter that they'd put in a stupid out and back section at an aid station (especially since you had to go uphill into the station), but whatever.  This section had taken about two hours for 10 miles, which was still a pretty respectable pace in a 100.  Erin and my dad were waiting again, and got me squared away with another hydration refill and my visor.  It was still a little cool, so I decided to keep the arm sleeves and told them I'd get the sunscreen next time.  I was about 10 minutes behind my desired schedule for a 24-hour finish, but that didn't seem so bad at this point.

Here be asphalt
Heading out, I realized this was likely to be my least favorite section -- we were heading down a long road, to a turn onto another road.  Eventually we'd fork onto a dirt road, but still!  What's with all this road in the middle of a trail race?!?  Anyway, I headed down the road from the Fish Hatchery.  The interesting thing was, there were at least three powered gliders (OK, that can't be the right name, but you get the idea) circling above the roads we were running in this section.  Certainly a unique vantage point for spectators!  That kept me going until the first turn.  Rounding the corner one of the guys near me headed off to run on the shoulder, but I didn't figure that was any better.  I struggled down the road, knowing it's not my strong point in the race and just hoping to get past it.  I felt a blister coming already, not great for less than 30 miles in.  Eventually we hit the fork onto what seemed almost like a sand (not dirt) road.  That lasted a couple hundred yards and then came out on pavement again, but then eventually the pavement turned back to dirt.  It was all a little surreal.  I was taking walk breaks on the uphill parts, but finally we turned a corner and hit a downhill on some proper dirt.

Along the Pipeline parking area
It quickly led to a short side trail around a large barrier, and up a slight hill to the Pipeline crew area.  This was another one of the informal ones -- just a huge parking area.  It was supposed to be about three miles before the next station, or I guess three or four from the last one.  It took me about 45 minutes to get there, which wasn't great for a basically flat section, but whatever.  I got my visit and my sunscreen and headed out another dirt road, which went from flat to slightly uphill.  Before too long, I saw a sign for "Ski Patrol ahead", and took that as a good sign.  Probably the ski patrol was manning the aid station and it was just ahead.

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
Finally I hit the Halfmoon II (or Box Creek) station, about 90 minutes from leaving Fish Hatchery for what was supposed to be 7 miles.  In truth I have no idea on the distance, since they moved both the Pipeline and Halfmoon stations recently, and I don't know how accurate the numbers are.  It sure didn't feel like 3 flat and 4 pretty flat miles.  So I found this section frustrating on the terrain and frustrating on the time and distance, and basically it just left a big bad taste in my mouth.

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
Someone had said there was a big descent into Twin Lakes, and I kept looking for it.  I mean, we'd hit a steep down, but then there would be a climb again.  I could never quite place when we were at the top and the "big descent" was starting.  But then, I saw the twin lakes of Twin Lakes through the woods!  Beautiful.  And not that far, and not that far below me.  That put a new spring in my step and I took off.  There was more downhill, and I passed more people.  There was some tricky footing on the trails, and some parts where it was almost too steep to be really runnable, but I did my best to charge on through.  I was feeling good again, and enjoying it.  The only problem was, we kept seeing Twin Lakes, and it always looked just as far away and below.  So it took a lot longer than I had anticipated to actually get there.

There's that little hill in the on the right
Finally we broke out onto a gravel road, which was a real steep downhill toward the aid station.  In contrast to the Powerline hill, I took this one with all the speed I could summon.  Finally it ended in a little climb with cheering spectators scattered on the hill.  I walked that one, only to find a super-steep descent on the other side, ending in a parking lot, a swarm of spectators, and the aid station barn.  Twin Lakes at last!  I met Erin and my dad, topped off, stuffed a jacked onto the back of my hydration pack, and left for the dreaded middle of the race.  I had seen the check-in sheet which showed me in about 118th place or so -- again, well worse than what I'm used to.  Still about 20-25 minutes behind my target splits for 24 hours, but at least that part hadn't really gotten any worse.

Leaving Twin Lakes
Now for all that Sugarloaf/Powerline and the descent into Twin Lakes were like 1000' slopes, we were about to head up to Hope Pass -- about 3400' of climb on this side, maybe 2500' on the other side, then a gentler but multi-mile climb to the Winfield aid station.  Then turn around and do it all in reverse, back to Twin Lakes.  I had heard stories of people devastated by the climb, by rain, lightning, and hail on top of the pass, people who sat down in Winfield and couldn't summon the will to ascend Hope Pass a second time, and more.  This was a major factor in hiking Hope Pass on Wednesday -- I wanted to get here and find familiar trail, stuff I knew I could do, and have something to measure my progress against.  I had also heard there were 6 ponds and a river to cross before even getting from Twin Lakes to the Hope Pass trailhead, but water doesn't bother me so much, so that was just one more thing to mark my progress.

Now with the jacket at the ready
Of course, setting off from Twin Lakes, I wasn't feeling super -- I mean, it was 40 miles into the race, after all.  I jogged through the town of Twin Lakes, followed other runners across an unmarked parking lot (how was I going to get that right on the return?), and into a trail across a field.  I walked bits but tried to jog as much as possible, given that I knew a slow climb was coming.  I'd be able to rest soon enough.  We eventually hit the ponds, and they were like giant puddles, fully spanning the trail and shrubs on either side, maybe 6 to 8 inches deep in the middle.  No way to avoid it, really.  I charged through at speed, while some other folks pussy-footed.  Why bother?  I'm afraid I splashed a few folks, but come on, what do you achieve by walking it?  I picked up a few places I guess.  I noticed some of the people I passed were carrying folded trekking poles.

Crew loved the dirt
After a number of similar ponds, we hit a little canal, followed by a sandy bank, and the actual river.  I thought they had said it was thigh-high in the briefing, but I never found a part over my knees.  It was nice and cold, though; I stopped midway to splash more of the cold water on my knees and thighs.  It felt great!  Another lesson from Western States -- use the streams!  As a result I took a bit longer on the crossing, but it was way worth it.  I got up on the far bank and while we had to navigate a short rocky part over to the trail again, I started jogging as soon as I cleared that.  I noticed others walking, but for my 2 cents jogging clears the water out of the shoes faster, and again, we had a nice big walk coming up.

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
The longer I climbed, the lousier I felt.  I stopped occasionally to rest on a log and let my legs recharge.  People passed me, including a number with trekking poles, but that didn't really bother me.  We'd see what we'd see on the downhill.  If only my hands would unswell!  As we got into the second half of the climb there were more joggable sections, but I didn't have it in me.  I started really, really looking forward to the Hopeless aid station.  Never a good sign.  I wasn't having much luck eating -- not much was appetizing -- so I was probably getting a little short on calories.  Another not great sign.  Strangely, it didn't feel like the altitude or the climb getting to me, it felt strictly like a fluid/nutrition problem.  (But in truth, maybe the altitude was behind it?)  The leader Tony passed with his pacer going the other direction, just as we emerged into a slightly more open area -- he looked great.

Thanks Guys!  (Photo Credit: Sherpa John Lacroix)
Finally we came out of the trees to be greeted by a wonderful sight -- tents and llamas.  Hopeless aid station!  (It's so hard to get to, they use llamas to tote the water and Powerade up there!) I made it up to the tents, and immediately asked about a scale.  I was frustrated they hadn't had a weight check already, and I wanted to know if I was noticeably up.  No scale, so I asked to talk to the medical guys.  It took a minute to track them down, but they came over and we talked.  They seemed pretty unconcerned, noting that in a race like this weights go up and down and all over the place, and my hands didn't look that bad to them.  But they suggested I switch from water to Powerade in my pack ("it doesn't hang out in the tissue like that"), which I did, and hooked me up with some soup, though everyone looked a bit in askance when I added a number of shakes of salt to it ("you, know, it's already pretty salty!").  I didn't want to take any chances with a crash like Western States.  I felt like I had to apologize for dumping my water to load up with Powerade -- after all, they needed freakin' llamas to bring all the liquid up here and I was there dumping some out!  But I felt better that I'd have plenty of electrolytes, and at least if I took in too much water I'd be balancing it out, for sure.  Finally, I headed out, and the medical guys called out that I should check in with them on the way back, in a way that was basically just encouragement that they were sure I'd make it back.

View ahead from Hope Pass
It was a special sight leaving Hopeless.  There was a solid line of runners from there to the pass, and you could see them all, except where the folds of the mountain concealed the trail.  There was a clear chain of humanity pulling you along, just like the one on a bicycle.  No chance for any problems there.  It was cool outside the trees and windy nearing the top, though, so I put my jacket on.  Someone said a half hour to the top from Hopeless, though I made it in 20 minutes and felt great.  It had been just under 2 hours to Hopeless, and 20 more to the top, so perhaps 2:17 or 2:20 up from Twin Lakes.  Moments before we reached the actual summit, the second place runner passed.

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
Immediately, I felt better.  First, it was familiar ground.  Second, I ran.  I must have done OK on the ascent, because as soon as it turned down, I was running again.  And passing people.  Lots of people.  Everyone I recognized from earlier in the race, and more.  Someone said "Boy I sure wish I could still run downhill!"  I felt pretty bad for them -- less than halfway and already quads were dying?  That must suck.  I thanked my quads of steel and carried on.  The great thing was, every time I came up on someone and asked "Can I pass when you get a chance?" they almost immediately let me.  And the runners coming up the hill made it easy on me too.  Sometimes I could dodge off to the side so we could both keep going, other times they just deferred, but passing people in both directions on the tight trail was way less of a problem than it might have been.  95% of what I said was "Can I pass when you get a chance?" but hey, is that really bad?

Hitting the treeline
I enjoyed the switchbacks, the curve through the first couple trees when you hit the tip top of the treeline, the rubbly downhills, the big bush that hides the trail but I knew from before can be safely run through at high speed, the rocky parts with a couple of steps, the switchback in the middle of a world of roots, the pair of streams hiding in tall bushes, the enormous rock field that looks like it might be the summit right there unless you know better, the tall skinny trees, the bushes with little red buds, the lone stream further down that runs underneath the trail, even the steep rocky part near the bottom, because it is, after all, near the bottom.  It was so so worth it to have hiked this earlier in the week!

One of those nice streams
And finally, I came out to the trailhead, then after the last little gasp of slight downhill, the road.  Maybe 35 minutes for the descent, after like 1:50 of climb.  Someone said 2.2 miles to Winfield, which seemed a little low (I thought the figure had been 3).  I took a moment to take my jacket off (way unnecessary by now), walk a minute to regroup, and then start the process of trying to jog as much as possible to the turnaround.  A few of the last people I passed on the descent passed me back straightaway, but that was totally OK with me, as I had just totally rocked that downhill.  There was a solid stream of runners going past in the other direction too.  Cars passed occasionally, kicking up dust, so I took small swigs of Powerade regularly.  I hadn't had much to eat on the downhill (hard while going that fast, plus I didn't feel like I was putting out as much effort), so I tried to at least make it up by drinking some calories, and taking a gel or two on the road.  That road section to Winfield was tedious, and again the station always seemed like it should be right around the next turn but never was, until finally we got there.  And still had to enter in kind of a roundabout way, but whatever.

The mountains at Winfield
I got in and Erin and my dad were waiting, as usual.  They had my drop bag, which was a big one, with all new gels plus enough S-caps for the rest of the race.  I went through the first weight check of the race and was like a pound down, so whether the puffy hands were a red herring or my intake reduction had worked, I was now totally in line.  My excellent crew got me refilled and I repacked and soon set off again -- now only 15-20 minutes behind my 24-hour split!  On the down side, I was one of the few lone runners -- most everyone seemed to be picking up a pacer.  So no one to motivate me, and after a slightly longer stay there I didn't feel much like running.  Soon enough, however, the road turned downhill and I cranked it up to a jog again.  I knew I had to get it in while I could, because the next climb was coming.  Strangely, I didn't fear the return over Hope Pass at all.  Again partly because the climb would be familiar, but also I think because my strategy had crystallized as take it real easy on the uphills, crush the downhills.  So I didn't fear the uphill, I just planned to take it at whatever (slow) pace felt decent.  And I did.

Couldn't this be the summit?
This involved a lot of slow walking, a number of breaks when I could find a suitable log (down low) or rock (higher up), and plenty of deferring to runners coming down the hill.  I was always happy to take a quick break to let someone go by, only getting a little impatient if they were in a group of 4 or 5, in which case I'd start edging up by the time the last one got by.  Sometimes the downward-bound runners stepped aside if there was a switchback or other likely spot, but mostly I think I let them go.  And not as many people passed me from behind as I expected from the first trip up -- I guess we were all a little beat now.  Mainly they passed when I sat for a bit.  The landmarks ticked off (though I didn't see the cabin hidden on the mountainside that I noticed from my original hike), and I made steady progress.  Toward the top, I figured I was seeing people coming down that had narrowly escaped the cutoff at Hopeless, and I made sure I always let them get by -- 5 minutes of stepping aside wasn't going to mean much to me, but it sure might to them!

Nice bit of single track
Though I knew a number of people at the race, the only one I recognized coming down at me was Sherpa John, a fellow slammer.  He said hi and I have no idea what I might have said -- but I fear it wasn't as friendly as I might have been had I seen him at the bottom of the climb.  At a certain point, I put my jacket back on, and my world narrowed to specific steps to get to the top.  I was once again having nutrition problems on the climb.  Nothing felt appetizing, and I just craved plain water, but all I had was Powerade.  I made do, but my mouth felt dry and sticky and was not happy with the situation.  It was great to pass the treeline, so I could see the line of runners marking the route ahead, and at least measure my time until I could put the climb (and Powerade) behind me.  As before, there were a lot of them, and the line still appeared to extend pretty high above me.  But I pressed on, passing the weird fork in the trail with the small wooden "<- Trail" sign, and heading on up the last few switchbacks to the top.  There at last!  The twin lakes looked spectacular once again, but it was the downward-facing trail that had my attention.  It had been about 90 minutes from bottom to top (compared to 70 when I hiked it the other day), plus the 30 to get out from Winfield.

Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake from Hope Pass
I shot down the trail to Hopeless, immediately needing to begin my "Can I pass when you get a chance?" routine again.  Soon I wished I had a recording of it.  Such is life.  I made it to Hopeless in just over 10 minutes, once again dumping my pack, this time to refill with water.  I cheerfully checked in with the medical guys just to update them and note that I was feeling better again (duh, it was now the downhill).  And headed back down.  At first not supremely fast, but soon gravity kicked in and I again had a fantastic downhill, passing a huge number of people.  I saw some familiar switchbacks, nice dirt and rock trails, and eventually hit the loud waterfall, suggesting I was nearing the bottom.  A few slightly more level bits and a big rocky downhill, and I was there.  It took some effort to keep up a jog once things leveled out, and I wasn't totally successful, but I guess I did better than average and made it to the river.  A few folks were off to the side of the trail changing shoes or something.  I headed for the deepest part of the river and started coating my legs with splashes of lovely cold water.  It felt so good, I took off my hat and glasses and attacked my head too.  I rubbed my hands in the water until the last sticky remnants of gel were only a faint memory.  Oh my gosh, this felt good!  I guess the shoe-changer-guys probably thought I was as dumb as I thought they were, so to each his own, but man, I would take 10 more rivers like this on the course!

One of those switchbacks down the mountain
The down side was, coming out I could tell I had some grit in my shoe.  I had my fancy gaiters, but I was wearing an older pair of Wildcats with a big rip in the side, and apparently some crud found its way in.  I paused to try to clear it our, ripping more in the process, and had only moderate success.  I could tell I had blisters, and this wasn't going to make it any better, but I gave up and pressed on.  It bothered me off and on for probably the next 20 miles, but I mostly successfully tuned it out.

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
Crossing the parking lot, I immediately came to the ridiculous rocky climb up that little hill.  My brain almost rebelled, even though I could see it was only 20 feet long.  "You can't be serious!" I grumbled, still heading toward it.  I could even see the runner in front of me climbing it with ease, and it didn't help.  I gave up and just moved into it, and in maybe 30 seconds I was past and heading down the other side.  That only got me to the long, steep ascent on the gravel road.  Not much to be done -- I headed up it, slowly.  I totally hadn't factored this climb out of Twin Lakes into my mental topo map of the race.  So it was the extra #5 climb, besides Sugarloaf/Powerline and Hope Pass twice.  Fortunately, the gravel road passed relatively quickly, and I made it onto the trail.  Unfortunately, there was still plenty of climb left on the trail.

They were happy to be there too
But there was a nice surprise waiting for me there.  I bumped into Chris McDougall on the trail, and as I didn't have a pacer, he graciously offered to run with me for a while.  Or maybe I should say "run" as I was still spending a lot of time walking up hills.  But we got going a little on the flatter sections, and it was great to have some folks to talk to and pass the time on the trail.  Actually, per the pacer rules at Leadville, he asked if he could carry my hydration pack for me, to which I rather incredulously replied, "uh... no?" I mean, they can encourage muling if they want to, but I don't buy it.  Regardless, it was nice company.  After some time he ran into someone else he knew and let me go, but that really helped get me over the hump a bit, and I headed on into the remaining hills.  I saw some familiar parts -- the view of Twin Lakes from far above, the T in the trail where I had searched for markings (much easier in this direction!), some hills I remembered flying down even as I trudged up.  Eventually, I couldn't help but count time to the Pipeline aid station.  I knew it was on a wide gravel road.  We were on what you might describe as a gravel road if you were feeling particularly generous -- it was two gravelly tire tracks with high grass in between.  I couldn't decide whether it would magically widen into the road I remembered or not.

Sean's diggin' this ultra thing
Then we hit a sign for the something or other trail, and immediately took it -- so not the same road, then.  It was more rolling by this point, ups, downs, flats.  I couldn't tell whether I had hit the "top" or not!  I really should have enjoyed this as it's the kind of terrain I generally dig, but unfortunately, by this time, I was in "where in the nine hells is the aid station?!?" mode and didn't give the trail the love I should have.  Finally, we came down a little hill and made a nearly 90 degree turn onto the big gravel road -- that was a milestone I remembered!  Now, I had walked 10 minutes uphill out of the station, so when I got to the part where I had stopped walking, I'd have maybe 5 downhill minutes to go.  But where was that?  I had been jogging when it turned onto trail, so not yet.  I passed a gate across the road, and remembered slowing down to go around that, so not yet.  I hit a flat section, and I didn't remember walking the flat, so not yet.  Then, downhill.  Yay!  I picked it up on the downhill, and cruised into Halfmoon II shortly thereafter.

But Caelan's maybe a little tired of it?
Now my goal splits for the remainder of the race from Twin Lakes were 2-2-3-3.  I had left Twin Lakes inbound at 14:07, so 2 hours to Halfmoon II, 2 hours to Fish Hatchery, 3 hours to Mayqueen, and 3 hours to the finish would be right about 24 hours.  That would be an extra 30 minutes (compared to outbound) on these two legs, and an extra hour each for the last two legs.  It seemed like a lot, but here I was at Halfmoon II just under 2 hours from Twin Lakes, so it looked like I should not second-guess the plan.  I did have a big drop bag and gel-refilling operation, but the volunteers were on top of everything and I got out about as quickly as I could have expected.  1:59:31, including the stop.

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?!?
I circled the lot back to the downhill to the huge pile blocking the road (nearly missing the cut around it -- if I hadn't remembered it I would have just climbed the mound because there were no decent markings).  As soon as I rounded it, there was an uphill back to the road.  That would have been irritating except there were a bunch of people at the top cheering on each runner, so that helped me up to the top to start the looooong road section back to Fish Hatchery.  There was a pair of runners in the distance ahead of me, and some others behind me, though they gradually fell back to the point where I never noticed them again.  We maybe passed a runner or two walking on the initial road section.  I remembered we needed to do the diagonal to the left on the sandy road, and kept looking for the turnoff.  The runners ahead of me did too -- I could see their headlamps scouring the left side of the road.  We kept running further, the cars at the intersection ahead kept looking closer, but still no turnoff.  I could swear we had missed it, but how could it not be adequately marked?  There were very occasional glow sticks on the side of the road, surely there would be a few at the turn?

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
Heading back out of the barn, the pacer was gone.  "Dad, do you know where that pacer went?"  She popped up again as we got to the tent -- they needed my name and number to register her to pace.  We stopped at the tent and got that taken care of, then headed out.  I had made pretty good time (vs. the plan) -- about 10 minutes under my 2-hour goal.  I was now on track for a real sub-24 finish!  We did the introductions again, and I was pretty foggy at the time, but I believe her name was Priscilla.  She works for Outward Bound in Colorado over the summers, and they were manning the Fish Hatchery aid station.  She doesn't run much (mostly a hiker), but some friends talked up the LT100 enough that she decided to stop by and offer to pace for at least the 10 miles from Fish Hatchery to Mayqueen.  I shared my preference for pacers (go ahead of me, find the trail markings, etc.), and explained that we'd be walking a ton up the Powerline hill.  She didn't seem to really believe me, and in fact had me jogging up the small hill on the road from Fish Hatchery.  I explained my 3 hour goal for the section, and she said she thought we'd beat that with ease, given how the beginning went.  But then we hit the real Powerline ascent, and all became clear.  Just like the previous ascents, I took it easy up the hill.  As it got steeper, she commented on how crazy it must have been to run down earlier.  Quite!

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
Then the trail turned steeply up again, and he passed me back.  WTF?  I must have missed the part about 3 false summits, and sure didn't remember anything but the gravity-induced rush on the outbound.  We weren't there yet.  So we climbed on.  More walking, more resting, more thinking we were there, and not actually being there.  Finally the road leveled out and started to look real familiar, and we were finally, finally there (about 100 minutes into the leg).  I had to keep walking for a minute just to sort myself out, and then started shifting gears.  First a slow jog, which quickly became a faster jog, and then pretty much a run.  Before long, we were passing people, as promised.  They may not have been as frequent as on Hope Pass, but we steadily reeled them in.  We'd see headlamps in the far distance and down below, and before you know it, we'd come up on another pair of runners (or walkers).  Priscilla said "Wow, you were right about passing people on the way down!"  I said "Yeah, their quads are all dead."  I told her about the guy saying he couldn't run down hills any more the first time down from Hope Pass.  And periodically we'd catch a glimpse of the Mayqueen aid station, all lit up in the distance.  Then the road got steeper and we sped up more.  Yes!

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!
That came to a crashing halt in the next few miles of trail.  I have a proposal for the 29th annual LT100: raise the price by one dollar per person, and put an additional 780 glow sticks out there.  I mean, I didn't actually go off course, but I can't tell you the number of times I had to stop and look around, even wait for someone walking behind me to catch up so we could look together.  Would it have been so hard to just hang each glow stick in sight of the last?  The streamers may have been there but they were completely invisible at night unless you just happened to point a light directly at it from close range.  The real problem was that the trail had changed.  Before the boat ramp, it was obvious, there were rocks or dirt walls or vegetation on either side of the trail, no real chance to lose it.  After the boat ramp, it was just huge wide spaces and tree trunks.  Sometimes it even went through large campgrounds, with no glow stick on the proper trail on the far side.  I began to hate this section, and was mentally begging to hit road again.  It seemed to go on forever, and there was the occasional clear trail or sequence of a couple close glow sticks, but it always opened up again and frustrated me.  We hit that parking lot and thank goodness someone was there to tell me where to go, but it just went back onto the confusing trail.  Aargh!

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.

Finish Line!
Then footsteps, and I was overtaken again.  Damn!  It was a runner and pacer.  The runner said "You've been holding me off all this time, don't fail now!" I tried, but I didn't have much more in me for this uphill.  We talked a bit, or to tell you the truth, the pacer talked a lot.  I asked were there really no more turns?  They said "You're gonna finish this!"  That didn't help.  Then, "see that stop light?  It's the finish!"  I couldn't see lights or a banner or anything -- but I could see the stop light, and I ran for it.  We got within maybe two blocks, and the pacer called out "Final stretch, give it what you've got!"  I did, and managed to pick up the pace just an iota more.  I think that runner could have blown on by, but instead, he stayed just at my shoulder.  Up the hill, and we crossed the timing mat in 23:39:46.0 and 23:39:46.6.  But I didn't know whether to stop -- everything else was 20 yards past the mat!  I staggered on, slowing to a halt as we hit the red carpet and then the crowd.

With the finisher's medal
Erin and my dad were there to cheer me in, though after a quick hug and photo I just asked for someplace to sit.  We decided to make for the car, but before we could move, the race director showed up with a medal.  When I ducked my head for her to apply it, I started coughing, and she said I had to weigh in and visit medical -- for just that reason.  So I did.  My weight was down a couple pounds, and I asked if someone was looking at feet.  I knew I had some blister issues.  First they directed me to a runners tent with some chairs near a heater, and then a medical tent with cots.  That's for sure what I needed.  I collapsed on a cot, and immediately started shivering, as they applied blanket after blanket.  I just had to wait it out, though Erin came and parked the sleeping kids next to me and went for hot chocolate from the other tent.  My dad helped me get settled and wait out the shivers.  The hot chocolate was great, but it was still a while before my body settled down.  The medical folks looked at my feet and acknowledged the blisters, but they apparently didn't qualify as hamburger so no treatment was warranted.  It was fine, so long as they let me lay there under the blankets!

Found a cot!
Eventually I changed into dry clothes from my finish line bag (Erin having the great idea to prep them in front of the heater first!), and somewhat after that, we got ready to depart.  I needed help standing, but then made it over to the side of the road for her to pick me up.  My dad, poor guy, walked the kids the few blocks home in the cold, because we didn't have seating set up in the car for all of us!

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
In any case, I was thrilled to finish under 24.  My most optimistic goal had been closer to 20, but comparing times from Vermont to Leadville and stuff like that, I had to admit it wasn't very realistic.  So 24 was really my main goal, and that looked pretty unlikely by a third of the way in.  Even the big buckle for 25 seemed in danger for a while!  But it came together nicely in the second half, and I started beating my goals again, which was great.  Couldn't have been happier to finish my first Leadville sub-24, especially in the middle of the Grand Slam!  (Not that I don't have a few ideas for how to pick up a little time on the next attempt…)

Parting shot of Hope Pass trail
The buckle is a wonder.  I mean, I thought Vermont was nice, and Grindstone was pretty cool, but then Western States set a whole new standard, and that was only for the bronze!  But Leadville, all I can say is, wow!  I think the next step up from that sucker is the World Wrestling Federation!  I do kind of feel like I should stand and hold it up over my head!

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.


  1. well i reqally don't know the note limits lol

  2. Congrats Aaron, another tremendous accomplishment and a terrific race report as usual.

  3. I think we need an official showing of the buckles. (AT least some pics.)

    Congrats on such an outstanding effort & accomplishment!

    Thanks for sharing your story. Ya know, this would make a great book..."How I spent My Summer Vacation"