Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Other People's Race Reports: The Leadville Trail 100 mile endurance run.

Dear Diary:
Map of the course can be found here.

It's hard to put into words how awesome it was to be able to accompany my husband in finishing this dream he has had for so long, the "race across the sky".

But you know I'm going to try, right?

I didn't even know how important it was to him myself until after it was all over. He'd become increasing preoccupied, churning out spreadsheet after spreadsheet of pace charts, food charts with calories and grams of carbs.  I would sometimes find myself talking to him, look up and see him staring out the window.  Huh?  What? 

Now, about ultra running.  The aid stations are not water tables.  They are small cities, with places to sit for runners, and scales where they must weigh in. If they've lost too much weight, they have to stay and drink. There is am area for special needs bags, knowledgeable volunteers milling about, several tables of drink (coke, sprite, Gatorade, water, coffee) food (ramen, boiled potatoes, sandwiches, tortilla roll-ups, small candy bars, m&ms, chips, crackers, cookies) and supplies (Vaseline, bandages, Tylenol, etc) and one or two medical personnel on hand.

That might sound like a ridiculous amount of crap food, but deep into a race you want to have things on hand for people to eat regardless of how finicky their stomach is. It isn't important that pop-tarts might have some transfats in them. It's important that they have carbohydrates that are simple and easily absorbed.

And now you know the secret of why we love these things so much.  Unlike triathlon, which pounds efficiency and sleekness into you, ultrarunning is a 31- 50- or 100-mile buffet of the crappiest food that you normally do not touch because, OMG, it's how many damned weight-watchers points?  

Anway, my job: make sure he had 500 calories each hour, watch his hydration and his feet.  And to be there.  This might not seem like much, but it should be noted that of the four 100-milers that Baboo has attempted, the two he did not finish were the two where I wasn't there.  Coincidence?  I think not. Yeah, I know.  AWWWWWW.

Don't stick your finger down your throat at me. It's cute and you know it.

Ultrarunning is hard core. You will, at some point, cross a river, climb a mountain, eat some dust, get rained on, run through snow banks in July, trip and fall, and your feet may be a bloody mess of blisters. Getting help does not necessarily disqualify you, either. Both Sweet Baboo and I have had the experience of a volunteer wrapping our feet in duct tape and kicking us out of his aid station.  Suck it up, princess, you're got 40 more miles ahead of you and a pass to climb.
The worst can be altitude: Many people will train at lower altitudes, not knowing that they are one of the 20% of people who are sensitive to high altitudes.  For those 20%, the ascent up to Hope Pass doesn't leave them breathless, it might leave them with pulmonary edema.  Dean Karnazis attempted this race twice before finishing on his third try, so maybe this was his issue. It's mine.  I'll never be able to do this one, because I'm one of the 1/5.

My first stop of the day was a boat ramp.  The race had started at 4 am, and silently we stood in the dark and cold, seeing our breath, on the shore of Turquoise Lake. Then came the first flicking lights of a miles-long line of small lights flickering and bobbing along the shore, reaching back into the distance.  The runners came through, having completed their first 7 or 8 miles. They ran through silently, watching the ground intently, since it was still pitch black out, and disappeared back into the darkness.

Of course, ultra runner peeps have cowbells. Of course, they were rung. And air horns. At least one camper came down to complain.  Oh, C'MON, fisherman.  You can sleep later.  This is a race!

At the May Queen campground aid station, 13 miles into the race, I had to park over a mile away and hike in supplies. I was continuously pissed off that official crews, with special vehicle tags, had to fight for parking with spectators, who mostly stood around and got in the way. What were the point of those vehicle tags, anyway? This is the largest race of its kind, and there needs to be a "crew only" designated area, so that we can take care of our runners without tripping over someone's 6-year-old who is pitching a fit because she wants some m&ms from the aid station.

This isn't a grumpy issue. It's a safety issue. My need to take care of my runner supersedes your need to take pictures of the race, Cowgirl, so back the f&*# off.

At each aid station I check his pace, time, and prepared a baggy of food for him to take on his way, before he gets there. I also had two prepared bottles of Nuun for him to swap out his old bottles with. Sometimes I had spare shoes, if he had just crossed a river. Sometimes I had spare socks. Usually, I would prepare two bottles of Nuun, and two bottles of water, so that he could grab what he needed. 

At Twin Lakes, about 40 miles into the race, I got there 2 hours early, since the runners had to climb up and over Sugar Loaf Pass to get there. I had a snack, relaxed, and then around 10:30, set up a small "Baboo" aid station, laying out things he might need. My job is to get him out of there as quickly as possible, and to do his thinking for him.  Twin Lakes is gorgeous. 

Now, he was expected about 12:17. I didn't know that he was running really well, so just before noon, I headed for the portable toilets to, um, well.
Dammit, wouldn't you know at that exact moment, he came into the aid station, running past the portables. I exited and walked down to the place where runners were coming into the aid station, not knowing he'd come in.
So there we were - 20 yards apart in a crowd of people. I waited for him to come in, not knowing he was there, and he wandered for a bit, then got some fluids and left the aid station, headed for Hope Pass. After about 30 minutes, I thought, he CAN'T be this slow. I texted a friend and was told he'd come through 40 minutes earlier.
I was devastated. All I could think of was him crossing the river and then going up and over Hope Pass, in the heat of the day, without enough food or fluids, without a change of shoes. His race would be ruined, and it would be my fault.  I would go down in history as the worst wife and crewer ever.
Friends that I shared this with told me not to worry, he'd gone in and gotten fluids at the aid station, but still, I worried. 

I headed back to the hotel and picked up Tim, who was to be his first pacer. Pacers are people who run along with you, usually after dark, keeping you on the trail, talking to you to keep your mind off your discomfort, and they are allowed at Leadville after the turnaround at Winfield.

Winfield was mile 50, and it was a nightmare. We had 15 miles of really rough dirty road to get in. We shared it with the runners for the last 3 miles, and needed to drive 5 miles an hour to avoid sending up clouds of dust. Many non-crew vehicles ignored this, and ignored people telling them to slow down. There was a long wait for parking, as I had to wait until someone else left before I could go in. Many non-crew people ignored the requests of the race organizers not to go into Winfield, so again I had to compete with them for space. The aid station itself was crowded, and looked a lot like an outdoor rock concert, with dogs, kids, etc., running around. It was hard to get to a position to see Baboo behind all the people holding up signs of encouragement and holding 3-year-olds on their shoulders.  yeah, I know, Find your inner Polyanna, Misty.  You know what you can do with your Polyanna, right? 

So.  Baboo was expected at 4 pm.  I joined up with DreadPirate, Bones, and others, who were crewing for Mo, and they helped me with Baboo, getting things he needed. Baboo came in as sweaty and tired around 4 pm as we thought he would.  He sat for a while, tired, but happy.  Tim held an umbrella over him for shade. I gave him a wash cloth dipped in cold water to wipe down his arms and legs, lots of coke, ice, some food, and eventually sent him on his way, to climb back up over Hope Pass with Tim. I headed back to Twin Lakes. The sun was setting, and it had cooled off. I hoped Baboo would perk up now that it was cooling down. I hung out with DreadPirate at Twin Lakes, and then after seeing him off at Twin lakes, I went back to the hotel briefly to get a bite to eat.  I felt somewhat guilty about having a pre-made meal of punjab eggplant and rice, but not too much.  I didn't sign up to starve and beat myself up over 100 miles, why should I suffer?

So.  By the time he came back to a place called Treeline, it was after midnight, and I was tired. Baboo had set up an area in the Element that had a thick futon mattress and thick quilt on it, and I lay on that and dozed, despite the cold. I kept the engine running and the back hatch open so that he could spot me. When he came in, I got him his supplies while he retaped his feet.

Then I headed for Fish Hatchery, mile 75ish. At this aid station he cut the socks off his compression socks, because he said they were squeezing his feet together.  That left him with compression leg sleeves. His pacer, Tim, had gone 25 tough miles with him and was relieved by another friend of ours, Mark. Mark would take Baboo up and over Sugar Loaf pass to May Queen, about 13 miles. Mark had already paced another friend of ours that night, so his plate was full.

I headed back to May Queen, mile 87ish (the course is 102 miles) and got a decent parking spot, since it was well after midnight and most of the spectators were tired and had gone away. I set my alarm for 3:30 am and got about 2 hours of sleep, the first I'd had in 24 hours. Then I took off my jeans, under which I'd put on running tights, and grabbed my headlight and running gear. Baboo came in about 4 am, so after loading him up with foods and fluids, I headed out with him.

Now, I was pretty sure that even at mile 90, he was going to be able to outrun me, so my plan was to switch off with Tim again at the Boat ramp, and Tim could take him the last 7 miles in. We moved so fast, however, that they weren't there yet. We yelled for Tim a couple times, and then just kept going. Luckily for me Baboo did start to wind down a bit, so it was easier for me to keep up with him.

We each have awesome headlamps, so running through the woods alongside Torquoise lake in the dark was no problem. As we circled the lake, still at a good pace (mostly running) dawn came, and the sun rose. We left the lake and headed back into Leadville. The last few miles were cruel: long uphills, the last being a long uphill, short downhill, and another uphill to the finish line.

Baboo finished in 27:35, far less than he had predicted. He was hoping to finish under 30, since that was the cutoff, and had fantasized about being under 29. He never thought he'd be able to finish in less than 28, and the knowledge that the course was 102.5 miles was just that much sweeter.

Pacing him the last 15 miles was a really fantastic. Not only did I get to see parts of the course I would not have gotten to see, but I felt those weeks of him being distant and preoccupied disappearing. At one point, he started moving ahead of me, thinking he would move ahead of a runner he thought he could finish ahead of. Even at mile 90, he was faster than I.  He saw me falling behind, and slowed down. When I pointed out that he shouldn't have to worry about leaving his pacer behind, he said, "But I'm not leaving my wife behind."

I know, I know. Say it with me now: Awwwwwwww. Hands off, he's taken.

So, we finished together. Whenever we came near people, I would drop back a little and motion wildly for people to cheer for him, which they did. As we approached the finish line, I peeled off, and he broke the tape and got his finisher's medal, one of the 52% of those that finished that race, of the nearly 700 who started.

So, is this for everyone? Maybe not. I've heard that, like a lot of intense things, crewing your spouse will take your marriage in whatever direction it's going and send it that way that much faster. This is the third time I've crewed from Baboo, and I enjoy it each time. Normally Baboo is the strong one who takes care of things for me, so it's nice for me to take care of things for him for a change. I really, really like the ultra running community, and I like being in beautiful places, and it's unlikely I would ever do this run myself, given the difficulty and the altitude - so I get to participate this way. 

Plus, Baboo has always stood behind me and supported anything I wanted to do, or try to do, so it feels good for me to be able to be part of him succeeding, as well.  Call it being supportive, or call it storing up brownie points, it works. 

Mostly, I like the opportunity to run alongside my husband, something that I can normally only do if he's already gone 80 or so miles. ;-)

Next up: Rio Del Lago. I'm doing the 50K alongside Cuteness Herself, RBR, and then we'll crew Baboo as he finishes the 100-miler.



  1. Awesome report! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I love this report. And Congrats to your husband for conquering such an intense event!

  3. woo hoo! I was thinking about you all this weekend and sending you good mojo over the mountains. I'm so glad to hear all went swimmingly.

  4. Awwwww-some!

    Yeah, some spectators are clueless. Some who don't ever participate don't have any safety sense.

  5. You two make a great team, congratulations to you both.

    Even with ultra-brain he came up with "But I'm not leaving my wife behind."? Ok, he's taken, but if you ever clone him, sign me up for a copy!

  6. You are awesome. That is all.

  7. Wow, I want you for crew too! It seems almost as hard as doing the event itself- sleep deprivation, obstacles to surmount and navigation to perfect, plus you have to keep your brain working for your athlete whose brain may be fogged from fatigue. He may be a sweetie, but so are you!

    Congrats to Baboo. It's quite an accomplishment.


  8. The couple that ultra-runs together, stays together!
    Brought me back to experiencing my first Ultra at Western States in early 80s. Different breed of folks to be sure!

  9. First, I end my AP biology class today and THREE kids thank me for the excellent lecture (Like, whoa, I know they are AP, but they are still teenagers, right?)

    THEN, I get an email from my hubby that he sent just to tell me that he "loves me so much it makes his heart hurt" and he wanted to see if the A/C at school was fixed (it is not, but now whose gagging at the sweetness?!)

    THEN I read the best 100 mile run crewing report/love story EVER.

    Man, I should go to bed now. This day can not get any better.

    Off to be speechless at your husband's awesomeness at his blog...

  10. Great report! Reading stuff like this really makes me want to get out an do an ultra!! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Great Recap!!! and you all did so awesome crewing.
    it even brought some tips for me, thanks!!

    will be seeing you at RDL!



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