leadville trail 100, 2012 - did not finish

all i ever wanted was to pick apart the day, put the pieces back together my way

-aesop rock





the plan

finish in 29 hours or so, with 30 being the cutoff.  a reasonable goal based on previous ultra experience and time available for training and fitness improvement.  so starting off, we've got one hour in the bank.  let's maybe have two hours in there for next year.


race morning

no sleep!  4am start.  woke up at 2:15.  

both at silver rush and here, greg (a friend of matt's and mine from ny, who finished last year) and I managed to find each other with no set plan to do so, amidst hundreds of other runners coming and going from all directions.  yay!


Start to May Queen (13.5 Miles)

802 cheering runners, even more cheering onlookers, and the stream of headlamps were all electrifying.  people in their yards in pajamas and nightgowns, screaming their heads off and high-fiving us to get us moving.  


as we headed out of town and into the turquoise lake area, tons of people were camping out, fires burning brightly at 5am, awake and ready to cheer on their runners.


Start to MQ Results: 2:37 (target) / 2:29 (actual) / 3:15 (cutoff)

May Queen to Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles)

the first signficant climb, sugarloaf, went smoothly.  hung with greg, sunrise in the mountains is beautiful and  feels even better with friends

the powerlines up there are where we're headed

out there

 up there

if it looks like i'm weeping, i probably am.  i remember that beastie boys were playing (on random) at this point, and everything felt super

powerlines down (where my day would later end on the way back in)

off the trail and on the stretch of road into Fish Hatchery.  

one of the hardest parts of the race for me to think about.  was feeling great, on schedule, and 100% sure that i would finish.  playlist on random left me listening to time to pretend by mgmt and feeling indescribable excitement and joy.  i find it fun to play with song lyrics and make them about running.  pretend you got this, and you got it.  

not long after this, along the road, there were cheerleader girls yelling for people just before the aid station.  must have been pros because it's like they looked into everyone's souls and called out whatever might be the most inspiring thing for that person to hear. neat.  


MQ to FH Results: 4:55 (goal) / 4:37 (actual) / 6:00 (cutoff)


Fish Hatchery to Half Pipe (29.1 miles)

this is the road section, and first time with doubles of nutrition (plan = refill bottles with water at a remote aid station and fill it up with powders myself, instead of doing a quick and easy handoff and receiving fresh bottles like at the crew-accessible aid stations).  wasn't quite prepped for storing the extra powder bags, and luckily matt passed in the car and was able to find and deliver my other belt thing.  it took 2 miles out of FH to get all stuff situated and to fall into a rhythm.  body was struggling a bit from the powerline downhill and mind was frustrated by 10s of minutes of trying to organize stuff.  did some run/walk.  the road is deceptively long.  

and then, a right turn, and finally we're off the road:

some guy hanging out "yeah man, you gotta stop and take a picture of that view" along with fist bump #2 of 6, dunno how or why that guy was always around.  
shortly after, got to a section where it seems that the locals unofficially party and crew.  there were a couple of kids, maybe 7 and 9, hanging out in a rock field, playing catch with a rock.  kids from colorado love nature so much and are so happy to be at ultras that they have fun playing catch with rocks!  another kid strolling to the family cheering section with a coloring book.  no need for backlit screens.  RVs and vans and SUVs and cars with flags and banners, full of loving peeps waiting for their runners.  

FH to HP Results: 6:26 (goal) / 6:15 (actual) / 7:20 (cutoff)

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes (39.5 miles)

i studied the course enough to know about most of the obvious parts, and paid no attention to this middle section, full of rolling ups and downs.  it dragged on forever.  i began to daydream about seeing my friends faces at twin lakes.  then, seeing my friends became the only thing that kept me going.  

and then there i was, on the famous (ha) descent off of the trail and into the twin lakes partytown area, 40 miles in and right on time.  this aid station is huge and full of crew and family and friends and supporters, a thrill to approach, especially when you know your buddies are in there.

tried to get through quick.  took off nb110s and put on Hokas.  crew was asking which of the "extra stuff" in one of bags i needed.  thinking this was the emergency bag, i thought none.  "i need 1200 calories of solid food for the next section."  something seemed weird about this exchange, like we were not quite talking and thinking about the same thing.

HP to TL Results: 8:44 (goal) / 8:23 (actual) / 10:00 (cutoff)

Twin Lakes (to Hopeless) to Winfield (50 miles)

heading out of the aid station and into the meadows.  wtf?!:

thought about nutrition.  the gu's, stingers, perp solids, etc were supposed to be in the belt.  i had already picked up the belt on the road, so they said it was all in the pockets of the rain jacket they gave me.  checked pockets.  realized that i indeed had the calories, though in the form of the powder that gets mixed into handhelds, and i had the hyrdation pack on instead.  mimi raced back to get glover, or glover was there and raced back, or something.  either way glover caught up with me a while in with 12 gus in 2 flavors.  not what was planned and better than nothing!

back in action.

so many people hang out at twin lakes.  every time i said to a cheering onlooker "thanks for being here," even in the middle of the night, they always said "thanks for inspiring us."  
 the trail and the beautiful backdrop
peeps scouting for runners
hope pass is the farthest back and lowest notch, a few miles out and 3000+ft up from here
stream crossing was low this year.  stopped to enjoy a glorious 3 minute natural ice bath with a couple guys before getting moving
 ran into greg again on the way up (ran ahead and looked back for this pic).  that stream is rushing right along the trail for much of the way up, beckoning runners to stray from the course, cool off, relax a bit.  why stick to this plan and this artificially constrained timeline when you could just freely frolic in a crisp, refreshing mountain stream?  the stream is always just a few too many rugged steps from the trail, so we continue upwards.

got to see tony on the way up, on his way down, with dakota jones pacing him, neat!  he was in the lead at this point.

nearing hopeless

llamas (or alpacas?)

hopeless aid station, one of the most magical places on earth, because it exists only one day a year and is full of smiling helpful volunteers, even though it is located at 12,000ft+ and is inaccessible by road (hence the llamas). 

headin out, looking down on hopeless

lookin up at greg, making his way up

at the top!

over the peak and ejoying the view on our way back down
as beautiful as this scenery was, this is where my day fell apart.  the shoes that i switched into at mile 39.5 were too small.  way too small to be trying to run down a very steep descent.  tried anything, eventually just had to really slow down.  due to the slow down, i ran out of water and nutrition.  there were a few more vanilla bean gu's and these could not be consumed and surely would have resulted in puking.

luckily we had good weather.  even though i suppose that it's statistically improbable that lightning hit that tree while people were runningb by it, there is a tree right on the trail that got struck by lightning. 


ryan and mimi awaiting my arrival at winfield.  go team!  these two did a top notch job for first-timers crewing and pacing.  they attended to my needs, thought ahead for me, made me feel good, stopped me from feeling bad, made sure i had what i needed, made me eat, gave me something to look forward to, kept me company, solved problems on the fly, had to be ready to run many miles, and on top of this gave up a whole weekend away from their families.  it's hard to explain that in addition to making sure i have the right stuff, and have someone there to functionally run along side me, that being there means adopting and eminating a certain positive attitude and unique approach to a challenge.  even though i can't explain it now and didn't define it for them up front, they were it, and that made my day.  mutliple times they brought me back from having fully accepted that it was ok to quit.  wish that i could have finished, if only to make it worth their while.

this is karen, who personifies all that is great about the ultra community.  we met her while she was volunteering at check-in on thursday and chatted for a few minutes.  she's in town from new mexico, was in chicago last weekend, is pacing someone for the full 50 (this is often split between 2-3 pacers), and is doing run rabbit run, another harder hundred miler in steamboat, in 3 weeks.  later we saw her at the italian restaurant.  the next morning we met up with greg, and there she was again; she's greg's pacer!  we parted ways and coach weber took us out and about to see aid stations.  while we were driving through downtown, there was karen, helping some volunteers set up the gates to close off sixth street.  she just happened to be walking by and thought they could use a hand.  more on karen later...
quote unquote almost there to the winfield aid station / midpoint, pretending like i feel ok on the colorado trail section that was introduced this year and seemed to take forever  

ran into http://www.dailymile.com/people/MMCDUFFIE/entries/17405037" target="_blank">michael on the way out, who i met at umstead 100.  we saw each other on the way up hope as well, and spent some time catching up.  hope all the runners enjoyed our chatter "michael and i fell in love at umstead earlier this year, and now we're rekindling our romance here on the trail in leadville, unplanned!  how special!"  also the rock stars were all passing us on their way back in at that time so we were acting like 14 year olds about tony, nick clark, and anna frost.

being so far behind schedule, ryan and mimi headed out to figure out wtf is going on with me

this lead to a much appreciated, advance (before the aid station) mountain dew and honey stinger waffle thing.  ryan was also trying to convince me to eat some honey stinger gel thing.  hopefully when he saw people puking 20-40oz at a time later, he understood what i meant when i said there was no way i was gonna try to consume that thing until i was feeling better later.

Made it there, completely bonked, and the +21 minutes in the bank (over the 29 hour goal) were now -61 minutes. Coach said "get some calories in you" and that was it.


TL to Winfield Results: 12:38 (goal) / 13:39 (actual) / 14:15 (cutoff))


Winfield to Twin Lakes (60.5 miles)

Still bonked on the way out.  Glover did a fantastic job of getting me moving.  having someone open your gu, hand it to you, and then take the finished packaging is the best thing ever!

"we're running to the next marker"  he kept saying.  "all i got," i kept saying, long before the next marker, returning to walking.  eventually things came together, and i was ready to move.

started getting ahead of him.  took all the nutrition he was carrying for me, not wanting to get too far out only to have no calories.  

even though it might be hard to choke down a gu or a few on a long run around chicago, when you are climbing a 2000ft steep ascent you can feel that factory of your legs cranking and you know you need to fuel it.  seems like i nailed the nutrition for the climbs, taking in 100 calories every 10-30 minutes, as needed based on feel and energy expenditure.  

should have thought about what else i might need before parting.  earlier, as we left winfield, we almost left without a headlamp, which would have been fine if on schedule and not an hour + behind.  ryan went back for it while i kept moving.  he temporarily put it on his head. 

after he got me back to life, and we got past the rolling CT section, i started scurrying up hope pass.  passed some people.  realized that ryan was behind me, out of sight, and that i had no headlamp and no salt.  

cruised up hope pass on the way back in.  never ran out of breath, passed a bunch of people, even jogged one of the flatter sections.  contrasted with running out of breath on the 4 12,000ft ascents at silver rush, this seems to be due largerly to a 4 week hypoxico tent rental (no thanks for the exploded eye blood vessel though) and months of altolab use.

luckily, before we split up, ryan gave me his shoes, and saved the day (it would be sunday when i dnf'd, so seems like it counts)



nearing the top,started talking with some people about extra headlamps or ideas for how to get one.  the guys in front of me said "find one to borrrow at hopeless, if you have only that microtorch, you are done."  

thinking that it was unlikely that i'd find one to borrow, i thought to myself: "you are incorrect.  i will do this."

asked for headlamp at hopeless.  no luck.  headed out into dusk, soon to be dark.  

time for the micro torch.  

held in my left hand while also holding and using a trekking pole for balance in the dark.  this particular light also has a convenient, battery saving, 5-minute auto off.  

what followed was a harrowing and exhilirating hour or two, running 2,500ft down a mountain in the dark, on rocky, rooty, uneven, winding trails.

in addition to having no light, we were also chasing the cut-off to get into twin lakes.  i could walk down and surely miss the cutoff, or i could go for it.

missing the cutoff would mean missing a chance to run in the mountains with one of my best friends, and i was not about to miss that.  "i have to make this cut off because mimi and i are going to run together here."

found a group in front of me.  pacer in front, then a girl with no light, then the pacer's runner, lisa.  the pacer was incredible.  "big rock to the right, lots of roots here, this part is really ... (as he falls on what he was trying to describe.)"  lisa kept checking on me.  runners would come up behind us, and when they had their bright lights, mixed with the bright lights in front of me, when i'd look down at my tiny dim area, i could hardly see anything.  at one point i made some dorky star wars reference, gonna just close my eyes and use the force down this thing.  

somehow, made it.  got to the meadows, and saw the stars.  the stars at 9,000ft elevation are like when you cross your eyes at one of those 3D book things; fully immersive.  saw the lights of the twin lakes aid station just ahead.  saw a shooting star in the direction of TL.  yes, really.  heard a conversation going on.  just wanted to zone out and feel the words of normal people talking for a few minutes, while keeping moving.  a few minutes later, still listening in on that conversation, familair sounds register.  it's greg!

hung with greg and pacer karen for a minute and couldn't really keep up.  at the stream crossing, i took my shoes off, because i knew i didn't have enough time to dig out a pair of socks and clean up/lube feet at TL.  so i lost greg.  when i got across the stream though, karen was waiting for me, waiting to give me her headlamp.  what a relief!  she ran ahead to get to greg, and i eventually caught them before we got into TL.    

as we rolled in to the aid station and crowds, there were still tons of families and kids hanging out, even after 9pm.  more of the thanks for being here!  thanks for inspiring us!  uhhhhh, chills.  you realize your baby is sleeping in your arms and it's the middle of the night and it's cold and you're in the mountains, right?  

checked in, and almost missed the checkout timing sensor.  

shoes were filled with sand.  

had to put on cold weather gear, an issue which mimi successfully forced.  thank you.

it was chaotic.  they put the barracade up, people were still cruising in for a while.  a few minutes later, even as we rolled out and up the climb, we heard the cheers for runners making the (extended?) cutoff?  it sounded good; it sounded like hope.

at winfield we were down 61 minutes, now at TL we're down ~80 (was in the aid for 10 minutes before hitting the out timer where this was registered). even though i had zipped back up hope pass, this time was largerly due to the bonk recovery time required from winfield to the base of hope

Winfield to TL Results: 16:27 (goal) / 17:58 (actual) / 18:00 (cutoff))

Twin Lakes to Half Pipe (70.9 miles)

started off bonked again due to that downhill.  couldn't stop for nutrition with only that dim light. needed to stick to the pace and attitude of lisa and her crew.  

TL inbound starts with a bit of a climb.  took a long time to get the calorie deficit back up.  with mimi's help, we finally got moving again.  

because i was using the headlamp karen gave me, it had different batteries than what i had backups for.  this made me nervous about the next leg of the course.

mimi kept me moving.

"hey look at that bridge, nice" i though to myself at some point.  as we got closer, the elaborate wood bridge i saw was simply a patch of tall grass.  haha.

even though it seems like we stopped too often to admire the stars, we got to the next aid station 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff!

TL to HP Results: 19:35 (goal) / 21:10 (actual) / 21:30 (cutoff))

Half Pipe to Fish Hatchery (76.5 miles)

at the HP aid station, we asked for batteries, and of course someone gave mimi more batteries than  we needed.  and so it goes, at ultras.

after HP the course mostly levels off, with a few miles of trails and then 6 or so miles of road.  that road back in is a total mindfuck at 3am.  the cars on the road into FH look so close ("i'm almost there!"), and then they look so far ("i'll never make it!").  FH looks so close, and then it looks so far.  We got some run/walk in here, quite a good amount.  apparehtly, just the right amount.  We arrived at FH inbound at 24:15:03 into the race; 3 seconds after the cutoff.  "We're letting you through, just be practical and get in and out of here."  i was feeling great, so i spent 2 minutes in the aid station, and headed back out.  

just fine relative to the cut-off, not so good relative to the plan.

HP to FH Results: 21:32 (goal) / 23:15 (actual) / 23:15 (cutoff))

Fish Hatchery to DNF (~80 miles)

saw ryan again, and got my headlamp back!

the road was ok, i had had enough of the pavement though and was excited to get to the base of the trail.  

before that, there was some weird house along the road.  during the day, they had a sign outside that said something like "more whiskey for all men" (greg says that this says "fresh horses and more whiskey for my men") and at night they were blaring music from a PA that we heard as far as 2 miles out from FH.  i work the county line?

after those sounds quieted, we heard a pack of wolves hooting and hollering in the mountains.   spine tingling.

this is where i really needed to have some time in the bank.  at the base of the climb, i knew we were chasing the clock and my nutrition was low again and body was a bit stressed from our agressive (if you can call 14 minute miles aggressive) approach to FH.  needed some time to do some flat walking, or really slow climbing, and there was so much pressure to keep moving.  

on my back, lying upside down on the ascent, desparately hoping to drain some of the ____ out of my legs.  dunno what it was.  just.  so close.

mimi tried her best. i could only go when i could go.  too many hours of chasing the clock, of going at peak to barely make it, instead of going slow and steady.  recovering from a few bonks is a lot harder than keeping it balanced, but i hadn't kept it balanced.

so, that was the end:

we stopped in one place on the way up the powerlines and i tried to get it back for some time.  by the time we decided it was more likely that we could safely get to where we came from than where we were going to, we saw some ATVs on their way up the powerlines.

FH to MQ Results: somewhere between 24-25 hours

DNF to May Queen (via 4 wheeler and SUV)

At May Queen we saw Greg roll through, what a bad ass guy!

We were freezing from our ride.  But some guys with legit hypo rolled in.  Their faces were pale and vacant and their bodies violently and involuntarily shook trying to generate heat.  

Ate some fresh flapjacks, yum!

how to DNF in 4 easy steps.

or, take any number of steps in these 4 pairs of shoes and you'll DNF

  1. start with the wrong shoes
  2. change into shoes that are no better at mile 23
  3. change into shoes that are terrible at mile 40, and then try running down a mountain in them
  4. change into shoes that are bad at mile 50

that was all it took.  one thing lead to another.  the mintues added up.  

#1 was because my salomon sense, which i love and fit like a favorite old pair of jeans, were falling apart. the smal hole above my right toe seemed like it'd be ok, and a then a couple of miles in, the side split.  on pavement this would be fine, but we're running through dirt and gravel and sand, and when your shoe fills with that, it's like taking a power sander to the bottoms of your feet.

#2 cost 5-10 minutes and gained nothing.  the nb110s  i changed into weren't laced right, didn't have gaiter velcro, and there was no time to lace them properly.  so these also let in tons of dirt and rocks and provided a fair amount of foot smash too from not being tied right.

#3 was a disaster.  the shoes i tried to go down hope pass in caused my toes to be smashed to the front.  i tried anything.  curling toes under, rolling forward from heel, etc. you just can't run fast down a steep mountain when curling your smashed toes under because the rest of your structure isn't ready for that base and it hurts.  it took me just as long to get down the back of hope as it did to get up.  and this is a steep 2000+ ft climb that goes up to 12,600ft.  

#4 didn't help either.  took 5-10 more minutes. 

stfu already...

the elevation profile was like this:




No Type Start
Duration Distance Elevation
1 Active 5:00:38 AM 0.00 mi 02:44:14.6 13.50 mi -17 ft +723 ft / -739 ft 12:09 min/mi -  Start to MQ
2 Active 7:44:52 AM 13.50 mi 02:08:28.7 10.00 mi -554 ft +1236 ft / -1790 ft 12:50 min/mi -  MQ to FH
3 Active 9:53:21 AM 23.50 mi 01:34:40.5 7.00 mi +323 ft +350 ft / -28 ft 13:31 min/mi -  FH to HP
4 Active 11:28:01 AM 30.50 mi 02:17:22.6 9.00 mi -591 ft +952 ft / -1542 ft 15:15 min/mi -  HP to TL
5 Active 1:45:24 PM 39.50 mi 02:20:02.8 4.50 mi +2986 ft +3000 ft / -14 ft 31:07 min/mi -  TL to hopeless
6 Active 4:05:27 PM 44.00 mi 02:36:10.5 6.50 mi -1996 ft +674 ft / -2670 ft 24:01 min/mi -  Hopeless to Winfield
7 Active 6:41:38 PM 50.50 mi 02:35:04.9 6.50 mi +1905 ft +2678 ft / -774 ft 23:51 min/mi - Winfield to Hopeless 
8 Active 9:16:42 PM 57.00 mi 01:32:35.1 5.50 mi -2860 ft +24 ft / -2884 ft 16:50 min/mi -  Hopeless to TL
9 Active 10:49:18 PM 62.50 mi 03:24:06.1 9.00 mi +512 ft +1520 ft / -1008 ft 22:40 min/mi -  TL to HP
10 Active 2:13:24 AM 71.50 mi 02:00:43.5 7.10 mi -173 ft +92 ft / -265 ft 17:00 min/mi -  HP to FH
11 Active 4:14:07 AM 78.60 mi 00:50:54.1 1.96 mi +282 ft +404 ft / -122 ft 26:00 min/mi -  FH to fail
Totals: 00:04:24.0 80.56 mi -181 ft +11654 ft / -11835 ft 17:55 min/mi -  

I am confident that i was fit enough to do this and that i had a solid plan.  Only minor tweaks are needed to ensure a finish next year.  like, wearing fucking shoes that aren't falling apart and that fit.  organizing aid stations a little bit differently will help with a few minutes too.  and who knows, if this year's female winner, tina lewis, can go from ~30hours her first year (second ultra), to 5th place in 2011, to 1st place this year, maybe i can make next year a bit more comptetive and exciting.

Planning for and doing a hundred like this is just incredible.  wtf are you gonna need at mile 60?  when are you going to be here or there?  when should your crew pick up the pacers?   what if this?  what if that?    extra.  backups.  spares.  matt did a great job of filling in all those blanks, thinking of the things i hadn't thought of, and making sure all of our stuff got to the right genearl place at the right time.


hours and hours away from my family, early morning runs, late night runs.  days of friends' lives.  thousands of dollars.  not seeing my wife on the day of our 12 year anniversary.  walking in the door with no shiny new belt buckle to show the kids.  

all for nothing.

or not.

finish or not, it was 25+ hours of being here now, being in the present, being truly alive.  we smiled some of the realest smiles (though not sure if next year will be just the same kind of smiles, as tony's presence (look closely at the background of this pic) is up in the air).  

a few times a year, this little mining town comes alive with a mass of people who are all there to do the same thing, to give it our all together, to try to see if we really can do more than we think we can.

until next year

and let's end with this.  

not long ago i was a fat smoker guy.  so mabye you want to say congrats when you read this.  please skip that because even though to you finishing 80 miles might seem like a thing, it's not. i set out to run 100 miles in the mountains and did not succeed yet.  i will next year, for sure.  

instead, for this year's effort, think about you, and think about how we're all (except for an elite few) just a bunch of normal people trying to find or test our limits.  finish or not, it feels great to give it a shot.  so many other great thoughts and moments and memories are left out this because it's just too much.  when's the last time your mind was overflowing with 24+ hours of non-stop exciting memories?

so the final thought is this (one that you think to yourself):

maybe i could do this