Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 Leadville 100: A Beautiful Failure

"100 miles is not that far to run" 
-Karl Meltzer
For about 10 hours last Saturday I was buying into Karl's slogan.  A few hours later I could no longer run and began to wonder if 100 miles might not be that far to walk.  Shivering with trembling disobedient quads, I "walked" into the Mayqueen aid station at mile 87 bearing more weight with my arms and poles than my legs.  I was being pity clapped by spectators as they told me I was looking strong.  I could only laugh along with Jason and John who were there to support me because I certainly looked anything but.  And that's were it ended.  My mind and stomach were strong and my energy high but my body had failed me.  I now know Karl is full of shit.

Muscle Failure from Jason Dorais on Vimeo.

Rewind a few days.  We're driving to Leadville; me, Jason, Amanda, and John with his family caravaning behind.  I'm apprehensive, never having run a hundred miles.  We pull into the Super 8 and sneak Amanda up the stairs to avoid extra charges since only two people are allowed per room.  Already the altitude is giving us headaches and I'm breathing just climbing to the third floor.

Friday is spent checking in, attending meetings, gathering supplies, and stressing about which of the six pairs of shoes I brought should be worn at which point in the race. Lars arrives and we shake out our legs on a two mile jog.  Why don't we feel tapered?

The alarm is set for 2:45.  We sleep a little, waking every hour thinking surely the time is upon us.  It finally goes off but I'm already awake.  The routine is familiar as we pin our numbers to our shorts and gather our gear.  At the start, it's 39 degrees but comfortable.  A thousand people cram into the coral but Lars and I are on the front line as Ken counts down from 10.  The blast of a shotgun is unexpected and startling.  We surge forward and I realize that I'm "one of those douchebags" as I look back and see that I'm a couple meters ahead of everyone.  I ease back with Lars and let a couple other guys chase the pace car into the dark morning.

The tentative plan was to run easy to mile 50 with Lars and then as we entered unchartered physiology we would do our individual best.  All summer, I had joked with Lars, tossing around an old Prefontaine quote that the best pace is a suicide pace and that today was a good day to die.  Over the first few miles, he's reeling me back repeatedly while the big boys ease away.

Somewhere along the shore of Turquoise Lake, the lead pack takes a wrong turn for a minute or two and I find myself leading the race.  I make sure to enjoy it for a mile or so and then usher others to pass on the rocky single track.

Coming up to Mayqueen at mile 13, I'm floating.  The predawn air feels thick and I'm breathing easily in spite of the elevation. I'm sucking down gels every half an hour and can tell that today will be a great day.  Unfortunately, Lars is struggling to find a similar sensation.  He asks to slow down and is more serious than normal.  I offer encouragement but then on the climb to Powerline, I run away from him without muttering a word.  I'm such an ass.

I don't dwell on this though as I'm now truly feeling invincible.  I stride largely down the steep grade arms wide as if to take in the scenery with my body.  In and out of the Outbound aid station at mile 23, someone tells me I'm in around 10th place.  This was never my plan but I am psyched!  The miles tick by and Timo Meyer pulls along side.  We chat a bit and his enthusiasm boosts me even further.  We pass a few more runners and then suddenly catch a glimpse of an orange singlet through the trees.  It's Scott Jurek.  I dismiss my immediate concern that I've been running too fast.  This feeling is undeniable and I'm determined to milk the euphoria as long as possible.  I figure that as long as my HR is low and it feels easy then I'll be OK.

50K goes by in four twenty something then I hit the Twin Lakes aid station (40 miles) in 5:50.  Luckily my crew has arrived earlier than our specified 10:00 AM optimistic split time.  The place is charged and it's great to see familiar faces.  I mention to Jason that I'm having the best race I could have imagined and he's psyched.  He'll be pacing me on the return and is into the race now, even though initially he was reluctant to make the trip from SLC for this.  I mention casually that my quads are starting to hurt but I otherwise feel great as I trot off towards Hope Pass.

Up the pass I'm committed to just power hiking.  This is familiar.  This is just like Skimo and I'm gaining on Scott again.  Hitting the pass, I let out a whoop.  The scenery is far more spectacular than I anticipated.  I feel better and have gone faster than I would have ever expected.  But then I crest the pass and running down my quads really hurt.  I shrug it off thinking I'll hit the turn around soon and then have Jason to keep me going the rest of the way.

Cresting Hope Pass casting a glance to see if anyone is gaining (photo stolen from Ricky Gates)

Running up to Winfield (mile 50), I count the runners coming the other way.  First about a mile out, I see Michael Aish, then Ian Sharman, then Nick Clark.  Arriving, Jason, Amanda, and John are there, obviously excited.  Jurek leaves as I enter and I realize I'm now in 5th.  This is stupid but I'm taken by the moment, plus, how bad could it get?  Even if I have gone out at a suicide pace, I'll always be able to jog or walk it in.  Right?

Hiking up to Hope Pass (photo taken from Leadville FB page)
On the return, spirits are high, my mind is strong, and my stomach is handling everything I shove into it.   Some 800 odd runners are openly cheering me on as we pass each other on the single track heading up or down Hope Pass.  I'm struck by the feeling of family and community even at a huge race with hundreds of first time runners like myself.  I try to return the encouragement as excitedly as I can.  I pass Lars on the way up and he is having a terrible race.  He mentions he plans to drop but instead of complaining keeps telling me how happy he is that I'm having a great race.

Over the pass, I find myself lingering at the Hopeless aid station and then gingerly running back to Twin Lakes.  En route I get passed by a guy charging down hill and I finally realize that the dream is over.  It's getting dire but if I keep moving the day will be a tremendous success.

The night before the race Luke Nelson called to wish me well and gave the advice to just keep moving no matter how slowly when it got tough.  Ok.  I can do that.

Jason and I hike out of Twin Lakes and then start jogging the descent back to the 70 mile aid station.  I can manage 8-10 min miles on shot quads and am aided by Jason who is a professional pacer even though this was his first experience.  He is yielding to give me the shortest line around turns, changing sides of the road to offer the most shade, and reminding me to eat on schedule.  He's encouraging and tells me that I'm cruising still even though I know it to not be true.

Still "cruising" around mile 70

Somewhere just down the road from the Fish Hatchery aid station the quads go from painful to nonfunctional as they are cramping without rhyme or reason.  But I'm still able to walk and keep the pace under 15 minutes per mile.  Some quick math reveals that if I walk this pace all the way back I'll still finish under 20 hours.  I'm more than cool with that and a hundred miles can't be that hard to walk.

Except, I'm finding out that I'm wrong.  Timo passes with a huge smile that wills me forward.  Sully goes by with pacer Billy and they tell me they'll see me down the trail. Walking is proving difficult as I'm cramping just walking on the flat road out of the aid station.  This is a pretty sudden crash but I should have seen it coming for the last 40 miles.  I consider dropping but John offers to walk with me over Powerline to see if, "I get it back".  I'm not too hopeful but I owe it to those who supported me to give it a try.

Up we go and this actually feels better.  I've been climbing well all day and the change in mechanics suits me now.  John and I laugh and talk about life and families.  We've known each other for 12 years and never would have guessed that at this point in our lives we'd be walking at one mile per hour on some dark dirt road feeling cold but happy.

People are streaming by me now and every single one tells me to hang in there, that there isn't too far to go.  "Almost" might as well be an eternity now as thoughts of compartment syndrome and renal failure begin to cross my mind.  I have a few dark moments where I sit on a rock and try to get down on myself but John will have nothing to do with that.  I decide that I won't allow negativity to creep in either.  I had the most magical 60 miles of my life and now my ailments seem to complete the experience; to balance it and teach me about the spectrum of physical sensation.

I'm hours overdue at the next aid station and my crew knew I was walking slowly when I left the last one. Suddenly there's a light running the wrong direction and Jason appears laughing through his breathing in the darkness.  He immediately pulls out a camera saying that I'm gonna want to remember how crappy I felt.  I remind him that I feel great but that I just need some new legs as he films me hobbling, challenged by even the smallest steps.

It's dark and I'm not going to achieve any of my goals but I'm at peace.  I'm happy and feel fulfilled although not by my performance.  Rather, I'm glad that I could be a part of and witness a certain vulnerability that comes with trying to run a hundred miles.  I'm grateful for friends and family who were willing to spend time and money to support me whether I was near the front of the race or later when I was being spit out the back.  I'm proud that I went for it in spite of this being the stupidest race plan for anyone trying to run their first hundred.  I ran by feel.  I felt great and ran great even if it was just for a short time.  I'm also able to apply dozens of other things that went so well to the next one.

Fast forward 5 days and I can again perform simple tasks like walking up and down stairs and using the toilet without pain.  I'm fully aware as I type how terrible I looked and how foolish it must seem to have started fast and crashed so hard.  But as the soreness fades from my quads so do the painful memories and I want to run another...now.  And, I want to run it fast and free and never tire, cramp or get sore.  I'm already thinking again that a hundred miles just might not be that far...







9 comments:

  1. Great report Andy, thanks for sharing. Plain and simple, the best way to learn how to run 100 miles is to try and run 100 miles. I am also a fan of the suicide pace and I've often wanted to die because of it in the late stages of a race.
    I admire your willingness to lay it on the line and can't wait to see what happens on the next one now that you have some experience.

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  2. Props on the effort, 100 miles seems like a long way to even bike in Leadville. But don't burn yourself out before ski season!

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  3. Nice post. I too like to start out too fast, because by golly, it's fun! My tendancy has given me many opportunities to work out the knots in the leg muscles and try to keep going. A few years back my legs started cramping when running, then walking made them knot up. I was still walking faster than a guy with initials CJ...he was vomiting. But soon the walk cramps got so bad I had to sit down, which made other muscles painfully knot up...so I laid down in the weeds...which made other muscles painfully knot up...bringing me to some back and forth miserableness flattening out a spot for a deer to sleep in later. I managed to get back on my feet and the walking cramps didn't feel so bad. CJ passed me up 30 miles later and we both finished.
    Practice makes perfect! ;-)

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  4. Great read. See you at the Bear100 or Buffalo100 in March!

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  5. thanks for sharing this. such a cool read. huge congratulations.

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  6. Great post Andy! Thanks for suffering so I don't have to. It's good for the mind to encounter the unfathomable.

    Let's go run before you're back to full strength. ;)

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  7. Ever wonder what your CK is after that! It would be kinda interesting to check it after various runs, just for giggles.

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  8. Great report, thanks Andy. Way to lay it all out there. It seems the 100 mile distance is a different beast altogether.

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  9. Can't wait to talk with about this. Awesome suffering and magnificent fail. Rare for you. You're mortal, after all.

    For what it's worth, compartment syndrome of the quads is essentially impossible, unheard of. But renal failure from rhabdo is the real deal. Did you piss coke after? That's always a shocker.

    Nice effort, my friend.

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