Friday, August 27, 2010

Leadville Trail 100 Race Report

Well the don't call this the "Race Across the Sky" for nothing. For being a flat lander and having crewed and paced at Leadville last year. I have a lot of respect for this race and the altitude. Going into the race my only goal was to finish. My plan was to go out easy to Twin Lakes (39.5) get up over Hope Pass to Winfield. Then drag myself back up over Hope to Twin Lakes and then if I was still feeling good and had a shot go for that big sub-25 hour buckle go for it. The time had finally come and it was time to see how I would do in this altitude, and if all my hard training had paid off. I had my stellar crew my wife, my sister, and my day crewing for me all day. I had Ben Reeves to pace me back from Winfield to May Queen and my sister, Darcy to pace me the final 13.5 to the finish. I was feeling good and confident going in and the morning was cool and brisk. Waiting for the start took forever and I stood around talking with my crew as we waited for the start. With about 10 min to go all the nerves started to get to me and I was as nervous as I have ever been before a race. Once the gun went off all that went out the window and we were finally running all 700+ of us.

Start to May Queen (13.5)

When the gun went off at 4am we were off. I was never so glad to be running all the worrying and apprehension was gone and it was now time to do what I do best and run. The first 5 or 6 miles went by really fast and I was running right behind the lead pack of 10-15 runners. This pace was a little faster than I would have liked but, I was feeling good and having not run for 4 days I had a lot of bent up energy to blow off. I seen my good friend Rick Mayo until he had to make a pit stop. The first 2 climbs up the jeep road came and went and now was 7+ miles of running along Turquoise Lake. The lake and the view was beautiful and I enjoyed the run along the lake. The last few miles with the sun coming up glistening off the lake were especially nice. I felt really good and strong on this section but we had yet to make any real climbs. When I came into May Queen (13.5 @ 1:53) my crew was there to meet me. I skipped the aid station completely and hit my crew. The plan was to change from handheld's to my waist pack at May Queen to give me a free hand to climb Sugarloaf. When I went to put the waist pack on the clip on one side was missing. The first mishap of the day and my wife tried her best to get me back out there, we finally made the decision to go with the 2 handheld's again and they filled my belt with more Gel's and I was off. I got a little grumpy with my crew about the waist pack mishap and yelled at them some while we regrouped. I felt really bad about this once I was off and running and knew I had to apologise for being so grumpy with them. After all they were kind enough to spent there entire day and then some crewing for me. I felt kind of selfish at this point and couldn't wait to get to Fish Hatchery to make amends.

May Queen to Fish Hatchery (23.5)

I ran most of the uphill on the Colorado Trail till we hit the gravel road leading up to the top of Sugarloaf (11,071 ft). Once on the road I alternated running and power hiking till I reached the top. This whole section went by really fast, and at the top of Powerline I was glad to see some downhill. I tried not to fly down the mountain to fast and save my quads for later in the race. I was holding my position in the race at this point and still feeling really good. I was on track with my fueling 2 GU's per hour and Gatorade G2 in one handheld and plain water in the other. When I hit the paved road heading into Fish Hatchery, I realized that my plan of going out easy had went out the window and I was now racing. How or why this happened I'm not sure racing was never in my plan. I hit the Fish Hatchery (23.5 @ 3:35) way faster than I had planned. Made amends with my crew and they had got the waist pack fixed, and with that I was in and out in less than a minute. The gave me a turkey roll up to go and I was back on the road. I was having trouble eating the turkey roll-up for some reason it just balled up in my mouth and I could hardly swallow it. I ate as much as I could and tossed the rest in the ditch.

Fish Hatchery to Half moon

I had decided to have my crew go to Twin Lakes instead of crewing me at Pipeline as it was only a couple miles out of Fish Hatchery. The road out of Fish Hatchery was a bitch! Why they have so much paved road in this race I still can't figure out. The pavement was a killer. I was so glad to hit the jeep road at Pipeline and from there past all the cheering crews, I was feeling like a Rock star. I kept up with my fueling and fluids and ran extremely well to Halfmoon. There the wonderful volunteers refilled my bottles while I grabbed a handful of food. Some PB&J's and pretzels would do the trick. Solid food, but the same outcome, the pretzels and PB&J's when I put them in my mouth were as dry as my mouth and I just could not swallow anything. So instead, I fuelled with GU's and Gatorade/Poweraid and some Coke at the aid station. My mouth was extremely dry and I was sucking down my water and Gatorade like a fish.

Halfmoon to Twin Lakes (39.5)

I hit a low point leaving Halfmoon. To this point I had been mostly running and was holding my own. Suddenly I was doing a lot of walking and was wondering what the problem was. Since I had not ate any solid food, I determined I was a little behind on my calories so I downed a pack of GU Chomps. A nice change from gels. I was struggling a bit through this section, till all the sudden I could see the Lakes through the trees. I was way above the lakes at this point so I knew it was all down hill into Twin Lakes. I decided to run all the way to Twin Lakes. Running downhill came easy and I started to feel good again. I knew I needed to eat when I got to Twin Lakes (39.5 @ 6:20) I would need some fuel to get up over Hope Pass. Coming into Twin Lakes was fun with several blocks lined with cheering crews. My crew was set up right outside the aid station, so I went right through the aid station to my crew. I took a seat, while my crew changed my shoes. I changed out of my Salomon SC2 and into my Mizuno Cabrakan's. The Mizuno's have more protection and the rock plate for going up and over the rocky mountain trails. While my crew attended to my needs I drank 1/2 a bottle of perpetuem and grabbed a PB&J to go. I was having the same problem with solid food but managed to choke down most of the PB&J.

Twin Lakes to Winfield (50 mile turnaround)

The first 2 miles leaving Twin Lakes is the calm before the storm. Nice, flat and fast. Other than a couple water crossings and a river crossing this was a nice break from up and down running. When I reached the base of the mountain my goal was to power hike up to Hope Pass. This is the low point of the race at 9,200 ft. to the high point at Hope Pass of 12,600 ft. Just keep moving I kept telling myself. This part was all hiking at this point as it was all up from here to Hope Pass. Moving at a pace to keep going and not get my heart rate soaring. Up and up and up we went. I was glad now we had hiked this on Tuesday before the race so I knew what to expect. (Thank you, Darcie and Darcy for hiking Hope with me.) I kept moving at a brisk pace stopping occasionally to catch my breath. Soon I was at Hopeless Pass aid station and I refilled and refueled as much as I could. From here it was a mile or so to the summit of steep switchbacks above treeline, but the views were incredible. It kept your mind off what you were doing if only for a few minutes it was a nice distraction. Once I reached the summit it was a huge relief and was now time to do some running. I took it easy running down the back side in the loose rocks, one wrong step and it could be disaster on the steep rocky trail. It sure was nice to get back to treeline on the back side and I pushed as much as I could without totally trashing my quads. Extremely happy with my effort to this point, but still not confident, till I got back up over Hope for the second time. Right before I hit the trees I seen Tony Kurpicka coming back up the trail. He is one of my ultra running heroes and I follow his progress, races and blog religiously. So to be in the same race with him made me feel like somebody. Not to mention after the pre-race meeting me and my sister meet him downtown and got a picture with him.
It was a while before I seen the next runner coming up behind Tony. He was way out in the lead at that point and looked strong when he went by me. I kept a steady pace down the backside in the trees just enough to make good progress but not to fast to trash my quads. Once I got close to the trail head I heard my uncle yell "here he comes" my aunt was down trail ready to snap some pictures of me as I went by. They yelled some words of encouragement at me as I whizzed by. All that time waiting for me to come down and in a minute it was over. From the trail head to Winfield was another rough spot, it seemed all uphill and with the dust from all the crew vehicles it made it worse. It seemed like I ran/walked forever before I made it to Winfield. Once there I was relieved a little. I would go through medical weight was down 1 pound. That meant my hydration had been good, but I also knew I was running low on calories. I had not been sticking to my schedule of at least 2 GU's per hour. My crew was there to refill my pack and get me back out there. I had arrived at Winfield in 9:30. My crew tried to get me to sit down and eat something but I was stubborn and wanted to get back out there, opting instead to take a turkey roll-up with me. With a minute or so of confusion finding my pacer who was not expecting me so soon because, I was not supposed be there for at least another 45 min. I took off heading back out walking and eating while my crew found my pacer Ben and sent him my way. Before I got to far he came up running behind me. After a barrage of questions from my pacer, he to determined I was not taking in enough calories and he was determined to get me back on track.

Winfield to Twin Lakes inbound (60.5)

Once we hit the gravel road back to the trail head my pacer kept me running as much as possible knowing when we got to the trail it would be all hiking till we got to the top.
This time up the mountain seemed a lot easier with my pacer in tow. He kept my spirits up and pushed me when he knew he could and let me rest when he knew I need a rest break. The back side of Hope is shorter but a lot steeper. And with all the runners coming down it was tough at times getting two paths crossing on such a narrow trail. We meet my friends Rick Mayo and Josh Pool on the way back up and a few minutes after that Brad Bishop. It was nice to see some familiar faces coming down as we headed back up the mountain the second time. We moved as fast as we could till I could feel my heart beating in my head, and I would half to take a couple seconds rest to let my heart rate come back down a little before continuing on. We got passed by a few runners in this section heading back up Hope but I was not doing to bad for a flat lander from Kansas. We finally reached the summit for the second time and I was extremely glad to get there and had a since of relief, but also knowing there was a long way to go yet. Once we arrived at Hopeless Aid Station my pacer took my pack to get refilled and ordered me to get something to eat. While I mingled around in the aid station, I tried to eat but again could not choke anything down. I grabbed a cup of Ramen to go and sucked as much of it down as I could before we hit the last trash can to throw my cup away. It sure was nice to be running again and downhill to boot. We ran down most of the way walking only some of the more technical and rocky sections. Once to the bottom it was back through the meadows across the river and thru a couple creeks. Running as much as I could muster back to Twin Lakes. I arrived back at Twin Lakes (60.5) in exactly 13hrs. At Twin Lakes my whole family was there waiting on me. Including my mom, son Jarret and niece Shelby and my aunt and uncle. My mom had graciously volunteered to watch the kids while the rest of the family crewed for me. My wife set me in a chair and changed my shoes and socks into a dry pair of Mizuno Cabrakan's. My whole crew kept trying to get me to eat, and again I just couldn't choke anything down. I did manage to suck down a 1/2 bottle of Perpetuem and some Coke and a few slices of watermelon. It was a nice break, but after our packs were filled we were off once again.

Twin Lakes to Halfmoon inbound

The climb out of Twin Lakes was a killer, after going up over Hope not once but twice, climbing again was a real bummer. Nobody talks about the climb out of Twin Lakes but this got my goat. I was tired of climbing was all I wanted to do was run. Between here and Halfmoon is where things started to go south for me. All the sudden every time I tried to drink Gatorade or eat a gel my stomach would knot up. I had been fueling almost entirely the whole day on simple sugars consisting of gel's and Gatorade. All the sugar had my stomach in knots and I thought I was going to puke every time I took a sip off my bottle or tried to eat a gel. Never have I had a race where I could not eat solid food. I have always been able to eat anything off the aid station table, but not today. My mouth was so dry and when I would eat something it was automatically as dry as my mouth and I just could not swallow it. My pacer did a good job keeping my spirits up, and the plan was to get to Halfmoon and get some calories in me. It was slow going even after we hit the flat jeep road going towards Halfmoon. My energy level was low after being calorie deprived most of the day it was finally catching up with me. We arrived at Halfmoon and there were several other runners there taking there time fueling and talking about still being on a sub-24 hr pace. This got my spirits up thinking I still had a chance at sub-24 but not with my low energy level. I was stubborn and my pacer tried to get me to sit down and eat something. I took a cup of Ramen from the aid station and headed back out on the trail, leaving my pacer in the aid station. In hindsight I don't know why I never listened to my crew or pacer, or why I never realized that you need fuel to run.

Halfmoon to Fish Hatchery inbound (76.5)

We had made plans for my crew to meet us at Pipeline also so we would see my crew twice in this section. My feet were starting to blister, and my energy level was extremely low. My legs felt really good and had it not been for having no fuel, I could have run a lot more than I did in this flat section to Pipeline. I tried to run but could only make it a couple hundred yards before I would peter out and walk again. My pacer was constantly trying to get some food in me, and I kept saying in a minute or when we get to there. When I did take a mini candy bar or something I would take maybe a bit of it and when he wasn't looking throw the rest in the weeds. My stomach just couldn't handle it. It was hard to drink even water, if I guzzled it I would start to belch and think I was going to puke. So I had to just sip, sip, sip it to keep even water down.
Once we arrived at pipeline my crew set me down and made me eat something, but the only thing I could take in was watermelon and grapes, not many calories there. My pacer had rolled an ankel coming into Pipeline, but said at the time everything was ok. We soon left Pipeline and had several miles of pavement to Fish Hatchery. This section would be a good time to run but, again no fuel equals no run. We tried to run from telephone pole to telephone pole run one, walk one. That worked good for awhile but soon I was not able to make it pole to pole. This section of pavement sucked ass! This was extremely harder than I could have imagined, it was killer on my feet and I swore I got more blisters on this section than on all the loose rocky sections. We finally made it to Fish Hatchery and it was now 9:44 pm or 17hrs 44min into the race. And while I was not running well was still doing great time wise. I never did see my crew when I headed up to the Aid Station so my pacer told me to sit down and eat while he searched for my crew. I did manage to shove down some watermelon, cantaloupe and a cup of broth. I got antsy after that and headed out to find my crew. I soon seen my dad, they had been taking a dinner break themselves and missed me going up. I was wanting to put on some tights and a long sleeve shirt here as I knew at night and with my pace extremely slow, I would need more clothes. Soon after my pacer came back saying his ankle was tight and had lost a lot of flexibility in it, he didn't think he could continue. My sister thankfully, was ready to go but she had only planned to pace me the final 13, but when duty called she stepped up and jumped in. After some rearranging we were off again with my sister now pacing me. Ben had done a great job getting me this far and it was wise he not continue and risk further injury. Even though he said he would if need be.

Fish Hatchery to May Queen inbound (86.5)

With a short road section then the climb to the top of Sugarloaf (11,127ft) ahead my sister was jumping right into the fire. She lead the way and kept me running as much as she could on the paved section. She started right from the get go to get me to eat something. But as always I refused. Nothing sounded good or even peaked my interest, and if I did try something it would knot up my stomach and for the next 20-30 minutes, and thought I was going to puke. The climb up powerline was rough, no fuel means no energy for climbing, my sister did her best to keep me moving but several times I just sat on the side of the trail to regroup. The climb up went on forever and other runners were passing us left and right now, but there was not a damn thing I could do about it. At this point I was trying to do the math in my head I could walk in from here and still get the sub-25 buckle. Once to the top of Sugarloaf my sister tried to keep me running at least the downhills let's run glow stick to glow stick, and I tried, but there was nothing in the tank and I was running on empty. And again, and again, she tried to get me to eat and I refused or if I did take a Payday or something I would take one bite and feed the rest to the critters. And gels were completely out, every time I tried to suck down a gel it would turn my stomach inside out. Once we got back to the trail, there was little running from here to May Queen, the trail was rather technical and running on fumes, I was afraid I would hurt myself trying to run. We could see May Queen several times and it looked like we were almost there at one point but then the trail took us farther away. When we finally got close we were able to run into the aid station and there was my wife and dad waiting for me just like they had been all day. And again they tried to get me to sit down and eat something but at this point I was so far behind it wouldn't have made any difference. I did take a cup of potato soup with me and managed to get 3/4 of it down.

May Queen to the Finish

Coming out of May Queen through the campgrounds my pacer/sister got me running as much as she could. You wouldn't have known my sister was a flat lander from Florida and that she has never run ultra, or at night, or on trails. She acted like a true ultra veteran. She knew exactly what to do and exactly when to do it. She made sure I was still drinking and even though I was stubborn and would not eat anything, it wasn't from lack of trying. The trail seemed very technical this time along the lake, and while it was a nice night and with the view of the lake in the moonlight. I sure wish I could of run more. But again no fuel equals no run. When we got to Tabor Boat ramp there was some other crews there saying it was 6 miles to the finish. And my crew was there also encouraging me to go for it. It was right at 23 hours and only 6 mile to go that's 3 miles an hour I can do that I thought. So from here me and my sister pushed and pushed as hard as I could. My running was probally no faster than powerhiking but at least for the first time in awhile I was trying. Along the lake and then along the road at the dam we ran, and I told my sister now matter what the outcome, we were going to do this, and do it together. This was a special treat geting to acomplish this feat with her and to share this experence with her was something I'll never forget. Running has brought us together, we were never really close till I started running only 3 1/2 years ago. So this was special, really special and I was so proud of her for she was pushing her limits also, but she never showed it, she just kept thinking of me and encouraging me. We pushed across the last paved section before town and across the jeep road till we hit the gravel road headed to town. And at that instance it was like a dagger to the heart. I remember on the way out it was 3 miles uphill to the finish and it was 24:18 on my watch. Not to mention it was actually 7.5 miles from Tabor Boat ramp. From there we walked all the way up the gravel till finally we could see the lights of town and in an instance we knew we were going to finish and all the sudden new life was in me and we ran little stints up to the paved road. We were now laughing and chatting like school girls. We were doing it, and we were doing it together. With 1 mile to go now our sights were on the finish and with the time now 25:03 the only thing to do now was enjoy the moment and finish this thing. When we crested the first hill coming to town my mom was there waiting and she ran down the hill with us. There were so many thoughts and emotions running thru my head it was hard to think but, no one could erace the smile from my face or the sheer joy I was feeling at this monent. The cowbell's were ringing and I could now see and hear the rest of my family cheering me into the finish. It as amazing the feeling I had coming up that last hill. My wife and son joined us for that last bit across the finish line. We had done it "I finished the Leadville Trail 100" in 25:11, and got my finishers metal and hug from Merilee. After a few photo's and talking with my family and getting all the congradulations, I took my finishers metal and found my sister gave her a hug and hung it around her neck. I told her "I couldn't of done this without you, and I would still be out there had it not been for you". She deserved a metal too, she pushed her limits too and she pushed me also. She was my rock out there those last 23.5 miles and she encouraged me to keep going. This was special, it was the hardest thing I have ever done, and to have my whole family there with me was special. I felt so blessed to have acomplished this feat and to have such a wounderfull and supportive family is icing on the cake. Thanks to my wife, first and formost without your support, understanding and encouragement this is not possiable. I know it is not easy following me around to all these races crewing for me. Your encouragement and effort you put into this is greatly appreciated. Thank you. To my pacers, what can I say Thank you! You kept me going and even though I did not listen, you tried and tried to get me to eat. You both were great and I can't thank you enough. To my family, your encouragement, support and everything you have done to make this dream come true, I can not repay you for. You have all been so supportive of my running over the last 3 1/2 years I can't thank you enough. From fat overweight (235lbs) and out of shape Darin to Leadville Trail 100 finisher. Man I am blessed.


  1. Truly inspiring. I am 2.5 years behind you and you give me the fuel to continue. This "running thing" is life changing. See you on the trails -JL Zoeckler

  2. Absolutely wonderful and inspirational Darin! You kept going and finished and that is a great accomplishment!
    Wonderful race and what a great sister and family!! Truly a family affair :)

  3. Right on brother! That is some fantastic "no quit" grit you showed. You really are an inspiration and I hope others find in you the strength to push themselves to their limits.

  4. Congrats on your finish....a fellow LT100 finisher.

  5. Wow, what a wonderful achievement! Congrats on your finish and your win at Kettle. You are very inspiring.

  6. Great race buddy. Get rested up and we'll see you out on the trail soon.

  7. Awesome report. Just read every word! congrats! Way to tough it out to the finish.

  8. Wow. Double Wow. What determination. Great report.

  9. Nice run! Leadville is a tough frickin race. You should be proud.

  10. Thanks everyone for all the nice comments. Leadville was one tough ass race, and I learned a lot not only about running but about myself.

  11. Dang proud of ya bro! Way to conquer Leadville!!!!

  12. Awesome Darin - I am a little behind on my blog reading - awesome accomplishment and excellent narrative of your experience.