Start to May Queen
The first 12.5 miles (yes, that's all it is) felt totally automatic. I doubt my heart rate even made it into the 130's. I jogged along through the dark listening to my Juno Reactor mix. I must have been very well hydrated, since I stopped to pee approximately 4 times before Tabor! (I would break that PR on the way back.) My goal was to reach May Queen in 2:20. I made it there in 2:17 and met my crew. I swapped hydration bladders, dropped some warm clothing, and picked up my sunglasses and hat. During this leg I probably consumed 700-750 calories-- mostly my homemade energy drink and a few gels.
May Queen to Fish
I jogged from the aid station to the trailhead and then hiked/jogged up to Hagerman Road. Again, taking it pretty easy. I jogged up Hagerman Road and then started hiking at the first switchback, where I puked for the first time due to coughing on some phlegm. Annoying, but something that happens occasionally when I drop from a run to a hike at the top of a climb early in the morning. Runner's cough, I guess. I hiked all the way up Sugarloaf and then started running the descent. I wanted to take the descent a little easier than I did last year, but I felt good and I got carried away by the excitement of running downhill, logging at least one <8:00 mile. I ran strong on the rolling road into the cheering crowds at Fish. My goal was 2:10 and I arrived at 2:09. Another 700 calories of energy drink and gels. I was actually feeling full.
|Climbing up Sugarloaf|
Fish to Pipeline
My transition at Fish couldn't have been faster. I blew through the aid station, took off my hydration pack and arm warmers on the move, and threw them at my crew, grabbing a water bottle full of energy drink for the next leg. No time lost. I cruised through the next section, listening to my iPod and passing folks left and right. My new Hokas felt good on the asphalt, though I was starting to feel a little tweak in my left knee. Once I hit the dirt road to Pipeline I slowed down a bit, and arrived in 53 minutes. I had planned on 45, but the new route for this leg was about half a mile longer. Another 300 calories.
Pipeline to Halfpipe
At Pipeline I met my crew and family and switched to two handheld water bottles (full of energy drink) and my running vest. I stuffed more energy drink powder into my vest to use at the next two crewless aid stations. So far my nutrition was going perfectly. In fact, I might have been eating a little too much! I felt a bit full at times, but better safe than sorry, I suppose. I jogged/hiked to Halfpipe at a relatively easy pace and arrived there in 33 minutes. I had planned on 1:30 for Fish to Halfpipe (a tad slower than last year's 1:27), so 1:26 put me there ahead of schedule (with an extra .5 miles thrown in for good measure). The tweak in my left knee had not gone away.
Halfpipe to Twin
I sat down at Halfpipe and took the time to eat some Ramen and some potato that I was carrying with me. Then I set off for Twin. This had been my strongest leg last year (I ran the 90th fastest split) and I was hoping for it to be a strong leg this year as well-- though, I planned to run it 5 minutes slower (1:55). However, as I jogged out of the aid station my left knee got my attention. This nagging little tweak was not going away and it was starting to feel unmistakably like a case of ITBS. No, no, no... I had cured that in April! I hadn't felt anything wrong with my IT band in what? Three and a half months? I had run 2 25 milers, a marathon, a 50K, and 2 50 milers and felt great! 2 50 milers! No pain! WTF?! Why was it acting up now at mile 30?! I was pissed. I was distraught. I stopped for three minutes by the side of the trail to stretch. I ran a bit more. Nope, no better. I stopped to take my first Advil. I ran a bit further. Stretched again. Ran a bit further. I knew the 3 mile downhill into Twin was coming up. That would be murderously slow with my IT band flared up. I stopped and took a second Advil in anticipation. To understand my state of mind, you've got to know that I battled through a pre-existing case of ITBS the first time I ran the LT100 in 2010. I limped for 70 miles, from Halfmoon to the finish, popping 2 Advil every 6 hours. In 2011, ITBS was never an issue and I ran the entire race without taking a single painkiller. So, for me to be staring at a tiny brown pill of ibuprofen in my hand, and contemplating the 70 miles to go... well, it was hard. I knew how this played out. I knew I could finish, but it would be painful and there would be very little running involved. This was not the race I had trained for! I limped into Twin Lakes in 2:14, 19 minutes slower than I had hoped.
Twin to Winfield
At Twin I met my crew and family again and told them the bad news. They had all been with me in 2010, so they knew what this meant. In a move of desperation, I switched from my Hokas back to my MT101s, hoping that might change something. I grabbed my hydration pack and set out for the river, contemplating the climb to come. I knew the uphill wouldn't be an issue, but I was dreading the downhill into Winfield. I sat down in the river for a minute or two in an effort to cool off my knee and then headed off for Hope.
|Icing my knee in Lake Creek|
I climbed well, even running the one flatish section on the way up. The perverse logic of ITBS is that it makes the "easy" downhills hard, so you have to really push on the uphills to make up for lost time. I arrived at Hopeless a few minutes slower than I had planned, but that was probably due to sitting in the river to "ice" my knee. I sat down at ate some of their delicious mashed potato/soup mixture while a helpful volunteer refilled my hydration bladder. I remembered to tighten the laces on my water logged shoes in preparation for the downhill. (That oversight cost me a big toe nail in 2011.) After a 10 minute meal, I set off for the top of the pass. I remember stopping to catch my breath a few times on this last section of the climb last year, but not this time. I was slow and steady. Continuous forward progress. Now came the downhill. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. Sure, I could feel my knee complaining, but I don't think it was slowing me down much. The south side of Hope Pass is so steep that it's more of a controlled fall rather than a run. I turned onto the new section of trail to Winfield excited to see what it was like. Sure, it was longer and slower than the road, but I loved it. A very pretty, well-built trail with great views. There were some rollers, but nothing serious. I was still jogging the uphills, which gave me confidence that my nutrition plan was working. My energy levels were solid. I jogged into Twin in 4:21, which wasn't too bad considering the extra mileage. Certainly not a PR, but not bad considering the state of my knee.
|At the top of Hope Pass|
Winfield to Twin
I weighed in at 177, down from 180, but nothing shocking. Hell, 3 lbs could easily be attributable to random scale variance. I was eating and drinking well. I met my crew and family and sat down to try to eat something. The place was a circus! I don't know what changed about the layout (or maybe it was the hundred extra runners this year), but it felt much more crowded than I remembered. Justin, my pacer, organized all our gear and we set off after a 10 minute break. I told my crew that my plan of 3:45 for the return trip was definitely not going to happen given my knee and the extra mileage. My revised goal was 4:15-- who knows? I was just making this sh*t up as I went. Shortly after the aid station I puked for a second time. I'm not sure why... I shrugged it off and continued on. I'm sure it didn't inspire confidence in Justin! One of the best dynamics of coming into/leaving Winfield is that you get to see all your friends headed in the other direction. I was exchanging hellos at a rate of least once a minute: "Hiya Woody! You're killin' it, Mike! Way to go Smokey! Hey, Craig! How's it going, Brian? Hiya, Nick! Hey Christopher! Yeah, Lisa! Lookin' good, Molly! Hey, Alex!" I loved it. It's one of my favorite aspects of this out and back race.
|Still... running... uphill.|
So, onward and upward. I was jogging on gentle uphills on the new section of trail and limping on the downhills. When we intersected with the main trail, the climbing began. I had seriously bonked during this climb last year, stopping a half a dozen times to try to gather my strength. I was determined not the let that happen again: 300 calories/bottle of energy drink to the rescue! We settled into a long train of runners and relentlessly ground up the mountain. Justin and I stopped at treeline so that I could pee and take some Advil in anticipation of the upcoming downhill, but that was our only stop. Solid. Justin ran ahead to the aid station to grab some soup and refill our water bottles as I staggered down. My left knee was killing me. I would often shout out in pain and swear loudly.
Hopeless is such an idyllic aid station: llamas grazing about, majestic, towering peaks, a blue alpine lake beckoning, tents nestled in among the weathered trees. It made me long for camping out under the stars. The thought of calling it quits here and helping out for the rest of the race actually crossed my mind... What can I say? The downhill into Twin sucked. Darkness fell before we had even finished descending. One of our headlamps was almost completely dead, which led to some comedy as it basically forced Justin to stagger down the rocky, ankle-busting lower sections of the trail in almost complete darkness. He joked that the beam was almost powerful enough to light up his shorts. My ITBS prevented me from running the gentle downhill flats to the river. This is where I first uttered the word "DNF" to Justin. I had been in this exact position in 2010. I knew what lay ahead of me. I was confident I could finish, but what did I have to prove? Been there, done that. It's not exactly fun-- especially without the novelty of it being your first 100-mile race to push you. Justin would have none of it. He coaxed me onward with words of encouragement and simply jogged ahead, forcing me to jog to follow him.
And, somehow, it felt a little better.
Maybe in those few minutes the pain of the steep descent off of Hope faded and my knee recovered a little bit. Maybe it was because it was ever-so-gently uphill from the river to Twin, but I jogged and it didn't feel too bad. I recalled that I was too exhausted to jog this little section last year. But here I was, at mile 60, and I could still jog uphill... maybe it wouldn't be a complete repeat of past years?
Twin to Pipeline
I was more than an hour and a half behind my goal, arriving at Twin 40 minutes later than I did last year and 10 minutes later than in '10. The race was not going as planned. A couple of more missteps and I might have to actually start worrying about cut-off times! I met Matt, my next pacer, and Terra, who had taken over crewing responsibilities. I was still warm, so I just tied a light jacket around my waist. We switched headlamps, I changed into my second (dry) set of MT101s, and we headed off into the night with a Redbull in hand. Matt was carrying a ton of gear for me-- he looked like he was headed off on expedition, which I guess isn't that far from the truth! We had extra warm clothing, all kinds of food options, multiple energy-drink filled water bottles, and my hiking poles. I think there might have been a kitchen sink in there too. I talked pacing strategy with Matt on the way up out of Twin. The section Matt was pacing was what I considered to be the crux of the race for me: Twin to Fish. In the past, this is where my race has devolved into walking, stopping, resting, nibbling on various unpalatable snacks, shivering, throwing up, and watching hundreds of headlamps pass me in the night. Historically, my pace drops way off the average for this section. Somehow I seem to "recover" from Fish to the finish, but I think that's mostly just because everyone else has blown up by that point as well, so my times return to the average. My goal this year was to make it through this section at least 40 minutes faster. Was that possible? The climb up from Twin seemed... easy, really. I barely even used my poles. I guess everything seems easy after you've climbed up the south side of Hope Pass. Once past the Mt. Elbert mini-aid station I started to experiment with jogging. And... I could do it! I could feel my left knee complaining, but it wasn't bad enough to prevent me from jogging. 13 minute miles started to click by! This was exactly what I had visualized during my training! Instead of last year, where a steady stream of headlamps walked by me as I sat groaning on a rock by the side of the trail, I was the one jogging past a steady stream of walking headlamps. I was passing folks on the uphills, I was passing folks on the downhills. My energy levels were great. I was now on an exclusive diet of energy drink and it was working! We blew through Halfpipe without even stopping and continued on to Pipeline to meet Terra.
2011's time from Twin to Halfpipe: 3:10
2012's goal time from Twin to Halfpipe: 2:45
2012's time from Twin to Halfpipe: 2:25
We crushed it. We ran that section just 11 minutes slower than I had 21 miles earlier in race!
My spirits were high. I must have been happier than anyone with ITBS has ever been at mile 71 in an ultramarathon!
Pipeline to Fish
At Pipeline, we stopped to get organized for the next leg to Fish. I knew it would be cold. Down by the river, at the bottom of the valley where the heavy, cold air settles, the temperature drops like a rock. I switched into running tights and a wool long-sleeved shirt, plus my running jacket. Basically, I was dressed as if I were going for a run in Leadville on a January afternoon. After restocking on energy drink, we quickly set out. Could I keep jogging? How long could this last?
I ran every step of the way to Fish Hatchery.
2011's time from Halfpipe to Fish: 2:16
2012's goal time from Halfpipe to Fish: 1:55
2012's time from Halfpipe to Fish: 1:45
A 31 minute improvement over 4.5 miles! (And the previous time was for only 4.0 miles.) We ran that section just 19 minutes slower than I had run it outbound.
Things were going so well that I nearly choked up with emotion a few times. I was so happy. I ran a 12:00 min/mile uphill from the last bridge to the aid station, charging through a pack of 20 runners. When Matt expressed his concern that I might be going a little too fast, I sheepishly admitted that it was possible that I might be showing off just a little bit. I couldn't help it. I was so excited to feel this good so late in a race.
You know, I've only been running for two and half years. I've invested a ton of personal time analyzing my training, analyzing my races, constantly trying to improve. Nothing has come easy. I'm not naturally gifted at this sport. I enjoy it. I love the challenge. But I'm a decidedly mid-pack runner who has always battled his stomach and faded after 6+ hours of running. But not this time, dammit. Despite my ITBS, I didn't feel over-matched by this race. This time I was actually running. And faster than everyone around me.
Fish To May Queen
We pulled into Fish and met Terra, who would now pace me to the next aid station: May Queen. As we trotted off, I shouted back at Matt, thanking him for pacing me so well. Matt is a super talented runner, who I am sure will return to this course someday and big buckle in style. While still on the pavement I tried to stock up on some calories and caffeine for the climb ahead. As I struggled to choke down a 5-Hour Energy, Terra asked me how many times I had puked so far this race. In a queasy voice I answered, "Only twice... but here comes number three!" With a look of horror on her face she quickly leapt to the other side of the road as I started vomiting. Strange French music blared from the house on the corner. We later laughed about how far she had run away-- as if I could possibly projectile vomit across the road. Ah, good times! I recovered quickly and we soon attacked the Powerlines. We climbed steadily all the way to the top, clicking off each false summit as we went. No stops, no breaks, no rest. I still had my climbing legs. I knew the downhill would pose a bigger challenge than the uphill given my IT band. It was tough, but I managed to limp/jog most of the way to the Colorado Trail. I certainly descended faster than I have in past years, but I wished I could have gone even faster. The only thing holding me back was the searing pain in my left knee. My left Achilles tendon was also starting to act up-- probably a compensation injury of some sort. Once on the CT, I grabbed my poles again and gingerly negotiated the rocky trail. We fell in behind a train of runners. I probably could have moved a tiny bit faster than the pack, but it wasn't worth the energy to try and pass. I feel like that section of trail is incredibly injury prone and I didn't want to take any risks just to save a minute or two. I used it as an excuse to slow down and keep up on calories. At this point I had pretty much been exclusively drinking my homemade energy drink for hours-- ever since Twin. It seemed to be doing the trick. After we reached the trailhead, things opened up a bit and I jogged into May Queen. I glanced at my GPS and saw that we had destroyed my PR for this section by 23 minutes!
2011's time from Fish to May Queen: 3:38
2012's goal time from Fish to May Queen: 3:30
2012's time from Fish to May Queen: 3:15
May Queen to Finish:
As we rolled into May Queen I caught sight of my dad, brother, and sister in the crowd. My sister, Katie, who had just flown in from Virginia two days ago, would be pacing me to the finish. After a brief pit stop to answer the call of nature, we were on our way. I had warned Katie beforehand that there wouldn't be much running going on during this leg-- that it would be the slowest half marathon she's ever run! This definitely turned out to be true. Katie set a good pace and we power hiked along in the cold darkness, chatting away. I nursed another Redbull for a few miles and then switched back to my energy drink which had fueled me so well for the entire race. I had never been through May Queen this early before and we had to use our headlamps almost all the way to Tabor. I tried jogging a few times but my knee was having none of it. I had the energy, but the pain was too great. My left leg was starting to lock up. Eventually dawn came and we slowly began to warm up. But it wasn't until the Boulevard that the sun was strong enough to finally take off my jacket and wool shirt. During training I run the Boulevard for my speed workout. In the spring, when most of the local trails are still snowbound, I may run the Boulevard two to three times a week. I know every inch of that damn road-- for example, the green gate is exactly 2.8 miles from the front door of my house-- and that familiarity makes walking it seem to take forever. I was in good spirits, but I was tired and my knee was killing me. I just wanted to be done. I was willing to do anything I could to make the end come quicker. Luckily the Boulevard is almost all gently uphill, which was the only grade I could run any longer. So run I did. 13:45 min/miles for miles 99 and 100. I managed to run all of 6th Street (except the short downhill stretch by the school) and sprinted across the finish line, my family running by my side and cheering me on-- Christina carrying little Ethan in her arms, oxygen tank dangling from her shoulder. I pushed especially hard the final mile because I wanted to set a PR by over an hour.
The final score: 28:19-- a 64 minute improvement over last year's time (on a course that was 3 miles longer).
Pure maltodextrin + Clip2 + Gatorade for the win!
I am still baffled as to why I suffered IT band issues during the race. Why this race? Why now and not during all the races I ran this summer? Did I tighten up during my taper for the 100? I don't know, but I'm confident that it's a solvable problem. What I'm elated about is that after almost three years of trying, I finally solved my nutrition problem and it certainly appears that, yes, it was poor race nutrition that was the primary cause of my slowdown in past races. That was always the theory, but now I've got the evidence. After many failed attempts, I was beginning to doubt that I'd ever figure out how to make my stomach happy. Having at least one positive data point is very, very uplifting. Now, all I have to do is combine an ITBS-free race with solid nutrition and I am certain that I can shave another hour off of my finishing time! That is both inspiring and motivating.
This year's race had more drama than any of my previous LT100 races. I came closer to giving up and quitting than ever before and yet I ran my best race ever. While I still didn't hit my goal time of 27 hours, I persevered and proved to myself that I could run much stronger splits in the second half of the race. That's a huge confidence boost.
I'm sure I'll scribble down more notes in future posts about exactly what did and what did not work for me this year, and where I think I can make further improvements. But for now, I'm limping around my house, multiple ice packs taped to my left leg, basking in the glory of LT100 finish #3.