Mile 30.99 of the Glacial Trail 50k

Mile 30.99 of the Glacial Trail 50k
Almost Done!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hell and Hope: The Leadville Trail 100 2011

“You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can!” These words brought a tear to my eye as I listened to Ken Chlouber, the founder of the Leadville Trail 100, give the 650 starters of the race a pep talk in the crowded gym on 6th street. Could it be true that all of the months of self-doubt that I felt as a flatlander training for a Colorado mountain race be unwarranted… could I possibly finish this race?
The Leadville Trail 100 is a 100 mile foot race which takes place in the old mining town of Leadville, Colorado in the middle of August.  It is an out and back course with an average elevation of just over 10,000 feet. The highest point, Hope Pass, climbs to 12,600 feet and because of the out and back nature of the course, you get to summit the pass twice! The race is known for its beauty but also for the ruthlessness of the course at high altitude. I figured it was a great choice for my first 100 mile attempt! If you are going to go for 100 miles, you might as well go big!
As I lined up for the start with my fellow competitors on Saturday at 4am I remembered the words of Ken from the pre-race talk the day before.  “I can do more than I think I can” rang through my ears as the gun sounded and we took off into the darkness. The first 13 miles of the course follow Turquoise Lake and are relatively downhill and then onto a beautiful rolling trail along the lake. At 6:20am I met my support crew at mile 13.5 were they took care of me with the swiftness of a Nascar pit crew. There job for the next 100 miles was to make sure that at every aid station I was hydrated and stocked for the next leg of the race.
The run to mile 26.5 took us up the second highest climb of the course with some of the most spectacular views I had ever seen! I quickly found out that a hill climb in Colorado was not a hill climb in Wisconsin! My training hill repeats of 4 to 5 minutes back home were no match to the 2 to 3 hour climbs that I would encounter the next 73.5 miles. I knew that in order to finish the race I would need to slow down, so at mile 30, that is exactly what I did.
Hope Pass is the “claim to fame” of the Leadville Trail 100. I was warned of how nasty she could be but I did not believe it until I started the accent at mile 42. Even with trekking poles I struggled to pull myself up the steep climb at a whopping 2 to 2.5 miles per hour. Several people around me were stopping to rest, complaining of feeling lightheaded and nauseous, so I felt pretty good about myself until I saw the lead women RUNNING up the other side with a smile on her face. I was quickly put into my place as she blew by me! She would later finish at just over 19 hours!
Once over Hope Pass and down the treacherous decent you enter the turnaround at Winfield. There I met my pit crew, weighed in, (you are weighed in at this aid station, too much weight loss and you are forced to stop and rehydrate) and started my return home. If the first accent of Hope Pass was brutal, the second accent was hell! It was on the second accent that I needed to add in breaks at the end of each switch back. The air is thin at 12,600 feet and I could feel it!
Darkness started to set in just as I was crossing the river, (there is no bridge), and came to the mile 60 aid station at Twin Lakes. My amazing crew got me set-up with warm clothing as the temperature was quickly starting to drop into the 40’s. I would spend the next 16.5 miles in the darkness with just a headlamp and flashlight until I met up with my crew again.
As the miles crept beyond 60, I knew I was entering uncharted territory. Everything beyond this point was unknown as I had never trained passed 60 miles in a weekend. Surprisingly my legs were tired but they were fully functional.  I was able to manage a very brisk walk which worked out very well on the dark wooded trail.  I counted my blessings as I passed people who were noticeably sick and exhausted. The whole day my stomach had been fine and I wanted to keep it that way. I covered my ears and kept my head down as I crept by the less fortunate.
It was not until the Fish Hatchery Aid station at mile 76.5 that the fatigue really started to build. The blisters that I was able to ignore for the last 30 miles were screaming at me and my once “okay” legs were not loving the idea of having to travel another 23.5 miles.  I was very grateful that my husband was going to be pacing me for 10 miles. He had chosen the second hardest climb of the course and the brisk walk that he kept me at was enough to bring me into mile 86.5 with plenty of time to spare ahead of the cut-off time.  
You would think that only having 13.5 miles to go would be relatively easy in a 100 mile race but surprisingly many people drop out at this point. We all have our own personal limit and many bodies like to give out when the finish line is just a half marathon away. I was determined to not let this happen so  as much as I was sick of sucking on gels all day long I popped another one and picked up my next pacer. I had plenty of time to get to the finish line before 10am if nothing went wrong the next couple of hours.
After 99 miles of bliss, beauty, pain, and self- doubt the finish line is like a sunrise to a new day! In Leadville you turn a corner and see it’s beautiful image in the distance; could this really be happening? As I walked the last mile with my crew I held back the tears as I knew if I would start crying, I would not stop! I was physically exhausted, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed with gratitude. Out of the 650 people that started I was one of 350 people to have finished, talk about a little bit of luck and maybe something a little bigger than me helping to push me across that line.
For all of my efforts you would think that a new car, or a large pair of diamond earrings would be an appropriate finish award.  In the ultramarathon world, your price is a shiny new belt buckle! Most people are almost appalled by this, “you went all that way for a belt buckle?” they usually say in disbelief. What they don’t and can’t realize is everything that buckle represents. That belt buckle represents the hours of training, it represents the doctors that told me my back was not good enough to do 100 miles, the sacrifices that my family and friends made to help me get to the finish line, the blisters and the tears, the amazing views at the top of Hope Pass, and the ultimate truth that ANYTHING is possible!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

13 weeks until Leadville!!! WHAT???

Wow! So I just took a look at my race calender and realised to my dismay that I only have 13 weeks of training until the Leadville 100! I must admit that I shuttered a little bit when I realised the short amount of time remaining to train for the longest, most hellish day of my life! I figured that since I have been away from the blogging world for a while I would spare you all the sentimental stuff and give you a little training update. The ups, downs, and honesty of the whole process, so... brace yourselves!!!

The Ups:
Overall, the whole training experience had been a very positive one! I am incredible surprised that I have been able to sustain the miles requires to this point considering that 8 years ago I was told that I was not supposed to run! I have figured out my dreaded blister problem... the agony of de' feet! Thanks to a beautiful little invention called Dry-Max socks, I ran my last 50 with not even the tiniest blister. Dry-Max does not sponsor me but they should now after all of the amazing advertising they are going to get from this blog!

I have also figured out the quadraceps breakdown issue. You see, after running 30 miles or so on brutal terrain and many severe downhills your quads start to feel a little like hamburger roadkill... if there is such a thing. The key to conquering this is to run long on VERY tired legs in your training. Some people would call this over-training and believe me, it is! Training for a 100 mile race is just a bunch of over training followed by some ice, ibuprofen, and a few mental breakdowns.

I am also very amazed at how my body has adjusted to the ultrarunning lifestyle. I have lost 10lbs, which has significantly helped the impact of all of this running on my back and my feet. I have also lost a lot of muscle bulk which I am convinced 7 years of Ironman training has done to me. I also have noticed that I am a much more efficient calories burner. I seem to require around 120 to 150 calories per hour, which is much easier to consume than the 180 to 200 that I have needed in the past. Am I turning into a fat burner... maybe?!

The Downs:

My biggest fear in this whole process is that during the next 13 weeks my body will break down and I will suffer an injury. I must make it clear that up to this point I have not been injured (except for a little foot pain which I will discuss next), but I have also been going for bi-weekly massages, acupuncture, strength training 3 days per week, yoga 3 days per week, spending 1 hour on a foam roller each week, seeing a Chiropractor once per month, and recently a visit to a  podiatrist. This Leadville training has been all consuming and very expensive and I sometimes wonder if I should take up a new, much less demanding hobby such as stamp collecting or knitting?

Mysterious pains are very common for an endurance athlete but I have come to figure out how to heal them quite quickly. My knee hurts; ice, stretch, foam roll... cured. Back discomfort; a little yoga, heat, and a chiropractic visit. However recently I have been plagued with a mysterious foot pain which no one can diagnose for me. No, it's not PF, or a stress fracture... a recent visit to a podiatrist confirmed this. When I asked him what it was, he simply told me that it was a little inflammation due to all of the miles I was putting on and, I quote, "your body just might not be able to handle this amount of time on your feet." My first reaction was to say "screw you buddy, if I listened to everyone that told me that I would be a Cheetos's eating couch potato watching old episodes of Jerry Springer!" But... I do have to admit that in the back of my mind I ask myself if I am chasing a dream that is not meant to be mine. *sigh*

So there you have it! An honest little report on the whole incredibly crazy process of training to run, walk, crawl, 100 miles. I will try to revisit soon, for an update or just a little venting as I know the next 13 weeks might just put me over the edge. So... if you see a short, dark-haired girl running down the road foaming at the mouth and cursing up at the sky, just drive on by... it is all just part of the process!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Faith, Love, and Running

During my run this morning I happened to be going in the direction of the sunrise. It was 6:30am as I left my house and began to travel down the quiet snow covered road. Within the first few miles, the sun started to peak out above the horizon.  I watched in awe as the colors of the sky began to change from a dark inky blue, to a pink and orange glow.  As I watched this amazing event that takes place every morning it got me thinking about faith, and of all things, the existence of a God.
You see, I am very logical person. I was raised a Christian, but as I got older and started thinking more and more about the stories that I heard growing up, I began to question the existence of all of these things that I was told were so.  I mean really, Immaculate Conception, turning water into wine, walking on water…  modern day science has no explanation of how these things could happen, and the logical, scientific mind can easily write them off as being bogus! Although I really wanted to believe that there would be a place for all of us when we die and that there was a man upstairs who loved me unconditionally, it was becoming harder and harder for me to convince myself that this could be true.
What I have found in the last few years, is that if you even have the tiniest amount of faith left, it can work in mysterious ways. In 2006, my husband was deployed to Iraq. He was responsible for escorting military convoys throughout the country. Some of his missions would last for days and I remember waiting for an email or phone call to confirm that he was still alive. Sometimes, I would not hear from him for days, and those were the times that I talked to God. I felt that even if I was a skeptic, it did not hurt to have a conversation with the only being that could possibly keep my husband safe. I remember being so deep in the conversation that I thought God was in the room with me, and these were the times that I felt the most comfort. Maybe, there really was a God and he could bring my husband home?
My faith has also been strengthened by participating in endurance events. When you really stop to think about what it takes to do an Ironman, or run 50 to 100 miles, your fitness will only get you so far.  I personally believe that in order to successfully finish an event of this nature, you have to look beyond yourself. I hate to say it, because I used to be the person that thought this, but no man is a rock by himself! If you really want to tap into a source of power far greater than what you yourself possess, you really need to have a conversation with God.  In fact, I am starting to think that one of the main reasons I continue to push the endurance envelope, is so I can inch my way closer and closer to this being that I could never begin to understand. 
Faith is a funny thing, and sometimes in life, you just need to believe.  I still don’t know what I think about Jonah and the Whale or the story of the loaves and the fishes, and I don’t know if I will ever be a regular in church.  What I can say, is that every Sunday when I leave my house for my long run and look towards that sunrise, I will begin a long conversation with a very powerful being that I can now say… I for sure… believe in.