Monday, September 26, 2011

I am a Leadwoman! The Run

After 6 days of rest it was time to finish the Leadman race series.  I spent the week focusing on recovery and planning the 100M footrace which left little time to think about the prior weekends adventure.  That is exactly what I wanted.  I planned to spend the whole run reliving the bike race experience piece by piece.  Since much of the course is shared I wondered how I would feel covering it by foot. I also was curious how this Leadville 100M run would go compared to my run there in 2007 as part of my Grand Slam. I wanted to get the big buckles in all the races Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100.  Of all the events Leadville was by far the one I was most worried about.  The sub 25 time was going to be a stretch for me.  Leadville is a runners course and I was more of a mountain hiker/runner. That year I spent the whole day chasing the clock.  It's no lie, I was running in complete stress the entire day.  My time was 24:14 and it was a tough go all day.  I wondered if the additional years of experience would help me now. 
I was nervous.  The unknown factor of how my body would hold up made me cautious.  My pace chart was conservative, my mindset was set to take it easy and my crew was ready and armed with all sorts of tricks to deal with leg pain.  After the 50M run where I experience very early quad fatigue due to the LMTB 100 training camp weekend I felt uneasy and a bit timid.  That race taught me a lot and I planned on using all I learned.  I had hoped that the following weekends of hard work helped my body adapt to what it needed to do on this day. These last days of recovery had been good and I felt amazing.  I even wrote Matt to tell him about my final short training run because I felt so good.I hoped I didn't jinx myself by expressing that.
The Race:  It was a bit of restless night due to intense rain and the occasional lighting bolt that seemed to rock the whole building. It was a creepy déjà vu from 2007 when inches of heavy rain came down the whole day before I had to run Leadville.  A rainy cold day in the mountains is awful.  It's so hard to stay warm.  I got up twice and each time added another layer of clothing to my already bulging pile. In the morning one of the first things I did was go outside to see how wet and cold it was.  I was delighted to find no rain coming down and the air quite warm.  That just meant there were clouds but it wasn't freezing yet.  I just assumed it would be a typical mountain day where weather would roll in during the afternoon.  As of this point, lining up to the start I felt calm.  A completely opposite experience from just 6 days ago at the LMTB 100M start.  I had finally arrived in my element.  A comfort level I relished.  750 people lined up to have their day in the mountains and it was time to get this party started. 

I think I was near the front of the pack as we headed to the boulevard.  I had no agenda at the start.  I wanted to find a nice comfortable groove and be easy.  With the 4 am start a sea of lights made their way to the dirt.  My prior run at Leadville seemed much more dusty.  Today the ground was wet from the storms so the dust around the lake was barely noticeable.  The air was damp which made it a bit cold as you began to sweat.  I was cruising around the lake at a comfortable speed.  I just settled into a train and the pace was fitting.  No one came passing and we didn't pass.  I could hear everyone's labored breathing.  The altitude is such a huge element here.  For me, I didn't notice it.  Nor should I since I had been there 8 weeks.  I wasn't at all concerned about the elevation but I was concerned about my body and I paid close attention to any and all cues.  By mile 13 where I saw Bill, Micheal and Alex for the first time I was ahead of schedule and very calm.  I grabbed my pack and made my way to Haggerman Pass.  This would be the first shared section with the bike race and the sun was now up.  I had an immediate rush of emotions.  Just 1 week ago I was here on my bike and now I was on foot.  My senses were on complete overload and my skin got chills.  Detailed memories filled my thoughts as I trotted up the road.  Making the turn on to Sugarloaf for the 3 mile climb I found myself so lost in thought I was running.  I checked in, should I be walking, how am I feeling physically and tried to bring myself back to the present.  I felt really good and at ease.  This was an interesting way to experience this and not all like my 07 race.  Here I was probably the most fit I have ever been, very experienced at running 100's, knew the course like the back of my hand and have run it before in 24:14.  I should be set up to race this, to give it my best shot and post my best time.  But, I wasn't here for that.  Instead I got to witness and take in all around me. Folks working to get their best day.  Trying to make the climb fast and hard to chase the clock.  I felt their desire.  I have been there and love that kind of personal challenge. Today I was much more in touch with what was happening around me than.   I also felt inspired and a sense of camaraderie as each of us chased today's goal.  Arriving at the summit it was time to run down Powerline.  It was fun.  I was wearing a huge smile as I made my way down thinking about how I had maneuvered this last weekend.  I used some of the descending skills I learned on my bike.  I think it made me a better downhill runner.  Picking a better line and looking much farther ahead instead of rock dodging.  I took it pretty darn easy down Powerline.  I had no intention of thrashing my quads this early. Plus, I knew I hadn't prepared them in training for the kind of long term pounding I knew they would need to endure.  Normally I would have them good and strong for all the descending and would not have held back at all.  Today I even walked a few steps of the downhill while I fueled.  My goal was to make it to mile 50 with a good intact body then let it rip and go for broke from there.
After the descent we get to run about 5 miles of road to Pipeline, or Halfpipe, or Halfmoon.....whichever you want to call mile 23.  It's kind of funky getting the legs to spin on the pavement.  I didn't really have a lot of spring in my running stride but tried to keep it under a 10 min pace.  The footrace leaves Pipeline and takes a different road than the bike race.  My reminiscing time was over for awhile as from now until I arrive back here the run course is different.  I left still comfortable and steady.  I found myself passing people in this section.  It's about the time when folks start to slow down a bit.  I really liked this section.  It was different than the course I ran in 2007.   The terrain is nice and easy on the body and gives you a chance to run a bit before the grueling Hope Pass ascent.  During this section we crossed a couple of streams and I took the opportunity to cool off my quads for good measure. 

I arrived at Twin Lakes on a 26 hour pace feeling good.  My legs now had 40 miles on them and were holding up fine.  I was greeted by Alex who was my sole crew at Twin Lakes.  Bill and Micheal were doing a drop off at Winfield in an attempt to beat the serious crew backup that happens there.  He was so amazing and so grown up.  He was right there waiting for me, checked in to see how I was doing, rattled off some questions and gave me my pack.  He walked out with me telling me how great I was doing and reminded me of what's coming.  At that moment I could have cared less about that because I was just so taken by how much he was immersed in making me comfortable and encouraged.  He's so grown up and such an amazing boy.  I have always said, "If I can raise Alex to be as wonderful as Bill I will be the happiest mom alive".  I think we have done that.  I left there emotional.

Making my way to the base of Hope Pass was a wet trudge.  It's swampy and the area before the river crossing has pools of water you need to cross.  There seemed to be way more than I remember.  My feet were soaked and filled with grit.  The grind up Hope Pass is so beautiful you have to remind yourself to work hard.  It's long and relentless but it seemed much easier than I remembered.  I made okay time to the saddle but not great.  They day had turned out amazing.  There was no rain and barely a cloud in the sky at that moment.  This made the views on top perfect.  This is a really special aid station.  All the supplies are carried up by Llamas who are now grazing in the open fields in the mountain's shadow. Leaving the Hopeless aid station there is still a 15 minute climb before the drop off.  The descent off Hope Pass on the back side is horrible!  I didn't like in 2007 and I wasn't a fan today.  It's too steep for me to run.  The rocky boulder sections need to be picked through and it goes on forever!  It's only 3+ miles but it took me a long time.  I was getting a little down and frustrated.  I am not sure why.  I think it might have been just a low moment.  Physically I felt fine.  My body was beginning to feel it but I was almost at mile 50 so it should.  The worst part of the Leadville course is the road to Winfield.  It's 3 miles long and we share the route with all the crew.  There is intense dust and sometimes you are literally weaving between cars to reach the aid station. 

I arrived at Winfield (mile 50) after 12:51:36 of running time.  I picked up Bill to pace me back to Twin Lakes.  It was time to let it rip and go for broke.  No more holding back and no more being conservative.  It seemed like sub 25 was out of reach but I had it in the back of my mind.  I would need to run negative splits and since this course isn't any easier going back that might be crazy but maybe?  We took off running really well down the Winfield road weaving in and out of traffic.  As we made the turn onto the trail back up Hope Pass I told Bill to look up at the bald spot.  I said, "Were going there".  His response, "Crap"!  I told him to settle in and let's focus.  It was hard to stay in a power groove because the narrow trail has 2 way traffic. I wasn't at all frustrated but instead simply heavy hearted.  These folks coming down were chasing the cut off clock and many were working so hard.  It was easy for me to pull over and give them the right of way. As we continued a glimpse of the mountain would appear and we could see tiny dots above.  Bill was cracking me up!  Every time he would get a view of where we were going he would blurt out some phrase of doom and the occasional bad word.  It had me laughing so hard I told him to stop!  I couldn't powerhike up this thing if I can't breathe!  We did well but not great with time.  At the top I got a bee in my butt and just took off down Hope Pass. The trail was great running and the grade was perfect for just blazing downhill.  I was in the "let it rip" mode so there was no more saving my quads.  I ran so hard and fast down this I dropped Bill and passed at least 12 people.  I felt really good coming in to mile 60.
Back at Twin Lakes I changed my shoes.  This was only the second time in all 25 100's I have changed shoes.  The water and grit on the second wade fest was just not comfortable.  I took the time to make the change and we were off.  I was ready to sew this thing up.  Sub 25 was still a bit of a stretch but I wasn't giving up yet.  Micheal and I ran well with a goal of getting to the next aid station before needing a light.  It was tight and I pulled out my flashlight just before we arrived.  I was suddenly hungry!  This aid station was water only but the folks manning it has some almonds and kindly shared some with me.  I was fairly self propelled here.  I didn't need much coaxing to move and I was still watching my Garmin.  The darkness came and this is my favorite time in a 100.  There is something about being out there in the deep woods at night, just a light and trail.  The next aid station seemed to never come.  We laughed at how time seems to just go and you feel as if you are standing still.  All the while giving it all you've got.
I felt low on salt.  Like I needed some broth.  I was craving real food and my stomach was growling.  At the next aid station I got a strong cup of broth that had so much salt my tongue got that weird feeling like it was swelling.  I cracked up.  Can I do anything in moderation?  We left making our way to mile 73 where we would see Bill.  While running this section I announced to Micheal that sub 25 was just not going to happen.  There just wasn't enough time.  I was okay with this.  I thought I could still get sub 26. Micheal informed me that my goal was Leadwoman  and not the big buckle.  Even though I knew this I was a bit deflated.  The relentless groove was gone as I pondered what seemed like reality.  Bill was ready and waiting at mile 73 where I took only a small handheld to do the 5 miles of pavement to Fish Hatchery. 
The weather gods had shined on me once again at Leadville.  Now in the wee hours of the night I have only had a bit of rain and that was coming up the back side of Hope Pass with Bill.  Other than that I have been in a tank top and shorts all day.  They sky was filled with stars so no rain in sight.  The air was comfortably cold and I was now in a short sleeve shirt.  At Fish Hatchery I retrieved my pack with everything I would need to get up and over Sugarloaf Mountain.  Here I was again at the base of this false summit festival.  I gave Micheal my rundown.  Let's get up this thing with intention, run hard down then heads down on the rocky horrible Colorado Trail.  I was ready to be done, felt good all around and had accepted the fact that my big buckle was history.  My new attitude helped get me up Sugarloaf pretty fast.  Seems this heads down, get it done attitude served me well on all the events. Coming down the backside was just not fun.  I had a hard time finding my groove on the rocky terrain.  I was frustrated because I wanted to run down fast.  I am not sure why I couldn't. In what seemed like forever we finally made the turn onto Haggerman road and it was awesome to have legs left.  We booked it down the gravel road and made the turn onto the Colorado trail section.  I don't like this boulder filled 1.8 miles.  It's was heads down move with serious purpose.  I simply wanted off this trail before I had even arrived.  We busted tail on this and Micheal commented on how fast we ran it. 

My Garmin had died a long time ago and I didn't even know what time it was.  Arriving at Mayqueen with only 13.5 miles to go I asked Bill what time it was.  He gathered my stuff and as I was leaving he found his watch as yelled, " A little after 1:15".  My brain quickly did the math.  I yelled at Micheal, "Crap, I have a shot at this".  He looked at me a bit skeptical and reminded me how the rolling technical terrain around the lake is harder at mile 87.  Still I had 3:45 minutes to cover 13.5 miles.  This seems so doable but it takes me 3 hours to do this section from the start and the first 4 miles is downhill which means it's uphill now.  I knew it would be hard but I wasn't giving up without a serious fight. I could do this and with a new found goal and a body I worked like dog.  I pushed myself hard running almost everything albeit slow at times.  I am not sure Micheal thought this was possible but he was encouraging.  I kept asking, "What time is it"?  He would respond and I would push harder.  Still fueling like crazy I had my eye on that big buckle.  I drew energy knowing it was reachable.  We finally emerged from the lake trail and with only 5 miles to go I knew this is where I could lose it.  The mild uphill grade from here the finish is just mean.  It's gravel road but climbs steadily into the finish.  At this point my brain couldn't do math well and I was just certain I would blow it. 
Making that turn onto the pavement and seeing the finish line 8 blocks away was intense. I still kept asking, "What time is it"?  I was suddenly overwhelmed with what had transpired and Micheal pushed me hard all way across the red carpet.  I finished in 24:41.  19 minutes to spare and a negative split! I was so emotionally destroyed.  I bawled like a baby in a strangers arms as she handed me flowers.  A gift for finishing.  I just could not stop crying. At this moment my whole 2011 dream had come true. All my fears, all my goals, all my hard work and my relentless pursuit couldn't have ended any better.  I got the big buckle for the run just 6 days after the 100M MTB race. I was thrilled! The camera crews immediately wanted an interview.  I guess what's better filming than having a grown woman bawl her eyes out in happiness? They asked me all the right questions like, "Tell us about your support systems?, How does it feel to be a Leadwoman?, What was your biggest challenge?.  All this just exacerbated my emotional state so I proceeded to bawl the whole interview. I sure hope they edit that out.   
This was an experience of a lifetime!  No doubt about that. I am so glad I took this challenge on. I met some amazing people, got to engulf a whole new sport and achieved something I have been thinking about since 2007 when I saw that burrow race in the streets of Leadville Co.  Leadville is truly a magical place.  The question for me is, will I do this again in 2012?