Monday, August 25, 2014

Leadville 100: Pukefest 2k14

Sometimes you have really great races. Sometimes you have races that go okay. In these ones you don't seem to improve, but at least you don't go backwards either. Leadville was neither of these for me. It was the epitome of an, "am I hurting myself? Nope? Okay, forward then," effort. There were very few good times during the race and even fewer times that were even pleasant. So why didn't I drop? Well, there's a reason it took me a week to write this race report; but in short, I still don't know.

The race itself was a bit of a surprise. A guy at work had a slot available, and even though I still had to pay the entry fee, a slot in a sold out race was appealing. Especially after Bighorn. So I signed up in mid-July with promise of a crew and pacers in place when I signed up. 

Typically, my dad is a crew of one and I don't use pacers. I'm a self motivated guy and once in awhile have a bit of a "don't tell me what to do" attitude when I get really tired in races. Not in real life, just in races. The father/son team works well because he trusts me fully that I'm not going to continue on if I'm going to hurt myself and I trust him if/when he gives me guidance. Some of it is spoken, most of it is not; but it works well. Really well.

Having a crew and pacers in place for Leadville is nice because in this race, they are allowed to carry stuff for you which is not allowed in other races. So if you're trying to go light and fast, pacers are a great way to do it. That being said, it only works if they are there. The Sunday before the race, two of the three guys cancelled. Luckily, the third, Ryan, was incredibly helpful and really scrambled to find replacements. It was a huge help and without the "replacement" guys, I'm not sure I would've finished. Luckily plans came together the day before the race. 

The actual race!

The morning of the race I woke up in the campground at 2:15, ate a couple bananas (normal), put my stuff together (normal) and just got ready (also normal). Ryan and I drove to the start and met my second pacer (Ryan would be first), Jeremy about 3 minutes before the start. I lined up, heard Ken Chlouber say the famed words, "You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can." And I heard the shotgun blast that signaled the 4 am start time. We all started running. I like to treat hundreds with the mindset of a 50 mile run to the start of a 50 mile race. So I took it easy. I'd done lots of training runs way up high along with speed work and road runs, ending with my last long run two weeks before the race which was a 30 mile road run from Echo Lake up to the top of Mt. Evans (over 14k ft.). But this far into the race, I never pushed. I just ran easy. I walked the uphills and people passed me a lot. 

At about mile two I felt weird. My legs felt fine, but my stomach didn't feel right. Just weird. If I have stomach problems, it's usually during an afternoon run if I ate something I wasn't supposed to for lunch. Never for morning runs. Especially since I'd eaten my superstitious gluten-free pizza the night before; which has worked wonders all year. I continued to run until Mayqueen, mile 13.5 which I reached in 1:47 ish. I thought it couldn't be right. That's too fast. So I backed off further. I made sure my heart rate wasn't too high, made sure I wasn't sweating too much. Both were fine. Was I eating? Drinking? Yep, check. But I still felt weird. Shortly after Mayqueen I started feeling rough. Just plain sick. No reason for it that I could think of. Everything seemed to check out. 

I continued on because I was sure it was just me getting used to running today. I reached Outward Bound mile 24.5 in about 3:35. Still too fast. But if all my systems were telling me I was fine, breathing, heart rate, eating, drinking, legs, perceived effort etc., why was my stomach still giving me problems? And not even "active" problems, just general pain. I continued to run because my legs felt fine. I'd walk the hills really early on and take it really easy. It would've been silly to stop because "I felt funny at mile 24." 
Photo by Eric Lee

At mile 31, Half Pipe, I started to feel a little better. My stomach wasn't being so silly and my body felt great still. So I kept my running easy and walking plan. At Twin Lakes #1 I felt great! Mile 39.5 and just feeling like the race was young and I was over my worst parts. So once again, I continued on. It was very short lived. Soon after Twin Lakes, I crossed a couple rivers which were so rejuvenating. I was able to wash off my arms and legs, dip my hat and really just get ready to climb up to Hope Pass. It wasn't long after this that things fell apart hard. I was really excited to start climbing because I love long climbs and long descents. They can be a grind, but you get in this rhythm and just feel like you could climb forever. I settled into a very sustainable hiking pace but then just started to get light headed and felt sick again. Of course, I just ignored it and kept plugging along. Finally, I reached the Hopeless aid station. I sat down and drank flat warm coke. It was disgusting. I felt so woozy and needed something cold and carbonated. That coke was neither.   

I stumbled out of the aid station and made it a full 100 yards before I puked the first time. It was a geyser and felt incredible. Shortly after, I puked two more times, both of them way more than I thought I had in me. Each time I felt better and better. Finally making it to the top of Hope Pass at 12,600 ft. I quickly started the descent. I was running. Actually running, and it felt wonderful. I didn't have any of that bile still in me, and really thought that my best miles were in front of me.
Photo by Caleb Wilson

At the bottom of the descent, you actually ascend a bit before the aid station. I quickly found out that running anything with an incline or even flat, caused extreme immediate nausea. The next 2 miles took roughly 40 minutes as I stumbled around walking anything more than a downhill grade and puking my guts out. I passed a guy who was probably some sort of park ranger and he saw me puking straight stomach acid. "Down to nothing," I thought. "Maybe I'll stop puking now." Turns out, the only thing puking stomach acid means is that it burns more. It doesn't mean you stop puking. 

I walked into the aid station with my head hung low. Ryan ran up to me. He'd been expecting me about a hour prior to my arrival. I told him of my dilemma and to be honest. The thought of heading back over Hope Pass made getting an impromptu root canal sans anesthetic very appealing. I didn't know how I was going to stand back up and leave the aid station on foot. I told him I needed to regroup in a big way and I wasn't leaving if I barfed everything I ate just sitting in the aid station. So he brought me food. A med guy gave me some anti nausea medication, and I ate ginger chews too. I drank cold, crisp, refreshing soda; and it was glorious. I needed to lie down for a minute. So I found a cot. After a couple minutes, a friend came in and told me I was looking better. So, I got up. I figured if I was looking better, I'd be feeling better soon. 

Ryan and I left Winfield, and all previous ideas about goal times or place melted away. I was fairly positive I'd drop at Twin Lakes since that's where the crew vehicle was. Ryan shoveled saltines to me and I reluctantly ate them. I still felt like I'd had the life sucked from me by a dementor from Harry Potter but at least I was keeping food down. Once we reached Hopeless aid station I just lied in the grass. Chaos was around me with people who were still on their way up the first time, chasing cut offs, and my own body seemed to be betraying me. But lying there, was peaceful. Ryan shoved this salty mixture of mashed potatoes and ramen noodles in my face and I ate it. It was awful but he said it worked for him last year.

I didn't know Ryan very well going into the race other than I worked with him on the weekends at Boulder Running Company. I knew he was a solid guy solely based on the amount that he'd helped me find a crew at the last minute. But I was starting to trust his judgement too, and my gut reaction wasn't to decline everything he told me. 

After 5 minutes (probably more), we left the aid station. I felt rough, but I had no choice but to continue on from there. Soon after, the calories kicked in, and I felt like a million bucks! ....well, maybe not a million. Maybe about $3.50. I felt like $3.50. But compared to what I'd felt like earlier, which was somewhere around the countries current monetary deficit, $3.50 felt pretty darn good. 
Photo by Ryan and I just before Twin Lakes inbound with Hope pass behind us

We ran to Twin Lakes and I still felt good. So the thought of dropping kind of was a non-issue. Ryan had to get home and I picked up my new pacer, Jeremy. We started up the short climb and I was still rolling. No real problems. All the way back to Half Pipe, (only a 50k to go!) I felt really good and ran strong. Right after Half Pipe, I did hurl once but I wasn't too concerned. My energy levels were good, my legs still felt fresh, (actually fresh, not 70-miles-in fresh) things seemed to be okay for the time being and I thought I'd actually have a chance at turning it into a respectable effort. 

Jeremy and I ran almost everything back to Outward Bound mile 75.5 and reached there in 15:44. Just as a point of reference, Rob Krar, the winner, would be finishing in roughly 25 minutes. Incredible. He ran 16:09 that day. I started to feel rough again, and those 5.5 miles changed the way everything else was feeling too. Energy levels, low, stomach, no good, mentally, low. 

The reason I didn't drop at Outward Bound was because I really did think it was just a low spot. I figured the worst of the barfing was behind me and I was just experiencing standard low spots for mile 75. So I picked up the next and final pacer, Brandt. He was a total stranger until that day but he was great. 50 yards outside the aid station, I puked but felt better after. We made our way to the bottom of the power line climb and that's where the worst hit. I truly couldn't stop puking. I'd take a sip of water, and a lot more than that would come out. I wasn't even able to keep down water. I kept trying though. I'd drink some water, walk, puke. Repeat. That climb was extremely frustrating but eventually we made it to the aid station at the top where they were having a party. 

Brandt, somehow, had cell service and had told me that Katie had come out to the Mayqueen aid station and she'd be there when I got there. Knowing she was there was a huge motivator, but I wasn't able to move very quickly. After hours, we made it to Mayqueen and I was done. I hadn't puked in about 45 minutes, but had been too afraid to try to eat too much because of my history with food. I needed to figure out if it was worth it to continue on. Once again, the appeal of a root canal over having to run the final 13 miles was very much present. 

Katie had driven out after she'd worked all day (12 hour day as a nurse, and the shift is from 3 am- was now about 11:30 pm). I could not have been happier to see her. Luckily, I could figure out what to do from the comfort and warmth of the med tent cot. I never received an IV (doing so would result in instant disqualification) but I was there for about an hour just eating, drinking and talking to Katie and Brandt about what I'd do. 

After what felt like, no time at all, I left the aid station on my way to the finish. I figured I'd eaten enough and waited long enough that'd I'd absorbed enough to get me 13 miles. Even if I walked every step of the last 13 miles, it wouldn't take any longer than 4.5 hours and I'd left at about 12:20. Given the 10 am cutoff, I'd still be fine. The biggest reason I left the aid station on foot and not in Katie's car was that, despite the circumstances of the day, and how terribly the race had gone, I a) still didn't feel like I was putting myself in any real danger and b) still believed in the saying, "things never, always get worse." Somehow I thought they'd get better. The up side, is that they didn't get any worse. 

I had found that as long as I walked anything with an uphill grade, I wasn't going to puke. And so that's what I did. 

I finished at 3:09:59 am. 23:09:59 and at last count, at least 25 pukes. 

It wasn't my goal time, or my goal place, but I can say I finished. I seriously can not thank my crew and pacers enough. Ryan, Jeremy, and Brandt helped me more than I could have imagined and having them there witnessing the vile things I was pumping out of my body, gave the race a little more character I think. 

In hind sight, and after speaking with a couple different people, I think the culprit was altitude sickness. I'm not sure what I could have done to prevent this any further than the training I did. I could do some more research, but it's still a little too fresh in my mind to want to dive into actually learning from this mess. 

If I never want to do Leadville again, I don't have to. I've got the gigantic belt buckle to prove I ran 100 miles across the sky....that being said, I kind of have some unfinished business with that course. But that'll be a decision for another day. 

"You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can....and you can puke way more volume than you have eaten."
Photo by Ryan Lassen. Close to the top of Hope Pass.