by Shane Hutton August 2012
Well it had been a long build up and a nervous wait but the day was finally here..L day. So after about 2 hours sleep on the Friday night we got up 2.15am sat. made some toast and an optimizer and jumped in the car for our drive from Silverthorne to Leadville approx 40Min. Arrived nice and early like i like to do, milled around drinking my optimizer and only managed 1 piece of toast. It was pretty cold morning but nothing too bad had my jacket and long sleeves on and was warm enough. The atmosphere was fantastic 802 runners all pumped and happy to be there ready to put their bodies on the line everybody knowing the reputation that Leadville has, only half of the field would finish this very challenging event, I was there to be one of them.
The countdown happened and before we knew it we were off, mind you with 802 runners it was a slow start (walking) but I was not bothered by this it was going to be a long day and night so plenty of time. We jogged down the boulevard with people everywhere trying not to trip or stumble and end our day early. There were people outside of their houses cheering for us there was music blaring from cars and houses. As we crested the boulevard we could already see the front runners probably an easy 700 mtr in front with a stream of headlamps in front and behind us it was one of the best things I have seen.
We slowly made our way down to Turquoise Lake trying very hard to keep a slow pace, I had to make a quick pit stop along with several hundred people darting off into the bushes all over the place, part of the joys of a well hydrated body. It was at this point I lost my good friend Michael Collins, we had agreed to run our own race and if one person stops go on. This was the last time I saw him until the halfway point in the race. After about an hr or more of running we finally got off the roads and onto some sweet sweet single track following the lake around. The trail was undulating with plenty of obstacles in the way, roots, rocks and plenty of other runners.
We would hit a small rise and the front runner would walk causing me to nearly crash into the person in front of me then a massive bottleneck would occur. Very hard to not get frustrated in these early stages knowing that you can run faster. I came into CP1 10 min behind my plan but that was fine there was plenty of time to catch up. I dropped my jacket and Ay Up lights off, but opted to keep my long sleeve shirt on as it was still relatively cool. I had a quick word with my amazing crew, asked if MC had come through, grabbed my small drop bag of gels and off I went onto CP2.
The running was getting better now the field had started to space out a bit so you could actually get a nice pace up and the single trail was amazing beautiful pine trees and birch`s all along the trail, and plenty of rocks and roots to trip you over if you weren't careful. By this point we had descended from 10,200 to 9,600ft and it was almost time to make our first real ascent for the race up Sugarloaf pass getting back up to 11,071ft. I was excited to finally see the first real climb and to my surprise it was pretty easy. I slowed to a fast paced walk and enjoyed the sun finally hitting me and warming me up. I kept my Heart Rate low and powered up stopping about halfway to turn and look at Turquoise lake it was amazing to see how high we had got and I was again surprised at how quickly I had got there with little effort. I summited and looked at my HR somehow it was still very low and I was not having any breathing difficulties, I guess the altitude training was paying off.
Now it was time to face the first real descent Powerline. Anyone who knows anything about Leadville has heard about Powerline, I had big expectations of this elusive Ascent/Descent. I reminded myself that I am a good descender and have strong legs but take it very easy as blowing straight down this could blow my quads for the rest of the race. I reminded myself of my new mantra taken from Karnazes book RUN " For the first 50 mile be the fish, let the other runners catch you and pass. In the second 50 mile be the Fisherman, start reeling those runners in" So all the way down Powerline I reminded myself go easy, go easy, go easy don't destroy the quads. I got to the bottom pretty quick and very easily I was very happy so far sticking with my plan.
We popped out from Powerline and had another short road section to run before hitting CP2 Fish Hatchery. Coming into this aid station was amazing the amount of people was ridiculous, all shouting and cheering it was fantastic felt more like a crowd at an Ironman event than an ultramarathon hahaha. My crew found me quickly and again it was a quick change into a singlet and I switched to my nathan belt with an Optimizer and some water. The next section was short only around 5 km where I would meet my crew again and do a bigger change.
This section of the run to CP3 was along a road so I decided this is where I would practice a little of my run /walk strategy to try save a little energy. I met up with another runner who had completed Leadville before and he was adopting the same method, he guaranteed me this was the right way to go about finishing the race even though we had a lot of other runners passing us. we got into CP3 and it turns out that the time I had lost at the start I had made up, I was almost exactly on my planned time. I was not overly happy to hear this news as it meant that at some stage I had sped up and was running too fast and made up the lost time. Never mind I was not going to beat myself up over this. Another mantra that comes into my head often is one I learnt being a diver " Plan your dive and dive your plan" so slightly modified to to say race, this rings very true for me it is something I continually work on.
I made the change back to my pack with a few extra rations as this section was going to be around 21 km long with a fair percentage being uphill. I left treeline after seeing my amazing crew and having covered a little over my first marathon. I felt good, fresh legs still, getting a bit hot by this point in time though, I was looking for the shady parts on the trail. I ran and walked the up hills feeling happy with my splits and then around the 52 km mark I had my first low point. It was interesting because I really was not expecting it until this point I had been feeling great. So I continued on knowing it would pass and be the first of what I hoped to be only a few. We continued on a slight uphill for longer than I had thought but it was ok because it was only gradual.
We then came to a small aid station stocking fluids only and they told us it was only 3 miles downhill to Twin Lakes the lowest point of the race 9200ft. I remember asking another runner if they were serious that it was 3 miles (5km) downhill. I was shocked to think we had climbed so high with ease. Before I knew it I could see twin lakes and we came running down a very steep section of trail into the aid station.
It was another amazing aid station people everywhere cheering and music blaring it was great. My crew were there and all set up with chairs ( which I was not allowed to sit on until Halfway) and everything i needed. I told them I had been really hot and they rubbed sunscreen on me gave me my pre packed drop bags and ipod and sent me on my way to Hope Pass. This part I was excited for I could see the monster mountain 12,600ft in front of me and had waited all morning to get there. I put my music on and powered toward it. I had trained hard doing altitude sessions with Tri Alliance and running every hill and mountain at home. Nothing compared to this altitude. Funnily enough I was soon half way up it passing other runners sitting and taking a break, I made sure I encouraged all of them to keep going. There was an amazing river flowing down the side, the trees were beautiful and flowers and the single track ahhhhhhhhh just amazing.
I was about 3/4 up when Anton Kupricka passed me on the way back ( race leader) flying down, crazy to see how fast these guys moved. Another 6min up and Thomas the eventual winner passed me with Anna Frost pacing him. I wound my way up the side of the mountain with relative ease not breathing to hard and keeping my HR around the 130-140bpm. I was happy next thing I knew I was at the Hopeless aid station. There were Llamas and volunteers everywhere it was really quite a site very cool. I grabbed a cup of water tipped it on my head and kept walking. I was not stopping till I summitted about another 1km. I got stuck in a little traffic but that was ok they were still moving fast enough, again I was being very wary not to push too hard. I got to the summit and had a look back at twin lakes it was amazing such a great view and with Mount Hope and Mount Elbert ( Tallest mountain in Colorado) right next to us it was very cool.
I started my descent and immediately had to start dodging runners coming the other way, I was always careful to give them right of way. In a number of places the trail had become very thin and I had to climb up the side to get out of the way. There were plenty of sharp switchbacks and rocks and obstacles to trip on. I made sure I cheered the return runners and continued to get out of the way these people are amazing super humans. It was just above the treeline on my descent that I came across Mike Le Roux another aussie but he is in the elite category and doing the Grand Slam. He was on his return and had his pacer Pete with him. He was looking pretty good and I wished him luck.
I dropped into the treeline and continued my way down when I became very nauseaous. I am only guessing this was the altitude. I then came across Matt Meckenstock another aussie I had met before the race. He was on his return trip also and looking very strong. We had a short chat and went on our ways. I was super impressed at how fast he was and hoped he could keep it up. By this point I felt like I was stopping every 2min to let someone by I guess its a part of racing an out and back on single trail. I was by this point feeling really sick and hoping to get to Winfield aid station quickly. The next section of trail was new for this year and it meant we did not have to run along the road into Winfield
After what seemed an eternity I finally arrived at Winfield. Physically I felt great but the nausea was killing me, I was also very hot. It was the hottest run/ weather I had had in a long time. The girls were great the drop bag was ready but I wanted nothing from it not even my special homemade pizza. After a toilet break and a longer than expected sit down break it was time to turn and head back up Hope pass. Again I had been really looking forward to this part of the race as I had heard that it was a huge test of willpower and endurance.
I walked out of the aid station with Richelle carrying my pizza and quietly urging me to eat something as I had not eaten anything. M.C had come into the aid station shortly after me and was also having a slightly longer break. As R and I walked out to where the trail started again I was still dry retching every few minutes and decided I needed 1 final little rest before starting the climb. I ate a couple of very small mouthful's of pizza and MC came out of the aid station and we started walking together. I told Richelle to head back and I would be ok and see her at Twin Lakes in about 4 hrs.
So we started the long arduous trek back up Hope pass running more than I had on the way down. Still pausing briefly to dry retch every 5/10 minutes. This was going to be a long 55 miles :) On the return people had picked up their pacers and they were full of energy. It was great we had a convoy of about 20 runners all making their way back up the pass behind us, pacers singing and joking 1 of them even had a small radio. We got around 800 mtr from the summit and I pulled too the side and put my long sleeve top and jacket on. I decided to do this before the summit knowing it was going to be windy and cold as soon as we got there.
All the runners and pacers went by and it was quite nice to stop and look back on the mountains where we had just come from. The sun was now setting and the colours on the mountains were amazing something I won't forget for a very long time. I reached the summit grabbed some soup with mash potato in it ( weird ) but surprisingly tasty and found MC. We had a sit down and enjoyed the Llamas and scenery around us. Absolutely amazing you could see twin lakes down at 9200ft. I managed to get the cup of soup down and felt better almost straight away. This was the first thing I had eaten in around 3-4hrs.
I took the lead and started running down the beautiful single trail with MC and started to work on making up a bit of time. Finally I thought it had passed and this would be it I could still make it to the finish in a descent time. As we were descending the few blisters I had started to irritate me a little more until I felt one of them pop. Wow that hurt haha the first time I had ever had to deal with blisters, not bad until they pop mid descent. Anyway I put it to the back of my mind and thought if that`s all I have to contend with then I could live with it.
After running down for an hour or so the nausea came back :( Man was I shattered once again the pace dropped off and I stopped here and there to try to vomit but nothing. We put our headlamps on in anticipation for the night and continued down this amazing single trail passing runners. It was a nice quick descent and aside from the blisters physically feeling really good still so I was happy. The nausea continued and I just kept running/walking and hoping it would go away soon.
We ran back into Twin Lakes aid station on the return where I met the girls and decided to change shoes as we had just crossed the last river crossing and it was beginning to get dark and cold. I put a blister pad on the big blister on my heel and a band aid on my big toe where another blister had popped and a new one had reformed on top without me even realising it hahaha. I put my Ay Up headlamp on and some warm clothes and headed back out with M.C. We probably stopped for around 10min but it was worth a longer stop to change shoes. I didn`t need to grab any-more food as I had not eaten anything except the soup since the last aid station.
So off we went again making our way back up the 3 mile ascent to Mt Elbert aid station. Not a lot changed for me kept feeling nauseas trying to vomit over and over again, not getting any food in and hardly any fluid. M.C and I continued to run/walk together and it started to get cold. It had reached around 25/27 degrees during the day and after a long cold winter in Melbourne I had really felt the heat so now it was dropping down to around 2 degrees I was sure starting to feel the cold. Our progress had definitely slowed down but we were happy as it felt like the fastest pace to be doing without a risk of blowing up.
We came across other runners occasionally and talked and ran and it lifted everyone's spirits for a while. We went through Mt Elbert and had another 7ish miles until Halfpipe aid station. By this time I had put on all my warm clothes,beanie and gloves as the temp was dropping quickly. We could hear the aid station well before we got there. They once again had music and a lot of volunteers there and made us feel like superstars as we got in there. They had a huge mix of foods hot soup, chocolates and dry biscuits. Again I hadn't really eaten anything since leaving twin lakes. I kept trying to get small amounts in every hour now instead of half hour. I think I had eaten 4 oreo biscuits since the last checkpoint.
We had a quick stop at Halfpipe aid station and I tried some more soup and a handful of m&m`s. This again proved to be a bad idea I continued to dry retch for ages and threw away half my handful of m&m`s :( As we walked and ran along a runner in front of us was pointing out the stars we turned our headlamps off and had a look upwards, it was amazing being in the mountains with no other lights around and the stars were so bright. It certainly took my mind off the nausea even if it was for just a few minutes. We made it into Treeline and had to have a short search around for the girls. Because it was night time it was hard to work out who was who. By this point I was freezing and had been shivering for about the last hour.
I put my skins on and an extra thermal top. It was only 5km to Fish hatchery aid station along a pretty flat stretch of road so my sister ( Jo) came along for a run/walk. Jo was a great pacer non stop talking the whole way. M.C and I did a bit of jogging here and there but every time I started I just felt sick and wanted to throw up. I continued to stop regularly dry retch and then keep going. M.C started running and I told him just to keep going I would see him further on. We watched his light continue to disappear into the distance until it was gone. Jo was talking and talking it was great except she kept coming back to food. There was nothing I wanted to hear less about than food. She managed to convince me that I should eat a Saltine cracker ( 1/4 of a salty SAO )
I think this was the first thing I had eaten in around 8hrs. It was dry as but at least it was something. After I ate it a few minutes later I felt like I could run a bit, it had settled my stomach some what, I am not sure how much this was a mental thing or whether it had actually done something but it didn't matter I finally got something in. Jo was still talking hahaha just giving me continual support and making me run as much as I could ( which wasn't a lot ) I was happy to walk it in to Fish Hatch as we were about 3 hrs up on the final cut off time and were averaging a Min/km pace.
We got there and I was still freezing so put my tracksuit pants on. It was the last warm thing I had with me to put on. Richelle told me that MC had been in around 3 Min before. I went through the aid station quickly and started to head out toward the infamous climb back up Powerline. Richelle joined me for this section to the turn-off approx 2km. Again it was on fairly flat road. It was really great to have Richelle walk along this part with me to experience a small part of the actual run. We got to the turnoff and R turned around and headed back and I put my iPod on and headed toward Powerline.
I took off 1 jumper and put my head down and powered up the hill passing a lot of runners at this stage. I am pretty sure this was the fastest pace I had moved in hours. I enjoy hill/mountain climbing and was feeling a bit better. Before I knew it I had passed all the runners that I could see and was on the trail alone for the first time in a long time. I took my iPod off and continued to make my way up. I was enjoying listening to my own footsteps and breathing which at no point had become laboured. Again I was happy with how I was physically feeling but just disappointed with the nausea.
It was somewhere along here that I looked up and could not see or hear anybody, I actually became a little nervous thinking perhaps I had strayed off course? While I had my head down and was buried in my own thoughts, had I missed a glow stick?? I slowed right down and turned around I even turned my headlamp off to see if I could see anyone else coming. Nothing ... I decided to walk on for a bit peering as far into the distance as I could searching for a hint of life or a glow stick or a bit of marker tape. All the while thinking : How could I get lost ? Where would I of missed the turn? Am I that bad with directions??? Do I just wait for somebody?
Then there it was a little bit of tape ahhhhh my saviour hahaha a small piece of marking tape. Then I saw a glow stick. So I powered on and as I rounded the summit and the next bend I came across a runner and his pacer ahhh the joy of seeing someone else around 2am ish. I said hi and had a small chat but these guys were slowing down and the runner decided it was time for a sit. I was feeling ok at this point I had managed to get a couple of saltines in and was feeling somewhat refreshed. I was also excited because I had just summited Powerline without any trouble at all. The pain started as I started to descend Sugarloaf.
I was jogging down ( not at any great pace) but I could see a group of lights in front of me of about 5-6 runners. They were all walking and having a great old chat. I came up on them fairly quickly and as I was just getting to them I could see one was MC. We said hello and had a short chat whilst jogging but he was not moving so well, It seemed his knee had seized up a bit and he was having a lot of trouble descending. I told him I was not going to wait because I did not know how long I could keep jogging for and we parted ways.
I ran on for about 10min and kept turning to look for him but his light had disappeared in amongst the trees. Now that we were back on steep technical single trail I was having to be a lot more careful with my foot placements and really concentrate on every step. I had become pretty sore also over the last 25km or so and the feet and knees were beginning to hurt every time I took a step. This was new territory for me I had never run this far before. It was exciting but oh so painful.
The descent into Mayqueen aid station seemed to drag on forever. There were so many rocks and obstacles that I really had to concentrate on to make sure I didn't fall over. Every step was so painful and I was wishing the descent would be over. The other trouble was I had no idea where I was in regards to the cut off. I thought to myself a few times that I would be happy if I missed the cut, I had no doubt I had given it my all and this all we can hope for in a race. Unfortunately I was still feeling terribly nauseous and could not handle the thought of food. I did however manage to get a saltine in here and there and small sips of water.
Finally I crossed the little bridge and there was Richelle waiting for me. Oh what a relief I was sooo happy. She quickly informed me that I was an hour in-front of the cut. At this point I was feeling like I was going to pass out from lack of calories. It was a horrible feeling. Richelle grabbed me and we walked down to the aid station where I grabbed 3 very small pancakes and ate 1 and started to dry retch hahaha of course I couldn't eat what was I thinking. We had pre arranged for R to pace me for the next 9km as it was a fairly flat part of the track and with only 21km to go ( Really 24) it would be great for some company.
R worked out the pace we needed to be doing I had 21k and 4hrs to do it in so we worked on a 10min/k pace. Sounded great in theory until the amount of time that I spent stopping to dry retch slowed me down wayyyy to much. I could hardly run at this pace and any small incline I had to walk it was like climbing a mountain hehehehe. R was great she was pushing me and we ran for what felt like forever ( 3km). It was still freezing cold but the lake looked amazing the sun was slowly creeping up and there was fog over the lake. At this point I kept looking at my watch thinking I am not going to make it, there is no way I can make it.
R kept pushing me and telling me that we could do it. All I thought was how helpless I was to my own body as hard as I tried I just could not go any faster. All this and I was not going to make it, I was shattered. R did her best to stop me thinking this way but it was hard, I just could not see how I would make it. I kept thinking about MC and occasionally thought knowing him and his never say die attitude he would just come running past any minute. I ran/walked/dry retched my way along the beautiful single trail around Turquoise Lake not taking in any of the scenery. Head down feeling sorry for myself still trying to get some food in.
I decided we needed to keep pushing as hard as we could so it was time to muscle down one of my favourite Endura gels and have a crack. I had not come all this way and made it to 150km to get a DNF next to my name. I got the gel down stopped retched a few times then started running. We got to Tabor boat ramp where the car was and jo was ready to take over and pace me to the finish line. I off loaded my headlamp as the sun had come up and continued with Jo. She was raring to go so excited and again non stop talking. I quickly reminded her I did not want to hear about food so she was straight onto the saltines my new found saviour.
I got a couple down and we managed a bit of a run. Every time the sun hit us it was like a little bit of energy came back. By this point I had been running for 27-28hrs, I was slowly feeling stronger and more awake.. We ran and walked passed a few runners that looked worse than I did a few throwing up on the trail. That didn't help haha Jo made sure I stayed with her and kept reinforcing the fact we would make it. Even though I still was not convinced I knew the trail still had some ascent to get back to 10,200ft where we started. Jo kept talking and talking and focusing on the job at hand all of a sudden the sun was up and I was hot. I took off layer after layer and eventually got down to just 1 top and my skins. Ahhhh what a difference some sunshine can do.
Poor Jo was starting to look like my pack horse. She kept powering on and talking enough for the both of us I think I had managed a few grunts and groans maybe even a word or 2. We had got off the single trail and were now on fire trail which meant we should not be far from the finish. We came to a fairly decent hill which to my surprise I managed to power up at a 6min k pace in the process I dropped Jo and passed a half dozen or so runners. Poor Jo she had not run or walked this far in a long time and now I was feeling a bit better I took off hahaha.
I asked her what the time was and for the first time in the entire race I knew I was going to make it. I got a tear in my eye. It was the best feeling ever I knew it WE HAD DONE IT. I was going to finish. I told Jo and she laughed " Of course you're going to make it " as if it was never in doubt. That was it I was now running and power hiking the fastest I had moved in hours. It was time to finish. I looked at my watch and it said we done 159km but the finish was nowhere in site. We could vaguely hear it and passed a few people telling us it was around 2 more miles. Damn that hurts. I was frustrated by this and got a little annoyed.
We met up with R rounded 2 corners and there it was THE FINISH about 1.5km up the boulevard. I had arranged with jo and Richelle to meet me before the finish so that we could cross together. This had been a team effort and without them there was no way I would've finished this race. I started running again and had so many emotions it was crazy. In 5 minutes the ride would be over. We had done it We finished Leadville. We crossed that line together and Merrilee Chlouber gave me a hug congratulated me and gave me my finishers medal. What a feeling. I had finished 100 miles after the disappointment of DNF`ing The Alpine 100 miler earlier this year I was soo happy.
We walked out of the finishers area and sat down under a tree. I was just in total disbelief I could not believe it was over and I had done it. I think I sat there for about an hour shaking my head and working out what hurt more. That was it, it was over.
I want to thank my CREW Richelle and Jo I could not of finished this race without you guys. You have no idea what it meant to me to have the both of you there and all your amazing support and continual belief in me was something I wish more people could experience. So after 29 and a half hours we crossed the finish line. 55miles approx 18hrs of severe nausea never actually vomiting, countless hours of shivering and 163km with 15,600ft of ascent and descent and a lot of lessons learnt, friends made and it was over.
What`s NEXT :)
Unfortunately MC `s knee decided to swell up and seize completely at the final aid station 88 miles. He tried to go on but could not bend it or put weight on it. He had made it further than he had ever run before and did not give up without a fight. I know how hard this decision would of been for him and am in no doubt the decision would not of been made easily. Better luck at the next one mate.
Shane's an ultra runner and La Sportiva Ambassador, with a taste for adventure, always up for a new and different challenge.