Is it Hope or is it Hopeless?
“There’s a place called Hope where your attitude determines your day. When you look for the beauty in the climb your heart and mind fill with Hope. But climb her with fear and your heart and mind will become Hopeless. I climbed a mountain to find Hope… and that’s where I found you.”
I have decompressed the last couple days and except for a couple thoughts here and there… I remain numb. I sit here today, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around what has happened the last week, the last year, the last five years… I want to write. I want to tell my story…. So why do I sit here not being able to say a word?…
I guess there is only one way to do this. This is my experience running the Leadville Trail 100. No emotion. No pizzazz. No feelings… This is how I remember the experience.
August 18, 2018 4:00am
Ken pulls the trigger of the shotgun… and we’re off. Over 700 runners started this year and 6th Street was packed with people lined up watching us go. With the shine of headlamps lighting the way we headed out on our quest.
A question I often hear is “why would you run 100 miles?”… Ya know, there were over 700 runners each with a different reason. For me, I don’t even know anymore… My reason has changed so many times, evolved, and to be straightforward… I don’t even know why anymore. I do know this is the first time I lined up at a starting line running toward my future rather than running away from my past…
I had a hell of a first mile… about 2 blocks in my stomach turned and I had to go to the bathroom… Based on how my morning went, I knew I would have to early, but didn’t expect to have to deal with a stomach ache from mile 0… Knowing the course extremely well, I knew there was an outhouse around mile 6 so I choose to hold out until then.
I was worried about losing my spot in the pack. Going around Turquoise Lake is tight with all the people. If you get stuck behind some runners it can be hard to pass them… There is a fine line between taking it easy and going too slow those first 13 miles… I had a time plan I felt was solid for me but the unknown is where you are in the pack of runners. Knowing I was going to have to stop allowed me to push a bit harder up front, so I could land in the best place for me later.
Mile .5 my pack broke… It was a simple strap on the front, but wow was it annoying. It was nothing serious and I was able to carry it on my shoulders for the first 25 miles. I did spend those first four and a half hours readjusting myself every 30 seconds… I am so lucky I was able to get a text message out to my crew at Mayqueen aid station, so they had time to prepare my other pack. They did an awesome job working together to get my new (old) pack ready to go at Outward Bound!!
The first 13 miles went smooth otherwise. I’ve run the Turquoise Lake section so many times and I knew I just needed to keep running and that is exactly what I did. I kept my pace steady and only passed when I felt others were going too slow. I remember turning around a couple times to watch the sun peaking over the mountains with the soft gray of the sky slowly clearing. As the sun came up I knew I was getting closer to the end of the trail. I hit the Mayqueen Aid Station at the exact time I planned to.
Grabbing a quick bite to eat and slamming a couple ginger ales I headed out with no stopping. As I headed down the road I got a quick text out to my crew about my pack. Not thinking straight, I almost forgot to take my headlamp off… A very nice stranger assisted me before I headed out toward the next section of trail.
I knew I was about to hit a section I am familiar with and have some strong attributes for. A section of rocky trail leading to an uphill road/atv trail section was coming. Don’t stop moving was my moto for every uphill. I tend to climb very fast and I knew I couldn’t burn myself out on the hills as I needed my legs for the long straightaways. I climbed up Hagerman Pass and Sugarloaf with relative ease going slow enough to conserve energy for later, but running enough to keep my pace where I needed to be. I was doing a great job of eating and drinking up to this point as I knew I had to stay ahead of my nutrition and hydration. Top of Powerline came, and I started to cruise down one of my favorite downhill sections. Holding back enough to keep control but allowing gravity to take ahold I left myself controllably fall down hill and I focused on putting one foot on solid ground at a time. Cruising down at a solid pace I went to pass someone, and I hit some loose gravel taking a fall into one of the deep wash out roots along the way. Thankfully nothing more than a huge scrape down my right leg I was able to hop right back up and keep going. Heading down the rest of the mountain I ran into a friend from social media who I was able to chat with the next couple miles into Outward Bound (mile 25).
I hadn’t looked at my watch since I left Mayqueen but when I hit Outward Bound aid station, I was right on pace with my plan. My crew met me with huge smiles and cheers as I cruised into the aid station. They adapted on the fly and had my pack situation handled. I ate, drank, took care of another stomach issue, changed my shirt, buffs, hat and was on my way out in just a few minutes. As Mary was walking me out I heard my name called out several times. I was already in a good mood and with every cheer my heart felt better and my smile got bigger heading into the toughest section of the race (for me).
The section of road and trail heading from Outward Bound to Twin Lakes is difficult for me because it is not my style of running… With a lot of asphalt and dirt roads, this section is a chance to make up time or a place time can get lost easily if you aren’t being mindful… This section is easy to walk but is very runnable. If you aren’t running you are losing time here. I spent hours and hours and hundreds and hundreds of miles mimicking this section of the race. I ran roads, dirt roads… I learned to shorten my stride and run uphill. I learned to run uphill with hundreds of uphill miles and small hill repeats. I knew this section was coming and I wanted to be as prepared as possible for it.
As I headed out of Outward Bound I realized I had missed applying some Vaseline… As I had been chaffing for a while already, I knew this section was going to hurt. I put my headphones in, turned up some music as loud as possible and hit the road keeping a solid but comfortable pace. I ran this section a couple times this summer to get a feel for pace and how it would feel both mentally and physically. I did have one solid run there but for the most part I tended to struggle through it. Before I hit the woods, my crew caught up with me at the “alternate crew zone” and they gave me some Vaseline. They saved my life… The chaffing was minimized, and I was able to run a greater portion because of it.
As I was running through the woods I started to lose my mind. I hadn’t seen anyone in a long time and the more I zoned out the more my mind wondered. Of course, I knew the “dark place” was going to eventually catch up to me… I was hoping I could push it off until the back half of the race. I continued to focus on running as much as possible, but I noticed I wasn’t hitting the uphill hard enough and the flats were getting slower. Next thing I knew I had let my mind wonder off… I was completely zoned out and was having a hard time forgetting about last year.
This section is where I quit last year… (heading back in) and I couldn’t shake the memories, feelings, and emotions that felt like they happened yesterday. I remembered falling asleep on the trail. I remembered keeling over with pain and discomfort in my foot and my knees and my head. I remember being on my 3rd bottle of Fireball heading back in… the longer I stayed in this hole the colder I got. The rain had picked up ever so slightly until I was cold and wet. I didn’t want to stop until the aid station to put on my jacket because I was afraid I wouldn’t get started again so I moved. I felt like I was moving as slow as a turtle but I kept inching forward with the hope the Half Pipe aid station would come sooner rather than later. I passed a couple people. A couple people passed me. But I never got into a rhythm enough to settle into a conversation. I just wanted to get into the aid station…
I came around the corner and up the hill and I knew the flat area was leading into Half Pipe. I heard the people first then saw the tents set up. Upon arrival an awesome volunteer grabbed my pack from me and helped me put on my jacket while I munched down a couple hand fulls of watermelon, a GU, some Ginger Ale and as I headed out I grabbed some M&M’s for the trek out. Feeling a bit refreshed but knowing a long section lay ahead I worked to get back to running as quickly as possible. I left the aid station at the exact minute I had planned to, so I knew my pace was going to need to remain strong and swift. I began running a bit more and bit faster, but the hills seemed to stand in my way. I knew I needed to stay focused but again my mind kept drifting off. I kept replaying the horrors of last year. My fears came screaming back and the darkness of my mind clouded my movement a little more with every step. I hit my favorite row of Aspen trees and as I started to scream down the hill I began to gain a little more of my smile and the feeling of reality rather than reliving the past.
Knowing the section ahead is a good section to make up time I knew I had to run but my feet weren’t getting any faster… The faster I tried to run the more my legs felt like they were stuck in concrete…
I wanted to see my crew. I knew if I could change my thoughts and see some people with smiles I could change my energy and I could regain my composure, but I couldn’t get there any faster… The harder I tried the slower I moved. When I hit the Mount Elbert aid station I knew I only had a couple miles left to go. I reluctantly looked down at my watch and knew I was behind my desired time and I wasn’t going to make it up on this next section, but I knew if I kept moving swiftly I would not lose any more time. So I moved. I moved as best as I could running the ups and letting my body glide down. When I hit the ATV road heading into Twin Lakes I knew I had a mile left and I just let my body fall down the hill. I knew if I could just get to the aid station I could regain my composure heading into Hope Pass. I came cruising down the hill into the aid station and my crew was anxiously waiting for me with huge smiles on their face.
Coming through the aid station I felt a small amount of relief but a huge tension from within. I still can’t figure out what was wrong, but I left my pack with my crew and continued walking through the aid station. I couldn’t shake this feeling in my heart and my mind. I don’t know what was going on but I walked. I walked all the way through the aid station not knowing why I couldn’t or didn’t want to stop. Looking back my crew was frantic because I gave little direction and didn’t say anything other than “I’m not stopping, I gotta go…” Whatever they did, they got everything I needed and ran me down to toss my pack on me. I knew I was leaving the aid station about 25 minutes behind schedule. I could feel the internal pressure to just start sprinting toward Hope Pass… I knew I had to regain my composure before I left the aid station and my crew knew the same thing.
Mary gave me a few words of encouragement. Brad told me not to let Hope break me. I leaned in, looked Mary directly in the eyes and whispered a special quote, she whispered a polite request back to me and I was on my way.