LEADVILLE – PART IV
“Leadville” – The very word makes my skin crawl, sends bitterness through my spine, my heart to ache, and my pride to sink. It’s not because the Leadville 100 is an awful course – quite the contrary. It is a beautiful course, but brutal. My new word for it…”Brutalful”.
Just quick background on my experience with Leadville. I attempted Leadville the first time in 2010. I don’t know why I chose this event to run, but I think it is because I kept hearing it was a brutal mountain event. My kind of thing. A couple of weeks before I left for Colorado, one of my closest friends (Joe) was diagnosed with cancer. Joe was one of the most caring, smart, loving, and outgoing people I have ever known. I couldn’t believe this horrific news. I told Joe that I would dedicate Leadville to him and run my ass off!! When I was pulled at 86.5 for missing the cutoff, it was like being kicked in the gut. I had never been pulled from a race before. On top of it, 3 people in front of me missed the same cutoff (1 only a minute ahead of me) and they were allowed to go on! The aid station captain said someone had to be pulled first and it was me. I fell to my knees begging to go on in honor of Joe, but she said “no” and cut my wristband. From that moment forward, Leadville has become an evil obsession – now 4 DNF’s. It is even hard now to write this race report without crying.
Going into Leadville 2015 was a challenge as my biggest cheerleaders weren’t with me. My husband (Kjell) and daughter (Olivia) had to be in California due to school. It was very hard being in Leadville without them beside me.
As soon as I arrived in Leadville, three days before the race, I contracted a head cold with a BAD sore throat. Errrrr. I started pounding OJ, herbs, cough drops, and taking long naps. At the pre-race meeting, 2 days later, I still felt sick. I did get mentally pumped up by all the speakers. However, during this meeting, they did recognize a woman as the “Queen of cutoffs”. This is the same woman who has cut my wristband 2 years in a row. Hopefully, no one heard me snarling/cussing in the audience.
Tom Wroblewski, my kick ass pacer, flew in on Friday after the pre-race meeting. I was surprisingly calm when he arrived in Leadville. We had a solid game plan to have him pace from 50. We were hoping/praying that a mutual running buddy of ours, Mari Bashor, would be able to crew/drop Tom off. He was in charge of coordinating his transportation. I needed to focus on finishing this darn thing.
4:00AM, SATURDAY, AUGUST 22ND, I am off and running. I popped a Vivarin and cough drops the minute the gun went off. My throat hurt a little, but I wasn’t about to let it stop me.
The 100mile journey starts in the “big” city of Leadville on asphalt then makes its way through neighborhoods. After about 4 miles in, you get to the “Congo Line”. The what??? The “Congo Line” is a very narrow trail path around Turquoise Lake which leads to the first aid station “MayQueen” at mile 13.5. One wrong step/fall on the “Congo Line” and you most likely will take out 10 runners with you. I was VERY relieved to make it to MayQueen without a fall and 20 minutes ahead of my projected pace.
The next section is a gradual climb up to approximately 11,000 feet (Sugarloaf Pass). The section consist of trails/fire roads. During the ascent, there are buzzing power lines above. I don’t recall buzzing in previous years. I kept thinking a line was going to fall and zap the crap out of me…This made me move really fast. I got into the next aid station Outward Bound 30 minutes ahead of my projected time! Yeah baby!! To my surprise, Tom was there. It was a very quick Tailwind exchange and I was off.
I was in my fog/my zone the next 2 sections. I recall popping Advil and cough drops to avoid the chronic sore throat. I kept a steady pace. These sections were fire roads and trails and good places to zone. When I arrived at Twin Lakes (mile 40), I was still ahead by 30 minutes of my projected time. I was very happy!! No time to waste though! Tom was there with Mari. They both grabbed my pack, filled it up, and took essentials from my drop bag including the trekking poles. I remember feeling like a Nascar driver who had to peel out quickly.
On to the highest peak. Hopeless Pass (12,600). Uh, I mean “Hope Pass”. Before you embark on this never ending climb, there are 4 BIG ass puddles to cross and 2 BIG stream crossings. It actually felt really good to cross them as I was getting a little toasty. After the water crossings, the 5 mile climb up Hope Pass begins. This is where I break out the trekking poles. Many runners do the same. It took me 2 hours to get to the top. I always know I am getting closer to the top when the tree line ends and there is no more growth. Additionally, I know I am at the top when I see llamas. No – this isn’t something I hallucinate. There are really llamas at the aid station. It is the only way they can get supplies there. Once there, I realized I was still 30 minutes ahead of schedule! Yeah!
After my ‘high”, the descent down was brutal. It is a technical descent on steep terrain. The worse for me as I am not a good downhill runner. I managed to run down, not fall, and get to Winfield mile 50 – ahead of my projected time by 15 minutes. Tom was waiting with “ants in his pants”. He said to hurry and let’s go. I started going in my drop bag when Tom again said to hurry. I got pissy by his impatience, threw everything I needed at him and told him to carry it! It shut him up, I didn’t have to carry it, and we were on our way.
Tom said I was doing great, but he didn’t want to waste a minute. We started up Hope Pass and I started feeling nauseous. Tom told me to throw up. I was so worried about cutoffs, I literally thought vomiting would take too much time. I told him I knew I was slow, but I was giving it my all. At that point, Tom said “come on Sweet Cheeks”. I almost froze in my tracks. I asked Tom to repeat what he said. When he did, a big smile came over my face. This was my nickname for Joe. (Joe had lost his battle 2 years ago to cancer). I had hoped that Joe’s spirit would be with me during my Leadville journey. Indeed, Joe’s spirit was there. Tom could have called me a million things, but “Sweet Cheeks’ my special nickname for Joe.
At the top of Hope Pass, I started to feel awful (depleted, sore throat, tired, and bad cramping in quads). I popped Vivarin, cough drops, Advil, and put healing oils on my legs. (At this point, I couldn’t eat anymore even though I remembered Betsy Nye told me to eat something every 45 minutes.). Down the hill, I started losing ground. I could barely stomach a Vespa (mile 57ish), throat was prohibiting me to eat, and the cough drops were now upsetting my stomach. All I could hear from Tom was “run, its downhill. You are in better position than ever before”. Unfortunately I got into mile 60.5 15 minutes behind my projected schedule. This means I lost 45 minutes with my pace.
I changed my socks which I needed after going through the water crossings again. I was not about to get hypothermia again (this occurred back in 2010). Once again, I gave Tom my stuff to get us out quickly. My spirit and health were both deteriorating quickly. I climbed the fire road which lead to trails like a depleted zombie. I hadn’t eaten for a while and I felt horrible. I told Tom that I needed to stop for a minute. I leaned against a tree and said “we should just go to the car”. I honestly believed the car was right there. Tom gave me the “WTF look” and said we are not going to the car and keep moving!
Somehow, I made it to Half Pipe at mile 70. I was relieved. I felt like I was going to pass out and now I couldn’t breathe from congestion. I sat down and then the tent started spinning. I needed to tell Tom that I couldn’t continue. I looked up at Tom who graciously brought me broth and I said “Tom, sit, we need to talk”. He then walked away with his cell phone. I leaned over to another runner and said ‘I am so sick, need to drop, but my pacer is ratting me out to my husband right now”. Sure enough, I am handed a phone with Kjell, saying “the next section is flat, go to the next aid station”, blah, blah, blah. I told him I had never been this sick before at Leadville and there was nothing left. No sympathy from Kjell or Tom. I handed the phone back to Tom and told him I had to use the porta potty. When I opened the porta potty door, this bright light came beaming out at me. OH MY GOSH I THOUGHT!!! I have found the light leading me to heaven or I am already dead. Then I looked again and realized the porta potty had a light bulb in it. I just said to Tom “it is a very fancy porta potty”. Tom said “it is a fancy porta potty just for you Karen”.
After leaving the fancy porta potty, I knew I was running a fever. At this point, it probably didn’t matter. I told Tom I wanted my temperature taken. I thought he was going to choke me. The medical aid said they didn’t have a thermometer, so I just started walking. I realized I was walking to the next aid station, thus I hadn’t quit (at least to my knowledge). This section was flat and I couldn’t run a lick of it. It was very frustrating…I had nothing left, my throat was a burning furnace, I was dizzy, and having a hard time breathing. Tom and I weren’t speaking. I imagined he was completely disappointed and frustrated with me. I recall apologizing, but I am not sure the words were loud enough to hear.
As we made our way into Outward Bound at mile 76, I realized I had 15 minutes before the cutoff. I had lost a ton of time that I had banked earlier and felt like an absolute train wreck pulling into the station. I knew even if I pulled out of the station, I wouldn’t make the next cutoff at 6:30am. I needed 4 hours to get there and it was 2;45am. Unfortunately, I was an expert on this one. Tom knew too. My wristband was cut here at mile 76.
We found a ride to one of our cars, drove to the other car, and somehow made it back to the rental cabin. I have no clue how I got there. After an hour of sleeping, Tom suggested breakfast. I was starving at that point, but weary of my throat. The first bite of soft eggs was like gasoline being put on fire. OUCH!!! I was so hungry, I sucked on the eggs. TMI?
From there, I had to drive to the airport at 4am, board the rental car bus, and hop a plane. Needless to say, the plane ride almost made my head explode. I survived and made it home. After 5 minutes in the door, the tears started flowing and I crawled into bed. I spent the next 21 straight hours with a fever of 101.5, shivering, aching, and crying. I thought about going to a doctor, but I couldn’t get out of bed. Three days later, I started to feel better, eat, and regain my composure.
There is a big part of me that feels like a total idiot for trying this event 4 times, throwing lots of money at it, and failing each time. There is another part of me that believes this would have been a finish with a buckle if I hadn’t gotten sick. The new Leadville tag line is “Grit, Guts and Determination”. I feel I had all 3 of these at the starting line, but now I am not sure I can muster enough of them to go back. I would encourage runners who are seeking a mountainous 100 mile event to run Leadville. It is a beautiful journey and the mountains have my full respect.