Before I start on the actual weekend, I have to give credit to my friend Drew for the title of this post. Two weekends ago when he was visiting Denver, someone told him that the Capitol Hill neighborhood (soon to be my new neighborhood) was the place of dreams and desperation. After this weekend, I thought that was the perfect title for this post. So thanks Drew and the random stranger who gave you that quote!
I started off the weekend by heading up to Leadville on Thursday afternoon for the pre-race party with Laurie and her friends/crew members. We hung out eating fried chicken and buffalo bleu potato chips and drinking micro-brews (Crazy Mountain Amber for me). After the sun set, we decided to watch the Tony Krupicka movie “In the High Country”. After all the hype surrounding the movie, I was pretty disappointed with it. The only saving grace was the beautiful scenery that he runs through. And it was only 20 minutes! Which turned out to be a good thing since we were all exhausted and ready for bed by the time the movie was over.
Friday dawned bright and early for me since I had every intention of spending the entire day working from Matt’s house in Avon. That plan was foiled when I arrived at his house and realized I forgot the key. I quickly called Matt and found out that I had the only two copies of the key in the state of Colorado, one which was inside the house and the other was in Denver. After hearing that news, I drove down to Denver to pick up the key (of course, after stopping at Avon bakery for breakfast). The traffic going the opposite direction was terrible, so I decided to take a quick nap and get some work in before heading back up to the mountains. I finally made it to Matt’s house around 2pm with time to get some additional work in and then head out to meet Drew at FAC (Friday Afternoon Club) at the Westin in Avon. I drank a little more than I planned and ended up falling asleep on his couch while three other people were carrying on a conversation.
Luckily I set my alarm the night before so I woke up in time (3am) to ride my bike back to Matt’s house, quickly change, throw stuff in my car, and head up to Leadville for the start of the 100 (which I missed by about 5 minutes).
Fish Hatchery Aid Station AM
Since I missed the start, I headed straight to the Fish Hatchery Aid Station where Gaby was working the timing station all day. I got there around 4:30am, chatted with Gaby until she had to go set up the timing mats at 5am and took a nice nap in my car. By the time I woke up at 7am, the front men had already been through the aid station, but I did get to see the front woman, Ashley Arnold, who led throughout the entire race and ended up finishing in 20:30!! Shortly after I woke up, Laurie’s crew arrived at the Aid Station, so I spent the rest of the morning (until about 9am when Laurie got there) hanging out with her crew members and chatting about how rude and ridiculous some runners’ crew members were. Some of them forgot the reason they were there and actually tried to drive into runners as they were crossing the street!
Laurie ran up around 9am for a quick water/food change. She still looked fresh and ready to take on the next section of the course, including the dreaded double crossing of Hope Pass. At 12,600, Hope Pass is the highest point on the course and runners have to ascend it twice for the middle 20 miles of the course. In fact, Winfield (at mile 50) Aid Station is the most popular drop point since many are physically or mentally unable to ascend Hope Pass again.
After the last runners came through Fish Hatchery, I headed out to get some food and find a nice place to sleep. My original plan was to drive back to Avon and sleep at Matt’s house, but that seemed like a long distance just to sleep. Especially since I had my sleeping bag and sleeping pad in my car. Instead of driving all the way back to Avon, I drove on Highway 24 until I came to a nice spot to lay out my sleeping bag and take a nap. It was conveniently next to a beautiful lake with mountains surrounding me. I slept for about 2 hours before heading back into Leadville to get food and water for the long night of volunteering in front of me.
Fish Hatchery Aid Station PM
After the front runners came through, the Aid Station become more lively. I spent the entire time from 4 – 11pm calling out numbers for Gaby to record in the time tracking software. We also spent a lot of time chatting with pacers and crew members so that they had an idea of when their runners were expected to come into the Aid Station.
The most memorable moment of volunteering at that Aid Station was when one of the front men (probably 10 – 15th into the Aid Station) almost collapsed as he crossed the timing mat. His face was ashen and he was covered in dirt and blood. We were convinced that his race was over. Luckily for him, he had a complete set of doctors and massage therapists on his crew and after over 2 hours in the aid station, he finally was able to get up and continue on with his race. I’m not sure if he finished, but he looked a lot stronger leaving the aid station than he did entering it.
Eventually 11pm rolled around and it was time for me to head to May Queen to start my official volunteering duties. I was sad to leave Gaby though, especially since she told me that her new volunteers sucked!
May Queen Aid Station Overnight
When I arrived at the May Queen Aid Station, it was packed. I had to park about half a mile away and walk to the Aid Station. This turned out to be both good and bad. Good because I wasn’t tempted to go back and get the second Rockstar I had bought (which would have prevented me from sleeping on Sunday) and good/bad because it prevented me from pacing someone who needed a pacer because all my running gear was too far away.
At May Queen I was introduced to the Aid Station captain, given a t-shirt and name tag, and set to work at the fruit/sandwich section. This ended up being a lot of fun because I made some original creations (peanut butter, honey, and strawberry jam on a whole wheat tortilla) that the runners raved about. I had one runner come back six separate times, each time saying it was his last and he was heading back out on the trail, for more. I was also able to make custom creations for runners who didn’t like my standard fare of turkey and cheese, just cheese, peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and honey, and bagel and cream cheese. The strangest request was for cream cheese and banana. I’m not sure how it tasted since I wasn’t willing to try it myself but the runner seemed to like it.
Another one of my duties was ensuring there was enough cut fruit as runners came in. I became known as the watermelon queen since I could slice and entire watermelon in less than 2 minutes. Watermelon was the most popular, although sliced bananas and oranges were also available to runners.
My unofficial duty was chatting with runners and convincing them to go back out on the trail to finish the race. For some of them this was really easy and I just had to tell them that they looked awesome, that they were doing great, and the final 13.5 miles would go by in a flash. For others it was more difficult. One guy did not want to leave the warmth of the Aid Station (the temperature outside was about 30 degrees at this point) and we eventually refused to give him any more soup and hot chocolate until he left and finished the race. Another was a military academy cadet who was complaining about being tired. I had to tell him that just “being tired” wouldn’t matter when he graduated from the academy and was an officer in the military. Quitting wouldn’t be an option then and it wasn’t an option during this race unless there was something seriously wrong with him.
It was wonderful hearing everyone’s stories and their motivations for running a 100 mile race. My favorites were the people completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Vermont 100, Western States, Leadville 100, and Wasatch 100 all within a couple weeks of each other) and the people with multiple Leadville 100 finishes (one guy I talked to was on his 10th but there was a man who finished his 30th consecutive Leadville 100 this year). It was amazing to see people who looked as though they had just done a quick warmup run despite being over 86 miles into a grueling race. It was also inspiring to see the runners who looked beaten and broken pick themselves up and continue on. Out of the runners that made it to May Queen, only 6 DNFed and 4 of those were with serious medical issues (one guy was found unresponsive on the side of the trail). Overall, the day started with approximately 1200 racers and ended with 494 finishers (approximately a 40% success rate).
The 2013 edition of the Leadville Trail 100 was truly a story of dreams and desperation. Some racers had all their dreams come true. Others struggled but still finished despite overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Still many others saw their dreams crushed by the cutoffs, by the course, and by themselves. I’m so happy I spent my weekend as just a small part of such a wonderful event. If you are ever feeling down about yourself or the bigger world, come volunteer or spectate at an ultra event. Even the top men and women are the most down-to-earth, friendly, inspiring people you will ever meet. They are courteous and considerate, even while in the midst of pushing their bodies and minds to the absolute limit. It will give you a fresh outlook on life and an improved perspective on humanity.