LEADVILLE '100' .....by RICHARD BROWN
In early 2012, three of us agreed to run one of the big 3 American ultras - Leadville, Western States or Hardrock. All are 100 mile races with fearsome reputations. Come March, the decision was made - we were entered into the Leadville 100.......that was the easy part done…
Nicknamed 'The Race across the Sky', and made famous by the book Born to Run, the Leadville 100 is an out and back race through the Colorado Rockies, starting and finishing in central Leadville, with 16,000 ft of vertical climb and run between 9,200 and 12,600 ft above sea level.
I arrived in Denver on Wednesday 15th, spent the night in one of the local airport hotels, met Jose on the morning of 16th and drove to Leadville. Our advanced party, Ross and Rich, were already making themselves comfortable in a fantastic coffee shop on the main street.
We registered for the race on the Friday afternoon, got weighed (they weigh you before the start and en route to ensure you're taking on sufficient fluids - if you're too light, you're stopped, fed and re-weighed), sorted our drop bags and headed back to our rented house in readiness for a 2:30am wake up call the following morning.
At 4am on August 18th the gun sounds and we're off. A fairly gentle run down the main street and onto a dirt road. A shortish climb, across the tarmac and onto the trail around Turquoise Lake. The field had settled and, after a steady 2 hours, we hit the first checkpoint, May Queen, at 13 miles. The checkpoint was like a party - it was 6am and packed with everyone cheering and high fiving as you run through.
After filling up my water bottles and grabbing a few handfuls of food, we cut through a car park and straight onto a forest trail. By this time the sun was nearly up and, as we broke onto a wide forest track, the views across the valleys were fantastic. We continued to climb then started the long descent to the road and the second checkpoint. It was still early days but I was feeling good and the support was fantastic. The next few checkpoints came and went then the hard work started. As I left the main checkpoint before the big ascent, we crossed a river then, after a few hundred metres, cut onto a forest trail which signalled the start of the biggest climb of the race - 1,200 vertical mtrs to the highest point on the course, Hope Pass. As we climbed, you could feel the effect of the altitude, having to work harder and harder as we neared the peak. It took just over 2 hours to summit then a steep descent into the valley to the half way point. As I sat re-fuelling at the half way point, the enormity of what lay ahead when we turned around started to loom - the relentless climb, fatigue and altitude. It was made worse by a female runner sat in front of me crying her eyes out whilst her husband tried to get he back onto the trail.
From the half way point, I really struggled to get myself back into gear. I walked the first mile from the checkpoint then trotted the flats and the down before hitting the ascent to Hope Pass. The ascent was relentless but, as we neared the summit, I felt much stronger knowing there was a feed station just over the top and I could claw back some of the time on the descent.
When I finally reached the checkpoint at the very bottom, Bruce, a friend of Jose's, greeted me like an old friend, grabbed my water bottles and plied me with food - he really couldn't do enough.
The sun was starting to set and, as I started the climb at mile 62, I really felt like I had the race cracked -it was just a matter of head down and grinding out the last 40 miles…..easier said than done.
I love running at night. You concentrate on a small pool of light in front of you and that becomes your reference point for hours on end. The miles started to disappear and, although my feet were sore from the distance and getting them wet at the river crossing, I was making good time. The nice easy descents on the way out turned into endless ascents but I kept my head down knowing the finish line was getting closer and closer with every step.
As I left the penultimate checkpoint, an American approached me and asked if I fancied some company to the finish. The Americans have a tradition of allowing pacers from the half way point. Up to then, it had been just me, my head torch and my ipod. I was quite glad of the company and we chatted as we walked through the night.
The last 26 miles was a war of attrition - before sunrise it got very cold but, as a new day dawned, the realisation that I'd completed the race became stronger and stronger. We rounded Turquoise Lake and crossed the road I'd crossed 26 hours earlier. As we started on the final 6 miles, I chatted to Mik about the why's and wherefor's of ultra distance running.
We both agreed it was a privilege to run such a long way through such beautiful scenery. Running abroad can get quite expensive but Leadville was worth every penny. The banter before the race, the ribbing on the start line then the camaraderie and support throughout just reinforced my belief that I've found a sport I truly love.
People ask why we choose to run such long distances, why we're happy to run through a night or two nights, suffering sleep deprivation & battered feet. My answer is simple - because I can and because the others who line up on the start line next to you share the same desire to push to the limit.
I crossed the finish line at 8:44 am, nearly 29 hours after the start of the race.
Rich, Jose and Bruce were there to welcome me.. I'd triumphed in the Leadville 100!
Posted 11/09/2012 10:25