Sunday, August 28, 2011

Week Summary (Aug 21) - Leadville Trail 100

Emma Quarry OB: 6.4 mi (+567 ft); 9:32 pace
Easter Hill Loop (CO): 5.3 mi (+582 ft); 10:28 pace
LVT - Turquoise Shakeout (CO): 6.0 mi (+295 ft); 10:05 pace
LVT Support: 3.6 mi (+261 ft); 16:13 pace
LVT - Turquoise Fish Loop: 21.4 mi (+2,210 ft); 11:39 pace

Weekly Totals: 42.8 mi (+3,914 ft); 8:30:16 on trail

Turquoise Lake and Mt. Elbert in the Sawatch Range near Leadville, CO
This week (Aug 15 - 21) saw the Young Mountain Runners converge on Leadville, Colorado, where Darren laced 'em up for the Leadville Trail 100. Ultra-marathons are complete and complex tests in which it is all too easy to measure success by one's place at the finish. Conversely, it could be just as simple to equate DNF (did not finish) with failure. The competitor wants to place in his/her race with impressively low times across expansively high miles; the runner strives to finish his/her event with determination, joy, and respect for those ahead and behind. On some days, the course and its elements turn back both the competitor and the runner.  The competitor may be defeated, but the runner touches the wall, learns what it's made of, and looks forward to another go.  Darren had to withdraw at the Fish Hatchery Aid Station (Mile 76.5); the competitor felt defeated, the runner will keep going.  And this is a little bit of what happened at Leadville, from the point-of-view of an awed crew member...

I started the running week with a lengthened version of the Emma Quarry OB, adding a section over the VC-Gold Hill Divide.  It was a slight taper week within the training cycle, so the mileages were down a bit.  I shifted to the go-to, short Emma Quarry because I had to jump in the Yota and head for Colorado.

The Yota zipped across Highway 50 and I made it to Scipio, Utah, by midnight mountain time.  I was at Dennis and Mary's house by noon.  Darren, Carrie, and Chloe were already there, having started their road trip with a couple nights in Great Basin National Park. We had dinner plans that included sushi so I wanted to get my Wednesday Five in before heading into downtown Grand Junction. Dad had sent me photos of their runs on Easter Hill and that's where I went with my shorts and a bottle of water.  It was 98 degrees, probably not a good idea. It didn't seem too bad and yet Edward Abbey's Dead Man at Grandview Point (a place not really too far from Grand Junction) kept popping into my over-heating brain. Nevertheless I enjoyed the sandstone cliffs and juniper of their local trail. That is until I found myself two gullies over from my start point, running out of water and panting up the little hills. Ah, but a nice dinner awaited us once I'd cooled down and rehydrated. Coolly, Darren stayed at the house, tapering out for the coming journey.

We packed up the trailer, shoved the Yota in the garage, and took off for Leadville early Thursday afternoon.  Darren and I sped ahead to take care of the mandatory medical check-in and pick up his race packet. It went quickly, so we were soon at the camp were the trailer had arrived. We were stationed in the Baby Doe Campground on the eastern shore of Turquoise Lake which is circled by about seven miles (14 because you do it outbound and inbound) of the LVT course. With the camp set, Darren and I cruised for a few miles on the LVT Shakeout including a bit of the Turquoise Lake trail. It didn't look quite as rocky and rooty as we'd been led to believe, but would still pose some technical difficulties in the dark of the start and finish! We were a bit heady from the new location and the high altitude, such was the build-up to the race's start.
Darren gets his medical band and #856

On Friday we attended the race and crew meetings and got a little better oriented with the course and crew possibilities. We basically took it easy knowing that we had a long 24 hours ahead of us.  And then the storms came...

Darren and Carrie had had thunderstorms and wind-filled nights at Great Basin, and now the lightning and ground-jarring thunder shattered any hopes of sleeping during the very short night before start-time. On any other camping trip it would have been an interesting storm, but this was simply disruptive and inconvenient. We slipped from our tents in the early morning hours to prep for the starting line and were soon on the quiet streets of downtown Leadville with other gathering racers and crews. Not much to do but encourage Darren and chat with other racers. Jeff Browning, a contender, talked with us for a while as the crowd grew. I enjoy the camaraderie among all of the participants, front to back.

The shotgun sounded at 4 am and headlamps gave an artificial blue-white glow to the boulevard as the race began. The crew bolted back to camp where Dad dropped Mom and me before heading to May Queen Aid Station.  Mom and I walked out to the boat ramp, an unofficial crew point, to watch the runners pass by at about Mile 7 or so.  It was a fantastic sight as the first headlamps split the dark as the trail hit the lake.  Soon the leaders were followed by a seemingly endless string of diamond-hued lights glinting and flashing at the margin of the lake. The little lights kept coming, all 622 of them. We barely saw Darren as he glided across the boat ramp; he would later tell me he didn't recall the boat ramp at all. As the race headed into the mountains, I took to camp to rest for the night ahead. It would be my job to pace Darren through the darkness and encourage him to maintain his strength for the remaining miles.

News from Dad who met Darren at each Aid Station showed that our runner was making all his split times.  We carried little cards with his splits, times that we could expect him to be at Aid Stations along the course. If he kept to his splits, he would finish in 24 hours and 20 minutes. That would get him a nice sub-25 hour, traditional belt buckle and be well within the cut-off time of 30 hours. With each call or text Darren was doing perfectly, hitting his splits and enjoying the event.  I would pass this information via a group text to Darren's fans at home, and they would respond with great encouragement.  I'd try to catch some sleep between the surges of news every two hours or so.

Hope Pass, up high about the time of Darren's inbound
Darren, ready to go again at Twin Lakes (Mile 60.5)
When Darren left Twin Lakes Aid Station for Hope Pass (12,400 feet) he was looking and feeling good; an afternoon set of storms threatened the pass but didn't amount to much.  We'd see him again when on the inbound leg through the same Station.  Dad retrieved me from camp and we returned with Mom, Carrie, and Chloe to Twin Lakes.  I checked in as a Pacer, signing the waver and getting a bib-number that said "PACER."  I was ready to go if Darren thought he could use some support.  When he arrived he looked great and greeted family and on-lookers with ease.  He said he felt pretty good on the pass - it was crazy hard but so beautiful. Several of the lead runners had paused to say "hey", and then it was Darren's turn to encourage those on the outbound as he passed on his inbound (once over the pass the runners hit the 50-mile mark and turned around to challenge the pass a second time).

He said he'd really need help on the Turquoise trail so I would wait to pace at Treeline as originally planned. And then he headed up "the slide" and into the evening light. The wait at Treeline seemed forever. I was energized to get going while trying to remain calm because I knew at this point it wouldn't be running as much as keeping momentum. When he approached the small but growing cluster of crew vehicles, I could sense his mood had darkened in the diminishing night. We were quick with the stop, grabbing lights and slightly warmer shirts. I was excited to join the event but concerned that my runner needed some real help. It was help I really couldn't gather, I didn't have the tools to revive the spirit that had been so alive only a few miles and hours ago. He had crossed a boundary that he couldn't re-find. We jogged slowly at times and I would get encouraged. I tried to ask questions about earlier in the day, hoping to invoke some of that energy. I grabbed my phone and showed him Bryan's (our bro in Texas) fabulous video. That brought a smile and a quiet "that's awesome."  But the sleeplessness of the previous several nights was a demon he couldn't shake. Add to that the fact that the section after Treeline is asphalt road to the Fish Hatchery with race/crew traffic in a steady on-coming and following stream. I couldn't relax and think of jokes or songs to sing (whatever) as I focused to keep Darren on a line beyond the cars' reach. The road seemed to never end, but eventually we walked in the hatchery at Mile 76.5.

The Fish Hatchery, the morning after (Mile 76.5)
As Darren looked to rest for a while, grabbing a picnic bench awkwardly tilted in the crowded driveway, I grabbed warm water, soup, and cokes in the Aid Station (thanks so much to all who volunteer their time to do that job all day and all night). But soon he was shivering uncontrollably and I moved him to where Dad was readying his gear for the next segment of the run. We draped him in a sleeping bag and eventually got him into the backseat of the jeep. He slept fitfully and uncomfortably as we discussed our options.

But the demons had their talons set and, after an hour or so of trying to regain focus and determination, Darren decided to withdraw. It was a decision that had to be made, and it would weigh on him for days, and hopefully soon drive him to carry on. He had put hours of training, planning, and effort into this event and to step out now was immensely painful and sad. In the worldly scheme of things these are minor events, but your heart does not often focus on worldly things. Leadville broke his heart, now it's time to re-build.

Mt. Elbert, high point of Colorado
Are you sure this is the trail?
I think he made the correct decision, though I wasn't really sure at the time. Low points come and go in these events and you have to fight your way through them. Hell, I really don't have the experience to even think about this. One of the challenges of having ultras as a goal is to see how I personally respond to the hardships of the ultra. On Sunday I ran all but the final approach to the finish as I looped from Turquoise Lake to the Fish Hatchery and back to camp. I wanted to experience a bit of the route and see what we would have been up against. The powerline hill would have exposed Darren to an intense, drawn-out climb, and though beautiful in the vast sky of a sunny mid-morning, it might have been dire for a drawn-out runner and his inexperienced pacer. I loved my 21 miles on Sunday. I dedicated it to swatting at the ghosts that had crushed my favorite ultra runner, and it reaffirmed my desires to keep running in the mountains until we can someday soon give the demons their due.

Turquoise Lake from the Colorado Trail
You did great Darren; we will continue to chase the demons, enjoy the skylines and trails, and keep inspiring others to give it all regardless of the many definitions of success. As long as we keep going, failure is not an option because it isn't possible.

Thanks to Dennis, Mary, Carrie, Chloe, Desna (at home with the horses), and Bryan in Texas with the big flag, for making this a great Leadville week.  We will see these trails again.  Thanks also to Kristen, Walter, Dan, Scott, Eric, Jim, Marta, and Steven for your support during it all.  622 started, 340 finished; only 92 made it under 25 hours for the big buckle (thanks to Inside Trail for the stats). Tim Long of Footfeathers and Inside Trail, Darren's coach and friend of Trail Option, finished 15th (21:04). Darren was in 68th position at Fish Hatchery. 


  1. The crew (all people you listed!) was more than a runner could ever ask for; the runner just didn't ask enough of himself that day. As you told me later, "the longest distance I will ever have to cover again is the 6 inches between my ears." I will train for that distance now too.

    Man how I wish I could have gotten you more mileage that day!

    Up next for you, Lake of the Sky 36 miler and then the Young Mountain Runners re-unite at Fire Trails 50 miler for some small demon slaying.

    Bryan's video deserves it's own post!