You must commit: “I will not quit!”
-Mark Larson, ultrarunning motivational philosopher and thong-wearing 2:50 marathoner
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And on with the blog…
Mile 43 and we’re well into our climb up to Hope Pass at 12,600 ft. The 20% grade means our heels won’t be making contact with terra firma anytime soon. For the moment, Ben has found his inner mountain goat. But I am struggling. Big time. Muscles scream for more blood flow to deliver oxygen and dump the cesspool of lactic acid that has built to redline levels in my legs. My heart responds by pumping hard. So hard I can hear it. At first, I am convinced there is someone or something right behind me holding a steady cadence of 180 steps per minute. There is no one there.
Both lungs are furiously sorting through every inhaled molecule trying to pick out what little oxygen is available; panning for gold much like the 19th century miners whose occasional mountainside graves remind us of the futility of that effort. The alveoli fill up but there’s nothing to transfer to the red blood cells, not enough good stuff to grab hold of. It’s like eating a box of styrofoam packing peanuts; you feel stuffed but there is absolutely no nutritional value.
I ask Ben what the altitude read is on his GPS Garmin: 10,600 ft. I hear someone yell in a flash of instant clarity, “DAMN”, and am surprised for a moment that it has come from a place deep inside me. Despite the brain fuzz making my thinking more impaired with every step, I realize immediately that we still have a grueling 2000 ft of climb left to Hope Pass. Temps are dropping, cold rain is spitting and the occasional distant rumble of thunder is getting closer.
That was the low point. That was the moment that I started to fully comprehend just how tough 100 miles on this unforgiving trail will be.
I needed that. Despite the momentary despair, we were committed . . . we would not quit. And, although we got turned around by lighting just shy of the pass, we did reach our goal of running 50 miles at altitude on the Leadville trail. Now I know what I’m in for. And, after a couple days of recovery, I’m looking forward to seeing if my mind, body and spirit can handle 100.
I shot a little video along the way and threw it together so you could get some sense for the beauty and the challenge of this course. In addition, you can start to gain some sense for the committed, talented goofball athletes (Ben Macaux, Jerry Armstrong and Mark Larson, in this case) who are destined (condemned?) to seek out endurance challenges that inevitably lead them to a very dark place. But they sure have a lot of fun getting there! Many thanks to Tami for her incredible crewing that started at 3:30 AM! Could not have done it without her.
The weekend did not start in auspicious fashion. Supplying, furnishing and decorating a new home is its own ultramarathon…and Tami and I have been feeling the burn. I felt it quite distinctly on Friday, the day before the 50-mile training run, when we (and when I say “we” I mean somebody other than me) dropped a shelving unit on my toe. It wasn’t pretty and it did provide a few moments of anxiety, but the toe of purple was truly a non-issue when it came to running 50 miles. After 25 miles everything on your body pretty much feels like broken toe.
Twitter (@myleadfeet) has turned out to be a great way to surround yourself with like-minded crazy people. This certainly turned out to be the case when I tweeted plans for 50 miles on the Leadville trail on July 28 . . . I didn’t expect a response. But at 5:30 AM on July 28 I was very fortunate to have the day-long company of Ben Macaux (@viperbwm), Jerry Armstrong (@endurancejer) and Jerry’s Leadville pacer, Mark Larson. Ben & Jerry are both signed up for Leadville . . . I suggested they join forces to create a new ice cream flavor, KillaVanilla, but I am the only one who thought that was funny. Tough crowd.
Ben (@viperbwm) was flying back from work in L.A. to home in Chicago and convinced his wife to allow him to divert to Denver for this training run . . . after he promised to NEVER RUN AGAIN following the Leadville 100. Guess what? She bought it. Well played, Ben, well played.
Jerry (@endurancejer) is a police officer in the Denver area and really needs to ask one of his detectives to investigate who stole his body fat. A serious vegan and even more serious ultramarathoner, Jerry is an incredible source of knowledge about all things Leadville, hydration and fueling. Ask a question and you will get a highly detailed and researched answer . . . even though your mental acuity at 10,000 ft is less than adequate to comprehend what he is saying. Of course, sleeping in an oxygen deprivation tent that replicates snoozing at 17,000 ft pretty much assures you will sound like a genius at 10K ft (other than the sleeping in an oxygen deprivation tent part). I tried to keep my McDonald’s cheeseburger fueling strategy a secret from Jerry but that was futile. He’s a cop. He is trained to smell the lie. I’m pretty sure he could also smell the onions.
Mark. Dude, this guy is pretty fun to have along. Anyone who runs a 2:50 marathon is someone who has worked hard and deserves respect. And when they accomplish that feat wearing nothing but a thong…then you know you are in the presence of a true artist. Mark is the guy carrying Jerry at the base of the climb to Hope Pass in the video. I expect my pacers to watch and learn . . . everything except the thong part.
We joined superforces at 5:30 AM at the corner of 6th and Harrison in Leadville. About 13 hours later, Ben and I were recovering in the Twin Lakes General Store (grandma, mom and daughter were the sweetest!) while Tami, Jerry and Mark were on the other side of Hope Pass near Winfield enjoying a total lack of cell service. Jerry and Mark had made it over Hope Pass just as the lightning storm came in. I had delusions of survival thinking we might make it over the pass. No doubt Ben thought this was probably a safe bet for him considering I’m about 6 inches taller . . . but wisdom (and I mean Ben’s wisdom) prevailed and we headed back down the mountain for a final river crossing. By 10 PM everything had been sorted out and we were back in Breck enjoying pizza and pasta from Giampietro’s. Ben caught an early flight back to his wife, Meg, and 18-month-old Connor after enjoying 50 miles on 6 hrs of sleep over a 60 hr period.
Great weekend and many thanks to Tami, Ben, Mark and Jerry!
Life & Hope Update: I continue to be amazed by your tremendous support. We are up to $11,516 with 16 days to go before the race. These $$ will go a looooong ways to helping cancer patients make ends meet. Special thanks this week to Charlie Brennan, Julie & Doug Dalton, Chuck & Bonnie Drury, Tony & Jill Right, Jayne Nicholson and Kim Garner! You are truly awesome and you have done good!
Press: Many thanks to Claire Chosid for the Patch.com article! CLICK HERE to read. And it was a tremendous honor to read the intro for one of my very favorite podcasts, RunRunLive2.0, CLICK HERE to listen! Thank you so much, Chris Russell sensei!
Training Update: 1960 miles YTD. It took a few days to recover from the 50-miles on the Leadville trail, but my quads have stopped their whining and that broken toe is sucking it up and being a trooper . . . so I’m ready to go. This is the start of the taper. After a hard training effort you back off and hope that the law of supercompensation holds. I’ll talk more about that on a future post . . . pretty cool stuff. It’s a big part of doing things you really didn’t think you could possibly do. And, by the way, we can all do things we didn’t think we could possibly do. 🙂
Thanks for coming along, it is truly and honor and a pleasure to have you joining me on this journey!