Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Race Report: Proud of my Leadville 100 DNF

I spent 8 months of my running life with one running goal in mind.....Complete the Leadville 100 Trail Run. There has been no real doubt in my mind that I was able to complete it. There still is no doubt that I can complete it. I've written & talked about all aspects, the training, the nutrition, the mentality, the coaching, Runwell, Outrun, etc... All built up to one race. This was my personal Tour de France with the added motivation that I was doing this not for myself but to support & try to inspire others through Runwell and embracing a healthier lifestyle.

I even did an interview with the News Herald who did a really nice article on the event. I was super proud to show my family the article...

For the better part of the year, I have thought about Leadville multiple times a day, all my training for this one race. Was I nervous? No....not until I got on the plane and realized that I was about to run 100 miles at altitudes that I had not raced at before. I researched altitude tents, diamox, lung trainers, elevation training masks, heat training vs. altitude, read blogs, scoured running forums, researched results for midwesterners who have done well at altitude. In the end, the best thing for altitude training is to train at altitude...get to the event at least 14 days prior to the event to allow your red blood cells to increase....OR get to the event and have completed the race within 72 hours upon arrival. This way, if you are affected it occurs on the way home not during the race (hopefully). I talked to fellow ultrarunners, emailed with elite runners, read running forums on the topic, and listened. I tried to learn why I die on the back half of races (because I go out too fast, duh). Nutrition was dialed in, shoes and training gear tested and re-tested. (Thank you Fleet Feet!).

So, it gets here...my Dad is crewing for me. This is a first time for him to see me at an ultra. Not just a local ultra, but THE ultra for me. We haven't had time together like this for many many years, far too long to admit. This is special. We check out Leadville...this town is 30 years of Leadville racing history. I have never seen anything like it.

It's calm in Leadville...it's gorgeous there in the mountains. People look you in the eye and hold the door just to be friendly. They ask you how you are. These folks know you aren't local....but they know that if you have come here, you are going to be, or already are, part of the Leadville family.

We go to the pre-race meeting on Friday. There is no way that I can do it justice. I have not been to a world class event like this. There is so much history and passion behind this event, it's just awe inspiring. The race director, Josh is calm and effective. Cole Chlouber (race founder, Ken Chlouber's son) gives a speech that leaves new and experienced LT100 runners and their crews weeping.

These folks in the 6th street gym are not everyday people doing amazing things, these are people who are amazing and doing amazing things....one step at a time. 

802 runners picked up packets before the race. 200 volunteers and the race staff made this race happen.

They discuss the Leadville Legacy Foundation that has given back hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community, hundreds of scholarships to highschool seniors going on to higher education.

This is a community built around the race series. They WANT you in the family, they WANT you to succeed. The fact that you have shown up and lined up and crossed the start line shows that you have what it takes. You have committed that you will not quit.
My strategy was relatively simple. I needed to slow down early in the race, run consistent, speed walk the hills, and follow my nutrition plan (UCAN, S Caps, Water, Nuun). I calmly walked to the back of the starting line (795 starters). I literally started in the last line. I figured that I would be forced to slow down and save energy for the next 24-30 hours, depending on how I respected the trail. I settled into a nice pace, easy and enjoyable for a 4am start in the Colorado Rockies. I rolled into Mayqueen right on schedule (13.5mi). My Dad was waiting for me, we followed the plan...changed gloves, drank UCAN, exchanged hand-held bottle with NUUN, and plodded off to the next aid station at mile 23, the Fish Hatchery. The next 10 miles were a great tease of what the course was going to be like, yet I knew the next beast would be Hope Pass. We climbed up to about 11,100 feet...most of the runners were quiet, saving precious energy from talking, there was a lot of excitement. I turned more than a few times to look back at the views as we climbed up and up. I said "wow" outloud more than once. We are truly blessed to be able to experience this.

We descended the powerline section....I am not sure how long this downhill was, but it felt like 4 miles and over 1,000' lost...my thought was this will be the most painful beast that we will need to tame at mile 80 or so on the way back. If you can make it to power line and OVER powerline, the rest is literally downhill....then rolling flats around Turquoise Lake to the finish. I stopped and picked out a couple nice looking rocks for my kids, something I like to do when I go places...Somewhere around mile 21, we came out onto the road where a crowd of volunteers were cheering us on....someone had cornhole setup. I asked if anyone had played yet, they said one guy, I asked if I could play...SURE! I ran back, took a couple shots...got on the board and continued on the race. I played cornhole in an ultra...that rocked. I felt really strong.

I rolled into the fish hatchery at mile 23, found my Dad all organized and prepared. I did a quick change into warmer weather gear, ran up to get my chip timer read and off I went to Half Pipe at mile 30.

I was about 15-20 mins ahead of a conservative schedule. I am no elite runner, this is a pace to finish. I felt great, nutrition was good...stayed on task, even called home to let the family know I was doing well. We ran off down a long road section while cars drove by cheering us on. I alternated running and slight speed walking breaks trying to conserve for the long hours ahead.
The scenery is literally breathtaking. I took time to enjoy it, looked back in complete awe of what we are experiencing. If you keep your head down the entire time and you don't look up and see where you are, I think you could miss out on some of the most beautiful things the earth has to offer.

It was still morning but the sun was beating down on the exposed race route. You could see runner's heads for what seemed like 2 miles traveling along the road, then turning onto a gorgeous trail up on the way to half-pipe aid station.

We went through a crew access point, where someone offered me some water to top off my supply (I love ultra crews) then continued along the trail alternating my ultra-shuffle and speed walking at a finisher's pace. With only a few 100 yds to go to Half Pipe, fellow Ohio runner Michelle Bichel passes me and we run into the aid station together. I remarked, "this isn't like Ohio"....she gave me a "no kidding" look :) We sat for a few minutes getting ramen, water, etc...it was 9 miles to Twin Lakes where my Dad would be waiting for me, expecting a 12:30 arrival time. It's a crucial aid station before Hope Pass (12,600') to Winfield (Mile 50) where you then turn around and run the entire course back. I did not have an extra packet of UCAN so I grabbed a small cup of coca-cola (something I never do this early), figuring the calories would be fine this early in the race.It looked and tasted good, but I regretted it immediately. Michelle took off, I told her I would see her soon...

As I went to top off my water an aid station volunteer saw the look on my face. "you okay?"...."no, I think I am about to do what that guy is doing (gesturing to a runner vomiting by the tent)." I sat for a moment, they got me a Tums. I decided that I could speed walk with an upset stomach....off I went. I had time, but not a ton. Need to get moving. I didn't want to play the cut-off game this early in the race. 

(if you don't like nausea details, don't read this section)
I made it about 1/4 mi. A fellow runner saw me and said, "just throw up, you'll feel better"....I did. I felt better for a moment. Get back moving....not feeling better....vomit again....okay, surely I will feel better now. I get moving....vomit again...get moving...again, moving, again , moving, now out of both ends (sorry, but true). This is okay, I can deal with discomfort....for the next 69 miles if I have to. I can make it to the Twin Lakes aid station, get my nausea under control...make it over Hope Pass....deal with it....the buckle will be in my hands Sunday morning....vomit again, keep moving....again, keep moving, bathroom, vomit, bathroom, vomit...this continues for 4 miles.

Fellow runners passing by me ask if I am okay....I admit, "no". Do you need anything..."no, just a new stomach". "You Sure?", "no...but thank you". Someone offeres me papaya enzymes, tums, coke, scaps, water....no, no, NO, no, no. A girl comes by...you ok? No..."what do you need?", I tell her to "go on, thanks but I'll be ok". She's not listening to my directions....takes off her pack..."do you have water?," "yes", "electrolytes?", "yes", "ginger?"..."no, let's try ginger"...I would have hugged her if I could've. She was fighting the cutoff time by now and stopped to help me, someone she didn't know. I didn't even get her name...I was impressed and humbled.

I am feeling the buckle slip out of my hand.....I have gone from standing on two feet, to one knee down, to two knees, to all fours....just need it to stop, I can't keep doing this while I am running. I take the ginger pill. It feels like it's going to work...the buckle is in my hand again!!!! No, I can't keep it down (ginger is really unpleasant to throw up).

--(continue reading)
At this point, I calculate that I can still walk at fast pace and make it to Twin Lakes with enough time before cutoff to continue...I had 5 miles to go. I could get there, sneak in, get my nausea under control...don't mention the headache...and make it up and over Hope Pass...get a pacer at Winfield, then just dig deep and manage from Aid Station to Aid Station. I had decided on a shoe strategy for the last 40 miles, I was ready to deal with the longest and worst endurance event of my life. This was going to be my story....endure, don't give up, pain management, this is what I signed up for.

back to reality....I took a moment, realizing I was on my hands and knees while trying to take stock of the situation. This wasn't a food issue, it was too early for that, only 34 miles in. Everything was out of my body, nothing left....this was altitude affecting me. This can't be...I've been to base camp at Everest at 18,200 feet slept at 16,000', I've run miles above 11,000', hiked Mt.Ranier, never an issue...not me, I'm wired for altitude. ---yet, I am in the middle of the Leadville 100 on my hands and knees showing clear signs of altitude sickness. This is the reality, I was at 10,000' and needed to get to lower elevation. A runner came by and asked if she could send someone from the next aid station..."yes, yes...I think that would be a good idea....bib number 580, Zachary Johnson...my dad is Tim Johnson...please don't send search & rescue...just an aid station worker, please.......thank you"

I threw up again....then figured it would be a while before anyone got to me. So, I got up and kept moving forward. It wasn't a 1/2 mile before I came around a bend to find a US Forest Service guy (Dave) on an enormous 4 wheeler talking to a randomly lost hiker with a sprained knee. We talked, and he gave me a choice of riding back with him and this lost hiker....or waiting and he would come back. I decided I would wait. I knew if I went back, the race would really be over. I found a shady spot and laid down, while a squirrel chirped at me. I threw a stick at him...he just moved and chirped more, he was entertaining. 

Dave came back with a ski patrol worker, Steve who gave a quick assessment, took vitals, and decided quite confidently I had Acute Mountain Sickness. Shit. I am about to get pulled for medical reasons. I told him that I pissed off a squirrel and he wanted me to leave, so it was probably for the best. I got nauseous again. The ride back was not comfortable and we had to make a bathroom stop.We got to the medical tent back at Half Pipe, where the lead medical person, Robin Johnson, Steve, and fellow Ohioan Kim brought me back to life. We contacted my Dad, who was obviously worried since I hadn't arrived at Twin lakes....as well as my friends and family tracking online. He arrived over an hour later due to the distance to get there. I was doing better after treatment, but needed to get off the mountain. Simply stated, the race volunteers from Cooper Mountain Ski Patrol are awesome. They all asked as I pulled away if they would see me next year. I said yes. Well, maybe not next year, but I will be back.

I called my wife....I was sad and disappointed. She, on the other hand, was incredibly proud....I think that hearing those words from my wife were amazing...I didn't give up, this was out of my control...I didn't fail...

It's hard...all the work, all the effort, the emotion, all the time put in...

I am writing this as I sit in the hotel in Buena Vista, CO (7,500'). I should have finished this morning sometime 28-30 hours after the start. Instead, we went to the race awards ceremony and we were further inspired. My Dad & I talked to lots of runners who finished and some who didn't finish. Tom Bauer who graciously educated me on Leadville and his wife, Paula who took the time to help my Dad & I on crewing were there...Tom finished his 4th LT100 and as a kicker, he won his age group!....an amazing surprise. I am totally inspired. Michelle did not make it to Twin Lakes but I haven't spoken to her yet. I also got a chance to see Jay Smithberger and Dave Peterman who I didn't know were there...both of which killed it as well as 2 prior 100's as a part of the Grand Slam. Amazing.

We talked to other runners and talked about our experiences, I met Ludwik Zon a recent Leadman and spoke with him for a long time, I took a few minutes afterwards to talk to and thank the race director, Josh Colley. Then I walked over to buy a Leadville shirt. I will admit that I was embarrassed to buy a shirt, I don't think I earned it. But, in the end....I have to put aside the disappointment and realize that I am actually proud of my DNF at Leadville. (358 finished, 45% finish rate).

I spent the rest of the gift of the day with my Dad. We drove (rather than hiked) up to Independence Pass (12,095'). We talked and enjoyed time together that we haven't had in many years.

I don't regret one thing. I did the work, I put it all out there, and hopefully I am showing my children that in life, things often don't go as planned but it's how you choose to grow from it that is important. I spent needed time with my Dad, and you can't replace that. 

As people texted, called, emailed, and posted on the news...it dawned on me that I am not the only one to have a rough race....it's just a race. What is important is to get up and keep moving forward. I wore my tshirt on the plane back home and a few folks asked if I ran it. I told them what happened, they immediately shared their similar stories and we bonded over them! I have been amazed at all the positive and heartfelt comments from everyone, thank you so much! Don't feel sorry at all....I don't, I am proud of my DNF at Leadville!

Next up: Believe & Achieve 5k and 10k Race (directing)

...then see you at Oil Creek 100! (low altitude).