|Descending Hope Pass|
|Me and My Crew|
On August 17, 2013, I lined up with more than 900 other runners for the Leadville 100 mile trail race, among the oldest and the largest 100 milers in the country. The race starts at 10,200 feet elevation and goes as high as 12,600 feet at Hope Pass. The lowest point is 9,200 feet.
The air we breathe has the same percent of oxygen at all altitudes (21%). However, because the barometric pressure is lower at higher altitudes, the air is less dense, and therefore there are fewer oxygen molecules floating around. Consequently, when you breathe air in Leadville at 10,000 feet, you are getting 29% less oxygen than at sea level. At 12,600 feet, the top of Hope Pass, you're getting 36% less.
Going into this race I had a simple plan. Take the descents very easy, and run conservative for the first 50 miles. I'd learned my lesson at the Vermont 100 miler a month ago where my quads were blown by mile 25 from going too hard early on in the race. This time, I told myself, I would be smart and go easy for the first 50 miles. For the first time ever, I wrote down splits for each aid station with a target of running under 25 hours. Not to fast and not too slow, I felt.
|Into Fish Hatchery - Mile 23|
Even if you haven't run Leadville, you've probably heard of Hope Pass. A simple description? Two monster climbs of 3,400 feet out and 2,600 feet back between miles 40 and 55. Complicating things is the following taken from 2013 Leadville race guidebook: "Weather in the Colorado high country is notorious for its rapid and violent changes. During the race it could rain, hail and even snow. Lightning is hazardous, especially above timberline. Hypothermia can occur easily with a combination of decreasing temperature, wind and precipitation. The confusion that accompanies hypothermia can be deadly."
|Hope Pass from Twin Lake|
By now I was coming to terms with just finishing somewhere in 26 hours. A respectable time for this high altitude course, but not what I was looking for. I continued to fall behind climbing Hope Pass and descending into the Winfield aid station, the 50 mile mark and turnaround point. By the time I finally made it into Windfield, I sat down and looked at my time. I was exactly one hour behind the time needed to break 25 hours. I shook my head, disappointed for sure, but still willing to go the distance regardless of my finishing time.
Climbing back over Hope Pass was one of the hardest climbs I've ever done. Much steeper than the front side, the back side was bringing many runners to their knees. This runner included. I settled into a ten minute on, one minute rest routine. This five mile section seemed to take forever. The only solace I could take was from knowing the runners around me were suffering as much as me, and in some cases much, much more. Above me I heard a loud, stomach wrenching groan that cascaded down the trail in fixed intervals. One of the pacers pondered "is that Sasquatch"? As we got closer it was apparent we were entering the heart of dry-heave ally.
When I reached Hope Pass for the second time, my ego was firmly in check. But more importantly, I was at mile 55 and my plan to conserve energy seemed to be working. My quads, broken only a month ago in Vermont by mile 25, seemed quite ready to start running. I began the descent into Twin Lakes and could feel the energy building. At last, I thought to myself, my plan might finally be paying off.
I entered the Twin Lakes Aid station at mile 60 and was greeted by my crew (wife and two daughters) and my pacer, the veteran S. Cracker. My crew quickly refilled my Vespa, fed me a sandwich and Gatorade, and sent Cracker and I on our way. Cracker and I eagerly climbed Mt. Elbert, anxious to get to the top and begin the long, runnable trail into Half Pipe. Once we crested the top, the wheels began to turn and Cracker and I proceeded to pass dozens of other runners. One after another, we made our way down the mountain trail gaining momentum every mile.
|Me and Cracker|
|Fish Hatchery Inbound - mile 76|