Sunday, August 27, 2017

Leadville 100: When Believing Just Isn't Enough

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison
Sometimes something becomes a thing when you never intended it to become a thing. But then that unintentional thing grabs you and refuses to release its grip. Leadville was never a "dream" race for me, but then it morphed into something bigger than itself. Whether this is a good thing or an unfortunate thing remains to be seen.

Leadville 100: Take Two

It seems that all I ever post about these days are DNFs.  Between the DNFs is the insanity of balancing insufficient training, the obsessive self-employed working demands, parenting a fairly challenging child, dealing with a difficult aging parent, marriage survival, etc.

Somehow I am left with zero wiggle room. The house has gone to shit. The yard is a mess of weeds. I haven't written anything, or at least finished anything, since February (my last DNF). Is it all worth it when you find yourself time and again falling on your face? Right now I don't know the answer to this question - but the compulsion continues, unabated, even when all reason screams: "Stop this fucking shit. It's making you crazy!"

Ever since Black Canyon in February everything training-wise has been done for the sake of Leadville. I made the decision last year that if I got into Leadville this year then I would dedicate most of this year to proper training for that. Last year I went into Leadville woefully undertrained due to the recovery time I needed following Kettle Moraine 100. And so, I started organizing things in January.  My race schedule was pretty nuts this spring, at least for me, and that began in April:

✔️ First I ran the warm Boston Marathon (my 5th) where I managed a 5+ minute BQ (one of my worst cushions) by 2 seconds. I knew that this would be my one chance this year to get a BQ and though I was not marathon fit, I did the best I could do.
✔️ Two and a half weeks later I ran the Collegiate Peaks Trail Race 25 miler.
✔️ Two weeks later I ran the Colfax Marathon.
✔️ Two weeks after that I ran the Kettle Moraine 50k in horrendously muddy and HOT conditions setting a new AG course record.
✔️ Two weeks after that I ran the Leadville Marathon, an already challenging course, this year with 60 mph winds at 13,000 feet to keep everyone honest.
✔️ A couple weeks later I ran Chase The Moon 12hr night race where I stopped after 9 hours and change with about 42 miles (only stopping then because completing another loop in the allotted time was unlikely.)

Balancing training with work and family commitments (and some extra difficult family issues) during the spring and summer meant not having time for anything else. I did all I could do but also knew that I was still not doing enough and that was something I just had to accept. I watched as others trained the way I knew I should be training - Long weekends running in Leadville - high mountain/elevation runs week after week, while I ventured out from home doing what I could do without completely neglecting the rest of my life. As with most things that require 100% effort, giving 99% may not be enough. I reassured myself: Well, I am trained better than I was last year, so maybe there's some hope. I have NO doubt that I can run Leadville. The issue with Leadville is that 30 hours is very hard for that course. Add to that the demanding early cut-offs and this year ~2 added miles, and it becomes that much more challenging.

Every time Ken Chlouber rallies all the runners, chanting: "I commit, I will not quit", all I want to add is: "I won't quit, but I may not make a cutoff!"

But then, contrary to all you've worked for for months, shit happens. Some shit you can deal with. Some shit you attempt to deal with. Some shit turns into more shit. So much can happen during 100 miles. When you take that first step you really have no idea what awaits you.

Beginning 100 miles, on foot, is always a leap of faith.

“It is easy to make plans in this world; even a cat can do it; and when one is out in those remote oceans it is noticeable that a cat's plans and a man's are worth about the same.” ~ Mark Twain

August 18. 2017

Sandra and I leave for Leadville a little before 8 am because I want to get my daughter off to school before I leave (It matters). I need to be at packet pick up no later than 10 am. Leadville is about a two hour drive. Nothing like getting things off to an exciting start. Sandra hates being late. I always believe that I can do more than I can do in a given amount of time. That false belief (lots of empirical evidence against a belief I stubbornly hold on to) and an overly packed life means I am often running late. It's normal for me to be racing somewhere. Everywhere. So, as we make our way through the twisty roads to Leadville, Sandra's fingernails are firmly digging into the dashboard of the van. We're betting that the black pick up truck from Texas speed along with us is heading the same place. And we speed our way to town, passing lines of cars as if on the same team, and both pull up in front of packet pick up at 9:55 am. No problemo. Sandra is not amused.

We then find the cabin and our compatriots: Alex, Jim, and Jim. The freak is starting to settle in, but I try to keep it at bay. We all pile into a car and head off to the pre-race info meeting/pep rally.




photos @sandra wimer

Back to the cabin, finalize dropbags then off to town to grab something to eat and to drop off our dropbags. So, here's possibly the first mistake I make: I NEVER NEVER NEVER eat out the day before a big race. Why I do today is anybody's guess. I order the most innocuous sandwich possible: Grilled veggies and pesto on ciabatta bread.

As we walk back to the car, Sandra mentions that her fitbit just registered 10,000 steps. Shit. I need to get off my feet. I ran a 2 mile shakeout earlier, but all this time on my feet walking around town is not going to help me!
Back at the cabin I try to relax and lounge for the rest of the afternoon only rising to make my usually pre-race dinner though the allure of Jim's most excellent pancakes and homefries is strong.



August 19, 2017

Sleep does not choose to visit me this night. Unfortunately, over the last week my sleep has been poor as well. I rise at 3am feeling groggy and out of it. I hurriedly get dressed, drink coffee, fill my bottles and we are off into the darkness before my mind and body even knows what's happening.


The start area is a bustle of anxious, excited energy. Light floods the night sky. I visit the potties a couple times, give Sandra a hug and make my way to the start. Of course I haven't left myself enough time to back track and go around the fence that I was unaware of, so my day starts with my traditional fence scaling!

After some nervous start line chatter with strangers and compatriots, the National Anthem blasts through this quiet night lit up like New York City, and the gun sounds. We're off.

A couple days earlier I did my due diligence and actually figured out my goal paces and times for each segment of this race. This process was both comforting and overwhelming. Last year at this time seeing a goal of 25 minute miles I would have laughed at myself - I mean who couldn't do a 25 minute mile? Well, last year I got to gobble down some humble-pie and today I know all too well that the things that sound easy may actually be one of the hardest things you can ever do. Others, by the way, do not understand this. Telling someone who has not experienced this course that you can struggle maintaining a 25, 30, even 40 minute pace has them giggling behind their hand.

My trip out to and around Turquoise Lake goes as planned. My goal was to get to May Queen in 2:30 (11:06 pace) and I came in at 2:30:30 (11:09 pace). I gave myself 3 minutes to get in and out of MQ and we pretty much move along as planned. I grab fresh HEED, eat some food, grab my poles and head off for the climb up Sugarloaf. Ok good.

Trying to settle my stomach with Coke. The PB&J is not going down easy.
Problem is, I do not feel good. First, I've been having little crampy zingers in my left hamstring and calf. This is not at all normal for me this early in a race. I try to take in more fuel, as this usually resolves any cramps I do get. But my stomach is feeling off and everything I put into it causes a growing nausea. I have never, over decades running, had stomach issues on a run or during a race. My stomach has always been solid. So, I'm observing what's happening and trying to figure out what to do as this is all new to me. As we climb Sugarloaf I am taking it easy. I remember running parts of this last year, but today every time I try to run my stomach says NO!

I manage to run Powerline much better this year than last, but I am still feeling off. I've gone through all my liquids by the time we hit the road section (still a couple miles from Outward Bound) and the day is heating up fast thanks to a brilliant sunny, cloudless sky. As we round the turn past Fish Hatch I look at my watch and know that I am way off pace.


I come into Outward Bound drained and demoralized and 25 minutes behind my goal. Sandra gets me set with fresh bottles and gels and a mashed potato burrito for the road. I walk out into the meadow wondering what the hell is going on with me. I feel awful. I walk and nibble at the burrito eventually peeling away the tortilla, just trying to get some of the potato down. Eventually I can't take any more and chuck the remains. As we approach the road I muster a little jog and smile for the camera, but I feel like death. Through the coming miles I try to remind myself to smile even when I don't want to. I wish I could say that it helped. Maybe it did.


And so it goes all the way to Halfpipe. I walk, I run a few steps, my stomach revolts and so I must walk again. I look up at Hope and realize that today I may not make it there. I am so frustrated with what's going on. Why? Why today? I want to just give up. Habit pushes me forward.

I get to Halfpipe feeling like I've already missed the cutoff at Twin Lakes (TL). The reality, however, is that I am only a couple minutes off pace for this section. Of course I don't realize this, and I can't even think straight as my stomach cramps with every step as I head out to TL.

Here the wheels really come off and I honestly do not remember most of this next section. I know there is a climb here, but I don't remember it. I also know that this part of the trail has some of the most beautiful sections of the whole course. I have been so looking forward to running through the aspen cathedral. I try to run. I try to appreciate where I am. I try to take it all in. This is so runnable and beautiful. This is why I run trails. And the next second I am bent over, retching.

During this section I puke three times and feel like puking the entire time, so I stop taking my HEED as every sip repulses. I dump my bottles and refill with just water three miles outside of TL at the minimalist Mt. Elbert aid station. I figure that at this point, since I'm almost done having accepted the inevitable, there's really no need for more fuel. I know my day is done. A guy in pretty bad shape falls into a chair, and asks the volunteer how he's doing on time. She replies that he's fine and has another hour and a half to make the TL cutoff. Wait. What? That can't possibly be. I head down to TL drinking only water and my stomach starts settling down ever so slowly, but I can run for the first time in over 10 miles. As I descend toward town I reassess my chances for Hope.

Actually running into Twin Lakes
Sandra quickly comes to me. I tell her what's been going on. I come in with about a 43 minute cushion. Not anything near where I want to be but apparently I didn't lose any more time over that 14 miles than I had over Sugarloaf. It's all a blur to me but since I make the cutoff and my stomach feels marginally better I decide to continue.

Sandra and Jim tend to my feet (I've developed a blister on the side of my right heel), and as I sit trying to regain my composure, sucking down pickle juice, Sandra pulls out an envelop full of notes she has collected from friends. She reads these and I try to keep control of the tears welling up behind my eyes.  We gather the gear I need to take up Hope and I am quickly ushered out with an exit cushion of 30 minutes. I am encouraged by so many at TL. This is one of my fave AS as it really is a giant party and I see so many people I know. As Sandra and I cross out of TL I look up at Hope and say "But I don't want to go up there!!!" laughing at the absurdity of what I'm fixing to do given the state I'm in. Sandra immediately responds "No whining!" I trot off toward the swampy meadow to the encouragement of hoots and claps. I wonder what the hell I am doing.


Things go okay for a bit. I walk and jog though the meadow, slop through the shin deep jeep trail 'puddles' and hit the river, which is about mid-thigh deep and running strong. The cold water feels good as I glance up to the skies noting the dark, ominous clouds moving toward the pass. I joke to the volunteers, "Hey, can you redirect those somewhere else?"

For this section I'm aiming to maintain a 24-25ish pace and do that for the first 3 miles until my stomach decides to hit the skids again as I try to take in fuel. It seems that things settle down if I don't eat. As soon as I eat my stomach says NO. The nausea returns with a vengeance and makes it hard to drink but my lack of fuel, now going on 20+ miles, is just bad news. You can run with nausea, but you can't run without eating. But every attempt to eat brings more cramping. Along the way I see friends and Runners Roost team members. I get hugs, some walk along with me for a bit, others reassure me that I am still going for it.

I get to Hopeless AS with about 15 minutes to spare, drink some soup with noodles which is tolerable and grab a handful of pretzels. I dump my bottles again and refill with water. As I head up the last 500 feet to the summit I am moving at a glacial pace. Another woman who I've been yo-yoing with since after Halfpipe (and who also has been puking) is a switchback below me. We both take a few steps and stop. Take a few steps and stop. Repeat. This is agonizing for me. Climbing is my strength and I've done this pass a few times over the summer and each time I felt stronger. This trip up is just crushing me.

I crest the pass and this is where the timer is though the cut-off is lower at Hopeless. The fact that I hit this point after the cut-off now means that my crew has no idea which side I'm coming back down. But since I am still in the game I push on toward Winfield.

As I begin the decent my Roost Teammate Sean Wetstine is just cresting inbound, smiling as always and encouraging me to push on. I promise I'm trying but things are not going well. I continue down, and pass friends and teammates going up: Kaitlyn, Gina, Junko, Zack, Eric, Gary...They all encourage me to stay positive. I'm trying guys. I'm really trying...

The poundingly steep, loose downhill and dealing with the congo-lines of inbound runners makes this section slow going. At one point I almost fall nearly hitting my head on a boulder in a talus field as a large group of runners and pacers pass me going up. As I make my way down I thank every pacer who actually yields to me. They are the minority.

Once I hit the end of the major decent and head off for the 3-4 mile traverse of the mountain towards Winfield I find that I am out of pretzels which I have been sucking on the whole way down. My water is also low. I look at my watch and realize that I need to run to make the cutoff but the reality is that I have nothing left in the tank. I'm dizzy and drained and can barely maintain a 25 min pace where I should be doing 13-14. The extra distance this year is the final insult as I pass the cutoff down to the road that we took last year but this year must now do another climb before the final decent into Winfield.

The woman I've been yo-yoing with is now just ahead of me. We are the sad souls who everyone knows is done for. The inbound runners switch from saying "Great job. Keep going." to "Good effort." I pass several friends who are looking rough. I have been where they are and wish them the best but I also know that their chances are slim having just made the cutoff out of Winfield. Still, we all push on. None of us are quitting.

I round a turn and the woman ahead is now standing, looking out over the valley. Her significant other has come out to find her and is hugging her from behind. I stop and say "I'm sorry this day has turned out like this." We exchange some supportive words, and I continue on, giving her her grieving time.

Within a minute I see my husband come up the trail (along with my friend Lynette's son). Seeing him is almost too much. I am both relieved and defeated, and just bury my face in his shoulder and cry. I cry because I'm done. I cry because this has been such a hard day and the effort of it all releases in tears. We walk to Winfield as I tell my story of the day.

And so that's that. I make my way all the way to the aid station as Winfield begins returning to a ghost town. I hand over my wristband and my day is done. Lynette offers me a beer, fittingly called "Road Kill" and I sit shivering under a sleeping bag as we try to find a ride back to Twin Lakes or alternately catch a ride with Lynette, who has no idea where her runner, April, is. There are so many people milling around Winfield with no word of where their people are. Eventually we head to TL assuming that April was sent back after missing the Hope cutoff.

At TL I finally find Sandra and Aubrey (who was set to pace me from TL to MQ). Apparently Sandra has been beside herself, trying to find out where I am for hours. I was not listed on the DNF list but none of the officials could tell her where I was.  The fact that I was in pretty bad shape the last time she saw me was an added concern.

We head back to cabin, my stomach still in a state of revolt. I can eat nothing but some bread. I tell my story again to Katie, who was going to sleep and then pace me from MQ, and to my daughter, Sophia.

My daughter asks, as the night gets darker and colder, "Do you want to be out there?"
"Yes, sweetie. I do want to be out there."

But, once again, I will sleep when I would rather be running.

August 20, 2017

The next morning we head over to the finish for the final hour or so, cheering the last runners in.

It turns out that just 46% of starters finish this year. This race historically has a high DNF rate, but this year is higher than most. That, of course doesn't matter to me, but it's curious nonetheless.

For the second year in a row I am on the wrong side of the finish line. I think I can handle it. I put on a stoic face. I am crushed. But I am there and I so admire (and envy) those crossing that finish line.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill
Epitaph

Since walking into Winfield I have told this story dozens upon dozens of times - to friends, family, acquaintances, random people I see at the gym whose names I do not know, etc. The retelling at first helps, but then you just want it to stop.

At first I think that this one doesn't sting as much, after all, it was all out of my hands.
I am wrong.
It actually stings more.

At first I am okay with it all. I did all I could do. I did not quit though I wanted to so many times. I did nothing to cause my stomach issues - and the cause remaining a mystery. It just wasn't my day and unfortunately this day fell on a really important day for me.

But all that only goes so far and then you begin to wonder: Maybe this is just too hard for me. Others can do this but I just can't. I'm just not good enough.

I have never, in my 35+ years of running, ever, experienced a crisis of confidence this profound.

And so, now Leadville has become a thing for me. It has wormed its way into my being in a way I never could have foreseen. I'm really not sure what I will do about this just yet, but trying to push it away and pretend I'm okay isn't working either. Time will tell where this takes me...
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ~ Paulo Coelho

4 comments:

  1. Right there with you, Caolan. Thank you for sharing your experience. I had a similar day, although not because of stomach problems. Last year I couldn't even bring myself to go watch people finish; this year I did, but it was painful. Leadville is a thing now. I'm annoyed that I have to wait a whole year to try again...

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  2. I am glad that I read this. I understand more now. I wish I could have been there for you & would if you wanted. Altho I don't share this experience specially I do share that ultimate battle with our body..when all evidence tells you that you cannot go one. And more than ANYTHING you want to, you NEED to.. I think it is in the trying that we are stronger. If we never try then we don't ever succeed. I hope that you gain back your belief in yourself. I am here if you want to vent or cry or just scream.

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  3. Ugh, I am so sorry you had such a heartbreaking run! I know how much we invest in our goal races and how devastating it is when we can't finish, for whatever reason. I recently had my second DNF at the 50K of Squamish 50/50, my goal race of the year. But it was not something I could have changed either, which made it easier to accept at least. I met a woman who DNF'ed Eastern States this year and when I asked if she will go back next year she told me, "If it sounds fun, maybe." She said she did not want to feel like the course was her enemy, and reminded me we do this for fun, not for vengeance on a course where we had a bad day. I really liked that attitude. If Leadville sounds fun to you next year, I hope you give it your all once again! If it doesn't, I know you will give whatever race does sound fun your all. I'll be cheering for you from afar whichever way it goes!

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Leadville 100: When Believing Just Isn't Enough

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison Sometimes something becomes a thing  when you...