Grand Slam Race #3
Project 2010 Race #5
Leadville Trail 100
August 21-22, 2010
Leadville, CO – 100 Miles
Cold As Ice
The starting line seemed miles away as I stood out on Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville, Co. The race starts here at the corner of Harrison and 6th St. 6th St. is all ready full of runners, and their crews. It’s freezing cold, a balmy 38 degrees while I shiver and shake in my shorts, wearing a pair of Moeben Arm sleeves underneath my North Face windbreaker. 38 Degrees is a temperature I haven’t felt since the beginning in May and it’s a drastic contrast to the hot and humid summer we’ve been having in New England this summer, a far cry from the heat of Western States and the heat and humidity of Vermont. The countdown ends, and we’re all off.. into the wild.

I say goodbye to Samy and Dan, my new friends from Crossfit New Hampshire who made the trek out to Colorado to help out. They seem more excited then I am. I’m cold, I’m tired.. and for the first time all year I’m nervous. So nervous that as I walked around town in the cold morning air, my lower back pounded with nervous back spasms, spasms so harsh I couldn’t breath, my abs tensed up and my eyes welled up with tears. That was over now, as I ran down the 6th St. hill with the silhouette of Mt Elbert and Massive in the distance.

As we make it to the very first incline of the race, half the field slows to a walk. This incline didn’t even qualify as a hill and I couldn’t believe the number of folks walking all ready. Perhaps this was testament to the number of folks running their 1st 100 here in Leadville… over 450 of them. As they slowed to a walk I thought, out loud, “It’s going to be a long day if you’re walking all ready.” I was thinking about the real hills to come, the times you’ll HAVE to walk because you don’t have a choice. On this lame hill, on this flat section… nows the time to stretch out and put some time in your pocket. The response out of the crowd came from an unknown, “See ya later mate.” I replied, “Maybe you will…” “Hope you brought a check book.” Interesting interaction for an ultra…

You Can Lead A Horse To Water…
The paved roads of Leadville soon turned into the dirt back roads on the outskirts of town. And those roads, with few potholes but plenty of wavy compact dirt, soon turned into rocky single track. Things quickly got treacherous with the single file line of some 700 runners slowing the field down immensely. I settled in behind whomever was running, and trotted along as best I could. It was extremely hard to pass anyone, and when you said, “on your left” and tried to go for it, you got a bit of attitude before they stood aside. This is what you get folks when a race is too big for its britches. Somewhere around Turquoise lake, I stepped aside for my first #2 bio break of the day. I began to wonder what happens with all the bio waste from 700 runners out on this 50 mile course. I was getting upset…

While along the cold shores of Turquoise Lake, the sun began to rise in the east. Silhouettes of mountains grew darker as the morning sky grew brighter. There wasn’t a cloud to be had, and as the sun rose it illuminated the mountains in magnificent ways, mostly providing us with spectacular Alpenglow. I continued to pass folks, one guy saying, “Yeah good luck with that” after I had run by. This, so far, has been a very interesting group of ultra runners. Someone needs to feed the bears some coffee and educate them in the ways of the community. As the race would go on, I vowed to do my best in taking this task on.

Soon, we entered May Queen Camping Area where the first aid station was located. I was ushered into a large white tent, inside was a few dozen chairs, runners, volunteers, food, drink… and a heater. I knew right away to just grab a handful of fruit and walk out the door in my attempt to not get sucked in by the warmth of the heat vs. the cold frigid air outside. As I exited the tent, I spotted my crossfit boys, who immediately gave me a boost, a gel, swapped out my waist pack and I was out of there. Total aid station time was all of 2 minutes or less… perfection.

Into The Sky
The course makes its way out onto Hagerman Road, as we climb ever higher, we were rewarded with magnificent views of Turquoise Lake and the surrounding mountains that make up the valley Leadville sits within. I climbed the road with a gentleman from San Antonia, Tx who was wearing a pink wig and a pair of stylish green sunglasses. Beside me was a man by the name of John who was running in his first 100 miler ever coming over from Tri-land. These guys were such a breath of fresh air. Fun to talk to and have some real conversation. Finally, I was running a race out west and enjoying conversation with  a variety of runners. Brian Gaines had caught up to me and we shook hands and said hello. I ducked off into the woods for bio break #2… I sensed a problem starting and was not happy.

After coming out of the woods, I picked up the pace and eventually caught up with those that had left me. We descended Powerline where I spoke to a nice woman who used to live in Maine. It was nice to discuss some of my local hot spots for training and enjoying the outdoors, I don’t get to do that often in ultra’s when other folks are from all over the place. I often times get home sick during races far from home, besides the fact that I was in Colorado, talking about New England really soothed me in a way. Paige from Chicago yucked it up with me a bit too, laughing at me for having to poop twice all ready. “you’re like a phantom.. coming out of no where..”  “Don’t ask….”

After running down Powerline, the course dumps us out onto a short road section that takes us quickly into Fish Hatchery. I immediately found my crew here and we walked fats up hill into the barn. I walked in, grabbed some food and walked out. As I walked down the road I chomped on food while my crew switch my belts out. These aid stops were super fast and mechanic-like. I was loving it. They gave me a preview of what was coming up and off I went.

I’m beginning to grow ever more frustrated at the amount of these races that advertise “mountains, tough, deathly” terrain we’ll have to cross. And when we get out there and take it on, you tackle long flat sections of pavement. I hate pavement, I have flat sections. I suck at them. Today was no different. The sun is getting high in the sky, it’s hot. I shuffle down the road section and am passed by a constant buzz of cars. One runners crew stopped to chat with him and while they were chatting, a car came up behind them and tried to pass them on this narrow road. I couldn’t believe it and I was sure to say something to them about slowing down and taking their time. They drove a black Jeep Cherokee… they were young, cocky and idiots saying “Runners aren’t supposed to accept crew here.” He wasn’t accepting crew, they were having a conversation and they had 3 hours, at least, to get to the next stop which was all of 5 miles away. Are you serious..??

The strange things continued. I saw a guy running in a pair of Brooks Cascadias. In my experience those shoes hurt on the road, so I asked him, “You’re feet hurt in those shoes yet?” His response, “You’re talking out of your ass mother f-er.” Now I’ve been called a lot of things in my day.. a few things during races.. but never this extreme. I was floored. I told him that I was just curious and sorry to have offended him. Wished him well and told him, “By the way.. I’m not a mother f-er.” His response, “Someday you might be.” Ok…. seriously…

Further up the road I asked another runner how he was doing. He had a beard, long hair tied back in a pony tail. “I’m moving forward aren’t I?” he said in a snippy voice. Well.. he certainly had me there. I was perplexed. What the hell is going on out here? So many grumpy runners? I know we have ours ups and downs but my god. Finally, as we duck back out onto some road sections, I hook up with a woman whose crew were hilarious. They flew a pirate flag and were having a blast. As we reached tree-line she ran off and got some help. I had no idea where I was and was shocked to see my crew. They jumped out of the car and switched out my bottles for me.. then I kept going. 30 seconds… didn’t even stop. The woman caught up with me and we had a conversation about some of the grumpy gusses out here… we had a great laugh while putting it all into perspective together.

From Tree line we head to Box Creek (Halfmoon II). This section of the course is amazingly beautiful. We ran through a variety of fir forests along a hidden dirt road that only seems to go one way.. IN. We followed along a hillside, all the way into Box Creek. I ran most of this section with Nichole from England, this as her first 100 and she was doing very well. When we enter Box Creek I stop and write a message on a white board for Mike Siltman to “get the lead out.” As I go to leave the station.. I feel it again… and I’m in the porta john. When I come out, I walked back to the aid tent to ask for some vaseline. I rubbed it on… and it burned like hell. I am now entirely frustrated and I now know the rest of this race is going to be a hell of a fight and I’m all of 30 miles in.

I leave Box Creek and start passing some of the folks I’ve been leapfrogging all day. When I catch them they chuckle… they know where I’ve been. I caught up to Brian Gaines again and have a brief conversation with him. I offered him an apology for an altercation we had had through e-mail. Thankfully he was accepting o my apology and we enjoyed some time together. He really is a top notch runner, attempting his 4th 100 miler.. hoping to finally finish one. I feel for him and wish him well before taking off.

From here I ease into a comfy pace leap frogging with a girl named Erin and the ponytailed guy from earlier who was still moving forward. I got ahead of these folks while really enjoying the run through the Aspen groves. It was tremendous in here,  I felt so at home, so comfy and so energized. We weaved our way around the bend, over a ridge and passed the trails for Mount Elbert. I had my photo taken by a helpful runner in a small meadow with Elbert behind me.

I continued to run on some mint single track when Twin Lakes finally came into view down below. As I looked out across the landscape I started to realize just how far down I had to run with only a few miles left to the aid stop. I eased into a grove and just enjoyed the single track allowing the miles to just float on by. I was feeling great. The trail sinks quickly down onto a winding roller coaster of a jeep road that brings us all the way down and into Twin lakes Aid station. When I arrive, I can hear Bryan, a friend from college who recently moved to Golden and offered to come out and help. I was truly happy to hear his voice because now I know.. everyone is here.

I walk into the aid station and grab some food. I head over to a chair and the med team kicks me out saying the chairs are for those in need of foot care only. I walk outside and find a chair and we put it under a tree. I stop and take some rocks out of my shoe and step behind a tree to lube up with body glide. At this point in the race, I’ve gone to the bathroom a record seven times. (Yeah.. I’ve only mentioned a few to spare you the gory details.) As I finish up in the aid station, I rise from the chair and walk slowly down the street. It’s 1:07pm… I’m 9 hours and 7 minutes into the race at 39 Miles and I feel pretty good though I fear that my bio breaks into the woods and the long slow sections of road are attempting to do me in. I’m Relaxed, just enjoying the run, the journey. I can’t help but keep the Grand Slam in the back of my mind, but its dangerous to do. So many people asking me how it’s going, I tell them I’m tired.. but I’m digging like hell to get this thing done.

As we pass the crew vehicle, the guys hand me my jacket as I prepare to take on the biggest climb in the race. I head off into the tall grasses of this wide valley, doing a shuffle trying to ease back into comfort. As I walk through the muddy meadow, I’m surrounded by tall peaks.. I continue to be blown away by the beauty of this place.

Baptism and The Gates To Heaven
After the grassy meadows, the course winds us around to a section of river crossings. As I approach the first crossing, I see a young runner sitting down to take off his shoes. I know he’s just wasting time. You can see the tiny rocks everywhere, you can hear the rushing water of crossings to come. I slow down and look for a way around myself.. I snap out of it.. and just plunge in, shuffling through the frigid water.  I continue forward and there is another stream… and then another… and another… and then finally.. the river itself. The first few steps in find me up to my waist in water, the runners to my right are only ankle deep.. what the hell?!

At the main river a long black rope is strung out from bank to bank, myself and two other runners grab onto the rope and start to cross. The river is surprisingly strong as I feel it pushing my legs down stream. Water wells up against my legs, the water so cold that my legs quickly go numb. It felt so good until we get out on the other side, my legs instantly feel like lead and jiggly quite a bit. Either way.. the water felt great and long term I knew it was going to be helpful. The only downside now would be my soaked shoes, all ready blistered and tender, I worry what might become of them.

We enter the woods and immediately start to climb up the Mount Hope Trail (aka. Little Willis) which runs briefly along the Continental Divide Trail. The trail climbs steeply and reminds me of some trails in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Rocky and rooty while climbing along a babbling stream. For the next 3 miles I would climb 3,000′ of elevation. I felt fine climbing the hill, the hard part was just being stuck behind those having a tougher time. It was never easy to pass, and the front runners were all ready coming down the hill at a blazing pace. As a runner would come flying down with their pacer, you had no choice but to step aside. A fellow Grand Slammer stopped to puke, I kept moving. Runners were seen laying down, sitting down and it was just all out mayhem on the incline.

We continue to climb ever higher. I feel great, not surprisingly yet I stop to take a rest anyway. Just then, Jack Pilla comes screaming by and gives me a high five. I get back up and continue to push. I hook up with Nicole again from England. She’s having a really hard time and is doubting herself immensely. I stop and look at her and listen to her worries, then I turn and look up the mountain. We can see near the top now as we wander through meadows. I look back at Nicole.. I empathize for her, having travelled so far to do this.. I want her to give it hell.. so I slow down, get in front, and pace her towards Hopeless Aid Station.

As we get to Hope aid station, I saunter in and sit down next to a few runners. I sip on some soup, the top of the pass at 12,000+ feet is just beyond here. You can see it, you can feel it. After drinking some soup and getting a few hellos from fellow runners, I rise back to my feet as Nicole asked me to head out with her. We exit the shelter and get a real kick out of all the Llama’s grazing in the meadow. This is how the gear was dragged up this high as there are no roads leading to here. We thank the crews and leave.

We weave back and forth along the high mountain switch backs while our mouths are open. Not from lack of oxygen, but from the stunning view. I was awe struck. We continued to have trouble with all the runners coming back from Winfield. We had to stop constantly to let runners by and there’s virtually no space to do this. We trudge forward eventually making it to the top of the pass. We both breath a sigh of relief, fresh air and then.. I look around. I’m stunned, almost motionless, and after catching my breath, tears just start streaming down my face. This is the most gorgeous place I have ever been in my life and words cannot describe it. I take out my camera and shoot some video.

After soaking in the views, I begin to head down the other side of Mount Hope when I see Nathan Sanel coming up to the top with his pacer Adam Wilcox. I was so happy to see them, glad I had someone to share my elation with. Nate looks tired and beat… but I know he’s strong. Quick math indicates he’s under 24 hour pace. I take a picture of the two of them and send them on their way. I start to work my way down the mountain, running as much of these switch backs as I can. The constant downhill pounding is killing my Right IT Band. I run gingerly at times, and again… still stopping for what seems like forever to allow runners to now come UP the mountain.

After a long while of weaving in and out of rocks, own switchbacks and between runners, I finally make it to the bottom of the trail where I see my crew member Dan heading up the hill with another runner. He’s pacing now.. and I’m so happy for him and his runner. I’m always so happy when my crew gets to participate in these events in ways they never imagined. I hit the road… and I’m a mess. Mentally I’m feeling defeated. I know that Hope Pass had taken quite a bit out of me, but more then the elevation, more then the trail.. were the hundreds of runners I had to get out of the way for that took a lot out of me.  And now, down here in the valley, hundreds of cars are whizzing down the road out of Winfield kicking up a cloud of dust that wrecked havoc on my lungs instantly.

My eyes itching, my lungs burning and my brain a mess… I walk as fast as I can towards Winfield and the 50 mile turn around. Samy came out to see if I was ok. I hurried into the aid station as fast as I could. He egged me on to run.. I was doing my best. I see the runner from San Antonio and he tells me I have a half hour to get into Winfield. I do some math… Oh Shit. I pick it up as much as I can and get into winfield at 5:45pm. As I sit in a chair, the aid workers yell out that I have until 6pm to get OUT of the aid station or I would be DQed. I am starving.. I need food. Samy makes me the worlds worst Grilled Cheese sandwhich, try and not very good, it’s hard to chew and swallow. I have chips, and fruit. Runners all around me are talking about quitting while some are trying to cheer others on. It’s chaos, it’s madness… I stand up and look at Nicole… she’s done and she mouths to me.. “Go get It.”

I walk out of the tent and head for the road. I have my pacer, Samy, in tow. We’re leaving as fast as we can and head out of the mat at 5:50pm. I have until 9:45pm to make it to Twin Lakes.. 11 miles in 4 Hours. 11 Miles that contains 2500′ of gain and 3000′ of loss. It took me 4 hours 43 minutes to get to Winfield from Twin lakes. My mind is racing… how the hell am I going to do this? I stop thinking, put my head down and get into the zone…

We run down the road as fast as I can, stopping ever so often to give me legs a much deserved yet short walk break. Bryan and his girlfriend Liana drive by in the crew vehicle and hang out the window to take a few pics. They wait at the base of the climb go give us one last kick of encouragement before we head back into the woods. It’s here that I really feel grateful for my friends in this world. They do so much for me without even being asked. Bryan read I was coming to Leadville and he immediately offered his services. I’m humbled by their dedication and willingness to participate.

Samy and I duck into the woods and start to climb immediately. This side of the mountain doesn’t have as much elevation gain.. but it is shorter and steeper. We weave back and forth on the tight switch backs while the sun starts to set. I’m pushing quite hard to climb back up to Hope. My heart is literally pounding out of my chest as it gasps for air. I have practiced a few ways to get air into my lungs quick, and switched over for muscle use. We come across a young runner wearing red, splayed out on a rock gasping for air. We tell him to take deep breaths.. and he can’t. He starts coughing. Up ahead is a twin, whose brother is also in the race and nearby. He’s having breathing troubles. Samy and I motor past them, on a mission.

As we break out of the tree’s we watch in continuous awe as the sun continues to set. The shadows are deep now and I’ve left my camera behind. The flash is broken anyway and I didn’t want the extra weight. Now we wished we had it, but this is one of those times in life where we own these views and they are engrained into our souls.. ours and only ours forever. I’ll never be able to forget what I saw up high this day, how I felt, what I heard… how it affected me. We kept hearing screeches amongst the rocks and I finally found what is known as an American Pika. A tiny rodent that looks like a huge hamster that lives amongst these rocks.

We top out on the pass and I ask for a time update. 5 miles from Winfield to here and it took 2:15. I have an hour and a half to run 5.5 miles to Twin Lakes. In my mind I’m not sure I can do it.. but thats why I’m out here.. to see what I’m capable.. to find that human potential. I dig in again as the sun sets finally. We see Twin Lakes down low and it looks forever away. We run when we can amongst the loose rocks up high. We get into Hopeless and I quickly down a cup of soup. We take off, laughing at the randomness of the llamas in the fields. Into the woods I put my headlamp on. It’s getting cold very fast. Samy’s headlamp was broken at Winfield and I now realize he is without one. He’s relying on my light to get by.

We run and walk understanding that not only do I need to get to Twin lakes by 9:45.. but I need to have enough gas in the tank and in my legs to get me out of there and moving down the course. With urgency, we move downhill. In front of us, a bobcat races across the trail, as we see the flash and his shiny eyes. We pass a variety of runners as we crash downhill, each time they file in behind us. I’m carrying a train of runners downhill, but as quick as they file in.. they file out. Down back on the flat we’re behind a runner who asks what time it is.. and how many miles to the Aid. Samy and I both say, “Just keep running.. you need to run.” Taking my own advice.. thats what we do.

Tap Out
We trudge back through the river crossing. Samy has been whipping me down the hill, pushing me to run harder, try harder. I’ve given it all I have. I’m tired, my legs burn and the cold water is not helping. My blisters have all popped from the pressures of downhill running. I’m falling apart. I lied to Samy, I told him 3 crossings and it’s more like 7. I got a good kick out of it while we ran through the crossings and the grassy meadow. Samy was blown away at my effort as I ran every single step back up to the road. In the lower parking lot, I see a few runners walking. I know we’re over the limit and so do they. Yet I yell out, “Hey, just because we’re over doesn’t mean we’re done.. get running.” And then.. there were 5 runners, side by side by side, running uphill to Twin lakes aid station.

As we ran down the final .25 miles to the aid station, an aid worker comes down the hill and says, “you guys can slow down now.” I was furious that he said this. I paid $300 to be here before air fare. I know I’m out of the slam. I know I’m out of this race.. but that doesn’t mean that I get to leave my pride out there too. I dig even deeper and run even harder as if I was sprinting into the finish line all the way into the barn. There, the gentleman who is 3rd in charge of the race looks at us all and says, “yeah… you guys are done.” I thanked him for being so compassionate in our time of disappointment. I walk into the barn and see Jake Gyllenhall off to the side. They cut off my medical bracelet and I weigh in. I was down 9 pounds from the start of the race. I turn and a woman gives me a huge hug and tells me how good I had done.. and then… I start to cry.

I’m not sure what happened out there. I was ahead of the clock and then quickly I was chasing the clock. The elevation had no ill effect on me, I felt great the entire race. I’ve been thinking long and hard and can only pin point the line of runners coming from the opposite direction on Hope Pass’s climbs, my constant crapping in the woods.. And then I start doing the math. I missed the Twin Lakes 2 cutoff by 15 minutes, arriving at 10:00pm. With 39 miles to go, I had 12 hours to complete the course. Some argue that the cutoffs are acurate.. and for some I’d agree. But not for this cat.. I know I could have done it. I was getting hot.. getting better. The return trip from Winfield took me 4:09. Over 30 runners who finished over 29 hours in the race took longer to do this section then I. 30% of the sub 29 hour finishers took longer… I know I could do it.. but maybe thats they story that is Leadville. It’s not the course that’ll get you, not the elevation.. it’s the cutoffs. Either way… my quest to run the Grand Slam came to an unfortunate and unexpected halt. I gave it my best.. and had one hell of an adventure. I won’t be going to Wasatch now, focusing my attention to the Vermont 50 and my October Adventure.

As far as Leadville…2011… I’m there.


15 thoughts

  1. You did a great job, Sherpa. I'm sure the pictures can't do the views justice, yet they are gorgeous. Sounds like you made some great new connections on those miles. Here's to more excellent adventures. 🙂


  2. Aw, SJ…you are the man. The race report was awesome, pics amazing and your effort? Well, you know you gave it everything and it simply was not lining up (or, perhaps it was the LINE of PEOPLE that was the issue, lol) Seriously though, I am honored to know you, your determination is amazing and I was sending you all the good vibes I could! I felt so bad when I saw your tweet…but, I know you valued the experience and it will stay with you always.

    Rest up, my friend…you deserve it!


  3. Just wanted to say a BIG thank you for helping me up Hope Pass…..i will always remember your kindness….I'm so very sorry you didn't make it, i know how gutted you feel….Good Luck with all your future adventures, Nicole xxxx


  4. Fantastic report, SJ. It gets me all teary-eyed recounting the day and remembering all that went on. What a race! I'm working on my report as well, but the race has sapped my motivation it seems!

    Good luck at VT50!!


  5. Fantastic pictures. Riveting race report. There's no doubt in my mind, you'll be back and finish this. I've done day hikes out there, but cold air and exercised induced asthma will probably keep me out of the mtn 100's.

    Lynnor Matheney


  6. Thanks for sharing. What a race. Sorry you encountered such not nice peeps out there. I felt that way at one of the two races I did out west. It was quite shocking to me. And out west = not on the east coast, LOL. As far as the Cascadias, i have run road races in them and they are fine. No problems. If I do Motherroad I will probably run in them as well. they are more of a hybrid than a trail shoe, imo.

    Keep up the good work and kick ass at VT50.


  7. Great effort and race report. Thanks for taking the time to take photos. The write up and photos together give us a wonderful glimpse into what it is like to run Leadville.

    My goal is to be there next year.

    “The best way out is always through” Robert Frost.


  8. J-I suffered an ankle sprain & was also late to the inbound Twin Lakes cut-off.
    What amazed me was the total lack of trail ettiqutte, & the amount of trash on the trail. I've been to events with more than 17,000 participants with less trash left behind.
    It's also common courtesy when someone steps out of their path on the trail to let you by, that you at the very least acknowledge them. One of the reasons I love trail running is the participants have always been 'different' than road racers…hmmmm.
    363 days to go my friend.


  9. Nice work, SJ. Good point about the cutoffs – your 4:09 was a great effort! Took me 5:16 for that same stretch…

    Glad to hear you'll be back. Keep giving us Westerners a chance to open up a little. We'll warm up eventually (lots o' hard-core peeps out here, but most are very very nice).

    I'll be watching to see what you come up with next!



  10. Wow -thanks for sharing that experience. The mountains and your effort are amazing but the stories of the other runners makes me want to stick to my solo trail runs…!


  11. Sounds like a strange race experience from the outset. Great effort and outlook. The Grand Slam is not for the faint of heart. You don't have anything to prove, unless it's to yourself.


  12. You clearly have a lot to be proud of John. You also have a lot of maturing to do. I see a lot of excuses and a lot immaturity in your post. I wish you the best in your continued journey.


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