Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Leadville Trail 100 Race Report: From The Runner's Perspective

So after bugging him for weeks, I finally received Keith's race report for the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run on August 18-19.  This is the shortened version.  Very good read.


“You need to hold me up!” I said to my pacer Donnie while on the Colorado Trail section following the return stop at the Twin Lakes aid station.  “No, not just a hand on my back, I mean I’m going to fall unless you really hold me!” We were roughly at mile 60, I had just lost my stomach, was vomiting and dry heaving, and at this particular point in time, I was holding onto a tree along a narrow path with a 1,000 ft drop right in front of me.  The good news is you couldn’t see the drop since it was dark.  The bad news is that with it being dark already and the rough shape I was in, it was going to make finishing the final 40 miles within the 30-hour time limit a grueling trek of sheer willpower and determination…as well as the constant prodding by my pacer and crew.
That was in 2011; it was my first 100-miler and only my second ultramarathon.  It was tough and took everything I had to finish.  This year I was determined to do it differently and to have a good experience out there.  I had significantly more experience in running ultramarathons and a bigger crew to help lighten the load, both figuratively in sharing crew duties amongst them, and literally when it comes to carrying my stuff during the second 50 miles.  My crew consisted of Hafiz Shaikh, Caroline Bauer,and Mark Buschman.  Additionally, to help with acclimatization, I purchased an altitude tent and arrived in Leadville a week prior to the race.  Again, I was determined to have a better race experience.
Being in the area and getting to drive around before the race was a huge benefit.  I was getting to know the area much better and felt more comfortable.  The house that we rented was at Twin Lakes and roughly 9,500 ft.  Nearly equal to the low point on the course,but still a good elevation to live at to try to get used to the reduced oxygen of the high mountains.  The first thing I noticed was that my breathing was much better this year compared to last year.  The altitude tent helped!  That was very exciting and gave me a confidence boost.  Not that I didn’tnotice the lack of oxygen at all, because I did, but it was very minimal.  After spending a weekend in Leadville, Hafiz and Mark arrived and we set about getting things ready and trying to familiarize them with the area.  Tuesday morning we set out to hike Hope Pass to see what we had in store and the first thought I remember having is how quickly I forgot how hard of a hike it is. Just a little over a mile into the climb and I was already gassed and questioning my training when it came to the big hikes.  My legs were tired and my heart rate was way too high.  No altitude tent was saving mehere…this was going to be tough.  I knew I didn’t do enough big climbs as part of my training but I figured I could just push through it.  This climb, which was supposed to be a confidence booster, had me second guessing that.  As we continued up the mountain, the climb got easier and we made sure to take short rest breaks.  That helped tremendously and before we knew it, the pace quickened and the summit was in sight.  We spent some time at the top and even tried to climb one of the peaks next to Hope Pass. We talked with other runners that were also hiking the pass and then set off back down the mountain to Winfield, the halfway point of the race.
Caroline arrived on Wednesday and after a brief “tour" of Leadville we again hit the grocery store to get more supplies for the rest of the week.  Following their early morning excursion up Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, and the second highest peak in the lower 48 states, we started race planning in earnest.  Maps, crew strategies, pacer order / strategy, and nutrition planning.  Running 100 miles obviously requires strength and fitness, but more importantly it required determination and the ability to continue digging deep no matter what negative thoughts run through your mind.  However, in order for any of that to matter, running 100 miles requires eating. A lot.  The number of calories is ridiculous and it was simply exhausting just trying to plan out what to eat and when.  You never know how your stomach is going to react to the things you’re trying to consume and no matter how good of a plan you have, it’s probably going to fall apart at some point and then it’ll be a matter of doing the best you can with what you have available.

The crew standing at the top of Colorado; Summit of Mount Elbert, 14,433 ft.
Based on advice and reading some blogs, my very high-level nutrition plan was to consume 10,000 calories. I figured that would be sufficient to get me through and feeling strong the entire time.  As we started planning the aid station to aid station strategy, I started to realize just how much food that really was.  To consume that many calories, it would require nearly continuous eating during each running leg and then consuming another couple hundred calories at each aid station.  Going over all the food and trying to imagine how I might be feeling at 60 miles and what might work for nutrition and how my stomach might react was exhausting.  Soon my default answer was “PowerGel.”  I threw a few new foods in there (though they say you shouldn’t), like Hammerbars and even rice balls.  The bars worked fine but the rice needed something else…plain sushi rice is just too bland.  So with the nutrition plan set and all the gear organized, all we had left was the pre-race brief.
Due to the death in the family, Ken Chlouber, the race founder, was not able to be there. However, his son, Cody, filled in for him and did his best to talk about the need to dig deep and when you’ve dug as deep as you can, you still have to dig deeper.  He had us all commit to not quit and urged us to finish at all costs because not finishing is something that will haunt you until you do – he knows because he dropped on his first attempt at the race.  He finally indicated that last year as he crossed the finish line under 30 hours.
The “morning” came too early when at 2:00am alarms started sounding throughout the house.  It was time to get moving and putting the plan into action.  Coffee, oatmeal, a bagel, and a banana…nearly 600 calories consumed already.  We loaded the minivan and made our way to the starting area.  We beat most of the traffic in and found a great parking spot right on Harrison  Blvd.  At this point the nerves finally started to show up….here we go again.  This course beat me up last year and now I was just about an hour away from trying it again.  This time with a clearly laid out plan for nutrition, crewing, hydration, pacing, and muling but something was missing.  I knew what it was, but Iwasn’t going to let it distract me – I couldn’t let it distract me.  We set out to the start line and the nervousness turned to excitement.  I was starting near the front and I was going to run this race solid – I was determined.  People gathered, my crew moved out of the corral and to the side, the countdown was beginning and then suddenly Anton Krupica comes out of nowhere and plops himself about 5ft in front of me.  I was wondering where he had been, as I had been toying with the idea of running with him for a bit.  The gun goes off and the journey began!

Group pre-race photo, circa 3:45am on Saturday, August 18th
"We'll tell you when you start and we'll tell you when to stop. In between, don't think. Just keep running.” – Ken Chlouber, Founder Leadville Trail 100
Running to Mayqueen is pretty easy since after a short downhill start it’s mostly flat with some very gentle rollers on the trail,just enough to keep it interesting.  What made it more “exciting” for me is that even though I put brand new batteries in my headlamp when I got up, it was already dead. Not fading or less than super bright, but no light at all.  Apparently there’s something wrong with it and the batteries were totally drained in a few short hours.  Awesome. The trail isn’t hard, but when you can’t see it, suddenly it’s very hard.  I was doing my best to use the light from others, but the lights behind me resulted in a shadow being cast, so neither those lights nor the ones in front were of any use.  Luckily though, I ended up next to a guy that had two lights, one on this head and one around his waist.  After running near him for a little while, he offered one of his lights.  Trail runners are great people! Always willing to help out a fellow runner.  We stopped so he could take the light off.  I thanked him and said I’d get it back to him somehow.
Without a light, I’d spent so much time concentrating on the trail that I wasn’t able to eat any of the food I was supposed to be eating during this section.  Now I had just about 3 miles before the aid station so I set about eating all the food I had in my hydration pack.  I arrived at Mayqueen right about my predicted time and first thing I’m handed is Accelerade and a PB&J sandwich.  Um, I was full since I just ate a few hundred calories in the last few minutes and I wasn’teven hungry when I ate that.  But I had to eat anyway, so I did and after being stopped for much longer than last year it was time to move on toward Hagerman Pass and the climb up Sugarloaf.  This section was uneventful and I only sought to try to remember what it was like so I would have a better idea of it on the return.  Last year I had no recollection of this section. Matter of fact, last year I argued with my pacer that we were off course because I didn’t even remember being on a trail at all.  Never mind the fact that other runners were passing us and the course was very clearly marked, I was convinced everyone was wrong.  That’s how bad of shape I was in.  Leaving the trail and heading up the dirt road, the views with the sun rising and the fog on Turquoise Lake were amazing.  It reminded me of many other ultras I’d run earlier this year and late last year. These views are one of the things that makes ultra running so special and so majestic.  The views suck you in and tempt you to ease up the pace and just enjoy the scenery.  The views also remind you of the simple beauty that nature has to offer…and the beauty reminded me that something was still missing.  As the road continued climbing up, I thought back to my first run on the Catoctin fire roads since this was so similar…though the cowbell was certainly missed.  At that training run it was the first time Ihad ever used a mantra, so I turned to it now and settled in to a comfortable run – reciting the chorus “everything’s gonna be alright” from Bob Marley’sThree Little Birds.
As the road ended and the dreaded Powerline trail started, I resolved not to bomb down it like I did last year.  I kept things very controlled and just tried to save the quads for the miles and miles remaining.  As the trail flattened and the dirt turned to pavement, I knew I was just a couple miles from Fish Hatchery.  Again, I forgot to eat earlier on the run, so I set about eating as much as I could while on the easy road section.  Entering in Fish Hatchery everything was still going well.  I felt good and after a brief pit stop at the aid station, I felt great.  Part of my race strategy was to take as much time as I needed at each aid station, so I sat with the gang for a bit and had some more food.  For the next section I decided to take a hand bottle instead of my hydration pack since it was only a few miles on the road.  I set out on the road and they packed up and made their way to Treeline.  The road was easy and I was thinking that this year I would actually be able to run this section on the return.  I was tempted to push harder now, but resisted the urge and just kept it easy. Arriving at Treeline still feeling good, it was now time to really load up with calories, 1200 of them to be exact, since it was going to be the first significant section of trail without a crew access point.
The Colorado Trail in this section is beautiful.  Nice trail for some of it and a very narrow and crumbly trail with a huge drop-off for other parts of it.  My plan here was to still keep the pace steady but also to make mental notes so that I could break it into manageable sections on the return.  One of the hardest parts last year was expecting to see my crew at a certain point, but then realizing it was a non-crew accessible aid station and the crew access point was still miles away.  I had to mentally prepare for it this year, so I didn’t let my mind wander on the trail as much as I would have liked.  Probably a good thing because there was something missing that kept diverting my thoughts, but I had a job to do and I needed to focus. I passed through Halfpipe and the “water only” stop on Mt Elbert, then 3 miles of downhill to Twin Lakes.  The super steep descent from trail to road was just as fun this year (apparently few people actually run down it – but I did simply because it’s fun) as last year, and finally I arrived at Twin Lakes.  I felt good, but a few miles earlier I started feeling a twinge in my left quad. Nothing serious, but enough to get my attention and actually say something about it.  Just like the other crew access points, I was given an update on the race and who the leaders were, but nothing much beyond that.  I wanted to know other things, but I didn’t want to ask.  Something was missing, but I couldn’t dwell on that because Hope Pass awaited.  The upcoming section really knocked me back last year.  Hope Pass was daunting and last year Ididn’t have it in me to climb it.  Idon’t know how I did it, but I did.  It was all a blur, but this year would be different.  My legs felt great, other than that twinge.  My energy was good, though Ididn’t eat even half of the food they gave me to eat on the last section.  I tried to eat some more at the aid station,but I don’t think I had very much.  It was hot and I needed to press on.  The river crossing awaited and Hope Pass was in sight.  Time to go!
Moving along the grassy trail through the flood plain I kept a solid pace.  Someone at a New Balance tent offered me a bandana to go with my NB101 trail shoes.  I gladly took it since the sun was hot and I thought a bandana soaked in cold mountain water would do the trick in keeping me cool.  Last year I walked this entire section and then I slowed down even more on the hike up.  This year I was running solid and passing others that were hardly running or simply walking. So glad that wasn’t me this year!  Entering the trail, I power hiked up most of it and only did a little hand-on-knee hiking.  The higher up, the harder it got, but I was still moving strong.  A few people passed me, but I didn’t let it bother me.  I was running my race and pushing too hard on this climb made no sense.  I kept it steady and before I knew it, the trees were few and far between and then they were gone altogether.  The llamas were now in sight and so was the Hopeless aid station. 
From the moment I signed up for the 2012 running of the Leadville Trail 100, I couldn’t wait to get to this aid station so I could once again have the wonderful combination of mashed potatoes and noodle soup – it’scalled suicide by the lady that makes it. I told her that getting up Hope and drinking/eating this concoction was the reason I signed up.  She said she was glad to hear that and she’ll have some more for me when I get back.  Moving onward up the mountain and the switchbacks that lead to the summit, I started thinking that the leaders would soon be cresting the top.  My prediction was accurate as Anton and I crossed paths right at the timing mat (yeah, they had one up there!) on the summit.  He was looking good and I was in awe that they are really that fast.  He had nearly 10 miles on me and no easy 10miles either.  We exchanged “good job”pleasantries and a low five and then I was down the backside to Winfield.  I made a point to cheer on the race leaders as we crossed paths.  They were all very encouraging in saying “good job” and “way to go” just as I was saying to them.
Nearing the bottom is when things took a noticeable turn for the worse.  On Tuesday they finally announced that the runners would not be on the road with the cars, but instead on a trail that parallels the road.  Ithought this would be a good thing, but turns out it added 1.6 miles in each direction.  Not that big of a deal, but the fact that the trail climbed up nearly the entire section to Winfield was something I was not prepared for.  I walked much of that section and the negative impact on my time was significant,but the shot to my confidence and mental state was much worse.  This is when I feared things were going to really turn bad.  I was getting so beat up mentally and just needed to get through this section.  As I approached the end of the dirt road from the trail head, I saw Caroline standing there. I’m not sure what she thought when she saw me, but my guess is I looked like I was pretty beat up.  I was getting fatigued, but I knew most of it was mental. I was looking forward to taking some time at the aid station and using that to recharge.  It was here last year that I remarked that getting to the halfway point was the hardest thing I’dever done.  I remembered that moment vividly and the emotions that started to flow back then, but this was not the time to dwell on the past, but to focus on what I still had left to do.  The new trail posed a significant challenge,but I’d overcome more and I was really looking forward to running with someone.  I figured with all the time Ia dded while walking much of the trail that a sub-25 finish was now a long shot,but it turned out it wasn’t, so long as we get moving and get back over Hope Pass before it gets dark.
“Thirsty?” asked Hafiz. “Yes.”  “Okay, here.”  I drank, three sips, and then gave my bottle back.  Hafiz had the first leg and the responsibility for getting me back over Hope Pass.  I didn’t know how to work with a pacer carrying my stuff and it’s not something we really rehearsed.  I wanted to have my bottle so that I could drink when I wanted, because I didn’t want to have to ask for it.  Since we didn’t rehearse this and I didn’thave my bottle in my hand it was making me nervous.  The trail continued and we were setting a good pace and moving much more smoothly than I had been during the outward bound leg.  I was getting thirsty again,but Hafiz was just far enough ahead to where it was tough to ask.  His pace was solid and I was starting to fade a little.  He turned and handed me the water with a terse command: “drink.”  I grabbed the bottle, took three sips and handed it back, thanking him.  That set the routine of every ten minutes being handed my bottle and being told to drink. Thirsty or not, I drank – three sips.
“Pain only hurts.” – Ken Chlouber
Then we started the tough part of the climb up Hope.  It was steep and rocky.  Hafiz, Mark, and I had hiked this section earlier in the week, so we knew what to expect. Roughly 2.5 miles up, with the first mile being about 28 minutes/mile and the second being about 24 minutes/mile, and that pace continuing until the top.  I knew we weren’t going to manage that pace now, but it was reassuring knowing it could happen.  Last year when climbing this side of Hope, I remember the watch chiming a mile and the time being 59:59.  Meaning it likely took over an hour to travel one mile.  It was brutal, but this year I felt much better.  We cut the time in half and managed to average just over 30 min/mi during the hike, and that included stopping to put on a jacket due to the rain that started to fall and the plummeting temperatures from the storm that was rolling in.  As we crested Hope, we started down the set of switchbacks leading to the Hopeless aid station and one of the highlights of this race – suicide.  After a few minutes sitting there, it was time to press on. Hafiz set the pace on the down and I tried to keep up.  We were passing runners and he wasn’t letting up.  Onward we pressed and as the slope leveled out, we were to the open field and making the home stretch toward the Twin Lakes aid station.  Hours ahead of 2011, but I still had doubts we had enough time for a sub 25-hour finish.
Once again, everything was organized and I just sat down,ate some food (mostly noodle soup), and told them how I was feeling.  I tried to eat what I could, but it wasn’t as much as I’d hoped.  My stomach had been really challenging me for the past few hours with nausea after I ate.  Noodle soup and broth did the trick, as well as lots of ginger.  I wanted to make it as far as I could in daylight and since Caroline was ready to go, off we went down the path where everything fell apart last year. The first three-mile hike was uneventful.  We moved steadily up the hill and chatted some.  She told me that people were asking how I was doing and sending along well wishes.  She told me of people she spoke with and how they were tracking my progress.  That really brightened my day since it had been on my mind continuously.  Along the trail, I pointed out to Caroline the area was where Donnie was helping to hold me up and we continued to move along steadily.  I tried to take good mental notes of this section during the outward bound leg because in 2011 I was taken by surprise how long it was.  Iwanted to make sure I knew what we had left but was once again surprised…thistime by how quickly things came up.  It’smuch different when you’re actually running most of the time!  We hit the Elbert aid station and barely slowed down.  Pressing on to Half Moon and continuing to pick people off, we had a nice rhythm going.  Not like this is any sort of race at this point, but it’s always fun to pass people. Light was fading quickly, so we finally switched on our head lamps for the final few miles before the Treeline Crew Access Point.
Though still fairly early in the race, it was right around this area that the hallucinations started. I wasn’t nearly as fatigued as last year, but when you’re really tired and it’s getting dark, your eyes tend to play tricks on you.  I have some experience with this from many days without sleeping in the Marines, but it’s always interesting when you are certain you see something that’s out of place. For example, it was along this stretch of trail that I noticed someone had hung laundry out to dry.  We were in the middle of the woods and someone actually hung out their sheets and other laundry on a string between trees. Crazy, huh?  Well, it wasn’treally there and I bit my tongue just long enough to realize it wasn’treal.  I didn’t want Caroline or anyone to worry, so I kept these occasional visions to myself.  If it was really there, I figured they would say something. 
As we approached Treeline I was fading a bit and wanting to walk more than run.  Eating had been difficult for the past 20-30 miles, so I wasn’t taking in enough calories.  I knew my energy was depleting, but eating too much would cause whatever I ate to come back up.  So I had to carefully balance calories and what my stomach could handle.  Mark was up next and there was a good section of road ahead.  Earlier in the day I toyed with the idea of trying to knock back 7:00 min/mi here, just to see if I could do it.  Though we didn’t get close to that, it was some of the longest continual running I’ddone in quite a few hours.  There were just very few spots worthy of walking, so when we did take walk breaks, they were relatively short.  Mark’scompetitiveness was rubbing off on me and we kept targeting people and picking them off, one-by-one.  With the lights visible in the distance, but the openness of the West, at times it felt like we were on a treadmill…moving but not getting any closer.  We finally hit Fish Hatchery aid station,noodle soup was waiting for me (my go-to food at this point) and after a brief stay there, Mark and I were pressing forward to the part of the course I dreaded the most – the Powerline climb up Sugarloaf.

Picking up Keith at the Treeline Aid Station (Mile 72)

 From the day I signed up for the 2012 edition of this race,I dreaded this climb.  I still remember,so vividly, my 2011 slow walk up this hill. Looking up and seeing the headlamps blend in the with stars and once you make it to the top, all you see is another climb full of headlamps and they too blend with the stars.  It’s physically tough but it’s mentally draining.  I was determined not to let it get the best of me this year.  Up, up, up we climbed.  Not as many headlamps in front of me and only a handful behind.  Many of those visible behind us caught and passed me and Mark, but we pressed on.  Taking breaks when needed and pushing forward with steady momentum.  I did my best to eat and drink, but still wasn’t able to run the plateaus or the few downs leading to the next climb.  Fatigue was definitely setting in and it was at this point that I finally dared to mention something I was seeing…just ahead near one of the summits, I saw someone kind of standing there and then moving from right to left.  He had a light and it just seemed odd that hewasn’t really running.  I had no idea what he was doing, but I mentioned something to Mark about it.  He didn’t respond to me, which I thoughto dd.  I kept staring and trying to figure out what the heck this guy was doing…we got closer and closer and then I realized there wasn’t anyone there at all. The hallucinations had started much earlier when Caroline and I were on the Colorado Trail, but I was able to have a good gauge of what was real andwhat was imagined and I was careful not to say anything to my crew about it.  This one though was so real that Iwas certain it was really there and that’s why I dared say something.  Of course it wasn’t and that was yet another sign that the lack of sleep and extreme physical exertion was starting to take a bigger toll on my body…and I had to start pushing hard to finish, but first,I needed to get off this mountain and down to Mayqueen.  The ups went on and on and I finally gave up counting the number of false summits, but when we finally reached the last one,I knew we were there.  I wanted to run and I know Mark wanted to run, but we didn’t at first.  We would jog little sections and then I would walk.  I’m not really sure when it kicked in or how, but soon we were running and making a good pace too.  We started passing people that had passed us on the climb.  The gravel road seemed much longer on the down than I remember on the climb early on Saturday (I think it was after midnight by now), but Iwasn’t going to complain because we were holding a very steady pace.  As we hit the trail, I took the lead because I was ready to get to the Mayqueen aid station. Besides the suicide broth on at Hopeless, pancakes at Mayqueen were the other food I was looking forward to. I’ve never had more delicious pancakes than the ones I had there in2011.  I couldn’t wait to eat some again!  The trail continued and we kept running.  It was technical, we were using headlamps, and it was Mark’s first night trail run…we were having fun.  Quick feet – steady effort.  Press on. Pancakes await.  Finally we hit the end of the trail.  I slowed some just before that and my pace wasn’t as solid through the grass and on the road leading to the aid station.  As I approached, I again let go the idea of beating 25 hours.  I figured Powerline took too long and wedidn’t make up enough time on the trail. It was probably best anyway, that way I can just finish without any pressure.  This was good.
Arriving at the tent, Caroline asked if I wanted pancakes.  “Um, yeah!”  As a bonus, she had coffee too…that was exactly what I needed.  A couple pancakes with syrup and hot coffee, that is the ultra food of champions (at least for me) and it hit the spot.  I knew itwouldn’t be enough to get me through the rest of the race, but it did the trick at the time and we had to press on because much to my excitement and dismay,sub-25 was still within reach.  It was Hafiz again and then Caroline would switch out later – all we needed to do was average a 15:00 min/mi until the end and I would finish under 25 hours.  Ithought the possibility was gone, but it was once again within reach.  But we needed to go – so off we went.  Along the road in the campground we (mostly Hafiz) helped guide others that somehow lost the trail.  Admittedly it was very poorly marked with green glow sticks that were nearing the end of their life, but Hafiz and I managed to stay on course.  We ran this part of the trail earlier in the week, so we knew there was some up and down to contend with, but I didn’t remember it being as bad as it was.  I guess that’s what happens when you have nearly 90 miles on your legs.  We would run for good stints and then walk some ups or technical downs.  All I needed was 15 min/mi, but the miles were ticking off slowly and it seemed like we were only barely getting under 15sno matter how hard I would run.  Longer periods of walking and shorter periods of running and suddenly our average pace was falling into the 15 flat or slightly over 15:00.  Not good. I took a gel and that helped some. We came up on the boat ramp much sooner than we expected and then it wasCaroline’s turn.  I was fading, so as Hafiz and Caroline switched over gear, I pressed on solo.
At this point no one was really sure how many miles we had left.  The confusion meant the target pace was also unknown.  Did we need 15sor did we need 12s?  That’s a huge difference and since I was barely holding 15s, the thought of having to run 6-8miles at a 12:00 min/mi was too much for me mentally to deal with and likely too much for me to manage physically. Instead of thinking about all that, we just ran.  I stopped worrying about average pace and finishing time and knew that if I just kept pressing forward as hard as I could, that I’ll either get the time I want or be able to say that I gave it all I had.  I remembered this part from last year and the question of “are your eyes open?”  That made me smile and this time around I answered the question in my head.  “Yes!”  My eyes were more open now than ever before and I was going to do the best I could and see what happens.  That’s really all that can be done, no matterwhat’s missing or not.  Pressing onward and doing your best.
Competitiveness is fun, but we hadn’t seen anyone in awhile.  That worried me in a way but was also pretty neat since in 2011 there were always other runners around me(almost all of which were passing me). As Caroline and I pressed on, looking for and almost always finding the right trail, we somehow started knocking back 9:40s.  It felt good to run and I was afraid to walk because starting again would be hard – so we just kept pushing even as the route started taking us uphill.  Finally there were people in sight and we started passing them.  It was a bit of a relief since I figured there would be a small pack of people trying to get in under 25 hours, so seeing others meant I was probably still close. Based on estimates, it was looking good. It was looking like I might actually do it.  I was feeling good with energy and my spirits were oddly high.  I took another gel even though I really didn’t want to.  The closer we got to the end, the more people we’d see– whether along the road cheering (quietly since it was the middle of the night) or tucked away ins leeping bags.  I estimated we had maybe3 miles, but probably only just over 2 miles. Caroline was in general agreement, though she was probably saying that for my benefit.  Then we asked a guy and his response of “about 4 miles” not only shocked me, but really starting stressing me out.  It knocked me back a bit.  We had about 40 or so minutes remaining and with just under 3 or even 3 miles, that meant a comfortable run.  With 4 miles remaining, that meant giving it everything I have without letting up for a moment.  I was in disbelief.  I told Caroline he was wrong.  I sought reassurance.  Reassurance that he was wrong, reassurance that we could make it, and reassurance that as hard as I’d been pushing for as long as I’d been pushing, it wouldn’t be for naught.  I had given up on sub 25 a number of times,but it kept resurfacing and now that I’d finally set my sights on it for real,I couldn’t let it slip away.  We pressed on.  The section we had just passed was two really gnarly crumbly rocky downs that trashed my quads and knees (which had felt fine the whole time), followed by a gradual climb of what ended up being close to 2 miles.  With my knees hurting after the down, the sub-10s weren’t an option.  I did the best I could with running, but now periods of hiking were interspersed.  Imust’ve asked a couple dozen times on that road what the time was looking like.  I recognized things from 2011 (or at least I thought I did) and said we were about 2 miles out.  I hoped I was right, but I wasn’t convinced.  We pressed on and the hill continued.  Last year I ran from shadow to shadow.  This year those shadows weren’t present, but I pretended they were.  This is the most difficult finish because it climbs nearly the entire final 4 miles of the course.  As we neared a street light, Ihad a feeling that was the top of the hill.  From there, we would be almost exactly 1 mileaway…and Hafiz and Mark would be waiting. Time check again.  This time, we had about 30 minutes.  As we started to crest the hill, we turned left on the street and saw Hafiz and Mark standing just down the road where we’d be making the turn on 6th  street for the final stretch.  I had 30 minutes to finish and it was at this moment that I knew we’d finish sub-25. My biggest fear was that I’d hit that point with 10 minutes remaining and have to do my best to pull together some Herculean effort.  Instead, we got to take it in easy.  Walking the up and running some of the down and flat and then running the final 1/8 mile to the red carpet and through the tape.  Final time of 24:44:58.  Shaved off nearly 5 hours on a course that,by some estimates, runs about 15-20 minutes longer than last year, and a total mileage of about 102 miles. 

Post-race, circa 4:45am on Sunday, August 19th

 You’re stronger than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can do.  That theme was true last year and was true this year. The challenges were many, but each was overcome even when the thoughts in my head pointed toward giving up and my body was screaming for reprieve.  “Pain only hurts” kept playing through my head as well as the fact that one simply keeps going because one really is stronger than one thinks one is. When all odds seem overwhelming and the challenges are stacking up, you just push onward digging deep. When you’ve reach the bottom and you can’t dig any deeper – you do it again.  There is more.  There is an endless supply, even when you think there isn’t.  I’m not sure now where it comes from, but it’s there. Maybe it’s found in what’s missing, as much of it was for me.  It stuck with me the entire time and Icouldn’t shake it.  When it came down to it though, I didn’t want to shake it because I knew what was missing and I was going to use that to drive me forward instead of knocking me back.  I was going to channel my thoughts the best Icould to push me forward and focus on what needed to get done.  Though I got to cross the finish line, it takes a team to accomplish anything like that. There is no way I could have finished, never mind finishing under 25hours, without the amazing crewing and pacing support from Mark, Hafiz, and Caroline.  It’s a team effort and team accomplishment.  I owe this to them.  Besides support at the race, it’s the training and preparation months in advance…so to the Hero-Friends, I thank you as well for your support and well wishes.

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