One question we get asked a lot is, where are you going next? When our answer was, “We are spending the summer in Colorado”, the next question was “the entire summer, why”? Leadman, that is why. What is Leadman, you ask? It is 5 (or 6) races in the Leadville Race Series: Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush 50 (MTB or run or both), Leadville 100 MTB, Leadville 10K and the final race of the series, the most daunting of the 5 races, the Leadville Trail 100 run. Not only are the 5 races at or above 10,000 feet but the 100 mile MTB, 10K run and 100 mile run are all in 1 weeks’ time. David had a dream of someday doing this, well someday was this summer!!
I am not sure where the time has gone but here we are in mid-August and our time in Colorado is ending. We arrived in Denver at the end of May about 1 week before my first race. This gave us the opportunity to try and acclimate to the altitude and explore the Denver foothills. We were so excited to finally be in Colorado. We took advantage of the cool weather and spent the week hiking, running and cycling.
The first race in Colorado, the Revel Rockies Marathon on June 2, is not part of Leadman and was a race that I would run without David. He was hired to take photos for the race. He is extremely passionate about photography and was super excited about getting the job. He was stationed at mile 11 and the finish line and had a great time, taking over 2000 photos. I decided this would be my first attempt at qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon. This race starts at over 10,500 feet and drops 4,700 feet over the course of the marathon, certainly not easy by any means. The day prior to the race I assisted with the Hyland’s expo booth set-up and we met up with our Hyland’s teammates, Carol and Mary. Mary lives locally and wasn’t racing but Carol was. Mary invited us to come and stay on her driveway for race weekend, an offer we could not refuse. We had such a wonderful time catching up, getting to know them better and just relaxing. I ran hard but it wasn’t enough to hit my qualifying time. I finished about 5 minutes too slow but I was still really proud of my performance. I ran a sub 4 hour marathon, which, for me, is a huge accomplishment. This was a great way to kick off our summer of racing in Colorado.
After the marathon we went to Boulder for a week to spend time with our dear friend Joan and her family. Joan was about to compete in her first Ironman, Ironman Boulder. This had been a long term goal of hers and it was finally here. A year of training , sacrifice, and very early mornings were finally going to pay off. She had asked me to coach her for the race, something I took very seriously and was honored to do. We spent the week swimming, biking and running with and without her, depending on the distance. Race day was extremely exciting, we followed along with her all day long, and she crossed the finish line with a huge smile and her goals reached.
We had an amazing week with Joan and her family but we were anxious to get to Leadville, see what it is all about and train at elevation. We arrived in town, visited the Leadville Race Series store and went for a run. We decided to stay on road for our first outing in Leadville. We hit the Mineral Belt Trail, an 11.6 mile paved trail that circumnavigates the town of Leadville. That run was more walk than run, as our lungs burned and heart rate soared in the thin mountain air.
The first week in Leadville was a challenge in terms of training. Just like our first run, every workout seemed to cause significant shortness of breath, elevated heart rate and the overall feeling of being totally out of shape. It is a feeling I haven’t had since I started running so many years ago. The end of our first week in Leadville was the Leadville Marathon, the first race in the series. David and I had both signed up for this race and we were super excited about climbing up to Mosquito Pass. Well, that never happened. The snow pack this past winter was so tremendous that there was no way the marathon could go in that direction. The course was re-routed but was still a challenging race for both of us. We were both happy with our performances and felt good about getting the first race in the series under our belts.
At some point before the marathon we met a guy outside the bike shop in town. David was inside and I overheard him saying, to someone else, that he was doing Leadman. He finished his conversation and I said, “my husband is doing Leadman too”. Little did I know that this would lead to a friendship that will be lifelong. Mark, David and I would spend quite a bit of time together over the course of the race series and we are excited to meet up again when we go to Phoenix in the fall. Yet again, I have to say, it is all about the people we have met on this journey.
We headed to South Dakota for about 10 days for the Black Hills 50K, see our Rapid City friends and visit with David’s mom (Sandy), who was driving from Seattle to visit with us. We were able to do some sightseeing with Sandy, run with our favorite running group, Black Hills Runners Club and race before heading back to Leadville. Unfortunately, it was not the visit I had hoped for as it was a week full of stress and disappointment. I am not sure if this stress contributed to my race but it did not go as planned. I did not feel well from the start and despite wanting to drop at mile 12, I stuck it out and finished. David stayed with me the entire race, supported and encouraged me and I have no doubt that without him by my side this race would have been my first DNF.
I was happy to get back to Leadville and resume training at altitude and blend into the scenery for a bit. The next race up was Silver Rush 50 and a visit from my parents. Silver Rush is race #2 in the Leadville Race Series. For Leadman, you can choose to do the 50 mile run or 50 mile bike or both (yes there are people who do both). David had signed up for the 50 mile MTB so I signed up for the 50 mile run which took place the day before. This would be my second 50 miler but the first one all by myself. My first 50 was an amazing adventure with David and Joan at Antelope Canyon 50 miler where we stayed together for the duration of the race. Silver Rush was a high altitude race with lots of climbing and definitely outside my comfort zone. Despite this I took the plunge and committed. Orange Mud was generous enough to sponsor me for this race and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint anyone. This race was perfect, the weather was cool, my body and mind were on the same page and David and my parents were my crew. I could have not asked for a better experience and I was thrilled with my results. The following day my parents and I were crew for David as he took on the same course on his bike. I couldn’t imagine doing this course on a bike but he was up for the challenge. He is not a super technical mountain biker and this course was out of his comfort zone too. His goal-stay upright and finish before the cut-off, one of the requirements to staying in the Leadman standings. He also had a perfect day, everything came together and he crushed it.
Despite the stress in South Dakota it was so nice to spend time with Sandy and then with my parents in Leadville. Family is extremely important to both of us and we are lucky to have such supportive parents who understand our lifestyle.
Over the next six weeks we would train in Leadville and on occasion we would go to Breckenridge or Frisco for some different scenery. We got to partially climb Mt Elbert with our friends Chris and Jeremy and their cross-country kids (they are both teachers and coaches in South Dakota), We spent the day with my best friend from college and her husband, who I had not seen in 20 years. We went back to Mt Elbert to summit and did so successfully. We summitted 4 other 14ers with the Decalibron Loop. We traveled to Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, where I raced the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k, we visited Garden of the Gods and hiked the Manitou Incline. We ran and swam and cycled (well David cycled) and hiked in the mountains as much as possible while balancing work and rest/recovery. Although we didn’t travel far from Leadville, we tried hard to take advantage of all that Colorado has to offer.
August seemed to come quickly and before we knew it the remainder of the Leadville Race Series races were upon us. The last 3 races are back to back to back and it is a fine balance of tapering, racing, rest and recovery.
Our plan was to take Mira to doggie daycare for the weekend of the 100 mile MTB and then again the following weekend for the 100 mile run. As we dropped her off on Friday, she was promptly attacked by another dog. So off we went, on Friday afternoon, to Frisco where she went under anesthesia and had 8 sutures to close her wound. This meant she would be staying with me for the weekend.
Leadville 100 mile MTB is an iconic race that draws people from every state and many countries. It is so popular that it is a lottery only entry with approximately 1700 riders. The aid stations and crew stops can be chaotic with traffic jams and long walks but I had a good plan and the support of Josh and other fellow Orange Mud ambassadors that all stepped up when I needed help. David and Mark lined up together and the plan was to be at Twin Lakes all day, miles 40 and 60. The race started and I drove to Twin Lakes securing a parking spot about a half mile from the aid station where Josh had set up the Orange Mud tent and chairs. I set up for the day and made Mira comfortable, on her bed in the shade. We had a great day supporting David and a bunch of other Orange Mud athletes. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to the finish line to watch David finish, but I did get to see him cross the line via the live feed. It was a tough day, with heat, rain, wind, and lots of climbing. He had some nutrition issues but stuck it out to finish under 12 hours, earning a nice shiny belt buckle and the ability to move on to the next race, Leadville 10K.
The 10K takes place at noon the day after the mountain bike. It was cold and rainy at the start but it eventually cleared up making for a nice easy recovery run, together.
Exactly 1 week after the 100 mile MTB and 6 days after the 10K is the Leadville Trail 100 run. This does not allow for much recovery time between the events, making it important to eat and sleep well and not overdo it. David took some easy hikes and run/walk sessions but for the most part it was all about rest and recovery. We had not realized that this in between week was also the week of the Trans Rockies Run. This is a 6 day stage race, starting in Buena Vista, in which some of our Hyland’s teammates were participating. Since the start was less than an hour away we knew we just had to be there for the start. We arrived and met up with Mike and Mirna and met Jacky (a new Hyland’s member) for the first time. It was so much fun catching up, taking photos and having a quick impromptu mini reunion. We went out on the course (mile19) and got to catch some photos and high fives with Mike and Jacky as they cruised by. Trans Rockies day 3 was in Leadville, so we were able to meet up again with our Hyland’s team and cheer them on. We are so blessed to be a part of such an amazing group of athletes, from all over the country, that support each other and cheer for each other whenever possible.
The week flew by and before we knew it, it was Thursday and our friend Jacob (from Emporia) and his dad along with our other crew member and pacer, Josh were arriving in town. We met up for dinner and talked about all things race related. Friday was a very busy day filled with athlete meetings, packet pick up, organizing crew/aid station bags , dropping Mira off for the weekend, then dinner and bed, 2:30am wake up call comes quick.
Neither of us slept great that evening but it was enough, at least I had hoped it was. David got up and ate, we got dressed, met up with Josh and walked to the start line in time for the 4 am shotgun blast. We milled around for a bit, David entered the corral and Josh and I hurried down the street to get a glimpse of the chaos that is the start of the Leadville Trail 100 run. David and the rest of the 800+ runners were off so we wandered back to the van and I promptly left for Outward Bound aid station at mile 24 (mile 77 inbound). My plan was to get there super early to get a good place to park and then crawl back into bed. My plan worked perfectly, except I didnt get much sleep. I was too excited and nervous and cold! Eventually I wandered out to the aid station and planted myself next to Jacob’s crew, cheering and yelling and encouraging all the runners that came through. David came through the aid station first, we got him re-fueled and sun screened and off he went. No time to sit, no time to chat, just in, get what you need and leave. Jacob was not far behind him and was in and out of the aid station just as fast. Josh and I hopped in the van and drove out to Twin Lakes (mile 38 outbound/mile 62.5 inbound). It was complete chaos at Twin Lakes, with a line of traffic and no where to park. Somehow Josh had the idea to park where we really were not permitted to, but we were off the road and thought there is no way anyone will try and tow a big Sprinter Van in the middle of this race!! We were a short walk to the aid station where an Orange Mud tent was set up for some shade. We waited, and waited and waited and finally David came into the aid station ready to change shoes for his trek up and over Hope Pass into Winfield (the half way/ turn around point of this race). He was feeling good, looking good and spirits were high and he had plenty of time before the cut-off. As soon as he left the aid station so did I. I was heading out, on a bus, to Winfield to meet up with David and pace him up and over Hope Pass and back to Twin Lakes. This year no cars were allowed to drive out to Winfield, this became both a blessing and a curse. It is a 14 mile narrow, dirt road with an incredible amount of washboard surface. (We had taken the van out to Winfield the week prior and it took over an hour to drive there.) So the fact that we didn’t have to drive was great but the bus situation was not. I waited over an hour to get on a bus and then it was a very loud, very bumpy ride in the back of a school bus, a trip that still took almost an hour. So, over 2 hours later I reached Winfield and again, I waited and waited and waited for David to arrive. (Do you see a pattern here, crewing a race like this is a lot of hurry up and wait). He came into Winfield a little more beaten down than when I saw him at Twin Lakes, we re-fueled him, he sat for a minute and off we both went to conquer Hope Pass. It was a very long hike up to the top, I muled for David to make it a bit easier for him (this means I carried all his gear along with all my gear) but he was still struggling a bit. I kept him moving with as few rest breaks as possible as I knew we wanted to make it into Twin Lakes with a comfortable cushion on the cut-off time. We finally reached the top of the pass and David was overcome with emotion, picked up the pace and at the top of his lungs screamed “Grit, Guts, Determination, I won’t fucking quit”. He took off down the trail and waited for me at the Hopeless Aid station, he grabbed a headlamp and I told him to go, I will be fine, I know my way back to Twin Lakes. He took off down the trail, into the dark, and somehow about half way down I was able to catch him. We ran into Twin Lakes aid station together where Josh and Jacob’s crew were anxiously awaiting and ready to help. David changed his shoes and socks, re-fueled, grabbed some warm gear to prepare for the cold night ahead, and he and Josh left with a 30 minute cushion. I waited around until the 10pm cut-off and Jacob had still not arrived. The timing counter was packed up and still no Jacob. This was a hard pill to swallow. I was filled with emotion, so happy that David was well on his way to Outward Bound (with Josh) and so very sad that Jacob’s day was over in Twin Lakes. I was cold and wet from the river crossing so I quickly packed up our stuff and headed back to Outward Bound, to warm up and rest. As much as I really wanted to stay and see Jacob, I knew I needed to take care of myself and be ready for David at Outward Bound and to pace him the next morning. Back to Outward Bound aid station (and no the van wasn’t towed and no ticket!!), where I rested and ate and waited and waited and waited. David and Josh arrived with about a 30 minute cushion to cut-off, so it was a quick re-fuel and off they went. Just like I had done all day, I packed up and drove to the final aid station, MayQueen at mile 88. This would be the final stop before the finish line. I arrived to a line of cars with no knowledge of how far of a walk it really was to the aid station. I would lay down in bed for a while and then gathered some supplies and headed out. I sat myself down on the cold, hard, asphalt, shivering and waited and waited and waited. David and Josh finally appeared out of the dark, again, with 30 minutes until cut-off. I knew this would be a tight time line so we grabbed some fuel, stopped for some warm broth and off David and I went, heading toward town. It was still a bit dark and the trail a bit rocky so we walked. I tried to get David to run a bit and every once in a while he would muster up enough energy to run a few feet and then back to a walk. He was drained. His feet were sore, his legs were sore, he was tired, he was ready to be done. I tried my best to keep him moving at a good enough pace to make it to the finish line for the 30 hour cut-off. As the sun came up and we hit the jeep road, we knew he would finish the race, it would be really close, but he would finish.
As we approached the pavement (with a little less than 1 mile to go), Josh was walking toward us and Jacob and his crew were waiting for us, this was a huge emotional boost for David, really both of us. We all walked side by side up the boulevard with the finish line in sight. We were talking and laughing and as we got within a few hundred feet David said, “when we get to the timing mat lets all run in together”. We hit the timing mat, picked up the pace and crossed the finish line together, as a team. We had a big group hug, David got a medal placed around his neck and a huge congratulations and hug from Ken. There at the finish-line, waiting was Mark. Mark’s day was over in Winfield and despite his disappointment he was there, waiting for David, to congratulate him. With a final time of 29 hours and 39 minutes David became one of 60 people to become a Leadman in 2019.
Words can not explain how proud I am of David. He worked so hard, he showed true Grit, Guts and Determination throughout and he never once thought about not finishing what he started a few months prior. There is no thank you big enough for all the people who helped us reach this goal, our friends and family who sent words of encouragement and love from a far, Josh, Jesse, Kristen and the entire Orange Mud family, Jacob and his crew and Mark. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Our 10 weeks in Leadville and South Dakota was not only filled with some incredible scenery, amazing training, 14ers and friend/family visits but we made some new friends along the way. We met an incredibly nice couple from Vermont, Stuart and Leslie, who have been living in their RV for 5 years. Mark (who I already mentioned) and Annie. Annie is an ultrarunner herself and has completed Leadville. She is genuine, warm, friendly and has more energy than you can even imagine. We met her just a few days before the Leadville Trail 100 run and she came out to cheer David on race day. She was in Twin Lakes, hiked up to Hope Pass into Winfield to see us and at the finish line on Sunday morning. The bottom line is, we need more Annie’s in the world.
In the words of Ken Chlouber “You are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.”