Pacing Leadville 2012- Part 3 of 3

Blake was slowing, but he was maintaining about 10 minute pace on the flats. He was still well under 15 minute pace overall. I knew we had the buckle in hand, the Blake-buckle (sub 24) was nearly as assured, but sub 23 or 22 could be reached, as well. I had no idea how bad the power-line climb up to Sugarloaf Pass was about to be. We were headed to 11,000 ft and I was slowly watching the altitude numbers go up on my Garmin watch. It was not happening fast enough for Blake and he was again crushed by the altitude as we got to 9500 ft. There were lots of other runners around us and most were moving past us. The trail was not that technical for a runner, but was very steep. I tried to keep my head in the game, but I was actively searching for the peak and the downhill that would begin our descent to the finish. When we did finally make it, I could sense slight relief from Blake, but this was mile 85, not much was coming easy at this point.

At first it was a nice gradual descending road but soon we were back to single track. Navigating was ridiculous. The race had not put out new glow sticks and the ones they had out were fading fast. I was leading and was nervous several times that I had missed a turn. I did not want Blake to run one extra step than necessary. He was completely relying on me at this point and I was relying on shoddy course marking. We did eventually get to the May Queen and Blake was a mere half marathon to finish. The climb to Sugarloaf had made sub-23 difficult by sub 24 still easy.

Keeping in mind I was now four weeks out from Ironman Wisconsin, I was nervous as hell that I might be doing damage to my legs. Actually, my legs were crushed, I knew that I needed to get off the course, but at the same time, Blake needed me for this next section around Turquoise Lake. The navigation and roots would be terrible for a solo runner. I chose coming into the aid station that I would press-on.
Last aid station- Mark and I nailed the transition, I ran ahead, Blake’s gear prepped by Mark, and I prepped my gear. Diane and I quickly came up with a plan to get her on the course with 10k to go. Blake was very hesitant to have Diane do the gnarly trail around Turquoise Lake, so he was happy to have me staying on the trail. Blake was returning to a better pace. We passed many runners at the aid station and started to hunt down more going through the woods around the lake. Blake and I are both not-so-good swimmers and often find ourselves in this mode at the end of ironman so we were both in hunting mind-set.
That is one BIG lake! I had the mileage and pace on my watch so was staring at reality, but it was still a very long and dark run around the lake. I was really pressing the pace, as I knew Blake had a chance of going sub 23. He refused to worry about the clock, but he knew I was monitoring the effort and clock. He was worried we would not make sub-24 and when I explained we had over three hours to make that happen, he was a bit happy.

Blake, like myself, has a horrible big toe. His has a rod in it, so perhaps his is worse than my degenerating knuckle. I knew we had to keep him from stubbing that thing on rocks and stones, but his legs were done and lifting his toes was not happening. Every time he stubbed his toe and tripped, I shuddered at how that pain might be. At one point, I was just going from stone to root to stone, stepping on each one hoping he would be focusing on my feet and not stepping on them. I called them out and hoped to hear him clear them.

By around 2 am I knew Blake was not going to make sub 23 hours and I happened to look up to the sky for some reason. I was blown away by the view. Leadville is not only way up in the sky, but it has very little light from the small town and the stars were so clear. I stopped Blake and made him turn off the headlight and just soak in the stars for the moment. I assured him, we were killing the goal of sub 24 and he relented to my moment of smelling the flowers. We were soon back to the point where I saw Blake vanish into the woods at 0500 in the morning. Diane was there with a fresh bottle and prepared to get Blake through the long final 10k. I saw them head up the road, yelling with my final bits of energy.

I then collapsed, crushed, and cried a bit. Yup, I cried. Selfishly I knew I had fucked up my legs good and was unsure if I would recover for Wisconsin (I did recover!).  I was tired and had literally been giving my all without ability to show weakness, so perhaps it was my final gasp and needing to finally show fatigue that broke me down. The biggest factor was I was just honored to have been a part of Blake’s goal, I knew he was going to conquer his DNF with a sub-24 and a high placing.

The next couple hours went by weirdly, I was so exhausted and was having difficulty maintaining body temperature, so I was putting everything in my gear bag on my body. Waiting at the finish, I was shivering so bad that I had to find hot chocolate to prevent myself from going down hard. Thus, I missed Blake actually finish!

Thankfully, we were able to go back to the house and get some sleep before the awarding of the belt buckles on Sunday morning. I even took an ice bath to refresh my crushed legs. Seeing Blake go up there and get the buckle was awesome and I was totally pumped for the dude. His DNF was conquered and set-right.

My only other take-away from this race was how ridiculously tough it is. When we ran down from Hope Pass Saturday afternoon at mile 56, I was blown away by how the terrain and miles had crippled the runners coming up from Twin Lakes at mile 44- most of them would not finish. I was also shocked to see the finishers mid-morning on Sunday trying to get in under 30 hours. There were a lot of finishers in the 29-30 hour range. Those folks had been under their own power for two sun-rises. At this point, I have no plans to ever return to this race as a runner, but I would relish the opportunity to one day pace again for a friend. I urge anyone given the chance to crew for Leadville- do it! If given the chance to race it- be cautious with that decision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *