2004 Leadville "Race Across the Sky" 100 Mile Run


(I never really detailed this race in a race report, but this is an E-mail I sent to a friend)

Leadville, what a race. First I'll tell you, going over Hope Pass twice, was the greatest thing. It was the HARDEST thing I've done running wise, but it was really great. Like being on top of the world, and looking down on the Hopeless aid station, with 30-40 llamas grazing and the dome tents of the aid station and big fire burning. It was really cool. I know you've seen a lot of sights like that, with all your climbing but it was new to me.

My story, well, I arrived in Leadville on Tuesday night, Tamara and my kids/crew were coming out Thursday. On Wednesday, I was finding all the aid stations, mapping out Tamara's plans to support me, and at the 50 mile turnaround, decided I'd see what Hope Pass was like. I was feeling absolutely fine with the altitude, no headaches, or symptoms, so I kind of wanted to push it a little. I hiked up past treeline, 50 minutes. Was running back down and rolled my ankle. I still can hear the POP! I fell pretty hard and really thought I had broke it. I couldn't get up for a while. Eventually, I hobbled down the mountain, drove back to my room in Leadville and started Ice, Advil, and wrapping with an Ace bandage.
By that evening, it was swollen like a tennis ball was on my ankle. When I picked Tamara up Thursday, my whole lower leg was almost the same size as my calf. She really tried to get me not to run and go see a Dr.

I could barely walk Thursday, a very noticeable limp. On Friday, I could walk ok but carefully, but running even across the street really hurt. By late Friday though, as long as it was wrapped tightly, it felt better, I decided to give it a shot. I already knew I had a very slim chance of making it due to altitude, and this would very likely not be a finish. This is the first time at altitude so I really had no idea what to expect.

I started the race, and was ok, but I couldn't really run on the flats. And there are a lot of flat, or very easy sloped sections in the first 35 miles. I could just barely jog along, my ankle didn't have the flexibility to let me really run. That in itself had me very slow from the beginning, so I was just over the cutoffs, (within an hour or hour and a half at the best). Running DOWNHILL wasn't really a problem, I could do that ok, and hiking uphill was ok too, but I think I lost at least an hour in the first 50 miles just babying my ankle. I had to be SO careful of it because it just had no strength if it landed wrong.

I was ok at 40 miles, but was starting to feel the altitude, it was hard to run at that point just due to oxygen. That is where you climb Hope Pass, 9500 to 12600 ft. It was a killer. Rained on us 2 or 3 times, and was pretty cool going over. I made that ok, but the descent was VERY muddy and slippery going down, this was where I'd fallen on Wednesday, got to the turnaround, and started back. I got with my pacer at the bottom of Hope Pass to go back over. Going up Hope Pass the second time was just a very very tough thing. I stopped numerous times to try to get my breath but never really could, I just had to start moving again. At the Hopeless aid station I stopped for 5-10 minutes to sit by the fire and warm up. We'd been rained on again, this time with wind and very cold, and I'd left my jacket with my wife.

It got dark here, and we had to get our lights out to start down. We had 1:40 to get to the Twin Lakes before cutoff. Going down that slippery descent in the dark, I did a little roll of my ankle, not horrible, but it re-injured it enough that it really couldn't support me. I think I fell 5 times coming down the mountain, not bad falls, just where my ankle collapsed under me. We were moving VERY slow, but still if I stepped at all where my foot wasn't supported, it just wouldn't hold me.

Also, right after leaving this station, we caught a guy, solo, that had no flashlight(pitch dark, cloudy night), and was DEAF! He could read lips, we had to shine our flashlight on our faces so he could see us talk. My pacer and I put him between us, so he could see and we were going down the mountain this way so he could find his way. There were no glowsticks on the trail, until probably the last 150 yards off the mountain, and we came to two places where we weren't sure which way to go, we had to really use our lights to find it. That guy never would have made it alone. About 1/2 way down, he really couldn't keep up with us and told us to go ahead, we couldn't leave him, I realized I had a belt light, so I took that off and gave it to him. We did see him later, and he was ok, but man, a deaf guy, alone with no light on that mountain was a dangerous thing.

Anyway, we come off the mountain and have about 2 miles of flat meadow and river crossing to get to the aid station. I don't remember the time, but that I didn't see any way I could run that fast. I could not get enough air to run decently at this point, but my pacer is screaming at me to run, we HAVE to run. I gave it everything I had, but we knew we'd missed it. By 7 minutes. BUT when we got there, they said we could go on, they extended the cutoff 15 minutes. We asked if the whole race had been extended, or all the cutoffs, but the people we asked didn't know, just that we could keep going if we wanted.

I really didn't think I could make it, but I sat in the chair my wife had set up. I told her she had to rewrap my ankle, it was not holding up anymore, and put on dry shoes. She did that and warm clothes, my pacer got me food. After about 15 minutes we were ready to go. I was looking at my watch, knowing the next cutoff, and the fact that I had at least an hour of climbing we were about to do. And based on the fact that now we were about 30 minutes past the original cutoff, and if the other cutoffs weren't extend, it was just impossible for us to make it, I was to the point I'd have to go faster than I had coming out, and it was mostly downhill out, and mostly uphill back. I told them we couldn't make it. Tamara stood up, pointed her finger at me, and said in about the sternest voice I've ever heard... "Get your ASS out of that chair and on the trail, you are NOT stopping". That girl has been to too many Crew meetings! Actually I'm very proud that she did that. My pacer suggested we try 10 minutes, go out 10 minutes, see what we think, if it's impossible, we'd come back. I agreed but told him we needed to check with the aid station. I was concerned about being behind the sweeps, and no-one knowing where we were.I really felt I might break my ankle if it wasn't already. The Halfmoon campground that was the next aid station was not accessible to Tamara, so if we dropped there, or got there after the aid station was closed and everyone was gone, (which was a fear of mine, I was not moving fast) then we'd really be in a mess.

My pacer checked, they said someone was camping at the campground, and had a HAM radio, could call someone if we got there and needed a ride or help. That didn't inspire confidence in me and I was really thinking I could easily break my ankle somewhere out there and be out all night. We never did see any trail sweep or safety people like we had at Western States. At this point I was just going along, and going to give 10 minutes and see if I came around, which didn't seem likely to me, and it wasn't. We went up 10 minutes, stopped, my pacer and I both agreed, at the rate I was climbing, I would not make the next aid station by the cutoff, whether it was extended 15 minutes or not, which we didn't know.

So we came back, I saw the guy I'd given my light to and got it back, he was sitting in the closed aid station, to ride back to town.

It was my first DNF, but I tell you, I couldn't have done any more. I didn't really do anything wrong with hydration or food or anything, maybe more calories would have been good, but I don't know. My ankle really slowed me, I think I'd have been about an hour ahead of where I was, which would have meant I'd have made another aid station or two at least. At that point, I would have 'smelled the barn' and I possibly could have finished. I'm actually very proud that I made it over Hope Pass twice, that was really a tough thing and my first time to be over 10k feet I learned a lot.

If I ever do that race again, I'll make it the focus of my summer, and go up 3 weeks prior to acclimate.