627 Starters, 309 Finishers
Holy moly. Oh holy moly oof da.
I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID IT. Not only can I not believe I did it, I CANNOT BELIEVE HOW WELL IT WENT.
But let’s start at the beginning.
The Week Before the Race
Sam and I arrived in Leadville on Monday evening. I wanted to give myself some extra time to acclimate, prep for the race, and just to take in the whole atmosphere that I had heard so much about. Well… work had other ideas. I worked a ton that week (although it was awesome to be able to do it remotely), so I didn’t get to hang around town as much as I would have liked, but it was still better than being anxious in Denver.
The highlights of the week before the race include:
- We had dinner with Coach and Nicole on Tuesday night. They helped to ease my nerves. Plus they are just awesome, so it was a lot of fun. They ASSURED me that I could do a sub-24 hour pace. Mike even said he would be shocked if I didn’t get sub-24. Spoiler alert.. I got sub-24.
- Four of my favorite humans flew in from Minnesota to help out with the event on Wednesday night. Another one of them joined on Thursday evening, and the last two on Friday night. They helped me make all of my race nutrition (portables, FTW!), plan out the race logistics, and kept me laughing up until the race. They were so amazing, but more on that later.
- TIP: Because LT100 allows muling, we made pacer bags for each aid station. Basically, the pacer of each section grabbed the bag, and it had everything they would need for me for that section including nutrition, salt tabs, toilet paper, ginger chews, etc. I think this worked out really well, and there wasn’t any confusion about what was needed in each section. We were able to get in and out of each station pretty quickly. On occasion, my pacer also ran ahead to get whatever I needed ready before I got there.
- I OBSESSED over race splits. Spoiler alert – once the race started, they all went to hell, which I had a suspicion would happen. BUT, I’m still glad I did it, because it gave me an idea of where things should land, even if I only vaguely followed it.
Day Before the Race
OMGOMGOMGOMG. That was my general feeling on the day before the race. The athlete meeting was absolutely amazing. There were parts that I didn’t love, but the overall message from the meeting made me super excited. And emotional. You are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can!
After the meeting, some of the crew and I went to Powerline. I sat on a blanket near the bottom, and took it in. I knew it would look much different next time I was there! Before I went to bed, we had a brief crew/pacer meeting, and then I tried to hit the hay. I think I went to bed around 9pm and maybe fell asleep at 10pm, however I woke up SEVERAL times throughout the night.
The alarm went off at 2:30am for the 4am start time. I forced down two pieces of peanut butter toast and some orange juice. Then I saw that the crew had made these AMAZING shirts. Seriously, so amazing. I have no words.
We arrived at the starting line around 3:40. The crew that came to the start went to get good spectator spots, while Sam stayed with me. The energy was crazy. There were SO MANY people around. About 10 minutes before the start, I made my way to 1/3 of the way back from the starting line. In no time at all, it was go time.
Start to Mayqueen (0 – 13 miles)
I had read again and again that it is wayyyy too easy to go out too fast at the beginning of the race, hence my placement in the starting line. I wanted to start a little bit further back to slow myself down. It sort of worked. I did between 9:00 and 10:00 min/mile pace for the first few miles. This was all fine and dandy, until we got to the single track, which was my fear. In the final miles before Mayqueen, we were slowed down to a walk at times. I kept reminding myself that it was fine. It was still early in a really long race and it was start and somewhat technical, so taking my time was fine. It’s easy to tell yourself these things, but the anxiety of falling behind pace in the first 13 miles can be stressful. I reminded myself about what I read.. any energy you use to try to pass people on this single track is not worth it. You may move up a few people (aka, a few feet), but it will be stressful and waste energy to do so. Just tuck in and be patient. So I did. Should I have started up further at the starting line? Maybe, but I have a feeling I would have ended up in a similar place unless I went faster in the first few miles, which I really didn’t want to do. So, overall, I think it was a fine decision, but something I would consider changing if I did again.
So, back to the race. At about mile 10, to ease my anxiety of being stuck walking when I wanted to run, I reminded myself of the beautiful setting. It was starting to get light at this point. Look around, Danielle. The lake is gorgeous, and those mountains! Take it in! Don’t get stressed. Then, BAM. Down I go. I take my eyes off my feet for one second to take in my surroundings, and DOWN I GO. Hard. A wonderful woman helped me back up, I wish I knew who she was so I could thank her. But my knee hurt BAD. I had to limp for a few minutes until the sharp pain went away. I knew it was bleeding pretty good, but I couldn’t look at it. I favored it for awhile.. terrified that this could end my race, but thankfully the pain started to subside enough that I could run normally. At this point I was thinking.. okay, 25 hours isn’t a terrible goal either. Silly girl. 100 miles is a long, long race.
Finally we came into Mayqueen. I was frustrated as all heck that I was behind pace and that I had fallen. Note to readers: I NEVER FALL. I’m a super cautious runner, probably too much so. This is definitely the worst fall I’ve ever had. Poor timing, huh? The crew could tell I was frustrated. They were also worried that I was already behind, and I think they were a little flustered since it was the first station, and we were still working out the kinks. I filled up my liquid nutrition, Sam mopped up my knee a little until I told him to just leave it, and I was out of there. Had to make up time!
Mayqueen to Outward Bound (13 – 23 miles)
Right after Mayqueen is some pretty fun trail. Maybe it’s the Colorado Trail? It’s mostly uphill, but it was fun! I like me some single track. Before long, we came out on Hagerman Road, which was a pretty gentle climb. I tried to run parts of the road, but power hiked a lot of it. I ran portions with new friends and portions alone, not staying with anyone for too long. The section topped out at Sugerloaf Pass at 11,000-ish feet. Here we were at the top of Powerline!
Powerline is notorious, but more so because of the return climb it presents at mile 80. At mile 20, it’s a nice long downhill. I tried to run down Powerline conservatively. In hindsight, I probably could have gone a bit harder, because my quads never felt too beat up during the race. Next time! There were some fairly rutted portions though, and I really didn’t want to fall again, so it is what it is. Powerline is long, maybe 3 miles, so I tried to make up a bit of time on the downhill section without going crazy.
I was in much higher spirits by the time I made it to the Outward Bound aid station. I had made up some time, although I was still behind 24 hours pace. Plus I got to see my full crew (plus some friendly additions!) at this station, which was awesome! Kristi sunscreened me up (I forgot to put it on! Oops!!!), which was hilarious. I looked like a ghost. I also ate food and promised I would consume more calories before they saw me next.
Outward Bound to Twin Lakes (23 – 39 miles)
This was the longest section that I wouldn’t see the crew for (since they were skipping Treeline), but I made lots of friends during it. We started through the field of divots. This was one of the worst sections the previous years: it was a path through a field with a ton of potholes. It was a lot better this year. The path was mowed, and it didn’t seem like nearly as many holes (I paced the section in the dark last year). After the field, we chugged along on a road for a few miles. I tried to keep a good pace here, since it was pretty flat and on pavement. That lead us to the Treeline section, where crew can access but it is not an official aid station. Overall, from Outward Bound through a Treeline is a good section to get some time back. I think it’s 3-4 miles of pretty flat terrain. Boring, maybe, but faster if you can handle some road running.
After Treeline, there is some rolling (but rolling in the upward direction) wider trail that leads up to Half Pipe. I ran where I could and hiked where I needed to. Once you hit Half Pipe, you are at the top, and you run down some decently steep single track (maybe the Colorado Trail again?) to get into Twin Lakes. Again, I made up some time here, but still tried to keep it easy. Before I knew it (crazy, isn’t it?), I was rolling into Twin Lakes.
Twin Lakes was a BLAST. My whole crew was there along with a ton of other smiling faces. My crew was like a machine at this point. They forced food down me, bandaged up some blistered feet, loaded up my pack with food, water, and clothes, and I was out of there. To climb up the biggest monster on the course.
Twin Lakes to Winfield (39 – 50 miles)
Before the climbing could begin, we had to cross through a million water crossings. I was super nervous about them before the race, but I actually didn’t mind them at all. I think the cold water helped sooth my banged up knee. Many of the water crossings were knee-ish height on me. At one point we were pretty much walking down a river.
Then the climbing started. Lots of climbing. Over 3,000 feet of climbing. I pushed it just a little bit, but didn’t raise my heart too much. This is actually one of my favorite parts of the course. I enjoy gentle climbing.. I use gentle loosely, since I’m comparing it with what’s coming up. Right before the top of the climb sits Hopeless Aid Station. The volunteers here were awesome and the LLAMAS!!! SO COOL. The aid station is at the elevation of about 12,000 feet, so they use llamas to carry everything up (since there is no car access). From there, it’s another 600 foot climb, and you are at the top!
A quick pause and down I go. I ran most of it at an easy pace and walked anything super steep. I’m a baby going downhill. Then, my nemesis. The last mile of downhill before you hit the rolling single track that gets you to Winfield. IT IS THE WORST. The absolute worst. I hate it. I hate going down it. I hate going up it. Hate it. Finally, I was on the single track rolling into Winfield. It’s actually some pretty nice trail, just a little hot. It’s fun to see all the people ahead of you, though, coming back out of Winfield.
Finally, Winfield. Crew, crew, amazing crew. And 50 miles, done.
Winfield to Twin Lakes (50 – 61 miles)
I had a blast at this aid station. It was awesome to see everyone, I was half-way done, and I got a pacer! Since Leadville is an out and back course (50 miles out, 50 miles back), we just had to turn around and go back to Leadville. Easy.
I dropped my pack, and grabbed a water bottle. My pacer carried my other water bottles, food, and extra clothing, since muling (meaning that pacers can carry runner gear) is allowed at Leadville. Stormin Norman paced me for the next section back to Twin Lakes, and boy did he push me. If it was runnable, we were running. He talked to all the other groups, reminded me to eat and drink, and in no time at all, we were back to the climb.
I bloody hate this climb. It’s so tough. Norm kept pushing me. We passed bunches of people though, which was a confidence booster. The climb is tough for me, but it’s tough for everyone else too. FINALLY the super tough mile was done. Only took 30 minutes. 5 minutes faster than I did it during a training run. That’s Norm for you. Overachiever. I am so thankful that most people coming down gave me the right of way. The next mile is also tough, but less steep. That being said, it still took me 25 minutes. Finally, we were at the top. Over 2,000 feet of gain in a little over 2 miles. So happy. Biggest climbs = done.
The downhill was a lot of fun. We pushed the pace a little bit and made some friends that we chatted with most of the way. I walked some technical parts, but otherwise ran.
Norm ran ahead into Twin Lakes to warn the crew that I was getting closer. Apparently, we went too fast (good problem, no?). Because of this section, I was comfortably back under 24 hour pace, and the crew had barely gotten there by the time we came in. WOOHOO! Twin Lakes was a full blown party by this point. I knew so many people there. I just wanted to stay and hang out. Sam literally told me to leave (after the normal eat, drink, restock business). FINE SAM. This aid station was probably one of the highlights of the race for me.
Twin Lakes to Half Pipe (61 – 70 miles)
Kari took me the next section. We power hiked the big climb. She told me stories to keep my mind occupied. She made me eat and drink, because I was starting to get sick of anything sweet at this point, but that’s all we had with us. Finally, after what felt like forever, we hit the rolling downhill and we were able to run to get the pace back down.
Half Pipe to Outward Bound (70 – 77 miles)
It was getting dusky by the time we made it to Treeline, so I put on a long sleeve and got my headlamp. Sam told me he thought I was in the top ten for female, and that there was a girl a few minutes in front of me. Kristi paced me for a few miles from Treeline to Outward Bound, while she conned me into eating one chew at a time. We ran into another friend, Diane, who was there cheering, about half way through the section. I don’t know how she knew it was me in the dark, but before long she was screaming that I was in 4th place. FOURTH PLACE!? I asked Kristi if she knew about this, and she admitted that Sam made her promise not to tell. He wanted to “save the information for an opportune moment”. Traitors, the whole lot of them!
Outward Bound to Mayqueen (77 – 87 miles)
Finally back to Outward Bound. I don’t remember a lot from this aid station, except that I was told I was really close to the 3rd place female. And I remember delicious mashed potatoes. DJ (next pacer!) and I actually left the aid station in 3rd place, but the other female passed us right out of the aid, running up the paved road to Powerline. I hadn’t run many hills the whole race, so I certainly wasn’t going to start at mile 77. DJ and I power hiked it.
DJ has lots of comments from this section, but none of them are true. First he threw away my potatoes when I still wanted to eat them. Rookie. He had me going a good clip up that first steep mile of Powerline. Honestly, I didn’t think the rest of Powerline was that bad. Not super steep, just long. It was almost deserted though, where was everyone?! We enjoyed the rave aid station at the top of Powerline for a few seconds, and then continued on.
My knee, from the fall 80 miles ago, started to really hurt at this point. I couldn’t run much without pain. And like rookies, we left the pain killers at the aid station. It was mildly technical, but even in the dark I should have been able to run more of it. We then got back on the section of Colorado Trail that leads into Mayqueen. I was hiking it pretty good at first, but slowed down. DJ got in front of me and lead me in a strong hike. I only yelled at him to slow down a few times.
Mayqueen to Finish (87 – 100 miles)
Finally to Mayqueen. Before midnight!!! I couldn’t believe it. DJ ran ahead to warn the crew. I didn’t stop at the aid station, I just kept moving. Sam (anchor pacer) caught up with me after a few minutes. He was PUMPED. He told me that 3rd place female was still just in front of me. He was chatting and asking questions and speeding up the pace. I had to remind him how many miles I had run a few times, but then he got into the rhythm and told me when to walk and when to run. The part around Turquoise Lake really dragged on. I was just wanting to be done. Sam was pushing me to catch 3rd place, and I kept telling him that I didn’t care. He didn’t believe me. He thought it was the exhaustion talking. Maybe it was…
Finally (about three miles after Mayqueen), we saw the 3rd place female up ahead. We stayed behind her for a bit waiting for an opportunity to pass since we were back on single track. After a few minutes we had an opportunity and made the pass, but then we didn’t know if she was going to surge and catch back up. So for the rest of the race Sam made us do more running than I would have liked. We ran chunks of the entire last ten miles. By the last five miles, it was reduced to running 1 minute and walking 1 minute, because I couldn’t fathom doing more than that. Eventually I got to the point where I could only handle running 30 seconds and walking 1 minute. It went on FOREVER. Finally, we made it to 6th Street, the last street that leads to the finish line. It also seemed to go on a long time. But one bite at a time.. there was the finish. I crossed that line as 3rd place female. And crew and friends were all around, and my puppies were there to greet me! It was probably one of the best moments of my life.
I was pumped after finishing. I just wanted to talk to everyone forever, but I realized that my pacers and crew were exhausted, so we headed home after a little bit. I stayed awake while everyone else slept for a few hours, until it was time to go watch the Golden Hour (or the last hour of the race before cut off). It was amazing to see everyone finishing in that last hour.
- I couldn’t sleep until nearly 2pm the day after I finished. Meaning, I was up for nearly 36 hours. That was not something I expected to happen. I was just so excited and happy right after the race, plus my body just felt weird, so I couldn’t sleep right away.
- My knee hurt for like a week after the race. It swelled and bruised up like crazy on Sunday. Thank goodness that didn’t happen until afterwards!
- I slept a lot for the next week. I think I just look for excuses to sleep a lot though.
- I think I’m finally coming down from the high of the race. Nearly 4 weeks later. So now it’s time to ponder.. what’s next?!
Finally, thank you so much to my top notch crew and pacers (and all those who supported from afar). I probably could have done 100 miles without you, but not nearly as fast, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun. Thank you for making the weekend one of the best that I’ve ever had. For realz.
Shoes: Nike Kiger (First 60 miles), Brooks Cascadia (Last 40 miles)
Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Hydration: UD Jenny Vest (First 50 miles), Handhelds (Last 50 miles)
Nutrition: Tailwind, Skratch Labs Fruit Drops, Feed Zone Portables, Aid Station Food
I used a bajillion other blog posts when preparing for Leadville, but almost all of the information is contained in these links:
Also, most of the photo cred goes to the amazing Peter and Kendra, so thank you for documenting this adventure!