John and I head off down the hill out of Fish hatchery and then down across what I consider to be the toughest and most vital section of this course. After getting slightly ahead of the cut-offs heading into May Queen, and hanging on for the ride into Fish hatchery, this road section is the next imperative section where a runner is required to push to get a little further ahead of the cut-offs. So John and I continue our conversation and match each other stride for stride through this section.At the end of the road, we climb a short hill and run into a place called Tree-line. This is the next spot our crews can meet us and it's all of 3 miles from Fish Hatchery. This stop is nothing more then a parking area filled with crew cars. John spots his wife and swigs down some water. I call for Sarah to bring me the same. I take the water and drink a bit before heading back off into the woods.
I now run alone down a long and winding series of banked turns. I run right through the Mt. Elbert aid station without even stopping, knowing that Twin Lakes is just below. The sun is blazing down on my from overhead and it's hot. I'm making sure to take my time running downhill into Twin Lakes, so that I don't destroy my quads with so much race left to go. I pick my way down the hill, unsure of what time it is, and I determine that I'd like to find out. A fellow runner tells me it's nearly noon and then asks, "You got somewhere to be?" "Yeah... 6th and Harrison." I continue down into Twin Lakes where I check in, grab some lunch type foods and then look for my crew. I run through this small village and across the Highway to where I see Sarah and Ray waiting for me. I sit down in my chair and eat some lunch. A few short minutes later I rise up and have Sarah spray me once again with sun block, put on the body glide, change into my crummy shoes and head out for Hope Pass.
I run across the marsh land of Twin Lakes while still munching on fruit and a sandwich. I run up to Dan Brendan who is running in the Grand Slam for like the 9th year in a row or something. We talk for a bit, he's a great guy and then we start running through the small streams. The stream waters are a mix of warm to cold to colder and then eventually we come out of the woods at the shores of the river crossing. I'm not even sure what the river is called but I can tell you that the water is flipping cold. I grab onto the rope and walk my way across the river. On the other side, I pick it up and run to the base of the Continental Divide Trail. I immediately start walking and my pace slows down to something almost... stopped. Yet I push on. I walk patiently and slowly up hill. About a quarter of the way up I see my first two runners sitting on the side of the trail and one of them is throwing up a bit. I push on by and keep moving. As I reach tree-line I look ahead and see Laura again. She's upset at the number of people who have passed her on the uphill. I tell her, "So what... run your own race.. get them on the downs." We enter the aid station and start looking at the food for a bit more energy. At this moment, a female runner I know from previous McNaughton Park races comes barreling into the aid station. She's yelling "Gels! Gels! Gels!" She comes into the tent, grabs a fist full of gels after pushing is all out of the way and then she takes off. You'd think she was in first place or something.. or maybe she just thinks she's pretty damn important.. she's not. We give chase.
I pass Laura and push on up the hill. I'm into the upper switchbacks now and I can see the top is near. People are pushing themselves up to the top of the hill at all kinds of speeds. Some better then others. I reckon I'm probably in the middle of it all. And then.. my favorite moment of this entire race. I crest Hope Pass and am treated to that amazing, breath-taking view out over the Continental Divide. I look down below to see runners zig zagging their way down the back side of Hope. Only half a dozen runners have run past going the opposite direction (ie. The Front runners) and I'm feeling really great. I tuck everything in and start picking my way down the mountain. I'm careful to not trash my quads because.. you guessed it.. plenty of race to go. About 3/4 of the way down the mountain, Laura catches up with me and she blazes by at a blistering pace. I told her to chill and she said, "Aren't you proud of me for coming back from the dead?" I kind of chuckled and told her, "You're trashing those quads.. and I'll see you later." She disappears and I make chase.
At the bottom of the hill I head out onto the road into Winfield. This is the dodging cars and other runners section of the course. I'm glad I'm here when I am, great timing. And yet.. as cars line up to actually get into Winfield.. and as runners and their pacers come running at me, double file down the road like if there's room.. I feel myself getting immensely annoyed. Yes.. it's getting to be that time. I've come all this way in the race being clear of mind mentally and not sore physically. Is there where i'm going to fall apart? I see John bent over on the side of the road as he vomiting into the woods. I ask if he's ok, he laughs, I tell him to get the lead out. "I'm trying!" I keep moving, shuffling up the road and eventually into Winfield. My friend from college, Bryan, is now a part of the crew and he's waiting to help. I check in at Winfield and head into the tent. Here is where we finally weigh in for the first time. 169 pounds.. I'm dead even with the pre-race weigh in. I grab more food and sit down as a light rain begins to fall. Ray is ready to go and I'm finally starting to look tired.
As a light rain fell over winfield, I headed back out for Hope Pass with my pacer Ray. Ray is the fiancé of my wires cousin. He told me about a month ago that he;d like to pace me during this event and that he wanted to do Hope Pass. He'd never run further then 10 miles previously and after a 5 hour torturous training run, I determined he had the guts to get it done. He then surprised me by running 50K two weeks ago as a training run and he completed it in 7 hours. Ray was my guy for this important part of the course. As we ran down the road out of Winfield, I was passed by a female runner. She came up beside me and said, "Hey.. I was in your Silver Rush Video. Yeah.. you said that half of these people won't finish. Well.. take a look at my time!" She said it with every ounce of attitude in her. I could tell she took exception to what I said in my video.. but I did say, HALF of those folks weren't going to finish. I'm glad to know she was in the half that dad.. and at the moment of writing this, I could give a flying crap what her time was.. that's not why I run ultras. :)
Ray and I pushed on and eventually made it to the trailhead. The climbing was slow from the get go. I was finally a bit gassed and all read starting to wonder how the hell I was going to do this. I was at the Winfield aid station, Mile 50, in 12 Hours flat. I have 18 hours to return to Leadville.. and it's a long ways away. Ray is carrying my poles for me and as I start the climb I decide that yes, I'd like to have them. I grab the poles from him and start using them. I'm not ashamed of this fact. Its a contentious issue in our sport. Do they add an advantage? I actually don't think so.. because after while my arms and back were killing me from using them. I felt like we were at the dead end pack of the race at this point. Slinking our way up the mountain. Every so often you'd see a false summit that Ray thought was the top. Then we'd get there and look up and he'd realize we had much more to go.. then this repeated again. Finally we got to a point where you could see the top. I stopped and pointed up for Ray, "Ya see those little specks? Those are runners... we're going there." He responded.."oh my god....." Ray knew we were about to climb high, he had no idea it was that high. And yet.. he stuck with me and we did it together.
Eventually we made it to the top of Hope Pass once again where we stopped to marvel one more time at the views all around. Words cannot describe it. It's breathtaking and it's worth every effort to get there once.. every effort to get there twice. Last year I watched the sun-set from here. This year, I'm a bit faster. Ran and I carefully begin our descent down to the Hopeless aid station. We laugh at all the llama's hanging out in the grass. We stop and grab some quick things to snack on. I took a few cookies and headed out. Ray caught up and we took turns leading the way with a pack of other runners. We did our best to again, run downhill without trashing our quads. Soon we reached the base of the mountain and back into the Twin Lakes Valley. We run with a few other seasoned vets. One of which says, "They say if you get to Twin Lakes II before dark.. you could walk it in." I wasn't sure if that was true but I certainly wanted to believe it. We cross the river once more, Ray has his breath taken away by the chill of the water. We wind our way through the swamp and the sun finally sets. I take out my flashlight and lead us into the aid stop.
At this point I change my shoes back to a dry pair and thank god. My right foot, big toe, has it's usual HUGE blister underneath in the crook. My left foot is suffering from the skin fold blister that plagues wet wrinkled feet. It was great to have new socks and shoes on. Now I was relieving Ray and taking out Bryan. Bryan and I went to UNH together where we both graduated from Outdoor Education. Also, Bryan was here at Leadville last year. This redemption is every bit as much his as it is mine. We grab our gear for the night time. It quickly chills down so I throw on a long sleeve shirt, and we head out into the darkness. I scramble up that first hill and then take the poles again. Bryan leads me into the night.. ahead of me enough so that I can still hear him but I almost have to chase him down. We never went over how this pacing this was going to go. I hate chasing people.. but it looks like I have no choice.
We catch up on folks we know and the good ole times from UNH. We talk about last years race.. and why I'm so controversial on my Facebook updates. Bryan is a good kid. I really like him a lot and he is definitely one of those guys who has the balls to take on big things. He loves moving at night and he's leading me great. Only thing is, I don't feel much like running right now. More and more runners get past us and I feel like I'm in last place. For some reason I don't care. We do our best and march our way through the night. Soon I'm begging for The Half Pipe aid station, in need of a break as my feet are killing me. I just want to sit down.. and just as I'm at the end of my rope, there it is.
I get into the aid station and sit in a chair with my feet up. I tell Bryan I wanted grilled cheese. He asks a volunteer if they have Grilled Cheese and they say no. He asks, "What do you have?" The volunteer says "we can make anything he wants." Bryan responds, "Ok.. how bout a grilled cheese?" The aid worker was pissed and pointed to some turkey and cheese wraps that have cream cheese in them. I HATE cream cheese.. so I ask if we can get one without cream cheese.. guess what the answer was? So I settle for fruit, a turkey and mayo sandwich and some chips. I then tell Bryan I could use a Tylenol. He asks the medical if they have any.. the answer is no. I freak, "Does this aid station have ANYTHING THAT I NEED?!"... "Nope."
So with that we get up and slowly walk out into the night. Thank god we left that station because as runners started to come in they all started to quit. That's not a situation you want to be a part of. I go from a walk to a shuffle and eventually into what you might be able to call something that resembles a run. Bryan and I start talking and he tells me that as soon as we reach Tree-line and the crew, we'd stop so I could take a quick nap. I wash;t sure if this was a good idea or not. I didn't particularly feel tired but it's not every race that someone openly gives me permission to nap before I even ask. As we reach the station, I guess I am tired as I head right for the car where I lay down wrapped up in down jackets and pass out for 15 minutes.
I woke up when the car door was opened. I hopped out of the car like Clark kent from a phone both.. only wearing the same shit as before. And now, I'm ready to go. I take a 5 hour energy shot and suck it down as fast as I could. As we head off down the dirt road Bryan tells me I have my headphones with me. I pull my iPod out and for only the second time ever in all the Ultra's I've run.. I put the tunes on. Magically I'm running as fast as I've run all race. This is that road section, mostly downhill from here to Fish hatchery and after the epic march I just made from Twin Lakes II to Tree-Line.. I needed to make up some time. Especially when my crew told me how close to the cut-off I actually am. Bryan keeps up with me as we boogie down the road. At one point, with music blasting in my ears, I we turn our head lamps off to marvel at the stars and the night-time shadow of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive.
As we stroll into Fish Hatchery, I check in and hear that I have 15 minutes before the station closes. It was like a deja vu moment from last year. Even with my back now firmly up against the wall, I step into a port potty and take my sweet ole time. I come out, grab my new belt and Bryan and I head off again. I thought Ray was going to take over here but Bryan is hooked, fully invested and Ray.. Ray is taking another snooze cause I'll need him later. Bryan and I take off out of the aid station and down the road. As we climb the subtle hill, I notice someone awake in their house. I then spot what appears to be Speakers in their front yard and just as we turn to head up Power Line.. the music comes on. They're playing Chariots of Fire.. traditionally the song that plays for an hour before the start of the Vermont 100. I feel like this is another omen.. and we've got to get moving.
As we climb Power Line towards the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.. I'm struggling to keep up. Bryan is blazing the way up-hill again and I'm struggling to hang on. It's been an hour or two since I took that 5 hour energy and it's all ready done. As I clamber up the hill I feel myself fall asleep and then, I'm laying my head down on my fist which is planted firmly on the top of my hiking pole, and I'm taking a quick breather/nap. Bryan comes down to pull me along, I rise up and follow as best I can but the higher we get on this hill the more exhausted I become. Finally we get to the point where I'm falling asleep while hiking uphill. I take 2 steps forward and fall back 5. Bryan comes back and taps me awake.. I try again.. only to repeat the sleeping process. He begs me to take the other 5 hour energy... I tell him that I think I'll take a 5 minute nap "in the dirt here" and when I wake up.. I'll take it then. It's a deal and down I go.
While laying in the dirt I hear other runners coming up and asking Bryan if I'm ok.. he responds, "Yeah he's fine.. just takin' a nap." Then all I hear is the echo of Bryan eating the potato chips he's carrying for me, through the woods. After 5 minutes, I bounce up, guzzle the other 5 hour energy and we take off again. I hike slowly to the summit of Sugarloaf and at the top of the mountain we look down and see the train of headlights winding their way around and down sugarloaf to May Queen.. and then more heading away from May Queen and along Turquoise Lake. We're finally a bit overwhelmed.. can we do this? Are we running out of time? As I try to break into a run, my stomach goes south from those energy shots and I duck off into the woods. This is not good.
I try my best to keep up with bryan as he takes off down the hill. I pass one group, two groups.. three groups of runners. Then We're running even with one through the woods and Bryan and I do the math.. it's 13.5 miles from May Queen to the finish and I'm going to have 3 hours to get it done. Considering that I ran out to May Queen at the start of the race in 2:18, I'm doubting it can be done.. yet.. I keep quiet and simply move. Bryan gets antsy and takes off into the darkness while a rising sun takes over the landscape. I knew that yesterday it was daylight at 6:15am. I have a bit of time left before we're there and the cut-off at May Queen is 6:30am. Bryan is barely in sight and pulling me into May Queen. I stumble into the aid station where I find out it's 6:07am.. I made it.. but I only have 23 minutes to spare.
I sit down in the chair and take off the fleece pants I'd been wearing. Bryan sits down and Ray stands up. I get my iPod back and it's loaded with music. 87 Miles into this run I need to dig deeper then I ever have before. I ran back to the aid table and grab two pancakes then head out of the station like a bat out of hell. 20 minutes later I'm still running, listening to tunes and making Ray sweat bullets. About 2 miles in I see Laura.. and I ran past her with a pat on the back and a small hug. We're all in this together, no matter what.. I'm pumped and I'm taking this on. Ray and I continue to run whenever we can along the shores of Turquoise Lake. I told him about Pac Man and we're playing now. Every time I see a runner in our sights, we go after them and pass them. Nothing against them.. this is against the clock and I'll use anything to motivate me. By the time we reach the Tabor Boat Ramp, we've passed 7 runners and their pacers. Up and on top of the hill, we see Sarah, Bryan and Katey.. our crew had stopped for one last hoot! I well up with tears as I give my wife a high five.. we've made up enough time to be ahead of the clock still and we're going to make it.. I know it..
We give high fives and head down hill. Soon we're on those final dirt roads leading into Leadville. It's all uphill from here and I can't run anymore. I'm waisted but I'm still listening to tunes. I'm listening to them because it helps keep my mind off of the pain and keeps me moving. Even while power hiking up these hills, I'm still playing pac man and blowing past runners. My body fills with adrenaline and I continue to push. Soon, we're on 6th Street and I've got an arm around Ray... We did it. This is it! Redemption...
We crest that last hill and then we see the finish line. We walk in as fast as we can until the roar of the crowd is so loud it hurts your ears. Bryan runs out and hands me my beer.. it's called Redemption and it's about to taste real good. One whole calendar years since I last tried this race.. my last attempt at an official 100 miler.. I've done it. REDEMPTION. I force Ray to kick it into an all out sprint for the finish. We pass by groups of runners until it's just us. With my beer raised in the air.. we cross the finish line at the corner of 6th and Harrison. The mayor calls my name and my town and says "Done." Done indeed. I pop the top off my beer and chug it down. Redemption is bitter sweet and tastes so good. I turn and get my medal and then.. David Snipes from Virginia gives me a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. I did it.. I DID IT! I got the damn buckle.. the monkey off my back and even when my back was again against the wall.. I gave Leadville everything I had from start to finish and redemption was finally mine.
What an odd runner's high. I focused on this race for so long and even when I doubted I could do it, I priced myself wrong and once again realized my potential as a human. I've realized now that I hate the part of 100s where you don't go to bed. I really love sleep and being in bed.. but there is something inherently cool about being out on your feet all night. Still, I feel as though 50 miles is plenty enough when running these races and I don't have a nee dot run multiple hundreds every year anymore. For now, I have my Leadville Buckle... it's shiny and gorgeous.. and I'm going to cherish it for a very long time to come. I've never been prouder of my effort.. or the efforts of my crew. This was an all out team effort and I have them to thank for it. I also have many old friends, who showed up in Leadville, for their support as well. I miss them.. and it was great to see them all. Cheers!