There's not a day that goes by when I don't think about the race. Most days include some kind of planning in my head around the race itself, training, nutrition, gear, pacers, weather, route finding you name it. Much of my focus goes into just keeping calm and not getting too worked up about things. For a newbie tackling the 100 mile distance for the first time, there are just so many variables to think about. Too many really, so I have distilled some of my thoughts down into lists that help get my head around the challenge ahead.
The first took me back to some pacing notes I made when helping Craig Howie out to his 10th place finish in 2012. By the way, Craig is a phenomenal coach and one of the most open, generous and caring guys/dad/husband out there. If you are ever in need of help with your training check him out at Howie Endurance Project. You won't be disappointed.
Leadville 100 Pacing Notes (from 2012) - unedited 2 days post race.
What an incredible experience. Having both of us pacing two runners (Craig and Paul) and sharing emotions across two different crews and runners really added enormous depth to the day. Here are a few things that I didn’t quite appreciate about the Leadville 100 and 100 milers in general. Hopefully these serve as something of a reminder when I think about signing up for one of these, or provide a bit of insight for anyone else thinking about the challenge.
- 100 miles really is FAR. It’s really easy to casually dismiss the distance in your head. Kind of like geological time - you can’t really grasp it too well even though you know it’s BIG!
- This course is out and back. Obvious but wow, when you have gone out that far to Winfield and you know exactly what you have to do on the return it’s soul crushing.
- The drop rate is really high. Something like 360 out of 800 finished this year.
- The 25hr cutoff is HARD. Especially with the extra 3 miles they added this year it’s really been a difference maker for a lot of people.
- 10,000ft is HIGH. Even sleeping up there the night before I could feel my heart rate racing just from the extra elevation. It really adds up over the whole day.
- Hiking ability is perhaps more important than running ability, especially late in the day. Hours on the feet seem more valuable than a four hour run where you cover 30miles. That being said, they say this is one of the most runnable 100s out there so you need to be ready to cover a lot of miles efficiently.
- You have to be good in the dark. Even pacing Craig to 10th overall, he had many, many hours in the dark. It’s really easy to lose it when you are loopy from sleep deprivation and are on technical trails and are zoned out from staring at a spotlight a few feet in front of you for hours. There’s no scenery at night. Buy a powerful handheld flashlight - best thing ever.
- Pacers are essential. This is such a key component. Especially through the night sections. I wouldn’t trust myself not to be in danger without a pacer in parts. It could be really sketchy coming down from Sugarloaf pass to Mayqueen. Easy to get lost from Mayqueen to finish as well. As muling is allowed you can really load them up with your gear.
- Nutrition is key. If you don’t get this right you are going to be in for a day from hell. You just have to figure it out.
- It will get FREEZING cold. Whether you are runner, pacer or crew you will be frozen at some point and need to be really ready for it. If it rains or is cold and windy up high it could be a very long day.
- Just like any race, there are an amazing number of folks that start too fast and just detonate. Saw plenty of folks doing this.
- Use poles on the uphills and steep down hills. Hope pass and Powerline. Ditch them for anything in between.
- Be ready for long stretches alone (even with your pacer). It gets really spread out after 50miles and it will feel very much like a solo effort. Even waiting 10-30mins between the lead guys seemed like forever.
- Most important advice – go and crew/pace the event before you run it. I kind of dismissed this before we were up there this weekend but I couldn’t imagine not having paced before running it. If you haven’t seen parts of the course it is essential. Seeing how steep Powerline is at mile 78 when your runner is barely able to mumble words gives you a sense of how you could handle it yourself if you were in that position. You’ll also figure out by the end of the weekend if you want to sign up for this kind of event.
- It’s CRAZY. No matter how sane, rational etc. you think you are, you are nuts if you do this. It really still is such a stretch for the human body, even for the extremely fit. If you asked me about Ironman vs. 100 run, Ironman is like finishing a 5k. I’m a multi-sport/endurance guy but these guys are so much more hardcore than I gave them credit for.
- Find out how you handle sleep deprivation. In the end I think I was up for 41 hrs with 1 hour of broken sleep during that whole time (that included 20min in the car waiting for Paul and Wendy at the finish). Craig was nodding off while running and said he didn’t know that was even possible as he really thought he was running and sleeping at the same time in parts.
- Logistics. I was surprised as I thought that being a run it would be much simpler than say an Ironman. Completely wrong. It was the same or more than planning all the details out for our R2R2R run. Meetings, schedules, nutrition plans, gear lists, contingency details, weather forecasting, pacing strategies, pacer responsibility, transport, accommodation, the list goes on and on.
- Don’t underestimate the responsibility you burden your pacer with. Our runners may not have realized this, but we felt more nervous than if it was our race. I also felt that the sense of achievement and the experience as a whole is in the top 3 of all races I have done even when I have been the participant. It’s weird to say and I am still processing it but it may even be at the top of that list! You just get so emotionally attached to getting your guy to the finish or the next pacer that you will do everything you can.
- Be prepared to be an emotional vegetable. By sundown everyone is running on fumes and starting to be completely out of it. Brendan was seeing wild animals run across the road in front of the car when they weren’t there and no one could do the simplest math. Trying to figure out when the runner was due at the next aid station or trying to alter a pacing schedule was really hard. There were lots of tears from family members (spouses, parents etc). I got really choked up taking Craig down to Mayqueen. He started talking about all his family, his fears and how much he loves his family and friends. After handing him off to the next pacer in front of his wife Jen, she could tell that it had been an emotional stretch. She was already on the edge of tears for hours and we had a bit of a sobbing/hugging session about how tough Craig was being and what a great guy he is.
- Get perspective. Paul is not only one of the toughest guys I know, he really just has a way of thinking about what he is doing and how it relates to the big picture. Whether it’s war, starvation, disease you name it, this isn’t as hard as going through those struggles that are present everyday on the planet. He’s also convinced that you could almost do the 100 right of the couch if someone had a gun held to your head. Much like Ken Clouber’s famous speeches – “You can do more than you think you can” and “You are better than you think you are”.
- Don’t try and compare it to anything else you have done. It’s just not useful to think of it in terms of Ironman, marathon etc. It’s 100 miles at altitude through the mountains and it stands alone in it’s own category.