This years 'Race Across the Sky' in Leadville, Colorado did not disappoint in excitement, energy, and experience. In summary, I survived as a pacer and my runner, Julian, achieved his goal of finishing in 29 hours (29:03 to be exact)!
A recap of the whole 100 mile Leadville race:
On Friday, the day before the race, Julian and his other pacer, Toby, attended all the necessary meetings, picked up the bibs, dropped of aid station drop bags, and checked into the Timberline Motel (a perfect location and lay-out for your Leadville race experience). Our team (Julian, myself, Toby, and my husband, Kris) had some last minute logistic talk about pacing and crewing and then everyone was off to bed early to prepare for the 4am start time on Saturday morning. If you read part 1 of this story, the original plan had me pacing for ~25 miles. Thankfully, for me and my sleep habits, Julian only needed me for 15 miles.
The alarm came quickly on Saturday for Julian - but he was ready, along with the 700 participants that started the race. Because I like sleep, I did not join him for his early morning start, but I heard it was full of great energy and excitement. As he was trekking along, I woke up a leisurely pace, walked down to get coffee at Zero Day Coffee (highly recommend!), and ate some carbs to prepare for my 15 miles of pacing/running/hiking later that day. Thanks to the Athlinks app, we were able to track Julian through the first aid station from the comfort of our motel room. After that, it was a series of napping, driving to different aid stations, waiting, cheering, driving back to the motel for another nap, and repeating.
Race Logistics and Aid Station Breakdown:
Mayqueen (out); 13.5 miles: Julian breezed through here as planned and was quickly on his way.
Outward Bound (out); 23.5 miles: Our team met Julian here to offer words of encouragement, help him get restocked with food, water, and electrolytes, and sent him on his way (see picture below.)
3. Twin Lakes (out); mile 40: Another aid station we met Julian at to get him restocked and ensure he was doing ok. This aid station required a lot of extra time and patience as the race and spectators literally take over the entire town (and then some). This year the race offered shuttles from 3 different parking areas to help the crew members get into town easier. The shuttles were great, but the stops were not where the website indicated they would be. Julian came in right around schedule, got restocked, changed his shoes and socks, and headed on his way to climb up an over Hope Pass (twice!).
4. Twin Lakes (in); mile ~60: This is the first point of the race that runners are allowed to have a pacer with them. At this point, most racers have been running, walking, hiking, or a combination for 12-15 hours which coincides with sunset. This means a steep hike out of Twin Lakes in the dark. A headlamp and extra batteries are essential for this part of the race. Julian came into this aid station around 8:30pm and I was ready to go to help him get through the next 15 miles of this race. I carried his pack, fished out various snacks and tools as we hiked forward, and told stories about random things to keep his mind off of the suffering that he was enduring.
5. Half Pipe (in); mile ~69: Coming into this aid station felt magical. It was the middle of the night and we were welcomed with lots of lights, food, water, and helpful volunteers. I was in charge of getting myself and Julian restocked with all the things. Volunteers made my task much easier by helping to refill all the bottles, holding the trekking poles as I got situated, and offered plenty of words of encouragement. Julian took off down the trail as I was getting all of our supplies, including his request for 2 cokes. I incorrectly thought that I would be shoving 2 full cans of coke in the pack, instead I found myself running 1/3 of a mile down the trail to catch him with 2 pixie cups of coke sloshing around. This was my proudest moment of my pacing duties as I got cheered on by the other runners/pacers that I passed as I trotted to catch up with Julian.
6. Outward Bound (in); mile ~ 74: We came cruising into this aid station around 1am, just ahead of schedule (see picture below). This was the end of the road for me. I was on the trail for about 4.5 hours with Julian, covering the 15 miles with no major issues, surrounded by other runners with a similar 28-30 hour finish time. After a brief recap and handoff to his 2nd pacer, Toby, I was in the car back to Leadville to take a shower and a nap.
7. Mayqueen (in): Although Julian didn't make a specific request to have crew at this station, Kris and I were committed! So after a shower and a 2 hour nap, we were back up and driving towards the western end of Turquoise Lake to meet Julian and Toby. They arrived right on time (~5am), got some supplies, shed some layers and kept moving forward through the last ~12 miles of the race.
8. Finish line feels in Downtown Leadville: Excitement, joy, and exhaustion were all present at the finish line. It was a relief to see Julian and Toby coming down the road just as the clock was turning 29 hours, one full hour before the finish line cut-off. There were lots of hugs, cheers, high-fives, and smiles to go around for our team and so many teams around us.
I had a wonderful experience pacing Julian at Leadville but no desire to ever run 100 miles. Of the 700 participants that started the race on Saturday at 4am, only ~ 50% of participants finished the race. Some got insured, some choose to step off the course for various reasons, and others didn't make aid station cut-off times. Running 100 miles isn't just about physical fitness. For many, it requires mental fortitude, planning, getting lucky with the weather, and a good crew and pace team.
Leadville 100 Preparation Tips:
The altitude of the Leadville 100 is no joke. 12, 532 feet is the highest point of elevation of the race; this occurs twice as you go over Hope Pass at ~ mile 43 and again at mile ~56. The majority of the race is above 10,000 feet. Train at altitude as much as possible to help acclimate your body and cardiovascular system. Also, arrive in Leadville a few days, or even a week, early to help get adjusted to the lack of oxygen.
This race has it all - running through fields, single track, dirt roads, and paved roads. Vary your running and hiking terrain and speeds to strength all types of muscles and improve your confidence in every scenario. Be sure to do plenty of downhill running and eccentric exercises to prepare for the downhill sections.
Make a plan A, B, and C. Different parts of the course lend themselves to running faster and other parts lend themselves to a relative recovery. Know what goal pace you need to be at for each section and about what time you need to be coming into each aid station so you don't get your chip cut-off. Communicate your plan to your pacers and crew team - they will be the key to keeping you on track and motivated when you need it the most.
Pray for the weather to be kind (and pack all the gear). Different paced racers experienced a wide range of weather this season. My runner, who finished at 29 hours, did not experience any rain or hail. Those 1-2 hours ahead experienced a hail storm over Hope Pass in-bound as well as heavy rain between Mt. Elbert aid station and Outward Bound aid station. The overcast nature of this years race was a fantastic reprieve of the hot and sunny weather Colorado has been experiencing most of the summer.
Congratulations to all the runners who were out there for Leadville 100 Run and good luck to all future runners! Go get your belt buckle!
Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT)
Certified Nutritional Physical Therapist (CNPT)
Certified Vestibular Specialist
Certified Concussion Specialist
Trigger Point Dry Needling Certified, Level 1&2
Certified Yoga Teacher
University of Florida, Doctorate in Physical Therapy (2009)
The Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science in Biology (2006)