“Adventure is simply emotional and physical discomfort recollected in tranquility.” -Tim Cahill
Trying to describe my experience at the Leadville 100 is like trying to describe the meaning of life. Let me start from the beginning…
Leadville had been a goal of mine for upwards of a year. The instant I learned that the race existed something inside me became instantly intrigued and slightly obsessed. When I say it was a goal, I really mean it absolutely consumed me for many long months to the point where I literally dreamt about it. The race became a carrot on the end of a very long stick that I had to chase incessantly to ensure proper preparation. To make a long story short, my entire summer (and really my whole life) revolved around training for success on one particular Saturday in late August.
After a strong performance in the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Trial Run in july, my confidence as a runner was at an all time high. I felt like I was invincible. Post race fatigue seemed nonexistent so I made the somewhat ill-advised decision to not recover. Two days later I went for a 25 mile training run and saw every ounce of confidence I had crash down around me. I was shattered. Literally nothing left in the tank. This experience startled me to the point where I actually took 3 whole days off from running, something I NEVER do in the summer. Unfortunately the extra rest did not seem to help my underlying feeling of complete fatigue and exhaustion. I tried to stay positive however, and continued to train like an animal on a daily basis, though I was sure I was digging myself into a giant hole right before the biggest race of my life. The five weeks before the race were marked by this lack luster attitude and very low energy levels. To ice the cake, I convinced myself of an impeding sickness in the week leading up to the big day so I really felt like garbage until I arrived in Leadville on the Thursday night before the race.
My mom had booked a really great little house in Twin Lakes that would become the headquarters for Team ShredBo over the next couple of days. Friday passed quickly with a speedy medical check and a pep talk from Ken Chlouber that got me absolutely jacked up. I was happy to spend the rest of the day relaxing in Twin Lakes, away from the nervous energy of Leadville that is only natural in an environment of hundreds of runners preparing for the longest day of their lives. Soon enough my alarm went off (2:30am!) and before I knew it I was standing on the start line wishing Duncan Callahan and Marco Peinado good luck before the shotgun sounded and we galloped into he darkness.
My first 10 miles were marked by the same feelings I was having in the month leading up to the race. I felt terribly flat with no pep whatsoever in any of my awkward steps. Sure enough, about 8 miles in, I clipped a rock and went face first into the Turquoise Lake Trail. Ugh. I picked myself up feeling discouraged and continued down the trail. The runner behind me courteously asked if I was okay to which I responded with a dejected “Yeah.” He then said “You’re Dylan right?” I was surprised but identified myself as the person in question. This is the story of how I met Zeke Tiernan, a fellow Roaring Fork Valley resident and 2008 LT100 3rd place finisher. Freak athlete. I felt silly running in front of such a proven runner but we quickly fell into a nice conversation about our lives in the valley and our summers of training. Soon thereafter I had my first gel and my day completely turned around. I was relaxed and perky and absolutely ready to rock.
Zeke had to peel off to use the little boy’s tree so I continued on and hit the pavement of the Mayqueen Campground in a very positive state of mind. I quickly high fived my Old Man at the aid station while a gracious volunteer filled my bottle. I sensed that I had maybe been moving too fast through the first section but I felt unbelieveable so I kept hammering. When I reached the Colorado Trail section that leads to Hagerman Pass Road, I saw the blinking red lights on the back of Duncan Callahan’s head lamp. I made the remark that I was going to chase him all day like I had at the Leadville 50 a month earlier to which he responded with encouragement. Very classy champion.
The climb up Sugarloaf pass was pretty uneventful. Zeke caught up here and promptly gapped me by a minute or so as I ran relaxed about 10 seconds behind Marco Peinado. I continued to climb strong and caught up to Marco right as we began the long powerline descent to the Fish Hatchery. Marco was battling stomach cramps already and I was moving well so I moved ahead of him and gradually caught up to Duncan and Zeke on the second half of the descent. I was still feeling great but I was careful not to pass these seasoned runners so early in the day.
The three of us hit the short road section leading to the Fish Hatchery simultaneously and continued pretty much three abreast all the way to the aid station.
I paused very briefly in the aid station garage to down a couple cups of cola before heading back out for the flat road section leading to the Treeline crew access area. I grabbed a new bottle and gel flask from Courtnee without breaking stride and was back out on the road with Duncan and Zeke hot on my heels. This would be the first of many very efficient interactions I would have with my crew throughout the day.
About a half mile out of the Fish Hatchery I made a concerted effort to slow down. Duncan was right behind me at the time and I made the remark that I was going to take my foot off the gas if he wanted to come on by. He thought it would be a good idea to ease back a bit also, so we ended up running side by side for a short time while Zeke closed the gap. As we took the right hand turn onto Halfmoon road the first thing I noticed was Hope pass looming way off in the distance. Duncan commented that we would all be there shortly and that the race was now 1/4 of the way done. Rather than being a deflating thought, this actually served to fire me up considerably.
Still, it was very early in the race and I was careful not to push any harder than what felt like an effortless pace. Again, Duncan, Zeke and I entered Treeline pretty much simultaneously and began receiving aid from our respective crews. I could feel the day heating up and decided that it would be a good idea to get some skin protection on what was turning out to be a beautiful cloudless Colorado day. Courtnee and Kiley began administering sunscreen like a seasoned pit crew and had me out of there in a very timely fashion. My mother, who I’m sure was a nervous wreck, informed me that we had been averaging 8 minute miles to this point. This concerned me a bit so I left Treeline verbally reminding myself to chill.
I let Duncan and Zeke slowly pull ahead of me until, for the first time all the day, I was running alone. I still felt relaxed and confident and tried to fight off any thoughts of racing so early in the day. I pulled into the Halfmoon aid station solo and downed some more cola while a ski patroller filled my bottles. Soon after leaving Halfmoon I saw Duncan, Zeke, and Bob Sweeney (?) heading back toward me on the trail. The four of us back tracked a short way until Duncan recognized the turn off we were supposed to take. I was very lucky as this short detour only cost me a couple hundred extra yards compared to the half mile or so added to the day for Duncan, Zeke, and Bob. We would later learn that many people went off course in the same place, costing a few front runners significant time.
Once we were back on course, I again let their little group go and focused on running well within myself. This part of the course is quite beautiful. It is mostly shaded with a very gradual incline and many nice rollers. In training I would classify this section of trail as a “cruiser.” I had been very conscious of my food and water intake all day and really made a focus here to keep filling the tank. Soon enough I caught Zeke and we began running together again. The trail started its relatively long descent into twin lakes, which my legs really responded positively to. I think Zeke could sense that I was feeling better on this particular downhill because he quickly stepped aside so I could pass. No more than a minute later, I almost led us way off course on a very poorly marked trail intersection. I would venture to say that someone had deliberately removed marking here because on the way back it was marked very clearly. Luckily Zeke noticed the correct trail and we didn’t lose any time.
We arrived in Twin Lakes to a raucous cheering crowd. My crew was waiting there with everything I needed so after a few more colas, I was out of another very quick crew transition. This was the first time I saw the Aspen contingent of my crew which served to give me a huge mental lift. They were ready to rock and so was I. My crew was growing to an obnoxious size which I had no problem with. Travis and Courtnee cruised through Twin Lakes with me before I headed out on my own to hopefully dominate the crux of the Leadville 100 – The dreaded double crossing of Hope Pass.
The section of meadow leading to the base of the climb went by in a flash and before I knew it, I was hunched over in a serious power hike making my way up one of the biggest climbs of the day. I made a point here to not run at all, even if people started catching up to me. Even so, I was nervous that I was losing time so I hammered this hike as hard as I could without a jogging cadence. Soon enough I popped out into the flatter mountain meadow leading to the Hopeless aid station and could not help but get my run on. I saw Zeke leaving the aid station as I approached and guessed he probably had two minutes on me. The gracious and gritty individuals that man this high mountain oasis were top notch. I tossed my water bottles to a teenage kid who had them full again before I could even eat a cookie in the adjacent tent. Probably one of the most unique and remote aid stations in ultrarunning.
I power hiked pretty much everything else to the top and briefly let my legs adjust to the downhill before I really opened it up. I crushed the descent on the south side of Hope Pass while making a serious effort to again fill up on fluids and calories. About halfway down I passed Bob Sweeney and promptly started chasing after Zeke some more. Shortly before the base of the descent Anton Krupicka and his pacer Dakota Jones passed me on their way back to town. This meant he probably already had a 50 minute lead on me. What a freak.
I ran conservatively on the road section that led to the turnaround at Winfield. I distinctly remember thinking that it didn’t seem as terrible as everyone makes it out to be. Either way I pulled into Winfield in 8:20 still fresh and feeling good.
I picked up Clint here, who would serve as my first pacer on the day. We cruised back down the dirt road towards Hope Pass giving and getting lots of encouragement from fellow runners. I chugged a whole bottle of water before the turn off and again hunched down in power hike mode for my second go at the pass. I ate a couple Little Nell chocolate chip cookies on the climb which really tasted great and sat well in my gut.
We were maybe a minute behind Zeke and his pacer who were also climbing very strong. The second climb seemed to go very fast and Clint was full of encouragement. He was spot on with advice to relax and breathe and eat. He could sense when I felt weak and seemed to respond with the perfect words of encouragement. Soon enough we were back at the top and we both let out a rebel yell before sailing back down the north side of Hope towards Twin Lakes. Clint went out ahead of me before reaching Hopeless aid and had my bottles refilled by the time I got there. A brief pause for some cola and I was in cruise control again. We had passed Zeke at the aid station and we continued our forward momentum with a very consistent and fast pace. By the time we hit the marshy meadow that leads to Twin Lakes I was absolutely amped. I had the hardest part of the race behind me and didn’t seem any worse for wear. Clint and I continued to move well and about a mile later I was running through the Twin Lakes visitor parking lot towards my waiting crew.
I took the longest break of the day here to change shirts, administer vasoline, and drink a whole can of Coke. Still I was in and out in about a minute.
Cameron Short, another friend and coworker from Aspen, would serve as my next pacer. We left Twin Lakes and began the long climb back to the Colorado Trail talking strategy. I didn’t feel very good on the climb and was moving rather slowly, even for having already run 60+ miles. Soon enough Zeke and his pacer caught back up and passed us. This was not discouraging to me at all at the time. I was rooting for Zeke and he was rooting for me so I continued to focus on myself and chat with Cam. Cameron is one of the nicest dudes I know and he was really good to have on this section. My mood brightened as we hit the long gradual downhill that leads to Halfmoon. We soon caught Zeke again and the four of us ran together through the Halfmoon aid without much pause.
Things started to deteriorate at this point and fatigue was really starting to catch up to me. Within a mile or so Zeke put at least a minute on me as I just tried to survive until Treeline where I would see my crew again. Around this time, an eager spectator began running with us asking us questions about how I was feeling, where we were from etc. I knew my crew would be nervous to see Zeke come through Treeline before me, so before the guy sped off towards Treeline I told him to tell my mom that I was on my way. I learned later that he did relay the message which made my nervous mother a little weepy but offered her some comfort. She was a champion all day long.
I came into Treeline feeling like absolute garbage. I walked through the crew access point as Team ShredBo attended to my needs. I chugged a whole bottle of gatorade and tried to encourage myself by thinking outloud that there was only one marathon left in my day.
I picked up Andy Lesavage here, who would take me the four road miles back to the Fish Hatchery. Andy is one of my best friends from childhood and had nothing but encouraging words for me as I suffered to maintain a running cadence on the flat road. I thought a gel would help to pull me out of my funk so I ate one and immediately vomited all over the road. Andy could tell I was hurting bad and even wiped a grotesque glob of gel mixed with saliva and puke of my face before I had a chance to do so. Friendship. This was the first time I had puked during a race so I was a bit concerned. I did seem to feel a bit better afterwards so I continued to soldier on. As we took our left hand turn onto the road leading to the Fish Hatchery, my brother, who had driven up from Boulder to watch me finish came driving by. He rolled down his window and yelled “I F&%*ing Love You!!” It seemed my crew was going to continue to grow! This did a lot to help me through the last mile to the Hatchery.
Andy and I came into the hatchery to lots of encouragement and love. I picked up Travis here who would take me the final 23.5 miles to town. I felt okay coming through the aid station and felt like I could still finish strong if I remained smart. As Travis and I left however, these positive feelings quickly evaporated. I was quickly headed for the my epic collapse of the day. We jogged to the powerline climb where things went decidedly wrong. I felt like shit. Zeke, who had only been a couple minutes ahead at Fish Hatchery, was now way out of sight and I was struggling to even walk up the steeper inclines.
My stomach was in knots and I refused nearly everyone of Travis’s requests that I eat or drink. Travis was extremely patient with me here and was a tremendous asset to have. Despite my pitiful condition, we continued to climb at whatever sorry pace I could sustain. I looked over my shoulder constantly knowing that at any minute someone would come flying by. This never happened however and after a very long climb and a couple of bathroom breaks, Travis and I reached the Sugarloaf pass summit. I began running again and a few minutes later I felt great again. I turned to Travis and said “Alright, I’m back baby!” We started motoring down the dirt road exchanging high fives. It is very strange how one’s condition can fluctuate that dramatically during the course of prolonged physical exertion. Either way, we made quick work of Hagerman Pass road and the Colorado Trail section and soon found ourselves on the pavement leading to Mayqueen campground. My crew had grown again and was now at least 20 strong as people were coming from Aspen and the front range to witness me run. I am a very lucky dude.
I entered the aid tent at Mayqueen to drink Coke and was happy to see running friends Ryan and Meghan Burch here. Ryan gave me lots of veteran encouragement and told me I was looking good. I was actually feeling good here so I believed him. As I left the tent my dad informed me that Anton had dropped. Sure enough I looked back and saw the legend himself lying in a cot, not looking good. I was one of the many people who were pulling for Anton this year so I was actually bummed to hear the news.
I left Mayqueen with Travis knowing that I was going to finish this thing as long as I didn’t do anything stupid. We put on the headlamps and hit the Turquoise lake trail with a very conservative pace. Travis, to his credit, continued to pester me about fluids and calories which I hadn’t had much of since leaving the Fish Hatchery some 10 miles and 2+ hours earlier. My gut was on the rebound so I began taking in as much as I could stomach hoping to avoid another pukey display. This really did a lot to help me through the last section.
As we approached the Tabor Boatramp we could here my crew screaming and cheering quite loudly. My spirits were high at this time though I was still moving very conservatively and not feeling that great. I suppose I could really smell the barn here and was comforted by the fact that it was almost over. Then, about a half mile from the boatramp, I clipped a rock and went face first into the Turquoise Lake Trail for the second time which was not awesome after 92+ miles and ~18 hours of running. Travis picked me up while I unleashed a volley of Rex Ryan-like F Bombs. Ugh.
My spirits were lifted once again as we passed the small nomadic community of Team ShredBo at the boat ramp at about mile 93. Travis got the last of the water we needed while I hobbled through. I turned around before leaving the crew behind and asked my brother if there were any headlamps behind us. He assured me that there were not. This was a huge relief to me at the time but I later learned it was a huge lie. Apparently Neal Gorman was closing on us fast and his lights were clearly visible to my waiting crew. They were careful not to reveal this information to me.
Sure enough about 10 minutes outside the boat ramp, we heard a roar of cheers come from behind us. I knew that this was Neal coming through the boat ramp himself and that he would be chasing my ass to the finish. Travis and I immediately looked at each other and knew we had to go. I really did not want to get passed this late in the race and dreaded the prospect of actually racing with someone in the last few miles to the finish. We put our heads down and hammered the last section of the Lake Trail. We really crushed it. We were running scared at this point and could not help but look over our shoulders constantly. We finally crossed the road and sped down the power line cut which leads to the short road section before the boulevard and were still moving really well. At the end of the 5+ minute road section, before we took a right onto the Jeep road that leads to the boulevard, we took one last look behind us. Nothing. I knew that it would be tough to for Neal to make up several minutes in the last 3 miles especially with how fast we had been moving so we again entered conservative, just-get-it-done mode.
Still we moved well up the boulevard and were both ecstatic that it was almost over. We finally hit the pavement that signaled we only had a mile to go and I could not help but smile. It was here that I finally got up the nerve to ask Travis a question that had been bugging me for a few hours. I turned and said “Travis, are we in 3rd or 4th place?” Travis laughed and responded “I wasn’t gonna say anything, but when Anton dropped, you moved into third place!” This was really the first time all day that I really thought about my finishing placement and I was genuinely gitty. We crested the last small little roller and could finally see the finish line. Even with a half mile still to go I could hear Team ShredBo screaming. It felt like we sprinted the last stretch and with about 50 yards to go I knew we had done it. Travis and I were beside ourselves and sort of half hugged and high fived and laughed down the red carpet and across the finish line. Absolutely the best moment of my life!
Afterwards, I did my typical shake uncontrollably routine in the medical tent for about an hour next to Zeke (who finished 2nd about 10 minute ahead of me) before heading back to the house in Twin Lakes.
Looking back at my experience at Leadville, now a month later, I still get the chills. It was an absolutely extraordinary day. I owe a huge thank you to my entire crew for doing an unbelievable job getting me to the finish line. You guys were beyond words and I love you. I don’t think that it was any coincidence that Duncan, Zeke, and I finished 1,2,3 and had the three largest crews in Leadville that day. I can only imagine what Team ShredBo will look like next year! At this point I can say with confidence that I will be back in Leadville in 2011 for a second crack at the course with more experience under my belt (buckle). I would like to tackle a different 100 miler before that though. It is such a unique and challenging distance, I cannot help but be intrigued. There is something extremely rewarding about intentionally subjecting oneself to extreme mental and physical discomfort in order to accomplish something great. There is no feeling like it. I’m a better person for having experienced it.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned. Live Epic.