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Pacing at the Leadville 100

It was around 12:00…midnight. The stars sparkled at 10,000 feet. I felt like I could reach out and grab one. Looking away, I take a few strides off of the road and work through another round of dry heaves…and I can dry heave with the best of them. I am sure I could be heard back at Twin Lakes.

A car stops and asks if I need anything.

I shake my head and wave them off.

A couple runners pass me and say, “You are doing great!”

In return I babble, “I am only a pacer.”

Feeling more and more like an ass.

Frustrated.

The two runners mumble something between each other and continue on.

One more dry heave and I should be good to go.

Shit!

Gotta catch back up to Lori…


After witnessing my Jemez 50 Facebook video babble to my family after going up and down Pajarito Mountain…for the second time, Oklahoma runner, Lori Enlow, sent an email to me.

“Any interest in pacing at Leadville?” – Lori

“You do know I have never ran Leadville.” – Me

“That’s OK, it will be a new adventure for both of us.” – Lori

After a week or so of talking with some trusted and knowledgeable sources on whether I could be of value for such a role, then getting buy-in from my family, I was a soft “Yes, I am in.”

4-6 six weeks out from race day, Lori and I ran our only pre-race run together in northeast Oklahoma. A sub-2 hour scamper on sweet singletrack wrapped within ocean-like humidity. Some enjoyable banter and no blood-shed. We did get twisted up a couple times on the trail and had to backtrack…both new to this trail. Already felt like I was failing at pacing duties. Either of us familiar with the Leadville trails? No. Oh Boy.

“Still want me to pace?” – Me

“Yep.” – Lori

Still a bit anxious. I needed to get out to Leadville for a couple days before the race to check out the trails and determine if I can handle the altitude or simply implode at 10,000-plus feet. I contacted my buddy, Jason Taylor of New Mexico to see if he was interested in joining in on the recon adventure. He was and was looking to pace as well. This was his first time on these trails as well. Sweet!

Two weeks out from race day, Jason and I ran approximately 40 miles across 1.5 days, exploring most of the inbound course starting from the Winfield side of the Hope Pass grunt. Smiled. Didn’t implode. Had a hell of a lot of fun.

With my pacing to begin at Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60.5), I now had a solid amount of confidence in knowing I could be of value to Lori.

Two weeks later I was driving back to Leadville, feeling as though I had just left, which isn’t too far from the truth. iPod loaded with Ultra Runner Podcast, Trail Runner Nation, TED talks, and Radio lab podcasts, the 13-14 hour drive was less fun than two weeks earlier but bearable.

After driving up on stopped traffic on Hwy 50. Two car accident up ahead. Told it would be a two hour wait. We aren’t in suburbia any more with a plethora of alternate routes to choose from. After a quick chat with Wendy back in Texas, I had a workaround route that would have me coming into Buena Vista from the east before heading north again.

Those last five miles heading into BV were especially beautiful as I worked through the mountain range. The extra 1.5 hour of driving was almost worth it just for this.

Approaching Buena Vista, I could see giant gray silhouettes in the background. It was the legion of big ass 14ers and other high peaks to the west of town. Mind blowing. During my visit two weeks earlier, visibility to the mountains was quite clear and I drove along them on my drive into Buena Vista. Though the second time through, this was a completely new experience and I was a bit mesmerized by their seemingly ethereal nature. Its grandness was almost uncomprehendable. Can something really be that big?

Finally arrived back in Leadville with a smile. It felt very comforting to drive back along main street. Unexpectedly, it had this home-like feel. Somewhat strange but true after having spent a grand total of 1.5 days in the town prior to this day.

Off to basecamp for the weekend – Avon.

Continuing north through town and another 45 minute drive is a beautiful drive along highway 24. Hoping not to get myself car sick as the Outback wiggled like a snake around and along the mountains, the natural scenery left my jaw hanging once again.

Arrived into the glossy town of Avon where the condo awaited, thanks to the gracious hook-up by Lori and her husband Todd. While the town is relatively small, the driving was surprisingly intense when not familiar with the area. As someone that drives in the insanity of the DFW metroplex, Avon had me white knuckled. Why? The dang round-abouts. Try looking for a condo while looping along roundabouts every block with a seemingly brigade of additional vehicles joining the loopy fun. Trying not to get t-boned or t-bone someone else added an additional 15 minutes of driving within a half mile piece of road.

Finally, found it!

Sleep.

Friday started with a delicious omelette at Lori and Todd’s condo nearby in Vail, drop bag packing, then off to Leadville for the pre-race meeting.

Lori asked, “Want to ride with us?”

(silence)

(silence)

While nothing came out of my mouth, the mind was in overdrive.

And that was actually my concern…something coming out of my mouth about three miles down the road, like that tasty omelet scattered across the floor of their minivan. So…I can get car sick, especially if I am not driving. This particular road would be an ideal route to verify that so I continued to remain silent for what seemed like another 10 minutes…more like 10 seconds.

Finally mustering the courage, “I can get really car sick if I am not driving, especially on roads like this. Not sure what to do.”

With that uncomfortable silence between the three of us out of the way, I ended up driving with Todd in the front passenger seat as Lori drove with Erika (a fellow Oklahoman following Lori’s 100 mile journey for a special project she is working on).

This was my first time ever hangin’ with Todd. It was an enjoyable ride with plenty of banter and before I knew it, we were back in Leadville with omelet still digesting in my belly…where it belonged.

The pre-race meeting included some course specifics and good amount of motivation/inspiration. One quick observation was how endurance events are becoming more and more a family affair. Which I think is pretty groovy. Two of the fastest people in the race, Liza Howard and Nick Clark, walked into the gym hand-in-hand with their little one.

Following the meeting, our team headed off to High Mountain Pies, a great little pizza place in town. Outdoor seating, mountain views all around, and a disc golf basket in the backyard…and the pizza is damn good as well. Second visit in two weeks. Can’t wait till the next.

Race day. Here we go!

The basic plan was for me to lay low in Avon, follow text updates from Todd, and then head into Leaville mid-afternoon where Todd would pick me up and bring me out to Twin Lakes where I would begin supporting Lori for the next 26 miles. Todd would pace with Lori the final 15 miles to the finish.

Ready…break!

I have to admit, it was hard not being at the start. It was hard not following the action at various aid stations along the course throughout the morning hours. But my number one goal was to be ready to be my best for Lori at Twin Lakes which meant saving as much mojo as I could…so hang low I did.

By 2:30 pm, I was in the car heading back into Leadville. Feeling excited…except for the stomach cramps I was getting every 15 minutes once I began the drive. I called them my tummy contractions.

Strange.

Should go away after a while.

Hung out in Leadville as Todd was supporting Lori out at Winfield, the far-end turnaround, and surviving all the chaos at that aid station. It was a mess. Lori was going through a low patch but still moving forward. Her great running buddy, Missy, was ready to provide an emotional jumpstart as she would pace Lori back over Hope Pass.

After a couple hours, Todd (and Erika) picked me up in town and we headed out to Twin Lakes.

Stomach still squeezing every 15 minutes. It is now 6:00 pm.

Annoying.

Every attempt at remedying the situation…nothin’.

The atmosphere was quite special to observe at Twin Lakes.

So much positive energy.

So much focus.

So much passion.

So much love…for those you knew and those you didn’t.

It really was this small little community with a united mission – to support every runner that came through.

It was 7:44pm and Lori and Missy arrived at Twin Lakes. The sun was going down. Temps were becoming cool in the shade. Night time temps were expected to be in the mid-30s. It is going to get cold. Tights, jacket, beanie, gloves, fluids, nutrition, lights – ready.

During the brief regrouping at Twin Lakes, Lori talked about sore knees. I mentioned how those things come and go during an ultra. Lori had no response but a small nod…we were off!

I was super stoked to get started. Really tried to pay attention and get a sense for Lori’s general vibe.

Out of Twin Lakes, it is a march…going up.

Tummy contractions still occurring every 15 minutes or so. It would last for about 20-30 seconds and then go away. Just tried to ignore it.

During this uphill grind, I talked to Lori about breathing (deep belly, exhale with a bit of effort) and using this to help find a sustainable rhythm on the climb.

Pulled out a ginger chew as Lori was dealing with slight nausea for the last 20 miles.

“Relax the shoulders.”

“Allow the climb to be effortless.”

“Short little compact arm swing…the feet will follow. No need to over stride. Effortless. Sustainable.”

“Breathe….Flow”

Before we knew it, we had completed the 2-3 miles of mostly continuous climbing.

Time for some nice runnable downhill grade.

Lori was getting her groove back and we were able to put together some nice steady effort as we interacted with a variety of small running groups. Everyone looked to be moving well and in good spirits.

The sun was down. The stars were beaming. I couldn’t help but look up a few times and get a glimpse of the sparkling sky.

I gradually moved myself to the front and pointed out toe grabbing rocks and roots as we danced along the flowin’ downhills. Unfortunately my stomach disliked the downhills and would hang out in a half-cramp during these segments.

Time to pop an Endurolyte.

Toss in mouth.

Shot of water.

Could barely swallow it.

Weird.

A couple minutes later as Lori and I were running side-by-side during a flat section, I pulled off behind her and enjoyed my first heave of the run. Suckage. I puke like I sneeze…no holding back.

“Lori, keep going. I will catch up with you.”

After about a minute of waking up ever critter in a three mile radius, I felt good again and ran my way back up to Lori.

Back at point. We were putting together a solid segment of relaxed running on the downhills and flats. Brief walk stints on the short uphill segments. It was starting to feel cold. Beanie on.

Lori was moving well. Eating and drinking every 15 minutes.

Not able to eat or drink any longer….time to pull over for some dry heaving. Woohoo…more animals awake.

Catch back up to Lori.

Through Half Pipe aid station, mile 70.9. We didn’t stop as Lori had plenty of fluids and calories.

Before long we begin a segment of open, exposed road miles. It was cold. A slight wind enhanced the experience. When Texas lows have been in the high 70s, the mid 30s with layers were bone chilling.

Lori’s knees were starting to talk again so we did some steady walking followed by segments of running.

Lori was in the middle of saying something…and I walked off the road again. More dry heaving. Cars stop. Runners provide passing support. More animals scatter to higher ground.

After some quick assessment, I knew my ability to be of value to Lori was diminishing. I caught back up to Lori and tried to be some barrier to the wind as her little frame was freezing. In the final mile or so to Fish Hatchery, I told her I think we should see if Todd would start 10 miles early. Lori agreed through chattering teeth.

Finally arriving at Fish Hatchery, mile 76.5, told Todd we need you to run. He was on it! Lori slowly crawled her way into a sleeping bag to warm up her freezing body along with sipping some warm soup.

Erika, mentioned to me, “You look yellow.” I took that as not a good color.

Ate some potato soup. Contractions continued every 15 minutes or so. Didn’t feel very good. Felt bad not being able to continue on but knew it was the best for Lori…and likely me based on my current state. This rhythmic stomach clenching continued for the next 24-36 hours where I was able to eat and drink very little. (Guessing food poisoning of some sorts??)

After layering Lori’s tiny frame to where she now looked like a MMA middle-weight fighter, Todd and Lori were ready to continue the journey.

Erika and I would meet them at May Queen aid station (mile 86.5).

Erika and I headed into town to buy some hand warmer packets in case they wanted some at May Queen as it wasn’t getting any warmer out.

Lori and Todd arrived a few minutes before 5:00am. The aid station was abuzz. There was even a pretty good group of runner supporters sitting and standing in the near freezing temps supporting the runners coming in. Special to see.

We quickly got Lori to sit in a chair next to one of the heaters. Her feet hurt bad! One of the medical staff came over. Took off her shoes and socks.

What would we see?

Inflamed, blister covered, toe-nail dangling feet!?!

Black or dark colored toe nail polish provided medical a momentary pause. OK, just toenail polish. The feet actually looked pretty good. There may have been a small blister of sorts on the ball of her foot/feet. Other than having some mighty tender toes, she was good to go!

We put an additional pair of socks on her feet (actually Todd’s), had her eat some soup and a peanut butter and jelly square and before long, Todd and Lori were on the march to the finish.

Erika and I headed back into town and fell asleep in our car seats for an hour or so before seeing the sun up on the eastern horizon. For the next couple hours Erika and I cheered on all the finishers working their way up the final uphill grade to the finish.

I was a bit of a dehydrated, calorie and sleep depleted emotional nut case…tears welling up with each finisher. Loved watching all these runners come in.

Then off in the distance…it was Lori and Todd!

At 8:52am, Lori and Todd crossed the finish together!!

Lori’s second 100.

First Leadville.

An experience none of us will forget for a long time.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David – EnduranceBuzz.com

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

10 Responses to “Pacing at the Leadville 100”

  1. on 25 Aug 2012 at 4:28 pm Jason

    Love the story David, thanks for sharing. You rolled with what you had and kept a positive attitude, that alone was worth it’s weight in gold to your racer!

  2. on 25 Aug 2012 at 7:43 pm Liza

    Wonderful report! Leadville does have a strange way of feeling like home. Vomit empathy.

  3. on 25 Aug 2012 at 9:58 pm Ken TZ Childress

    A well written account of a hard fought pacing detail. You are a soldier, and an inspiration. I’m sure you were a major help to Lori, and I am proud to call you both my friends.

  4. on 26 Aug 2012 at 7:22 am olga

    Ouch, my man. Quite an experience:)

  5. on 27 Aug 2012 at 9:01 am David Hanenburg

    Jason – Thanks dude! Great to see you out there.

    Liza – Hey vomit buddy. Thanks and a congrats on your impressive performance.

    Ken – Thanks bro. Hope to see you on the trails soon.

    Olga – Yes and yes. 🙂

  6. on 27 Aug 2012 at 9:25 am PPB

    Loved reading this race report! Glad to hear Lori finished and you have one heck-ova story to tell. Greatness!!

  7. on 27 Aug 2012 at 11:51 am Lori Enllow

    Dave actually brought me back to life at Twin Lakes!!! He taught me how to run and breathe and move again and I am quite sure I would not have finished if it were’nt for him. He is quite the projectile puker! He was just what I needed, right when I needed him, and to see him as I was coming down 6th street to the finish was just awesome! Maybe i’ll get to return the favor some day…..minus the puking! 😉

  8. on 27 Aug 2012 at 8:49 pm David Hanenburg

    PPB – Thanks bro. Memories indeed.

    Lori – Sometimes we just need to be reminded of what we already know. It was an honor to be a part of your Leadville experience. Yes, puking not recommended.

  9. on 31 Aug 2013 at 8:43 pm Katrin

    Great story! This is what the Leadville 100 is all about, whether you’re pacing or running. Thanks for sharing, especially the gory details. I can relate to each and every one of them.

  10. on 03 Sep 2013 at 12:02 pm David Hanenburg

    Thanks Katrin! Those trails are covered with stories…and other stuff.