Enjoy a Leadville 100 race report by New Mexico athlete, Jason Bousliman.
When in the course of human ultra-events it becomes necessary for one person to dissolve their dreams of running 100 miles at Leadville and stop running at 78 miles, a decent respect to their efforts, and the sacrifices made by their family, requires them to describe the awesome time they had anyway. I hold the truth found in ultras to be self-evident. That through all the dry heaving, lost toe nails and pain, we find that we are endowed by our creator with an unalienable purpose to continue to keep trying. And that at Leadville we find life, we find liberty, and we find our pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, we sometimes also find that running 100 miles at over 10,000 above sea level is just really really hard.
I’m not certain the founding fathers would condone my use of those words penned over two hundred forty years ago in describing a 100 mile trail race, I’ll do so anyway.
This is the latest chapter in my ongoing attempt to complete the Leadville Trail 100 mile run. My Leadville odyssey began as a childhood dream and culminated in 2014 when, after failing five previous times, I finally ran all 100 miles. But I failed to do so in under the 30 hours required to receive the belt buckle that will someday adorn my urn and some unlucky relative’s mantle. In 2014, I finished in 30 hours and 36 minutes. So the goal this year was to find 36 minutes. That’s all I needed. 36 gosh dang minutes. Here is last year’s race report in case you need help sleeping.
After coming so close, I had no doubt that I would enter in 2015 but I hardly knocked my training out of the park. I didn’t do much in the fall of 2014 except a Cristin-only supported run from Albuquerque to Santa Fe following the 1000 year old Camino Real trail to celebrate my birthday. Found a puppy in the desert halfway to Santa Fe and named her Hoka (after the shoes I was wearing at the time). Great shoes. Puppy remains a work in progress but we will keep her. Worked on eating too much over the winter and was pretty successful at it.
Started to jog back into shape in the spring and completed the following races as tune ups:
- Cedro Peak 45 mile- April. 11:32
- Jemez 50 mile- May. 14:13
- San Juan Solstice 50 mile-June. 14:44
- Taos Up and Over 10k-August. 1:16. That’s right, I ran a 10k. Check the course profile before you judge how slow I am.
That was it. All the time I had to train. Weekly mileage topped out at 50. Bought a Trek mountain bike in July and Cristin and I started enjoying the bike path near the Rio Grande river in Albuquerque. I’ve concluded bikes are cheating and can someone please explain why the seats are so uncomfortable that grown men and women must wear padded diaper shorts just to ride? Nothing like that sexy adult diaper look while people waddle around in those shoes that sounds like a tap dance recital is about to start. Anyway-loved the bike in spite of that design flaw. And no I won’t use clip-on pedals either so don’t ask and no I don’t care how my watts could be improved if I did. (Looking at all my Strava geek friends out there).
We had no exact plan to find the time I needed. 36 minutes. The only real plan I had was to not worry about time at all. I chose to not wear a watch for the first 40 miles of Leadville. It’s a relaxing way to run without obsessing about time and pace. If I wanted that sort of stress I’d go run another 10k.
Drove up to Leadville on Thursday. This year it was Cristin, Collis, Elle and our good friend Eryn making the trip. Stopped in Buena Vista for milkshakes at K’s, the best food truck burgers ever at the Roadrunner Grill, and drink at the Deerhammer Distillery. Race briefing Friday morning was as inspirational as ever. Special thanks to race founder Ken Chlouber who gave my son a couple of the rocks out of the Ore Cart Trophy for the eventual winner. Sorry Ian Sharman. You got a few ounces less of gold ore than you should have. Ken also said something that will stick with me till long after I’m in that urn on my relative’s mantle. In addition to reminding us all “You’re better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can” he said, “The purpose of life is to live a purposeful life.” Eloquent and right on. Made me reflect on what gives me purpose.
For me, family gives me the most purpose. Some unfortunate souls find it in work (no one ever dies saying “I sure wish I would have worked more and not spent so much time with my kids.” Well no one I’d like to have a drink with anyway.) And some of us are blessed to also find purpose in sport. Running give purpose not just from the satisfaction of engaging in the event but because it teaches us those lessons you carry with you in the hardest moments. The moments that test our souls and not just our bodies. Running teaches us an ability to look inside ourselves for solutions rather than blame others for failures. We then use those skills in our real life. In other words, we aren’t fighting or curing cancer by running 100 miles, but we are learning the lessons needed to do just that down the road. Anyway-great words from Ken.
Woke up at 2:30 AM. Everyone wore light up hats and necklaces like last year. I used the light up mohawk again and gave my daughter my watch before I faded into the crowd of runners on 6th Avenue. As I was making my way to an open spot, I was pulled into a circle of guys doing a New Zealand type warrior chant. Good times and excitement filled the field of over 700 runners. Less than half would finish. Temperature was a pleasant 35 degrees at the start line which sits at over 10,000 feet above sea level. One moment of quick introspection (not prayer because I’ve always hoped that if there is a god, that she has more important things to worry about than me running.) Time to run.
Start to Mayqueen: Miles 0-13.5 , Total Time 2:15
“Finally here.” That was the thought going through my head as the run began at 4:00 AM. Felt like I started fast. Wasn’t being passed by anyone, even up the first mini power line climb just before you hit Turquoise Lake. Felt great. Around the lake I was slowed by other runners on the single track but didn’t mind. Sun rose just after 6:00 AM. Reached the 13.5 mile aid station and thought I was faster than I actually was. Here was the beauty of not wearing a watch. Based on how I felt, I guessed I had run the first 13.5 miles in around 2:05. Was actually 2:15. Had I worn my watch I would have been beating myself up. Instead, I was blissfully ignorant of my slowness.
Ran through the aid station and past the sea of a thousand people waiting for their runner. Feels like the Tour de France here with so many people cheering and overflowing onto the road. Although the spectacle is awesome and makes you feel like a rock star, I’ll say that crewing at this aid station and Outward Bound (mile 24) is unnecessary. I would recommend people send their crews home to rest after the start. If you need help at mile 13, you’re in trouble anyway. The heart of Leadville doesn’t show itself until about 15 hours later and you need a rested crew. I sent mine home after the start and wouldn’t see them until Twin Lakes around noon. Time for the first climb. I didn’t know it but I was three minutes slower than last year and hence now needed 39 minutes. One half marathon down, 87 miles to go.
Mayqueen to Outward Bound: Miles 13.5-24 , Total Time 4:40
The next 11 miles involved a climb up Sugarloaf Mountain, up to 11,000 feet and then down the daunting Powerline. I felt ok heading up and people finally starting passing me for the first time all day. Hagerman Pass Road seemed slightly easier than last year. Positive sign. Ran downhill well but not as fast as I once did. Somber mood on Powerline as a very accomplished mountain biker passed away on this section during his race the week before. His number was retired at the race briefing. Fitting tribute.
After the long four mile descent, I hit the road and had exactly two miles to go until the Outward Bound Aid Station (mile 24). Saw my friend Tammy along the way and jogged into Outward. Replaced my gels, water and was off through the fields. Didn’t know my time but felt I was doing well. In actuality, I was now needing 41 minutes based on last year’s splits to finish in under 30 hours. Thank Buddha I wasn’t wearing a watch. 24 miles down. 76 to go.
Outward to Twin Lakes: Miles 24-40 , Total Time 7:57
Left the aid station, ran past the road, Tree Line, then Half Pipe aid station at mile 32. Grabbed a couple drinks of Sprite. Just kept moving. Slowed down between miles 32 and 40 for some reason. Wasn’t getting texts from my crew and I let it distract me too much. This is a long 8.5 mile section. Five miles to the trailhead station at Mt. Elbert and then 3.5 miles downhill to Twin Lakes. Was moving just under 15 min pace uphill and was satisfied. Was relieved to hit the water only aid station that signals three miles till Twin Lakes. Passed people downhill and was excited to see family.
Refilled my pack and jogged with my crew to the spot they set up. Got my watch back from Elle then pranked the kids with an exploding can of peanuts and a self-inflating Jesus balloon I had waiting in my drop bag. Self. Inflating. Jesus. Balloon. That’s right. From there, Cristin, Eryn, Collis and Elle were heading to go kayaking. As I jogged away, I got a bit emotional and wished I could have joined them. Had cut the time I needed to make up to only seven minutes. On to Hope Pass. 40 miles down. 60 to go.
Twin Lakes to Winfield: Miles 40-50 , Total Time 12:23
There was a sign just before the river crossing that said something like, “Hope you like mountains ‘cause we have a doosey for you.” Awesome sign. Took 35 minutes to run the field, cross the river and start up the trail to Hope Pass. Then another 35 to the first switchback. As I was nearing the llamas and the Hopeless Aid station at mile 45, I was overwhelmed by fatigue and lightheadedness. Felt I was going to pass out. Sat in a stream for a moment as my friend Eric Strand passed on by. Great run by the way Eric! I found a quiet spot off the trail a few yards and rested with my hand in a “thumbs up” on my head so people would know I was ok. Had to sit for 10 minutes. Felt better after a bit and got up. A few more hundred yards and I saw the llamas that mark the surreal Hopeless Aid station at mile 45. Arrived two and a half hours after leaving Twin Lakes. Sat at the aid station for 10-15 mins and drank Sprite. Every volunteer at that aid station should get a medal and the llamas should be set free to roam in herds. Another 37 mins to the top of the pass arriving 3:05 after leaving Twin Lakes.
That 5.5 mile climb up that mountain took three freakin hours. Ran fast downhill but was slowed down by other runners on some steeper portions. Two miles downhill and then hit the connector trail to Winfield. Took 45 mins to run from the connector trail to Winfield. It would take 41 mins on the way back. Saw my good friend Neil Blake (who is by far a better runner than I), his wife Judy (also better than me) and then trudged onto the aid station. Was satisfied in arriving at the 50 mile halfway point 12 hours and 23 minutes after starting. I laid down beside the main tent after grabbing some Sprite and refilling my pack. Actually fell asleep. Took 10 minutes resting and then was on my way. Had fallen off pace and now needed to run the last 50 miles 1 hour and 6 minutes faster than last year to beat 30 hours. 50 miles down. 50 to go.
Winfield to Twin Lakes: Miles 50-60 , Total Time 16:48
Ran the section of connecting trail well and gave encouragement to those still with miles to go until Winfield. Their faces told the story of their day. This course was winning. And I wasn’t that far ahead. Then the dreaded turn left and back up that god forsaken mountain. This climb is steeper at the start and once you hit treeline the grade is more manageable. Just wanted to survive. People started passing me in droves. Whatever limited mountain training and weightlifting I had done to prepare for this section had failed. This sucked. I took breaks more often than I moved and just laughed at myself. It was torture but hilarious in its own way. I knew I would get to the top but needed another quick 15 min rest just before tree line.
After resting, I got up, promptly threw up and carried on. Made it past treeline. I started moving better and finally crested Hope Pass at 12,600 feet for the second time that day. Enjoyed the view and ran well down to Hopeless Aid station. I was feeling much better and took only a couple moments to slurp down some noodles. Ran the 5.5 miles from Hope Pass to Twin Lakes in 1:22.
Made it off the mountain while still daylight and jogged most of the way to the aid station. Didn’t have a headlamp on me and was chasing the last bit of light. Collis found me as darkness set in and paced me to the aid station with his light. He cheered me up instantly. Found the rest of the best crew on earth and they did an amazing job of sitting me down, changing my shoes and making me stay positive. When I took my shoes off I discovered my big toes were all black. Under the nail and everything. Ewww.
Had there been a zombie apocalypse at Twin Lakes, the zombies would have looked at my feet and moved along assuming I was already one of the walking dead…and speaking of walking dead, it was time for me to get up and start moving. I had made some time back and now needed 42 minutes total over the next 40 miles. 60 miles down. 40 miles to go.
Twin Lakes to Outward Bound: Miles 60-76 , Total Time 21:37
Miles 60-76 of Leadville are like the Bermuda Triangle complete with lost souls and mirages. Without a pacer it’s pretty lonely here and I was jealous of all the pairs of headlamps on the trail. This section begins with three miles of climbing where I was able to manage under 18 minute miles. Felt very good about that. One of the steep uphills around mile 66 slowed me to a crawl and forced me to rest another 15 minutes. Traveled from the Halfpipe Aid station to tree line road in 30 mins.
Someone needs to do a paranormal investigation of the section between tree line and the Outward Bound aid station. I swear that you see the lights from four miles away and it never looks closer until you’re there. Arrived at the Outward Bound Station 30 minutes earlier than last year. It had taken all day but I had finally found the time I needed to finish with my deathbed belt buckle. Only problem was it had cost me so much. Too much.
At mile 76, Collis found me again and walked me through the tent to find my amazing but cold crew. Cristin calmed me down and earned a medal of her own. I wouldn’t have ever even made it to the start without her let alone this far. But I couldn’t stop shaking or feeling dizzy. Was about 30 degrees outside and I couldn’t get my heart beat to slow down or head to stop spinning.
After laying down for a bit at the feet of my crew, I got up and sat in the medical tent and was attended to by one of the nicest paramedics I’ve ever met. I kept saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” I remember the paramedic had red hair and kept telling me, “You guys are amazing! You’ve run 76 miles at 10,000 feet!” Finally stood up and decided to give it a go (credit to Englishman Paul Ratnage for that phrase). Left the aid station at mile 76 at 2:05 AM.
Outward Bound to…
After 76 miles, I made my way past the fish hatchery and felt like the zombies had caught me and were hanging off my back. At the start of Powerline climb (mile 78) I couldn’t catch my breath or stop my heart from pounding. The efforts from the day had taken their toll. I was unable to walk up the slightest incline without doubling over with dizziness and a heart that was pounding faster than a preteen girl at a One Direction concert (I put that reference in just for my daughter. You’re welcome Elle). Was tired beyond belief. Couldn’t keep my eyes open. I sat under a tree and watched runners with their pacers stream past me like a river. Thought of my mom and dad. I laid on my back and contemplated the inevitable. The Scarecrow’s song from the Wizard of Oz, “If I only had a brain” came on my iPhone just in time to accompany a brilliant shooting star that streaked from horizon to horizon. The entire situation made me laugh and smile to myself for some reason. I started to whistle the song.
Well I do have a brain and it told me that it was time to call it a day. Body just didn’t feel right and I have too much I still need to do before I break the bonds of this mortal coil. I know that’s melodramatic but it was the right decision. I called Cristin and told her where she could find me. She and Collis arrived shortly around 3:30 AM and we all drove home for some well-earned sleep while I smiled and quietly, very quietly whistled.
This race is beyond me. All 100 miles of it. It requires ability, time to train and genetics I don’t have. If I stopped and thought about it, I might conclude it doesn’t make sense to dedicate so much time and energy into something just to fail. We all say it’s about the journey not the destination, but do we really mean it?
We live in a world where all movies end well (Rocky always wins the fight and the guy always ends up with the girl), where we all get a ribbon for participating, and where everyone on social media appears to be a member of MENSA, Parent of the Year, and sub 3 hour marathoner. How people find time to do all that stuff while being in the Peace Corps and raising money for panda bears is beyond me.
Mom and Dad taught me a different way to look at the world. Life is more exciting and rewarding when you have to earn something that doesn’t come easy. Doug Schneebeck, Jon Cobes, Jon Harrington all reinforced that message. If it was easy and I was guaranteed to finish, I wouldn’t care and I wouldn’t enter. If I was a great runner and could finish under 25 hours on my first attempt, I wouldn’t try and I’d be playing golf instead. Luckily, Leadville doesn’t come easy and I hate golf.
So I won’t stop and wonder if I’ve been wasting my time. I won’t change how I look at the world nor trying to teach my kids the same. I won’t stop trying, won’t stop drinking coffee at City on Hill, and won’t stop losing toe nails. However, if asked nicely I’d probably raise money for panda bears.
My family came to this conclusion before me. A day after the race, I had just made my yearly announcement that I was done with Leadville. Cristin laughed in that supportive way only someone who knows you all too well does and encouraged me to think it over. Collis said, “You know, I just can’t imagine our life without Leadville. It’s our thing Dad!” This prompted my 8 year old daughter Elle to say, “Yeah! We get to try again next year right!? And anyway, you need to stay in shape so you can pace me and Collis over Hope Pass someday.”
To answer your question Elle-Yes, you’re damn right we get to try again next year. And it will be an honor to pace you guys over Hope Pass someday.
There is life, there is liberty and there is a pursuit of happiness that can only be found above the tree line and in the company of llamas. You just have to look past the people throwing up to find it.
My toes two weeks after Leadville. They remain solid protection against any zombie attack.
– Jason Bousliman
Posted on 15 Oct 2015