|Here we go|
I was standing around the middle of the pack watching the clock tick for about 15 minutes until 4am arrived and the race founder Ken Chlouber appears on the start line , wishes everyone good luck and BOOOOOM fires off the shotgun. The race starts with a half mile run down the street passing what seemed like the whole town of Leadville out on their lawns in their dressing gowns playing music and dancing and drinking beers and wine(later I found these parties were Bloody Mary and Hash Brownie Parties). It was such an amazing feeling. The entire town really gets behind this whole event. I couldn't really register it in my head , this is it , the bloody Leadville 100 , I am now running this historic race and my first 100 miler. My race then continued like this...
Leadville – Mayqueen – Mile 1 – 13.5
After running down the street we veered off left then sharply right onto a long long dirt road for a couple of miles then we had a very short but very steep little climb up back onto the main road for a few hundred metres and then we were on the trail that was taking us to Mayqueen. Awesome trail that runs along the entire side of Turquoise Lake. The racers were not too congested as everyone managed to get into their own kind of stride going down the roads. It was still not really possible to pass anyone on the trail but the pace was fine for me and we made it the 13.5 miles to Mayqueen in 2hrs 15mins(cut off 3hrs 15mins) I felt okay all the way along but like all long races I have done it takes a while to really get into a good rhythm so I arrived at Mayqueen with the odd little niggle but just because I had not warmed up yet. It was a cup of coke at 6.15am and some watermelon and off I went.
Mayqueen – Fish Hatchery – 13.5 – 23.5
I had hiked some of this trail already in the week so I knew the first 4 odd miles of it. It is a bit of a fast hike up through the trees out onto a wide dirt track that winds its was up to 11'000ft. It was walk/jog on this section and also lot's of chatting to other runners which was really nice. Some guys going sub 25 hour times and some guys back for the 3rd /4th / or 5th time to just try and finish. It was still a mix bag of abilities at this stage. I spoke to a few people at this stage who were determined they were going to get a sub 25 time. Later on I found out that 2 of these people missed the cut off at halfway. Just shows that trying to get a sub 25hr time on Leadville if it is your first time doing it or first 100 miler is super super tough and maybe not the wisest. I enjoyed this section but was still worried about cut-offs. I knew if I could get to Fish Hatch with a good time to spare then that would set me in good stead for pretty much the rest of the course as long as I could keep moving forward. After the trail finally topped out at the high point after many false summits it was a great technical run down the power line section onto the road and then a 2 mile run to Fish Hatch.
Fish Hatchery – Twin Lakes – 23.5-39.5
I arrived at Fish Hatch feeling good and was greeted by my team Anna and Kimberley. As usual it was great to see familiar faces. They had my drop bag looked out and ready for me to just dump my gel and bar wrappers and replace what I had used. I also filled up my water bottle again with some more electrolyte mix. It was more watermelon and off I went. After Fish Hatch it is around 6 miles to the small checkpoint and water only aid station of Half Pipe. Half of this section was on a road (a very straight and long road) and was not very nice as by this point the sun was up and it was rather warm with no shade at all. Many runners including myself were relieved that Half Pipe was there as lot's of us were running low on water. It was same old story , more coke and more watermelon and off I went. I had been nibbling on clif bars from an hour and a half into the race and from three and a half hours I started on gels as well. On the road section I was running with a guy who kept saying how he runs 1hr 15mins Half's but was really struggling with this section. Again I just think people expect to be able to run their normal pace but never actually let it register they are going for 100 miles and at this altitude it is not easy. I plodded along to Twin Lakes on a mixture of dirt roads and trails with the final stretch on an amazing single track packed pine needle trail twisting it's way through the forest and then you pop out into the open to a heroes welcome at Twin Lakes as everyone at that checkpoint can see you flying down the final 100 odd metres or so out of the trees. I obviously gave it some gas here just to let everyone know I was feeling good. This was probably the section I felt best on over the whole race. I got into the aid station and again Anna and Kim were waiting with my bag. I had a little bit more food here as next up was the first crossing of Hope Pass.
|Coming into Twin|
|I have no idea|
Leaving Twin Lakes it was about a mile of trail through thick long grass then the river crossing. Nothing extreme here. It was a little deep but they had a rope across and walking through the ice cold water was amazing for the sore feet. Once out of the water it was climb time. I had not checked out this climb before as I knew the climb on the other side was the hardest/steepest of the two crossing but this still was not easy. It climbs up and up from 9.200ft to Hope Pass Aid Station at 11.836ft (800ft below the pass) and then up to Hope Pass at 12.600ft and is 5 miles long. 3000ft(1000m) doesn't sound like much compared to France but trust me it was hard. It just went on and on , up and up. Once at the Small Aid Station just below the Pass I got some soup in me and continued on up. It was not cold at all up there so none of my extra layers I carried were needed. The final 800ft didn't take long but the leaders were already by this stage running back past us heading back to Leadville! I felt fine when cresting the Pass and began my descent. The descent went great and I was passing a fair few people on this. Especially lower down in the more technical part that some people could not get their heads around how to run down it. I felt at home here and was loving it. It then makes a right turn and continues for a couple of miles along a really nice new trail with loads of little ups and downs and you then arrive just outside Winfield and head a few hundred metres along the dirt road to the aid station. Anna was waiting and kitted up and ready to start pacing me back over. I managed a little bit of Noodle Soup here but it only just stayed down. I also changed my wet shoes and socks , put on a new running top and grabbed a new head torch out of my drop bag. I also noticed the race Founder Ken Chlouber was sitting right next to me on a quad bike clapping in runners so I went over to him and asked for a picture and told him I was from Scotland. He was so nice and was more than happy to chat away and wish me all the best. Then it was time to do it all over again in reverse. On my way down to halfway I was never ever thinking “oh my god I have to go back all of this” the entire race I just kept thinking get to the next checkpoint , get some food , change some clothes then move on. I must admit it was great to get to 50 miles and know I had company from then on until the end.
|Hope Pass Take 1|
Winfield – Twin Lakes 50 – 60.5
We started out fast walking this bit as my soup was still not entirely settled in my stomach. We managed some little jogs on and off along the trail to the start of the climb and it was quite a boost passing so many people who were still heading to the turn around some of whom looked already completely finished and ready to pass out. Now this is the climb I had down during the week and found fine but it was a different story here. I was not super slow but my pace was not entirely quick. We marched on up and I only stopped for a rest twice on this climb. The only time in the race I stopped my feet moving with exception of the aid stations. It was great to have someone with me. I had never ran with pacers before and wasn't sure about the whole thing but they were incredible. Anna just chatted away telling me jokes and stories , some of which I admit I didn't listen too very closely but it was just great to finally have some good company and it really was a mental boost. Once at the top of Hope Pass yet again we quickly got some photos then it was time to descend. I took off again on this short descent to the Hopeless Aid Station and Anna couldn't even keep up! I had to turn around to check she was there but she shouted down “just keep going , I will catch up” which she then did when the trail got less technical. I will happily admit I am not that great at running on flat roads but on steep technical down hills I can hold my own. We got to the aid station and I tried to get some noodles down me but my stomach really did not want to eat anything but I really needed to since I was weighed at mile 50 and had lost 4lbs. Not enough to make the doctor worry but I did need to eat. Anna tried her best to get me to eat but I really only wanted more Coca Cola. It was then the long long descent down to the river crossing just before Twin lakes. This section went well and we jogged down the awesome smooth trail just chatting away about pretty much everything , Life , Death , Work , Hedgehogs and Donkeys and a long conversation of me trying to describe what a Mountain Guide was to Anna , I could not understand how she did not understand what I was on about later to find she thought I was saying Mountain Gay's! Again the river crossing was awesome and Anna too was loving it on her feet. As we cruised into Twin lakes I again noticed Ken who was now cheering people on at this section. He had obviously remembered me from a few hours before at Winfield and gave me a good “go on son , keep diggin'”(you wouldn't get that from the race organiser of the UTMB) as I ran past him. Kim was ready to go but I had a quick toilet stop to make and then I had to eat. Anna and Kim kept putting things on the table , soup , noodles , sandwiches(peanut butter bloody sandwiches which they knew I hated) but I just couldn't stomach anything. I managed a tiny amount of soup and some watermelon but no proper food. I again filled up more water into my hydration bladder and electrolyte mix into my bottle , changed my wet shoes yet again and then grabbed my head torch out of my bag as it would soon be dark. Only to discover we had left the batteries back at Winfield. Now I like to climb but not a chance in hell I was climbing back over Hope Pass again! Luckily for me Kim had an extra one with her. Thank God for pacers! Now let's get to Fish Hatch 16 miles away.
|Coming into Winfield , Mile 50|
|Trying to stomach Noodles|
|With my mate Ken|
|Anna and Me on Hope AGAIN!|
|45 miles to go|
This starts off with a fairly long climb which again we marched up at a pretty good pace. Once it levelled out we managed some on and off jogging but this is when my knee started to slightly hurt when I flicked it back. Oh no I thought to myself , if this gets as bad as the Mont Blanc 80km there is no way I can put up with it for 35+ miles. Kim like Anna was immense. She loves to run on flat roads so was really looking forward to the final section of this which was on horrible long never ending tarmac. Kim kept telling me my pace which was good even though it was not fast. I kept on telling her how I was worried about missing the next few cut off’s only for her to reply every time with “shut the f**k up about times Colin” “you are going to finish this F**king race” “You are well on time to even walk the rest of this thing and make it under 30hrs” “and there is no way we are going to let you quit”. For the record I never once said to anyone over the race I was going to quit or that I couldn't do it any more. Never once did it come into my head to quit. We plodded on through the trees now in total darkness. It did take us a while and once we hit the road for the final few miles I really wanted to run so Kim started a jog and told me to follow. We started off slow and got up to an okay pace but it didn't last long as my knee just said no. I felt so bad as I knew Kim really wanted to run this bit and I also wanted to run it as well but I just could not swing back my leg to run. We walked the rest of this to Fish Hatch where Ben and Anna were waiting to help me out.
|Kim and I leaving Twin|
Fish Hatch 76.5 – Mayqueen 86.5
This was the stage where I was not feeling good. To be honest my legs were tired and my left knee really painful but my muscles were not in total agony. My team had done a great job over the day of giving me salt tablets to keep the cramp off and it really worked but at Fish Hatch I was starting to get really really cold , shivering a lot. My team though were amazing. When I got to them they did everything for me. I just kind of stood there shivering in a total daze. They were handing me soup , filling up my water and so on. The one thing they did not do was ask “how you feeling?”, “you don't look good” and I am so grateful for that. They were just so positive they just got on with helping me even though they could see in my face I was on a major downer. Mentally I was never going to give up but if they were not there for me I hate to think what I might have done if I had just sat down there alone. This is where Ben took over from Kim to pace and again he was incredible. I had had enough of carrying all of my kit and just wanted to feel free from everything , Ben was already kitted out for himself but when I said I would prefer not to carry stuff he was like “no problem dude give me everything you want” He stocked up with more gels , bars and water and even put on an extra waist belt to carry more stuff for us. Amazing stuff. We wrapped up with a few layers , stuck on gloves and hats and off we went. I apologised to him that this section might be slow but he didn't care at all , he was there to help me anyway I needed. I was not looking forward to climbing back up Power line but once we hit the climb we totally took off. I was climbing at a great speed and even Ben said that would be his normal speed hiking pace from fresh never mind having come 76.5 miles. I knew I was going to loose time on the descents now so I had to make the most of what I had on the climbs and we were flying past people on the ascent. I know Ben wasn't just trying to make me feel good by saying how good a pace we were going , he was genuinely in shock at our climbing speed. Again we just chatted random stuff and every so often he would just hand me a gel that I would take then he would take the rubbish off me then hand me a bottle to drink , he has never paced for anyone before and he was totally spot on helping to keep me fed and hydrated. The climb was long but once we peaked it was all downhill to Mayqueen and only 13 miles from the finish. The final bit through the trees was tough as my eyes were not really doing great and I could actually feel them wanting to shut so keeping focused on the trail was tough but we got there. Just before we popped out of the trees to the road we came across another runner being carried out! His legs had just given up and he couldn't walk and the medics were there carrying him out to the aid station. So we arrived at Mayqueen around 3.30am in the morning 23 hours into the race with 6hrs 30mins to go before the cut off of 10am at Leadville. I was so close to doing it! Ben then had to leave to drive back to Denver for a job interview in a few hours!
Mayqueen 86.5 - Leadville 100!!
As soon as I arrived in Mayqueen Kim was straight up to me and threw a massive rug around me and handed me hot chocolate. I had perked up a bit on the last section and was far more with it than I was at Fish Hatch. Kim did finally admit “Yeah dude you were pretty bad at Fish Hatch but your almost home now” Again Anna took over from Ben for the final stretch. I just stood hunched over eating bits of Banana that my team kept handing to me , I tried to eat some noodles but quickly spat them out. Anna stocked up with some Clif Brs and Gels and extra water for me and off we went on the road home. This section is a great trail skirting the edge of the lake but my knee was really bad by now and I was limping along as fast as I could go. Anna kept handing me bits of bar and water which was great as I was beyond the stage of caring for myself. Some of the food I managed to eat and some of it stayed in my mouth trying to dissolve for 15 mins before I spat it back out. There was a little chat on the trail but I must admit I was a bit mute by now but she stuck by me and was always smiling and chatty if I needed her to be. Once we finally broke from the trail we hit the road and it was freezing cold , proper freezing with a real breeze. We stuck on more clothes and pushed on for the final long 5 miles. It took a long time to cover this section. We had to turn to check on a guy who just started being sick , violently sick but we noticed his pacer was just behind him so she was able to help him out. We now hit the little very steep climb from the very start of the race and my god I was pathetic on it , moaning and cursing my way down it at a ridiculously slow pace. Once down though it was a left turn and a straight 2 miles home. We speed walked all of this and the sun was rising in front of us. We were alone going up the road and I was getting a bit emotional but managed to hide my tears. Anna did say a few times “you have done it” “Leadville dude , Leadville” I still couldn't really register it and how long I had been going. I once had to turn away and a little tear did run down my eye but thankfully Anna missed it as if she had seen it I am sure it would have set her off and I would have ended up bubbling like a baby. We were getting closer and I could see the tarmac road and the final mile. I passed a few spectators here and everyone of them was just so happy and smiling at me “amazing” “well done , you have done it dude” “Incredible stuff guys” I lost track of how many people were going mad for us. We hit the road and Kim was there. Normally your pacer has to leave you half a mile from the end but nobody seems to bother so Kim tagged along with us as well for the final stretch. I crested 6th Street and half a mile ahead could see the finish. People were lined up at the finish. Again I thought I might cry but I ended up spitting out a huge piece of Clif Bar the girls were trying to get me to eat, It had been in my mouth for 5 mins before I decided I couldn't eat it. So that took our minds off of tears as we all laughed with me spewing Clif Bar all down the pavement on the final half mile. 100 metres from the end you hit the red carpet and Anna and Kim ran off to the side and let me run the final metres home. Over the speaker the announcer read out “26hrs 45mins Colin Thornton /Scotland” and I crossed the line with the biggest smile on my face ever and let out a kind of loud “f**king yes!!” The race founders Wife was there to give me a medal and a huge hug. She has hugged everyone who has crossed the line under 30hrs for 31yrs! I then went straight to Anna and Kim for the biggest hugs ever. Then I was ushered off to the medical tent to get weighed in and my heart rate checked. Amazingly after being 4lbs down at Winfield I was exactly the same weight at the end as I was at the weigh in before the race started! My team had done an amazing job of keeping me fed and watered. My heart rate was fine and the doctor gave me a handshake and a “ your fine , well done”
|All So Happy|
|The Buckle. Around 950 Started just under 500 finished. I was around 185th|
I will post again with more reflections as this all sinks in but I really have to mention yet again Anna , Kim and Ben. Without those guys I have no idea how I would have got on. I am sure I would still have finished but probably nearer the 30hrs than I would have wanted. They thanked me at the end as they said I made it easy for them as I never once uttered that I was done or I was going to quit. They just had to keep an eye on me and keep me moving which they did. Pacers for the top guys obviously need to actually keep the pace and calculate times etc so they can try and win the race. For guys like me though my pacers were there to get a feel for Leadville. To help a guy they didn't really know finish his first 100 mile race and not just any old 100 miler , the Leadville 100! They had to think for me , chat and make me laugh , feed me and just be there just in case something had gone wrong and I had just passed out. I never thought I was going to pass out but I did have a few fuzzy moments but knew I would be okay as I had a friend at my side. The 3 of them were incredible , Never at any aid station did they look , cold , bored , look like they didn't want to be there. Remember they had left Denver the morning of the race only 2 hours after I started running and they were there until the end and more. Now I don't want to sound too cheesy / corny (for all ya Americans) but they were always on the ball every time and if I could find a way to split this belt buckle I would split it 4 ways as they deserve as much of it as me. One day I will return the favour to all of them and pace them all over the course.
So for now , that's it. The Leadville 100. All that training all that hard work. I did it. Was it hard , hell yeah it was hard. I met Scott Jurek after the race. Arguably the greatest ultra runner ever. He hadn't raced for 2 yrs and finished 8th this year. I seen him at the finish and just had to go and get a picture. He asked if I had ran “yeah not quite your pace but 26hrs 45mins” He was so nice “amazing dude , well done” , he then asked if it was my first Leadville and to my reply of “yeah and my first 100” to his reply of “ first 100 and it was Leadville in 26hrs 45mins , way to go dude” I am happy with hearing that from Scott Jurek , I won't forget that.
|Me and Kim with the Legend that is Jurek|
What a race , I met so many amazing people on the course so many I cannot remember names but I had so many good chats and laughs. Every runner I ran past or who past me would give out a big “nice one , keep pushing” or an “awesome dude , you got this” Every single runner was amazing , even the winner who ran past me on his way back to Leadville shouted out to me and a few runners ”way to go guys” , no egos , no bullshit. Everyone just happy to be out running and just seeing if they have what it takes. Greatest race I have ever been a part of and one that I will never forget. Here is to you guys Anna , Kim and Ben!
|My Amazing Team Ben , Kim , Anna. At Fish Hatch on the |
way home when I was not too great. Can you tell??