Leadville Trail 100M, Leadville, CO  4,3

Elevation Gain: 16,000+'; High Point: 12,493'
August 20, 2011 - The Leadville One Hundred marked a turning point.
Recreating in the mountains of Colorado for three weeks prior,
climbing lots of fourteeners, and sleeping high each night acclimated
me to the oxygen requirements for this challenge.  I was confident
going into this event that I was prepared physically, physiologically,
and most important - mentally.  Having been sidelined at the
Massanutten 100M in May by egregious injury, all the stars seemed to
be aligned for a good performance.  Mike Monyak and Chris Meanor 
were there to pace me through the second half, so I was feeling good
about earning a buckle.  

Amid considerable fanfare, we attended the pre-race activities directed
by former director Ken Chlouber, a showman proud of the tradition of
the event he created and even prouder to know those who come back
year after year to chase the challenge.  653 ambitious souls would
awaken early to toe the line at 0400 for the start at Harrison and Sixth.

Despite the number of competitors, relative to other ultra events, the
start seemed somewhat subdued and less rowdy than many others I've
had the opportunity to enjoin.  The field moved down Sixth Street 
toward Turquoise Lake with remarkable community support.  Lots of
people were along the course in town, ringing cow bells, cheering, and
playing music.  Leadville is iconic in more than one respect, I would find.

Paved road became gravel and dirt with bobbing lights of every
imaginable array and strength lighting the way.  There was no need for
additional lumination, so I didn't use my headlamp or flashlight for the
first four miles or so, until the road turned to trail and climbed straight
up a hill to reach the lake.  Once in the woods on single track I found
people with strong lights ahead and behind me and fell into line to
proceed around the lake before arriving at the first aid station at May 
Queen, mile 13.5, at about dawn, in 2 hours 15 minutes, an hour ahead
of the mandatory cutoff.

I was comfortable, appropriately dressed for the cool, damp morning,
and had not over-extended myself in the woods.  I followed a woman
who was being very deliberate in her gait and comfortably stayed within
the zone without much effort or labored breathing.

Out of May Queen we followed a dirt road a short ways before cutting
left onto single track that would begin to take us up about twelve hundred
feet over the mountain.  Some runners were anxious and jockeyed for
position with any opportunity on the trail, but I laid back and fell in line
without any extra effort.  When we reached a dirt service road to 
continue the climb, the line of runners spread out as some pushed out
their legs on the road and moved ahead.  I attempted to let my breathing
be the measure of my effort, so moved up the hill easily.  After a
switchback, the road began to steepen, so I alternated running stints with
walking, and moved up on the field.  Most people walked the entire 
upgrade.  Over the other side I proceded downhill conservatively.  With
my Achilles being mostly fixed now, I can no longer just bound down the
hill and be able to absorb the shock with spring in my legs.  There is no
more spring on my left side.  Besides, I did not want to fall and get hurt
again like at Massanutten, so many people zoomed down the Pipeline
past me toward the Fish Hatchery Aid Station.

I didn't pass a single person until the bottom, where the trail becomes 
paved road for a mile or so into the aid station.  Then, there were several
people who slowed enough for me to catch them.  I rolled into the aid
station in good style, still averaging more than 5 mph at 23.5 miles.  My
drop bag held supplies enough until I reached Twin Lakes.  I emptied
both shoes of scree and casually continued out of the aid station on
paved roads (CO 300) for about six and a half miles.  I was able to keep
a solid pace on the roads and gain quite a few places before reaching the
Half Pipe aid station.  Along the way I hit 25 miles in a time of 4:45, the
marathon in under 5 hours, and 50K in under 6 hours.  Pretty fast,
considering this was an all-day 100-miler over tough terrain.  But I felt
comfortable and would have gotten tired if I had run slower to "conserve".

Around mile 33 to 34 I felt a distinctive popping of my left Achilles, both in 
the heel area and the calf area.  The pounding was causing separation of
scar tissue.  My doctor had warned me about this and said it would happen
suddenly.  He is no longer a fan of my ultra running.  I stopped and felt
around my heel, then ran again with very noticeable pain in the area.  I
turned to walking for a bit and then couldn't get the running going again
without sharp pain.

So I quit the race right there.  There was no decision to be made.  No back
and forth thought process.  Another 24 hours of continued challenge to
an acute trauma was out of the question.  I am not willing to risk surgery
for a damn buckle and pride.  So I walked it in to Twin Lakes at about
mile 40 and officially abandoned the race with the organizers.

Walking at less than 3 miles per hour for a couple hours plus, with everyone
passing by could have been disheartening.  Afterall, I love to win, I love to
compete, I love to lay it all out there and enjoy the pain, but this was not
the time for any of that.  I stepped off the trail for everyone when the trail
was narrow, witnessing person after person who did not strike me as a
serious hundred miler, and in some cases not even a serious athlete.  Some
of those would without a doubt go on to finish, which shows that the race
is more about heart than about talent.

My attitude was notably good, even upbeat, because I realized - as I said -
this event was a turning point.  The realization was clear that I would 
never toe the line for another hundred miler.  This was the last.  "A man
must know his limitations."  The heart is willing, the mind may be tough, but
the body has drawn a line that I will only ever cross against my good
sense.  So I walked it in with dignity and turned in my number, smiling
inside because I knew how good a run I have had over more years than
most.  Quit running???  Are you kidding?  Not on your life.  I love to run
and always will.  After 43 years of racing, I will continue to race, though
less frequently and more selectively.  I just had a great race in Utah at
Snowbird.  I'll be there again.  I'm done with the long ones, that's all.

At Twin Lakes I witnessed something that perhaps opened my heart to
the plight of those runners that may not have as much ability as those in
front of them, but have hearts and dreams that were just as big. The 
Leadville Trail 100M has rather severe cutoffs.  While waiting for Mike
and Chris to come find me at Twin Lakes I watched as runner after runner
came through the aid station knowing they were close to the cutoff.  Their
crews and families portrayed a drama that I have never been a part of 
before.  Having always been a more fleet runner, the back of the pack
competitors have gone largely unacknowledged and unnoticed for over
forty years.  The little squirrel in my head may have saw to it that I stopped
here for the lessons I learned on this day.

There were many athletes with a range of emotional reactions to their
arrival before and after the cutoff and I got caught up with a lot of them.
Tears flowed, prayers were sent up with lifted eyes, and love and support
were out and out heart rendering.  As I sat in the shade of a cottonwood,
however, I became a member of a large extended family as they waited
anxiously for their patriarch Justin.  After waiting for nearly an hour and
a half Justin finally arrived, well past the cutoff, entirely spent physically
and on the verge of collapse in the mid-day heat.  I watched as that family
surrounded him and raised his spirits with their love.  Words do little 
justice to what I witnessed and what they displayed.  Before I left with
Mike, who finally found me, I stood up, looked Justin in the eye and 
conveyed to him that he was a winner in my book and a hero to this 
wonderful family, and to never doubt that and never quit.  I think that to
go out to the edge and attempt to look beyond may be a natural human
curiosity, and I salute those bold enough to take the risk to do what it takes
despite the dangers to go beyond the envelope the world creates
around them.

Following the conclusion of the race, the boys and I popped in at the end
of the awards ceremony to share in the success of others and witness the
walking carnage of a tough hundred miler.  I've been there; I've felt that;
I don't know that I need to go back there to experience it again.  Time to
move on to other challenges and other growth opportunities.  A part of me
will miss it though.  These are my people; we share the same heart.  I 
love them and I love this sport.  I leave with a profound respect for those
that toe the line and humility for the awesome challenge involved.