Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Accidental Spectator: Leadville Trail 100 Edition

Before I let it get away from me in the endless hamster wheel of back-to-school/back to activities, I've got to talk about the wonderful experience my daughter and I had as fans and onetime aid station helpers at the Leadville Trail 100. I'd wanted to go, but thought it wasn't in the works. Oh, how fortunate Alexis and I were to be able to share in the experience.

A week ago Saturday, I roused my pre-teen at o-dark-thirty and started poking her with a stick to get moving and dressed. She's been dancing since age three, and now at twelve has just been approved to begin dancing en pointe. Fitting pointe shoes is kind of like finding the right running shoe, but with a far greater risk for injury to a young dancer in the wrong one, and far fewer places to buy them or get them fitted the right way. Living "four hours from nowhere," as my Dad likes to call our city that is four hours from both Salt Lake City and Denver, we had recommendations from her studio for two places in the Denver metro area, and opted for the Boulder store when they got back to me right away and seemed to have better customer service. While I wasn't thrilled about 8+ hours in the car, messing with my child's growing feet isn't something I'm going to do. It's her thing, too, as running is for me, and with four kids I don't get tons of one-on-one time with her. So, we were actually looking forward to the hang.

After a ride in the car during which Alexis and I alternated playing tunes on the iPod, hanging out and talking some, we made just one local wrong turn (don't ever trust Mapquest directions 100%), and found Boulder Bodywear, where my daughter wound up being fitted by the owner of the place, who has been doing this thing for 20 years. It was cool to watch her go through the process, methodically and just talking directly to my kid to find the best fit, not trying to sell me product.

After trimming down the list, and the fitter determining that she needs thicker toe pads but no toe spacers like most dancers (see...all the stuff I don't know that made me glad we came to this place), she found herself narrowed down to a really good pair and the perfect pair for her to start pointe training. We were out of there far earlier than I imagined, and after a quick lunch at Med (try it if you're ever in Boulder-really good Mediterranean place that's inexpensive and healthy), we were on the road again.

Intermittently throughout the morning and early afternoon, I had been doing something else as well-checking in with two members of local runner Bryan's support team/crew at the Leadville Trail 100. Bryan was a first time 100-miler, originally from Kentucky, living the Colorado dream along with his wife Elizabeth. He'd had this race on the brain for many years, and his dream and goal was finishing...period. Under 30 hours, and getting the belt buckle that all official finishers get was his goal. I've gotten to know these guys, and there's just something about wanting to root someone on in realizing their goal, and tracking his progress. It doesn't matter how well a runner prepares for the LT100-a lot can happen over the course of 100 miles, and typically only half of the field finishes the distance under the allowable time. All the little things makes a difference, including but not limited to proper pacing, good nutrition, weather, course conditions, self-motivation, crew, pacers, and general support along the route. I just identified with his goal, too, of getting it done and literally living his dream.

Every time I was updated on his progress, he was right where he'd wanted and hoped to be-ahead of the cutoff times at each aid station, but without a huge cushion. Both crew members I was talking with (one being his wife, another being one of his pacers/2-time LT100 finisher) said via text message, "you guys should come up to Twin Lakes!" Twin Lakes is the 40-mile outbound stop on the out-and-back course, and 60-mile checkpoint inbound. The timing appeared to work out very well, and I made the decision to detour to Leadville with Alexis. They said that Bryan was having some IT band pain, but that he was feeling pretty "good" otherwise.

Now, my kiddo is twelve, as I mentioned earlier. She's a good kid but not a robot, and got a little cranky, saying "I wanna go home! I don't want to go up to Leadville." I said tough, we're going. Nine hours to do your thing...we're going to stop off, cheer for, and encourage someone doing something most people would never bother to try or train for. Play whatever you want on the iPod until we get there, your choice, but we're going. She grumpily set it up to play the music mix of her choice and promptly fell asleep. When she woke up two hours later, approaching Leadville, her attitude seemed suddenly adjusted. The weather can be nasty in the mountains but it was pretty nice as we made it into Leadville and easily found the Twin Lakes aid station. I didn't see any of Bryan's "Badass Honey Badger Crew" there yet, but there was plenty of people-watching and runner cheering to do.

These were some spectators watching runners come back into view from Hope Pass on their return trip inbound:

Several film crews documenting the event in general, as well as members from specific sponsored teams:

There were, of course, a wide variety of runners in various physical and mental states.

And then there were the faithful fans and support crews of runners. I didn't catch the special post-race services in one of these photos until I was home looking them over. That is some serious dedication to your athlete.

After walking around for awhile, I saw one of my original Dirty Girls teammates, Julie C, arrive with some other local support crew. Her husband John was running, and we would see him check in later, looking very strong. We chatted for a minute, and then Alexis and I continued to wander, keeping an eye out for the Honey Badger. There were tons of people milling around, cheering for runners as they came through. Some looked strong and even smiled, some seemed to be not doing so great but were still moving, and others appeared to be in obvious pain or discomfort. We finally saw the first member of the Honey Badger crew:

Soon, the rest of the crew was there too. That's Elizabeth, Bryan's wife, and Terri the Penguin, who goes along for all of Bryan and Elizabeth's adventures in Colorado.

When we first saw the crew, I said something like "Baaadgggeeerrs," not particularly loud or disruptively, but I sort of startled them because, well, they'd been without sleep, had been up since 2 a.m., and had endured a downpour while camping the night before. I guess I needed to bring it down a notch. Alexis and I helped them grab all the stuff that we'd need to set up for Bryan at the 60-mile checkpoint, including a variety of gear and nutrition options, camping chairs, pacing chart, and other items. The Leadville Trail 100 is a well-oiled machine, and they don't want anyone dying or getting unnecessarily injured out there. When he came in, Bryan would have to go through, get weighed, and otherwise pass the medical check before continuing on. We set ourselves up immediately outside the checkpoint, and then just hung out.

Alexis, despite her initial resistance, was thinking this was all pretty cool by now. Other than the fact that we were uncharacteristically unprepared for driving in Colorado without the Leadville stop (no heavier clothes or jackets, better footwear, water, shovel, etc) and slightly chilly, we were having a good time, and really excited for Bryan's arrival. We were told that approximately 8-8:30 would be a likely arrival time, and moved down to the one general store/lit area at Twin Lakes around that time. We donned pirate masks and eye patches (Elizabeth planned cool little surprises for Bryan at each pit stop to lift his spirits and keep him motivated), and practiced a cheer. We were ready to go, and kept watching for Bryan and his pacer as it grew dark.

We continued to practice our cheer, and cheer on other runners as 8:30, 8:45, and finally 9:00 came and went. We were not doubting that he'd be in soon, but everyone was REALLY wanting to see Bryan and his pacer come along, and closely watching for him with 9:45 being the cutoff for this aid station. Then...there he was! With great excitement, we did our cheer "B is for Bryan and Badger! Mutual badasses!" and then ran alongside/cheered "badger, badger badger....." all the way up to the spot we'd set up. He went in to get weighed, and once he was out, it was a flurry of activity akin to a NASCAR pit stop. His pacer Marty was calmly but quickly directing the action, asking for batteries, specific food that Bryan wanted, socks, shoes, you name it. Two of the guys were shaking out his leg muscles because that seemed to loosen up the tightness he was experiencing, and Elizabeth rubbed his back and neck to loosen up those muscles and just generally provide good moral support to her husband. He was still ahead of the cutoffs, but with very little time to spare, so it was crucial to get him refueled, loosened up and ready to go again quickly. It's hard to see, but this was our man Bryan getting fixed up in the dark:

He looked good-obviously, you're not looking like someone with a full eight hours of sleep and lots of couch-surfing time at sixty miles into one hundred miles, but he was pretty with it. We'd seen a few runners who, quite frankly, were at the "goose is cooked" point. Though he had precious few minutes of cushion time to make the cutoffs for the remainder of the races, he looked like a runner who was ready to keep on keepin' on at this steady pace, and run his race. When Bryan got ready to run again, his new pacer was ready and off they went with fresh batteries in their head lamps. Alexis and I helped the crew move everything back to the vehicle, said our good-byes, and got ready to hit the road. I asked them to keep texting me with checkpoint updates throughout the night, and they told me to drive carefully back home. It was now after ten. This meant we'd have a VERY late arrival to Grand Junction, but it was such an amazing experience to be part of Leadville for even a short time that it was definitely worth it. Even Alexis, who wasn't thrilled to get there, kept saying "that was awesome!" Seeing how hard the crew works, and then thinking about how far the runenrs are going-it's just awe inspiring and good for anyone to see, but especially kids her age.

I didn't fall asleep or run off the road on the way home, but was SO happy to see my bed upon our return. I got a few hours of sleep, and sure enough, early in the morning, I got word of Bryan's arrival at the second-to-last checkpoint, and finally the last checkpoint. He had 2.5 hours to make it the final 7 miles, which may sound like lots of time on its own. By now, though, he was truly exhausted and it was pretty fitting that Elizabeth paced him in to the finish. By now I was up again, and refreshing the results page, waiting for his final time to come up, and FINALLY...there it was....29:44:xx, an official finish at Leadville, the beltbuckle, and a dream accomplished with his whole crew there for the moment. It was hard to wrap my brain around that, or that I'd slept twice during the time he'd been out there. He finished 328 out of 347 finishers, an amazing accomplishment that barely half of the starters were able to do.

I know this wasn't MY race or my kids' race or anything like that, but it reminded me why I run, and why it's important to work for the things you want to do, and tune out any negative influences or factors telling you that you can't, wouldn't or shouldn't. It's great inspiration to me as I run my first race in two months, the Mary's Loop 8-mile, this weekend as a tune-up/hard run, and then move on to the Imogene Pass Run the following weekend. I want to do like Bryan did, and run smart, stay relaxed, trust that my training will get me through the physical part, and that my mind will get me through any portions of the races when I might feel like I can't do it.

**SMALL P.S./FOOTNOTE...turns out that voting was not "live" yet in the photo contest I linked up in the last blog entry. You can either go back down and click there again to vote, or click through here if you feel the urge to vote for my pic of the bliss of exercise.**

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Oh the nostalgia of trying on pointe shoes! That's wonderful and exciting that she's making the transition. Glad you got to go to Leadville, too!