I’m a mountain man at heart, so it might come as no surprise that I loved our stay in Leadville. The whole reason we came here though wasn’t just for the mountains and crisp cool (and dry) air. The cool nights, and starry skies, and post card mountain views have been a real joy, but the real reason for our stay here has come from months of preparation.
My friend John Ryan signed up to run the Leadville 100, and I was scheduled to pace him for 37 miles of the race. Pacing entails running a portion of the race (after the 50 mile mark) and helping them with things like staying hydrated, ensuring they are eating enough food, general motivation, and just having somebody to talk to in the wee hours of the night when the race pack thins out: it would get very lonely without somebody to run with.
The energy around the town the week of the race was through the roof and continued to increase as race day approached. Just while sitting in the local coffee shop doing work you could overhear racers telling tales of previous races, even previous Leadville 100 races.
Throughout the week I was able to get a few training runs in for my own 100 mile race coming up in September: The Wasatch 100. I even ran/hiked up a Mt. Sherman (14,036ft) with one of Bearded Brothers brand ambassadors, Patrick Sweeney. Later in the week I was even able to meet two more brand ambassadors, Joe & Tim Kelley. It’s really neat to see how a trail race like this pulls together runners from all over the globe.
They day before the race was actually probably the calmest day all week, even the pre-race meeting seemed a bit on the low energy side. It was obvious that everybody wanted to rest, eat well, and remain hydrated. Aside from attending the pre-race meeting and expo we at lunch with John Ryan and his wife, and later went into town for pizza at High Mountain Pies. Soon after getting back to the RV we were in bed drifting off to dream land (aside from some pre bed-time discipline issues with our daughter).
On race day the gun went off at 4 a.m. and the runners began the gradual descent out of town (which quickly turns into a huge ascent). Even before the gun went off I could hear our neighbors in the RV park preparing to leave for the starting line. I’m sure most of them were up at 3 a.m. Kristy and I woke up around 4:15 a.m. and walked out to the street next to the RV park to watch the runners come by. We hadn’t been standing there more than 2 minutes before the first runner went by. We stood there cheering and clapping for the runners, and bidding them good morning for a solid 30 minutes as the 650+ runners went by.
I spent nearly the next 30 hours crewing and pacing for John Ryan during the race. The job of the crew is to meet the runner at certain aid stations along the course and him runner with any issues he might be facing: you help them refuel their water bottles, re-stock on food from the aid station, and bandage any wounds or blisters they might have incurred during the run up until that point. The crew is also there to encourage and motivate the runner.
I was crewing alongside JR’s wife Bethany, his dad John, and his best friend Tristan. Bethany attended JR at the first aid station solo, and meet up with us around 9:30am. At the point we headed out to Twin Lakes (the aid station around the 40 mile mark). JR was looking strong and was in and out of the aid station pretty fast.
At this point JR was going to have to cross over Hope Pass (12,500ft) twice, but we were to meet him at the 50-mile mark where I was going to begin pacing him and help to push him over the pass for the second time and stay on his time goal.
Well, what happened next I can’t disclose here. You see, JR was also filming a documentary on the race and some pretty epic things went down. All I can really tell you is that I ended up only pacing for 27 miles. To disclose anything more would ruin the story later down the road when the film is released.
I did begin my pacing duties with JR from the second Twin Lakes aid station. At this point of the race it was dark, and running required headlamps. Through my 27 miles of the course my main purpose was to keep him on pace to finish the race. My secondary duties were to make sure he was getting enough nutrition, drinking plenty of fluids, and just keeping a positive mindset.
I have paced in a 100 miler before, but it was nowhere near as demanding as this. The cutoff for Leadville is a mere 30 hours. Most mountain races I know of have a cut off time of 36 hours, thus making this race extremely legit. This meant my duties as a pacer were VERY serious. I had to make sure JR stayed on pace to meet his time goal.
I found that while running with JR, the best form of motivation was telling him what time we could finish the race in if we kept up a certain pace. Talking to him, and making sure he kept moving as crucial to his success. At one point JR actually had to call me out…I wasn’t being hard enough on him. He told me he wasn’t doing well and that I needed to step up my game as a pacer (my own words).
That was during the toughest climb of my pacing duties, Powerline. So after having full permission from JR himself, I began to lay into him a bit more and be completely real with him… letting him know that if he even wanted to finish in the 30 hour time limit he was going to have to get his butt moving.
JR and I had done many training runs together and at the start I treated it much like those runs, making small talk, and some serious talk, but I had yet to be completely real with how important it was that he kept moving at a good pace.
When we had first begun our run JR said he wanted me to run behind him, but I quickly realized that I was going to have to take the lead. At some parts of the run, on wider trail, we ran side by side, which was very motivational for JR.
We made great time during the section I paced. We averaged just over a 17-minute mile, which is not bad considering how late in the race it was. I will be more than happy if I can maintain a 17-minute pace during Wasatch after the 50-mile mark. I was very optimistic about bringing him to the May Queen aid station well ahead of his time goal.
From the May Queen aid station my pacing duties were over, and JR’s best friend since 7th grade, Tristan, took over pacing for the final 13.5 miles. I handed Tristan my GPS watch and told him what pace he had to keep him at to finish under the 30 hour cut off. Tristan was prepared to entertain through this final stretch, with a custom playlist on his iPhone just to get JR to the finish line.
Around the 29:18 mark John Ryan crossed the finish line. Months of training had paid off, and the coolest part was his son, wife, father, and entire family got to cross the finish line with him. My duty as the pacer was pretty easy compared to what JR went through, but the experience was amazing, and I learned a lot that will help me complete my first 100 miler in less than two weeks, and I also get the wonderful privilege of having JR as one of my pacers.
As far as running Leadville 100 myself….we will have to see. The course was a lot tougher than I gave it credit, and my wife might have a heart attack if we ever come back here. So, we might have to wait a while before adding this race to my schedule. But, I must say, I really love Leadville, and I hope to be back again.
Even if I never run Leadville, I will be okay with that. I have my own adventure ahead of me. This weekend I will run the Wasatch 100, and JR will return the favor by pacing me through night section of my run. I will have one other pacer helping me through the run. So, be looking for my race report on how that went.
To read about Kristy’s experience, check out her post entitled, Leadville Poisoning.