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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Leadville 2014: The Same Race I Love to Run

Enjoying the Race Across the Sky
There were three principle reasons that I decided to give the Leadville 100 a fourth go. At the conclusion of last year's Leadville 100, in which I neither participated nor spectated, the race and race organizers took much criticism for the manner in which the event was run. Trailrunner published an article pointing out the perceived shortcomings of the race and Hardrock dropped Leadville from their qualifier list, stating that Leadville, "ignored other traits of importance to the HR: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport." This negative reaction to the race that began my ultra career was one reason that fueled my decision to run Leadville. I just couldn't imagine that the race I held so dear was as bad as the critics claimed.

1210's - The Leadville's
The second reason I wanted to run Leadville was my newly acquired sponsorship by New Balance who sponsors the race and makes the Leadville's, a shoe perfectly suited for this course; one that I wore without receiving a single blister and in comfort for the entire 100 miles. Thanks to the team at New Balance for their efforts in helping put on the race and for bringing me on the team and supporting my racing goals. I want to give a special thanks to Monica Morant for her tireless management of the ambassador team.
Monica (Momica) Morant of New Balance (center with the big smile) at Twin Lakes Crew Station
The final reason I wanted to run Leadville is the outpouring of friends and family that come out to support my efforts every time I run this race. This support came from my wife and kids (Molly, Jude & Frances), my parents (Lynda, Jeff & Ted), my crew chief and closing pacer (my little bro Alex), my older sister Beth and her family, my in-laws (Jay, Linda & Katie), pacers Jeremy Duncan and Zach Woodward, and from the many friends from all chapters of my life who materialized to cheer me on. These people make Leadville so much fun to run. Ultimately, regardless of the specific reasons, Leadville is a race I love to run and I wanted to go back and run it!
My Wife and Brother with a Cadre of "Freaks for Zeke" Surrounding 

Jude and Frances with Mom

Hobbling around on my sore legs the last two days, relaxing with my amazing daughters, logging ample pool time, I have had time to reflect, not only on my race, but on the race as a whole. Leadville, the town, was born as a Wild West mining settlement that quickly became a city of such significance that the famous writer Oscar Wilde made sure to visit there during his tour of American. It's freewheeling attitude during the "Silver Boom" days was such that Wilde was humored by a sign that hung in a local watering hole that read, "Please do not shoot the pianist. He's doing his best." The city's population topped out at a whopping 60,000 people in the 1880's. Leadville, the race, tries to capture some of this old west spirit. It allows pacers to "mule", it allows large numbers of runners and it requires nothing more than sense of adventure and can-do attitude to enter the race. The miners of old needed just a pick ax to begin their quest for fortune and the runners of today need only be 18 years old and to pass a medical check-in to commence their journey of 100 miles.

Leadville was a place where fortunes were gained and lost. Of course, this financial and cultural prosperity was short lived, leaving the high elevation city struggling to find a sustainable economic engine. At one point the city built a 54,000 square foot ice castle to attract visitors. Molybdenum mining was Leadville's next economic driver, but demand for steel waxed and waned and so did the mining jobs that the industry generated. Eventually molybdenum production fizzled to next to nothing in the early 1980's, once again leaving Leadville void of a major source of employment. During this period I can remember driving over Independence Pass and seeing a prominent mural that was supposed to read, "We heart Leadville", vandalized to say, "We heart Deadville."

It was in this economic climate that LT100 founder and 14 time finisher, Ken Chlober dreamed up the iconic race. Today the Leadville Race Series puts on seven events, and while those events are not big enough economic generators in themselves to sustain the city, they certainly "support the hosting community." So, as I sat in the pre-race meeting, listening to the charismatic Chlober give his annual pump-up speech, one that makes a weekend jogger believe he or she could finish a 100 mile run, following the comments of two young high schoolers who had received scholarships for college through money generated by the race, I naturally got very excited for the task that await the next day! In spite of the fact that this would be my fourth time attempting Leadville, I was as fired up as my first try, so much so that I woke twenty minutes prior to my two o'clock alarm, raring to go.

Zach Woodward and I at Outward Bound Aid Station 
The buzz of the start, with nearly 700 people lining up, only increased my excitement. This may have worked against me, as I led several times during the first 18 miles (something I had not previously done at Leadville), before eventual winner Rob Krar and runner-up Mike Aish pulled away on the climb up Sugarloaf. I would not see them again until the turnaround at Winfield. I ran in third all the way to the back side of Hope Pass, jamming to my iPod, (also something I have never done before) where Ian Sharman flew by me as we negotiated the descent to the halfway point. Ian and I were the beneficiaries of Rob's misfortune, as he had gotten lost due to some missing course markings. Luckily for us, Rob was coming up the unmarked turn just as we passed it. Again Ian bombed ahead of me on the short descent, reaching the aid station a few minutes ahead of me.

I had made the mistake of carrying only one water bottle over Hope Pass and it was a relatively hot day on the course. This led to some significant dehydration, to the tune of an eight pound weight drop at 50 miles. The race official, who was none other than Hardrock course record holder, Diana Finkel, told my pacer Jeremy Duncan to make sure I got some fluids in and we were off, chasing Sharman up Hope. I could still see him, as he was only five minutes ahead of me, at the top of Hope, but I knew his downhill prowess would increase that gap as we headed to Twin Lakes. He did just that, putting an incredible ten more minutes between us. Aish was having a low point at Twin Lakes and it looked possible for me to reel him in on the climb to the Colorado Trail.
Fueling up at Twin Lakes
Boosted by the immense support at Twin Lakes for team, "Freaks for Zeke," I charged up the hill in the hope that I would see Aish. My hopes were never actualized, as Mike had revived from the dead employing his 2:12 marathon speed which enabled him to catch Sharman. I felt pretty decent up to this point, probably due to the fact that I was running slower than I had in 2012, but I made a dumb mistake at the Half Pipe aid station, slamming three large cups of Coke that were carbonated. They tasted dynamite, but five minutes out of the aid station my stomach locked up with gas pains. This passed after some walking and slow jogging, when I was finally able to belch. However, this was a turning point in the race where I never really felt strong again. Shortly after, as I began jogging away from the Pipeline crew station, a sudden pain develop in my IT band that took several strides to loosen up every time I walked or stopped. It never became a consistent pain and I was able to run all the way to the finish, but my energy seemed sapped and I never really returned to form.
Shuffling into Pipeline
I lumbered through the Outward Bound section, as my pacer, Zach Woodward tried to coax me to a quicker pace. Then, my closing pacer, my brother, Alex Tiernan, attempted to cajole me to the top of the Powerline climb. It must have been frustrating for him, as we had cranked up this ascent the last time I ran Leadville. Ultimately, Alex lead me around the lake, up the boulevard and down the finishing stretch to a solid fourth place finish and my second fastest Leadville time (17:35).
Approaching Outward Bound with Zach Woodward
The next day I made my way to the finish to see the true champions of Leadville. If you want to experience the magic that is the Leadville Trail 100 Run, then come to the finish line between 8:00 and 10:00 AM and watch the runners who have pushed themselves to beat the cutoffs all day and night, and are finishing the grueling race. They are people who may have never run an ultra before, people from all walks of life, all parts of the country and world, all ages, shapes and sizes, who heard of the notorious race and had the audacity to attempt something amazing. I am emotional to the point of near tears every year. Similar to the race I ran this year, which was good not great, Leadville is not perfect, but to be part of this race is awesome!

Photo Credits - All Photos by Jay Johnson

Friday, August 1, 2014

Snowmass-Capitol-Daly Superloop

Two years ago, looking at a map of the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area, I realized that a circumnavigation of the Snowmass-Capitol group was possible via established trails. It was such awesome route that I decided to do it again this summer, with a couple variations on the route. This time I followed Ted Mahon's (Stuck in the Rockies) route that he dubbed the Snowmass-Capitol-Daly Superloop, because it is a 37 mile run with 9,900 feet of climbing. It has some of the best scenery the area has to offer, meandering through high alpine meadows, along beautiful traverses, past gorgeous lakes, and over five passes (one is technically a saddle) with stunning views of the Elk Range. It is a cousin to the classic four pass loop, and equals its awesomeness, only it's longer, allowing for more time to enjoy the wild country of the Elks.

I ran the loop counter-clockwise beginning at the Snowmass Creek trailhead and heading up West Snowmass Creek to the Haystack Mountain Saddle. Though not technically a pass, I am giving it pass status as the ascent begins below 9,000 feet rising to nearly 12,000 feet. It sure feels like you have arrived at a pass when you top out. I began the run with an alpine start, so here is the view at dawn looking back at the Roaring Fork valley shrouded in a sea of clouds.

View from the Haystack Saddle

After descending the from Haystack, I climbed up to one of my favorite spots in the Elks, Capitol Lake and Pass. Shadowed by the impressive and massive Capitol Peak headwall, the lake is nestled in an ominous rocky basin.

Capitol Lake

After a short descent to Avalanche Creek I climbed Grassy Pass where I was treated to unique and spectacular view of Capitol Peak.

Capitol Peak
From Grassy Pass the trail contours along a series of tundra-like hanging meadows to Silver Creek Pass. It is one of my favorite stretches of trail in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. The trail up Silver Creek pass is non-existent in many places, but the route seems fairly obvious and the trail reemerges toward the top of the pass. The view from the pass is expansive, though the clouds over Treasure Mountain were a bit ominous.

The view from Silver Creek Pass
About halfway down Silver Creek, a somewhat faint sheepherders' trail traverses to the east toward Geneva Lake. This trail marks the beginning of the Meadow Mountain Traverse. The traverse is a good way to avoid dropping into Lead King Basin and dodging four wheel drive vehicles as you approach the Geneva Lake trailhead. Instead, the Meadow Mountain Traverse contours across Meadow Mountain through fields of wildflowers along cliff bands with views of waterfalls that pour out of the Geneva Lake basin.

Meadow Mountain Traverse  
The final climb of the loop, when run counter-clockwise, is Trailrider Pass, and it's a doozy. There is one long steep switchback with a short one at the very top. The view of Snowmass Lake on the other side is worth the schlep.
Snowmass Lake
The Snowmass-Capitol-Daly loop is destined to become a classic among ultrarunners and backpackers looking for a bigger and more secluded route than the famed Four Pass Loop. It is certainly one that I will try to run each summer, as it displays the best that the Maroon Bells Wilderness has to offer.