Rugged Individualist. Certified USA Triathlon Coach & NASM Personal Trainer, Men's Self Improvement Coach. President of Go Farther Sports. National Ranked Triathlete & 100 Mile Grand Slam Ultrarunner, only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Random Thoughts Before Tackling The Last Leg of the Grand Slam

"The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning award is recognition for those who complete four of the oldest 100 mile trail runs in the U.S. The "Slam" consists of officially finishing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run all in the same year. The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning Award was established in 1986, when Tom Green was the first finisher" -

For the entire Grand Slam, Michael Lebowitz, a noted photographer who is a veteran with ultrarunning, has been capturing our thoughts and essences as we make our rugged way through the Grand Slam races. With just one race left in the Grand Slam, he wants to capture any thoughts that  we encounter as we try to make our date with history at Wasatch in 1.5 weeks. So here goes:

1) One to go...don't f**k this up!

2) These 100 milers are starting to get addicting. Will I go through withdrawal after Wasatch or should I join Ultrarunners Anonymous?

Me: Hi, my name is Peter Priolo, and I am an Ultrarunner.
Ultra Anonymous Group (all together): Hi Pete!

3) Are there any 200 mile races I can do now? I need to get to the next level.

4) I lost more than 9 pounds at Leadville. Maybe if I cut out the water and all the food in this next race, I can lose more than that. Now that would be cool!

5) I broke down and cried after finishing Leadville. I guess there is a little bit of human left in me.

6) I still don't understand those runners who do the same races year after year, especially the local 5k races. There is a whole world out there to explore, and the Grand Slam only scratches the surface!

7) When does the lottery open for Hardrock? For Western States? For UTMB? And what would I do if I win all three of them?

This is Hardrock? Oh man I want to be so there...

8) Who needs toenails anyway?

9) Good looks? Nah, the ladies I like want a guy with the biggest belt buckle!

10) If I date a woman that runs ultras faster than me, I'm doomed!

11) If I do win the Eagle Trophy for finishing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, how will I get it past the TSA at the airport when going home?

12) After this year, I'm not sure if I can run on the roads again, even in training.

13) I promised myself the rest of the year off when I finished the Slam. So I signed up for a local 6 hour race 2 weeks after Wasatch. Oops...

14) I think I need to swim the English Channel to top the Slam (seriously, it's in the cards).

English Channel Swim. Another thing on my bucket list.

15) My reason for avoiding flat and fast 5k races in favor of big mountainous 100 mile ultras? The 5k races are much more painful.

16) So will I ever settle down and live like the rest of the 99% after the Slam is over? You know, those who support families and work full time? Definitely not! The Slam just confirmed the obvious...that the trail is my real home.

17) After the Slam, people will accuse me of being more arrogant. I'm sorry but they are either interpreting my positive "can do" attitude wrong or they are just being jealous. The latter group I don't associate with anymore; they spend too much time trying to tear other people down than trying to better themselves. If you decide to be a negative person, I have no time for you at all.

18) Will I go back to triathlon again? Of course. The double-deca Ironman (20 times the Ironman distance) is starting to look attractive...

19) Some ultras have much more aggressive standards than others. Leadville is one such race. Of all its faults, the one thing they should never change is their aggressive 30 hour limit. If you don't finish a race like that, please don't cry and call for the race to add more hours to make it easier. It's up to EACH RUNNER to do whatever they have to do to rise to the occasion and figure out a way to get themselves under that 30 hour limit. Believe me, when you do finish, you'll feel better for it.

20) If I wear all my belt buckles at once, would that make me a show off?

21) I don't think I've ever kept a normal sleeping pattern since Western States two months ago. What is this thing called sleep anyway?

22) If I finish along with all of the other Slammers, I could be a part of the largest group of ultrarunners who has ever finished the Slam (22). On top of that, I could be a part of the group who has the most women finishing the Slam (5). I think that's awesome!

23) I'm definitely going to miss the Slam when it's over. The highs and the lows make this such a memorable season. I don't think I'll ever see another season like it again.

Me and fellow Slammers before Vermont. I am glad to be involved with such a talented group of people this year. And I'm sure going to miss the camaraderie when the Slam is over.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Leadville Trail 100 - Going Above and Beyond to Finish

Coming into the 3rd leg of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, and into Denver International Airport the Monday before the Leadville Trail 100, I was greeted by the looming range of the Rocky Mountains. Two years ago, those mountains beat me mercilessly and left Denver with my tail between my legs.

This year, I looked at those mountains and said, “I'm back, 25 pounds lighter and much better at climbing. I'm ready for you.”

The Leadville Trail 100 is one of the most difficult races of the world, where only 40-59% of the people who actually start the race finish. The thin air, coupled with the tough mountainous terrain – you do have to go up over the 12,600 foot Hope Pass, twice – contributes to the overall carnage of victims.

Two years ago, I didn't even make it to the top of Hope Pass. I was timed out at the Hopeless Aid Station at Mile 46. The race had its way with me, and tossed me aside like a rag doll.

It woke something up in me. In order to actually finish a race like this I was supposed to rise to its demands and make myself the fittest I can be. And I was supposed to have the supreme mental fortitude needed to battle the course and its conditions and to get to that finish line.

The process f waking up was to clean up my diet (I went Paleolithic), and to change my training back to a more balanced triathlon approach, doing a little less running but bumping up my swimming and cycling to balance out my training.

Evidence that it worked was shown in last year's Vermont 100, where I took 6.5 hours off my PR and finished at 21;24:21. I knew I was on the right track then.

I was ready to go to Leadville this year, just to see if my training has proven effective against that course.

And of course the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning happened. Of course this gives my Leadville a more dramatic tone as I try to finish four of these 100 mile races in ten weeks.

Of the 4 races (Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch), I always knew that Leadville was THE race that had the best chance of kicking me out of the Slam. I didn't want to say that in the beginning of the Slam because I still had two tough races to get through first.

Western States I had blister issues, but I muddled through in the last 30 miles to finish. Vermont had humid conditions, but I finished that race in under 24 hours. After Vermont, it was finally safe to talk about Leadville,

I can finally focus on a little closure to this little chapter in my life by finishing Leadville. I believed in my training methods and my new diet, and I believed that those were the keys in getting me to the finish line. Finally, I can go out there and prove it.

Pre-Race Strategy

The weather in Leadville leading up to the race was quite variable. It was very cool at night, and sometimes rain would cover parts of the area at times. The bottom line was that I had to be prepared for everything. So, unlike the first two races where I only carried a bottle carrier and a pouch for my food and salt, I was to carry a Camelbak. In the mountains, one can easily get caught off guard, so I carried my essential gear for the whole race, which included a long sleeve running jacket good for the rain, an extra headlamp, gloves, and a wool cap for cold weather. The large distance between the aid stations called for carrying a lot of water also, so it was appropriate to carry the Camelbak with a 2 liter water capacity.

Leadville Start – 4AM

The Start to May Queen (13.5 miles)

The temperature the morning of the start was 45 degrees, cool but not bone-chilling cold. It was the perfect temperature for the start. I wore a short-sleeve shirt along with my gloves and wool cap and kept the jacket in my Camelbak.

As the race started I settled into a casually easy pace. I didn't want to get caught up with the faster people, so I settled back and started talking to some of the other runners. Most of the runners were first-timers, so I was content telling them about the course and what to expect in the early miles.

The course was basically flat to slightly rolling hills as it wound around the north edge of Turquoise Lake. This easy section can lull the runners into a deceptively faster pace than they should, and I think a lot of runners eventually had a lot of problems with that faster pace, especially when they get to the first mountainous section after May Queen and find that they are exhausted.

I arrived at May Queen feeling good, at 2:28.

May Queen (13.5 miles) to Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles)

This section started the race off in earnest. Out of May Queen was the first significant climb of the course; the climb up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. It starts off with a rocky single-track trail climb up to a dirt road with great views of Turquoise Lake. The dirt road then takes a sharp left turn onto a rocky road and proceeds to climb nearly to the top. Most of the time was spent walking up this hill at a pretty comfortable pace. The uphill grades weren't too ridiculous, but it can still add to the suffering later on if this hill was pushed too hard.

 Looking good so far. Of course I'm only 15 miles into the race.

At this point I took the time consuming the last of my Pop Tarts, hoping that this will put a good starting jolt to my day at the beginning of the race. They did go down easily, so I was content that I was all fueled up for this stretch until we got to Fish Hatchery.

At the top of Sugarloaf, the road bends around to the decent down the rugged Power Line hill. The hill can be pretty rough on the quads, so I made sure I kept my steps easy and sure down the whole way. As I made my way towards Fish Hatchery, I was really feeling quite good.

Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles) to Outward Bound Aid Station (30.1 miles)

At Fish Hatchery, I tried my hand with several foods. My stomach started to complain, so I had to cut it short and start the 6.5 mile run toward Outward Bound. I hoped it was enough.

This section begins with the first 4 miles slightly uphill on a hard asphalt road. I remember this section very well 2 years ago because I was already gassed and tired after going up and back down Sugarloaf. This year, it was a bit different. I felt good, and I let it be known to people around me. “Yes, I'm still coherent!”, I joked as I left the Fish Hatchery Aid Station. I was still running at that point, and I was quickly making strides that I didn't do two years ago. Maybe I wasn't going to flirt with the cutoffs after all? Wishful thinking, but with the race already feeling different, maybe it was the time to think boldly.

Still, this was the same place where the thin air made itself known, and it dropped on me like an anvil. I couldn't run full speed like I did in lower altitude, but thankfully to my better fitness, my speed was significanly increased compared to 2 years ago. This thin air let itself be known to me the rest of the race my manifesting itself in a variety of ways later on.

After about 4 miles, the course goes off the road, and back onto trail leading to Half Pipe, where the crews would help their runners. This was different this year; in previous years, they turned us onto Half Moon Road (more asphalt, yuck) to get us to Half Pipe. This trail was definitely a better option. After Half Pipe, the trail starts to climb a bit before it finally reaches the Outward Bound Aid Station. I arrived here a bit tired, so I knew I had to stay a bit and get some food and drink in me.

Outward Bound Aid Station (30.1 miles) to Twin Lakes Aid Station (39.0 miles)

At Outward Bound, I started seeing telltale signs of trouble lurking. I started to take in a bit of food but discovered the my body was not holding it very well. I also wasn't urinating as much as I wanted to, and I discovered that my urine was starting to get a bit darker, which is not a good thing. I upped my water intake and took some more salt tabs as a way to counter some of those signs. I was still feeling strong enough, but if I couldn't solve these signs, I definitely was looking at a bleak future as I would weaken in the future.

The section between Outward Bound and Twin Lakes was a mix of wide trail and single-track, heading generally uphill towards the Mt. Ebert trail head. Once past the Mt. Elbert trail, the course hits a fluid-only station, then takes a sharp turn down a very rocky and unforgiving hill down to the Twin Lakes Aid Station. The initial uphill section from Outward Bound did provide some flatter sections for running, but most of the time was done walking some of the uphill sections. I was still feeling OK here and starting to anticipate the eventual trip up Hope Pass, where my race died last year. Although I found that the thin air was severely limiting my performance at this point, I was still quite methodical with my approach, walking briskly up the hills, and running the flats. Hitting the Mount Elbert trail and the Fluid Station staged there, I knew I was going to hit Twin Lakes much faster than I did 2 years ago, two hours before the cutoff time...

...which is plenty of time to climb up Hope Pass.

Twin Lakes Aid Station (39.0) to Hope Pass Aid Station (45.0 miles)

At this point, I had to now switch from running mode to hiking mode. This section is the signature section of Leadville, and if one is not ready for this pass, it can very well mean disaster. So I spent more time than usual here trying to fuel up before venturing out and tackling the Pass.

This is where the carnage began for some of the runners. I can understand how they felt. A lot of runners tend to expend so much energy in the early parts of the course that they don't have anything left for the signature climb of the course, the massive 3500 foot climb up to Hope Pass. Although I still couldn't eat as much as I would like and still couldn't pee as I would like, I knew I was well enough to tackle the Pass at this point.

 The water crossing before the initial climb up Hope Pass

And it was hard and relentless, just as I remembered 2 years ago. I was in better shape though, so even though I felt like I struggled in some sections, the main defference was that I didn't have to stop frequently to catch my breath. Towards the upper reaches of the Pass, we finally started to encounter the leaders coming back from Winfield. It is quite amazing that they have already crested the Pass twice, unbelievable mountain goats they were. The climb still took forever, but I finally got to the tree line and saw the Hope Pass aid station.

Two years ago, I didn't make the cutoffs here. This year, I made it in plenty of time.

They had chicken broth and Raman soups to warm up the soul here as well as all sorts of drinks. They were all carried up by the llamas that were sitting around at the other side of the aid station. It was great to see the llamas up close again. Instead of heading back down due to missing a cutoff, I had plenty of time, so I continued the last 0.8 miles to the top of Hope Pass.

I crested Hope Pass in 12.5 hours. 

Top of Hope Pass, the first time. I had to climb this again?

Hope Pass (45.0 miles) to Winfield Aid Station (50.0 miles)

Not really wanting to wait, I immediately started to descend the opposite side of the Pass and get to Winfield in good time. The descent was pretty harrowing and very steep. Some of the switchbacks were pretty dangerous, and I almost lept off of one before finally getting control back and getting back on the trail without getting hurt.

 Initial descent from Hope Pass

One of my complaints, and is probably a common one, is that since this is an out-and-back-course, the runners who were coming back really started to get thick and heavy, and on a single-track trail, was awfully hard to maneuver around. It was extremely hard stopping on a steep hill to allow a runner to pass me going the other way. To add insult to injury, the runners coming back had pacers too, so there were even more people on this section as usual. With 1000 people going back and forth on single-track trail, the constant disruption to my running was not good at all (I made a complaint about this to Lifetime Fitness in their survey soon after the run; my opinion is that pacers should be picked up at Twin Lakes going back towards the finish line and Hope Pass should be left for runners only). As I finally came down to the bottom of the pass and onto the trail that lead to Winfield, the traffic was awful. I wasn't feeling too good at this point either, which added to the misery. I still wasn't urinating very well, and felt very hollowed out due to food issues.

I finally got to Winfield, the 50 mile turnaround point, in 12:20.

They immediately placed me on a scale, and discovered that I had lost 9 pounds. Not good. I felt like crap; and now I face the daunting task of climbing Hope Pass AGAIN? If I couldn't get any good, solid food in me, I was in big trouble.

So I ate, and sat.

I was fortunate to sit next to two fellow Slammers, Dennis Ahern and Iris Priebe. Iris didn't look too good either, and on top of that she was choking on the dust made from cars on the dirt road leading to Winfield. I mentioned to Dennis that I was in big trouble, and he basically says to just keep the faith and keep moving.

But first, I needed to solve this issue of eating. So I ate a good amount of food, including some turkey sandwiches, and sat there to allow the body to actually digest the food. The time was ticking towards 13 hours at this point, and I remembered that after 13 hours, the chances of people finishing start to go down dramatically.

What was actually happening was that even though I felt like I was going at an easy pace, the body has to work harder in the thin air. Normally, at sea level, the easy effort would enable the body to shunt some blood over to the stomach to aid in digesting essential foods to keep it going. At altitude, it was not happening, and so I wasn't able to keep any food down for the first 50 miles. The only way that digestion was going to happen, with this race, was to eat first, wait for at least 10 minutes to enable digestion to occur, then start running. It was against my policy of “no more than 3 minutes at an aid station”, but sometimes policy has to change to suit the race.

At around 12:50 into the race, I decided to leave and tackle the pass the second time. My fellow Slammers were several minutes behind me.

Winfield (50.0 miles) to Hope Pass Aid Station (55.0 miles)

Coming in towards the beginning of the climb, I saw fellow NYC ultrarunner Julie White. We basically said a passing hello. She later told me that I looked like crap . I told her that I felt like crap at the point also.

The Winfield part of Hope Pass was a lot steeper, and I intended to take several breaks before getting up there. On the first break, I noticed Dennis pass by and he told me to keep it going. Iris was a few people behind Dennis and she told me to get in behind her. So I did, and we walked up the Pass in silence, concentrating on our efforts to get through this ordeal.

Near Winfield. I'm a hurting man.

The 2nd time up the pass was agony, but I kept behind Iris, and followed her steps up the Pass. My muscles burned at the effort, and it felt like forever, but we finally made the tree line and, with the top in sight, knew that we were finally close to making it to the top for the second time.

I crested Hope Pass for the second time at 14:51, much to my relief.

Hope Pass Aid Station (55.0 miles) to Twin Lakes Aid Station (61.0 miles)

We got to the Hope Pass Station soon afterwards and found that there was not much left in terms of food. Just water. That's another complaint that I had for the folks at the race. Luckily the next aid station was mostly downhill. With the water they had left, I filled up my Camelbak and continued on down the 3500 feet hill towards Twin Lakes. The daylight started to wane and it was a question of whether I was going to make it to Twin Lakes with or without my headlamp (it was in my Camelbak but didn't really want to take it out before Twin Lakes).

So down, down, down I went. I finally reached the bottom, and the river crossing at exactly 8PM (16 hours into the race). A couple more miles in the swampy area and finally I made it to Twin Lakes, with enough daylight left to finish this stretch without my headlamp.

At Twin Lakes, Dennis, Iris, and I were together again, and I decided to take about 15 minutes to slam down some food and make sure it digested. While we were digesting, we got ready for night running. I got into my long sleeve shirt, got the jacket, gloves, and wool cap from out of my pack, and put them on. It promised to be a very cold night, so I left nothing to chance. If I was to warm up too much, I can always take off parts of my clothes if I wanted to.

With Hope Pass done, I finally got the idea that I have a good chance at finishing this thing. I just have to keep moving.

Finally ready with my clothes and food, I set out into the new night towards uncertainty.

Twin Lakes Aid Station (61.0 miles) to Outward Bound (69.9 miles)

We got out of Twin Lakes and painfully started up the hill towards the fliud station at Mt. Elbert. It really wasn't as bad as I thought. I guess tackling Hope Pass makes the other hills a bit easier. I tried to keep drinking going up the hill.

When I arrived at Mt. Elbert, my 2 liter bladder of water was empty. Still, when I urinate, the urine was a dark brown and it stung.

That wasn't good.

I still honestly don't know if it was utter dehydration or I actually had blood in the urine. I knew I was pushing, pushing, pushing at my limits to this race, and I was definitely looking at some damage. I didn't really know what to do, so I made it my business to ask one of the medical people at Outward Bound, the next station, their view on this.

Since the course between Mt. Elbert and Outward Bound was gently downhill, I still felt strong enough to set a good pace towards Outward Bound, no matter what type of issue I had with urination. It felt like I took a long time, but I finally got to the aid station and immediately asked one of the medical crew about my condition.

He asked me if I took ibuprofin (nope, never do). He asked me if I ever fell in the race (nope, not once). Then he asked me if it was blood in the urine or was it just a dark yellow? I responded I don't know. He asked me if it stung, and I said yes. He winced at that answer. I asked him if maybe it was because of the altitude that I'm started to see my body break down, he says probably not.

Then he told me something that probably made sense. I was taking salt capsules, but was washing it down with a lot of water. Even though I was taking in salt, the amount of water I was taking was far exceeding the salt I was taking in, so I might still have a salt imbalance. He said instead of taking just water, I should take a lot more of the Rocktaine electrolyte fluid and see if that balances out. I determined it was worth a try and thanked him for his imput.

After talking to the doctor, I then went to fill up my Camelbak with the Rocktaine energy drink, not water as I was doing up until then. I was still to take salt capsules on top of the electrolyte drink.

Outward Bound (69.9 miles) to Fish Hatchery (76.5 miles)

At this point, I was very weak, my legs were in quite a bit of pain, and my running mechanics were starting to fall apart, but I was still forcing a 15 minutes per mile pace. It hurt keeping this pace. It hurt very much. I know four of these miles were going to be on road, and with the daunting Power Line Hill coming up after the Fish Hatchery, I wanted to move through this section as fast as possible. I was operating at a level that I knew really risked my health and knew that the possibility that I was risking some pretty significant damage to my body. I didn't know what was going on inside, but I knew that I had to keep hustling to keep comfortably ahead of the 30 hour cutoffs. I estimated that I was 75 minutes ahead of that schedule and didn't want to risk getting closer to that cutoff, so I ignored the weakness and the pain to forge ahead at a pretty aggressive pace. The asphalt provided the means to go fast in this section and I was going to take advantage of it.

It was at this point, I seemed to have remembered the famous saying, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” And I started operating this way. The ominous Power Line Hill was looming after the aid station. I decided, in that last mile, I was not going to stay at that aid station long at all. Just get a handful of food and some Rocktaine and get out of there as soon as possible. I was going to attack the Power Line, and the sooner the better.

I wound up arriving at Fish Hatchery 5 minutes faster than scheduled. I spent no more than 4 minutes at the aid station, and I got out of there ready to tackle Power Line.

Fish Hatchery (76.5 miles) to May Queen (86.5 miles)

About 1.5 miles of walking uphill on the road leading to Power Line separated the aid station and the bottom of the Power Line Hill. I tried to walk this section pretty fast too. Power Line was going to be painfully slow, so I was hopefully using the roads to speed my pace up to compensate for the hike up the looming hill.

After we turned left off the road, the Power Line started in earnest.

And it sucked. The first part of the section involved a couple of sections so steep it rivaled the grade up Hope Pass. On top of that, the light of my primary headlamp started to dim. I used the primary headlamp for 2 hours in the beginning of the race, so it was understandable that they were going to dim in the wee hours of the second night. Luckily I had my second headlamp in my Camelbak, so I stopped for a brief moment to get it out and pack the primary headlamp back in the pack. I had new batteries in my drop bag at May Queen, so I made a mental note to change the batteries in the primary headlamp so that I had it for the rest of the race.

One of the important pieces of advice here is to ALWAYS have back-up plans in case you expect the unexpected. For one, I always carry 2 headlamps on me, and for another, I carry extra batteries in all of the drop bags that I will encounter at night to make sure I have a “backup for my backup”. This turned out to be critically important at this stage, because I would have had a major problem on my hands if I had no backup plan when climbing Power Line. Luckily for me, a little advance planning went a long way and a crisis was quickly averted.

One of the worst things about Power Line is the number of “false summits” the runners must face before encountering the true summit. I must have counted at least 5 of these false summits before another agonizing hill was encountered. My legs were practically burning here. I was with a group of people at this point, and nobody was talking at all. We were all in various states of pain, with one sole purpose to keep moving. Such a single, yet powerful purpose, overriding the pain and the desire to stop. One single powerful purpose consuming all other thoughts. One step in front of the other; just keep moving and eventually will get to the top. Power Line hurt like no other, but the drive was overwhelming. Keep going, keep going...
Nearly 2 hours after leaving Fish Hatchery we finally arrived at the true summit at the top of Sugar Loaf and finally started the initial descent into May Queen. I was extremely exhausted and my running looked more like a shuffled walk, but I still wanted to maintain a 15-16 minute mile pace down the hill. The drive to get to May Queen was stronger than ever, and even though I looked terrible, I was still steadily making my way toward May Queen, and eventually the finish line. The big hills were done, and I realized that.

The descent was easy enough until we had to turn off the road onto a final section before May Queen, very rocky single track that tests one's patience. I was at the end of my patience, and didn't need a steep rocky single-track section. After about 15 minutes of up and down pain, I finally emerged out onto the road and arrived at May Queen. It was 25 hours into the race.

Five hours to make 13.5 miles. That should be comfortable enough to finish under 30 hours. The forced march worked.

May Queen (86.5 miles) to the Finish (100.0 miles)

5AM in the morning, and it was cold at May Queen. I wanted to keep moving towards the finish, but with a huge 13.5 miles, and no further aid stations, separating me from the finish, I needed some sustanance to carry me over the distance. So I sat for 5 minutes to eat a couple of pieces of turkey sandwich and some potato chips. After filling up with Rocktaine, I was off again.

Soon after May Queen, I finally had the urge to really pee, and so I did. It was still dark, but was thankfully a lot lighter than it was before. The Rocktaine might actually be working!

Most of the last stretch was some small ups and downs along Turquoise Lake. The Tabor Boat Ramp was 6.5 miles along this stretch and was considered the halfway point. I mentally broke the stretch up to those two sections. The trail was a bit treacherous to begin with, but with the dawn of a new day approaching, I didn't need the headlamp anymore. I had better lighting with the dawn and was able to progress eaiser on the rocky, unsteady trail.

I made my way to the boat ramp about 100 minutes after I left May Queen. With 7 miles to go and about 3.5 hours to do it, it finally dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, I was going to finish this tough race. I couldn't really run anymore as my legs were in all sorts of pain. But the walking was still brisk; at least I had that for the end.

The sun was shining brightly as I finally got away from the lake and towards the edge of the town of Leadville. I quickly packed my jacket, gloves, and hat into my Camelbak and walked briskly towards the end. The end of a very tough leg in the Slam.

I was war weary, but was still standing in the end. With about 5 minutes remaining to the 29 hour mark, I finally saw the finish line at the end of an uphill leg. I didn't want to go over 29 hours, so I decided to put together a painful trot to make it to the finish line under 29 hours. The effort was successful, and I finished the gruelling feat in 28 hours and 57 minutes.

Reaching the finish line. Head slumped, looking at the ground. Yeah, it definitely hurt.

I was immediately escorted to the scales to be weighed. I was still 9 pounds underweight. How I pulled off the second half of this course was beyond me. I had raised my level of pain tolerance to such a high level in this race, just to make the finish line. They escorted me to the medical tent. While I was finally left alone, I actually started to cry a bit as the pain I was tolerating for a very long time was finally released. I never had a race hurt that much. Not in any Ironman triathons, not in any race that I did in my 23 year history.

The medical staff soon checked my vitals My pressure was way down (90 over 70), so the medical staff monitored that for a while while giving me things to eat. As the 30 hour mark passed, a cannon blast signalled the end of the race. All that mattered at that point was I was safely finished and was moving on in the Grand Slam.

After another hour in the tent, my vitals were strong enough for them to release me. I was weak, but I finally managed to get a smile out to some friends that were hanging around the race. Leadville was DONE. After a DNF two years ago, I manage to battle the course, tolerate a greater amount of pain, and rise to the occasion to finish this race.

The recovery from this race is a bit complicated for the week after the finish, but I think I'll be OK for Wasatch. I had better be. This is the last race of the Slam and an Eagle Trophy for this accomplishment is waiting for me at that finish line.

A couple of days later, at the airport in Denver, I looked at those looming Rocky Mountains again, not with the eyes of a conqueror, but with the eyes of a survivor. Before entering the plane to leave the area. I secretly tipped my hat to those mountains with respect. They beat me two years ago, but I feel that I had a kindred connection with them now. I didn't conquer them this year, but now I felt that those mountains are a part of me now, and it's a great thing to have.

One more race, and then I can finally relax, with trophy in hand.

Wasatch Front 100, thankfully the last race in the Grand Slam, is next. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Short Report - Leadville is DONE!!!

Time of 28:57:06.97. Basically broke down my body and had to will myself through to the finish to capture the 3rd leg of the Grand Slam. I'll post a full report later. Right now, I need to heal...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Twenty hours till Leadville - Embracing the Challenges

It's amazing what one can learn when running 100 mile races. Even if one thinks he didn't learn anything, he finds after all that he's learned a great many things in these races.

I found that the first two races of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning are like that. Especially when it comes to adapting to the conditions of the race.

I used to fight the conditions and try to bend it to my will. Even when I was a competitive triathlete, I tended to take this approach. I used to have a certain goal time in mind for half-Ironman and Ironman races. Damn the conditions, the time was all I wanted. So I used to fight the wind, the rain, the bumpy roads, the hills to keep a certain pace. And if the conditions started to get the best of me, I would swear and curse and increase my effort even harder to maintain my pace. More often then not, I used to blow up spectacularly in the race and resort to walking to the finish with a mediocre time.

I've realized that the first two races of the Grand Slam has forced me to come to terms with a different way to approach the race. And I'm starting to realize that this is the more sound way to do these races. Instead of fighting the conditions, I have to learn to embrace them, absorb the pain that goes with the conditions, and keep moving forward while making adjustments to adapt to the conditions. It's quite a novel concept, especially with my goal-oriented approaches, but this approach has gotten me through the second hottest Western States on record and a very humid Vermont race filled with biting flies.

In Western States, I knew I was running in triple-digit temperatures. The heat felt like it was ready to melt my face off in those canyons. But I accepted the heat, made it my own, and kept going forward with it. I found that I can tolerate a higher level of pain with this approach. I also had major blister issues. I initially fought the blisters, by stopping at every aid station and trying to lessen the pain, but at mile 85 I decided to just embrace the pain, and get to the finish line, when I would deal with the blisters. From mile 85 on, each step I took was agony, but I accepted the higher level of pain and that got me to the finish with enough time to keep my Grand Slam attempt going.

In Vermont it was the stifling humidity and the biting flies that challenged me in this race. It wasn't the perfect day that I had a year ago when I finished under 21.5 hours. But I embraced the humidity, the disgusting wetness that I had to endure, and basically ignored the biting flies to concentrate on my goal to get under 24 hours and obtain a belt buckle in the race (Vermont only gave belt buckles to those who finished under 24 hours; a plaque was given to people finishing over 24 hours and under 30 hours). Yes, I wanted to try to match the 21.5 hours that I did last year, but I knew the conditions were much harsher, accepted the fact that it was not going to happen, and made the adjustments necessary to finish decently in the race.

In the early part of the year, when looking at the Grand Slam as a whole, I always thought Leadville was the race that would most likely knock me out of the Grand Slam. The fact that it utterly destroyed me 2 years ago sobered me up to the fact that this race takes no prisoners. Yes, I've lost 27 pounds and gained a lot of hill-climbing power for the race in the meantime, but I cannot take my increased fitness for granted. At some point, or maybe at every point, of the race, I'm going to have to embrace the challenges and accept a higher level of pain in this race, maybe the highest level of pain that I've ever faced. I know that tomorrow is going to be hell, but I'm determined to accept the conditions I face, make it my own, and keep pushing forward with the sole desire to finish.

 Hope Pass - the conditions here can be extreme. At 12,600 feet, it's tough to breathe up here. Plus, it's been known to be stormy up here also. Whatever conditions I receive up here, I need to embrace them and make the necessary adjustments to get up and over this section effectively.

There is a Leadville pace calculator that is circulating around the web. In order to make 25 hours you have to do so-and-so; for a sub-30 hour finish, you have to do this-and-that and reach this aid station at a certain time. In the past I would have looked at it, and studied it to a fault. And if I was to miss a certain goal time, I would fight harder to get back on pace again.

I only took one glance at the table this year, and then I left it behind. No studying, no intermediate goal times, no forced pace. I realize that this is a generic table that one shouldn't take seriously. And the worst part is that it doesn't take conditions into account that is unique to this year's race.

This year, I'm going at my own pace, am going to accept the conditions imposed on me, will make the decisions possible to adjust to those conditions, and will embrace the challenges these conditions represent and move forward the best I can under those conditions. I feel that this approach is the best chance of finishing this race, and at the best possible time.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Not-So-Helpful Guide to the Leadville 100

Since most of us who are doing Leadville are patiently waiting for the race guide from the organizers at this time, I figure I would take the bull by the horns and provide one for you until theirs comes out.

"The Race Across the Sky" - The other name for the Leadville 100 race. When I first signed up for this race 2 years ago, I thought I would actually be floating on air doing this race, but was bummed that it really meant racing at altitude. Oh well...

Leadville: the highest incorporated city in the United States. Located in the High Rockies sandwiched in between all of these "fourteeners".

Fourteener: A mountain peak, usually in Colorado that climbs above 14,000 feet. Leadville won't be above that altitiude, but it will certainly come close.

"Two Mile High City": The other name for Leadville. That would be twice as high as the "Mile High City", or Denver. Figure 5280 feet, which is a mile, times 2 and that would get it somewhere over 10,000 feet. Yeah, that's pretty high for a city.

The Mile: A distance that can be done in under four minutes for world class athletes. Unfortunately, there are a hundred of these miles in the race and they certainly won't be done in under four minutes, even by the best of runners. Doing the mile three times slower would actually be quite fast for Leadville, and most runners definitely would not DARE go faster than that.

Buckle: Has a dual meaning. It means what your legs do at the mile 80 mark of the race. It also means if you avoid the first definition it's the award you get for finishing the race in under 30 hours.

Bib Number: A demeaning way to label yourself in a race. I would figure most people would like to be called by their names. Instead, people are labelled by simple, cold numbers that they wear on their shirts or shorts. It's dehumanizing, but considered "necessary" in these races.

I hate being treated like a number. I HAVE A NAME YOU KNOW...

Oxygen: This is something that lowlanders are addicted to for their entire lives. Like any drug, lowlanders will go through "oxygen withdrawal" as they climb to Leadville. Once up at altitude and get through their withdrawal, they will find out that oxygen is overrated and optional to those who live at high altitudes. Who needs it anyway?

Breathing: An optional function of the body. See Oxygen above.

Mountain Pass: The lazy way through the mountains where they are at their lowest. Real men don't do passes, they go over peaks. But that will be in the Wasatch Front 100 race. Since Leadville is a warmup for the Wasatch Front 100 three weeks later, it is acceptable to do it the lazy way and go over a mountain pass. In this case, we go over Hope Pass.

Hope Pass:  The name for the lazy way to get over Mount Hope, which by the way, is only 67 feet shy of being a Fourteener (13,933 feet) Sucks for you, ha, ha! The top of Hope Pass is "only" 12,600 feet, and since people really don't need oxygen, should be a cinch getting over.

Hope Pass. Nope, no peaks, just going over the lowest part of the mountains. Where's the challenge in that?

Out and Back Course: A course in which, except for at the turnaround, everything has to be done twice. Leadville is such a course, and so Hope Pass is climbed twice. Since Hope Pass is SO very easy to get over, why not do it twice? It's just the MANLY thing to do!

Sucking Wind: Anyone trying to go through oxygen withdrawal DURING the race. It's considered a big challenge for lowlanders. Highlanders who don't breathe oxygen know better and will just laugh at the lowlanders' expense.

Pacer: Someone who will help a runner try to finish the race. A strong word of advice here; for those who need pacers in this race, make sure (s)he doesn't breathe. If (s)he does, then (s)he's dependent on oxygen and can prove to be a big liability to the runner.

Finish line: A place that has to be run to in under 30 hours. If you're dependent on oxygen, this might be a tough achievement to do. This has to be done if one has to move on in the Grand Slam to something a bit more manly like the Wasatch Front 100.

I hope this clarifies things in a "tongue in cheek" fashion as Leadville approaches. Until the real race guide comes out, I figure this will help with your preparations for this race. Until then, see you all next week!

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Quick Glimpse at Training Between the Grand Slam Races

This is going to surprise a lot of people today.

Some people have been asking me how I am training between all of these 100 mile races I've been doing. Am I doing more hill repeats? More long runs? Maybe bumping up the speed on trails a bit?

I tell them I haven't been training much at all.

Well, no, not like in the picture above, although it is enticing...

I did maybe about 17 miles of running last week, and 11 of those miles were done in one day.

I haven't done a formally structured swimming workout since mid-June.

And my bike? Maybe twice a week with an average of about 10-5 miles per day.

That's it.

Um, no. Well, maybe a couple of days it was like the pic above. ;-)

Seriously, though, nothing has been rigidly structured since the Spring.

My hard work in preparing for the Grand Slam happened in the Spring, before the Slam started. That was when I was doing all of those 30-40 mile runs, in upstate NY and in NJ, cycling like a fiend with hundreds of miles under my belt, and swimming as if I was preparing for the crossing of the English Channel.

That was when the build-up mattered, when there were no races to interrupt the training process.

Now? In between the races? There's no effective way to build up now. Now when I need a significant time to recover from several 100 mile races and get myself 100% energized for the next 100 mile race.

At this point, I'm hoping that the fitness that I gained during the Spring will carry me through to Wasatch in September.

That's the way it's supposed to work anyway.

Most competitive triathletes have several "A" races on their calendar. Most of these "A" races are close together on the calendar, since the triathlon season is mostly the summer months. In order for triathletes to be ready for all of these races, the best course of action is to build up before the season starts and then drop the volume (hours or miles per week) dramatically as the first race approaches. The training volume HAS to stay low throughout the season to keep the triathlete ready for the race; any significant training done here will only contribute to tiring the triathlete out, giving him/her a higher chance of underperforming in an important race.

You want to get here in 100% ready shape for several races in the season? Then you had better ease it up on the training between these races.

So what I'm doing with the Grand Slam is nothing new.

But am I losing my fitness in the meantime?

Perhaps. But the fitness loss doesn't happen immediately. As a matter of fact, most coaches, including me, feel that there is an 8-12 week window where an athlete will perform at his/her highest level before the loss of fitness catches up with him/her. And since all of these Grand Slam races happen within 10 weeks, I should be fine fitnesswise.

Once Wasatch and the Grand Slam is done though, I made sure that I will not be racing seriously for 3 to 4 months. Any serious racing beyond that 8-12 week window is inviting injury. I've trained hard since January and added additional stresses to my body doing four 100 mile races. The body needs a rest. And I'll be giving it active rest through the end of the year.

12 days until Leadville, and I'm about itching to go.

Leadville is a much different race to strategize than the first 2 races. The aid stations at Leadville are few and far between, so I am going to have to carry a lot more water than I did at Western States and Vermont. That means carrying a Camelbak.

I'll be posting my final strategy on this blog before the race on August 17. As I stated, the race is different in many ways, so my strategic approach to this race will be different as well.