by Drew Meyer
August 18, 2007
I have to pee again? That’s funny, I just went a few minutes ago…
My story starts, then, in Sept 06, when Leadville 07 was taking a distant back seat to my primary focus – the inaugural Knobber 25K just 2 days away. Being 59, I had slyly suggested to RD Fred T that the format should be age-graded and I was looking forward to a promised 20-minute headstart on the fast guys & gals. But it was not to be, as that simple UTI turned into a 7-month ultimate nightmare for a runner. Did you know that a certain class of antibiotics, such as Levaquin and Cipro, has a known side effect of trashing your Achilles? That they can then rupture without warning? To be precise – it is known to some but not to the docs I saw. As the weeks went by, an inexplicable inability to run, as somebody beats my legs with baseball bats, or to recover from the run, with every old connective-tissue issue I had ever had re-awakened, was eventually explained by the fine-print on the drug label. (Not explained by my docs: I ran 3 miles after resting a week and got matching knots on my Achilles… “Must be an overuse injury” An orthopedist said that!) The events I had already registered for in the next months were lost to me, regretfully even Bandera.
Fortunately, I could still do resistance training in the gym, and even managed some cross-training work on a stair-stepper for cardio. Why it was different than running, I have no clue. The MRI’s showed no actual tendon damage, so I spent seven months being careful, trying to be optimistic about the upcoming summer events, and occasionally testing the running waters with little success. I registered for the 25th running of Leadville (8/18/07) and computed April 1st as the latest date that I had to start actually running in order to compete for the M6 record (24:31) there. Foolish Sunday’s 3 miles went pretty good, but the first 100 yards of Monday’s outing had me wondering how I was going to explain to my buddies that I wasn’t doing any races this year. I cannot describe that feeling to you other than to say that at 100 yards, the legs felt like they do at about mile 75. I decided I give it one week, and if it didn’t work itself out then I would bail. Over the next few weeks it gradually got better (ice/heat treatment, ART, Lymph Drainage Therapy, time), ‘nough said. I hereby officially document that you can run through some injuries, but I don’t recommend it. I eventually decided that I had a shot and actually planned the trip.
I had run the LT100 two years before, narrowly missed the big buckle, and had been beating myself up for two years for various mental mistakes. It couldn’t have been that I was just too slow. This assault would be different in several ways. First, I would be paced this time, by savvy LT veteran and friend Mark Blenden, and crewed by Pam and Brian Blenden. I had spent well over an hour in aid stations in 05, and with Pam and Brian’s help I hoped to get most of my time gains from this area by not even looking at a chair or food table or waiting on a drop bag. Second, I had come to believe that my game ultimately depends on raw leg strength, and resolved to push the gym work even late in the training. (I am an anti-Zen runner for sure, Matt.) As someone once said, it isn’t how fast you run in a hundred, its how much you run. Third, Hardrock was within 5 weeks of LT this year, so I hoped that my pacing there would carry over some of that altitude acclimatization to the 3 weeks I was already planning. (For what it’s worth, I tried IHT – the reduced-oxy mask thing – while back at sea level between HR and my trip out to Colorado, and I cannot say that it helped much) Fourth I planned more hiking at elevation (I called with a full house: Hopes over Elberts). Finally, I expected that simply knowing the course now would be helpful. Otherwise I just hoped to run about as well as before, and squeeze out the necessary 40 mins from my prior attempt with those “little things”. Enough! Time to race!.
Race day starts badly. I manage to simultaneously get only one hour’s sleep and yet still oversleep the 2AM wakeup and have to rush my foot taping, finally abandoning it and knowing I will pay for it later. I manage to eat and drink and get to the start with all my gear, except somehow I am wearing two different brands of shoes. I walk to the side to figure it out and when the shotgun goes off, 473 people push me out of the way and start ahead of me. You can’t pass anybody once you inject into the Turquoise Lake trail. I run after them, and 3 hours later after getting lost twice I find Pam easily enough at Mayqueen because it is nearly deserted, and she tells me I am 55 mins late, and I better get a grip. Pay attention Drew, wake up Drew. Drew, wake up. Whew. (My apologies Joe, I just couldn’t resist).
After some scares about rain during the week before the race, the day starts at nearly ideal conditions (for me). At 173 I’m big for a runner and heat is my nemesis, but there won’t be much of that today and I am counting on that. Oh, I had an abundance of things to worry about in the pre-race week – odd foot problems that came and went, plus a disturbing inability to breathe as well as I expected, but they all disappeared on race day. How great it was that last week to rest, do some fly-fishing with Doug (nope), meet all the gang for one of Pam’s home cooked dinners and then again for one of Sherry’s too, and obsess. So sweet. Race day actually starts really well, excepting that I really did get only one hour of sleep.
I have planned my food (10000 calories of GU and another 1000 protein from my bags), and liquids (24 ozs/hr of water plus 10 ozs of Gatorade at each AS to flush down the protein). As I depend on leg strength so much, I expect to have to fuel well. Pam has my traveling bag in case I need foot care or a change of shoes anywhere. I’m as ready as I can be on 7 months of weight training, 4 months of running, and 3 weeks of hiking/acclimatization. Tactically, I hope to avoid getting behind any slowbody on Turquoise Lake trail, so at the shotgun I start near the front, extend a bit downhill on the Boulevard, and have cleverly taken my last liquids in the form of glycerin water so I don’t have to stop and pee. All that works out pretty well.
So, so nice! To get past the initial breathing problems and climb out of Mayqueen to the top of Sugarloaf where the dawn has broken clear and cool. To pass about 4000 people on the downside – I have finally learned to let go and use the force. Have you every wished you could somehow “tape” these moments so you could actually explain to other people why you run and they should? I reach Fish Hatch only a couple of minutes behind schedule. I am roughly following an average split plan that PT worked out for a 24:30 finish, but my prior run here tells me I will be slower to start but can finish stronger than that. (This trait apparently runs haha in my family – Deb has many strong finishes). Leaving FH a little after 8AM I am pleased that the dreaded road can actually be run on when it is this cool. With Halfmoon in my rearview mirror and the smaller climbs engaged, this is another fun part of the run. Mountain trails, by golly. Creeks, bridges, dodging limbs and the occasional rock that someone put in the wrong place. Watch the trail, watch the trail. It won’t be won here, but it could be lost here, so I try to stay within myself and avoid pushing to make up a couple of minutes. Twin Lakes is next, and another good downhiller gets me to that low point of the course (~9200). As they did as MQ and FH, Pam & Brian jack me up and kick me out, flyin’ down the highway. Average AS time so far: about 3 mins, and that much only because I cheat and stand there an extra minute pretending I am thinking about something.
Time to go up Hope Pass (12,600). Not nearly as quickly as in training but acceptable. I enjoy the climbing since it is not running, and by this time my legs are talking to me about any pounding. Here, have some more Vitamin I and shut up. I enjoy the brief rain that falls in the early part of the climb, and the pass and trail are both clear as the llamas are content to sit and watch. Even the steeper, rock-infested torture track (isn’t this called “technical”?) that is the southside of Hope is not an issue, though I dearly hate that 2-mile road that follows and trends up to Winfield. But it is still thank you Jesus cool and I manage it. Mark surprises me with an unplanned crew stop at Winfield (I guess he finished his nap early), and speeds up that AS time as well. So far I have been “518 in, 518 out” everywhere. I reached WN at 10:40 elapsed, only 10 minutes behind “schedule” but practically perfect for me, and I head back for the inbound 50. Again it rains on me a little on Hope southside upwards, again it was enjoyable, and I clear Hope for the last time with a Rocky shout that no one behind me is close enough to hear, and those in front still outbound only half-prepared to appreciate.
It could not have been better to this point, but it starts turning a little sour when I discover that the light rain on the southside of Hope was a downpour on the north. The much-anticipated 3-mile run down Hope North (this year I’m going to pass SOMEBODY) is slowed by thick, slippery mud, which I definitely have not learned to run in while wearing road shoes. Only one fall (to add to the one I forgot to mention earlier that takes my little left finger out of action – but never needed to run on it, Jay). But it is slow, slow, and I learn later that they will later extend the cutoff 20 mins. I hustle back across the flats and the river crossing. Nice rope job with the water just a little high, and always fun to have something interesting to do like wade thru a river. I pause a minute to let my calfs calves Calf’s calf muscles chill out in the river. They have been cramping since hour two, and its now about hour 14, and I have been taking extra salt to ease the symptoms.
As I reach Twin Lakes inbound, I am starting to feel the exertion. I change to trail shoes because of the thunder to the north. I think a few more deep and important thoughts and still they don’t bust me. But nothing seems really wrong and meeting Mark to take me in buoys me. As we climb out, we assess, review, strategize, and in general BS each other. Things are actually great, then I throw up. OK, it was just taking too much protein all at once back there. We’ll slow a bit and I re-carb as we agree that I have to keep fueling. I get down about 200 cals of GU in the next half-hour then hurl it also. Today, I can look back and realize that I was dehydrated, but then we didn’t know what to think. This is where Mark saves my race, by advising me to start taking small dollops of GU with mouth water every 3-5 mins. It works, eventually, and by HM inbound I feel like running again. Alas, I am 45 mins behind now.
I have to tell you now that as we proceeded to FH inbound, where the route is basically a road that is mostly flat, I knew quite clearly from my previous run what it would take for me to make up 45 in the next 30 miles. I backed off that. Instead of running hard, I ran/walked. I don’t know what other runners and their pacers do about making such decisions, but the elephant in the room was that while any record finish was in jeopardy, the sub-25 (always plan B) and perhaps even the M6 1st was still reachable if we didn’t go crazy. We didn’t actually dare mention it yet, so officially I was still going for the record. Now, I had seen two other old farts coming out of Winfield about 20 mins ahead of me, so I was worried about M6 to the point of memorizing their numbers. This is no small feat with no glycogen left in your brain. I even pestered my crew to find out how old they were. (Did you ever do that?). Anyway, a few things like “don’t go crazy” got said at some point, maybe it was here.
FH inbound was a good stop, only 40 mins behind now, and I felt well enough now to go with the original plan which had me going alone to MQ where Mark would rejoin me for the final mileage. Sugarloaf inbound (southside) is dreaded by many. It is the last big climb, it is steep at the bottom, I swear, and it has some false tops. But that didn’t bother me at all as it was a dark night and I couldn’t see the tops anyway. Again the hiking gave me a chance to continue regaining carbs, so I diligently worked the GU flasks then actually ran a bit down Hagerman road. Normally I hate roads, but they do have their points. Sugarloaf inbound (northside) is dreaded by me. It is a tough, rocky, twisting mess of a trail that is too steep to run, on my 85-mile legs anyway. Yep, this is technical all right. I got past it, disappointed that I wasn’t running the flats very well.
At MQ inbound Pam and Brian again welcome me, bottle me, GU me, and Mark rejoins me with a promise to push me. The elephant is at first still unmentioned, but soon enough in this last 13 miles he gets his due share of inspection and dissection, for even the now-only-20-minute deficit becomes insurmountable as it becomes clear that I cannot run hard. Mark pushes me but wisely disguises it as something called nibbling. Everybody ends up mad at the pacer, right? We will take 3 hrs to make it to the finish instead of the 2:44 I needed for the record. I was passed, and I did some passing. I was determined that the 2-mile-uphill Boulevard would not psych me out as it had in ’05. O blessed downhill at the crest of 6th street. O damned uphill at the finish line. Red-carpet and Done! I’m going to Disneyland/Disneyworld/Disneyland! I know I got sub-25 (24:47), did I get M6? I don’t know, honey, we don’t keep track of that here, I would say probably. I hug everybody I know, and one guy I didn’t but who stood still for it. I had to look twice Letha but I found the 12 minutes. I call my wife to exult and then begin recovery, glad its over.
Well, not quite over. One eye got foggy the last mile or so, and is persisting at the finish. I make the mistake of mentioning it to the medic as I throw up my post-race carb/protein drink on his tent carpet. Then I make the further mistake of honestly answering his question about recent eye problems and tell him I had had cataract surgery a few months back. Something about those three things happening together, and he naturally calls ahead for a visit to the local ER. My friend and co-runner Doug and his big brother Don take me over there, and they wake up an opthamolgist who naturally tells them the worst possible scenario. I may have fluid on my eye that the altitude and surgery had set me up for. Besides they naturally did some blood work (I just finished the LT100, they were curious) and find my kidneys half-shutdown with CPK 60,000 instead of 200 and find me “severely” dehydrated. An IV is inserted for input, and another tube that shall remain nameless is inserted for output, then naturally here come the EMT’s to take me to Denver to find an opthamolgist on duty on Sunday. As I leave Leadville, the re-hydration has already cured my eye problems and I ask to be taken back for simple re-hydration, but the EMT takes me on to Denver anyway, naturally. I offer him $1000 to wheel me into the presentation on the gurney to pick up my award, he declines. Good call, I was bluffing. Meanwhile Doug has actually gone back to the cabin we shared, packed up everything I brought into my truck, and is driving behind me so I can drive home later should I live. He stays all day and pesters the nurse to do right. (Why is that thing beeping? He was supposed to see an opthamologist, where is he? Is this color natural?) He did get a nap (do you know Doug?).
I did and do live. The eye thing was an over-reaction, but the kidney thing was not. In hindsight the 24-ozs per hour was not enough, even in the cool conditions. 25 hours of running breaks down your muscles and the kidney is asked to filter the large-protein remains. The final insult to my kidneys was all the “vitamin I” that I earlier and so cavalierly referred to. It apparently constricts the kidney vessels at the time when they are asked to do that heavy lifting. Perhaps I have finished all my races in nearly similar conditions and just didn’t meet an ER doc with access to a blood test before. I really don’t know. I do know that it was pretty dark stuff in the bag, and after talking to the doc I will be rethinking my pain med strategy and paying quite a bit more attention to pee output during a run, as 3 times in 25 hrs is obviously not enough. (He asked me to pass the word about non-steriodial meds like Ibuprofen and Aleve – please take note). The best news: “probably no permanent damage”, just a couple of days of room service with poor connectivity
It is tempting to say that if I hadn’t under-hydrated I could have done better, but dang it that is part of the deal, and that part I messed up pretty good. I don’t deserve the record, won’t try again (too many other great events), but I hope someone will take a shot and thus have as much fun. Oddly I never felt bad, just a little hurling and inability to run hard, doesn’t everybody at the end? Do I have to make EVERY mistake at least once? No, and probably.
I missed the presentation and they wouldn’t let Mark pick it up for some reason, probably some bad Ebay experiences. Only the second 60+ (I believe) to do a sub-25 in 25 years of this event. I’ll take that and send that particular monkey on his/her way.
Thank you for (hopefully) appreciating some of this nonsense by spending years of your life doing this same madness.
Brian’s nice pics at http://web.mac.com/brianblenden (then My Albums)