Saturday, August 25, 2012

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

As I stood in line to do medical and check in I was enlightened about the prize money Pearlizium was offering up to the first male and first female to the top of Hope Pass Outbound.  Wow, $500 sure did sound nice.  Cold hard cash...would the IRS be chasing the recipients down the backside of Hope Pass? I did think about the money longer than I would have imagined, but kept coming to the conclusion that it just wasn't worth the race to me.   I did imagine though that the money might change some racers race plans.  Would anyone be willing to race to the top?  All and all, having the money out there, just seemed to make me more nervous. The more I thought about it the more I thought that in all honesty I would have rather seen Pearl give the winners the money.  Needless to the money gave me something to dwell on as I stood in line.  Yes I passed medical check in, no need for a pulse as long as you weighed something and had paid the entry fee you were fit to toe the line.  I was given an aggravating timing bracelet on my wrist and I felt like part of a hospital gang or like I was under house arrest.  I really wanted to bedazzle it and make Rory proud, but there wasn't a craft store in the area to be found.

Around 3:50 AM everyone started making their way into the start area. Despite the early hour there was a good vibe and buzz in the air.  I looked to those around me and wished them luck.  There was nothing I could do now, but relax and do my best to enjoy the day.  I know that I had worked hard to prepare for this race and now I needed to execute and remain patient.
Photo By: Rob Timko 

The shotgun fired and we were off as a pace car lead us out of town.  A few miles in I looked at those around me, Darcey, Liza, Tina and Tony?  I thought to myself, "How crazy is this, I am running next to Tony Krupicka!"  He commented on how fast the boys were setting off and that he had never run the start of Leadville with girls before.  Once off the paved and dirt roads the field started to settle and I was running in second not too far behind Liza.  A few miles of single track around Turquoise Lake as we passed a few campgrounds before seeing our crews for the first time.  At this point I just wanted to take it easy and warm up.  Campers had early morning fires going and the smoke combine with the cold air was not playing nice with my lungs.  I used my inhaler and didn't put any thought into it as being an issue for the remainder of the race.   I had planned on ditching my light at Mayqueen, but the sun seemed slow to rise so I held on to it.

My parents were ready to swap packs and trade my visor for buff.  Without stopping we handed off and now I was eager to get to the Colorado Trail.  Just a short stint of uphill pavement and we would be in the woods and back on trail.  Just over 13 miles in and the massive field had already started to really spread.  I could see Liza up ahead and was running with a gentlemen named Jason and Paul Terranova.  We made what seemed like quick work of the trail and by the time we hit Hagerman Pass (dirt road) I was able to turn my headlamp off.
Photo By: Matt Trappe
Once on the road Liza seemed to open her legs up, but I stayed with my trusty pace.  Just about a mile on this road before we would start climbing Sugarloaf.  I knew that the entire 2 plus mile climb was runnable so again I harped on patience.  By the time we had plateaued on Sugarloaf I was about 10 seconds back from Liza.  On the climb we had be blessed with one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.  A blazing pink fireball slowly rose in front of us shedding light on the mountains and lake were we had just emerged. On the downhill I gave Liza lots of room as we worked our way down the notorious  rutted out power lines section.  Then as we turned onto the pavement road at the bottom she and I exchanged conversation before heading into the Fish Hatchery aid station.  I swapped my pack for a handheld, my headlamp for sunglasses, took a sip of fuel and was off and running as I was eager to get the next section of pavement over with.  I looked at my watch and was faster than planned.  I thought about my effort and pace.  I felt very comfortable and in control so continued to roll with it.

Before I knew it I was running with Mike Arstein (The Fruitarian) and we did some catching up.  I then reverted to listening to my ipod for a bit to help me get over the pounding of the pavement.  Straight and flat, urgh but I could dream of the mountains as we were surrounded by them.  Eventually we made a right hand turn onto a trail that followed a fence line, this was one of the course changes so I didn't really know what to expect.  Luckily before I knew it we were upon our crews again and I gave up my handheld for my pack as the next section was long.

Photo By: Leadville 100
This next section was one of my favorites.  Everything felt so remote, not a house in sight, not a car to be heard, nothing but nature and you.  Mike Arstein said something along the lines of "We are over a quarter of the way done already!"  Wanting to still run my own race I let the guys get a bit ahead of me. It was on this section that it really started to dawn on me that I hadn't walked yet.  All and all the terrain had been extremely runnable and I wasn't working hard so was that okay? I honestly really didn't know the answer.  I focused on enjoying the trail and staying on top of fueling and hydration.  The temperature was finally coming up and a beautiful day was in the works, but again my breathing was off.  Still it strike me as something to really place worry on since I really haven't had major asthma issues in years.  At the Mount Elbert aid station, just about 3-4 miles shy of Twin Lakes I decided to top off my pack.  Off course it turned into a major struggle for the volunteers to get the top back on my blatter and they were slow to turn what they deemed a puzzle back over to me.

Finally off and running again I was loving the gentle downhill single track, it felt like a playground.  The gentle grade eventually turned into some steeper jeep road with loose gravel and rock.  As I headed down the last short grade to the aid station I went to put the brakes on and my feet slid out from underneath me.  I went backwards and went down.  The crowd at the aid station gasped and not knowing what to do I got back up and threw my arms up in the air.  Thankfully this lead to cheers, phew I guess I turned that one around.

A fresh pack and I was now mentally focused on crossing the stream and making my way up Hope Pass.  The field section leading to the river crossing felt mind numbing, but luckily there were people out cheering.  I had really feared that the stream crossing would stop me dead in my tracks, but it actually felt refreshing.  After crossing I was followed by a Salomon photographer for a while and then was alone.  As I hit the base of the climb I went from a run to a walk.  I had no intent on running any portion of the climb.  I knew if I hiked it would save energy and in the scheme of things time.  Mike A. passed me on the hike up and reminded me to eat and focus on getting a lot of calories in on the climb.  I had no intent in keeping up with him and wanted to continue to do my thing.  I had practiced this part of the course 3 times so knew the terrain and what I was in for.
Photo By: Salomon

Photo By: Pearlizium Craziness on Top of Hope Pass
As I came across the Hopeless aid station I topped off my pack, said hello to the llama's, thanked those who had trekked up to volunteer at the aid station and then continued on my way.  I could see the saddle and focused on getting there as I sipped on my fresh water.  After a few switch backs I peered back to see if anyone was in sight. There was no one in eyes view so I stayed with my easy rhythm as I took in the views.  When I crested the top and was greeted by some very enthusiastic spectators from Pearlizium.  They congratulated me and asked if I wanted the $500 now or later.  I smiled and said "Now of course!" And one of them responded with doubt saying "Really?".  Apparently they were not really prepared for a yes response as they went to dig it out of a bag off the trail.  I tucked the money into my hydration pack, thanked them as I  looked around at the views and then headed down.  Once out of sight I took a pee break and then continued down the trail making sure not to pound my quads.
Photo By: Matt Trappe
I came to the intersection near the bottom and veered right onto the new trail.  It was beautiful, but it seemed to be holding heat like an oven.  The temperature felt good, but again my asthma seemed to be getting the best of me even though my pace was normal.  About a mile on the new trail and to my left I could see a large cluster of cars parked at Winfield, I was getting close.

The crowd was lively at the turn around and I moved in and out without much slowing.  Jumping on the scale in stride and only being about a half of pound of my original weight I took off without thought.  In retrospect this may have been a mistake.  A new pack on my back and Meredith and I headed out and shortly thereafter saw Liza headed in.  We started uphill and immediately my heart rate spiked drastically.  I felt like my heart was going to explode.  Never before had I felt it beat so prominently.  We stuck with a light run until we reached the drastic incline that marked the start of the climb back up Hope.  Meredith handed me my poles, but at that point I wasn't really getting enough air in to make sense of what to do with them.  I was moving at a snails pace, but my heart rate was racing.  I didn't know what to do, nothing seemed to remedy the problem so we kept plugging away one small, slow step at a time.

Finally out of the trees and onto the sweeping switchbacks we could see Liza not far behind.  To be honest I didn't worry, all I could focus on was the idea that I thought my heart was going to explode.  I thought about what a mess it would make and how it would suck to have to drag my sticky body off of the pass.  I felt bad for those who would have to complete that task.  Finally as we came to the top Liza and her pacer passed us and went blazing down.  Not able to take a deep breathe I was not blazing, but rather just trying to stay upright.  I still had faith that my breathing issues would resolve and Meredith reassured me that once we got lower things would improve.  Even though I didn't feel like it was altitude, but I still believed her.

Down, down, down we went as we navigated our way past those coming up.  My legs wanted to fly down the hill, but I couldn't.  By the time we hit the flat section that lead us back to Twin Lakes I felt like I was breathing threw a pinched straw. We crossed the river and shortly thereafter I fell to all fours and started to dry heave.  Frustrated and angry I eventually got back up and kept moving and then was passed by Tina who was looking like a rockstar. We then came across Meghan Hicks who immediately knew something was wrong.   I couldn't think, I felt like I was done, that Twin Lakes would be the end for me and at that moment I was ready for the end and some help.

I made my way into the Twin Lakes aid station and my father greeted me and then heard my breathing. He hugged me and said "That's enough dear, your done!"  I don't blame him.  I sat in a chair, tried not to breathe, because it hurt so much and heard my pacers deciding to switch me over from a pack to bottles so not to have the constriction and weight on my chest.

Photo By: Salomon
My father walked away and I was told to start up the hill.  I walked up the hill and remember doing so because I didn't want to be stared at as I struggled to breathe.  I got to the top of the hill and wanted to sit against a tree, but was greeted by Amy Lane, Brian R. and Dave James.  Such great words of encouragement and support as they kept me standing.  We started to move up the trail and I don't really know how it happened or even why.  Eventually Adam Chase came up behind me to take over the pacing duties.  I had my poles and he was carrying two handhelds for me.  We walked many of the uphill sections and then in my mind made quick work of the downhills.  My body was now starting to reject shot blocks and gu was out of the question.  Despite this I tried to stay on top of hydration and salt.

Truly frustrated I tried to keep my head in it.  If only my breathing could keep up with my legs.  We made it to Pipeline, refilled bottles, gave up poles and then ran all the way to the pavement section that would bring us back to the Fish Hatchery.  Once on the pavement my stomach went sour.  I felt like the hard surface would make me puke if I ran so I walked.  Adam entertained me with story after story as we walked and walked.  I apologized for being slow and pathetic, because that's what I felt like.  I think he should have made me run a mile for every story he told.  Either way we made it to Fish Hatchery and Adam turned me back over to Meredith.

With poles back in hand the plan was to try to keep the heart rate and breathing under control as we made our way up power lines.  The sun was finally starting to set, but the temperature was still solid.  We were joined on the climb up by Paul and his pacer Drew.  Paul kept me entertained with his duck like walking, which was brought on by sore quads.  I am not sure why I found this so amussing, but I did.  Once we crested and started down the backside of Sugarloaf we were forced to turn on our lights. We took it easy as I focused on staying upright.  The night sky was spectacular with not a cloud, just stars as far as the eye could see.  I thought a lot about my husband and hoped that he too was looking up at the sky.

Amazingly I made it down Sugarloaf in one piece and we turned right onto Hagerman Pass.  Paul wasn't far behind by the time we hit the Colorado Trail.  We noticed lights behind us and it turned out to be Ashley Nordell and her pacer Sean.  We let them go past as they were making much quicker work of this section than I was.  I cheered Ashley on, she is an amazing runner and person.  I had sore spots on my feet so I was babying them on the technical sections.  I needed to land just right to avoid the pain.  I had faith that I would make up some time on the short road section leading into Mayqueen. As Meredith and I made our way off the trail and onto the Pavement we almost got plowed by an oncoming minivan.  Not really something you want to deal with 87 miles into a race, but with Mayqueen in sight we focused on getting in and out quickly.

Leaving Mayqueen I was about 10 seconds back from Ashley as we headed down the road towards the trail that would lead us around Turquoise Lake.  She had me pass her before entering the trail and this made me nervous.  I knew my breathing wasn't good and that they would want to go past in a short period of time.  Meredith and I would run and then my breathing would lag behind so I would be forced to walk.  My legs wanted to go!  Finally I had to resort to literally saying "Slow" to my legs.  I tried desperately to find a pace for my legs that my breathing could keep up with.  As expected many of the campers along the lake were out cheering us on and had fires.  I kept cursing them inside my head because the simple pleasure of a nice campfire was killing me.

Over the next few miles I would gap Ashely and then be forced to walk.  She did a great job with her pacer keeping things under control.  We hit the road at the end of the lake not far apart.  Now the tempeature was really starting to drop and the cold air just componded my issues once again.  She went past and I couldn't respond and that was the last I saw of her.  I started to walk and within a few minutes my stomach went from bad to worse. I stopped dead on the side of the road surrounded by nothing, but darkness and cold.  Of course Mer was there, but for her sake I wish she hadn't been.  I started puking.  I would puke and then try to breathe, puke again and then try to get some air.  I felt like I threw up 8-10 times in a row.  Stomach clearing, just all out puking.  Down the road we saw lights and it was Paul and Drew.   Paul asked what we were doing and then noticed the puddle between my legs.

Now empty, cold and short on air we continued.  My teeth were chattering, my body was shaking, my lungs and ribs sore, but I knew we had to move even if all I could do was walk.  So that's what we did for the last 3-4 miles, we walked.  It was frustrating, it was hard, but we did it.  As we came to the last stretch Meredith told me that at the car on the right we would run.  We came to the car and my walk became a "run".  My dad met us about 2 blocks from the finish and we all ran in together.  I vaguely remember crossing the line, I was told it was a time of 21:14 and then I was immediately being greeted by the medical personel.  Off to the medical tent to get some help after a long day of battling with not being able to breathe.

Thanks to my crew, my pacers, coach, volunteers and all those supporting me out there, it truley was a team effort on this day.  I honestly couldn't do what I do without everyone and whether your words of encouragement came via email, text or phone call prior to the race or in person on race day they all helped carry me each step of the way.  Also thanks to my sponsors for the great products you make and for continuing to believe in me.  Leadville truly is a special town and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be welcomed there will open arms.

Shoes - Salomon Sense
Pack - Salomon SLab
Socks - Drymax Cycle Sock
Glasses - Julbo Trek
Watch - Suunto Ambit
Poles - Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles


  1. Awesome report and race, Aliza. Way to slug it out.

  2. Tough as nails, Aliza. Much respect on toughing it out. Hope you are recovering well. Great report.

  3. Awesome job Aliza! I have some photos of you/your dad/crew at Twin Lakes in-bound that I can send you when I get them edited. I believe I have a good one of that embrace.

    BTW - That first photo was taken by me, not Pearl Izumi.

    1. Thanks Rob and I am sorry for the lack of credit, I have changed it and think it is a beautiful shot. That embrace was one of a very loving worried father, oh the things kids do to their parents! I hope you are well.

  4. Hi Aliza,
    Great report and great job in getting it done! Well done! It was nice seeing you out there. See you out on the trails.

  5. I have to admit that Also I would have in my mind those $500. Specially it will be nice to have great dinner with it or gear.