James may never be an ultrarunner, he may never run for that matter, but I'm pretty sure whatever he does do, he won't quit, he won't give up. That's probably not the worst thing we can teach him. If James learned anything from Dan and I this weekend it was to never give up and you certainly can do more than you think you can.
We got up to Leadville Wednesday afternoon and James promptly got sick. Within 30 minutes of arriving I had already started the second load of laundry out of what would be about 80 loads in 5 days! That night James basically refused to sleep so I had to resort to sleeping in 30-60 minute increments between his crying bouts. This is so not James so both Dan and I were a little unsure of what to do. But Thursday afternoon when James woke up from a nap it was pretty evident by the ooze coming out of his ear that he had an ear infection. Seriously within three weeks rhinovirus, strep and now an ear infection?! This kid doesn't give up does he! Well thankfully I had the foresight to bring every medication I could possibly gather up and had ear drops that weren't expired!
Thursday morning I met Nick at the coffee shop and we went over maps, crew locations and any last minute advice he could give me! Then we went and picked up our bibs and got weighed in. I weighed in 10 lbs lighter than last year, which was right where I wanted to be. Not quite the lean, mean racing machine I hoped to be, but I was in near top racing form. Hopefully this winter I can spend a bit more time with some strength training and core exercises, but we'll see if that happens. I'm pretty sure I said the same thing last year.
|Getting weighed in|
Friday we were stoked to listen to Ken's speech, but he turned it over to his son. Not that Cole gave a bad speech, but Dan and I were really looking forward to hearing the infamous Ken speech. On a hugely positive note, they moved the pep rally to the middle school so everyone could basically fit in the gym. With the pep rally over it was time to give our crew some final instructions, eat some Mountain High pizza (a requirement before any Leadville race) and hopfeully get some sleep. With basically no sleep Wednesday or Thursday night since James was up constantly both nights, I was desparate to get some good sleep. I managed to snag about 2 hr of sleep before our alarms went off at 2:30 am. It was go time!
I pumped, chowed down a nutilla, water and coffee and was ready. I was a bit worried because I was still hungry and I knew I should have eaten more the night before. I just hoped this wouldn't ruin my day. Dan and I donned our RWS shirts, bibs, chips, Colorado Buffs, M2s, headlamps and both wrote our honors to "JD" and "Rob" on our arms and fingers. Then we made our way the literally 30 second walk to the start.
The atmosphere was considerably more subdued than the year before. But this was probably a good thing for me. It gave me a chance to settle into things and not get overly excited. Dan and I took our place near the middle of the pack with the hope of not getting caught too far back in the conga line around the lake. The national anthem played and I closed my eyes and rehearsed one more time what my plan for the day was. Keep it easy to Winfield, keep it easy to Winfield.
The next thing I knew I heard the gun being fired and my legs went into action easily running down 6th and making the turn onto the Boulevard. Dan and I stuck together around the lake to keep him going fast enough and me slow enough. A few miles in I heard the unmistakeable voice of Nick. We exchanged hi's and he took off. I knew I was right on the pace I wanted to be so held back the urge to keep up with him. Over 100 miles I was bound to run into him once or twice more. I was pretty happy with our running here, but we still ended up getting caught around the lake. There were several times we were at a dead stop. Its a tough one because had we have gone fast enough to get ahead of the conga line we would likely have blown up. I could already feel in my legs that they just weren't feeling great. I knew this wasn't going to be an easy day and I would have to work for every mile. By the time we got to Mayqueen we were 13 minutes off our time, but I wasn't worried. We were 13 miles in, 45 minutes ahead of cutoff and loads of time to make up the time we had lost. Here we decided to part ways. I gave Dan a quick kiss and took off for my drop bag. I grabbed 3 gels and a fruit straw, topped off my water bottles and headed off toward Sugarloaf.
There was a bit of a course change here where we ran an awesome single track trail up to Hagerman Road. I had managed to break out of the conga line and was able to run most of this. I hit the road and immediately started 90 sec running, 30 sec walking. Its a pretty runnable road, but again I wanted to keep it easy. As I rounded Hagerman road I glanced over my shoulder to watch the sun rising over Turquoise Lake. About the same time I had one of the most inspirational moments of the day. Standing on the side of the trail was a woman adjusting her blade. Seriously? There was nothing I could compain about, here was a woman running 100 miles on a blade. Streaks of sun were breaking through the clouds and I smiled knowing Rob was watching over us. Soon I was heading down powerline. I began to feel a twinge in my left knee so I backed off the pace and just took it easy all the way down. I hit the pavement and knew I just had a short road section over to Fish Hatchery.
This year I knew we weren't running up into Fish Hatchery so I wasn't exactly sure where the aid station would be or how it would be setup. I began to see cars lining the road and knew it had to be close. As I turned into the aid station it was complete chaos. Runners, crews, volunteers, cars everywhere. There were so many tents I couldn't figure out where to go to get my drop bag or for some food. I finally got my bag and heard my Dad yelling for me so I ran over to get the rest of my supplies. I didn't have any gel in my drop bag and my Dad only had my sunscreen so I headed back into the chaos to look for gels. They had 5, yes only 5 gels left. I couldn't believe they were serious. I emptied 2 of the gels into my water bottle, added Heed from my drop bag, scarfed down a fruit straw and lathered up the sunscreen. The chaos had cost me nearly 10 minutes at the aid station and I knew I had to get out of there, I was already behind schedule. I hugged my Dad knowing I'd see him in a few miles at Treeline and made my way out of FH.
Leaving FH is a few miles of road. I had remembered this section pretty well from last year and knew I could make up some of my time without destroying myself. It was a bit hairy at first as I tried to pass a couple groups of slower moving runners and had to dodge out in front of a few cars. Finally we made the right turn and traffic calmed down. For some reason I remembered the section from FH to Twin in a much better light than I experienced this year. Each bit seemed just a bit tougher than it had before. I also misjudged where Treeline was and came blazing in thinking I still had a couple more miles to go. Since I wasn't expecting Treeline so quick I was a bit out of it and not ready to be looking for my crew, I was also ahead of my estimated time from FH (not overall). I never saw my crew here and figured they hadn't made it from FH after crewing Dan. I was really hoping for some more of my gel here as I knew I was low on calories, but I knew it was just a couple more miles to Halfpipe where I could get calories.
Here was my first bonk of the day! I knew I was low on calories, but I had eaten everything I had. I was sluggish and mentally not there. I kicked myself for not putting more gels in my drop bags, but nothing I could do about that now. I made it into Halfpipe about 10 minutes faster than I predicted. I thought I might make up time here, but I was trying to be conservative. I slammed a couple cokes, filled my bottle with Heed from my drop bag and grabbed some cherry gels. They actually had a box of gels at Halfpipe so I had loaded up. ?Then I headed for the climb to Elbert. This climb seemed to go on way longer than I had remembered it last year, but soon the gels started to metabolize and I began to feel better. I hit Elbert feeling good and booked it down to Twin. The section from Halfpipe to Twin is mostly single track and gorgeous trail so I was totally in my element.
As I approached Twin I could hear the cheers and they put a pep in my step. I came racing into Twin with a smile ear to ear across my face. My Dad, Jason and Ben were waiting at the bottom of the hill. I wasted no time in the aid station and quickly headed off to find my crew. I slammed a ginger ale as I knew my stomach would likely not be the same the rest of the day. Laura ran over showing me photos of James, since he was sick he couldn't be there, but this brought a huge smile to my face. I grabbed my trekking poles (new to my equipment list and the best change I made), fruit straws, and my hydration pack filled with Heed and EFS. Ben followed me out of the aid station making sure I was set and swearing he'd see me in a few miles. A few miles...yeah a few miles over Hope seemed like way more than a few miles.
The river felt amazing and I soaked my legs and knees as I crossed. Then continued charging across the meadow. I started climbing and was still feeling pretty good. I chatted with a couple people around me including a guy running his 30th Leadville and another mom who would be pumping along the way. The first section is pretty steep and I managed to quickly find a pace that I could sustain while keeping my heart rate low. After a bit it levels off and while I still wasn't running I was able to hike this section hard. About 3/4 of th way up I saw Mike Aish charging downhill. I was in awe! A couple minutes later came Ian looking super fresh followed by Nick. Seriously this was their 3rd 100 in 7 weeks and they looked awesome. I picked up the pace a bit and before I knew it the guy I was chatting with said we were crossing the last meadow before Hopeless. I didn't believe him, but we passed through a cluster of trees and there were the tents, llamas and the cross country guys running up to us grabbing our water bottles to refill. I had another coke and quickly headed out to crest the pass and head down. As I was leaving the tent I saw Nick sitting on a chair, head in his hands, bucket between his feet. I barely paused at the top, just long enough to soak in the views, but I knew I needed to get down quickly. Heading down while everyone else is coming up is tough, but the poles helped tremendously. The bottom section is also super steep and having the poles to control me definitely helped. But overall I wasn't moving well. I could feel my stomach starting to go south and I just wanted to make it to Winfield. I was super slow here and pretty bummed about how it was going. Finally I dropped down to the road. I actually hadn't expected this. I knew we weren't going passed Winfield but I thought we were dropping right into the aid station. Here I was dodging cars and sucking up dust despartely trying to push myself into the aid station. Finally there is was. I quickly weighed in, down 1 lb so pretty happy about that. The guy weighing me in kept asking how I was. I just laughed and said I just ran 50 miles what do you think? He said I was good and I took a couple steps out of the tent before I lost the contents of my stomach. My pacer grabbed me and immediately started taking over. They knew I was in rough shape and honestly I don't remember much of this transition, but they must have re-loaded my pack. I do remember asking for more gel and vasoline, but the crew hadn't made it, they were stuck in traffic on the road. Okay suck it up, 10 miles until more crew and now I had Ben.
Ben and I slowly made our way up Hope. That guy has so much energy! I think he literally skipped up the mountain while I kept repeating "I'm never climbing this hill again!". I saw Dan about 30 minutes from Winfield and gave him a quick kiss and told him to get going. I knew he had time, but he couldn't dwadle. It was a slow climb up Hope and by slow I mean molasses moves faster than I was. I lost the contents of my stomach so many more times I lost count. Poor Ben constantly waiting for me and I'm sure really hoping I would snap out of it. I began thinking there was no way I would make it back to Twin on time. I just kept repeating "it never always gets worse, it never always gets worse". Ben kept encouraging and pushing me though and we finally crested that hill! As we approached the top he told me it was only 6:30! Seriously? I have over 3 hours to get down? How did that happen? This time I looked back at where I had come from and then toward Leadville and where I was heading. My mind was foggy from the climb and having nothing left in my stomach, but I clearly remembered this climb last year, standing in this very spot with Rob, every conversation we had on this mountain. I skipped ahead of Ben as I felt tears starting to streak down my face. I let them fall for a minute before I thought how Rob would have charged this hill and James smile and how much he needed me back in Leadville. I wiped the tears and ran down to Hopeless. When we got there they were out of nearly everything including cups. Ben had thankfully brought an extra small bottle so he filled that with broth and we headed down. I'm not exactly sure what those Hopeless volunteers put in the broth, but it was some sort of magic! All of a sudden my stomach started feeling better and my legs felt fresh! So we took off running to Twin. Of course the best part was the creek crossing. I jumped right in, lunging down to soak my knees, and man did it feel amazing!
We got in to Twin and reloaded on fuel and geared up for the night. Ben had been determined to get us to Twin before we needed our headlamps. So now we put on headlamps, pants and a couple warmer layers. It still wasn't too, but now that it was dark it would get cold. We both put on dry socks and shoes, slammed more ginger ale and off we went up to Elbert. This was the best I had felt all day and we hiked strong up to Elbert. We got to Elbert and these guys were having a blast! There was music and beer and they appeared to genuinely be having a great night! It gave me even more energy and I hoped this was what all the aid stations would be like through the night. I continued hiking/running strong to Halfpipe, but was definitely fading. I think there were a few times I may have fallen asleep midstride. I'd get some coke at Halfpipe and be fine. So Ben and I started playing the glowstick game. We would run from one glowstick to the next. Trust me the game seemed way more fun after nearly 70 miles of running and in the middle of the night! We got to Halfpipe and the mood was pretty subdued. No music, no food, and no coke! WHAT?!?! They had coffee, broth and rocktane. We switched over to rocktane since I didn't have any more gel and the aid station was out as well. It wasn't a bad switch and tasted fairly good at the time. But I was pretty bummed about the coke. But nothing I could do about it. My crew may or may not be at Treeline depending on if Dan made it out of Twin on time.
We hurried down to Treeline and I just kept praying not to see Dan there. We hit the row of cars and Ben started running up and down shouting "Team Pritchard" "JB". Finally at the end of the row JB and Laura were waiting for us. "What are you doing here?" "Is he okay?" I asked. Dan had made it out of Twin with 9 seconds to spare! His feet were badly chewed up but he was moving forward! Ben and I were screaming and jumping up and down! Okay I need a coke I told the crew, but they were out too! The crew next to us offered me a pepsi which i gladly accepted and pounded. JB assured me Brian was at Fish with my tote of gel, warmm clothes and supplies. We all knew they wouldn't make it in time. Just then JB's phone rang and we all saw Dan's pacer, Jason, on the caller ID. The call cutout right away, but I was pretty sure I knew what it meant...Dan's night was over. I was confident he wasn't seriously injured so I knew I had to get out of Treeline before I heard he had timed out. That way I could pretend Jason was just giving an update on when they would be coming through. Maybe they were only a couple miles behind me. So Ben and I headed to the roads with FH just a short distance away.
I knew I could make some good time on the roads, but I also really needed to pump and this would be a good section for it, since I wasn't worried about falling off the trail. I'm pretty sure the couple of runners who passed me were a bit shocked when they realized why I was walking! Of course once I got going I managed to be able to run a slow pace at the same time. We finally made it into FH where Brian was eagerly waiting to run. Probably because he was so cold just waiting not because he was excited to run at a very slow pace through the night for 23 miles! It was nearly 1:30 in the morning and it was really getting cold. I threw on several more layers and loaded up on gel. Then I heard JB and Laura yelling at me. "What are you guys doing here?" I demanded, although I knew the answer. "Where is he?" "He's in the back of the car" Laura said pointing. My heart sank, when I heard Dan had gotten out of Twin I was sure he was going to finish. But he had gotten to Elbert after a very painful hike and wasn't going to get to Halfpipe in time. He got a ride with search and rescue to our crew and they had come to FH to find me. I knew I couldn't dwell on this, I had to keep moving. I knew Dan had ran his heart out and had done extremely well. He ran hard and laid it all out there. You can't ask for more than that! The aid station was out of coke so on to the next. As I was leaving I saw Nick again, I'm not sure he even knows we saw each other. He was so out of it. I just gave him a hug and said "see ya in Leadville".
Everyone had warned me about Powerline, but man was it a long, long, long climb. I knew about the many false summits, but they never seemed to end. My stomach was going south again and I lost its contents several more times. We hiked brutally slow, I just felt like I could not go. I knew I had plenty of time to just walk to the finish, but I really didn't want to walk for 23 miles. Finally we hit Hagerman Road and I let out a bit of a cheer! I think in that same moment I summed up my 40th wind and we were back to the glow stick game. We quickly turned onto the trail down to Mayqueen and I somehow found some extra energy. I skipped (literally) ahead of Brian and started running the trail, not shuffling but actual running. We started passing people constantly. A few times there was not another runner in sight and I worried we were lost, but we were able to quickly spot flags. For some reason there were no glow sticks on this section. Not really sure why because at this point it was really dark. The moon had set and as the saying goes "its always darkest before the dawn" was right on. The next thing I knew we had popped into Mayqueen at about 5:00 am. I had beaten my split for that section, even after a disasterous climb up Powerline. Mayqueen was glorious, they had ramen, gels, and coke!!! My stomach was feeling considerably better so I downed a coke and cup of ramen. It tasted soooo good, despite the noodles not being cooked. The guy next to me asked the volunteer (who I had seen at nearly every aid station all night long, not sure how she did it, but she was AMAZING!!) for some AAA batteries. She got this sorry look on her face and said they didn't have any, he was in a panick as his headlamp was basically useless and it was still dark. I realized my headlamp would probably be fine for a couple more hours, I had changed it out at FH. So I quickly turned and grabbed some batteries out of my pack and handed them over. I don't know if I've ever seen anyone so grateful, but I had snagged a pepsi earlier so it was the least I could do to pay back the karma.
13 miles to go, 13 miles to go. I had known leaving Twin that barring any disaster I would make it, but now it was really begining to hit me! We took off around Turqouise and I was nervous to run much with all the roots in the dark. I figured we would walk to the boat ramp where I would see my crew one last time and then we could start running when the trail opened up a bit. We hit the boat ramp and I didn't need anything, but just wanted to drop some clothes. The sun was rising and while it was still chilly around the lake it was definitely warming up. No sign of them so we pressed on. Now that the sun was up we started running from flag to flag with walking breaks in between. I just needed to get to the end, I was ready for the finish line. Shortly after we left the boat ramp Brian pointed across the lake where we saw the powerlines going up the mountain. I gestured at the mountain what I really thought about it! Every telephone or powerline I have seen since then seems to give me nightmares...it may take awhile to get over that one. It seemed like forever before we hit the Boulevard. I didn't remember the trail at all here, everything looked different going the opposite way in the light, but we were still following flags, so I just trusted it. A couple miles past the boat ramp my Dad was there cheering. Since this wasn't an official crew point I was hesitant to drop my clothes or take anything. I didn't want to risk a DQ after some 95 miles. So I just strapped my jacket to the pack Brian was wearing and pressed on.
What was amazing to me in this last section was I didn't think there was any way to get my body to move any faster and then Brian would point to a flag and say "to the flag" and my legs would just start running. After awhile it was almost easier to just keep running than to walk. Then I saw it, or I thought I saw it. Was that a fence? the end of the road? Seriously is that 6th? Brian's GPS had been finicky so we really had no idea how much further. Yes, that's it that's the hill! As we turned onto 6th another woman tried to pass me and my competitive side fired up. I powered up the hill passing her back. As soon as we crested the hill we began to run. I hadn't run 100 miles to walk across that finish line. I didn't care what I took, I was going to run the red carpet. I broke out in one of the biggest smiles ever and people were cheering everywhere! The Rocky theme song began blasting from a front porch and it just spurred me on. And then just before the finish Dan and James came running out to the street, Kaydence rushed me and grabbed my hand practically pulling me up the street, and Haley, Jason, Ben and Dan followed along as we made our way to the red carpet! Two years of hardwork and dedication and I had made it to the finish line. I had finally got the Merilee finish hug, not the Merilee sorry-you-timed-out hug. I had flowers in one hand, a beer in the other and mostly was just ready for a chair. 28 hours 36 minutes and 04 seconds of relentless forward progress over 100 miles! If you asked me right then I wasn't sure if I would do Leadville or another 100 miler again, but by Monday morning the fire was back...can I big buckle?
A huge thanks to everyone who helped Dan and I on this adventure. We had amazing and VERY patient pacers, Ben, Brian, Jason and David. A fantastic crew, my Dad, JB, Laura, Haley and Kaydence. And an awesome babysitter...thanks Mom! Pacing and crewing is a thankless job. There's no buckle, no line saying you finished, there's mostly whining and a lot of long, slow hours staying up for hours on end. So we truly thank you guys for helping us. Without we could have never done it. James...here's to you buddy!
Some of the people who helped make this possible! Thanks everyone!
Aid Station Estimated Actual
MayQueen 2:20 2:33
Fish Hatchery 2:01 2:14
Halfpipe 1:35 1:25
Twin Lakes 1:55 2:04
Hope 2:19 2:23
Winfield 1:38 1:39
Hope 2:36 2:32
Twin Lakes 1:42 1:58
Halfpipe 2:33 2:42
Fish Hatchery 1:59 1:51
Mayqueen 3:37 3:37
Finish 3:54 3:36
Week August 12 - 18
Miles Running: 112.5
Hours Hiking and Running: 32