Ian and I always considered ourselves adventurous. This is nothing compared to my sister Tracy and her fiancé Michael. They live what we affectionately and jealously call the “Colorado dream.” Weekends in the summer spent trail running and mountain biking and in the winter skiing. I love to live vicariously through their endeavors. Briefly becoming a part of their world became a reality when I received a call from Tracy last spring. She told me she was planning to sign up to run the Leadville Trail 100 mile race. Her fiancé Michael had ran it two years earlier and had completed the race in just over 24 hours. Being an orthopedic PA, my first verbal response was “your knees!!!” After that, I promised her I would be there for her and come out to be on her crew. Fit sisters regardless the challenge! While there are a lot of race day write-ups from a runner’s perspective, my perspective will give a small insight into what the day entails as a crewmember and pacer.
The Leadville Trail 100 mile run is one of the hardest and most well known 100-mile races in the US. Every year about 800 people sign up, about 700 of those brave souls make it to the starting line in August and about 50% or 350 people cross the finish line at the end of the race under the 30 hour time cap. Starting at a small mining town a few hours outside Denver, at 10,152 ft elevation, the race is a 50 miles out and back through the Rockies. It peaks twice at Hope Pass at 12,600 ft elevation. Each runner has a team of friends and/or family that goes from each aid station to meet the runner and provide them with whatever they need (food, hydration, clothes, moral support.) After the first 50 miles, a pacer is allowed to run with the athlete and this particular race lets the pacer “mule” the athlete’s gear.
With much anticipation my Dad and I arrived in Colorado for the race. Joined by Michael and a friend, Pam (who had been on Michael’s crew two years earlier), we assembled the crew that would get Tracy to cross that finish line no matter what. I had been practicing my key phrases I might need to use. I was going to be running with Tracy from mile 60-76 and this stretch was notorious for racers to drop out. If necessary, I had practiced and rehearsed everything from gentle support (“I love you, you can do this”), to tough love (No, we can’t stop here for a nap”) and finally guilt (Our family doesn’t f’ing quit!”).
After a 2:30am alarm, we were out the door headed for downtown Leadville. At 4am sharp the mass of racers headed into the darkness. This was the start of our hurry up and wait. It took anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours for Tracy to get from each station to the next and by car it took us 30 minutes max. The key was getting there and parked in time to set up before your racer came in. The ongoing paranoia was that you were going to miss your athlete as they came through. This meant a lot of time sitting and waiting. Sleeping was near impossible and I think I logged a total of 1.5 hours the whole race. Crew energy waxed and waned as we saw Tracy and waited to see her again. We managed to make our own fun along the way. Like making a special trip down a road crowded with runners, and a crew member showing an impromptu “full moon” from the drivers side window as we drove past Tracy. Inspiration comes in all forms right?
At each stop Tracy had detailed lists and had bagged all the items she thought she could need at that location. We worked as a pit crew to get her in and out as fast a possible. The less time she spent at each station, the less likely she was going to break momentum. This video gives an idea of how we worked.
I was as nervous as I would have been before a race of my own while waiting for Tracy to get to the Twin Lakes aid station. There we would head into the nighttime and cover 16 miles together. We dressed Tracy in all new clothes at the aid station (there is no modesty at an ultra). Armed with my headlamp, flashlight, hydration bottles, and pack; we headed out. At this point Tracy had been running for 16 hours. It was 8pm and it was getting dark and cold quickly. Even with 60 miles covered, Tracy was able to run the downhill and flats and we power walked the up hills. We listened to music from my phone and sang along whenever given a chance. I actually loved running at night and using the headlamp. It was a fun challenge that I will incorporate into some of future runs. 16 miles was the longest I have ran and I have no experience running at elevation. I was asked after the race, how challenging the run was for me? I honestly hardly remember. My focus was on Tracy so much; I didn’t focus at all on myself. We settle into a pace and routine that she could maintain. My sole goal was getting her from point A to point B in the best physical and mental shape possible given the conditions. I look forward to running that stretch again some day when I am not so worried about Tracy’s bowels, hydration and making sure she didn’t stub her toes on stones and roots (both big toes had such big blisters, every stub sent her through the roof). We pulled into the next aid station at 12am.
The thing I am most impressed with was Tracy’s overall spirit. How a person handles pain and mentally perseveres is the key to finishing such a challenge. At each aid station you wonder how the person will look, what shape they will be in and most of all what do they have left in the tank. Tracy was smiling at every stop, regardless how she felt inside. The only objective was finishing the race and quitting never entered her mind. Her blog post going into greater detail of how the race went for her.The Mindset of 100 miles
Coming up the street to the finish and watching her and Michael cross that line is still one of the most amazing and proud moments for me. Thinking of her tears of pure joy still makes me tear up again now. She finished 100 miles of trail running in 28 hours, well under the 30-hour cap. This experience was truly one of a kind and I can’t imagine her doing it without me wanted to be there by her side.
Fit family supports fit family!