Monday, September 17, 2018

Leadville 100 2018

     The Leadville 100 is a big one! I've been looking forward to running this Colorado Mountain 100 for quite some time! As the lotteries to these big hundreds are growing by the day, you gotta take your chance when it comes. I had deferred my 2017 entry to 2018 and I was all in on running this iconic race!
     With all that said, let me tell you this from the start: I had NO BUSINESS being in Leadville to run anything. You see, since i've come home from winning The Iditarod Trail Invitational 1,000 in March, it's been next to impossible for me to get ANY type of running mojo leading up to this race! I'll be completely honest here; I probably didn't run more than 10 miles in any given week after Alaska. Oh, I made some pretty looking training plans, months out and was serious about being in ultra running shape. That didn't happen. Not even close. Therefore, I was more or less running a couch to 100 miler. Not only that, but I was gonna be running up to 12,600 feet during the race!
     I arrived in Denver a couple days before the race and my brother, Scott picked me up from the airport. Scott was supposed to be a pacer for me but after my friend Kyle Durand wrote me and told me he would not be able to be my crew chief because of an injury, Scott stepped up and took over. I could tell that he was ready! Scott was now going to be my crew chief and pacer! He picked me up in my Dad's old Ford F-150 and it was loaded up with everything you could possibly think of! I was in Colorado and in good hands!
     Next we had to pick up Anna Katherine! Who is AK you ask? Anna Katherine is a freelance writer who had flown out from Virginia to be a part of my crew. She is going to be writing a 4,500 word essay on me for and this was her first time meeting me and my crew! We picked her up and headed back to Scott's house in Boulder, CO. It was easy to see that AK was going to fit right in and be an important piece of my Leadville 100 puzzle. 
     Randomly, my sister, brother in law and their kids were in Colorado and we got to see them at Scott's house. My Dad's brother, my cousin and a few others came by and it was great to see family for a few hours! What a treat!
     We made a few quick gear stops, one Colorado "Green" stop and we were heading to my rental cabin in Leadville. We got to this awesome cabin on a small lake that wasn't 15 minutes from Leadville and I was a happy camper. Not long after we arrived, my dear friend Keri McMeans showed up from Dayton, WY and my second pacer was on board! Usually, I do these races without pacers or crew but this trip was to be different. I wanted to share The Leadville 100 experience with as many friends as possible. Keri, AK, Scott and I had a very enjoyable day just hanging out. I was trying to stay off my feet as much as possible which is not easy in Colorado! We went into Leadville Thursday evening so I could pick up my race bib and not have to come early the next morning!
     I got a great night sleep and woke up to a beautiful Friday. I skipped the runner meeting because I HATE runner meetings. All this nervous energy and all these folks strutting around trying to show off their finisher buckles and jackets. It's not my scene in the slightest and I was very happy I made the decision not to go. Of course I called my NC friends Jason Tischer and Nathan Leehman to have them call me if anything noteworthy was brought up. Of course, I never heard from them!
     My crew, minus one, had a very nice Friday evening! I found some time to have some quiet reflection as I was quite nervous if I had what it took to slay this dragon! I promised myself I would give everything I had and use every single trick i'd leaned over my years of ultra running. 
This was going to be really hard on me and I knew it! Hell, this is what I deserved with my lack of training. There wasn't much I could do at that point about my lack of training so I just let it go down river. 
     I went to bed Friday night and felt like 5 minutes later my alarm was going off. It was 2:30 AM and the race was to start at 4:00 AM. I ate some food, went to the bathroom and got all my gear on! I was ready for an adventure! My brother Scott and Keri were up and wanted to join me at the start! We drove 15 minutes into town and there I was at the start! I vividly remember, just before the starting gun sounded, I locked eyes with my brother! He seemed as excited as I was and I loved having him near! This was going to be a tough race and I loved having my brother looking after me!

     4:00 AM and we were released! I surely didn't want to mess with the folks at the front as I could only imagine they had trained more than 10 miles a week! I found a spot next to a couple other athletes who were also sporting a Dad Bod in the middle of the pack! Boom, we were off! I felt really good early in this race. The miles were clicking off and I was feeling much better than I deserved too. This lasted quite awhile. 
     My stomach felt great, my feet were in great shape and I was feeling very strong mentally. After passing through a couple aid stations, I wondered if maybe, JUST MAYBE, I could put together a rockin' race without much training. I had a sub 25 hour "A" goal and a sub 30 hour "B" goal. When I arrived at the 40 mile Aid Station, I was 1 and 1/2 hour UNDER my "A" goal. How in the hell was this happening? I felt like I was floating. In fact, when I left this aid station, I had my arms out like I was flying! I knew the miles between 40-60 were gonna be rough as I would have to climb Hope Pass which is at 12,600 ft. 
      As I started making the climb, the altitude started crushing me. I literally felt like there was a vice on my head and somebody was tightening it down. I was hurting for certain but I felt like if I could just get over the pass, I would be better! HA!!!! I finally got to the pass and felt like a shell of my former self. I could not believe how quickly I went from feeling great to feeling terrible. I was humbled, but not dead! I made it to the 50 mile Winfield Aid Station and was to pick up my first pacer of the day!
     Darcy Piceu is not only one of the most successful female ultra runners in the USA, she also happens to be from my same hometown in Michigan! We had never met each other but I had reached out to her to see if she wanted to pace me at Leadville and she said yes! Therefore, I picked Darcy up at mile 50 and it was now her job to help me make it back to mile 73 ish where Keri would take over pacing duties. 
     We left Winfield and I was somehow feeling ok again. That would not last long. Once Darcy and I were heading back up the steeper side of Hope Pass, I started feeling VERY sick. Poor Darcy was leading the way and I was stopping at each switchback to gather myself. After sitting for a few minutes, I realized that I was going to get sick. I didn't really have a choice. I was sweating profusely and throwing up. One time, I even did a throw up / shart which was very special. Luckily, Darcy had told me that she's "seen it all" in ultra's so I didn't worry too much about her thoughts. I had enough to think about. 

     After throwing up all over my shoes, I picked myself up and made my way down the trail. Darcy was so understanding and fun! She had a great attitude and it felt like I was running with Elvis Presley because every other person who would run by would say something to the effect of "hey, that's Darcy Piceu; she's a Hardrock legend." She took it all in stride and made other runners feel special. 
     Darcy and I got back over Hope Pass and we saw one of the weirdest things happen. It was late at night and we were going down the most technical section of the whole trail. Next thing we know, some old dude flies past us and another 5 runners. I have NO IDEA why he was running so fast (6 min/mile ish) but he caught his foot and did a full superman fall. After watching him dust himself off, I think the only thing he truly hurt was his ego, which was a surprise! What in the hell did we just watch we laughed?
     As we were getting back to the 60 mile aid station, I have to admit here, I wanted to quit. I was sick, tired, out of shape and over it. I decided this was going to be my very first DNF. I was surprisingly ok with it. I told myself that when I got back to 60, I was gonna tell my crew I was done. Looking back, I can't freaking believe how low I let myself go. I was being directed by my THOUGHTS and that's just sad. I found my crew at 60 and sat down. I was done and I told my crew what I was thinking. They weren't having it. Every single time I said something about quitting they would say something about "calories". I was sitting at mile 60 at 17 hours into the race. My mind could not compute how I would be able to run the last 40 miles, averaging over 3 MPH especially since that din't leave room for anytime in the checkpoints. 
     Finally, Keri came over to me and looked me in the eye and said "Pete, you are NOT stopping here and you need to head to the next checkpoint". She looked very serious and all I could muster was "yes Ma'am." I got my chaffed monkey butt out of that chair and told them that I would try to make the next checkpoint. Once I said that, my brother turned to the crew and simply said: "he will finish". I needed to hear that because I was not so sure myself!
     Darcy and I ran into the night and had a lot of fun getting to the next aid station. The weather turned nasty on us and we were running through snow. We were both unprepared for this and we both got to the next aid station nearly frozen! Darcy had done her job like the CHAMPION she is and she passed me off to Keri!
     I met Keri and her husband Matt while I was running the Bighorn 100 a few years ago and they've been dear friends ever since! Keri was such a great pacer. She was chatty but that is exactly what I needed at the time. Keri got me through some of the roughest miles of the race and I am forever grateful to her. She would push me when needed but also understood when I needed to take the foot off the gas. Keri has a bunch of ultra running experiences including finishing Leadville so she knew what was needed, effort wise, to get me to the finish! Keri's job was to get me from mile 73 to 87 where my brother Scott would pick me up to take me home!
     Scott and I are brothers but were also pretty different people. Scott is type A and he can't contain his excitement sometimes! When Keri got me to Scott at mile 87, I could tell he was fired up! I wasn't. I needed to tell him to settle down a touch because we still had 13 miles to go. I was in my pain cave at the moment and didn't much feel like talking. Scott, on the other hand, knew that we needed to motor to make the sub 30 hour cutoff. I felt bad because I was low and not in a good place. Scott would try to bring up high school football and I would tell him I didn't want to talk about ANYTHING,  ESPECIALLY high school football. Scott seems to always get me at my lowest times during these events and sometimes I wonder why he continually put's himself in these situations? He does it because he LOVES ME and he takes the high road every single time I say something that would simply deserve a "fuck you" back. 
     We made our way around a lake and then found ourselves on the road to downtown Leadville. I STILL wasn't sure I was going to make the cutoff until I was about a 1/2 hour from Leadville with an hour to go before the cutoff. I started wrapping my mind around the fact that I was going to finish this race. Not only that, I was going to finish this race, after being very ready to give up. I was getting emotional, like I always do when I saw the finish line! I was running with Scott and then I looked up and saw Keri, AK, Darcy and Darcy's daughter Sophia waiting at 99.5 to run in with me. I was so happy and proud. I crossed the The Leadville 100 finish line in 29 1/2 hours. 
     Again, I had no business being in Leadville this year but i'm so glad I ran it. My crew was world class and I can honestly say I would've had my first DNF if it weren't for each of you! Scott, Keri, AK, Darcy; THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO HELP ME THROUGH THIS AWESOME RACE. I'd be honored to crew or pace for y'all anytime you need it.
     Lastly, I just want to say how much I love the ultra running community. I have found my tribe. I will keep doing these races as they bring me to such an incredible place. Maybe next year, i'll run Leadville again with a bunch of good, tough training and see what I can do! Yee Haw!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

All that is The Arrowhead 135

     The Arrowhead 135 is a MYTHICAL northern Minnesota ultra marathon. I've been wanting to do this race for sometime. As an added bonus, one of my best friends in the world, Haig Newton and his beautiful family live in the twin cities. Haig and I have been busy in our own worlds and haven't carved out time for an adventure in way too long. When I knew I would be running this beast, I reached out to Haig and asked if he'd accompany me for the few days it would take to run the route. He said YES and so it was to be a throwback, old school RIPMASTER / NEWTON adventure!

     I had been studying the weather patterns and making best decisions on what type of gear I would need. It looked like the low would be about -7 degrees which for races like these, is fairly benign. I left a few big pieces of gear home in NC because I didn't think I would need my toughest, warmest layers. This was a big mistake. This was a rookie mistake. I ain't no rookie.
     I made it to Minneapolis and Haig picked me up at the airport. I had a solid flight and all my gear made it safely which is always a relief. We went to Haig's house to pack up and we were on the road. I decided that we would split the trip up and make a stop at my friend Jason Buffington's house. Jason is one of the strongest and most humble athletes I have met in the winter ultra world and he welcomed us into his house with open arms. Jason has a very sweet, conservative family and i'm not sure they knew what the hell to make of me! They warmed up to my wildness and we ended up having such a great night in Duluth, MN. Not only did we have a great place to get a good nights sleep, but Jason, as a previous WINNER of Arrowhead gave me some very handy gear ideas. Not only this but he GAVE me a few of his key, lighter pieces of gear.

     Haig and I both got our own rooms and a great night sleep. After a great breakfast and a few good bye's we were on the road heading to the "icebox of the lower 48" International Falls, MN. We started the 2 1/2 hour drive and this was just the time Haig and I needed to reconnect and catch up on each others stories. I was emotional which usually means that a race is close. I played Haig a great speech by Steve Gleason, who is one of my heroes, and I was crying like a baby. My favorite part of Steve's speech was when he gave a definition of what he considers a LEADER to be: "A leader is somebody who helps others achieve their goals." Let that statement sync in for just a minute. This is so counter intuitive to what most leaders do these days. You know, the ol' follow me and you'll be fine leader. I don't like these types of leaders. I was fired up and humble which meant I was ready to go DEEP!!!
     Haig and I showed up to the school where I was to pick up my race bib and go through gear check. When I finally met Ken, the RD, he asked me if I was doing the race self supported? I told him I was told I couldn't because I was a rookie at the Arrowhead. He looked up at me, looked at all the finisher patches all over my jacket and said "YOU'RE NOT A ROOKIE!!!, if you'd like to do unsupported, go for it". It didn't take me 10 seconds to realize that there was no way I was prepared to go unsupported especially bringing somewhat lighter gear. I told Ken I would go with my original plan which was to accept support and be able to go into checkpoints. This would be a VERY good decision for me. Experience.
     We had picked up my dear friend Eric Johnson and now the three of us were hanging out with some time to kill. We went to a local eatery and had a great meal. Folks were coming up and saying hello and asking for Alaskan stories. Who am I to hold those back. I found the towns folks and people associated with this race to be my kind of people. They were kind and caring, which I find normal in the great Midwest. They supported the race not only because it brought commerce to their small town but they truly value adventure and toughness! Minnesota has some of the best people in the whole entire country!

     We dropped Eric off at his hotel so he could help a racer that had a bunch of last second questions. We all help each other out and share secrets in this crew. We realize that some of the tricks we can share can end up saving your fingers, toes, life. Haig and I went to a place next to our hotel called the Chocolate Moose and settled in for a meal. We were having such a great time and the beers were flowing freely. I realized that it was after midnight and I had a few more beers that I would've liked. Such is life. We went back to our hotel room and I started going through my gear. I was up till about 1:30 when I was falling asleep taping my feet up. I would miss one toe because I was so tired and it would come back to haunt me later! But there I was in some random hotel listening to Haig snore while I prepped my gear one last time for a hell of an adventure!!
     I was up at 5:30AM READY TO ROCK!! We went and picked up Eric and headed for the start line. I'm type A as they come so we were of course some of the first people there. I checked in and now had about one hour before we were to head out into the woods! Having been in this situation a number of times, I wasn't nervous, I just wanted to get moving! At 7:04 we were released into the Minnesota wilds. I was up front because I wanted to compete. I was shocked when I was being passed by hordes of runners actually running! What the hell was that? This was a 135 mile winter race and people were heading off the start like it was a local 13.1. Oh well, I let them pass. I had a feeling I would see the vast majority of these folks further on up the road! 
      I have to share a funny story here. I had put on multiple layers because it was COLD at the start. Some of my upper layers had the loop for your thumb to go through so your layers stay pulled up. Well, I had my thumbs through these holes and they were cutting into my skin. 1/2 mile into the race and it felt like my thumbs were going numb. It was -10F and I knew that it wasn't the cold doing this. I was worried. It took about ten minutes for me to realize that these thumb holes were cutting off blood circulation. I pulled my gloves off, took my damn thumbs out of the loops and laughed out loud. Micro adjustments: the name of the game!
     Now, I was rolling with Eric and we were crushing the miles. Eric is a freaking stud and one of the most efficient ultra runners I know! We were getting though the early miles together. We even had John Storkamp cruise with us for a couple miles before he made his move towards the front. He would later WIN the race. He was great and everything I thought he would be. He is another one of these runners that I've been told countless times that I "have to meet". John lived up to the hype and was as cool as a cucumber. You could tell he was going for his 10TH Arrowhead finish. I blinked and he was gone!!! Eric and I continued to churn out the miles and before long we were at the first checkpoint. We were MOVING!! 
     My feet were hurting and I had a feeling they were in pretty bad shape already. See I was wearning Wiggy's VBL socks and nothing else and it was probably, looking back, one of the stupidest decisions I've ever made in my endurance life. Not only were the socks 100% saturated but they were wrinkled on the bottom and my feet paid the price. I took my shoes off to show some folks at Gateway checkpoint and they were shocked at how bad my feet looked only 35 miles into the race. Funny, I had heard that before during winter ultra races. Anywho, I taped the shit out of them, put them back in the wet socks and went! The next section seemed long and tough! I had 100 oz of water on my back and thought that would last me until Mel George's checkpoint which was mile 70. It didn't. About 66 miles into the race, I took one sip and I heard air working it's way through the tube. I had sucked it dry. Well, what to do? Stop and melt snow into water at -25F or push 4 or 5 miles to the next checkpoint. I chose the later. I tried to get there quick but was dehydrated and not feeling well at all. Eric was behind me a bit at this point so I waited for him to show me where the checkpoint cabin was. We went into the checkpoint and it was busy and hot. 
     I don't do well at all in very crowded checkpoints. There was a medic there (thankfully) and I asked him if he would take a look at my feet. When I got my shoes and socks off and showed them to him all he said was "holy shit". They looked awful. Not only were there blisters both popped and bubbled, it looked like I had trench foot. He did what he could but recommended that I stop. As he was lancing a couple different blisters, I started feeling very nauseous. With every single person in the cabin watching, I got sick about 7 straight times. I almost filled up a HUGE shopping bag with dark, nasty throw up. I didn't know what the hell was coming out of me and how it could look so bad. After getting sick, dripping sweat, I felt like I was 1/2 dead. I had no energy and couldn't for the life of me see the light at the end of the tunnel. 
     One of the racers watching me get sick was my friend T-Race Petervary. T-Race, along with her stud muffin husband, were friends from The Iditarod Trail. We tend to try to look after each other. Tracey had said that she had just got done with a 7 hour nap in a now empty bedroom upstairs. Well, it didn't take me two minutes to get up there and get horizontal. I figured Eric had already left so I just planned on getting better. I didn't sleep as there were a few others in the room now, but it felt really good to just be off of my feet and breath. I layed down for a couple/few hours. When I got up, and looked downstairs Eric was still there and asked if I was ready to go? Hell No I wasn't ready to go. I had told the checker I was done and now I wanted Eric to head out so he wouldn't be waiting on me. He left. 
     What happened next was just meant to be. I went downstairs and was just sitting around bull shitting with other racers, Some had dropped some were still in the race. Next thing I knew, I was overhearing another athlete talk about how he was really beaten up but how it wasn't going to get much worse and how shitty he would feel if he quit. Something about his words resonated with me and right then and there, I decided I was going to get back on that trail and finish this beast of a trail. Minutes later, I was out the door with a Russian Lady from New Jersey. As we were chatting, we missed a very obvious turn and were heading down a road that didn't "feel" right to me. Just then A truck stops us and tells us we had missed a turn! Oh well, I like even numbers and would prefer 136 to 135 any day!!
     Ella and I were cruising and she showed me how to sled down the hills! She was so efficient and it looked like so much fun. So there I was, flying down hills sledding much faster than I could ever hike down hills. Ella and I had a blast. She had some frostbite starting to form on a couple of her fingers and her nose. We were about to head into the worst weather on the course. Therefore, I dug out a nose patch for her. I think it was big for her and I felt good about her chances, now, of staving off frostbite. We went a number of miles further than slowly split up. I was now on my own and felt pretty good. I was now going straight through the second night on the trail and I was ready to do what I needed to do. I put one foot in front of the other and reached the 110 mile Surly Teepee checkpoint. 
     Once in the teepee there are rules that you can't lay down and sleep or you will be dq'd. That's fine but it doesn't say racers cant fall asleep in a chair so there we were. 3 or 4 of us falling asleep in chairs as we were drying out our gear and ourselves. After drinking a cold beer and filling up my water again, I was off into the deep dark night!

     I was cruising until I wasn't. 2 nights with no sleep was catching up to me. I was starting to fall asleep while hiking. Not only that, I was now playing the game where I would pick a spot on the trail, close my eyes for 10 seconds, then open them only to readjust. I had enough experience to realize that I needed sleep. I was not going to be able to cruise straight through the night all the way to the finish. Therefore, I decided to bivy. There was another racer close by and I asked him if he wanted to bivy next to me. He jumped at the chance and before long, I was in my sleeping bag, off the trail SNOOZING. I think I got some REM sleep. I Think.
     Anywho, I woke to the racer saying, "Pete, it's 6AM, i'm cold and am going to get going!". Well I was too. I was up and back on the trail within 2 minutes and I was moving again! In fact, I was moving well. I could not believe what a few short hours of sleep did for me! Now I was on a mission to finish. Many people passed me while I was sleeping and I wanted to pass em back at the end of the trail. I didn't waver and put my head down. I called my Grandma, Sister, Brother and Wife on the ol Sat phone and was ready to dig deep!
     Next thing I knew, I started seeing signs of civilization. I was getting close! I turn a corner and who do I see? Damn straight, my boy Haig filming me as I shuffle in!!! There were all of 2 people at the finish which is par for the course!
     I did it. I finished. I got 18th place and finished my "rookie" year in 51+ hours. None of that meant shit to me. I was happy deep inside that I had what it took to persevere. Not only that, I made some stupid mistakes that I sure as shit need to tighten up before I head north in a few weeks for the biggest adventure of my life.
     I adore these races. I like to say long winter ultra's are not races, they are vision quests. You will end up digging deeper than you even realized was possible. I adore my other racers. They are each unique yet so similar to each other. They refuse to live a normal life and are out finding their own path. I am so happy that I have found my tribe on the Earth. These are my people. These are positive people who make the very best out of tough, sometimes nearly impossible situations and come out the other end tougher and wiser. 
     There is NO DOUBT in my mind that I will be back at The Arrowhead 135. This is a new extended family to me and I couldn't be more appreciative. Were all a little weird but isn't that what makes the world go around???? I'll finish this race report with two pics. The first was in the bathroom at the place we ate in International Falls. I thought it was wonderful. The second is a picture of my very first pedicure that I got in the Charlotte, NC airport on the way home. I take back EVERYTHING I've ever said about men who get manicures and pedicures. EVERYTHING! Yee Haw!

Oh, and here is a sweet note I got from Ella after the race:

I told y'all, we look after each other!!!!