Thursday, August 22, 2013

I guess I did it. Running Leadville 100. A Recap. Or something like it.

Gina helping me start my Ambit2 S GPS at the start.
Photo by Austin Lottimer 
100 miles. The distance, as whole, when I say it out loud, sounds insane. Really. Who runs 100 miles? Well a lot of people. A lot of people run more. Less. All sorts of distances. My boyfriend, Austin, still can’t wrap his head around it. I can understand that. When I think about it, like really think about it, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, too.

But in the realm of what I do, what we do as ultra trail runners, it’s not really a big deal. It is not some magnanimous, profound thing. It’s just a race, just a distance; just runners moving over terrain from one point to the next just like any other race. There are harder races. And easier races. It’s all relative, you know. I can’t say that enough. I'm always saying that. ...

Three miles after leaving Outward Bound Aid.
Photo by Austin Lottimer

The first time I ran Leadville, I was 23 years old. It was 2010, the year after I’d met and paced iRunFar’s Bryon Powell (who ended up with a top 10 finish). I still remember the rush of endorphins I had in 2009, as my brother in law pulled into Twin Lakes after our driving descent of Independence Pass. I’d never felt energy like that. It felt big. I was so enthusiastic. I had goose bumps.

I remember I could hardly keep up with Bryon. Running at 10,000 feet was hard and at the time, I’d lived in Colorado for less than a year. I’d moved to Carbondale from pancake flat Carolina coastline. From humidity and years away from running. From a totally different life. I fell in love with the race. With Leadville. With the energy. With distance. With the idea of simply covering 100 miles in less than 24 hours. In the strange way we find pleasure in pain, it felt romantic. I wanted to win.

It didn’t happen the next year, though, in 2010 when I toed the line as a newbie 23-year-old girl. I wasn’t ready. I did run 100 miles, though, and Bryon paced me through some of it. Emotional torment followed me over Hope Pass as I vomited, out of Twin Lakes as I refused to eat, all the way up Powerlines and the rest of the race as I fell asleep and fell over and cried and cried and cried. I wasn't ready. I made it to the finish line in third place and couldn’t believe I’d run 100 miles. It felt so monumental then. I couldn’t eat for days, or sleep. Body aches so bad laying down even hurt. 
Happy runner. Photo by Chris Barnes

And now, three years later, I’ve run 100 miles twice. Both times in Leadville. It still seems far. This time, I won Leadville. Start to finish, I led the race. I took a wrong turn in the beginning (classic Ashley mistake) and somewhere near the end. But in the scheme of the distance, I can’t think much of it. I never went far off course.

Despite the first 39 miles when my stomach refused to let me take in much food or water, when I determined that my body was actually in no kind of shape to run the distance, when I had made the decision to drop, when I slid down the steep, short descent to the Twin Lakes Aid Station and I saw my crew, my best friend, unexpected friends, three people cheering in cat shirts, I couldn’t drop. 

My friend Alex Tiernan told me I had to keep going. He told me I had to start eating. And I had to keep eating. Little bites every 20 minutes. He didn’t care what I said. I listened. I kept going. And going. And going. I felt happy. I smiled. Running, the unavoidable aches that spike up every now and then during a race that far, pushing ever forward, going, going, going. It all felt like bliss, like a feeling of real, tangible wealth.

Everything had instantly changed. As the terrain steepened and changed and I could hear mountain water rush past me to the right, I ascended Hope Pass, my steps felt lighter and more and more effortless. I felt relaxed. Peaceful. I climbed and climbed until the aid station was in view and then the summit. The Collegiate Peaks’ summits felt so close I could touch them. 

“This is why I love running,” I said it out loud. I raised my arms, I yelped with joy. And I tiptoed my way down, slowly because I’m terrified of steep downhill, to the other side, toward the turnaround, where I picked up my first pacer, Zach Woodward.

Crisp above-timberline-mountain air melting into thick, tree-shrouded mountain air that carried dust. I felt hot sun pushing into my forehead. I listened to music. I passed and exchanged words with the leading men who were heading back to climb Hope from the other side, closer to the finish. Every step, closer to the finish.
Heading out to climb Powerlines with G.
Photo by Chris Barnes
All my emotions during the race just aren’t things I can record accurately. To be honest, I know I felt bad, of course. I remember some sections, but it’s hard to recall them in a narrative sense. I remember feeling bad when Gina, my Salomon teammate and trail sister, and I turned on our headlamps finally and started descending Sugar Loaf Pass.

I remember crying because rocks were hitting my blisters and it hurt like hell. I also was crying because I was tired, probably. I don’t know. I remember a feeling of defeat when we made a left onto the Colorado Trail a couple miles from MayQueen and I had to go slow because I was afraid of rolling my ankle and I couldn’t see. But I was also happy, thankful, that I had one my best friends right there. 

“It’s just you and me, Cat.” Gina said that over and over. I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of the dark when it creeps in at the end of the day because it’s the start of darkness. It’s not like morning when the promise of sun keeps you going. I got sad, thinking about darkness stretching on and on and on until the finish, until the next day. Her words made me feel better. “Just you and me, Cat, out for a long run.” I caught glimpses of a bright moon reflecting off the water, black, deep water and a trail curling around a shore.

My sister, Lauren, picked me up with seven miles to go. I got to finish running 100 miles with my sister.

My best friend since I was five, Blair, was my crew leader. She was so organized. She is so organized. So unbelievably amazing. 

Deb, a good friend who I dance with, fed me all day, rubbed comfrey oil on my bad ankle. I don't think I could have run that race without comfrey oil on my ankle.

I feel so fortunate to have incredible people in my life. Everyone that was there on my crew, Austin, Blair, Gina, Deb, Alex, Ben, Lauren, Lou, each of them, are the kinds of friends I consider family. The kind of people you say, “I love you” to and really mean it.
Meow Squad in action being super awesome pants. Photo by Austin Lottimer

Quitting was never an option that crossed my mind after I left Twin Lakes and headed to Winfield. It was never something that seemed possible. I allowed myself to sink into the strength of the mind where infinite possibility thrives. I was moving forward, running a 100-mile race, and I was winning. I was winning Leadville. And I wasn’t going to stop until I stepped across the line, down the red carpet. And that was that.

Oh, and sorry, I know I promised writing about bacon. I didn’t write about bacon. I totally lied to you. It is good, though. Bacon that is. Really amazing good. Especially with avocado, rolled up. during a 100-mile race. There. I wrote about bacon. OK, I take back the lying part. 


Running into Twin Lakes inbound with my sister (left) offering council, Blair (behind) meowing and being awesome and organized and Alex (right) taking instructions to go get his iPod.

Photo by Austin Lottimer

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