When I woke in a campsite at 7 a.m., Garett had already been running three hours.
Mike, our sons and I were in Twin Lakes for the Leadville Trail 100: 100 miles, starting at 10,200 feet, and climbing 13,000 feet. The best of the 400-plus contestants finish within 18 hours. Others might approach the end five minutes too late to make the 30-hour cutoff and earn the trophy belt buckle. Only about 40 percent complete the race.
“The finish line the next morning is carnage,” a friend told us. Yet many runners come through aid stations smiling. People feel good, bad; ebullient, crazy.
This awesome event is held right in our backyard, amid slopes of dueling greens, and you can have a lot of fun there without running it. In fact, you’ll have more fun.
A good base for observers is the aid station by the bright, silty Twin Lakes, where the runners pause, having already covered 40 miles, before heading over 12,600-foot Hope Pass.
The aid station and parking lot are full of the runners’ crews, food, and supplies. The runners sit, are rubbed; feebly request bananas.
“Want Tums?” they are asked. “Pepto Bismol?”
You cheer for all, will recognize them hours later on their way back, and cheer again, and they can all use it.
This year, Mike was pacing our friend Garett Graubins, who hoped to make top 10 for the first time there. Pacers are allowed after mile 50; Mike would take Garett 27 miles.
At Twin Lakes, Garett’s wife, Holly, reported that he had been nauseated and taciturn at the last station. We waited. He arrived at 10:50 a.m., 40 minutes later than expected per his game plan, but smiling.
Ahead was Hope Pass, then the turnaround at Winfield, then (cruelly) Hope Pass again.
Mike was unusually nervous as he left for Winfield; he didn’t want to let Garett down. Yet he’d been plagued for weeks by a quadriceps cramp, which had stopped him cold two miles into a recent fun run.
The two pulled into Twin Lakes, mile 60, at 4:40 p.m. Garett looked great, though his times still lagged a bit. Mike was pale, his stomach and leg both cramping, with 17 miles to go.
On they went toward the Half Moon Aid station. “Don’t sit down at Half Moon,” runs the warning, “or you’ll never get up.” Most runners arrive in pitch dark; it’s heated, well-lit, mirage-like. Many “drop” here.
Our next meeting was Treeline, at mile 72.
“They’re coming in,” announced a friend on a bicycle, “and they look great.” Both were cheerful; Garett seemed stronger yet. Mike’s cramp had vanished, and they’d passed six entrants, actually racing.
They’d arrived at Half Moon ahead of the crowd. “The zombies aren’t here yet,” they heard a volunteer say. “Then it’s, ‘Are you on Pluto or Jupiter?'” A friend who passed through that station later said, “It looked like a M.A.S.H. unit.”
Treeline, not an official, supplied station, later becomes site of the Walking Dead, with exhausted crew members racked out on the ground, and contestants wandering around knocking on car windows, looking for them.
Four miles later, at the Fish Hatchery at dusk, Mike handed Garett to his next pacer. The runners continued, keeping headlamps off as much as possible to hide their positions.
Holly paced Garett the last five miles, shining her headlamp back, seeing nothing, not even reflective stripes on clothing.
As Garett, apparently solid in ninth, walked the last blocks to the finish in downtown Leadville, Holly suddenly said, “Oh, no!” Illuminated by a street light, two runners were storming up 100 yards behind.
The runner in eighth had taken a wrong turn at mile 94, and Garett unknowingly passed him. The runner had re-oriented, and crept back up, sticking to the trees.
Garett had not thought he could run again. He could. He finished a dream eighth.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com (write GSPI as subject heading).
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