In for a long night – Leadville 100
LEADVILLE – She had already run 82 miles. Her feet were soaking wet. There was snow melting on her headlamp. She was shaking. Wrapping my friend’s sprained ankles around 3 a.m. to prepare her for the 18 miles she still had to run was as much of an inside glimpse as I’ll ever have of the Leadville Trail 100.The Leadville Trail 100, an athletic endeavor beyond most of our aspirations or tolerance for suffering, began in 1983. The 100-mile race takes a maximum of 500 runners out and back from Leadville to Winfield, gaining 15,600 feet of elevation and losing the same. The lowest point of the “race across the sky” is 9,200 feet at Twin Lakes and the highest is 12,620 feet at the summit of Hope Pass. From Leadville, runners head west around Turquoise Lake, up the Colorado Trail, over Haggerman Pass, over Sugarloaf Pass, through Half Moon Campground, continue on the Colorado Trail to Twin Lakes, over Hope Pass and back again.
Did my friend make it? Yes she did. In 2003, Helen Cospolich, hobbling on two sprained ankles, took third place of the few women who finished the event (the entire race field typically has an attrition rate of almost 50 percent) after running for more than 27 hours. Although she couldn’t take off her own shoes at the end of the race (she immediately wrapped up in a blanket in the back of her husband’s truck and slept for six hours before the awards ceremony), she wanted to do it again last year. “It’s like anything that’s hard; the day after, you hate it and you wonder why you did it. A year after, even a couple months after, you think, ‘That was actually kind of cool.’ I guess you need that removal process to understand what you did. You can’t the day after because you’re in too much pain,” said Cospolich, 28, who lives in Breckenridge.In last year’s race, she shaved four hours off of her finish time (23 hours and 30 minutes), and crossed the line in the wee hours of the night (around 3 a.m.) with a smile on her face.She took fourth place of the women’s field. Paul DeWitt set the course record in 17:16.19, and Ann Trason holds the women’s record course record she set in 1994 of 18:06.24. Smile or not, the “quick” finish wasn’t easy for Cospolich. As part of her support crew both years, I witnessed the range of emotions a person can go through when putting one foot over the other for 23-plus hours. There is laughter, tears and just about every other possibility that endorphins, adrenaline, pain and exhaustion can conjure up.
“I think it’s because you’re out there for so long,” she said. “Your body goes through so many changes. The interesting thing is, you can never predict how you’re going to feel at any point in the race. It’s always going to be different whether you’re well-trained or not. You get to a point where there’s a lot of pain. You have to mentally work through that.”Hey, buck up Leadville 100 belt buckle owners will be the first to agree that the race is as much a mental battle as it is a physical challenge. After completing 10 races, Leadville 100 runners receive the coveted buckle. Eagle resident Eric Pence earned his in 2003.Pence, 39, will be shooting for his 12th finish and 15th start in the “race across the sky” this weekend. The race begins at 4 a.m.
“Every year, you never know if you can run 100 miles,” said Pence, who has completed about 20 100-mile races, including the 135-mile Bad Water race in 125-degree temperatures last summer in Death Valley, California.”It really motivates me to train and train hard to see if I can do it,” he said. “Mentally, if you’re not into it, you don’t stand a chance. You have to go through the low points and high points. Every race is different. I can’t say it’s always the same point. All I know is that they do come. And you have to get through it.”Pence’s best finish time in the Leadville race was just more than 24 hours – a solid stretch of time to stay mentally “into it.” Runners go through many thoughts during this time frame. Some think of their childhood. Cospolich and Pence both said they hallucinate. Cospolich has seen parrots. Pence sees bears. They think about their food intake, about hydration. Their thoughts wander to big Mexican dinners after they finish the race. John Rainey thinks about thermodynamics. No joke.
“Yeah, my thoughts are probably a little different than most people who are out there,” said Rainey, 56, a Leadville local who will be aiming for his fourth finish and fifth start Saturday. “I’m a writer. One of the reasons I like running so much is I do a lot of my writing when I’m running. I write evolutionary theory – political ramifications of the ignorance of evolution. All of my writing goes through my head when I’m out there.”Rainey DNFed in his first Leadville race when he had lost 11 pounds at Mile No. 50, a result of improper hydration. The second DNF came after an attempt to race when he was injured. This year, Rainey has attempted two other 100-mile races, one beginning near Lake Tahoe and another in Vermont. He finished 85 miles of the Western States race, but missed the final cutoff by 2 minutes after spending too much time in an aid station getting medical attention for blisters. Since then, his training regiment has consisted of training runs up Mt. Elbert – up and down, twice – triple trips over Hope Pass and dual 14ers – Elbert and Mt. Massive in the same stretch.”With the summer I’ve had already, the most important thing is to plain, flat-out finish,” Rainey said. “I know I can do it. I’m probably in the best shape of my life.”
As for Cospolich, she said her missing out complex is kicking in this week. She is seven months pregnant and will miss the race this weekend. Despite the obvious self-masochism that propels runners do embark on such an event, Helen said there’s something else at work, too.”The people involved are just so cool,” she said. “I’ll miss the whole scene of it. You start in the dark. You finish in the dark. You’re running across this strange carpet at the finish line in the middle of Leadville in the middle of the night. Just a few people are out there. They give you a medal. It’s other-worldly.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail Colorado
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