I’ve put off writing this post for so long, because as we all know, sometimes it’s hard to put crazy experiences into words. It’s no secret that home girl has some serious love for Leadville. The town itself has its own quaint little charm, and what surrounds it is truly majestic. My introduction to ultra running started here, and my interest in ultra running essentially grew here as well. There will always be a special place in my heart for Leadville!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Leadville, the town itself sits at 10,152 ft and is infamous for its mining history. The Leadville Marathon is an out and back course which starts at around 10,200 ft elevation, peaks at 13,185 ft on Mosquito Pass, while still managing to go over 12,000 ft. two more times, and has about 6,333 ft of elevation gain.
Given clearance for flat runs/hike the ups + jog the downs the first week of April after nursing a ski injury, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My goals going into this race were to run as strong and consistent as my “train with what you have not how you were expecting to” methods would allow. As much as I outwardly denied it at the time, I was a nervous wreck going into this race. I so badly wanted redemption from the previous summer. All I could hope for was a good day and accept what my body would allow based off a few weekly interval sessions and a couple of long-ish runs. One thing I knew I could bank on was hiking. I was cleared to hike well before I could run, and I knew based off previous races that hiking was not my forte. With that in mind, I made “hiking with a purpose” a priority. My friend Allisa and I started doing weekly before work hikes at Mt. Morrison, 1,900 ft of gain in about 1.8 miles, and my legs had undeniably become stronger on the uphills.
The night before included camping at Turquoise Lake, a plant based dinner, and watching the sunset. It was quiet, calming, and easily the best night’s sleep I’ve gotten before a race.
The race didn’t start until 8 am which was nice because it meant you didn’t have to get ready in the dark. Breakfast consisted of pour over coffee (camp fancy, y’all) Mike’s Mighty Oats and Tailwind Nutrition. Parking was a little different than the previous years, but this presented a bathroom at a park with zero waiting which is clearly a perk. At the start, I see a few familiar faces and friends. Smiles, good lucks, and nervous laughter are exchanged.
Within the first mile, I see my friend Amanda. At this point I’m still harboring quite a bit of nervous energy and feeling a little more focused than necessary. We exchange a few words, and then run together silently for a bit. The course for the 1/ 2 marathon and the full split shortly after this. Mike passed me by mile 2. He doesn’t say it, but I knew he thought I started too fast. I check in, and ask myself if this is a fact. Realizing that it was a good possibility I reign it in a little and start exploring my groove and gear for the day.
As I reach the point where I’m reduced to a hike the nerves start to dissipate a bit, and the “Damn, Leadville. I love you!” feels start to take over. The climb up and around Ball Mountain brings me a bit of a boost as it is the first time in my racing history that I’m passing people while hiking and am not the one being passed. Once at the aide station that sits at just over 12,000 ft on Ball Mountain, I refill my bottles with Tailwind Nutrition and share a few laughs with my friend Ashton as we start descending. I felt great. Laughing, smiling, and I think I even sang a little bit, I let the downhill carry me. The aide station before Mosquito Pass comes up quick. I’m greeted by friends who are familiar with the struggles I faced last summer and they help me refill my bottles. I sense their excitement that I’m in a much better place than I was the year before. They give me cheers, encouragement, and we’re feeding off each other’s positive energy. I leave the aide station filled to the brim with enthusiasm, excitement and hungry for Mosquito Pass.
Climbing. Climbing. Climbing…
My legs and lungs are burning in the best way possible. I’m thinking of my friend Allisa and our Mountains for Breakfast Club, and that I can’t WAIT for her to see the benefits from it, too. Passing people and recognizing friends coming down the pass who are running the 1/2, my energy keeps building as I cheer them on. My friend Kaitlin comes running down the trail looking tough as nails. We yell encouraging things to one another without missing a beat.The smile on my face is uncontrollable, and it feels impossible to contain such a level of happiness. As I climb higher and higher I’m surprised that I haven’t seen any runners from the marathon yet. I finally start crossing paths with people I know running the full and am much closer to the top of the pass than I thought I would be at that point. Looks of surprise come across just about everyone’s face as I greet them with a smile the size of Texas and high fives.
For what feels like the first time I look at my watch, and set a goal. I want to hit the top of Mosquito Pass in 3 hours. I complete this impromptu and arbitrary goal with 1 minute and 45 seconds to spare. As stoked as I am, I realize the more time I spend up there the more time I’m allowing to possibly start struggling with altitude. Riding some serious adrenaline, I turn around and fearlessly start descending Mosquito Pass. Feeling overly confident on the technical terrain I find myself passing people left and right. At this point I’m all business and have a few different mantras bouncing around in my head. To my disbelief I catch up to my friend Amy, and think surely I am hallucinating or running like a damn fool to have caught her. I keep my pace and pull ahead, briefly. I check in with myself. My legs feel amazing, my stomach is solid, my mind is strong and my heart is full. My next memory involves something that sounds like a crunch, followed by the most pain I’ve experienced in my life thus far, and my ears are filled with the sound of my own screams.
I don’t remember falling, my eyes are closed, my chest is on top of a rock, I can’t stop screaming and breathing is almost impossible. I lay there for what feels like a few minutes. People are gathering around me, talking to me, but I can’t understand what they’re saying. My mind is racing. “No, no, no. Oh, NO. Not today. WHY?! How do I fix this? How do I get to the finish line? GET UP. NOW. This is where it starts.”
My chest feels like somebody stabbed me with a hot knife, and left it in there. Taking full or even half breaths is entirely out of the question. I avoided looking at my hands and knees which I knew were torn up. After a minute or two had passed, I went from laying to standing to moving to jogging to running. The jarring from running hurt, breathing was excruciating and extremely limited.
Side note: Looking back I realized that I never acknowledged the people who stopped to check on me. All that was running through my mind was standing up, and finishing the race. So if you by chance are one of those people who stopped their own race to make sure I was okay, THANK YOU!
When I got to the aide station at the bottom of Mosquito Pass, the aide station and my friends had already been made aware of what happened. It was suggested that I be checked out by the medics. I knew they were going to try and pull me. My reaction was, “NO. I’m fine.” My objection lost, and I was directed to the ambulance. I stood there waiting on the medics growing impatient with emotions growing. In a distressed state (which they sensed) I said something along the lines of, “The longer I stand here, the more emotional I’m going to become, can we please move this along?” They understood and performed a brief physical eval to which I masked my reaction to my best ability, listened to my chest (which was clear) and asked me a few questions. Based off the looks they gave me they knew I was lying through my teeth about my actual condition and pain scale rating. They told me that it was most likely a fracture, and that finishing the race probably wasn’t a good idea. I promised that if the pain increased I would drop, but that I needed to keep moving.
I left the ambulance and had some help putting my vest back on and filling my bottles before continuing on. My thought process, “It’s going to hurt whether you stop here or keep running. You can hurt for 10 miles.” As I’m running I try to redirect my mind and make sure I’m not compensating for the pain I’m experiencing. I’m thinking of what it means to fall or fail and to stand back up. Whether in life or in running. Moving the best I can, I reach the next aide station and a young volunteer asks me if I need medical attention. I decline, and she continues to insist. I suppose it was the expression on my face that caused an older volunteer to cut in and say, “No. She’s fine. Let her go.” and gave me a nod with a very big and understanding smile. They helped me re-fill my bottles, I said “Thank you” and continued on my way.
Shortly after leaving the aide station I catch up to a guy who asks, “I thought I saw you get in an ambulance?” I laugh a little to myself at how absurd that sounds and respond with a short and funny sounding, “You did.” It’s not too long before I recognize somebody just ahead of me. I try to catch up as they start up the last big climb, but am limited by my breathing, even though I’m somehow still managing to move at an okay clip as it is. I then attempt to call out, but my chest hurts too much to use my full voice. “Miike. Miiike. MIIIIIKE.” He slows and I tell him what happened.
Mike looks at me like I have 3 heads. I did’t expect him to stay with me, but he did. Running uphill was not something I was capable of, but I could move uphill… slowly. Back up to 12,000 ft we went. Stopping frequently to wince and get my breathing back down in hopes of reducing the pain coming from my chest. We climbed. Mike talked, I listened. We reach the aide station on Ball Mountain and I see two women coming in very quickly just behind me. I attempt to rush Mike out of the aide station in hopes to stay ahead of them. He ever so kindly gives me a reality check on my condition and reminds me that I don’t even have the ability to take half a breath at a time. In actuality I’m pretty sure he wanted to say, “Girl, you be trippin. Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self (again).”
It takes quite a bit of self control to mask the scowl of frustration with my situation, but I think it showed briefly before returning to my typical deer in the headlights expression that tends to grace my face when I’m in disbelief, nervous or have no idea what’s going on. As we run out of the aide station any scowl worthy feelings fade fast as I am quickly reminded of the substantial amount of pain I’m in with each breath and from the jarring of the downhill.
The last few miles I find myself checking out a little. Appreciating that Mike sacrificed his own run to help me finish mine. Realizing that I really like the new Leadville Marathon course, which is supposedly harder than the course in 2013 and years prior, much more. It’s not until a mile to go that I realize even with the fall I’ve still managed to throw down a pretty decent day.
5:21:11 – 11th female – 31 minute PR
Upon finishing I’m swarmed by concerned friends and teammates who deliver hugs, congrats and several expletives exclaiming the disbelief of what had just happened. I eventually make my way to medical to have some wounds cleaned up. Sure, I can fall down a mountain pass and keep running, but the minute you try to clean the wound on my hand I will most definitely lose all color from my face and try to faint on you. They sat me down and had me put my head between my knees for a bit. What a day.
After leaving medical we headed to the finish line to enjoy a few beers, and cheer on friends and teammates who were finishing their races before heading home.
In conclusion… It is completely beyond me how I continued to run as I could barely take 2 steps at a time while walking to dinner that night or do much of anything on my own for the next week. My stomach was solid (thanks Tailwind!), my mind was strong, my heart was in the right place, and there wasn’t a minute that went by that I didn’t think of my friends and family who have continued to support me. Sure, a fractured rib wasn’t very ideal, but I found every bit of redemption I was looking for when I toed the line that morning and then some.