My 2017 Leadville 100 journey started in December 2015 when I entered the lottery for the 2016 race and got in. Hmmm, well, I guess I’m running Leadville! So I decided to sign up for a few CO races, one of which was the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville. Long story short, I ended up placing well enough that I received the bronze token – I could either have entry into the 2016 or 2017 Leadville 100. Given I was already running 2016, and was so elated, I decided to accept entry into 2017. And so my journey to a second Leadville finish began.
Running 100 miles for the first time in 2016 was nothing close to easy – it was painful both physically and mentally. But I finished and was proud to just simply finish in the top 15. The realization that I had to do it all over again didn’t really hit until after my IAT FKT attempt in May when I literally had 2.5 months to get ready to race in the mountains once again. All of my training was focused on Midwest flatlands…with a switch to mountain training, I was really gassed. I didn’t feel as prepared, and I knew exactly what was to come on course…it’s like a living hell going up to Hope Pass and then doing it again in reverse. But I knew in my heart, I wasn’t hurting enough to defer to 2018…and seriously, I didn’t want to wait that long to go to hell and back! I might as well get it over with…
I got into Leadville the Wednesday of race week mainly to acclimate but also to hang with my friends doing TransRockies that week. When Brian Tinder and I were running part of the AZ trail together in Flagstaff a few weekends ago, he suggested coming out to watch TR as a way to get motivated for Leadville. That sounded like a great idea. It was awesome to go watch friends and competitors race each stage and just how carefree they were about it. Everyone looked so light on their feet and quick running through the mountains. They really enjoyed the ride…I wanted that so bad for Saturday’s start, but again, in my heart, I was just not into it. How was I going to get through 100 miles without much personal drive or motivation? I ignored that thought for the rest of the week…
Brian and Rivers walked down to the start area with me at 3:30am for a 4am start. It was about 42 degrees – this is perfect race weather for me. Everything was lining up perfect, but yet still no drive to be toeing the line. The gun went off. I had a decision to make – go out with the best females or run my race…or anything in between or worse – fail right off the bat. I decided to go out with Devon Yanko – an elite runner with HOKA (who took first that day). Given my mental state, I decided to slow my pace down around the first aid station, just over 13.5mi into the race; I was 2 minutes behind. I changed my mind. Now I’m going to run my race. The next section was a bit of climbing, but nothing too intense given I was able to bomb down powerline to the Outward Bound aide station. I didn’t know my place and I didn’t want to. Brian was there to provide aide and I guess I didn’t look great after the first 24 miles – Brian could tell it was not going well even at that point.
Over the next 3 miles, I decided to have a pity party for myself. I complained in my head about everything – mainly about how much it hurts already and I’m not even to 50! I continued to repeat in my head how stupid I was for signing up and committing to something because of pressure; maybe a DNS would have been better. I got to mile 28 where Brian was again to and he ended up walking with me through treeline as I was in tears complaining now out loud about my feelings about this race. I hated the miles that were coming up – the immense climbs…the water crossings…the heat…all of it. I told Brian my hamstring and hip were in so much pain – he needed to get Rivers to make a decision for me. That makes quitting easier. Or does it?
Somehow, I was able to grab onto some motivation in the next 13 miles. I was able to let out a good cry and turn my legs on. I had to get to mile 40 and then I could reassess. I ignored the radiating pain in my right hamstring and hip…I pushed through this low point and it was worth it.
I made it to Twin Lakes. Brian told me I had to keep going and that Rivers response to my hamstring/hip issue was to “f*ing relax” … he was right. He also said that he did not build me to be a first in at 50 mile runner…or even 1st in at the 100k…my race is the final 1/3 and better yet, another 100 miles after the 100 miles already ran. He’s right – always right. I kept those words in my head for the next 60 miles. It was time to climb…summiting Hope Pass would be nothing easy. I grabbed my poles and kept moving.
I made my way through the river crossings – they felt amazing! I wanted to take a swim but figured I didn’t have time. Along the prairie I went and could feel the trail start to elevate…I was starting the long climb up the mountain. I wanted so desperately to get to the llamas and donkeys – that meant there was only 1.5 miles to go before descending. I hiked better than I have ever before. Last year I had to take breaks to catch my breath and this time I just kept going. The climbing actually felt good and I believed I was making really good time. When I made it to the top, I was so excited. I only had to go down the mountain 4 miles or so right into Winfield at mile 52 before summiting again. Those 2 extra miles added to the course though really could’ve been left out!
Running into Winfield felt great. Really because I had no time to throw myself another pity party. I was 52 miles in with my first pacer already starting to help me fuel and not giving me any time to complain. Brian was setting up my gear to return over Hope Pass and my friends Shelley and Alec were volunteering – they are so wonderful to me and just made me smile. I was so distracted I forgot how much I didn’t want to be running in that moment. Siobhan Pritchard, an incredible runner in CO that took 7th last year, paced me back to Twin Lakes. Her serious yet kind words kept me motivated – I didn’t want to disappoint her.
My stomach started to turn at some point during the day. I’m not exactly sure when but I needed a moment to sit and drink a lot of fluids by the time I returned to Twin Lakes or the 100k mark. Keith was waiting patiently to start his leg of Leadville. I was back to just wanting to sit all day and not starting up again. My crew got me going again – they didn’t leave any other option. I had to let my stomach adjust as I continued on this long journey. Keith and I started our climb out of Twin Lakes onto the Colorado Trail heading toward Outward Bound. It was a stretch of climbing followed by rolling hills – a quite runnable section! My stomach was not doing well and honestly at this point I was taking in anything that didn’t come out of one end or the other. I was able to get down ramen, mashed potatoes, fluids, and Halloween candy pumpkins. I would gag my way through eating but I got the calories down – that was the important part. My body didn’t want anything but it didn’t matter, I had to get in nutrition. I needed to get through this race today no matter what.
The motivation within started to rally. I’m not sure why or how but I started to think to myself how much I didn’t want to miss the awards. Or how much I didn’t want to repeat this again in 2018 because of a failure. Or how my crew is giving me their whole weekend to see my through. I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to finish and finish well. I knew I would regret anything but a successful day. I had to keep digging for that internal drive from mile 60 to the finish, reminding myself constantly of why I was here, what I want to accomplish, and the amount of belief others have in me. I wanted Leadville to be my breakout race and here I was having mini pity parties at moments when I didn’t need to. I needed to forget the lows and focus on the highs. I have an opportunity now to take over something I don’t want to take over. The fire was ignited even though I had to keep lighting it mile after mile.
Coming through Outward Bound again, I was freezing cold. Kind of a repeat of last year! I didn’t want to stay there long so I stayed by the fire for just a moment before Siobhan said I had to keep going to stay on track. It was her leg again – the second hardest section – powerline. I killed powerline last year and planned to do it again. I finally started to pee more and get in more sugar – my legs were cashed, but there were only 24 miles left. That’s nothing. I can do 24 miles. I was able to pass 2 females in this section. To me that felt great and Siobhan reminded me to not worry about that and just keep moving. She was right. I needed to focus on reaching my goal of sub 25. But I couldn’t help but think I was already reaching my top ten goal – would that be good enough?
We rolled into May Queen with 13.5 miles left. Brian took over giving Siobhan a nap break. Keith had already started his trip back to Boulder where he was volunteering for the Run Mindful camp where we met back in 2015. I ran from May Queen to the finish with some hiking breaks but I was alive this time. Last year I was tearful and falling asleep as I moved. This year I pushed hard and knew that the end was so close. I passed 2 more females locking in 8th place. I didn’t know that until the end, but what I did know was that my race will forever be the final 1/3 of any event. Why bother thinking about anything else? I guess in the end that’s really hard to do and something I’m going to focus on moving forward. With a total time of 25:39:16 I finished the 2017 Leadville 100 – one of the most prestigious and toughest 100 milers. Of the 604 starters, 287 finished. That’s a 47% finisher rate. Wow.
It was my second Leadville 100 finish and I was asked if I would go back….I didn’t think so until I found out Wardian did the Leadville/Pike’s Peak combo record – now THAT sounds right up my alley! It may be something to consider once my recovery period is over and my mind is ready to wrap my brain around something so challenging.
I may not have had my breakout race…I may not even have had a great time…but in the end, I really felt good about this finish. I reached one of my goals…I finished something that from the start I didn’t want to do, and realized that my 2017 season has really been overall incredible. My standings look good, but even more, I’ve become a better athlete and women because of the determination, drive, and grit that went into everything from this year. Of course, the year isn’t over, and I may have goals under my sleeve before 2018 hits, but for now, I can’t be happier. That’s what makes it worthwhile…being at your lowest and rising above everything to get to the top. It doesn’t happen all the time, but gosh when it does, it’s really awesome to make things happen when you’re at your lowest point. I suppose that is what Leadville is all about!
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for Pjur Active, lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.