Monday, August 27, 2012

Circus Circus: Leadville 100 Mile

Crew Report from LPTRunner, Marty Kanter-Cronin...

Last week, I had a chance to see one of the biggies in the ultra world up close, and pace a friend in the Leadville 100. Who wouldn’t want to go? Really? I mean, I didn’t pay an entry fee, but I get to run on the Leadville Course?

All I had to do was volunteer to drive 18 hours to Colorado, plan gear, study the mountain course, figure out how to drive on washboard gravel road, navigate mountain and lake roads that have no parking, plan pacer hand offs, transport and house four people, two dogs and all their gear, navigate the myriad of details that go with supporting a runner (along with 800 other crews vying for the same things).

Yeah! Let’s do this. I am game. What could go wrong?

Circus Circus
Oh, man. Anything can and will happen. Ask any race director, or ask anyone crewing at a race. Its controlled chaos, its adjustments, its fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants you happened to be wearing. And its logistics. Logistics! Even a Circus is about logistics: handing off a lion whip, holding up the trapeze nets, getting all the elephant poop picked up. Really, the runner runs, and everyone else runs around him, like crazy clowns, piling in and out of our crazy clown cars.

A Movable Feast
So we move. Round and round. And back again. Making sure the runner has what he needs when he needs it, where he needs it. Miss a simple thing, and the depleted runners fragile ego could be crushed. Then you’ve got someone in tears (or angry) at mile 76, at 2 AM, wondering why you can’t find the green coconut M&M’s in the back of a car that looks like a small explosion at an REI store. And oh your car is a half mile away too. So crewing is a lot like refereeing a game. No one much notices you until you screw up.

Who’s this Adam runner guy?
Adam McRoberts is our runner. The one we are all here for. Cheering, screaming, feeding both food and encouragement. Adam had been having trouble with an Achilles tendon for a couple months and as recently as a few days before had a flare up that hobbled him after a single mile. So this race was in jeopardy right from the start. Hanging, fragile as a tendon in the back of his leg. Adam, however is tough. Tough as a rusty nail stirring whiskey.  Once he got started, and was good as gold at mile 13, I knew only a major blow up would remove him from this race. I paced Adam at the Kettle 100, and have seen him get really comfortable with being uncomfortable. (Adam would make a great LPTR, except now he moved to Boulder, CO, the snot).

The Crew
Adam and I had three friends who volunteered to help pace and crew too: Jessica, Tawnya, and Maggie. Oh, and Mica and Roxy, the four legged crew members. A late addition, we were also joined by Steve, Jess’ boyfriend, and he played a pivotal role in keeping some of us sane, adding an extra vehicle to the mix, and actually providing a crucial piece of gear in the form of an extra pair of running shoes. We had fun, we were a team, even if sometimes we messed up. Crewing starts as: Do I have everything? Have I got it all organized? Where are the maps? And then it morphs into: Is a Clif bar good after you wash off the dirt with Heed? Does a steering wheel or a dog make a better pillow? Do I stink as bad as you do? Who peed in the back of the car??

A Taste of Logistics.
A 4AM start. The girl team took Adam to the start, and my job was to head to mile 13 around Lake Turquoise, 8 miles from our camp. It was a tight spot that logistically was hard to navigate, so I thought I would skip the start and get a jump on better parking Ha. It appears that half the other teams had the same idea. A 1/2 mile walk to the Aid Station. People all over the place, parking half on a mountain road. I say: LET THE CIRCUS BEGIN!

Another example, about noon, we missed Adam at an Aid Station. I planned enough time to get to Twin Lakes at mile 39, but the SOB Adam was running faster and I didn’t count on a mile walk to the crossing point. I was bummed, mostly at myself. It also turned out that the AS had lost Adam’s drop bag, and then we missed him. GACK. But like I said, Adam is tough, and he just kept motoring onward. Yeah, it was like this for much of the day and night. I could go on for about 2800 words, but you kinda get the idea. OK, here are some highlights from Team Fckup (motto: if we can’t lose it, no one can)

Cement pylons are harder than car doors
Dog will slip loose collars and bolt (We catch her)
Loose drop bags are easy to lose.
Driving 15 miles from AS to AS takes 2 hours down crowded gravel road
Runner has 10 mile section with 5000 feet of accent and decent
Runner is likely to beat us to the AS if we don’t get though
Race personnel were gonna make us walk a mile; get lucky and they let us through
Forgotten headlamps provide very little light
Ford Explorers can park on three wheels
Good thing it was a rental
Found lost bag hours later on the side of the road
Tired Poodles don’t want to walk
They do attract a lot of attention and comments when you carry them like a baby
Runner works at shoe store has a single spare pair of shoes, race organizers LOSE
Runner wants things we don’t have in the car
Make a trip into town to get
Next time you see him he won’t want most of those either
Give Runner a new gel he has never tried and he throws it up
Pretty purple color though
Snickers bars and Mountain Dew are good food for the last 30 miles of a Hundo
Tom Waits has songs that start with every letter in the alphabet except Q, X and Z.
The stars are brighter at 10,000 feet
Runner blows shoes out, has to wear borrowed Adidas, a company he despises
Car top cargo boxes are not aerodynamic when they are open
Most shoes and gear bounce quite well on pavement
Not plastic boxes however
The road you have programmed into the GPS is closed due to all the crews
Back up driver is lost, and you are out pacing.
GPS dies and back up driver can’t find the cord
She diverts, get hailed by a pacer that his runner is down
Back up driver was a nurse, and does the right thing
This could have been a much longer list
Adversity makes the best stories, and the best and funniest lists

Pacing and the Course- The Nuts and Bolts
At mile 40 to 45 Adam had to cross Hope Pass, climbing over 3000 feet to get there, and then drop like a stone 2500 feet on the other side and the awaiting 50 mile turn around and his pacers. Jess had the first turn, and performed admirably in getting Adam over one of the toughest parts of the race. My turn came at mile 60, and after a 4 mile climb from Twin Lakes, it was pretty much a 12 mile fire road/paved road run. Most of it was flat, albeit at 9800 feet of elevation.

Jess took over again to climb Sugarloaf pass for another 10 mile section of climbing and descent over Sugarloaf pass. I guess I should have looked closer at the elevation profile, cause Jess got ALL the big climbing. My turn came again, and I was supposed to do a 5 mile stretch and turn it over to Tawnya for the last 8 flat miles. However Tawnya got diverted to rescue a down runner who broke his hip at mile 85, so I ended up with another 8 miles  

In the end, Adam finished on two good but sore feet. He is an incredible inspiration to all of us around him, showing just what a human with an indomitable spirit is really capable of. Adam does all this with humor, patience, and a sense of wonder. The only time I saw him start to lose his patience was on the last four mile stretch of never-ending flat dirt road that leads to the finish. I think he would have preferred another climb (Maybe not). Adam finished in 28 hours and 28 minutes, quite contented he conquered a very difficult course.

Lastly, I thought I would add this quote. When I read it, I think of Adam..

 “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. – Martin Luther King.

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