Leadville 100-The Race Across the Sky

This ain’t no powder puff race!

Epic, iconic, awesome and legendary are words you commonly here when people talk about having run a 100 mile race, which are all true when talking about Leadville, but what about legacy? How many races out there are not only changing our lives as runners but those of people in their local community? How many races make you really feel part of an extendable family?

Race co-founder Ken Chlouber, an avid marathon runner dreamt up the race as a way to make Leadville famous and attract visitors during the 1980’s after the closure of the Climax mine which was a major blow to the towns economy, putting the town as the highest unemployment level in the USA overnight as thousands lost their jobs. The first race was held in 1983 and has been held annually since. The race starts and finishes in Leadville, Colorado on an out and back course on trails and dirt roads through the heart of the Rocky Mountains climbing and descending 15,600 feet (4,800m) with elevations ranging between 10,200-12,600 feet (3,100-3,850m). The altitude adds that extra element of brutality which results in most years having only a 50% finishing rate. 2018 was no exception with only 52% of starters making it across the finish line before the 30hr cut off.

The Leadville 100 strips you down to your raw inner and you’re reborn when you cross that finish line, life changed forever. But the local lives are changed too. Every year since 2002 the race, through the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation, gives a $1,000 scholarship to every graduate from high school, helping to set them up on a path to success. Their mission is to support the needs of Leadville, Lake County community and build a better, brighter tomorrow, while respecting their mining heritage.

It’s no wonder that the support along the course is second to none! The community love and embrace the race spirit and they are there to do what they can to help each and every runner reach the finish. Checkpoints morph into small festivals with fire pits and parties absolutely on point.

4am start with Ken & Marilee at the helm

Starting in the dark at 4am the race sets off at a quick pace with a relatively downhill start to the first checkpoint, puncturing the night sky with head torch light trails and whoops of excitement from 750 runners amid plenty of friendly chatter and stories from the trails. The story of a bear sighting along this very trail only a few weeks back sticks with me through the race. Sunrise along Turquoise Lake welcomes us to May Queen at 13.5 miles.

Sunrise at Turquoise Lake

The first real climb of the day is quickly upon us as we head up Sugarloaf Pass on a very runnable but deceivingly draining up hill, some runners choose to run this, but I opt for a running start moving into a power hike before reaching the top and enjoying a really fun downhill stretch known as Power-line to The Outward bound checkpoint at 23.5 miles.

Feeling strong out of Outward Bound

The second climb takes place up Mt Elbert after going through Half Pipe checkpoint, it’s not the full way to the top of the mountain but it’s still a hefty ascent to combat before reaching Twin Lakes where my crew are waiting patiently for me ready to get me sorted again at 37.9 miles in.

Heading out of Twin Lakes packed and ready to take on Hope Pass

Refuelled and refreshed heading out of Twin Lakes I pop on some tunes to help keep my cadence hoping that I can keep up a good pace up Hope Pass. Two small ankle deep river crossings chill me right down as I wade through freezing water but wet feet don’t bother me and I shriek and laugh as I cross through.

Loving the river crossing!

I snap open my hiking poles as I see the ascent of the pass ahead and altitude quickly takes its toll. I go from moving well to a slow motion hike that doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere fast but my legs are like lead and my chest is so tight I feel like I can’t breath, I feel runners coming past me but I’m too paralysed to do anything more than the crawl I’m managing. Frustratingly slowly and painfully I make it to Hopeless aid station and refuel before tackling the last 200m ascent before some relief back down the other side to Winfield. As soon as I’m heading down hill my legs free up and the more I descend the better I can breath and I start to pass a few people again. I feel disoriented by this as I’m normally a stronger climber than a descender but the altitude has flipped this all on its head. Ken’s words ‘Make friends with pain and you will never be alone’ were echoing in my ears loudly.

Obligatory selfie on top of Hope Pass, making pain my friend!

I’m greeted at the halfway point at Winfield, 50miles and just under 13 hours, by my first pacer Aaron, a total stranger to me until today. I love this about the running community, you only have to seek out support and you find it. I now have 2 new life long friends who both sacrificed their weekend to join me through the night to help me get to the finish. Aaron is keen to get me moving quickly and we don’t hang about the aid station and within minutes we are back on the trail and commencing the steep ascent back up Hope Pass.

Seriously in the pain cave heading back up Hope Pass for the 2nd time! (Photo credit : Aaron)

We are literally heading home now but the thought doesn’t motivate my legs into action, we crawl up Hope Pass as the wind picks up and the sun starts to make its descent. Jackets, buffs and gloves thrown on we get over the pass and back at Hopeless aid station Aaron has to pull me away from the warm camp fire to get going. We need to make up time as I’ve now eaten well into my good head start of the cut offs and the concerns of chasing cut off times starts to kick in. The 30 hour cut off set for the race is very tight and it certainly means there is no time to rest at the check points as you can all so easily lose valuable time and miss out on finishing like 48% of starters this year did.

Up and Up!

It’s dark before we reach Twin Lakes again so head torches are back on and we tackle the freezing river crossing in the dark which certainly wakes me up! And then we make it to Twin Lakes now 62.5 Miles in and making cut off by only half an hour. Dion, my husband, who has been crewing since the start is there and he offers forceful encouragement and I can see concern is all over his face; he knows how badly I want this belt buckle and he fears this is slipping out of my reach. At no point have I felt like quitting, I have come into this race with the right intentions and the positive mindset with the mantra from the race briefing still ringing in my ears “I commit, I won’t quit”.

We head off again into the dark and it’s straight back into a climb up Mt Elbert, again my legs are like lead and I start to feel really queasy and continuously struggling for air, with bouts of dizziness which has Aaron worrying as I keep stumbling. As we finally reach the top the heavens open for a downpour saturating us before we make the next checkpoint. It’s here I put on every layer I have, 2 base layers, 2 waterproof jackets, buff and gloves to try and get warm again. Aaron forces me to eat more than I have at any other checkpoint and we get down to Half Pipe at 71.1 Miles where we’ve now managed to make up 10 mins and we are 40 mins ahead of cut off, the time hangs over my head somewhat as 40 minutes isn’t really that much in the scheme of things and I know I need to keep digging deep if I am going to be awarded that finishers buckle.

We change pacers at Outward bound station 76.9 miles and James joins me to get back up Power Line, that really fun downhill now has to be climbed! It’s the first time I’ve spoken to James in person and within 10 minutes I’m double over and vomiting no doubt making a great first impression. Somehow the vomit makes me feel better and we ascend the hill so much stronger than the last 4 climbs. James is loving it and pushes me to get a jog on again when we reach the top for the descent back into May Queen at 87.8 miles, passing about 50 runners, where Dion and Aaron are surprised to see us down already.

Daylight breaks again

The sun is just starting to rise as Aaron joins me for the final leg to the finish, just 12.6 miles to go and we’ve got just over 3 hours to make it but on tired legs this doesn’t mean it’s in the bag but I can feel it, I can feel I’m going to get that belt buckle and I surprise Aaron with my refound energy and we start playing a game of Pac-Man, every person we see we aim to catch them and we end up passing 50 runners to the finish line.

Enjoying my game of Pac Man!

That finish line! Before you enter the town of Leadville you can hear the cheers and applause which spurs you on and as you turn onto 6th street you still can’t quite see the finish line but the streets are lined with local support. Everyone has come out to cheer us all on and the noise is deafening, tears start flowing as I get choked up by the emotion of it all knowing that I am minutes away from finishing my first 100. As we get closer we can see the finish line, the uphill finish line I might add, and we start to plan how to position me for the finishers photo, under strict instructions from Dion to make sure I leave a gap between runners so he can get a good photo. We decide to pass a couple more, then a couple after that until finally my feet hit the red carpet and I’m running under the banner and into the waiting arms of Merilee. Tears are flowing and I look up to catch Dion also crying, embraces and photos and more hugs from James and Aaron, and of course Ken. I’m on cloud nine, I’ve done it, I’ve raced across the sky where legends are created and limits are tested. I gave the mountains my respect, and earned respect from all. Ken tells me ‘Finishing this race will change your life. It truly has and it will change your life too if you let it.

One very happy 100 mile finisher!

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Morocco Tizi n Trail

Something for everyone!

Run for fun, race for time, challenge yourself with a multi day event, or simply walk & explore the beautiful trails of a stunning and mystical country that is close to my heart, Morocco.

Morocco Tizi n Trail is a race each year consisting of 3 stages between 20 and 28km between sea, mountains, desert and canyons. This years race began from the picturesque lakeside location of Bin el Ouidane before heading into the trails and mountains surrounding the lake. Each day was completely varied from running through fire track trails, to hiking up small mountains and descending into gorges with the most beautiful blue rivers rushing through them, into local farms where running alongside donkeys or kids was just part of everyday life. Temperatures during the evening were cool and the days were delightfully warm and sunny, enough to guarantee a tan line that’s for sure.

Having way too much fun on the sunny trails!

If you’ve ever wanted to experience Morocco in a unique and active way then this is for you. Whether it’s your first multi day event, your first or hundredth trail running experience or you are an experienced Marathon Des Sables runner give Tizi n Trail a try. The race is fully supported so that means you only carry what you need for the day; a small rucksack with your essentials like water, food, phone (for the amazing photo opportunities!) and any safety essentials is all you need and the organisation transports your luggage. Arriving at the end of each day to magnificent camps set up with traditional bedouin tents that sleep up to 8 of you including mattress, pillows and blankets; delicious Moroccan food catered for 3 courses each day, along with fully operational showers and toilets. This is living!

Home for the night (Photo: Paul Vilcot)

The range of abilities of the participants ranges from those that are there to compete, to first timers and those like me who went for the winter sun escaping the UK tail end of winter and to challenge myself with some decent trails to run or even those who choose to walk each stage. You will make friends for life after spending 3 days together exploring the trails and then enjoying the conviviality of camp life, lounging around on sprawled cushions and dancing to traditional Berber music after enjoying the delights of the country such as couscous and tagines.

Dinner & music

2018 will open in the region of Essaouira and promises even more beauty and thrills. Essaouira is located on the coast line of Morocco, which you will recognise from the acclaimed series ‘Game of Thrones’. Essaouira is so unique with its mix of European, Arab and African elements with many of the scents shot on the Scala, the old Portuguese Fortifications.

Essaouira harbour

Check out my video of 2017 below and see for yourself how beautiful this event is. For only €680 which includes your 2 nights accommodation in a hotel before and after the race, accommodation during the race with all the catering along with transportation of yourself to and from the start/finish and your bag throughout the week, medical assistance and the finishing awards ceremony this price is too good to pass up. All you need to sort out is your airfares and getting to and from the airport.

If you are interested please get in touch with me at runningdutchie@hotmail.com or send me a message via twitter or instagram as I am proud to say I am the UK representative for this event and will be hosting you to assist with all arrangements from the UK and throughout the days in Morocco to ensure you have the best time without any hassle whatsoever.

I hope you will join me for 2018 from 22 to 26 March for the time of your life. Registrations open from Sunday 14th May 2017. Check out more details at the event home page here.

Making Plans

After such a big year in 2016, particularly with my personal challenge of running #500kin5days with Marina Ranger in Simply Runderful; my body needed a rest.  So did my heart and my mind. I’d had a lot going on in the back end of the year with my husband, Dion living in China from August until January with Finding Gobi and this had left me drained emotionally, the extent of which I didn’t realise until even after a DNF (Did Not Finish) at UTMB in August but into September when ‘life’ began to feel all a little too much for me and I resigned from my full time job to take some time out and focus on Finding Gobi with Dion and support him until we could all be reunited.  Needless to say effective training and eating went out the window as there wasn’t much time or desire to push myself physically.

I think it’s important for everyone to take stock sometimes and realise that you have to prioritise and it may not be exactly how you planned it in your head but life never goes to plan after all does it?!  Plans are meant to change and although it was a tough end to the year it was worth all the heartache and stress throughout as I now have both Dion and Gobi home with me safe, sound and most importantly happy.

Dion & Gobi enjoying their new Scottish playground

Now it’s time to refocus on my challenges for the year.  I’ve managed to kick start my training with my new job managing the Village Hotel in Edinburgh, which in case you didn’t know has state of the art leisure facilities of which I am making good use of and have just started getting some personal training with Huw Davis to focus on building some strong glutes for the upcoming mountain racing season.  I’ve had a couple of good weeks getting back into serious training, building up the miles consistently.  In my week I try to always fit in a strength & conditioning session, speed intervals, hill repeats and a long run as the basic week and fill around that; always with a rest day or more depending on how my body feels.

What is the plan for the year then I suppose your wondering?

I’m heading to Morocco in a few weeks to run the 3 day race Tizi n Trail, which is a chance to escape the Scottish winter for a few days in the hope Moroccan sun, it’s no Marathon Des Sables, and the crew of the race carry all your luggage, cook for you, provide accommodation and there’s even showers and the runners run from point A to B each day with approximately 20km distance to cover each day.  It will still be challenging terrain but it will be stunningly beautiful and a great way to revisit Morocco and kick start the years racing.

In April I’m running local!  I’m running The Highland Fling which is a 53 mile race along the first half of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum.  It’s a challenging day out and the race is always full of a strong field of runners.

Then it’s time to head off to the mountains!  As I didn’t get into the ballot for UTMB I’ve entered the Zugspitz Ultra in Germany, a 100km mountain race with 5,400m of ascent it will give me valuable points to enter the ballot for UTMB again for next year as well as ‘if’ I can complete the race in under 22 hours it’s a qualifier for Western States Endurance Run which I’d love to run one day.

The Scottish hills call again and after running the Vertical Kilometre last year as part of the Skyline Race series, I’ve decided to run the 110km Ben Nevis Ultra which is a new addition to the series this year with a hefty 4,000m of ascent.

Climbing the VK route last year – photo(c) http://www.facebook.com/jordisaragossa

With a deep love of the Scottish hills I couldn’t go past running the Glencoe Marathon this year, road marathons don’t interest me but the trails certainly do and with Glencoe being billed as one of the most beautiful and challenging off-road marathons I couldn’t resist.  This is on the 1st October and I’d love to see some familiar faces joining me so if you fancy coming along then enter here and get a 10% discount off your entry (discount code: VHLcjGMG2017, valid until 31st May 2017 so be quick!).  Or take on the half marathon or 10k if you don’t really fancy the full 26.2 miles.

Glencoe Marathon (Photo from Glencoe Marathon)

I’m still throwing around some ideas for the other months of the year, and making good use of a fab new website Race Base World where you can search by month or location to find that perfect race, but this is certainly a good start to the calendar.  Let me know if you’ve done some of these races or if you are coming along to them this year, would love to hear all about them or say hi at the events.

Running Together

As I reached the final peak of ‘Eight Immortals’ of the Wilson trail high in the mountains of Hong Kong my head torch made out the silhouette of a man perched on the summit. That man was my ever patient and supportive husband Dion who had been waiting patiently for me in the dark as I painfully ascended the last climb of The North Face Hong Kong 100. ‘What took you so long?’ He laughed as he asked me before we shared a few sugary treats for a last surge of energy for the final descent back into Tai Po Market to the finish line.

Look

Sunsetting over the Eight Immortals

Dion and I had been living apart for just over 4 months at the time with him based in Beijing, China to ‘Bring Gobi Home’ (see FindingGobi.com for more details on this life changing adventure) whilst I remained in Edinburgh with a couple of visits in between, so we had decided that as this was our couple time that we would run this race together. Having never been to Hong Kong before we were both keen to have fun, get the distance done for some intensive training, take lots of photos and soak up the atmosphere. In other words we weren’t ‘racing’.

Ready together at the start line

Ready together at the start line with the mountains behind us

“It must be great to be have a partner that runs too, so you get to run together.” I hear this a lot from other runners that may or may not have partners that run with them, but running ‘together’ is not always how it goes. We have finely tuned how we run ‘together’ over the years after many frustrations early on where I can’t keep up with Dion and it hurts him to run slower at my pace. So now we might head out for a run and he gives me a half hour to an hour head start (depending on the distance) and then chases me down; this works quite well as I run quicker to try and stop him catching me and he also runs quicker as he most certainly wants to catch me. Another option is for one of us to drive to point B, park the car and run back to point A and the other runs from A to B, passing each other halfway and then collects the car. Or I just make sure Dion is knackered from a big block of training and we do run together as then he’s slowed down enough to keep ‘up’ with me.

Taking time out for a selfie

Taking time out for a selfie

We don’t tend to race together, although we might be at races together (KAEM 2013 & 2014), MdS 2014 and various local races, Dion is much quicker than me and on the edge of professional running where I am not quite reaching that level, yet. I hope that by running more together in both training and racing that I can learn from his experience, skill and mindset to develop myself into stepping more into the competitive world of running. I do enjoy the feeling of being on the podium and want to feel this more and more.

Mountains of Hong Kong

Mountains of Hong Kong

With the mountains looming ahead of the start line it wasn’t long before the path quickly turned both vertical and single track at the same time causing a massive queue of runners who were halted to walking. Not a bad strategy to conserve energy but it was much too slow so a tip if you do this race, get yourself a bit further up the starting pack if you want to get a move on.

Runners traffic jam

Runners traffic jam

I’d heard a lot about the trails of Hong Kong but was still surprised by the sheer size of the mountains, I wouldn’t have believed it without seeing it for myself. It was every bit as beautiful as a mountain fairytale with steep, rocky trail stairs leading you high into the clouds even more brutal than I could have hoped for. The trails lead you vertical to take in some exceptional views of the iconic Hong Kong skyline which we had the pleasure of enjoying in brilliant sunlight, at sunset and into the darkness.

Dion descending one of the many downhill stairs

Dion descending one of the many downhill stairs

It wasn’t all trails though. After each descent we entered a local village all bustling with activity of daily life and offering the opportunity to purchase some cold Coke or tasty local food of which many of the runners were taking full advantage of, ourselves included. A great benefit of Dion running with me was that he would run ahead and surprise me with his purchases which kept him busy shopping with the locals for our treats along the way. The taste of an ice cold Coke mid way on a hot, humid race is second to none. And it was humid, some of the runners looked like they’d been for a swim instead of a run they were sweating so much. It certainly paid dividends to put skills learnt in the desert into practice with hydration and salt tablets to keep dehydration at bay.

Running through one of the local villages

Running through one of the local villages

We resisted the temptation at lunch time as we passed a gorgeous waterside village abundantly laid out with tables full of locals feasting on an array of food that smelt absolutely divine, a decision I now half regret as we never did make it back to that same spot for lunch the following day. Dion made sure we didn’t do without though ensuring we had dim sum and noodles to eat at points along the way.

Running along the blue water

Waterside running

It was an enjoyable change to run together as a couple in a race environment and gave me the opportunity to push myself harder drawing on Dion’s resolve and experience. I have no doubt that he would be a great pacer for me in a future race and will push me on to faster times. It was also like having a personal photographer alongside me all day with Dion often racing ahead to capture the amazing footage you see here in our film of the race.

The North Face Hong Kong 100 delivered an exceptional experience of trail running whilst giving runners a taste of local culture and people. A tough challenging race not to be taken lightly with its unrelenting ups and downs in the humidity to add that extra test of endurance. This combined with a weekend of exploring the bustling city and eating the delicious food it makes for a great running adventure escape. After my first taste of Hong Kong I can definitely see a return for another race in the future, my imagination was captured as we passed Lantau Island on the way to the airport…Lantau 50k Dion?

http://www.findinggobi.com

Smiling faces at the finish line

Smiling faces at the finish line

Run The Blades

On the drive over from Edinburgh to Glasgow basking in the Scottish summer of lashing rain and high winds I did question the sanity of going to run a 50 km ultra through Whitelee Wind Farm, the largest on shore wind farm in the UK. What made me question this even further was Dion egging me on even further to “Sack it off and head to a greasy spoon”! But thanks to the lovely event organisers from Breaking Strain Events, Garry and Lee, who had kindly given us free entry to try out the inaugural running of the event we felt we couldn’t let them down. It was also part of my training plan to fit in the 50k so it needed to be done one way or another and I’d never run in a wind farm before which for some reason I really wanted to.

Ominous looking weather at  Whitelee wind farm

Ominous looking weather at Whitelee wind farm

On arrival the race banners were up, just, nearly being taken away by the winds (obviously they found the right location for the wind farm!) and the guys explained they did have some race marquees but couldn’t keep them down in the weather so suggested to hang out at the interesting visitor centre until the pre-race briefing at 9:40am. Thankfully the cafe in the centre wasn’t open otherwise Dion might have got his way with a fry up and watching the race from afar.

Soaking up the weather at the start

Soaking up the weather at the start

A quick brief to explain what the race markings looked like and to warn us that if we saw lightning to call the emergency number straight away, none was forecast thankfully, but if it came the race would most likely be cut short as wind turbines are highly vulnerable to strikes. To save us getting cold once the briefing was done the race began immediately and it was a nice wee downhill to start. For the first kilometre it felt like we were all out for a social run together more than a race as there was a group of about 10 of us just easing into the run, we were probably all suffering from cold bodies so once we warmed up the pack split up pretty quickly and spread out. Even though it was wet and windy, it was humid and having started in a waterproof jacket it suddenly dawned on me it wasn’t a good idea wearing it so I dropped from the main pack to take it off losing sight of the first lady. Dion who had started extremely slowly as thoughts of dropping from the race due to weather finally managed to get warm and get going and as he went past me I then enjoyed seeing him ahead pick off the mid pack and work his way up to the front of the race. This pushed me on to pick up my pace and work hard on chasing down the first female ahead.

Start line - don't we all look warm & cosy?!

Start line – don’t we all look warm & cosy?!

The race was a little toughie, with 1,400m of ascent over unforgiving hard-packed trails which I certainly felt in the ankle joints and groin muscles towards the end and afterwards. Some sections were rocky, still runnable but that awkward rock where your ankles are turning left to right, and of course the 30mph winds along with the drenching rain throughout added another element of toughness. I worked hard to the first checkpoint overtaking first lady along the way. I knew there was a solid field of females capable of chasing me down so I used that energy to push me through the tough conditions on offer.

Being the inaugural event it was pretty low key but well organised, the route was well marked with no chance of getting lost and the checkpoints, though basic, had water, an electrolyte mix, some bits of food to choose from and portaloos at each one. I carried my own gels, went through 4 gels and some energy chews as I prefer to rely on myself for my nutrition and just take water from the checkpoints, and a cheeky swig of some coke at the 3rd and last checkpoint of the day. Kudos to the volunteers stood out in that weather to support the runners, I’d rather be running any day, and at least you stand a chance of keeping warm!

I’d never run through a wind farm before and it was fun running under these huge wind turbines making the loud whooshing noise as you ran underneath them, I kept feeling like I needed to duck as it would knock my head off but they were obviously way up above me.

selfie

Whilst I’d won stages of multi stage events before I’ve never gone on to win a race completely so this was a big step up for me and my first chance to run through the winners tape was a great experience, one I am very keen to repeat. Finishing 1st lady with a time of 4h 55m I was one satisfied customer. Dion did amazingly well too, coming in 3rd overall in 4h 12m. His training has really started to pickup again from his recent health issues at West Highland Way race a few weeks earlier and I know he’s building to some bigger results going forward. Both of us left with our confidence built up and having met a great new group of people, and an old favourite of course with Graham Kelly waiting at the finish line to cheer us in.

First lady!

First lady! Photo courtesy of GrahamKelly

Fancy running in a wind farm then come along and give this race a go, I think it will grow to be a much bigger race in a few years to come and even with good weather this would be a tough race as it is so exposed it will never be an easy one.

With the legs almost recovered, I’m off to try out another inaugural event this Sunday 26th July, the Fort William Marathon up in the Scottish highlands.

Number 1

Number 1

Edinburgh Ultra Festival

It will come as no surprise to you that I am involved in organising a great fun filled, adventure packed and informative ultra running day in Edinburgh.  I have hooked up with legendary Andy Mouncey and created a full day of excitement for the running community.

Whether you are already an accomplished ultra runner, or just dipping the toes in, then this day is for you.  We have got hill coaching sessions on Arthur’s Seat, with kit to try out on the session from Out-Run, free workshops during the day, kit from Vivimoss to check out, food galore at our host HQ Crowne Plaza Edinburgh – Royal Terrace, Pilates for Runners by Sam from Essential Wellbeing, and evening talks from yours truly, Andy Mouncey and Edinburgh’s own adventurist Dr Andrew Murray.

Check out all the details on our dedicated Facebook page by clicking here where you will find more details about all the sessions, the people coming and a full agenda.  Certain sessions require bookings so don’t leave it too late.

Edin ultra