Leadville & Cascade Crash & Burn

 

Note:Joe Prusaitis is a very tough runner, and he is the race director for the

Motorola Marathon in Austin, the Rocky Raccoon 100, and several other races.

For him to not finish a race (DNF), is a rarity.If you run enough races, you will eventually DNF.

This will hopefully give you some insight as to how it can happen, even to an experienced and tough runner like Joe.ĖBen Holmes

 

Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run

Leadville, CO

Aug 18, 2005

Joe Prusaitis

 

Dropping to my knees, I roll onto my side, then flat on my back. My

chest expands and contracts rapidly, hyperventilating. An unhealthy

wheeze escapes my lungs. I begin to wonder if maybe this isn't my day.

It's time I got off this beast. Slowly, I get up and then begin my fall

off the mountain.

 

After running Bighorn and Hardrock, I know that Leadville is chancy.

Matter of fact, I have decided not to do it. But there are a few friends

who know where my buttons are and they push them. I am easy prey. So, I

enter and make my plans. Itíll be tough, with little vacation time

leading to a fast in and out. Two weeks at Hardrock gave me plenty of

altitude, but itís now four weeks behind, leaving me cold at ground

zero. The aggressive intermediate cuts will also force me to go out

quicker than Iíd like and the final 30hour cutoff will keep me from

slowing much. I can run a good pace now and then and I can run at

altitude reasonably well, but I can't seem to run fast at altitude. The

combination of circumstances seems to gang up on my weaknesses at the

cost of my strengths. Still, I am confident that I will find a way. I

usually do. I always seem to be able to adapt, to recover. I have to

believe it. To think otherwise is to fail before I even begin.

 

Arriving on Thursday, I feel comfortable at Leadville's 10000ft

elevation. It'll feel different once I start running and again and when

I start to climb, but that'll have to wait until Saturday. Check in and

drop bags go according to plan, and Joyce hooks a ride for crew and pace

chores. I spend the day eating well, drinking a good bit of water, and

getting plenty of sleep: a simple plan with no stresses or hang-ups.

 

With a 4am start, our 570 strong herd thunders down the paved road in

the dark. Butch Allmon and I go out fast and I quickly fail my first

test with simple mathematics. I have 2 water bottles and 1 flashlight,

but only two hands. I should know better. I neglected to bring my third

hand. I must be getting forgetful or more correctly, just not thinking.

My pants have large front pockets, but the full water bottle doesn't sit

there well. I try holding the flashlight and 1 bottle with one hand, but

my arm gets tired quickly. I end up holding the 2 bottles with one hand,

but it's hard to drink. Every combination still leaves no free hands to

take my salt or pick my nose. I drink one bottle quicker than usual,

just so I can put it in my pocket. Thatís about when Butch and I reach

the lake perimeter trail, where a guy bangs on a large base drum. It's

also when we realize this is too fast and back our pace off just a bit.

Butch stops to wiz every few minutes, which provides ample opportunity

to test another combination that might work, but does not. Eventually

the sunrise solves the problem for me just minutes before reaching May

Queen. I stash the flashlight in my other pocket, leaving me with just 1

water bottle in 1 hand and a lot more freedom to scratch every itch.

What an idiot!

 

 

We reach 13mile May Queen faster than I normally would. Our pace is

insane, and short lived too. I feel good, but so far, it has been flat.

The jury is still out when we start to climb, but the verdict arrives

too soon, and judgment is passed. On Sugarloaf, bad news comes with a

whisper. A roughness in my breathing, a wheeze that slips out with each

exhale, a very slight rasp. The 2000-pound gorilla is aboard. Itís not a

good sign. Quietly, I back off even more, trying to go easier with less

effort, but it makes no difference. I'm trying to determine if Butch is

waiting on me or struggling also. I tell him to let me be, but he's

waited on me before and seems content to do so again. My breathing seems

to be getting rapidly worse as I go. We walk up Sugarloaf together,

talking up old times, and making plans for new ones. A couple of old

fools who know better and care less. We'll take what the mountain give

us, and odds are good it will be bad. A tingling in my fingers confirms

the thought. The powerline crackling overhead confirms the beginning of

our descent, and where I usually get even with this type of course. We

do run much of the downhill, but not with the same flair as usual. The

last mile leading into the Fish Hatchery is nasty olí asphalt that we

share with a few cars. I don't care much for paved road, but I have run

a bit of it, so I'm surprised how much it seems to bother me. Even

though the people in the cars are friendly, I'm irritated by their

presence. I must be real low on calories. We're still well under the

cutoff, but the telling signs are evident that all is not well.

 

Joyce is waiting on me, and helps with my drop bag. I trade one of my

water bottles for the lightweight Camelback. I've been drinking well,

but my stomach is bloated and uncomfortable. My salt caps have been at

regular intervals, same as usual. I could be eating more, but I'm doing

ok. I begin to wonder if this is another symptom of edema. I try a bowl

of hot oatmeal with hope that it'll help. Joyce walks out with Butch and

I, handing us a tortilla sandwich with avocado and tomato.

 

More asphalt and traffic lead us toward Half Moon. Cars whiz by in both

directions as we run & walk while we eat & talk. There are a lot of

runners and a lot of cars on the road. A few miles, but way too much for

me. I'd like to rip up this road and make it single track. My Achilles

flare up on me more on roads than it does on hills now a days, and I can

feel it starting to talk to me again. At the turn off the main road, the

asphalt continues but with enough shoulder for me to escape. Butch and I

hook up with Mike Riggs to share the road, along with quite a few

others. We should all be quite a bit faster on this flat surface but

nobody in this crowd appears either fast or happy. Are we all cussing

the asphalt road? The heat seems to be up a bit, making me wish for a

good storm right about now. If I had any piss in my vinegar, I'd pick up

the pace to get off sooner than later. But, my piss and vinegar seems to

be mush right now. Still dragging my legs, I watch as Butch manages an

ambling run to pull ahead and slowly disappear. Mike also seems to have

good energy, and has one heck of a fast walk. Watching him, I realize

he's holding back, waiting on me. I suggest he unhitch me and get on

down the road. I'm in a bad funk and he dare not wait on me. This seems

to galvanize him as he quickly changes gears and speeds ahead. He's a

good friend and I'm proud of him, his power walk paying big dividends. I

seem to be in a middle zone, somewhere between good and bad, half awake

- half asleep. Is this normal for altitudinally maladjusted individuals?

I assume it must be, but I still need to eat and drink, so I do. Half

Moon is a wonderfully shady roadside pull in. Two kids assist with my

drop bag and cold drinks while I sit. I leave with Mike but again can't

hang on. He's only walking but quickly disappears down the road. Even

after some food and rest, I still can't get the motor going. Iím all

sputter! I try on a few good memories and test a few high-energy songs

in the back of my mind, but nothing seems to put the bop in the bee. I

have no choice but to wait it out, as I have done before, but I do this

while moving forward down the road, albeit painfully slow.

 

We finally leave the road for a wonderful single-track trail and I'm

thinking this has got to help. It starts with a good stiff climb, but I

like this and get into a rhythm as I climb. Ascending slowly, exhaling

evenly, I pass a few others, and start to get that really good feeling

back again. A hint of a smile begins to creep back onto my face. I pick

up a rock now and again but usually just ignore them until one works

itself into a position with the pointy end up. As much as I hate to

stop, one of them does find that painful position, so I stop and remove

it. Standing back up almost knocks me out. Seeing spots, I sit down and

lean on a tree, breathing like a dog, rapid breath and edema rasp. The

hyperventilation lasts much longer than I would have thought. A few

minutes, then I'm up again, but moving slow again. I try to dial in a

pace that allows me to move as fast as possible without stopping, a

speed where I can breathe without going anaerobic. The pace I eventually

find will kill my chance of finishing if I'm forced to stay on it. Past

the steepest part of the climb, I start running again. It aint too fast

or pretty but at least I'm running. The trail and the woods through here

are gorgeous: my favorite part of this course. A tad cooler here in the

shade and it may be that my body cools down some, giving me more energy.

I don't really know for sure what it is, but I am starting to have some

fun again. The final section into Twin Falls is a long downhill, so I

give it a try. There are eight of us bunched up in a line and we soon

discover we're in reverse order to our downhill speed. As each one pulls

over, those following go faster. In this manner, I slowly get faster and

faster as each person steps aside until I sprint past the last fellow in

front of me on the jeep road leading into Twin Lakes. I pass Butch on

the final turn just before hitting bottom. I walk into the Twin Lakes

station in time to hear Mike tell Joyce that I'm falling back and may be

awhile. He's surprised to see me and I am too. I'd never have believed

that I'd catch him, and Butch too! For the moment, I feel good. But the

joy flies quickly and fades to something else. Still, my time is good

despite my condition. I've made all the cuts so far with plenty of time

to spare, but I know that my condition is rapidly deteriorating. My

energy's been a rapidly descending sign wave that should flat line

somewhere up on Hope Pass.

 

A light rain is falling as Butch and I walk out. Accompanied by a stiff

wind, we cross the river marsh. The race leader passes us coming in, and

we decide that it's impossible that he's in the race! Multiple stream

crossings sting our legs while the rain continues to fall. I'm quite

comfortable in shorts but I pull on my rain jacket just to keep my

clothes from getting saturated. The water feels great on my legs, even

though itís a stinging cold. The open marsh turns to trees soon after

the last water crossing and quickly begins to climb. Butch waits

patiently on me for a bit longer and then finally turns me loose. He

seems to be climbing well or least a lot better than I am. I try to dial

in my best possible climbing rhythm but it's well short of pathetic. My

cautious lazy pace cannot repair the difficulty of my breathing. My

labored ascent quickly spirals down to a crawl. With Mike and Butch long

gone, alone I focus on my breathing. I try to get my mind around it, but

for nothing. I attempt to leave my body, escape into a comfortable place

in my mind. It seems to work as I wonder about in my memories, but I

come back to find that I'm standing still. My toes start tingling, so I

back off even more, if that's possible. Runners are sprinting by in the

opposite direction, wondering, I'm sure, why I'm standing still. I

attempt to get out their way with little success. Hell, the sweat on my

face is moving faster than I am. The Hopeless station comes with little

relief and then much later, the summit. Takes me four and a half hours

to get from Twin Lakes to Hope Pass and I'm exhausted. A false BM adds

to my discomfort and body confusion. I lay down on the summit and it's

an enormous mistake. My breathing rapidly accelerates: a hard, heavy,

raspy wheeze that lasts until I sit back up again. I need to get off the

mountain and quickly.

 

It's my kind of narrow track downhill, but with meager room for two

bodies to pass, and full of runners coming up hill. There are so many

people I can't get into a rhythm. Most are generous, moving over to give

me room, while others barrel right through me with nary a nod. I'm not

sure who has the right of way so I watch each one and react accordingly.

I fall a few times as I struggle past one after another. I know many of

these people on the 25hour bubble, and they're in a hurry to summit and

move on. My breathing seems ok on the descent but it usually is. Still,

it takes me way too long to reach the road.

 

On the dusty road to Winfield waits the 50mile turn-around. I move my

bandana up to cover my nose and mouth, shove my hat down to block as

much as I can, but still able to see the road. Cars are going both ways,

most attempting to be considerate, but some not really giving a damn

that they dust everybody on the road. The bandana makes it even harder

to breath but it does keep out most of the dust. I try a few times to

run but manage no more than a fast walk. I stop only once, when I see

Butch, to lend him a flashlight. He's going to need it and I have

another at Winfield.

 

The cutoff is 6pm and that's when I arrive. They're very friendly and

attempt to hurry me through so I can make the cut and keep going, but I

don't want to hurry. It's starting to rain. I ask for my drop bag and

sit down to eat, but they can't seem to find my bag. I need warm clothes

and my flashlight for the return.

 

Iím completed soaked with sweat and the cold rain is causing my body to

shake just a bit. They're still trying to hurry me, but I know better

than to go out without fuel and warm clothes, so I have some soup while

they continue to search. Kathy comes over to help and finds my bag.

She's asking me questions that I struggle with the answers, so I go off

to change my clothes, before I answer. She's trying to gauge my status

and I'm not doing too well with the answers. She says I have three and a

half hours to get back over Hope to Twin Lakes. I tell her it took me

five and a half hours to get here. She looks concerned and scrunches up

her face but doesn't say a thing. I haven't felt well all day and I'm

pretty certain my pace won't improve any time soon. The rain continues

to fall and my body continues to shake. I can still hear the rasp in my

breathing and begin to wonder about my health. It would be so foolish

for me to go on, get half way up the mountain, and then lose control of

my core temp. No way could I keep my body heat up at this miserable

pace, not to mention at what point my breathing problems would become

dangerous.

 

I don't have a medical background, relying more towards what feels right

or wrong, and usually ignoring that. But this time, maybe it's time for

me to stop. I wonder! I roll it round in my mind for a bit, then walk

over and have the medical team cut off my band. It seems the smart thing

to do.

 

This is not my first DNF. The first one felt awful for a long time. The

second one wasn't much fun but I didn't dwell on it for near as long.

This time, I just feel empty. Maybe I'm getting good at this! I want to

beat myself up but can't find any good reason to do so. I'm not confused

or disoriented: Just tired, bone tired! I can't seem to breath. I'm sure

it's just the altitude I hitch a ride back to Twin Lakes where Joyce is

waiting for my return. When I get there, I'm not sure where to find her,

but I do see Butch's wife, Donna. I climb out of the truck and

immediately begin to shake uncontrollably. I rush over to Donna and ask

if I can please sit in her car for a minute. I can barely climb in as

the shakes overwhelm my body. Joyce arrives with a lot of concern and a

warm change of clothes. Everybody we know is waiting on somebody else,

so for the moment, we're stuck right where we are. Joyce eventually

talks a stranger into giving us a ride back to our room in Leadville. A

warm shower and a night's sleep does wonders. By morning, I'm still

exhausted, but my breathing is better. Only a bit of wheeze remains. I

suspect it'll be days before my lungs recover.

 

Mike arrives at the hotel around 2am. He's staying in the next room but

the walls are paper-thin, so I can hear his breathing is about as bad as

mine. He made it as far as 70mile Half Moon before the edema took him

also. Butch didn't quite get back over Hope before he started blacking

out. Every time he stood up, heíd start to see spots, so he sat down

just below the summit. The sag found him there and helped him over and

into the Hopeless aid station. He spent the night under their care,

eventually getting off the mountain in the morning, while Donna waited.

Moogy made it to 77mile Fish Hatchery. He tried to push his body past

all the issues that eventually overwhelmed him. They had to cut his ring

off because of the swelling, and his leg was numb, but it was the edema

that got to him.

 

Turns out, it was just a 50 mile training run at altitude. I have

another race next weekend and precious little time to dwell on what went

wrong. I have done better, but such is life. We learn more from our

mistakes, I understand. I wonder about that. I had a great time hanging

with Butch for most of the day and the weekend with Mike. Another grand

adventure regardless the outcome. There will be many more, I am certain

of that.

 

----

We skip the awards ceremony to wash our dirty laundry and then start our

drive back towards Denver for our evening flight home to Austin. Even

with a direct flight, we arrive home well after midnight. I get to work

by 7am, trying desperately to keep up with my projects so that I can

escape again on Friday. All week long is insane, including the unpacking

and repacking on Thursday night. Joyce and I drive back out to the

airport again at 5am on Friday, arriving in Seattle around noon. George

Hitzfeld is waiting for us at baggage claim. We drive downtown for lunch

and then an hour more out to Cle Elum for our hotel. Our travel plans go

without a hitch. We are now ready for the next oneÖ I hope!

----

 

Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile Trail Run

Easton, WA

Aug 26, 2005

 

The Cascade Crest Classic starts at 10am, so we arrive at the fire

station by 8am to sign in, deal with our drop bags, have breakfast, and

hear the pre-race briefing. 10am sharp, we start on a relatively warm

and sunny day. George and I run just a little at a very relaxing pace.

The mood is laid back and easy, while the road is dirt and very dry. A

fine powder dust rises from it, filling the air. A mile or more of this

before we start up something a bit steeper. After Hardrock and

Leadville, it feels nice to be able to breath this well while running.

We reach the 1st aid station at the Goat Peak Trailhead. After only 3

miles, there is nothing I need, so I turn off the road and start up the

trail.

I had hoped to get out of the road dust on the trail, but we remain

inside of it. The trail looks fresh cut such that the pack I'm running

with continues to raise dust even as we rise up towards Goat Peak.

George and I hang together, making good time, and talking with our

neighbors. I stop a few times to take pictures, but still continue to

run and feel well. George pulls ahead during one of my picture breaks

and then we summit and I get ahead of him when he steps off trail for a

pee break. I feel great. The uphill went real well and the downhill goes

just as well. I don't realize George is behind me until I stop and he

catches back up. We roll along the summit with a few nice up and downs.

George gets ahead of me in here and gone.

 

My legs start to feel a bit rubbery. I begin to trip a bit, I think

because I can't seem to lift my feet. I wonder if I'm low on fuel. I had

a good breakfast but I eat some hammer and continue to drink well. The

sun has come out strong and I begin to feel the heat. I roll into the

next station at Cole Butte to top off both bottles and then try some

melon and a sandwich. With only 9 miles done, I'm surprised at how

poorly I feel. I don't feel well at all and walk out trying to solve the

problem: heat, calories, water, salt, sugar, altitude?

 

The starched white road surface on this high ridge seems to reflect the

sun such that the suns heat and glare come from both directions. Iím

surprised to find myself completely alone now. The road turns are not so

obvious such that I have to stop at a few turns to find the ribbons and

my way. My eyesight has been getting worse these last few years. I

wonder about my ability to find my way because of it. A bit of breeze

feels nice, but I wish for more. How about a bit of that famous Seattle

rain or maybe even some cloud cover? I can't get my body to move well,

even on the long downhill. I'm barely 10 miles in and already it feels

like the late race downward energy spiral. I spot somebody running well

below on the road across the bottom, which allows me to believe Iím

going the right way. This helps me relax and run a little faster.

 

The dust rises from the road as I walk into the Blowout Mountain aid

station at 14 miles. Itís sitting out in the open, baking under the sun.

I refill my water bottle, eat some melon and start back out. The road

quickly turns uphill into the glorious shade of a single-track trail. As

soon is I slip into the wonderful coolness of the deep shadows, I step

off the trail and sit down. Sweat pours off my head, running down my

arms and back, drenching my clothes. A steady drop off one elbow creates

a small mud puddle on the ground. Disoriented, I watch the muddy spot

grow while a few people pass by. A couple slow to ask how I'm doing. If

I look as bad as I feel, then I must look pretty bad.

 

The next climb is a long slow head-hanging sweat drenching struggle. I

tough it out as best I can, attempting to not look too bad as people

come by. Itís a tough job trying not to look bad, and Iím sure I fail

miserably. Once on ridge, I roll along a fun trace of a goat trail with

breath taking views all around. The route twists about a bit before it

finds the Pacific Crest Trail. A sharp right turn drops me into a deep

old growth forest, cool and very soft. Not much sunlight gets through to

the ground, but does light up an occasional low hanging branch in a

brilliant blend of light & color. Majestic displays of natural art

decorate the forest walls, making me wonder if art studios study the

deep forests to see how to present rare art. Getting out of the heat and

my own misery for a bit does wonders for my legs. My cooling core temp

gets me going again, but itís the natural beauty of my surroundings that

lifts my spirits. For the first time in a while, I pass a few people,

rolling into the Tacoma Pass aid station with 23 miles behind me.

 

I'm surprised and happy to see Joyce waiting here for me. This was not

part of her crew plan. She loads me up with some ice-cold drinks and a

sandwich of avocados and tomatoes. She asks how I feel and receives a

negative evaluation. It surprises her because she's not used to hearing

anything less than perfect from me. I hope for better, but I'm honest

with her about how things have evolved up to now. The iced down drinks

work their magic and I begin to feel much better quickly. The calories

will work their magic later.

 

I feel much better and life is good when I leave. A gentle rolling climb

starts me out and the deep forest soon thins to a high ridge where

Hans-Dieter joins me. I don't have near the energy I'm used to, but I

hope that soon it will return. I stumble along, hanging onto Hans as we

roll off the summit and then start the next rolling climb. I have given

up on trying to go easy. Instead I try to force the issue, to hang with

Hans, and steal some energy. But, the heat and the hills quickly bring

me back down to reality. My dexterity and grace gone to hell in a hand

basket, I continue to force the issue. It's getting late in the day and

although I do have a flashlight, I'd as soon get to Stampede before

dark. The Snowshoe Butte aid station at 28 miles sits on a high

single-track trail in the middle of nothing, three people with water and

a table full of goodies. Hans gets a quick refill and goes while I take

a bit longer to fill my camelback. I try to catch back up but each time

I get close, he pulls away again. We pass through another of the deep

old growth forests followed by a series of clear cuts. Regardless, my

muscles have deteriorated, my energy deficit enormous, and my endless

drive emptied to nothing. I seem to be slipping deeper and deeper into a

big hole.

 

I come into the 33 mile Stampede Pass aid station a few seconds after

Hans, but well before dark. Joyce tells me I look like hell but I've

made up a lot of time from Tacoma Pass. I don't have much to say. I have

a cold drink or three and a sandwich. I swap out of my funked up nasty

shirt and start shaking in the process. George has been through and

gone. Jan is here with Joyce, crewing for another George, and still

waiting for him to come in. Hans changes his shirt and heads out, while

Jan gets me some hot broth and then offers some hot chocolate too. Other

people come and go while I continue to sit.

 

Do I want to continue to beat myself up? With 70 miles to go, my doubts

and the questions become a high-speed spin round my mind. I'm not even

close to recovered from Leadville and the edema. Hardrock and Bighorn

took more out of me than I want to admit. But I don't want to quit! I

still have plenty of time and Joyce wants me to keep going. She's ready

to continue, but I am not. It'll be dark soon and I'll be much better

now that the sun's not roasting me. I have been struggling with finding

the course, mostly because my eyesight is so bad, but I wonder how much

harder this will be after dark. They are all bad excuses and none of

them valid. I've rarely heard one good enough to warrant quitting, yet

here I am, sitting down, and knowing that I am done. I have no energy

and no longer wish to drag my butt for another 70 miles. The joy is

gone. I am no longer having any fun. I tell Joyce I am done. I take off

the cow-tag number and give it to her. Jan's friend George comes in on a

bum leg and calls it quits also. Joyce takes my number down to the

station and comes back with another runner who has dropped. We offer

Mike a ride back to his car at the start. He doesn't have a place to

stay because he also had planned to run all night, so we offer him

George's bed for the night. It is done. We climb in the car and follow

Jan to the highway and the hotel. Pizzas and beer do little to ease the

gloom from the dark cloud hanging over all of us. No warm fuzzies here,

we each slip off to bed and a restless sleep.

 

In the morning, we go for breakfast and then settle in to wait for

George. He comes in with an excellent time for his first mountain

century run and a qualifier for Hardrock. He looks used up and sleepy,

but extremely pleased for beating the dragon. His smile tells it all. I

am very happy for George but I canít help but feel some envy. I miss

what he is feeling right now. I feel the urge to beat myself up for this

but I cannot. George deserves his finish and what it brings. I got what

I paid for. I attempted a very rugged set of century runs and it kicked

my butt. I gave it a go and it went. Time to move on to recovery, then

rebuild, and plan the next grand adventure.