Frankly, I have been procrastinating this post. I understand how our race ended. I don't like it. My brother is ok with it, so I need to be... Eventually. So in an effort to get there, I start by sadly saying my big bro DNF'd twice in the Leadville Trail 100 this year. How does that happen you ask? First, he DNF'd by Did Not Finish. Second, he DNF'd by Did Not Fail. I will be the first to tell you how amazing he was doing before the bonk of his life occurred. Let's start from the beginning.
4am Gun Start
I was able to get some decent sleep (maybe 4.5 hours) this year. My alarm went off at 2:30 am and the whole house was already up and moving. Since we had packed the truck the night before, it was a nice leisurely morning preparing for the big day ahead. This year the timing chips were attached to the bibs, so there was no pre-race check in to hurry out the door for. Our group loaded in the H2 (Brandon, B's friend Tim - Runner, JP - Pacer, Kim - Wife and my Crewing partner) to drop our 2 runners off at the corner of 6th and Harrison at 3:45 am. Like last year, my group drove down to the bottom of 6th Street to get our first view of the field. We heard the gun go off and waited for the runners to come up over a hill and show us the sea of headlamps in the dark.
My brother seemed to be having a little fun at this point by leading the freakin' race with Brooks. Neither one of them needed to be doing this, but when you are getting ready to put your body through 100 miles I guess you need to make light of something.
MayQueen - Outbound
Our big goal this year was to spend a little extra time with B at each aid station. Last year we did some pretty fast in/out jobs, and felt it would be better for B to at least take a 1 minute stop in the early morning sections. We arrived at MayQueen aid station to find a different tent set up. I had told B to look for us in about the same spots as we were last year, but that wasn't going to work here. With the new layout, I got as close to the point of seeing the runners as I could. I knew B would be up front this year, but I didn't want him as up front as he wanted to be. This was the first time of many throughout the day where I repeated to myself "I don't want to see Brandon yet." But here he came at 1:48 for the first 13.5 miles. Too fast, but he said he was feeling good. I ripped out the trash from his pockets (1 gel and an open pack of blocks), filled his water bottle (he did great at getting almost a full one down), and walked him out. Kim and JP were down further on the trail to get some pictures, so we met back up and hit the truck. This is where we ran into a cluster-F.
The road to MQ campground is 2 lanes with no berm. The race officials did not put no parking signs on 1 side of the road, so as more crews arrived, they just parked (and parked badly) on both sides of the road leaving a very narrow 1 lane aisle. As I'm sitting in the H2 there is a pick-up truck in front of me at battle with oncoming traffic. We sit for a good 10 minutes and watch some exchange of words, people getting out of cars, people switching drivers... Even had a lady come from behind our line yelling "My runner is in first, I need to get out of here!!!!" What we think happened was the oncoming dually truck driver was unsure of his skills in those conditions, so a kid from the truck in front of me, got in dually-truck and started backing it up. We go a couple of hundred yards and the pick up in front of me is finally able to pass by. Me and my big Hummer are still too wide. I told the guy I can't fit through there to which he says "Then I have to back it all the way down the road." I said "Gonna have to."
Fish Hatchery - Outbound
I had taken some notes from B and knew he wanted his iPod, black hat and a 5 hour energy at this pit stop. I filled my pockets with replacement gel, blocks, etc and waited. He rolled in here just past 7:30am (~3:35 cumulative time) in a top 30 position. He was looking good, but didn't get down a 1/4 of his water bottle in those 10 miles. I can't remember what wrappers I might have pulled from his shorts, but I re-stuffed his pockets and trotted out with him.
As B was leaving, I was doubling checking my pockets and I found the 5 hour energy shot! Doh! I turned around and sprinted to catch him about 100 yards away. He goes "I was wondering where that was!" Crisis adverted. But apparently I gave him his least favorite hat. I only saw 1 "black" hat (it had gray on the sides) and 1 white hat in the bag. Turned out, he had 2 clothes bags not 1 to rummage through. Kim agreed that we thought we gave him the one he wanted, but we were sure to have the all black one ready at Pipeline. Here's B on the way to Pipeline...
Pipeline - Outbound
Pipeline is at the marathon point of the race. B arrived here in 4:05 time around 8am. He was a little shocked at that pace, but was still feeling good with a little quad soreness. As we refilled his supplies, I squatted down and started rubbing his quads. Wasn't sure how much it would help, but when mine hurt, a little rub down always feels good. I quizzed him on his calorie count and he failed. He needed to eat but I think he was too amped up to get anything down. He grabbed some chips, we sprayed him with some sunscreen, he kept that black/gray hat, and we walked down trail. I yammered in his ear about needing to eat if you want to finish this... You can't finish without fuel... Little did I know how much that would mean at the end of our day.
Twin Lakes - Outbound
The path to Twin Lakes is the longest we go without seeing Brandon. It's not a difficult trek, but not knowing how he's doing for almost 3 hours drives me crazy. I really want to put a GPS beacon on him next year (yes I said next year). He came down the steep hill around 6:38 total time.
I wasn't happy with our crew location. We were just ahead of the aid station so he had to go in and then back track a bit. Not a big deal in the 100 schema but something I know I won't do again. The key piece of equipment at this point was hiking poles. I don't think B even knew we brought them, but JP and I had been strategizing all morning on how we were going to get B to take them on the route to Hope Pass. Luckily he didn't put up a fight. I knew any chance we had to save some leg strength would be beneficial. Since he'd been naked runner to this point, we got him a fresh singlet and a water pack to make using the poles as easy as we could.
Winfield - Turnaround
We arrived at Winfield quite early for our racer, but we were interested to see who the leaders were at this point. As we were driving up the dusty winding road around 11:40am, we caught a glimpse of #30 who had been out front all day. No clue who he was, but once we parked and set up camp, we noticed the real leader, Ryan Sandes (eventual winner) was already at Winfield in about 8 hours! Damn! As we waited for B, we got to see alot of friends coming in for the turnaround. JP and I tried to help anyone we could and yell words of encouragement to keep spirits up. By this point, B has been steadily slowing down to hitting a 25 hour finishing time. According to our chart of averages, he needed to be in Winfield by 2pm. He was a little late getting in but it was wicked hot, so we kept him sitting for awhile here trying to cool him off. I didn't know this until after the race, B weighed in at 136lbs at Winfield, 5 pounds down from his official weigh in 2 days before. Not good. If we would have asked then, it clearly would have shown us what he was dealing with internally. Another note in the manual to being a better crew chief next time.
We dunked his buff and hat in cold water. I did more quad rubbing. Kim and JP were trying to feed him, to which he didn't want to eat anything. He kept saying nothing sounded good but that was not an option. He was able to get down some watermelon, oranges, chips, etc. Of course not enough, but we took what we could get him to do. With the poles in place for another trek up Hope, JP was suited up and was ready to lead him 36.5 miles to Mayqueen where I was going to bring him home to the finish.
Twin Lakes - Inbound
Mile 60.5. This section of the course had me in tears last year. We waited, and waited and waited for B to show up. I was hoping that same fate would not take place today. Your mind starts playing tricks on you as a crew member. Runners come by with some standout feature (Hawaiian shirt guy, floppy hat guy...) but you can't remember if they were in front or behind your runner at the last stop. Guess I need to start writing numbers done to get a better feel for this. We set up camp across from the aid station this time and then Kim and I went down towards the campground where JP and B would be coming from. That way, she could get pictures and I could chat with them for 300 yards to get an assessment of how the day was going. B rolled in jogging around 14.5 hours of being on his feet. JP and I wanted him to walk it in to the aid station, but he was having none of that. Said he wanted to use it while he had it.
As I was getting the low down from JP, he asks me to find out where the medics were at this station. WTF? I didn't like hearing the word "medic". Turned out, B's feet were a mess. There is a water section crossing into Winfield and it didn't treat him well. His feet looked like they'd been soaked in a bucket of water for 6 days. Using a trick he learned from the pros, he had already taken his socks off to let the puppies breathe. Last year, we did a shoe change here so I was prepared again for that. Also, it got really cold last year between here and Pipeline, so we strapped up JP's pack with several long sleeve shirts, a jacket, pants, dry socks, headlamps... He about had it all. Off they went after 6:30pm!
I had scouted the starter list for Hoosiers and found 4. 2 of them randomly came to our BBQ from Bloomington. So I'd been rooting and cheering for younger "Bloomington" all day. As I am packing up our camp ground, I notice "Bloomington"s crew next to us. He was in the TL aid station when B was but I didn't pay much attention because I had my own runner to worry about. After B was out on his way, I found "Bloomington"s pacer crying. I asked what was up and she said "Scott wants to quit." WTF? I decided to try to talk some sense into the guy. Went into the aid station to figure out what the issues were. He said he had no gear for the next leg. Ok... what do you need? He gave me a laundry list, so I went back to his crew to see if they had anything he told me he needed. As I look at a guy in a sweatshirt telling me they have no warm clothes for him, I say "Give him the clothes you are wearing if you have to. He needs layers." I don't know if they never had any of it or just didn't have it at that aid station. Their demeanor was like he was suppose to be doing a 5k. So I sprinted to the Hummer to rummage through my gear bag to give him a headlamp, long sleeve tech shirt, socks, gloves and ear warmers. I wasn't going to give up any of B's gear, but mine was fine. I ran back into the aid station to deliver the goods. Scott said thanks, I told him to get this thing finished! His pacer promised they'd drop the gear off at B's place after the race. We'll see if they do (B will be back there next week). If not, I'll be finding a Scott in Bloomington to call.
Pipeline - Inbound
Using previous splits and B's current pace, I had him coming into Pipeline around 9:30pm. He had been significantly slowing down and the sub 25 hour goal was being pushed to its limit. He surprised us by being about 10 minutes early. JP was singing his praises due to B running most of the way from Twin Lakes. They hadn't put on the warm clothes yet, but no one else really going by us had either. Everyone was saying they were burning up as they ran by but it was still 40-50 degrees out there. I was in 2 coats trying to demand they put on clothes. We refueled and refilled the packs. As JP was getting things situated, B was ready to go, so I walked down the hill at Pipeline with him. He was chatty about the day, Hope pass, reflecting on his breathing while hiking. He seemed to be in good condition to get this thing done! He said he'd see us at Fish Hatchery in 45 minutes. I was giving him 1:30 to get there. I didn't mention the padding as I didn't want to mess up any mental strength he was already feeling. I felt he was in the moment.
Fish Hatchery - Inbound
Mile 76.5. B and JP made it to Fish in 1 hour. B had a long sleeve shirt on at this point and it was now 10:30pm. B has to check in at this aid station, so he motored up the road, while Kim and I crewed for JP. JP mentioned that B was a little dejected that they were running about 20 minutes off the averages pace for a 25 hour finish. But what B didn't know was that he was crushing the splits so 25 hours was in reach. He was gaining. I was hoping that he or JP had the mental capacity to do some math and see that going 23.5 miles in 6.5 hours was within reach, even if we had Powerline looming in the distance.
Apparently this is where it all went down hill. I learned all of this after we got back to the house in Leadville. As B approached the aid station, he asked for some soup broth. In the minute it took the broth to get to the cup to his face, B passed out in a chair. A volunteer woke him up to see if he was ok. He said yes and motioned that his crew was down the street and headed out. Unfortunately, he only found JP at the end of the road since Kim and I had taken off. Guess he was looking for a little more moral support. Another note in the crew chief manual... never leave an aid station before your runner.
Mayqueen - Inbound - Last aid station @ 86.5 miles
Kim and I took the long route around Turquoise Lake after the mornings fiasco. As soon as we parked, we got busy calculating pace times giving a 10 minute buffer to our 25 hour goal. I was hoping to see B between 1-2am based on 15-20 minute miles from Fish. By working backwards, we figured out paces at :15 second intervals based on his ETA... come in to MQ at 1:41am, we get 14 minute miles... come in at 2:08am, we get 12 minute miles. I knew the section B was on was his worst-feeling last year and took him 4:09 to go the 10 miles. Kim and I set up shop around 12:15am. Early, but I wanted to be extremely prepared since I'd be transferring from Crew Chief to official Pacer at this point.
We waited. And waited. 1:15am... 1:40... As 2am hit, my nerves started in. Cue tears. I was worried. My breaking point would be at 2:47am when we crossed his pace mark from last year. Fuck. I knew something had gone terribly wrong. I didn't want to say anything to Kim to worry her. I just honestly felt this race was doomed. An ambulance pulled up at one point and I eavesdropped in the techs conversation to hear if they used B's number. Nope. I felt so helpless.
While pacing between our camp and the aid station tent to generate some heat, around 3:10am, I hear "#343 coming in". Oh shit, yes! He's alive! I was pumped! New hope flooded my soul and I was ready! We can finish! 25 hours is gone but I'm ready to go! As I scamper around yelling at a crew of 10 people and 1 runner using all the chairs in the tent "Are you using every chair because I have a runner coming in?!" I yell to Kim, "He's here!" I grab all of our gear and get it to the tent and just as I am waving JP over, he ignores me and is walking my wide-eyed zombie brother straight to the medic tent. All I could say was "Shit."
They zipped B into a sleeping bag on a cot to warm him up. I couldn't watch as he shivered so hard. I kissed his forehead and walked out of the tent crying. I came back and told Kim I wanted to grab his number and finish this race in his honor. I knew it wouldn't officially count for anything, but it was how I felt. She said "No, I need your help getting him home." Ok, stupid thought but I wasn't very rational at this point. It was clear his day was over. After about 30 minutes he sat up and was able to have some soup, still clearly out of it. I left to go talk/cry to the parking officials to get permission to bring the H2 down into the aid station to pick him up. They said of course, so I went back to tell my crew I was packing up and getting the truck. The bracelet had been cut. (Means you are officially out of the race.)
We got B in the truck and again had a parking fiasco on the Turquoise Lake road. I basically drove with my head out the window 2-6 inches away from everyones mirrors. Got home around 5am and B said we'd unpack the truck tomorrow. Nope, I needed something to keep myself occupied with. I unpacked everything, he got a shower and said he could drink some milk. After about an hour, he was back to normal (whatever that means after an 86.5 mile 25 hour day). I was still visibly upset so he came over and gave me a hug and said "Everything's fine. I'm fine." I tearfully said "I know but I'm not. I was worried."
I know the DNF was the right call for the circumstance we were in. It took us 4 hours to do the last 13.5 miles last year and he was in worse shape this year. I didn't need to be out there on the single track alone with him. We didn't need to walk this race in. His plan all day was to run hard and he did. It might not have been the smartest plan, but he did execute his plan. As he was dropping me off at the airport, he commented that he hoped my trip out there was worth it and sorry if he wore me down in my crew duties. I said, "No. If you are running again, I will be there."