Liza Howard. Ultrarunning Mom.

Ultrarunning Mom

Leadville 100 2014: Movin’ Right Along, Drones, and Car Pushing

Drones.  There were drones on the Leadville course people.  Well, apparently not everyone was surveilled — just the lead runners.  Keep this in mind fellow runners as you train to get faster: All that hard work may end up with you face to face with one of these guys:

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 4.49.03 AM

I didn’t know there were llamas up at Hopeless Aid Station the first year I ran Leadville, and I thought I might be hallucinating for a moment when I first saw them.  And, as far as ultra-induced hallucinations go, llamas are pleasant enough.  Drones are not. When a drone hovers across the trail from you 12,000 feet up, it feels more like “War of the Worlds.”

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I kind of expected the thing to shoot at me — with a Star Wars blue laser and laser-shooting sound.  All it did though, was make enough noise to drown out the music on my iPod.  How is a runner supposed to enjoy The Muppet’s “Movin’ Right Along” with a drone buzzing nearby?  (This was one of the many surreal bits of the day.)

I turned the music off, dropped the drone, made the pass, and flew down the other side towards Winfield hollering along with Kermit & Fozzy as I went.

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 4.56.00 AM

When the course finally dumped me out on the short section of road to Winfield, a young guy was standing there.  He asked if I’d like a pacer.

Now I’d forgotten my rain jacket back at Twin Lakes, and I had been worrying I’d get trapped by a thunderstorm and become hypothermic up on Hope. (I did have an emergency garbage bag rain jacket, but those things are sleeveless.). Anyway, I’d spent a good deal of time catastrophizing up and over Hope, so when the fellow asked about pacing I said, “Sure!”  (I’m not saying I would have robbed the nice kid of his rain jacket …. Just the sleeves. Maybe.)

In any event, the weather was fine, and Johnny was the best pacer I could have asked for to help me get up and over Hope that day.  He was in such good humor, and was also appropriately appreciative of the vistas and of the race itself.  I worked quickly to disabuse him of the notion that there was anything glamorous about pacing someone in the front of a race.  He didn’t get the full vomiting-whimpering-runner induction that Brandy did later, but I think I did a pretty good job of it.  I tripped and fell hard about ten minutes in and did a nice job scraping myself up — just to set the tone.  (Pithy humor and storytelling aside, a stranger appearing in just the right place at  just the right time to help me — left me feeling I’d been blessed.  I don’t know where muling angels carrying gels flasks and handhelds fit into my cosmology, but I’ll work on it.)


There was a lot more water to wade through outside of Twin Lakes this year than in previous years, and I spent that time doing boob checks. Was I going to have to stop to nurse?  I say “checks” because it’s hard to get a good sense of lactation requirements while you’re wading through water 60 miles into an ultramarathon.  I tried to be discreet so Johnny wouldn’t reevaluate his decision to head out to Winfield to try his luck at pacing — but, ya know, 60 miles in… In any event, I did not need to stop and give the folks in the Twin Lakes parking lot a show.

An old friend I met at the hostel in Leadville in 2010 paced me the next bit of the course.  Again, it was a pure happenstance arrangement, and again, no one could have paced me better that section.  Mike told me he’d arranged for a friend of his to take over the next section until Mayqueen.  Trista was lovely, and I wish I could have done more than grunt tersely at her during our time together.  I was feeling the miles by that point though, and had to concentrate on the running.  There’s a new section of the course now that goes cross country from Outward Bound to Halfpipe — and it’s just pocked with “gopher” holes.  I don’t know how there weren’t runners with broken ankles littered across that field section.

In any event, what with one thing and another, we made it to Turquoise Lake just as darkness descended.  I have never made it around Turquoise Lake and finished the last 13.5 miles of the course without puking my guts out.  But I had high hopes this year.  I’d been using Tailwind with great success — supplementing with EFS– and I’d run conservatively throughout the day just to be able to really run hard around the lake.  Everything was going GREAT… right up until the point I set foot on the trail around the lake.  Then I puked my guts out.  I stared down at all the gels I’d taken in over the last 17.5 hours.  (And some blueberries.)

“No problem,” I thought.  “I have a magic anti-nausea pill. Zofran will save me.”

I let the pill dissolve, and then I swallowed a mouthful of Coke.  And then I puked my guts out again.

“No Problem!”

I had one of Ruby’s squeezable apple sauces with me for this last section — just in case.

“I will squeeze a tablespoon of applesauce into my mouth and…” puke my guts out.


I’d read that study about how athletes can improve performance if they just swish a carbohydrate drink around in their mouth without even swallowing it.  I asked Brandy for the Coke and swished, spit … and puked my guts out.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

Even water made me wretch.  I told Brandy we’d try again in forty minutes. I imagine you’re on pins and needles at this point, so to spare you any uncomfortable wait, yes, more vomiting ensued.  And I was reduced to a shuffling walk.  A car without gas.  I posted after the race that after my car ran out of gas, I got out and pushed it the rest of the way to the finish line.  Emma Rocca, who had been about 20 minutes behind me all day, passed me and the broken down car about five or six miles from the finish.  She was running well at that point, which was satisfying.  It would have bothered me a lot if she had hiked past me.  Mostly I just felt badly for Brandy, who had run Pike’s Peak that morning, placed sixth in a stacked field, driven fast to get to Mayqueen, only to have to deal with my hot mess.  She said all the right things, and I really wish I could have rallied enough to get under 20 hours for her.  20:01.  A good 43-minute PR at any rate.  :)

I think I did all the training I could leading up to this race.  It wasn’t all the training I wanted to do, and I might have been able to outrun my bad stomach if I could have trained more intensely and simply gotten faster.  But my marriage (Eliot is the best!) Ruby, out-of-school-for-the-summer Asa, and work, would have suffered immensely.  When it comes down to it, I wasn’t sleeping much trying to care for all of those people and responsibilities.  So I’m at peace with my training.  (And grateful to Eliot for always helping me to get it done.)

I think the Tailwind worked really well.  I liked the taste the entire race, and I think I had as few problems as I did beforehand because it was so well absorbed.  It’s the gels that do me in.  They just sit in my stomach.  But I can’t use drink mixes exclusively in cool environments because I get hyponatremic if I try to take in more than 20oz an hour.  I’m not sure what to do — except to run a lot faster next year. ;)  Any suggestions?  And any docs or nurses out there with opinions about why the Zofran didn’t work.

Surreal Bit #2: New Balance filmed a lot of this race, and I found myself running down a road towards the Outward Bound aid station with (Leadman!) Dave Mackey and Duncan Calahan … and a camera crew.

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(Random camera car picture from the web)

I think I said something like, “Well, this is awkward guys.”  And I think Duncan said, “Not at all.”

Surreal Bit #3:  The camera crew filming me running by myself down the road towards Treeline.  Just me running along.  I started thinking about my running form — and whether my pony tail was centered on the back of my head — and how I’d really like to fix the wedgie in my compression shorts.  Finally I called out to them, “I heard there’s a good coffee shop down this way.”  They didn’t seem amused, but I heard back later it went over well.

Best Bit: Watching my friend Mike, whom I’d been coaching, complete his first 100-miler and cross the finish line like this:


Thank you to UltrAspire!  The Spry vest was perfect.  Perfect weight.  Perfect size.  Perfect pockets.

And many thanks to New Balance and to Monica Morant.  This grand adventure replete with drones, tasty BBQs, and many new friends would never have happened without you all.

And finally, I simply could have not done this race without my mom and dad’s help. They flew to Colorado to meet Asa and Ruby and me there.  They brought my niece and nephew with them, and ensured that Asa had the best summer vacation a seven year-old boy could have.  Rafting, fly fishing, fort and bridge building, and lots of s’mores. I couldn’t be more blessed with family.  And this will always be my favorite race because my parents were there crewing.

Okay, more from San Antonio!

PS. Coach’s Tip o’ the Day:  Sitting in a car for 12 hours straight after running 100 miles guarantees some amazing muscle tightness and really fat toes.

14 thoughts on “Leadville 100 2014: Movin’ Right Along, Drones, and Car Pushing

  1. MJruns says:

    When you say you supplemented your Tailwind with EFS, did you use EFS’ drink or their Liquid Shot gel? If you weren’t using their Liquid Shot gel (but some other brand? can’t tell) I’d highly rec it. It’s my absolute favorite gel, I have a very sensitive tummy, but the vanilla sits well and has electrolytes. (Haven’t tried berry or kona flavors) It can be taken straight, with separate water, or can be mixed with water to be even more drinkable. (I’ve yet to run my first ultra, speaking from marathon/training experience.) What about additional electrolytes like Endurolytes, do you think that would be helpful?

    Glad to hear the Spry worked. I got it and started training for marathons with it before the bigger races started banning them. Train as you race, so I haven’t used it in a while. Might for my first ultra (ATY) in Dec.

    Sounds like you made every possible effort in your training and the race (43 min PR is awesome! but I can see being irked at missing sub-20), so great you have the perspective and attitude to be able to be content with it and proud of yourself! Can’t imagine doing the training and racing you do with a family and work on top. You’re so impressive with such a full plate!

    • Liza Howard says:

      Hi there! I used the EFS gel shot. EFS has plenty of electrolytes, so I didn’t need to supplement with anything additional. Tailwind has quite a bit of sodium too.
      Excellent about ATY in December. I’ve heard such good things about it. I look forward to reading what you write about it! I hope your training goes very well. :)

      • MJruns says:

        I love my EFS, but I take Endurolytes 2x/day (daily) for other reasons, so I get a bit more. I sometimes carry extra for races. Have you been able to get any closer to figuring out what the problem on the day was? (I suppose with ultra distances, sometimes it’s just one of those days…)

        You’d read my blog?! Wow, that’d be really cool. :)

        Thanks for the good wishes. I look forward to reading about what you do next. Hope you’re on another podcast soon too – fun to hear you and put voice with everything else.

        Best to you and the fam!

  2. Gene Taylor says:

    What a good year you are having both in ultrarunning and ultraliving.
    Well done,

  3. Behnam says:

    Congrats!! Great write-up. You look so strong coming down from Hope Pass while I was on my way up like a nauseous zombie.
    Just to say that Zofran did not work for me either. I guess it may work for lighter nausea feelings (maybe those in operation room) but it is not effective when nausea is caused by high core body temperature (which is my case). I have a long history of dealing with it, and am very interested in the topic.

    • Liza Howard says:

      Thanks so much! Coming down Hope Pass is so much better than going up it. :)
      I’ve gotten some good advice about how to use Zofran better — taking it prophylactically on a schedule throughout the race.

  4. Rob M says:

    I get a lot of excellent work-life balance info from you and Pam – tough race at the end and I believe a gold star effort where I surely would have packed it in if the food wouldn’t stay down. All the Best

  5. trailrunningyogi says:

    Congratulations, Liza! Your race sounded amazing– I love that you serendipitously picked up some great pacers and rallied through the tough times in the latter parts of the race. So inspiring!

  6. UltraPom44 . says:

    Well done Liza. Great writeup and adventure and well done on the PR. You certainly do have a full life at the moment and I’d agree you’re getting a good balance. Love the ‘coffee shop’ comment ?? Hope the rest and recovery is going well.

    • Liza Howard says:

      Thanks Richard! I’m done eating donuts and ready to get running again. It’s so hard to climb back on the donut bandwagon once you’ve thrown yourself off.

  7. […] [EB: Liza's Hope Pass pacer experience with permission to share from her race report.] […]

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