HOW DID I GET HERE?
In the early Fall of 2010, my older brother recommended this book called “Born to Run” (BTR) by Christopher McDougall. I was in my early 40s, one of the founders of a growing open source scientific software company called Kitware. I had the usual aches and pains of a typical american 40 year old, and I was packing a good 40 pounds of extra weight. My knees hurt when I walked around the office, I occasionally threw my back out from over exertions like a random sneeze. I figured that is how life worked at middle age things started to hurt and you gained a few pounds. After a bad case of achilles tendonitis in highschool and some bad advice from a doctor about my flat feet I never considered running as something I could do.
Once I won the lottery for LT100, the next step was assembling a support team. Dubbed “Team Sandal”, I put together an awesome support team including a LT100 alum, a two time LT100 crew member, my cousin from Aspen, my wife, and a 2:28 marathoner.
I flew out the weekend before the race and ran the Steamboat Honey Stinger half marathon as a warmup andacclimatization race. The race went well and I ran a respectable but restrained 2:04. After the race I headed to Aspen to stay with my cousin Doug and his wife. I had an incredible week with a great yoga class, and a few warm up runs.
Doug and I made a recon mission to Leadville, where we planned to check out some of the crew stops. Instead, we had lunch and met the one and only Barefoot Ted McDonald (BFT) outside the coffee shop in Leadville. BFT’s enthusiasm for running and life is even more contagious in person than in print. He talked about how the LT100 would be a lifetime in a day. I would be born, a pup, middle aged and if lucky and wise make it to the ripe old age of 100 miles.
The week flew by and before I knew it the rest of the crew Matt (experienced LT100 crew leader), Dan (LT100 finisher), Doug (cousin and local guru), Tom (coach and speedy runner), and Naomi ( love of my life) and myself were in Leadville eating a final meal in an AirB&B. At packet pickup BFT knighted me “Amigo Grande” with a handmade Luna necklace. I made sure to wear my new good luck charm for the race. Well, 3am came way too soon, and we were making our way to the 4am start. (BTW, for those that have not run ultras, sleep deprivation is a big part before, during and after a big race).
A LIFETIME IN A DAY
Like everyone else in the race I was born at 4am. We made our way as a huge group of runners down the streets of Leadville. Unknown adventure awaited all of us. Some would finish, some would not, but adventure and learning would be had by all. I intentionally held back at the start staying deep in the crowd. This worked out well, until the single track aroundTurquoise lake. I found this section a bit frustrating because it was so crowded, but I had a long way to go and I could be patient. The first stop was May Queen aid station where I grabbed some food, they had PB&J wraps which were great. On the way out I ran by Liv (Barefoot Ted’s Wife), received a much appreciated hug and some encouragement, and I was on my way up a road to the next trailhead.
My next stop would be the Outward Bound aid station where I would finally meet up with the Team Sandal crew! The dirt road switched backed up a mountain with dark clouds looking very ominous in the distant mountains. I became very excited when one of the runners said were about to get to a 3 mile downhill along “powerline”. Well, that sounded just fantastic to me! Once I crested the top, it was 3 miles of downhill bliss.
I guess that would have been my teenage years, still feeling wild and young! My first crew meeting went well out Outward bound. The next stop would be Twin Lakes.After Outward bound, the rain came, and with it a bit of despair. There were some rough and slow miles working my way towards Twin Lakes.
OLD BROKEN DOWN CAR
Somewhere on my way to Twin Lakes, I had an epiphany that I had become just like an old broken down car. I had first gear, neutral, and no #ucking breaks! I could climb hills slow but sure in 1st, I could fly downhill like a mad man, but I was stuck in first gear on the flats. Either way, life was good as I headed into Hope Pass. Things started great with the stream crossing.
DEATH CLIMB The climb up Hope pass started out well, but soon I found myself sitting on a log contemplating quitting and watching all the other runners pass. Somehow I managed to make it to the aid station at the top of Hope. I found food and encouragement, but vowed to myself not to come up the pass again that day. ( I was breaking my number one rule of ultras, never despair on an uphill.) Once I crested the top, I shifted into neutral and made my way down.
MIDDLE AGE & REBIRTH
I rolled into the halfway point at a few minutes under 13 hours about and hour or so later than planned. The crew was concerned about me even finishing as I was starting to flirt with cut offs. However, they did not let on and were very positive. At this point, you are allowed a pacer, and Tom was my first pacer. He had a plan to get me back on track for finishing under 25 hours. I didn’t believe him, but was willing to go along with his crazy plan. He first tested me out going through a few run/walk cycles. He soon had me moving at a pretty decent pace.
When we started to climb back over Hope, we found a woman and her pacer were going at about my max speed and we became a pack of four. The woman’s pacer even lent me her poles for the climb. I would dread every time the three of them passed another group of runners, knowing I would have to put in the effort to keep up. Somehow I managed not to get dropped and we made it to the top. Once at the top, Tom asked to see my downhill with no brakes, and we took off. I think on the way down we passed over 100 runners.I heard a few “oh no, I can’t be passed by the dude in sandals!” along with a few “I have to get a pair of those sandals!”. I figure I did some serious advertising for Luna on my way down!
Tom and I arrived at Turquoise lake almost an hour ahead of our expected time, catching the rest of the crew off guard. It all worked out and in no time, I was heading back out with Dan who had completed LT100 a few years earlier. We rolled up and down hills making great progress. Dan informed me of the incredible progress we were making. He said I had passed over 200 runners. At each aid station I was adding to my buffer for the cut offs. I even started to believe in the 25 hour dream. Dan stayed with me until Outward bound. Tom had decided to jump back in to keep me on pace over the powerline climb.
The rain had started again as Tom and I departed Outward bound and I had flashbacks to the wet and cold streets of Boston in Spring. It was time to pay the price for all that fun I had coming down powerline with a long hard climb in the other direction. We passed a few folks on the way up, and Tom kept saying we were almost at the top, but I knew better. Eventually we reached the “party” aid station glow sticks lined the ground and the trees. The station had a party feel to it with offerings like whiskey and marijuana. I kept it to soup and coke, and soon we were heading downhill again.
A WRONG TURN
In fact we were cruising downhill so well we passed several groups of runners and a turn into the woods. After five or so minutes, my spidey senses started to tingle. Hey Tom, have you seen a glow stick or trail mark recently? Nope, full stop, oh no. I really don’t want to go back up that hill we just ran down. On the other hand, I don’t want to keep going the wrong way. We checked for the cell phone in the pack, but no luck, it did not make the last swap. I then remembered that my garmin could do track back. With 80+ miles it took a very long time to compute the path back, but sure enough there it was in tiny grey pixels on my watch screen, we had made a wrong turn. Well, whatever, in a 100 mile trail race, there are bound to be mistakes. This is pretty much where the 25 hour dream died. But, I was getting close and was pretty confident I was going to make it.
In the final stretches, Matt paced me back around Turquoise lake. At this point, I am pretty sure I was starting to master sleep running. Matt stayed 25 feet ahead and beckoned me to follow, and I did sometimes closing my eyes but continuing to run. I am going to credit muscle memory and excellent ground feel from my Lunas for allowing me to sleep run and not fall and hurt myself. The legs were in control, and I was just a sleepy passenger.
THE FINAL STRETCH
Finally, I found myself on the last dirt road of the day climbing into the gradually lighting skies of Leadville. At one point, I thought maybe if I tried to sprint, I could get some running legs back and cruize in at a 9 minute pace or something crazy fast like that. I gave it my all for a 100 meter stride and made it about 20 or 30 feet before doubling over and trying to empty the contents of an already empty stomach. Well, that was a bad idea! I resigned myself to speed walking and was able to walk comfortably at a 16 minutes per mile pace.
BRINGING IT HOME
Soon we were on paved roads and the end was near, the rest of the pacers joined in the last mile. We even were graced with one last downhill where I could run and passed another runner. After 26 hours 22 minutes 28 seconds, I made my way across the now familiar timing mat of another race finish line. At the finish all the crew of team sandal (Doug, Naomi, Matt, Dan, and Tom) assembled, and even Barefoot Ted and his wife Liv were there (add Toto too). It had been an amazing day and two hours.
I had truly lived a lifetime in a race. I was now an old man with a finisher medal around my neck. I learned that although trail running is a rugged individual sport, it can also be a team sport and with the right support you can achieve things beyond what you can do alone. I showed up to Leadville with the right amount of training, and somewhere along the way I turned myself over to my pacers and crew in something like a prolonged trust fall. It has been almost exactly 8 years since I read Born to Run, and this race was like reaching a summit. Not that it is a final destination but rather it gave me a thirst for the next summit.
I feel like I am becoming part of that story 8 years ago. I do believe all able bodied humans have an inner superhero that can be tapped into. We were meant to run free over mountains and all of the world. Most are unaware of the genetic gift that awaits them if only they tap into their primal self.
I really want to thank my amazing crew, Tom O, the coach that turned the race around and pushed me beyond what I thought possible, Matt the detail man who planned as much as possible, Dan a Leadville 100 veteran who kept it positive and shared his home after the race, my cousin Doug who provided a most excellent base camp in Aspen, and drove tired pacers all over the mountains and who’s excitement in my adventure was contagious and amazing, and finally to my wife Naomi who provided hugs and encouragement at every aid stop and was hustling food and supplies from car to trailhead all day and night and who cooked the pre race dinner for everyone.