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How Leadville Became the Dream

October 2, 2016

At 22, I was working in Alaska for my second summer; during my free time I’d run laps around the lodge property. The chef that summer was sitting on his cabin porch watching me run by, lap after lap. He introduced himself as a runner and recommended I read “Lore of Running” by Prof. Tim Noakes. Amazon had it to me in less than a week. I read it cover to cover. It is the best running book of all time, period. The Leadville Trail 100 is referenced a handful of times throughout the book. This was the first I’d heard of this race, or a race of that distance. I secretly wanted to run it the moment I knew it existed. There was a tiny whisper of a voice, “ Don’t be crazy. 100 miles!  At some point you have to realize you can’t keep making these goals, there are limits, you’re only setting yourself up for failure and to be heartbroken”.  An even louder and more stubborn voice chimed in, “ if there is another human on this earth that has completed it, than you can too.”  After that thought, I never heard from the first voice again, the second voices’ rational was too bullet proof to argue with.

 

Although I had made a promise to myself to run Leadville, I made no plans to accomplish this. I figured if I hit my 45th birthday and still hadn’t made the commitment to pursue Leadville, then that’s when I would start looking into training for a 100 mile race, and make a concrete plan to get it checked off my list. Don’t laugh, that was my legitimate plan…to make a plan.  I also remember vividly thinking, that by that time in my life I would have the full marathon distance so dialed in that 100 miles would be more fathomable.

 

The summer was over and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do, when I left

Alaska. I knew I didn’t want to go back to my small hometown; I wanted to experience somewhere new.  The same guy that had recommended Lore of Running to me also recommended Denver as a great place to live. All right, done. My girlfriend (Raya), and I moved to Denver. She drove down from Wisconsin, and I drove down from Washington, we met in the parking lot of a Qdoba, homeless, jobless, and in a city neither one of us had ever been to.  We found the perfect apartment after a week of searching. Now we had a place to sleep at night, but still no jobs. Two weeks of hitting the pavement, handing out resumes to every possible lead we could find. Nothing. Finally I struck gold at a high-end hair salon. I hated it. Two days in I quit.

 

A girlfriend of mine, Bethany, was passing through Denver on her way up to find a job and place to live in Breckenridge. A town I’d never heard of. Raya and I tagged along. We went to a job fair with Bethany and had more job offers than we knew what to do with. After driving through the town we realized we needed to get out of our lease in Denver as soon as possible. Raya, Bethany, her fiancé and I signed a lease in Breck, and then called our landlord in Denver (a little out of order, but hey everything turned out fine), he was great and left us free to flock to the mountains.

 

Besides a short time in New Zealand I’d never been a trail runner, I didn’t even know that was a thing, as different in discipline as Western to English horsemanship. The roads in Breck were different than any place I’d previously lived. Here there were no long meandering back country roads, just the main highway that passes through town, and a few short side roads, that would quickly turn to dirt, then eventually feed you off onto a trailhead. I became a trail runner, but I didn’t know that, I was still just a runner. I never even considered signing up for trail races, I trained on trails and did road races.

 

My friend Molly talked me into doing a ½ road marathon with her and her girlfriend Michelle.  The night before the race we were in a hotel room, Michelle and Molly were tracking a few friends of theirs online that were running Leadville.  Leadville. THE Leadville, the race I’d read about a year ago. Once again, I felt the pull of the race; I needed to run it.

 

We stayed up that night listening to Michelle tell stories about her career in adventure racing. Every story she told sounded miserable. They all had a similar feel that went along these lines: broken bones, rain, cold, somebody died, no sleep for days, exhausted, miserable, miserable, miserable. I was sold. I wanted all of that, it sounded so thrilling! Now I know Leadville isn’t the same as an adventure race, but it still held the promise of finding the point where your body says, “okay that’s all I have, I literally can’t crawl another inch” I wanted that sweet ecstasy of reaching my breaking point. I’d come close to it once. That one time left me craving it’s return, to this day. The problem with having a need to be physically and mentally depleted to the extent of not begin able to walk and hallucinating, is that that this point gets harder and harder to reach. As time goes on your training gets more advanced, you become smarter with your nutrition, and soon you are seeking out races that are measured in days not hours.

 

Four months later I put my name in for the Leadville 100 lottery. In January, a month later, I received an email, my name had been drawn, I was officially running Leadville 2015. 

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