Well, I did it. I finished the Leadville 50 Ultra marathon in 11 hours and 14 minutes. 1 hour and 45 minutes better than my goal of 13 hours. Can you believe it? Just think, a few months ago I was training to run consistent half marathons and aiming at doing a marathon one day or maybe even a Tri. Fast forward a few weeks and I find myself training for a race that I knew very little about with hopes to test myself and find some ultimate humbling experience.
Now, I (along with many of you) am still asking, “why?” I had hopes of maybe finding that answer somewhere along my 11 hour trek through the mountains and hills of Leadville, but like usual, I’ve got nothing. Maybe that’s why I like this so much? Maybe it’s not so much the test or the preparation, but the fact that there is always that question hanging over each of our heads. My family would say it’s because of this big ole’ chip on my shoulder, my friends would tell you that I’m just too stubborn and too crazy while my coaches would tell you that it’s because I just like showing up ready to work. Regardless, this race was far more than a chip on my shoulder or a work ethic, but a chance to prove to myself that I am good enough to accomplish WHATEVER I put my mind to.
Running the Leadville 50 is a neat experience for everybody involved (except Mom…she might use stressful rather than “neat”). It’s the kind of event that takes support from your family, friends and co-workers while giving up a large chunk of your life to healthier eating, more sleep, longer runs and more nights in the gym or the pool. You can’t prepare overnight and you can’t step into the ring with that course thinking you’re bigger or better. Mentally and physically Leadville will put whatever you’ve got to the test.
Leadville, however, was also a neat experience for me. With a 6am shotgun start (literally), almost 200 + runners took off up a steep sledding hill to complete 50 miles of leg burning, heart pounding Colorado trails. Leadville is the highest city in North America so you’re already at 10,200 ft when the race starts and you only go up. There are 8 aid stations ranging from 6-8 miles apart and depending on the weather you might see every season. Thankfully, it was in the high 30′s for the start and got into the upper 90′s for the better part of the race. Every runner has their own style and own strategy for running. While I knew I had trained hard, I was still planning to do a combo of running and walking. On the course, there were portions of uphill (and down) that were too rocky or too steep to run so we’d walk. When trail conditions were right, we’d run again. It all goes back to a saying, “run when you can, walk if you have to.”
Going into the turn (aid station at mile 25), I was running with a gentleman from Iowa who ran the 400 in college, but has been coaching track since. He had run to the top of Pikes Peak 3 times and had some previous training at altitude. Despite being far more experienced in many aspects of the running game, he and I were both novice ultra runners. When we left the turn we were at 5:08 which was far faster than either one of us “first-timer’s” had ever imagined. That, however, was perfect for us because we knew if we were going to face any challenges ahead, we had some leeway on the back half.
Well, we needed every bit of that leeway on the back half. Although starting faster out of the gate on the 2nd 25 miles, we hit some serious climbs which slowed us down dramatically. Thankfully, the weather held out and roughly 6 hours later we had split by a short distance and were heading into the last stretch towards the finish line. Not knowing how far we had to go or what time we were at, we just dug deep and ran hard. Long story short, we each finished before 11:15 with smiles on our faces.
Clearly, finishing was my ultimate goal, but there was so much more behind it. Leadville taught me more about accountability, drive and finding a way to keep going. Over the course of 11 hours and 14 minutes I found myself at extremely high points (near the finish) and extremely low points (mile 35ish). With every mile completed, I learned a little more about myself and came one step closer to the finish.
I’ve been back since Monday and I still can’t believe this whole thing is over. Then again, it’s never really “over”. Running my first ultra against several odds is sort of like a drug. I’ve just started something that has already changed my life in such a short time span and I don’t intend on stopping.
Last, I need to thank every body for all the support over the last couple of months. Family, friends, co-workers, faculty, staff, etc… Every single one of you played a huge part in this for me. From well wishes to prayers and the occasional e-mail or facebook post, I never felt doubted for a second. Also, I’d like to thank the volunteers in Leadville. They may have saved my life on several occasions and I can’t thank them enough for the job they did.
In closing I suppose the only real question left to ask is, “what’s next?”