Leadville, 2014

Bare chest­ed, cold, run­ning up over­grown sin­gle track at 8,000 feet on a moun­tain­side in Col­orado. Teardrops of hail ham­mer down through an aspen for­est as the cloud gods grum­ble over­head. No sun­light peaks through, the wilds are draped only in cold grey light.

Not com­fort­able yet com­fort­ing, not pleas­ant yet still the quest for effort draws me in. It’s a slow grind, not a fast sprint. There is no roar­ing crowd, no medal at the end, no instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, only the knowl­edge that rep­e­ti­tion of effort pro­duces more abil­i­ty to work.

It’s sim­ple work, clean and pure and harsh and uncom­fort­able. I did­n’t do enough of this last year, and that lack of effort was on pub­lic dis­play at mile 75 of the Leadville 100. I felt lucky to miss the time cut off then, it saved me from the indig­ni­ty of quitting.

Scrab­bling up into the van I was liv­ing in, bare­ly aware of the help­ing shoves from my wife, half falling half rolling into the bed in the back, I cramped and creaked and swore and gib­bered at shad­ows. One thing then was clear. I was­n’t doing this again. It was too much, it was a stu­pid test, it hurt and it sucked and it was scream­ing­ly indif­fer­ent that I had failed.

It took two days to come to my sens­es and two months before I could run again, but I knew in those first 24 hours what I had to do. I knew I could­n’t walk away from a fail­ure like that, could­n’t go for the next 40 years of my life know­ing that I’d made a half heart­ed effort and failed. I did­n’t want to com­mit to anoth­er year of run­ning, but my ethics left me no choice. I would return.

We seek out pure expe­ri­ences as a method of reset, of detox­i­fi­ca­tion. We each pur­sue puri­ty in our own way; yoga, Cross­Fit, float­ing, triathlons, what­ev­er. For me that puri­ty has come most eas­i­ly (although that’s a false & hell­ish trap of a word) through running.

Run­ning for me has always been epit­o­mized by a quote from an old Navy recruit­ing video, “There’s noth­ing quite like run­ning to make a man reach deep down inside him­self and see what he’s made of.” Writ­ten in the dying gasps of the sex­ist ’80s, the lack of equal­i­ty is for me over­shad­owed by the ver­i­ty of the state­ment root­ed in my own experience.

I won’t debate which sport is the hard­est or the most pure or worth­while, I’d rather you and I agree that max­i­mum phys­i­cal effort of some sort is worth far more than any tan­gi­ble prize we may win.

That’s what run­ning Leadville is about for me. It’s not a ques­tion of cross­ing the line in front of every­body else, or even any­body else. It’s not a ques­tion of mak­ing a cer­tain time or not. It’s not even a ques­tion of fin­ish­ing the race. It’s a ques­tion of prepa­ra­tion; did you meet your goal on every day of train­ing, did you rest when you need­ed to, did you eat right, did you make the right effort at the right time for the right rea­son no mat­ter the exter­nal fac­tors that could have dis­suad­ed you?

If you did all those things, if you put in all your able effort on time, every time, the race is imma­te­r­i­al, mere­ly the peak of an ice­berg sub­merged 99%. Sure, it’s the part that peo­ple see, it’s how you’re eval­u­at­ed in the pub­lic realm, but it’s not the part that matters.

That part, that sub­merged and unseen, unap­pre­ci­at­ed, unsung piece, (and for not much longer with the advent of a thou­sand elec­tron­ic track­ing devices, from watch­es to phones to wrist­bands) is what matters.

The pub­lic cul­mi­na­tion of that prepa­ra­tion comes fast upon us. The Leadville 100 starts the morn­ing of August 16th of this year, and you’re wel­come to fol­low the progress of any rac­er par­tic­i­pat­ing. If you watch, as you watch, as you see the check­points ticked off one by one, from Turquoise Lake to Fish Hatch­ery, all the way over the Pass and back, remem­ber, this is just the tip of the ice­berg, the least piece vis­i­ble and under­stand­able to an outsider.

The ques­tion may then echo in your own mind; have I done enough in own train­ing? My unseen and unknown friend, the answer eager­ly awaits you.

Train hard!



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