Leadville participants recently got a “the race is approaching” e-mail and in it we were informed that “Hollywood” would be there filming. The e-mail further invited us to send Hollywood our running story. Unlike the NBC stories filmed at Ironman Kona, I have not been shot in the face with a cannon while rescuing a bag of kittens and group of Catholic nuns from a burning building while I was being betrayed by my leprosy riddled body but I do have a story of sorts.
Though I may be, may have been, the fat guy with brittle bones I do belong at Leadville, as a runner. I have people who believe in me, who are giving freely of their time to support me, crew me, pace me and short of being carted off in an ambulance or beaten off the course with a stick I will finish Leadville.
This is my running story. Enjoy Hollywood.
Running was always the punishment in the sports I played growing up. I was primarily a football player, tackle and occasionally on the defensive line, then after completing high school and joining the Marine Corps I played rugby for six years as a tight-head prop.
Though I had always been active as a kid I was also always heavy. By the time I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree I weighed in at 310 pounds and am 6 feet tall. I made a concerted effort to lose weight and by the time I finished grad school I was down to about 270.
For some reason I got it in my mind that I wanted to do a triathlon, just a sprint distance event. The idea of me doing anything else was laughable. I told a co-worker and she laughed and said she couldn't imagine me sprinting after anything. She wasn't trying to be mean but the idea was just so absurd that I think she just blurted it out before thinking.
My major concern in doing a triathlon is that I would have to run and I despised running. However, I wanted to do one badly enough that I was willing to put up with enough training to get me through a 5k.
Soon enough I got caught up in the challenge of seeing how far I could push myself. I knew about Ironman triathlons so that became my first big goal. However, when I started looking at that distance and meeting people who did them I heard about ultra-marathons and found out about one that was in my area and was taking place for the first time; the Ghost Town 38.5.
The thought of running 38.5 miles just seemed crazy but I felt like I had to give it a try. Of course once I started lifting the veil on the world of ultra-running I quickly discovered Western States and Leadville.
Between the two I was far more attracted to Leadville, "The Race Across the Sky", who could resist a challenge like that?
After running my first ultra I was pretty intimidated by the prospect of ever running another though I don't think I let anyone know but after another year of triathlon I found myself drawn back to ultra-running. I began to increase my run mileage and suffered a fractured foot. Once that healed I began again and my hip fractured in two places. My doctor sent me to a specialist who found that I had osteopenia.
I was told it would take a good couple years on medications, extra calcium and vitamin D for my bones to reach normal density so that's what I did; I kept running lower miles and took my meds. I have been doing that for three years now and have increased the difficulty and distance of my running. In the last two years I have also run two other "easy" 100 mile trail runs and failed to finish two others but I have shied away from registering for Leadville because it was just too intimidating. I felt like I wasn't ready, didn't have enough experience, and hadn’t earned the right to be there.
Earlier this year I was talking to a friend about a difficult race he was contemplating. I told him, "You are never truly going to feel ready, you are only going to get older year after year with a lower chance of finishing and it will just be that much more time to expose yourself to an injury that may prevent you from ever doing it. If you want it you just have to put yourself out there and go for it." Then I said, "Oh crap, I just talked myself into Leadville" and I registered that day.
I have run 1,465 miles so far this year with many of those miles having been run in the Sandia, Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico. My weight is down to 195 and I haven't broken a bone in two years.
When I attended the Leadville training camp this year Ken Chlouber said something that has changed my perspective on running in general and on running Leadville in particular. In essence what he said was that regardless of how well we may do on race day we should really consider just how fortunate we are to be able to run this kind of race at all.
This idea has turned my thinking around from "I'm the fat guy with weak bones who will try and conquer Leadville" to, "I'm lucky as hell and I'm not one to squander a gift. I'm actually going to finish Leadville!"