I can’t believe that the Leadville Trail 100 Run is two weeks from Saturday. When I registered last November it seemed like a lifetime away and now it’s here. Holy shit. It’s really here.
I have so many different feelings as the clock runs out on my preparation. I’m excited beyond words to take part in such an iconic event. The level of my excitement is matched only by my level of terror. The doubts are beginning to pile up. Did I train enough? Did I do enough hill work? Why didn’t I do any super long runs? Did I spend enough time sleeping at altitude? Will the altitude training have any effect at all? Am I dragging my family 2/3rds of the way across the country and spending thousands of dollars just to run into a wall and fail spectacularly?
I have said, often to people who are rolling their eyes at me and sighing in exasperation, that running an ultra is a metaphor for life. This is in no way an original sentiment, as I have heard it expressed time and time again. However, the fact that it may be a bit of a cliché doesn’t make it any less accurate. Just like this race, life will sneak up on you if you’re not ready for it.
You face incredible highs and soul crushing lows during the course of a 50 or 100 mile event. There are times when you laugh and sing and feel like everything is easy and life it great. These times are followed inevitable by the lows - times in which you don’t know how you can go 10 more feet, let alone another 20, 30, or 80 miles.
It is during these times that we learn the most about ourselves, when we get to see who we really are, not who we think we are or wish we were. We all tell ourselves that we can be great when we are drifting off to sleep at night. Then it’s easy to think we’ll be great. It’s not so easy when you are nauseated, dehydrated, exhausted, cold, wet, and tired.
When you begin to ask, “Why do I do this to myself?” is when we get a rare and precious gift. We get to see ourselves for who we really are. Will you quit when it gets difficult? Will you quit when you’re tired? Will you quit when you get discouraged? Quitting is the easy way out, at least in the short term. Sure, if you quit then you get to stop, eat, drink, put on dry clothes and sit or lie down and rest. If you listen you can always hear the sirens calling to you, pleading with you to stop. To rest. To quit.
If you manage to resist the sirens' song and push through those low points, you get to experience a high that is a thousand times greater than any low you have felt. If you quit, you may have immediate comfort, but that decision will be with you for life and will become a part of who you are. If you are able to persevere you reach a place of transcendence. A place where you gain perspective on your pain, perspective on your own abilities, and, most importantly, perspective on life.
I am a firm believer that you get out of life what you put into it. I work in a profession that requires me to be cautious and calculated. One that forces me to look for the worst case scenario and often tell people, “No, you can’t do that.” I run to escape that. I want to live a full and rich life. If I choose to sit at home and watch TV and eat ice cream I would certainly be comfortable, but not satisfied, and certainly not fulfilled. A friend once told me that the goal in life is to live a life that is exciting enough to have great stories to tell, but not so exciting that you get struck by lightning. While I’m pretty sure she was referring to some sort of sin induced wrath of God type thing, I’d still like to avoid getting hit by a random bolt of lightning on top of a mountain. I want to live a life where I can find out who I really am and where my limits are. I believe that most limits are self-induced.
That’s why I run. That’s why I’m running 100 miles through the Colorado Rocky Mountains in two weeks. I want to test myself. To find my limits. I can’t guarantee that I’ll finish in less than 25 hours. I can’t guarantee I’ll finish at all. What I can guarantee is that I will give it everything I have and leave it all on the course. I can only hope that the training and preparation, both physical and mental, will be enough to get me over the mountains and through the low points to the finish. Either way, I know it will be an experience I will remember forever.