Last Saturday’s Leadville Trail 100 proved to be one of the more “interesting “ runs I’ve ever participated in. After an absolutely beautiful week in Colorado the weather took a nasty turn on Friday and much of the state saw temperatures well below average, as well as heavy rain and even snow in the higher elevations. At 10,152 feet above sea level Leadville is the nation’s highest city and very much part of the “higher elevations”, so as we went to bed Friday night we knew Saturday was not going to be a typical August day in the Rockies. At 4:00 AM Saturday morning around 480 runners lined up at the start in Historic downtown Leadville in a cold rain that was just a foreshadowing of what was to come. As the race began to unfold I felt great and was right on plan through the first 40 miles, despite numerous rounds of rain, sleet and hail. The next 20 miles takes runners up and over 12,600 foot Hope Pass to the Ghost town of Winfield, CO and the turnaround point of the race. This moment of joy (for those who make it in under 14 hours) is soon overshadowed as you are quickly reminded that all this accomplishment wins you is the right to turn around and go back over again. As I finish the “double crossing” and arrive back in Twin Lakes I am well ahead of the cut offs and welcome the fact that from this point on I am allowed to have a “pacer” (MK Thompson) join me for the final 40 miles, providing safety and encouragement. As we leave Twin Lakes the weather begins to worsen . It is now dark, cold and wet, yet God provides the strength to press on. We manage to stay on pace for another 17 miles but by the time we arrive at the 77 mile aid station at the National Fish Hatchery outside Leadville I am coming undone and when I meet my wife Karen, who is waiting I fall completely apart. I am shivering cold and my breathing has become labored , I have no desire to take even one more step. Unfortunately over the years Karen has always found a way to get me to do things that I have absolutely no desire to do, so after 20 minutes of whining she and MK get some hot soup in me and away we go. The next three and a half hours provided a cruel ending to my 2008 Grand Slam attempt. After slowly struggling the 5 miles up 11,000 foot Sugarloaf Pass we were greeted by the worst storm of the day, a complete white out that reduced visibility to mere feet. The only way I knew where to go was by following MK’s footprints in the snow. This final bout with the elements reduced our slow crawl to a death march that eventually got us to the 87 mile aid station too late to make the 6:30 AM cut off. After almost 27 hours both my race and my hopes for this year’s Grand Slam were over. In all only 41 % of those who started the race made it to the finish line in the allowed thirty hours and eighteen of the remaining twenty-four Grand Slammers had failed to make it through Leadville.
So what does one learn from an experience like this? What is God trying to say? Some will offer up the easy answer, suggesting there is more to life then a race or running , inferring I should get my priorities in order and take this as a sign to refocus on those things in life they view are really important. But I don’t believe God dismisses our passions as quickly as others sometimes do. God gave us our gifts and He gives us our passions. For some running is a gift, for others it is a passion, for a few it is both. For others it may be golf or scrapbooking. Our part of the deal is to allow God “in” to our passions and gifts, giving Him, not ourselves, the honor and the glory while pointing others in the direction of a living God who cares about those things that are important to us, that He Himself placed within each one of us, making us unique creations created in His image. When we allow God this sort of access into our daily grind, we put ourselves in the position to be “schooled” by the one who knows us best. For me these lessons have been numerous and invaluable crossing over into all areas of my life. That is why I’ll continue to run. That is where I find God. On a cold, wet trail in the middle of the night, when I am too weak to carry my own burden any further and finally step aside to let God go to work. Hopefully someday I’ll learn to set my pride aside sooner, before I find myself in such trouble. Hey, maybe that’s the lesson of Leadville 2008.