Of 500+ finishers, I was the only one who somehow wound up crossing the finish line accompanied by an entourage of a dozen tuxedo-clad fourteen-year-olds. It was as hilariously odd as it looks. Lots of stories from a fun day.
STORY #1: THE LEADVILLE MARATHON:
Start with a regular, 26-mile marathon. Put it on rocky, uneven, ground with lots of slippery, sandy grit. Add in about 6300 feet of climbing (the rough equivalent of climbing up and down the stairs of the Empire State Building five times during the run). Then move the whole thing up to the very-thin air of Leadville Colorado, so that most of the run is above 11,000 feet, and one section climbs up over 13,000 feet elevation.
What kind of idiot would sign up for that?
Here’s some perspective on that thin air: Aviation regulations require that if a pilot is going to spend more than 30 minutes above 12,500 feet, he has to be on supplemental oxygen. Remember, this is a guy who remains seated at all times. At 13,000 feet, a given volume of air has only about 67% as much oxygen as it would at sea level. My red blood cells were sure to be put to the test.
This was obviously not a recipe for achieving a personal-best marathon time. The only goal was to see if I could get through it, alive and smiling. The time cutoff was 8 ½ hours, and I’d decided I would count anything shy of 8:29 as a victory.
And . . . I finished in 5:54! In 196th Place (out of 509 who finished). They published a separate set of “Flatlander” results (people who don’t live in the Rockies): I was #33 out of 169 Flatlanders! Good enough.
Incidentally: Later in the summer, Leadville has 50-mile and 100-mile trail runs. Seriously. So if you think I’m a nut, come up and watch those guys.
STORY #2: THAT STRANGELY FORMAL FINISH
There’s a half-mile, downhill straightaway to the finish line in downtown Leadville. About three blocks out, I saw four or five young Hispanic boys – probably 13 to 15 years old — wearing tuxedos, about to cross the street in front of me. I’m assuming they’d probably just left a quinceanera party (roughly the Latin American equivalent of a bat mitzvah). They all wanted to “high-five” as I ran by. Not wanting to slow down to dole out high-fives, I yelled, “C’mon. Let’s go!” and motioned for them to start running. They did. About a block later, “we” encounted another group of a half dozen, who also started running with me. And they flanked me the rest of the way to the finish. My impromptu posse.
Surreal, to say the least. Hilarious. Leadville is a rustic mining town and I wouldn’t have guessed there was a tuxedo to be found within 30 miles. And yet, somehow, my finish-line photo looked like that.
STORY #3: THE SUPERFANS:
Coincidentally (sort of), I had five Houston friends in Leadville on race day. Michele and Shane Merz and Mike Short drove me to the start line, pumped me full of pre-race Gatorade, and then spent the day chasing me around the course to cheer me on and offer up more Gatorade, powerbars, Payday bars, “Gu” and general moral support. Their trip to the first checkpoint involved a frantic 1200-foot vertical climb of their own. Apparently they drove back to town and purchased more suitable climbing shoes, then got the bright idea to rent 4-wheeler ATVs. They spent the rest of the day chasing me around on those. I’m pretty sure they had more fun than I did.
One point of interest: Shane and Mike are the founders of MRE Consulting in Houston, which was a sponsor (long story for another day) of the Leadville Race Series, so the start-finish area actually had a banner ad for MRE. Through a combination of Shane and Mike’s VIP status and my own stupidity (lost my assigned timing chip), I wound up wearing race number 3 – a number usually reserved for, e.g., the prior year’s #3 finisher or some other elite runner. I got some perplexed looks back in 196th place.
Rolling into Leadville from Houston during the race was Ned Barnett. He joined the fun at the finish line, just in time to see my black-tie middle-school posse escorting me across the finish line. Huge thanks to all the Superfans for the fun, the moral support and the friendships.
Obviously, this is a post dedicated to my foolishness — not my photography. So thanks to Mike Short for taking my camera and getting several fun shots before, during and after the race. I carried a small camera with me on the course, though I probably should have calculated how much extra energy it would require to tote a 9-ounce camera up and down those trails. A few of the shots are by other racers who were nice enough to stop and take my picture during the race.