Hi all – I gave it a valiant effort. What started as a crazy ‘thing to do’ in December, is now complete. I had been looking at trying the Leadman Leadville Race Series Competition for 10 years now since my first 100 mile MTB race in 2007. It begins with a weeder race, the Marathon in June. I trained and survived it. Then the 50 mile MTB Silver Rush in July. Check. Then last weekend, the Leadville Trail 100 MTB on Saturday, followed by the 10K the next day, Sunday. Check, check. Then comes the monster: The Leadville Trail 100 Run this past weekend. It was an experience I will never forget. The gun went off at 4:00am Saturday morning and it was glorious, as a stream of 1000 runners took off to try and complete an epic adventure. The first 13.5 miles were amazing as we ran together in a stream of headlamps lighting the trail out of town and around Turquoise Lake. Being greeted by the crew team at May Queen aid station I was feeling ‘high’ and running strong – felt like I was floating. Next challenge, up and over Sugarloaf Pass. Felt good and continued to run off and on up the pass. At mile mark 22ish, coming down off of the pass, a section called ‘powerline’, I tweaked something in my left knee on a long steep downhill. After the descent, I continued to run through the pain on the level areas. Any section of climbing was relatively pain free. After the Outward-Bound aid station, this pattern of pain continued. Level areas and uphill sections I could power through with strength. However, every time I had a descent on the way to mile 40, the pain would ramp up significantly. When I began the more severe descent into Twin Lakes aid station the pain ramped up to the point where I couldn’t tolerate any weight going forward downhill. I found that descending backwards the pain would subside. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t good – it didn’t feel like cramps, spasms, or anything like that. I’ve powered through pain and fatigue many times in different race situations – this felt different to me and I began to wonder what this would mean for the rest of the race. At Twin Lakes, my crew team encouraged me greatly and sent me off through the marsh and through the river section and up the big climb. I powered up the 4 miles, 3,400 ft. climb to Hope Pass, steady and strong, felt good (unbelievable course!). I was still on a 25-hour course finish, better than anticipated, as I topped out at Hope Pass. Crossing over the pass, the view was stunning – on top of the world. Didn’t stay long and began the 2,900 ft. descent to the halfway point. Here is where the pain in my left knee became unbearable -immediately, on every downward step. I could not go downhill forward, not even at a slow walk. Every time my foot hit the ground the pain was crazy. I tried for a couple switchbacks to try different foot strike, sideways, turn my feet, hold my knee in different positions as I bore some weight – etc. No go…
So, I began descending going backwards on the switchback single-track (21% grade for 2.25 miles down before it begins to level off again.) The section from Hope Pass to the halfway point – Winfield aid station (5 miles) should take 30-40 minutes at the most. After a frustrating mile of backwards descent and frequent stopping due to pain, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to Winfield. These ‘short 5 miles’ took me 2 hours. As I descended backwards managing the pain, I knew my race was over and I would have to pull out. I would oscillate between anger and sadness. I had trained so hard all summer for this and this was the final event of the Leadville Leadman series – I just had to make it to the finish line. If I could just walk, I could speed walk the 50 miles back to the finish line and make it. When I finally made it into Winfield (still two hours+ ahead of cutoff time) I had decided to pull out.
At the 50-mile mark, every runner is allowed to have a pacer to carry water, food, clothes, whatever is needed for the return trip. My first pacer was Dewayne Niebur, a family practice Doctor and experienced in emergency medicine. Isn’t that a God thing? We decided to reassess and see what can be done to try and get me back on the course. I told Dewayne my difficulty and he spoke peace to me. He examined me – stretched me – massaged me – we made some trial runs downhill – no go. We borrowed some Kinesiology tape and gave it a run – no go. A PT helped out and dry needled me on the spot (ouch!) – no go. I made one emotionally charged attempt to run harder into the pain – no go. At that point, I knew, it was over. Back on the descent off Hope Pass to Winfield I had many thoughts go through my mind. Besides the anger, frustration, and sadness God would give me flashes of gratitude and perspective thoughts. For one, I didn’t want to continue to run through the pain and cause lasting damage. I still don’t know the extent of any lasting damage at this point. I didn’t want to ruin my knee for all the other things I love to do (hiking, biking, etc) just to finish this race and Leadman goal. If I had kept going, with several difficult descents still ahead, I could have wrecked my knee for good – and still possibly not finished. Two, an overwhelming ebb and flow thought would fill me as I tried to get down the pass: There are so many things (blessings) God has given to me and so many things I enjoy, all of that is on full display for me to engage and enjoy regardless of not finishing a race.
So it will be OK. I was so thankful for that thought as I fought to get into Winfield Aid Station. Third, and this is kind of funny… I started turning my thoughts to my crew team who had come up for the weekend to pace me and to support and encourage me – Deone my wife, Morgan my daughter, Dewayne Niebur (pace me from Winfield to Twin Lakes up and over Hope Pass again), Ryan DeGroot (who was born for this kind of event -pace me the next 17 miles from Twin Lakes to Outward Bound), Erik Newhouse (pace me through the night up and over Sugarloaf Pass) and Joanne Niebur and Morgan Quist (pace me over the last section to the finish line…) and Peter Ruh, a constant encourager. This was my thought: I want to have a pizza party at High Mountain Pies in Leadville with my support crew. (We did end up there about 3 hours or more later…)
So… I’m still working through my disappointment of not finishing this goal for the year. A one and done, always was from the beginning. I turned 50 this year and this was my mid-life crisis. Not such a bad thing – now my mid-life crisis is over. I can continue to do what I love – biking. I can continue to compete in MTB events and jump into tours with friends, Deone and my family. Over time, the thoughts of gratitude will overwhelm the disappointment. During my training runs this past year, I found out why I hadn’t run a single mile over the past 30 years since college – I hate it. I don’t enjoy running at all. Isn’t that funny? So here are some neat things that happened for me and around me in the aftermath of saying at the 50-mile mark, “I’m done.” I was the recipient of many a runner passing me on the descent from Hope Pass wanting to help me, encourage me, and get me down safely. People at the aid station were helpful to me. Dewayne was amazing and just the right person God had in mind for me to meet at the 50-mile mark. Dewayne and I hitched a ride out of Winfield back to our crew team in Twin Lakes and met a wonderful woman, recent nursing grad from University of Michigan, and our conversation with her was delightful. When I saw Deone, Morgan, and the crew at Twin Lakes and they knew I was done… they surrounded me with love and affirmation. That makes me smile and made me cry. I am especially thankful for my wife Deone who supported me already in early December 2017 in the decision to give this Leadman thing a try.
I am so thankful to Deone who has supported me and spent 5 summer weekends of her year this year crewing for me at every race. She is amazing and now its time to make up for some lost time and invest more intentionally with her in the things she loves and enjoys. Ryan, my pacer who was to partner me over the next 16 miles and who was born to run, found someone else who needed a pacer through the night and paced them for 24 miles from Twin Lakes to May Queen aid stations – instead of me, he helped another person finish the race… And Erik was able to support Ryan. Wonderful. Deone and Morgan – thank you! Dewayne and Joanne, thank you for your support from early Friday to the end. Peter, thanks for being a support from the gun start to the end and getting our pizza party kicked off. And Ryan and Erik – for coming up and giving your weekend to help and support me. I’m thankful!!!
Thanks for allowing me the space to write some of my thoughts and feelings. This morning early already I have placed all my papers, time split goals, race notes and bibs, etc in a folder and they are filed in a file cabinet. I’m reminded of John Ortberg’s title of one of his books, When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box. I like that. Builds perspective. It was a fun goal for this year – a once in a lifetime attempt.
Peter said to me after returning to Twin Lakes, “Nice work Mark – you ran the entire course.” In a way, he is right. It’s an out and back and I ran the course. Deone, Morgan, and all of my support crew said, “I am proud of you.” And many others as well – thank you for that encouragement, you all make me cry – God has blessed me! Thankful for such wonderful love! And my Crestview Family has prayed me through from the beginning!
So here it is… God’s love is constant and steady. His unfolding plan for my life certainly goes on and it isn’t hampered in the least by races finished or unfinished. The blessings of my God, my family and friends are a constant source of my joy – To God be the Glory both now and forever!
People have already said after I have said, “I’m not signing up for this thing again” (Leadman or the Leadville Trail 100 Run) – “Never say never.” Well, I’m quite confident when I say, “Never.” Why run when you can bike?
See you on the trail!