The Start Line

Why?

That’s always the big question we need to answer, isn’t it? And when specifically applied to this blog, the question becomes “Why are you writing?” The best answer I can give is that I’m writing to share stories, stories mostly related to running & the Leadville 100 (seeing as that will be dominating much of my life for the next 8 months). But I’m writing to share other stories as well. Stories from the everyday, from the people around me, from the moment a photo captures. I believe there’s power in story, and I’m here to give voice to that.

Why Context Matters to the Story

One lesson that’s been burned into my mind over the past years is that the context of a story matters, and matters immensely. This theme gets played over and over while working at an adventure camp. When all you know of a camper’s story is his current insistence on not listening to you and his uncanny ability to always wander off 20 seconds into a hike, he’s often nothing more than an annoyance. But when you know his context, the backstory of how his mom is a drug addict and his grandma is raising him and how he really, really loves puppies, something bordering on magical happens. Suddenly, you care. The context brings him to life, takes your understanding deeper, and plants the seed of caring within you.

So, my first step in this whole endeavor is to provide a bit of context. Perhaps it’ll lead you to care just a bit more. Perhaps it won’t. Either way, I know I’ve got to give it a shot.

Once Upon a Time…

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The nerdy teen in question

…there was a socially-awkward high school senior who stumbled upon the story of a strange group of superheroes called “ultramarathoners.” For this nerdy teen, the idea of a mere marathon seemed overwhelming. And now this – Running 100 miles? He couldn’t believe it. Surely this was fiction… Right?

That’s all it took. An idea was planted deep within his mind: “How far can I push myself? What is my body capable of?” And so this young man (who if you haven’t guessed by now is… the author! Shocker, I know) began a journey that would shape the upcoming years of his life in tremendous ways. With dreams of running through mountains dancing about his mind, he signed up for a 15 mile trail race in a far-off land known as “Leadville” and began to run the streets of his rural, very flat, midwestern hometown day in & day out.

Enter: Leadville

A key character in this story is the town of Leadville. Take all of the legends you’ve heard about the wild west, add 10,000 feet of elevation, throw in a couple of crazed trail runners, and you’ll end up with something that tastes a bit like this incredible town that I’ve grown to love.

Founded in 1877, Leadville was one of many small settlements built high in the rockies by men with lofty dreams and hearty spirits. Unlike many of those settlements, the men in Leadville actually struck it big, finding gold, silver and other precious minerals in abundance. In three years, Leadville’s population had boomed to 30,000+. The law was about as present as the oxygen, with saloons, dance halls & brothels readily available to every man. The main magnate in town, Horace Tabor, withheld no luxury, even opening an opera house downtown that was billed as the “finest between St. Louis & San Francisco.” To top it all off, a push was made to make Leadville the capital of Colorado as this, the highest incorporated city in America, rocketed to becoming the second wealthiest city in the state.

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The Tabor Opera House, opened in 1879

Seeing as how Leadville is not the capital of Colorado, you can probably guess what happened next. The boom ended in 1893 with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act, and though mining continued for other minerals, Leadville’s opulence took a stark decline. A century of hard life later, Leadville’s sole remaining mine and major employer – the Climax Molybdenum Mine – took an economical hit & eventually closed. The town was under the threat of becoming another ghostown consumed by the Rockies.

The 100 Mile Cure

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An aptly-named bar in downtown Leadville

Needless to say, Leadville was primed for a jolt of life. With mine workers & their families leaving in droves, it needed something, anything, to keep it on the map. It was then that a mine employee by the name of Ken Chlouber posited an idea as crazy as the town’s history: to host a 100 mile trail race. The medics thought he would kill someone. The thirst aid center was ready for anything. The mountains laughed at the idea. And yet 45 people showed up for that first race in 1983. None of them died. It was the genesis of Leadville’s new lifeline.

Over the next 30 years, Leadville’s story took quite the upswing. Tourism saw a rise from folks drawn for the races and the museums. The Molybdenum mine reopened in 2012, bringing a multitude of jobs back to the area. And to top it all off, Ken Chlourber’s crazy 100 mile race was experiencing its own boom. Races of different distances were added, a mountain bike series that drew Lance Armstrong was created, and a prominent role in the book Born to Run brought Leadville into the hands & minds of thousands of wannabe trail runners, including one young lad in a rural, very flat, midwestern town. The once near-dead mining town had used its self-proclaimed “grit, guts, & determination” to become an endurance mecca no one ever saw coming.

One Start Line Leads to Another

In the summer of 2011, I ventured to Leadville to run the aforementioned 15 mile “Heavy Half.” My family drove high up in the mountains, laughed nervously at a sign that read “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again,” and finally passed through the shadow of Colorado’s highest peaks as we arrived at the start line in downtown Leadville. 19th century tenacity fuzed with the buzz of hundreds of trail runners, and a few hours later (and on 2 very sore legs) I found myself falling madly in love with the town, the people who built it, and those crazy folks who continued to grow its legend.

To say running became integral in my life after that would be a gross understatement. This is not just because I think it’s obnoxiously fun, but because, as Eric Lidell (featured in Chariots of Fire) so perfectly said, “when I run I feel His presence.” I feel most alive when I’m running. It offers a rare situation in my life where I know, without a doubt, that I’m doing exactly what I was made to do.

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Bibs from the Leadville Race Series

Over the following years I continued to push my mileage bit by bit. I was fortunate enough to run XC at my college for a season, learn a ton, and realize how much I lacked in the speed department. I ran a handful of marathons and eventually moved to the Hill Country of Texas after graduation. It was in this most unexpected of places where I got plugged into one heck of a trail running community and was blessed to begin working with a coach who’s a living legend in the trial community. Throughout all of these developments, Leadville dwelled in my mind, with dreams of running the big one seeming more tangible with every new mile that passed beneath my feet.

In 2016, those big dreams took a hurtling jump forward, bringing the Leadville 100 to the forefront of my mind. Thanks to some stellar coaching and easy access to gnarly trails, I was able to finish a couple ultramarathons. Each one could be written about in great detail, but I’ll try be succinct and wrap this up. Since the Leadville 100 has moved to a lottery system, runners can only get in through the luck of the online draw, by winning an age group in a preceding race in the series, or by finishing a race in the series, throwing their number into a hat at the awards ceremony, and hoping for their number to be pulled as the lucky winner of one of 5 lottery coins given out to finishers of the race in question. With dreams of getting one such slot, I entered a race the Leadville series hosts in Texas. I finished, miraculously enough. Afterwards, I thought I might never stand upright again as I laid like a deadman not far from finish line. Then I thought for sure I had died and gone to heaven when I received one of the 5 lottery slots after the race. The dream was coming true. I had a slot in the Leadville 100.

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The golden coin granting entry into the Leadville 100

There you have it. I found gold at the end of the rainbow marking this unexpected trail. Now all I have to do is get over a knee injury, come up with a plan to fuel my temperamental stomach for hour upon hour of running, and figure out how the heck to stay awake for ~22 hours… while running 100 miles. Sounds like the components of a pretty rad story, eh? I can’t wait to write all about it as we head out from the starting line.

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