With Leadville looming a terrifyingly exciting month away, I’d like to take a moment to share a story from a month or so ago. ‘Cause if I’m being honest, right now that seems a lot better than trying to think through and write about the overwhelming prospect of running 100 miles.
I live in downtown Middle of Nowhere, Republic of Texas, and I must say it’s a lovely place to be most times of the year. Our population ranges from ~60 on a slow week to ~1000 on a wild one. There’s no cell service, our driveway consists of 7.8 miles of gnarly, rocky dirt, and the nearest large town (aka walmart) is 70 minutes away by car – just a few more hours by the stagecoach service that I’m still waiting to have instituted.
In the midst of this landscape that looks like the abandoned set of an old black & white western, there stands one tiny little outpost: Rocksprings. And boy has there never been a more aptly named town. Ft. Worth had the fort, Mineral Falls has healing waters, and Rocksprings has springs… of rocks… everywhere. Outside of a Thai restaurant open for lunch a few days a week, the “Devil’s Sinkhole,” and a statue of a goat on the main square, there’s not exactly a ton going on.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble
That being said, there are a few tried & true eateries that anchor the Rocksprings foodchain. One is KingBurger, famous for its milkshakes and Americana fare. The other is Vacquero’s Cafe, known for its steeply-priced but delicious jalapeno burgers and grease-laden dollar tacos on Tuesdays. Naturally, the two restaurants sit side by side each other, bringing every smalltown-competition stereotype to life in vivid technicolor. Naturally, with Rocksprings being a tantalizing 27 miles away, I’ve always wanted to run in on a Tuesday and partake in the terrific taco fiesta. Naturally, it seemed that the best course of action was to put a run to Rocksprings on the training plan in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer.
The dream set, a friend of mine and I took to planning the logistics of the epic quest. Having christened the event the “Rocksprings Rumble,” we set up 2 fully stocked aid stations along the route (aka a cooler filled with ginger ale and a smattering of other carbs), invited all of our camp community to attend via whatever mode of transportation they could find, and dreamt of how we were the pioneering few of what would surely become Texas’ most popular race.
The Rumble proved to be everything our minds had ever rambled it would be. Hour after hour of putting one foot in front of the other over pavement that grew more like an everlasting toaster as the journey went on. The occasional big Texas truck sailing through the mirage on the horizon and then flying by at 80 miles an hour, the driver surely thinking “What in tarnation?” as he saw my short-shorts wearing, hydration vest toting self go by.
After what seemed like a lifetime and a half from when I set out, I finally rounded the last turn into Rocksprings and glimpsed the finish line marked by the Vaquero’s sign. Never had that old signpost looked more beautiful. There I was reunited with Grable and Steve, the brave bikers who rounded out the enterprising roster of the Rumble, along with a multitude of camp friends and a healthy platter of the legendary tacos. A dream had come true, and our stomachs were content… for a while, at least.
Looking back on this legendary event along with a couple other recent long runs, there are 2 taquitos of truth that have remained with me.
The first: I’m more of a people person that I realized, and on my own, my hopes at Leadville are minuscule at best. After so many hours solo, I get lonely and my morale sinks. But when Steve and Grable ride by 6 miles from tacos and offer encouragement, when I run into friends out hiking while on a long run around camp, when I meet new folks while on a training run in a different place, something happens. Some sort of spike in energy, a refreshing of my spirit that can’t quite be quantified. It’s that inescapable “human factor,” that element that takes a mediocre experience and turns it into something extraordinary. That said, I’m beyond thankful to have an amazing collection of friends and family coming up to Leadville to crew, pace, and encourage. If I make it back to 6th & Harrison, they’ll be the ones responsible.
The second: 100 miles will never feel good. This seems like a no brainer, but it’s been a large paradigm shift for me. You can train to where a 5k becomes easy, then a 10k, and heck, even a 50k can even feel pretty darn fine. But at some point over the course of 100 miles, it’s just going to suck. And then keep on sucking. Hence, I’ve realized that rather than attempt to train so that I can somehow make the whole race feel great, I have to instead train so that the pain feels great. The founder of the Leadville 100, Ken Chlouber, has told runners in his mountain man wisdom to “Make friends with pain, and then you’ll never be alone.” Pain and I aren’t exactly besties yet, but we’re certainly working on it.
Perhaps, then, the takeaways we see for life are rather short & sweet. Go out and eat greasy tacos with your friends and see all that the communities around you have to offer. Encircle yourself with a crew who brings new life to your weary self and then go out and be that spark to someone else. Do everything you can to train for the life you find yourself in, but always respect and be excited for the inevitable moment when you’ll reach the end of your rope. That’s when the adventure truly begins.