Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Leadville 100 Crew and Pacing Duty

I was introduced to "advanced" running and training by my son's soccer coach (and now good friend), Jon Ahern. And later I was introduced to trail and ultra running on something of a dare from my neighbor (and now good friend), Tony Oakes. I guess you could say that is my running tree. I have picked up a lot along the way and made it my own, but those two guys have a lot to do with shaping me as a runner. In that time, I have transformed from a 4:18 "newbie" marathoner to running a 3:13 at the Colorado Marathon and becoming a 50-mile and 100-mile finisher. This weekend, I get to watch as a runner that I have mentored, Chuck Radford, takes on the Leadville 100.

Chuck and I have been co-workers for nearly a decade, but we didn't become good friends until he had a renewed interest in running, in part from watching me grow as a runner. He is without a doubt the most talented runner in our group, but he is also very humble and just wants to be one of the guys. Two things really impress me about Chuck. The first is that he doesn't want to be congratulated for his impressive natural talent, instead wishing to be acknowledged for the hard work, discipline, and patience he puts into training. Many runners wish to be applauded nearly every day for their speed and talent by showing off on impressive training runs and putting up big stats. But, the real reward in running is the hard fought training cycle culminating into a race effort. It is a giant sacrifice to trade weeks and months of training for one shot at a race. When it goes your way, you get about a week of feeling great about yourself. When it doesn't go your way, you feel like crap and often enter into a "revenge" race to somehow make up for the lost effort (which rarely ever works out!). Chuck understands that discipline, hard work, and patience matter more than flashy stats, even though he could go out and execute a run that would blow away 99.9% of humans on any given day.

The other thing that impresses me about Chuck is his toughness. He executes hard runs like no one else that I've witnessed. When it's time to go hard, he goes HARD. And his race efforts almost never disappoint because he can go to places in his mind (the "pain cave") most people don't want to enter. Jon and I are both data geeks and obsess about heart rate data all the time. We've done our best to quantify Chuck, but sometimes all we can do is marvel at his efforts. I have been privileged to see Chuck run to a 2nd place finish at the Colorado Marathon and watch him take on his first 50 miler, where he ignored my advice to go easy and went on to finish in 6th place. (He also went out faster than anticipated at Colorado Marathon in route to his impressive finish.) Oh, and he set the course record at the North Fork 50k this Summer. Like I said, he is a great racer and very hard to quantify.

So, back on point... This week it is my honor to crew and pace for Chuck. I have done unofficial crew duty for a group of buddies doing their first 50 miler last summer, but crewing for a 100 is the big time! And, this will be my first pacing experience. I have my work cut out for me trying to stay with him on Hope Pass, but I secretly hope he is feeling good enough that late in the race to drop me. That would mean his race is going well, even if a little embarrassing for me.

I am excited to be present and vested in the challenge of LT100 without having to run it myself. I understand the emotions and feelings that go along with running a 100, particularly one's first. And I know how hard he has worked to build toward this day. It will be a great joy to watch his year long dream play out. A joy that I hope motivates me some for my remaining weeks of training for the Bear 100. Being a rookie crew member, I am nervous about what the day holds. Leadville came under fire last year for poor race logistics. In response, they have made quite a few changes this year, particularly to the two most important aid stations: Twin Lakes and Winfield. Since it is the first year of these changes, I don't know what to expect. Chuck will likely be in the top 20 runners most of the day, so I hope that allows the crew to stay out front of the mess. Maybe...

I expect Chuck will have a terrific race. He has done nearly everything right along the way. And, his pattern of success is just too impressive to ignore. However, I also think Chuck will find the race less interesting than the journey. Running 100 miles changes a person. I have not done anything in racing like it. Personally, I didn't have any tragic or transcending moments like you often read about. It was just a long, grueling day filled with fortitude, eating (lots of eating!), gratefulness (for all the friends and family that helped me), and pain (near the end). I vividly remember my sister crying when I came into the mile 87 aid station (May Queen) ahead of pace. I had fallen off of pace and they were worried about me, but Jon and I worked hard over the Powerline climb to get back on pace. And, it was the moment when we all realized that this was actually going to happen -- I was going to finish! That was the only moment I recall being emotional. The other impactful memory is how much my daughter got into the whole experience, including wanting to wake a 2 am to watch me start. Running is a selfish sport, but it means the world to me to have my kids see me still taking on challenges and fulfilling my dreams at almost 40 years of age. And, the fact that they enjoy being a part of it is priceless.

At the finish, all I felt was exhaustion. I tried to sneak into a medical tent and steal a nap in a sleeping bag. They caught on and sent me away. And pain. I wanted a doctor to make the pain go away, desperately hoping something was actually wrong with me as I stared at my feet that had swollen like balloons. He concluded that I would live, saying "yep, you just ran 100 miles". Once again, I was sent away. And hunger. I ate the most enjoyable breakfast burrito of my life that morning and I don't even know if it was that good!

The odd thing is that I didn't feel like going out and doing it again right away. Racing has a way of bring a joy to us that becomes addicting. Run a good marathon? Do another one! But not this distance. My sense of accomplishment was full. I nailed it on my first try. I respect the distance and the toll it takes on the body, the mind, and "life". Ken Chlouber, founder of the LT100, is famous for lots of quotes. One of my favorites is: "The biggest distance to conquer in this race is 5 inches... The 5 inches between your ears." And he is right. Finishing isn't that hard if your mind is prepared to battle anything that comes in your way, expecting the unexpected. But if you have any weakness, this distance, this race will find it. Finishing a 100 makes you appreciate just how true those words are, just how mentally tough you are.

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." - Vince Lombardi

All that to say that I know Chuck is ready. His mind is right. That moment when I get to see him cross that finish line totally exhausted and totally fulfilled is going to be a great treat. And, I get to spend a day with good friends and family helping to be part of his journey.


  1. I'm truly grateful for your support and belief in me and the nice words in this post. But more importantly, I am honored that you have been with me so far on this journey and will be seeing me through the entirety of the race. We've solidified a good friendship over the years and this adventure can only make it stronger.

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  3. Well put Aj! You both are good eggs & I'm proud to know you guys. Have fun & see you at mile 60 :)