Trails and Trials
7.7.07 was supposed to be the "most blessed" day ever, or something like that. Woops. I guessed I missed the memo.
As the sun was peering over the mountains in the East on the seventh day of the seventh month of 2007, my friend, Marla, and I drove my friend's Ford Taurus down the campsite driveway toward the race headquarters for our big event of the day: the Leadville Heavy-Half and Full marathon (Marla running the latter and I the former).
Leadville, CO sits at 10,100 feet above sea level. The air is thin, the whiskey runs free and the mountains surround this little historical mining town with majesty and power. Doc Holliday and Jesse James both inhabited this mountain town back in the 19th century, and I visited the historical saloon where they gambled. Leadville has a couple of famously hard trail races and I had the privilege of participating in one of them: the 15 mile "half" marathon. 7.5 miles uphill to 13,200 feet and then back down. I was neither prepared, nor feeling confident about this race. Four hours? Five hours? I had no idea how long this race would take me. Would I even finish? I was truly placing my faith in God to bring me to the finish line without collapsing on the 13,000 foot peak.
Despite the fact that I tried to convince myself that I was merely going to attempt to competitively hike this 15 mile race, my nerves were jittery. I made a couple runners' stops at the john and we were on our way. With the sun shining incredibly brightly directly in my line of sight, I was exiting the driveway very slowly and cautiously. Not cautiously enough, apparently. I failed to notice a telephone pole directly in front of the car. I turned the car right into it. Marla yelled "stop" but it was too late. The damage was done. So, with an hour to go before the race, I had to deal with the reality that I just drove my friend's Taurus into a telephone pole (a pole, mind you, that was litterally within the bounds of the driveway we were driving on). Of course, my mind immediately wandered to the financial damage that I had just done. I nailed the bumper, fender and headlight. But, I put it behind me and we made our way to the race starting line.
As I looked around, I noticed that nearly all of the other runners were decked out in the type of gear that only experienced marathoners, trail runners and ultra-racers would be wearing. I figured I was in over my head and was just praying that I would be able to finish the race respectably, but after having the fender bender and a less than adequate night's sleep the previous night, I wasn't so sure. The gun went off and all 500 of us started making our way up the mountain.
At about mile three, after Marla and I parted ways for our respective race courses, I was running alone and I noticed a couple women running ahead of me. "As long as I don't let any more women pass me, I'll be just fine," I thought. Immediately after those words filled my mind, two women passed me, one to my right, the other to my left. Dangit. There goes that. I was just running to make it to the first water/aid station. It appeared at about mile 3.5 (there were no mile markers). The entire race had been uphill so far, but to my surprise, I was running about a 10 minute pace. I snagged a couple snacks, some drinks and my confidence boosted a bit. I started to find the runners high. The worries of the morning were long gone and I was feeling saturated by the beauty of the environment and the freedom and clear mindedness that comes with running. I began passing a person here and another person there. At about mile 6 we were making out way up a very steep switchback, with about 1200 feet of elevation to go before we peaked out at 13,200.
Sooner than I expected, I arrived at the halfway point (7.5) and slipped out a "hallelujah." I was really surprised by my own time (1:55). This meant one thing and one thing only in my mind at that point: I could somehow break 3 hours. I downed my drinks and banana and began my controlled fall down the mountain. One hour later, I crossed the finish line, breaking three hours and somehow obliterating my modest goal of 4-5 hours.
So, despite the trials of the morning, I somehow dominated the trails. Stealing a quote from Eric Liddell, I genuinely felt God's pleasure during that race.