Monday, August 20, 2007

Leadville 100

In the summer of 2003 I traveled to Leadville, Colorado to compete in the “Race across the Sky” as the third leg of my Grand Slam attempt. This particular event is unique in that it is held on a course that is generally easy but because of the altitude more than half of the competitors never make it to the finish line. All of the western 100’s scared me to death of but this specific one concerned me the most. Not only did I face the challenge of running 100 miles but I also faced the real risk of death in the form of pulmonary edema.

I can remember looking at the mountains as I made the drive down Interstate 70 on my way from Denver to Leadville. I was stunned by their ruggedness yet enjoyed their sheer beauty. I knew I was close to my exit when in the distance I could see an enormous mountain seemingly calling my name. It was gigantic, enormous, and rugged and it had friends. By the time I made it to Leadville my eyes were open wide and my heart was beating out of control. I felt the first effects of the altitude as soon as I stepped out of my car when I became quickly sluggish and was overcome by a pounding headache. I knew right then that I had a lot of work to do over my two week stay in order to acclimate.

I had the most amazing time in Leadville, as I was alone for one week with no responsibility and no one looking for me or depending on me for anything. I climbed mountains, read books, and exercised constantly. That was it, that was all I had and I loved it! The following week my brother and mother joined me and though I now had company I still had a blast.

Though I had acclimated for two weeks I still felt sluggish the day of the race and had some concerns about that lack of energy. I knew the day that I signed up that I would face new challenges in a race in this environment and would have to find a way to overcome them. Only half of the 500 participants would finish the race and if I were to be one of them I had to dig deep inside and find something I never knew I had.

The course is fairly easy and flat for the first 13 miles yet I struggled to get there in a decent time. I literally did not have the energy to move as fast as I normally would. The thin air sapped the power right out of me so I was forced to run slow and consistent and hope it would be enough. Over the next 10 miles there was one major climb up Sugarloaf Mountain and then the course flattened out once again. The next 7 miles I was bored to death on the route from the Fish Hatchery to Half-moon Campground because there was absolutely nothing but asphalt and dirt roads in front of me. My mind was weak and I was forced into a walk for several miles. Once through the campground the runners were led back out onto single track until reaching the 40-mile mark at Twin Lakes. I enjoyed this section and was able to run most of it into the small town but lurking just ahead was Hope Pass.

There was only a total of 10 miles to get over and back Hope and then back into town but it was a brutal 10 miles. The climb up was long but not very steep. The climb back? Well I have no words to explain how tough the trip back over Hope was but I can assure you it was Hell even though I felt like I was climbing to Heaven. I was told in advance that if I could make it over and back Hope Pass within the time limit that I would finish. I had no idea just how hard that would be. When I reached the top of Hope Pass going outward bound the weather turned ugly. I was not prepared for the hail, wind and rain that were beating down on my half naked body. It was just another challenge and in fact it would not be my most difficult challenge of the race.

I did make it over and back Hope Pass and was well on my way to finish when all of the sudden my spirits dropped and thoughts of quitting entered my mind. The trail I traveled was one in which I knew because I traveled the same trail on the way out. This time, however, it was dark and it seemed to never end which in turn disappointed me and left me in despair. Once I finally reached the aid station at Half-moon campground I was determined to quit but first I decided to sit and think a while. I looked around at the others in the aid station and saw real pain and real injuries both of which I did not have. I had no excuse to quit so I forced myself up and made myself run. When I reached my brother a couple of miles up the road I told him that I had almost quit and he told me that if I did he would have kicked my butt.

After that other than facing a few snow flakes on Sugarloaf Mountain and some tendonitis on the top of my foot I had no trouble getting back into town to finish. It’s a great race but hard as hell. I gained memories that I will never forget and gained a great respect for those that can give their best effort in these conditions.

Why write about this you may ask? Well I had a few friends compete in this very same race last weekend, some made it and some didn’t. I know everyone that participated did their best and though only half finished each was successful and each has something to be proud of. There are a lot of factors that we as individuals have no control of that can effect the outcome of our races. The only thing that matters is that deep down inside we know we gave our best effort. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, it only matters what you know.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Crewing for a Champion

In the world of a person who lives far away from me lays the dreams of a champion that will soon be realized. What does it take to be a champion? It takes hard work, passion and a competitive spirit willing to risk all in order to make it to the finish line first. In the minds of most Lisa Bliss was not a favorite to win Badwater but she shocked the world. A pretty young girl who smiles all of the time yet has a burning desire to succeed and will risk all to do just that. She welcomes all into her world but on the racecourse she is a fierce competitor. While she talks, smiles and giggles she runs with purpose and the heart of a lion.

When Lisa Bliss asked me to be a part of her Badwater team in 2007 I accepted her offer without hesitation. She is someone who immediately gained my trust, put me at ease and accepted me for who I am without judgement. She saw through all of the barriers and disguises that I put up and looked directly into my heart and saw things that others missed. She is a very nice person who gives everyone a chance.

We first met when I paced her at Western States in 2005. While she had a successful race I walked away feeling as though I had failed her. I had promised her that I would do my best to help her achieve a sub-24 hour finish and I walked away knowing deep inside that I could have given her more. Since that day I’ve spent all of my time waiting for a second chance. A chance that would make it all okay. Badwater 2007 would give me that second chance.

The most difficult task for me and probably the others as well would be to find the courage to be a part of a team of people who barely knew each other. Though we did not know one another Lisa trusted us to care for her and to guide her safely across the desert while also making sure we cared for ourselves as well. Though fearful I had no doubt that the five of us would mesh together and strive for the common goal of getting Lisa to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Read more

Glenn Tachiyama's Photos
Lisa Bliss' Photos
Lisa's Blog
Badwater results
Click here to make a donation to Lisa's Badwater Charity