At the time of this post, I’m 42 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days old. I weigh 10 lbs more than I did in High School and 30 lbs less than when I was in college. I have a bad back, bad knee and bad shoulder. I need coffee in the morning and plenty of sleep at night. I don’t subscribe to a diet or swear allegiance to a work out program. After a crash in The Leadville Trail 100 mtn bike race last August in which that bad shoulder became worse (torn rotator), I got up, finished the race, had surgery and contemplated my next move.
It’s been said that the best way to overcome the fear associated with a negative experience is to get back on the preverbal horse. Failures and set-backs are opportunities to either give in or get better. My life is built upon a foundation of challenge and effort. I have always believed that limitations are more perception than reality and that to approach my potential it is necessary to test myself against my perceived limits. Doing so requires bravery and develops perseverance. Though I knew the road would be long and the challenge severe, I decided the best next move would be to sign up for the most difficult physical challenge of my life. And so, I signed up for Leadman.
Leadman is a series of 5 races consisting of 50 and 100 mile bike races as well as 10k, 26.2 mile and 100 mile runs. All of the races start in the Colorado mountain town of Leadville and take place mostly above 10,000 feet in elevation. Only about 46% of the people who begin this epic event will actually finish it. On August 21st, after 100 miles and nearly 27 hours of running, I crossed the finish line of the final race in the series, stumbled to my hotel room and unitentionally passed out on the bathroom floor. I was a Leadman!
I was in an unfamiliar place of pain and discomfort. During the race my body began resisting at about the 50 mile mark – 24 miles further than I had ever run in my life. My mind soon followed, providing valid and convincing arguments to stop. My feet were bleeding. I could barely lift my legs. It was exactly where I wanted to be! Every painful step I took was one step farther than I had ever gone before. It was a tremendous opportunity. So often we recirculate through a routine without progression towards what we might ultimately be capable of. Leadman was forcing me up against my physical and emotional thresholds, raising the bar one excrutiatingly short shuffle at a time.
All told, the events of the 2016 Leadman took me 46 hours, 24 minutes and 34 seconds. I’d covered 282.4 miles with over 40,000 feet of elevation gain. I am not a physical specimen, nor an elite athlete. I finished this epic event on sheer will and determination. It took everything I had plus some that I didn’t. Now, after almost two months and the loss of 9 toenails (not sure how that 10th one survived?), I can look back and reflect on the experience knowing that, in those 46+ hours of suffering, I exposed myself to the real possibility of quitting but never gave in to the temptation.
In my work as a professional firefighter I’ve seen miracles and I’ve seen tragedy. I know that life is a delicate balance of both, full of potential but burdened by its unknown and inescapable end. It is up to us what we make of the moments we are afforded. Adversity and failure are too often looked at negatively as things to be avoided. However, adversity is really just challenge. Failure is an opportunity. Had I not crashed my bike, I would have never been faced with the adversity of the rehabilitation process. I wouldn’t have confronted the challenge of “getting back on the horse,” and I would certainly not be a Leadman!
“You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.” ~ Ken Chlouber, Founder of the Leadville Trail 100.