It’s been a week since I paced Jerry Armstrong at the Leadville 100. Some details are fading from memory but others are sharp.
Saturday afternoon, before he came through the Twin Lakes Aid Station where I would relieve Mark of pacing duties until Fish Hatchery (around mile 76) I relaxed for a few minutes and made a phone call. The person on the other end is not familiar with Ultra running except what she’s heard me discuss. As I sat in the back of my Durango, stretched out with the tailgate open to catch the slight breeze, I talked about the people at Leadville.
This year’s race had more than a 1000 entrants. Organizers expected about 800 runners to toe the Start Line. Ultimately, a little less than half that number finished.
But that’s not what really struck me.
The sheer number of people at each Aid Station was astonishing. Winfield, the turn-around Aid Station beneath Hope Pass, felt like an outdoor festival. Families camped beneath trees on camp chairs and blankets. Each crew group had multiple coolers; at least one for their runner and another for the moms, dads, children and grandparents, nieces and nephews, friends and significant others. Babies were carried in front packs or backpacks and there were a few Burley strollers onsite. A line of cars almost a mile long lined the road coming in to Winfield, creating a gauntlet for tired runners to navigate as they headed to the check-in tent at the turn-around point.
Pacers and crew loitered about. A general buzz of laughter and happy conversation wafted through the valley. Every time a runner came down the mountain and entered the shoot to the check-in tent a wave of cheering and applause went up from the crowd.
Kids caught the excitement of the moment and danced around. Toddlers squirmed on grandparent’s laps when a parent –tired and sweat-soaked- came into view.
When each runner left their crew packed up the gear and drove back to Twin Lakes where they repeated the exercise.
At Twin Lakes the parking lot held multiple RV’s and campers. Large family groups with matching shirts stood on street corners or cooked food on portable stoves for hungry children. Smiles of excitement at seeing their runner at mile 60 were on the face of every person there.
I told the person on the other end of the line about the people that turned out to cheer for the racers and how supportive they were of their runner, whether it was a son, daughter, mother or father, girlfriend or boyfriend. It didn’t matter if the crew members were runners or not; they all desperately wanted their runner to succeed in the quest to finish a 100-mile run.
Everyone in the crew understood how much it meant to the runners to be at the event and how much hard work (time, training, nutrition and dedication) occurred in the months prior to the event.
I scanned the faces of runners as they came through each Aid Station. Each of them looked for their crew and eyes lit up when they saw familiar faces. No matter how tired they were, each and every runner picked their feet up a little higher when they heard their name called out by those that showed up to support them.
I talked to a lot of people in Leadville last weekend. I knew at least a dozen people at the race and met at least a dozen more that I’m glad to be acquainted with. There’s a certain brand of crazy that drives a person to push their body past reasonable limits, to be sure. But there’s another, more powerful brand of love and support from friends and family that says “you can do this; I believe in you”.
As I talked on the phone that afternoon it occurred to me how support comes in so many ways. I’m sure some athletes didn’t have blood relatives at the race for any number of reasons. But the emotional support of people that are loved and respected counts just as much, if not more, on a spirit quest such as this.