I hopped on a plane on Thursday. This was the first flight in many years for me. And it was the furthest west I've ever traveled. Destination: Denver, CO. My final destination was about two and half hours southwest of Denver to a town called Leadville.
Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States at an altitude of 10,152 feet above sea level. This small town has a population of just over 2,000 people year round. What was once a mining town is now a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Runners, cyclists, hikers and campers are attracted to this town during the summer months. There is a series of running and mountain bike races ranging from a 10k to the 100 mile races.
I woke up at 4am eastern time on Thursday and made it to the airport for my 7:30am flight to Denver. I got on the plane without a moment to spare. I arrived in Denver at 9 am local time. That's where I met up with a few others that were running that weekend also. After picking up a rental car, we headed to Whole Foods for lunch and to pick up some food that wouldn't be available in Leadville.
I have met friends online that have lost weight. This trip was organized to meet up with all these people. These people all have amazing stories and have overcome major obstacles to get where they are today. Many couldn't walk up a flight a stairs a couple years ago and here we are in Colorado about run up a mountain at high altitude. To meet these people was surreal, it's like meeting your favorite celebrities in person.
We spent all day Thursday and Friday hanging out and walking around Leadville. We ate tons of great plant based foods and had great conversations. Some conversations were very colorful, some that only people that were overweight would really understand. All this while, we all had this race on Saturday looming over our heads. I don't think anyone knew what to really expect the next day.
There were 12 to 15 of us running. Most were running the heavy-half marathon, which was 15.5 miles with 3,000'+ of elevation gain. Then there were 4 of us running the full marathon, 26.2 miles with 6,333' of elevation gain. The air was filled with excitement at the start line. After taking tons of pictures and the national anthem, the gun went off.
Our entire group at the starting line.
The run starts immediately going uphill. And keeps going uphill. After mile two and where the marathon splits from the half, that's when the mountain running started. Every time I felt like I was getting to the top, the trail would turn and go further up. This went on for the first six miles, with the exception on one downhill portion.
During this race, my feelings were all over the place. On every climb, I felt like I wouldn't finish. On the downhills, I felt really good and thought I'd finish in a decent time. This is the first race I had where those feelings shifted so much. Typically, I hit a mid-race low that may last a couple miles but I get over it and finish. This race had me guessing until I had 5 miles left.
On my way to the top, Mosquito Pass (13,185' above sea level), the winds were blowing at an excess of over 50 mph. It was blowing so hard that I actually got blown into a snow bank. The switchbacks up to Mosquito Pass (13,185' above sea level) seemed endless. When I summited, I had 4 hours left to finish the race. I was pretty exhausted at that point but I knew I wanted to cross that finish line. I made good time back through the checkpoints. My time significantly slowed when I hit a major climb with just over 6 miles left in the race. The climb was brutal and it had a lot of people demoralized and panting for air.
30 minutes later, I made it to the final checkpoint. Race volunteers told me I had 5.3 miles left and two hours to finish it. That's when I got happy and knew I'd finish. I knew there was only one more uphill climb but it was nothing like what I had just done. So, I got to running at a decent pace.
I can't explain the feeling of not only crossing the finish line but crossing it with all my friends waiting there for me. This was not just a race, this was a bunch of former fat guys taking on a challenge that they never even imagined they could do. Just a few years ago, we would circle the parking lot to find the closest parking space to the grocery store. Now, we voluntarily ran up a mountain at high altitude.
None of us won any money or got the podium but we all walked away completing a challenge that seemed unfathomable just a short time ago. I gained so much from this weekend spent in Colorado. What were once considered friends are now family. What was once considered unattainable is now achievable. There really is no restriction on what one can accomplish with the right mindset. When I was out on that mountain, I told myself many times that I would never run this race again. Well, I lied, I plan on going back next year and doing it all over again (and faster)!
Finish line picture with the race founder (and the shotgun). Theres about 2,000 lbs. of weight lost in this picture.