Mary gave me a few words of encouragement. Brad told me not to let Hope break me. I leaned in, looked Mary directly in the eyes and whispered a special quote, she whispered a polite request back to me and I was on my way.
I have known my strategy for Hope Pass for a year. After my dumb move last year, sprinting up the mountain, I knew this year required a much more thought out plan. My only goal for the entire section of Hope Pass? Just Keep Moving Forward. Under no circumstances was I allowed to stop for any reason, so I didn’t. I took one step after another. I watched people pass me all the way up and I only passed a few people, but they were not moving forward. At times I felt like I was moving so slow… I felt as though it was going to take forever to get up the mountain. I wanted to start running up hill as fast as I could… But I knew I had a solid plan and I knew I had to stick to it. I knew I couldn’t be flexible on what I wanted to accomplish here. I tried to make up time on Hope Pass last year. Not only did I burn myself out mentally and physically, but I came in a couple hours behind last year. I knew I couldn’t afford to make this mistake again… So, I stuck to my plan and kept one speed all the way up without wavering.
I got to the aid station on the top of Hope and the volunteers took awesome care of me. I had finished all the water in my pack on the way up so they filled me up, got me a bunch of food (I didn’t eat the entire way up… I was moving too efficiently and didn’t want to slow down.) I knew I only had about a mile to the top and I started to lose control of my emotions… I gave Jen a hug and broke down without warning. I couldn’t explain what was going through my head and she gave me a kind word and sent me on my way out of the aid station. As I climbed the rest of the way up I couldn’t help thinking about all the times I’ve stood on the top of this mountain… all the physically demanding climbs I’ve had coming up. The numerous times I’ve crawled to the top looking for answers I didn’t even have the questions to. I’ve run away to this mountain so many times I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the first time I wasn’t running away. I wanted to be at the top of the mountain. As my mind wondered even more over the last couple switchbacks I felt the tears start rolling down my face. I felt my heart pulsing a little faster. I felt the wind in my face as I crested the last few feet and then I saw the Prayer Flags floating effortlessly in the wind. As I gave them a second look I started down the backside of Hope with a spring in my step and a heart full of energy.
I don’t remember much of the decent down the back of Hope. I know I moved swiftly but efficiently. I didn’t want to burn my legs out by braking the whole way down, so I used my poles to guide my in the steep sections and I ran down as much as I could the rest of the way. When I got to the bottom and turned right at the trail marking I got another glimpse of memories from last year. I remember seeing so many people last year that looked like death coming out of Winfield. I knew this year had to be different. I couldn’t let me energy get sucked out by the people who were passing me heading back into Twin. I also knew I had to run. This is a 4-mile section and it is easy to lose time on because it seems uphill the whole way… but it is very runnable. I practiced this section a couple times this summer just to make sure I could put myself into a position to run as much of it as I could. Again, it wasn’t about sprinting this section, it was about maintaining a good solid pace and keeping my movement forward as efficiently as possible. I feel I did an excellent job. I wasn’t eating but I drank a lot of liquids on this section. The weather was turning from chilly and rainy to sunny and warm, so I knew I had to hydrate as best as I could going in to the turn around.
Once I hit the Winfield Welcome road I started to pick up the pace. I felt so great and knew I had about a mile in to see my crew. I saw a friend and we exchanged awesome hugs and his pacer gave me a hug and a kind word and I continued heading in. I could hear everyone cheering and having fun and I wanted to get there! I turned the corner and the aid station was packed and lined with people on both sides. I couldn’t help but smile huge and the more I heard my name coming in the faster I went and the better I felt. I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew I just crushed the first 50 miles and I was in great shape to continue with a lot of positive energy flowing my way.
As soon as I saw my crew I lit up even more and I could tell I looked great because their facial expressions told me everything I needed to know. They got me through the aid station, took care of my pack and they made me change into a dry shirt. I could tell how excited they were just by our interactions and I knew we were in a great position going into the next section. Brad was all smiles as we exited the aid station and I could tell he was excited to crush the mountain with me. I was excited to have him with me. I knew he is a strong climber and a positive guy. I was feeling a great energy as we headed out. I finished eating while we walked out and as soon as we hit the turn onto the trail we were moving swiftly. We kept a solid run pace and slowed down enough to get over the hills and then we were back to running again. The first four miles seemed to go wicked fast. I don’t think we were really moving that fast, but my head was occupied for the first time in about 7 hours, so it felt brand new.
We made the turn to head up Hope Pass and I reminded him I was going to set the cruise control at one speed and I wasn’t going to stop until we got to the top. He agreed, and we started climbing. We climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed. I would hear people coming up behind me and I would let them pass but I didn’t stop moving. We kept going and we would pass people coming down and I would let people pass me going up, but I made a promise to myself I wasn’t going to stop under any circumstances. We crawled the whole way up.
As I saw the last couple switchbacks coming I knew I was in good shape. I felt awesome and I knew the biggest climbs of the course were about to be behind me and I crushed it. As we crested Hope I watched the sun ever so slowly fall behind the mountain.
As the sun fell I couldn’t help finding the symbolism in the situation. A mountain I have climbed so many times looking for answers. Years of running these trails looking for the pieces of my heart that have been scattered by the wind. Thousands of miles trying to get over my past. The sun setting on the life that I knew yesterday, so I could begin the life I had wanted to restart for so long.
On a day when I should have been busted and broken, I climbed a mountain, not to find Hope this time, but to thank Hope for saving my life. This mountain has changed me in every way; physically, mentally, and spiritually. The world will never know what Hope has given to me, but I will forever be grateful for this mountain. It is often said that “you don’t find Leadville, Leadville finds you…” and if I could only put into worlds how this town has broken me down so brutally but ever so carefully put my pieces back together into the man I have become today.
Today… Today, I knew my Hope was on the other side of the mountain in Twin Lakes waiting for me.
At the top of the Pass I took a moment to fulfill a promise and with a deep breath, a long exhale and shedding of the last of my tears Brad and I started down the mountain. My body felt so good. My mind was in a good spot and my soul was at peace. In all the times I’ve been to Hope Pass, I’ve never crested Hope with my heart as happy and full as it was on race day.
As we started down I couldn’t help but feel a relief come over me. I had taken on the hardest section of the course and not only did I survive but I felt fresh. I knew I was going to run as much as I could on the way down and we did. A short trip into the Hope Pass aid station for a water refill, a cup of noodles and a llama selfie and we were on our way. One of my goals was to descend Hope while it was still light out and we knew it was going to happen. We focused on keeping our composure while still running down as much as we could. The trek down seems long and sometimes it seems it will never end… but with forward movement we knew we were going to arrive ahead of schedule.
The trip down was uneventful and as we worked toward the water crossing we got to see the sunset for a second time in the last couple hours. With every step forward the excitement started to build more and more. I knew we were about a mile and half out and I was feeling great. The last section into the aid station goes through a big open field and you know you just must keep moving at a good pace or it will take an eternity to get there. Brad ran ahead to get my pack settled and I casually jogged through the long stretch of people with an enormous smile on my face running past many people I knew. I felt like I was on fresh legs and my mind was as clear as it had been all day.
As Mary walked me in we chatted about how things were going and what I needed to eat. My boys were there excited and gave me the biggest hug I could imagine. The energy in the air was beyond Amazing. I changed my shoes, drank some coffee, had a couple turkey and hummus tortilla wraps (and other stuff I don’t remember) and I was ready to hit the trails again.
Bradley and I knew we had a long climb ahead of us, so we took it easy up the incline and onto the trail. The darkness was upon us and we knew the importance of moving through the dark as swiftly as possible. We stayed solid up the climb never over pushing but speeding up any time we felt a flat would allow us. As we moved through the night we began seeing the headlamps of other runners. We passed some as others passed us. We rolled through the Half Pipe aid station and I knew I wanted to get in and out. I have tried to come to terms with this aid station ever since I quit here last year… but I can’t seem to shake the energy that lays around it. I’ve run many times through this section and for whatever reason it always bothers me. I lose my calmness in my mind and the peace within my heart evaporates.
Getting in and out we headed down the dirt road. I knew we were falling behind on time, but the section ahead was supposed to be a great place to make up some time. I fell off my pace. Slowly but surely, I slowed down and my pace got weak. Some of the most runnable section of the course and I felt like I was barely moving. I was leaning on my poles trying to give my legs a break rather than using them to spring me forward. I was running very slow for 30 steps and then as if I had been sprinting, I would take a 10-step walking break. This continued for about 4 miles until we hit the road heading into the Outward Bound aid station.
Turning up the road I just wanted to get this section over with. I knew I just had to run. Bradley had been keeping me running for so long, but I knew I wasn’t moving fast enough. The road hurt. The faster movement hurt. All I could think about is getting to the aid station and getting a break… I knew there was a turn into the field but when we passed it, the markings were different from the rest of the course. With runners ahead of us, I sent Bradley up to look for another way and to chat with the runners. I started to head back because I was afraid we had missed our turn into the field. Sure enough we had… Frustrated with myself and now starting to panic, I started frantically trying to run through the mile-long field… The harder I tried to run the slower I went… knowing how late I was getting to the aid station, I started to lose control of my emotions…
I crossed the timing mat and began to cry… It was past my bed time. I was exhausted. I was behind on time. I felt as though I was losing control of everything around me. I had kept my smile for so long but with every step the darkness took a hold of me. When I saw Mary, I collapsed into her arms… I lost every ounce of self-control I had left… As the tears ran down my face and the disappointment became real, I cried. I cried uncontrollable tears of failure.
I didn’t even care I had 25 miles left. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to drink. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die with shame and embarrassment. I worked so hard for so long working toward my goals. I am so strong physically but, yet I am still not good enough. I have worked so hard cleaning up all my mistakes, yet they still haunt my conscience. I have worked so hard to make myself mentally strong but I’m still so immature. I have been patiently persistent with every aspect of my life and knowing I failed myself devastated me beyond control. Looking back, I know losing my composure did absolutely nothing for me… and it has become a lesson learned, but in the moment, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I threw my crew off with the swift change of heart and mind… for the first time all day I lost my smile and losing my smile cost me the strong finish I would have been proud of…