Do the best you can with every step.
The road is long.
The mountain is steep.
There is one thing this race can’t keep.
For the last year, I have looked at myself in the mirror with disappointment. 2018 was a comeback year for me… to the point I felt like I was on a personal PR campaign for Gary Stotler. The end of 2016 into 2017 was devastating. Personally, I was going through rock bottom. Everything good I was doing and thinking was overshadowed by my alcohol abuse and negative attitude. I was looking in the mirror and staring at a different reflection than everyone around me was seeing… Eventually the road led to rock bottom when I quit at mile 70 in Leadville in 2017…
I spent the first part of 2018 recovering from the devastation I left behind. I moved to Denver, CO and started fresh. I never really found my footing professionally as I ventured off and finally went all in on my own coaching business. I recovered mentally, grew athletically and worked diligently on finding what I needed to discover within to make sure I didn’t repeat the same mistakes that took me to the depths of hell…
In August 2018, I made my way back to Leadville for another shot at finishing a task I had focused on for years. It had been a year since I had a drink, my mind was clear for the first time in years and my body was physically ready to go the distance. For the first time in my life I felt like I was running toward my future rather than away from my past… I stepped to the line at 4am and took off aiming for a gold belt buckle I had become obsessed with for so many years.
In the middle of the night as I passed row after row of trees, I gave up on myself. I watched a year’s worth of time and effort wasted as I stopped running and keeled over in defeat. I was so far ahead of the cutoffs for the race that all I had to do was walk for the next 25 miles and I would complete the “next best thing”… I knew I was going to finish the Leadville 100.
I did finish. I finished with fanfare and cheers and more beautiful picture memories than I thought was possible. I finished hand in hand with my two wonderful boys and my crew by my side. Honestly, it was perfect… except I refused to allow myself the joy of finishing. I couldn’t focus on what I was grateful for, only what I had screwed up and missed out on… a piece of gold medal and number on the clock. In my mind, I was a complete waste of space who didn’t deserve to live because I wasn’t worth the cow dung I stepped on in the field around Outward Bound.
While everyone around me celebrated and told me how great I had done (I mean really, I had just finished the Leadville Trail 100!!!!) I couldn’t get past the self-degradation that a number on my jacket wasn’t good enough… and if the number wasn’t good enough, then how would I ever be good enough?
I lived with this feeling of shame tormenting me on every run. With every workout I wondered if I would ever be good enough. I thought about the awful feeling that sat in my gut telling me I was worthless. With every phone call, text, social media post, I hoped that someone would reach in my heart and fill the huge gap I had left in Leadville once again.
No one could fill the gap.
Until June, I was dead set on running sub 25 hours in Leadville in 2019. I was ready to go all out and die for my cause… until I met Ben.
I will forever be grateful for Ben because he changed my life forever with one phrase.
“I gave it everything I had with no regrets.”
Wow… I was floored. So calm. So collected. So close… yet 30 seconds is so far away.
See, in 2018, Ben finished the Leadville 100 in 25 hours 00 minutes and 37 seconds…
38 seconds over the time cut off for the big gold belt buckle symbolizing a sub 25 hour finish.
I was devastated for him. My mind instantly raced. I wondered what it would be like to work so hard for so long and come up less than a minute short.
Ben had accepted his fate. He gave the race everything he had to give. Could he have nickel and dimed himself finding another minute here or minute there he could have “made up”? Yes, of course he could have… but Ben chose to change his perception of the result. Ben is proud of himself. His crew is proud of him. His family is proud of him. He gave everything he had to give and has no regrets.
Spending time with Ben changed my life.
He is at peace with a result because he did everything he could and let the cards fall. I realized during the conversation that I had never given 100%. I have always fallen up short because I am always chasing an arbitrary number rather than doing everything it takes. I have always been focused on where I started and let my former overweight self, control my effort level. I have always wondered what other people thought of me about what I could do and what I could or couldn’t accomplish. I thought about how other people would perceive me if I didn’t accomplish another arbitrary number in my life…
From the day I met Ben, I have said screw it! I don’t care what other people think. It doesn’t matter what other people believe. The world doesn’t know me and what I’m capable of. No one else will define me. No outside force will control my goals.
I will define myself.
I will create my goals.
I will take the action.
I will do “the best I can”
Numbers don’t define me.
My food doesn’t define me.
Weight loss doesn’t define me.
Running doesn’t define me.
A group won’t define me.
A nickname doesn’t define me.
A social media page doesn’t define me.
I will define myself.
I am Gary Stotler.
I am a B.A.M.F.
I am a guy who enjoys life, works hard, plays hard, can run 100 miles, coaches amazing people to find clarity and growth, I read, I write, I love to learn and I’m kinda handsome. Best of all, I am a dad to the two most amazing boys in the world.
I define myself. I don’t want to fit in because I have spent my entire life trying to fit in… and no one would accept me… so now I have learned to accept myself. I will not accept anything that is less than the best in my life. I have learned that I want extraordinary and I can and will create extraordinary in my life. Best of all, I believe I deserve it.
I walked up to the starting line in Leadville, took a deep breath and whispered to myself…
“Let’s do the best I can.”
4 A.M. The gun goes off and over 800 runners began their individual quest of self-discovery.
The details of the race are rather unimportant at this time… I ran, I peed, I ran more, I peed more… Drinking a pot of coffee before the race may not have been the best thing to do but the damage was done. I headed into Outward Bound (mile 25) and felt great. I was cruising at a smooth pace and felt like I could run all day. When my crew gave me the time, I realized why. I was over 30 minutes behind my goal pace… I needed to kick it up a notch.
I headed out of the aid station feeling crushed and defeated. I knew making up time in a 100 mile race is something that doesn’t happen. I headed into the toughest section (for me) and I ran. I didn’t feel good. I was crashing hard. My head was down, and mind was in the gutter of negativity and self-doubt. I passed the alternative crew zone at mile 27 and to my surprise, my guardian angel was shouting from a car “hey 3-1-5, take a GU!”.
Sure enough, of all the places in all the world… Ben was watching over me when I needed it the most.
Without thinking, I took a GU and kept running forward.
This section beat the hell out of me. I ran as hard as I could with no regard for tomorrow. I stayed present. I knew the next several hours were going to be hard, so I worked with every step to turn around my attitude. As my attitude improved, so did my running. Soon enough, I was descending into Twin Lakes (mile 40) to get refreshed and refueled.
I came into the aid station busted and broken… I was so far behind my goal pace. I was hungry. I was thirsty. I ran into a friend and he gave me a big hug. I turned around and there was another friend who gave me a hug. I ate. I drank. I still couldn’t shake this feeling of emptiness I was feeling…
On my way out of the aid station, I heard a voice say “hey, there’s Laurel!”
I turned around and before I could think… I lost it…
Laurel gave me a huge hug and I cried in her arms uncontrollably… I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop…
I was finally able to recover my composure and I started heading out. I was refreshed. I had just a minute to regroup before I hit the trail and get going again… I was running toward my favorite mountain…
Hope Pass was calling my name and I couldn’t wait to answer.
As I left the aid station, I knew the task ahead was long and steep and I couldn’t wait to accept the challenge ahead.
I ran. I climbed. I moved forward with intention in every step. I passed people. I saw more ahead. I passed them too. I climbed and climbed and climbed until I could see the Llamas ahead. I stopped to fill my water pack and headed on my way. I crested the top as I have done so many times before and I knew there was only one thing to do now…
I ran. I ran down the mountain as fast as I could keep my balance. I stopped to say hi to a friend and she grabbed a quick picture and I gave her some encouraging words to dig her out of a tough spot. I turned around and I ran more. I nearly lost my balance time after time but next thing I knew I was at the turn into Winfield.
I ran the flats and downs. I hiked the hills with all my might. I knew I was so close to the halfway point and I hadn’t even started to fatigue one bit yet. I ran like there was no tomorrow. Coming into mile 50, I wanted to be in and out as quick as possible. I tripped on a rock and took a tumble in front of every spectator at the aid station… Passing on the possibility of embarrassment, I got to my feet with style and continued moving forward without missing a beat.
I was in and out with a fresh mind, more fuel and a mindset to “get to the top”. I knew if I could kiss the rock pile on Hope and still have energy left, it was only about how fast could I fly.
I ran. I got to the bottom of Hope and climbed. I climbed so hard. I climbed so fast. With every step I gained more energy. I created more love for myself with every step. I got a glimpse of the switchbacks and knew I was about to crush my goal…
I climbed. I watched the switchbacks get shorter and shorter. I watched the people get bigger and bigger. I reached the top with tears in my eyes and fullness in my heart. I had just conquered the mountain that has broken me so many times before…
I fulfilled a request from Mary to kiss the rock and as I wiped the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath in, I started descending Hope with everything I had. At this point, I knew finishing was no longer the goal. I was going to run my heart out until I couldn’t run another step. I was prepared to be carried off the course in a stretcher if that is what it took for me to give everything I had for the next 44 miles.
I ran so hard and so fast that if I would have mis stepped or knicked a rock, I would have broken my face and many bones in my body. I didn’t care. I could feel the pressure in my feet, ankles and knees as my body weight hurled itself forward and my feet sprung me back into the air. I felt like a feather floating with the pure love and guidance of the universe.
As I came upon the end of the trail and headed across the water crossing, I knew I was in prime shape to finish strong. I ran the long boring field into Twin Lakes (mile 60) with a smile on my face and belief in my heart. I passed more runners. I smiled as I knew I had just overcome a huge personal fear of mine descending a mountain with speed and agility I have longed for.
Leaving Twin Lakes with a smile I knew the next section was my next test… This is the section where I quit in 2017. I have run this section over and over and over again trying to forget about the memories of the past. I’ve been trying to escape the shame and disappointment I have allowed this section to cling on to me… I was strong. I was confident, I was ready. For the first time in my Leadville career, I had love and self-worth on my side.
This section didn’t disappoint… It ate me alive and spit me out. I ran and the miles didn’t move. I ran faster and my pace slowed down. With the guide of my headlamp 3 feet in front of me I worked through emotions of the past calling me to drift into the sad world I had left so recently ago. The calls of the spiritual demons nagged at me to quit… to give up… to remember I’m worthless and don’t deserve to win… The thought of quitting, the images of pain, the memories of rock bottom repeated with every step… every step forward I was reminded of the grief, the pain and the shame of my past. I wanted to run away from the pain, but I stayed present in every moment… I didn’t let myself escape. I forced myself to breathe through the pain… to stay with the pain… to let the pain drive me forward one step a time as I knew the steps were ticking away the miles just as fast as I could move my feet forward…
I knew I had given everything I had to get through this section… I headed into the aid station and I was grateful for some spiritual relief… all while knowing there was one more mountain standing between me and the finish line…
I came in later than I wanted to into mile 75… I learned my lesson from last year, so I took a few minutes to regain my composure. I ate, I drank, I took care of some personal business… I was ready. I knew I still had fuel in my tank. I didn’t know how much or how long it would last but I knew if I could get to the top of the mountain, I was willing to crash and burn and crawl through the finish line…
My plan was to hike and hike as fast as I could. My mind said go, so I ran. I ran and ran and ran… I couldn’t stop running. I got to the bottom of Powerline and I told it to do its worst… I started up and didn’t stop. I hit the first false summit and started running down. I ran faster and faster… I got to the next hill and I couldn’t stop running. I slowed down on the next big climb, but it didn’t last forever so I started again. I would slow down enough to respect the mountain, but I couldn’t stop running. I crested to top and as I gave the “hippies” a kind word as I drank a little Ginger Ale, I was ready to rock and roll. I knew I was going to finish strong… I just didn’t know how strong I could be…
This is what I had waited an entire year to find out…
Do the best you can with every step and let the cards lay where they land… just don’t leave any regret on the table…
I ran… I ran as fast and as hard as I could down the backside of the mountain… There was no one in front of me and no one behind me… I was all alone… This is where I knew I would find out who I really am.
I ran with no one pushing me. I didn’t have any motivation. I didn’t have any excuses.
As I descended the very last section into Mayqueen (mile 87), I knew it was life or death right here… I asked Mary what time is was.
She replied “2:21AM”
I screamed in disappointment… I was over 20 minutes late of where I felt I HAD to be…
“Here we go” I said… “I’m going for it and I will not stop until I’ve given everything I possibly can.”
In and out of the aid station knowing I was in a race against the clock. I set my sites on the 3 feet in front of me and making rocks move past me as fast as I can.
I ran. I passed a group and the trail went dark. I passed another group and the trail went dark again. I knew I was moving… but I knew it wasn’t fast enough. I tried to run faster and the trails wouldn’t allow it. I watched the miles move by faster and faster and I knew if I could just keep going a little longer I was going to finally catch this gold buckle I was longing for…
I was struggling to move… I was out of energy. I couldn’t breathe from the whirlwind of dust all day. My legs were shot. I kept moving. I kept running. I promised myself I wouldn’t give up until I was moving across the finish line.
I passed the boat dock and I knew it is time to fly. I ran the last mile of the trail… I crossed the road knowing I had 60 minutes to cover 6 uphill miles… I knew I had a chance if I could just keep running forward.
I hit the dirt road… every step was a struggle. Every forward movement was starting to hurt. I knew I needed to eat but I couldn’t. I wanted to breathe but I couldn’t. I talked and encouraged myself, I moved forward…
I moved past the road and crossed the railroad tracks knowing this is it… I am 4 miles away. I turned the corner onto the dirt road and with the next step I took a deep breath… I couldn’t run.
A kind word and another step forward, I tried again.
I couldn’t run.
I moved forward and tried again.
I couldn’t run…
I climbed the last hill and knew this is it, I have to run every step from here in…
Mile 96… I had run the best I could… I had given Leadville everything I had.
Leadville won the numbers game.
I came up 4 miles and 46 minutes short… I was devasted. I had worked so hard for so long… and I had gotten so close…
Leadville won the numbers game…
Gary won his heart back.
In all the years I have been searching for the man in the mirror.
All the time up the mountains and miles on the trails I have been searching for answers I didn’t even know the questions to…
In 2019, I found something much greater than a time or a gold buckle.
I found Gary.
I found the reflection I have been searching for for so long.
I found my self-worth.
I found “the best I can.”
I earned something that can’t come from the outside…
I earned something no one can ever take away from me…
I found something that only exists in fiction books and fairy tales…
I found all the love and attention I’ve ever needed… and it came from a place I least expected it.
It came from within me.
In all the years I have come up short on other people’s expectations, for the first time in my life I held myself to my standards and it turns out finding the best version of myself is the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.
I am Gary Stotler.
I am good enough.
I am strong enough.
I am everything no one thought I could be…
I hit rock bottom in 2017… in 2018 I climbed back from the depths of hell… in 2019 I finally reached even… and the best part?
I’m just getting started.
Wishing you “the best YOU can”,