2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning—Part 3: Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

“In the evening you see firearms on all sides, every third man carries a Sharps, Spencer or Winchester rifle and every man has one or two revolvers in a condition for immediate use…”

“I do not believe there is a town or city that contains as many cut-throats, thieves and black legs of all kinds than Leadville.”

“It was a world of gambling halls, dance halls, and theatres… lawyers, doctors, dentists, and newsmen… underground caverns, abominable snowmen, and a lost Egyptian ship… church bells, school bells, teas, artists, horses, and horse races… mule skinners, freighting, assaying, smelting, charcoal kilns, and smoke… murderers, lynchings, bunko, and con artists… gold, silver, lead, zinc, and more… all there for the taking in the richest geological pocket ever discovered in the United States.”

-Unknown authors, quotes found here on the Leadville website

Ian Sharman - Sean Meissner - 2013 Leadville 100

Ian Sharman embracing his pacer Sean Meissner after winning the Leadville 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Twenty-six Slammers started Leadville, and 22 are left standing. If all of the runners who qualify for Wasatch finish Wasatch, there will be a record 22 official Slam finishers. If the five women who are still in the Slam all finish, that will be the highest total number of women to finish the Slam in one year.

Here are a few comments from a couple of those who were forced to DNF the Grand Slam during Leadville:

“The Leadville 100 was a disappointing end to what has turned out to be a rather disappointing year of running. I enjoyed a fairly solid first half and return trip to the top of Hope Pass. On the descent back to Twin Lakes I began experiencing rather sharp pain in my hip joint which got progressively worse until I was reduced to a gimpy shuffle. Before long every step induced a stabbing pain through my hip and I opted to call it a day to avoid any sort of permanent damage. Obviously this is not how I envisioned things going this year. I guess we all get to experience our peaks and valleys; hopefully this year is merely a valley along the way and next year will be better.” –Nick Pedatella, a posting on his Facebook page

“On the first day after my 30th birthday, I DNF[ed the] Leadville Trail 100 for the second time in a row (2012 and 2013). Everything bad was almost copied exactly from last year. Unhappy stomach, nausea, threw up and low body temperature, the altitude sickness. Then at Half Pipe #2 I was treated by the same group of rescue team. Oh, what a shame! Thank you very much for your cheering and encouragement. My friends… No Grand Slam of Ultrarunning for me this year, I have to say I am very disappointed with myself. Best of luck to you… tough nuts. Although I am out of this game, I do have a good time with all of you.” –Di Wu, a posting on his Facebook page

The Race for the Record

The 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is unfolding as a great contest driven by its engine of accumulated time. Ian Sharman (an official Slammer) and Nick Clark (who is not an official Slammer) are driving the ‘race’ to its conclusion, though it is not yet a done deal. Sharman has run beautifully these past seven weeks but has not yet delivered the knockout blow to Clark, who has kept it tight, kept the ‘race’ in sight. Unlike a stage race a la Tour de France, there is minimal team help, drafting is a laughable construct, loneliness and camaraderie a side by side-by-side journey, shared almost exclusively between the two. In that sense it is a heavyweight brawl, ultrarunning’s version of the Thrilla in Manilla executed by two 138-pound ‘Sluggers’ over an accumulated distance of 400 miles.

Interesting in itself, Nick Clark writes his race report differently than he speaks of the event, certainly at this point. His Leadville race report reads like a manual in risk management: thoughtful, honest, aware of always being on the edge of ‘losing it,’ humble, never panicking, and always staying within himself. Once begun, there is work to be done; oddly it is a spiritual journey, despite earlier ‘denials’ (and with out all the high-blown language) in the sense of knowing who you are on the day and paying respect to the race, yourself, your colleagues, and the miles themselves.

And then there is this:

“To claw back 70 minutes on the Sharminator is a big ask, but I have every intention of giving it my best shot. I already have a plan in place and if I can just execute on race day, then I’m hopeful that I can still walk away from this summer of racing with the Grand Slam record to my name. With one race left in the Grand Slam, I believe it is still all to play for.” -Nick Clark in his race report

This last is as close to trash talking as two 138-pound ‘heavyweights’ from Britain will likely ever get. But make no mistake, Clark is clearly in it for the win.

Ian Sharman ran a similar race to Nick Clark’s. Ian’s race was totally contained. He wanted to get to 70 miles with gas in the tank. As in each of the previous races he kept his eye on Nick Clark and judged his final efforts based where he was in relation to Clark for the race, not for the Slam.

“About eight miles from the finish I was told at the last time check (May Queen) Nick was 10 min[ute]s behind me so that lit a fire under me and I suddenly kicked it up a gear and ran really hard. I couldn’t eat anything and just hoped I wouldn’t bonk and that Nick wouldn’t catch me – frankly I was terrified he’d take the win from me in the last couple of miles.

“Somehow my body let me run in those final miles fast enough to break two hours for the split for the last 13.5 miles and I gapped Nick by 36 min[ute]s in the end, but I only found that out when he crossed the line. I assumed he was still catching me.” -Ian Sharman in his race report

If this were a stage bike race like the Tour de France (and in some ways it is), someone with a microphone in his/her hand would have asked Ian about “putting his mark on the Slam with the Leadville victory.” I’m guessing Ian would have waved off the suggestion and said something humble about there being another 100 tough miles at Wasatch, about Clark being tough and then, when no one was paying attention, you might see the warrior thought cross his face, the recognition that the Slam is his for the taking and that the thought made him very happy. Of course, he might have just looked tired.

Ian Sharman - Nick Clark - 2013 Leadville 100 - Twin Lakes outbound

Ian and Nick running into Twin Lakes outbound. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Nick Clark - 2013 Leadville 100 - outbound

Nick running outbound after Outward Bound. Photo: iRunFar/Travis Liles

Nick Clark and his pacer running over Hope Pass

Nick and his pacer on Hope Pass a second time. Photo: Glen Delman

Ian Sharman - 2013 Leadville 100 - win

Ian shortly after winning the Leadville 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Ian Sharman - Hiking - 2013 Leadville 100

Ian hiking his way to the finish. Photo: Glen Delman

Voices From the Middle of the Pack

Dreams die hard out here, in the world of the Grand Slam, in the pursuit of 100-mile buckles. Rare they are, and only given to those special few who have earned them, mile by mile.

The folks who finish and go on are tested to their limits and beyond, and they come through. At this point there are 22 official runners left in the chase.

For those whose fate it was not to get through this time, whose dreams eroded in the wind-driven, dusty miles, in altitude just a little too high for easy breathing despite months of training, there will be other races, an almost immediate beginning of planning the next ‘assault.’ And finally there will be the necessary ‘coming to terms,’ an acceptance that on this day the unthinkable for thousands miles of training has happened. You just stopped. You will fight the urge to explain. Everything. To everyone in sight. Maybe you fight off the tears; maybe you just let go. Finally you come to know that all races are ephemeral, conceived in and planned for in dreams, executed in the moment with no guarantee that what you dream of, what you wish for, will come to pass, that the day is entirely dependent on your being in the arena, in vital relation to the natural world, that being there is your true victory. Whatever else may happen that day is likely to belong to powers greater than you. By day’s end, the course and the event are packed away for next year, already gone back to empty sky. Tumbleweed returns to its proper place, the race results become plans and schemes to be chased down in the months and weeks ahead, already a story to tell in preparation for whatever is coming next.

2013 Leadville 100

Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Michael Lebowitz

is a writer, a photographer, and a runner in Eugene, Oregon. His grown children who have taught him damn near everything that works for him in his life. He writes and takes pictures because it's his way of telling stories. He runs because it reminds him that he's here. He has no idea where the writing comes from. Nor the images. But he starts with what he knows and he imagines the rest. Sometimes it starts as fact, sometimes fiction but it is always true.