“You were just hit by a car.”
When you’re three minutes from starting a 24-mile race, this isn’t what you want to hear. Hell, if you’re three minutes from doing anything, you don’t want to hear that you were just hit by a car. I would even go so far as to say that you never want to be hit by a car, ever. And if the unfortunate tragedy of being swatted to the ground by a car, like a fly out of the air by a flyswatter, does occur, it’s quite a bad thing if someone has to explain to you as much.
But there I was on a cool Colorado morning, back to even-cooler pavement, staring up into the unending clear, blue sky, faces looking down upon me: I had just been hit by a car.
Let me explain.
The TransRockies Run is a 120-mile, six-day stage race in Colorado starting in Buena Vista and ending in Beaver Creek. It’s not exactly a direct route between the two places: there are shuttle buses to start lines and from finish lines and the routes loop and occasionally overlap rather than truly traversing the Rockies. But it’s an amazing event all the same filled with scenic camping, gourmet food, magnificent trails with breathtaking views, and entertaining people.
The third stage—a gorgeous 24-mile route from Leadville to Camp Hale—begins in downtown Leadville on the main drag, Harrison Avenue, at 8 a.m. In a small town like Leadville, there usually isn’t much activity on a Thursday morning beyond a handful of cars passing through. Although in previous years—or so I was told—all four lanes that constitute Harrison Avenue have been closed to traffic for a few short hours, the correct permits weren’t obtained, or the right people weren’t paid off, or something, because three of the lanes remained opened to traffic while just the far-right lane leading north out of Leadville was corralled off. Meanwhile, hoards of runners milled around on sidewalks and street corners, and in nearby city parks and parking lots packed with port-a-johns. The TransRockies staff and runners basically take over downtown Leadville once a year before the start of stage three.
This year, drivers rolled down Harrison Avenue all the same, with much commotion to keep their attention off the road.
Here’s the thing about TransRockies: a lot of people run it. I’m not complaining about that part. The people are what make the event so great; without a large group of affable mountain-seekers, it wouldn’t be the fun event that it has become. The problem is that almost everyone enters the start corral from the back, which means that to get to the front of the start line, you have to wade through a sea of soon-to-be racers engaged in stretching, swinging, jumping, talking, hugging, and basically any other activity you can think of besides moving forward in the corral.
So, after stage one, I took a page out of the TransRockies veteran handbook (in other words, I just copied TransRockies legends Rob Krar and Mike Smith) and began walking around the side of the corral and ducking under the start tape to arrive directly at the start without a fuss. Before stage three, and practically oblivious to anything other than the race, I disregarded the fact that three lanes of traffic were open and walked along the dotted line separating the two northbound lanes toward the start. Then I saw my good buddy Martin Gaffuri along the edge of the corral and we began to chat.
The clock struck 7:57 a.m. and I turned to my running partner, Brian Condon, and said, “Hey, we better get into the corral.”
“Martin, we’ll talk more in just a few seconds.”
A few seconds later we were not talking; instead I was lying on the pavement.
It seems that some people become quite awful drivers when they grow old. A driver’s competence sometimes follows a fairly standard bell curve: particularly bad to the point of fright early on until mediocrity is achieved; then a span of excellence for the majority of one’s life; a return to mediocrity in older age; and, if able to drive at all when elderly, back to the point of frighteningly horrific driving. Ten years ago, when my dad was 55 years old, he would drive like mad and at high speeds, but it wasn’t dangerous—he could just flat-out drive. When I join him in the passenger seat today, he struggles to maintain the speed limit on most roads and rides in the far right lane on the highway. He’s moving toward the mediocre stage of the bell curve for the second time. A Jeff Gordon of the freeway at his peak, it’s terrifying to envision his abilities 20 years from now, given his fall from excellence at just 65 years old.
If I had known that there would be an 80-something-year-old woman driving through downtown Leadville—who, believe me, was decidedly not a Jeff Gordon of the freeway in her prime—as I approached the start line on Harrison Avenue (which, again, was for some inscrutable reason open to traffic), I definitely would have taken the still-bustling sidewalk to the front of the start line rather than the road.
Of course, I didn’t know that.
“You were just hit by a car,” Condon was explaining to me as I rolled over.
Evidently I was hit quite hard. As video evidence would later verify, the kindly and feeble 80-something-year-old woman did not even touch the brakes before she plowed into me. I guess she didn’t see my practically glowing neon green shorts, either—and she would have had plenty of time to see both the shorts and I, since I was walking in front of her, just inside her lane (and very near the fencing that formed the start corral in the adjacent lane), for several seconds as she approached.
So, yeah, she drills me with her car, and then I’m face down on the ground (thankfully, she did step on the brakes after hitting me and the impact was forceful enough to knock me to the right of her car) and Condon is explaining to me that I was just hit by a car, and I look over and—get this—the woman doesn’t even get out of her car! Instead, she rolls down the passenger window to holler, in this really concerned, high-pitched, mouse-like voice:
“Is he okaaaaaaay?”
I honestly think this woman must have a limit on how many times she can get in and out of her car in one day because the task is such a monumental challenge at her age. I was in such shock that I didn’t manage to reply. Lady from Leadville who hit me with your car, if you are reading this, yeah, I’m fine, but I think your driver’s license should be taken away forever because, what the heck, you rammed me with your car without so much as tapping the brakes.
I’m not sure what became of the lady who mowed me down. Rumor had it that a cop waved her aside and she stopped. I also heard that she simply drove off after the event without recourse. I suppose I’ll never know now.
Let’s not forget: I still had the third of six stages to run. After about a minute I stood up, someone from the medical staff gave me a check-up (I passed the test and was deemed structurally sound, although I did have a nice road rash on my right hip—nothing major), and I walked a few more meters down the road and into the start corral. One minute until the start of stage three.
Then, after finishing third place in the first two stages, Condon and I did a crazy thing: we won the damn stage. (Well, we were second overall, but we were first in our division.) I was plowed over by a car and then three minutes later, and from the gun, we just went for it. I remember thinking, Look man, a car already hit you today so things really can’t go a whole lot worse. And that mentality kind of just stuck: we won stage four, and then stage five, and after finishing a close and leisurely second on the sixth day, we won our division.
Looking back now, the whole thing was a real comedy. I mean, I couldn’t make this stuff up. It was a hit and run, which typically wouldn’t be very funny, but it didn’t happen in the conventional sense: usually the culprit does the hitting and the running; in this case, a woman hit me with her car but I was the one who ran! And run I did—all the way from third place to a win. Maybe you have to get hit by a car in order to really start running well sometimes. That’s how it happened for me at the 2015 TransRockies Run, anyway.