Climbing up the first major ascent of the Wasatch Front 100, my legs were already tired. We were less than seven miles into the day, which at Wasatch meant at least 27 more hours of work. I knew my mental game was the only thing that would reliably keep me moving forward.
Nine months earlier I had gotten the incredible news that my name was drawn in the Leadville Trail 100 lottery. Leadville is my absolute favorite race and I had waited five years to toe the line again. This would be my fourth Leadville and I planned to focus my entire year on the training.
I laughed out loud when just three weeks later I opened an email from the Wasatch race committee alerting me that my name had been drawn in that lottery as well. "That's a tight turnaround," I said looking at the dates: August 19, Leadville, September 8, Wasatch Front. Oh well. Leadville was still my goal race, which meant a deliberate choice to not save anything for Wasatch.
My mantra for this year’s Leadville was “Stay in it.” The race is so special to me that even though this may have been the toughest conditions on that course, finishing was the only outcome I allowed myself.
I felt as prepared as ever for this year’s Leadville, and just like every year, the Leadville course exacted a steep toll on my body. 2023 was a particularly warm and exposed race. It's certainly the first time I can remember sweating profusely near the top of Hope pass going both directions. The heat created carnage in the field of runners and resulted in an almost historically low finisher rate.
By mile seventy of Leadville, as I contemplated what I still had left to do on that course, I had already convinced myself that I wouldn’t be toeing the line at Wasatch. I couldn’t fathom turning around and suffering this much in just three week’s time. And I knew I wouldn’t have the legs to crush Wasatch Front, such was the effort I was putting out in the Race Across the Sky.
At the Outward Bound Aid Station at mile 76, I mentioned to my wife my plans to defer my Wasatch entry. She wisely suggested I focus on finishing the race I was currently running and to not make any decisions about the future until after Leadville was over. She was, of course, right. By the next day, I was already strategizing how to get another pacer out to Utah.
I spent the three weeks in between tending to blisters and keeping mileage low - rolling out my legs every evening. I knew Wasatch was going to hurt, and I was right.
From mile seven onward, I had to use every ounce of experience to stay on that course. My biggest trick, outside my unwavering commitment to constantly eating, is my self-talk.
“If you just keep moving forward, you’ll eventually cross the finish line.” It’s a simple thought. And such a glaring truth, but things often become very simple in the long hours of a 100 mile race. And the thought, simple as it was, held true.
I’m very proud of those two buckles. And I’ll carry that self-talk with me as I confront life’s daily challenges. Whatever you’ve got on the calendar for this next year and however the conditions end up on race day, do your best to keep moving forward. If you do, you’ll cross that finish line. And that finish line is always worth it.