Jason Cohen of Lafayette Louisiana, stared at scale reading 297 pounds and knew he had to do something, anything, to lose weight and get healthy. When asked if there was a defining moment that made him decide to really make a change, Jason says, “there was a perfect storm of events…..a buddy of mine gave me a bike as a gift and little did I know the bike would change my life.”
Jason began riding this bike here and there and just that extra movement on a more and more consistent basis caused him to start to lose weight and feel better.
Fast forward after losing more and more weight, Jason started to run, something he was more familiar with from his youthful days. His runs became longer, conquering 6 miles before a vacation to Colorado that would change his life even more. He and his wife were on a camping road trip that took them to Leadville during the week of the Heavy Half marathon in June as part of the Leadville Run Series. They arrived on Wednesday before the race and something about that challenge simply overtook Jason. He and his wife decided to alter their plans and stick around so Jason could race. He had never run longer than six miles. He did the race and was hooked and in 2018 he finished the Leadville 100 run.
Two years after breaking her leg and a doctor telling her she had to quit running, this Zen athlete took first place in one of the hardest endurance races on the planet. All it took was a little bit of Whitesnake and an understanding that winning is nothing more than the river beneath your feet
The day before the start of the Leadville Trail 100 Run, I was walking down the mining town’s main drag when I passed a dilapidated white Victorian. It had peeling gingerbread trim and two sun-faded whitewater kayaks beached on the front-porch railing. The front door looked fused shut, as if it hadn’t been opened in years. Painted above a window was a sign that read “Cosmology Energy Museum.” And above that “Divine Spirit Over Matter.”
I stopped in my tracks. In less than 24 hours, I’d toe the line of my first 100-mile race. I had no idea what lay ahead, but I understood that in order to make it through the mountains to the finish, I’d need more than physical stamina and sheer willpower. I’d need heart and humility, a little bit of luck and a lot of grace. I’d need divine spirit over matter.
Two years earlier, I’d broken my left leg in a whitewater rafting accident. My orthopedist had advised me never to run again. “Find a new hobby,” he said dismissively. He put in a piece of metal the shape of a baking spatula just below my knee that you could see through my skin. I was 46 years old. The farthest I’d ever run before was 62 miles. I didn’t have a coach or a training plan. All I had were the Sangre de Cristo Mountains out my back door and a copy of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, written in 1971 by the Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. My friend, the well-known Zen writer Natalie Goldberg, had given it to me—with a caveat. “It’s a classic,” she told me, “but you might not understand it.” Buddhism, by definition, is beyond definition, sometimes even explanation.
The minute I started reading, though, I understood everything. Not with my brain, but in my body. I understood Zen Mind because I understood running. Suzuki Roshi was writing about sitting, but I realized that if I replaced “sitting” with running, he and I were speaking the same language. After all, the tenets of Zen—form, repetition, stamina and suffering—aren’t so different from the principles of ultra running. If I could apply his teachings to my running, maybe I could train my mind and spirit to be as strong as my body. Maybe even stronger.
Leadville, Colorado probably isn’t on your tourist destination list this summer. This one street town popular for mining and its lawless past lost its fizzle in the 50’s and ultimately pittered out in the early 80’s. That’s when Ken Chlouber came up with the now infamous Leadville Trail 100. Regardless of what sport you are in, even if you aren’t in running or can barely move at all, chances are you’ve heard of “THE Leadville”. They’ve created their own niche of events including mountain biking and ranging distances from a 10K to marathon to a 50 miler, you know, in case you weren’t feeling like signing up for a hundred. This past weekend, concluded the Silver Rush 50. A race the website claims “will leave your lungs burning, heart pounding and eyes completely amazed!” Well, I’m here to tell you it lived up to its description.
What I love most about Leadville besides the “Oh and Ah!” of the surrounding mountains, is the people. Nothing is more bone chilling than hearing Ken and Merilee, the original founders of the race, come say their epic spiel of how “you’re stronger than you think you are, and you can do more than you think!” At the end of it they scream at you to “dig deep!!!” and then gun goes off! I’ve heard this 3 times now and it still gets to me. Mind you, they come to every race and recite this motivating speech. That’s pretty amazing. There’s as many volunteers as they can dig up that are out there all day, all darn day! They’re feeding you, watering you, taking off your disgusting shoes to bandage your even more disgusting feet, they spray you with sunblock, and tell you everything is going to be ok! One aid station even had amazing eighties music blaring and men in neon tights! Serious dedication right there.
There’s more than that though. It’s the moment when you really do feel like your heart is about to beat through your chest over the last climb, and you come into a beautiful meadow of columbine flowers and your body relaxes and your heart calms down as you take in the view. Then you trip over your own feet and fall into a small stream and laugh your butt off about it cause it’s just so darn pretty out here nothing matters (sorry to the person behind me as this happened, I’m not crazy I was just giggle high!). It’s when you’ve hit the turn around and it dawns on you you’ve still got twenty five more miles to go, and someone comes up behind you tells you how strong you look! And you’re like “really?! I’m about to barf all over myself! But awesome, I’ll keep going!”
It’s that dreadful moment you don’t think you can really go any farther, and you remember a conversation you’ve had early on with a stranger. A conversation I will never forget. A young woman asked me if it was my first time doing this and I said it was, and it was hers as well. She was nervous as she had been pregnant and sick and hadn’t trained but only 5 weeks. I was slightly confused and asked about the baby. She had lost it unfortunately 5 weeks ago, that’s why she didn’t have time to train. “This can’t be as painful as burying my baby” she said to me. I immediately teared up and embraced her. If this doesn’t bring you to your knees and put things into perspective I don’t know what will. Her words echoed in my head all day. I saw her again around mile 40, she told me how fresh I looked and I yelled at her that I better see her at the finish. Which I did, as I was leaving, she probably had a dozen or so family with her to support her. One of the most amazing memories I will cherish forever. And that’s why we are all out here, to prove to ourselves we have the discipline, the determination and the desire to finish something like this, that we are able to dig deep.
At the end of the day we all are suffering. Whether you’re in the lead chasing that course record, or you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other… it’s going to hurt. What makes ultra running, is the community. It’s that connection you share with someone even for a moment of mutual pain, a swap of your life story, a high five, an “Are you ok?!”. What makes Leadville special is coming in to that finish line and getting your medal and a huge embrace from Merliee, as if she’s your own mother, who’s also been there all day hugging 335 other finishers. And that’s the Leadville experience. What we all chase… a finish.
Legacy Foundation Trail 100 Run Spots Still Available
The legendary “Race Across The Sky” 100-mile run is where it all started back in 1983. This is it. The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. You will give the mountain respect, and earn respect from all.
FIRST LEADVILLE TRAIL 100 RUN LOTTERY RESULTS REVEAL PARTY
Party Attendees Will Learn Their 100 Lottery Acceptance (or not) Fate Early
WHAT: On Sunday, January 15, 2017 join the Leadville Trail Series at Runners Roost on S. Colorado Blvd in Denver, Colo., for the first Blueprint for Athletes Leadville Trail 100 Run presented by New Balance Lottery Announcement Party. For the first time in race history, the Leadville Race Series team will announce the entrants into the Leadville 100 Run early and in-person for those attending the Runners Roost event. All other applicants will receive notification as they normally would later in the evening of January 15.
Attendees also receive a special 15 percent registration discount for Leadville Race Series 2017 qualifier events when registered on-site at the January 15 Runners Roost event, including:
The Austin Rattler on April 10th in Austin, TX
The Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon on June 17th
The Silver Rush 50 mile Run Race on July 9th in Leadville, CO
The Leadville 10K run on August 13th
The afternoon also includes a New Balance demo fun run as well as guest MC’s, including the founders of the Leadville Trail 100, Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin, who will help announce the lottery winners. Ken and Merilee started the Leadville Trail 100 Run in 1983 with 45 runners and have grown the race series into what it is today an iconic series of events where athletes travel from around the world to compete in the “Race Across the Sky”. 2017 marks the 35th anniversary of this iconic race.
“We wanted to do something special this year for the Leadville 100 Run Lottery announcement and give our home state Colorado racers and longtime supporters a celebratory way to learn if they received a slot in this year’s race,” said Josh Colley, Leadville Race Series Race Director. “What’s better than to learn if you get to be part of this prestigious bucket-list 100 mile race, than to find out with your family and friends there in-person with you?”
Additionally a few Leadville Trail 100 Run Training Camp (June 23-26) spots are still available that come with a guaranteed LT100 Run slot for $1,000. Camp registration on its own, without the 100 Run slot is $495 on a first come first serve limited basis.
WHEN: Sunday, January 15, 2017 3:00 p.m. Group Fun Run 4:00 p.m. Leadville 100 Run Lottery Announcement 5:30 p.m. Drawing of two Leadville Trail 100 entry slots, 1 male and 1 female winner, for those that sign up for Leadville qualifier events on-site at the event 6:00 p.m. Event ends