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Call me Ishmael

By Jack Andrish

I remember many years ago watching Spencer Tracy play an old man who took his fishing boat out to sea every day, in search of the "beeg fish." He had nothing but respect for his adversary for it was his world that the old man was entering and in his world, the "beeg fish" was king. Every day he would plan a new strategy and every day he would imagine just what he would do with such a catch. But then, the old man would return from the sea every day with thanksgiving for whatever he had caught; but never the "beeg fish." Then one day in his small boat, he did the unimaginable. He caught the "beeg fish!" He caught the beautiful, powerful master of the sea. Of course, from then on the epic struggle of the old man and the sea played out. The old man survived; the "beeg fish" did not and by the time the boat finally made it home, the "beeg fish" had been eaten by prey. The epic struggle of man against the sea ended with a hollow victory for the old man and a reaffirmation of the natural power and majesty of the sea.

I may not have everything correct here in this recollection. Forgive me for after all, it was probably 40+ years ago that I saw the movie and/or read the book. But as I circled Mount Elbert for the third time in the past three years, I felt for the old man. The Leadville Trail 100 has become my "beeg fish." A search, but not a catch.

Off and on for the past twenty years I and my family have played in the winter time in the mountains that look over Leadville as we do our yearly "hut skiing." It seemed reasonable to set a goal of completing the LT 100 as an excuse to play in the same mountains in the summer. My first attempt was in 2006. That year I felt "loopy" for the first 13 miles; fell a couple of times early; and struggled up and over Hope Pass, only to miss the time cut-off at the 50 mile turn around at Winfield. The next year I was intent to beat myself up during training. My theory was to run with 20 pounds of lead weight around my ankles and waist as I trained in Cleveland so that when I would run at altitude without the extra weight, it all would somehow even out. All that lead to was a ruptured calf muscle two weeks before the race and another DNF; this time at the Twin Lakes 40 mile mark.

This year was to be "my time." I would not over train. I would not go into Leadville hurt or "loopy." I would run a smart race, and finish! Granted, I recognized that some odds were against me. For whatever reason, my times over the past year in 50 milers have been significantly slower that ever before. And I recognized that Gary Knipling, who is at least three hours faster than me over 50 miles and the same age as I am, finished Leadville last year as part of the Grand Slam, but with only 30 minutes to spare. And my friend Tom Bauer, who ran a 50 miler this spring in Arizona, 5 hours faster than me, finished Leadville last year in 28 hours. I recognize totally that the thirty hour limit is/would/will be a tough "beeg fish" to catch.

The weather in Leadville this year was interesting. I have come to realize and accept that dodging lightening bolts from the obligatory afternoon and evening thunderstorms is par for this course. But this year, the lightening was interspersed among rain, hail and snow with temperatures that ranged from the 30ís to moments of 50ís. It was a cold and wet experience. The first 13 miles of the LT 100 are a really nice "warm up." Perhaps the first third of that section is downhill on mostly dirt road. The rest of the first section is a beautiful trip around Turquoise Lake on gentle single track trail. I arrived at the 13 mile aid station about 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off. This was about what I expected. The next section traverses back through a beautiful forest (I know, I use that word "beautiful" a lot; but it fits); makes a short climb and then emerges upon the Hagerman Pass Road. This is a long, gentle climb with spectacular views of Turquoise Lake below and Hagerman Pass above. The course eventually diverts back and up and over Sugarloaf Mountain only to descend down to the Fish Hatchery aid station. I wasnít struggling (I thought) but I only made the cut-off by one minute! I was shocked and surprised to be in such a bind at only a marathon distance. The next 5 mile section should be run since it is a flat road and then at least partly runnable for another 3 miles as it is a gentle up hill and on dirt road. But my breathing was labored and my leg speed was non-existent. Oh my, with 15 minutes to go until the next aid station cut-off I was told by a volunteer walking down the road that I could only make the cut-off if I "basically ran" the whole way. Well, gasping and groping, I ran (mostly) and I did make the cut-off, again by one minute! But that allowed me to make the climb up to Mount Elbert and traverse the beautiful single track trail (yes, thereís that word again) that winds around Elbert and then eventually descends to Twin Lakes. It was within this section that I succumbed to the reality of my inadequacy. It was within this section that I began remembering the suffering of the old man and the sea and his quest to capture the "beeg fish." And yes, I failed by a long shot to make the Twin Lakes time cut-off. Iím now three for three in Leadville Trail 100 DNFís.

As I was engaged in my last section of the race, my mind told me "thatís enough!" Iím not going to put myself and my family through this exercise in "failure" again. But disappointment and anger soon turned to frustration. Yes, frustration. I just know that I can catch this "beeg fish!" I only have to train smarter and yes, to live at altitude for at least a month before the race. Perhaps retirement may have its benefits?

And oh yes, I know that "Ishmael" was part of a chase of another kind of "monster" of the sea and from another book; but somehow I just felt like the name fit my story.

...Jack Andrish
August 20, 2008

Life isnít about waiting for the storm to pass...
It's about learning to dance in the rain.
(unknown, 2008)
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