My palms were sweaty and my heart raced as I stared at the “submit” button on the computer screen.
Should I really do this? Am I crazy? What if I fail miserably and embarrass myself? What if this kills me?
There’s no turning back now. I just paid my fee and entered the historic Leadville 100 race lottery. In other words, I just voluntarily signed up to run 100 consecutive miles at altitude and subject my body to pain it’s never known.
In the book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall tried to put the difficulty of the Leadville 100 in perspective by writing:
“Try running the Boston Marathon two times in a row with a sock stuffed in your mouth and then hike to the top of Pikes Peak. Done? Great. Now do it all again, this time with your eyes closed. That’s pretty much what the Leadville Trail 100 boils down to: nearly four full marathons, half of them in the dark, with twin twenty-six-hundred-foot climbs smack in the middle. Leadville’s starting line is twice as high as the altitude where planes pressurize their cabins, and from there you only go up.”
When I first heard about the Leadville 100 several years ago, I questioned the sanity of anyone crazy enough to attempt it. This line of thinking was only reinforced after watching my brother’s condition rapidly deteriorate 55 miles into his own attempt two years ago. (Read the story here.) After search and rescue and medical personnel escorted his depleted body off the mountain in the dark of the night, I drove away from Leadville hoping to never experience the event again—and I was just a spectator.
I had a hard time getting the race out of my mind in the weeks and months that followed. As awful as the Leadville 100 appeared to be, strangely enough, I started to wonder what it would be like to do it. It started with a natural curiosity, but I soon found my heart turning towards the seemingly ridiculous idea.
It’s not as if I consider myself to be an ultra runner. I’ve never viewed myself a runner of any kind. In fact, the only reason I ran track in high school was to stay in shape for wrestling. After realizing I couldn’t vault, jump, or sprint competitively, the coach enlisted me with all the other suckers in the dreaded two-mile race.
In one particular race, I was so far behind the other runners that I got a “sympathy clap” from the crowd when I finally came up the home stretch.
Then there was the day I was standing in the locker room after practice when my coached approached me with a look that could kill. “Gabe, did you cheat at practice today or did you run the entire distance (5 mile run into the country and back)?”
I stumbled and stammered, trying to avoid eye contact. “Ummm.”
“Your shoes are soaking wet.” He quipped. “You cut across the river and took a shortcut. Didn’t you?”
I could have prophetically announced that cutting through the river was actually training for a future ultra marathon (there are two river crossings on the Leadville course), but instead I admitted my lapse in judgment and suffered the consequences. For a man who disliked running, the consequence was indeed harsh: more running.
Before signing up for Leadville, I spent a considerable amount of time wondering if this idea was another lapse in judgment. Like a smooth talking used car salesman, I tried hard to sell myself on the idea that this whole notion was foolish and impractical—even dangerous. I tried to kill the desire, but it wouldn’t die.
Then I started to pray about it. God, are you turning my heart towards this idea? Is this from you? If so, I think you may want to double check to make sure you have the right guy.
The answer I kept getting as I prayed was simple: I want to take this journey with you.
The more I prayed, the more I realized that the desire to run in the Leadville 100 was actually a Divine invitation to step into a bigger story. A story being authored by someone who seems to enjoy suspense–God.
The problem with agreeing to participate in His story is that it’s riddled with unknown factors and risk…And I like comfort and safety. In a small way, I can relate with Peter before he stepped out of the boat and onto the water.
In fact, during one of my prayer sessions, I said: God, what if I fail miserably? What if this goes horribly wrong? What if I step out of the boat and sink?
He interrupted my train of fear-laced questions by simply asking: What if you walk?
His question was a good one, and it illuminated my narrow thinking and distorted vision. How easy it is to look through the lens of risk only to see all of the negative possibilities. The error in this thinking is that it leaves no room for God to inject Himself into the drama and intervene. It’s almost as if I think Peter’s infamous water-walking story reads something like this:
Peter, displaying great courage, stepped out of the boat and towards Jesus. After briefly walking on water, Peter started to sink. Jesus, being distracted, allowed Peter to sink to his death. The end.
When God invites us into a bigger story—when we’re beckoned to move towards something that seems risky—we can be sure that He walks with us. Often times, I think this is actually the point of His invitation. He is after deeper intimacy, and whatever it is that He wants to “do” with us is secondary.
He’s reminded me of this multiple times over the past several months as I’ve been on training runs. He’ll harness my wandering mind and bring me back to His initial statement: I want to do this with you.
Yes, I’m confident that’s precisely the point of this journey.
But I still wonder if He has the right guy.