On Comebacks

Big step today in my return to civilized life… It wasn’t easy up in this little mountain town but I finally found an internet provider that could hook me up with 10mbps. This is a huge step in restoring my ability to conduct my photography and writing enterprises! I still remember sitting in my camper after the wife had passed from cancer, life completely decimated… no home, no family, no job, no savings left, camera broken and laptop on it’s last leg. Wondering, how does one come back from this?

Steve & Dad Leadville (wordpress)Today I received and notice in the email that it is once again time to register for the Leadville 100 “Race Across the Sky” and I am reminded of my most memorable comeback, my first Leadville 100 finish. I was relatively inexperienced at running that distance and by the time I had reached the Halfmoon aid station on the return trip about 70 miles into the race, I was physically and mentally trashed. If you want to drop out, you can ask  the aid  station and they will remove your medical stats wrist band, effectively eliminating you from the race. I was the first person I had encountered who looked so bad that the aid station people were asking me for my medical band. But for some reason I said no and managed to down some food and eventually stumble out of the aid station and continue the race.

I was moving so slowly though that race personnel were continuing to drive by and ask me for my medical band. But I continued to put one foot in front of the other while my mind argued with my body… With more than a marathon in distance to go there is no earthly reason to believe that it is possible to finish. In preparation for a marathon distance run most people get some extra rest, do some carbo loading and take steps to prepare their minds and body for such a distance. No one starts a marathon completely exhausted, sleep deprived and sick from not being able to eat a proper meal, cold and wet and in the dark of night in the mountains with an 11,200 foot pass to climb.

But even then, in complete denial of reality, I continued to put one foot in front of the other… why? Because I could. Because it is what I expected of myself, because it is what my crew who had worked so hard all summer with me expected of me. Because you can’t just drop out for being tired and sick, because you knew when you signed up for such insanity that you were going to be cold and tired and sick for over 24 hours. Cold and tired and sick is not a valid excuse for giving up, it is part of the race. Such as it is in real life, even in your darkest hour you continue on because that is what everyone does, because that is what is expected of you by your friends and family and people who are counting on you, because giving up is unthinkable.

Well as it turns out by the time I arrived at the Fish Hatchery aid station I was feeling a bit better and was able to down some more food. By the time I got to Hagerman Pass the food was kicking in and I could smell the finish line. There was still nearly 20 miles to go but some strength had returned and my body had warmed somewhat. I knew I was pushing the limit on cutoff times and I dug deep and hit the afterburner. Later my pacer told me if I had gone any faster over the pass he would not have been able to keep up with me. By the time I had gotten around Turquoise Lake I had made up considerable time against the cutoff limits and a finish was guaranteed if I could just continue to put one foot in front of the other.  I could no longer hold down any food or ERG but I just kept walking up the long four mile hill to the finish line. Finally, after 29 hours the old west mining town of Leadville was once again in sight. And at 29:15 my feet crossed the finish line and I received the coveted hug and finisher’s medallion from Merilee.

I have been involved with sports my entire life and am definitely a fan of great comebacks. I believe that sports can train people for success in life and this experience was no different. I was able to draw on the hardship and perseverance involved in finishing a 100 mile race in the mountains against impossible odds to carry on with life even after the terrible circumstances surrounding such a devastating illness and death in the family. I know others are at this time facing their darkest hour and I hope these words can in some small way encourage them to make their comeback in life.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items
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Endurance

This time of year always reminds me of the big endurance races here in Colorado, the Pikes Peak Marathon and the Leadville 100 Mile “Race Across the Sky”. Although it has been a long time since I have run the race I know the trials and tribulations of attempting to run 100 miles at an average of 10,000 feet of elevation have permanently changed my mindset regarding what the mind can force the body to accomplish.

Steve & Dad Leadville (wordpress)When my buddy and I were on the descent from our winter summit of Mount Elbert last year, we knew we were nearing the parking lot but it was getting cold and dark and we were really tired from 10 hours of hiking in snow. That’s when your mind starts telling you that you aren’t going to make it, or you are on the wrong trail, or that you didn’t prepare and train enough to accomplish what you are trying to do. He said to me, maybe we should just stop and camp… I’m sure I was just as exhausted and miserable as anyone could be but I said no, we can make it… I said we could go another 50 miles feeling this miserable! Lol, sounds funny but it’s true.

The Leadville 100 is an out and back race from the town of Leadville, Colorado to the ghost town of Winfield at an average of 10,000 feet over three mountain passes including Hope Pass at 12,600 feet. And I can tell you when you summit Hope Pass the second time after 12 hours of running with your legs feeling like two pieces of useless rubber, sick to your stomach and heart feeling like it is going to explode inside your chest, there is no earthly reason why you should believe that you are going to be able to run another 45 miles over two more mountain passes… in the dark.

But somehow all the training, past experience, determination and pure force of will come together to keep you going, just because you can and because you can’t bear the thought of living another year with the specter of failure hanging over your life while you train another twelve long months for another shot at it. And once you stagger across that finish line you are somehow different and the change applies to many aspects of life. Things you thought you would never be able to accomplish become possible. Things that cause others to shrink in fear are small in your mind now. In your chest beats the heart of a champion and no one can ever take that away from you, ever.

The picture is of me and my dad nearing the finish line in Leadville. My dad was a runner too and I always liked having him pace me for the last section from Twin Lakes on into town… He was my life coach when I was growing up and while others might have felt sorry for me and maybe allowed me to give up so close to the finish line I could always count on kind words of encouragement from my dad… Lol… like “oh shut up and get going, we’re almost there!”… 🙂 I always liked this picture, not because it is the most scenic or dramatic but because it is the one that shows the sheer magnitude of the race. The mountains in the background towering over the skyline are where the war takes place. Looking back now it is hard to even imagine crossing those mountains twice, but I did and I am a better person for the experience. Good luck and Godspeed to all who are facing the monster this year!

Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

Train Travel

So I have been seeing this post about how wonderful it would be to travel by train across the country for only $213… and I feel I should weigh in with my own experience with said method of travel. Before I start however, I must admit that there is something to be said for an experience that one can remember, relish and even write about some thirty years after the fact 🙂

moffat-tunnelNow this whole adventure began with an idea I had with some running friends to travel to get some 50 mile mountain runs under our belts as preparation for the 1988 Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run. The race we wanted to run was the San Juan Trail 50 mile run up in the coastal mountains near San Juan Capistrano. We didn’t have a lot of money then, so the train looked like a reasonable substitute for flying. Only a little more than 24 hours of travel time… piece of cake, we thought. It will be fun, they said, there is a bar car, food and think of all the scenery you will get to view!

Day 0, Denver’s Union Station, no problem. The excitement was building, we boarded the train with our running gear, and off we went through the tunnels and up the front range through El Dorado Canyon to the crown jewel of tunnels, the Moffat Tunnel and our first experience riding a train with no air circulation. Apparently the diesel fumes in the long underground exposure are a bad thing, so no air and a bit of diesel fragrance for a while. Well as you can imagine, two ultra runners had no problem surviving a ride through a tunnel.

Now for the enjoyable part of the trip. We cruised through Colorado and the scenery was indeed spectacular, especially Glenwood Canyon and the bar car. Here we met a sweet young lady from Canada who was traveling alone and interested in some company with a couple of knuckleheads from Colorado, don’t remember her name. This of course was before smart phones, Facebook and apparently even paper and pens. Soon Colorado was behind us, but Utah scenery isn’t bad either and we still had money for the bar car 🙂 Now bear in mind, the train isn’t the airline. There are no complimentary meals or drinks and the prices for said supplements need to be paid for in full at the time of serving.

The day dragged on into evening and the scenery faded into blackness. Sundown coincided with the end of the fun trip 😦 Now maybe things are different thirty years later, but at the time we were very much dismayed to discover that the bar car closed early. Once again, this isn’t a 747 with movies and radio. At this point you discover that you are traveling on a long dark bus, $213 does not include a sleeper car, not even a cot, just your seat crammed in there with everyone else on your car… No problem we thought, we will just get some sleep and soon it will be morning. So we loaded up our new Canadian team member and moved her to our section of seats and the three of us closed our eyes and drifted off to sleep. Except the sleep did not come. Between the hundreds of snoring passengers, the excitement and anticipation of the race ahead, and the proximity of a potential new girlfriend, sleep proved impossible. And I love that Canadian accent, couldn’t get enough of it. However after a couple of hours, nearby passengers were not nearly as enamored with my new girlfriend as I was and before long the three of us were in hot water with the conductor.

This is where things really began to turn ugly. Unable to sleep or keep quiet apparently, it was not long before we found our little travel trio exiled from the civilized people and confined to an empty non climate controlled prison car. Here is where we learned about railway right of ways. The freight companies own the tracks that the passenger train runs on. Sounds good, except that the freight companies are busy and every time a freight train is encountered the passenger train has to pull over to a sideout and wait thirty minutes to an hour while the freight train passes. Which is also fine if you are asleep with the civilized people, but very cold if you are incarcerated in the “bad people” car. Now I don’t remember which was which, but part of the time, when the train was running, we sweltered from unregulated heat. The other part of the time, which I think was on the sideouts, we shivered and buried ourselves in any sort of covering we could find. Unfortunately we were not aware of these circumstances when we left civilization and didn’t bring our bags with us. So we just huddled together and did our best to survive January in Utah and Nevada. On the night when we most needed some sleep to rest up for the task ahead there was no sleep to be had. But the night wasn’t a total loss, I did get to know, however briefly as it was, a cute young Canadian girl 🙂

Morning finally came and we were allowed back into the civilized car with clothes and snacks. Unfortunately we had vastly underestimated the necessity and the cost of spending the entire trip in the bar car and were running low on funds. So we just huddled and napped as best as we could all the way to LA Union Station. The rest of the trip was not without incident however, as you might imagine with such a long trip on a glorified bus tempers are bound to flare. Don’t remember the reason for the altercation, but at one point we had to disembark one belligerent passenger to another car who said he was coming back but must have thought better of it.

Finally we arrived at Union Station where our little trio of travelers had to separate. My new girlfriend was traveling on to another destination in California, a goodbye kiss on the cheek and I never saw or heard from her again. Calla, one of our friends from the computer company we worked for at the time looked at her and said “What was that all about?”. Don’t think we ever filled her all in on the entire adventure. Anyway, Calla picked us up for a one night layover at her house before giving us a ride down to the race the following day. This begins an entire new adventure, involving flat tires, oil lights, more snoring and another sleepless night in the cabins at the race, but that is a whole ‘nuther story, for another whole ‘nuther blog post, if anyone is interested 🙂

For the return trip we knew we would need a better plan… Nearly out of money, we knew there would be no spending a good part of the time in the bar car. So we took out our wallets, counted our money and strategized how to best invest it. We knew we were going to need food and beverage… a lot of beverage. And since any beverage that could make the time pass was officially prohibited we knew we were going to need some of those red party cups. Eventually we decided that the proper combination was going to be a 12 pack of Coors and a large Dominoes pizza apiece. We managed to smuggle the beverage and the food onto the train in our duffel bags, along with plastic cups, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”. We knew we had to wait until nightfall to begin rationing the sleeping medicine, so we whiled the afternoon away reading old Runner’s World and Ultra Running magazines while looking at the lack of eastern California and Nevada scenery. We figured if we drank one beer an hour for twelve hours we could make it until morning with our sanity so we waited until 6 p.m. to begin administering the medicine. I don’t know exactly what time it was that the last beverage was consumed, but we finally managed a slumber, or stupor, whatever you want to call it. I remember we both woke up at the same time with headaches and cotton mouth sometime before 7 a.m. We just kind of looked at each other and then our watches and I remember Craig saying, “I love it when a plan comes together!”. We had survived the night on the train. An old lady behind us with a big smile told us good morning, and she said, “Oh I thought you guys were going to be real trouble drinking all that beer, but then you just went to sleep!”. Craig said, “Yup, that was the plan!”.

We arrived to a new blanket of deep white snow in Colorado, apparently a foot of the stuff had fallen in our short absence. My renter met us at Union Station and told me I didn’t need to worry about the snow. He proudly told me how he had driven his truck back and forth on the driveway and had packed it down really well. When I got home I was relieved to find that the snow shovel had not been stolen or broken, just resting in it’s proper place, unused just inside the garage door. It was only a few weeks before the thick layer of driveway ice withered in the Colorado sunshine.

Well that is pretty much it in a nutshell… the joy of traveling the country by train with no sleeper car.

 

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items

Ultra Running 2014

Despite a bout of food poisoning I managed to complete my article on this summer’s ultra running schedule in Colorado. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the grueling endurance sport is catching on in my state. It has been a while since I have run an ultra and I was happy to find that there are still runners who aspire to finish the Grand Slam and a new challenge called the Rocky Mountain Slam, the completion of four major ultra marathons in the Rocky Mountain region.

I was also pleased to find that a number of quality new events have been born in Colorado to fill out the summer schedule and give runners all around the state a chance to run close to home. Given my circumstances I will not have the opportunity to participate, but I do hope that I can get myself and my camera to one of these fine events to get some pictures and meet some of the new runners.

Please stay tuned to my blog and subscribe to my free Examiner page to stay updated on the latest developments on the trail running scene.