Leadville TR 2015 – Internship

I’ve often been tired. Two Autumns ago I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree at MSU Denver, Music Directing a show and working nights as a custodian at Lifetime Fitness in Parker, CO. I wasn’t sleeping. I was mainlining Red Bull like Lou Reed and once started hallucinating in class after having been awake for 72 hours. Sleep is awesome. Don’t take it for granted.

That was a physically exhausting time. This past weekend, August 21-23 was the emotional equivalent of that time.

The body is an amazing apparatus. It is a finely tuned, beautiful and expertly functional machine comprised of thoughts, feelings, strength, fluids, hormones and many other facilities that I don’t really know much about. What I do know is that it takes a village to get a body to overcome 100 miles of trail that weave it’s delicate thread through the majesty of Leadville, CO. My wife and I were able to be a part of that village this year as our friends, Ben Dicke, Emily Dicke-Luhrs, and Becki Lynn Lassley conquered mountains, rivers, valleys, the darkness and the dawn to finish The Race Across the Sky.

It started innocently enough. I got a text message a handful of months ago from Emily asking me if I was interested in pacing her through a portion of the race she was preparing for. I knew about Leadville because in 2012, right before we opened the first show I ever Music Directed (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson) Ben had finished running on a treadmill for 24 hours to raise money for our production and then a couple weeks later, ran his first Leadville Trail Run, recovered for maybe 48 hours, then came in and continued directing his show. I was more than impressed, but also wasn’t really able to calculate what he had just done in my math-impaired brain. I had run cross-country in High School and having been home schooled that really means I just sort of ran around my neighborhood in the Mojave Desert of CA. I was solid at running, but it fell off my map for music, sitting around, and finally applying self-taught skills to land work planted in front of a computer all day. My body, this amazing thing that I am blessed with only once, had softened. It was shapes. Non of which I was happy with. So unbeknownst to me, Mr. Dicke had started a thread through my life that would lead me to fall in love with running again. But I digress.

Emily texted. I was honored and still am, post race weekend, that she would even ask me. Alannah and I were planning on being up there to crew, to fill racing pack bladders with water, set up pop-up tents and camping chairs, etc., but I was certainly not thinking it at any time that I would actually put my feet to the hallowed dirt of this Ultra Running institution. I promptly asked her, “What do I need to do to be the best pacer for you I can be? And how far is it that I’m pacing?”. The last question was asked with a trace of fear and hesitation. Even though I knew I could do it, it took a lot of convincing my brain to understand that i could do it, and the unwavering support of my wife to actually believe I could do it. It was 8 miles in the depths of the dark before the dawn that I would have the extreme joy and emotional overload of helping my friend. More on that later.

Crewing: You know how when you’re really excited about applying for a job and you want it so bad that you’re willing to put on your resume that you have experience with something and then, after you’ve interviewed and they call you back, you have to show them you know how to do the stuff you said you can do, but can’t? That’s what a first time crew member for an Ultra Marathon felt like for me. I learn quickly, so that’s a plus. My wife is smart and calculated. Type A all the way and that helped a ton as well. Our leaders had their charts and clipboards and I had an amazing crew-chief in Joe Bearss and his  Lieutenant, Sara Foster in that they knew what the crap they were doing and were gracious and laid out everything that needed to be ready when our peeps came through our camp. I can’t thank them enough. Then came the sitting. It takes a long time to run 100 miles. We were based at Twin Lakes, the 40 mile mark. Ten miles from the half-way point, up and over Hope Pass. It was stunning in its beauty and rife with energy as more and more crews showed up. You chat, you drink water, you take pictures, you wonder where your friends are. They’re out there. Running. They come in, you take pictures, you smile and hope they’re doing okay. Sometimes they talk to you, sometimes the focus is so deep that it seems like they barely register you are there. You do what you’re told to get them out and on their feet again. The pacers prepare. You meet new people and you talk about music, the beauty of the guitar and you find out later as this new friend while pacing one of your heroes through the darkness and shadows cast by headlamps, that they listened to In Rainbows on a little bluetooth speaker that was attached to their hip. Radiohead thrumming through the black in 5/4 and 7/4 and the dawn still hours away. The stars reel and look closer than they ever have as you weave baskets of trail and dirt on your shoes, caked and muddy. At least that’s how I imagine it.

In the darkness, my alarm vibrates me awake. Time to dress and prepare for my pacing duties. I got the socks and the shoes and the lamp and the water and I meet the band of brothers and sisters downstairs in the labyrinthian home that was crash-pad for many friends and crew members. We drive in the early morning night to find our loved one. She’s now 80+ miles into her adventure. I will be her comrade for 8 miles. “Like Eminem”, my wife said. I was nervous. I don’t usually get nervous. I’m emotionally calculated or jaded as Alannah might say, that I don’t often get nervous about things. The most nervous I’ve been in my life was hoping that Alannah still wanted to walk toward me when we got hitched last summer. This was not that kind of nervous, it was a nervous that came from a fear of failing to do the duties my friend had asked me to do. Emily had her reasons for asking me to be a part of this monumental undertaking. I still don’t know why. To this point the furthest I had run ever was 13.1 miles. At least the furthest that I had paid to run and got a medal for completing. Prior to the actual race I did train so as not to fail her. I hiked, I ran up hills, I started a marathon training schedule so that a) I could run a marathon next year and b) I could push my friend through the forest, next to the lake, and get her to Joey so he could get her home. He did.

The night grew lighter and the grey and shadows waned as dawn came upon us. It was trudging at best. My friend was broken. “This race has broken me”, she confessed to the trees and rocks. I walked behind her, never far from her shoulder. Trying to find words, but sometimes the silence confirms and you both understand, this is a boat that you row together. It’s the actual movement that is the answer. No words are needed. I thought of hashtags in my head. I was charged with Samwise Gamgee quotes to soften every step that the trail dealt. Like a jackhammer was a step down hill, driving into her legs. Every uphill was met with an exhausted sigh. I couldn’t carry her, though I wanted to. It’s in the rules. We bantered. We tried to laugh. We tried to jog. We just moved forward. She smiled at everyone we passed and who passed us. The glittering Unicorn of 100 miles, slowly losing her shimmer. But still she smiled.

I am surrounded by heroes. Men and women who are heroes of family, of life, of creativity. Heroes that believe that a human is more than they believe they are and can do more than they thought. This is why my wife is a teacher. She believes that the young people she teaches to dance and directs in her shows at her Middle School are more than the sum of their parts at this point in their hormonal, middle school existence. She sees the future leaders of the world, she prepares them for the realities of life, she sometimes wants to hip check them into a row of lockers. My wife is honest. A hero of truth and without her words and encouragement and without her believing that I could be Samwise Ganges (She hasn’t read the books or seen the movies) for Emily, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Thanks, love. I am surrounded by champions and heroes. I am inspired by their determination, their fearlessness. I want to support them in all they do all the time. Near or far. I am grateful for their companionship and their laughter.

As I sit in my living room, reflecting on the weekend, feeling inspired, programming my pedal board for the next 2 shows I’m a part of and of course, doing my 9 to 5, I actually believe I can do anything. Thank you, my friends, for all that you are, every day. See you soon.

All my love,
– JTV

“I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!” – Samwise Gamgee