I started drafting this blog post on the Monday following the Leadville Trail 100 Race. I felt I owed it to myself and everyone who supported me. Thankfully, I did not finish the draft or publish it. It has taken until now (more than 2 weeks later) to come to the point of digesting all that happened.
“You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry-go-round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains”
Andra Day, “Rise Up”
For more the 18 months, I wrote in my 5-minute journal nearly every day. It ended with that day’s affirmation. The affirmation has concluded with “I will crush Leadville in X days” except on August 18, 2018. On that day, it ended with “I will crush Leadville today.”
The last two weeks have been detoxification. It’s physiological detoxification from coming off an adrenaline drip for 29:49:39. It’s emotional detoxification for achieving a goal that was created more than three years ago when committed to Jeffrey to pace him. It affirmed a place in my heart when I pulled into Leadville for the first time. It lodged itself into my marrow when I watched Rui Pedras cross the finish line in 2015 with 13 minutes to spare.
I have never met Rui. I probably never will. We live an ocean apart. Yet, I learned something about him as he fell from side to side on his trekking poles. He does not quit. He taught me that strength comes from the something primal in each of us. We have to want it. We have to drive it out with every molecule of oxygen exhaled. It does not care about elevation, fatigue, or circumstances.
I often thought about Rui and his finish during the race. It was a necessity because I felt broken after 2016. I had done the work. I had spent time and energy with some of the best trainers, runners, doctors, and therapists available. The list includes Jay Dicharry at Rebound Physical Therapy, Dr. Oliver and Jeremy Dunbarr at Bluetail Medical, Dr. Matthew Lytle at Precision Health, Jeff Huse at Athletes Unlimited, and Rob Krar at his ultrarunning camp weeks before the race. All of this had prepared me for the race. I could not fathom how much would test me and attempt to break me before the starting gun went off. I felt that I was faking it going into this race.
It’s important to put into perspective something Corky Miller, a friend and LT100 finisher, once said to me. “Leadville is harder than most 100-mile races. It finds a tiny chink in the armor and hammers down on it. Relentlessly and unapologetically.” I experienced this in 2016 with the torn hamstring.
Five weeks before the race, the wheels started falling off. I sprained my right ankle. It happened in the final quarter mile of the last run at Rob Krar Ultra Camp (RKUC). It was entirely my fault and occurred due to my excitement. That run was the finality of an incredible week that turned strangers into family. I was practically dancing downhill and took one misstep. I finished the run but knew something was wrong.
Dr. Lytle quickly rehabilitated me, but I was not sure it would be enough. It was days before the race when the ankle felt almost normal. By the start of the race, I was back to normal and never struggled from the sprain other than some rocked confidence. Unfortunately, I was not thinking about my ankle at the start of the race. It ended up being something worse that would plague the first 10 hours of the race.
I slept well the night before the race. When I awoke, everything seemed normal until some stomach cramping began. I incorrectly attribued the GI distress to nerves. It would rear itself multiple times during the race.
In 2016, I felt I did not belong in the race. It was entirely a self-confidence issue that led to a host of other issues during that race. I would not repeat that this time. I pushed my way to the front and crossed the line in a fraction of the previous time. My race started as planned. Things were smooth sailing as I completed the first five miles that took me out of town.
After the five miles leading out of town, the course has 7+ miles around Turquoise Lake that leads racers to May Queen, the first aid station. I love this section with its rolling hills and beautiful view of the lake. It embodies a feeling of familiarity since it reminds me of the trails here in Missouri. This is despite being the section where I suffered a torn hamstring in 2016. It’s also the section that I paced in 2015 and had my runner doing sub-9 minute miles to finish his race.
All was well until mile 8. The theory of pre-race jitters was replaced by the reality of food poisoning from the previous day’s lunch. It caused frequent stops. More important, it set off a chain reaction that significantly reduced my fuel consumption.
In most ultras, I plan to consume around 250-300 calories per hour. This amount is typical and safe for most runners despite burning up to 800 calories per hour. Consuming too few calories causes a runner to bonk and run out of energy. Consuming too many calories causes a runner to have cramps or worse. The blood rushes to the stomach to deal with the overabundance of food which induces nausea or worse.
I would consume a fraction of the typical amount thanks to the food poisoning. Over the 30 hours, I should have consumed around 7500-8000 calories. The estimate is that I took in approximately 3000 calories or about 100 calories per hour. That downward estimate does not factor in what I returned to the trail gods. Please do not ask what this explicitly means for the sake of the children. Search Google for “what happens when you get food poisoning?”.
My saving grace ended up being Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem. I had trained on this, and it was gentle enough that I could digest it without issues. Most of my calories came from Perpetuem. (Disclaimer: I am a Hammer Sponsored Athlete. I am not required to mention them. I tried this product because they sponsored me. If I had not, I am not sure if I would have finished.)
Two miles after the first GI issues, I ran into another problem. The lake and accompanying winds caused the temperatures to fluctuate. I am usually able to adapt to it; however, it was occurring too fast. The electrolyte and GI stresses made adapting difficult. Either from to the electrolyte imbalance or due to an appearance by my friend MS, I spent the next 2 minutes in unadulterated pain. My brain was smacked with waves of electrical shocks (aka brain zaps).
I had mentally prepared for this. I struggled with something similar years earlier at Clinton Lake Ultra. I had visualized how I would respond should this happen again. I had run this play in my head a hundred times. My thoughts cycled through three thoughts – my family, Rui, and gratitude that I am one of those with MS still able to run. Rinse. Repeat.
I came into May Queen at mile 13 in much better spirits than I expected despite multiple GI stops and the brain zaps. I did not show it. The crew would later tell me that I was different this year. I did not chat with them much. I was focused. Unfortunately, my state of focus visually represents itself as being an asshole. I decided to postpone a change of clothes. It was either my state or the need to chase cutoffs that caused my crew to rush me out of aid stations beginning with that one.
The miles from May Queen to Outward Bound were fun with minimal challenges to report except the ongoing GI issues. Hagerman Pass brought back smiles from 2016 when I was begging my wife to bring me painkillers so I could finish. I was aggressively cautious coming down Powerline after the sprained ankle from RKUC. As I watched another runner unsuccessfully test his ability to fly, I wondered if my sprained ankle was karma teaching me a lesson before the race.
The crew was able to turn me around at Outward Bound quickly. The next section is the one I hate more than any other. It’s a mile through the field of a ranch. It’s tedious and dangerous. The grass makes seeing the ground surface nearly impossible. It’s too easy to take a misstep and prematurely end the day with a twisted ankle or worse. This section also leads out to 2 miles on the road.
Road sections mentally slaughter me. I started running on trails because the road is boring. The emptiness of thoughts leaves my mind to contemplate my capabilities and count mileages. The defeating thoughts of my inner child (aka Fatty Matty) come alive. Also, I hate running next to cars most of which are piloted by mobile phone comatose drivers. Before heading to the next official aid station, I was able to connect with the crew and try to get down some real food.
I made it into Half Pipe with more than an hour before the cutoff. I burned a bunch of this time dealing with GI issues. This was the first time that I worried if I would need to drop from it. I could only run for a short period before getting sick again. I spent an excessive amount of time here hoping to settle my stomach. That investment in time led to a near race ending misstep. I left with a nearly empty hydration vest.
Three miles out of Half Pipe with more than 5 miles to go, my hydration vest was bone dry. I did not have enough time to return to Half Pipe. I decided to push forward despite the rising temperatures. This risky decision was stupid and forced a lesson in personal growth.
I hate asking people for help. It was a struggle to ask people to support the fundraiser. This deficiency can come across as egotistical or a sense of being better than others. The reality is drastically different. I never want the other to think or feel my friendship, love, affection, etc. come with strings attached. I still have never asked my crew to help me with Leadville. I can only hope I make up for this with gratitude towards them.
I broke down and asked a stranger for any extra fluid. A racer named Scott had the same hydration vest as mine, and he left with the back hydration container plus two frontloading bottles. He was able to share one of the frontloaded bottles. That provided enough water to get me through to an ad-hoc water-only station barely. I had forgotten about this station. To Scott, I owe you. You saved my race and my dream.
As I arrived at Twin Lakes, the GI issues had become less violent. I was still unable to consume the necessary calories per hour. With time to spare, I decided to change clothes and address a new issue – blisters. I have not had blisters in almost six years despite thousands of miles. The race had not hit the water crossings yet. Courtney attempted to treat them; however, it was too late. Calluses had already covered the blisters. (Have I ever mentioned how sexy and classy ultramarathoners are? No! Because we aren’t.)
Twin Lakes is where the race really begins. The previous forty miles were foreplay in pain and struggle. The rumor is that more people drop here than any other point in the race. It’s the climb up Hope Pass to the peak of 12,600 feet. Because this was not enough (and for supposed logistical ease), the course was changed in 2017. The change added miles to this section and increased the overall distance of the 100-mile race.
I struggled with this section in 2016 and needed to negative split the return. I was committed to not becoming a victim to it again. The lower water levels helped as I made my way across the field to the climb. My pace was excellent, and I was on my projected times to this point. As I climbed Hope Pass, I ran across its first victim. A runner was hobbling back down the mountain. He had broken his foot. He did not want aid and was in no mood to discuss the circumstances.
I arrived at the turn around point with time to spare. I picked up my first pacer, Jeffrey Stukuls. Jeffrey and I were the combo that negative split this section in 2016. We did not need to repeat that feat, but we also could not relax. The lack of calories began to limit my capabilities at this point.
My body was betraying me, and it was dragging my mind with it. I mentally and emotionally began to check out of the race. I was on the verge of praying for a DNF. I swore we had no chance of completing the race as other runners passed us. In 2016, I was passing people. The difference amplified my emotional state. As my pacer, Jeffrey was left to deal with the broken me.
We arrived back at Twin Lakes with eleven minutes before the cutoff. I needed to cross the chip sensor before 10:00 PM. It was a split decision whether to sit down and change shoes. The other option was to change them out on the trail after crossing the chip sensor. We opted for the former, and I chipped with less than seven minutes to spare.
The mere act of sitting and changing shoes revitalized me. I also picked up a new pacer, Corky. Corky knows LT100 better than anyone I know, and he knows this section better than any other section. It’s why he has paced me on this section both attempts. It’s also why we only lost 15 minutes from the trampled course marker that took us off course. Corky and I began to start passing people. We dealt with rain and sleet. I could not hold my core temperature and had to resort to wearing a jacket.
In the end, we picked up more than forty minutes before the next cutoff. That set the next pacer and me up for success on the section that killed my 2016 buckle.
My pacer changed to Noah Lander. Noah and I left Outward Bound headed for Powerline with plenty of time. I still was not wasting any time in aid stations to rest. Noah made me commit to something I had feared before now. He made me commit to saying, “I will finish Leadville this year.” When I would be on the verge of breaking, he would force me to say it. We started passing people again.
Powerline is measured by its false summits. The true summit is a sight to be seen thanks to its unofficial aid station. It is informally referred to as Space Station. The name is apropos given the volunteer students and Colorado’s liberal laws. It was also a welcome sight for this runner. I had taste fatigue. The hope was that a change of good would help me to keep the food down. I had not done such in nearly 10 miles.
Noah grabbed some potato chips. It was a successful plan for about 10 minutes. The potato chips returned to the trail. I went nearly dead on the inside. It was in this moment that Noah said something that clicked. “Shut your brain off. Zombie run this in.”
I am not sure why those words resonated. Maybe it was the permission to shut down my brain. Perhaps it was the permission to only focus on the present moment and not worry about the future. Sometimes being a pacer is about knowing what to say at the right time. Noah nailed it, and I still don’t fully understand why that worked.
As I returned to May Queen, it hit me that this would be the first time I would leave May Queen headed towards the town. I did not get the chance to take those steps in 2016. Those steps would need to wait though as food poisoning schedule a meeting with me and a porta potty.
Jeffrey and I left with four hours to cover 12.5 miles. This distance was doable given my strength despite my fuel issues. We unknowingly began to slow down. In the first two hours, we covered less than five miles. We were completely unaware and still believed we were on pace to finish. We even passed another runner who asked why we were running (which was really fast walking) given the “abundance of time we have left.” Jeffrey got the slowest and worst of me on the trail.
I spared almost no expense with Leadville this year. One of the additions was the Garmin inReach Mini Satellite GPS. The device was uploading my GPS data every ten minutes. They could see that we were off pace and the finish was severely at risk. They made an executive decision to send Corky and Noah to meet up with us. If they had waited an additional ten minutes for the next GPS push, it would have been too late.
“My new year’s resolution, yeah
Is to choke out my illusions, yeah
And cut through the confusion, yeah
Oh, keep on digging deep, keep digging deep
Keep digging deep, keep digging”
Nothing More, “Don’t Stop”
Corky met up and began to get us back on pace. Even in my delirious state, I would see him calculating the pace and the remaining distance. He was running/shuffling by my side despite wearing corduroy pants. As we exited the woods around Turquoise Lake, I began to lean to the right. My right obliques and right hamstring turned off. I could not activate these muscles.
Corky took over at this point. We had five miles to go with a significant amount of uphill. This same section seemed so alive and optimistic twenty-nine hours ago. It was now demoralizing and transmuting into a dream killer. We moved along for what seemed like forever. At one point, we caught up with Matt Stevens, a crew member.
Matt is the brother of one of my closest friends, Josh. Matt resides in Colorado and had joined the crew to spend time with his brother. A man I barely knew had started at the finish line that morning. He ran the course in reverse to meet us. He did this to provide the exact distance we had to go – 1.9 miles.
It was at this time that Corky asked me if I wanted this – if I wanted to finish or not. I am still not entirely sure I answered the question.
His next statement was that I was no longer in charge. I had to promise to do what he said. If he said run, I ran as best as I could. If he said walk, I did that the best I could. It did not matter. It just mattered that I did what I was told from now until thirty hours.
The last (and first) mile of the race is on the streets of Leadville. It is a rolling hill with the finish line visible from the top. In 2015, I watched dreams die as the race finished with people visible from afar on the top of those rolling hills. It’s too easy to think the race is over when the finish is within sight. Corky is well aware of this phenomenon.
He pushed me to continue running when I could. The video shows me with my hand on his left shoulder. I could not walk straight anymore due to the lean. It did not help that my vision was starting to deteriorate. He was not pulling me. He was guiding me to run straight. He was pointing me to the finish.
For the first time, I truly believed I was going to finish. The point hit me when I saw Rob Krar and his wife Christina Bauer cheering me on. It’s something that will ring in my heart forever.
Everyone kept shouting how Courtney was waiting for me. With the volume of people and emotions, I could not find her. When I finally did, Corky hugged me one last time. We uttered words that will remain between us. Just know that I love that man more than words can ever express. His guidance in my life has and continues to have a profound impact on my mission, my family, and my future.
Corky sent me to Courtney. From there, the video says it all. We crossed the finish line together at 29:49:39. I had less than 10.5 minutes to spare. As our family mission statement says, I “maximized life and potential.” I also maximized my time.
Ultra running, like any endurance sport, is a selfish endeavor. It takes time away from family and friends. I have a slight excuse with my multiple sclerosis. Trail running for long distances has helped me adapt and deal with neurological stress and visual response challenges that commonly plague those with MS.
Courtney asked me on the plane ride home if I wished I had a picture of only me crossing the finish line. I could not imagine any finish other than the one I had. She has been my partner for 25 years. The day I crossed the finish line was the 25th anniversary of our first date.
The finish line was merely the closing of the first quarter century together. I want her by my side and running with me for as long as she will have me. I just hope my friends are by my side to make me a strong and good enough person for her.
Here is the crew that made this happen: (alphabetically by last name) Paul Bastean, Noah Lander, Jon Lauer, Craig McElroy, Corky Miller, Ryan Mortland, Misa Ono, Courtney Porter, Todd Rausch, Jay Steinback, Josh Stevens, Matt Stevens, Jeffrey Stukuls, Holly Turner, and Krister Ungerboeck (the dinosaur).
Finally, I want to thank everyone who followed along at home and for everyone who contributed to the Fundraiser. We raised almost $50k for Race to Erase MS. The mere fact that every mile was worth so much mattered in the darkest moments. Even zombies care.
I recently wrote about how I was a panelist for EO Accelerator. In that post, I discussed how there are times to share experience, and there are times to give advice. I finished the blog post with the advice I gave the audience that day – Get off your fucking email. I want to take a moment to explain why this direct and intentionally vulgar statement is subtle and critical.
I gave this advice because I used to be this person. I regularly answered emails within minutes of receiving them.
Email me asking to review a proposal due in 30 minutes? I replied within minutes.
Email me asking about plans for the weekend? I replied within minutes.
Email me asking if I have thought much about where our kids will go to college in 5 years? I replied within minutes. OK, maybe that took an hour. We are talking about a life decision. It deserves that extra time.
I would walk out of meetings with my phone in hand and digest emails. There was no time to process the meeting and its takeaways. There was no time to socialize and express gratitude for those in attendance. I thought I was doing well and fully present by not being on email in the meetings.
This behavior led people to email a second time if they had not heard from me within hours of the first email. They would ask if everything was ok. They would ask if I was ok. The answer is no because this is insane. This is majoring in minor things.
“A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Before discussing the causes and impact of this behavior, it’s critical to understand the concept around the size of challenges and an organization.
As an entity grows, the challenges become more substantial. Previously conquered difficulties are later done with ease. Most of us can walk across the room and perform basic mathematics. We engage our muscle memory and do not need to exhaust much mental capacity. The oddity is that very few of us can explain how we do these tasks with ease.
Watch an infant learn to walk or a child learn addition and subtraction. The struggle is visible and palpable.
The same growth of challenges and opportunities occur within organizations. The smaller problems are solved and create growth. As the organization grows, the quantity and volume of opportunities and challenges grow. Each takes longer to solve. For example, a buddy recently closed his 90+-year-old family business and opened a franchise in the same industry. That process took more than 20 months with tremendous challenges and opportunities along the way.
Leaders must grow to tackle these problems. They need to learn new skills and amplify current strengths. The Director of a 50 person company often requires different skills and capabilities to be a Director of a 500 person company. If a leader does not grow, the organization will outgrow him. If the leaders do not grow, the organization will cease growth and probably wither.
Let’s break this down regarding the potential causes of this mindset including what drove this behavior in me.
Procrastination is not inherently bad. It is sometimes the result of needing space for diffuse thinking. In Barbara Oakley’s course “Learning How to Learn“, she discusses how our brains need to step away from problems, especially when learning new skills. This is diffuse thinking mode. It allows our brains to create new connections and solve new problems.
Email can be the opportunity to step away and be effective procrastination. That’s not what I was doing.
I would often jump on email because I did not want to address the significant tasks at hand. They seemed daunting. I was afraid of where to start and being unable to tackle the challenges at hand.
The most likely cause of this feeling was a failure to manage my energy that day. I just didn’t reserve enough horsepower and capabilities to tackle the tasks.
The reality is that almost all work is like math problems. You often have to start and figure it out along the way. Yet, you have to actually start the work.
I was most guilty of wanting to accomplish something by the end of the day. Considerable challenges often take a long time. I became acutely aware of this as a driving force of being on email during our transaction. It was not because there was a need for instant communication with the lawyers, accountants, and private equity teams.
We began our discussions with private equity in March. Our transaction concluded in November. I worked on the transaction every day. It consumed most of my time. We were merging three companies with similar but different cultures. We were bringing in a CEO. We wanted our PE firm to understand our customers.
Many of those days I felt I had done nothing as I walked out. There was no task crossed out that day. Many of our team probably thought I did nothing the same thing since most did not know about the transaction.
In the midst of a monumental moment, I would jump into email threads with replies. I was often included as a courtesy or by accident. I would reply to a customer would accidentally email me instead of their sales rep.
I later realized I engaged because it feels good to accomplish something. I wanted to walk out with a checkbox receiving a beautiful mark that screams “Done.” This was short-sighted and more about my needs than what our talent and organization needed. It was about my self-worth and feeling I had done something.
This is the nasty one. There are multiple ways this could be an issue of self-confidence.
Email is 7% as effective as talking. (We won’t even cover the social impact of other forms of text-heavy and non-verbal communication, such as SMS and Snapchat.) Email does not implicitly convey emotions. It also does not implicitly convey time sensitiveness. These need to be explicitly stated by the sender. In the case of time sensitivity, this would be with phrases such as “This is needed by tomorrow at noon”, “ASAP”, or “Oh, shit. I needed this yesterday.”
How is this related to self-confidence?
Being the person in the know is powerful. Being the person who solves problems is powerful. People express gratitude and encouragement to keep doing this. If the problem is smaller than one’s position, it’s can often be easy because it’s been done a thousand times. It’s a situation of minimal effort with maximum reward. All of this demonstrates one is valuable and can boost self-confidence.
Yet, it’s also extremely selfish and destructive. It’s the concept of being the one-eyed man on an island of blind people. It tells others that one needs to step in because only she can do it. It tells the team that one can do their jobs with part-time effort and partial knowledge. It might be more subtle to send an email to the team saying, “Hey, I know you do the job full-time and consider yourself an expert, but I know best after studying the situation for a few minutes. It’s due to my infinite intellectual capabilities. All of that says here is what you should do.”
The harder and selfless option is delegation. When one does know more, delegation can be an incredible opportunity for development. Instead of replying to the customer who accidentally emailed, delegate to the sales rep and ensured her manager knows in case it is a development opportunity.
Frankly, I never struggled with this as a reason; however, watching people grow always provided a confidence boost. And that is the long game.
Fear of Missing Out.
I struggle to understand this one. Logic overrides my emotions regarding FOMO. Perhaps it is my opinion that Facebook is the curated trophy case of one’s life and Twitter is a steam of people’s current context with minimal character. Perhaps it is the reality that human knowledge is doubling every 12 months. It could soon be every 12 hours.
There is no possible way to know everything that is happening – on email, on Facebook, on SMS. There is no possible way to care about everything that is happening. Regularly checking these is akin to hitting one’s head against a wall. (Pun intended.)
It’s exciting, causes an emotional reaction, and potentially creates brain damage.
“Everybody wants to change the world.
But one thing’s clear
No one ever wants to change themselves.”
– “Do You Really Want It?” by Nothing More
Today, I mainly check my email 3-5 times per day. I never check it as soon as I wake up. I set reminders to check it. That is time for preparing for the day ahead.
All of this was a significant change. It’s made me a better person and a better leader of my family and the organizations in which I lead. I get more done with less distraction.
I changed because of the pain and destruction I was causing. I intend to discuss those in an upcoming post.
I have been thinking about daylight savings the past few weeks as it approached. Most articles, blog posts, Facebook updates, etc. will be around the idea that daylight savings is not practical. I wholeheartedly concur, but I do not think it is useless. I waited a few days after the time change in hopes that readers have recovered from this twice year inconvenience and will hear me out.
Before starting, I have to admit that I am obsessed with time. Our house has numerous clocks, including a giant one in our great room that hovers over us. At Contegix, we had a core value of “Respect People, Data, and Time”. I firmly believe those are the (only?) three things one can not restore once squandered. I grew up believing that being on time was considered tardy. For me, time is a currency that I withdraw from a bank account every second. Yet, I can never get an account balance of how much remains.
The benefit of this is that I remain diligent on where I spend my time. It allows me to unemphatically and respectfully say “no”. This has become critical lately as my free (defined as in “available”) time is often mislabeled as free (defined as in “not of value”) time. As the quote goes “Show me your calendar, and I’ll show you what you prioritize.”
Given this, why would I defend daylight savings, especially when it just took an hour?
Losing an hour is a reminder of how powerful 3600 seconds can truly be. I see people yawning through the first few days after DST. The impact is not merely anecdotal. Traffic accidents go up the Monday following DST with tired drivers cited as the reason. In addition, a 2008 Swedish study found that the risk of having a heart attack increases in the first three days after switching to DST in the spring. (See https://www.timeanddate.com/time/dst/daylight-saving-health.html.)
Daylight savings is an hour lost to the nothingness, but how many of us waste an hour on the trivial and simple? Mindlessly watching TV instead of reading the book that’s been sitting on desk for 6 months. Complaining about being overweight instead of doing the recommended daily cardio or meditate. Staring at a handheld screen waiting for the next Facebook update instead of embracing the loved one next to us or volunteering at a charity.
My defense of DST? Maybe it’s the reminder all of us need about how powerful one hour can be.
We have a debt to those before us and an obligation to those that come after us. We maximize life and potential through heart, intelligence, and grit. We focus on our bond. We do all of this together because we are always stronger together. Mostest.
— Porter Family Mission Statement
In August 2015, I had the amazing opportunity to crew and pace a friend in the Leadville Trail 100 Run. It was a life changing experience, and one I previously wrote about with a commitment to return to Leadville in one manner or another. For those who want the short version, this is a 100 mile race on trails starting in Leadville, Colorado at 10,200 ft above sea level with climbs up mountains to 12,600 ft. A racer must complete the 100 miles within 30 hours.
On December 1, 2015, the Leadville race lottery opened up, and I entered to return to Leadville in August 2016 as a racer. Fate was not kind and returned a “thanks, but no thanks” a few weeks later. It also returned an opportunity to attend Leadville Race Camp with an optional guaranteed spot in the race.
It was an opportunity I took. It gave me dedicated time in Leadville 6 weeks before the race and an opportunity to run every section of the course. It also gave me a coveted spot in the race for 2016 or 2017. I opted for 2016, and training began nearly immediately.
So, we will maximize life and potential through heart, intelligence, and grit.
Fast forward to the morning of August 20, 2016, I was in Leadville surrounded by my crew:
My wife – Courtney
The day did not end as I had hoped. Regardless, it does not take away any of the effort by my crew or the support of my family and friends, especially Courtney and kids.
Somewhere around miles 8-10, the hamstring insertion point around my right knee started to bother me. The joint was fine, but the hamstring failed to lift and fire as it should. This occasionally caused a little bit of drag of my right toes and slowed me down.
Fast forward to ~40 miles, I left Twin Lakes and 10 miles later came into Winfield (the midway point) slower than I had planned after crossing Hope Pass which is the highest point of the race at 12,620 ft above sea level. Corky informed me that I needed to negative split the return. I had to get back to Twin Lakes faster than I had previously just done the section. Coming back is more technical and harder. Thankfully, I could now run with a pacer who could also carry all my gear, including food and water.
Jeffrey became my first pacer at this time. We flew into Twin Lakes. We passed dozens of runners climbing UP to Hope Pass (12600′ ft elevation). IIR, it took less than 2 hours. On the way down, we had to go fast. I was clearly favoring my left leg by this time.
Unfortunately, I tripped twice starting around mile 55. This was due to the drag of my right foot. At this point, I believe I pulled the muscles on my left lower back. We still completed the negative split, and I made cutoff! This remains my proudest performance in the race.
It was time for Corky to pace me – from Twin Lakes to Outward Bound. We made amazing time. My left lower back was beginning to become an issue. I was moving with a motion where I was twisting like being pulled left and back even when moving forward.
Noah took the following section – Outward Bound to May Queen. Despite the huge climb, I had enough time banked we could do these 11 in 24 minute miles. This would have been relatively easy in a healthy state. As we climbed Powerline, it became clear my back was done. The 90 degree lean and navigating on my trekking poles became a permanent fixture for the remainder of the race.
I ran for the next 3.5 hours hunched over at 90 degrees. I used my trekking poles to make sure I didn’t fall and to help continue to move forward. It was impossible to stand upright.. The pain of both pulled back muscles wrapped around to my obliques and abs. I stayed this way until it became clear that we would not make cutoff. I would have continued to be full 100 if I had time and would have been able made cutoffs. Yet, it was not fair to my pacer and my crew.
I ran ~86+ miles with most of the last 20 in severe pain and barely being able to stand. My crew had to carry me into the medical tent after I pulled out of the race.
At every step, the crew was there helping me. Hell, they were still helping as my race was over and I struggled to move around. When I said I was doing Leadville, they jumped and offered to help. Two of the crew members were with me rather than celebrating wedding with their respective wives.
This was difficult for me to have people help. I don’t like getting people’s help. It’s not my ego. It’s not because I consider myself better than them. It’s solely because I never want someone thinking I want something from them EXCEPT for the friendship itself.
As I reflect back on that day two weeks later, I barely recognize myself from the actions and from the pictures in some ways. Yet, I think about our family’s mission statement as my desire to run Leadville stemmed from my prior experience and the mission statement.
I didn’t start running until March 2010. While I could not cover the 100 miles, my hope is that someone is inspired to achieve what many consider impossible. I hope I honored the obligation to those around me and those that come after us.
I hope my kids, my wife, and my friends see that I honored the commitment to maximize life. I gave my heart and did it with grit. Even when it hurt and I (literally and figuratively) fell down, I still got back up. All of us did it together because I can attest that I was stronger because of them, their selfless help, and our bond.
Up until a few years ago, I had always disliked the charity pictures of a company representative, usually the CEO or President, giving a big (in physical size) check to a charity representative. It seemed the opposite of what I had always been taught about helping others. One helped for one reason – because it’s the right thing. I believed the big check was about the photo opportunity, the press release, or the kudos from peers for the company.
I missed something though. I mistakenly viewed it as a public stunt to benefit the company. The reality is that it serves the charity more. It gets the charity exposure. It encourages others to help or, at least, ask how and if they can help. The need to give exposure is why we purposely and purposefully change our approach to our involvement. Last year, Forbes profiled our commitment to the startup community. Providing exposure to how others are helping is only part of our change regarding community engagement.
Lives are busy, and very few people have the time to wake up every day to think about how to better serve their communities. Even fewer have the time to volunteer despite wanting to do so. Thus, in 2016, we’ve announced our “16 in ’16” volunteer program, to provide Contegians paid time off to serve their communities.
The decision and ability to do this stemmed from three key factors:
1. Our Mission – I am proud of how often we talk about core values which guide our day-to-day. Our mission guides the long term. Our mission is to empower those around us, specifically Contegix stakeholders. This includes our customers, partners, and members of the Contegix family. Yet, the stakeholders extend beyond our digital and physical walls. They extend into our community.
2. Our Success (Through Hard Work) – A core measure of our success is the growth of our people, specifically their skills, their knowledge, their personal development, and their impact on the community. Over the past few years, our individual and collective hard work has been rewarded. We have achieved significant success, and I have no doubt that we will continue to do so. I have always believed this success and growth is what delivers sustainable financial results. That’s the reward but never the goal.
3. “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” – I am reminded of this religious-inspired quote from John F. Kennedy. Regardless of religious or political affiliation, I believe this concept stands and is core to humanity. The selfless help given by many during the recent flooding echoed and demonstrated this.
With this in mind, Contegix will be engaging a company commitment to empower and help those in our larger community. Each Contegian will be donating nearly 1% of her time to empower and help those around us. Every Contegian is expected to volunteer for 16 hours in 2016. This is in addition to our current company-wide commitments of time.
As part of our core value of respecting people and time, every Contegian will be provided paid time off to volunteer at the following organizations:
“Do well by doing good.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to crew and pace a friend, Jeffrey, making his second attempt to run the Leadville Trail 100 race, aka LT100 or “The Race Across the Sky”. For those unfamiliar with LT100, it is a 100 mile race held annually that was first held in 1983. This would be the 33rd running of this scenic out and back race that starts and finishes in downtown Leadville, Colorado.
During the race, runners cross through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The highlight of the race is the climb up to Hope Pass at 12,620 feet above sea level which one gets to experience twice! Racers run unsupported the first 50 miles. Pacers are only allowed on the second half of the race. Runners must complete the 100 miles in under 30 hours to be considered a finisher.
When describing the finishers, Abby Long of Life Time Fitness, the company that operates the race, once stated, “They look like death coming in.” The motto of the race says it all, it takes “Grit, Guts, and Determination”. Yet, runners and crews keep coming back year after year.
I now know why, or at least, why I want to come back and eventually run it. This race is about humanity. It’s about our relationship with our respective selves, with each other, and with the world around us – and sometimes the struggle between those.
That clarity started with another friend, Corky (@CorkyMillerSTL), jumping in and crewing at the last minute. Corky is an alumnus of this race. He has paced twice and ran once. He is also the person who got me into running. He would be the only person in our crew who had either paced or finished Leadville. Corky has done both. He’s a phenomenal runner and someone I adamantly admire – for his running and how he lives his life with deep integrity and commitment to family and friends.
By coincidence, we had scheduled to have breakfast on Wednesday, 3 days before the race and 1 day before I left for Leadville. I mentioned to him that I was headed to Leadville and leaving in 36 hours. I asked if he could share any advice. Within a few minutes, Corky had shifted from giving advice to deciding to cancel his weekend plans and head to the race with me. He would miss his anniversary (with his wife’s support) to help me and a person whom he has never met.
Corky was not alone in his commitment to the runners. Everything becomes about helping your runner cross the finish line. Sometimes that meant physically supporting him. It meant logistically support him, and other times it meant emotionally supporting him. There are effectively two avenues to support – aid stations and pacing. For the aid stations, every member of our crew, including Jeffrey’s mother-in-law who came over from Japan, was there to support him. We were prepared for whatever Jeffrey needed irrespective of whether he knew what it was that he needed. We swapped his camelbacks with fresh water, fuel, and salt pills as he came into each aid station, often without stopping. When Jeffrey arrived at Winfield Aid Station (mile 50), we removed his shoes and socks knowing that he crossed the river 7 miles earlier. These were quickly replaced.
Corky, John (Jeffrey’s business partner), and I all served as pacers. LT100 is unique in that it also allows pacers to carry their respective runner’s gear. So, we carried as much as possible whenever we were passing, such as headlamps, jackets, and fuel. The pacers are mule, cheerleader, drill sergeant, nutritionist, and time keeper. It is about thinking for your runner when he can not think beyond taking the next step.
As previously noted, being a pacer is about physical, logistical, and emotional support. This was most evident as a pacer. I had the chance to run 2 segments with Jeffrey as his pacer for a total of 24ish miles. The first section was 10.5 miles (mile 50 to 60.5) from Winfield to Twin Lakes. This is often considered the hardest segment of the race. This is the turnaround point and the start to climbing back up to 12,620 feet elevation at Hope Pass. This is a grit point. It’s either pull out of the race time or climb the damn mountain time. Jeffrey chose the latter.
This would be the farthest distance he had run. Managing his time up to Hope Pass and encouraging him to drink and fuel were my top priorities; however, it could not take a backseat to the awe in front of us – both the world below us and his commitment. At the top, runners are pleasantly greeted by a woman wrapped in warm coats as the temperature had dropped to below 40F. She was accompanied by a small generator, a Chronotracker, smiling words of encouragement for all, and an amazing view. It was hard to see the beauty come into view with every step. I felt part of my job as cheerleader was to ensure Jeffrey did not miss out.
From the top, we descended 800 feet to one of my favorite points – Hopeless Aid Station. How do you get water and supplies to 11,800 feet? Llamas, of course. Water is pulled from a stream, packed onto the llamas, and purified up at Hopeless. After the haul up to Hope, Jeffrey needed some time to recoup and fuel. It’s hard to do these while climbing; however, he came into Hopeless looking better than he did at Winfield. He was rehydrated and smiling. Back down from Hopeless and into Twin Lakes, we went.
Corky took the next segment from Twin Lakes to Outward Bound (fka Fish Hatchery) which totaled 16.5 miles. He pinned the needle with Jeffrey at times and helped reduce his time. Puking aside, this gave leeway in time for John and me to tackle the next two segments, including John and Corky climbing Powerline. John returned Jeffrey in great spirits and added even more time; however, he was spent.
We now had a little more than 13.5 miles to go of LT100. We had predicted this segment would take approximately 4 hours. If so, this would give Jeffrey 20 minutes to spare from the 30 hour cutoff. The first 3-4 miles, it was a combination shuffle and walk with an average pace in the mid-18s. My gut feel was that there was more left in his tank and that the sun rising would energize him. This was about supporting him. Frankly, at this point, I lied to Jeffrey about his pace and numerous facts. For example, I claimed he would have not finish on time if he didn’t pick up the pace. He would have finished with 10 minutes to spare based upon the mid-18s. When he asked for an energy gel to eat down the road, I “accidentally” opened it before handing it to him.
He picked up the pace after that a little bit. Something clicked at mile 5 though, and we were off to the races.
Jeffrey became a damn machine. We started passing runners and their pacers in handfuls. At one point, a pacer and runner started running with us. Jeffrey was in lead, and I was behind him. This pair was behind me with their pacer screaming words of encouragement. “We are a g*d damn freight train. CHOOO-CHOOO!! Roll on, mother f*ckers!” Leading this pack did something for Jeffrey, and he dropped the hammer.
I looked down at our pace. We were sub-10 min/miles. We clocked miles 95 & 96 at around 8:43 min/miles. We were flying and had already dropped the runners trailing us. As we ran past more people, I distinctly remember a female runner asking her pacer, “How the hell are they doing that?”
With less than four miles to the finish, I had to call our crew. We were coming in well ahead of time, but I didn’t know how much ahead. Unfortunately, I caught them at breakfast. They hadn’t received all of their food yet. Regardless, it’s about the runner. Food was abandoned, check was paid, and they were out the door to be there. He had completed the final segment in 2 hours 51 minutes 38 seconds (2:51:38). He slaughtered the expectation of 4 hours.
finished with a time of 28 hours, 27 minutes, 19 seconds (28:27:19) to claim his first Leadville Trail 100 Finish with his wife by his side. This was her race, too, after a year of supporting and nourishing him.(Endurance sports are a selfish sport. Period. No discussion.) His crew was there to cheer him on.
Yet, we were not anything special in our commitment. (We did have the best driver, though.) Every crew operated in the same manner with their runners. And it extends past the crews. Like many, including the elites who had finished the previous day and most of the town, we waited around to see the remaining runners cross the finish line over the next 1.5 hours. Jeffrey finished 162 of 313 finishers. Another 161 runners would cross the finish line before the shotgun blast signaling the 30 hours cut off. This includes Rui Pedras, whom I have never met.
Rui came in at 29:46:56 for spot 307. What amazed me about his run was the last 150 yards. Every single step of the last 150 yards was heartbreaking. He could barely maintain keeping himself upright. It required the use of hiking poles that were splayed out at 90 degrees from each other. His legs would cross as he took steps. He looked like a first-time skier. Mental and physical exhaustion had pushed him to the brink.
The crowd was there every second cheering and encouraging a person whom they don’t know. He surged on their volume and words. It may have taken him nearly 20 minutes to cover the 150 yards, but he made it.
There’s something about seeing someone struggle, never giving up, and gritting down. There’s something about seeing strangers cheer and energize the spirit of someone they have never met and will probably never see again. It’s the commitment of one’s self, the crew’s to the runner, and the town to this race and its human endeavor against and with nature. It is the “Grit, Guts, and Determination” of all on display with humility and pride.
That is the essence and the spirit of Leadville – the race and the town. And that is why I will return.
I previously stated that it was an opportunity to be involved. The reality is that it was more than that. It was a gift and blessing. LT100 has the potential to be life-changing if one lets it. For me, it was that, and that is not a phrase I use casually.
For more information about the race and this year’s results, check out the following:
Recently, Forbes published an article on cloud computing, its popularity, and whether it is ready for prime time. While the cloud infrastructure and application markets are currently sized at $33B and $106B, respectively, and are continuing to grow, “[a] new report from HfS Research concludes that even the largest, most IT-savvy enterprises are still struggling to realize the value of As-a-Service platforms.”
Here are the biggest factors cited in the article, according to top executives:
What is the impact of this? Seventy-one percent (71%) of large enterprises believe that realization of cloud services is at least five years out, possibly longer. Two percent (2%) believe they have reached a point where cloud is core to their business, ongoing strategy, and operations. I believe the numbers are at risk of being both over reported and under reported, depending upon the organization.
There is a potential for the number to be over reported by senior leaders due to multiple reasons. Lack of usage visibility and lack of understanding what cloud is, are the most prevalent. While hopefully rare, there may also be the perceived risk of irrelevance if the senior leadership and IT staff lack a cloud strategy. Thus, inflation of the numbers is a possibility.
It runs the chance of being under reported due to both IT and non-IT employees utilizing cloud providers. This often occurs outside of IT governance and oversight. In May 2014, Avanade, the joint Accenture and Microsoft consulting firm, conducted a survey of IT managers and found that 66% have seen the challenge of employee provisioned cloud services. Once again, this reflects the overall lack of visibility.
For these reasons and due to our core competencies, Contegix has always approached the market with a vision of responsibility. We need to build confidence in the cloud model. We strive to do this for our customers, partners, and even our industry peers.
First and foremost, we approach every customer by understanding their individual business needs and requirements. This is irrespective of their size, level of management required, and technical aptitude. Our conversations with prospects are focused on what will deliver value, move their organization forward, and provide a path forward for the business and its IT needs. As such, we view our role as both supplementing and complementing in order to allow corporate IT to focus on the strategic deliverables.
For many, this means delivering private and/or hybrid clouds designed to meet their current requirements. For others, it’s focused on delivering management of a specific application. Regardless, it means integrating with their current infrastructure and IT teams. This necessitates a mutual education between our customers and Contegix.
Finally, we help customers get visibility into their Contegix cloud environment by delivering industry leading metric collection and reporting. For a number of customers, this has led us to build even more capabilities that are specific to their needs.
It has been amazing to see customers’ IT staff (sys admins, engineers, and developers) move beyond infrastructure to focus on core business. That should be the full power of delivering the cloud. Yet, there is still work to do. The article sums it up best with the following statement – “the journey has only just begun and, frankly, there are some who have yet to realize that there is a journey to take.”
I have lately been thinking about everything we have built at Contegix. We have accelerated the pace of innovation significantly over the past 3 years. The changes are profound and reward our customers daily. I was reminded of this in how we addressed the leap second addition in 2015 vs. 2012. In the end, it comes down to doing a series of small things – regularly, consistently, and successfully.
As the author and voice of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coined the phrase “The little things are infinitely the most important.” Doyle was not alone, as similar philosophies have been preached by numerous people, from Darren Hardy to John Wooden. The former wrote a book on this, called “The Compound Effect”.
John Wooden, the former head coach of UCLA who won ten NCAA national championships, stated “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” He also demonstrated this point at the start of every season. The first thing Wooden would do with new college basketball players was sit them down and teach them how to put on their shoes and socks. Wooden considered this the initial lesson for “everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives.”
Yet, in our culture of instant gratification, instant cloud provisioning, and burstable needs, everyone wants success rapidly, which has become a requirement for many businesses. Waiting simply is not an option for many people and businesses; however, doing the small things takes time. Doing the small things is what allows doing great things. Contegix doing the small things in an intelligent manner is how we fulfill these customer’s instant needs.
This is why we focus on seemingly small things, such as color coding and labeling every cable, rigorously testing patches, and still performing manual data center walkthroughs just in case. It’s why we put so much emphasis on process, procedure, and security. Customers do not become loyal brand buyers by accident. Our partners choose us because they know the details they should not have to care about are also the one’s that we put front and center.
The reality is that what we do is hard to do at our level. We have to take a series of small steps in rapid succession, each with precision accuracy. We achieve big things by relentlessly focusing on small things. It’s that easy, and it’s that hard. I am often reminded of this when I walk through our data centers. We take time and go through painstaking details to ensure everything is right.
Our core value of rapid accelerated growth is about the growth of our stakeholders – customers, partners, and employees. We must adamantly strive to incrementally get better each day, by doing the little things correctly. These compound upon each other. This is what makes a difference and allows our customers, partners, and employees to build greater things, especially themselves.
I was recently asked the question “What companies do you admire?” In the technology industry, it would be easy to pick the suspected companies – Apple, Oracle, eBay, Square, Atlassian. Many of these companies started as an idea, developed amazing cultures, and have grown to accomplish technical feats that have changed the world.
Yet, my list is comprised of 2 companies well outside the tech industry. In fact, one is in manufacturing and the other is in entertainment.
Lincoln Electric – Innovation in product and employment culture in a commoditized industry.
As a company, every new product and service we create is almost immediately outdated the moment it is released. Competitors, both new and old, can and will target anything successful we accomplish. This means that we must remain diligently focused on our people and the culture to outpace and deliver for our customers. Our innovation and delivery are concretely linked to this, similar to Lincoln. We want the best talent.
Lincoln is somewhat well known for their guaranteed employment. While most may consider their “Guaranteed Continuous Employment” model as archaic, the reality is different. It is locked to a continuous performance improvement and merit-based compensation for those who meet the benchmarks. More important, it and other cooperative programs bring forth all challenges and potential ideas. This includes innovations in the creation and delivery of products and services.
Contegix does this today and must continue to do such going forward. This is critical to our continued growth and is epitomized in our core value of Rapid Accelerated Growth. Rapid Accelerated Growth is about the growth of our stakeholders – talent, customers, partners, vendors, etc. Our mission is to help them grow, and we believe this will inevitably translate to growth of our top and bottom lines.
Disney – Operational excellence and brand loyalty.
Disney is well known for both operational excellence and brand loyalty (internally and externally). I had the opportunity to personally experience both a few years ago on a Disney cruise with the family. Minor tasks, such as cleaning the handrails, were just as important as the major ones. Disney realizes the minor details leave an impression and make a difference. In the case of the handrails, cruises are notoriously known for outbreaks of infections. Just the mere visible nature of cleaning the handrails allows the guests to be more carefree. Cast members (not employees) are fully engaged in the brand of Disney. It hit me when I watched stingrays trained to respond to a Mickey Mouse cutouts. They knew food would be available when they saw the cutouts.
These traits are the exact ones at the heart of our “Go Beyond” philosophy.
As the holder of a customer’s electronic livelihood, we are committed to a level of operation excellence that parallels the best, including Disney. One can see it in our minor details, from the meticulous cabling where every cable is labeled and color coded to the architecting of solutions to meet an individual company’s needs.
Brand loyalty is about our internal and external customers. Similar to Disney, we believe that we must build an exceptional customer relationship with every stakeholder, including our talent, our customers, and our partners. The power of this connection will continue to drive employee retention and customer loyalty. Even when presented with other options, this allows us to deliver an outstanding value for both as we “Go Beyond”.
Contegix’s industry has gone through a series of name changes in the past 20 years. We have gone from being called “Internet Service Providers” to “Web Hosting Service Providers”. The “Web” was replaced with “Application” and later dropped as companies embraced the value of having all applications available via the internet, not just their website.
A decade ago, Contegix was one of the companies that helped pioneer a higher level of service for these applications. We believe that our customers are more innovative, more productive, and genuinely better run businesses when they are focused on their specific uniqueness rather than hardware and application infrastructure. Thus, the term “Managed Service Provider” was born. This is was specifically true for our managed services as we often push down into the application infrastructure.
In the past few years, the term “cloud” has become ubiquitious. This has led to Contegix being referred to as a “Cloud Service Provider”. Today, we use this term and often extend it to “Managed Cloud Service Provider” when describing what we do. We still passionately believe that managed services are what often help companies drive the benefit of IT.
The commonality used throughout this evolving name change has been the phrase “service provider”.
At our core, we provide our customers service as defined by “the action of helping or doing work for someone”. It’s represented in our core values. We believe in our mission to help lift the burden of technology. For many, this is through our private cloud solutions while others it may be colocation. For all, it includes our Go Beyond philosophy of service. As a “service provider” we can think of no greater privilege than the opportunity to deliver outstanding service and support to our customers on a consistent basis. We embrace the service provider label and regardless of what future descriptors are bestowed upon our industry, we will always remain true to our core and who we are.