At mile 40 of the Leadville Trail 100 Run, elite runner Eric LiPuma was in a bad way. Sharp, constant pain flashed through his abdomen. He sat in an aid station, grimacing in agony as his race goals went out the window. Eric contemplated quitting. “Everybody will understand if I drop out,” he thought. Why persist?
It is called the “Race Across the Sky.” The Leadville 100 bring trails runners one hundred miles along the spine of the Colorado Rockies at altitudes ranging from 9,000 to 12,600 feet. It is a high-elevation spectacle as runners climb, hike, and slog their way over 15,000 feet of vertical change along the Continental Divide.
Backcountry employee Casey Peckio joined Eric as support crew and pacer. “With these high altitudes,” Casey notes, “Leadville is an unpredictable race. It asks a lot of people.” Indeed, trail running raises hard questions: Why am I running so far? Why am I pushing through so much pain? Why should I persist? Leadville forces trail runners to answer these questions over and over again.
Eric is no slouch. By mile 30 of the ultramarathon, he breaks away from the pack with two-time Western States Champion Rob Krar. A national champion in the 50K distance, Eric spends his days as a graphic designer on the Colorado Front Range. But with podium finishes at high caliber races, he brings serious trail-running experience.
As he climbed into the mountain wilderness, a podium place, or even the victory, seemed within Eric’s reach. His feet were comfortable in his Salomon S-Lab Ultras. His effort was under control. His legs moved easily down the trail. But 100 miles is a long way.
Without warning, high altitude wracked his GI system. Eric watched Krar fade into the distance as his quick pace turned into a crawl. “You think you are indestructible,” he says, “and then a trail race knocks you off your high horse.” Eric walked into the next aid station, at times doubled over in pain. Dropping into a chair with his crew, he sat for nearly an hour wondering if he should continue.
Leaving the aid station, Eric focused on the terrain around him. Climbing over Hope Pass, a tremendous ascent of 2,500 feet, he ran through a forest of aspen trees, a cathedral of yellow and orange that opened up to expansive vistas of the Leadville valley. Powering upwards on Black Diamond Trekking Poles, he felt the evolution of the trail beneath his feet—the gravel of the fire road giving way to the rocky meandering of singletrack.
One hundred miles of trail across the sky asks many questions. Eric gave his answer, crossing the finish line in the darkness of night to the celebration of his parents and friends. Humbled, but not broken, Eric will be back. And he knows why.