1998 leadville 100 mile race finish
the following is a short description of the incredible finish at the leadville 100 mile trail race by keith woestehoff:
"there are certain moments in sports where time seems to stand still and the impossible becomes reality. those moments make us cheer and they make us cry. they are so special and so rare that we never forget them. for me, the list includes the immaculate reception, bob beamon's long jump in the mexico olympics and kordell stewart's miracle in michigan. but this weekend, i witnessed another unforgettable finish which must be added to this short list. the setting was not in a high profile sport. it did not include a millionaire athlete and you won't be able to see reruns of the event on sports center. but the impact was felt at the bottom of everyone's heart who witnessed it. the names are unknown as as i write this but the passions and emotions and the love are real.
the event was the leadville trail 100, an extremely tough 100 mile foot race through the heart of the rocky mountains. the racers must deal with long climbs, steep descents, rocky trails, stream crossings, a sleepless night, high altitude and a 30 hour time limit.
as the 30 hour time limit approached, more than half of all runners had dropped out from exhaustion or injury. the winner had already crossed the finish line 11 hours earlier. but now the crowd was much larger to watch the drama of the remaining racers struggling to reach the finish line before the final gun.
the excitement seemed to start when a man crossed the line for his first successful finish after 6 failures in previous years. he received a champagne shower from his friends and family.
with 9 minutes before the final gun. a woman was staggering up 6th avenue to the finish. her eyes were glazed, her legs were stiff and she wobbled and staggered from side to side. she was having a hard time keeping her balance. the cutoff was not a problem but everyone could tell she was in real danger of collapsing before reaching her goal. everyone held their breath as she staggered those last final steps, finally collapsing as she broke the ribbon. she was then carried to the medical tent.
for the next few minutes, more runners crossed the finish line, hearing the cheers of the crowd and then celebrating with their family and friends. then, the nearly 1/2 mile view up 6th avenue showed no more runners. it became quiet. we started to wonder if there were any other runners who would know the joy of reaching the finish line before the final cutoff. the race announcer said "3 minutes left". still, no more racers in sight. suddenly, a racer and his pacer appeared at the top of hill. the announcer broadcast his number and his family and friends ran down the street toward him to see what they could do to help.
i honestly didn't think he could finish on time. he had at least 200 yards of downhill and then 300 yards of uphill to the finish. he would have to run the whole thing and after 100 miles of heaven and hell, i didn't think he could run up that final hill. as he was running slowly down the hill, you could see his family and friends running towards him. they were too far away to hear what they were saying but it was obvious they were telling him to hurry. instantly, he started to run faster and it was obvious that everyone was frantic. if everything went well, there was a small chance he could make it but the odds were against him. as he was nearing the bottom of the hill, suddenly another racer appeared at the top of the hill. again we see family and friends rushing to a new racer. but, he had no chance, he had too far to go and not enough time. another person would have their heart broken on 6th ave with the finish line in sight.
as the 1st racer reached the bottom of the hill, we knew this would be his moment of truth. could he run it ? as each second passed, i kept waiting for him to stop but he kept running. people started running out of the stands and off the sidewalks to form a human tunnel for him to run through. everyone was yelling "go, go". as he reached the tunnel, we were hoping the final gun wouldn't sound. he sprinted the last 20 yards and fell through the tape, doing a face plant into the red carpet. medical people ran to help him. the race official was standing nearby, looking at the race clock and the gun pointed to the sky. everyone was worried about the condition of the fallen racer and then i glanced back and saw the 2nd racer putting on an unbelievable charge. someone forgot to tell him he couldn't make it. there were people on both sides of him holding a ski pole in front of him. he was holding onto it and they were trying to drag him up the hill. the human tunnel scattered to give them room. the gun was going to be fired at any second. go, go, go came the cheers. he broke the ribbon and as he was crashing to the red carpet, the gun sounded. he didn't move. the medical staff, who just barely had time to help the previous racer sit up, were rushing to the final finisher. the cheers suddenly turned to silence as he was surrounded by the medical staff and family. with each second, our fears for his safety grew and grew. and then after what seemed like an eternity, we see a hand come up from the mass of humanity and a finger pointed to the sky. everybody started cheering and most were also crying.
after he had time to recuperate, i introduced myself and talked to him. i told him that i knew how he felt since i finished next to last the previous year. but in all honesty, my 3 min 33 second margin was an eternity compared to his official finish time of 29:59:58. i told him that what he did was better than taking 1st place and he would remember it for the rest of his life. his final charge up the hill was an incredible display of courage and determination. it was as impressive as anything i've ever seem in the world of sports. it doesn't get any better.
i looked back up 6th ave. there were no more racers on the course. this year, there would be no broken hearts with the finish in sight.
the last 2 racers had 2 of the shortest margins ever in the history of the leadville trail 100. they trained hard and made many sacrifices before racing for 100 miles and giving every ounce of energy they had. there were no cash prizes and fame and fortune will elude them. they did it simply for the love of the sport.
there is a heart that beats strongly in the world of sports. the heart won't be found in the boardroom of an ncaa meeting or in the olympics or in the superbowl. but it will be found in a neighborhood playground with children who have boundless dreams playing a pickup game with a tattered ball. it will be found in backyards with fathers and sons playing catch football. and it will be found with a weekend warrior, who in many ways is just like you and i, lying on the red carpet in leadville with his arm raised and his finger pointed to the sky."