Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around. – Proverbs 13:12 (MSG)
This past weekend we packed up the truck with our camping gear and my husband Dan’s long-distance running equipment and headed to Leadville, CO with high hopes of another successful 100-mile race. We had started going to Leadville when the kids were in car seats and diapers, and now our eighteen year-old son was preparing to run with his dad throughout the night to support him from mile 76 to 86.
The race began at 4 am in the cold Colorado mountain darkness. Over six hundred men and women toed the starting line, with headlamps turned on to get them to sunrise. Each had logged countless hours and thousands of miles to prepare for the next 25–30 hours of grueling climbs, steep traverses, and river crossings. Each runner had a “crew” of friends and family following along to supply food, water, extra clothes, shoes, sunscreen, medical kits, love and encouragement. Crews had to be ready for all types of weather and problems that could/ would arise in one hundred miles of running at high altitude.
The Busse crew linked arms with the crews of Dan’s training partners and friends. We shared tips, food, laugher, and prayers. Time warped as we leaped from one aid station to the next. Hours felt like minutes in the constant bustle of unpacking supplies, tracking mileage, making predictions, cheering for other runners, and “hurrying up to wait” for our own runners to come in. Minutes after they did, we’d hurriedly pack it all up and move ahead to the next aid station.
When my 3pm alarm sounded, at hour 11 of the race, I noticed a growing gap between our pre-race time predictions and the runners’ actual pace. By mile 50, Dan and his friend Tim were a good thirty minutes behind their “worst case scenario” time predictions and in danger of being pulled from the race for not making the next aid station’s time cut-off. It became clear that my husband’s pacer, from miles 50-76, would have to push him with focused intensity to make up for lost time. As they took off, I prayed for God’s strength and endurance to fuel Dan. He’d finished this race five times before, so I was confident that he could do it again.
By 9pm, my confidence was fading fast. The race’s big mountain section, over Hope Pass and back, had never taken this long before. When his pacer pulled me aside at mile 60 to tell me that Dan’s legs were shot to the point of almost being unable to run, and his motivation was wavering, I urged him to push Dan ahead just one more time to mile 76, so he could run the next section of the race with our son. I’m not sure how he did it, but he got Dan the next aid station with less than a minute to spare.
As Dan and our son Evan left that aid station at 3am, I knew their chances of making the next time cut-off were slim. My mind thought back over the last few years of challenges we’ve endured raising our teenage son. I asked God to help them, bless their time, and enrich their relationship.
As the sun rose on Day 2, hour 26 of the Race Across the Sky, disappointment dawned. The last aid station’s time cut-off arrived before Dan and Evan did. I wondered how his heart would take the defeat of not being allowed to finish. When I saw them come in, with Dan smiling at Evan and congratulating him for pacing him like a champ and enduring the freezing cold mountain climb, tears of thanksgiving welled up in my eyes.
The lasting memory of this race would not be one of failure, but one of where a father and his son, for the first time ever, ran together in pursuit of a goal. Their love was more important than any race medal or memory of crossing the finishing line. Their strengthened relationship was a far greater victory.
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