LEADMAN+: A "really" epic challenge

Have you ever dreamed of doing something really big that scared the pants off of you?  Have you ever failed at something, and struggled to find the courage to get back in the game and try to remedy your failure?  Have you ever thought something was impossible, then you did it and discovered it was possible?

This is the story of my Summer in 2018.  

Almost eight years ago, I discovered an athletic challenge called “Leadman”.  It is a series of endurance events that takes place in Leadville, Colorado – the highest incorporated town in America at 10,135’ above sea level (there is 30% less oxygen in Leadville as compared to sea level).  In order for an athlete to be named Leadman/Leadwoman, they must complete five events:

1.  Trail Marathon
2.  50 mile trail ultramarathon or mountain bike
3.  100 mile mountain bike
4.  10k run
5.  100 mile trail unltramarathon

These events take place over a 10-week time period from June to August in Leadville. The competitor must complete the events within the prescribed time cut-offs, or they are eliminated from the Leadman/Leadwoman competition. In 2010, I was able to complete the trail marathon, 50 mile mountain bike and 10k run.  The 100 mile mountain bike and 100 mile trail ultramarathon crushed me and I DNF’d both events. Since that time I have called myself “Leadboy”.

In 2018, I had a dream to run the 100 mile trail ultramarathon with a good friend.  The only way I could guarantee a spot in the race was to sign up for the Leadman challenge, and so I did.  Little did I know that this decision would drive me to my knees several times, and I would experience the limitlessness of the human spirit, again and again.

Because I believe one should “go big, or go home”, I ended up signing up for ALL race events in Leadville for the Summer.  That meant I would end up doing 2 extra events on top of the 5 Leadman/Leadwoman events, have 2 additional blocks racing back-to-back events, and racing 4 more days in and around the mountain town.  I dubbed my challenge “LEADMAN+”.  My events would be:

1.  Trail marathon
2.  50 mile mountain bike
3.  50 mile run
4.  3-day mountain bike Stage Race
5.  100 mile mountain bike
6.  10k run
7.  100 mile trail ultramarathon

TRAIL MARATHON – “Spend time with people who are important to you”
First up was the marathon. I love and hate this marathon.  It starts at about 10,000’ and tops out just over 13,000’ atop Mosquito Pass, a place that is so high even trees cannot grow. The trail is technical, I fall often and after I finish the race I swear that I will never do it again. I have ran this race a few times with a good friend who has guided me in some of my toughest endeavors. She was also the reason I signed up for Leadman – I wanted to run the 100 mile trail ultramarathon with her. She and I run at different paces, but I knew we could finish the trail marathon well under the cut-off.

We made the decision to run the race together, and spend over 6 hours doing something together that each of us really enjoys – running. We each made a decision to “complete” the event as a duo, as opposed to “competing” in the event as an individual.  In life, the only currency we have worth spending is our time.  How and who we spend our time with speaks volumes about who we are and our priorities in life.

50 MILE MOUNTAIN BIKE – “It’s OK to be scared”
If you have ever mountain biked down a single track trail at 20 miles per hour, then closed your eyes, you will get an understanding of what I mean by “scared.”

POV Mountain Biking
Mountain Biking with Tunnel Vision

The last time I tried this event 8 years ago, I crashed several times, was bloodied and my spirit was battered.  I had tried to wash the experience from my memory and couldn’t remember the details of the race; but, I did remember that it was painful, scary and I never wanted to do it again.  Well, if I was going to follow through with my Leadman+ challenge, I would need to do this event regardless of how scared I was.

I planned to ride solo on a mountain bike and follow a guide rider to stay on the trails and avoid trees and drop-offs. Although my guide was in great shape, he was not a mountain biker and hailed from New York City. The altitude got him, and I passed him a few miles into the race.  A series of other riders helped guide me on an impromptu basis throughout the race.  I crashed many times, going over the handle bars, landing on my head and bloodying my face, hands, elbows and knees.  The good news was I did not break or dislocate any bones, and I finished the race under the cut-off time for an official finish.

50 MILE TRAIL ULTRAMARATHON – “Do more than you have to”

Silver King award for completing back to back 50 mile mountain bike & running races

 The day after the 50 mile mountain bike, was the 50 mile trail ultramarathon on the same course.  This event was not required to complete the official Leadman challenge – a Leadman competitor was permitted to do the 50 mile run OR 50 mile mountain bike. I chose to do both. In life, as in my “Leadman+” challenge, we can choose to sit on the sidelines and watch, or get in the game and play. I remember hobbling to the start of the 50 mile run and wondering how far my bruised, cut and battered body would last.  As it turned out, I was able to finish the run despite rain, hail and more than thirteen hours on my feet.

3-DAY MOUNTAIN BIKE STAGE RACE – “Seek out mentors”
My friend who I ran the trail marathon with suggested that I should sign-up for the 3-day mountain bike stage race. She was invested in me having the best chance to finish Leadman. She knew how concerned I was about my (in)ability to finish the 100 mile mountain bike race before the race cut-off time period. This friend even found me a person who was riding the 3-day stage race, and connected me  with this mountain biker – a real life bluebird.

As it turned out, this bluebird would become my mountain biking mentor.  Over the 3 day stage race, she would teach me many mountain biking techniques, she coached me on proper air pressure in tires, and helped me get proper tires on my bike for the way I road.  She road slower than she needed to over the 3-days so I could keep up with her, and we were able to finish the race under the time cut-off and earn a buckle for our efforts. In life, as in work, we should always seek out mentors to help us learn and succeed.  We should also seek out others to mentor, and share our knowledge with.

100 MILE MOUNTAIN BIKE – “Even if you ‘Fail’, never ‘Quit’”

Next up was the 100 mile mountain bike race – the only race that I had never finished in my life.  For me, this was coming face-to-face with the dragon that had slayed me.  It had taken me 8 years to get back in the arena with this monster, and I still had great doubts about who the victor would be on this occasion.

With 1 week to go, I found a guide who agreed to ride the entire 100 miles with me.  Again, I planned to ride solo on my bike, and follow another rider. The last time I rode this race, I finished the distance in 13 hours and 8 minutes.  The cut-off for official finishers was 12 hours. I had “failed” to have an official finish, but I did not “quit.” This is an important distinction and lesson to be learned.  At times, we are all going to fail in life; and, we learn much more from our failures than we do from our successes.  The important part about failing is to never “quit” in our efforts to succeed.  When we give our best and come up short, that’s OK. When we wimp out and give less than everything, regardless of the outcome, we have truly failed ourselves.

This year, my guide and I completed the course within the prescribed time limit and with me going over the handlebars only a couple times.

10k RUN – “Starting is the hardest part”

The day after the 100 mile mountain bike was a 10k run. I have never dreaded a 10k run so much.  My legs and spirit were exhausted.  I barely slept an hour as my body was so tight, and nerves so wracked after mountain biking for almost 12 hours the day before.  I was making all kinds of excuses in my head to avoid starting the race. At the end of the day, I knew it was something I had to do, and I just needed to man-up, get to the start line and take that first step.  Once I got the the start line, I felt the excitement of other runners, knew this would be short, and again was able to complete this event with long-time friends, and would probably make some new friends along the way.  

100 MILE TRAIL ULTRAMARATHON – “You can do more than you think you can”

The week after the 100 mile mountain bike and 10k run was “The Big Daddy” – the 100 mile trail ultramarathon. I knew it was going to hurt. I knew I would want to quit many times. But, I also knew this was the reason I had signed up for Leadman in the first place. My good friend was going to run the race, and I wanted to run it with her.  We found each other at the start line and took off together.  She runs a very steady pace and race. Usually, I take off fast and bank time for the night-time when I move exceptionally slow due to night blindness.

We ran the first 50 miles to the turn-around together. We each picked up a pacer at that point, and I had to take-off to try to get over Hope Pass (a 10 mile very technical section with 2,500’ of climbing, 3,000’ of descending and a river crossing) a second time with as much daylight as possible.  My plan was to meet up with her at the aid station (Twin Lakes inbound) just after the crossing of Hope Pass. Both of us were just minutes ahead of the cut-off at Twin Lakes. Somehow we missed each other, but we both were still in the race. At the next aid station when I saw my crew, some 17 miles and 4 hours later, I learned that my friend was out the race. Something had happened to her. I wanted to quit. And then I thought, what would my friend tell me if she were standing next to me at that point. I knew she would be yelling at me at the top of her lungs to run as hard as I could and finish the race. I was disappointed to not finish the race with my friend, but I was able to complete the race under the 30 hour cut-off, with just 20 minutes to spare.  

After I crossed the finish line, I was enveloped in a hug from the race founders – Mefilee Maupin and Ken Clouber.  When Ken grabbed me and hugged me, he said, “I knew you could do it!” When I asked him how he knew, Ken said, “because you just don’t quit.”

Ken  and the Leadville 100 have taught me a very important truth about myself and life……

You can do more than you think you can

If you’re looking for a “really” epic challenge, LEADMAN+ may be just the ticket.


Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 10+ world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.jasonromero.net.


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