Summit’s Drew Petersen conquers goal of completing Leadville 100 amid mental health journey
It is no secret that Summit County — and many other mountain town communities — are suffering from an epidemic of mental health struggles. For the Summit County community, which experiences a suicide rate higher than the national average, it is easy to feel isolated, lost and perplexed when the gloomy winters roll into the area.
Over the last few years, lifelong Summit County local Drew Petersen found himself slipping into depressive episodes while living in the High Country. Instead of giving into the mental health struggles, Petersen has used his love of the outdoors to combat them, and on Saturday, Aug. 20, he completed his first ever Leadville Trail 100.
Petersen is a proud community member who graduated from Summit High School in 2012. Since graduating from high school, Petersen has become a professional skier for Salomon and is also a year-round mountain athlete.
Using his platform as a professional skier, Petersen has been candid about his own mental health struggles over the years while living in the High Country. These mental health struggles were put on full display in Petersen’s film titled “Ups and Downs”.
In the 20 minute short film, Petersen talks about some of the mountains and valleys he has climbed through in his own mental health journey while living in ski-town communities and urges others to open up to others if they needs help.
Petersen decided to start training for the Leadville Trail 100 when he was at one of his lowest moments in his mental health journey. Circling the race on the calendar allowed him to have something to look forward to completing. It also gave him the opportunity to continue to put one foot in front of the other, much like what is required to finish the historic ultra-marathon race.
“For me running 100 miles has been a big driver in my life,” Petersen said. “For the last five years, I have been on a really wild, really tumultuous mental health journey, and in that process things got really dark. When I was at that point, one of the very few things I could still draw on to keep going was this goal.”
Petersen says he would tell himself that if he could make it through the day or make it out of bed in the morning — that he could do anything.
“That goal is something that I told myself to keep going and it really became a lifeline for me,” Petersen said. “Throughout that chapter, things got really ugly so to have something to keep bleeding into was really important for me. It was really fitting to realize that dream by running Leadville.”
Petersen technically ran his first 100-miles last year, but his desire to achieve his goal of running a 100-miles was still burning so strong that he signed up for the 2022 Leadville Trail 100.
At the race this past Saturday, Petersen was blown away by the course, atmosphere and experience the race provided.
Petersen remembers growing up and hearing about the lore of the Leadville Trail 100.
“It is a lifelong childhood dream for me,” Petersen said. “I remember hearing about people going to run 100-miles and the legend and lore of Ken Chlouber,” the iconic founder of the Leadville race series.
Petersen got the chance to become a Leadville legend of his own. Petersen, 28, finished the challenging, stomach-churning course in a time of 24 hours, 32 minutes and three seconds for 67th place overall and 11th place in his division.
Petersen averaged 14:40 per mile while climbing the up the challenging Hope Pass ascent and cruising down the quad-crushing descents.
In Petersen’s training leading up to the Leadville 100, Petersen spent time skiing in the Sawatch Range surrounding Leadville. The skiing helped Petersen to form a relationship with the course he would be running on in a couple of weeks.
“I built a relationship and an intimacy with all the mountains out there,” Petersen said. “It helped me to build a relationship with the course.”
For Petersen, the race was everything he wanted it to be and more. Petersen realized that struggling was going to be a part of his journey at Leadville, but he focused on the experience he was having on the course instead of focusing primarily on time or his athletic performance.
Contrary to his fellow competitors, it was on the challenging Hope Pass climb that Petersen found himself having the most fun than anywhere else on the course.
“Hope Pass was the best part of my race,” Petersen said. “I had so much fun going up and over Hope Pass. Part of that was being able to see one of the couloirs I skied in the spring. I was having an amazing amount of fun. I was singing, howling and saying hi to everyone.”
Petersen’s competitors met his enthusiasm with positivity of their own — fueling one another through the course.
“Getting to share that energy with other people helped me to get positive energy back,” Petersen said. “I just made sure I was saying something whether it be ‘hi’, ‘good job’ or ‘keep going.’ Everyone was doing something in that vein.”
Petersen feels both fulfilled and blessed by completing a goal that has meant so much to him since childhood and in his mental health journey over the last few years.
In his life journey this year, Peterson feels like he is doing well and prioritizing his mental health better than he has in the past.
“I am doing really, really well,” Petersen said. “I am in a good place, I am grateful to be alive and really grateful to have been on the path I have — to be able to live such a full and actualized life that not so long ago I couldn’t even imagine.”
Petersen is currently recovering from the toll the Leadville 100 took on his body. Following the race, Petersen suffered from rhabdomyolysis, a condition that is common in ultra-running and occurs when muscle breaks down and causes issues in the kidneys.
Petersen is expected to make a full recovery and will not have any lasting effects from the medical condition. Upon recovering, Petersen would like to run some trail segments around Summit County before turning his focus to the 2022-23 skiing season.
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