A hundred down and many more to go
One thing that stands out for David Wilcox from his first Leadville 100 is the hallucinations he had. But, when you’re running for more than 20 hours, hallucinations can be the least of your problems.
Wilcox, 41, is one of Summit County’s ultra athletes, e.g.: he’s one of those guys that does 100-mile running races.
Wilcox has been the general manager of the Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone for the last three years and is married to a fellow runner, Sue, and has two children – Billy, 5, and Mary Francis, 2. He moved to Colorado from his hometown of Springfield, Miss., in 1990 as a drinker and a smoker.
“I swam in high school, then I started smoking,” Wilcox said. “I quit about a year before I moved out here. When I got to Colorado, I’d been running for about a year.”
Wilcox entered a few 10-kilometer races, but doesn’t recall how he made the sudden leap to the Leadville 100. The race tops out at 12,600 feet, includes thousands of feet of elevation gain, and is considered by many runners to be the most grueling race in the country. His first “Race Across the Sky” was in 1992, and he wasn’t entirely sure of what he was getting himself into.
“I probably just heard about the Leadville 100 from friends,” he said. “Jeff Berino had done it, my physician had done it … I decided to give it a shot. The first one wasn’t any fun at all. It was hard, very hard. I was underprepared and undertrained. At least I have a strong stomach. I didn’t throw up until, gosh … mile 85 or so. Once you know what you’re in for, you know what to expect and it makes it much easier.”
Wilcox clocked in at 28 hours, and 59 minutes and was the 98th racer across the finish line. Considering the race typically has an attrition rate of at least 50 percent, this wasn’t too shabby for a first-timer.
“I did a lot of hallucinating in that first one,” he said. “It’s pretty common for people who do ultras. You have a heightened sense of awareness at the end of the longer runs. I think the (hallucinating) was more a result of being awake for more than 30 hours and how little sleep you get the night before when you’re thinking about the race.”
Wilcox’s hallucinations consisted of seeing “household items” such as VCR tapes and folded up newspapers along the trail. Despite this scare, and the pain of that first event, Wilcox went on to do the Leadville 100 four more times and improved his results significantly.
In 1995, despite stormy weather, he finished the race in 23 hours and 22 minutes to take ninth place. Then, in ’97, he had his best race ever, finishing eighth in 21:54. In 2002, his time was 23:36 for 18th place. Last year, he took 12th in 22:04 when only 189 racers out of the 550 registered finished the race.
This winter, he did another 100 miles on skate skis in the Leadville Ski 100, and finished in 12:04.
“That was a fun event,” he said. “You had your Nordic skiers and your ultra athletes who are like “we’ll do anything that takes a long time.’ It behooves me to enter longer events.”
This year, the Leadville 100 running race takes place Aug. 17, and Wilcox will be there and for as many years to come as he can muster. For Wilcox, though, running is not primarily about racing.
“The races are more the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “I just like going out for a long day. A good run for me could be one of those eight- to 12-hour runs. It’s not about speed, it’s about being out in this beautiful county. If you have to walk, you walk. If you see something cool, you stop to look at it. It’s kind of an adventure. On the long runs, it’s good to go with other people because misery loves company.”
Wilcox said running for hours on end evokes an addictive feeling he describes as something between misery and euphoria.
“Sometimes we don’t look like we’re having fun, but we are,” he said. “There are guys doing ultras when they’re in their 60s and 70s. My goal is to still get a kick out of it when I’m 60, 70 … maybe 80. I want to be an old codger, taking his teeth out but still running.”
Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at email@example.com.
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