Last summer I wrote about Cindy Henges’ run of the Leadville Trail 100 and the new playground of the heart that seemed to stretch open for me as one of her pacers. Cindy emailed me this last January to let me know she was getting the old crew together again for another go at it. Yes, she suffered amnesia, forgetting completely how insane it was the first time.
She moved to Breckenridge in June to train at altitude, for she had it in mind to finish in under twenty-five hours this year. Since oxygen is in rare supply the higher you get, one might as well get the body used to not having any. When I got back from Texas in July, we were able to get some good hard training runs in, talk about strategy and how to do things better this year. Our Crew went from four to six people – which meant I wasn’t going to be running the first and last legs…just the first… over Hope Pass, again. It, also, meant there were more people to have fun with over the 30+ sleepless hours of the race.
Come race day, 4:00AM Saturday, Cindy was off and running faster than her target time. So fast that she came into the first aide station twenty minutes ahead of that target and the 4th woman overall. Skip ahead to Winfield aid station, eleven hours later, and the 50-mile turn around. She was slowing down. Stomach issues were sucking her energy, her hydration, and her spirits.
Getting up and over Hope Pass was tortuous. Cindy was so calorie deficient that she could hardly keep her balance. We were going through water faster than we were covering tracks. Though she perked up on the downhill run to Twin Lakes, talking about everything under the remaining sun, it was going to be a rough 40 more miles to the finish.
There is a bond and flow of camaraderie that come with a small group of people all focused on a specialized task. It is why we play team sports. It is why soldiers are hold intimate space with other guys from their platoon. And, it is there in Crewing a runner for 30 hours+ of racing. I found myself going through Crew withdrawals the week after the race. I never really tired of these great people.
As a team, we knew Cindy was hurting worse than last year and as the miles and night came and went, we all knew getting her across that finish line was going to be like a Bataan Death March for her. Cindy came into the last aide station just minutes before the cut-off – The point when you are pulled off the course. Desiree had her for the last 13 miles to the finish and I had mentioned to Cindy that I would meet her for the last 6-7 miles if she wanted me to, (having run it with her the previous year).
Those last 6 miles I saw the shell of a person in Cindy. She was not smiling, nor talking like last year.. Desiree was the ever-strategic encourager - giving her space to walk, while pushing her to run as much possible. Between the two of us we were coercing Cindy 50 to 100 meters at a time.
Then, about a mile and half from the finish a group of three (Two runners and one pacer) men came trotting, dragging past us and one of them called out, “It’s a mile to the finish from the pavement!” We had fifteen minutes to get across that finish line. Cindy found some grain of drive left in her heart and started the run. Then she stopped.
At the pavement Desiree said to Cindy, “We will not cross the line in time if you do not run the rest of the way.” Legs burning and shot, Cindy started the uphill climb to the finish once again and this time… she didn’t let up. We could see the clock ticking down ahead and hear the roar of the crowd pulling her to it. They knew she was among the last who had a chance. A quarter-mile out every one knew Cindy’s name and were calling her to that red carpet. Des and I pulled off the course while Cindy ran in as the last woman to finish the Leadville 100 in time.
In those last 2 miles I went from defeat to awe and joy. The odds were so against her and her look and movement seemed to agree. In my head, I was preparing for her to not finish. Turns out, the rest of the crew at the finish line, waiting, was too. How do you walk through the rest of the day with someone who did not finish in such an extreme race? When Cindy started running again on that pavement, those thoughts went out the door. I was witnessing a resurrection and much like those guys that hung around Jesus, I was filled with such speechless awe and wonder at the sight of it all.
The same words from U2 that I quoted last year have even more weight and are the only ones that come to mind when I think of what I witnessed that Sunday morning in Leadville a few days ago:
“Of science and the human heart
There is no limit
There is no failure here sweetheart
Just when you quit...” - “Miracle Drug”
She never quit. Long past when 99.9% of us would, she kept going. And it was beautiful.