I got to witness something incredible yesterday: I saw a 12-year old complete a 100-mile trail race. I know that sounds surreal. It’s one of those things that might have been hard for me to comprehend if I had not seen in with my own eyes…
I’ve followed Colby’s progress from afar since I first saw him at Badwater last year. He was helping out to crew Ed the Jester, who actually hooked me up with my now-friend Karla who I crewed at that same race. Colby has a blog where he posts race reports that I have enjoyed reading. He completed his first marathon late last year, followed by a 24-hour race at the beginning of the year (where he ran over 50 miles), his first 100k in March, and another 50 miles just a week after that. Colby is not your average 12-year-old.
I met Colby and his parents (who are also ultrarunners) at the Beyond Limits Ultra in mid-March and got to see him run. He was fun to watch; most kids are indeed fun to watch run because they don’t take themselves too seriously–they just run. But Colby shows a dedication that I don’t think many kids have, although I rarely see kids at ultra events, so I don’t have many comparisons to make.
This past weekend, the Ride the Wind 100-miler took place near where I live in Las Vegas. There were other options as well, ranging from 10k to 100k. I saw an ad for this race a few months ago, but after looking at the elevation profile and the description that included terms like “rocky” and “technical,” I didn’t consider it. Unlike most ultrarunners, I don’t prefer racing on trails. I enjoy being in nature and running some trails, but not for time. On Thursday, Colby’s mom Shawna asked if I was going to be there. I told her I wasn’t and that I had a 100-miler a week later I was focusing on. When I inquired if her whole family would be there, she confirmed that was the case. She would be there along with her husband Brady, daughter Mimi, and of course Colby. She also mentioned that it would be Colby’s first 100-miler. I told her to wish Colby well for me and that I might be able to come to the finish, but it was a big question mark. I live 45 minutes from the race site and a few hours Sunday morning would be the only few hours I would have to spend with my husband for over a week; I also had no idea *when* Colby would be finishing.
I smiled when I woke up yesterday to a status update Shawna posted several hours earlier that read: “While you are sleeping, my 12 year old is at mile 70 of his first 100 miler. On a trail.” I sent Shawna a message, not knowing if she even had cell service, asking for a status update. He was over 80 miles by that point. At this point, I still wasn’t sure of the feasibility of going to the finish line as my husband wasn’t even awake yet. I thought maybe we could both go to the finish line. As some more time went on, I found out that Colby had gotten lost in the middle of the night and added at least six extra miles to his race. This meant he was that many miles behind where he thought he was; this was mentally hard for him. Even as an adult who has done three 100-milers, I can say it would be hard for me. Shawna put out a plea for anyone in the Las Vegas area who could come to consider accompanying Colby on his last ~7-mile loop.
As soon as my husband woke up, I explained the situation and without even hesitating, he told me I should go support Colby. I love my husband so much. (And as it turned out, he had schoolwork he needed to do anyway). I told Shawna I would be there. I also saw that two friends, Rob and Deb, who I had met at the Beyond Limits Ultra and saw again last month at my Labor of Love race were also heading out there; they had both done races on the same course the day prior. I knew my friend Ryan was out there somewhere too as I’d seen a message from him earlier saying he was heading there.
When I got to the race site, I was happy to be among friends. Rob and Deb were there, Shawna was there of course, and Ed the Jester’s wife Martha was there too. I got to meet the race directors as well as another lady names June. I absolutely love the running community. It wasn’t too long before Colby came in with Brady, Ed, and Ryan. He sat down for a brief moment and then a group of us headed out with him. The group consisted of Brady, Ed, Martha, Rob, June, one of the RDs (Carmella), and me.
I was surprised how well Colby was moving at that point in time, particularly considering he was really close to 100 miles by that point with the “bonus miles” he had done. In addition to walking pretty consistently at a 20-22 minute pace, he was still jogging little segments of the course. The course was anything but flat, and there were rocks everywhere; it was very easy to lose footing. He was moving way better and was in better spirits than I was at that point in my first 100-miler; there were times I was moving at a 30 minute pace. He seemed surprised when I told him that. It was evident that he had somehow developed a mental toughness that some adults can’t grasp. One clear piece of evidence lies in the fact that this race had 10 starters, all adults besides him, and 7 of them had dropped out; even for a 100-miler, that’s a ridiculous attrition race. The race was hard with the terrain and Vegas heat. Yet somehow, a 12-year-old was able to endure in those conditions.
When Colby mentioned that he broke down the race into milestones, this didn’t surprise me, as I think all, or at least many, people do this in longer races. But how he broke it down caught me off guard. When I asked him, he said that he broke it down into 5-mile increments, but when he went through low points, he broke it down into 1-mile increments. I was surprised by this because the last 40 miles of my first 100-miler, at no point could I comprehend 5 miles or even a single mile, even during my not-so-low times. I had resorted to focusing on literally the next step because anything greater than that seemed too large. When I told him this, I think he was amused, but perhaps it boosted his confidence a bit.
Even though Colby had been awake for well over a day, he was still very mentally alert. He told me how he would do math to figure out certain things, like the number of feet he had left based on the number of miles he had to go and the number of feet in a mile. When I asked him if he’d figured out how many steps he’d taken, he said he had, and he explained to me how he’d come up with that number. As a number-lover myself, I thought this was incredible, but even I don’t do that much math when I run, and surely not that late into a race. My mind doesn’t work like that with so little sleep. I know this because I’ve tried.
I brought my phone along, so I tried to take as many photos as I could. I wanted to help document his race, at least the final loop, for him and his family. I love taking photos, so this was fun for me. I only fell once, and it was when I was goofing around running off the trail trying to catch up after I lagged behind to take some photos. I scraped up both hands and my right shin, and I banged my left knee on a rock; I was initially concerned about my left knee, but I think my joint is actually fine and that I just have a big sensitive-to-touch ugly bruise. No big deal; if I *didn’t* fall on a trail, that would be abnormal.
Since we were the last people on the course, Carmella was taking down the markings. A couple of us were helping her. At one point because I dropped one and Colby, who was a few steps behind me stopped and picked it up and gave it to me. Anyone who has ever done an ultra knows how difficult it is to bend down late in a race. I thanked him but told him not to pick up anything else any of us dropped and that one of the rest of us would get it. All he needed to do was keep moving forward. His response, was, “Oh. Okay.” I smiled, though, as the fact that helping out like that was evidently so second-nature to him that he didn’t consider it would be in his best interest not to do it.
Colby went through a couple low points during the last loop, but it was nothing major. I think it was beneficial there were so many of us out there to talk to him and encourage him. I will admit, though, that there were points when Brady and Ed looked like they were more worn out than Colby; this amused me. Even when Colby was going through some lows, it made me smile that whenever anyone said anything positive to him, he *always* thanked them. He also thanked anyone who told him to watch his step or anything else cautionary.
When I noticed we were a bit less than a mile from the finish line, I told Colby and he perked up. He said he was glad he had done the race when he’s so young because he would be the youngest (known) trail 100-mile finisher ever. He’s also wise beyond his years, based on some of the other things he said in that final mile. He matter-of-factly told me he had gone through lows but that he knew they would pass so he just kept going. This is something that seems logical in theory, but in the midst of a low, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel because you have no idea if it will last 5 minutes or 10 hours. But somehow, he had come to terms with this and was okay with it. I remember telling him that those lows are one of the things that bring ultrarunners together because every single person who runs an ultra, particularly a long one, will experience them and that few other people will ever understand what it’s like or why it’s worth it to push through to the other side.
Toward the end of the race, when I told Colby that he should enjoy the journey and the moments leading up to getting to the finish line, he smiled. Then he said that he knew he would only have the chance to finish his first 100-miler one time and wanted to enjoy it. The fact he “got it” was fascinating to me. Not only is he 12 years old, but he had been awake over 32 hours at that point, and he was still capable of intelligible thought and speech.
All of us besides Brady and Carmella, who was still removing course markings, ran ahead to the finish area so we could cheer Colby in. About a quarter mile from the finish line, I was sort of surprised to see my friend Giovanni taking photos. I wasn’t totally surprised because Giovanni carries his camera everywhere. But I was surprised because Giovanni had finished the 100-miler just a couple hours earlier but chose to stick around to see Colby. The day prior, I guess there was a point where Giovanni thought of dropping, but he said that if Colby was still going, he would keep going too; Giovanni was one of the other two finishers; the other one was a guy named Rodney who I don’t know. Side story: Giovanni gave all of us a scare earlier in the day. He evidently didn’t sign in at a couple aid stations, so no one knew where he was. When people were sent out to find him, they somehow just missed him. When we started out on the final loop with Colby, we had no idea where Giovanni was (although there were measures underway to find him).
Ed came up with the idea to stand in two lines facing one another on either side of the finishing chute with our arms up (fingertips touching the person across) to create an arch for Colby to run through. However, I knew Colby would be running at the end, and I wanted to capture this on video. When he mentioned earlier in the loop that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to run at the end, we assured him he would have the energy. Sure enough, Brady and Colby came running in, not shuffling either–actually running. I took video as he ran a straight-away section, and then I ran over just in time to make up my part of the arch. This meant I didn’t get video of his entire finish, but I did get about 15 seconds of him running. I wanted to do this because someone took video at the end of my first 100-miler and I really treasure this. I wanted to give Colby and his family something to look back on later. As Colby mentioned, you only complete your first 100-miler one time.
I don’t know Colby’s final time, but I think it was between 32:15 and 32:30; the cut-off was 33 hours. There were lots of hugs at the finish line and then Jimmy, the other race director, presented Colby with his 100-mile finisher buckle. This was very neat to see. Then Brady carried Colby away to an RV out of the sun. There was even a cake to celebrate his finish.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share Colby’s final loop with him, and I absolutely love his family. They’re all incredible, including little Mimi who did her first 10k on that course on Saturday. Very neat. I also got to see a handful of other friends and be reminded yet again how much I love the running community, particularly the ultra community.
I know there are likely people reading this who don’t think children should be running such distances. I don’t really care to debate it, but I will say I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I saw yesterday, and I will address a few points.
Some individuals might argue that running long distances can hinder growth or cause other physical problems, but many of these claims seem to be based off of people’s perceptions of what they think should happen, not necessarily reality. There are young kids who have run marathons and suffered no long-term effects. Of course I’m sure if people dig hard enough, they can find instances to dispute this, but this is true for everything in life–everything is bad for you–got it. As for long ultras, there really isn’t much of a precedent.
For someone who doesn’t know this family, I think it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that Colby is pressured into doing these events. First of all, anyone who’s done an ultra knows how difficult it is to complete an ultra when their heart is fully committed to it; I don’t think it’s really feasible to “make” another person (adult or child) run 100 miles against their will. Colby loves running, excels at it, and has the mental capacity to handle it. I don’t think all kids have this, or adults for that matter, so I don’t advocate everyone running 100 miles. But this shouldn’t keep the ones who are willing and able to do it from doing it. Colby is a child and his parents are ultimately responsible for what he does and his well-being. From what I’ve seen, not only are they not pushing him, but they’re the ones who have to hold him back at some points or keep him from doing too much. At his 24-hour race at the beginning of the year, they pulled him from the course when they deemed it was in his best interest, even though he wanted to keep going. Through their own running, Shawna and Brady are setting an excellent example for both of their children to follow if they choose to do so. I think this is awesome.
Running doesn’t totally monopolize Colby’s time, as he has other interests too, including playing soccer. Just a couple days before this race, actually, his soccer team won a championship game.
In my humble opinion, many of the naysayers are basing their viewpoints solely on societal norms. In other words, if it doesn’t fit it with what’s “normal” or “common,” there must be something wrong with it. Sometimes people do things that many view as impossible merely because they don’t know the goals they have are supposed to not be possible to reach. People do incredible things when they aren’t burdened with the notion that they’re trying to do impossible feats. I can only speculate, but considering Colby’s parents both runs ultras and he has been to many races and knows lots of adults who run ultras, it likely doesn’t seem that abnormal to him. Based on this, running 100 miles was only an eventuality, never a question about whether or not it was possible. I feel like there’s a lesson in here somewhere. I also think it’s evidence that people are capable of way more than they think they are.
I love instances like this where someone goes out and does something incredible that others can’t help but take notice of. I enjoy that it might make people uncomfortable in the respect that it’ll make them question their own (perceived) limitations. Maybe it won’t motivate someone else to sign up for a 100-miler (or it might…), but perhaps it will inspire others to set their goals a little higher or venture outside of their comfort zone to do something others have deemed “impossible.” I mean, if a 12-year-old can run a trail 100-mile race and be one of only three finishers (out of ten starters) in tough conditions, what else can the rest of us do in our own lives?
Following are the photos I took from the final loop of Colby’s race. I also put a link to the finish video at the end (that I’m not sure how to embed). If anyone is interested in reusing any of these photos, please contact me directly for permission. I also have versions that are higher resolution and totally untouched (not manipulated with Instagram). :)
Link to video of Colby running with his dad at the end: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=752218625933&l=6206520881410082103