Last weekend’s Leadville marked the return of Scott Jurek. Scott, as Anton told me last year, is “The Man” – 7 straight WS100 wins, Spartathlon, Badwater, 24 hours, etc – it is unlikely anyone will do that and hold that stature again. And he’d been out of competition for 1-3 years (depending on how you figure it). Can he come back? Is his time past or does he still have it? People would ask me my opinion, and I didn’t have one – I didn’t know.

This is his interview on Colorado Public Radio.

This is Ken

Leadville was started by Ken Chlouber as a way to boost the economy after the local Molybdenum mine closed. Entries used to be capped at 350, and we used to submit our entries by Express Mail the day registration opened – one year a friend hand-delivered them to Race HQ to ensure entry. Then Ken’s personal economy improved drastically when he sold the events to Lifetime Fitness, and now the entry limit is 850, possibly the largest 100 miler in the country.

Jenny and Scott at start

The gun goes off in the darkness at 4 AM, and the excitement is high – much, much higher than it will be 24 hours later, as the darkest hour is indeed just before dawn, when the majority of runners will have been out on the course all night long, hoping to get back to where they started by 10 AM when the Starter fires a shotgun, signifying the race is over. This is actually one of the most exciting times of the race – the top runners are usually separated by large margins – the winner often can’t even see the 2nd place finisher – but it’s a desperate race to finish within 30 hours, and some years runners are weaving up 6th Street, crowds cheering them on … then “Boom!” If they cross that line 10 seconds after the gun goes off, their previous 30 hours of struggle don’t officially count.

Monica Morant of New Balance and I were spectating at Twin Lakes. This is the most relaxing place on the course, and a good spot for photos, as runners use a hand line to cross a stream in the middle of a sunny meadow. We admittedly were noticing gear – she what shoes people were wearing, me what packs. Regarding the latter, I’d never seen anything like it – the Signature Series was everywhere – they were so common, it looked like we had given them free to all entrants. Leadville, like Hardrock the previous month, was a Vest Fest. Turns out Camelbak was a sponsor and actually had given packs away for free, but I saw few of them.

We were waiting for the leaders to come thru in-bound (at Mile 60 of the out-and-back course), but mostly we saw runners still heading out-bound (Mile 40), so it was a fun, active spot. Finally Michael Aish came into the stream – stopping to splash water on his quads, which it turned out, every single in-bound runner reflexively did – and he and his pacer were off. Leadville is the only race that allows “muling” – the pacer carrying things – so many of the top runners carried nothing after the halfway point from where pacing is allowed, instead having their pacer carry bottles and hand them to them.

Aish (3rd place) and Pacer

Timo Meyer (6th place)

Shaheen Sattar (2nd place)

Soon Ian Sharman and Nick Clark came splashing in, then Scott in 4th. He was paced by Hal Koerner, so it was definitely an all-star duo. I ran with them to the aid station, running back and forth like an idiot trying to get a good photo, then finally gave up on that and let them go. Scott didn’t look terrific, but I’m not sure if he ever did. 100’s are the type of event that toughness and preparation are more important than talent and elegance, and Scott has the former in spades.

Also at Twin Lakes, I spoke with Bryon Powell of iRunFar – the relentless blogger and twitterer, who attends countless ultra’s to keep everyone up to date on the race, and who took the above three photos.

This is how magic happens: 30 hours of non-stop effort and work

We then moved on to the Outward Bound Aid Station (same location as Fish Hatchery), skipping the Half Pipe AS, because it’s on a gravel road, which is a miserable section of the course even without 500 cars driving up and down it raising a massive cloud of dust. Jenny Jurek showed up, who always looks great, along with Hal, who relinquished pacing duties to a Seattle friend of Scott’s. Scott came through, still in 4th, but with a group close behind him and Ian and Nick long gone. I asked Hal how he thought Scott was doing. “I don’t know” he smiled. If his pacer doesn’t know, who does? I asked Jenny. “Oh, he’s fine!”, and she smiled even more. “I’ve seen a lot worse”.

Ultrarunning does raise questions in my mind. A few people look like they’re having fun, while many appear to be downright miserable. So if a friend of yours, someone you care about, looks to be suffering, is the right thing to encourage them? Wouldn’t a friend want their friends to be comfortable and happy? Jenny certainly knows her husband 1,000 times more than I do, so I was relieved by her assurance.

We skipped the May Queen AS, and relocated to town and the Finish. I had climbed La Plata Peak that morning and was due for a shower. Plus, having spent numerous all-nighters on this course in the past, and not running myself and having no runner I was Pacing or Crewing, I was interested in checking out the new bar/distillery that produces a drink they call Moonshine.

Ian crossed the line first, Nick was second (becoming well-known for this finish position), the early leader Michael Aish survived a bad patch for 3rd, while Scott hit a bad patch himself and finished 8th. Of course there were 850 great stories from this event – each one equally interesting and valid – but I don’t know them, so I can only describe the tiny little bit I saw.

So did Scott still have what it takes? Certainly. Lest we forget, 100 miles is a REALLY long way. He was very happy at the Finish. Everyone who finishes a 100 should be happy, and Scott has always been the good-attitude king – always preparing well, being strong, hanging in there, being generous and friendly to all runners, no matter who they are – and that is definitely what it means to be a top ultrarunner.