Passion. It’s the fuel that drives any dream and makes you happy to be alive. Eric Strand personifies the athlete who is passionate about distance running. And, in a few weeks, his passion for running will lead him to the biggest physical challenge of his life. The Leadville 100. It’s an ultramarathon, occurring on Saturday, August 18th. This endeavor just so happens to be his birthday. He’ll turn 52 on the day he attempts to run 100 miles in under 30 hours.
If this story seems familiar to you, it’s because you know Eric or have read the previous blog that I wrote about him and his fundraising for the Life & Hope Fund at St. Lukes Hospital. Tami and Eric Strand raised money for the charity, matching donations (up to $5,000) dollar for dollar. The Strands fundraising effort has surpassed $11,300 and their goal is to hit $15,000. If you didn’t read the previous article, click here to get a little background on why Eric is running the Leadville 100 and why it is so important to him to be raising money for such a worthy cause. By the way--donations are still being accepted. Click here if you’d like to make a donation to a fund that helps cancer patients at St. Luke’s Hospital pay for expenses not covered by insurance, this is a worthy cause. The fund pays for incidentals like gas for trips to the hospital, certain prescriptions and so on.
I had some questions for Eric, mainly about how he was doing with the training for such a grueling marathon. The day that I interviewed him at Longview Farm Park, it was sunny and 106 degrees, and he fully intended to get a good run in before dinner. Would any sane person want to “get a good run in” when it’s 106 degrees outside? That comment gives you a little indication of the mental state that Eric is in--ocused solely on completing the ultramarathon in Colorado.
I know Eric pretty well, and I feel like I covered a lot of information in the previous Patch article I wrote. But, I still had questions. I figured that his family, friends and neighbors might as well, so, here goes: some questions for Eric.
HOW SUPPORTIVE IS YOUR FAMILY?
“My kids, Collin, Zach and Kaity are very supportive. They think I’m nuts for wanting to run 100 miles, but they are supportive. In fact, Collin is coming to Leadville to be part of my pit crew. I like the idea of expanding the idea of what we think we are capable of… all of us have the ability to do more than we think we can. Tami understands this and indulges me.”
IS THERE SOMETHING SPECIAL THAT YOU DO BEFORE RACE DAY?
“Yes, it might sound odd because I generally don’t eat junk food. But, I go to McDonalds a day before race day and order a #2 meal--the double cheeseburger meal. I consume way over 1,400 calories in that meal alone! The fat, carbs, protein and sodium actually provide decent fuel for an event like this--dense caloric content packed with energy. I burn 140 calories per each mile I run. At 20 miles a day, it’s almost impossible to consume enough calories”
WHEN DO YOU SLEEP WHEN YOU RUN LEADVILLE?
“Well, no one gets to sleep. You have 30 hours to complete 100 miles. That means that you must run at an average of 3.3 miles every hour. Easy to do on level ground, not so easy climbing up a mountain with low levels of oxygen. The breaks you get come at the aid stations. Your crew will have food, drinks, those nasty gel packs, a change of clothes and shoes, kind words and encouragement. You need to be out of the aid station in 3 to 5 minutes and back on the road. I have 4 people on my team. Tami and Collin, my cousin Susan Vickerman, (Eric grumbles when he admits that Susan continually beats him in warm-weather races) and Susan’s friend and running buddy, Todd Rowe. As an incentive to at least finish the first 50 miles, at mile 51, I get running buddies. My team of pacers are Susan, Todd, and Dan Turpin. At mile 99 I am adding Tami and my son, Collin. It will make for a triumphant final mile, provided someone doesn’t have to carry me on their back!”
HOW MANY PEOPLE RUN THE LEADVILLE 100?
“1,100 people sign up for the race. 900 begin the race. 450 finish the race. The attrition rate is very high. These are well-trained athletes who know what they are getting into . . . it just shows how tough this race really is.”
HAS TRAINING FOR THE RACE BEEN HARDER THAN ANY OF YOUR OTHER RACES?
(Eric has run the Pikes Peak Marathon twice. He complied a video, chronicling the torturous hours of the ascent and descent. If you haven’t seen it, you simply must watch it. It’s up and down Pikes Peak, where elevations reach 14,000 feet. Elevations at Leadville are up to 12,600 feet.)
“Mentally, I’m pretty set up for the race. I have been training, trying to get in up to 20 miles a day. I have picked locations that mimic the conditions and elevations at Leadville, I even ran 50 miles of the trail that I’ll run on race day. Dangerous lightening stopped us from making it to the top of Hope Pass, but it was a good workout. One of the strangest things happened a few weeks ago at Hope Pass in Leadville. I was running, the weather was getting bad and I thought I heard footsteps behind me. I didn’t want to turn around as I was trying to keep a pace. But I kept hearing footsteps. I was thinking about bears, doubtful that I could outrun one or climb a tree as fast as one. As I slowed, I realized it was my heart pounding so hard I could actually hear it. That was such an odd, strange thing to comprehend. My heartbeat, not another runner.”
DO YOU EVER LET YOUR MIND JUST WANDER WHEN YOU’RE RUNNING THESE MARATHONS?
“No, I can’t allow that to happen. My mind is always anticipating what might lie ahead. A change in terrain or a change in the weather could lead to a critical mistake. Another thing that gets to you when you reach the upper elevations- it’s your mind. The oxygen level is very low, you’re really tired, and you’re burning calories that are hard to replace. That’s when your mind plays tricks on you. You’re continually battling what you know isn’t real with what might be. It’s kind of like having a devil on one side of your brain and your good common sense on the other. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it. Your mind is trying to convince your body to stop, but it can’t always be believed.”
DO YOU WEAR AN IPOD WHEN YOU RUN?
(This question came from my friend, Linda. Linda ran a half marathon and wasn’t crazy about it. In fact, she didn’t like it! She can’t run unless she’s plugged into something.)
“I’ll wear an iPod about half the time. I generally don’t wear one during a race and never when I have company. I will listen to music, books and podcasts.”
SURELY YOU’VE MET SOME INTERESTING PEOPLE IN YOUR TRAINING FOR LEADVILLE.
(I asked this question because distance runners are an unusual bunch. They are older than the average runner and they push themselves harder, or at least it seems that way to me.)
“Well, I have met some interesting guys on Twitter. Yes, I said Twitter. One of them is Ben Macaux. Last weekend Ben and I ran 50 miles at Leadville. Ben, his wife and son live and work in Chicago. On Friday he was in L.A. on business. He was scheduled to fly home, to Chicago from L.A., but instead, he flew into Denver. He stayed with us in Breckenridge, got about 3 hours sleep before we had our run and left on a flight to Chicago soon after we finished. All told, he got about 6 hours sleep in a 60+ hour time frame. And that included a 50-mile run at altitude! We also had Jerry Armstrong, a police officer and experienced ultra trail runner. He provided steady commentary, even telling us that he won a marathon in 2 hours, 50 minutes (that’s super fast!) wearing only a thong. An interesting surfer-dude, philosopher and motivational guru who occasionally goes into drill sergeant mode yelling…YOU MUST COMMIT. I WILL NOT QUIT!!!”
HOW DOES RUNNING MAKE YOUR BODY FEEL? ARE YOUR KNEES STILL GOOD?
(I was curious about this question- I have 2 knee replacements!)
“My knees are great! They are strong and I know that running makes them stronger. I do admit to having some toe issues, especially since I broke one recently moving boxes into our new place in Breckenridge.”
WHAT KIND OF DONATIONS HAVE BEEN MADE POSSIBLE TO THE LIFE & HOPE FUND DUE TO YOUR FUNDRAISING EFFORTS?
“First, I want to explain that the social workers associated with St. Lukes exhaust all other benefits possible before asking the fund for financial help. They search out all drug assistance programs and community resources before they use funds from Life & Hope. There was a woman who was in horrible pain due to bone cancer. Sleep was nearly impossible to come by- she needed a new mattress desperately. Of course, this isn’t the type of thing insurance covers, even though her appetite, chronic fatigue and emotional distress were caused by a lack of sleep. Life & Hope had a new mattress delivered and she is now sleeping soundly, eating well and in a better state overall. Another patient had medical coverage, but his prescription co-pays were taking a huge chunk out of his disability payments. He wasn’t taking enough of his meds because of this. Life & Hope gave him the funds needed for his co-pays, allowing him to take his meds at the correct dosage. There are more stories just like these. It’s so important for folks to know that they are not alone while undergoing treatment for cancer.”
HOW WILL YOU CELEBRATE WHEN THE BIG EVENT IS OVER?
“Euphoria will kick in big time and probably last about a day. Making a personal commitment, and hopefully, making it to the end of the race will be a really big deal for me, an incredible achievement. Sometimes I just have a beer to celebrate after a marathon, but after my 50-mile training runs all I have wanted to do is have a glass of water and sleep. I know one thing I will do is let my wife, Tami, my family, my crew and everyone who has provided support and encouragement know just how much I appreciate and treasure what they have done. That includes you, Claire, and my incredible co-workers at Drury Hotels. If I have learned anything up to this point about a 100-mile race it is that it’s a team sport. That is not false modesty, it is the absolute truth. This is a brutally tough race and I absolutely could not do it on my own. Thank you so much!”
And that, my friends, is why Eric is such a special guy: he works hard, trains hard, is super committed and still has the time to tell everyone how great they have made his journey. Even if he doesn’t make it to mile marker 100 at Leadville, he is still a hero to his family, friends and to St. Lukes’ Life & Hope Fund. Way to go Eric, way to go! You make us proud!