My Story, But Not My Race (Part 2)

10.23.2018 | 11:38 am

A note from Fatty: Be sure to read part 1 before you read this part.

Melisa and Lisa had gone. They were going to be running around Turquoise Reservoir, coming back across the road in eight miles or so.

Which gave me plenty of time, I figured, to go pack up Lisa’s and my stuff at our hotel, check out, and then go get Blake and Jeff. We’d then be able to meet them and cheer them on at several more points on the way to the finish line.

I hustled, picked everyone up, and got to where we expected to see them. And no sooner had we started looking up the trail for them than they came running out:

Melisa was smiling! And moving at the pace — as you can see — of a fast walk! And she was there minutes sooner than we had expected her.

She was 95 miles (my guess) into this race, and moving as fast as she needed to.

Everyone’s spirits soared.

“We’ll see you soon!” we cheered as they crossed the reservoir road and started down the other side.

But by the next time we saw her, things had changed. A lot.


We had to drive a little bit of a circuitous route to get to the dirt road that connected to where we’d see them again,  but I’d stopped worrying.

Then we saw Melisa, and everyone started worrying again.

The happy, still-sort-of-running Melisa was gone, and in her place was the suffering, every-step-is-agony Melisa.

The short-but-steep downhill had been a last straw of sorts for Melisa’s feet.

Still, we walked with the two of them, cheering them on. Staying positive. Being encouraging.

“YOU AREN’T HELPING,” Melisa said. “I can tell that you’re all just walking, so GO.”

Banished, we left Lisa and Melisa to their misery. We’d have to content ourselves with tracking them on Lisa’s phone’s Find-a-Friend.

At the Top of the Boulevard

We drove to the top of the Boulevard — where the dirt meets the road, signaling you’re in the homestretch of the race — and waited. Occasional runners would come by, all of them a mix of pain and elation. Each time one came by, we’d cheer and the course marshal — carrying a bongo drum — would hammer out an awesome beat.

I took turns looking at my watch, looking at Lisa’s dot on Find-a-Friend — willing her to reach the turn that meant they were on the 2-mile-long Boulevard climb — and answering the dozens of texts coming in from family and friends, asking about how Melisa was doing.

From time to time, I’d text Lisa, asking how things were going, and then I’d relay her reply to everyone with me.

This was my first experience being an anxious racer crew, but I’m pretty sure I made up for a lifetime of it in the hour (or two? or ten?) we stood there.


It’s tough to watch a dream fade.

As time went by we went from, “She’ll get it” to “She has a chance” to “Who cares about time? The distance is what matters.”

10:00am — the official finishing time — came and went.

The bongo drum-playing course marshal apologetically said, “I have to go help with course cleanup,” and left.

Lisa’s blue dot was at the bottom of the boulevard; it was difficult to tell whether it had moved in a while.

I was looking at it when Lisa texted me, “We’re going to be a while.”

I texted back, “Is it OK for us to come down and walk up with you?”

She replied, “Melisa says it’s OK.”

We all started walking down, except Jeff, who broke into a run. Which was adorable.

The Walk

We caught up with Melisa and Lisa and began walking with her. 10:00 had come and gone, and 11:00 — the time racers need to hit to get their name on the official finishers’ list — was coming up fast.

Nobody mentioned time.

Sometimes we tried to talk; most of the time we were quiet.

Lisa would ask, every few minutes, if Melisa wanted something to eat, or something to drink. After one of these questions, Melisa said, “YOU’RE NOT DOING A GOOD JOB OF PACING ME. EVERYONE ELSE PACED ME BETTER THAN YOU.” I started laughing, then realized Melisa wasn’t making a joke.

Lisa looked hurt, but could tell it was just pain talking.

Melisa would take a step, plant her poles, then take another step. Baby steps. Not quite one mile per hour.

Roughly one zillion people were texting me, asking what was going on. I did my best to keep up. Later, Melisa would tell me that her main memory of me from the day was that I was just texting all the time.

But I wasn’t just texting. I was also taking pictures.

At which point she tried to do her usual smile-for-the-camera smile. “Cut it out,” I said. “Just ignore the camera.”

And then I got the best, most honest pictures of Melisa you could ever see.

That’s what giving everything you’ve got, and then going way beyond that, actually looks like. It hurts like hell and it’s no fun at all.

And it doesn’t — at least at the moment — feel glorious or brave or extraordinary. The people around you might see it, but you don’t see or feel it yourself.

The Finish Line

Something you probably didn’t notice in those photos is the white truck in the background. That’s the EMT truck. The sweep truck. It stayed a respectful 50 feet behind Melisa for close to three hours while she walked the two miles up the Boulevard. Though it did pull up once when Melisa stumbled. “If she can’t stay upright on her own I need to pull her,” the woman said.

A fair demand.

So Melisa kept walking. Slower, but still going. I looked at my watch and saw it was 12:30. So the awards ceremony was going on. Who cares.

The woman in the truck pulled up and said to Lisa and me — not in earshot of Melisa — “You should know that the timing mat and finish line arch and the bleachers have been taken down. The street’s open. She’s doing this strictly out of her own determination.”

We understood. That had been true for a while.

But Melisa was going slower. She was still moving forward, but so slowly now. You couldn’t walk that slow if you tried. And she still had about 2/3 of a mile to go, even once she reached the pavement.

I couldn’t imagine her walking that much further. I just couldn’t. She was making walking motions, but she wasn’t really moving.

And then a truck pulled up. It was a man from Life Time.

He walked up to Melisa and said, “Everyone knows this race is more than 100 miles. You’ve gone 100 miles, and this is your finish line. You’ve finished this race.”

And he gave her a bouquet of flowers, and a finisher’s medal. And a hug.

The Leadville 100 Trail Run results page shows Melisa as making it to the Mayqueen checkpoint, but not the finish line. The 2018 Leadwoman results page doesn’t show her at all.

Which goes to show, results pages don’t know shit.


  1. Comment by Tim | 10.23.2018 | 12:34 pm

    Aww man, now I’m crying at work.

    Can’t say you weren’t warned! – FC

  2. Comment by Mike | 10.23.2018 | 12:37 pm

    Great recap, Fatty. And congratulations, Melisa!

    Thanks, Mike. I’ve been wanting to tell this for a while! – FC

  3. Comment by Eric M Burgeson | 10.23.2018 | 12:48 pm

    me too, bawling like a baby at my desk

    I told you! – FC

  4. Comment by Jill Homer | 10.23.2018 | 12:56 pm

    Awwww. I relate to this story so hard. Finishing a 100-mile ultramarathon is so incredibly difficult. I have timed out of three … never at the finish, but at mile 80 (Tahoe Rim Trail 100), mile 72 (UTMB) and mile 75 (Bryce 100). Each time flattened me emotionally because I felt so broken and felt I had nothing to show for my pain. Big kudos to Melisa, and thanks for sharing her story.

    Thanks Jill. Since you’re more or less regarded as a superhero role model around here, that means a lot to a lot of us. – FC

  5. Comment by Bart the Clydesdale | 10.23.2018 | 1:26 pm

    My eyes are wet for some reason. I feel for Melisa, I am not as tough as her, but I feel for her.
    My Leadville ended at mile 60 this year. Injury had kept me from training as much as I wanted and reaching the top of Columbine became my self appointed finish line.
    I felt like a failure, I still do, I named my Strava record of the ride “This is what failure looks like.”
    I dreaded what family, friends, and other riders would say about my failure, and then I learned something wonderful.
    Not one person other than me viewed my attempt as a failure. Sure I didn’t get my 4th buckle, but everyone who mattered just realized I gave it my all, and that is what everyone who knows Melisa, either in real life , or virtually through your writing knows about her. She gave it her all, she is better for the attempt and her personal finish line is of great importance, and success.

  6. Comment by Brother Harmonius | 10.23.2018 | 2:22 pm

    Damn it Fatty. I AM crying.

  7. Comment by Boston Carlos | 10.23.2018 | 2:29 pm

    what a race, Melisa. You’re a beast.

  8. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.23.2018 | 2:43 pm

    Those of us who have had the luck to meet and know Melisa will acknowledge she is probably the most determined, focused person they have met. She’ll go far, again and again.

    An amazing story Fatty and thanks to Melisa for letting you share it in the way you did.

  9. Comment by Christina | 10.23.2018 | 6:07 pm

    Yep. Tears.

    I can’t imagine the grit it takes to do all of those events. Simply amazing.

    My only marathon involved a point where the sweep van pulled up next to me, somewhere around mile 20. Not finishing was not an option, so I got to moving.

    There is no way to adequately communicate the feeling of watching your dream slip through your fingers out on a race course because your body is giving up, but damn if you didn’t get close, Fatty. I felt sick reading parts of this and when she finally finished, my tears were those of relief.

    Melisa is amazing. AMAZING. I don’t care what the results say either.

  10. Comment by Corrine | 10.23.2018 | 6:49 pm

    Absolutely amazing effort. I can’t believe she just kept going! Melisa, you are amazing. True grit! And yes, I along with everybody else cried.

  11. Comment by Isaac | 10.23.2018 | 7:37 pm

    That’s a good story. And a great last line.

  12. Comment by Eric F | 10.23.2018 | 9:39 pm

    Thanks for telling this story Fatty, truly amazing.

  13. Comment by Jenn | 10.24.2018 | 3:05 am

    Melissa, I’m so proud of you. So in awe of your determination and spirit. Rest, recover and know that I’ve sent you the most delicious cold beverage through the ether. What an amazing accomplishment.

  14. Comment by mar | 10.24.2018 | 6:12 am

    To me, this is a victory in the truest sense of the word.

  15. Comment by DoubleUMartin | 10.24.2018 | 6:42 am

    I’m sitting here in the dark getting ready for my “run” with tears streaming down my face with all the feels.

    Not too many people have that kind of will power. You are an amazing young women Melissa. I will share this with my boys today and show them what true determination looks like.

    I hope you truly know how amazing you are.

  16. Comment by MattC | 10.24.2018 | 7:56 am

    Wow. Now I need to go finish my solder bi-annual recertification with ‘moist’ eyes. Most of us (myself definitely included) will never push ourselves that hard…takes a very special person to go SO deep into what they are capable of. Can’t EVEN imagine a 100 mile foot race…very few will ever even try someth8ing SO HARD. Very impressive Melissa…VERY! Thanks for sharing your story!

  17. Comment by Ann | 10.24.2018 | 8:25 am

    THIS is sometimes exactly the race report we need for inspiration. Not some blow-by-now of the podium finishers.
    Honest, gritty, painful, powerful,redemptive.
    You did it, Melisa, and no one can ever take it from you.
    And you did it, FC, sharing your story and hers in a way that moved us all.
    Thank you. I’ll get back on my trainer now. I’m going to finish an ultra ride one day soon, I WILL. Thank you.

  18. Comment by Monica C. | 10.24.2018 | 9:07 am

    This makes me want to run again. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Comment by jason | 10.24.2018 | 10:31 am

    One of your best posts, ever! Thanks for sharing and an incredible race by Melisa!

  20. Comment by Kate Geisen | 10.24.2018 | 11:02 am

    You really are a masterful storyteller. What an incredible accomplishment. Sticking out when it only counts to YOU seems braver to me than making the finish line by the cutoff.

  21. Comment by Steph B | 10.24.2018 | 12:04 pm

    Wow, amazing report Fatty. Good on you Melisa. What an effort.

  22. Comment by Jeremy E | 10.24.2018 | 12:50 pm

    Is someone cutting onions? I am impressed by the determination shown, Melisa. Be proud of that effort.

  23. Comment by Phil | 10.24.2018 | 1:12 pm

    Glad your back writing here again Eldon. That’s the 2nd time I’ve been in tears reading your blogs…. Man your good….

  24. Comment by Tominalbany | 10.24.2018 | 1:34 pm

    Congratulations, Melisa! You did it!

    Thanks, Fatty, for the dose of inspiration. Those photos, man. Just man…

  25. Comment by Scott Gilbert | 10.25.2018 | 11:09 am

    Damn is someone peeling onions near me my eyes are watering. Great story Fatty!

  26. Comment by Walter | 10.25.2018 | 11:56 am

    OK, had to close my door at work due to a “pressing phone call” so I could dry my eyes and blow my nose. Damn, what an incredible story. Thanks for doing such a great job, Fatty, in telling it. Melissa is awesome – setting a huuuge goal, then getting right after it. Despite the suffering and pain, she still would not give up – so inspirational! And huge kudos to the guy from Life Time for going out of his way to make the finish so memorable.

  27. Comment by Abbie | 10.26.2018 | 8:51 am

    Just like everyone else, I am crying. Congratulations on an amazing race Melisa. Thanks for sharing her story.

  28. Comment by Jim | 10.26.2018 | 9:20 pm

    I’m an old man, and I’m crying too. Powerful event.

  29. Comment by George | 10.27.2018 | 10:26 am

    Awesome. That last part about the Time Life guy got me right in the sniffle zone. Good people exist. Rock on Melissa for never quitting! I can only dream of coming close to doing something like that. Cool. Thanks for sharing Fatty.

  30. Comment by Levi Cress | 10.29.2018 | 10:35 am

    Sweaty eyeballs! Very inspiring Melisa!

  31. Comment by Jeremy | 10.30.2018 | 12:13 pm

    I wept… Wow… Still weeping…Whew!
    As Always, Thank you for sharing…

  32. Comment by Big Shorty | 11.1.2018 | 7:45 am

    I know that writing for a website, running a family and juggling work/play/life in general has to be a HUGE pain in he rear. But I’m not too proud to say that I missed the updates to this page and hearing what’s up in your world.

    LOVED the Leaville podcast and absolutely love seeing posts back here from time to time. Great stuff!

    Big Shorty – from the flat cornfields of IL

  33. Comment by Leo | 11.2.2018 | 9:15 am

    When somebody want to know the definition of “Heart of a Lion”, show them this. And pretty too!

  34. Comment by Wilt Kishimoto | 11.6.2018 | 1:45 pm

    Awesome in so many ways!

  35. Comment by L'Hippo | 11.8.2018 | 12:30 pm

    Excellent story and great writing, congrats to Melisa and you.

  36. Comment by Sarfraz Khan | 11.11.2018 | 11:20 am

    That’s emotional but congratulations to Melisa.


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