Mahon on the run
August 21, 2002
Aspen’s Ted Mahon lives on a steady diet of marathons and mountains.
It came as no surprise then to hear he’d finished the Leadville 100 (mile) trail-running race over the weekend; it was only a matter of time that the “Race Across the Sky” made his summertime to-do list.
The shocking part, admittedly even for the 30-year-old Mahon (pronounced “man”), is that after finishing the footrace in 28 hours, 13 seconds at 8 a.m. Sunday, he punched in for his shift as a waiter at Cache Cache in Aspen eight hours later. Swapping running gear and Camelback for semiformal attire and wine glasses, Mahon hobbled through the shift, a modest eight-hour ordeal compared to the earlier epic, before finally laying to rest one super-ultra-marathon of a weekend.
“They just couldn’t cover the shift,” he shrugged upon waking Monday.
“You’d think I’d be knocking over wine glasses, but it all went pretty smoothly. It was funny – ‘Hey, could we get some quicker service over here!’ they must have been thinking – but nothing got screwed up, I can tell you that.”
Starting in downtown Leadville at 4 a.m. Saturday, the race course traversed past Twin Lakes and over 12,600-foot Hope Pass to the ghost town of Winfield at mile 50, when racers retraced thousands of their steps back to Leadville.
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Mahon, who only registered a month ago based on an inspiring result at a 50-mile race in Lake City in early July, ran with friend and fellow Leadville 100 rookie Todd Kennedy, an architect from Basalt. For training, the duo ran the entire race course, forward and backward, in increments of as much as 30 miles at a time, among other jaunts.
Both aimed for 25 hours – the silver and gold belt-buckle benchmark at Leadville – while hoping realistically just to finish inside the 30-hour cutoff for the smaller, silver belt buckle award.
“Twenty-five hours was the high goal,” Mahon said. “Not sure if we could do it at absolute best, but we started out at that pace.”
By mile 40, the two slipped off their pace, and compounding matters, Kennedy began experiencing problems with his left leg. After a short conference at an aid station, Mahon pressed on ahead, while Kennedy trailed, eventually making it to about mile 70 before withdrawing. Of the 465 starters, 189 runners, or 41 percent, finished inside 30 hours (up slightly from the usual 40 percent in the 20-year history of the event).
Mahon reached mile 50 in Winfield in 11 hours, feeling strong of mind and body, with a leery confidence about the return.
“As we were rushing along looking at our watches the whole time, I kinda decided that took the fun out of it,” he said. “It’s too long to have to think about that the whole time.
“But then again, when you reach 50 or 60 miles, there’s only one speed – jog when you can.”
At mile 60, Mahon weighed-in at a medical checkpoint, registering seven pounds lighter than the start, but continued, sustaining himself on heaps of Cliff Shot goo, a few salt tablets and gallons of energy-drink cocktails.
As a rookie to the event, Mahon admits he overlooked one vital detail: support. While most racers have “teams,” Mahon’s support consisted of his girlfriend, Christy Sauer. “She was my sole support,” he said (perhaps meaning “soul”).
Sauer wound up running alongside him, or “pacing,” for 30 miles of the last 50, when up to five pacers are permitted to accompany each racer for 10 miles apiece.
“The hardest thing was fatigue. I was so tired, I wanted to try to find a way to take a nap. There were two times when I was running with my head bobbing, just like when you’re behind the wheel exhausted and you pull over and take a nap. But I just couldn’t do that; you might never wake up.”
For Mahon, who’s run 16 regular marathons, including Pike’s Peak three times, this presented a new, unexpected challenge. “I had no joint problems, no cramps, and I was even able to run stretches in the mid-90s (miles), but the tiredness is what I couldn’t seem to get over.”
Sauer’s impromptu marathon alongside him helped stave off sleepiness, but for one 10-mile stretch, when Sauer was shuttling the car around to the next checkpoint between mile 77 and 87.5, Mahon was accompanied by his so-called “knight in shining armor.”
“This kid was hanging out at the aid station, trying to get a feel for the race because he maybe wants to do it sometime, just asking people if they needed pacers,” Mahon said of the young kid from San Antonio.
Mahon took him up on the offer and traded forced small talk until rejoining with Sauer for the homestretch.
“I can’t even remember his name,” Mahon said, then conceding with a smile, “he may never even have been there.
“I didn’t think you needed a pacer the whole way back, but it really helps. Christy going 30 miles, that wasn’t part of the plan at all, but it was a big boost.”
Mahon finally limped into the finish area 28 hours after setting out, bringing to end, at least temporarily, a saga that saw him witness two sunrises on the run. “Easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
Mahon finished 97th overall, eons behind winner and new course record holder Chad Ricklefs of Boulder, who finished in 17:23:18. But he is wholly content.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to go back,” he said. “If I didn’t finish [inside the 30-hour cutoff], I might be feeling that way.”
After a three-hour power nap at a Leadville hotel, “Christy drove me home and I was back at work.
“One of my friends told me I’d never make it to work,” Mahon continued, “but that was all part of the training really. I was used to coming back after long runs and going to work. So I kinda trained for the actual work part, as a joke though, I never thought I’d have to go in.”
Mahon went about his duties, albeit slowly due to bad blisters, but didn’t offer any explanations to his tables – just another day’s work for Ted Mahon.
“I wasn’t about to tell any of the customers what I did,” he said with a laugh. “I just got a kick out of it.”
[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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