Coveting the “Lead Butt” award

The two great things about small, home-town races is 1) everyone usually knows each other, and 2) the prizes are often the most kitschy.

(That’s how my friend Pam and I once walked away with two matching garden gnomes, but that is fodder for yet another post.)

Sure, the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon offer the megabucks to the winners. 

And at the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon racers pass under the arched legs of a 30-foot-tall inflatable Elvis.

But only the Big Tesuque Trail Race can claim the infamous “Lead Butt” award.

No, I didn’t win it, but to this day I still swear — I coulda been a contender!!

For anyone who’s never run Big Tesuque the picture below illustrates what you need to train on for months ahead to prepare for it properly:

Seriously, the Big Tesuque course starts on a rough, unpaved forest service road and climbs 2,000 feet and about 6 miles uphill until it reaches the radio towers at the top of the Santa Fe Ski Area. Once racers reach the peak, they turn around and run the whole thing, 6 miles and 2,000 feet, back down again.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot to mention — it also starts at a pittance 10,000 feet and climbs to 12,000 feet. (See the Big T’s elevation chart .)

While it’s plenty wide unlike single track, one wrong step or bit of inattention and it can turn it into an ankle-twister or a nasty face plant.

I’m not sure who’s in charge of the event anymore. Back when I ran it a gonzo trailing running dude from our local running club who was about my height (5’6″) and not an ounce of body fat on him, much like the spirit of Cabello Blanco from Born to Run, organized the event. He poured his all into it.
He was a nice guy who, when he wasn’t focusing on the Big Tesuque, often espoused the virtues of fire walking to the rest of us tenderfoot as a way to make us better runners.

To his credit he made the Big Tesuque, which was otherwise an uphill death march for weaklings like me, a whole lot of fun. He gave out awards not just for the speedy, but for the person who finished right smack in the middle of the pack, and also, if you haven’t guessed by now, the person who finished dead last.

Hence, the creation of the “Lead Butt” award.

He got dozens and dozens of local merchants to donate prizes not just for those winners but for door prizes, too. He got so many prizes in fact that essentially if it moved up the mountain, it had a good chance of landing something.

And he got good stuff, too: gift certificates to restaurants in town, running gear, Native American pottery and turquoise and silver jewelry.

Seriously, I think of the 200 or so people there at the first race I did about 100 of us walked away with something for our minimal $25 entry fee. It was crazy.

The first year I ran Big Tesuque it literally took me twice as long to climb up it as it did for me to get down. That’s the year I was robbed of the “Lead Butt” (a pretty silver necklace). It was hard to believe anyone moved slower or more painfully than I did up that trail.

I finished somewhere between the mid-pack winner and Lead Butt champ, but I still won a pair of leg gaiters.

More important, I finished my first Big Tesuque with my very first inspiration to ever run a marathon. I remember thinking that there was no way on earth it could get any tougher than what I endured that day, so why not try a marathon soon?


I went on to race Big Tesuque a few more times while I lived there and also volunteered at the race several times. It’s a tough race but also very beautiful.

I’m glad I did Big Tesuque and that it pushed me to new heights, physically and mentally ’cause look at where I am now. 

I’m not a true mountain goat yet but I hope I’ve also left my Lead Butt days behind and become stronger. 

I’ll just have to earn my silver necklace or whatever quirky prize at the next local race I run another way.

Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go.

Mileage today: 5; Denver to Boston miles logged: 878; Miles left to go: 892.

“Wall” is a four-letter word

I survived it … barely.

Today I ate 26.2 miles for breakfast and finished the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon. 

The result wasn’t what I was hoping for nor my finest hour. But as my friend Pam pointed out when I gave her the debriefing, marathons rarely include a finest hour unless you count just the first one you are on the course.

Today’s course started out pretty flat and easy, and I thought I kept my speed in check. A classic mistake is going out too fast and I’ve been there, done that. There is no banking time on a marathon course. It bites you in the butt.

And I never expected a PR from this race. After living in Colorado for seven years I know that the hills and altitude take no prisoners. Plus I know that I’m not part mountain billy goat.

But I honestly didn’t expect this race to be as punishing as it turned out.

As I write this I’ve got ice packs on my quads and I feel like an 80-year-old.

What I was hoping for was a reasonable effort and fair showing — nothing fancy. Even with the rolling hills in the middle of this course I was on track to do this — until Mile 20.

That’s when the “wall” came a-knocking.

I hate that four-letter word.

All I can say is thank God for Katie, my friend who was meeting me at Mile 20 to pace me. Without her I don’t know how I would have survived. She was an angel during the two classic stages of “the wall.”

The first is you think you’re going to die.

The second is you think you are not going to die and those hellish last few miles WILL NEVER END!!

It was incredibly disheartening because I thought I did all the right things.

Yes, I did get sick a few days ago and I worshipped the toilet so perhaps that was the wall’s calling card. Who knows?

But I did pump fluids and eat well once I felt better. I bumped up the fluids even more closer to race day.

At the race, I took fluids at every station and ate a PowerGel every 6 miles because this is what worked for me at my last marathon where I set my PR and got my Boston qualifier. I also did this in my training.

Still, for whatever reason the stars (and the hills and twists and turns on this course) were not aligned for me today.

That said, I must move on. Tomorrow registration for Boston opens.

Come January, when I start training for Boston, you can be darn sure I am going to do all I can to kick that nasty wall in once and for all.

Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go.

Mileage today: 26.2!!! Denver to Boston miles logged: 733.2; Miles left to go: 1,036.8