‘They’re Waiting for Me to Die’: A 72-Year-Old Runner Will Not Let This Race Go

LEADVILLE, Colo. — In the crisp predawn hours final August, 71-year-old Marge Hickman slipped the brace off her sprained ankle and eased to the beginning line of the Leadville Trail 100-mile race. Part of her stated go house. The race wasn’t what it used to be. She didn’t really feel wished anyway. She cherished this race. She hated this race. She revolved her complete life round this race.

She would end this race, she advised herself. She buttressed herself along with her constructive phrases. L.N.D. (go away little doubt). One route: ahead. Let go; let God. When the shotgun lastly boomed, Hickman, a five-foot, 100-pound runner, plodded nervously into the skinny, chilled air of the Rocky Mountains. If she might end, she can be the oldest lady to ever accomplish that.

Hickman is a widely known determine on the Leadville 100, a brutal, high-altitude race that weaves via the mountains with an elevation acquire of 15,744 toes. She is masochistically obsessive about the race, in accordance to pals, who level to two surgical procedures on her shoulders; two procedures for Plantar fasciitis, which causes heel ache; and a plate inserted into her wrist.

She has completed the race 14 instances, however not in over a decade. She sheepishly admits as a lot however is adamant that she remains to be kicking butt and, in her phrases, “taking names.” Her coaching log — a mean of 80 miles every week — and an array of ultramarathon outcomes again up her claims. “I learned to let go of ageism a long time ago,” she stated, including, “Without that race on my calendar, I don’t know what I’d do or who I’d be.”

Ultrarunning has lengthy supplied a robust draw for true eccentrics. They embrace Bob Wise, who suffered mind trauma in a automotive crash however found that longer races supplied a respite from the noise in his head. Despite his drooping posture and a penchant for working into timber, he competed in quite a few six- and seven-day races and race-walked 903 miles within the first licensed 1,000-mile race.

Then there’s the Scottish runner Arthur John Howie, who as soon as held three world data: working 360 miles nonstop, a 1,300-mile race in 16 days 19 hours and the pace file throughout Canada in 72 days 10 hours. His most well-liked gas? Copious quantities of beer.

Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid, a single mom of 5, began working ultras on the weekends, after a day job as a district supervisor for 4 Burger Kings and evening shifts on the Waffle House. At 54 years outdated, she has accomplished over 200 ultramarathons.

For Hickman, train wanted to be excessive to offset lifelong bouts of hysteria and despair. In her 20s, she stated, she fled Pittsburgh and a childhood marred by insecurity and neglect for the mountains of Colorado. The snow-capped peaks hunched towards the horizon and the push of clear mountain streams grew to become symbols of her transformation from a timid little one, made to put on glasses by her dad and mom in an try to make her smarter, right into a self-possessed athlete.

When the doorways of her fitness center opened at 6, she would run on the carpeted observe. “Then an aerobics class,” she stated. “At lunch, I’d take an hour and a half and run five miles. I’d do a quick wipe up, put the jeans back on and some perfume and head back to work. After I got off, I was back for racquetball.”

But it was in a working store in Denver in 1984 the place future appeared to discover her. She met Jim Butera, a bearded hippie who ran obscure races referred to as “ultras,” offered trainers and professed excessive working as a lifestyle. “I thought he was the best thing since canned corn,” Hickman stated. When he confirmed her a flier for his newest concept, a 100-mile race within the mountains of Colorado — a race throughout the sky — it sounded unattainable. She was hooked.

Her Leadville initiation in August of that 12 months was a jarring portent of the connection she would have with the race for the remainder of her life. After face-planting on a root close to Mile 13, she pushed on with blood oozing from her knees and face and a twisted ankle quickly swelling. Eighty-seven miles later, tears started to move as she limped during the last hill and noticed the end line.

The similar 12 months her love affair with Leadville started, her first marriage ended. “Because of my exercise addiction,” Hickman admitted.

The subsequent 12 months, she gained the ladies’s division and positioned eleventh total. She returned like a homing pigeon for the following 27 years — ending 13 extra instances — making her essentially the most prolific feminine runner in Leadville’s storied historical past.

In 1997, she wed once more, this time to a runner on an iconic peak of the course throughout her beloved race. The couple moved to town of Leadville in 2004, and she or he additional enmeshed herself within the ever-expanding collection of Leadville races.

But in 2010, the collection was offered to Life Time Fitness. What had felt like a comfy affair amongst like-minded path bums grew to become a Disneyland of the mountains. Prices climbed, a present store was added and the sector ballooned from 625 contributors in 2011 to 943 by 2013.

Hickman turned contemptuous after Butera died in 2012 and the race got here and went with out point out of the previous race director. By that point, the race had lengthy been led by Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin. Chlouber has been broadly credited with popularizing the race. In her guide on the historical past of the Leadville 100, Hickman made her views crystal clear: The race was the brainchild of Butera alone. She and Chlouber have been at odds since, and in 2019, her brazenness bought her banned.

Chlouber didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Hickman was reinstated for the 2021 race, after stress from runners, together with Gary Corbitt, son of the ultrarunning legend Ted Corbitt. She had one other shot to cross the road.

Hickman was precisely the place she wished to be when she reached the midway level. She had accomplished 13 hours and nonetheless had over 16 hours to end. She felt stronger than she had in years. In some other main 100-miler, barring damage, she would have been house free.

But not at Leadville. New guidelines enacted weeks earlier than the race now gave her solely 4 hours to get to the following assist station. According to race officers, the adjustments had been made to ease congestion. In impact, Hickman, and slower runners like her, had been eradicated regardless that they more than likely would have been ready to end earlier than the 30-hour cutoff time.

She sat limp in a chair at Mile 50 whereas a volunteer lower her wristband, successfully disqualifying her from the race. In a daze, Hickman didn’t appear to discover. She stared on the clock, befuddled over what went mistaken, emotion rumbling in her intestine.

Initially, Hickman took a conspiratorial stance and referred to the truth that she is essentially the most embellished Leadville veteran not inducted into the Leadville Hall of Fame. “They say they’re waiting for me to retire,” she stated. “I say they’re waiting for me to die.”

Public declarations of closure adopted. She was carried out with Leadville. She had sufficient. She was spent; her coronary heart was not in it.

She signed up for the 2022 race 5 weeks later. Those who know her stated it was inevitable. “Leadville’s been half my life,” Hickman joked sarcastically, a jumble of glee and heaviness in her voice. “It’s in your face — the hand of the mountains just comes out and gets you by the heart and sucks you in.”

In the third week of August, she’s going to line up at Leadville once more, decided to write her personal ending.

“Yeah, I like to read books and stuff, but I’m a doer,” Hickman, now 72, added as she utilized make-up over a black eye from a latest fall. “My plan is to run on. If they cut my wrist band, I’m just going to keep going. I’m going to finish my race.”

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