- Courtesy Neal Taylor
- Neal Taylor says he's lazy, but he never quits a challenge.
Neal Taylor plodded down Sixth Street in Leadville. His legs protested in pain. His mind had all but stopped working. But his heart knew the way, and it filled him with determination and emotion.
He made history that August morning as he completed the Leadville 100, a crazy run across the rooftop of Colorado, and one of the country's most popular ultra events. Many people have finished the race, but Taylor had done something special. He had strung together 432 miles of racing through the summer, including the entire Leadman Series and the Hardrock 100, a beautiful but soul-crushing trudge through the teeth of the San Juan Mountains.
The schedule looked like this: The Leadville Marathon in June. The Silver Rush 50-mile mountain bike and running races on back-to-back days in July. The Hardrock 100 one week later. Then came the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, followed by a 10K run at altitude the next day. One week later, on Aug. 20, he began the final 100-mile run before sunrise. He finished 28 hours later.
With his wife, Teresa, waiting for him in downtown Leadville, the significance of the accomplishment hit home.
"The emotion of finishing the last 100-mile run was pretty overwhelming," he says. "A lot of people had heard about what I was doing, so there were a lot of people there cheering for me. I couldn't hang on, I was losing it as I ran up to the finish line. It was pretty special."
Neal and Teresa Taylor are outdoor celebrities in the Pikes Peak region. They served as caretakers at Barr Camp on Pikes Peak for nearly nine years. They have been steady volunteers for El Paso County Search and Rescue (EPCSAR), serving as the organization's event coordinators. They are high school sweethearts who met on the cross country team in tiny Mesick, Michigan, in 1976. Teresa was the only girl runner, so she ran on the boys team.
Fresh off of a rescue, they walked in to the Jack Quinn's Running Club Christmas Party last week. They still wore their climbing gear as they handed out fliers to promote the "Rescue Run," a fundraiser for EPCSAR on New Year's Day. (More on that at rescuerun.org.)
The accomplishment of the Hardrock/Leadman double is hard to fathom. Many of the participants fail to finish. The courses range from paved roads to narrow, technical single track well above treeline. So why do it? Why would anyone push themselves that hard in Colorado's lung-searing altitude? Taylor, 54, struggles for an answer, but says he didn't know if he could do it, so he had to try. With no conflicting dates, the schedule worked, and he made the decision in January.
"I'm not getting any younger," he says. "I thought I could physically do it, but didn't know if I could get through mentally. Never say never, but I don't think I'll do it again."
Ultra events require a team, and Teresa served as the crew, the perfect teammate, making detailed plans, driving from point to point along the routes, providing food, hydration and positive vibes. The Colorado summer adventure provided special memories.
"The thing that stands out for me are the quiet moments in the morning [before the events], having espresso in the van, and this big unknown that we we're both facing, my deep concern for him," she says. "I wanted him to be successful, but I didn't want him to get hurt. He had to do the races, but my unknown was how I was going to facilitate him. Crewing is a long day. It's crazy."
Taylor, who has completed the Hardrock 100 eight times, says he has a love-hate relationship with ultra events, but craves the opportunity to break away from mundane day-to-day routines.
"A 100-mile run sets you back to the basics, eating, drinking, going to the bathroom and getting over the next hill," he says. "The rawness of it is what I like."
He doesn't particularly care for the training. In fact, he doesn't do much training at all. His running friend Rick Hessek kept him moving. "He'd come to the house once a week and we'd run together. I'm actually one of the laziest ultra runners I know. I love doing the races, but as far as getting my butt out the door, I'm horrible."
But on the trail, his attitude changes. Ultra runners will tell you they suffer alone because ultra runs contain unique rewards. Taylor said he enjoys running through the night and greeting the sunrise. He'll especially remember the twilight hours at Hardrock, looking up to see Handies Peak, a 14er, bathed in morning light, and feeling hopeful with 30 miles to go.
And when the effort becomes physically painful, Taylor says he tries to think of every person who helped him along the way. It's a form of meditation that takes his mind off his aching body.
"That's when it comes into play, all of these people that helped get to this point," he says.
"I'm hungry and tired, but right at 99.9 miles I feel a happiness that is hard to explain. This mix of people, Teresa, Rick, folks who aren't even there, but who love the sport. It's meaningful to me, and I think it's meaningful to them, and I take that to heart."