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

LEADVILLE, Colo. — Within 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 Path 100-mile race. A part of her mentioned go residence. The race wasn’t what it was once. She didn’t really feel needed anyway. She liked this race. She hated this race. She revolved her complete life round this race.

She would end this race, she informed herself. She buttressed herself along with her constructive phrases. L.N.D. (depart little question). One path: 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 could be the oldest girl to ever accomplish that.

Hickman is a well known determine on the Leadville 100, a brutal, high-altitude race that weaves by means of the mountains with an elevation acquire of 15,744 toes. She is masochistically obsessive about the race, based on associates, who level to 2 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 occasions, 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 median of 80 miles per week — and an array of ultramarathon outcomes again up her claims. “I learned to let go of ageism a long time ago,” she mentioned, 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 embody Bob Sensible, who suffered mind trauma in a automobile crash however found that longer races supplied a respite from the noise in his head. Regardless of his drooping posture and a penchant for operating into bushes, 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: operating 360 miles nonstop, a 1,300-mile race in 16 days 19 hours and the pace report throughout Canada in 72 days 10 hours. His most popular gasoline? Copious quantities of beer.

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

For Hickman, train wanted to be excessive to offset lifelong bouts of tension and despair. In her 20s, she mentioned, 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 frenzy of clear mountain streams turned symbols of her transformation from a timid baby, made to put on glasses by her dad and mom in an try and make her smarter, right into a self-possessed athlete.

When the doorways of her health club opened at 6, she would run on the carpeted monitor. “Then an aerobics class,” she mentioned. “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 surely was in a operating store in Denver in 1984 the place future appeared to seek out her. She met Jim Butera, a bearded hippie who ran obscure races referred to as “ultras,” bought trainers and professed excessive operating as a lifestyle. “I thought he was the best thing since canned corn,” Hickman mentioned. When he confirmed her a flier for his newest thought, a 100-mile race within the mountains of Colorado — a race throughout the sky — it sounded unimaginable. She was hooked.

Her Leadville initiation in August of that yr 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 stream as she limped during the last hill and noticed the end line.

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

The subsequent yr, she gained the ladies’s division and positioned eleventh total. She returned like a homing pigeon for the following 27 years — ending 13 extra occasions — 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.

However in 2010, the collection was bought to Life Time Health. What had felt like a comfortable affair amongst like-minded path bums turned a Disneyland of the mountains. Costs climbed, a present store was added and the sphere ballooned from 625 members 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 extensively credited with popularizing the race. In her ebook 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 acquired her banned.

Chlouber didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Hickman was reinstated for the 2021 race, after strain 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 needed to be when she reached the midway level. She had accomplished 13 hours and nonetheless had over 16 hours to complete. She felt stronger than she had in years. In some other main 100-miler, barring harm, she would have been residence free.

However not at Leadville. New guidelines enacted weeks earlier than the race now gave her solely 4 hours to get to the following help station. In line with race officers, the adjustments have been made to ease congestion. In impact, Hickman, and slower runners like her, have been eradicated though they most definitely would have been in a position 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 note. She stared on the clock, befuddled over what went flawed, emotion rumbling in her intestine.

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

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

She signed up for the 2022 race 5 weeks later. Those that know her mentioned 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.”

Within the third week of August, she’s going to line up at Leadville once more, decided to write down 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 current 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.”