Ask Bill Finkbeiner about any running (save for the first) of the Leadville Trail 100 Run, and he’ll tell you all about his personal experiences at the legendary “Race Across the Sky.”
The 57-year-old resident of Auburn, CA, will likely talk about how miles 60 through 80 feel the longest, and how the punishing trek through the Colorado Rockies gets harder and harder every year.
But he won’t tell any stories about quitting. That’s because Finkbeiner hasn’t missed a Leadville 100 since 1984, the year after it was founded. This weekend, on August 18 and 19, he’ll go for his 30th straight, a feat no one else has accomplished.
“You’re just doing one at a time and it gets to seem like it’s not a very big deal,” Finkbeiner told Runner’s World. “[But] the truth of it is…it is something most people aren’t going to do. You have to start young, with enough leeway that you can get older and slower for 30 years and still make it.”
The yearly pilgrimage to Leadville—where the course takes runners from 9,200 to 12,600 feet and the rules allow them just 30 hours to finish—isn’t Finkbeiner’s only streak. He’s run at least one mile every day since January 1, 1980, and while he’s cut back on distance over the years, he’s still liable to bust out a 33-miler, as he did four weeks prior to this year’s Leadville.
“The streak might sound like dedication to some people, [but it] really happened because I couldn’t keep myself on a five- or six-day-a-week schedule,” he says. “[If I] make myself run every day ... [I don’t] have the option of making it up the following week.”
Over the years, Finkbeiner has suffered broken toes and hamstring strains and even undergone hernia surgery. Coming back to Leadville isn’t always easy, but this year, he’s “at least a dozen pounds lighter” than he was in 2012, and in the race’s second half, he’ll get some pacing help from friends, training partners and his 19-year-old son, Christian, a fellow ultrarunner.
Still, there’s that stretch between 60 and 80, where he’ll need to dig especially deep. “I just tell myself, ‘I’m not quitting tonight, but there’s no reason to come back next year, this is just getting stupid,’” he says. “That’s pretty much an annual thing since probably the late ’90s.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg