LEADVILLE, COLORADO – Armin Gooden’s story of finishing the iconic 100-mile Leadville Trail race through the Colorado Rockies last Saturday and Sunday is a story about almost not finishing the race.
It’s a story about how he dug deep into his mind, body and soul to finish the race in 29 hours, 57 minutes and 11 seconds – just three minutes before the 30-hour cutoff time. Runners who take longer than 30 hours to complete the course are asked to stop, to give up the goal they’d dedicated months of grueling training to achieve.
But not Gooden. He was literally the last person permitted to finish before runners who did not make the 30-hour cutoff were asked to stop, and as a result, he earned the coveted Leadville Trail 100 Under 30 Hours belt buckle.
The 40-year-old is a 1997 Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduate who now lives in the Denver, Colorado, area. He had challenged himself to complete the notoriously unforgiving 100.4-mile race that begins at an elevation of 9,200 feet and rises to 12,600 feet at its highest peak.
As noted in a previous story, Gooden was a standout high school and college distance runner and is an experienced mountain climber and seasoned adventurer.
Gooden did everything possible to prep himself for the feat.
He ran another ultramarathon in preparation for the Leadville Trail 100. He meticulously mapped out his nutrition plan. He carefully selected the three pacers who would run with him after he reached mile 50. And he meditated on and visualized every twist and turn of the trail.
But Gooden was excited Saturday, Aug. 17, the morning of the race – so excited that he went out too fast and didn’t conserve enough energy.
“I would prove to be my own worst enemy,” Gooden wrote in a Facebook post two days after the race. “During the first 32 miles … I ran a split that was over 20 minutes faster than the longest previous race that was ‘only’ 32 miles in length. In other words, I was neatly engraving my epitaph on my tombstone.”
But thanks to unbreakable perseverance and unshakable willpower, the LT100 never completely buried Gooden. He weathered unrelenting gastrointestinal problems throughout the duration of the race, not to mention hypothermia, hyperthermia and ongoing battles with his mind and body.
In the end, he found the grit to get to the finish.
Gooden says a three-mile uphill sprint – and seeing a sea of his supporters wearing green “Armageddon” T-shirts – propelled him to the finish line. He remembers clearly the words of his third and final pacer, Colin, near the end of the race.
“At this point, Colin turned me and said, ‘if you don’t give it all now, you’re going to regret this for years to come,’” Gooden recalled. “I started punching uphill running faster than 10 minutes a mile pace by tapping into something that I have no words to describe. I dropped about half of my crew as I sprinted the last half mile. The last thing I remember was hitting that red carpet at the finish line.”
Reflecting on his experience days later, Gooden said the Leadville 100 was unlike any other challenge or life experience.
“I am filled with gratitude that I decided to, and was able to, run the race,” he wrote in an email to My Buckhannon. “I learned many, many things … David Goggins (motivational speaker and ultramarathoner) says it best: ‘Running your first 100 is like peeling back the layers of the onion of your inner self.’”
“There is nowhere to hide,” Gooden added. “It’s about as real as it gets; you have to deal with your dark inner self, you have time to contemplate everything in your past, present and future. I’m still kind of processing everything.
“I guess I learned just how patient I can be, how training for this race is really like training for all the difficulties and obstacles I will continue to face in life. I learned how I defined the word ‘grit’ and how to align my heart, mind and body, into one powerful force because that’s the only way you can pull something like this off.”
Gooden said he gave up on himself about 20 times during the 30-hour run but always managed to bounce back.
“I had many points where I wrote myself off,” he said. “One of my pacers dubbed me ‘the cockroach’ because I just refused to die.”
The winner of this year’s LT100 was 40-year-old Ryan Smith of Boulder, Colorado, who clocked a time of 16 hours, 33 minutes and 24 seconds — an average pace of 9:54 per mile.