The calming effect that my college teammate Jay Pozner had when he guided me through the fifty-first mile of my first Leadville cannot be overstated. I anxiously stated to Jay, who has previously finished second in the race, as we strode away from the Winfield aid station, that each step I was taking was a personal best in distance, and I still had fifty miles to go! He assured me that I was OK and guided me over Hope pass, chuckling each time I claimed I would never run another 100. He rightly replied, "Zeke, we have short memories."
Coach Jay Johnson
The first time I met Jay Johnson, he told me how much he enjoyed backpacking around the Maroon Bells and I smugly remarked, "yeah, that's my backyard." Lucky for me, Jay overlooked my youthful arrogance, and my ridiculous lamb chop sideburns, and we became dear friends. The running knowledge Coach Jay Johnson imparted upon me while he paced me from Twin Lakes to Half Moon during that first Leadville, was instrumental.
Zach Hancock is a natural born story teller; likely a reason he in an ordained minister. I barely even noticed the pavement miles between Treeline and the Fish Hatchery as Zach retold the vivid tale of how legendary mountain man John Colter was chased by the Blackfoot Indians, ingeniously managing to outmaneuver them and survive. The miles flew by and I was sad to loose my entertainment when we hit the pacer exchange.
Carrie Vickers took time off the international steeplechase circuit, where she even ran on the U.S. team at the World Track and Field Championships, to pace me around Turquoise Lake. Her orange wig and knee-high socks looked utterly surreal through the blurry lenses off my 85 mile eyes, but the look and her motivational dialog bolstered my spirits and kept my feet moving until she passed me off to her husband, my friend of 30 years, Matt Vickers. His innovative words of encouragement, "good job Zeker, look'in good," combined with his presence and love, powered my soul and psyche, and led me to a third place finish in my first 100!
Noah Hoffman is a phenomenal athlete and an outstanding human being. When I met Noah, he was 15 and could already run four or five hour adventure runs with me. Noah and I are notorious for underestimating time and distance, and getting lost on most of our runs. He epitomizes the gentleman athlete and is an amazingly comfortable pacer to run with. The day Noah retires from the Nordic World Cup circuit there will be a new star in the ultra world!
After race directing the Aspen Mountain Uphill in the morning, Chis Keleher met me at Twin Lakes to take me to the Half Moon aid station, only the relief pacer had made a wrong turn, so he was kind enough to escort me all the way to the Fish Hatchery. Exhausted, dehydrated, and calorie deficient, Chris began to fade just prior to the aid station, stating that he was, "going through a rough patch." However, after some liquids and gels he rallied, bringing me to the aid station with a significant gap over the runner who had entered the last aid station with me. Chris is a great friend, outstanding coach, gutsy runner and a stellar person.
My friend Zach Woodward has been to all my 100s, working his way from casual fan, to assistant crew chief, and then pacer. In my first 100, he reminded me that it was, "just for today," words to live by in an ultra, and in life. Zach was my first pacer at Western, elevating my mood with banter from the classic movie, Caddysack. His company during my last running of the Leadville 100 made the miles role by with ease, not to mention speed. Zach is a confidant and true friend.
"Don't worry Zeker, you still have a long way to go!" Those were the words of encouragement my friend Jeremy Duncan offered up at the midway point of last year's Leadville 100. While initially disheartening, that ironic advice ended up being all too true, as I improved my position dramatically during the second half of the race. As my primary training partner over the last five years, few people know me better as a runner than Jer, and that makes him invaluable as a pacer. However, its Jeremy's natural tallent at delivering good bad jokes that makes him irreplaceable.
Matt Fields is not really a runner at all, and yet, he has helped pace me to two second place finishes at Leadville. Matt knows me on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level like no one else, save my family. It also doesn't hurt that he loves to compete, as was evident when we found ourselves suddenly thrust into second place at Leadville, with 20 miles to go. He was so excited by the possibility of winning the race, that when I looked up only moments later, he was 50 meters ahead of me wondering why I wasn't right beside him. I am lucky to have called Matty my best friend for over three decades and thankful for his efforts as a pacer.
"Methodical Baby! Methodical!" That was the mantra my brother repeated to me over and over as we rolled the last twenty-three miles of the Leadville 100. My brother is the best pacer in the world. Heck, not only does he shave racing stipes into his head on race day, he even has a yellow shirt with a picture of an AMC Pacer on it that simply says, "Pacer!" There is no one in the world I would rather run with, and certainly no one I would rather have by my side in the final miles of a long race than my brother. He is funny and knows exactly what to say, and when to say it. He waited until we hit Robie Point to tell me that we could break 16 hours at Western, knowing that by then it was close enough that I would believe him and go for it. "Uncle Al", as he is known by my daughter, always inspires me and brings out the best version of Zeke.
"The Closer" sporting racing stripes before Leadville
Long distance running is said to be a lonely endever, but an amazing cadre of pacers have made my 100's easier, faster and way more fun! The synergy that occurs when the right person selflessly aids me in my crazy quest to race the hundred mile distance, enables me to reach a deeper level of courage, but most importantly, they bring me great joy. I am lucky to have such great friends and family.