Four days after running 85 miles in 25 hours, Matt Downing was asked how he was feeling. Could he walk down stairs? Could he walk at all?
Downing was recovering, he said, “slowly but surely.”
The Covington High School graduate, a Pleasant Hill resident who works for American Honda in Troy, competed in the Leadville Trail 100 Aug. 17-18 in Leadville, Colo.
It’s one of the most famous ultramarathons in the world and one of the toughest because of the altitude changes. Runners climb and descend 15,600 feet in 100 miles. That’s why it’s known as “The Race Across the Sky.”
Downing, 37, fell short of his goal of finishing the race. There’s a 30-hour time limit, and at 5:15 a.m. Sunday morning, after a long climb to the top of a mountain, he realized he wouldn’t be able do the last 15 miles. Only 42 percent of the competitors finish the race.
“The biggest thing about the race is there were a lot of times I just felt completely on top of the world, just triumphant and awesome,” Downing said. “There were other times I was just completely defeated and devastated. You have to figure out a way to get through the rough times. It doesn’t always keep getting worse.”
Downing had help for the final miles. Doug Gladman, a triathlete from Springfield, started pacing him at mile 70. Downing’s father-in-law, Joe Bledsoe, Doug’s wife Debbie and Kevin and Alison Grimm, friends from Colorado, formed his support group.
Downing ran track and cross country in high school and did his first marathon in 2009. He said he ran 1,400 miles since January in preparation for this race.
“I just tried to ramp up my mileage every month to try to get ready,” he said. “I ran some hills and tried to run in the heat and did the things you can do in Ohio to get ready. Coming from Ohio, the odds (of finishing) aren’t very good for anybody.”
A year ago, Downing did a 50-mile race in Leadville in 10 hours, 53 minutes and fell in love with the town and atmosphere, deciding he had to try the 100-mile race. The race began at 4 a.m. on Aug. 17.
The 100 miles are only part of the challenge.
“There’s the altitude, the changes in temperature, the lack of sleep,” Downing said. “There’s the terrain. One of the things Doug and I have been joking about is the day before the race, the chief medical guy for the event gives a speech and said, ‘I don’t know why this is true, but nobody has ever died in this race.’ ”
Downing survived the race and even plans to try again next year.
“I thought I would be more disappointed with the DNF (did not finish),” he said. “I’m really taking this as a learning experience. I know I can go out there and finish. I know I belong.”