For most people who take one the demands of running a 100-mile ultramarathon, the challenge begins long before race day. Months (sometimes years) of endurance runs, nutrition tweaks, gear tests, and training prepare them for the big day. But for pro adventure skier Brody Leven, the whole ordeal started pretty much when the gun went off.
Leven registered for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 six days before the race’s July 14th start. It seems like a crazy thing to do, but for Leven and his schedule, it was a sensible approach. “I guess in hindsight I don’t think the vast majority of people would justify why they would sign up for a 100 mile race less than a week in advance,” he says. “But I knew that I could totally finish a race like this under these circumstances.”
Those “circumstances” happened to be that a friend of Leven’s (a friend who happens to be an ultrarunner) was signed up for the race and invited Leven along. The July date was open on Leven’s calendar, wedged between skiing and climbing expeditions. This summer he’s spent time in Alaska skiing Denali and climbing up to one of Africa’s last glaciers in Rwanda and as he puts it, he “was feeling relatively strong.” So he signed up out of a desire to just get out there, put his fitness to the test, and try something new.
“The reasoning behind running this race wasn’t to do it without specific training but that’s the way it came to be,” he explains. “I’m not willing to sacrifice other activates I love to become the best at one,” he says. “I would like to climb harder but I won’t let my legs atrophy to accommodate that and sacrifice my ability to pedal and push uphill—just like the fact that I had a bigger upper body than a lot of people running this race. I wouldn’t sacrifice my upper body strength for climbing to become a more efficient runner. I train every single day to be able to push myself to be as strong as I can be — whether it’s climbing or biking or skiing or running. I want to be able to do whatever is thrown at me.”
The race played with Leven’s nerves. Following a sleepless night, he was met with doubt and disbelief from those on the trail on the day of the race. “You don’t have a nutrition plan? Oh, your stomach is going to give out,” “This is only your second race, ever?! This is one of the toughest 100-milers!” and “You only have one drop bag? You’re going to be in trouble if you need more gear,” were all warnings and admonitions he heard on race day. But Leven ran along for 70-plus miles without a running vest, drinking lots of water like he knew he should, fueling frequently and eating whatever looked good to him at aid stations, and listening to his legs to gauge pace. He finished the first 53-mile lap of the course in an impressive 11 hours.
“I’ve run long distances out in the wilderness by myself,” he explains. “When I run 20 miles by myself or I climb 18,000 feet of vert, I don’t freak out. That’s how I approached this.”
But it wasn’t all easy. Just after mile 70, Leven’s recently-frostbitten feet started to ache. He had to walk the last 30 miles to the finish, and that’s when he wasn’t sure his fitness could get him through this one. “Usually when I’m facing a tough situation, the only way out is to get myself out. But in this case, I could have bailed and been okay. The option of dropping a race is an entirely new concept — and it was enticing. Knowing you can quit and choosing not to is a different level of challenge.” But despite every step feeling like he was twalking over a bed of needles and having to pause along the trail to take off his shoes and rub his feet, Leven finished.
“Doing things that are challenging is good for you, he said. "Everyone’s definition of hard is different, but the only way to know what it can offer you is by finding it. There may be a wrong way to train for a 100-miler, but there’s no wrong way to try.”