Steamboat Springs More than 500 runners left the starting line of the Leadville Trail 100 Run last weekend; only 206 finished the race.
If those numbers don't reflect just how difficult it is to finish the annual 100-mile trek through the Rocky Mountains -- which takes runners from downtown Leadville, to the top of Hope Pass at 12,600 feet and then back to Leadville -- then the saga of Steamboat runner Brenda Geisler will.
Last year, the 42-year-old runner learned just how disappointing it is to be pulled from the race. She failed to make the cutoff time for a checkpoint at mile 60.
Since then, she has been driven to get back to the grueling race and has been training to make sure she would complete it this time around.
Last Sunday, she discovered just how rewarding it can be to compete in one of the toughest running races held in the Colorado Rockies.
"It's kind of a mind game," Geisler said of the race. "The week before the race I told myself I was going to do it this year even if I had to crawl across the finish line."
Geisler didn't have to crawl.
Her time of 28 hours, 20 minutes and 44 seconds earned her a trophy (a plaque designed to look like a gold mining pan) for third place in the 40-49 age division. She also was handed the gold belt buckle that is presented to anyone who has finished the race.
Pamela Reed of Tucson, Ariz., took first in Geisler's age group with a time of 27:14:46 and Joy Turner of Eldorado Springs took second at 27:36:13.
"I was happy just to have finished the race," Geisler said. "When the race coordinator called my name and told me I was third, I was totally surprised."
Ultramarathon runner Betsy Kalmeyer, who was at the race but not competing, said she wasn't surprised Geisler finished the race or that she finished third.
"She just kept getting stronger and stronger as the race went on," Kalmeyer said. "I think it was her goal to do an ultramarathon, and you could see her desire to finish the race."
Kalmeyer said it's not uncommon for racers to fail to finish the race in their first attempt. Kalmeyer has started and finished four Leadville 100s. She ran in her fifth Hard Rock 100 in July, finishing second among women and 12th overall.
But she said running 60 miles last year was a great learning experience for Geisler.
Knowing a few tricks can make things smoother when you are running 100 miles, she said. Unfortunately, the only way to learn those tricks is to ask people and go out and run in the race.
Two Steamboat runners competed in this year's Leadville 100, Geisler and Brian Pence.
Overall winners included Woodland Park runner Paul Dewitt, who finished in 17:58:45 on the men's side, and Valerie Caldwell of New Mexico, who won the women's race in 22:54:16.