The Leadville Race Series has witnessed many become legends on its epic courses. Junko Kazukawa didn’t grow up running, she even says her childhood “wasn’t athletic at all”. She started running for fitness when she was 20 years old and did a few shorter distance races for fun, then quickly became an incredible ultra-endurance athlete. We’re pretty sure she’s also a superhuman!
I was running many road marathons in my late 30’s, and also did some trail running for fun. I like mountain biking and hiking and made some high peaks- Colorado 14ers, Mt Rainier, Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, and more. I did some adventure races in the past too, which I enjoyed!
We’ve been lucky enough to watch Junko Kazukawa grace our start lines a few times, and like all other Leadville Ladies, she just will not quit! “Way back Before I ran my first Leadville Trail 100 Run, I did the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, it was so hard and I missed the cutoff by 6 minutes” she said. “I heard there was also a 100 mile running race, and I couldn’t believe that it was possible for people to run 100 miles in Leadville. Since then, I wanted to run the Leadville Trail 100.”
After battling and beating cancer in 2005 and again in 2009, she said to herself “Life can be short, why wait? Do it while I can”. She immediately signed up for her first LT100 Run while raising money for her breast cancer organization. Five years after running her first 100 mile event, she became the first person ever to complete the Leadwoman Challenge AND the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the same season. This season consisted of:
Leadville Trail Marathon
Silver Rush 50 MTB
Leadville Trail 100 MTB
Leadville 10K Run
Leadville Trail 100 Run
Western States 100 Run
Vermont 100 Run
Wasatch Front 100 Run
So how did she do it? Her first training goal was to build her endurance, strength, and stamina by the first race in June. After that, each race became more like a training race to be able to finish the final race in September. Her second training goal was to recover well after each race.
I’m an older athlete, so I needed to train smart in order to finish all the races.
She said she trained mountain bike on the LT100 course many times before the race. “Since my weakness was the LT100 MTB, I was worried about finishing within 12 hours. I trained in Leadville on the weekend, rode the course 40-50 miles, then I put the running shoes on and ran till the sun went down. It was so much fun to train in Leadville, and challenge myself to what I could do.”
Although she faced very painful moments training for both the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and Leadwoman Challenge, her positivity continued to override those feelings and she learned to enjoy every minute of it. Checking off each event thrilled her, and all of these different races introduced her to so many new, great people.
I kept telling myself to keep moving till crossing the finish line. Because of my cancer experience, I probably trained my mental toughness really well, and felt great on living moments with pain like this good pain.
She found that planning the logistics of all the different races was difficult, but she had amazing crews, pacers, and friends that helped her out.
Junko’s ‘don’t quit’ perspective shines through in everything she does. “Besides my own challenge to myself, one of my biggest motivations was dedicating this challenge to 4 friends who were battling cancer that time of the series,” she told us. “They came to some races to cheer me on, and it was so awesome to see them having fun in the race and being able to inspire people with what I did.”
Junko’s attitude is one that we all aspire to have, and she truly embodies the spirit of digging deep! Her advice to future Leadville athletes: “Plan your training, train hard but train smart, be confident, enjoy the challenge, enjoy painful moments, and make lots of friends! Also, run with a great purpose!”