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The path to becoming Leadville Legendary looks different for everyone. For Jason Williams, a firefighter from Bermuda, it meant training on a 21-square mile island, running to and from work each day and spending countless hours on the treadmill.
With no ultra running experience and only himself as a support crew, Jason completed his first LT100 Run in 2021. We had the pleasure of chatting with Jason about his experience in 2021, we hope you enjoy the story!
Hey Jason, it’s great to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m Jason Williams, a 37 year old Bermudian. I’m married (Karen Williams) and have 3 Children (Aerial, Journey, Promise Williams). I work as a full-time Firefighter.
How did you hear about the Leadville Trail 100 Run?
I’m a 5k guy. My previous longest race was the London Marathon, so taking on 100 miles was almost unfathomable. I heard about it from Born to Run and the Rich Roll podcast and just thought this was something so far and different that I’d love to try it.
What’s it like living in Bermuda?
Bermuda is a tiny, fish hook shaped, island in the Atlantic Ocean full of beautiful beaches and warm weather. The island is only about 21 square miles. Although we are small, our city is quite robust, housing many major insurance company’s headquarters. A third of our approx 65,000 person population are foreign workers, many of whom work within the city making it a pretty busy place that has every first world amenity you can think of, and we have one of the highest, if not the highest cost of living, in the world.
How did you prepare and train for the LT100 Run on a 25 square mile island?
I started in January after registering for the race without a specific training plan. I would run 5 miles to and from work most days and I would do long treadmill sessions in between calls. We have a lot of downtime as firefighters, so I’d get on the treadmill and begin a workout until I had to leave on a call. The adrenaline of a call would keep me going and I’d finish my workout on the treadmill after I got back, then run home.
The guys I worked with would be like, “how are you doing this?!”
Are there trails to train on? What was your longest run?
I mostly ran on pavement, but we do have beaches and one short 3 mile trail. My longest run was a 50 miler. I set up a 5-mile loop with my car as an aid station and ran 10 laps. I wanted to prepare for night running, so I started at 10 PM and finished at 9 AM.
Tell us a little about how you got to Leadville and how did you acclimate?
I had never been to high elevation before and I traveled from Bermuda to Denver on Thursday before the race. I landed around midnight in Denver and was back to the airport for the Friday 9am shuttle to Frisco, then on a link bus to Leadville. I made it into Leadville around 2pm on Friday, walked 1/2 mile on the highway to my hotel, suitcases in hand, after being dropped off at the bus depot. I dropped one suitcase off in the room and headed right to the expo to pick up my number, drop off my drop bags, and pick up last minute items for race day and dinner that night. Leadville was freezing at night!
What fears did you battle leading up to the race?
Cold was number one and lightning storms a close second. I ordered a Patagoinia high altitude kit along with a fluorescent pair of gloves in hopes of counteracting the cold. In my hydration pack I carried a couple space blankets, first aid kit, extra headlamp, GU gels and tablets, and water. Even when the sun came up and the heat was on I didnt part with my cold weather gear. My rain jacket, pullover, pants, and gloves stayed in my hydration pack when not being used. A fellow competitor made a joke asking if I was the guy that had been dressed as if it was freezing out. All these fancy items did not prevent my hand from going numb and my whole body shivering at the start of the race.
Let’s chat about the race…
The terrain was far more difficult than I could have ever imagined. The first few miles were covered in the dark, most of which were in a single file line. I tripped repeatedly when running along the river. My big toenails were black by mile 10. Although difficult, the terrain had a beauty unlike anything that I had seen before. It was like running inside of a poster. All was well until Hope Pass. It took “everything” I had to get over that climb. Feeling good about it, I raced down the back side of the mountain. That was a bad decision that I would pay for later. I made it to the halfway point in good time, around 12hrs or so. Died a second time climbing the other side of Hope Pass. Struggled into the next aid station. On the way down from Hope Pass I met a group of runners that I was able to talk with until the aid station, one of which introduced me to his family and made everything that his crew had available to me. I still had not relinquished my pride and continued on the trail alone. At the next aid station a “random” pacer was calling my name. Come to find out it was a pacer that was there to run with the kind fellow that I had met a few miles back. His friend had dropped out of the race and he offered his help. This was the miracle that saved my race because I didn’t know how bad of shape I was in but I knew that running alone in the dark by yourself was no fun at this point. Over the next few checkpoints my state declined rapidly to the point where I could not stay on my feet from more than 50 meters without falling. I learned here that leaning forward to catch your breath while being this tired is a terrible decision as I attempted this several times and continued to fall over, at least one time straight onto my face.
With the help of my Angel pacer (Kevin Koncilja) I made it to the last checkpoint right cut off. Here he vowed to do his best to get me to a state where I could continue the race. I didn’t ask any questions as he shoveled all things salt based into my mouth, and with an epic motivational speech I went from not being able to stand on my own at the checkpoint to running towards the finish line. We made a significant push to the finish line that bought us a pretty big cushion for the last few miles. The concentration over the last few miles was just to keep moving forward. When I got to the finish line I was so exhausted physically and mentally it took everything I had to hobble across the line. I went to stand upright and run across the line but that was out of the question. Dragging myself across the line and falling into the race official’s arms was my proudest achievement.
That was quite the day out there, what was your “why” that kept you going?
We have a saying in my house “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” Meaning, all that we achieve is the direct result of the people that have come before us. I am committed to being a giant for my family, and community with the hope that someone will be able to achieve more in their life because of my achievements.
Tell us a little bit more about your support team.
My wife, 3 Children, Mother, Stepfather, Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service, and Bermuda Police Service were all behind me the entire way. I race with a charity partner – Save the Children. I raised around $2485, with over half of the donations came from Bermuda Fire & Rescue staff
What advice do you have for a first-timer?
Enjoy the adventure. Take the time to enjoy all that the race in its entirety; the scenery, the people, and the character building. Be a GIANT!
Will you be back again?
After I finished, I said I’d never do something like this again. Leadville will take you to an amazing place, the people and fellow competitors are what made it so incredible. 2 days into my recovery, I was already planning my next race. I’ll be back.
Editors note: Jason entered the lottery for the 2022 Life Time Leadville Trail 100 Run presented by La Sportiva and got in, so he will be back in Leadville in 2022!
We’d like to extend a special thank you to Jason for taking the time to tell us his story. If you’d like to follow Jason on his journeys, check out his social media links below.