Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 4: A Donkey Named Burrito

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 4: A Donkey Named Burrito

After Carbon Valley, months after in fact, Hunter was still talking nonstop about running, the Leadville Heavy Half, ultramarathons, etc.

And then something awesome happened.

Brad and Amber Wann, these two donkey-lovin’ and incredible humans, brought burro racing to Hunter’s stompin’ grounds.

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They added the 1st Annual Burro Race to the events surrounding Frederick’s Miners Day, which already has a 5k run.

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Amber Wann “haulin’-ass” into the finish line.

So, the Vickers family ran the 5k and then, partly because Steve and I were running it, Will and Hunter stuck around to watch the donkey race after.

They picked a very unique spectator spot: a curve in the bike path that enters a tunnel.

A few things about these donkeys:

  1. They usually run on trails in the mountains, where their biggest issue is getting rocks stuck in their feet and crossing bridges—bridges scare them.
  2. They don’t see the same as we do, so certain things, like bridges, tunnels, trash cans, anything with a significant shadow, etc. make them nervous and they may refuse to continue forward. A tunnel looks like a big, scary, black abyss to them.
  3. They rarely have to run on concrete, so the fact that this course is almost all concrete meant that a lot of donkeys didn’t want to run or wanted to run in the weeds beside the bike path.

So. Will and Hunter were at one of the most challenging spots on the course because we, the runners, were expecting the donkeys to funnel onto the concrete and pass through a long tunnel.

Low and behold, the donkeys really didn’t want to.

Hunter got to watch A LOT of donkeys protesting and refusing to go into the tunnel and he wanted more than anything to help get them going again.

And thus began Hunter’s newest running love: the donkey race.

Which is actually so cool because donkeys have been found to make great companions for folks on the autism spectrum.

Donkeys and Autism

My interest in burro racing began as I was hiking with my friend Becki on Mount Galbraith for her hubby’s 50th birthday. Becki is a badass ultrarunner with more compassion for other people than you’re likely to find in anyone else.

She started telling me about her newest running goal, and I expected to hear about some crazy-hard 100-mile race.

Instead, she started talking about this article she read.

This article. Read it. Read it now. It’s so good.

Picture1

About burro racer Hal Walter, who discovered that donkeys have a knack for helping kids with autism because his son Harrison is on the spectrum and Hal’s donkeys, who’ve confused him with their stubborn nature for years, just seemed to “get” Harrison.

Maybe it’s because autism creates a lot of sensory challenges and donkeys are sensory-driven animals.

Maybe it’s because donkeys share so many stubborn traits as humans and since folks with autism see things from a different perspective, they figure out how to better communicate with donkeys.

Or maybe it’s just something we’ll never understand.

“As social creatures, donkeys are very aware of their environment and the people within it.” said Caron Whaley, Director of donkey-assisted therapy at The Donkey Sanctuary. “I have witnessed sessions where people that may struggle to communicate or connect emotionally with another human somehow seem to be able to connect with our donkeys.” (Source: Donkey ‘Therapy’ Helps Autistic Young Woman Tune Into The World Around Her, by Nisha Kotecha)

Nonetheless, when kids with autism hang out with donkeys, they feel calmer…even after they’ve gone home.

So finding out from Will that Hunter wanted so badly to run the next Frederick Burro Race, I immediately connected him with Amber Wann to see about taking Hunter for a donkey training run.

Amber’s family is actually mentioned in the New York Times article.

Brad and Amber have a son, Ben, with epilepsy, which has created similar struggles for him as does autism for other kids.

48382414_10215259558775914_3867407970312650752_o

And spending time with burros has helped Ben manage his epilepsy.

In fact, Ben participates in burro races himself, with his donkey Burrito.

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Which also means that Brad and Amber have a soft spot for kids who can benefit from being around their donkeys. Kids like Hunter.

When I connected with Amber, she worked with Will’s schedule to plan a training run just so he and Hunter could give donkey running a try. She even planned for Will and Hunter to run with Ben’s donkey Burrito because Burrito is already so comfortable running with kids.

And since we weren’t sure how Hunter would handle a donkey, should it refuse to run, Amber gave Burrito two lead ropes: one for Hunter and one for Will.

This day was epic. Under blue skies, Hunter and Will practiced running with Burrito for 6 miles on South Table Mountain in Golden.

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Hunter had a blast and did an awesome job with Burrito.

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And so Hunter’s committed to the 2nd Annual Miners Day Burro race in September, where he’ll get to run with Blaster, the Colorado School of Mines mascot, who runs the length of the football field on game day.

Blaster_Blue_Key

Hunter’s 2019 race season is shaping up nicely: Carbon Valley, Leadville Heavy Half, and Frederick Miner’s Day Burro Race.

I think I’m more excited about his race season than my own!

How to Support Hunter

IMG_9482
Hunter’s loyal entourage. Left to right: Steve, me, Logan, Monica, Will, Hunter, Jaxson, and Brian (easily Hunter’s biggest fan)

There are a number of ways you can support Hunter’s goal. Please pick any or all of the following.

  1. Share this post on social media.
  2. Donate to Hunter’s fundraising page (all donations go to Children’s Hospital Colorado and research through the Autism Treatment Network). Click here to donate.
  3. Join us on Saturday, May 11th for the Fun Run (1 mile), 5k, half marathon relay, or half marathon–so there’s a distance for everyone. Walk, run, or crawl…no excuses! Click here to register.
  4. Don’t like running or walking or crawling? Fair enough. Come volunteer! Click here to sign up.
  5. Hunter’s running the Carbon Valley half again this year! Come cheer for him. The course is easily accessible for spectators. Here’s a map and the race starts at 8:00a, so bring a camping chair to hang out anywhere along the course and just wait for Hunter’s big smile to come along.
  6. Make signs for Hunter’s race to be distributed along the CV race course. Last year he LOVED his signs and took a picture next to each one. Let’s make even more for this year! Email me (rachel.kay.link@gmail.com) if you’re interested in making a sign and I’ll get the signs posted throughout the course beforehand.

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 3: Last Year

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 3: Last Year

Let me just take a moment to talk about last year.

Hunter’s first half marathon.

And one of my favorite days of all time.

A half marathon, 13.1 miles, is a long race for adults. But Hunter, even at Age 11, knew that’s what he wanted to do instead of the 5k, which he’d run every year except one.

He says that he’d seen other kids finish the half marathon, which motivated him to do it too.

Last year, Hunter’s goal was to finish the race without walking and he told me he’s most looking forward to sprint down the hill to the finish line and finishing strong.

And he killed it.

Killed it.

Despite cold rain, mud, a strong headwind for the last few miles, and all-around rough conditions. Hunter pushed through all of it.

We surprised him with signs along the course and he loved them. He stopped to take a picture next to each of them.

signs

We want signs again this year, so if you’re willing and able to make some, please email me!

I was crewing Hunter on my bike, which meant I was armed with his favorites: blue Powerade, gummy worms, gummy bears, and Skittles and would meet him at aid stations to take his trash, reload him with food, and hand him a Powerade to chug down.

I figured this would be an easy job. How hard could it be to stay ahead of a couple runners for 13 miles on a bike?

I was wrong about this. So, so wrong.

At one point, I had to sprint…on a mountain bike…packed with mud…just to get to the finish line before Hunter because he was cruising so easily. In a head wind.

Just look at this picture. You can see the wind blowing the plants back toward Will and Hunter. On my bike, I felt like I was crawling against the wind.

wind

And yet, Hunter was making this half marathon thing look easy. When, because of the weather, it was anything but.

He ran almost the whole time (at least according to Will, he did walk a couple times—but every time I saw him, he was running—running and smiling and talking to his dad).

At 2 hours and 52 minutes, Hunter crossed that finish line.

finish

And after he was done, he kept running. He ran around in circles beside the finish line while he waited for his mom to finish. Then he ran up the hill to find her and ran her into the finish line.

moni

He’s our very own Forrest Gump.

Hunter took 1st place for 11 year olds and he got a trophy for it.

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I can’t wait to see him take 1st place for 12 year olds this year.

The After Party

Will and Monica usually host a post-race party. They’re awesome like that. It’s a way for them to say thank you for all the support and all the community this race builds in the area.

Last year’s party was 100% Hunter’s party.

He asked us to invite the mayor.

And John Elway.

And why not?

Hunter knew how big a deal this race was and he felt like sharing it with Denver’s most-important. I can’t blame him.

And even though his VIP guests didn’t join us, Hunter partied hard.

He ate as much as he wanted whenever he wanted.

He asked Monica to bring him more than one hotdog on the couch.

He drank water from his coveted 1st place 11-year-old trophy cup.

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Because why not!?

And he talked non-stop about his next big race. Not the Bolder Boulder, not another road half marathon.

No.

The Leadville Heavy Half Marathon. 15.5 miles from 10,200 feet to 13,185 feet.

This kid.

He’s after my own heart.

How to Support Hunter

IMG_9482
Hunter’s loyal entourage. Left to right: Steve, me, Logan, Monica, Will, Hunter, Jaxson, and Brian (easily Hunter’s biggest fan)

There are a number of ways you can support Hunter’s goal. Please pick any or all of the following.

  1. Share this post on social media.
  2. Donate to Hunter’s fundraising page (all donations go to Children’s Hospital Colorado and research through the Autism Treatment Network). Click here to donate.
  3. Join us on Saturday, May 11th for the Fun Run (1 mile), 5k, half marathon relay, or half marathon–so there’s a distance for everyone. Walk, run, or crawl…no excuses! Click here to register.
  4. Don’t like running or walking or crawling? Fair enough. Come volunteer! Click here to sign up.
  5. Hunter’s running the Carbon Valley half again this year! Come cheer for him. The course is easily accessible for spectators. Here’s a map and the race starts at 8:00a, so bring a camping chair to hang out anywhere along the course and just wait for Hunter’s big smile to come along.
  6. Make signs for Hunter’s race to be distributed along the CV race course. Last year he LOVED his signs and took a picture next to each one. Let’s make even more for this year! Email me (rachel.kay.link@gmail.com) if you’re interested in making a sign and I’ll get the signs posted throughout the course beforehand.

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 2: The Blossoming Runner

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 2: The Blossoming Runner

I want to take a few steps back and tell you how Hunter found running in the first place.

Yes, I wrote this story last year, but it’s such a special one, I feel it can’t be left out.

Hunter started running when he was 5 years old. He’s run shorter distance Carbon Valley races all but one year, missing only once because of a soccer tournament.

He was just 8 years old the first time he and Will climbed Mount Sanitas, which at the time was sprinkled with ice and snow and is a long, steep climb that at times, can require hands as well as feet.

For those who don’t know, Mount Sanitas is a TOUGH mountain to hike. It’s very much like climbing tall, steep stairs for 1.2 miles. If you’ve ever climbed the stairs at Red Rocks, make no mistake about it…this is much, much harder.

Every time I climb it, I’m baffled by the kids I see out there because it’s hard for me, an adult, with freakishly long legs and a stubborn no-quit nature and a pension for painful, stupid physical endeavors.

Will&Hunter_Sanitas
Will and Hunter at the top of Mount Sanitas.

I asked Hunter how he felt when he got to the top, expecting him to remember the beautiful view because that’s what everyone else remembers. Instead, he recalled how tired his legs were and all I could do is laugh because you can always count on Hunter’s literal answers and because I know exactly what he’s talking about.

IMG_9484
Eventually he dragged the rest of the family up that crazy hill too.

The Bolder Boulder

Hunter’s decision to run the Carbon Valley half actually started with the Bolder Boulder; he had wanted to run the Bolder Boulder for years. So during one of his brother’s soccer practices, Hunter joined Will for one of his training runs.

IMG_9489
That first Bolder Boulder training run. Hunter doesn’t even look tired!

Soon the run bug bit Hunter like it has all the rest of us: he noticed he could go farther and faster each time. He was able to run the Bolder Boulder-required 6 miles easily, so he and Will decided that would be the year he’d run the Carbon Valley Half Marathon distance instead of the 5k.

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It’s true–Hunter’s already faster than me. That didn’t take long!

And that’s exactly what he did!

How to Support Hunter

IMG_9482
Hunter’s loyal entourage. Left to right: Steve, me, Logan, Monica, Will, Hunter, Jaxson, and Brian (easily Hunter’s biggest fan)

There are a number of ways you can support Hunter’s goal. Please pick any or all of the following.

  1. Share this post on social media.
  2. Donate to Hunter’s fundraising page (all donations go to Children’s Hospital Colorado and research through the Autism Treatment Network). Click here to donate.
  3. Join us on Saturday, May 11th for the Fun Run (1 mile), 5k, half marathon relay, or half marathon–so there’s a distance for everyone. Walk, run, or crawl…no excuses! Click here to register.
  4. Don’t like running or walking or crawling? Fair enough. Come volunteer! Click here to sign up.
  5. Hunter’s running the Carbon Valley half again this year! Come cheer for him. The course is easily accessible for spectators. Here’s a map and the race starts at 8:00a, so bring a camping chair to hang out anywhere along the course and just wait for Hunter’s big smile to come along.
  6. Make signs for Hunter’s race to be distributed along the CV race course. Last year he LOVED his signs and took a picture next to each one. Let’s make even more for this year! Email me (rachel.kay.link@gmail.com) if you’re interested in making a sign and I’ll get the signs posted throughout the course beforehand.

Hunter Goes for Leadville!

Hunter Goes for Leadville!

It’s become a tradition.

Every year around this time, I get to write about Hunter Vickers, a kid who’s come to occupy a huge space in my heart.

I get to do this because I love to, but also because it helps Hunter with something he’s especially passionate about: raising money for autism research through the Carbon Valley Half Marathon in Firestone, Colorado.

Hunter is such a special piece of this puzzle because he himself is on the autism spectrum. And what I get to write about is how he doesn’t let it stop him and is one of the most interesting and unique humans in my life.

In prior years, my good friends and Hunter’s parents, Will and Monica, would do most of the fundraising.

Will would cook up these crazy ultramarathon challenges (running distances longer than 26.2 miles) to really hype up the fundraising…and sometimes, I’d join him for these because I love being crazy with Will.

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2016 Hunter’s Heroes about to finish the last mile of the half marathon course. For fundraising, Will and Steve started at midnight and ran the course 4x in a row that day in honor of the race’s 4th year. This was the last mile of their final loop (52.4 miles total).
LastYear
Hunter welcomed these two at the end of their 4-loop, 52.4-mile journey.

But then last year, Will passed the torch to Hunter because Hunter decided it was time for him to run the Carbon Valley Half Marathon himself–the longest distance by 2x he’d ever run.

And he was only 11.

This year, Hunter’s aiming higher. A lot higher. Several thousand feet higher.

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Hunter’s 2019 race course.

This year in June, he’s going for the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon, a race for the bravest of the brave: 15.5 miles, starting at 10,200 feet in elevation, topping out at 13,185 feet in elevation, with a total course gain of 3,720 feet. It’s difficult and stunning and empowering.

This thing. Is. Epic.

And he’s only 12.

The Blossoming Runner

I want to take a few steps back and tell you how Hunter found running in the first place.

Yes, I wrote this story last year, but it’s such a special one, I feel it can’t be left out.

Hunter started running when he was 5 years old. He’s run shorter distance Carbon Valley races all but one year, missing only once because of a soccer tournament.

He was just 8 years old the first time he and Will climbed Mount Sanitas, which at the time was sprinkled with ice and snow and is a long, steep climb that at times, can require hands as well as feet.

For those who don’t know, Mount Sanitas is a TOUGH mountain to hike. It’s very much like climbing tall, steep stairs for 1.2 miles. If you’ve ever climbed the stairs at Red Rocks, make no mistake about it…this is much, much harder.

Every time I climb it, I’m baffled by the kids I see out there because it’s hard for me, an adult, with freakishly long legs and a stubborn no-quit nature and a pension for painful, stupid physical endeavors.

Will&Hunter_Sanitas
Will and Hunter at the top of Mount Sanitas.

I asked Hunter how he felt when he got to the top, expecting him to remember the beautiful view because that’s what everyone else remembers. Instead, he recalled how tired his legs were and all I could do is laugh because you can always count on Hunter’s literal answers and because I know exactly what he’s talking about.

IMG_9484
 Eventually he dragged the rest of the family up that crazy hill too.

The Bolder Boulder

Hunter’s decision to run the Carbon Valley half actually started with the Bolder Boulder; he had wanted to run the Bolder Boulder for years. So during one of his brother’s soccer practices, Hunter joined Will for one of his training runs.

IMG_9489
That first Bolder Boulder training run. Hunter doesn’t even look tired!

Soon the run bug bit Hunter like it has all the rest of us: he noticed he could go farther and faster each time. He was able to run the Bolder Boulder-required 6 miles easily, so he and Will decided that would be the year he’d run the Carbon Valley Half Marathon distance instead of the 5k.

IMG_9490
It’s true–Hunter’s already faster than me. That didn’t take long!

And that’s exactly what he did!

Last Year’s Race

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Let me just take a moment to talk about last year.

Hunter’s first half marathon.

And one of my favorite days of all time.

A half marathon, 13.1 miles, is a long race for adults. But Hunter, even at Age 11, knew that’s what he wanted to do instead of the 5k, which he’d run every year except one.

He says that he’d seen other kids finish the half marathon, which motivated him to do it too.

Last year, Hunter’s goal was to finish the race without walking and he told me he’s most looking forward to sprint down the hill to the finish line and finishing strong.

And he killed it.

Killed it.

Despite cold rain, mud, a strong headwind for the last few miles, and all-around rough conditions. Hunter pushed through all of it.

We surprised him with signs along the course and he loved them. He stopped to take a picture next to each of them.

signs

We want signs again this year, so if you’re willing and able to make some, please email me!

I was crewing Hunter on my bike, which meant I was armed with his favorites: blue Powerade, gummy worms, gummy bears, and Skittles and would meet him at aid stations to take his trash, reload him with food, and hand him a Powerade to chug down.

I figured this would be an easy job. How hard could it be to stay ahead of a couple runners for 13 miles on a bike?

I was wrong about this. So, so wrong.

At one point, I had to sprint…on a mountain bike…packed with mud…just to get to the finish line before Hunter because he was cruising so easily. In a head wind.

Just look at this picture. You can see the wind blowing the plants back toward Will and Hunter. On my bike, I felt like I was crawling against the wind.

wind

And yet, Hunter was making this half marathon thing look easy. When, because of the weather, it was anything but.

He ran almost the whole time (at least according to Will, he did walk a couple times—but every time I saw him, he was running—running and smiling and talking to his dad).

At 2 hours and 52 minutes, Hunter crossed that finish line.

finish

And after he was done, he kept running. He ran around in circles beside the finish line while he waited for his mom to finish. Then he ran up the hill to find her and ran her into the finish line.

moni

He’s our very own Forrest Gump.

Hunter took 1st place for 11 year olds and he got a trophy for it.

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I can’t wait to see him take 1st place for 12 year olds this year.

The After Party

Will and Monica usually host a post-race party. They’re awesome like that. It’s a way for them to say thank you for all the support and all the community this race builds in the area.

Last year’s party was 100% Hunter’s party.

He asked us to invite the mayor.

And John Elway.

And why not?

Hunter knew how big a deal this race was and he felt like sharing it with Denver’s most-important. I can’t blame him.

And even though his VIP guests didn’t join us, Hunter partied hard.

He ate as much as he wanted whenever he wanted.

He asked Monica to bring him more than one hotdog on the couch.

He drank water from his coveted 1st place 11-year-old trophy cup.

32960060_10214437851252358_8431261105468211200_n

Because why not!?

And he talked non-stop about his next big race. Not the Bolder Boulder, not another road half marathon.

No.

The Leadville Heavy Half Marathon. 15.5 miles from 10,200 feet to 13,185 feet.

This kid.

He’s after my own heart.

A Donkey Named Burrito

After Carbon Valley, months after in fact, Hunter was still talking nonstop about running, the Leadville Heavy Half, ultramarathons, etc.

And then something awesome happened.

Brad and Amber Wann, these two donkey-lovin’ and incredible humans, brought burro racing to Hunter’s stompin’ grounds.

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They added the 1st Annual Burro Race to the events surrounding Frederick’s Miners Day, which already has a 5k run.

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Amber Wann “haulin’-ass” into the finish line.

So, the Vickers family ran the 5k and then, partly because Steve and I were running it, Will and Hunter stuck around to watch the donkey race after.

They picked a very unique spectator spot: a curve in the bike path that enters a tunnel.

A few things about these donkeys:

  1. They usually run on trails in the mountains, where their biggest issue is getting rocks stuck in their feet and crossing bridges—bridges scare them.
  2. They don’t see the same as we do, so certain things, like bridges, tunnels, trash cans, anything with a significant shadow, etc. make them nervous and they may refuse to continue forward. A tunnel looks like a big, scary, black abyss to them.
  3. They rarely have to run on concrete, so the fact that this course is almost all concrete meant that a lot of donkeys didn’t want to run or wanted to run in the weeds beside the bike path.

So. Will and Hunter were at one of the most challenging spots on the course because we, the runners, were expecting the donkeys to funnel onto the concrete and pass through a long tunnel.

Low and behold, the donkeys really didn’t want to.

Hunter got to watch A LOT of donkeys protesting and refusing to go into the tunnel and he wanted more than anything to help get them going again.

And thus began Hunter’s newest running love: the donkey race.

Which is actually so cool because donkeys have been found to make great companions for folks on the autism spectrum.

Donkeys and Autism

My interest in burro racing began as I was hiking with my friend Becki on Mount Galbraith for her hubby’s 50th birthday. Becki is a badass ultrarunner with more compassion for other people than you’re likely to find in anyone else.

She started telling me about her newest running goal, and I expected to hear about some crazy-hard 100-mile race.

Instead, she started talking about this article she read.

This article. Read it. Read it now. It’s so good.

Picture1

About burro racer Hal Walter, who discovered that donkeys have a knack for helping kids with autism because his son Harrison is on the spectrum and Hal’s donkeys, who’ve confused him with their stubborn nature for years, just seemed to “get” Harrison.

Maybe it’s because autism creates a lot of sensory challenges and donkeys are sensory-driven animals.

Maybe it’s because donkeys share so many stubborn traits as humans and since folks with autism see things from a different perspective, they figure out how to better communicate with donkeys.

Or maybe it’s just something we’ll never understand.

“As social creatures, donkeys are very aware of their environment and the people within it.” said Caron Whaley, Director of donkey-assisted therapy at The Donkey Sanctuary. “I have witnessed sessions where people that may struggle to communicate or connect emotionally with another human somehow seem to be able to connect with our donkeys.” (Source: Donkey ‘Therapy’ Helps Autistic Young Woman Tune Into The World Around Her, by Nisha Kotecha)

Nonetheless, when kids with autism hang out with donkeys, they feel calmer…even after they’ve gone home.

So finding out from Will that Hunter wanted so badly to run the next Frederick Burro Race, I immediately connected him with Amber Wann to see about taking Hunter for a donkey training run.

Amber’s family is actually mentioned in the New York Times article.

Brad and Amber have a son, Ben, with epilepsy, which has created similar struggles for him as does autism for other kids.

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And spending time with burros has helped Ben manage his epilepsy.

In fact, Ben participates in burro races himself, with his donkey Burrito.

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Which also means that Brad and Amber have a soft spot for kids who can benefit from being around their donkeys. Kids like Hunter.

When I connected with Amber, she worked with Will’s schedule to plan a training run just so he and Hunter could give donkey running a try. She even planned for Will and Hunter to run with Ben’s donkey Burrito because Burrito is already so comfortable running with kids.

And since we weren’t sure how Hunter would handle a donkey, should it refuse to run, Amber gave Burrito two lead ropes: one for Hunter and one for Will.

This day was epic. Under blue skies, Hunter and Will practiced running with Burrito for 6 miles on South Table Mountain in Golden.

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Hunter had a blast and did an awesome job with Burrito.

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And so Hunter’s committed to the 2nd Annual Miners Day Burro race in September, where he’ll get to run with Blaster, the Colorado School of Mines mascot, who runs the length of the football field on game day.

Blaster_Blue_Key

Hunter’s 2019 race season is shaping up nicely: Carbon Valley, Leadville Heavy Half, and Frederick Miner’s Day Burro Race.

I think I’m more excited about his race season than my own!

Leadville Heavy Half

I talked about Leadville a little bit already, but since this is Hunter’s main focus this year, it deserves its own, dedicated description.

I remember when I first started tackling the half marathon distance and my runner buddy, who’d been able to convince me to do all kinds of crazy races already, tried suggesting the Leadville Heavy Half.

Without hesitation I sad, “15.5 miles up in Leadville? Absolutely not. That’s just crazy.”

And then, a couple months later, here we are on Mosquito Pass, climbing to the highest point of the course.

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So Hunter has his sights set on this thing. This is what the course profile looks like. It’s nuts.

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Undeniably nuts.

Just look at this thing.

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Most years, because the race is relatively early in the season and goes to such a high elevation, race volunteers have to go dig out the highest part of the course because it’s still under several feet of snow leading up to race day.

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I like this picture because it does the course justice. It gets pretty steep in places.

But you take it one step at a time and eventually, you get to the top of Mosquito Pass at 13,185 feet.

Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville Trail 100 hangs out at the top, cheers on runners, and takes pictures with them next to the sign.

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Hunter will have to get his iconic top-of-Mosquito-Pass picture with Ken.

And then you get to go down. And as you go down, you get to look a this.

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The view alone is worth every ounce of the challenging high-altitude climb to the top.

It’s beyond worth it.

And with Hunter’s bottomless physical energy, he’ll get it done and then he’ll run around in circles at the finish line while the rest of us sit down for a beer, exhausted!

If You Happen to Know John Elway…

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As I started writing this series, I realized I had completely forgotten about Hunter’s hope that the mayor and John Elway would come to last year’s party.

Here’s the actual conversation I had with Will when I remembered this.

Me: REMEMBER HOW HE WANTED US TO INVITE THE MAYOR AND JOHN ELWAY???

Will: Lol. The mayor is probably doable but John Elway probably not.

Me: I’m gonna try anyway.

Will: Lol haha please do.

Me: If I were John Elway and I heard about Hunter and about the fundraising for Children’s, I’d come to the party. I just wish I’d thought of this 6 months ago, since he’s probably already busy next weekend.

So then this happened.

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And now I’m writing about it, which means Google didn’t produce John’s personal cell phone number or email address for some reason.

If you see this blog and you know John personally, please ask him to come to Hunter’s party after the race. We’d love to have him.

Okay Rachel, Let’s Wrap It Up Now, Sheesh!

I appreciate everyone’s support of this epic young man so very much.

So just to recap, here’s all the crazy awesome stuff that Hunter has in store for his year.

This year, he’s running Carbon Valley for the second time on Saturday, May 11, 2019, which happens to be Mother’s Day weekend, which is so appropriate for Monica.

Monica is a dedicated and hard-working mom who keeps herself up-to-date on the latest options, studies, and breakthroughs in autism, so she can help Hunter any way she can.

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She claims not to be a runner, and yet, she runs the half marathon every year. She says, “Hunter doesn’t get to quit when it’s hard, so neither do I.”

Next, Hunter will be running the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Heavy Half also happens to be on Father’s Day weekend, which is appropriate for Will, since he’ll be out there running with Hunter, as always.

I plan to write another blog detailing Hunter’s race day in Leadville, but if you’d like to track him, there will be a link for athlete tracking on the race website.

I love it. This year, Hunter gets to run a race for mom and a race for dad.

Finally, Hunter will be running the 2nd Annual Miners Day Burro Race on Saturday, September 21, 2019 with Blaster.

Please check out the list of ways you can support Hunter (below). There are lots of different ways to support him and we appreciate any or all of them!

How to Support Hunter

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Hunter’s loyal entourage. Left to right: Steve, me, Logan, Monica, Will, Hunter, Jaxson, and Brian (easily Hunter’s biggest fan)

There are a number of ways you can support Hunter’s goal. Please pick any or all of the following.

  1. Share this post on social media.
  2. Donate to Hunter’s fundraising page (all donations go to Children’s Hospital Colorado and research through the Autism Treatment Network). Click here to donate.
  3. Join us on Saturday, May 11th for the Fun Run (1 mile), 5k, half marathon relay, or half marathon–so there’s a distance for everyone. Walk, run, or crawl…no excuses! Click here to register.
  4. Don’t like running or walking or crawling? Fair enough. Come volunteer! Click here to sign up.
  5. Hunter’s running the Carbon Valley half again this year! Come cheer for him. The course is easily accessible for spectators. Here’s a map and the race starts at 8:00a, so bring a camping chair to hang out anywhere along the course and just wait for Hunter’s big smile to come along.
  6. Make signs for Hunter’s race to be distributed along the CV race course. Last year he LOVED his signs and took a picture next to each one. Let’s make even more for this year! Email me (rachel.kay.link@gmail.com) if you’re interested in making a sign and I’ll get the signs posted throughout the course beforehand.

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 1

Hunter Goes for Leadville, Part 1

It’s become a tradition.

Every year around this time, I get to write about Hunter Vickers, a kid who’s come to occupy a huge space in my heart.

I get to do this because I love to, but also because it helps Hunter with something he’s especially passionate about: raising money for Autism research through the Carbon Valley Half Marathon in Firestone, Colorado.

Hunter is such a special piece of this puzzle because he himself is on the Autism spectrum. And what I get to write about is how he doesn’t let it stop him and is one of the most interesting and unique humans in my life.

In prior years, my good friends and Hunter’s parents, Will and Monica, would do most of the fundraising.

Will would cook up these crazy ultramarathon challenges (running distances longer than 26.2 miles) to really hype up the fundraising…and sometimes, I’d join him for these because I love being crazy with Will.

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2016 Hunter’s Heroes about to finish the last mile of the half marathon course. For fundraising, Will and Steve started at midnight and ran the course 4x in a row that day in honor of the race’s 4th year. This was the last mile of their final loop (52.4 miles total).

But then last year, Will passed the torch to Hunter because Hunter decided it was time for him to run the Carbon Valley Half Marathon himself–the longest distance by 2x he’d ever run.

And he was only 11.

This year, Hunter’s aiming higher. A lot higher. Several thousand feet higher.

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Hunter’s 2019 race course.

This year in June, he’s going for the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon, a race for the bravest of the brave: 15.5 miles, starting at 10,200 feet in elevation, topping out at 13,200 feet in elevation, with a total course gain of 3,720 feet. It’s difficult and stunning and empowering.

This thing. Is. Epic.

And he’s only 12.

Like last year, I have soooooo much I want to say about Hunter and his journey and his family and this awesome fundraiser, of which I’m honored to be part.

So, like last year, I’m turning this annual writing adventure into a series and I’ll post a new blog about Hunter’s journey to Heavy Half every few days before Carbon Valley Half Marathon race day (Saturday, May 11, 2019 and appropriately for Monica, Mother’s Day weekend). 

Most importantly, each post will include a list of ways to help support Hunter in his journey (see below).

So, as always, thank you for reading, thank you for caring, thank you for supporting.

How to Support Hunter

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Hunter’s loyal entourage. Left to right: Steve, me, Logan, Monica, Will, Hunter, Jaxson, and Brian (easily Hunter’s biggest fan)

There are a number of ways you can support Hunter’s goal. Please pick any or all of the following.

  1. Share this post on social media.
  2. Donate to Hunter’s fundraising page (all donations go to Children’s Hospital Colorado and research through the Autism Treatment Network). Click here to donate.
  3. Join us on Saturday, May 11th for the Fun Run (1 mile), 5k, half marathon relay, or half marathon–so there’s a distance for everyone. Walk, run, or crawl…no excuses! Click here to register.
  4. Don’t like running or walking or crawling? Fair enough. Come volunteer! Click here to sign up.
  5. Hunter’s running the Carbon Valley half again this year! Come cheer for him. The course is easily accessible for spectators. Here’s a map and the race starts at 8:00a, so bring a camping chair to hang out anywhere along the course and just wait for Hunter’s big smile to come along.
  6. Make signs for Hunter’s race to be distributed along the CV race course. Last year he LOVED his signs and took a picture next to each one. Let’s make even more for this year! Email me (rachel.kay.link@gmail.com) if you’re interested in making a sign and I’ll get the signs posted throughout the course beforehand.

That Time I Asked Salomon to Sponsor Me

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My Salomon collection sans two pair, of which one is on my feet right now.

I’m a little nuts, but that’s what makes me fun, right?

Salomon is my jam. From the first time I ran down Bear Peak in my Salomon Fellraisers, now called SpeedCross, I was hooked and I think I’ve owned something like 10 pair of Salomon shoes since 2015.

Their shoes seem to have been designed just for my feet.

Full disclosure: I am not fast. At all.

So when I was training for LT100 in 2016, I spent a lot of time in my head thinking about all kinds of things. And then it hit me: why are only fast people sponsored?

The slow people spend a shitload more time in running products, so why wouldn’t the running companies want to sponsor the people how really, really, really put their products to the test hour after gruelling hour…and hours after their pro runners have finished, eaten, showered, napped, and beered?

I spent 6 days of TransRockies observing this and as one of the last five finishers every day, I saw the fast folks relaxed, recharged, and maybe a little loaded when I finally arrived at camp.

For years I’ve wanted ask Salomon why they don’t have any slow people on their bench and today, I finally pulled the trigger and emailed Salomon to sell myself as the best person ever on the planet for them to sponsor.

I mean, aren’t most of their customers mid- to back-of-the-pack runners? I personally relate way better to Joe Shmoe than I do people who win shit because…genetics for one thing.

Which is why the LT100 panel drives me nuts every year because it’s the fast people who finish when it’s still dark.

They need to have a 29-hour finisher on the panel every year for the rest of us. Half of LT100 entrants don’t even get to the finish line and so many who do are getting there just before cutoff. They’ve experienced both sunrises and have spent nearly 30 hours out there.

Anyway, I digress.

I really did ask Salomon to sponsor me today.

I’ve wanted to do this for years and today, I finally pulled the trigger and emailed Salomon to sell myself as the best person to sponsor.

I’ll have to let you all know what happens–which probably won’t be much, but still, it’s worth laughing about anyway!

Argh……….I was super excited to share with you all the irresistible, brown-nosing, professional, yet humorous email I sent them, but since I failed to correctly copy and paste the text, this is all I have to show for my efforts.

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I know, sad page icon…I’m sad too.

So I guess this’ll be like that Tenacious D song “Tribute” wherein, this post is just a tribute to the best email in the world and this post isn’t anything like that email.

EDIT

The good news: I got a response within 40 minutes–that’s fast!

The bad news: It was a rejection, likely an automated rejection. I wonder if a human even read my email! It’s one of the best emails I’ve ever written in my life!

Well, fart!

Can’t complain about 25% off though…I’ll take it.

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On Being a Nicer Human to Myself [while Running]

I’m really good at being the world’s biggest dick to myself when I run. And sadly, I know I’m not the only one at war with themselves.

Here are just a few of the really super lovely things I tend to say to myself:

You should be running faster.

You should be running farther.

A few years ago, you were so much better at this than you are now.

Maybe you’re just not meant to be a runner.

You’re bad at this and that’s why it feels so hard for you.

Um, no. This is total crap. And this weekend, I finally decided to tell that stupid voice in my head to shut the hell up.

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Here’s how I did it:

I turned my Strava to private.

Why?

Because I’m sick of worrying what everyone else will think of what I’m doing. Particularly, whether or not I’ll get kudos from the runners I admire the most or if they’re out there judging me because I did 5 miles instead of 10.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Arguably, I should’ve deleted Strava all together, but I decided not to because I do like to track my miles and progress. But for me, not for anyone else.

And let’s be honest–Strava is really good for that pat on the back for new segment and run PRs. So I’ll keep it for the good stuff.

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I stopped looking at other people’s workouts.

Why?

Because they tend to make me feel like I’m not adventuring enough/running fast enough/being strong enough/staying consistent enough…or worst of all, that I’m not in love with running enough.

These little assholes of doubt seem to plant themselves in my head instead of inspiring me to get out there.

So I’m avoiding all that nonsense for now.

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I unfollowed a bunch of running-related FB pages.

Why?

Same reason I stopped looking at the Strava feed: too much opportunity for me to compare my own efforts with other people’s and then feel I’m coming up short.

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Finally, now that we’re passed all the social media negative influence garbage

I changed how I talk to myself.

Why?

Because being mean to myself is nothing more than a bad habit and changing it simply requires acquiring and practicing a new habit.

So I got back in my running shoes and back on the trails.

But this time, I went by myself and I gave myself as much time as I wanted and didn’t worry about distance or pace. As we yogis like to say: I totally met myself right where I am.

On the uphill, which tends to be when I’m most evil to myself:

I stopped when I felt like it.

I walked when I felt like it.

I took my phone out and returned text messages when I felt like it.

I took pictures when I felt like it.

Then, once I had my breath back, I’d start running again. And it turns out, I was able to run more uphill than I thought I could. Each time I did this, my legs and lungs felt fresh, and I actually felt good.

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Each time any negativity tried to creep into my brain, I thought about what I would say to my friend LG if she were starting to get frustrated because she and I are both starting over and starting over isn’t easy.

Starting over actually really sucks.

By pretending I was talking to LG, I wasn’t being a dick to myself…instead, I was saying stuff like:

Nice job girl, you CAN run uphill and make it feel good. 

You’re running more than you thought you could and that’s awesome!

Keep it up, you’re kicking this hill’s ass!

If you walk, it’s okay–it’s not hurting anyone. 

Next time you do this run, you’ll be even stronger.

So that’s a pretty killer difference, if you ask me.

Most of us run to explore, to be outside, and to feel better.

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But what’s the point if we’re just beating on ourselves the whole time?

So here’s to doing things differently and never looking back. Because…

Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

Seriously. Quit it.