Larry West is a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who is fairly new to the sport of ultra marathons. But in running all those miles, he's learned something he hopes we all come to know.
Larry West, or Laz as his running friends know him, became a ultra marathoner completely by accident. He was sent the wrong way in the very first Gusher Marathon. He says "26.2 became 28 because when I noticed the mistake, I turned around and I went back at the end and told the director, "somebody sent me the wrong way." and she said, "you just ran your first ultra." I had no clue what that meant."
But he soon learned ultra marathons began in the United States quite by accident too. They are 50 to 100 mile endurance races that first began in 1974 in the U.S. when Gordy Ainsleigh's horse came up lame in a 100 mile horse race called the Tevis Cup. Ainsleigh decided to run the course on foot.
Laz's mistake put him on the trail to become an ultra runner and he began ultra marathons just over a year ago, when he ran the Rocky Racoon 50 miler in Huntsville. But it wasn't exactly what he expected, "Mile 46 was and is to this day... the worst moment physically of my entire life. Four miles, something that I could do relatively easy, took two hours and 30 minutes. That's a long time. But to find something deep inside yourself, because I was about to quit. I didn't think I could go any further." But he did. Laz finished in 14 hours and 31 minutes, "And when I got done, I said, why do I do stupid stuff. I will never do this again ever, and 3 days later I think I signed up for the 100 miler."
Hitting that wall and the shift in his mind it took to get over it proved something to Laz and now he is on a new mission; running four ultras in the last year. "With a hundred miler, it's about stressing your body and then the next day, so my peak for example was, I ran 20 miles and then the very next day, I ran 20 again."
But for Laz it's not all about the mileage, it's about reaching new heights. "What I enjoy about it is pushing the limits of my endurance. I mentioned mile 46, and now mile 46 comes and goes and I don't even think about it. Mile 46 is now mile 67. What I get out of it, for me personally, pushing the limits and seeing what is the human body and the human mind capable of, and this is secondary, because this was never the intention, is hopefully motivating other people. I want other people to know what I've learned, and that is we are so much stronger than we think we are."
Laz passes that knowledge on by helping and training with other runners like Marie Dempsey. She has been a pacer for Laz in some of his races. But in October, she will run her first 50 mile ultra. She says Laz, "Encourages me by telling me what's gonna happen physically, mentally and so I know what's expected and he just talks to me, helps me get to the other end."
In these endurance races it's so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other to get to the end. Marie says, "Sometimes it's physical, sometimes it mental. We just talk to each other, help each other keep going.
To keep others going, Lax returned to the Gusher this year, making it his personal mission to come in last. "I know what that's like to finish at the back of a race because you hurt or it's your first one, and so it was my job to make sure that every other person could look at that list, say I didn't finish last and hopefully encourage some other people along the way."
In this ultra journey that Laz has embarked upon, his heart and determination touches everyone he meets, every step of the way.
Laz is competing in three more ultra's between now and February of next year. All are 100 miles races. His next race is in October of this year. If you would like to follow Laz and support him, you can do that on facebook, at Trooper on the Run.