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Liberatore finishes the ‘unfathomable’

MCHS graduate runs 100 miles in nearly 26 hours in Colorado

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 9:54 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 11:26 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo provided)
Ray Liberatore, center, stands with his mother, Tammy, at left, after completing the Leadville Trail 100 run. Liberatore finished the ultramarathon in 25 hours, 56 minutes.

Ray Liberatore’s reward for months of training and the completion of a 100-mile mountainous course, on foot, was one an 8-year-old might receive after a soccer match.

“A friend and I went out for ice cream,” Liberatore said. “It had been a little over a year since I had had ice cream. I had been on a pretty strict diet.”

A strict diet is essentially a requirement for people preparing to enter the Leadville Trail 100 Run. The ultramarathon, held since 1983 in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, Colo., has entrants complete an out-and-back course with elevations that range from 9,200 to 12,600 feet. The 2013 race began at 4 a.m. local time on Saturday, Aug. 17, and the cutoff time for all runners was 10 a.m. the following day.

Liberatore, a Minooka Community High School graduate and the son of MCHS counselor and girls basketball coach Ray Liberatore, finished 154th in this year’s race, with a time of 25:56:46.65. He reached the finish line at 5:56 a.m. Aug. 18.

KEEP ON RUNNING

At MCHS, the younger Liberatore competed in cross country and track and field. He attended Bradley University, and was hired by Hewett-Packard, where he still works, shortly after his 2009 graduation.

Around the middle of his college career, Liberatore ran his first marathon in Indianapolis. A few years passed before his next entry in competitive distance running. He ran another marathon in Texas, and around the same time, he also signed up for his first 50-mile run, near Dallas in March 2012.

“Really it was kind of the rarity of the distance,” Liberatore said when asked what appealed to him about ultramarathons. “Marathon running is becoming a more popular sport. Fifty- and 100-mile races piqued my interest. I didn’t know anyone that was running those. It seemed almost unfathomable.”

Initially, Liberatore says, he was essentially on his own with the longer distance runs. Nobody close to him showed much interest in races of that length. But a friend decided to enter a 50-miler after Liberatore’s first race, and so Liberatore joined him. He took it one step further earlier when he completed the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile trail run in south Texas on Feb. 2, finishing in 107th place with a time of 24:49:49.

NEW HEIGHTS

The Leadville 100 may be the same length as the Rocky Raccoon race, but the terrain that must be navigated is much different. The elevation in the part of Texas where the latter race is held, Liberatore says, is around 500 feet. He compares the land to the Morris and Joliet area in terms of its flatness.

At Leadville’s highest point, Hope Pass, the elevation is more than twice as high as in Denver, making breathing difficult. The heightened UV radiation caused temperatures in the low 70s to feel maybe 15 degrees warmer, Liberatore says. Those daytime temps contrasted with temperatures that, according to Liberatore, fell to about 40 degrees for his final 20 miles or so.

In many places, the race is run on a path wide enough to accommodate only one runner. The event’s official website says that the “majority is on forest trails with some mountain roads.” In some points, Liberatore says, running was impossible due to the steepness of the path, forcing him to hike.

Eleven aid stations stationed along the course allowed Liberatore to stop, change out his water bottles and grab a few marathon gels or a condensed tablet for nutrition. At some, he would add or remove clothing. While his breaks were only a minute or two long early in the race, he says they were a bit longer during the later stages.

Despite all of the challenges presented at Leadville, Liberatore says he actually had an easier time than at Rocky Raccoon. There were moments, he says, during his first 100-miler when he felt he could not go on that he avoided in his second due to better preparation and the knowledge of what to expect.

He trained in high elevations beforehand, spending several weeks before the race in Colorado, and he was able to run part of the course prior to the race.

“I was really fortunate to not have any really, really rough patches. Most times you do hit one,” Liberatore said. “At the Rocky Raccoon, I hit one around the 80-mile mark. Sixty to 80 are typically the toughest miles on the course. That’s where you need to have your mind as strong and your body as strong as possible.”

WHAT A FINISH

In an email telling the story that Liberatore sent to friends and family in the days after the race, he says reaching the finish line was “a moment filled with emotion that I still can’t begin to describe.”

Ten days after beginning the race, and nine after finishing, Liberatore said the accomplishment was sinking in more than it initially had.

“t definitely has. It’s definitely a bit surreal,” Liberatore said. “It’s just the culmination of a lot of hours of training. The whole experience kind of ends with you being rewarded at the finish line. That’s where it all comes to fruition.”

Liberatore’s mother, Tammy Liberatore, was there for the event. Being in position to watch her son run was difficult. She was there at four of the aid stations each way to give Ray a pre-packed plastic baggie of supplies — and her support. In between those encounters, Tammy says she restocked her rented vehicle with supplies for the next station, relaxed, went out to eat, slept for a total of about an hour and even did a little shopping.

One part of the race Tammy did see was Ray crossing the finish line.

“I knew this would be the most emotional thing for me and it was,” Tammy said in an email. “I had faith that he would succeed, and his dream would be fulfilled.

“Ray’s coach (Scott Weber) is a very wise man, and he urged his runners to have family participate. I had to prepare myself for the possibility that he might be dehydrated, near hypothermia, vomiting, cramping or all of the above. Yes, it was difficult, but Ray and his coach had me do my homework. I was there for my son’s health and emotional support.

“As a parent, I don’t think you ever stop worrying. As a baby, you worry about so many things; little did I know I’d still be staying up with him all night 25 years later.”

A long break is not in Ray’s post-Leadville plans. He planned to take a total of about three weeks off — and allow himself some minor dietary cheating — before beginning to train in earnest for his next race, the Oct. 13 Chicago Marathon.

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