Jeremiah Lackey was hanging out with his buddies, drinking a couple of beers — the precursor to so many stories, some good, some not so good.
For Lackey, that conversation in 2012 was life-changing. He has redefined what is possible, reconnected with God and projected himself to the cusp of getting into Western States 100 this year.
But before even knowing that people could actually run 100 miles, between sips of beer Lackey considered a mud run challenge.
“One of the guys was doing the USMC Mud Run Challenge coming up,” recalls Lackey, who was about 30 at the time. “It was like three or four months out, and one of the guys was saying how cool it would be if we all did it.”
When he learned it was five miles, Lackey was stunned but undeterred. “I just about died. I never ran five miles in my entire life.”
Lackey decided to do it as a way to get back into fitness, then did another one in six months. He continued to do obstacle races, focusing on Spartan races. “It got my blood pumping and it was a lot of fun,” he says.
He continued to progress — going longer and faster. In 2014, he went to the Spartan World Championships in Vermont, finishing 121st out of about 5,000 participants. “It felt really good but I wanted to do better.”
Lackey realized that those who finished ahead of him were stronger runners. He decided to take a year off to pursue marathons and run some trail races.
“I just really got hooked into it and I fell in with a group of fellow Christian runners in the Chattanooga area. It was God’s calling — these five or six guys all run ultras and we’ve been building our relationship.”
He jumped into endurance races quickly. In the first year, he ran two road marathons, a stage race, three 50Ks and a 50-miler.
“I just jumped in with two feet,” he says. “I loved the camaraderie. It’s a little different than the Spartan racing. I don’t want to say anything bad about Crossfit but it can be ego-driven while ultra running is just a bunch of cool guys and girls hanging out in the woods, even while we are competing.”
A ticket to ride (the wait list)
In 2016, he and “The Crew” — his running buddies — all decided to do the Georgia Death Race. But two weeks before GDR, Lackey fell and injured a tendon in his leg. He committed to running the race but ended up DNFing at about Mile 47 of the 74-mile event. “It really put me in a low place,” he remembers. “Redemption was that year I signed up for Pinhoti 100 and I completed that. I didn’t use that as my (Western States) ticket because I was absolutely wrecked after that race.”
Lackey fought through injuries — stemming from his Ehlers-Danlos, a genetics disorder that can easily overextend tendons, making them more prone to injury — leading up to the 2017 Georgia Death Race. Basically, if it would normally take three weeks to heal a tendonitis injury, it would take Lackey six weeks to heal. “I really, really have to listen to my body.”
In his downtime, he rehabbed the injury but was not able to run more than 20 miles in a week up until about six weeks before the race. Lackey was able to out together four consecutive weeks of 30 miles and 10,000 feet of vert. “I decided to give it a shot.”
Lackey finished in about 20:45, just good enough to beat the cutoff and earn a Western States qualifier. “I figured I would give it a shot and put my ticket in,” he says. “As luck would have it, I got on the wait list, which is the best and worst of both worlds.”
A solid backup plan to Western
Last year was the first time that Western States implemented the current wait list, starting with 50 runners. In 2017, the last wait list participant who made it in the race was number 39.
Lackey’s sole ticket earned him spot number 40 on this year’s wait list.
“I knew that,” he says, laughing. “It was the first question I asked my running buddies after the draw — how far did it get last year? 39. You’ve got to be kidding me.”
As of April 29, nine runners have moved from the wait list into Western or removed themselves. At the same point last year, 14 runners on the wait list had moved off.
Still, “It was euphoric,” he says. “Western is the Super Bowl of ultra running. I was really excited. Then all in the same breath I realized where I was on the wait list.
Lackey is training as if he will be on the he he will be on the starting line in Squaw Valley on June 23, but is targeting June 1 as the time to decide on whether to solidify travel plans. “Because I am so far on the wait list, I am trying to not get too hopeful,” he says, adding that he might go out to crew a buddy he is in Western.
While he plays the wait-and-see game while training for Western States, he has a solid backup plan: the Leadville 100.
“God willing, I don’t have to do both races this year,” says Lackey, who was picked in the Leadville lottery. “That’s a helluva backup plan.”
Lackey would likely follow through on Western if he makes it off the wait list, then do Leadville next year since that race has a deferral policy.
A journey of physical and self-discovery
While Lackey misses Spartan races — “It’s fun but when I get done with an ultra I don’t wish that I had to climb a wall and throw a spear” — he finds inspiration in trail running and the relationships he has formed.
It’s been a journey of physical fitness, new friendships and continued self-discovery.
“I’ve learned what level of endurance I could take,” he says. “For me, GDR in 2017 was a big one. I realized that if I could shut that off in my mind I could really push my limits. That’s parlayed into my professional job where I have taken on some professional challenges in the past couple of years. My resolve has really been challenged and that’s what I have learned through endurance racing —mind over matter.”
It's a long way from where Lackey was years ago, throwing back a couple of beers with a different set of friends.
“My faith has definitely gotten stronger. For God to let me find six Christian ultra runners in Chattanooga,” he says, pausing. “That’s really special. It’s been good because there are guys who can relate to my ideals and faith. When we talk about things, it’s from the Christian perspective. It’s different than with drinking buddies seven years ago, it’s not the same conversation. When things get difficult we talk about how we pray for each other. “It’s been great for me.”
Name: Jeremiah Lackey
Hometown: Findlay, Ohio
Number of years running: 6
How many miles a week do you typically run: 40 non-training, Not more than 70 training
Point of pride: "The Crew" - My tight group of running friends
Favorite race distance: 50K
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Shakeology / Peanut butter cups
Favorite piece of gear: Salomon Buff
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Eminem - 'Till I collapse
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: One of my running friends dad's told me before Pinhoti 100 that it's not humanly possible to run a 100 miles, but with God you can accomplish anything.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/jeremiah.lackey.9
• Strava, https://www.strava.com/athletes/7333140