|Posted by [email protected] on September 20, 2014 at 1:20 PM|
by Keith Frates
I used to think of a champion as someone like Steve Prefontaine or Alberto Salazar: racers whose competitive spirits were so intense that like Prefontaine they'd try to run the mojo out of everyone else right from the gun no matter how excruciating the effort or, in Salazar's case, literally wreck his own long term health to win a race. That was before I met Kirk Apt 23 years ago. At the time, Kirk had run one 100 mile race, the Leadville 100. Kirk and I have been partners since 1992 and in that time I've learned that there is more than one way to be a champion.
This summer, Kirk reached two important milestones in his running career. He finished both his 20th Hardrock 100 and his 20th Leadville 100 trail races . The Hardrock 100, based in Silverton, CO. loops through the San Juans, rewarding runners with some of the most spectacular alpine vistas and difficult terrain in the world. There are almost 34,000 vertical feet of ascent and descent each in the event. On July 12, 2014, Kirk was the first person to finish the race 20 times. He was given special recognition and a standing ovation for this feat at the awards ceremony. For Apt it was his proudest moment, more important to him than his win at the race in 2000 when he set a course record.
Not only is Kirk a former Hardrock champion, he is the 1995 Leadville champion as well. Kirk is considered by many runners and volunteers to embody the spirit of ultrarunning and is widely admired in the sport. What is it that attracts such admiration? Is it his fierce competitiveness? Is it his killer instinct driving him to cross the finish line first, ruthlessly picking off other runners? Well, not exactly. As Kirk told Matt Hart in an interview for Outside magazine online this summer, "I'm really not very competitive by nature, so I had to convince myself to go for it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance." It is known to many that one of the first things he said after winning Hardrock in 2000 was, "The flowers were amazing!" As he was running the last mile of Leadville in '95, he found himself thinking," I can't believe I'm going to win this damn thing!" As he approached the finish line he high fived a "local bar guy" who ran out on the course waving a cigarette around, yelling "You're awesome, man! Let me buy you a drink!"
Now I'm one of those runners whose self esteem has depended entirely too much on the outcomes of my races. Over the years I have marveled at the grace and humility of Kirk Apt. I have never seen him envy or begrudge another runner. I have never seen him disappointed in a finish time. Two years after his win, I was crewing Kirk at mile 82 of Hardrock. Concerned that another runner, Randy Isler, might pass him, I warned Kirk, " You'd better get going. Randy is gaining on you." Kirk looked at me and said, "Good for Randy!" What?! Good for Randy? I have to admit that this stunned me a bit. I thought that, having won Hardrock, Kirk would feel a pressing need to win again, to prove himself, but Kirk's not in it for the glory. He's in it because he loves to run far in the mountains, in the flowers, in the thunderstorms. He loves to share his wonderment with the volunteers and his compatriots out on the trails; to encourage and be encouraged; to suffer and to rally. He loves the ultramarathon, and those wins were bonuses like icing on the cake, but they definitely were not the cake.
Kirk plans to keep running Hardrock for as long as possible and then to volunteer there. As for Leadville, he says that once he finished 17, he figured he might as well go for 20, but he is ready to try some different 100s now. Kirk has also run the Mountain Grand Slam, finishing the Bighorn, Hardrock, Leadville and Bear 100s in the span of four months. He has participated in many local events including the Rimrock Marathon, the Desert Rats double marathon and the Kokopelli Classic. He is a regular at the Thursday night fun runs.