Video by Caitie McMekin | Multimedia Editor — Words by | Colin Hanner | Staff Writer
The highest point in the Leadville Trail 100 — a 100-mile-long ultramarathon held every August throughout the mountainous terrain of Colorado — is 12,620 feet in Hope Pass. Nearly 1,600 miles away and more than 11,000 feet lower, Jon Nassif ran Chautauqua Institution’s iconic Old First Night loop on Wednesday.
This wasn’t his first time running the course: On that cloudy, autumn-like Wednesday morning, puddles gathered on the sides of the road and Chautauquans grabbed at their coats and jackets to brace the wind, Nassif had already completed seven loops around Chautauqua. He planned to finish five more. His wife, Laurie, rode her bike alongside him to provide moral support and to stock a bag full of water and snacks for him near the north end tennis courts.
The math: 2.6 miles per loop multiplied by the 12 times running around the same loop, and the total damage is 50 kilometers, or nearly 32 miles — deemed an ultramarathon by any standard. Nassif has been running ultramarathons since he and his family moved to Colorado, but he had thought about bringing his active ways out east.
“I hatched the plan a few weeks before we got here and thought, ‘You don’t need mountains and wide-open spaces to run long distances — you can do it right outside your back door,’ ” Nassif said. “I never really looked beyond this loop because it’s so great: It’s the right distance. Two loops is five miles. That’s a morning exercise. People walk the loop.”
Nassif, a restaurateur, didn’t run track or cross country when he was younger, but Laurie traces her husband’s passion for running to the time their family watched Lance Armstrong in the Leadville 100 bike race.
“So we we’re out in the middle of nowhere on this hill, and Lance [Armstrong] came by and he went up the hill, and my husband and son ran up the hill with him and talked with him,” Laurie said. “Jon came down and was like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome. He’s my age, and here I am cheering for him — I should be doing that.’ And I said, ‘I dare you.’ And the next year, he did the Leadville 100 bike [race].”
Years after the initial dare, Nassif ran the Leadville 100 in 27 hours.
On Wednesday, Nassif started his 50-kilometer journey at 7:30 a.m. and finished around 12:30 p.m., but timed his run around 4 1/2 hours due to bathroom breaks and periods to hydrate and eat. “Stop and chat” runs, a term he uses to describe the times where people strike up brief conversations while he is running, are typical for Nassif, who has been coming to Chautauqua since he was 4 years old.
Nassif said his ability to stop shouldn’t be taken advantage of — especially with the duration of his run.
“There’s a saying, ‘Beware the chair,’ when you’re running long distances, meaning beware of sitting down and taking long breaks because you’ll never get up again, so that’s another reason why to keep going,” he said.
The day after his 50-kilometer run, Nassif decided to do what he loves best: Run.
“It’s just so simple: it’s a pair of shoes, a pair of shorts, and a shirt is optional,” he said. “It’s got to be the most minimal sport.”