Sean Mullett approaches the Twin Lakes aid station Saturday evening during a leg of the Leadville 100. Mullett had just finished the famed Hope Pass climb where he ascended 3,200 feet - twice.
Just before 5 a.m. Sunday morning while it was still dark and temperatures were dipping into the low 30s in Leadville, Colorado, Sean Mullett was running up a section of road called The Boulevard in what would be the last three miles of the famed 100 mile Race Across the Sky trail run that took him through 100 miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain - from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet.
Mullett, 47, and the plant manager at Huber, started the race at 4 a.m. Saturday morning and completed the ultramarathon in 24 hours and 55 minutes - five minutes under the 25 hour cut-off for the race's special "Big Buckle" prize and three hours earlier than his estimated completion time. Mullett was the 74th person to complete the race that day. Six hundred forty-seven people started the race while only 312 finished. The race winner, professional ultra runner Ian Sharman, completed it in 16 hours and 33 minutes (50 minutes off the course record) while the last man to cross the finish line did so in just under 30 hours. Only nine people (two of those were women) completed the race in under 20 hours.
When Mullett crossed the finish line, accompanied by his runner wife Kristen - who ran the last 40 miles with him - he had climbed more than 18,000 feet in less than 25 hours.
"What a crazy idea to run 100 miles," Mullet said when he finished. "What a show."
Mullett said he was "relieved" when he crossed the finish line, after pushing hard to break the 25 hour mark that garnered him the "Big Buckle."
At the last aid station before the finish and with a grueling 13 miles to go, Mullett said he knew he was cutting it close with getting the Big Buckle.
"I was doing the math in my head and I knew I needed a 15 minute mile over those last miles and when we came to sections where we didn't hit that, it kept rolling up the pace we needed to get in under 25 hours," he said. "I kept thinking we would get in at 25:04 and that would have been devastating."
In a field of 647 runners who started the race representing 47 states and 26 countries, Mullett was one of just 47 percent, or 312 runners, who completed the race.
The race is an out and back course in the midst of the Colorado Rockies. Mullett said the hardest part of the race - famous for its toughness not only due to the momentous climbs but also for the toll the altitude takes on runners- was climbing the back side of 12,600 feet high Hope Pass.
"I was in a whole bad place at that point," he said. "It was super steep and on some parts I was in a deep, dark hole. "
Mullett said he had a "perfect day" on the course and that allowed him to get in with such a great time. His training runs from Amicalola Falls to Nimblewill Gap, he said, prepared him well.
What prompts Mullett to run ultramarathon distances? Pushing yourself, he said, to bypass so many obstacles.
"The fact that these races are so different. The chance of failure is real. Instead of 'How fast can I run this' its first of all, 'Am I even going to make it?' You have to train yourself to go so many hours and bypass so many obstacles."
Leadville marked Mulletts fourth 100-mile endurance race in three years.
So what's next for this ultra-athlete? The Ultra trail du Mont-Blanc. The mountain race in France boasts numerous high altitude climbs in difficult weather conditions and allows no crew assistance or pacers. If he makes the lottery for the Western States trail race, however, Mullett said he will opt for that race instead.
"Western States was my first 100 three years ago. That one is hard to get into because they limit the number to 350 racers and they have around 2,200 applicants for those spots," he said.