It is 5:30 a.m., and already Brandi Hammon is working out. Like a machine, she puts in 100 pull-ups, 150 push-ups, 200 sit-ups and 250 squats. To show for it, she has rock-solid abs — and two giant blisters. She competes in XTERRAs, triathlons, mountain bike races, challenging trail courses, and to confuse her body between runs, she picks up the intimidating work out of CrossFit twice a week.
Forty five minutes earlier, her husband, Les Vierra, started his morning work out. Running in the cold, well before dawn hit the snow-covered mountains, Vierra is training — ever training.
"There is no cheating being fit. You get out what you put in, and that's that," Hammon said. "I believe anyone can do anything. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter what I believe; it's what they believe."
Hammon balances a full-time career, three children and her competitive husband, who in July 2010 told her, "I'm running a 100-mile race in October."
Her response was full of support. "So this is why I married him," was her thought at the time.
Hammon and Vierra are in an elite category of athletes, who just so happen to be married to each other. Together, they offer support to one another, but neither ever utters the word "quit."
Vierra's strong-willed training plan for the Javelina Jundred competition in Scottsdale, Ariz., kicked in soon after he made his decision to compete in the race. Hammon was there, every step of the way, knowing and understanding that endurance runs like this require mental and physical preparation.
Only 5 percent of runners ever participate in an ultramarathon, according to the 2010 State of the Sport Report issued by the non-profit Running USA organization, which featured the results of 11,000 runners. Hammon knew her husband would be pushing his mind and body to new levels, and opening a window to his soul. Training for a 100-mile race includes putting in marathon-length runs each week, with weekly mileage totals averaging 80-90 miles.
In less than three months, Vierra was ready to take on the 100-mile race.
On October 23, 2010, Hammon and Vierra ate a hearty breakfast with friends and fellow runners from Switzerland, and shared a bit of laughter and a healthy dose of anticipation. Since 2003, the Javelina Jundred has included 1,016 runners. Because the staggering course has a 30-hour cut-off time, only 52 percent of those runners have finished the ultramarathon .
The top runner, Dave James, completed the race with his record time of 14:20:54 in 2009. Vierra set a less-ambitious goal of finishing — with legs still moving. By mid-day, Vierra completed 30 miles, and, with a smile, kept running.
"You don't encourage people drawn to push themselves," Hammon said of her husband. "It is amazing. The ego they possess is so much more than what anyone can convey onto them, at least in a long-enduring event."
Hammon admits she does not act as cheerleader. "Maybe on some short intense things, it works. But on an event like the 100-mile run, you just ask if you can help."
During the race, as the evening hours approached, Vierra hit 46 miles, then 50 and then 53, the sum of two marathons run back-to-back. By mile 70, his body began to give out, and at mile 75, with his fatigued muscles and taxed mind, thought he had had enough.
Vierra thought his goal would have to wait another year. Hammon strapped on her running shoes, and in the dark of the night, finished the last miles of Vierra's run with him.
Seventy-seven miles, nearly equal to three marathons.
"I never said quit or you should quit. You never, ever project that onto someone. Often, failure is this crazy battle with your mind and body," Hammon said after her husband’s race.
Not many would consider a 76-mile run a failure.
With a new year come unmarked goals. On March 1st Hammon was notified that she will contend in the Leadville 100, a gritty, 100-mile mountain-bike course, later this year. But Vierra will be back for unfinished business: To complete what he continues training his body and mind for. And this time, he said he expects to cross the finish line, with 100 miles behind him.
"To all who do it, just to see if they can, you have my respect," Hammon said.
She knows that often it is the journey, and not the win, that builds the character of the man or woman who wake up each day wanting to try again.