Two legs or one, an endurance runner's heart for the sport doesn't change.
Dave Mackey, the Boulder ultrarunner whose left leg was amputated last year after a fall on Bear Peak in 2015, is prepping for a 31-mile race — his first event and the farthest he'll have run since the accident and amputation.
"It just satisfies some part of me that I don't quite understand," Mackey said on a recent afternoon. "It gives me more energy to have something to look forward to like that."
Mackey, now 49, is familiar with the rugged route — the Bandera 50K in Texas, with the no-nonsense tagline, "No whiners, wimps, or wusses" — since he set a course record for double the distance in 2011.
"It'll be a completely different experience than when I ran it before, but I'm excited," he said. "There's a lot of really cool single-track trails down there. It's in the hill country in Texas, so it's a lot of rocky terrain. All these limestone cobbles and boulders laying around that you have to jump over and around and saw grass to cut your legs, or leg. I'm looking forward to all those things, just being beat up again."
Mackey injured his leg on May 23, 2015, when he fell off a ridge and was pinned by a 300-pound boulder on Bear Peak. Doctors saved his leg, but in the 16 months after the injury, Mackey endured constant pain, which led to his decision to sever ties with his limb.
Chris McWatters, the Bandera race director, said the endurance run always draws out amazing stories and incredible human performances that can make even a seasoned veteran endurance athlete awestruck.
But McWatters said everyone at Tejas Trails is extra excited and honored to see Mackey again after what he's been through.
"He's an incredible example to all of us as to how we are capable of so much more than we understand," McWatters said. "I hope his return to the trails and to Bandera, Texas, gives him a ton of joy, first and foremost. Secondarily to that, I hope this adventure for him encourages a lot of people to 'get back to it' if they've been through something crazy-hard in their personal lives."
At first after the surgery, it was difficult for Mackey to come to terms with what happened. Now, he said, answering people's questions has become easier and, as a physician's assistant, it has helped him better understand his patients with disabilities.
"It took a change in identity to lose a leg," Mackey said. "Unless I have shorts on, no one knows. It doesn't really matter. I get a lot of questions, especially from little kids. They'll come up to me and say, 'Oh cool, you've got a robot leg.' Or, 'What happened?' And I'll tell them."
Mackey said he also signed up for a 100K race — 62 miles — in February, but he's doubtful he'll be ready in time. He's taking recovery one step at a time, but nonetheless, feeling stronger with each passing day.
"It feels good to be as close to what I was before the accident," Mackey said.