In a never before attempted feat, outdoor enthusiast Jesus Leon took it upon himself to traverse the 78.6 mile distance from the Santa Monica beach to the summit of Mount Baldy and back down.
In this daring sea to summit journey Leon was on his feet for over 21 hours, braved 35 mph winds, and descended the steep mountainside in the dark — all without any assistance.
Leon is a remarkable man in many ways. He beat cancer in his early twenties and then discovered a love for fitness and the outdoors.
When people meet him they often mistake him for a coach or a motivational speaker, as he is always cheering others on or heading a pack of hikers.
“I guess I give off the vibe of being a leader, but I’m actually just a simple cook,” said Leon, who works at UCLA.
This campus is where he first discovered his passion for running. With a goal of improving his fitness, Leon set off for a simple 30 minute jog after work one day only to find himself continuing for two and a half hours.
“I remember I felt so energized and alive,” said Leon. “Actually, the only reason I stopped running was because I had to use the restroom.”
Soon Leon was running marathons, hiking every weekend, and looking for any opportunity to push his limits. The Santa Monica beach to Mount Baldy expedition provided a new type of challenge, requiring both an ultra marathon run and a 10,000ft elevation hike.
“My inspiration wasn’t just to be the first one, but it was to test myself to the extreme,” said Leon. “When you are feeling down, the best way to make yourself feel better and to get out of that mindset is to make yourself feel accomplished.”
After spending a day carb-loading and mapping out his route, Leon began his run at 12:00 a.m. on April 12. In order to protect his strength and stamina, he carefully paced himself to a 9:30 to 10:30 minute mile.
After running 65 miles, or approximately 2.5 marathons, he ditched his road running shoes for a pair of hiking boots and poles.
The trail up the mountain was grueling. Leon remembers struggling with every step. His pace slowed to a 35 minute mile as he was battered by heavy winds and endured 40 degree temperatures.
Finally and triumphantly, Leon reached the peak at 7:21 p.m. But his journey wasn’t over yet. He still had to make it down the mountain and the sun was already dipping below the horizon.
“I had to go back down with no headlamp, just a glow in the dark headband and a phone,” said Leon. “Going down the Devil’s Backbone trail at night with super high winds and exhausted legs, I was scared. If I made one wrong step I could probably slip and fall down to my death.”
Spurred by the thought of his friend waiting at the bottom, Leon kept going. Just three miles out from his 78.6 mile finish line he rolled his ankle, but knowing his friend had been waiting for a while he decided to push through the pain and run the last few miles.
“The key that inspired me to keep pushing is that if I know my body is capable of doing something, why stop there? Why not go further?” said Leon. “I want to be proud of doing something incredible, something insane.”
Leon was certainly proud of what he accomplished that day, but he is not done pushing himself. Next, he wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon by running 26.2 miles in less than three hours. Oh, and he also wants to run a trail of over 100 miles.