It’s been two years since the tragic death of my friend and running buddy Lucas Horan, and while time has healed some wounds, on certain days the grief and sadness still runs deep. The truth is, while Lucas and I were certainly close and shared many miles together on trails all over California, it’s not like we were lifelong friends or anything. The hole in my heart from his passing doesn’t necessarily make logical sense, to someone with an analytical, scientific brain like myself. Perhaps it’s because his death was the first real close tragedy of my adult life. Perhaps it’s because he had a way of really connecting with people – truly, deeply connecting with many folks all at once. Perhaps it’s because during every moment we spent together, life seemed vibrant and alive – a technicolor version of itself – even if I realized that I couldn’t always experience things through those illuminating lenses like he did. I don’t have a reason for why I still think about him every day, but I don’t feel the need to keep on searching either. I just do.
I wrote a memoir in January of 2021, literally hours after I learned about his death as part of my initial journey through grief and shock. I haven’t re-read it recently, so please excuse me if I repeat things here that I may have also said then. Treat this writing less as a second draft or a revision, and more as a snapshot of my current emotions and feelings at a different point in time. Surely some sentiments will be congruent and overlap, while the passage of time may have allowed others to boil up to the surface.
Part of the reason that I think about him nearly every day is that I still have quite a few of his possessions and belongings. My wife helped with the clean out of items on his boat in the Emeryville marina after he died, and was tasked with sorting his non-valuable or sentimental things to donate or give away. He had an impressive collection of nice looking clothes from Banana Republic – he was a fan of looking sharp when he wanted or had to, possibly just to keep people on their toes enough to know that they had to respect him a bit. He was equally as comfortable in Italian leather loafers as he was with his big toes sticking out of Lone Peaks clearly at the end of their road. He also had a smattering of running leftovers and alpine gear that he had collected over the years of playing and scampering through the mountains. A large amount of race shirts, hats, microspikes, vests, headlights, and shorts all coexisted with him on his tiny vessel in the San Francisco Bay.
The nice dress clothes were donated to a very good cause. The mountain gear was divided up among the East Bay Quadbangers, the rag-tag running group that Lucas helped start on Strava late one night. We took donations as people saw fit, adding it all to the kitty for the TOR Scholarship Fund, making sure that the final destination of items made spiritual and logistical sense. Oli got his microspikes – fitting for the teenager that would overtake myself and Lucas for the crown on Side-O, the gnarliest and most technical fast downhill Strava segment in Claremont Canyon. Joe got his Ouray trucker hat, both fashionable and chock-full of stories to tell. I ended up with a few pairs of his shorts, some t-shirts, and a nice well-loved pair of Arcteryx ski pants, to name a few. Maureen got his 25L Ultimate Direction fast pack, an older design that isn’t currently made anymore.
I wear these items for the simple reason that they both remind me of Lucas and they make me feel close to him. I ran UTMB in his ratty blue Patagonia running shorts, holes in the legs from hundreds of safety pinned numbers over the years. I have resisted throwing away a tattered Icebreaker wool t-shirt, because it’s just that warm, that comfy, and well, it’s his. The ski pants have kept me warm as I am learning to ski the big mountains in the North-facing, powder filled bowl known as Flaine. I feel more confident, more safe, and more loved on the daily knowing that there’s a little piece of him with me on all of these excursions.
Shortly after his death, his family and friends came up with the idea of putting up a memorial plaque for him somewhere on the Tor des Géants course, high up among the cols of the Aosta Valley. Maureen had the plaque with her when she ran her first TOR in 2021, but somewhere among the madness of attempting her first multiday race we didn’t get a chance to install the memorial. I had it in the crew van during her second running of TOR in 2022, planning on venturing up to Malatrà on the last day both to meet Maureen and find a spot for the remembrance. Mother Nature had different ideas, however, and a freak September snowstorm both shut down the race as well as my ambitions.
In mid October we had a perfect confluence of positive factors – a weather window that left the sun shining and skies clear on a day with the kids in school and nothing else on our calendar. Maureen and I headed through the tunnel to Courmayeur, not knowing where we were quite going, but knew that we would start by going up. After coffee and marmellata we climbed up over the rugged and steep Col Sapin, dropping into the Tza de Secheron high above Courmayeur. This spot was conveniently the intersection of both the PTL and TOR course from 2022 – I could see, now in daylight, the monumental Colle Battaglione Aosta that Sam and I soldiered up and over on our last night on course during PTL. We continued up to the Col Entre Deux Sauts before stopping for a break, soaking in the view of 3000 meter Malatrà, healthily covered in snow already on one side, and the Monet Bianco massif directly behind us.
Our mission was simple; find a spot with a nice view for our beloved friend. We wanted him to be able to gaze out at those beautiful mountains for the rest of eternity, close enough to the trail that he would always be seeing adventurers running, hiking, or skiing past him. After a bit of backtracking up and down, we found a locale that fit the bill splendidly. We emptied out a small container of his ashes directly onto the singletrack and asked the surrounding mountains for acceptance and sanctuary. At that very moment two ravens caught a thermal out of the valley, squawked, circled over head, and flew up to the heavens. It was easy to imagine that at the very moment, Lucas had found peace.
There is a small group of loving friends and family members that organizes the Tor de Lucas scholarship every year to keep his memory forever living in the mountains of Aosta. Lucas loved taking big risks and reaching for scary audacious goals, and we all know that he would love the idea of other runners doing the same thing. If you are interested in learning more about or applying for the Tor de Lucas scholarship to run the Tor des Géants race, head on over to the website. And stop right now with the thinking that you’re not strong enough, fast enough, cool enough, or experienced enough – Lucas didn’t care about any of that. Instead ask yourself – do you fancy spending a whole week in some of the most magical mountains on the planet, meeting some of the best people from around the world, while eating more pasta than you can handle and howling like a wolf at the rising moon? If the answer is yes, you’re more than qualified in Lucas’s book.
Continue Running in Peace my friend – we’ll see you in September.