Del Mar dentist conquers legendary Lead Challenge

DEL MAR — A marathon followed by a 50-mile run, 100-mile mountain bike race, 10k run and finished with a 100-mile run for a total distance of 284.2 miles at more than 10,000-feet elevation in the thin air of Colorado’s highest mountain range. 

The five-event Lead Challenge, part of the Leadville Race Series in Colorado, may sound heinous to most folks, but it was the activity of choice for Carmel Valley resident and local dentist Dr. Todd Pizzi over the summer.

Not only that, but Pizzi was one of 33 competitors out of 137 to complete all five events under the minimum cutoff time. 

Many patients at Del Mar Dental Studio may not know about Pizzi’s passion for endurance running. Over the last year, however, training to run and bike massive distances for the Lead Challenge has consumed much of his life.

Dr. Todd Pizzi during the marathon leg of the Lead Challenge with a view of the Rocky Mountains. Courtesy photo/Pizzi

“To train for an ultra run is not that difficult if you’re training just to finish,” Pizzi said. “I only ran once or twice a week, but I built time on my feet. Every week, runs would get a little longer, and biking took three times as long. It would take lots of time from my family. Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife.”

In 2016, Pizzi moved to the Del Mar area with his wife and three children for a change of scenery from the East Coast, setting up shop at Del Mar Dental Studio.

Pizzi works in cosmetic, restorative and implant dentistry alongside longtime local dentist Dr. Nolan Bellisario, who has been in private practice for nearly five decades.

Pizzi decided to complete the legendary Lead Challenge endurance event after years of slowly building a passion for other ultra-running events (any run greater than 26.2 miles). The dental practitioner ran a series of marathons and an Iron Man event in the early 2000s, paced a friend in a 100-mile run in Arizona in 2019, and continued doing ultra trail runs throughout the United States. 

Dr. Todd Pizzi approaches the finish of a 5-mile race, one of five grueling events comprising the Leadville Challenge in Colorado. Courtesy photo
Carmel Valley resident Dr. Todd Pizzi finishes a 50-mile race, one of five legs of the Lead Challenge. Courtesy photo/Pizzi

Pizzi signed up for the Leadville Race Series with two friends — all of whom were among the top 33 individuals to complete all five events in the challenge. 

The Lead Challenge required Pizzi to make three separate trips out to Leadville, Colo., between June and August to complete the various events. The final two events — 100-mile bike ride and 100-mile run — were held one week apart.

For Pizzi, the best part was completing the final 100-mile stretch, known as the “Race across the sky,” and being greeted at the finish line by his family. 

“I’m really thankful for my wife and family supporting me. They were there at the finish for the run, and that was great,” Pizzi said. 

A feat of this magnitude is even more meaningful for Pizzi, whose family was unsure if he would ever be able to walk normally as a child. Pizzi was born with bilateral clubfeet (also called “talipes”), leaving both of his feet twisted “upside down and backward,” with each set of his toes pointing toward the opposite foot. 

Del Mar dentist Dr. Todd Pizzi, left, and friend Neil Feldman, of Boylston, Mass., take a picture after completing a 100-mile run to conclude this summer's Leadville Challenge in Colorado. Courtesy photo/Pizzi
Del Mar dentist Dr. Todd Pizzi, right, and friend Neil Feldman, of Boylston, Mass., pose for a picture after completing a 100-mile run to conclude this year’s Lead Challenge in Colorado. Courtesy photo/Pizzi

Thanks to the care shown by doctors and his parents — particularly his mother, who he said drove him to the hospital each week for treatment for over a year — his feet were eventually restored to “very near normal.” 

Years later, in 2021, an injury to his Achilles also threatened his ultra-running career. However, he wasn’t ready to be done yet, and through extreme perseverance was able to push through and complete the Leadville Challenge this past summer. 

“I think that’s a big part of my psychological reasons behind doing these events, but it’s also about doing something hard and seeing if I can really do it,” Pizzi said. “I don’t know if anybody truly understands why they do these endurance events, but I’ve come to terms with my reason, and it’s that I can.”

Pizzi said he has no plans to run any more 100-mile races but has shorter races in his future. 


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