Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Leadville, Colorado is a historical monument. In the mid 1800s, Leadville was a booming mining city known for its lead and zinc. People fled there looking to build their fortunes, and at one point the population rose to nearly 30,000. Today, Leadville attracts many tourists because of its frontier mentality, beauty, and historical district. Although the population has drastically dropped to 2,800, Leadville is a charming town that truly represents the spirit of Colorado.
One might ask what Leadville is well known for today? A popular event that puts the small town on the map for many people throughout the country is the Leadville Trail 100 mile race. This ultra running race which originated in 1982, is well known throughout the running community. The 100 mile race which must be completed in thirty hours or less, covers many trails and passes in Colorado. The main difficulty of the race is the challenge of the altitude. The climb and the decent of the trail totals 15,600 feet, with the lowest point being 9,200 feet and the highest point being 12,620 feet. Together, the altitude, incorporation of water crossings, changes in temperature, and steep inclines and descents, make the Leadville race one of the most difficult 100 mile races in the running world.
The $160.00 entry fee that is required to run in "The Race Across the Sky" is money well spent. Not only do individuals get to run in one of the most beautiful states in the country, but they get to experience the friendly atmosphere of Colorado. The locals from Leadville volunteer to work at the aid stations which line the course, and there is truly a spirit for running. It is not only a challenging and competitive race, but a guaranteed good time. Throughout the 30 hour race which begins at 4:00 A.M. and ends at 10:00 A.M. the following day, there are fans and volunteers to make the experience more enjoyable. There is definitely a "personal" feeling which the Leadville 100 brings to running.
The course is basically made up of a one hundred mile loop that can be broken up into ten different stages. Dana Roueche who is from Boulder, Colorado, has run the Leadville Trail 100 three times. In an effort to increase the percentage of finishers, he posted a journal which discusses the strategies he follows in completing the race. I felt that his postings were very beneficial in learning about the different stages. The first stage of the race is from the start to May Queen, and it is fifteen miles long. This portion of the race is a single track trail, and it is one of the most gentle stretches in the race. Since it is the first segment of the race it is important not to go out too fast, but it is a good place to get ahead. The second segment is from May Queen to the Fish Hatchery, and it is 10 miles long. This is the first time in the race that there is a stream. Depending on the run off from snow, it can usually be waded through fairly easily. After the stream the race connects to the Colorado Trail, and there is a lot of walking in this segment due to the steep incline of the Sugarloaf pass. The third stage is a short seven miles, from the Fish Hatchery to Halfmoon. This is a good part of the race because it is run on wide dirt roads, and it is the most social part of the run. This can be used either as a point of relaxation or as a chance to try and get ahead. The next segment is from Halfmoon to Twin Lakes and it is 9 miles long. It consists of three major climbs and the rest is down hill. The first climb is very difficult and it is steep for about ¾ of a mile. The next two are more or less hills, and after they are completed it is a 3.5 mile run downhill to Twin Lakes, and a good place to pick up some speed. The last segment on the way out in the race is from Twin Lakes to Winfield, and it is 10.5 miles long. This is the most important part of the race because it contains the signature of the Leadville Trail 100, Hope Pass. Prior to hitting the climb there are a few streams and they have to be waded through usually. After crossing these it is straight up and pure hell for 3,400 feet. It really is most realistic to walk steadily up this portion of the race. If a person tries to run up the pass then their legs will probably be useless for the remainder of the race. Once over the top it is just the descent down and a nice small uphill jog into Winfield. The sixth stage of the race is 10.5 miles long from Winfield to Twin Lakes, and Hope Pass must be climbed once again. This time it is easier because the back side is a little less steep and it is on the way back to the finish. After climbing up the pass it is merely a run back down and a great way to pick up any lost time on the way up. The seventh segment is from Twin Lakes to Halfmoon and it is 9 miles long. At this point those people who have made it this fair usually finish the race. Last year the highest number of finishers was recorded at 49%, or 157 out of 320. This section is difficult with three pretty good climbs. Some of this portion is actually done by many runners at a hiking pace. The eighth stage is from Halfmoon back to the Fish Hatchery, and it is 7 miles long. It is the easiest section of the course being mostly down hill on a gravel road. This is a good place to either relax and have fun, or catch up on time for the more competitively spirited. The second to last segment is from the Fish Hatchery to May Queen, and it is 10 miles long. This is the last climb of the run back over Sugarloaf pass. It is difficult not only because it is steep and toward the end of the race, but because it is dark with the exception of flashlights. It can be easily handled with a shuffling pace and a good attitude. The last stage is from May Queen to the Finish, and it is 13.5 miles long. It is a trail run and it is fairly easy. Along the way there are people cheering for the runners and it is a segment that should be savored, for it is the last of a very difficult journey.
A question that I continually ask myself is what makes people want to run 100 mile races? It baffles me that people want to put their bodies through physical and emotional pain for thirty hours. In the case of the Leadville 100 you not only risk injuring your bones and muscles, but you challenge your cardiovascular system to its fullest. According to John Medinger who has run numerous 100- milers, the training for the races is the most challenging aspect. He believes that running 100 miles is, "the process of discipline, intimate running buddies, trail conversations, running in the wilderness, running new trails, and the escape from civilization." The Leadville Trail 100 mile run seems to have a flavor about it that keeps everyone coming back for more. John Demorest who has run the "Race Across the Sky" numerous times wrote an article in Ultrarunning magazine discussing how 100- mile races "bring out the best in human nature". Demorest said, "Where would you find people like all the volunteers of Leadville giving up their time to set up aid stations, sit through rain, thunderstorms, and cold for two days without sleep?" I personally believe that this quote embodies why people take part in 100-milers and put their bodies through pain. It is all about building the human spirit and enjoying a form of "brotherhood" that can be achieved in no other possible way.
One Leadville race that stands out in my mind that a not so positive "brotherhood" occurred is the August 20, 1994 race. In this race there was a definite clash between the power of the sexes. It turned out to be a head to head race between Ann Trason and Juan Herrera. Trason is one of the most decorated female ultrarunners. She has one numerous ultra races and has been known to frequently outrun her male competitors. On this day in August however, the Tarahumara Indians and Juan Herrera did not want to embarrass their culture by losing to a woman. The Tarahumara Indians were able to run in the race because of a grant that was given by the Rockport Company. Ironically enough, the seven Indians all placed in the top eleven of the race and they weren't sporting Rockport shoes. Instead, they ran the entire race with their sandals made of old tire tread.
At the beginning of the race it looked like Juan Herrera was going to take a demanding lead over the entire race. Little did he know that Ann Trason was such a powerful runner. She ended up passing Herrera midway through the beginning of the race, and it looked as though she was impossible to catch. For eighty-five miles Trason led the way, and at seventy-eight miles she left the Outward Bound aid station with an 18 minute lead over Herrera. This seemed to be the point in the race that the victory was clinched, however Herrera began to burn rubber, literally. On the way up Sugar Loaf pass Herrera seemed to experience some sort of "runners high", and on his way down the pass he continued to make up time. After passing Trason he arrived at the final checkpoint at May Queen with a 6 minute lead over Trason, and his pace never slowed down.
Juan Herrera finished the race in a record time of 17:30:42, and Ann Trason beat her own women's course record with a time of 18:06:24. Although I did not read any articles about a bitter defeat, I felt that Ann Trason showed a lot of poor class in her loss in the CBS special that covered the race. Not only did she seem overly competitive, but her sportsman conduct was very poor. At an aid station she made a snide remark to Herrera about running against women that was unnecessary as well as unfair considering that he didn't understand English and couldn't retaliate. I thought that it was a great run on behalf of all the runners (especially Herrera and Trason), and the negative spirit which she portrayed seemed to lose focus of her reason for running and the idea behind "bringing out the best in human nature".
I must admit that before I wrote this paper I thought that 100-mile races were merely a crazy event that people ran in just so they could say they did it. I also must admit that I was ashamed of myself as a native of Colorado because I had never heard of the Leadville Trail 100. Luckily through the use of the Internet and Ultrarunning magazine, I have been able to build an admiration for athletes who participate in 100-milers. It truly is an effective way to learn about yourself and what you are capable of mentally and physically. It is also a great way to interact with people who share the same goals and desires, and to feel the spirit of running. Carlyle Charming Davis once said, "There is but one Leadville, never will there be another." I now believe that when he said this in 1916, that he was looking into the future and speaking of the "Race Across the Sky". No other 100 mile race will ever exceed the beauty and challenge that the Leadville 100-miler brings to running. References 1. Internet Sites 2. Ultramarathon World 3. Ultrarunning Magazine 4. Leadville Home Page