I had been seriously contemplating running the Leadville 100 next year –- I mean, I’d have one of the best coaches by way of my (new) husband—and heck, it’s practically in our backyard.
I no longer plan to run the Leadville 100 next year.
We had headed up to Leadville this year because I’d been asked to pace a friend up and over the Hope Pass leg at mile 50. I was giddy to finally be part of this legendary race, one of the first trail ultra’s, one that Andrew placed second at back in 2008 — with no training and only one pacer. I was also hopeful for my friend Laurie who had been busting her bum, training for nearly a year. I was ready to participate in the good vibes and aesthetics of why we take to trails and happily torture ourselves on technical terrain rather than pounding the pavement in some sea-level city.
I mean, wasn’t this what it was all about? Leaving the stresses of urban entrapment behind, heading to the mountains to run, getting back to our roots and maybe doing a little yodeling if so inclined?
My vision, unabashedly objective given my newbie status in the ultra-running scene, was quickly crushed when we arrived at Twin Lakes that Saturday. We weren’t at Fish Hatchery earlier that morning, but we were told that it had been even uglier.
Later, at Winfield, we were offered a first-hand glimpse at the over population of a race (literally and figuratively). At one point Andrew looked at me earnestly and said, “I really don’t want you to run this.”
From the throngs of people, cars, and racers, to the gross disorganization and ubiquitous stench of port-a-johns,this felt more like a dirty, overcrowded music festival than a prestigious trail race — the epic scenery of the Sawatch eclipsed by traffic jams, cranky volunteers, and a constant plume of dust from too many tires on the dirt roads.
Organized by Lifetime Fitness, 900+ runners toed the line at 4 am for the start of this years race; that, IMHO, is just one of the reasons why it sucked. Greed is never a pretty thing to witness. For the record: I understand that this race has brought needed revenue to the town of Leadville; however, surely there has to be a happy medium rather than blatant avarice. Out of respect for the sport, the runners, and those supporting their runners, it should be the task of Lifetime Fitness to do better by this thirty-one year old race.
The race, sadly, seemed to no longer even be about the runners.
1. Too many cooks in the kitchen
The aid stations were a circus both for pacers, crew, and racers. At one point, while trying to fill our runners water bladder at Twin Lakes, we were told by one volunteer (or, barked at) not to use the spigot outside, but to go inside, and once inside we were yelled at to get outside, at which point the two volunteers began bickering with each other. Getting your runners drop bags to the right places was a disaster and then finding drop bags was even messier for the runners.
2. Running out of supplies
Also at Twin Lakes, we were approached by medical staff asking for any extra band-aids we could spare, as they’d run out. At Winfield we were asked for water, because—again—they’d run out. Seriously? I know Colorado is landlocked, but who runs out of water at a 100 miler? For a $340 registration fee, water and band-aids should be copious.
3. Winfield. Period.
We spent hours inching down the 13 mile washboard road to Winfield, along with hundreds of other cars. Many of us pacers donned our clothes in cars and hopped out to start walking the road, fearing we’d not be there when our runners came through. Eventually my driver was able to pick me up again. Arriving at Winfield, we witnessed runners dodging vehicles while inhaling the thick road dust, confused traffic controllers, and a small grassy area for maybe 100 cars to park. Add one poorly marked entrance to the weight station for the runners, cars at a standstill, and a fist fight which nearly broke out between two spectators, and I was ready to head back to Boulder. A feeling of mob mentality hovered; I felt uneasy. Finally, after the 6:02 pm cut off, many of us were told conflicting information as to where the remaining runners would be taken after trail sweeping.
4. Too many racers
When Laurie came down, her IT band shot, and explained that part of the reason she was behind was for how often she was hopping off the trail and side stepping as the mass of uphill runners approached—i.e. not enough room on the trail for all the runners—I went from disappointed to angry. Her experience and success had been impacted too many runners on the trails.
I wondered if the race had always been this way? Had I just missed the memo that this was all part of the process?
The most recent race I had for comparison was The North Face Endurance Challenge series, of which Andrew and I ran the trail marathon back in December. The race was calm, cool, and organized. Aid stations were fully stocked with goodies, parking and shuttles were no problem. Granted, this was not a 100 miler, so crews and pacers for the 50 mile run were much smaller in numbers, but those things considered, I think Lifetime Fitness can do better.
Last time I checked, runners had enough to worry about e.g., dehydration, lightening, stomach issues, bonking, and ravaged feet — I didn’t realize they now had to add to the list: dodging cars, unequipped aid stations, too many fellow runners on the trails, and utter chaos for those crewing.
I left a bit deflated. I wanted to be bitten by the Leadville bug, but I think this introvert will seek out a race that far fewer have heard of.