Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Leadville 100

Leadville was in the middle of August and I'm writing this in October trying to catch up with my race reports.  Lean Horse, Hallucination and Georgia Jewel (each of which both Liz and I ran) will get me caught up.  This Leadville report is largely a negative spewfest against Lifetime Fitness and what the Leadville race has become.  If you don't like negativity then this report ain't for you.  Fair warning given.

The positive in this race this year was Liz achieving her 10th consecutive Leadville finish.  She is only the third woman to do 10 and the only woman ever to do them consecutively.  And she did this despite the curve ball thrown at us by race management this year.  I ended up quitting just before getting to Hope Pass on the way back because there was no way that I was going to make it to Twin Lakes before the cutoff and I didn't see any point to all the extra running and climbing just to time out there, especially with Lean Horse coming up the next weekend.

To be brutally honest, I have never been a big fan of the Leadville 100 race.  It was my second 100 miler back in 2002 and my first big goal 100.  (I did Umstead that same spring largely to see how I would handle the distance.)  I've learned, since 2002, that the hype and atmosphere of this race are just not my style.  I'm much more of a low key kind of guy.  The understated Hardrock 100 is more to my liking.  This is the same reason I've never even applied to Western States or done one of the huge big city road marathons.  To each his own.  They're just not my cup of tea.

So I'm not a big fan of the Leadville race but that's just my preference.  Besides my personal preferences, what happened this year at Leadville rises to, if not surpasses, a breach of contract with race applicants.  I was really pissed just after the race and planned to try to get my entry fee refunded to me but in the end decided that it probably wouldn't happen and wasn't worth the grief to try.  But I'm still disgusted with race management.  So what did they do?

Keep in mind that this race has the tightest cutoffs and one of the lowest finishing rates of any other 100 miler in this country.  30 hours to finish this race with 14k feet of climbing at altitude is very very tough and an approximate average finishing rate of 40% attests to that.  To be in line with other races the cutoff should be at least 32 hours if not 33 or 34.  I'm not saying that they should add time to the final cutoff.  On the contrary, I think having a race with tight cutoffs is good as long as you know what the challenge is when you sign up.  If hundreds of people are willing to pay the money knowing that it is unlikely they will finish then no problem.

When I signed up for this year's race late in 2011 I knew what the challenge was.  I've completed the race twice and paced another 200 or so miles on the course in other years.  I knew that this year would be more difficult due to doing so many races prior to Leadville.  But I was willing to give it a go, thinking that while it would be hard it was doable.  Then 3 days before the start of the race, race management announces that there would be a course change.  And this was to be no small change....

The change was in the last few miles where, instead of running down from Hope Pass to the Winfield road and then up to Winfield, we would follow a new single track trail out to Winfield and back.  This change would add approximately 3 miles, 800 feet of climbing, and for back of the packers, close to two hours of running.  And all this announced just 3 days before the start of the race with arguably the toughest cutoffs of any 100 mile race out there!  Historically, close to half of the finishers of Leadville finish the race in the last two hours.  This was an ambush!  Not only was the course longer and with more climbing but it took away several miles of easy dirt road running and replaced it with newly constructed, twisty, narrow, up and down single track.  Instead of looking forward to a place to regroup on the Winfield road you now had to maintain focus and concentration the entire way out and back from Winfield.

Those who know me would attest that I'm no whiner but this move on race management's part was just wrong.  Morally, ethically, perhaps legally, wrong.  If you're going to make one of the toughest to finish races out there even tougher to finish, at least do it before you have the participant's money in your grubby hands.  It really makes me wonder if the people (person?) making the decision was looking at how many fewer buckles they would have to hand out.  Or maybe they were calculating the cost of cookies and coke for all those people coming back.  I dare anyone to challenge the idea that Leadville is now all about the $$$.  Lifetime fitness paid a lot of money for this race and they are milking this modern day gold mine.  The awards ceremony felt like a WWF arena with the high tech blaring PA system and two Masters of Ceremony rather than Race Directors handing out awards.  The two guys doing the ceremony looked to me like two guys doing a job and nothing more.  I detected zero emotional involvement in the event or the participants.

Lifetime Fitness is providing a product and if that's where you want to spend your money that's fine.  But I will never again write a check for any Leadville event.  I think that the Grand Slam should seriously think about allowing an alternative event for Leadville so people can take part in that challenge without having to put up with Lifetime Fitness.  I'm sure I'll have friends do the race and I'm sure I'll help some of them with it but I'll never compete there again.

Having said all of this I must mention that I do like what this has done for the town of Leadville.  Ken and Merilee as well as Lifetime Fitness donate to the Leadville Legacy Foundation but the amount is a pittance compared to the revenue generated by the races.  The town really does benefit though from all of the money spent there during all these sporting events.  That's a very good thing.  I like the town and it's people.

Okay, rant over.  It is what it is.  I'm sure Lifetime Fitness will start 800+ runners again next summer.  I just hope the runners are able to run the event they signed up for.

Race count:  Liz (22)  Scott (15)


  1. Congrats on continuing this year long series. Both of you are amazing! Wow!

    I'd heard grumblings about how Leadville is now being conducted and am frankly not surprised. I first ran the race back in '98 as part of the Grand Slam and wasn't impressed then either. Bottom line is that the event has ALWAYS been about making money and not the runners so much. The only difference I see today is who's making the most money out of it. That is indeed a shame but really nothing unexpected or new as far as I'm concerned.

    That being understood, for better or worse (till death do it apart! ;) ) Leadville IS one of the original FOUR hundred mile trail races in the U.S. it is part of The Grand Slam and shouldn't ever change in my opinion.

    That being said the course should be run as close to the original way it was run as possible. I too think it's ridiculous they made a major course change so close to race day. I can understand why they'd want to add trail to get runners off that busy, dusty road to Winfield (I hated that part!). However, I don't understand why they even allow crews at Winfield. It would be better if they could somehow keep the crew traffic limited to the trail head area; perhaps expand the property there to allow more parking? Don't know. Tough issue for sure.

    Part of the appeal to me about Leadville (not that I like the race at all, I don't!) is that they've stuck with the ridiculous course cutoff times all these years. They are very Spartathlon-like in that they force you to be aggressive enough early to stay well ahead. I actually applaud that as I feel a lot of course cutoffs are way too lax.

    Anyhow keep up the good work and stay healthy!

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Rob. Old Dominion is also one of the original races and it got dropped from the Slam and it is a race that exemplifies the spirit of the sport in its early days better than the others. Yet it was dropped because the RDs decided to take a one year sabbatical. Leadville is a travesty in my opinion and has lost the spirit and values of the early days. I say give people an alternate. After all they are already not really doing the original 4 races.

    I agree the road to Winfield was a dusty car filled mess but the new trail is just as dusty! The tread is mostly fine powder dust and with all the runners and pacers coming and going it is just as dusty as the road with cars. I agree that crew should not be allowed at Winfield but there just isn't room at the point where the trail comes onto the road for 600 crews and pacers. Maybe they could allow pacers to start at Twin Lakes at either 40 or 60 miles.

    This race has always been about generating money and that will never change. It has really taken a turn for the worse though with Lifetime Fitness at the helm. At least Ken is a runner. The folks at Lifetime probably spend more time running a treadmill than a trail.

    Thanks again and see you out on the trails!

  3. Really good summary of what went on. As a back of the packer I really felt screwed (missed the cutoff inbound at TL by 8 minutes). Good luck with the rest of your races.

  4. Chris, sorry about your dnf and thanks for the good wishes. Better luck with the next one.