This past weekend I attended the 2014 Edition of the Leadville Trail 100 in Leadville, CO. A lot has been said in the year since 2013's edition occurred and I have been one of the more vocal folks in the ultra community willing to express my displeasure. Let there be no mistake, there are a number of individuals who have expressed their displeasure. Articles have been written in major publications about "Saving Leadville" and asking the question "Can Leadville Be Saved." If you had asked Ken Chlouber (Uncle Ken) the question, "Can it be saved" he would give you a typical Ken answer, that is a round about way of saying yes. So, all eyes were on Leadville this year to see how they answered the overwhelming majority of runners who protested to last years offering. In 2014, Leadville delivered...
One of the major gripes about 2013 was the number of runners they allowed to register (over 1200) and the number of runners who actually started the event (over 943). The reason this caught a lot of fire was because their permit only allows them a maximum of 850 participants. This year, Lifetime closed registration just past 700 runners. The remaining 150 slots were reserved for comp entries (for various reasons), contest winners, raffles, or those who purchased the $2000 Duncan Callahan training program. 690 Runners showed up in Leadville this weekend to pick-up their goody bags and check in. I'm not sure how many of that 690 actually started, let's say 680 for arguments sake, and 358 finished. This is drastically different than the 943 who started in 2013 and the 497 who finished.
The first stark contrast between this year and last, was that the course was not at all crowded with runners. Instead of a consistent conga line of runners traversing the course from start to finish, it was very easy to find many runners having the opportunity to run alone during this years Leadville 100, and the ability to do so for pretty long stretches at a time. Many will tell you that this is what ultra is supposed to be like. Course Overcrowding = Not an issue.
Because there were drastically fewer runners in this year's event, the number of pacers on the course was lower. Also, I picked up one, ONE, piece of litter on my 26 miles of running on the course. Runners and crews were incredibly respectful and resourceful when it came to trash. Damage to Resource = Decreased greatly. Littering on the course = Non-Existent.
This also meant that there were fewer crews on the roads and at the aid stations. In fact, because there were fewer crews.. crewing was actually pretty damn enjoyable. Crews weren't fighting for parking spaces, crews weren't fighting for spots in the aid stations to tend to their runners, nor were they crawling all over each other to get their jobs done. In fact many of the aid stations were relaxed with plenty of breathing room. Crews got along well, played catch and frisbee, struck up great conversations and even the local Twin Lakes businesses weren't as overwhelmed as in years past. Number of Crews and Vehicles on the Course = Decreased greatly.
Fish Hatchery, now known as Outward Bound, saw a drastic change in the way cars entered and left the aid station parking area. We owe thanks to the Outward Bound crew for their determination and willingness to assist Leadville with its success. Crews were able to enter and leave the aid station without even affecting the runners. However, because of this change we saw the ONE complaint of this years race. In leaving Outward Bound, runners ran across the open range in this area for about a mile and a half (guessing). During the daylight hours, it was easy for the runners to see the few hundred cattle holes left in the field by grazing cattle. This created quite a safety concern, but mostly at night when runners returned and their vision and running abilities were greatly diminished. Many I spoke to said they didn't mind running out on it in the day, but at night they preferred to just stay on the road and avoid it all together. In 2015, if Lifetime keeps this section, we can only hope they either fill in the holes or keep runners out on the road. Fish Hatchery/Outward Bound Issues = Non-existent. Minimal course issues instead, where ultimately runners could try and find more grit.
Typically crews are allowed to park in the field at Winfield. Not this year. A very small number of cars were allowed to proceed into and park at Winfield. Lifetime instituted a cut-off time where vehicles were stopped from entering Winfield and were instead forced to park on the access road. All vehicles were then required to park on the right side of the access road as far over as they could get, ensuring to leave a space between themselves and the cars in front of them for egress later. Then, crews were required to walk up to 3 miles into the aid station from where they parked. Crews and pacers were also encouraged to carpool over to winfield, which a number of those folks took the opportunity to do so. In the end, Winfield was much better organized this year and it was a rather enjoyable and manageable place to hang out. However, many of us still believe that having cars park on that road is still not the best and most viable option. We do hope Leadville will work to bus people in and out in the future as is done by the Trans-Rockies Run. Winfield = Drastically Improved but not perfect.
Race volunteers were amazingly incredible. A majority of them were incredibly knowledgable about the sport, what was going on and what to do. No aid station ran out of food. No aid station closed early. All runners were accounted for. Volunteers were not simply standing behind the tables, they walked out to actually wait on runners as needed. Simply mind-blowing it was and the volunteers and race staff should be commended. Volunteers & Race Staff = Home Run.
I even went in to a few businesses this weekend in Twin Lakes and Leadville. I think the Inn in Twin Lakes was still overwhelmed and their backyard BBQ worked great last year. They didn't have it this year and instead, their restaurant and staff was overwhelmed. This is not an issue with the race and ultimately, "you've gotta make hay when the sun is shining." Leadville businesses were well staffed and all remained open. Runners and their crews seemed respectful. Everyone was smiling and I felt that this was also a big change from 2013.
Everything I have discussed above.. comes down to one thing. It is my hope, and the hope of others, that Lifetime recognizes that their issues of 2013 came down to one thing: TOO MANY RUNNERS. If they can continue to keep the number of runners at the race to a reasonable number (seems like it's 700 or less) they will continue to host an incredibly successful event. Get greedy and want to stuff as many runners as they can on the course.. and all of the issues of 2013 will rise again. Course overcrowding, damage to the resource, running out of food, unable to track all the runners, traffic, crews crawling over each other, etc... But again, if they manage it with reasonable numbers.. they will have what they had this year. What they had this year.. was a return to the Leadville of old. The Leadville 100 of 2010, 2011 and earlier. An enjoyable experience worthy of this amazing ultra community.
The entire ultra community should recognize the hard work of Race Director Josh Colley and his staff and volunteers. I think we also owe a HUGE thank you to Mr. Ken Chlouber. It was evident that Ken was a lot more hands on with this years event, and redirected race staff towards the event he created before its sale to Lifetime Fitness. We should also recognize that Ken isn't always going to be around to "Save Leadville," and Lifetime should do well to create an Operations Manual that accurately documents the vision of Ken and Merilee that they started decades ago. If they do this, Leadville will continue to be one of the premier races in Ultra, one of the most celebrated, and not an event marred with questions and controversy that begs the asking of hardnosed questions.
Ultimately, thank you Josh, Ken, Merilee and Lifetime Fitness for righting the wrong of 2013. Leadville 2014 was amazing. Your hard work should be celebrated. You did the incredible and saved Leadville. Personally, you've won me over again, and if the event stays as it was this past weekend, I'll be running it again and celebrating this community with the countless others who arrive in Leadville every summer.