The growing pains of Colorado's legendary "Race Across the Sky"
Photo by Scott Laudick
The sun hadn’t yet risen, but it was getting close. Ribbons of deep purple and red streaked over the horizon, reflecting in the placid surface of the appropriately named Turquoise Lake. My footfalls were a metronome on the dirt—right, left, right, left—swirling up dust in the unsteady beam of my headlamp. As I ran, I watched the long, quiet trail of headlamps ahead and behind me, circling the lake like a necklace of pearls.
Then, abruptly, a voice spoke into my ear: “This is ridiculous!”
At first, I thought with joy, indeed, this is ridiculously amazing!
But then I felt a sharp jab to my side—an elbow, belonging to the runner behind me—as he pushed his way around me and barreled through the shuffling conga line of racers ahead.
“Can’t even run,” he muttered as he went by. “It better not be like this for 100 miles.” Several other runners followed suit, pushing past each other, trampling brush, rolling ankles along the root-and-rock-scattered edges of the trail. The friendly banter of the first few miles gave way to tension and thrown elbows.
Scott Jurek once wrote, “The ultra distance leaves you alone with your thoughts to an excruciating extent. Whatever song you have in your head had better be a good one.”
At 5:30 a.m. on a crisp Saturday morning in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains, eight miles into the Leadville Trail 100, I worried that my song was starting off on the wrong note.
With its 31-year history hosting one of the country’s most prestigious 100-milers, the town of Leadville has become synonymous with ultrarunning. The highest incorporated American city, at 10,200 feet, it is home to 2,600 residents. Each August, its eponymous footrace travels from downtown Leadville to the 50-mile turnaround at the ghost town of Winfield, and back again.
Years earlier, after running my first trail 50K with a friend in Seattle, we’d proclaimed, “Next up—Leadville or bust!” and collapsed into giddy laughter at the improbability of it all. After all, we were nothing but starry-eyed novice trail runners, testing out the sound of wild ambitions.
The Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) was our point of reference—the ultimate challenge, the Boston Marathon of the trails. The town of Leadville was our Mecca. Someday, we imagined, we’d make the pilgrimage.