Saving Leadville - Page 3
The sun had come up, and I was nearing the second major aid station, Outward Bound (previously known as Fish Hatchery) at mile 24. My support crew consisted of my dad, Steve Winn, who’d flown to Colorado for the weekend, and my boyfriend, coincidentally also named Steve, who planned to pace me for the last 40 miles. Though I’d run a handful of ultras over the years, my dad had never seen me race. I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to share the trail-running scene with him.
Racer crew vehicles try to reach Outward Bound aid station. Photo by Adam Danforth.
Outward Bound was a sprawling encampment of cars and cheering spectators in folding chairs. The energy in the air was palpable, and a welcome respite from a long stretch on pavement. I heard my name being yelled, but it took a moment to scan the crowd and lock eyes with my grinning crew. I jogged over to them.
“You look great!” my dad enthused, beaming as widely as I’d seen since my college graduation day. He motioned to an empty camp chair. “Sit, sit!”
“What do you need?” Steve asked, popping open a cooler of homemade fuel.
As I grabbed haphazardly at my snacks, I asked, “How’s it going here?”
“Oh, my God,” my dad said, “It’s a mess. I mean, this is amazing, seeing you do this. But, we just sat in traffic for an hour, trying to get here in time to meet you. There are too many cars. No one is directing anything.”
I gulped down a smoothie and eyed the carousel of runners streaming through the aid station. Runners barked their bib numbers at volunteers, whose task it was to retrieve drop bags from nearby heaps. Despite ample trashcans, runners scattered paper cups and wrappers on the ground around them like confetti.
Just 13 miles to go. A runner (with crew member) catches his breath at the May Queen Campground aid station, inbound. Photo by Shay Skinner.
Since Lifetime Fitness took over, Chlouber and Maupin have remained heavily involved with the race. They insist that it has not lost the “family feel” they’ve worked to maintain since day one.
“If you hear any complaint that’s it not a Mom-and-Pop operation anymore, that’s just pure bullshit,” says Chlouber.
Some runners aren’t so sure. Many have voiced concerns that the LT100 has devolved over the years and lost some of its soul. Of the 2013 race, second-place finisher Nick Clark told me later, “It seemed like the pre-race and post-race [festivities] had lost a lot of the old Leadville that people who’ve been doing this for awhile have become accustomed to. It felt a little more sterile—get them in, get them out.”
By charging its runners $285 for the chance to toe the starting line, Lifetime brings in a third of a million dollars in entry fees—let alone additional sponsorships and race merchandise sold at their retail store in Leadville. But, is its profit-prioritizing so different from the Leadville of yore?
The race has always been, first and foremost, about money. When I asked Chlouber what inspired him to create the LT100, he said, “It wasn’t so much inspiration as necessity.” After the unexpected shutdown in 1982 of the local Climax Molybdenum Mine where Chlouber worked, the community lost 3,200 jobs and, overnight, was pegged with the highest unemployment rate in the nation.
The race was born, Chlouber told me, as a way to bring people and their wallets to town. In subsequent years, new races—mountain-bike events and shorter-distance runs—were added. A recent economic impact study conducted by Colorado Mountain College estimated that the Leadville Race Series brings $15 million annually to the local community. And, in 2002, Chlouber and Merilee established a foundation that donates $1,000 of race series profit to every single graduating senior at Leadville High School to put toward higher education.
It’s just so worked out that, for three decades, racers have seemed to get as much out of Leadville as vice versa.
2013, however, may be the year the tables turned. In the days following the race, the blogosphere flooded with feedback from disgruntled runners. Those who shell out substantial entry fees for big-name races—particularly those put on by for-profit corporations with full-time employees and million-dollar budgets—have high expectations. Many complained about course overcrowding, runner collisions, traffic jams for crews, lack of medical supplies, depleted and even deserted aid stations.
“We’ve been coming here around seven years now and have always loved it and made it a big part of our lives,” wrote one runner on the Leadville Race Series Facebook page. “For the past three years since Lifetime took over, it has gotten greedier and worse. I can write a book on this weekend and how this was the worst race we have ever been a part of.”
On the other side of the coin are runners like Travis Macy, who this year snagged the “Leadman” title for completing five Leadville Race Series races—including both the 100-mile mountain-bike race and the LT100—in the fastest combined time. Leadville is in his blood; he watched his dad, Mark Macy, run it for the first time in 1988, and many times after that. Several other members of his family have also run it.
Though Macy acknowledges that the race’s atmosphere has changed over the years, he sees no problem with the unprecedented numbers of runners. “Despite whatever challenges or overcrowding,” he says, “more people are out there doing something that pushes their limits and changes them as human beings. I think that’s awesome.”