Saving Leadville - Page 5
According to Tami Conner and Bill Mulholland of the Forest Service Leadville Ranger District, Lifetime Fitness’ permit—which expires in September 2015—allows for “about 850 participants” in the LT100.
However, in 2013, 943 runners showed up to the starting line, an 18-percent increase over 2012’s 795 runners. Lifetime Fitness’s decision to admit an unprecedented 1,200 runners (versus 1,100 the previous year) was based on a 30-year-history of statistically consistent no-show rates.
“We’re not sure what happened,” says race director and longtime Leadvillite Josh Colley. “More people showed up than normal.”
Marge Hickman holds the record for the most female (14) finishes at LT100. She ran her first in 1984. Photo by Zazoosh Media
In comparison, the next three biggest trail 100s in the country—Western States, Rocky Raccoon and Vermont—all cap their races at 300 to 400 runners. Moreover, 75 percent of all 100s in the U.S. start fewer than 100 runners.
When I asked Conner and Mulholland what went into determining 850 to be the number of runners whose impact the trails could handle at once, they told me, “That was done many years ago. We’re not sure what went into it. It could have been what [the race director] requested, the number he wanted to have, and felt was good in the race.”
Colley admits that 943 seemed like too many runners on the course. Next year, he says, he’ll work to keep numbers closer to 750.
But, already, damage has been done. In October, the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run, another of Colorado’s most prestigious, historic ultras, announced on its website that Leadville (among several other notable 100s, including Western States, Massanutten and Tahoe Rim Trail) will no longer count as a qualifying race.
“The Leadville 100 includes many of the features that are important for a HR [Hardrock] qualifier: high altitude, long climbs, potential for mountain weather, and more,” says the HR website. “However, the 2013 Leadville 100 ignored other traits of importance to the HR: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport.”
Indeed, the relationship between the town, the Race Series and the greater trail-running community remains tenuous. While many locals embrace the Race Series as the town’s lifeblood, not all share the warm fuzzy feelings.
On Sunday morning following the conclusion of the 2013 LT100, the popular post-race brunch spot in town, the Golden Burro, shuttered its doors. It left a note for runners: “Our city, this little café and our entire staff are finally so stressed out over trying to handle these huge crowds that … we finally decided we simply can’t do it any more. These multiple races are NOT profitable in relation to the costs involved in high payrolls, overtime and double shifts, higher food costs, etc … it’s clear the shear [sic] volume of races eventually becomes a no-win situation for everyone.”
As Bill Finkbeiner, who’d just run his 30th consecutive LT100, stood in front of the Golden Burro that morning, disappointed to miss out on his post-race breakfast tradition, the owner of nearby pizzeria High Mountain Pies stopped to say hello. When she saw the sign on the Burro’s doors, she told Finkbeiner and his friends, “We don’t open until 11, but why don’t you come on over, and I’ll make you a breakfast pizza with scrambled eggs and bacon.”
Finkbeiner, who lives in Auburn, California, says small-town moments like these are part of what makes Leadville so special. “With Wasatch or Western States,” he says, “you can go through Salt Lake City or even Auburn on race weekend and not even sense that something’s going on. In Leadville, the whole town is behind it, it seems.”
On the other hand, local residents are often unable to find parking in town on race weekends, including at the post office where many pick up their daily mail. Some are unable to even reach their own homes. According to Loretta McEllhiney, a longtime local who ran the LT100 twice in the late 1990s, Leadvillites have a saying: “When Labor Day comes, we’ll get our town back.”