Saving Leadville - Page 6
By the time Sunday morning arrived, I’d been falling asleep while running (well, walking) on the trail for hours. After a rejuvenating nap at the May Queen aid station, I fell into a leapfrogging pattern with another runner over the last 13 miles.
As he ran, his pacer relayed details to him with a steady tone: “Rock to your right. Step up. A little mud. Rock to your left.”
Then I saw the sign on his back: “Blind Runner.”
There were things his pacer did not relay to him. Hundreds of gel and bar wrappers, half-eaten foil-wrapped sandwiches and plastic cups were strewn along the trail for miles. In places, piles of human waste lay several feet off the trail.
But, as we turned onto the final stretch back into Leadville, I thought also of the beautiful things he couldn’t see—the blue skies, the smiling crowds lining the street, the handmade signs congratulating us all for making it this far.
I crossed the finish in 29:27, feeling a mixed bag of emotions. Exhausted and proud, sure—but also, in some ways, let down. I’d made it to my Mecca, but I’d seen things I’d never expected to see—trashed trails, and everything from tension to frustration to outright animosity between runners. I wondered whether the overcrowding, and all its repercussions, was an outlier that could be addressed in future years, or whether it was simply a harbinger of what’s to come in our rapidly growing sport.
Should runners have done a better job respecting the trails, and each other? Should the Forest Service have been more discerning with its race permits? Should Lifetime Fitness have better planned race logistics, and avoided hedging their profits on the assumption that a third of registered runners wouldn’t show up?
The answer to all these questions is likely yes—but, assigning blame is less compelling than considering opportunities for positive change. As trail runners, we can choose every day to show more respect for the trails we tread, as well as for our fellow runners. In two years, the Forest Service will have the chance to renegotiate Leadville’s race permits.
As for the race organizers, Colley promises that Lifetime Fitness is hard at work seeking ways to improve the race for next year. “Seventy percent of what we do is ask, ‘How can we make this better?’” he says.
Next year, they plan to reduce the total number of runners by about 20 percent, offer more shuttles for crews, beef up aid-station supplies, hire professional crowd-control and parking crews, increase trash receptacles and consider new parking situations at Winfield.
“I want our aid to be the best in the industry,” says Colley.
When the Climax mine shut down 32 years ago, the LT100 played a pivotal role in saving the town of Leadville. Now that Leadville—the race, that is—is facing accusations that it has lost its soul, one question remains: Can Leadville be saved … again?
[Read Yitka Winn's 2014 followup to this story: 5 Things That Were Different at Leadville This Year, and One That Stayed the Same]
Yitka Winn is Trail Runner’s Associate Editor. This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue.