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After being canceled in 2020 for the first time in its 39-year history, the Leadville Trail 100, a,.k.a., “The Race Across the Sky,” returns Aug. 21-22 with the same rugged, mountainous spirit it has had since inception.
An eager field of 687 runners will toe the starting line in Leadville, Colorado, trying to survive the high-altitude, out-and-back course over 12,532-foot Hope Pass and back. There are a few minor changes this year — most notably the pre-race athlete meeting and the post-race awards ceremony will be held outside on the Lake County High School football field and no pacers or crew will be permitted at the 50-mile turnaround point at Winfield — but otherwise this fabled race born out of the hardrock miner vibe of the resilient 1880s mining town remains the same as it ever was.
“It’s Leadville, so it’s all about getting to Winfield in good shape and then it’s all about guts and strength and toughness on the way back,” says Don Reichelt, one of the top contenders in the men’s race this year. “If you’ve blown your quads coming down the back side of Hope Pass and then have to deal with the mental aspect knowing you have to go back up and over it, it can be a make-or-break moment of the race. It will be fun to see how it all plays out.”
Here are a few things you should know about this year’s Leadville 100.
First things first, the race is officially 99 miles in length with 15,734 miles in elevation gain. The out-and-back course starts and finishes at an elevation of 10,160 feet in Leadville, dips down to a low point of 9,219 feet near Turquoise Lake and tops out at 12,532 feet on Hope Pass at the 45- and 55-mile points. It’s a unique course with two rugged climbs in each direction (Hope Pass and Sugarloaf Mountain/Powerline) and a lot of flat, fast entirely runnable sections on dirt roads and paved roads, as well as epic singletrack sections on the Colorado Trail. The men’s course record of 15:42:59 was set by Pikes Peak Marathon legend Matt Carpenter in 2005, while the women’s course record of 18:06:24 dates back to Ann Trason’s astonishing 1994 effort.
Women’s Race Contenders
Among the top women in this year’s race is North Carolina’s Ashley Arnold, 34, who was the women’s champion in 2013 and third-place finisher in 2010. Although she has raced sparingly since 2019, she’s been staying in Leadville and Buena Vista for a few weeks and training on the course and should be a contender based on her experience and track record. Although she won three 50K races in 2019-2020, her strong third-place effort at the Power of Four 50K in Aspen on July 31 is a good testament of her fitness.
Vermont’s Aliza Lapierre is coming off a fourth-place effort at the Catamount 50K (4:59:19) in June and a win at the Infinitus 88K race in May (9:33:16) in her home state, as well as a victory at April’s Ultra Race of Champions 100K (10:18:57) in Virginia. Leadville local Annie Hughes, 23, has only been trail running since 2019, but she’s won a 50-miler each of the past three years (Jemez Mountain, Indian Creek, Collegiate Peaks) and has a third (Bryce Canyon, 2020) and a first (Mace’s Hideout) in her two 100-milers. She also has a few high-mountain FKTs to her credit, including her 61-hour, 19-minute effort on the 167-mile Collegiate Loop in 2020.
There are several other top women from Colorado, starting with Maddie Hart, 24, of Boulder, who won the 2019 Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler, and Kim Dobson, 37, of Eagle, a six-time Pikes Peak Ascent winner who has won all three of the 50K/50-mile races she has entered since 2018, including the Crown King Scramble 50K (4:31:44) in Phoenix in March.
Blake Wageman, 36, who has raced consistently at 50K and 50-mile race for the past several years (including a runner-up showing at the Silver Rush 50 on July 10 in Leadville); Carrie Stafford, who was fourth in the Leadville 100 in 2019; Becky Kirschermann, 48, a three-time top-five finisher at the Run Rabbit Run 100; Tara Richardson, 30, who is making her debut at 100 miles after running strong at Aspen’s Power of Four 50K race in late July; and Becky Lynn, 28, who has been a strong runner at 50K and 50 miles.
On August 20 at 1 p.m. MT, Trail Sister’s founder Gina Lucrezi will be emceeing a “Ladies of Leadville” roundtable discussion at the race expo with a diverse group of seven of this year’s Leadville 100 participants — Arnold, Dobson, Lapierre, Grace Sims, Kate Tsai, Jolene Sandoval and Sawna Guadarrama. The goal of the event, which will be broadcast via Instagram Live, is to provide insight and inspiration from their unique perspectives and various backgrounds, to celebrate and empower women trail runners of all abilities and to promote diversity within the sport and longer ultra-distance races.
Men’s Race Contenders
Among the favorites in the men’s race is Ian Sharman, 40, of Bend, Oregon, who is a four-time Leadville winner (2013, 2016, 2017), and the fastest finisher of the Grand Slam of Ultraunning (69:49:38 combined time for finishing Leadville, Wasatch, Western States and Vermont 100-milers in 2013). Sharman, who placed second in the McDonald Forest 50K on May 8 in Corvallis, Oregon, has numerous ultrarunning wins and podium finishes under his belt and a 16:22 personal best on the Leadville course.
Another top contender is Tyler Andrews, even though he hasn’t raced this year and doesn’t have a lot of ultra-distance race experience. However, the 31-year-old runner from Massachusetts has set some pretty serious FKTs on high-altitude trails in Chile, Ecuador and Peru as part of a journey he dubbed the Los 10 FKT Project. He’s also a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier who owns a 2:15:52 personal best for 26.2 miles on the roads.
Colorado’s Don Reichelt, 35 brings a lot of very good ultrarunning race experience with him, especially from the past couple of years. Most notable are a third-place finish at the Badwater 135 in 2018, a win at the Lean Horse 100-miler in South Dakota in 2019 and a blazing 13:16 third-place effort at the Tunnel Hill 100-miler in Illinois last November. Reichelt has continued to improve into his mid-30s and lives in Fairplay, Colorado, and regular trains in the mountains around Leadville.
Cody Reed, 30, of Mammoth Lakes, California, has said on Instagram he’ll be gunning for the win in a course-record time. This is the third year in a row Reed has been registered for the Leadville 100 but he got hurt in 2019 and the race was canceled last year. After recovering from a knee injury in 2019, he went on to win the Ultra Trail Cape Town 100K in South Africa. He has a lot of good to very good results since 2016 and certainly should be a runner to watch. He tuned up for the race by winning the six-day TransRockies Run.
Although he has vowed to run more conservatively than in his previous five starts, Anton Krupicka is not only a Leadville 100 legend but also an icon in the sport of ultrarunning. The two-time Leadville winner (2006, 2007) was trail runner’s first social media star, and, although he admits he doesn’t love the gratuitous attention he can attract, he’s still a legit athlete and should be among the top five in the men’s race based on his stout summer of training on his feet and on his bike.
Other runners to watch include David Kilgore, 29, New York City, a former University of Colorado runner and 2:27 marathoner who won the 340-mile The Speed Project multi-day race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in May; Hannes Gehring, 34, of Denver, who set the Never Summer 100K course record (11:47:06) and placed sixth at the Run Rabbit Run 100-miler in 2019; Jackson Cole, 25, of Alamosa, Colorado, who has run several fast 50K races but hasn’t raced anything longer than 38 miles; and Adrian Macdonald, 32, from Fort Collins, Colorado, who won the Antelope Island 50-miler in Utah this spring.
Leadman/Leadwoman runners and savvy veteran racers
There are 67 athletes remaining in the Leadman/Leadwoman challenge (of the original 109 starters back in June), but each one has to complete the Leadville 100 under 30 hours to become an official finisher. The Leadman/Leadwoman competitors have already completed at least four of the five Leadville Race Series events: the Leadville Trail Marathon, Silver Rush 50 Silver Rush run and/or mountain bike (competitors can chose one or both events), Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race and the Leadville 10K. Rodrigo Jimenez is currently in 8th in the standing and will start in dead last on Saturday, competing in the Back of the Pack challenge to raise money for the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation.
There are four runners over the age of 70 entered in the Leadville 100: Gordon Hardman, 70, Chuck Cofer, 70, and Marlin Weekley, 70, and Marge Hickman 71. Hardman has been running ultras since the late 1980s, has three previous Leadville finishes to his credit (1989, 1998, 2010) and is one of only 23 runners two have completed the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning twice (1989, 1998). Weekley has apparently only been running ultras in his 60s, but has more than two dozen race finishes over the past seven years. Cofer has 12 previous Leadville 100 finishes dating back to 1996, but is back for the first time since 2015. Hickman, a longtime Leadville resident, is one of the most accomplished women runners in the race’s history. She’s a 15-time Leadville 100 finisher who won the women’s race in 1985 (26:57:50) and finished as the runner-up four times (1984, 1986, 1991, 1995). She also wrote an authoritative book on about the race.
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Robbie Balenger’s Endurance Feats
Robbie Balenger is a plant-based endurance athlete known for running across the U.S. in 75 days in 2019 and setting a world record for the Central Park Loop Challenge (16 laps, just under 100 miles) during the park’s official opening hours. Most recently, he created a new challenge for himself focused on exploring Colorado and his affinity for the Leadville Race Series. In 2019 he moved to Denver and did the Silver Rush 50. In light of COVID, he started thinking about what he could do locally, within Colorado, so came up with the Colorado Crush Challenge, using the Leadville Race Series as a framework for his larger effort. His challenge started with the Leadville Marathon on June 19, followed by running the Colorado Trail in 11 days, and then completing the the Silver Rush 50 on July 10. Between Silver Rush and the Leadville 100 run, he reached the summit of all 58 of the Colorado 14ers, completing that epic feat on August 16 when he reached the peak of Missouri Mountain. That’s 58 peaks in 38 days with nearly 300,000 feet of vertical gain.