Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catching Your Breath at 10,000': Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run

Not often do you get the chance to assist a friend in need in a place like this.  

On short notice, I discovered that my very good friend, Hal Koerner, was heading to Colorado to take part in the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run.  It was a last minute decision on his part in order to carry on his own tradition of consecutive years with a 100-mile finish.  I believe he has eleven and counting.

Leadville has always been one of those "sweet and sour" races for Hal.  He's placed second overall twice, but also has dropped several times.  This year, he was returning but without a crew or pacer.  I offered to help, if only he'd buy my plane ticket.  He did so and we were on our way!

The mountains of central Colorado.  Where the blue is very blue, the green is very green and the mountains literally take your breath away.

3am, race day morning.  As Hal readied himself I caught an episode of "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader."  At that hour, I quickly discovered that I was not.

We parked down the street and away from the start line hub-bub.  Walking down the middle of Harrison Street at 3:50am as gun-toting outlaws must have done years ago.

The crowd, nearly 650 strong, minutes before the start.

May Queen Aid Station (mile 13.5) in the pre-dawn hours.

Jamil (right) and Nick (left) Coury await their runners at May Queen.  Yes, it was cold!

The sun rises at the Fish Hatchery Aid Station (mile 23.5).

Tony Krupicka arrives first at Fish Hatchery.  Read Tony's race day story here at Running Times.

Hal on his way out of Fish Hatchery and on Tony's heels.

The Treeline Aid Station (mile 28).  I was unsure I was in the right place.  Only one other parked car was there.

Tony whips through Treeline.

Hal follows a few minutes back.

The setting for the Twin Lake Aid Station (mile 39.5).

Tony doesn't stop, passing quickly through the Twin Lakes AS.

Tony doesn't break stride while receiving assistance from his confidant and lady friend, Jocelyn Jenks, and pacer, Dakota Jones.

Duncan Callahan, of Gunnison, CO, passes through Twin Lakes.  No one knew it at the time, but Duncan would become your 2010 Leadville Champion in 17:43:24.

Good friend Jason Ostrom (in the blue).

Bend, Oregon's Rod Bien.  Finished in 19:46:03, 9th overall

Motivating Hal after he became lost twice between Box Canyon and Twin Lakes aid stations; setting him back more than an hour and dropping his placing from 2nd to near 45th.  I felt, the wind in the sails was gone at this point, but he forged on.

Winfield Aid Station (mile 50) and turn around.  Now it's time to flip it and retrace your steps back to Leadville and the finish.

Jess Koerner helps her brother at Winfield.  I started pacing Hal here.

On our way up to Hope Pass (12,526').

Mike Arnstein (finished in 22:48:44) shows his muscle on the climb up Hope.  Nick Coury, his pacer, follows.  Behind the two, Hal continues to climb.

Flagstaff's Adam Wymore descending to Winfield.  Adam would finish in 28:53:05.  Jay Donosky, also from Flag, would finish in 29:10:09.  Nice work gentlemen!

One foot in front of the other, still ascending Hope Pass.

Looking down from Hope towards where we had come.  Awesome country!

Finally there, but the altitude reeks havoc.

Hope Pass Aid Station (mile 56), set roughly 600' below the actual pass.

Another view of the oxygen deprived aid station.

Hal collects himself at the Hope Pass Aid Station.

Llamas bring in all the supplies for this aid station.

Finally down off of Hope and moving well across the flats to Twin Lakes In-Bound.

Crossing Lake Creek and the lowest point on the course at 9,200'.

Changing shoes at Twin Lakes AS (mile 60.5).

Running under the aspens on the Colorado Trail, near the Mount Elbert Trailhead.

On the new section of trail near the Box Canyon Aid Station.

Quiet and quaint Box Canyon Aid Station (roughly mile 68).

Hal, again, collecting himself and trying to bring life back to trashed legs.

Frustrated with his bad ankle and muscles that didn't want to move, we walked down to Treeline.

Hal still smiling even after all these miles.

At Treeline (mile 72), Hal got on his phone and discussed his predicament with his fiance, Carly.  After some deliberation Hal reluctantly pressed on-ward.  We walked the next 4.5 miles under a setting sun and rising moon to the Fish Hatchery Aid Station (mile 76) where Hal called it a day.

Finally back at our hotel room at 11pm, Hal smiles, perhaps somewhat sheepishly.  Knowing Hal, he won't beat himself up over his decision to stop at Leadville.  In fact, he always moves on rather quickly from disappoints like this.  Knowing this guy, he's already looking forward to bigger and better things this upcoming weekend, like a grand ole wedding!  Though the outcome was not what either of us wanted, I still had a good time and shared some quality trail time with Mr. Koerner.

My Other Random Leadville Thoughts...

Leadville has clearly out grown it's infrastructure.  650 runners is just too much for this course.  That's a fact, not a hypothesis!  Let's discuss the forest health and safety aspects of the event.  The trail up and down Hope Pass was literally a conga line of runners forcing many runners into the fragile alpine ecosystem in order to pass one another, crushing all kinds of wild flowers, forming social trails and sending rocks and debris downslope.  Many did their part in trying to mitigate the litter problem, but there were a lot of piggies out there.  The access roads into all aid stations were a cluster:  Miles of crew and pacer vehicles parked along roadsides that simply could not and should not sustain such crowds.  Winfield looked more like a summer music festival than an aid station.  In many places runners and crew/pacer vehicles ran concurrent causing unsafe, dusty, and in my opinion, creating an uncharacteristic ultrarunning experience.  Drivers ran stop signs, passed on windy, single lane dirt roads and developed a habit of presenting the middle finger to others traveling just a wee bit too slow for their liking.  You could say, "Fine, Torrence, if you don't like it, then don't return."  All well and good, but the truth of the matter is that I believe, in this case, we may have forgotten our roots, gotten too excited about a particular book and succumbed to the commercialization of our sport.  In other words, we may have just sold out.

On the flip side, when not dodging cars and runners, I received nothing but care, attentiveness and great comfort from all the volunteers, radio operators and aid station staff.  It was also great to catch up with friends both new and old and help out a good friend.  The scenery at Leadville can't be beat!

And Now Your Moment of Zen

The Second Annual Running of the Rogue Valley Beer Mile
Coaching Tip:  Do Not Try This at Home!!!


Gangels said...

Totally agree that Leadville has outgrown its current infrastructure. It was a total madhouse at Winfield and Twin Lakes. The real question is whether Lifetime fitness will step up and make the improvements that are needed to make this the stellar 100 miler it is. A couple thoughts on improvements.
- A cap of max 400 runners. Historically only 3/4 will show up and half will even finish.
- No cars at Winfield. Either have a bus that brings pacers only to Winfield or have the pacing start at Twin Lakes inbound.
- Crew vehicles only at AS. One runner, one crew vehicle.

Unknown said...

LT100 has always been a civic moneymaker, so 650 or 6500 runners, no diff to Race Mgmt. It was a clusterfuck in '97, the last year I did it.

But really, the fix was in for the '95 season, when they had the first LT100 MTB Race. The locals saw all these cars spangled with bike stickers, and saw $$$. By comparison runners are cheap fucks. How many roof-racks have shoes on them?

Housing went thru the roof. In '94 I was able to rent a house for 5 days for $350. By '97 it was $700 for a ghetto flop. So I took my funds, bought a Bibler Awahnee, and camped out at Turquoise Lake for 3-1/2 weeks, saving the last 4 days in a house for my crew/pacer/girlfriend. No way I was going to tent it in the event of a DNF or rain.

zagbag said...

This was my first Pb so I can't compare. I didn't have any real problems with cars luckily but you are spot on with the Hope Pass trail being too narrow to support so many runners and I was astounded to see the number of Gu packs on the ground. A DQ is waiting for you if you pull that crap in Texas. The bikers were worse; G and I picked up over 200 wrappers on Powerline alone on Tues b/f the race! WTF?

Scott McMurtrey said...

Fantastic photos.

trudginalong said...

TL/Winfield were shit. My runner and I were almost flattened by an F-250 coming out of Win and agree that the trail and wildlife back up hope were sadly trampled. Totally agree that something has to happen (bus transport for pacers and crew has worked well for WS I hear).

Kieran McCarthy said...

The fact that more folks are excited about ultrarunning is not an indicator of selling out. You can get excited about a book, but without tremendous work ethic and dedication, you don't show up at the starting line, much less arrive at the finish.

I agree that WF was a mess, but Twin Lakes was fine (I spent much of the day there). There are alternative solutions to the WF problem (make it drop bag only, or have a bus for crews going out there). While a size cap is certainly not a bad idea, I think that it is important not to discourage new participants in the sport.

As for the newbies, many of them are just as passionate and sincere in their interest as you are. It's not fair to judge simply because of when and how they developed their interest.

Rogue Valley Runners said...

selling out is when you take money from as many people as possible, regardless of safety and and environmental impact.

For an event to be around 28 years and not know its limitations is tantamount to "selling out."

The way you came up with alternative solutions to the problem is nothing new and should have been considered by a competent organization. Now you may see how this blogger was concerned.

I would be more concerned that new participants are being mislead that this was an ideal "ultra experience" when in fact it was nothing close to the hundreds of ultras that this blogger has been to and why we all gravitate to the sport and scene.


Paulette said...

Hey Ian. I read your report just after completing my Leadville DNF report. It definitely a magical race as far as scenery goes, but it really is a bit too big for it's britches so to speak.

The dust and nastiness at Winfield was absolutely awful. I think that's what caused my sinuses to flare up.

I was shocked when I signed up that they were literally taking anyone - no proving you've ran a 50 or anything. The only ramification for signing up were you had to be 21 (which I don't necessarily understand). No trail work requirements. It is TOO easy to sign up for this race!! I saw lots of people on the course there because of said book that were underprepared - one guy only ran a 10K before Leadville. This could really be dangerous if they let the race "grow". The trail erosion as you reach the top of hope pass made me wonder how long that route will even be available.

That said, I can only review the race positively. It's the mountains I loved. And maybe because I hung on somewhere between mid pack and front, I didn't notice all the crowds until descending Hope for the first time. Still, the race has some learning to do before it should even try to continue at that size.

Chuck said...

Sad to hear confirmation about the number of participants and the course. We had a couple of runners finish the race this year. Here's a quote from one's race report:

Leadville, the town, is an awesome place. I encourage you all to go. Not sure how the race will change as it is now owned by a for-profit company, Lifetime Fitness. There were too many entrants this year and more trash than I have EVER seen on a trail course. It was disgusting! I feel very lucky to have done this race before it totally turns into a commercialized adventure and I will treasure for a lifetime this adventure that I had with the friends and family that I love so much.

Full Report Here

azspeedgoat said...

I agree, Nick Coury (pictured)and I were talking about it on this mornings run. Over twice as many people as when I did that race in 2006. It was crowded then. I think over half the people enter with NO intention of finishing or even going past TL. Big changes need to happen. Qualifying times, distances, and trail work should do the trick.

Shawn said...

Hey Ian,
Great write up on Leadville. I was the 3rd cog in the Arnstein crew - enjoyed all the BS with you at the aid stations waiting for Hal and Mike. Would have been a good time doing the beer mile Sunday morning in Leadville. Oh well, maybe next time. BTW, Arnstein won a marathon in 2:39 Tuesday morning after Leadville.

I agree with the over population of the race. From a crew POV, the Winfield aid station and the runners having to navigate the 3 mile road was a mess. Something has to change there. Would be nice if there could be a trail through the pines instead of on the road????

Take care,