2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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FUN WITH FRIENDS AT THE
LEADVILLE 100-MILE BIKE RACE
 
SUNDAY, AUGUST 13
 
 
"At the twenty-fourth running race and thirteenth mountain bike race
of this classic, we continue to dedicate these events to the residents of Leadville
as a testament to their endurance in the face of extreme challenge."
 
- Introduction to the 2006 Leadville Trail 100 race booklet
 
 

 

Leadville has experienced several dramatic economic booms and busts since gold was first discovered nearby in 1859. Next came the silver rush in the 1880s, when the town's population swelled to 20,000 people. Later other ores, like lead and molybdenum, were found.

When the last mine, Climax, closed in 1983, causing a 50% unemployment rate in Leadville, something had to be done to keep the town viable so it didn't become another ghost town like so many others in the state. Leadville residents are historically tough and resilient. Once again, they've survived a bust.

Jim Butera came up with an idea to put the town back on the map, an idea that has proven very successful in bringing much-needed attention and tourist dollars to the town:

The Leadville Trail 100-mile run, "The Race Across the Sky."

Jim's idea of a trail ultra marathon that would start in Leadville, go out to the ghost town of Winfield, and return to Leadville started in 1983 with 45 runners and has mushroomed 24 years later into a popular, internationally-known race with over 500 participants. Jim was the first LT100 race director and still runs in the race; he is entered this year.

Ken Chlouber, runner and out-of-work miner, and Merilee O'Neal, also a runner, took over management of the race a couple of years later. Ken has run in most of the last 23 races and is entered again this year. He and Merilee now manage not only the 100-mile run, but five other events that bring visitors to the area each summer. 

One is the even more popular 100-mile mountain bike race, ridden mostly on dirt roads from Leadville to Columbine Mine and back, that is now in its thirteenth year. There were a whopping 802 registrants this summer and about double that who wanted to ride (the race has a lottery system).

Some tough athletes do both the 100-mile run and ride. Keep in mind that the bike race is only one week before the run, so there's not much time to recover from one before doing the other.

Recently Ken and Merilee devised an even tougher series of races for competitors: the Lead Man/Lead Woman series of FIVE different races at Leadville's lofty altitudes (from 9,200 feet to over 13,000 feet). The series includes the Leadville Trail Marathon in early July (there was also a half marathon this year), a 50-mile bike race, the 100-mile bike race (this weekend), a 10K race (today, the day after the bike race), and the 100-mile trail run (next Saturday).

Oh, my! Most participants do just one or two of these events, not all five.

There are about twelve people signed up for all five of these races this summer. Their names have little symbols to identify them on the entry lists for each event. When Jim and I gave them their shirts on Friday at packet pick-up for the bike race we also gave each of them extra good wishes in their quest to finish all five events. What an accomplishment that will be!

Another "event," not competitive, is a three-day training camp for runners at the end of June. Participants run various parts of the course to familiarize themselves with the roads and trails, and seminars are offered. Jim and I really enjoyed the training weekend in 1999 when we participated, although running seventy miles in three days at high altitude - without acclimating first - was a real challenge!

Ken's dream to make a difference in his community was achieved early on. Now race management's goals are to make a difference in the lives of individual athletes and the athletic community as a whole by providing challenging, fun events. They are succeeding in that as well, as runners and cyclists from all over the world test their determination and courage against the Leadville courses.

TESTING YOUR METTLE AT 12,000 FEET

Any 100-mile event, whether you're running or riding a bike, is a real test of physical ability and mental willpower. What makes the Leadville courses more difficult than most is not the distance, not the elevation gain and loss, not the trail or road conditions, but the ALTITUDE.

Both the bike race and the run range in altitude from 9,200 to 12,600 feet. Some athletes can arrive in Leadville the day before their race from near sea level and finish. Most, however, need to spend two or three weeks acclimating here (or at similar altitudes somewhere else) - especially the runners. They're out there longer. The time limit on the bike race is 12 hours, all in daylight; the time limit on the run is 30 hours. The majority of runners are "out there" all or most of the night.

And for some athletes, even three weeks isn't enough time to acclimate adequately.

Jim and I have experimented with both two- and three-week acclimations before the race. Our success (i.e., finish) rate is dismal, though: Jim's finished only once in four attempts, and I've dnf'd both times I've run the race. Hopefully, with all the acclimating Jim did in Silverton in July and now in Leadville, he can beat the altitude demons this time.

(Me? No way. I don't have even the faintest desire to enter the race this year, despite all the acclimating I've done on the Colorado Trail. I haven't done any speed work this summer and have probably become too slow to beat the cut-offs. I'll happily crew for Jim to help him reach his goal.)

THURSDAY = PACKET-STUFFING

One of the reasons Jim and I love to hang out in Leadville before the race is the fact that so many of our friends are also hanging out in Leadville acclimating! It's fun to train with them on the course, visit with each other, share lunch or dinner, and volunteer together for the bike race and run.

The volunteering we'll do at Leadville is not as strenuous as our job this year at Hardrock so we won't be as wiped out (or cynical) afterwards. Setting up an aid station, manning it for 24 hours, and tearing it down like we did at Cunningham Gulch could send anyone over the edge. Our tasks in Leadville are not as physically demanding, they are more varied, they don't last as long, and they are done in the company of friends.

Sometimes, LOTS of friends.

Take "packet-stuffing," for instance. This one- to two-hour job before both the bike race and run is fun and it's always well-organized by Bill and Jan Moyer from Michigan. We don't stuff big brown paper envelopes like many races. Leadville has been giving out very nice zippered canvas bags for several years. It's a bit intense for a while as you drop into the athletes' bags whichever item you're responsible for, but it's over pretty fast.

The packet-stuffing drill goes like this: show up at the Sixth Street Gym about 4:30 PM and help other volunteers fold all the race shirts. Keep the shirts separated by size and put them back into boxes for easy distribution. About ten of us folded all 800+ shirts in half an hour or less so they'd be easier to grab when we gave them to the racers at packet pickup.

(That's ultra runner Dave Lygre in the foreground and Jim in the middle in the photo above.)

At 5 PM, more volunteers show up for the bag-stuffing routine. There were probably forty of us in all to stuff over 800 bags.

The stuffing and pick-up procedures are much simpler and faster now than they were two years ago, the last time we were here to help. We used to put each racer's number and correct size of shirt in the bags - along with all the generic goodies from sponsors - as the bags came down the "assembly line." That system tended to bog down at various stages, including distribution the next day.

The current procedure is to keep the race numbers and shirts separate from the generic bags and their contents. Not only was it easier to stuff the red and black bags with the generic items like BioFreeze, water bottles, and race information, it made distributing the numbers, bags, and shirts to the racers much faster. We'll use the same procedures for the run next week. (That is only half of the assembly line above. Jim's in the background on the right side of the table.)

So on Thursday afternoon Jim and I showed up at the gym to fold shirts and stuff the bike race bags with a bunch of our running friends. (Poor sentence structure: no, we didn't stuff our running friends into the bags!!) There were some cyclists there, too, but most of the volunteers were ultra runners. It was like a homecoming, seeing friends that we haven't seen in a while, such as Dan Baglione (left) and Dave Lygre (middle):

Our reward for this bit of work was several kinds of delicious hot pizza, delivered a few minutes after our work was completed. Volunteers chowed down and socialized some more before going home.

FRIDAY = PACKET PICKUP & PICKUP-LOADING

The next morning at 7:30 Jim and I returned to the gym to help Bill and Jan get ready for the onslaught as about 700 of the 800 bike riders came through to get their race numbers, bags, and shirts. Those items were all ready to go, but there were hundreds of posters that needed to be rolled up and secured with a rubber band. Jim and I maxed out after doing about a hundred of those.

The doors opened at 8 AM. Ready or not, here they come!

First the athletes had to fill out NORBA paperwork for their cycling association, something the runners don't have to do. Then they went through medical checks and got plastic wrist bands like the runners receive. Medical personnel wrote down their pulse and blood pressure and asked pertinent questions about medical conditions and medications. Unlike the runners, however, cyclists don't get weighed during their race, so weights weren't listed on their bands.

About 8:10, it began getting hectic at our table. Two or three people handled the numbers. Racers had to provide identification and write down where they were staying and put a contact phone number for emergencies. Then a volunteer gave them a generic bag stuffed with all the goodies we put in the day before. Then Jim and I gave out shirts in the sizes they requested (exchanges took place later) and marked their names off on a long list.

We also helped give out posters and directed riders to the last guy, who wrote the competitors' numbers on crew tags. Riders and runners with crews have to hang the tag from their rear-view mirror while crewing. If a crew person commits a major infraction, like crewing from a forbidden location or interfering with aid station personnel, the rider/runner can be disqualified.

Sounds pretty simple, eh? Well, it got quite hectic at times during the three hours before the pre-race briefing began - hectic enough that it was difficult most of the time to get a drink of water from our bottles or eat a banana. But it was fun and we got to give encouragement to a lot of folks. And it was over in three hours!

Jim took this picture of the registration table during one of the few lulls we had:

I'm seated, wearing a black shirt/gray vest. That's Jan Moyer standing in front of the table and Hannah Lugiano barely visible behind her in a green top.

We stayed for the hour-long race briefing from 11-12 noon. It's similar to the runners' briefing, with Ken, Merilee, the mayor, and the race doctor welcoming the riders and giving them pertinent information about the race. First-time riders and multiple finishers were honored. Folks stood up in their age groups by sex (huge numbers of men in their 30s and 40s, only a handful of women in their 50s - it's a younger crowd than in the run).

At the conclusion of the briefing Ken gave his usual "pep talk," ending with his rousing, "You're better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can." It works. People always give him a standing ovation and go out the door ready to conquer the world - or at least the Leadville course and its altitude demons.

Then we began our aid station duties. This is the fourth time we've helped at the Columbine Mine aid station, a great way for runners to acclimate at 12,600 feet for several hours. (OK, so our motives aren't always entirely altruistic!) Columbine Mine is located on a shoulder of Quail Mountain, just east of Mount Hope. It's at the same altitude as Hope Pass. Columbine is the turn-around point at fifty miles for the bike riders.

Pretty much the same group of about sixteen people works this aid station each year. Jack Saunders, on whose property we're "squatting," used to run the aid station. That's how we met him originally. For the last three years, our ultra friends Mike and Marge Hickman have been running it. Other ultra running friends we enjoy working with there are Brent Craven from Utah (also camped at Jack's), Kathie Lang and Jim Ballard from Oregon (Kathie is the MD at the aid station), and Pat Homelvig and Karen Pate from the Denver area.

Actually, Pat and Karen work down the road several miles to direct the riders at a turn, but they come out and have breakfast with us. More about that later . . . (Food is a large part of the volunteer experience!)

After getting some lunch, Jim and I went by the Safeway store to load sixteen cases of water (six gallons per case) into our truck and sixteen cases into Mike Hickman's truck. Then we went over to the race warehouse to load tables into our truck and the medical tent and other items into Kathie and Jim's truck. Mike took most of the food items, and Brent got the drop bags. That was so much easier on us than having to take ALL the supplies, as we did at Hardrock.

At 4:30 PM we returned to the gym to get supper before the riders came in for their pre-race meal. This is another nice perk for all the bike race volunteers: an excellent spaghetti dinner with salads, fruit, veggies, several kinds of cake, and beverages.

The volunteers ate their dinner before the horde of cyclists and their families, crews, and pacers came through the line for supper (I'd guess at least 1,500 people). Then a few of us manned the pick-up tables again for another thirty or forty racers who didn't pick up their numbers and bags earlier. Most had to pay a $20 penalty for not showing up for their medical checks in the morning when they were supposed to. The $20 fee acts as a disincentive for others to follow suit next year!

That's part of our registration group in the photo above, before the cyclists came in for dinner. Since there weren't very many riders left to get their medical check-ups, register with NORBA, or get their numbers, bags, and shirts, we were all scrunched behind two tables. Kathie Lang (yellow shirt) did the med checks. Her husband, Jim Ballard, is in the white shirt on the left. Jim's in the light gray sweatshirt, Hannah Lugiano in the blue volunteer shirt, her husband, Joe, up on the bleachers in the white shirt, and Jan Moyer in the gray shirt behind Kathie.

Jim got a little bored handing out shirts as the riders filtered through our line much more slowly than this morning, so he set out this little sign ("TIPS OK") to amuse folks:

He got some laughs - and 26!

We waited until most everyone had gone before we left about 6:30 PM to go home and get our clothes and supplies ready for the next day's work. At 12,600 feet you can encounter any kind of weather in August, so we packed up lots of warm clothes and our rain gear, among other things.

SATURDAY = SHOWTIME!

While over 600 cyclists were preparing for their mass start at 6:30 AM at Harrison and Sixth Streets in Leadville, several of us drove on down to the little restaurant in Granite (The Country Peddler) that I told you about a couple weeks ago. Our aid station personnel have been having breakfast there on race day for many years because it's at the intersection with the dirt forest service road we use to get up to the top of the mountain - and the food is good! We're probably the only aid station that has this luxury. All the others have to get set up before ours does.

On the way down to Granite on Hwy. 24, I prevailed upon Jim to stop the truck twice so I could get this sunrise photo over Mt. Elbert:

We loved how the increasing light colored the peaks bright red in the second view a few minutes later. That's not trick photography! That's Mount Hope in the middle and Quail Mountain (our destination) to the left of it:

Some of our volunteer group skipped the start of the race and arrived at the restaurant between 6:30 and 7:00 AM so we could spread out the orders, rather than having sixteen or seventeen people show up at once. I think the staggered orders worked better than in previous years for both our group and the restaurant staff. Our last time here (2004) breakfast took so long that we barely got the aid station set up in time. (That could be because the restaurant manager forgot to tell the cook that we were coming half an hour earlier than they normally open!)

In the photo above, Pat Homelvig is on the left in the blue shirt, then Kathie Lang (pink shirt), Jim Ballard (blue shirt), Marge Hickman (white shirt, same side of table), a young lady named Morgan who came with the Hickmans (her dad was in the race). On the right side of the table, from the rear are Mike Hickman, Joan, Bob and his wife Jolene (all four are from Leadville), Jim, and Brent Craven with his back to the camera.

The photo below shows some of the same folks from the other end of the table, with two later arrivals on the right: Marcia in the dark top (she's the ham radio operator) and Lisa in the light green top. Both are from Leadville, I believe.

That's Marge (Adelman) Hickman in the white sweatshirt on the right and Mike Hickman (make that Lake County Commissioner Mike Hickman!) on the left in the blue shirt. They have been in charge of this aid station the last three years. Mike hasn't been able to run much since having knee surgery, but Marge is still at it. She's won the LT100 trail run once, come in second four times, finished the race a whopping THIRTEEN times, and decided this weekend to register again for this year's race. Go, girl! She's only a year younger than I am. She got so psyched up recording riders' times during the bike race that she decided to plunk down the money to run next weekend.

Here are three more fellas that helped at the race. Two are runners who came from Ft. Collins to help out (Roger on the left, Doug on the right). The one in the middle (Peter Marshall) is a doctor who helped Kathie with the very few medical problems we had at Columbine:

We had a relaxed meal, met the members of the group we hadn't seen in two years, got our nice blue volunteer shirts, and signed waivers saying we were responsible for anything stupid we did (or something like that!).

We left the restaurant with plenty of time to drive up increasingly-rough Lost Canyon Road to the site of the aid station and get all set up before the first cyclist arrived. Everyone pitched in and did what needed to be done: setting up the medical tent (below), toilet, and tables;

marking the course near the aid station and setting up cones; arranging drop bags in numerical order; mixing up Powerade; filling cups with water and soft drinks; preparing sandwiches; cutting up fruit and cheese; filling bowls with various sweet and salty munchies; etc. - there was lots to do, but plenty of folks to do it.

After the potty was set up, someone noticed the door opened up toward the aid station. Oops! That's not a great plan. After the first cyclist came in, my Jim and Jim Ballard quickly turned it around so users would be facing the valley instead: ah, a room with a view if one chose to leave the door flap open!

Riders came up the same rocky, rutted road we did to the aid station, through that gulch. Leadville is down in the large valley in the background, but not visible in the photo above.

After we got mostly set up, one of the guys took a group photo of us. Jim is in the middle rear in the yellow cap; I'm in the yellow pullover. An additional volunteer who helped us that wasn't in the breakfast photos is Bill "Sooper" Dooper, standing to the left of Jim. Most of us have on our nice blue volunteer shirts, but some are covered by warm outer clothes.

(If anyone wants the original, high-resolution version of that - or any other - photo, let me know.)

When we've worked this aid station previously, it's been located down the hill, right near these old Columbine Mine buildings:

Last year, the Forest Service required the aid station be moved to a different location about 400 feet up the road so it wouldn't impact the tundra at the old mine site. The new location is on more of a slope, has deeper "grass," and cuts the distance the riders have to go.

They liked that feature (shorter distance), but didn't like the rough, tight turn-around shown in the next photo:

Some riders mentioned it was the most "technical" part of the course! (The Forest Service guy, John, who stayed with us all day later told us he thinks it'd be better to return to the previous site. He plans to make that recommendation, but he's not the one who makes the decision.)

After we got all set up and were waiting for our first arrivals, I ran down to the old mine cabin and took several photos:

I could see Leadville through the window, above, but it's not visible in the photo.

To the west of the mine and down in this valley is Clear Creek Canyon/Winfield Road. That view is probably about eight miles back the road toward the ghost town of Winfield, where the LT100 runners turn around in their race.

Brent (shown below with Morgan) had a stove and manned the "soup kitchen" from the back of his truck for the duration, as he's done in previous years. He prepared both chicken and vegetable broths, rice to add to either, and boiled potatoes, all of which were popular items with the racers AND the volunteers on this cool and cloudy, sometimes rainy, day. Yum! Thanks, Brent.

Jim and I did a variety of jobs before, during, and after the race. Jim's preferred job during the race is moving bikes to a location away from the tables and helping riders get the fluids and whatever else they need. Here Jim Ballard (left) and "my" Jim are helping to fill a cyclist's water bladder:

I mostly stayed behind one of the two beverage tables and filled water and soft drink cups for three or four hours. It's amazing how much Coke was consumed! It was impossible to de-fizz it after the first hour, as fast as the mid-pack came through. If it had been a sunny, warm day, the racers would have gone through even more fluids. We had plenty of everything left today, though. It will keep for the run next week.

Our group has a little contest each year to determine what time the first racer will reach our aid station. Those who want to participate throw in a dollar at breakfast and write down the ETA. Jim guessed 10:15 AM, based on previous times Dave Wiens has come through (Dave has won the race the last three years). Brent won the $13 kitty with his guess of 10:12 AM.

This is Dave riding into the AS at 10:11-something - and riding right back out without stopping or missing a pedal stroke!

The top five or six guys didn't stop for one second. Just as in ultra runs, the slower the racers, the longer they tend to stay in aid stations. We tried to help the riders as much as we could to determine what it was they wanted (I hawked Brent's warm soups, potatoes, hot chocolate, and coffee to everyone who would listen!), get it to them fast or direct them over to Brent's tent, and get them on their way. It was cool, damp, sometimes windy or wet, and we didn't want them getting hypothermic.

Kathie, in the yellow jacket above, helped a lot with the food table because there were so few medical problems. That's a good thing! A couple riders were bleeding from falls and required some attention, and a couple others seemed a bit confused or disoriented. The two doctors talked with them, determined that they could continue, and got them out of the aid station ASAP so they could ride back down to a lower altitude.

You can see from the photos that it was cloudy most of the day. We got a few light sprinkles that sent everyone running to get their rain jackets, but there was no downpour until after we were well down off the mountain, warm and dry in our vehicles. Riders and volunteers who worked the other aid stations got drenched during the afternoon. We lucked out.

Well, all of us except Kathie, Marge, and Brent, who followed their tradition of running the several miles down Lost Canyon Road after the race to pick up trash. We saw about ten water bottles as we drove down, but not as many gel packets this time as usual.

After the middle "bubble" of riders came through (approximately noon to 1 PM), things slowed down quite a bit. With only two or three riders still on their way up to Columbine after 2 PM, we started tearing down the aid station.

Fortunately only one rider (the last one) needed transportation down from the mountain. He looked better than some of the others in front of him, but he was too tired to ride back down to Twin Lakes. He couldn't possibly make the cut-off there anyway. Bob and Jolene squeezed him and his bike into their truck. There is no cut-off at our aid station because crews cannot come up to it. Volunteers truck-pool (4WD required) up there in the morning in just five or six vehicles, and there really isn't room to carry riders and their bikes back down.

We were done up top about 2:30 PM but it took over an hour to negotiate the now-muddy road back down to Granite and get into Leadville to unload our supplies. As we neared the rangeland above Granite, we followed some cows for about a quarter of a mile until they finally checked out the two blue porta-potties (far right) and went off into the sagebrush:

[Note: it isn't much easier to herd cows from a pickup truck than it is on foot on the Colorado Trail!]

With much of the water gone, all Jim and I carted back were the tables, large beverage dispensers, traffic cones, and about twenty bricks we'd borrowed from Jack to even up the table legs on our sloped site. By 4 PM we were done. Again, much less time and effort involved than at Hardrock.

Mike and Marge generously invited the whole group over to their new house in Beaver Lake Estates for supper. Several of us failed to get complete directions, and spent quite a while in that large "subdivision" hunting for their house (nice homes with acreage overlooking one of many lakes). We finally found it with the help of some of the other volunteers who were also directions-challenged, and had a wonderful couple of hours sharing a good meal in good company.

That's Jim Ballard (left), Mike Hickman, and Jim lounging around the rustic dining table after supper:

We loved the Hickman's house with its hillside views of lakes and Mounts Massive and Elbert (although it was too foggy to see the mountains). Most of their furniture is still at their previous home in Lyons. They've been too busy to move it yet.

Later, when Mike asked all the men to help him move a VERY heavy metal sculptured moose from the driveway to the front yard, we joked that he had ulterior motives in inviting us to the house!

Marge purchased the sculpture from an artisan in Lyons, Colorado. It looks great in the yard. The guys (L to R: Jim B., Mike, Doug, Jim O., Roger, Scott) and BG the black Lab posed with the moose after moving it:

Can you see why we love working this aid station???

We did not attend the awards ceremony on Sunday morning. Results for the bike race can be found on the Leadville web site. There is a link to it on every 2006 journal page at the top left.

We're looking forward to stuffing more bags and handing them out to the runners next week. It'll be another fun time with our friends, and a great way to see all the runners entered in the race and wish them well.

<sigh> A few weeks ago, it seemed like summer would last forever. Now, the days are zipping by at warp speed. It's almost time for Jim's race - and the long drive home to Virginia.

Bummer. I like this gypsy life-style and I'm not ready for it to end yet.

Nomadically yours,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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