I mentioned in the last entry that only 35% of the 592 runners who
began the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run finished within the thirty-hour time
limit this past weekend, which is the second-lowest finish rate in the race's twenty-five year history. I wrote about some of the "notable"
finishes of those survivors, although every one of them was noteworthy
because of the difficulty of this high-altitude mountain race.
So what about all those DNFs, the 382 runners who did NOT finish the
race this time? (Do you realize that's twice as many runner as START
some popular 100-mile races??) Some of them are very good friends of ours. One of them
my BEST friend -- Jim! It broke my heart to see him miss the cut-off
halfway by only three or four minutes. It's as tough as when I've
barely missed the cut-off there.
It really surprised us that 65% of the field didn't make it across
the finish line. That's a large percentage, even for this race in which
the typical DNF rate is 50-55%.
- The weather was the best Jim and I have personally seen
in seven race events here, although some of the runners who went over
Hope Pass before Jim got into heavy rain, hail, and wind going both
directions near the pass, making for a muddy mess on their return to
Twin Lakes. David Crockett's excellent report at
chronicles the weather conditions he encountered. Davy finished
the race in 60th place in 26:15.
View from Twin Lakes to Hope Pass storm about 1:15 PM on
- The course is generally well-marked. It's not easy to get off-track
here unless there's been some race-day sabotage to the markers or
runners aren't paying close enough attention.
volunteers couldn't be any more helpful and I think most are very
knowledgeable, too. Many have been working the same aid station for
years and years.
Twin Lakes aid station early Saturday afternoon
- Aid stations are fully stocked, runners can leave drop bags five
different places (with access nine times), and crews can meet their
runners in several other places.
is a larger percentage of runnable roads and trails than in many of the
other western mountain hundred-milers, which should make it faster
(but somehow doesn't for Jim or me!).
- Runners can not only have pacers the last fifty miles (entire
distance if you're over 60 or handicapped in some manner), but even
pacers who mule for them.
- And there's that motivational speech the day before the race that
is unparalleled in U.S. hundred-mile race events . . . if
that doesn't get you psyched up, nothing will!
The list of veteran 100-mile finishers (both in this race and in other
races) who didn't finish this time is amazing and lengthy. Jim's in quite
The stakes were high for everyone who trained hard and spent a lot of
money to come to this race, but they were even higher for the three Leadmen
who didn't finish and the ten Grand Slammers who are out of contention
after finishing Western States and Vermont. That's gotta hurt extra
badly after finishing earlier races in those series.
I've thought about listing some of the "notable" non-finishers, but decided
against it. I don't want to embarrass anyone or rub salt into any
wounds. There IS one runner I will talk about because Ken
gave her so much publicity at the awards ceremony. She's a good friend,
an inspiration, and . . .
ONE CLASSY LADY!
Remember when I mentioned in the last entry that Jim and I were at
our crippled truck on Sixth Street two blocks from the finish when
the last few runners were finishing the race on Sunday?
After the gun went off at 10 AM, signaling the end of the race, we
really didn't expect anyone else to show up. I went to get Jim's drop
bags and he continued working on the truck.
About twenty minutes had elapsed from the time David Strong, the
last official finisher, stepped on the red carpet. Suddenly we heard
wild cheering from the few remaining spectators, looked west down Sixth Street, and saw our good friend, Marge Adelman Hickman,
in the green top below,
walking toward the finish line with her husband Mike and several other
people. I didn't take her picture until she'd passed us:
I didn't know whether to cheer or cry. This former female champion
and thirteen-time finisher -- the most finishes of any woman in the race's
history -- would arrive about fifteen minutes late and not be an
official finisher this year!
Most runners choose to quit up at the McWethy-Sixth Street turn when
it's inevitable they can't beat the final cut-off. It's just too
heart-wrenching for them to get closer to the finish line, within sight
of the banner and spectators. But Marge was determined to
go the distance even if it wouldn't "count."
Know what? It damn well counts in MY book even if it isn't official.
To me, Marge is still a champion. She's still got guts and a lot of
ability. At age 57 she's one of the oldest females to run the race.
(The oldest female finisher this year is Rickie Redland-McManus, who is
53 or 54). Marge had the
courage to START and do her best, so missing the cut-off at the very end
was very hard on her, her friends and family, Ken and Merilee, and
anyone watching her walk up that last hill. It's similar to Matt Mahoney
finishing only a few SECONDS past the cut-off at Hardrock last month --
very tough emotionally on the runner AND those who witness it.
Early in the awards ceremony Ken Chlouber stepped into the audience to recognize
Marge (next photo below). She was understandably a bundle of emotions at
this point, having finished running a hundred grueling miles and missing
her goal less than two hours ago. I give her a ton of credit for even
showing up at the ceremony. She is an inspiration to me because she's
only a year younger and still out there competing in difficult events.
I can tell you she wasn't the only one crying in the gym when she and
Ken got done talking.
Ken has plenty of reason to cry himself. This is the
first time in the history of the burro races (over 30 years) and the run
(25 years) that he hasn't been able to start, due to a knee problem.
He's also DNFd the LT run (and Bighorn) several times recently despite
giving it his best effort. He's got to be getting as frustrated with this aging
thing as Jim and I are!!
But Ken, Marge, Jim, many of our friends in their 50s
and 60s and 70s, and I just aren't about to give up. We're all out there
testing our (diminishing) limits until our bodies simply won't let us
continue doing it any more.
I wanted to show the empathetic faces, above, of
some of the audience as Ken gave his unconditional support to Marge. King Jordan is on the left.
He's another 1,000-mile
buckle holder who keeps coming back for more. King
is one of the nicest fellas you'd ever want to meet. He has retired now
as president of Gallaudet University. As a hearing-impaired runner, and also
probably in his 60s now, he is another ultra runner who gives us
inspiration for his grit and determination.
It's so hard to put in all the training required to do
an ultra, especially a hundred-miler, and not reach your goal. I'm glad
Ken always takes the time to recognize the runners who had the courage
to try, even if they didn't finish.
SO WHY DID SO MANY PEOPLE NOT
No one likes to DNF a race like this, regardless of the reason. And
there are about as many reasons as there are runners. I'll hazard the following guesses as
some of the reasons for the low
finish rate at Leadville this year:
Lack of 100-mile race experience: LT100 does not have any
requirements for entry other than sending in your application and a fat
check! There are no qualifying standards and no race or trail volunteer
requirements to limit the number of available entrants. If you have the money
for Leadville, you're in. There appeared to be no limit to the number of
runners who could enter this year, either. And it's amazing how many
folks use this difficult race as their first 100-miler. Even though some of them finish
(Jim did that in 1999!), the odds are heavily stacked against them.
Inadequate training for high altitude race conditions: the
vast majority of entrants do not live at high altitude and most aren't
able to spend two or three weeks at 9,200 to 12,600 feet to get properly
acclimated. Some people apparently need 'way more time than that,
even, like Jim and I seem to. We've been camped at 9,700 to 10,200 feet and
regularly training up to 14,000 feet the last two months, and Jim still
slowed down considerably on Mount Hope.
Near site of the Hopeless aid
station, July 22, 2007
Inadequate training for the elevation gain and loss: there are
15,600 feet of gain and 15,600 feet of loss in this race, a significant amount
for runners who don't have the opportunity to regularly train on long
ascents and descents where they live -- let alone at this altitude. (Out
of curiosity, Jim considered taking the GPS with him during the race to
determine the total elevation gain and loss and see how long the course
really is, but he wisely decided against carrying it. He needs to
do it on several training runs instead.)
Not tapering enough: we see it every year, and have probably
been guilty of it ourselves even when we've been able to be in Colorado
all summer: runners training on the course, especially Hope
Pass, or climbing 14ers too close to race time and not giving their
bodies adequate rest before the race. They want to get acclimated ASAP,
get in some long climbs, become familiar with the course, have fun with
friends they haven't seen in a while, etc. And then they have dead legs
during the race and wonder what happened.
Hope Pass on July 22, 2007
Starting out too fast: I was surprised to see so many runners
so early at Fish Hatchery (23.5 miles), the first aid station I went to
during the race. The weather was great and lots of folks had "happy feet."
Pacing is tough. You want to get in as many miles as you can while it's
cooler and you're fresh, before the afternoon heat saps you or your body
hits a low point during the night when it wants to SLEEP, not climb up
the Powerline. But going out too fast
can kill your race whether you're a newbie or a veteran. Been there, done
that, at every distance from a mile to one hundred miles!
Not managing fluids, calories, and electrolytes properly: high
altitude affects all of these and runners not fully acclimated (i.e.,
the majority of them) may have had more than the usual problems with nausea,
dehydration, swelling, cramping, etc. The bright sunshine at high
altitude may have also increased dehydration problems this year.
Bright sun and no shade at "tree line"
Saturday morning during the race
Inadequate training due to injuries leading up to the race: it
seemed like a lot of folks we know or met had medical problems this year and weren't able to train as well as usual. Some chose not to start
the race, but many did and ended up not being able to complete the
distance. Either the injuries flared up or they ran out of steam from
lack of event-specific training.
Higher water in the wetlands and creek near Twin Lakes: some
folks may have been slowed down by this, but Jim guessed it added only
about a minute to his time to cross the muddy, swampy area and Lake Creek,
which was knee- to mid-thigh-high on runners. I
know it added more time than that to MY time several weeks ago (July 22) when I
crossed the deep, swift current twice without a rope. All those other
smaller creek crossings were higher during the race than when I went
through in July, too. Anyone who is short
or timid about the water may have become unglued in this section!
Jim crossing Lake Creek
(L) and one of the little creeks on July 22, 2007 -- all higher on race day
The heavy rain, wind, and hail some runners experienced outbound
and/or inbound on Mount Hope: although the trail on the north
(Winfield) side of the mountain apparently wasn't affected, some early
and mid-pack runners encountered nasty weather going one or both
directions near the Hopeless aid station and the trail was very muddy
and slick going down the south side toward Twin Lakes on Saturday
afternoon and evening. That'll
definitely slow you down and wear you out faster.
Too many people in the race this year: each year more and more
people are allowed to enter this race. I remember in 1999 when Jim and I
had to send in our applications in January as soon as the race opened
because it filled in just a few days (kinda like a lot of other 100s
now!). The LT limit was lower then and it wasn't increased.
Times have changed. With almost 600 people on the single-track trails
around Turquoise Lake early in the race, difficult two-way traffic with
runners and pacers on Mount Hope, and more runners in the aid stations
at the same time, I'm sure some folks were slowed down because of the
Main channel of Lake Creek on July 22, 2007
Cut-offs that are too tight for the conditions: I think this
is one of the major factors in the traditionally low finish rate at
Leadville. Even though the elevation gain and loss at Leadville isn't as
great as some other 100-milers, the altitude is the highest of all of
them but Hardrock -- which allows eighteen more hours to
finish! Thirty hours isn't realistic for many people (like Jim,
again) who can finish other western mountain courses with more generous
cut-offs such as Wasatch and The Bear. I think Jim has a better chance of
finishing Hardrock than Leadville at this point.
I'm sure there are other reasons causing this year's high DNF rate
that I haven't thought of. Some of these
are true of ANY hundred-miler, but some are more exclusive to this race.
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE ODDS OF
FINISHING THIS RACE?
Many of the factors I've listed above are definitely under the
control of the runners. Some are not. All comprise the "variables" that
make running one hundred miles such an interesting challenge from year
to year, even in the same race.
We can't control the weather, but we can be flexible and adapt to it.
We can't change the race course, cut-offs, or rules, but we can pick our
races based on our personal preferences. And we just have to adapt our
training the best we can to make it as race-specific as possible.
There are also some ways that Ken and Merilee could make finishing
this race more likely, but I doubt any of them will be implemented.
There's a certain mystique or draw (and definite economic benefits) to
having only half the field finish! What, me cynical??
These are my opinions . . .
- I think the LT100 field should be limited to about 400 runners (I prefer
races smaller than that, even).
- I'd like to see a 50-mile option, since so many of us can only get to
Winfield in the allowed time.
- I think the time limit should be extended to 31 or 32 hours,
especially if the field remains this large. The course keeps getting
longer and longer and the trails and aid stations are too crowded.
Even when the race was smaller you had to step off the trail on both
sides of Hope for the two-way traffic, and now it's worse.
- I think either a trail should be built along Clear Creek AKA
Winfield Road between the Sheep Gulch trail head and the aid station, or crews should be banned from the Winfield aid station
(they are currently banned from the trail head area). Runners want
their OWN crews at Winfield, of course, but hate having everyone
ELSE'S crews on that road!
Anxious crews and pacers waiting for their
runners at Winfield on race day
But this isn't my race and I have no business suggesting major
changes! Races aren't democracies. If runners don't like the rules, they
can vote with their wallets (and feet) and run elsewhere.
The only one of the suggestions above that's likely to happen is the trail between
the Sheep Gulch trailhead and
Winfield. I don't know how much clout Ken and Merilee have in that,
though. I believe it's a project of the Forest Service and Continental
Divide Trail. Both entities will have to rely heavily on volunteer help
to get anything done because the government sure doesn't have much money
for "non-essentials" like that. (grrr)
I'd love to see a 50-miler on the course (during the 100-miler but
starting later) going either direction, point to point. However,
transportation for runners to or from Winfield in buses isn't practical
unless there are serious improvements made to Clear Creek AKA Winfield
Road and that's even less likely than a new two-mile trail along the
road. An out-and-back course that doesn't include Hope Pass wouldn't
interest many of us. That's the figurative as well as literal "high
point" of this race.
Limiting the field of runners would hurt
both the town's and race's bottom lines economically. (Have you ever
totaled up an average of $200 per runner for the entrance fee alone,
times about 650 runners? Then consider the 1,000 entrants in the bike
race and the three other races put on
by LT100 management!) The town's economic survival is largely dependent on summer visitors,
and the LT100 bike race and run bring in a LOT of people for several days to
The addition of a 50-miler would bring in more dollars to the
community. It would also add more people on the trails, which isn't my
Regarding the current cut-off: there are several reasons not
to increase it. The volunteers would be out there even longer, roads
would be tied up even longer, and more money would have to be spent on
the awards (sweatshirts, medallions, buckles, and necklaces and flowers
for the women).
More importantly, Ken won't even discuss extending the time limit
even though he hasn't been able to finish his own race for several
about it: if it was easier to finish this race, would dummies like Jim and
me keep coming back to avenge our DNFs??!! There is a magnetism to races
that are just out of our range of ability, a "fatal attraction"
to keep trying and trying and trying . . .
South side of Hope Pass, July 22
(last year - 2006)
I seriously doubt I'll ever enter this race again, although I'm
already looking ahead nineteen months to turning sixty and thinking
about what races I might do in that new age group! (Clue: this
one isn't anywhere near the top of my list.) After two LT50s, I don't
want to waste my money here unless they extend the time limits.
Jim I'm not so sure about. Although he says he's had it with LT100, I
won't be surprised come January to find it on his schedule of 2008
races, especially if he doesn't get into Hardrock.
Even if neither of us runs the race again, we love hanging out here
in August and we'll be back to socialize with friends from around the
globe, work the races, run the trails, climb the mountains,
smell the flowers, and avoid the heat and humidity at home!
Next entry: what's next on our Rocky Mountain agenda. We
aren't ready to go home yet.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil