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Me to Jim this morning: "We're getting too old to do this race!"
Jim, puzzled: "What do you mean? We didn't run it this year."
Me: "No. We're getting too old to WORK it!"

This will be one of my more unusual race reports since neither of us ran , crewed, or paced at LT100 this year.

When the race was over, however, we felt about as exhausted as if we'd both run it. Our weekend wasn't as long as it was for the large majority (62%) of finishers, who were in the 27-30 hour range, but we were out there working longer than the winner was!


Races with aid stations in remote mountain locations without cell phone signals often use "hams" to track runners' times and for emergency purposes, such as contacting EMS for injured runners or sending out search and rescue teams for runners who are lost.

Many 100-milers, like Leadville, collect and relay information about each runner's times into and out of aid stations. This information may be used in several ways:

  • for tracking purposes (lots of uses for that data, such as knowing when to open and close each aid station or being sure all the runners have been accounted for),
  • for runners' own information about their pacing and time in each aid station,
  • or for public dissemination on the race's website for others to see. For example, when runners' splits are available from a race that Jim plans to run, he looks at the times of runners who finish in about the same time as his goal to determine his own pacing strategy for the race.

An increasing number of races are also trying to provide close-to-real-time standings during the events so anyone on the internet can track the leaders and their friends/family members who are running the race.

Some races have this down pat, like Western States and ATY (Across the Years). The task is most easily accomplished when runners wear timing chips but some races without chips have the process refined enough that the lag time between real life and seeing the times on the internet are very short. I remember at the Grand Teton Races two years ago that I checked online a couple times during the race and saw Jim's times at the main aid station within minutes after he'd left -- and I was very impressed.

LT100 used timing chips in the bike race last week. We were at a crewing station during most of the race and unable to see the results on the website until after the race, but by all accounts the times were up for anyone in the world to see almost in real time.

Two volunteers work on aid station times at LT100.

Chips were NOT used in the LT100 run but we thought it was the goal of the hams and timers to get runners' times in and out of the aid stations onto the website as quickly as possible.

How quick? In our naiveté about this race, and based on how quickly results are posted at some other races we've tracked on the internet, we figured within an hour or two at each aid station. In reality, it took much longer this year. We have not tracked runners' progress at this race before so we really don't know how efficient the process has been previously.

We do know that when we talked with Bruce (director of the ham radio operation) and Dick (who seemed to be in charge of the offices in the courthouse that we were using for net control) last evening, they were very surprised that the computers we'd be using to input the times relayed from the aid stations had not been set up OR networked yet. Apparently they were last year.

Bruce must have assumed they'd be set up later that evening because he asked Jim and me to be there at 5:15 Saturday morning to begin receiving information from the hams out on the course and to begin typing in the times so they could be uploaded promptly to the internet.


This is our first year working the communications/timing angle at Leadville. We've done various timing and results jobs at many other races over the years but never as hams until recently at the Hardrock Hundred (HRH).

Hardrock is the most interesting ham radio operation we've ever witnessed because of the remote locations of some of the aid stations, the difficulty of positioning the repeaters on 12,000-14,000-foot mountain summits so signals can be sent and received, and the race's heavy reliance on the hams for reporting and coordinating emergencies at or between those aid stations. In addition, the hams are the ones who track the runners and report their times in and out of the remote aid stations. In a wilderness setting, that's as much a safety feature as a convenience for the runners and others to use for the split (pacing) information.

Jim was able to help at the gym in Silverton, Hardrock communications HQ, for several hours on the second day of the race (next photo). He really enjoyed the work. There is a well-established group of hams who have been working that race for many years and they work seamlessly with the timers and computer folks to get results posted on their website very efficiently during the race. We've gotten to know some of the team fairly well when captaining or working the Cunningham aid station the past few years.

Jim (center) learns the ropes from Laura and Roy, two of the ham operators at Hardrock.

We decided it'd be fun to work in a similar capacity at Leadville.

Jim's main goal for working with the ham radio team at Leadville was to gain experience using the radios, preferably under the tutelage of someone more experienced than he is. He's had his ham license since he was fourteen years old but he hasn't had a radio for over twenty years. Needless to say, technology has changed a bit in that time! Although he's been researching different types of radios since assisting with communications at Hardrock last month, he really wanted to work directly with another ham at Leadville, not be on his own with a borrowed radio. And he wanted to do more than just assist with emergencies, as he did during the LT100 bike race last weekend.

The Leadville race also has a core group of ham operators who enjoy spending one or two weeks in the Rockies to work the bike and/or foot race. However, some weren't able to come this year and Bruce was forced to assign his volunteers to some very long shifts at the aid stations and at net control (headquarters in the courthouse). Some of the hams worked the entire race instead of working in shifts that allowed for any meaningful rest.

With so few ham operators working the race, Jim didn't get a good opportunity to work with another ham at one of the aid stations, although he did for a while at net control. He probably could have relieved Brian at the Mayqueen aid station when runners were coming back to the finish, but Jim still would have been working alone.

Jim began corresponding with Bruce several weeks before the race to let him know about his radio (and my timing) experience, his goals, and the fact that he doesn't have a radio. Bruce asked us to list our preferences of aid station locations and he considered that when he gave us our assignment on Wednesday.

All dressed up but nowhere to go: Jim models our new volunteer shirts for the run
while waiting for some work to do at net control.

Our original assignment was to work at the Fish Hatchery aid station (mile 23.5 outbound) on Saturday from 5 AM to 10 AM, then go to net control at the courthouse to relieve the ham radio operator there for a while. My job at net control would be to assist the timing director and her volunteers to input runners' times in and out of aid stations into the computers so folks could track the runners on the internet during the race. Then we might need to go back out to Fish Hatchery or another aid station during the afternoon and overnight Saturday/Sunday (when runners were on the return portion of the out-and-back course) to relieve one of the hams who was calling in times and handling emergency communications.

By Friday evening Bruce had decided that Jim and I were needed more at net control on race morning than out at Fish Hatchery. That aid station normally doesn't use a ham operator to call in times because the hatchery has offices where the timers can fax the information to net control. It's also one of the only aid stations on the course that has reliable cell phone coverage, so emergencies can be handled on the phone.

Our new assignment was to report to net control at the courthouse at 5:15 AM on Saturday to help Dick with the receipt of times over the radio from Mayqueen and by fax from Fish Hatchery. Dick would show me how to input the times into a computer so they could be uploaded to the race website. Other folks would be coming in during the morning to help input the times, which is a tedious task. After lunch we could decide whether to stay at net control or go out to one of the aid stations to relieve other hams.

That sounded OK to us, although not exactly what Jim had hoped for. Since we'd probably be working all day Saturday and throughout the night, we slept in for the race start at 4 AM and didn't go out to watch the runners in front of Jack's office as they made the turn off 6th Street toward The Boulevard about one mile into the race. (That's where we watched the cyclists last week.)

We figured we'd catch up to the runners' whereabouts soon enough.


We were up at 4:30 AM and in the tax assessors' office by 5:15. Net control (think "mission control") is set up in two rooms in the courthouse, which is adjacent to the start/finish line at 6th and Harrison. Timing sheets are posted on the front doors,

medical and drop bag tents are set up on the front lawn, and people congregate here before, during, and after the race.

We shoulda stayed in bed longer. Much longer. My next five hours were pretty much wasted. I wish I'd brought something to read. I kept expecting to have some work to do at any time, so I didn't leave and go back to the camper to get something to read;.I should have.

Dick was the only other person there. He was bored, too, with nothing to do except show Jim how to work his dual-band ham radio in case we got some actual work to do. That took about one minute. Dick knew Jim wanted experience on the radio so he encouraged him to take the timing information when Brian, the ham at Mayqueen, began calling in the runners' times around 6 AM. Jim happily waited to hear from Brian.

It would be a long wait.

I knew pretty quickly that I had no immediate job. No computers had been brought in during the night, set up, OR networked together for the runners' times to be input. In prior years the timing coordinator (who I will not identify) apparently has done that the night before the race so the whole system is ready to go as soon as the runners start coming into Mayqueen (about 5:40 AM this year).

To pass the time without going completely nuts I talked with Dick to learn as much as I could about the timing process, pondered the times each of the aid stations was open outbound and inbound, looked at the tax assessors' cartoons on the wall (pretty funny, actually!), took pictures of the sunrise over Mts. Elbert and Massive from our second-story window, joked around with Jim and Dick, tried unsuccessfully to take a nap on the cot in the room next door, wondered where I'd be if I was running the race this time, eavesdropped on the Elk Hunting 101 class (seriously!) down the hall for a few minutes, and generally fidgeted.

I clearly needed a job!

Sunrise on Mt. Elbert (L) and Mt. Massive from the tax assessors' office

The timing process goes like this at Leadville:

  • As each runner comes into an aid station, timers record the runner's number and time (hour and minutes, not seconds) on a sheet that holds up to 50 numbers. When a sheet is full, it is taken to the ham(s). The sheet is clearly identified as time INTO the aid station.
  • Other timers at the far end of the aid station record reach runner's number and time OUT of the aid station (except at Mayqueen outbound, where over 500 runners were in and out in less than 90 minutes). They also give the ham operator their sheets as each is filled. That's a lot of sheets and times!!
  • It gets more complicated. As the aid station hams receive full sheets of numbers and times, they contact the ham at net control (when they can get through). They read every number and time over the radio, both times in and times out. The ham at net control has to write down every single one of those numbers and times. So for 500 runners at Box Creek, say, the ham actually writes down 1,000 numbers and times. The preprinted sheets used at net control are exactly like the ones at the aid stations, fortunately, so the hams can be sure they're on the same page and line as the information is being transferred.
  •  When the ham at net control has written down a full sheet of 50 numbers/times either in or out of each aid station, Dick or someone else gives it to the person handling that aid station on one of the computers. Then that person types in each number in or out, and the time. There is a way to double-check for accuracy, but it takes a while, too.
  • At some point, Sarah decides when to upload the times to the website for all the world to see.

Note that each runner's number and time in (entry) and out (exit) of each of the aid stations, both INBOUND and OUTBOUND, are written down by hand two times, verbally transmitted once over the radio, and typed once into computers. Times are also recorded at the finish. It makes the use of the fax machine at Fish Hatch look downright efficient! That at least eliminates the verbal transmission and one hand-written copy.

In a race with 504 starters and 274 finishers, that's a huge amount of data to be transferred in such a labor intensive, non-techy manner.

Still waiting for something to do: Dick catches some zzzz's while Jim stretches.

If Jim and I had known how cumbersome this process is, and how many things can go wrong with it, we probably wouldn't have volunteered to help with it. At least at Hardrock there are only one-fourth as many runners and the process is simplified by the use of "packets" at the aid stations with cell phone signals. Cell phones are pretty useless along most of the Leadville course.

I think the only things that can speed the process at Leadville are fewer runners (not likely) or the use of chips (more likely) -- but only if race management wants to improve it.


Dick, Jim, and I kept wondering when the timing coordinator ("TC" for short) would be coming in with the computers. We finally got the bad news: the TC and assistant were both at the Mayqueen aid station for some reason unbeknownst to us. The TC also decided for some reason to bring back the timing sheets personally to net control instead of having Brian radio them to Jim in a much more timely manner.

That meant that not only did Dick and I had no job inputting times into the computers for several more hours, Jim also had no job receiving times from Brian over the ham radio system. In fact, he was receiving information from the hams (Bruce and Marsha) at the third aid station before we got what we needed from the first one!

We were more than a little irritated and disillusioned with the process by now. It wasn't Bruce's or Dick's fault by any means. I think Dick was just as irritated but he tried to maintain his sense of humor (next photo). Bruce didn't know these decisions were being made or he wouldn't have had us report for duty so early.

The suggested (not mandatory) cut-off time at Mayqueen was 7:15 AM, although a couple of runners came in after that and were allowed to continue.

(One of the lighter moments of our morning came when Brian radioed in that a runner from Hong Kong arrived over an hour late at the aid station and insisted on going forward. He'd come all this way and by golly, he wanted to see Hope Pass!! Can't say that I blame the guy! The aid station captain cut off his wrist band, ending his race officially, and informed the runner that he was on his own. We never did hear if he made it up to the pass -- and back down. Hope so.)

The timing coordinator stayed out at Mayqueen past 7:15, collected all the timing sheets (50 numbers and times per sheet for 504 runners), went to breakfast, and THEN came into net control about 9 AM to finally set up three more computers and network them with Dick's laptop.

By then, folks in cyberland were wondering what the heck was going on at Leadville.

I'm happy to finally have a job.

It was about 10 AM when we were able to begin putting the entry times for Mayqueen and Fish Hatchery, the first two aid stations, into four computers and almost noon before the Mayqueen times were uploaded to the website. (The first runners arrived there about 5:40 AM.)

When runners started arriving at the third aid station, Box Creek, Jim finally had more to do on the radio than just answer questions or relay information from one ham to another. That actually turned out to be distracting for everyone in the room, even when he had his earphones on. Those of us inputting race numbers and times into the computers could hear his confirmation of numbers and times as he wrote them down, and he could hear the information we were sharing with each other. It would be better if the radio was in the adjacent room. 

It wasn't long before a major networking problem developed which shut down the computer input process for a while. Dick and the timing coordinator were unable to resolve the problem, so the race webmaster (I think) was called in.

Anne (L) handles the radio.

Once again, I was without a job. The timing coordinator needed the computer I was using to try to resolve the glitch. Jim had already turned over the ham radio to Dick's wife, Anne. We were hungry and about at the end of our one last nerve. We finally left for lunch at 1 PM.


Being at net control on Saturday morning had its frustrations, but we also had a big advantage: being two of the first folks to know what was going on during the race.

High on the wall over the door to the tax assessors' office were sheets indicating the fastest and slowest previous times into each aid station (both outbound and inbound):

It was with great delight that we listened to each aid station's ham operator for news of who was first in and at what time. No names were broadcast, only numbers. We had cheat-sheets so we knew who was who: numeric and alpha lists of runners. We quickly memorized that #716 was Anton (Tony) Krupika, #1 was Duncan Callahan, #383 was Timmy Parr, and so on.

Tony Krupika runs out of the Fish Hatchery AS outbound (23+ miles) in the 2007 race.
He won LT100 in both 2006 and 2007.

Except for Mayqueen, Tony was always the first one into each of the aid stations all the way to the 50-mile turnaround at Winfield and back to Fish Hatchery on the return (76 miles). At each station, the fastest previous time was beaten by an increasingly larger margin. It was exciting to listen as Tony was 7 minutes ahead here, 17 minutes there, nearly half an hour at another spot. As soon as we'd hear at net control what Tony's time was into an aid station, one of us would get up on a chair and write his number and time on the sheet.

As much as Jim and I like Matt Carpenter, it would be pretty cool to be working the race when someone improved on his record. My main thought about Tony all morning was by what margin he'd beat that record. It never occurred to me that he'd stop before the finish. He's an indestructible kid, right? He's only 26, fairly young by ultra running standards.


It's too bad that folks trying to follow along on the internet weren't able to watch this drama unfold closer to real time like they did in the bike race. The people who were "tweeting" got the news out to the general public much faster than the information was uploaded to the race's website.

When Jim and I took a break from about 1-3 PM we returned to our camper and immediately got on the internet. There were already reports on the ultra list and the LT100 list about Tony's lead and whining about "why are the times in and out of aid stations so far behind on the race website?" Links to several crews' Twitter accounts were recommended as being more timely, although not nearly as comprehensive as the information that eventually was posted on the website.

Dick (standing L) and Jim (standing R) have more idle time
during the computer glitch on Saturday morning

I knew how frustrated people were getting, and I knew how frustrated Jim and I were with the process as it unfolded. We felt helpless. We'd done what we could that morning, seemingly to little avail.

I wasn't any more successful when I tried to take a brief nap. Naps are difficult for me on a quiet day, let alone one with so much going on. My brain wouldn't go to sleep.

Jim continued to listen to his borrowed ham radio, switching from one channel used by several of the aid stations to the other. The radio he had wasn't dual-channel like the one at net control so he had to stay on "his" channel most of the time in case someone was trying to contact him. We could hear everything from net control, Box Creek, Twin Lakes, and Winfield but we missed a lot of the communications from Mayqueen and Hope Pass.

We didn't hear anything from Fish Hatchery because there was no ham radio operator there. We did get the faxed sheets of runners' numbers and times soon after each sheet was filled and volunteers put them into the computers until the network malfunctioned.


Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil