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"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
~ T. S. Elliott
You can take that quote literally or figuratively.

This three-part entry is about the Leadville Trail 100-mile bike race, a gnarly event over rough terrain at high altitude in the Rocky Mountains.

Not everyone will finish the race that is lucky enough to get in (many more people register than are chosen in the lottery) but most of them will give it their best shot. Some may even surprise themselves and do better than expected.

It takes courage just to enter the doggone thing.

One hundred miles on a bike isn't so tough in itself (it's definitely easier than running or walking a hundred miles) but this course is particularly difficult, especially when you're sharing it with a couple thousand other riders and have strict time cut-offs at various aid stations.

View from the Columbine Mine aid station (elev. 12,600 feet) during the 2004 bike race

Neither Jim nor I are entered in the bike race or the run this year but we are volunteering for both 100-mile events again.

The bike race is the subject of this entry, which will include three pages of photos and information from check-in to the race itself. I'll write about the run after it is held next weekend.


The Leadville Trail 100 race series reached a critical moment last year when Lifetime Fitness bought the entire event from Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin (formerly O'Neill). The company was a major sponsor of the series for several years before the owner, an avid cyclist and now runner, negotiated with Ken and Merilee to buy the rights to the events.

There were some noticeable changes that we observed to the 100-mile events in 2010 but Ken and Merilee continued to have a major influence on the races as management transitioned from them to the new corporate owner.

This year we noticed even more changes from our perspective as volunteers. I'll talk about some of them in this entry and subsequent ones.

Ken and Merilee were still visible but not in charge. Now they are primarily ambassadors of good will and consultants to the new staff. That has to be more fun than running the whole show! They are obviously less stressed than in previous years.

Ken (L) works the crowd during packet pick-up on Thursday.

Here's a little historical perspective of these races . . .

Ken and Merilee started the 100-mile footrace in 1983. The 100-mile bike race began in 1992. This is the 29th running of the footrace and the 18th ride.

Three other shorter running and cycling events were added to the series later on, partly to serve as training for the 100-mile races but mostly to bring in even more tourist dollars to this financially struggling former mining town.

It's well-known that Ken conceived of the original race as a means to bring $$$ to Leadville after the only remaining local mine closed and the economic base eroded. He was correct in guessing that the best way to revive the town's economy was to bring in more tourists (and some residents, too -- we know folks like Marge and Mike Hickman that moved there because they liked the area so well).

Ken's original idea was absolutely brilliant, although it took a few years for the race to grow and prosper. There simply weren't many 100-mile foot races back in the early '80s. Even with about a hundred of them in the U.S. now, many runners want to run Leadville because of its history, location, and general allure.

The idea for a series of foot races -- and branching out to include cycling -- was brilliant, too.

I don't know how many folks currently run the 10K and 50-mile foot race or ride the 50-mile bike race, but the two 100-mile events alone are capped at a total of about 3,000 entrants, and many more would come if allowed.

There were so many vehicles at Twin Lakes during the bike race that
some crews had to walk over a mile to reach the aid station.

As the LT100 events surged in popularity over the last three decades the series became a very successful business venture under Ken and Merilee's direction. Even under "outside" management it will continue to bring some much-needed economic stability to Leadville businesses and home owners who cater to tourists.

The ripple economic effect actually extends a lot farther than Leadville.

Because the 100-mile events have grown so large communities as far away as Buena Vista, Aspen, Frisco, and Dillon also benefit from increased business when the hordes descend on the area to acclimate to the high altitude and participate in the races. There simply aren't enough available seats in restaurants or beds in Leadville hotels, motels, B&Bs, and private homes to accommodate them all.

Then consider all the folks who fly into Denver for the race and rent cars for the long drive to the mountains . . .

The economic benefits of this race series go on and on, and include many more people than just the owner of Lifetime Fitness, his employees, and the company's stockholders.

It appears to us that there has been a pretty smooth transition from Ken and Merilee to Lifetime Fitness Corp.  Ken and Merilee are still acrtively involved but don’t have to hassle with the details any more since they sold the race. Ken’s still doing the “pep talks” before each race (he hates that term!) and Merilee still does the finish line.

Both emcee the awards ceremony and continue to schmooze the hoards that come to Leadville for these events -- undoubtedly their favorite roles!


Mostly because of the people involved -- the other volunteers, race participants, and crews who have become our friends over the past thirteen years.

All of our motives aren't altruistic, however.

I've volunteered at LT100 since 1998, Jim since 1999. We've done a number of interesting jobs, mostly with the run but also the last few years with the bike race.

Before the races we've helped mark the course, folded countless shirts, set up tables and chairs and taken them back down again, moved countless boxes, stuffed goodie bags, given out shirts, timing chips, and other items at packet pick-up, handled registration and check-in, and other jobs I can't even remember right now.

We've done about everything there is to do during the races at aid stations from set-up to tear-down, including erecting tents, canopies, and tables, then  taking them down afterwards; handling food, drinks, and drop bags; doing timing and ham radio communications; and telling people where to go (course directions, not what you're thinking!)

Jim with Karen and Pat pose before the 2009 LT 100 bike packet-stuffing process;
we have volunteered with Karen and Pat many times at both Hardrock and Leadville.

We do all this because it's fun to be with our friends and we know as veteran runners that events like this wouldn't occur if there weren't enough dedicated volunteers to pull them off.

At least two of our favorite races talk about being "families" of ultra runners and volunteers -- Hardrock and Leadville.

Hardrock is still small enough at 140 runners to feel like family. We still know a lot of the runners and their crew members because race veterans have an edge in the lottery. Leadville, on the other hand, has grown so large and we now know so few people running it that it doesn't have that "family" feel for us any more. Our Leadville "family" now is mostly the veteran volunteers we've been working with for so long.

Most of the people who have played key roles in managing this race are still involved. I don’t know if they’re getting paid or not; I think some are, or are at least getting some of their expenses paid now. That's good. Many of them are locals but some are from out of town and have to pay to get here, find a place to stay, and maybe eat their meals out.

Some folks wonder why we still offer so much of our time and effort to volunteering at this race now that it's managed by a nationwide corporation. After all, they're just in it for the money, right?? Why should we work for free?

We do it for the same reasons we always did when it wasn't so obviously "corporate" -- the camaraderie with other volunteers, socializing with friends we know in the races, the thanks we get from (some of) the participants, the perks we receive from race management, and the fun of being involved in the events themselves.

The aid station crew at Columbine Mine during the 2006 bike race

And now that Jim can no longer run he's got more interest in volunteering for, and perhaps even competing in, the 100-mile mountain bike race.

You heard it here first!

Next year we intend to be in Alaska all summer but Jim's considering entering the bike race in 2013. I'm glad to see his enthusiasm for cycling and possibly competing in bike races, including this one. That gave us some additional, non-altruistic motivation to volunteer for the bike race this year.

Why? Because of the difficulty of being selected in the lottery. The odds are even lower than the current odds of getting into the Western States or Hardrock runs through their lotteries. It takes more than just money and a finish at a qualifying event to get into the LT100 bike race; you also need the luck of the draw.

But there's another way for the Average Joe to get in . . .

Cyclists who volunteer enough hours for the bike race have an edge (but not a guarantee) over other entrants for subsequent races.

Jim is pretty well assured of a spot if he ever wants to enter because of all his volunteer work with the Leadville races over the past thirteen years. This year alone he has put in over 45 hours of work for the bike race. Hardrock and some of our other favorite events are like this, too -- they value the contributions of veteran volunteers.

Jim talks with Mike Hickman during packet pick-up on Thursday.

Jim now has forms signed by the volunteer coordinators and aid station captains that will give him preference should he decide to enter the race in the future -- Bill Moyer for check-in, Jack Saunders for Twin Lakes aid station pre-race assistance, and Mike Hickman (aid station captain) and Bruce Talley (communications captain) for ham radio work at Columbine Mine during the race.

Those four men also know our long history of volunteering for this race, in case Jim needs that proof  later.

We both worked our butts off the last few days but only Jim will get lottery credit because I don't need it. I have no interest whatsoever in riding up or down the Powerline on a bike!!! It's insanely steep, covered with loose rock, and dangerous going downhill even for runners and hikers. No way I'd ever try to ride it on a bike. The rest of the course does look like fun but I'd rather ride those sections for free on my own time.


A few days after our arrival in Leadville Jim and I drove downtown to see the new LT100 store. The old store/office that Ken and Merilee used is now just the local race series office for Lifetime Fitness.

The company bought another building on the main street to house its Leadville Race Series store to sell merchandise and serve as HQ for the events. Since the race series has grown so large there are a bunch of part- and full-time employees working in the store this summer to coordinate the events.

Despite all the new paid staff, Lifetime Fitness still relies on volunteer help to pull off these events, especially the 100-mile run and ride. They just aren't as dependent on volunteers as Ken and Merilee were.

Volunteers for the bike race get ready to hand out bib numbers inside the new LT store on Thursday.

When we checked out the new LT store early last week the first person we saw was Marge Hickman, busy stocking shelves with race merchandise.

It was good to see her and her husband Mike, who popped in for a couple minutes with his grandkids and son. I've known Marge and Mike since I first became involved with the race in 1998. Both have run the foot race numerous times and they still captain the Columbine Mine aid station during the bike race. Jim and I have worked that aid station with them four or five times.

Marge is about my age (early 60s). She has the most wins and finishes of any women in the LT100 run.

This year she's taking the bull by the horns -- she has entered the Leadwoman Series. Leadmen and women try to complete all five of the races in the series in the span of less than two months. The series includes 10K and 50-mile runs and a 50-mile bike race, culminating with the 100-mile bike ride and run only a week apart.

Jim gives Marge her goodie bag at packet pick-up on Thursday.

This is Marge's first time doing the bike races and has she got some funny training stories! She had Jim and me in stitches of laughter.

What a gal -- talk about setting challenging goals for oneself, which I discussed at the beginning of the last entry and alluded to at the top of this one. Marge has more guts (and better knees) than I do. The odds are against her because of her age, more in the bike race than in the run because she has a lot more experience running than cycling. She does have the advantage of living near Leadville -- she can easily train on the courses and she's used to minimal air at 10,000 feet and up.

I admire Marge's spunk and courage. She's a great role model for older women (younger ones, too). You go, girl!

Next entry: our pre-race volunteer jobs -- packet pick-up and assisting Jack with Twin Lakes AS prep

Happy trails,

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

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil