2011 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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THE MORNING AFTER: RANDOM THOUGHTS  
ABOUT THE LT100 BIKE RACE

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14

 
"Life is pretty simple. You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. 
You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. 
Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else."
 
~ Leonardo da Vinci, the original "Renaissance Man"
 
 

I like that quotation but I can't believe anyone talked like that in the 15th Century!

"Stuff?" From what Italian word does that derive? Sounds more like a 21st Century Steve Jobs quote to me.

Maybe Brainy Quote is bluffing . . .


Strolling up and down the gauntlet before riders come into Twin Lakes

It's only Sunday but this entry is the equivalent of "Monday morning quarter-backing" -- several random thoughts we have about volunteering for and/or possibly riding this race, changes in the LT100 race series since Lifetime Fitness purchased the races, and a defense of the high cost to enter  them. The (alleged) da Vinci quote relates to all of these topics.

Photos are from before, during, and after the bike race.

VOLUNTEERING:  SELECTIVE MEMORY

This quirky phenomenon usually kicks in whenever Jim and I sign up subsequent times to work particular races like Leadville. We remember the good times and not so much the bad.

Somehow "We're not going to do that again" turns into "OK, let's do that again!" the next year.

If you're read the previous entries about this race you know we have ambivalent feelings about volunteering for the bike race every time we come to Leadville. It's just not as much fun for us as working for the foot race, where we know more of the participants. Even the LT100 run has gotten so large, however, that it isn't as much fun to work any more.

Will that stop us from volunteering for it next weekend? Not likely!


Volunteers in blue shirts assist riders as they come back at 60 miles.

This year we had some additional motivation to remain involved with the bike race.

Since Jim can't run, he's doing more cycling and getting interested in potential bike competitions. Working 45+ hours before and during this year's bike race increases his chance of getting into the 100 bike race in 2012 or 2013, if he chooses to enter.

I donít know if Iíll ever remember enough good things about volunteering at Twin Lakes during the bike race to work there again. I was as thoroughly exhausted mentally from the experience as I was physically. I know Jack and Cindy appreciated my effort but I got thanks from only one of the cyclists who was grateful for my help.

Jim felt almost the same way about Columbine Mine. The long hours just drain us and the riders don't show us as much appreciation as runners do. Right now we say we won't work at an aid station during the bike race again but you've seen how we change our tune about that every year . . .


A crew's tent away from the crowd at Twin Lakes

We are willing to help with the bike race check-in because it's a shorter shift and not as hectic, but that's about it.

This bike race has simply gotten too big for us. So has the run. Theyíd both be a lot more fun for us to help with or participate in if they were smaller, like no more than 500 people. The trend with some very popular ultra runs and bike races, however, seems to be quantity over quality. The demand is there, and most astute business people are going to take advantage of that.

RIDING THE RACE:  SECOND THOUGHTS

Until the bike race yesterday Jim was seriously considering entering this event next summer if we donít go to Alaska, or in 2013 if we do.

Upon further observation and reflection, however, that may never happen. Between what heís seen with his own eyes at various places along the course, and heard other riders and volunteers say, he doubts now that heíll ever want to ride this race. It's just too big and hectic, the same reason he hasn't been interested in running LT100 in recent years.

He almost tossed out the he got the aid station captains and volunteer coordinators to sign re: his hours worked but I encouraged him to keep them in case selective memory kicks in a year or two from now and he decides to enter the race.


CREW = cranky rider (or runner), endless waiting

I don't want to discourage Jim from ever riding this race if he really wants to but after my experience at Twin Lakes yesterday, I dread crewing for him.

I know parking and crowds are a big hassle at the next crewing point at 45/55 miles, too. Although there is no aid station there, we've volunteered as course monitors at that spot with our friends Karen and Pat at least twice in recent years. Most people have a long way to walk in and some crew members are real jerks there, too, showing little regard for any rider but their own.

I don't know what the other crew-accessible aid stations are like. Not sure I want to find out unless I have to. 

PROFIT:  GOOD OR GREED?

Here's a rather contentious topic among ultra runners and cyclists.

Some folks have a problem with escalating race costs and call race directors "greedy" when they think their entry fees are too high.

This thread comes up at least annually on the internet ultra running list and I am amused every time I see it. It was a sore point for some people even before the economic recession began. I'm guessing the same debate occurs on cycling forums.

I take a pro-capitalist position on thisif you don't like it, choose a less expensive race.

Professional RDs at popular events like Western States and Badwater can command high prices because people are willing to pay them. If folks object on principle or can't pay that much, they have a choice -- don't go there! They can pick from hundreds of ultra-distance trail races, including 100-milers, that are less expensive or even free, fat-ass events.


Checking out the gauntlet at Twin Lakes early in the morning before the riders come in

Why do I bring this up? Because Leadville has some of the highest race fees in the country.

Even if the fees weren't high, running or riding one of the LT races is expensive because of  transportation, housing, and other costs. There are no cheap air fares or car rentals to Leadville. There are few inexpensive housing options in or near Leadville in the summer. If you want to get there and train for one or two weeks on the cheap, drive your own vehicle and either rent a house with a bunch of friends or camp free on BLM or Forest Service lands.

Running or riding Leadville events can get downright expensive for most of the participants. That doesn't stop thousands of runners and cyclists from entering these races each year, however. They obviously believe they will get fair value for their money or they wouldn't keep signing up!!

Ditto for Western States, Badwater, and every other expensive-but-alluring race out there.


The relative calm before the storm

Even though we are living on rather fixed retirement incomes, Jim and I have no problem with all of this. We have been willing to pay high fees over the years for race classics like Leadville and Western States because they are managed so well, they are held in beautiful places -- and they are classics. They've been around so long that people know pretty much what to expect when they participate.

I'm a Libertarian who strongly believes in the free market. Put on a great event and people will come, regardless of the cost. That's true for just about every sport and form of entertainment.

I'm happy to see more and more ultra runners becoming professional race directors as the sport mushrooms in popularity.

One of the newer examples is the Coury family's Aravaipa Running series in the Phoenix area. Jamil, Nick, Nate, their parents (Pati and Peter), and their sister are some of the nicest people we know. They also have high standards for themselves and their races. We wish them success in their venture and hope they make a bunch of money!


LT100 race founder and former owner, Ken Chlouber (R), talks
with a volunteer at Twin Lakes before the riders start coming in.

I believe anyone with good ideas and management skills who puts on quality events should be free to make a profit off folks who are willing to pay to enter their races.

That's not greed; it's good business acumen and one of the foundations of the American dream.

The previous and current owners of the Leadville Race Series are obviously providing a service that a lot of people want. If the price ever gets too high to justify the quality of the event, the free market will let them know.

Runners and cyclists vote with their wallets when they enter races, as they do with any other service or commodity they purchase.

SOME CHANGES WE'VE OBSERVED

That said, we have noticed a couple of improvements in the LT100 bike race and some deterioration in the quality of the service and items given to participants.

Note that we've observed only part of the entire race operation so I'm sure I've missed some other things, both positive and negative. And I don't know yet what changes will affect the LT100 run next week.

One of the changes -- OK, maybe not a change because it's been gong on since the event began -- is allowing both of the 100-mile races to continue to get larger and larger, to the extent that we lost interest in running LT100 even before we couldn't run any more, Jim doesn't think now that he ever wants to ride the bike race, and it isn't much fun to volunteer at either event any more.

If large crowds in the first miles of the race, on narrow roads and trails, and on out-and-back sections of both LT100 courses don't bother you, then this isn't an issue. If it is, you might want to choose smaller events where there aren't 1,800+ riders or nearly 1,000 runners competing for the same turf.

Here are some smaller differences we observed with the bike race this year. If they affect the run, I'll report it later.

I don't think items to eat and drink at the aid stations have improved with increasing entry costs. In fact, I don't think the selections are as good as they used to be. And remember that Columbine Mine even ran out of free water both this year and last. That should never happen in an established  race like this.


Post-race party on the courthouse lawn

I've noticed a gradual cheapening of the shirts, awards, and goodies the participants and volunteers receive in this ride and run -- and in some other ultras we've run multiple times over the years. 

To the dismay of previous riders, this year's finishers in the bike race wonít be getting heavy hooded sweatshirts with their times on the sleeve. I don't know if run finishers will get them or not. Thatís been a tradition since Iíve been coming here (1998). Jim still proudly wears the sweatshirt he earned in the 1999 LT100 foot race.

The volunteer who's been in charge of the imprinting process admitted this was one of his suggestions for this year. I can understand his perspective but I wouldn't be happy with it if I was a participant. Itís so hectic for the volunteers to put those times on the sleeves during the night and morning after the events. Itís a unique touch, but it is grueling to get them all done before and during the awards ceremony now that there are so many more runners and cyclists in the races than there used to be.

That's just one more disadvantage of the races becoming so large. Even though there's plenty of money coming in to pay for these awards, Lifetime apparently doesn't want to pay the true cost of labor to do it any more. I can't blame the volunteer, who I'm not going to name, for begging off that job.

We wouldnít have known about this change except one of the previous female winners was griping loudly about it when she got her bike entrants' shirt on Friday. Shortly after that a man came through the line grumbling about it, too.


Post-race fluids and snacks at the courthouse

Otherwise everyone seems to like this yearís bike entrantsí shirt and had no complaints when they got to us in the check-in line.

When Jim went to get more boxes of shirts he saw the bike finishersí shirts Ė thin, silky, long-sleeved black technical shirts with a similar design on front as the entrants' shirts. Finishers also get belt buckles. I haven't seen the buckles this year and don't know if they are similar to ones given out previously.

This year's entrants' and finishers' bike shirts do appear to me to be of lower quality than in previous years. The volunteer shirts in particular are not nearly as nice as most previous ones we've received at this race This year they are noticeably thinner and have only simple white lettering. They are the light blue shirts shown in many of the photos in this series of entries.

The bike volunteer shirts we got in 2009, the last year Ken and Merilee owned the race, were thicker and much classier:


Jim took this picture of me two years ago in my 2009 shirt.

In fact, that's one of my very favorite volunteer shirts that I've ever gotten, anywhere. I was disappointed in this year's shirts.

Then there are the bags the runners and cyclists got this year, a much cheaper version of goodie bag than this race has used before.

Gone are the heavy canvas duffel bags or backpacks with multiple pockets and zippers that race veterans have come to expect. Jim and I have quite a collection of those over our years of participating in the run. They are sturdy, last a long time, and are good for drop bags during races, traveling, and taking to the fitness center.

This year all the entrants got a small, thin, tan cloth bag with handles like the one Marge Hickman is looking through here:

They might be easier to stuff and they are handy for carrying a few lightweight items but they aren't nearly as practical or nice as canvas duffel bags and backpacks.

One nice addition to the race this year was the free post-race Mexican food over in the courtyard. The three times I was there or drove by on Saturday afternoon hardly any riders or volunteers were there. I'm not sure it was publicized adequately. Even Jack, my aid station coordinator, didn't know about it until very close to the race. He made sure Jim and I got tickets. It was free to all the riders and volunteers.

Previously I haven't noticed the showers that were offered to the riders after the race. I don't know if that idea is new:


Bet this post-race shower felt good!

First-time LT100 riders were probably oblivious to any changes in the race. Former participants were the ones grumbling about the shirts and goodie bags because they felt like they got short-changed.

When the entry process for the 2012 race opens, LT100 race veterans will have to weigh whether such things are important to them or whether just competing in this popular race is worth the cost of entry (and related fees) to them, regardless of how large the entry field gets or their perception of any deterioration in the quality of the event.

If they had fun and/or loved the challenge, they'll probably enter again regardless of the cost and what goodies they get. That's the free market at work.

It will be interesting to see what Jim's response to entering this race will be in the future. My guess is that he will choose smaller races at other venues. Since we can camp inexpensively while we're there, the cost of the entry fee is less important to us than the size and ambiance of the race.

RECLAIMING LEADVILLE

Most of the cyclists and their crews left town this afternoon. Most of the runners are glad. < smile >

There are twice as many riders as runners in the LT100 events; the stores and restaurants in Leadville will be less crowded this week and we're happy we won't have to watch out for as many mountain bikes screaming down the Powerline or the county roads on the bike course.

Of course, many of the permanent residents will be happy when all the runners are gone, too, and they can reclaim their quiet little town!

Even the folks who rely on the tourist trade are ready for a break by the end of August.

Next entryhiking up to Timberline Lake, a new trail to me

Happy trails,

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

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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