Monday, November 4, 2013

A Letter On Leadville

In attending the 2013 Leadville 100, I like many others could not believe what we had witnessed. I've been struggling with what to write on my blog in the weeks passing since the race and those weeks have turned into a few months. This past week however, The Hard Rock 100 made the loudest statement yet, by removing the LT100 from its list of qualifying races. It's not just that it was removed, but the verbiage Hard Rock used in doing so.. in black and white.. on their website. So the time has finally come, for me to write a letter which I intend to send to the Race Director of the Leadville 100, The towns of Leadville and Twin Lakes, and the land managers associated with the event itself (USFS).
Below is the letter I've written and it's nearly the surface on how I feel about Leadville. This race has problems, REAL problems and unless more of us continue to speak up.. nothing will ever change. I've been advocating for the protection of our sport for years, protection from races like Leadville, Ultracentric, Run Rabbit Run and others.. THIS is why. 

My name is John Lacroix and I am a veteran of the Ultramarathon community, having run in numerous races all over our great country since 2005. In the near decade that I’ve been an ultra runner, I’ve had the privilege of running events in many of our nations most beloved places; The Adirondacks of New York and White Mountains of New Hampshire, The Appalachians of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, The Smokey’s of Tennessee, The Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons and mighty Sierra Nevada.
I also graduated from the University of New Hampshire Outdoor Education program where I also minored in Recreation Management. I moved to Colorado in 2011 and worked as a professional guide in Boulder, CO and have also volunteered my time to the Association of Experiential Education. The reason I am writing to you today is to talk to you about the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run held each August in the mountains surrounding Leadville Colorado.
As an ultra runner, my first time running in the LT100 was in 2010. That year I was running what is known as the Grand Slam of Ultra Running and Leadville is the third of four races held nationwide over a four-month span. I then ran in the Silver Rush 50 in 2011, and the LT100 again in 2011 as well. This past year (2013), I paced a friend the last 50 miles of the race from Winfield back into Leadville proper.

My experiences with the Leadville 100 have all been very different over the years. As each year has gone by, I am sad to say that the experiences have yet to get better and the reality is, they’ve only continued to get worse. In this letter to you I would like to outline my concerns for the continuation of Leadville’s Events and my concerns come from the variety of perspectives that I list above: As a trail and ultra runner, as a fellow race director, as an Outdoor Educator, as a Recreation Manager and as a concerned citizen of the State of Colorado.

The Leadville 100 started as a run in 1983 with 45 runners. Over the years, Leadville grew to be one of the classic “old school” races of our sport and annually welcomed 300-400 runners to its starting line. In 2010, Lifetime Fitness purchased the race from local legend Ken Chlouber and many of us in our sport knew that the event would never be the same. If we had only known it would stoop to the lows we saw in 2013, we as a community of runners would have done more to protect it.
Since the release of “Born To Run” a New York Times best selling book about running, and about running Leadville, the numbers of entrants who have sought the starting line has exploded exponentially. Here is the number of official starters of the Leadville 100 over the last 10 years:

Again, this represents the number of starters, NOT the numbers who actually sign up and fail to make it to the starting line.  You can clearly see the explosion of entrants over the last 4 years. The problem with this is, because Leadville has no regulation on the number of people that it is allowed to have on the trails at any one time, they pack as many people as they possibly can. Who can blame them, with each runner paying around $300 each, the race brings in $350,000 before it even starts.

Let’s look at this closer. This year, 943 runners started the Leadville 100. That means that 943 runners ran on the singletrack trail along the banks of Turquoise Lake and then up above the May Queen camping area. When I ran on these trails in the 2011 event, I could not even fathom having 300 more runners on that section of trail yet, Leadville has made that happen.

Let’s say that 650 of those runners make it to Twin Lakes 2. That would mean that 650 runners ran up and over Hope Pass twice. But there’s more. Of those 650 runners, approximately 500 of them had a pacer. That means that on race day, almost 2000 heartbeats ran up and over Hope Pass. This number doesn’t even represent the number of folks who ran up and over Hope Pass the first time and timed out at Winfield. You could easily estimate 200 runners timed out there bringing our number of heartbeats on Hope Pass too 2200. I want to ask you as land managers if this is truly a responsible number of heartbeats to have on the resources that make up Twin Lakes, Hope Pass and Winfield? Have you truly done your due diligence to explore the true impact this many heartbeats in an 8 Hour span has on that resource and its other users? I say shame on you and shame on Lifetime for letting this happen.

Furthermore, the average ultra runner brings 3 crewmembers to a race. If 700 runners make it to Winfield, that means there is an average of 3,000 people who descend upon the Winfield area on race day. Of the three times I have been to Winfield on Race Day, I can tell you that this small area cannot, nor should it, accommodate that number of people. Have you truly done your due diligence to explore the true impact that 3000 people have on that resource in one day? Keep in mind also that the average runner has at least 1, sometimes 2 crew vehicles, on race days. It is very safe to say that over 1000 vehicles made it out to Winfield or, because the parking lots were full, they simply parked their car in place on the road leading in and walked into Winfield from there. This is responsible stewardship of our lands?

There are a number of issues at play here and I’m merely scratching the surface of what those are. The real hard facts are this however: The Race Director of the Leadville 100 did NOT do their due diligence in 2013. On race weekend, it was discovered that the RD had not acquired the appropriate permits, which allowed the race to travel legally through the town of Twin Lakes. Are you serious? This man makes over $36,000 in salary to direct a race and he fails to acquire the proper permits?! A serious health and safety issue took place during the race when crew traffic for over 900 runners was instructed to cross over the runners route, AT AN AID STATION, where many of us witnessed a collection of near-hit incidents. As the sun began to set on the course, the event ran out of food and drink at it’s Hope Pass Aid Station, a station nestled nearly 13,000’ elevation and where runners experience a collection of symptoms most severely related to hypothermia, Altitude sickness and possible renal-failure.
The Leadville 100 was started as a way to help save the economy of Leadville and the surrounding area following the close of the Climax Mine. Over the years, Leadville has done very well and us runners are extremely grateful for the hospitality we receive there and in Twin Lakes. We do our very best to buy local and contribute to the towns that need and welcome our cash. However, what Leadville has become is an embarrassment to our sport. The towns of Leadville and Twin Lakes as well as the various land management agencies associated with the race should be ashamed and embarrassed for what it has become because you ALL have a part in this play.
The Hard Rock 100, which takes place in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado has removed the LT100 as a qualifying race moving forward with the following statement: “…the 2013 Leadville 100 ignored other traits of importance to the Hard Rock: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport.” That’s right, other well-respected races in our sport are embarrassed by Leadville and it’s once illustrious notch in our sport is being taken down by big statements such as this. Google Search “2013 Leadville 100” and you’ll find a handful of commentaries smattered across the Internet, including on ESPN, that talk about the Leadville 100. None of those commentaries are very positive.
The Leadville 100, the towns of Leadville and Twin Lakes, and the various land management agencies that permit this event to take place need to do more to protect the resources of Colorado and the tiny infrastructure that exists in and around this event.
  • ·      The time has come to institute a cap on the number of starters allowed in any given year to 500 runners.
  • ·      Crew’s should no longer be allowed to access the Winfield area, and only pacers should be welcomed there through transit on a school bus from Twin Lakes or another suitable parking area.
  • ·      Aid stations should be required to stay open regardless of the official cut-off time until all runners have passed through those stations and those stations should be over stocked with food and drink to accommodate any runner who may stumble into its hospitality at any given time.
  • ·      Leadville should also require all of it’s runners to complete one of a host of qualifying events throughout the country (see Western States 100) to ensure that it’s runners are truly qualified to run such a grueling event.
  • ·      Runners should be required to complete 8 hours of trail work to local land managers to their area or volunteer service to another ultra, to enter into the LT100. Leadville should also host a number of volunteer trail work days on the trails in the areas in which the race takes place to ensure the integrity of and up-keep of these worn areas.
The Leadville 100 has problems and it needs these real solutions. It’s time for Leadville to step-up and adhere to the same conscientious guidelines of many of the other ultra events in our country. It’s time for our Colorado towns and land managers associated with this event to wake up and see the very real negative effects this “no-holds barred” approach has on our valuable resources.


“Sherpa” John Lacroix

To see what happened next: CLICK HERE