Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Problematic Leadville Trail 100 Run

Up to Leadville again last weekend to help out with the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 Run.  

The streets are quiet on Friday evening before the event:

Saturday morning, 4 AM start:

And they are off!  They have 30 hours, until 10 AM on Sunday to return to this spot at 6th and Harrison.  The winner usually arrives in 16 or 17 hours. 

I helped out at the Twin Lakes Aid Station, at mile 40 and 60 of the course, at this sleepy fire station.   

Runners have "drop bags" which are sent ahead and contain supplies they may need further in the run.  Since they have to cross the Arkansas River drainage at mile 58, a lot of entrants pack an extra pair of shoes and socks to dry out their soggy feet.  Volunteers have to sort all of these bags so that they can be quickly located when a runner arrives. 

The eventual winner, Ian Sharman, comes through at mile 60 in second place.

On a more somber note, the dissatisfaction (see the lengthy comment section) is getting louder each year with this world-famous event.  What started in the 1980s as a humble attempt to help kickstart a devastated mining town with sky-high unemployment has now grown to a complete series of events that run all summer, including this particular monster ultramarathon with a whopping 850 runners at the starting line.  The entire series was sold to Lifetime Fitness two years ago, and many are complaining that this 100 miler has way too many entrants, is understaffed, woefully undersupplied, and poorly planned with a serious lack of attention to details, all in the pursuit of making a hefty profit by the new commercial owner.   In fairness to Lifetime, these problems were starting to crop up before they arrived but the chaos appears to be getting much worse.  During the event this year, mid to back of the back runners were finding aid stations without food and drink, something they paid $275 for, as part of their race fee.  In a 100 mile run, the latter portion is the mentally darkest and most difficult and the last thing an exhausted and sleep-deprived runner wants to encounter is a depleted aid station.  As hard as they tried, volunteers had difficulty servicing runners (filling water bottles, finding drop bags) as they came through, during peak arrival periods. More disturbing, medical supplies were also exhausted by mid-race, on part of the course.  Residents and summer vacationers of Leadville and Twin Lakes are upset with the crowds and traffic and are wondering if the tradeoff for the almighty sales tax dollars is worth the quality-of-life impact on their towns that are being hijacked for successive weekends during peak relaxing season.  Their friendly downtown coffee shop is swamped on race days, with a line out the door and one-hour wait times.  (On a related note, just this week, the city of Santa Rosa, California decided not to pursue hosting another Amgen Tour of California cycling stage in 2014, citing fatigue and resource drain.) Finally, the environmental impact of 850 runners (and 1500 mountain bikes the week before) on the trails, and their crews and supporters in vehicles cannot be ignored.  Traffic jams and long-idling SUVs were a common sight at the major aid stations.  Most upsetting were the reports of increased littering on the trails this year. 

As a volunteer this year that got to observe the chaos first-hand along with a long list of volunteer heroics, I agree with those that think the event has too many entrants.  450 would be a more reasonable capacity but that of course means reduced income for the new race overlords, unless the entry fee is doubled.  

Tough decisions ahead for race management, if they want to preserve the well-known Leadville brand name, not chase entrants away, and also keep a cordial relationship with residents.

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