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Leadville 100: The Race Across The Sky!


When most people think of a long race, they think of a marathon, 26.2 miles run on a flat paved surface.

But there are much longer races than a marathon….
For the last 24 years, elite runners have gathered in Leadville, Colorado for the Race Across The Sky.

  • The foot race is 100 miles long.
  • The course varies in elevation from 9,200 to 12,600 feet.
  • The hills add up to over 15,000 feet of gain and loss.
  • The winners finish in 16 hrs. Others can take up to 30 hrs.

This year, the 25th anniversary, nearly 600 runners gathered on Friday, August 17th, to check-in and listen to the pre-race briefing. The pre-race briefing is a hoot (Colorado talk). The medical guy tells you to “get intimate with your pee”. He tells everyone that “it should not look like Guinness” and if it does, you need to be drinking more. He tells the crowd to strive for a “Coors Beer golden color”, who happens to also be a big sponsor of the race. The crowd gets a big laugh.


Then he warns the crowd about various medications that can shut down kidneys (Ibuprofen), digestion (Immodium), and other drug related problems. At the end of the medication warnings, he warns people who take Viagra for the run. No, these folks don’t take the little blue pill for the normal reason. They take the pill because it helps “increase blood flow” which is beneficial when the oxygen level is as much as 40% less than sea level. He tells the crowd that he doesn’t want anyone on Viagra to fall and hurt themselves as “he is not going to be happy about having to splint that”. The crowd erupts again.

The meeting lasted about an hour with introductions of last year’s winners as well as many participants who have run the race 10 times or more! If you complete 10 races (1000 miles) you get a huge buuuc-kle which is actually so big it makes sitting down almost impossible. Gotta love Colorado. There is even one guy who has run and finished all but one of the races!


Davy along side another runner & Hans with their 1000 mile Buc-kles

After the meeting, the crew people (David, Brad and I) listened to some further instructions about aid stations and driving/parking along the route. Then we hit the town to buy some last minute items and souvenirs.

We also stopped by one of the old mines in the area to look around. Leadville had one of the most profitable mining industries in the world and the area is full of the results. In town, houses are built right on top of mine tailings which are everywhere! But now-a-days all the mines are shutdown as it is not cost effective to mine in the area.

We drove 25 minutes back to our campsite across the valley in Twin Lakes where Davy (the one actually running the race) told us about the race course and where he would like to be met along the route, his supplies, and other information about pacing him. I was surprised at one point when he pointed to the trail I would be running with him. I had no idea it ran right through town! To think you are 25 miles from the race start and the trail goes right through your campsite just about. Too funny.


That night we all turned in early. We were all a little nervous about the next day and the day after. After all, we would get up at 2:30am to drive Davy over to the start which was at 4am. Then we all would be awake until he finished which was the next day (Sunday) at 7am or so according to his 27 hour pace goal. And although we knew we could get some cat naps along the route, it would be hard to get any real sleep. And each of us were also planning to run with Davy (pace him) during the second half of the course as we each had a section of the last 50 miles. We had quite an adventure ahead.

2:30am – Beep, Beep, Beep goes a watch
3:15am – In the car and driving to Leadville
3:30am -We park in Leadville. The town is totally closed but its like night of the living dead with people walking all over the place in the dark. Weird.
3:55am – “5 minutes to go to the start” we hear over the loudspeaker.


Davy Crocket #304, dawning his Coonskin Hat

At precisely 4am mountain time, the Mayor of Leadville fired a 12 gauge shotgun and 580 runners were off with headlamps blazing in the early morning darkness. For most people, the next time they would see the starting line would be 25-30 hours later.



Within a few moments everyone was gone and David, Brad and I walked back to the car. We drove over to the first aid station (mile 13) and snoozed for two hours waiting for Davy to arrive. Eventually we got up and moved the crew bag and all of his gear over to the aid station and layed out what we thought he would need….mostly water bottles full of half Ensure/water and half Poweraid/water.

When Davy arrived I was ready. I screamed as loud as I could “Oh my God! Its Davy Crockett…Go Davy, Go Davy…” The crowd laughed and cheered him on. I kept going with the screaming and then Davy got close enough and told me to “shut up already” and we both laughed. I was just following his notes and trying to make it seem like he was some kind of super hero or movie star or something. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of that kind of welcome.


After about a minute, Davy was gone. Running up the next hill. But before he left, he asked for some anti-gas pills. We said we would find them in town. We would see him again at the Fish Hatchery.

We all piled back into the car and drove back into town. We got to the Safeway at 6:45am and had to wait until 7am for them to open. But we got the gas pills and a few breakfast items for ourselves. We quickly left town and drove back into the valley to the Fish Hatchery.

The sun was up now and the fish hatchery was alive with lots of people and a heck of a lot of fish! Trout to be exact.


We got Davy’s supplies out and waited for him to arrive. Elasticon Tape, scisors to cut Elasticon Tape, one Bean and Cheese Burrito, an anti-gas pill (green), a small bottle of Hammer Gel, and water bottles of Ensure and PowerAid. Yum Yum.


Davy arrived at the Fish Hatchery (Mile 23) at 10:12am. For those keeping score, that’s nearly a marathon in 6 hours 12 minutes. Keep in mind that this was run on trails and included several thousand feet of hills both up and down.


Next up was “Treeline” which was more of a place to park next to the trail as opposed to a true aid station. After Treeline, the trail ascended into the woods and mountains and we would not see him until Twin Lakes which was another 13 miles farther along the course (Mile 40). Davy arrived and had some “lower stomach” issues. I took point and told crew people to get out of the port-o-pots. Thankfully one person got out quickly allowing Davy to get in. He took a longer than planned break but came out feeling better and ready to charge ahead. After a few bites of a bean burrito (is that the right kind of food for a race?) he continued on.

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Dave, Brad, and I drove 35 minutes around to our camp ground in Twin Lakes. We dried out the tents that we left at 3am and packed everything up. We drove the short distance to “downtown” Twin Lakes and got a parking place on the road. The town is tiny with only 10 inhabitants (my estimate). But today there were at least 500 people all around. We grabbed some burgers at the restaurant and an extra burger for Davy.



Davy arrived around 1:51pm and he looked strong. He powered into the aid station, checked in, and met up with Brad and David for his burger.



Smile with your mouth full πŸ™‚

Davy left quickly and looked great. He was just a little off his pace (4 min late) but this could easily be explained by his 10 min stop at Treeline….completely necessary πŸ™‚

The next section of the course was perhaps the hardest. It was a 10 mile run from Twin Lakes to Winfield, Colorado, an old ghost town. The difficulty is that the elevation goes from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet and back down to 10,000 feet. This would be a big test for Davy and we discussed what we thought he might look like on the other side.

We left Twin Lakes and drove about 45 minutes on dirt roads to reach Winfield, the halfway point of the out and back trail. We got there about 90 minutes before we expected Davy. I curled up on my themr-a-rest mattress and tried to sleep a little. Brad, who was first up in the pacing, immediately got ready. I think he was a little nervous and just wanted to have everything ready to go.

I could not sleep much but I did get a little rest. After an hour or so, I got up and explored the little ghost town village. It was well maintained by a local historical society. The town is actually a nice little place to visit and pitch a tent. Lots of trails, a nice stream, etc.

Then Davy arrived. He looked good for having run 50 miles.


I ran with him over to the medical tent and food tent. I could see he was not doing 100% well and something was bothering him.


After he had checked in, he made his way over to the Davy Station and took care of a few things.


Now he looked good. He was alert and talking and said he felt strong. Oh, god, poor Brad. You could almost see that look on Brad’s face of “What the hell am I about to do?”. But neither David nor I would offer anything other than “Have fun!” And away they went.


As they ran off, David and I got into the Explorer and started down the very crowded and dusty road. Not only was it crowded with cars, but it now had tons of runner on it. I was driving and I was very careful to go slowly around the runners – not just for safety but also to keep the dust down as much as possible.

As we got to the point where the trail left the road, we came up on Davy and Brad. I could see Crockett look back and spot the car gaining on him. He then took off running to be sure we did not beat him. That would be the last we would see of our friends for another 3+ hours.


We drove back to Twin Lakes and parked in the public lot. It was actually a great spot and we decided to get some nap time. I was next up in the pacing duties and was starting to get some nervous jitters. I had never run 16 miles in the big mountains and I was not sure I could do it. But I managed to get a little sleep.

When I got up, the rain and thunder could be heard booming in the distance. But down where we were it was beautiful with a nice rainbow across the sky. We would later find out that up on the pass it was hailing, snowing, sleeting, raining, and lightning at a rate that forced even Crockett to seek shelter for a while. Glad I wasn’t up there!


Around 6pm I suited up with my running gear and sorted out my Camelbak pack to take the things I thought I would need. Some gels, a power bar or two, water with some powerade mixed in, and some tape for my feet. I lathered up my toes in some Bag Balm (petroleum jelly) and laced up my shoes. I was ready.

Around 7pm Davy came storming into town. But Brad was not with him. We asked Davy about Brad and he just laughed!


Then 20 seconds later I spotted Brad running as fast as he could. He had fallen behind his runner! How embarrassing! Here’s a guy who had run 60+miles and had beaten a guy who had run just 13 or so! Well, soon enough my laughter would turn to tears. More on that below.


Brad had to sit down and relax for a minute after his torture session.

I was up next. We started walking away from the aid station at Twin Lakes and I was feeling really good. I was ready.


As we began our leg together, we had a very long and very steep ascent from 9200 feet to 10,700 feet in 3 miles (10% average grade).


We basically started walking up the hill. Davy was eating some things and drinking some other things and he wanted to walk. But as he finished up, I wanted to go a little faster. But he wouldn’t. So I started remembering how he said I was “soft” on him in Vermont a few weeks earlier. So I started to yell at him a bit. I called him a wuss. I said my grandma could do better (or something like that). And I complained that he was just wasting time.


Wellll, eventually something worked. As we crested the 10,700 foot level the trail started to level off a bit and Davy started to run. I kept up with him without too much of an issue. He would run a little faster than I could but not for long and I would catch up within 30 seconds or so.

Then darkness started to fall. We turned on our headlamps and settled in for running on mountains at night. At mile 4 we hit some downhill sections and Davy was starting to run a lot faster than me. I still kept up, but the technical nature of the dark trails were starting to limit my ability to keep up.

After mile 7 the trail was all downhill. Davy started running and I did not catch up. I went as fast as I could (5 min miles approx) but Davy was way up ahead. So I shifted to a lower gear and tried to enjoy the time alone. I would run a bit and then rest for a while. The amazing thing was that my heart rate was not all that high yet I could not go any faster. I was breating in and out these HUGE breaths of air trying to find some oxygen. Thank god we had hiked the Four Passes Loop just days before, otherwise I would be dead! It was an amazing experience running at 10,000 feet and great training.

I was running quickly enough to overtake a few actual runner. I kept asking them if they had seen a guy with a green light. Some people said no. Others said yes, but that he was way ahead. So I just kept going. Every once in a while I would see a green light up ahead only to find out that it was just a glow stick marking the trail. At one point I started runing with one guy who was very nice. We struck-up a conversation and introduced ourselves. He told me his name was Kirk Apt and he won the race in 1995 in 20:33! I was amazed. I was running with one of the gods. It was really cool. We ran together for a mile or so but I eventually moved ahead in search of Crockett.

As we neared mile 9 I came to our first aid station, Half Moon. It was a welcome sight for me. As I approached I heard a person ask for my number. I told them I was a pacer for #304. Then I heard laughter. Yes, I was a pacer without a runner! Have your fun! But I saw Davy up ahead and rejoined him after the station.

The next section of the trail was flat to downhill. I ran a fast pace (almost 6 min miles) to keep up with Crockett. He slowly pulled ahead but I pretty much kept pace. Eventually we could see car lights ahead at the Treeline stop. As we ran into Treeline we saw Brad and David. They had just gotten there which meant we were really making good time…and we were! We had picked up at least 20 mins or so on the goal pace and had passed dozens of runners. And Davy was in great spirits.

After a short stop at Treeline, we continued on to the flat, road section of the run. This was Davy’s worst section as he hates hard road running. He was also having some knee pain so he took some pills to help. But he was struggling a bit and just walking a lot. I made fun of him but it did not help him get started again. As we were now walking a bunch, I turned off my light and so did Davy. We just walked on the dark road and watched the stars overhead. It was amazing and I will never forget how many stars were above us on the dark road in the middle of nowhere.

Then some female runners passed us and that got Davy running again. We passed them and ran on ahead. But then Davy needed to take a break for the potty which took him a while (its hard to go when the cars are whizzing by, pun intended). The girls passed by again while Davy was using the “facilities”. I waited up ahead. When he was finished he came up to me running at a good pace. I ran a little faster and using my gps watch told him “this is a 10 min/mi pace” and Davy put it into a higher gear and kept up. Then I stepped it up and teased him “this is a 9 min/mi pace…can you do this?” and he stepped it up again. I went to an 8 min/mi pace and he again stepped it up. But then I was gasping! I tried to stay with him but I couldn’t. He was gaining on the goal up ahead which was the two girls. The last I heard him say was that he was going to pass them again and “slam the door”.

Davy and I passed the girls. As Davy passed he powered ahead even faster into a sprint. This was to ensure that they would not try and pick up their pace to keep up. I passed them a bit slower and said hello again and then booked ahead a bit uncomfortably. Oh well, it is a race after all!

Davy continued on ahead on the road. I could see him about a 1/4 miles ahead with the green light andΓƒβ€š tried to keep up. I did not want him to arrive at the Fish Hatchery without me. After all, I laughed at Brad for being left behind on his leg. I did not want to eat my words!

I ran hard. I kept going as much as I could. I was gaining a little as Davy was finally slowing down a bit. But I just could not keep up the pace required. I could see the lights from the aid station up ahead and I knew I had to keep pushing. But I was in pain. My lungs just heart. And my chest was pounding as only a strenuous cario workout can do.

As we turned right into the Fish Hatchery Davy had slowed to a walk. This was my chance. I was just 100 yards behind him. I ran and shouted at him. He was still walking. I was within 50 yards and then I gave out. I doubled over and staggered a bit. I had to walk. David and Brad saw me walking in about 30 seconds behind the man. They laughed. I ate my words.

I sat down and was a little bit in shock. I got some warm clothes and put them on quickly. At the aid station I got some warm soup and ate some cookies and ham sandwiches. I was tired, but I had done it! This was a terrific accomplishment for me.

Davy was pretty beat and took a few minutes to get himself together.


Davy and David Hansen took off shortly after that and Brad and I went to the Mary Queen station to get some rest in the car as we waited for the runners to arrive. I remember them arriving and sitting at the station briefly before taking off but not much more. It was cold!

Brad and I drove to the last place we would see them before the finish….a boat ramp on Turquoise Lake. I remember waiting a long time in the dark and seeing a few runners (walkers at this point) pass by. But we kept looking for that green light and could not make it out. Finally I thought I saw a green light. But it was so far away at the far end of the lake I was not sure. Then it stopped for a minute. And then it kept going. Was that Davy?

It was a very cool and still night. And I think the lake and the air created some sort of sound chamber of sorts. I was able to yell “Davy” from well over a mile away – maybe two miles – and he could hear me! They answered back. We were talking to them!! Cool. So I began singing the national anthem. When I stopped, I heard “Shut Up”. Yup, that was Davy and David! πŸ™‚

Maybe an hour later, we were at the finish line in town and saw Davy and David run up the hill to the finish. He had finished one of the toughest 100 mile races in the world!

Davy Crockett at the Finish of the Leadville 100

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One Response to “Leadville 100: The Race Across The Sky!”

  1. Three Mormons and a Jew: Exploring the Great Outdoors » Maroon Bells and the Leadville 100: August 2007 Says:

    […] Next up was a trip east over the continental divide to the mining town of Leadville, CO for a little run in the woods. […]

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