What’s the Leadville Trail 100
Leadville is a small town in Colorado that isn’t well known to most people. It’s a historic mining town with a small population, and it’s not incredibly easy to get to. There is, however, one category where Leadville is number one. It’s the highest incorporated city, not just in Colorado but in the United States. Colorado has about a million places the average person might think of before they get to Leadville.
For runners, it’s an entirely different story. Leadville is possibly the number one destination in Colorado, at least for one particular weekend a year. Why? Leadville is home to one of the most epic competitions for trail runners and ultramarathoners in the world. The mythical Leadville Trail 100 race, alternately called the “Race Across The Sky,” is held in Leadville every August.
For many athletes, it’s a bucket list course. It’s the event where all trail runners want to be. What is it that makes the Leadville 100 so unique? This race is not just is it a 100-mile trail run. It’s a 100-mile trail run in the city with the highest elevation in North America.
Origin and History
The event started back in 1983. The president of the Colorado Ultra Club, Jim Butera, wanted to put on a 100-mile race in the state. After striking out with a few more well-known communities in Colorado, Jim turned to Leadville. Leadville is just down the road from the Climax mine, which had recently shut down when Jim came asking.
Obviously, a race that takes place during one weekend a year was not going to replace the jobs lost when a mine stops production. However, it was a chance to get some money and interest flowing into the area. Jim teamed up with Ken Clouber and Merilee Maupin to put on the first Leadville 100 on August 27th-28th, 1983.
Except for the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the event due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the Leadville 100 Trail Run event has occurred every year since 1983.
Born to Run
If you read Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book Born to Run, you’ll recall that Leadville was prominently featured. The book details the author’s quest to find a better way of running easier on the body. Along the way, he discovered a group of indigenous people in Mexico called the Tarahumara, that excelled at completing runs at high elevations with minimal foot support.
The book detailed the author’s experiences in Mexico and the experience the Tarahumara runners had running the Leadville Trail 100. Tarahumara runners Victoriano Churro and Juan Herrera won the 1993 and 1994 races. Born to Run brought a lot of popularity and notoriety to the Leadville 100 course worldwide.
Grand Slam of Ultrarunning
The Leadville Trail 100 is one of the five 100-mile race trails in the United States that comprise the esteemed Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. The other racing trails are the Old Dominion 100 Endurance Run in Northern Virginia, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in Northeast California, and the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run in Eastern Vermont near the New Hampshire border, and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run in Northern Utah.
The good news is that to complete the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning; you don’t need to finish all five. You do, however, need to finish four of the five. This awe-inspiring feat was first achieved in 1986 by a racer named Tom Green. The number of people vying for the trophy has grown throughout the years. Nowadays, about 12 athletes per year accomplish it.
Leadville Race Series Events
When the Leadville Race started in 1983, it was just the beginning. Throughout the subsequent years, organizers added other races. They added Bike Races, different distances, and additional courses to the Leadville Race Series. There are now a whopping 13 events that make up the Leadville Race Series.
The Leadville Race Series mountain bike races consist of the Wilmington Whiteface, Luster 99er, Silver Rush 50 MTB, Tahoe Trail, Leadville Stage Race, Barn Burner, Austin Rattler MTB, and the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
The Leadville Race Series for runners consists of the Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half, Siler Rush 50 Run, Austin Rattler Run, and of course, the Leadville Trail 100 Run.
There have been many noteworthy winners on both the men’s and the women’s sides. What sets these incredible competitors apart from the others is either a record time or impressive consistency.
When talking about memorable winners, you have to start with Matt Carpenter. Matt Carpenter won the 2005 edition of the race with a record time of 15:42:59. At the time of the victory, Matt Carpenter’s time was over one and a half hours better than any prior winner. His record still stands alone at the top of the leader board some 17 years later.
The runner who finished first the most times on this route is Steve Peterson. Steve won in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2001 for a record total of five victories. Ian Sharman and Skip Hamilton each won the event four times. Ian has not only excelled in the Leadville Trail 100, but he also holds the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. Skip Hamilton was the winner in four of the first five events, including the inaugural race in 1983.
On the women’s leaderboard, the top time belongs to Ann Trason from California. Way back in 1994, she finished the event just over the 18-hour mark with a record time of 18:06:24. No other woman competitor has finished with a time under 19 hours to this day. In addition to having the record time in the Leadville Trail 100, Ann has also won the race the most times at four. Many consider her the most accomplished female ultrarunner in history.
Some other influential winning women are Elizabeth Howard, Lynette Clemons, Anthea Schmid, and Amanda McIntosh. All of these athletes won the race two times apiece.
Honorable Mention – Women
Honorable Mention goes to Californian Teri Gerber, the first women’s winner in 1984.
The Leadville 100 has steadily gained in popularity since its debut in 1993. Thanks to its inclusion in the bestselling book Born To Run in 2009, it has grown even further in popularity. There are a limited number of spots available by qualification or lottery, so it’s not easy to grab a spot. The starting line is more crowded than expected for such an extreme race. The average number of racers each year is 800. That’s quite a few for a town with an estimated population of around 2,700 people.
Itinerary and Notable Landmarks
The Leadville 100 starts in the early morning on Saturday, and competitors have 30 hours to complete the race. The Leadville 100 Trail is a 100-mile out and back starting in downtown Leadville, CO. The course will take you through Turquoise Lake, Sugarloaf Pass, the town of Twin Lakes, Hope Pass (the high point), and to the midpoint of the race in ghost town Winfield, Colorado. From Winfield, you turn around and do it all again in reverse.
Type of Landscapes and Trails
The Leadville 100 has just about every type of trail you would expect to see in Colorado. The course has flat portions, steep portions, pavement, dirt roads, and rugged Rocky Mountain terrain. Even though there are a few flat sections of the course, expect rough and uneven more often than flat. The most challenging section of the trail is the portion between Twin Lakes and Hope Pass. This section requires an intense climb, steep descent, and then the same again in reverse.
To put it mildly, the Leadville 100 is a difficult race. It is a 100-mile race where the altitude ranges from 9,200 to 12,600 feet. Being an excellent trail runner does not necessarily prepare you for the elevation. Being good at high altitudes does not necessarily mean you will excel with the long-distance of 100 miles. This race requires a quality training plan and a herculean effort from the racers just to finish the route.
The 2022 edition is on August 20, 2022. The official race website has yet to release the official event dates and schedule for the 2022 race, but if the race follows the dates of the 2021 edition, it should look like this:
Friday, August 19, 2022
On Friday, August 19, 2022, the day before the race, competitors will check in, pick up packets, pick up t-shirts, and drop off Drop Bags.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
Saturday, August 20, 2022, is race day! The race will begin at 4:00 am, and the starting line will open an hour before the race starts.
Sunday, August 21, 2022
The Awards Ceremony and Drop Bag return are on Sunday, August 21, 2022.
Winning the Leadville 100 once is hard enough, and repeating is even harder. That being said, the last couple of years have been so crazy that the 2021 winners will be training and be up to the challenge in 2022.
Those previous year’s winners are Adrian Macdonald and Annie Hughes. Adrian Macdonald won the men’s title in 2021 despite it being his very first 100-mile race. Annie Hughes, a Leadville local, won on the women’s side. She will undoubtedly be one to watch as she wants to keep the title in Leadville in 2022.
Another favorite is the aforementioned Ian Sharman out of Bend, Oregon. He has four victories on this Colorado trail, and he has undoubtedly prepared to add another page to his story of completed Leadville race series events.
How to Participate
There are a few ways to gain entry into the Leadville race. You can enter the lottery, qualify at a race, represent a charity, sign up for a coaching package, participate in one of the camp packages that includes guaranteed entry, or become a volunteer.
The lottery is open for two weeks in December, with winners announced in January. The qualifying races are the Austin Rattler Run, Leadville Trail Marathon, and the Silver Rush 50 Run.
Details on representing a charity, coaching packages, camps, and volunteering are available at leadvilleraceseries.com.
The 2022 edition is on Saturday, August 20, 2022, in Leadville, CO.
You can qualify for this trail race based on your performance or the event lottery from three racing events. The qualifying events are the Austin Rattler Run, the Leadville Trail Marathon, and the Silver Rush 50 Run.
Typically only about 50% of the runners who start the race finish in the allotted time.
The Leadville Race Series season goes from June until November each year.