8 Lessons from the Leadville 100 Run

By Adam St. Pierre
CTS Ultrarunning Coach

I had the pleasure of getting to support a dozen or so CTS Athletes at the 2019 Leadville Trail 100 Run presented by La Sportiva. The Leadville 100 is a classic and iconic 100-mile footrace that takes place in stunning Leadville, CO at altitudes between 9,200 and , feet above sea level.

This year 829 runners started the race, 374 people finished under the 30-hour time limit (a 45% finisher rate). The weather this year was about as good as possible, with daytime highs in the 60s, nighttime lows in the 30s, and no rain, hail, or lightning to endanger the runners.

Here are some observations from my hours spent on course supporting athletes this weekend:

100 milers are hard

Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying! There are no “easy” 100 milers. Some 100 milers take longer than others, some have more elevation gain/loss, but all 100 milers are hard.

Don’t expect the perfect race

Be as prepared as you can be… but be prepared for adversity anyway. In supporting athletes from the front of the pack to the final finishers, one thing is readily apparent: All athletes have periods of discomfort. Which leads me to my next observation…

(almost) Everybody Pukes

Cat Bradley, the 2nd place female, puked frequently from Mile 60 to the finish, yet was able to push to a 20:45:48 finish. Another athlete I coach struggled with stomach issues within the first 2 hours, and pushed through them for a 28:01:22 finish. It’s rare for athletes to push through nausea for that long and finish.

Persistence pays off

There are cut-offs for a reason, even if they sometimes seem cruel. I witnessed an athlete push himself to his limit, only to reach the Winfield aid station as the 6pm cut-off fell. He was not allowed to continue. I also witnessed an athlete leave Winfield with minutes to spare, then get through Twin Lakes with even less time to spare, then barely beat the cut-off at Outward Bound and Mayqueen en route to a 29:56:35 finish. It is rare for someone to be that close to a cut-off and end up finishing. This athlete’s finish was an incredible effort, and was aided in no small part by a great support crew.

Support matters

Leadville is a unique 100-mile race because it allows for “muling” (a pacer/safety runner can not only accompany a racer for the last 50 miles, they can also carry food, fluids, clothing, etc. for the racer). Having pacers makes a big difference (I’m not trying to stir up the pacer vs. no pacer debate, and have mad respect to runners who race solo). Leadville is also somewhat unique in that crews are able to see the racers at frequent intervals throughout the race. A good crew and pacers, who are aware of the details of the race and able to keep a racer safe and moving forward can be invaluable to a successful finish.

Pace/Crew before you race

Pacing and crewing at 100 milers is an incredible experience. I recommend all athletes pace and/or crew at least once prior to racing a 100. It is difficult to explain the flow of a 100 miler. It must be experienced, and the more a runner experiences the flow prior to attempting a 100, the better. Learn what makes an efficient (and inefficient) aid station stop. See what you can do as a pacer to keep your runner safe and moving forward. Learn some ideas for minimizing the uncomfortable sensations that are common in 100-mile runs. Nine athletes I coach toed the line in Leadville this weekend, but eight more athletes I coach came to Leadville to pace and crew. The racers benefitted immensely from the support of the team, and the support team will benefit in future races from the knowledge gained this weekend.

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Know the course

Learn as much as you can, whether from inspecting the course map and profile, looking at pictures/videos, reading race reports/blogs, stalking racers on Strava, or ideally from pre-running parts or the entirety of the course. Know where you’ll be at what time of day, where it might be hot, where it might be cold, where you’ll likely need your headlamp, where you’ll be crossing water, etc. Leadville is relatively easy to get to (only a 2-ish hour drive from a major airport and a great place to visit!) and the course (or parts of it) can be run most days of the summer. You can also attend a training camp to preview the course, or design your own camp and see as much of it as you can before race day.

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Make it fun

You have two choices: racing a 100-miler can be hard and fun, or hard and way too serious. You have to take your preparation and strategy seriously, and you have to stay focused on your goal. But, if you – as a runner – make a concerted effort to stay upbeat, take adversity in stride, and remember the reason why you’re running, then you will have a better day. And the same goes for the crew and pacers. Staying positive (but be honest and direct with your athlete) and having fun can help your runner get through their roughest moments.

Congratulations to all the runners who started the Leadville 100 Run, and a high five to everyone who finished!

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