Leadville 100 and Corporate Manhandling of Ultrarunning

P1470139Welcome back to Elevation Trail.  This episode is produced here, LIVE, in Boulder Colorado from a local brewery (so excuse the slurring).  Today we talk about the growth and corporate management of the Leadville race series, specifically the Leadville 100 Trail Run.  Where are we going with this sport?  Is money helping or hurting our experience?  Gary discusses his new project and his relationship with his new little friend, Little Nicky.  Join us and please offer up your opinions on some of the topics we cover.  Thanks!

Big Nicky's Race Clothes

Nick Clark’s race clothes inadvertently left out in the open.

Nick and Gary

Gary’s final race tips to Nick Clark


41 thoughts on “Leadville 100 and Corporate Manhandling of Ultrarunning

  1. Another great show and to add to it after doing my first 100 (Mohican 100) in 2005 and then running Leadville this year it was night and day! Your right about hula skirts and lights even aid station workers being drunk to the high priced famous Leadville aid stations being just there! Thank goodness like Gary said I had an awesome crew and only took coke from aid stations at Leadville! Another thing is the amount of runners on the trail where crazy! Going up and down Hope was a continuous stop and go from runners that couldn’t stop running coming at you to the trail falling apart off the cliff from too much traffic it was crazy! Like Tim said what a cool race to have in my back yard but I won’t go back, but hey they will have 1300 plus runners next year to take my place and most will DNF or DNS so they can make more money by not giving out swag bags or anything prerace! Thanks for the compliments and for Gary for pushing my buttons outta Twin Lakes I knew I would need that and he did it well! Keep up the great podcast and soon word of mouth will bring you atleast 10 listeners! I actually told 1 person myself! Bonus!

  2. As one of your loyal 6 listeners I thought I’d comment so you and Gary don’t feel alone 😉
    I have never run Leadville, nor have I ever been involved or interested in running Leadville (have always had a Hardrock mindset), so maybe i don’t have the right to comment…but you guys are right on and whenever money gets into a race, it will self destruct. Not only are runners going to stop going if it’s not a pleasant experience, they will also lose their loyal volunteers and then what will they do? No, Leadville is not going to go away, but the corporation of the Leadville race will have to think about several things. Add a qualifier, reduce the amount of runners and appreciate the volunteers.
    Incredible that people flock to this circus and the Bear, which is a fantastic event, is still not full just 5 weeks from the run date!
    Good job guys, keep it up!

  3. An overcrowded race seems like an opportunity as much as it is a challenge. I wonder if the Leadville race management has gotten encouragement from the community to keep the field size on par with demand, given the positive economic impact of xxxx runners and xx,xxx crews spending $ in town during the race? Is there a way to keep (or get back) the small-town nature of the race but still meet the high demand?

    • Most people I’ve talked to that live in and around the Leadville area hate the two big races each year and all the crazy bikers/runners taking over the town. I believe last year the Golden Burro Restaurant closed during the 100 MTB weekend because they did not want to deal with the overcrowding.

      • I’ve spoken to Leadville residents in each of the past 4 seasons while I was on recon or training. Not one that I spoke to enjoys having the events in Leadville and a few were overtly angry at and about the events and the managing entities. Before the events began this June I emailed Josh C. (RD) offering an economic impact survey conducted by Bentley University (no cost), which may have been useful to illustrate to the town some of the benefits of the events. That email was ignored, which tells me they simply don’t care.

      • Still sounds high. Regardless, ask the residents of Leadville whether they would prefer the events to be gone or at least reduced/smaller. I have done that and have yet to hear a positive response about the race series.

        (also, race entry fees, purchases at the race store, staff salaries, training camps, etc. cannot be counted, since it’s an out of state corp owning and running the race now and not the town’s race like it was previously)

      • “A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Lets smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Lets assume that we have a can-opener…”

        The point being is without seeing the actual study and method, there are a lot of assumptions going on. Large scale sporting events are infamous for costing more than they produce, as in Olympics and Super Bowls, etc. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have a positive economic impact, as I’m sure it does. But I wouldn’t assume that the economic benefit is wide-spread simply because people are spending money. Is spending concentrated on a few places, for instance? Are all business equally busy? The Safeway might do a big business,but does that mean the workers are making more? Are there extra shifts? Time and a half? Again, I wouldn’t debate that there is a positive impact. I would just question the assumptions of the studies, not taking for granted that money is being distributed throughout the local economy.

        Without knowing the methodology of the actual study done, it is hard to say. Would be great if there was a report out there that could be shared. Maybe there is. If anyone finds it, please send it my way.

      • Saw the report. The number is for the whole race series. Would be interesting to see what it is for each event individually. But I could see how they could get to that number. I’m still not sure if I’d by the multiplier business, but I’m sure it is standard operating procedure in economics.

      • Bien has also weighed in with his own post. Maybe there will be enough of a ground swell that LF will respond. I remain cynical but I hope I am wrong. I do think that the city, the police weighing in will move the meter more than than runners …

        Anyway, I can’t say much about the economic study, but there are other events that Leadville hosts to bring a lot of folks in. Boom Days (not just about burros) is in there, and that skijoring thing they do in the winter. There used to be that snowshoe race (ask Timmy about that) but I think that is dead. Probably a few others.

        On Sunday of Boom Days, I had breakfast in the Brass Ass (tho’ I only dared the pancakes and the coffee). Definitely heard it right from the staff as if I was not there – straight up that they were a town of 3500 and not happy to be a town of 35000 ….and a bit pissed at the folks that came in expecting them to sell their wares. Sometimes the golden goose gives a peck that stings.

        I think one of the more practical suggestions for change is shifting the course, but that will probably get folks more up in arms than a lottery.

  4. I’m having a problem with the dependence on volunteers for a race that is generating profits – and am *really* having a problem if those volunteers are not being appreciated (I am especially aggravated on behalf of the llama wranglers- hauling stock trailers around is not cheap). I’m not on the prize money bandwagon, and I don’t much care if aid stations are boring – but those aid stations DO need to have sufficient supplies.

  5. Might be your best show yet. Opens with SP’s best work (Gish), Right length, relevant and timely topic, and good humor. I should have quit my job and come to the Walnut to check this is out and make my little Gary doll.

    Barr Trail Mountain Race has competition between aid stations. HS groups man the aid stations and know they are in a competition for funds that will support their group (band, team, whatever). You vote for your favorite station at the end of the race with a tab off your bib. Since they know you are a voter, they try to make their station the best. For example, they will have a spotter down the trail who will eyeball your bib, cross ref it to the start sheet, radio up to the station that “Tim Long, Central City, master” is coming. You come into a very decorated decked out themed station with a boat load of people ready for you, firing positive vibes for Tim Long from Central City – go kick some master butt. Awesome. The groups get thousands of dollars in return.

    Leadville, because of its proximity to me, and hearing stories from so many of its runners locally has enticed me – it just has not lined up schedule wise. But hearing stories like have over the last couple of years make a decision not to do it all the easier.

    I hope Leadville changes – but I don’t expect it too. I hope I am wrong. I hope that the groundswell of runners, volunteers, crew force them to change their business approach (I think the CSP will drive some changes which will be good, but that will be minimal in the larger picture … although necessary for basic safety).

    First, changing to have a qualifier or even having a lottery won’t change the basic problem which is that route supporting that number of runners and crew. Lifetime is not incented to change their numbers because of the dollars that come with that. Runners come, runners go. The point is the product that they have now is selling, and selling well. They could probably double their price (uh, Badwater) and they would still sell out while cutting corners on their product. Why? Because the customers, consumers on a larger scale are sold on the story of the 100 miler. They read about Leadville in Born To Run and so that is the race (or Western) that matters – a lot more than Grand Mesa or Wasatch or whatever.

    This has been going on in road running for years … anybody with a shingle could put up a race, toss out some water, a t shirt, a start and finish and then you were done. Heck, 95% of the people don’t even care if the course is accurate or about the schwag bag or the expo.

    Leadville has some unsatisfied customers. Is it 5% or 50%? If it is nominal, there will be nominal changes. If it is significant, then maybe.

    Alternatively, if there are the right people listening, then maybe. But I have little evidence in seeing this in races to think that the big groups will listen like that. I hope I am wrong.

  6. Great thoughts guys, as they echo many sentiments I’ve had in regards to Leadville for the past several years. I’ve been running/pacing the race since first moving out to Colorado in 2007, and will continue to support friends there, but am a bit dismayed by the direction the race has taken in the past several years.
    Personally I feel that the commercialization started before the race was sold to Life Time Fitness, though its become more evident now.

  7. After reading the large number of comments on the iRunFar page, it seems to me that Lifetime doesn’t have much incentive to change their business model when there’s 1200+ people vying to get in. Money talks. Even if the permitting agency forces them to reduce their numbers, they will still seek the same profit margins and aid stations won’t probably get any better than they are.

    Those who want to run LV100 with knowledge of the way it is poorly managed, do so by choice so they shouldn’t complain since no one is forcing them to hand over $300 to race there. Those who are racing it for the first time should do their homework and read recent race reports at least to get a clue as to what they can expect. I know of people that just can’t keep from going for that 1,000 buckle.

    Now that I have had the experience of crewing and pacing there and have now run the entire course, I’m satisfied with 2013 being my only year of participating in this race. I’ll run the course on non-race days just for fun but will give my money to the races that provide the best experience for all involved. Bighorn was awesome, each aid station had it’s own flavor and back-of-the-packers had as much food as the front runners. Hardrock is Hardrock — I’ll go there even if I have nothing to do there but cheer the finishers. I look forward to being at The Bear this year (Steve Pero, I don’t see Deb on the list yet!), as it will be the kind of atmosphere that I’m coming to expect from a hundo.

    Great discussion guys…keep it up!

    • Shelby, Deb hasn’t decided yet….right now she’s in uber painting mode for a show. 😉 If the Bear fills, than she may get shut out!

  8. Great show and extra bonus points for immediately addressing these concerns after the race. I’d hate to see Lifetime burn this iconic event to the ground, taking down future USFS permitting and goodwill with residents along for the ride, and then suddenly bail out when they can’t get the margins that they want. Eric is right though, the scale problems were evident before Lifetime came in, likely due to McDougall and the Lance-affect (MTB100) promoting the Leadville name and experience to the world.

  9. Very interesting discussion guys. I’ve helped crew and pace at Leadville in 2011 and 2012 and loved the experience. From what I’m hearing and reading, I’m glad my schedule didn’t allow me to experience this year’s race! Thanks for the openness and thought provoking podcasts.

  10. Karl had a good idea with the lollipop (if possible) out through Winfield to limit passing runners on Hope Pass.

    On July 4th we had a 12 hour ultra, that 4 of us hosted. We had T-Shirts, plaques for first place man/woman, and about a dozen other medals/awards. 8 of those large orange coolers full of ice water, tons of food, custom bibs.

    We charged a $0 race fee.

    Lifetime/LT100 RD seem to care about nothing other than making the most money. To dissuade us all of that intuition, we’ll see if they make any changes after a particularly dreadful year. But as George rightly points out, if they keep selling out the race, why would they care? Hopefully it won’t take a lawsuit after a health issue to prompt some changes.

    • I was out there – back of the pack. 29:10 finish. No gels after 20. No coke no cups at hopeless. I’m very glad to have finished because I have no reason to go back… Unless I am crazy fit and can knock out sub 24 I guess. Easily the worst run race I have ever been too.

  11. Yes, SP! Rock on! As far as coming up with solutions for Leadville for Lifetime to implement, I feel it’s just about as useful as the discussions on irunfar that ALWAYS come up when people get pissed about there not being enough people that get into Hardrock. It doesn’t really change anything. Leadville is kind of a big deal in my family. My husband ran it in 2009 and my father in law has run it 8 times. He was going for ten finishes but made 2012 his last year because the race had changed so much. I’m honestly surprised that runners were shocked with how crowded and chaotic the race was. They knew when they signed up that there was field of 1000+ runners. I know you’ll say that JFK and UTMB handle their fields and I’m kinda curious how they do but I’m pretty sure that UTMB charges around $1000 for entry and has thousands of volunteers. I think that is a good solution for Lifetime, jack up the price even more. Buckle lister triathletes have money to burn. It will still probably be cheaper than Kona. Any self respecting ultrarunner will then stay away. As for me, I would like to run it someday. Only because I would like to get in a career grand slam and I only need to run WS100 and Leadville now, but I’m afraid that I will have to wait a long time for the Born to Run bum rush on Leadville to be over. I wont run it in it’s current state.

    • UTMB charges 150 Euros for entry. It’s very well organized for a race that funnels 2,500 runners on a course that’s mostly singletrack. UTMB has several things going for it in this regard — it’s a loop course (no out-and-back traffic), has a significant amount of sponsorship funding (I doubt they’re making any profit from race entry fees), has the near-undivided support of the communities it passes through, and employs a huge number of helpers (they could be volunteers or paid, I’m not sure.) Every aid station is like an expo — well organized, well stocked, and crowded.

      I think UTMB paints a good model for trail races that want to accommodate more than 1,000 runners: No pacers, limited crew access (I think UTMB has only 4 or 5 points where crew can meet you) and limited drop bags (in UTMB you get one at the halfway point in Courmayeur.) Aid stations every 12-20K well stocked with water and food, and no concerns that everything will be gone when you get there. It’s also notable that the climate in the Alps seems to allow fewer consequences from trail damage. I watched muddy trails get absolutely destroyed during the deluge in 2012. I asked a local in Chamonix about this, and he told me that high traffic and frequent precipitation help even the trails out; they never stay “damaged” for long. Many of these trails are hundreds of years old and maintained largely by use, rather than trail work. I’m not sure trails in the Colorado Rockies can endure the same abuse without intervention.

  12. Just curious. Why was the Leadman title your main goal this season (originally, anyhow)?

    (Considering that the Leadville 100 (and the Leadman series) have been heading in this direction that you don’t like for a while, why would you give them your business?)

  13. I ran the Leadville Marathon this year and was given by far the cheapest shirt I have ever received anywhere, pure junk. The kicker for me was being handed a mug at the finish after the website, registration, every thing sent clearly said medals and they even showed how nice the medals were in the past. Too bad for Leadville as it seems corporate greed Lifetime is ruining this and every event they get their hands on. I’m done with them forever and only running locally run private races which tend to be better in every way anyways at this point.

  14. Great podcast!

    I wasn’t there, but I don’t think that the problem is so much that they’ve gone “corporate” as that they just plain mismanaged the race. I ran the TNF Bear Mountain 50m this year. Because a 50k, a marathon, and a marathon relay were going on at the same time, that’s even more runners on course than Leadville. However, it was spectacularly run and I have only truly minor complaints. My family rode the shuttle around the course throughout the day, and it was working so well that it was even fun for them. Although I was among the last to finish, the aid stations, which serviced the marathoners and 50k runners as well, were still stocked. I got a reasonably decent meal after finishing (pasta and salad). No beer but I could deal. While entry fees were more than most club races, it was not by much. There’s no question about this being a “corporate” race and a for-profit endeavor, but they took great care of the runners and spectators. Corporate and good service are not mutually exclusive. Let’s hope Lifetime gets their act together!

  15. Another great show as usual. Yeah, ultra is bound to go corporate, like the Rock n Roll series of marathons and half-marathons. As more people want to “buckle list” an ultra, there will be a strong demand, especially for the marquee events like Leadville and WS. I imagine what is going to happen is that a Rock n Roll type of outfit will just start up their own series of ultras, possibly on the same courses as some of the big ones we have now. Just like those barbed wire and mud events that seem to have sprouted up everywhere The good thing is that we still have lots of small ultras that fly way under the radar. I am running a local 50k next week that is topping out at 100 entrants. The entry fee is 50 bucks, no buckles but you do get a beer glass if you climb this rock and get a playing card from the top. They are also having a barbeque at the end.
    That’s my kind of race.

  16. Like a McDonalds happy meal….cute on the outside, crap on the inside.
    I ran it in ’01 and ’03 and it was cool but I could see the handwriting on the wall back then.
    This thing has become a bucket list for triathletes.
    They should get kicked out of the Grand Slam. It looks nothing like an ultramarathon should look.
    Wrong on so many levels.

  17. Shut up and run! Y’all are a bunch of crybabies! The Leadville residents have decided they like the race series in town and made it public at City Hall last week. Don’t decide for us what is and is not good for the town. If you don’t want to run it, don’t come back. How do you all think these crappy comments make runners feel whom have dedicated so much of their life to this race? You think you’re too good, too hard core, go to a different one!

  18. Don’t worry we won’t be back and many others won’t either, we love Leadville but hate what Life Fitness is doing to the events and Brand. There are too many other great choices out there where they deliver what they promise and run a great event. Sorry to see it continue to go downhill, it’s too bad for the town.

  19. After reading these reviews and listening to the podcast, my question would be what race would be better to do (that is a 100 miles and in Colorado) that is put on in respectful fashion? I was wanting to do LT100 as a goal race, but I do want to support a race that is well run (not just for the pros, but also for those pushing themselves to their own limits).

  20. As the seventh listener to the podcast and one who has run many 100 miler trail runs, I feel compelled to say that the presence of professional runners detracts from a race’s appeal. In fact, I find the aspect that there are professional ultramarathoners a big detraction from the sport. The old days when I got to know the regional regulars and more of a family event are gone. Western States has become a tool of the industry. Notice how the newer board members have business interests in the sport and the other board members think that is good.

    The sport I love is gone. 😦

  21. Thanks for the interview. We wil be sharing it with our Leadville Today readers, most of whom are locals or second home owners. It’s important to Leadville Today that locals understand that there is a BIGGER conversation going on about the races and how people perceive our community in general.

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