The Race Across the Sky - LT100
On August 18th, Cindy (my wife) and I joined the 100-mile medics to help with the Leadville 100 Ultra-marathon in the Colorado Rockies. A crazy, exhausting, yet inspiring event!
The Leadville Trail 100 Run (aka The Race Across The Sky or the LT100) is an ultramarathon held annually on trails and dirt roads near Leadville, Colorado, through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. First run in 1983, runners in the race climb and descend 15,600 feet (4,800 m), with elevations ranging between 9,200–12,620 feet. In most years, fewer than half the starters complete the race within the 30-hour time limit.
As runners ourselves (Cindy is the "real" runner, while I lumber along as best as I can), we were drawn to this extreme race after meeting a group of ultra-marathon racers doing pre-season preparation in Carefree Arizona. Their enthusiasm and dedication to the event was inspiring. We wanted to be part of this. No intention of running ourselves of course, as this takes years of training to do, and a level of stamina and commitment that is beyond belief. So, we brought our skills to the event and joined the medical team, as part of the 100 Mile Medics.
Over 700 racers started out in Leadville that morning bright and early - actually at 4:00 am, so very very early and not bright at all. Every runner had a head lamp on. A weather system was moving through the area in the morning so it was cold and raining for most of the first 30 miles of the race. The race is a 50 mile out and back, and we were assigned to the aid station at Twin Lakes, located at 39 miles (out-bound) and 61 miles (in-bound) situated just before (and after) the most grueling center piece of the race - the ascent up Hope Pass (and down, then up and down again) starting at 9,200 feet and peaking at 12,620 feet.
As you would expect, we saw and treated a lot of blisters, strained ankles, sore tendons and shear exhaustion. The weather was the source of a few people experiencing hypothermia and slippery rainy conditions lead to lots of falls with scraps and a few broken bones. The altitude was the issue of most concern, as exercise at these heights can be a set up for altitude mountain sickness (AMS). Runners traveled in from all over the world and from nearly every state in the US, some coming from cities at sea level. So, getting to the Rockies a few weeks beforehand to acclimate is part of the necessary training - most did this, but not everyone. For those affected with AMS, they mostly just felt ill and could not finished the race, but when serious enough this can lead to life threatening lung or brain edema (excess fluid accumulation). We did see a few runners with serious AMS, but likely only a few.
There certainly were more than than a few people we saw hit their limit and looking pretty beat-up (after 60 miles of running) and a few that looked fresh as daisies (sounds impossible but true, and I am jealous), but most where somewhere in-between. Overall these racers were impressively prepared, and it was a sight-to-see so many people young and old (some in their 70's) in such great shape, pushing through the absolute limits of human endurance. For one 60ish year old gentleman from South America, this was his 21st time doing this race, and he has diabetes requiring insulin - wow.
A little under 30% of the runners were able to complete the race. The requirement is to complete the 100 miles in less than 30 hours, so racers who did not make it to each aid station within a certain cutoff time where not permitted to continue (mostly for their safety and to be able to keep track of everyone on the mountain trails). About 200 runners completed the 100 miles. A few did it under 20 hours, and the winner this year completed the event in 15 hours and 51 minutes - absolutely amazing! This was an inspiring event for me that serves as more motivation to get out there and get my exercise, even when I think I am "tired". No matter how tired I am, it can not compare to the extremes that these runners faced. Hope these folks motivate you too.