The Race Across The Sky: A Broad’s Guide to Why

by Lisa Ingarfield
From The Broadview

Trail running, for those of you who have not tried it, can be as challenging as it is beautiful. We are spoiled in Colorado with thousands of trails to choose from. The options cater to every level of runner (and walker) and every need, from easy, wide trails through meadows to rocky, technical climbs ascending several thousand feet. Run, walk, or hike. Whatever your skill level, Colorado’s foothills and mountains have something for you.

One of the world’s most famous trail races is right here on our doorstep: the Leadville Trail 100 (LT100). Yes, you read it correctly. One hundred miles out and back including two trips over Hope Pass (12,600 ft) just outside of Twin Lakes. The “race across the sky” is in its 35th year, and its 2017 roster boasts over 600* eager trail runners and ultra-marathoners (an ultra-marathon is any distance over 26.2 miles).

The Leadville 100 Trail Race began in 1983 in response to the closure of Leadville’s major employer, the Climax Mine. The closure of the mine was devastating for Leadville’s economy, 3,200 people lost their jobs. Overnight, Leadville became the town with the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Cue Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin. Chlouber, an avid marathon runner and local miner, developed the idea for a 100 mile race through the Rocky Mountains that would bring revenue to Leadville. The race traverses mountainous terrain, with a whopping 18,168 feet of elevation gain over the 100 miles.
Women at Leadville

Chlouber asked Maupin to be race director (blazing a trail as only one of a few women ultra-marathon race directors in the 80s!) and in late summer 1983, the town held the first Leadville Trail 100 race. There were 45 starters, including one woman (Teri Gerber). Ten runners finished that race, but sadly Gerber, the lone woman adventurer was not one of them. She didn’t give up, however, and, returned in 1984 to finish.

In 1994, ultra-marathon runner, Ann Trason set the women’s course record at 18:06:24, a 23 year old record in tact today. According to Maupin, the Leadville 100 has a great history of incredibly strong, courageous, and smart women. Maupin shared the story of her friend Maureen Garty, who has since passed away. Garty had never run a race longer than a marathon and in 1986 raced the LT100. She was fifth overall and took the win for the women in 22:45:01.

In 2016, the race included 340 official finishers, 65 of whom were women. While numbers of women participating in the race has steadily increased over time, with a jump of about thirty-five percent in 2014, according to Maupin, the numbers of women participating is still fairly low compared to men. Despite the lower numbers of women competing in the race, Maupin points out women’s finishing percentages have always been higher than the men’s.

Maupin’s heart is in this race, and while she and Chlouber have since sold the race series to Lifetime Fitness, she is still involved and still encourages women to participate. When asked why women should consider entering this race, Maupin shares: “Finishing is life changing … once you’ve crossed that finish line… you are better than you think you are, and you can do better than you think you can. Do away with those limits that you have placed on yourself. Doing this race, finishing it, not quitting, extends to every corner of your life.”

Laurie Nakauchi racing Leadville in 2014

The Running Broad’s View of the LT100

One of those incredibly strong, courageous, and smart (Denver) broads Maupin speaks of is Laurie Nakauchi. Nakauchi has completed the LT100 11 times–yep, you read that right–and will be toeing the line again this August. She is chasing the mantle of most LT100s completed by a woman, a record currently held by Marge Hickman with 14 completed races. Hickman is also racing again this year and puts the lid on any kind of ageism – she is in her 60s and still taking names (#badass).

Nakauchi started racing the LT100 over twenty years ago when there were very few women participating and she encourages women to pick up trail running, especially ultras. She sees women’s ultra-running as a massive untapped market. “Women do a lot” she says, but “if a woman takes this [race] on, they are going to finish.” She echoes Maupin’s assertion that women, overall, have a higher percentage finish rate over men.

Junko Kazukawa, another badass broad, ultra-running coach, and long-time LT100 runner, will be racing this year as well, marking her seventh race. Kazukawa, like Nakauchi, is an accomplished trail and ultra-runner. In 2014 and 2015, Kazukawa completed the Leadwoman series, which involves finishing the Leadville marathon, Silver Rush 50 mile bike or run, LT100 mountain bike race, LT100 run, and the Leadville 10K. Just to solidify her badassery in case you weren’t already convinced, in 2015 she also completed the Grand Slam of 100 mile races (Western States, Vermont, LT100, and Wasatch) and then in 2016 completed the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 103 mile race, replete with over 30,500 feet of elevation gain, around Mont Blanc in the Alps through France, Italy and Switzerland. Oh, and Kazukawa is also a two-time breast cancer survivor. For Kazukawa, she knows her body and knows what she is capable of doing. She keeps upping the ante each year, because “why not?” I kind of agree. There’s always a reason not to do something, but equally, there is always a reason to try.

Junko Kazukawa finishing the UTMB in 2016

For the women reading this article who have considered entering the lottery to secure a place in the LT100, Maupin’s, Nakauchi’s and Kazakawa’s perspective comes down to three words: go for it. …

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Leadville Silver Rush 50 Race Recap

By Guest Contributor Cassie Cilli

Leadville, Colorado probably isn’t on your tourist destination list this summer. This one street town popular for mining and its lawless past lost its fizzle in the 50’s and ultimately pittered out in the early 80’s. That’s when Ken Chlouber came up with the now infamous Leadville Trail 100. Regardless of what sport you are in, even if you aren’t in running or can barely move at all, chances are you’ve heard of “THE Leadville”. They’ve created their own niche of events including mountain biking and ranging distances from a 10K to marathon to a 50 miler, you know, in case you weren’t feeling like signing up for a hundred. This past weekend, concluded the Silver Rush 50. A race the website claims “will leave your lungs burning, heart pounding and eyes completely amazed!” Well, I’m here to tell you it lived up to its description.

What I love most about Leadville besides the “Oh and Ah!” of the surrounding mountains, is the people. Nothing is more bone chilling than hearing Ken and Merilee, the original founders of the race, come say their epic spiel of how “you’re stronger than you think you are, and you can do more than you think!” At the end of it they scream at you to “dig deep!!!” and then gun goes off! I’ve heard this 3 times now and it still gets to me. Mind you, they come to every race and recite this motivating speech. That’s pretty amazing. There’s as many volunteers as they can dig up that are out there all day, all darn day! They’re feeding you, watering you, taking off your disgusting shoes to bandage your even more disgusting feet, they spray you with sunblock, and tell you everything is going to be ok! One aid station even had amazing eighties music blaring and men in neon tights! Serious dedication right there.

There’s more than that though. It’s the moment when you really do feel like your heart is about to beat through your chest over the last climb, and you come into a beautiful meadow of columbine flowers and your body relaxes and your heart calms down as you take in the view. Then you trip over your own feet and fall into a small stream and laugh your butt off about it cause it’s just so darn pretty out here nothing matters (sorry to the person behind me as this happened, I’m not crazy I was just giggle high!). It’s when you’ve hit the turn around and it dawns on you you’ve still got twenty five more miles to go, and someone comes up behind you tells you how strong you look! And you’re like “really?! I’m about to barf all over myself! But awesome, I’ll keep going!”

It’s that dreadful moment you don’t think you can really go any farther, and you remember a conversation you’ve had early on with a stranger. A conversation I will never forget. A young woman asked me if it was my first time doing this and I said it was, and it was hers as well. She was nervous as she had been pregnant and sick and hadn’t trained but only 5 weeks. I was slightly confused and asked about the baby. She had lost it unfortunately 5 weeks ago, that’s why she didn’t have time to train. “This can’t be as painful as burying my baby” she said to me. I immediately teared up and embraced her. If this doesn’t bring you to your knees and put things into perspective I don’t know what will. Her words echoed in my head all day. I saw her again around mile 40, she told me how fresh I looked and I yelled at her that I better see her at the finish. Which I did, as I was leaving, she probably had a dozen or so family with her to support her. One of the most amazing memories I will cherish forever. And that’s why we are all out here, to prove to ourselves we have the discipline, the determination and the desire to finish something like this, that we are able to dig deep.

At the end of the day we all are suffering. Whether you’re in the lead chasing that course record, or you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other… it’s going to hurt. What makes ultra running, is the community. It’s that connection you share with someone even for a moment of mutual pain, a swap of your life story, a high five, an “Are you ok?!”. What makes Leadville special is coming in to that finish line and getting your medal and a huge embrace from Merliee, as if she’s your own mother, who’s also been there all day hugging 335 other finishers. And that’s the Leadville experience. What we all chase… a finish.