They came, they saw, they limped away at Leadville 100 Trail run
LEADVILLE – They gathered Sunday morning on Leadville’s Sixth Street in the rusty old gym, an unmarked building needing paint and a good sweep. Inside, the congregation was unmistakable.
The limps gave them away. As they made their way to the stage for prizes, the southern drawl of the legendary Ken Chlauber gave another signal as to who gathered there.
The T-shirts were the final giveaway. The 500-odd folks who filled the gymnasium had either just completed, or just helped someone complete, the Leadville Trail 100, an ultramarathon that began late Saturday afternoon and concluded Sunday at 10 a.m.
It didn’t matter who won – although Woodland Park resident Paul Dewitt crossed the finish line first in 17 hours, 58 minutes and 45 seconds. It might have been Kim Bear who garnered the biggest applause as winner of the Last Ass Over the Pass award. Bear limped to the stage to receive her trophy for becoming the last of 203 runners to cross the finish line before the 30 hour cutoff time, when Chlauber fires a shotgun into the air. He might as well have shot into the staggering runner just a half-mile from the finish line. Merilee O’Neal, the race coordinator, was in tears.
Beyond the pain and the flickering memory of what they had just been through, the gymnasium was filled with smiles and cheers. Beer and water flowed. Breckenridge’s Helen Cospolich sat next to Dillon’s David Wilcox. Cospolich finished her first ultramarathon and won her age group. Wilcox finished his sixth go around at Leadville.
“It was a hard year,” said Wilcox, who was paced by locals Jeff Berino and Roch Horton. “The devils were out. I stared into the abyss, and you’re not supposed to stare into the abyss.”
Cospolich, an experienced 50-miler, felt comfortable until the 80th mile, when her ankles started to swell.
“It was really painful all the way to the end,” she said. “It’s definitely an enlightening experience. It was actually harder than I thought.”
Competitors came from as far away as Mexico and New York to see if they had the cajones to reach the finish. Rain drenched the runners all night and made the track sticky, muddy and, at times, downright annoying.
“Some times, things can conspire against you,” said Julie Arter from Tuscon, Ariz. “I’ve been injured the last three years. This was my comeback run. I survived it.”
New Jersey’s Tim Shay hadn’t finished his first three tries at a course that averages 11,500 feet of elevation. It crosses Hope Pass twice. And, in a cruel bit of design, the last three miles are mostly uphill until the final half-mile slope into downtown Leadville.
Some, like Shay, needed angels. A man he didn’t know guided him from 2 a.m. to the finish.
“Throughout the day, I felt worse and worse,” Shay said. “But, oh, man, coming over the last hill and seeing everyone was worth it. I could hear people from a long ways away.”
Over a hundred people gathered at the finish line Sunday morning, cheering the competitors to the very end. Some walked. Some ran. One guy kissed the pavement at the finish line.
Leadville’s John Rainey hugged his family, who came from Connecticut, the minute he broke the pink tape. As they stood in the rain, his sister asked if he wanted to go rest.
“Let’s wait here,” Rainey said. “I’ve got some friends out there. Plus, let me enjoy this. I can start thinking again.”
After the shotgun fired, the crowd dispersed into the gymnasium. Some received belt buckles for their 2,000th completed mile. Others received sweatshirts, trophies and lots of applause.
In the end, Wilcox summed up the experience: “It’s like every race I’ve done,” he said. “A few blisters, a few less toe nails. Oh, and a few less brain cells. I guess that always happens.”
EXTRA STEPS: Valerie Caldwell, of Sandra Park, N.M., won the women’s race in 22:54:16 … Breck’s Daniel Teoduru finished in 28:59:24 … Avon’s Morgan Murri finished in 29:17:20 … 550 competitors entered the race … Aspen’s Aaron Ralston, famous for cutting off his hand in a freak climbing accident, was a pacer during the event.