Since the course starts at an elevation of 10,200 feet, runners in the Leadville Race Series are no strangers to inclement weather. "Cold comes natural up here," laughs Ken Chlouber, the founder of the series, who recalls races with biting winds, snow flurries and freezing temperatures.
But on Saturday, June 17, when the summer endurance season in Leadville kicks off with marathon and half-marathon races, runners have only sunny skies to look forward to. The prep team, on the other hand, has faced a tough task clearing the trail from late-season snow.
"The snow came late this year," says Chlouber. "We had a mild November through January, but February, March and late May, we just got hammered. We've had deep snow before, but not of this magnitude." In some areas, the snow was still up to seven feet high this week, and Chlouber's team –– four full-time workers and some volunteers –– has been working with nothing more than hand shovels.
But Chlouber is all optimism going into race weekend. "Between the two races, we're expecting 1,700 to 1,800 runners," he notes. "This race is beautiful, a great adventure and great economically for Leadville."
Chlouber started the Leadville Race Series after the Climax Mine and Mill shut down in 1982, leaving countless Leadville residents, including Chlouber, without jobs. In 1983, he started the Leadville 100, which is now one of the premier ultra-endurance races and earned Chlouber a spot in the Colorado Running Hall of Fame. "The Race Series literally saved Leadville. The key to money is getting people to stay overnight, and I figured people running 100 miles at this altitude would do just that," says Chlouber with a chuckle.
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The series now stretches over the entire summer, with the Leadville Trail 100 –– dubbed the "Race Across the Sky" –– taking place in mid-August. This Saturday, June 17, runners can take part in the Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon (15.5 miles, rather than the standard 13.1), which travel through the town and up to the top of Mosquito Pass, the signature portion of the race at 13,185 feet. Runners in the full marathon can earn qualifying spots in the Leadville 100. And all along the way, spectators will be cheering them on.
"The race isn't about getting PR," Chlouber adds, "but about adventure and being in the mountains. We have a first-class medical team, and our highest priority is getting people across the finish line."