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

By Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

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.”

The Running Broad’s View of the LT100

 Laurie Nakauchi racing Leadville in 2014

Laurie Nakauchi racing Leadville in 2014

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 Kazakawa finishing the UTMB in 2016

Junko Kazakawa 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. Nakauchi notes there will never be an ideal time, and so sign up and commit. Lisa Hayen, who ran the LT100 twice, finishing on her second attempt in 2014, encourages women to try the race: “If you’re from Colorado, you definitely need to experience LT100. It’s our state’s crowning jewel of ultras, and is one of the original 100 mile races.”

For those women who have heard about the LT100, but aren’t quite sure, Hayen, Nakauchi and Kazakawa all recommend trying one of Leadville’s shorter races or pacing a runner to get a feel for the terrain and atmosphere. Leadville has a plethora of campsites in and around where the race takes place. It’s August, so the temperatures are great for camping, especially along Turquoise Lake, which is part of the LT100 race course.

 Lisa Hayen celebrating on finishing the LT100 in 2014, her second attempt

Lisa Hayen celebrating on finishing the LT100 in 2014, her second attempt

You can travel up with your family or friends and watch the first runners finish, usually between 8pm and 10pm the same day the race starts, on August 19th. Most runners finish sometime the following morning, before the 10am cut off (30 hours from start time). I have been there several years in a row to watch the final runners push through those boundaries and cross the finish line before the final gun echoes through the town. It is magical. For Maupin, being a part of the finish line experience has been a true honor, as it has been for all the badass Denver broads I interviewed. Sharing in the joy and triumph is unforgettable. I wholeheartedly agree.


* This number fluctuates as race day approaches based on qualification and Legacy Foundation spots.