Patience pays off at over 10,000 feet.
Written by: Meghan M. Hicks
The Leadville Trail 100 stretches across the Rocky Mountains’ high country outside of Leadville, Colorado. With a starting elevation of 10,152 feet and high point of just over 12,500 feet above sea level, running through thin air is this race’s theme. When the race began at 4 AM this past Saturday morning, some 600 runners took off down the course. By its conclusion some 30 hours later, 294 men and 53 women had completed the distance.
Though the 2011 Leadville Trail 100 was Ryan Sandes’ first 100-mile race, the South African endurance junkie is no stranger to running and winning ultra-distance races. After a patient first 50 miles of hanging with the lead pack, Sandes steadily built a 32-minute margin of victory during the race’s second half.
From the start, a massive group of men went out hard. Thirty of them passed through the 13.5-mile checkpoint within 10 minutes of each other. Ten miles later, the leaders had thinned to a group of five within a one-minute spread that included Michael Arnstein, Tim Parr, Dylan Bowman, Ryan Burch, and Ryan Sandes. Another 16 miles later at the 39.5-mile aid station, the five men remained within spitting distance of each other, but had collectively gapped the rest of the field by 12 minutes.
Between miles 39.5 and 50, the course turns steep as it ascends and descends Hope Pass, its high point. Sandes rolled into the mile 50 aid station alone in first, having broken away from the pack on the pass. Arnstein arrived in chase mode a minute behind, while the rest of the lead pack trickled in over the next 10 minutes.
The Leadville Trail 100 is an out-and-back course. After passing through the mile 50 aid station, runners turn around and return the way they came, making a second voyage over Hope Pass. After his second trip over Hope, Sandes was 13 minutes ahead of every other man. From there to the finish, he only added to his lead, looking stronger at every aid station. He finished in 16:46, the third-fastest time in the race’s history. When race officials told him as much, he laughed and said, “But I kind of slowed down at the end.”
Colorado’s Dylan Bowman filtered into second place by the mile 60.5 aid station, arriving behind Sandes. For the race’s final 40 miles, Bowman’s tall, lanky frame never let up. So strong was he that he garnered frequent comments from onlookers that, should Sandes have faltered, Bowman was primed to pick up the slack. He crossed the finish line in second place at 17:18, arriving to the wild cheers of about 200 spectators.
Washington, DC’s Neal Gorman spent his day running a bit behind the lead men’s group, as far as 30 minutes back at one point. Staying steady, he moved through the ranks to a third-place finish during the race’s second half, filling in a gap made by slowing lead runners. Arnstein, of New York, was hot on Gorman’s tail, finishing fourth with a whole lot of whooping and fist pumps.
Rounding out the top five was Oregon’s Jeff Browning, another fellow who hung around the bottom half of the top ten for most of the day. He made a late-race surge that surprised everyone, including the lead runners. Of his move, Browning said, “I passed three guys in the last 10 miles. One was sitting on a rock and just kind of looked at me when I went by.”
Patience also paid off in the women’s race. Coloradoan Lynette Clemons is no stranger to the Leadville 100, having won it in 2009. This year, she spent the race’s first half in what appeared to be a leap-frogging duel with Wisconsin’s Andrea Metz, who finished fourth at last year’s race. Beyond the 60.5-mile aid station, however, Clemons put the heat on, gapping Metz significantly and beginning a race against the clock.
While everyone’s finish was no doubt exciting and emotional, Clemons’ was among the most outwardly so. She purportedly began the race with a goal of finishing in less than 20 hours. In order to achieve it, she had to push hard the last miles, including an almost-anaerobic final half-mile. She finished with 54 seconds to spare, collapsing into equal parts visible discomfort and relief. The fact that Clemons is a teacher in Leadville made her a crowd favorite, and spectators gushed with emotion after her exciting finish.
Metz maintained her second place position until the final few miles of the race when Colorado’s Rhonda Claridge pushed past her. According to Claridge, “I was tempo-ing the last mile to make sure I kept the lead once I got it.” The ladies finished within two minutes of each other, in 21:11 and 21:13 respectively, rounding out the ladies’ podium.