Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Major Leadville News Story

Unexpected Consequences Run Deep
Changes to the Leadville Race Series hurt the community 

By Baybee Dough, September 25, 2014
The Leadville Messenger

Leadville, CO - Across the table from me sat a man who has weathered many long Leadville winters and has been a firsthand witness to the boom and bust that is at the core of Leadville's rich history.  In 1968, Stan Dupendefend took ownership of the Yellow Donkey Cafe in Leadville after the famous eatery had changed hands several times since its opening in 1934.  For over 40 years, Stan has watched this community change with the times and change depending what minerals were found in the ground.  There have been years when business was good, and years where the cafe almost shut its doors.

Sadly, 2014 has been one of those down years.  After Lifetime Fitness, owner of the Leadville Race Series, announced sweeping changes in response to intense criticism from the endurance community, the economic ripple effect has struck deep in this heart of the Rocky Mountains. 

It all began back in 1983, when the Climax Mine was shut down.  Miner and visionary Ken Chlouber developed the "Race Across The Sky" concept and carried out a 100 mile foot race through the unforgiving Leadville mountains as a way to bring people to this gem in the Rockies and stimulate economic activity.  Thirty years later, his vision had expanded beyond his wildest dreams featuring multiple running and mountain bike races throughout the summer months.  The once economically decimated town in the early 80's has bounced back and become a major Colorado tourist destination for endurance athletes.  A 2012 economic impact study, indicated Lake County benefits to the tune of 15 million dollars a year due to the Leadville Race Series.

For Stan and the Yellow Donkey Cafe, the tourism boom has abruptly fallen into bust.  After complaints of races getting too large, traffic snarls, negative environmental impact, and overall lackluster racer experience, the Leadville Race Series took swift action and announced an across the board 60% cut in the number of racers allowed in each of their races.  For example, the 2013 Leadville Trail 100 Run featured over 1000 runners.  In 2014, that number was capped at 400 and a lottery was instituted for those precious spots as the demand far exceeded that number.  On race day, only 361 showed up at the start line.  Entrance into all the Leadville Race Series races were handled by the lottery system.

The effect of the cuts has once again decimated the Leadville economy.  Tourism is down 75% as many of the athletes that have won spots in the various lotteries, are not from Colorado and don't come to town to train the way local athletes have.  "For many years, our peak season was from late May to late August.  Our hotels were full most weekends and our local businesses counted on the influx of tourists to make or break their entire year in those three precious months.  In 2014, I can't name a single business that wasn't impacted by this massive drop in tourism," said Pea Beeville, the mayor of Leadville, 

Woody Anderson, a three time finisher of the Leadville 100 Run from Denver, was one of the lucky 400 to gain entrance into the recent 2014 race.  "It's sad," Anderson says, "The LT100 in all it's glory was one big and beautiful ultrarunning party.  What has made this race so special to me was that everyone in the Colorado trail running community came out on race day to run, pace, crew, or spectate.  Everyone knows there are many small and quaint races available, but Leadville was grand and spectacular, and that's what we loved about it.  The entire feel of this race has changed.  Anderson went on to share that with less than 400 runners on the course, it often felt like a ghost town.  "There were no familiar faces, no crazy, fun aid stations, no line of headlamps going around Turquoise Lake.  Yes, this eliminated the constant two way traffic on Hope Pass, but the camaraderie of runners passing each other with encouraging words and high fives also went with it."

Time will tell if the endurance community will be satisfied with the new caps in place for the races they so sharply criticized in 2013.  In the meantime, the businesses that have come to count on the dollars the Leadville Race Series brought in prior to this year will need to adapt to this new challenge.  Stan Dupendefend made the decision to lay off half of his staff as they only serve a handful of customers each day.  Unless business picks up,  this eatery will find itself in the storied history books that house so many of Leadville's legends.

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Folks, clearly this is a fictitious piece and most details except for the economic study were made up.  I will keep my day job as journalism is not a strength.  I hope my point comes through.  Be careful what you ask for.  If you're not happy with the LT100, keep the criticism constructive and make sure you're accounting for the personal responsibility that comes with signing up for this race.  The loudest voice you can sound is to take your race dollars to one that will meet your needs.  If you choose to fork over the $300, then expect challenges beyond running and embrace them all.  I'm not going to debate Lifetime, race management, cups, water, ramen noodles, traffic, volunteers or anything of the sorts on this blog.  Leadville is and will always be a town and race that I love and support.   -Woody

31 comments:

  1. True dat! Leadville is crazy, crowded and fun. I would not change it one bit. Embrace the suck!

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    1. Embrace the suck. Absolutely. I'm cool with asking for changes to make the day flow better. I'm not cool with the vitriol directed at the LRS.

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  2. I was chuckling as soon as I hit Baby Dough. Pea Beeville?? Brilliant!!

    Humor aside, I love what you say in the paragraph quoting yourself. That is my feeling 100%, and all this stuff going on just makes me want to go back to the race even more. Your point about all the CO peeps being up there in the weeks before the race is very good.

    I'm already looking forward to August!

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    1. Me too Chris. Hopefully we both get into the lottery...oh wait, that was the fiction part...I hope.

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  3. Best post in months!

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    1. AND only post in months! Ha! Thanks.

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  4. Nice, Woody. I'm grateful to see you defending Leadville amid all the (disproportionate) ranting. As a 4-time finisher and-- more importantly-- a Leadville resident, I'm baffled by the intensity of the ultrarunning community's response. Absoutely, Lifetime needs to make some adjustments-- and their (lack of) communication has been extremely frustrating and perplexing-- but you would think the world had ended given all the negativity in recent months. I half expect to see runners descending on Josh's house (which is just a few blocks away from mine-- not located in some corporate office complex at Lifetime's headquarters) with pitchforks and torches. I've been trying hard to bite my tongue and let this all blow over, but I may have to post something about it, if only for cathartic reasons! Hope all is well!

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    1. Andy - your perspective is always one of the most insightful.

      I too wish Lifetime spoke earlier with something simple to pacify the unrest. I sure hope you don't see pitchforks and torches coming down your street, but I wouldn't rule it out!

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  5. Good post. Been thinking about this from a PR standpoint. I honestly don't think Lifetime could be handling it worse. They allowed a very small problem to become a big problem simply because they didn't immediately jump on it before the endurance running "community" started creating the myth that Leadville is irreversibly broken. I wonder if they'd pay me to come help them.

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    1. Couldn't agree more, Jim. When they finally released a response a few days ago it was certainly welcome, but way, way late... I've been working in the online gaming industry (and hence interacting with online communities) for ~17 years. Lifetime has handled this about as poorly as they possibly could have.

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    2. You could do it Jim! I think they would need more PR help if they actually implemented all the changes being demanded. That's how this post began. For seven days worth of daily runs, I kept asking myself the question, "what if the LRS caves to the pressure and makes some big changes? What would the 2014 race look like? What new dissatisfaction would be created? What else would be impacted?"

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  6. Thank you for this Woody - refreshing to have someone defending the town and race we love.

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  7. Good post. One should always worry about unintended consequences. I would like to say though that the folks that have been vocal and disappointed with the race are unhappy with Lifetimes handling of the race and lack of responses to their concerns. I'm pretty sure that most of those critics are still fans of the town and the people that live there. Also, I was there for the 50 and both 100s. Do you know why certain restaurants (Yellow donkey was one of them) choose to remain closed for the 100s? I think most were open for the 50. thanks

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    1. Thanks Neeraj. I'm not sure why those restaurants were closed. I remember the "Yellow Donkey" being open on race day in 2011 because we tried to go and couldn't get a seat.

      I don't doubt that many of the vocal bunch care for the town and future of the races. I just wanted to share my perspective in hope that the tone can change and other factors considered. Ken C. has convinced every Leadville athlete they are better than they think they are and can do more than they think they can. It is of my opinion that we can do much better in building this race and organization up to accomplish our goal of being heard rather than tearing it down.

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  8. I'll stay true to not voicing my opinion about Leadville.... I just wanted to comment on that photo! Spectacular!

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    1. You are a wise man Scott!

      This picture is from the north side of Eccles Pass (behind Buffalo Mtn). First week of August. There's a whole lot of beauty in that picture! :-)

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  9. That last paragraph nails it! However, I'm still waiting on a race report. And yes, that photo is fantastic!

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    1. Seriously. What a slacker I am. I'm making an early new year's resolution to get back on track here. I've got about 10 posts from all the summer fun to roll out.

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  10. Great post! The irony is that this year, the Golden Burro did shut it's doors at some point during race weekend and hung a sign on the door that basically said 'we don't need/want your business because you're a bunch of assholes, racers/crew'. (paraphrasing, but there was a note on the door to that tune)

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    1. even back in 2011, http://blogs.denverpost.com/thebalancesheet/2011/08/15/not-everyone-loves-the-leadville-trail-100/103/

      "David Wright, owner of the venerable Golden Burro eatery on Leadville’s downtown Harrison Avenue, said serving the hordes of cyclists is not worth the trouble."

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    2. Dang, that is quite ironic. How do you serve 2500 meals and only net $800. That seems strange to me. Yes, this is yet another (more factual!) perspective. Thanks for sharing Rob.

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    3. Woody, great style and yours is my favourite of the "Leadville Nerds" (I like that!) Timko brings up a good point, and something that I've been thinking about (and perhaps a bit of disagreement) with this whole thing, in that money is /not enough/ reason to "Leave Leadville Alone!" If a single year of making the size of the race more manageable had that much of an affect on the town, well, then the race is even more unsustainable than has been discussed. And that is not to mention the very real community issues in Pbville and Twin Lakes. So bringing in $ is not enough by itself, IMHO. Cheers!

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    4. Hey Mike - yes, my futuristic scenario is not that realistic from an economic perspective. Heck, even the Yellow Donkey closes its doors on race day...which might be a topic for another discussion...why athletes in Pb feel entitled to treat businesses so poorly that they would rather stay closed.

      I believe the LRS is in a lose/lose situation. People are going to freak out no matter what they do. I fall into the camp of keeping it big and spectacular, while making a few race day changes to handle the numbers better. I think we'll disagree on whether or not the land can sustain the impact of the races.

      I'm guessing that the local Pb community is much like the ultra community when it comes to this race. Some love it and some hate it. I know there's one house on 6th street with a bunch of LT100 lovers as they dance in their bathrobes at 4am as runners stream by!

      Thanks for your thoughts.

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  11. "Be careful what you ask for. If you're not happy with the LT100, keep the criticism constructive and make sure you're accounting for the personal responsibility that comes with signing up for this race. The loudest voice you can sound is to take your race dollars to one that will meet your needs. If you choose to fork over the $300, then expect challenges beyond running and embrace them all."

    Finally - finally someone said what I think every time I read someone criticizing this race. Personal responsibility: for your trash, for your race, for the results and consequences of both. This was my first 100 and I've only done one so perhaps my opinions might not have as much weight as the next person - but this is exactly my sentiment, and has been since i started reading the criticisms of this race...I'm so relieved to come across a statement with common sense rather than entitlement..Thank you so much...

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    1. Well, let me provide you another breath of fresh air. Check out Chris' LT100 report recently posted: http://thescenebegins.com/2013/10/31/race-report-2013-leadville-trail-100/

      I'm still laughing at Chris' "Goldilocks Just Right 100"!

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  12. I would like to debate you on ramen noodles here.

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    1. Okay, but only you.

      Chicken, Beef or Shrimp. I say chicken.

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  13. Great post - especially the very meta part where you quoted yourself.

    But seriously. Kircher and I were just discussing Leadville - its flaws and its wonders. It truly is a big ultra party, and people outside the ultra community go to it and think Leadville is amazing! We should keep that in mind. Every race is going to have logistical problems in some form, Leadville just has a LOT of people involved, which means more people complaining. I hope your future does not come to pass, and that the newbies stop dogging on the race (that drives me insane, BTW).

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