PHOTOS: Leadville 100 draws hundreds of runners in the 40th “Race Across the Sky”

More than 700 runners raced in the 40th annual Leadville 100 Run last weekend, loping 100 miles across the Sawatch Range.

The runners lined up at 4 a.m. Saturday on Harrison Street in downtown Leadville and trotted along pavement for several miles around Turquoise Lake before digging into singletrack along the Colorado Trail. They climbed 15,000 vertical feet in their 100-mile push, with two notoriously brutal climbs, including an ascent of the 12,600-foot Hope Pass.

Known as the Race Across the Sky, the high elevation ultramarathon is one of the sport’s most storied and grueling challenges in endurance sports. It’s a cherished trophy for the world’s top ultra runners. This year Boulder 29-year-old JP Giblin finished in 17 hours, 7 minutes to win the men’s race. And 38-year-old Jacquie Mannhard, also from Boulder, won the women’s race with a time of 21 hours, 24 minutes.

Leadville 100 runners cross a creek on the return trip to Leadville during the race near Twin Lakes. The course challenges runners to climb at least 15,000 feet of vertical throughout the 100 miles. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

An adaptive Leadville 100 Run participant crosses Hope Pass, at 12,532 feet above sea level, during the 100 mile run event. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

A Leadville 100 participant, with blood streaming down from the knee, crosses a creek on the return trip to Leadville. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

ABOVE: A Leadville 100 runner cools down in a creek as a fellow participant walks past. BOTTOM: People cheer on the Leadville 100 runners in Twin Lakes. Fans and friends of the racers show up in support throughout the 100 mile run course between Twin Lakes and Leadville. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin founded the Leadville 100 race in 1983 with hopes of sparking Leadville’s struggling up-and-down mining economy. The nearby Climax Mine had closed in 1982, leaving nearly everyone in town without work. 

That year, Chlouber lined up in Leadville with about 45 other runners for the first Race Across the Sky. Only 15 finished within the 30-hour time limit. Today, that 30-hour limit remains and is a goal for many of the racers. Nearly 200 runners finished in the final two hours Sunday morning. Hundreds did not make the 30-hour mark. 

The legendary Chlouber, who finished the Leadville 100 run 14 times, joined Maupin at the finish line Saturday night to congratulate the speediest runners on their accomplishment. They stayed through Sunday morning to high-five and hug every equally stoked runner who finished in under 30 hours.

The two founders have been at that finish line for every Leadville 100 Run race since 1983. Maupin, the race director from 1993 to 2010, to this day is the person to hang a medal around the neck of each person who crosses the finish line.

ABOVE: Leadville 100 race founders Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin congratulate a finisher Sunday morning. The pair has been to every race since its inception in 1983. BOTTOM: Leadville 100 Run participants, from left, Michele Perez-Lopez, of Broomfield, Ivan Schwendt, of Colorado Springs, and Don Brown, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, react after crossing the finish line on Sixth Street. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

As Saturday night stretched into Sunday morning, Maupin was stationed in a chair, looking west on Sixth Street for runners finishing the last, uphill leg of the punishing race. As each person emerged, she got up from her chair, dozens of medals hanging from her left forearm, and prepared to hug the exhausted athletes and help celebrate their part in Leadville’s high country legacy.