The Leadville Trail 100 – Race Across the Sky

Maren BurnsAug 27 · 5 min read

Casey taking a quick stop during the Leadville 100
Casey posing at the Leadville 100.

Over the weekend one of Buddy’s own, Casey Baum, raced in Leadville’s famous 100-mile trail run, aka “The Race Across the Sky”. Runners from all over the world flock to this iconic race through the Rocky Mountains in hopes of earning the coveted gold and silver belt buckles. Leadville, just a small town of nearly 3,000 people, is known for its high elevation, rich mining history, and of course the Leadville Race Series.

I met up with Casey on Friday afternoon to run through the game plan for the next day’s event. It was nearly twelve hours before race time, and Casey already had his game face on. While he had raced in a 50-mile ultra-marathon earlier in the year, this would be his first 100-mile event, and he was determined to finish. Not really sure what the next day’s outcome would be, he planned to give himself a two-hour cushion to the cut off at 30 hours…just in case.

Race Day

Race Start
a bunch of runners at the starting line

It’s 3:30am and pitch black in Leadville. Everyone funnels onto 6th street. Energy levels are high as 800 racers check-in with their crews, say goodbye to family, and make their way to the start line. Racers and spectators alike feel the same kind of anxious excitement as the countdown shows two minutes to race time. We wish Casey good luck and tell him, “See you at mile 23.”

Race Recap

Outward Bound Aid Station – Mile 23.5

When the crew meets Casey here, he is thirty minutes behind schedule but feeling great. His brother, Will, lets him know David Goggins, an ultra-endurance athlete and inspiration to Casey, is also running the Leadville 100. He doesn’t shy away from telling Casey that David is nearly an hour ahead. David is known for his autobiography Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds. Running a 100-mile race is just as much mental as it is physical, and in his training, Casey looked to David’s book for motivation, even reading from it the night before the race. Hearing this gave Casey a little motivational boost, and he was on his way.

Casey in good spirits during the race

Twin Lakes Aid Station – Mile 37.9

At mile 37.9, Casey is welcomed with words of encouragement by his family and friends. He is about to begin the toughest portion of the entire race, Hope Pass, a 3,000 ft elevation gain over just a few miles. At this point in the race you are hiking, not running, but spirits are high with everyone cheering him on. Casey heads out of the aid station focused and ready for the next leg of the race.

Hope Pass
Prayer flags adorn the top of Hope Pass, indicating to runners that they've made it over the toughest climb of the race.

Hope Pass Aid Station – Mile 43.5

It’s between this aid station and the halfway point at mile 50 that Casey has the biggest challenge. He took a bit longer than expected to reach the halfway point, and when he gets there, it’s obvious that things did not exactly go according to plan. Casey had gone through his water supply on the descent of Hope Pass with still a few miles to go before the next water station.

Winfield Aid Station – Halfway Point

In the follow-up with Casey post-race, we talked about mental and physical difficulties at the Winfield Aid Station. Casey was adamant about making it through the next split. He said, “I was exhausted and going much slower than I anticipated, so I went through all my water. At the halfway point, my brother said I was in rough shape (I agree). We took extra time at Winfield to eat and hydrate.”

When asking Casey if he ever thought he might not make it, he responded, “It took me 4.5 hours to go from Twin Lakes to Winfield, and now we had 5 hours to get back to Twin Lakes. That was the first time I thought I might miss the cutoff.” With headphones in for the first time, Casey took off knowing he needed to recover for lost time.

Leadville Runners

Twin Lakes Aid Station – Mile 62.5

Despite how he was feeling at the halfway point, Casey showed up to the Twin Lakes Aid Station looking great. With the hardest leg of the race behind him, and now continuing with his pacer and friend Andrew, we were all feeling good about his chances. At this point it’s nearly 10 pm, and everyone is waiting for the moon to come out and shed some light onto the trails. Rocks, roots, and potholes are now a very real issue for the runners as they continue out of Twin Lakes toward Outward Bound.

Outward Bound Aid Station – Mile 76.9

It’s 42 degrees, and Casey is more than an hour into his cushion time at this point. He has just 23.1 miles to go, but it won't be easy. The crew is talking strategy – what to shoot for in order to make it past the last cut-off and where they should try and make up for some lost time. There are just seven hours to go in the race, but Casey and his pacer know that if they stick to the pace and stay focused they will cross the finish line in time.

Finish Line – Mile 100.4

The last quarter mile to the finish is lined with friends and family waiting for their runners to come into view. Even people who have already completed the race are sticking around to cheer everyone on. With just about 30 minutes to spare, Casey comes into view. He crosses the finish line with his family, tired but smiling ear-to-ear, earning the coveted finisher’s belt buckle.

Casey crosses the finish line with his family
Casey and his family crossing the finish line

Leadville Trail 100 Takeaways

I asked Casey what, if any, positive takeaways there were from the race, he responded, “So many positives. The community is incredible. Everyone truly appreciates and respects what you are trying to accomplish. It is something special that you can only understand when you see it for yourself.”

While waiting for Casey at the finish line, I chatted with two men who had raced almost five years prior. Every summer they road trip from Chicago to Leadville to support the other runners that are taking on the Leadville 100 challenge. They don’t know these people, but they’re here to support anyone and everyone that crosses their path. It’s people like this that really exemplify the culture that surrounds the Leadville Trail 100 and keep people coming back for more.

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