Colorado's Most Amazing and Punishing (and Magical) Race
Now he's back to thinking about his race full time. Applications are down for this year's event on August 20. Where there used to be only four 100-mile races in the United States, there are now more than 30. Competition has bled away some of Leadville's runners, and Ken has been getting heat to make some changes. Matt Carpenter, the country's greatest mountain runner and a serious contender for a Leadville win this year, thinks the race needs to get more corporate and offer prize money. Micah True thinks the race is already too corporate. (Micah was so moved by his race with Martimiano that he's started his own alternative ultra down in Tarahumara country in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, and is known among the Tarahumara as Caballo Blanco-"The White Horse").
Huffing up Hope Pass, I hear Ken sigh. It's been 23 years, and he's still explaining what this race is about. "The kind of changes people talk about, it's always about treating some runners differently than others," he explains. "I'm going to resist that kind of elitism and make damn sure everyone gets treated the same." See, for Ken, the race has never been about winners and losers, champs and also-rans. It's about soul and spirit and survival. Which, after all, is the true essence of sports-the true essence of Leadville. The great gold barons went bust or moved on. Same with the great runners-every few years, someone takes the crown and then moves on. That's why, frankly, the old miner that is Ken Choulber could give a crap who wins; he admires most the guy dragging himself around Turquoise Lake with blood in his shoes and a few precious ticks left on the clock.
Ken heard some great news recently: Because of the surge in defense funding, the price of moly has been rocketing way past the Climax mine's old break-even point of $3 a pound. If it holds up around $25 a pound for much longer, the mine may open again.
And if it doesn't, well, "I wonder how hard it is to snowshoe a hundred miles," he says. A winter race, doesn't that sound cool?
Christopher McDougall writes for Esquire and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.