Running and training for the Leadville 100 is an epic journey; one that many trail runners have high on their to-do list. Its allure comes from Leadville being the highest town in America, the panoramic backdrop of the Sawatch mountain range, crystal clear waters of Turquoise Lake, the old-time feel of Twin Lakes (and Leadville too), and the challenge of surviving a race where typically just over 50% of runners finish.
The highs and lows of this race will be extreme, whether geographical, physical, or emotional. With this turn by turn guide, we hope to provide an extra resource for you to visualize what that day will have in store, and position yourself for the success that awaits back at 6th and Harrison.
The Leadville 100 Course
Section 1 - Downtown Leadville to Mayqueen
The race will be starting in downtown Leadville at 6th and Harrison, historically at 4am. Coffee shops right across the street typically stay open for 24 hours in celebration and support of this event. You’ll be starting in pitch black night, so you must have a headlamp. The race starts on a gentle, downhill, paved road. After about a quarter mile, you’ll bump a small uphill and then continue a gentle grade before taking a left and another near-immediate right onto a two lane dirt road. This dirt road is often referred to as the Boulevard. The Boulevard can be dusty for mid and back-of-packers. This is a mostly buffered and smooth surface.
After 3.3 total miles, the Boulevard takes a right turn and begins to dissipate into single track. If there has been any rain lately, this section will be likely to retain some water, and puddles can be expected. This is not a passing friendly section, but you’ll be back on the dirt road again in about half a mile.
Head left onto Hwy 4. There is a bumpy, uneven set of railroad tracks almost immediately after you turn. Be careful not to catch a toe on them. After a short time on the pavement, you’ll take the middle of three roads - back on to dirt. After 5.3 total miles, you’ll begin a rugged, rocky climb along some telephone poles, through the forest- your first dirt trail of the day. You’ll gain about 150ft here, and should plan to be hiking this part.
At the top of this short climb, you’ll cross Hwy 4 again, and be back on single track. This will begin approximately seven miles along Turquoise Lake. You’ll be winding in and out of mature pine trees and experience gentle rolling hills. Footing will be sand or sandy dirt, with a few sections of rocks that are easy to step between. There are not many areas to pass along Turquoise Lake, and nearly everybody will be in the dark on the outbound passing of this section.
Section 2 - Mayqueen to Outward Bound
You’ll arrive to Mayqueen at the 12 mile mark. Some runners will choose to drop their headlamp at this point. You’ll have about a half mile stretch of road that will be busy with spectators cheering you on while on your way out.
Take a slight right while exiting the park and stay on the pavement until you hit the forest area parking lot. Meet back up with the single track slightly to the left edge of the parking area. Once hitting the single track, you’ll begin the first notable climb of the day, 1000ft up to the back side of Powerline.
At mile 14.7 you’ll momentarily come out of the woods and on to Hagerman Pass before taking a hairpin left 0.9mi later onto a forest service road. Continuing up the sharp climbing grade. In the next mile, you’ll experience an astounding panoramic view of Turquoise Lake. If you carry a phone or camera with you, this is a time you’ll want to use it.
You’ll top out Powerline at mile 17.3. Prepare for a steep descent on washed out 4x4 road. This can potentially be loose and dusty in areas and have deep water slots that can wreak havoc on your ankles. Being one of the first descents of the day, it could be tempting to open up your stride and take advantage of gravity for some extra speed. We recommend conserving that energy and saving your quads for later!
At the bottom of Powerline, mile 21.3, you’ll hook a right back on to County Road 5A. The road will shed a bit of shade on you. Enjoy it while you can. You’ll keep on this road until mile 23.4. Turn right through the gate and into the field, entering the Outward Bound aid station.
Section 3 - Outward Bound to Halfpipe
You’ll arrive to Outward Bound aid station at mile 23.5. This is one of, if not the most attended aid station. Be prepared for an electric atmosphere with music, hundreds of spectators, signs, etc. Beware - it can be easy to get lost in time here with so much to see. This is the first medical check-in area of the day staffed with paramedics and emergency volunteers, should you be in need of anything.
The section ahead is exposed to the sun, which is likely to be getting higher in the sky and hotter. From experience, a 70 degree day in the sun at 10,000ft is much, much hotter and fatiguing than a 70 degree day in the sun at sea level. Plan your drop bags accordingly. Things to consider here are sunscreen, sun sleeves, a Buff to put ice in, and sunglasses.
After exiting the aid station, you’ll be running through a grassy field for a mile. Keep an eye out for animal holes at your feet and uneven ground. The grass tends to conceal some bumpy terrain features that are out there.
Hook a right back on to County Road 11. From here, you’ll be starting a gradual 10 mile long, 1000ft climb. It isn’t very noticeable to the eye, but it can take you by surprise if you are trying to hit a consistent pace. Again, this section is very exposed to the sun. There is almost no shade to be found. Plan to be using an increasing amount of water and electrolytes on this section and the following ones.
At mile 25.8, you’ll turn onto a sandy two track before going left on to Trail 130, a relatively wide dirt road. You’ll pass through a common wilderness camping area that will have a fair amount of spectators. This is not an official aid station area.
At mile 28.3 you’ll have a quick right on County Road 11A. This will dissipate into single track in about three miles.
Section 4 - Halfpipe to Twin Lakes
At mile 31, you will reach the Halfpipe Aid station, fully stocked with the standard aid station fueling options.
Mile 35.0 is where you will reach the Mt. Elbert Water Only station. This completes the 1000ft gradual climb that started back near Outward Bound. This aid station, historically, is in fact water only and you should not expect any kind of meaningful fuels. As a best practice, carry your own electrolytes and even some raw salt; it could be a huge help on this section.
You’ll still be on single track at this point, and be passing through some large aspen groves on a flowing downhill grade. This is a beautiful area, and you’ll catch a couple of glimpses of the lakes that surround the aptly named town of Twin Lakes.
At about mile 36.5, you’ll leave the Colorado Trail and be on two track. You’ll know you are getting close to Twin Lakes at this point, with about 1.5 miles until the aid station.
You’ll cut left off the two track (now at this point more of a road) and down a steep short hill onto Main Street, USA ((joke… there are about 170 residents in all of Twin Lakes) which becomes thousands of people for race weekend)
The aid station and restrooms is at the fire house that is on your left as you head down the dirt road. Expect to see a dense population of spectators and crews lining the road the entire way through Twin Lakes.
The next section is the climb of the Leadville course. Take the time that you need at this aid station. You’ll be facing strong exposure to sun, wind, and potential weather on your way up Hope Pass. High altitude air is very dry, and you’ll be evaporating water (vs sweating it) at an alarming rate (especially on this section, but true for the entire race). We recommend layering up on sunscreen, lip balm, taking extra salt tabs, snapping your poles into place, bringing a jacket (please please bring a jacket), and have a comfortably full stomach. Calories will be in high demand.
Section 5 - Twin Lakes to Hope Pass
Begin a truly epic climb of 3,400 feet. Mile 38.1 is where you will leave any kind of pavement for the next 22 miles of the race, going truly into the wilderness. You’ll begin this section running through a grassy field for two miles. You will have wet feet. There is a guaranteed rope-assisted river crossing that can be between knee-thigh deep. This grassy area is prone to flooding if it rains and it is possible to have dozens of shallow puddles or river overflow areas. Some runners bring spare socks to change in to once the arrive to the mountain. If it helps your mental (or blister) game, this may be a consideration, though a potentially time consuming one.
Mile 39.8 is the bottom of the climb and where you’ll join on to Willis Gulch Trail. Willis Gulch Trail starts off with a bit of rockiness, but quickly becomes and remains runnable and buffered with the exception of a couple of potential spots of shallow mud.
You’ll be on steep, shady, forested terrain. Very few racers will be running on this section, especially with altitude being a factor.
At about mile 41 you’ll be along a fast flowing stream. We’d say it will be worth the few extra moments to stop to soak your hat or sleeves in the water. Though cold, clear, and fast running, this water should not be consumed, as the snow above on Hope Pass often contains a red/pink tint, an indicator of giardia.
About half a mile from the top you’ll hit the Hope Pass aid station. This aid station has a bit more than the basics, but don’t expect a feast. Soup, pretzels, potatoes, and fluids are a common find here. This is likely one of the more unique aid stations you’ll have anywhere in the sport. Being well above treeline and miles from a road, the only way in is by llama or foot. Take a moment to check out all the llamas. Resist the urge to sit down. Get a couple of bottles of fluid down and get out of there.
Hopefully you remembered your jacket. It is likely to be getting windy up here. Conditions can be anywhere from sunny and 75 to hailing, thundering, and 35, even on the same day (ask the runners of 2017). The very top of the pass is almost like a wind tunnel, tucked between two mountains. The cold + dehydration factors are strong in play here.
Take a look behind you at the top to get a world class view of Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake, and the town of Leadville. Back behind Winfield, you’ll see the Sawatch range and numerous 13,000ft and 14,000ft peaks. It may be dark next time you are here!
Section 6 - Hope Pass to Winfield
The descent from Hope Pass is nothing to take lightly. At over 20% grade for the first couple of miles, your legs are probably going to be getting a bit sore. There are some areas where you’ll be stepping on and over and down large rocks. Be prepared to stretch out those sore muscles.
You’ll pass through another aspen grove on the way down in one of the steepest areas of the descent. At mile 46, you may notice a fork in the trail. Keep on the trail that is forking to the right! The steeper one that heads straight down to the road is off course.
You’ll soon see Winfield over your left shoulder. Be mentally prepared to run past it before beginning the approach back to it. When you are 90 degrees perpendicular to Winfield on the mountain, you still have a mile and a half to go.
Once you U-turn to the left, you’ll join a dirt road that will take you in to Winfield. Cross the river via the road and you’ll be greeted by crowds of spectators, volunteers, and a fully stocked aid station.
Your legs are probably going to be feeling it after that descent. Know that you’ll be switching up muscle groups on the way back up!
Get your pacer if you have one! They’ll be happy to get to join. Also, Leadville is one of few races (if any others) that will allow your pacer to mule your gear. You’re heading up for 3,400ft. Life hack… use a mule.
Section 7 - Winfield to Twin Lakes
You’ll be going at a slower pace than you have been lately. Plan for a steep, slow, climb. If you are feeling like you’re not moving anywhere, but putting in a ton of effort, this is what everybody is experiencing due to the altitude. Slow and steady is going to get you back to the top. The cumulative effects of spending time at altitude may be building and accentuating your fatigue. At this altitude, you’ll be missing about 1/3 of the effective oxygen of sea level. Once you begin the descent, you’ll probably feel better every minute.
At the top, take a picture as proof of your badassery. You have completed the crux of the course. It’s not all downhill from here, but molehills in comparison to what you just did… or something like that. Congrats!
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Back in Twin Lakes you’ll be done with all the water crossings for the day. This may be a good time to change your socks and shoes. If nightfall isn’t upon you, it likely will be soon, so this will be a good aid station to prep for the night. Remember a headlamp and spare batteries. Given some of the footing and climbs ahead, you’ll want to be burning those lights hard. If you are a caffeine taker, it could help keep you sharp in the night by taking some now.
Pro tip, it can feel really good to brush your teeth around this point of a race, and could help reset your desire to eat if your stomach has gone south.
Section 8 - Twin Lakes to Halfpipe
You’ve now been running for about 60 miles. Physically, this section is not as hard as Hope Pass. Mentally, this can be an excruciating segment back to Outward Bound. You’ll not be seeing any crew or spectators for likely a few hours or more. Darkness will be dark, and the forest will be quieter. The approximate 50% or so of runners who were going to drop have likely dropped. This section is going to be you versus your mind.
While there aren’t major climbs on this section, it is gradual climbs and rolling terrain with some rocks here and there… much more runnable terrain than you’ve been on in a while.
A trick you might try with a pacer is to have them hand you a bottle to sip on every ten minutes, and 50 calories every twenty minutes. It can be harder to come back from a bonk at this point in the race. Keep on top of those calorie needs.
Section 9 - Halfpipe to Outward Bound
You’ve topped out the gradual rolling climb from Twin Lakes, and you’ll be on runnable jeep road again from here until meeting the pavement just outside of Outward Bound. Though it is runnable, remember that you have 35 miles or so to go yet.
Back at the field at Outward Bound, be sure to keep an eye out in the dark for any holes or unevenness in the grass.
This aid station is comfy. There are spectators, warm foods, gas heaters, fires, medical staff that want to bundle you up in blankets… beware of the chair. Get your stuff and go.
You’ll be heading in to some of the coldest parts of the night. Consider a down jacket, gloves, and tights, especially for the top of Powerline at over 11,000ft.
Section 10 - Outward Bound to Mayqueen
Wind your way up the road and take the sharp left after a couple of miles back up Powerline. Recall that the footing on Powerline can be loose, uneven, and washed out. It is probably worse now that thousands of footsteps have been on it. Keep an eye out for footing hazards.
Powerline has a couple of false summits. In the dark, these could be hard to see, but don’t get discouraged if you happen to catch them. At the proper summit of Powerline there is typically a party happening in the middle of the night. You’ll know it when you get there.
The descent is mostly runnable, and the trail should be easy to follow. When you hit the dirt road, Hagerman Pass, take a hairpin right to continue back the way you came from hours and hours ago. You’ll hit the trail again in just about one mile. This can be a tricky one! Keep an eye out for the flags and the little trail opening, and double check your watch tracks if needed. It’s a pretty sharp left back down into the woods that comes out of nowhere.
When you hit the pavement again, you’ll start to see Mayqueen ahead. You’ll likely have some spectators sleeping on the side of the road, and a pretty quiet approach in. When you leave this aid station, that is it. The finish line is the only remaining destination!
Section 11 - Mayqueen to Finish
At this point, you’ve probably been on your feet longer than you are awake on most days. This is a good section to try to play some mind tricks with yourself, or, have your pacer bug you a bit. Remember how this is rolling and pretty flat? Try to harness some of that “I’m going to finish” energy by running the flats/downs and hiking the ups. Of course, this can be easier said than done.
When you hit the concrete boat ramp, there are about 6.5 miles left. When you hit County Road 4, there are about 5.75 miles left. You’re so close! That first climb of the day up the telephone pole trail is now the last downhill of the day, and it is going to hurt. The loose rocks and steepness here are sure to get your attention. Some people choose to hike down backward to save their quads at this point. However you choose to approach this one… get it done.
Head left at the dirt road, then take a right after the railroad tracks. Welcome back to the Boulevard!
When you are standing at the corner of 6th and County Road 4, there is 0.8 miles left until the finish. Use what you have left to push through a quick climb on the road. At the top, take in the view of the finish line, and listen for the sound of the music calling you in.
Earlier, we lied when we said the telephone line hill was the last downhill. This little road hill is the last downhill, but, you won’t even notice it with the finish line right there!
Get those hands up, poles raised high, smile, and cross the finish line proud of the 100 miles that you just put behind you. Congratulations!
Got questions or tips of your own? Feel free to leave a comment below! Thanks!