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7 takeaways from the 2021 Leadville race

(All photos courtesy of Life Time)

By Henry Howard

Like many other races, the Leadville Trail 100 returned this year to the delight of runners, the ultra community and others after being sidelined due to the pandemic in 2020. The historic race once again shined a light on the wonderful community of Leadville, at 10,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado.

I had the pleasure to visit the town and do the Leadville Marathon (my race report is here) a few years back. I’ve toyed with the idea of attempting the 100 but never pulled the trigger. In any case this year’s races had plenty of intriguing story lines, and one can start out with the top finishers to see many of them. They are:

• In the women’s division, Annie Hughes, 23, of Leadville, Colo., finished first with a time of 21:06:58. Genevieve Harrison, 34, of Eagle, Colo., took second in 22:06:59 and third place went to Blake Wageman, 36, of Conifer, Colo., who crossed the line in 22:25:20.

• On the men’s side, Adrian Macdonald, 32, of Fort Collins, Colo., won in 16:18:19. Matt Flaherty, 36, of Bloomington, Ind., secured second with a time of 16:59:38 and two-time previous winner Anton Krupicka, 38, of Boulder, Colo., placed third in 17:07:55.

Here are seven of my key takeaways from this year's race:

1. Welcome back, Anton. It had been six years since Anton Krupicka had raced, other than a mountain race in Italy three years ago. Now 38, Krupicka returned to Leadville, a race that he won in 2006 and 2007. As he moved up the field throughout the race, there was a buzz generating in the Twitter-sphere. Would he pull it out? He didn’t quite catch the leader but he made his mark, finishing third with a time of 17:07:55. For comparison sake, his winning race times were 17:01 and 16:14. It’s hard to tell if this was a “one-shot, can I still do it?” experiment or if Krupicka will be lining up at other races. One thing is for certain, he is still adored by the ultra-running community.

2. Still inspiring. The 35th place finisher was the most inspiring to me. That’s Dave Mackey, another beloved figure in the ultra community who ended up having a leg amputated after a freak accident in the mountains a few years ago. Mackey, who finished in 23:23:46, beat his previous finishing times as an amputee by roughly 90 minutes in 2018 and two-and-a-half hours the following year.

3. Leadville is still relentless. Of the 681 starters, just 321 finished. Historically, less than 50 percent of entrants finish the 100-mile, out-and-back course before the 30-hour cutoff. The 2021 percentage is in line with other years. We’ve seen fast times, increased fitness and strong performances at other races coming out of the pandemic. But Leadville remains a significant challenge for all.

4. No place like home: On the women’s side, Annie Hughes ran a smart race and won by about an hour in her second 100-mile victory this summer. Hughes, 23, also won the Mace’s Hideout 100 in Beulah, Colo., in July. She has also won two 50-mile races this year. It will be interesting to see her compete in fields with some steeper competition. Up next for her is the Moab 240.

5. Live from Leadville? What a stark difference in coverage from Western States a month ago when iRunFar provided constant updates via Twitter and the livestream at the finish line. There are certainly logistical challenges in replicating such coverage, given the remoteness of Leadville. However, we may start to see a division in America’s top-tier 100-milers. Those who provide sophisticated live coverage will garner more attention and ad revenue. And those who cannot may find it difficult to compete.

6. Crushed it: Robbie Balenger completed his Colorado Crush. The inspiring plant-based athlete set out on a journey to run the Leadville Trail Marathon, Silver Rush 50 and Leadville 100, as well as completing the 500-mile Colorado Trail and summiting 58 peaks of 14,000-plus feet in 38 days. When he crossed the Leadville finish line in 27:33:25, his epic challenge was complete. (Learn more about Balenger’s journey.)

7. Adjust your altitude. Of the six podium finishers in the men’s and women’s races, the only non-Colorado resident was Matt Flaherty, who lives in Bloomington, Ind. The city is roughly 770 feet above sea level. After racing just once in 2019 and then being restricted due to the pandemic in 2020, Flaherty made the most out of this race. His ultrasignup page shows him signed up for Lake Sonoma on Sept. 4, and it would not surprise me if he opts out given how soon it is. But it looks like Flaherty — who has podium finishes at JFK 50, American River, Chuckanut 50K and the Ultra Race of Champions, among others — has the competitive fire back again.

Congratulations to all the participants, volunteers, race staff, fans and everyone else involved in the race.


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