When trail runner Mitch Dulleck heard the news on May 12 about the 2020 Leadville Race Series being canceled because of Covid-19 pandemic concerns, he was devastated.
He figured it was coming, but the 52-year-old Leadville resident was still disappointed because he had been training for the scheduled August 22-23 Leadville 100 with the hopes of finishing it for the first time.
Life Time, which owns and operates the Leadville Race Series, had previously announced the cancelation of the June 13 Leadville Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon at the direction of the Lake County Board of Commissioners. After continued talks and information gathering, the board decided on May 12 to cancel all special events for the rest of the summer, thus forcing Life Time to nix its remaining eight races and training camps on the schedule between late June and late August.
The county board cited the risks of the extremely limited medical resources in the county, that race participants typically come from all 50 states and more than 40 countries and that Colorado has placed capacities on events that are expected to be in place for the rest of the summer.
But it’s not about me or my race goals or anyone’s race goals—it’s about the Leadville community.
As disappointed as Dulleck is, he says it was right decision and the only decision that could have been made.
“It was definitely a gut punch for me,” said Dulleck, who was on the Zoom meeting when the county board announced the decision. “This was going to be my year to complete the 100 and training has been going really well. But it’s not about me or my race goals or anyone’s race goals—it’s about the Leadville community.”
Locals Are Concerned
That was the predominant feeling among local residents I talked to this past weekend in Leadville. Most were adamant about the idea that encouraging 10,000 race participants, pacers and supporters would leave locals vulnerable and threaten the already very limited medical services and resources in Lake County. With still so much unknown about the coronavirus—except that it’s extremely contagious and as of yet there’s no medicine or vaccination to control it—it seems the vast majority locals are grateful that the series was canceled. The local concerns aren’t based on fear of the virus or political disposition, mostly the reality of the limited healthcare services in Leadville.
For the record, Leadville’s St. Vincent’s Hospital has an emergency room, medical clinics and ambulance service, but it has only eight inpatient beds. Almost everyone I talked to was aware that Leadville has had 29 cases of coronavirus among its residents to date—and, thankfully, as of yet no fatalities—but also that patients with serious medical conditions are typically transferred to other facilities in Denver.
City and county officials are expected to meet again at the start of June to decide how to allow a re-opening of campsites and rental-property business. As of now, only dispersed campsites are available. In the meantime, more widespread COVID-19 testing has become available through St. Vincent’s at Rocky Mountain Family Practice to get a better understanding—and some reassurance—of the current situation.
Leadville is community of hard-working people, but it’s also a fragile place that has been negatively impacted in the past by, among other things, economic downturns, harsh winters and the closing of the Climax mine in 1981, says Alex Willis, a Leadville native, professional Xterra triathlete and endurance coach.
“As much as the race series has been a great thing for Leadville, the decision to cancel the races was the right one for the local community,” says Willis. “I know we have businesses that will suffer as a result of not having all of the people coming to town, but public health for the local residents is more important consideration right now.”
Plus, while hotels, restaurants and numerous locally owned businesses make a lot of money in the summertime because of the out-of-town race participants and their supporters—Lake County estimates the series had an $18.5 million economic impact in 2019—many locals cited how the Safeway grocery store gets depleted on big race weekends as a big concern.
“I think a lot of people are relieved, honestly,” said Maggie Erion, who was walking along Harrison Street on Saturday afternoon with her daughter. “It’s going to be hard on our economy , but at some point we were going to be in a ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ kind of situation. Leadville is going to struggle, but Leadville is used to struggle.”
Many Leadville restaurants have been barely subsiding on carryout meal service, and many shops have only recently opened with limited hours and new social-distancing regulations. The town has been quiet and the economy has been slowed to a trickle since Colorado shut down in mid-March. With the state’s partial re-opening underway, there was a notable uptick in travel over the weekend. And with trailheads and some dispesred campsites open and Memorial Day Weekend on the horizon, a lot of locals are cautiously concerned about what kind of impact that will have the local community.
“We’re still looking for people coming to town,” says Heather Glyde, the owner of Leadville Outdoors and Mountain Market. “It will just be a lot different this year.”
Glyde’s store re-opened on May 3 after being closed for six weeks, but only recently has seen a modest increase in customers. She says she’s tweaked her ordering protocol to create a more consistent inventory geared toward camping, thru-hiking and peak-bagging and less focused on last-minute items participants in the trail-running and mountain-biking events purchase in high volumes during race weekends.
“I am going to miss having the events, for sure. I don’t see how it won’t be very impactful for my business and the town,” Glyde says. “But we’ll do our best and keep reassessing like everyone is. Without the spikey nature of events weekends, maybe there will still be a constant flow of people coming up to run or to ride or go camping. We still have all of the great outdoor resources in and around Leadville. We just won’t have the races this year.”
Willis was among the many locals who were disappointed that the news of the cancelation created such a firestorm on social media. While many embraced similar sentiments as Dulleck, there were numerous race participants, previous finishers and out-of-towners who lambasted the decision on Facebook, some even going so far as to call out Leadville and the local community as foolish and unappreciative of the economic impact the out-of-town racers bring in every year. Not everyone was derisive toward the local community, but many were disappointed in the county’s decision.
While many embraced similar sentiments as Dulleck, there were numerous race participants, previous finishers and out-of-towners who lambasted the decision on Facebook.
“I can’t figure out how Leadville will be able to sustain these losses,” says Joy Rasmussen, an endurance athlete from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “Survival depended on the creation of races many years ago as Leadville was resurrected by key organizers Ken [Chlouber] and Marilee [Maupin] and the community. Such a shame that government will undo all those years of hard work in putting Leadville on the map.”
The social-media chatter also served as a reminder that there are some local residents who love the events and some who have always despised them.
“I understand that there are a lot of people who wanted to come chase their race goals in Leadville this summer, but to make the assertion that Leadville and its residents aren’t appreciative of the economic impact of the races is a bit presumptive and unfair,” Willis says. “If you went through the race lottery and finally got in, paid a coach and trained for two years, booked flights, paid for your hotel, bought a bike, reworked your life to be able to race in the Leadville, I get it there will is a lot of disappointment, but we’re all going through hard times.”
They’re Still Coming
Leadville Race Series founders Ken Chlouber and Merliee Maupin are confident Leadville will recover from the economic downturn it will experience without the races this summer.
A handful of disappointed participants said they’d head to Leadville anyway this summer to ride and run and support local businesses. Willis is among those who hopes they’ll be doing in a safe and respectful manner.
I don’t want to discourage anyone, but I hope the people who do come up are safe, follow the rules and are respectful of the local community.
“In theory, the number of people wanting to do their personal thing on one of the race weekends could outnumber the population of the city,” he says. “And that in itself could challenge first-responder services and the healthcare system here. I don’t want to discourage anyone, but I hope the people who do come up are safe, follow the rules and are respectful of the local community.”
For now, locals are trying to organize a way to help local businesses stay afloat. Some businesses, including apparel maker Melanzana and local artist gallery Harper Rose Studios, have been selling products and shipping online since March. But restaurants and smaller shops don’t have the same opportunity, so locals are encouraging out-of-towners to buy gift cards they can use next year.
“For me, once I got over my very short personal pity party, I thought, ‘OK, now what can we do for the town?’” Dulleck says. “If the racers don’t come to town, can the townsfolk sustain the economy? I don’t know if we can. The town will survive, but the impact will be felt.”
Brian Metzler is a Contributing Editor for Trail Runner.