For Kurtzman, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage
Just like the race he’s going to run, the athletic career of South Shore businessman David Kurtzman has developed a life of its own.
Kurtzman will travel to Colorado for Saturday’s start of the annual Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon. The race demands, in Tahoe terms, the same number of miles and same elevation changes (nearly three miles up and down) as a run from South Lake Tahoe to Sunnyside, back over Mount Tallac – then up and down Mount Tallac again for good measure – before turning back to a finish on the South Shore.
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re racing to finish, not to beat anybody,” said Kurtzman, owner of Aspen Realty, and a member of the local board of education.
“You don’t run it, per se: You run it, you hike it; it’s not a continuous run.”
In the past 17 years, the Trail 100 has grown from a race for a few people who wanted to leave the pavement and run extreme distances on trails into an annual event. Kurtzman’s running career, too, has grown since it started four years ago. Since joining a running club – almost by accident – four years ago, Kurtzman completed a 10K, a half-marathon, a 50K and a marathon before running the final 50 miles of the Leadville race as a pacer last season.
“This year, I decided I was just going to go one step further and do a 100-miler,” Kurtzman said.
The native of Golden, Colo., chose Leadville. The race began in 1983 with 45 runners who lined up on the highest main street in the country at 4 a.m. for the inaugural. Of those first 45, only 10 finished. This year, 521 people have registered for the running race. Race director Merilee O’Neal anticipates 450-500 will start, and half the starters will finish.
“There are a lot of races that are easier,” Kurtzman said.
The starting elevation is 10,200 feet above sea level, and the highest point, on Hope Pass, is 12,600 feet. Steve Peterson of Boulder, Colo., won last year’s race in 18 hours, 29 minutes and 21 seconds, but didn’t approach the 17:30:42 course record set by Juan Herrera of Chihuahua, Mexico in 1994. Officials impose a cutoff finish time of 30 hours.
“It’s something that doesn’t take incredible athletes, it takes just ordinary people with an extraordinary amount of courage, determination and drive,” O’Neal said of the race, which takes runners 50 miles outside Leadville to the town of Winfield, then 50 miles back. “There are people you see finish who have no business finishing, and I think a lot of it is, certainly, mental.”
Kurtzman anticipates an easier time than racers may have coming from sea level. While race officials help runners at aid stations – where they weigh participants before and three times during the event – the stations are few and about two and a half hours between. While participants can leave themselves supplies at the aid stations and use pacers to help them through the final 50 miles, they need flashlights to run through the dark in a race that takes them through two sunrises after the 4 a.m. start.
Colorado Senator Ken Chlouber, then a Lake County commissioner, first came up with the idea after the Climax Molybdenum mine went out of business in 1982, and the unemployment rate in Leadville, once a boomtown, soared above 50 percent.
“The buzzword was, ‘economic development,'” O’Neal said. “It wasn’t that we thought people needed to run more, we were just trying to get people out and about (in Leadville).
“After that, what we’ve done is pushed back limits,” she said. “Part of what we tell people when they get here is, ‘You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.'”
Another local runner, Charlie Lincoln of South Lake Tahoe, knows the difficulty a runner’s first hundred-miler: He has completed three of the races, including Leadville in both 1996 and 1997, and the Western States 100 from Tahoe City to Auburn.
“The first time is always a unique challenge,” said Lincoln, who will run the Wasatch Front 100 Sept. 11 in the mountains around Salt Lake City. “The first time, you have no idea what you’ve gotten into.
“(It takes) a lot of training, a good state of mind and perseverance, because it’s going to be hard, no matter what happens,” Lincoln said. “What you really need to do is have a mental state of mind that you’re going to finish no matter what.”
The Leadville race will place a high-elevation capstone on a running career with humble roots: Four years ago, Kurtzman asked Aspen
Realty employee Trish Hall what she was copying. She told him she’d tell him for $5. He anted up, and she replied, “Surprise: You’re a member of the running club.”
“I knew he ran a little bit, but he’s just gone nuts,” said Hall, who ran the American River 50, the Way Too Cool and the Big Sur Marathon with Kurtzman.
“The runners club is a really nice group because you can run any speed, any distance,” Hall said. “We even have people who just walk.”
Not Kurtzman. Three years and uncounted miles later, he’s still going. In 1998, he raised more than $4,000 for scholarships running the 1998 Kiwanis Sunrisers America’s Most Beautiful Relay – alone. Already, he has raised more than $3,000 in pledges, and is still accepting donations of 10 cents to $1 per mile. The task at his hand this season may sound impossible to observers, but not to the runner who has accepted the challenge.
“I’m doing something a lot of people could do, but don’t,” Kurtzman said.
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