Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sex, Alcohol, and the Leadville Trail 100

Maybe everybody else knew this story already, but I sure didn't. Here's something to read for your Leadville taper if you were unaware like I was.

My curiosity began with a spreadsheet.

At the bottom, there is a footnote of a runner named Ricklefs dropping out at mile 95 of the LT100 in 2001, despite being at the front of the race. I wondered about this story, finding Chad Ricklefs's website, among other things.

But I also learned about "Divine Madness" for the first time.

Technically, it was mentioned in McDougall's "Born to Run," but somehow I missed it. Even in a generally sensationalized book, "Divine Madness" received only a brief mention:

Not surprisingly, an event with more flameouts than finishers tends to attract a rare breed of athlete. For five years, Leadville's reigning champion was Steve
Peterson, a member of a Colorado higher-consciousness cult called Divine Madness, which seeks nirvana through sex parties, extreme trail running, and affordable housecleaning.
- "Born to Run", Christopher McDougall

However, the story was actually covered in some detail in the late 90s and early 2000s by mainstream publications, such as SI and the New York Times, with brief mentions in the local Denver publication Westword. Online, the Rick Ross institute has a collection of several critical articles, including the death of one of their runners in an event. The group trained and lived in both Boulder and New Mexico.


The most lurid mainstream presentation is the SI article:
Soon the group, which came to be known as Divine Madness, was running ultramarathons twice a week. By '96 its members were dominating at Leadville, with five of its runners in the top 15 that year.
Each Sunday as many as two dozen members will run as far as 50 miles over the paths and trails outside Boulder. In the past, two former Divine Madness members told SI, runners who didn't finish were occasionally not permitted to eat that day.
On Thursday nights, according to several former members, the group would typically dance until sunrise at wild, alcohol-fueled parties where random sexual couplings were encouraged. Monogamy was discouraged among those in the community, and rest and nutritional intake were severely rationed. Most members made do with about four hours' sleep on futons or mattresses laid atop bare floors.


I had never heard of this before, so I find it utterly fascinating.
The group certainly produced running results, and was the source of the popular mainstream book that introduced Chi Running.

Now I can't pretend to know what is truth or what is exaggeration, and it would be easiest just to present the details quietly, but if some of the quotes and representations were falsified, I would have imagined libel lawsuits. Instead, sexual assault allegations (among others) led to an out-of-court civil settlement. I am most certainly critical of cultism and dogma in any form, especially when dispensed from a single, self-appointed individual, and I have zero tolerance for misogyny and sexual control. But, other members suggest it was just a harmless running community, so if these details are exaggerated, then how about this seemingly innocuous one: "Tizer forbade reading of outside literature." I would suggest that forsaking the collective wisdom of mankind, the great historical works of art and science, for a singular insular viewpoint, would be a sin against one's own humanity. Exploring the limits of the human body is fantastic, but not if it comes at the expense of the mind.

Or would more reading necessitate more alcohol?
He has rationalized his need to drink excessive amounts of alcohol by explaining that his mind gets overheated by the intensity of the thoughts he thinks and that he needs to cool it down.

So, what about Chad Ricklefs, the footnote that piqued my curiosity?

At Leadville last August, Ricklefs gained his revenge on Peterson, setting out at a torrid pace and letting it be known that he meant to sustain it. Ricklefs had become an outspoken critic of Divine Madness, believing that it further marginalizes a sport already well on the fringe, his resentment fueled, in part, by the belief that he and other top ultrarunners -- and not Peterson and his unusual lifestyle -- should be getting what little publicity the sport attracts.

Amen, Chad. I see ultrarunning as an endeavor and challenge to promote happiness, fitness, and confidence in other aspects of life. It is a means, not an ends. So it turns out the "footnote" of the spreadsheet I had seen is a multiple-time Leadville champion, still running fast and coaching...and is, presumably, monogamous (since he's married).


  1. Wait! So what you are saying is that there are sex parties for Leadville that I am not being invited to? Bastards!

  2. The parties were actually in Boulder -- much closer!

  3. I remember seeing these guys running around occasionally.

  4. I don't know, I could buy into the "beer as coolant for the brain" idea...

  5. I had no idea Danny Dreyer (Chi Running) was involved in something like that. lol.

    Chi Running was my first exposure to "alternative" (i.e. non-heel-striking) running technique. It actually helped quite a bit when I was learning, even though I've sort of diverged since then.

  6. WOW I unfortunately know a lot about this. The worse thing is they would force kids to run.

    1. and the City of Boulder would see these kids being forced to run or no food and gave no fxks.

  7. and Marc Tizer is the most evil thing