Leadville burro racing pays homage to the city’s mining days

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LEADVILLE, Colo. — In the shadow of the still-snowy Rocky Mountains is an event that pays homage to the wild west: the Leadville Boom Days Pack Burro Race.

The festival is celebrated in the incorporated city with the highest elevation in the U.S.

But earlier this month, visitors to Leadville were focused on the burro race.

"There's nothing like it in the world," said Hal Walter, one of the burro racers.

The handlers run with the burros during the race.

"There's a lot more going on than running putting one foot in front of the other," Walter said. "You got six feet on the ground and you got to manage them all."

Melanie Layton, another competitor, was an ultra-marathon runner who wanted a new hobby. That's how she ended up with burros Goose and Maverick.

Layton said she has a strategy.

"We go really fast at the beginning — maybe a steady pace for a couple of miles," Layton said. "Then sometimes they like to stop for 15 to 20 min to eat and there`s nothing we can do to get them going."

After the burros have saddles weighing at least 33 lbs. with a pickax, pan and shovel, they're ready to start. Nathalie Eddy said the items they carry have a purpose.

"Donkeys were the backbone of the mining industry," Eddy said. "They were often the propeller the engine, getting you down the hill to stake a claim."

A record 88 burros battled it out for either 15 or 21 miles.

"A pack burro race is an incredible event," Eddy said. "It's one of the most amazing addictive events you can get our hands on."

Walter was the second place winner for the long race with a pace of 10 minutes, 31 seconds per mile.

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