July 18, 2010
I was looking for a good 50 mile race to test the legs and see how the hammys would hold up as I prepare for the Leadville 100. The Silver Rush 50 fit the bill. However, with the lack of information on Leadville’s nice looking new site, it was hard to get any good info on the race. I did a lot of digging and found a few trip reports, mapped out, on mapmyrun.com and nat geo’s TOPO and have a better idea of elevation gain/loss.
From peoples gps, I’d find anywhere from 6,000 feet of gain to 9,000 feet. Mapping it out on mapmyrun got me at 5,100 feet, nat geo was approx 7,100 feet. None of the programs were accounting for all of the little ups and downs on certain parts of the course and mapmyrun’s profiles entirely omitted the 400 foot drop before climbing up to, what I call, Ball Mountain Pass on the outbound AND the reclimb of the drop inbound… so who knows. I kind of averaged everyone’s gps maps and factored in a usually more accurate nat geo TOPO profile to come up with my number, which I feel is pretty close, if anything, a bit low… 7,750 feet.
Anyway, on to the race!
Our great friends Steve and Lisa (and Jude) came out for the race from the Chicagoland area. Steve is a phenomenal athlete competing in Ironmans, and running his first Ultra, a snowpacked 50k (4:52), in Kettle Moraine State Forrest in Wisconsin this past spring. He really wanted to test his legs in a high altitude race in the mountains of Colorado! We were pumped! I had been feeling good with several 30-40 mile runs under my belt this spring, I just signed up for the Leadville 100, and was hoping for a nice, moderately paced, injury free finish. My goal was a nice and easy sub 12 hour finish.
We rolled into Leadville on Friday before the race. We just took it easy, ate at the Golden Burro, put our feet up, and enjoyed some nice down time. Steve and I went for a little jog Friday evening to knock the cobwebs off and it went pretty well. Steve was a little winded as he woke up at 400 feet and was now at 10,200 feet, so understandable! Saturday, we slept in a bit, went to the race check in, went for another little jog (on which Steve felt much better) and just put our feet up making final preps for the race.
The race started on Sunday at 6:00 am. We got there about 20 minutes before hand, and were ready to rock with 10 minutes to go. We enjoyed the nervous energy that is always thick on those race day mornings. Ken was ambling around with his shotgun waiting to get us off and running. With a minute to go, I gave Jamie a kiss and Steve and I walked up to the starting line, just behind Duncan Callahan, which was kind of cool… that kid is fast (won the race in 6:52ish)!!
Ken counted down, blasted his shotgun, and we were off, running (well, actually walking) up Dutch Henri Hill!
I’ll break down the race, for the sake of some otherwise lacking information, into the different sections here… I hope this report gives some future runners some good info!
Start to Black Cloud Aid Station (7+ miles)
Like I said, we started with a good walk up Dutch Henri, then were running on very dusty forest roads that undulated over rolling terrain for a couple of miles. You then get on a nice double track road on the edge of a forested rise in the lower reaches of Iowa Gulch. This is a beautiful section, passing beaver ponds, running through Aspen Groves, and offering views deeper into the gulch. The grade stays nice and mellow for quite a while, something I was not expecting. But it was nice, we were able to run a ton of it making great time! As you get closer to the aid station, the grade does steepen a bit, but it’s nothing too serious at all. We were definitely ahead of schedule to Black Cloud… I don’t remember our time, but we were 15 minutes or so ahead.
Note: Outbound, this station is a water only aid station. Inbound, it is a full service station.
Black Cloud to Printer Boy (6.5 miles)
Once you leave Black Cloud, you have 3 more miles of climbing and the grade begins to steepen as you climb higher into Iowa Gulch. We took our time, walking anything too steep and jogging what we felt comfortable with. We were both feeling great and knew we had a lot of hill left to climb and a lot of miles left to travel. We were just out enjoying this beautiful morning and relishing our surroundings! The flowers were spectacular and we even had some spotty cloud cover that made it very comfortable.
As you get higher, you can see CR 2B above you, this is the road your climbing to and what you will be running down to Printer Boy. Once you see the road above, sit tight, you still have a bit to go. At mile 10, as the trail you’re on turns into Iowa Amphitheater, you pop out on 2B and begin the 3.5 mile descent down a wide dirt road and to Printer Boy Aid Station. Nothing really to report here, pretty straight forward.
Since we had taken our sweet time on the climb (even though we were passing quite a few people) we fell a bit behind schedule here, but just by a few minutes. We made it to Printer Boy in 2:52 from the start, I was projecting 2:45 (though this was for an 11:15 finishing time – giving myself 45 minutes of leeway for my goal time of 12:00). So we were still totally happy with the pace.
Printer Boy to Rock Garden (4.5 miles)
Once at Printer Boy, you still have a mile or so of descent on nice trail through some of the more dense forest of the course. We moved pretty good through this part and were very shortly crossing California Gulch Road, and the start of the climb to Rock Garden. There are some fairly steep sections here, if I remember correctly. But we were both feeling good and set a good steady pace up a vast majority of it. There were a couple of sections of downhills, maybe a half mile in total, mixed in to the ascent to Rock Garden, which helped the time it took for this section. Once closer to the aid station, it steepens a bit, then flattens out as you run into the aid. This is a beautiful setting for an aid station, I stopped and took a few pictures from here, and had the camera ready, as you could tell it was going to get even prettier on the next stretch.
Rock Garden to Stumptown (6ish miles)
Leaving Rock Garden, you still have some good climbing to do! But it’s the most beautiful section of the course, so it sure is enjoyable! It isn’t terribly steep, for the most part, as you climb the flanks of Ball Mountain. It’s about a mile and 300 feet of gain to the top of this climb from Rock Garden Aid. Then you have a nice steep, and unexpected, drop of about 350+ feet before you start the climb that ends at “Ball Mountain Pass” (12,000 feet). I was kind of dreading this section below the pass as I’d read a lot of horror stories about how terribly hard it was. It really isn’t that steep and is over pretty quick. I’m sure Steve would tell you different as he came into an altitude induced low just near the top and was feeling the effects pretty hard. It is over quickly, so before we knew it we were heading down toward the turnaround 4+ miles away. A long 4 miles at that.
The descent just winds down on double track trail and county roads, and seems to take you in every direction you want to go except toward Stumptown, which you can see lower in the valley. But, not to worry, you eventually get there!
We came in at about 5:15, so 15 minutes behind my “fast” 11:15 finish pace. Still feeling good about it! I drank a Redbull here, had a nice and much needed bathroom break, and we were soon walking back up toward “Ball Mountain Pass.”
Stumptown to Rock Garden (6ish miles)
I was, however, a little worried about that climb back up to the pass, as it was steep as we came down! But we just kept plodding along, through the stump graveyard (hence the name Stumptown). Luckily, Steve was feeling great again, and had since he got a bit lower down this backside of the pass, and I just got behind him and let him set the great pace up the slope. This was my first “low” of the day, but luckily didn’t last long and wasn’t too deep… i think it was a mental issue as I scared myself out of it on the descent thinking about reclimbing the trail.
It felt great to run down the other side of the pass, and we made good time of it. The reclimb of the 350 or so feet wasn’t particularly fun, but, again, I fell in behind Steve and his paced pulled right up. Before long we were running down again with the Rock Garden Aid Station in our sights!
It was on this descent that I think Steve had his most enjoyable experience of the weekend! It’s something that I have experienced on countless occasions on runs in the high country, and usually above timber line. It’s an emotional thing at times, just realizing where you are and that God has given you the ability to run for miles and miles through this demanding and exhilarating landscape! Sometimes it just hits you and and fills your heart up to the brim – almost like you’re floating! THIS is why we do it! THIS is the answer we try to give when people ask why we would ever want to run these long distances, or finish an Ironman, or stand on a summit. THIS is what we were made for! When an explanation is attempted, it will always fall short of these experiences, and the eye opening, slap in the face emotions that will grab you by the neck and lighten the load. In that exact spot we were jogging on a nice moderate trail, with the Sawatch Range across the Arkansas River Valley, so the biggest mountains in the state of Colorado (literally) were staring us in the face, on a picture perfect day, doing something we both truly love. If you don’t feel a tug at your heart in that situation, it’s beyond my understanding!
Rock Garden to Printer Boy (4.5 miles)
This descent is very nice at this point in the race. We made great time! I had had another mini-low on the final descent into Rock Garden, so was in better spirits being on the other side of it. We ran hard on a few of the descents, walking any of the up hills we encountered and in no time we were crossing California Gulch Rd again and making the mile long climb up to Printer Boy. This was a nice stretch as we were alone almost the entire stretch. We passed one guy on the descent, and got passed by some dude that was flying down the trail (and flying up the ups!). But that was it. Nice and peaceful stretch. We didn’t realize it, but on the climb back over the pass, and the descent and short climb to Printer Boy, we were making up gobs and gobs of time. As we came into Printer Boy, we were 20 minutes ahead of my 11:15 pace schedule (and 35+ minutes ahead of where the girls expected us according to our previous arrival times). We did 2:37 from Printer Boy to Stumptown and 2:40 back. Pretty consistent! It was here we thought a sub 11:00 finish was possible and wasted no time at Printer Boy.
Printer Boy to Black Cloud (6.5 miles)
We had a 3.5 mile climb ahead of us, and then a 10 mile descent! We felt like we were there! Hold on, not so fast! We rocked the first part of the climb. Taking it nice and easy, but still passing person after person, and not putting out too much effort. The only issue I was having at this point was my stomach. At Printer Boy, it had been 2 hours since I’d peed, and I know this can cause me some serious trouble. So I drank a ton… way too much… trying to get myself to pee. So my stomach was not happy. It wasn’t debilitating, just uncomfortable. When I finally started peeing, I immediately felt better, but this soon caused a new set of problems. Steve on the other hand, was feeling dang near perfect.
Once I started to pee, I think it threw my electrolytes off. I had taken a few s-caps, but I think I should have taken one with all of that water. I had a major low about a half mile from the top of the climb. So much so that I thought I was going to pass out on one occasion. This one hurt! This is where the “it doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun” quote applies. Steve kept me focused and we just slowed the pace down a bit. Steve stopped to pee and I kept going, reaching the top of the climb a minute ahead of Steve. It took me about 10 more minutes of hiking downhill for the low to go away. I soon felt much much better and was ready to run, feeling bad that I had made Steve walk with me on the first part of the descent. Then our roles swapped!
I didn’t know it, but Steve got slammed with hyponatremia. On the last climb, we both commented on how swollen his hands were and thought he had taken in too much salt… not knowing he was getting desperately low. We thought it was solely acute mountain sickness – aka altitude sickness – but had no idea what was really going on. So we thought, as we got lower, things would get better. But we were wrong. We walked it all the way down to Printer Boy (3 miles). It was very frustrating to Steve, as he is not used to having these sorts of issues during long events, and didn’t understand why his head would not clear from the foggy and dazed feeling. He wasn’t crampy, his legs felt strong, he was just very dazed, felt as if he could pass out, couldn’t see straight, and it scared him!
We sat at Printer Boy for a good 20 – 25 minutes getting some fluids in Steve. Mainly Coke as we thought his sugar could be low. But even stopping and the sugar didn’t help. Ken was at the aid station and was spurring Steve to get back on the trail, but Steve just wasn’t sure of what was going on, and didn’t want to make a dumb mistake that could seriously injure himself or set him back in his training for his next Ironman (September). So he took his time thinking it over. At this point we had 4 hours to walk it in (14 hour cutoff). Steve said if it was general fatigue, tired legs, you know, the normal expected issues with running 50 miles through the mountains, he would keep plodding along, and I would have been right there with him. Being that, at that point, we didn’t know what was going on with him, and that it was some systemic issues (vision, cognition, balance, swollen extremities, etc) Steve made the right call and bowed out here. Of course it killed him to do it, especially with only 7+ miles to go, but the race will be there next year, and he eventually figured out what was going on once he got to the medic back at the start line. So it turend out to be a good learning experience for both of us! Plus, he got to ride down with Ken… that’s pretty cool!
Printer Boy to Finish (7ish miles)
After sitting with Steve for almost half an hour, I about felt fresh! So I was able to push it pretty hard on these last seven miles. This was the hardest I pushed all day and it felt great! I chose to walk anything that was uphill, but ran most of the flat and all of the down. The flats were run easy, and I attacked the down hills, “attacked” for me anyway. I was able to pass quite a few people in the last seven miles… about 6 in all! I felt great about that and my confidence for the 100 was growing by the step!
I even got a nice refreshing shower running along CR 45 near the finish! The only bad thing about the last seven miles (besides Steve not being there) was a near emergency potty break. As I was running with a few miles to go, I passed a campground and saw two port-a-potty’s that looked like they would do the trick. I threw off my waist pack and ran over there, letting the bowels relax thinking I was seconds away from relief, only to find the doors padlocked shut!! Ouch! Clench back up and get back to business! Luckily, a few minutes later my excitement of finishing my first official 50 took over and the need passed. So don’t fall for those toilets! They’re like a mirage in the desert. Scooping up a handful of “water” only to throw a bunch of sand in your already parched mouth!
The final mile is slightly different than the first, as it doesn’t regain to the top of Dutch Henri, it goes around the hill to come in for a flat finish. Not much different, but different.
The last stretch took me just under 1:20 – so not blazing, but I was more than happy with it! My finish time was 11:22:27. So about 40 minutes faster than hoped and if we had known what was going on with Steve, could have shaved a good half hour plus off of that! I’m very happy with the time and feel great going into the 100 with the experience. I was just sad Steve couldn’t have crossed with me! But, he’s already determined to come back and get it done! He felt great in the days after, and was kind of wishing he had felt worse right after the race. It only took a couple of hours for his electrolytes to even out and he felt awesome!
All in all, this is a great race! The aid stations are well stocked and the volunteers are fantastic. We didn’t have to think! To top it off, the course is beautiful!
And a HUGE thank you to my beautiful wife Jamie, Lisa (Steve’s wife), and Jude (Steve and Lisa’s 3 month old son) for being an amazing crew! It was like they’d done it hundreds of times before… they were pro’s and made our lives much easier!
So a great day in the hills, once again! On to the Leadville 100!
Official Silver Rush 50 site