It occurred to me this week that I have an unhealthy obsession with running in Leadville. After several hours of careful consideration, I decided this obsession is rooted in the fact that Leadville always beats me. I keep returning for the 50 and 100 mile races because I have an unyielding need to settle some score I have with those mountains. It's a battle of determination and I'm sure the mountains are always better positioned to win.
I run the Silver Rush 50 every year as a test for the Leadville Trail 100. It's a great opportunity for me to test my conditioning at altitude so I can better forecast how I might perform in the LT100. While this sounds logical, I think it may just be an excuse to go run in Leadville for a few days.
As tradition dictates, Jo and I bagged a 14'er as soon as we arrived in Leadville. We had failed to fully plan for this climb in advance, so we decided to summit Mt. Elbert because it was nearby and we were familiar with it because we had climbed it two years earlier. We were a little bummed to be hitting the same peak twice but we didn't have time to waste on last minute logistics.
Near the Summit of Elbert
The climb was fairly uneventful, but breathtaking as the Rocky Mountains came into view near the summit. Standing at the highest point in Colorado grants a perspective like none other.
With my Bride at 14,440'
An important note...when I'm not bagging 14'ers or running in the mountains, it's a safe bet that you can find me sitting in the Silver Dollar Saloon. What else is there to do in Leadville?
Like the LT100, the Silver Rush 50 is an out and back course. It starts on the outskirts of town and meanders through the mountains, crossing two major mountain passes and a lot of rocky terrain before turning around to head back to town. The climbs are steep and the descents are equally brutal.
Silver Rush 50 Profile
The race begins at the base of Dutch Henry Hill, which is a small ski slope in town. This initial climb is steep and the footing is terrible. A smart runner will go easy up this ascent and hit the trail at the top with fresh legs. But most ultra runners aren't smart.
Looking Down at the Start Line
Charging up the Hill!
At the top of the hill, I spend the next two miles trying to recover my breath and get my heart rate to slow to a reasonable rate.
The trail is initially jeep roads and double track that grind uphill for the first 7 miles to the first aid station. Shortly after that, the ascent gets far more serious and the conga line slows to a crawl as we make our way over the first mountain pass.
After cresting the summit, we're treated to a long, gradual downhill run on a well maintained dirt road. I let my legs loose and I began to gain several spots.
Our dirt road meets up with a section of paved road and we make a short climb to the Printer Boy aid station at mile 13.5 and my first opportunity to see Jo. I stripped my pack off, handed it to Jo and headed to the aid station table for some bananas and potato chips. By the time I was done gorging myself, Jo had my pack ready and I was gone. My aid station stop was less than 90 seconds.
Just like the two previous years, I made it to Printer Boy in 2:15. I can't seem to get there any faster...
Coming into Printer Boy
Heading Out of Printer Boy, Chasing them all Down!
After leaving the aid station, we run a few hundred yards on smooth, level double track before bailing off the ridge into the valley below. This descent is about 1 mile long and can be run fast. I took advantage of it and gained a few spots.
Bottom of the Descent...before heading UP!
The next section of trail is a LONG climb to the Rock Garden. The ascent is relentless but I know that I'll be rewarded with the most beautiful views that the course offers. I make the climb quickly and the Rock Garden aid station comes into view much sooner than I had anticipated.
View of Turquoise Lake From Rock Garden
Leaving the aid station, we're headed to the the pass around Ball Mountain. This is a long and challenging climb, but nothing compared to the climb on the return trip.
Heading to the Turn.
I made it up and over the pass and was now running in total solitude. I seemed to be running behind the "fast guys" but ahead of everybody else. It was a nice opportunity to settle in and enjoy the ride.
Coming to the Stumptown aid station is maddening. We can see it from the top of the mountain pass, but the trail winds its way toward the aid station, then turns away. As the cheers and cowbells fade, so does my spirit. It's similar to climbing a mountain with a dozen false summits. I keep thinking I'm there, only to realize I'm not even close.
Coming to Stumptown, My Crew, and the Halfway Mark!
I made it in and out of Stumptown in record time of 4:12! I fueled up on some aid station grub, grabbed a reloaded hydration pack and headed back toward Leadville.
I was now pondering the possibility of a sub 9 hour finish...
I like the out and back format because I get to pass all the runners that are behind me. I find that this helps to pass the time and the smiles as we greet each other are an inspiration that helps to push me along the trail. I was able to see a lot of my friends that were running deeper in the pack and I was happy to see their smiles and pass along a few words of praise and encouragement. It's the highlight of the race for me.
Shortly after leaving Stumptown, we have the toughest climb of the race. All I can do is settle in and grind my way back over the pass. If I can get to the top and still have decent legs, I know the race is going to end well. But I also know this is where my race has gone to hell in my last two races here.
I finally crested the mountain pass and still felt good, so I grabbed a few deep breaths, settled my heart and ran down the mountain.
Coming back to Printer Boy
It had taken me 2 hours to get from Printer Boy to Stumptown. It took me 1:55 to make the trip in reverse. I had never come close to a negative split on this course and the notion of a course PR was firmly planted in my head.
Like all the other stops, Jo had me back on the course in a matter of seconds. I took a little extra time to grab my iPod before I left because I was running in total solitude and needed the distraction. I rolled out of the aid station with adrenaline pumping rock music blaring in my ears. I was pumped up for the finish and feeling good.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...The storm was brewing. I had been watching the storm clouds gather and darken the sky for the last hour or so. There was no doubt we were in for a big rain event, and in the high Rockies, that means lightning too. I was running with the storm at my back but it was headed my way and gaining on me.
The Storm was Brewing
The storm caught me at mile 43 and dumped rain on me for about two miles and finally passed over me. I was drenched from the rain but it did nothing to dampen my spirits. I was on my way to my best finish at Leadville and nothing else mattered.
I was totally lost in thought at mile 46 when two mule deer decided to cross the trail in front of me. I had my music going and was totally zoned out when I saw them. Evidently they were equally surprised by my sudden arrival and as a result, we scared the hell out of each other. They panicked, I panicked...and we all wet ourselves a little bit. Normally, I'm not afraid of deer, but when I'm totally lost in thought and something starts crashing in the woods a few feet from me...it has a way of bringing me right out of my trance in a very abrupt manner.
Coming to the finish is a lot like heading into Stumptown. I can hear the race announcer and the cheering crowd long before I actually arrive at the finish line. One minute, they sound really close, then the trail takes me deeper in the woods, away from the festivities. This little torture game repeats itself several times before the finish line comes into view.
Eventually, I see the finish line at the bottom of the ski hill and drain the rest of my energy to bomb down the hill and cross the line.
Finishing my 3rd Silver Rush in Record Time!
I crossed the finish line in 8:42:44, which was 1 hour and 6 minutes faster than the previous year. There were 450 starters, 305 finishers and I came in 35th place and 6th in my age group. Not my best race for the year, but it sure felt like a victory.
Celebrating With Two Things I Enjoy. My Beautiful Bride and a COLD Beer!
I rested briefly then headed to the hotel for a quick shower before returning to the finish line to watch some good friends and great runners finish their races.
I got to see my friend Jeff Gould finish in just over 10 hours. He's an amazing runner and ran a very smart race. His time was amazing, especially considering some of the issues he suffered through at altitude. I was thoroughly impressed.
Jeff, Just Happy to be Back in Leadville. Well Done!
Next, I got to see Anthony Parillo finish his day. Anthony is my stalker. He seems to be at almost every ultra I run and he's a far batter athlete than I'll ever be. We ran the Black Hills 100 together two weeks before Leadville and he finished one spot ahead of me. He also won the Old Dominion 100 in June and laid down an amazing finish time. He's an amazing athlete.
Greeting Anthony, All Smiles!
A few minutes after Anthony finished, I was able to greet my buddy Craig Branaghan back to Leadville. He's a great runner from Boulder and a really great guy. He worked his guts out for a solid finish in Leadville.
Well Earned Congratulations, Craig!
Overall, I'm really happy with my race and my faster finish time. I owe the improvement to living at altitude and having access to the Wasatch mountains for my training. I also credit better endurance nutrition strategy for my improved performance in these long and difficult races, and I can thank the professionals at Hammer Nutrition for their guidance and support.
I look forward to heading back to Leadville in August for the Leadville Trail 100. If this race is any indication, I should have a pretty fulfilling race this year.
Jo and I will be making an appearance at the Speedgoat 50k in a few weeks and I'm sure Karl Meltzer will do an amazing job of brutalizing my body on his course. Nonetheless, we're looking forward to it.
Thanks for following along and thanks for all the support.