"You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing for you."- Walt Disney
The mental evolution of my running career is something that I completely overlooked until I was faced with the daunting realization that I had a problem. A big problem.
After several miserable races and a lot of pretty lame excuses for such, I was forced to sit down and really THINK about where my failures were emanating from. Initially, I blamed several physical failures for my shortcomings. I blamed poorly designed race courses, shitty course markings and bad aid stations. But I never thought to blame myself.
Slowly, reluctantly and quite begrudgingly, I began to see right through the web of lies I was spinning for myself. My failures weren't physical, they were entirely mental.
When I truly analyzed my poor performances, it became clear that I had evolved into the type of runner that will DNF or otherwise throw a race away, whenever things aren't going exactly as I had hoped. If I lost sight of the podium, I was content with calling it a day so I could start getting ready for my next race. I became the runner that I had always criticized for not being committed to seeing things through. I became the last thing that I ever wanted to be. I was THAT guy. I don't like THAT guy.
Since this epiphany, I've been working to regain the passion I once felt for this sport. I want to love running again. I want to appreciate the gift and revel in the natural beauty of the mountains I run in every day. I want to feel the childlike enthusiasm for racing through the mountains, rather than the mechanical obligation to perform like a circus animal.
I want things to be the way they were. Like a failing relationship, my relationship with running was on the ropes and I needed to fix it. NOW!
This is why the Leadville Silver Rush 50 miler came at the perfect time.
This would be my fourth consecutive year of running this race and it's like an old friend. I know the course better than any other and I've always enjoyed every step of this race. It's exactly what I needed to get my mind back on track. 50 miles of tough mountain running in a place that has always brought a smile to my face. I was happy to be back in Leadville.
My Wife and Trail Running...My Most Treasured Things in Life
Flag Waving For the National Anthem
Shotgun Blast to Send Us on Our Way
I never intend to race up the first steep climb, but the rush of enthusiasm always gets the better of me. Starting at 10,000 feet can make this sprint pretty challenging, but I felt great on the way up.
I continued to race the first several miles of the course. I felt strong and was having a lot of fun. The first seven miles are a long grinding uphill. This tricks you into running harder than you should because it's not steep. It's just relentless. A lot of runners fall victim to these early miles and I was nearly one of them.
After the first aid station, the climb gets steep enough to take notice as we trudge through water that spills over onto the rocky trail, navigating our way across slippery rocks and moderately technical terrain. Nearing the top of the climb, it becomes clear that this is a legit mountain race that will sear your lungs and fry your legs if you don't exercise some caution.
After topping out at the first pass, we have a nice, gradual downhill heading into the Printer Boy aid station. I had started the race with two handheld bottles filled with Hammer Endurolyte Fizz and I had a few Hammer gels stuffed in the bottle holders. My plan was to swap my bottles for a pack at the aid station. I rolled into Printer Boy, handed my bottles to Jo, slipped my pack on and kept rolling right along.
Coming into Printer Boy
Heading Out of Printer Boy
After Printer Boy, we're treated to about a mile of steep descent before crossing a paved road and beginning a long, grinding climb.
Heading UP...and UP Some More
After about a month of climbing, we top out in the Rock Garden. This is probably the most scenic section of the course, providing views of several 14'ers across the valley, and most of the Leadville 100 course.
Running the Rock Garden
This section rolls, but is pretty runnable. My advice is to take your time and enjoy the scenery. It's a truly beautiful spot.
Losing Elevation That We'll Immediately Regain. Only Steeper.
View Down Valley as we Climb UP the Pass
Making the Final Push Over the Pass at 12,000'
When I reached the top of the pass, I took a few moments to look around and soak in the beauty of the Colorado Rockies. As a few people filed by, I refused to be burdened by the "race". I just wanted to enjoy where my feet had taken me and appreciate the moment for what it had to offer. I felt centered. I was happy.
Dropping off the pass, I ran with a few other runners as we swapped positions. I was running a solid carefree pace and was focused on the peace of my run, enjoying my time with other runners and the great feeling of descending toward the halfway point in the race.
Cruising into Stumptown at Mile 25
As I reached the aid station, I tossed my depleted pack to Jo as I continued down the trail to pass through the timing mat. By the time I came back through the aid station, she had my pack refilled and ready to go.
I should never be surprised by how efficient my wife has become in the crewing game. She's the best crew chief in the business and she was really dialed in at Leadville.
Tossing on a Full Pack, Ready to Head Back to Leadville
Physically, I was feeling better than I ever had at the midpoint of this race. Mentally, I was in old, but familiar ground. I was having fun and happy to let things unfold naturally. I was having more fun than I had enjoyed in a long time.
I left Stumptown and fought my way back over the pass and down into Rock Garden. I made small talk with other runners, swapped war stories and gave encouragement to those that were struggling. Rock Garden passed quickly.
Getting Ready to Drop Out of Rock Garden
After a sharp and fast descent, we crossed the paved road again and headed back up the steep climb toward Printer Boy. This is a grueling climb and the sun was beating down on us mercilessly. Before I crested the top of the climb, I could hear the revelry at the aid station. A reminder that this is all supposed to fun.
As we rolled into the aid station, the crowd support was intense. It was an awesome feeling to be surrounded by that kind of enthusiasm and it served to renew my spirit.
Back to Printer Boy Aid Station at Mile 36
I rolled into the aid station, swapping my pack for two handheld bottles. Jo had them loaded and ready to go. She was getting me in and out as fast as possible, like she always does, but I wanted to linger. Not because I was tired or needed attention, but because I wanted to enjoy the scene.
Jo walked out of the aid station with me as I filled her in on my day. We smiled and laughed before I kissed her and headed toward Leadville.
Feeling centered again.
Enjoying Printer Boy
After cresting the top of the last pass, it's a mostly downhill run to the finish. Mostly, because there are a few rollers mixed in to serve as a reminder that you've run a really long ways. I pushed hard toward Leadville but not hard enough to become depleted. It was a well measured downhill ass whooping mixed with the appropriate amount of lingering.
Two miles from the finish, I took note of the time and realized I was probably going to miss a sub 9 hour finish. My time from last year was 8:42, which is a pretty respectable finish time for that course. I had a brief moment of panic but it quickly faded and I settled back into my calm stride and focused on enjoying the remaining miles on one of my favorite race courses.
The Silver Rush course weaves you toward, and then away from the finish line a few times in the last mile. You can hear the announcer, music and cow bells...then it fades. I knew the route and expected this, but it's still a little disheartening.
I eventually found myself running across the top of Dutch Henri Hill and could see the finish line down below. For a brief moment, I didn't want the race to be over but that feeling passed when I realized I had tickets for two free beers waiting on me.
I made the final sweeping turn and descended to the finish chute, crossing in 9:01, my second fastest time at the Silver Rush.
Finishing and Feeling Great!
I was truly content with my run and I still felt strong at the finish. I didn't land on the podium or even snatch an age group award, but I still felt like the run was a huge success. It was a cathartic exercise that gave me 9 hours to shut everything out and learn to enjoy running on the trails without pressure, fear or unwarranted expectations. It was just me having fun, which is why I started all this madness to begin with. Despite recent wins and FKT's, I consider this to be my most successful run of the year.
In the end, it's all about being happy.