|Arrival in Leadville just 3 hours after landing in Denver, Colorado.|
Originally, I was registered to run the Bullet Creek 50 Miler. Unfortunately, that did not pan out as the RD for that race took our money and ran. However, that is a story for a different post, maybe another Facebook rant? Who knows. All I know is that I am actually glad that race fell through, even if it did cost me 60 bucks. If it hand't, I would've never even considered registering for the Silver Rush 50 Miler in Leadville, Colorado.
It just so happened that my entire ultra running training group from Huntsville, Alabama had planned a "mancation" (don't shoot the messenger, I didn't come up with that name) that included nine days of whitewater rafting, 14er peak climbing, ultra marathon racing and Grand Canyon double crossing fun. Everyone but me had signed on to this trip. I felt I didn't have the vacation time to burn on such a trip, no matter how much fun it would be. So once they started they trip planning, I chose to register for a local marathon during that time frame in preparation for the Pinhoti 100 Miler in November, for which I was planning a list of training races to get me ready.
When said race fell through, I was struggling to find a replacement 50 miler for the month of July. I looked everywhere, ultrasignup.com, ultrarunning.com, etc. nowhere did I find a 50 miler within reasonable driving distance of my home. As I was sharing my frustration with the group during one of our early morning training runs, Jerry suggested "you can sign up for the Silver Rush 50, I think registration is still open". Nah, I thought, that's a lot of money for a flight and other stuff just to travel to Colorado for one weekend. I let it simmer for a couple of days and when I realized that I might actually have some frequent flyer miles I could use for a free ticket, I started seriously considering it. And when my training buddies graciously agreed to pick my @ss up at Denver airport and drop me off again, if needed, as well as let me crash at their room during my short stint, I had all the encouragement I needed to book a flight and register for the race. "Colorado, here I come!"
I was super pumped...and then it hit me. I'm going to run a race with 8,000ft of climb, ok, no big deal, but I'm doing it all between 10,000-12,000ft of altitude, now that was a big deal. I had no idea how my body would react to thin air, no matter how well trained I thought I was. I had booked my travel in a way that I arrived in Denver and ultimately Leadville within less than 24 hours of the race start. This had been recommended to me by others with more experience in altitude racing than me. A better options would have been 2 weeks of acclimating in Colorado, but I didn't have that kind of time, so the next best option is to arrive just before the race, before your body goes through any severe changes due to the altitude. I would still suffer, but maybe not as badly as if I had arrived a day earlier. We are all an experiment of one, but I can definitely state that I absolutely made the right choice here with my late arrival time as become evident the next day.
I packed extremely light for my trip, a few changes of underwear and socks and lots of racing gear all shoved in my old 30L Salomon backpack as I had no intention of checking any luggage and risking loosing running gear on my short trip. My wife drove me to the airport in the wee hours of Saturday morning and after a couple of short legs I arrived in Denver, Colorado. Since the trip from Leadville to Denver and back was about 4 hours, my running buddies who'd arrived 2 days earlier and who had been out hiking some peaks in order to acclimate to the altitude, decided to chip in for a shuttle that would take me to Copper Mountain, where they would pick me up. They could have just left me to my own devices, but instead took care of all of the arrangements. I am extremely lucky to have a group of friends like that! And with that, thanks again Richard, Mike, James, Jerry and Ed for hooking me up the way you did!
I arrived at the bottom of Copper Mountain and 5 minutes later, Jerry and Ed arrived in their rental van to pick me up and take me to Leadville for race packet pickup before we'd head back to their hotel in the ski resort of Avon, CO. Once we got to Leadville, I realized just how lucky I was that things had worked out the way they did. This was a beautiful place surrounded by snow covered peaks and I got to run a race here, how cool is that?!? I picked up my race packet and a little running souvenir for my wife before we headed just outside of town to check out the actual race start location. The place was buzzing with people and excitement as the Silver Rush 50 Mile mountain bike race takes place the day before the 50 Mile ultra. The MTB race takes place on the same course and some folks are actually brave enough to do both the MTB 50 mile race and 50 miler on foot the next day. After meeting another couple of North Alabama natives and checking out some of the vendors, we decided to head back to Avon for some important rest, but not before stopping by one of the local favorites for a big Buffalo burger while watching one of the World Cup matches (yes, Brazil lost this one as well, 0-3 vs. the Netherlands:-)
|The Leadville Race Series shop, location of the packet pick-up on Saturday.|
|The whole crew just before the start of the Silver Rush 50, James, me, Ed, Rich, Mike and Jerry, respectively.|
I wore my traditional "Stop The Clot" shirt, which frequently got mistaken for the "King of the Mountain" jersey apparently awarded to the winner of the mountain stage at the Tour De France. In fact, it took me a while to realized what spectators were shouting at me during the race until the penny dropped. There were a lot of cyclists spectating at the race, since this course hosted the MTB race the previous day. I felt a little guilty for "misleading" the crowd, but after I had been running for 30 miles, I didn't care why they were cheering as long as they kept doing it:-)
|That hill behind me presents the first "stage" of the SR50.|
As runners were gathering at the starting line, the organizers and the founder of the event had some great advice and some inspiring words, "Dig Deep!" 'bout sums it up. We definitely had to dig deep, especially all of us flatlanders in attendance.
|Early section (around mile 6) with clouds in the background below our altitude.|
The start of the race was indicated by a rifle shot. About 15 runners took off in a sprint in an effort to win one of the coveted coins awarded to the first female and male to reach the top of Dutch Henry Hill. These individuals would also receive a reserved spot in the Leadville 100 Mile ultra, albeit not a free entry. When I finally reached the top of the first hill, I was already gasping for air. This would continue for the remainder of the race. Every time I'd reach the top of a hill, every time I took a swig from my bottle or took a bite of food, my body would revolt immediately after, gasping for air. Every time I did anything but take deep breaths, my body would gasp for air.
|Massive outbound downhill section that starts at mile 10.|
I had already mentioned tip #1 regarding arrival within 24 hours of the race start to minimize the affect of altitude on your body and blood in particular. The idea behind this approach lies in the fact that your body composition takes about 24-48 ours to be affected and changed by the altitude, first very negatively, then progressively less severe. The idea being that you finish the race before your body even has a chance to change. This worked really really well for me, even if I was still seriously affected by the altitude. It could definitely have been worse. There were a couple of more pointers I was given prior to the race. First, the interwebs suggested to start taking baby aspirin 1-2 weeks prior to arrival at altitude. No problem there as I was already on a daily regimen of 81mm of aspirin. Second, it was clear that even more than usual I would have to stay on top of and seriously hydrate prior to and during the race and stay on top of my sodium levels as well to try to keep the altitude affect at a minimum.
|Another one of the few downhill sections:-)|
|Overlooking the first and last 10 miles of the course.|
|More downhill between mile 10-15.|
|Yet more downhill to reach mile 15.|
|Guess what, this outbound downhill stretch will be all uphill on the way back:-)|
|One of the gnarlier climbs.|
|Amazing view from the trail.|
|An old abandoned saw mill?|
|View looking back at the biggest climb coming back from the turnaround point, somewhere around mile 29ish.|
|This race has some serious climbs.|
|5 miles of uphill on the way back.|
|What a beautiful state.|
I could see the runners ahead of me on the trail below. While theywere already enjoing the 10 miles of mostly downhill trail to the finish, I was still climbing and climbing. When I finally reached the peak I was ready to head down and run. I started passing quite a few more runners in this section, mostly because they weren't as steady on their feet during this slightly more technical trail section and because some of them were still tiptoeing around water puddles and creek crossings. Well, as a runner from the Southeastern States that's what trail running is all about, so I went straight through this stuff just like a good trail runner is supposed to:-)
|My unofficial finisher's photo.|
During that final stretch, I caught up with another runner who somehow happened to have grown up in Germany, so we started chatting in German for a while. I was definitely more tired than him, so I just tried to hold on while we both started to run a little harder in an effort to giterdun. I wasn't sure of the exact mileage as my GPS watch can be off quite a bit during trail races, but I knew I could actually finish somewhat close to my A goal, even with all of that walking that I had done. My new buddy soon left me behind and finished a minute ahead of me (Josef Hoelscher, look me up if you're out there, I enjoyed our chat). When I finally crossed the finish line, the clock read 10 hours 18 minutes, finishing 124th overall after passing 50 runners over the second half of the race. I couldn't have been happier and yes, I got a little emotional which I was able to hide thanks to my sunglasses. Richard was right there waiting with a chair and anything else I might need. I wasn't alone at the finish for long. Ed came in just 12 minutes behind me and Jerry, James and Mike all had strong finishes as well, making it well below the 14 hour cutoff. These guys managed to do that even after hiking a couple of 14ers just a day earlier.
|What a fun elevation profile.|