We arrived in Leadville on Friday afternoon for a weekend of camping with family on Turquoise Lake. It was beautiful up there and the lake was just warm enough to swim in...barely. Saturday started out hot and stayed hot. There were hardly any clouds and I was starting to get very nervous about the race the next day if the heat remained.
On Sunday morning, I got up at 4:30am to start my race day preparations and have Tanya drive me to the start by 5:30am. It was cool out and there were a few puffy clouds floating in the sky. Once we arrived, I took care of the necessary port-a-potty items and made my way to the start line while staring at the ridiculous hill not more than 20' beyond the start. It seemed like a cruel joke to toss it in there at the start of a 50 miler? Even though I wouldn't have admitted it then, I'm glad they did it since I felt like it helped snap me into the right frame of mind for the race.
Tanya actually climbed to the top about five minutes before the gun went off and shot this video.
Can you find the guy (me) in the bottom right corner already tripping only minutes into the race? Was this a sign of things to come? Ha Ha!
The first 10 miles were a gradual climb of about 2000' as we made our way up a gulch and to the base of Mt. Sherman. Having fresh legs & lungs, this was a perfect time to chat with other runners that were locked into a similar pace. I had a great time talking with Rob, Steve, Marc and one other guy whose name I can't remember. I love the camaraderie of trail runners. I definitely got the feeling that we were all in this adventure together.
The sun began to show it's face, but immediately dipped behind fast forming clouds. This was a huge bonus on the day as we were treated to plenty of shade in the morning. That would change later on.
Looking back down the gulch right before the almost 180 degree turn and five miles of downhill running. Just prior to this, we crossed a small creek. It was about 3" deep, but there were no exposed rocks to use in the crossing. One shoe got soaked. I've never run with wet shoes/socks before and it really wasn't that bad. Everything was dry before I knew it.
The first aid station (mile 7) was fluid only. The second (mile 13.5) was full service, but I filled up my bottle, grabbed two PB&J squares and was back running in about 15 seconds. The scene above was common along the course. You develop a strong appreciation for the rich mining heritage that helps define Leadville.
After the third aid station (mile 18), you begin your long lap around Ball Mountain. This is the second trip up to 12,000', but probably one of the most beautiful sections of the course.
Looking back to the west and Turquoise Lake.
After a short downhill stretch, the lap around Ball climbs fast and hard again. The highest point of the course is up ahead, but so was hitting the 20 mile mark and I could feel some fatigue setting into my legs. Coming down the backside of Ball was brutal due to loose rock covering the sharp drop.
Entering the Stumptown aid station was awesome. It was the halfway point and everyone there cheered you in and out. This was the first time I got to see my crew (Tanya & the girls). They had all my extra gear, food, and a chair. The good news was that even at the 24 mile mark, I was still feeling great and didn't want to linger too long before hitting the trail again. I took about three and a half minutes to give kisses to my crew, lather up with sunscreen, eat another PB&J square, grab a bunch of gels, dropped off the camera, and......
What you see above was my critical mistake of the day. I'm chugging a bottle of Ensure. To my credit, I had tried this twice in training with no ill effects. Not so this day. I got in about 10 minutes of running before my stomach started to howl in pain. I suffered with cramping and nausea for about an hour as I climbed back around Ball. These 4-5 miles were the worst as I just willed myself to the next aid station to see what I could find to calm my stomach down. It didn't help that a slew of people passed me and then I encountered a random spectator sitting next to his car who said, "C'mon number 54, show a little life." Did he really just say that?
When I got to the Rock Garden station (mile 30), I immediately downed two cups of what I now call the "Wonder Drink". Coke. I've read about many other runners drinking it to settle stomach issues down, but had never tried it. It only took about 5 minutes, a couple of burps, and I was a new man.
Despite feeling much better, the heat was starting to build. For some reason, the sun was now dodging all the clouds that floated across the sky.
The Printer Boy aid station comes in the middle of a 5 mile climb back to 12,000'. I got to see my crew again and finally started getting that feeling that I was going to be able to finish this race strong. I grabbed three cups of Coke and a popsicle before heading into the final stretch. The popsicle was tasty and helped cool me down a bit. Every part of me was now sweating , so staying cool and hydrated became my number one priority. I only had one handheld bottle, but the 64 oz of water I had carried in my pack all race long, but hadn't touched, were key to getting me to the finish. I also had to re-apply sunscreen since my arms and hands were turning red.
The final miles to the finish were a bit surreal. I kept laughing at my Garmin as the miles rolled along. I had never seen those kind of numbers on it before! The final 10 miles were almost all downhill or flat and I ran at least 90% of it! Don't get me wrong here, my legs were hurting. I had a weird thing happen where at the exact same time, both of my big toes started feeling painful blisters pop up. I had crossed that darn creek again and this time both feet got soaked. I guess I didn't have quite the spring in my step to leap across with only one foot hitting the water. The cool water actually felt nice, but I'm guessing this time my feet weren't in quite the position to avoid blisters.
I realized around this time that breaking nine hours wasn't in the cards. "Cruise Control" would be an appropriate description of my running style at that point. I passed only two people in those 10 miles, but didn't get passed by anyone. For the most part, I was completely alone. It was fun to get lost in my thoughts, but then let the anticipation for seeing my family at the finish build.
The finish came and I turned into an emotional mess. Right there across from the finish line were Tanya, Megan, Zoe, bro-in-law Steve, sister-in-law Jennifer, niece Katie, nephew Andrew, and our dog Rocky. It was a wonderful moment I'll never forget. The finish line video is in the post below this.
After many smelly hugs I made my way to a tent to get a full can of the "Wonder Drink". I also met up with Pam (who I bumped into on my Mt. Falcon run in May). I got to meet her friend Rob who was almost always in my sights during the second half and finished a minute or so ahead of me. They're both going to be up in Steamboat in September!
My hat goes off to the organizers and volunteers up there in Leadville. They are first rate. The volunteers were attentive to every need at each aid station often coming out and walking you in while inquiring about how they can help.
Here's the elevation chart and map for the day. The totals were 46.3 miles with about 7500' of elevation. The bonus with Silver Rush is that the course is about 3.5 miles short of 50. I can tell you I was not complaining that it wasn't exact when I crossed the finish line! Steamboat will make up for that since I hear it is more like 51 miles.
With my first ultra only days away, I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts lest I forget my pre-race state of mind after the event. Overall, I'm feeling great and excited to get this party started. I've had my best summer of running simply by being on trails and getting out and exploring new places. The journey in preparing to run Silver Rush has been amazing.
I would love to have an elaborate plan for this race, but until I get an ultra under my belt, I'm going to have "finishing strong" be my goal. If that is 8.5 hours...awesome! If that's 10 hours...I'll be equally satisfied. I'll have the Steamboat 50 in September to take what I've learned and improve.
So here's a quick four on what I feel I have going for me and four of my concerns.
1. Training - my weekly mileage on trails has gone to levels I have not experienced before. My low weeks were in the 50’s and my high weeks in the 70’s. Through it all, my body has adapted, grown stronger, and I’ve stayed injury-free.
2. Long training runs - ideally, I would have liked to get in one run in the 30 mile range, but it wasn’t in the cards. Since May, I did get in 7 trail runs of 20+ miles. Three of them were in the 25-26 range. My trip up/down Pikes was a real confidence booster as I felt like I could have kept running.
3. Fueling - In previous races, I’ve never fueled with anything but sports drink. I feel good about my plan of using water/s-caps/gels as my main fueling strategy. I will take some solid food at the aid stations, but it will be moderate and whatever looks good to me at the time.
4. Altitude - many of my long runs have been at altitude. I feel confident in my ability to keep a solid pace below 11,000’ without getting dizzy or feeling other effects of oxygen deprivation. Silver Rush climbs to just under 12K four times, so I think I’ll be okay. I’m sure it will be something else that gets me before the altitude does.
1. Pacing - I’m still not sure what my correct 50 mile pace is. Ideally, I’ll start slow and keep the heart rate down. I think the first 25 will come relatively pain-free for me. The big question is the next 25! I’ve never run anything beyond 26, so those miles in the 30’s and 40’s will be an unknown until I encounter them. If I start too fast, I could be looking at a long survival shuffle to the finish. Hopefully not.
2. Weather - absolutely nothing I can do about it, but even 70 degrees feels quite hot at over 10K feet. The forecast is currently partly cloudy and high of 72. Since most of my training runs have been in the early mornings, I’m not that prepared for running under the hot sun, and it looks like the course is exposed. Last year, runner’s dealt with a few hours of hail. I hope we avoid afternoon storms as dodging lightning around treeline is not what I’m looking forward to.
3. Food/Fuel - While I have a good fuel plan, I’m concerned again about those final 25 miles. Can I still take in gels? Will they make me gag at that point? We’ll find out soon!
4. Tripping - I’ve noticed that when my legs start getting tired, I don’t pick my feet up enough. That has resulted in one major fall and several other close calls. I need to stay sharp mentally to navigate the trails/ jeep roads when they turn rocky. While a fall isn’t the end of the world, it can deflate things a bit. If it happens, then I need to be ready to get back up and keep going.
There's nothing left now other than to toe the start line and then keep moving forward for 50 miles. I'll post a race report sometime next week.
Having just one more day left with easy access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I went back on Tuesday for a solo run to Watanga Lake and Mt. Irving Hale (11,754'). After climbing 14ers exclusively for the last few years, I can't tell you how enjoyable it is to get off those congested superhighways and experience a more remote side of the Rockies.
Both destinations start at the Roaring Forks trailhead and share the first 2.5 miles of the RF trail. At that point they split with Watanga being about 1.5 miles further if you stay left at the fork and Mt. IH about 2.25 miles if you go right and continue on the RF trail.
The first mile from the trailhead is a lung burner as you gain just over 1000'. The next two miles are more gradual before a final push up to the lake. Watanga is a nice lake, but pales in comparison to the majestic Mirror and Crater Lakes.
I watched the fish jump for a few minutes while enjoying the serenity. Those few splashes broke the utter silence. It was so quiet as there were no birds chirping or wind rustling the trees.
I slurped a Gu packet and began the descent back to the fork where I began the steep climb up to a saddle (Hale Divide) from which I would launch my assault on the summit.
The trail continues over the saddle and down into Hell Canyon, which is not the direction I wanted to head in! I could see the summit of IH poking its head over the trees, but there was no trail. I decided to beeline it for the summit and follow the elk that were leading the way. If you can't see them, just click on the picture.
Here's another shot from the saddle.
After passing through a small clump of pine trees, I had a much better view of the false summit and the true summit just beyond. Boulders where pretty much the name of the game going forward. It was easy to dodge them in this field as I ran, but then the running and fast hiking came to an end when the grass did.
This boulder field was a "choose your own adventure" exercise. There were no cairns or other trail markers. You just picked your path and went with it.
After rounding the false summit, the real one came into view. It took another 10 minutes to scramble up there.
Looking back at what I just ascended. I stepped off the trail at the furthest meadow.
Here's a view of Lake Granby to the west.
Looking to the east. I'm curious how these blocks were stacked so nicely.
The northeast side of Mt. IH drops off like a cliff. Down in the valley below are two lakes (Crawford and Long). Here's a 360 degree view from the summit.
On the descent, I bumped into the only other runner I came across. In fact, if it wasn't for passing two backpackers in the final mile, the prancing lady above and the skittish elk herd would have been the only encounters I had all morning.
Here are the totals for the run. 12.59 miles in 3:19 with 4400' of vertical. This was my last longish run before Silver Rush in 12 days. I'll taper down now in hopes of being ready to roll in Leadville.
I just returned from a long weekend of camping at Lake Granby with my cousin Scott and his family. The far eastern end of the lake leaves you at the footsteps of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Scott and I went on a sweet trail run on Sunday that has to rank in my top two or three. We went up the Cascade Creek Trail to Mirror and Crater Lakes. This run simply has it all (lakes, rushing creeks, multiple waterfalls, wildlife, wildflowers, and insane views of the surrounding peaks). This was Scott's first long trail run and he couldn't have picked a better one to get exposed to fun to be had in running trails.
We began at the Monarch Lake trailhead shortly after 5:30am. I could tell we were the first on the trail that day by just how many spiderwebs I was breaking with my face. Most climbs were quickly rewarded with some flat stretches and the trail went back and forth between smooth and rocky. We passed several backpacking tents at small campsites just off the trail.
A few miles in, and we rounded a corner and encountered this big fella. The moose just stared us down and let me snap a couple pictures before he moseyed into the trees and out of sight. I'm not sure why my camera wouldn't focus at all.
The many waterfalls on this trail are incredible. I can't remember any trail I've ever been on that featured so many. It seemed like every other mile we came up to a thundering roar and were treated a scene like the above shot.
The second lake we hit was Mirror Lake. Hmmm...I wonder how it got that name? We saw a backpacker sitting lakeside on a rock drinking his morning coffee and instantly we both wanted to plan a backpacking trip.
Lone Eagle Peak towers over Mirror Lake and is something to behold. Pictures just don't do this peak justice. We marveled at its shape and grandeur.
Crater Lake is only about .25 miles beyond Mirror. I really needed some kind of panoramic camera in order to truly capture just how magnificent this lake is. Scott and I sat on a rock for 15 minutes soaking it in.
Here's another shot with Lone Eagle in the background. We really did not want to leave, but with two wives & four kids waiting to begin the 4th of July festivities, we were back on the trail after a few JUMPS!
Scott nailed this fun picture on my second attempt at a "Lone Eagle" imitation.
Clearly, I could not return the courtesy of taking a good pic for Scott. I kept pushing the button too early and after five attempts, I felt he should probably save his energy for the run back down.
The numbers on the day were 15 miles with 2400' of elevation in 3:39. Big props go out to Scott for an excellent first trail run. That is some serious distance to start out with!