Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Silver Rush Race Report

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.


  1. Congrats on the very solid race! Man, there were just a few minutes between you and several guys just ahead. So cool to have the whole family there at aid stations. I remember from SJS50 how emotional and uplifting it is to see family and friends at the aid stations...especially later in the race. Well done.

  2. Nice job Woody! That climb up out of Stumptown is nasty without nausea. And yeah, you'll love Steamboat, though the downhill back to the finish isn't as kind as Leadville ;)

  3. Huge congrats. I can't believe you did it after sleeping in a pop up the night before. You are awesome!

  4. Thanks!

    Jim - I forgot to mention that I used your "you can do more and tolerate more than you think you can" saying many times that day. During my rough patch, I needed to repeat it several times.

    Patrick - that hill is going to be "fun". I will have a healthy respect for it come race day.

    Thanks Rachel! I'm pretty sure our pop-up is as nice as any motel in Leadville. It's slim pickings up there.

  5. Woody - Really enjoy reading the blog. I live in Ohio and am training for the SR50 this summer. Are you comfortable answering some rookie questions about the race? If so, I'd love to pick your brain on a few things. Thanks again for all the information.

  6. Hello! Sure, I'd love to help if I can. You're going to love running the SR50 and spending time in Leadville. You can either post your questions here or provide me your email and we can have an off-blog chat!

  7. Thank you so much. I'll post my question(s) here, so that others might see your responses. Also, my e-mail is downing007@gmail.com just in case you need it. I've been trying to jot down my questions as I think of them, but here is what I have for now... keep in mind that aside from a 35mi trail run this year, SR50 will be my first true Ultra.
    1) Nutrition - What foods are offered at the aid stations? My approach is to get my body used to those things during training. That way, I should be good to go on race day and not have to pack much extra. Any thoughts on this approach?
    2) Mile Markers - Any? It would be nice to know roughly where I stand in case the GPS watch would glitch on me (not likely.. just curious).
    3) Bathrooms - ??? Any? Just nature? Not a big deal, just wondering.
    4) Hydration Pack - I see some folks in your photos with Camelbaks, some without. Any thoughts on the pros/cons of the SR course that would prevent you from carrying one?
    5) I live in Ohio, about 500ft above sea level. Any preparation tips for the elevation? Surely there are other "lowlanders" who do okay at SR50, right?

    That's all I can think of now. There might be more... thanks again for your website and all the info you provide! Happy trails.

  8. Congrats on stepping up to SR. It was my first in '10 and I had a fun experience. Lifetime has done a great job with organizing these races, so you won't have to worry about lack of support out there. Congrats also on the 55K+ run this year. With SR, you're not going to have to go much farther. Both times I ran it, the course ended up being about 46.3 miles. Trust me, you won't be wishing they found a way to fit in the extra 5K. Here's the best I could come up with to answer your question. I'm sure if you asked another finisher of SR, they might give you different answers, but I suppose it's a start!

    1. The aid stations are fully stocked with food/drink. PB&J squares, pretzels, chips, cookies, watermelon, orange wedges, M&Ms, GU products and more. I typically don't eat a lot of solid food at the aid stations. My preference is to carry gels and only fill up with water when I pass through. You're approach is a good one though. Practicing beforehand is definitely the way to go. One thing to be prepared for in the later miles of an ultra is eating becomes very difficult. Especially at altitude and if it gets hot. The first few hours are always fine for me. After that it becomes a major challenge just to get something down. The problem is that it's hard to practice the conditions of eating while your stomach is under stress. I guess just be prepared to adjust your fuel plan as the race unfolds.

    2. There are no mile markers out there. I typically try to burn into my head the course layout and the aid station locations. I also carry with me a small laminated (w/ packing tape) card that has some basic info (aid stations mileage locations, my projected splits (sometimes hard to guess), and total projected time. I'll email you a copy of the one I used for SR last year so you can see what I mean. I'll refer to it at most aid stations during the first half, but then when I start getting uncomfortable out there, I tend to care less about the splits and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

    3. I think there's a port-a-potty at the first aid station and then maybe one at the halfway point. Yes, I think nature is the way to go. It's real easy to step 20' off the trail and duck behind a tree/rock. I always carry some TP in a little zip lock bag. Often there's a line at the port-a-potties, so you can waste precious minutes waiting for someone else. If you're not used to going outside, find some trails off the beaten path and practice. Once you get the hang of it, I found there's a new freedom to run places where there are no bathrooms.

  9. And part II - blogger limits the # of characters in a comment.

    4. I think hydration packs are awesome, but I've found carrying water in one is not for me. I don't like carrying the extra weight during the early/cooler hours when I'm not drinking as much, and I also have no way of know how much I've drank and how much is left. It's also a bit cumbersome to refill at the aid stations. I prefer handhelds, but they do take a little getting used to if you haven't run with them before. As far as SR goes, definitely plan for carrying something. The high altitude dry air will suck water from you very fast. Dehydration is a huge issue up there. Last year I ran with one handheld during the first half and then picked up a second at the turnaround. It can get really hot out there, so I doubt anyone but the fastest runners go with less than two. With all this said, I almost always wear a running pack (without the water bladder). I only like running with one handheld, so I'll store the second in the back. I also like the front pockets on the pack for carry gels, camera, s-caps, etc. Depending on the weather forecast that day, you might also be picking up a jacket/hat/gloves at the turnaround. Three years ago, a crazy storm blew threw and runners got pelted with cold rain and hail. Carrying a little bit of extra gear in a pack might just save your race out there.

    5. Definitely don't let the elevation scare you off. Yes, tons of runners come from outside CO and run great. If you're at all familiar with the effects of exercising at altitude, you'll have no problem recognizing them and adjusting your running to compensate. If you've never run out here before, is it possible to come out for a weekend of training? Not to acclimatize your body for race day, but to give you an idea of what to expect. If you can't come out early, just keep your race plan flexible and see what happens. Altitude affects everyone differently, so you may be just fine. You'll feel the effects no matter how equipped your body is at handling it, but hopefully it won't be too bad. SR is a tough one due to hitting 12K feet four times. The stretches between 11,500-12K are always my toughest. But once I start heading down, I always feel so much better (until the next climb!). If you are on top of your hydration and calorie intake (the things you can control), you'll be in the best position to handle any discomfort the altitude throws your way.

  10. Woody - Thanks so much for taking the time and answering my questions. Your answers and encouragement pushed me over the edge to register yesterday! Also, thank you for the splits chart. Good stuff. Like you, I don't take in many solids at all, even at the peak of marathon training time. Time to practice, though! Loved the tips on TP and keeping the weather in mind. I feel like I've already taken up a lot of your time, so I'll quickly touch on a few other points (in case others are reading/learning) and hopefully just leave it at that.
    1) S-Caps: Since you mentioned them, do you have a method for this supplement, knowing that you don't get enough from Gatorade or whatever drinks are available at the aid stations?

    2) Without diving into one specific training plan vs another, I'd like your opinion on the ultra training philosophy (keeping in mind this will be my first). How much time spent long-distance (20+ miles) "trail" running vs normal training such as hills, tempo runs, etc? And any thoughts on the frequency of anaerobic exercises preparing for the altitude?

    3) Having never purchased trail shoes before, I'm going with something minimal (I run mainly in Nike Free 3.0) like NB 110's or Minimum or Merrell. My question is how much time do you divide between road running in your road shoes vs trail running in your trail shoes? Or do you just wear your trail shoes all the time? Maybe it doesn't make a big difference either way, just curious.
    Thank so much again for posting all the information. It really is invaluable.

  11. Part I

    1. There seems to be two popular options for electrolyte supplements, SCaps and Endurolytes. I started out with a bottle of SCaps and they worked well for me. They contain more salt than Endurolytes. I believe you have to take 3-4 Endurolytes to achieve the equivalent electrolyte intake as one SCap. During a race, the less I have to ingest the better. Under normal conditions, I'll take one SCap an hour. If it gets hot and I can tell I'm sweating/cramping more than normal, I'll add an extra one every other hour. Whatever you choose, experiment with different ways of carrying them. I tried a small zip lock baggie, but found it difficult to open and get the caps out. Now I use a small plastic tube with a pop top. I also stick a cotton ball in the tub to keep the caps from bouncing around.

    The sweating thing is tricky in the mountains. The air is so dry, often your sweat will dry right away, so it will feel like you're not sweating at all. You're correct that Gatorade won't cut it for electrolyte replacement for such a long event. The caps are a great way to regulate that with proper water intake.

    2. I do try to mix up my training a bit, but the focus is usually to get my miles up and start preparing my body for the stress of going 50 miles. That includes several runs in the 25-30 mile range. I can't stress enough to practice hiking fast. With four climbs to 12K feet, you will be hiking and if you can keep a decent pace while feeling comfortable doing so, you'll be amazed at how fast you get through those miles while passing people. Hiking also uses different muscles, so you don't want race day be the first time you start using them. The great thing about SR is the downs give you plenty of opportunities to open things up and run at a good clip. So if you can get in several run/hike days where you're out there for 5-6 hours, you'll be in much better shape to handle the long day in Leadville. I generally run one tempo run a week just to try and get the legs and heart moving faster. I rarely do specific hill workouts because I get plenty of that in the course of my normal & longs runs. I'm not sure what the hill situation is like in Ohio, but I would definitely incorporate hill workouts 1-2 times per week. Maybe hike them one day and run them the other day. I have no idea how to train for altitude other than do your long runs breathing through a straw! :-) Just kidding.

  12. Part II

    3. Overall, SR is a non-technical course. Many miles will be spent on jeep roads that are wide and provide room to maneuver around rocks. There are stretches of singletrack and a few rocky spots, but you could run the race in whatever shoes you're most comfortable in. I'm a bigger guy pushing 190 lbs, so I've never tried minimalist shoes. I've bruised the balls of my feet before, so I need a little extra protection. My two shoes of choice are Montrail Mtn Masochists and the goofy Hokas. I have road shoes, but almost never wear them on trails.

    One other thought on the weather. It will feel very cold in the morning (low 40's) before sunrise and I remember seeing a lot people bundled with jackets/tights/winter hats to start the race. On a normal day in Leadville, it will start cold and warm up fast once the sun rises. My first year I wore a windbreaker at the start and had to take it off after 10 minutes because I warmed up and didn't need it. So my advice is to dress for the heat despite the cold morning. If the forecast is for anything in the upper 60's and 70's that day, it will feel very hot by late morning/early afternoon. The sun is intense up there. Do put on sunscreen in the morning and then reapply at least once during the race.

    All this talk about SR is really making me want to sign up again!

  13. Woody - Thanks so much for all the detail and insight. I will definitely check into the Scaps and research more about electrolyte replacement. Also, the "hiking" as you described it never would have crossed my mind. In Southeast Ohio, we do have some very good hills, a national park, and hiking opportunities. That will be time well-spent. At home, if it's sunny and 40+ degrees, I'm in shorts. Thanks for the tip. I'm sure you have other things to do than answer my questions, but I really appreciate it and YES you should sign up again! Take care.