Wow, such an incredible day! I went into Silver Rush 50 very nervous that I was undertrained. Also, I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited about the course itself. I know the Leadville area well and the mountain views are remarkable, but I had a hard time getting excited about running on dirt roads. Well, I can honestly say that everything about today exceeded my expectations: the course was nothing short of spectacular and my finish time was awesome!
I can’t believe I wasn’t that excited about this course! Running on the mining roads was awesome and still felt like an adventure. I love running on single track and was concerned that running on roads wouldn’t be as exciting. Well, the day was an emphatic reminder that dirt mining/mountain roads aren’t like other roads! I was incredibly impressed by the sheer number of mining ruins and remnants that the course went past. I’ve hiked/ran by a ton of mining ruins in Colorado over the years, which is always a treat; but, the scale and breadth of this tour was special. Then again, I also don’t go 50 miles usually, so there was a lot of opportunity to see new things!
Also, the views of surrounding mountains were amazing! Great views of the Sawatch Range were present throughout the day. Also, the course winds very close to Mt. Sherman (14,036′) and several high 13ers, which was very cool. The course was super scenic, which helped soothe my mind away from the sometimes painful task at hand on numerous occasions.
As far as actual racing considerations; the course was super runnable! This worried me going in because I think of myself as a stronger hill climber than downhill/flat runner. I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to push myself and turn over a good pace though! I have definitely improved my downhill running game a lot over the past couple years. Also, the climbing is spaced out very nicely on the Silver Rush course; reaching about 12,000’ every ten miles or so. Here is the elevation profile from my Strava tracks (Garmin Fenix2 GPS). **The Silver Rush website states that you reach 12k four times, so a little GPS variability. Either way, you get really close to that!**
A few notes on the course layout more specifically. Some of the out-and-back nature of the course was a bit irritating, particularly when you’re X miles into the race. For example, I took out my water bottles to refill in preparation for an aid station once before being notified that I needed to head left to Ball Mountain for the second time. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I guess that is the downside of my limited course familiarity race strategy. Also, the last mile of the course heads up the hill to get the course mileage up to 50 when the finish line is in sight at mile 49, which wasn’t that much fun.
Fantastic course overall!
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was not feeling especially confident. I always doubt myself and question the quality of my training leading up to races. My training hasn’t gone close to what I had originally planned in terms of total mileage, so I was concerned. The only aspect I felt good about going into the race was the amount of vertical gain I’ve been racking up recently; I was confident in my climbing legs. Running long trail and road races is difficult and a lot can go wrong along the way.
So, I started out a bit nervous as always. Thankfully, the course was very runnable and started off relatively flat; well, flat after the initial hill. The first person to the top of the hill at Silver Rush wins a coin and entry to the Leadville 100, but I was focused on a different goal for the day. It wasn’t a great sacrifice not to surge up the hill as I realistically had zero chance of cresting the hill first anyway. Once on top of the first hill, I was able to get a few easy miles under my belt. The temperature to start out was perfect, which helped as I tried to settle into a rhythm. The only problem I had during the first few miles was that my shoes were feeling very tight. This was the first race I ran in my Altra Lone Peaks, which I usually lock-down lace to avoid slipping. Check out the technique if you’re curious (http://trailrunnermag.com/training/trail-tips/trail-shoe-lacing-tricks.html).
Last year was the first year I ran a trail race, but I had only run in New Balance Leadville shoes before. The New Balance Leadville shoes come in widths and I refer to them as battle tanks, so I was kicking myself for going with my Altra’s for the first six miles or so. Also, the NB Leadville’s provide some pronation control and provide more robust cushioning, so pretty different shoes for sure. However, the ankle pocket and lacing loosened up perfectly after an hour or two and the Lone Peak’s performed great! Also, I’m fairly convinced the Altra zero drop helped my knee hold up a little better. Back to the race in a minute, but I was very happy with my gear selection on the day. North Face’s Better Than Naked Shirt (super lightweight/breathable), Balega’s Mohair Fiber Socks (very comfortable, good heel cushioning, dried from water quickly (or, maybe it was just hot), & my Ultimate Direction pack!
I was making good time during the first section of the race, but it felt like it took forever to make it to the Printer Boy aid station. When I made it, I found my friends Steve and Patrick there which was cool. Also, I had met a few of the volunteers at Periodic Brewing the night before the race, so it was nice to see some familiar faces. Patrick ran with me out of the aid station and asked me what my goal time was for the day. I told him I thought I could do eleven or ten hours if I had a really good day. He told me that I was on pace for sub-10 hours, which was great but I was less than 15 miles into the race. Plus, I tripped and fell pretty hard a minute or two later. It took a mile or two to shake off the subtle discomfort in my left ankle from the fall, but very minimal damage overall!
The next several sections of the race were very scenic with awesome views of mining ruins, Mt. Sherman, and a lot more! Some of the course went through an old mining area that is usually on private property, so it was a very unique experience.
My power hiking game was strong on the day and I was able to navigate the downhills well overall, so I was still cruising along relatively well. However, my pace started to drop off as the majority of the climbing is in the middle 30 miles. I’m not exactly sure how far under 10-hour pace I got, but I distinctly remember thinking, ‘Well, I’m not quite in 10-hour shape, but I’m having a good day.’
It wasn’t hard to let go of the idea of a sub-10 hour finish as it was heating up quite a bit. I believe it got to at least 80 degrees and there was fairly limited cloud cover or shade for the most part. Also, I never really considered the possibly of finishing under 10-hours prior to the race. I was just content to continue to fend off throwing up after trying a PBJ tortilla sandwich. PBJ tortillas were amazing for me last year at Never Summer, but today was a different day. It never got too bad, but I downshifted slightly while I worked through some slight stomach turmoil.
Now seems like a good time to talk about my nutrition on the day. Overall, it went very well and I did not feel that many energy drains. Sure, I was very tired by the end, but it was a hiking/running fatigue; not a nutritional/dehydration deficit. It is a fine line between the two, but I think it worked out pretty well. I loaded up my pack with GFB (Gluten-Free Bars), GU Roctane Gels, Honey Stinger Chews, & Tailwind tubes (200 calorie mix packets). The aid stations were stocked with GU Chews and Stroopwafels of which I had a few as well. I was carrying two 20oz water bottles and drank them between almost every aid station, so I really took in an incredible amount of water on the day. In part this was because I was relying on calories from my Tailwind, but also I’ve just learned that I need a lot of water (probably more than the average person?). Part way through, I skipped mixing Tailwind at an aid station or two since I was worried about taking in too much salt. Based on the extensiveness of the salt patterns on my shirt after the race; I’m not sure that I read this situation correctly, but it worked out well. For a longer race, I probably should have ingested more solid foods early on.
Back to the race, I hadn’t looked at my watch in several hours or with very little interest if I did. I was just trying to focus to ensure my pace reflected a good and steady effort. Sometimes when I get tired, my pace tails off a little bit without my recognition. Not today! I called myself out the few times I started dawdling. I was just trying to push myself to get to the last 11 miles, which would be primarily downhill. The five miles leading up to that point, the course climbed about 1,300ft, which was maybe the toughest section. I was tempted to push myself harder, but it became somewhat of a mantra to tell myself, ‘Don’t ruin an awesome day.’ In order words, I felt like I had a great finish in the bag unless I totally self-destructed, so I tried to be smart and pick my spots (namely downhills!).
It seemed to take forever, but I started to see runners hammering downhill as we got closer to Mt. Sherman again. I took my last picture on course of Mt. Sherman at 1:35pm, which is my best estimate of how much time I had left to cover the remaining 11-12 miles. The race started at 6am, so 4pm was the 10-hour mark.
I didn’t work out the math at the time and I won’t spend the time to figure it out now, but I knew that I’d have to throw down some really solid mile times to make it. A few miles into this final stretch, I looked at my watch again and I remember thinking how exciting it was to be in position to even consider finishing with such a time. However, the time on my watch seems to progress at a much faster rate than I could run so I determined that a sub-10 was drifting away and that wasn’t a big deal.
Next thing I knew, I was crushing some 9:20/min miles! It really wasn’t that simple and it took an immense amount of effort, but I was sort of shocked by this development. A key to my success in this section was that I started to run and talk with a guy named Jamie. We used the growing size of Mt. Massive as an indicator of our progress, which provided an interesting blend of discouragement and reassurance. After leapfrogging back and forth for a while, we checked off a bundle of miles together. He had just moved to Colorado from Ohio and was living out of his car…dirtbag style. This was at least the third person I talked to on the day who was currently living out of a car or bus; you gotta love ultrarunners! We high-fived with five or six miles left when we determined we’d be done in less than an hour meaning it’d be a sub-10 hours finish! With maybe three miles to go, I encouraged him to run his own race and I started to walk for a little bit on a pretty flat stretch. I don’t recall what motivated me, but I was thankfully able to start running again after soon. I think I just desperately wanted to be done!
I could see the finish line as I tried to keep my legs churning on the slightly uphill bike path. However, the course took a mile detour going back up the hill. I jokingly asked the volunteer, “So, we can’t just go to the finish line?” The final hill detour was probably less than 200 vertical feet up if I had to guess, but it was a little uncalled for. I think I passed about five people in the last mile and was able to push myself hard. Also, I almost caught Jamie again; ending up only three seconds behind him. What a tremendous race!
Other Notes & Bonus Photos:
The volunteers and race support were awesome! It was great to see so many familiar faces and the race had a good ultra-community feel. The aid stations were well-stocked and the water was always nice and cold. Also, the course was very well-marked with only a couple points of potential confusion with the out and backs. I ran into one guy who headed back downhill for an extra mile around the second Ball Mountain section, which really sucked. However, that was probably the only route issue I heard about; unfortunately, it happens sometimes.
The postrace food was pretty good with veggie burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, tortilla chips, fruit, and Sam Adams beer. There was a tented area by the food/beer, but there was a general lack of shade around the finish line. Yes, I’m nitpicking but I was a little uncomfortable and hot by the end of the race.
I parked up at Colorado Mountain College which was about 1/4 mile from the Start/Finish line. There is limited parking in the lot right off the highway, so I think the majority of people parked there. Also, I slept in my car in the college parking lot the night before. I didn’t sleep super well, but I didn’t want to bother with a tent and figured being right by the start/finish would be easier.
GPS Tracks from Strava recorded on my Garmin Fenix2 (seems pretty accurate):