Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leadville Silver Rush 50 MTB - Race Report

I was supposed to be running the Leadville Silver Rush 50 with a group of friends this weekend. However, a knee injury left me in too much pain to run. Instead, I switched to the mountain bike race the day before just for the sake of adventure. I decided to write up a race report just for fun.

A quick bit of background: I first injured my knee in March. Earlier in the Spring I bought a cheap bike from Dick's Sporting Goods mostly just to ride to work and get a little aerobic work while I healed. Until this weekend, I had a total of 200 miles on the bike with my longest ride being only 23 miles with about 1500 feet of vertical. In other words, I was very unprepared for this adventure.

We arrived in Leadville the night before the race and hiked Hope Pass. Afterward, we decided to partake in some pizza and beer for dinner. Normally, I would not drink beer the night before a race. Seeing as how I wasn't really vested in the outcome, I went ahead and had six... or seven. Before bed, I put slime in my tubes and added a few recently acquired accessories to my Nishiki Alamosa mountain bike -- nothing but the bare essentials. My only real goal for the day was to finish and I hoped so badly that I wouldn't have to deal with a flat tire (or a wreck).

The one nice thing about a bike race is that it starts later than the run! I got to sleep in and have a real breakfast before the adventure. In fact, I even had a few cups of coffee. At about eight-thirty, we headed to the start line and found this mass of riders waiting for me (almost 700 riders). Not long after he dropped off my bike, Mike asked whether I had a quick release back tire, which of course my bike does not. He just chuckled and said he sure hoped I would not get a flat tire.

Standing there at the start line, I was much more nervous than I expected I'd be. The concept of riding a bike around for seven hours just didn't sound that appealing. But, in just a few moments after the National Anthem, the gun was off and I was suddenly pushing my bike up Dutch Henry hill.

Me and 700 of my closest friends....
One nice thing about taking on this adventure is that I am pretty familiar with the course. I was prepared for the grueling 10 mile uphill start, that is until about mile 8.5 when it became hike-a-bike for the most of the next mile and a half. Climbing seemed to be one of my strengths and I think I could have ridden quite a bit more in this area of the course, but I was behind a conga-line of hundreds of riders all walking their bikes. This was particularly frustrating because I can fast-walk/hike at a 14-16 min pace without much trouble, but I was snailing along at nearly 25 min miles with Sally, my bike. Once you reach the top, everyone just jumps on and starts flying downhill. I think I averaged something close to 20 MPH downhill toward Printer Boy. And, quite honestly, it was the easiest riding of the day. But the good riders were probably doing 35-40 MPH. My transition at Printer Boy was quick as I took in a few calories and water and then took off into the forest.

Me parked on Sally waiting for my crew
Looking like Donkey Kong on a bike as I leave Printer Boy
About to descend into the forest after Printer Boy

Leaving Printer Boy is fun on a bike as you cruise into the forest. I felt good but was leery of the big climb coming up. I rode strong for 2-3 miles before the climb along County Road 1 got really hard. And there I was hiking my bike again. This time was brutally hard and it was getting hot. I realized I wasn't eating enough or taking any salt pills and finally stopped to do so about halfway through the climb. The climb (hike) continued and at about mile 17 the leaders were ripping by me at about 30 MPH going home, nearly done. Ugh. It was about this point I decided that I wasn't really having any fun and thought about quitting at the turnaround. (Coincidentally, this section took the wind out of my sails in the 2011 run as well).

We finally crested the hardest part of the climb and I started snail riding toward Ball Mountain in time for more hike-a-bike! This was definitely the lowest point for me. I was sweating a ton (maybe that long sleeve wasn't a good idea?!), my stomach was queasy, and I knew the climb was toward the top of a steep descent that I couldn't really ride hard anyway. Sure enough, the top came and there was two-way traffic on a steep technical trail. Heading down the mountain, I was riding my brakes hard and the back tire of my bike was sliding around as I stuck one foot out and rodeo'd down the mountain. Scary. 

Before long that was over and the remaining miles into the aid station were technical but mostly easy to ride. I really wanted to stop when I arrived at the aid station. My crew told me later that I looked really low at this point. For some reason, in the words of Marshall Ulrich, I just wouldn't "listen to that voice and ring the bell". So I hiked my bike through the steep ascent to the aid station where Chuck filled up my pack and I got off the bike to stretch my legs. Then I coasted back down to my crew, drank a Red Bull and prepared for the return trip over Ball Mountain.

A little deflated as I coasted into Stumptown

Jon applying sun screen as I drank a Red Bull
I put on a good smile for my crew
After leaving the turnaround, there are a few good miles of riding and then some descending before you go back over Ball Mountain. I was mentally prepared for it and knew it was the hardest part of the race remaining. It was all super slow hiking but it went along pretty smoothly. Before I started the descent off of Ball Mountain, I took a gel and some salt pills so I could enjoy the mostly downhill riding for the next 5 miles. There were a few hike-a-bike sections between Ball Mountain and Printer Boy, but it was mostly riding. Coming back up through the forest toward Printer Boy it began to rain and I got to stay on the bike for the entire climb! I came in pretty mentally strong, gulped down a Red Bull and took off for the long, slow climb toward Iowa Amphitheater.

This climb is a real bear during the run, but it wasn't so bad on a bike. It consists of limited technical sections and a moderate grade, so I was able to maintain a reasonable 9-10 min pace. The trouble was that my foot began to get crampy from pedaling and the weather had turned hot once again. About two-thirds of the way up, I stopped to eat a gel, drink, and rest my foot. Then I hopped back on and finished the climb strong, passing most of the riders that had passed me while I was stopped.

My reward was gravity pulling me downhill the remaining 10 miles to the finish. The early part of this is really technical and I had to stay focused as I dodged rocks, streams, and superior downhill riders flying up from behind my. I remember remarking to Jon during a training run that we should remember these several "rollers" that break up the downhill on the way back in. When I hit one of them, I tried to change gears too late and Sally decided just to come unchained. After putting the chain back on, my quads were pretty stiff and it took me a few minutes to get going again.

A few more miles down the trail came the remaining hike-a-bike hill -- which I remembered from the 2011 run. A lady from behind encouraged me that this was the "last time we have to hike".  At the top is a new finish (new in 2012) and I rode along the top and through the Leadville Race Series arch. They announced my name and I finished the final steep descent back to the start area with a huge sigh of relief.

Finishing before the rain
7:08, not bad for an untrained rookie dressed in running gear on a cheap bike
Relieved to be done in one piece
Later that evening, I received a text from my buddy JP that said: "First thing I did this morning was laugh at u going on a 50 mile bike race, untrained and with a Walmart bike. Thanks."

It finally struck me the crazy nature of what I had done. It took me seven hours to do this race. I don't know why I had shrugged it off as such a small thing up to this point. Perhaps I just couldn't get over my disappointment that I wasn't running? Or maybe I was just so clueless about what I was about to do that I couldn't respect it? Anyway, slogging around 8,000 feet of vertical on a bike with an average HR of 150 is no joke. I was sore and tired (still am tired, in fact). Luckily things went well and I didn't wreck or get a flat tire. Phew. I think I will stick to running from now on.

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