Monday, July 18, 2011

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Race Report

I just want to say this up front, I was sick most of the week leading up to the race. Miserably sick. It was a virus that started out as a general kind of deal and then moved into my sinuses by Saturday. My body tends to react harshly to viruses and I spike a temperature with a sore throat. How much did this impact my race? It's honestly tough to tell. My guess is that it cost me at least 10 or 15 minutes, in particular because of fatigue early in the race. That said, I had other challenges not related to my illness (read on...). I will also admit that it's possible it worked to my advantage (a little) by forcing me to go slow early on. Maybe.

Day Before

My sister arrived in town on midnight Friday (Saturday AM). I was feeling lousy, so my wife was kind of enough to go get her. She and Johanna got up and ran Saturday morning while I relaxed. Then we ran a few errands and headed up to Leadville. As soon as we arrived in the parking lot of our motel, I was greeted by a Leadman Competitor (he actually completed it last year). He teased me about doing only 2 of the 3 running legs. Nice guy. We checked in, relaxed and then headed for dinner. After realizing that the town was busy (duh!), we settled on dinner at High Mountain Pies (delicious pizza!). I managed to eat half a pie all by myself. Despite being sick, I think I did a reasonably good job of eating the days leading up to the race.

We went back to the motel and pretty much crashed right away. My sister and Johanna had been up late and then woke early to run, so they were tired. Savannah was tired from a lacrosse camp that day. One little thing that changed when my sister decided to come visit was the sleeping arrangements in our 2 queen bed room. Johanna and I wound up sleeping with my son Dylan -- short straw :) He's like the Tasmanian Devil when he sleeps. You usually wind up feeling like you were in an MMA bout the next morning. Anyway, he was not tired and tossed and turned and generally nagged us for at least an hour. My mind was spinning so I tossed and turned as well. Finally, at about 10 pm, I managed to fall asleep. Then at 2 am, we all simultaneously woke at the same time dehydrated. It is easy to get dehydrated at this altitude (10,200 feet). We finished ALL our water we had brought for the trip and went back to bed. In addition to being dehydrated, everyone was complaining about the heat. I was the only one not hot because I was running a temperature (maybe 101 or 101.5, enough to make my wife nervous). In fact, I was freezing. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, I decided the best thing to do was take a hot bath and break the fever. It worked, but I was not back in bed asleep until nearly 3 am. I woke again at 4 am and never really slept again. Oh well. I don't think anyone ever sleeps great before a big goal event, but it was the circumstances that I think made mine unique (more whining).

Start Line

I woke up at 4:45 and started getting ready, then we made our way over to the start line a little after 5:15 (race start is 6 am and I had not picked up my bib). The race start was "on the other side of town", but in Leadville that is literally about 1.75 miles. We were way too early. After picking up my bib and chip, we stood around in the cold (mid 40's) for a good 30 minutes. My wife shot this wonderful picture of me. Don't be fooled, I'm freaking out.

I decided to go with my brand new New Balance MT101 minimal trail shoes for this race. The whole day was a crap shoot, so why not? They were amazing. My toes got beat up pretty bad, but I'm not sure any shoe would have prevented that. The rock plate in the shoes definitely helps to soften the blows of technical terrain. And they are very light weight and quick drying. Great shoes. I wish I had bought them months ago.

I also decided to skip the Nathan Backpack in favor of two handhelds. My reasoning was two-fold. First, two handhelds are 44 oz of water, only 20 shy of a pack. And secondly, I find the packs to be kind of a pain on race day. It is harder to drink from them while running (my opinion) and they are harder to fill. I don't think this decision hurt me either. In fact, I will definitely roll this way as long as aid stations are 1.5 hours (or closer) in proximity.

Segment 1 of 8 - To Black Cloud Aid Station

This section of the course is almost entirely ascending, but it's mostly gentle. It covers less than 1000 feet by the first aid station.

Goal Time 1:20
Actual Time 1:24 (11:48 pace)
Grade A

The gun goes off and you start the race running up a sledding hill known as Dutch Henry. The start line is actually at the top! You run the hill for pride and a silver dollar (to the first person up). If you look closely, I'm at the bottom of the picture already in "trudge" mode.

The profile that I posted of the course a few days back does this section no justice at all. It is mostly a runnable grade (average about 2.5% grade) and rolling. This is a VERY runnable section. And you have to run some of it if you want to be a stud finisher. I tried to run it as best I could to take advantage of the cool temps and easy grade. I was nursing my electrolytes and following my nutrition plan already. The only significant draw back in this section was that I was stuck in the pack and the trail was very wet and crossed several small run off streams. Consequently, you would lose the occasional 10 seconds as you waited for a mass of people to decide how to cross without getting their feet soaking wet. If I run this race again, I will be more aggressive on this section. First of all, a decent ultra runner should be able to run a gradual hill like this with ease because hills and ultras go hand-in-hand. And secondly, it would have paid off to push to the front of the pack and avoid the herd. Nonetheless, I had done pretty much what I wanted to this point.

The first aid station is water only outbound. What?! Total FAIL in my opinion. This is an ultramarathon, where nutrition is paramount. You should be eating and drinking from the first step you take. Why the heck do they not have at least some electrolyte beverage and fruit here? Insane. I had finished off my GU drinks and refilled with water (my only option). I also ate a Bonk Breaker bar (250 cals) along the way.

A note about nutrition: A good ultra runner knows that nutrition is the key to a strong/quality finish. I followed an excellent plan to near perfection for 7 hours. After the Leadville Marathon I was concerned about my calves cramping, so I "pulled an AJ" and started researching like crazy. (I can't turn off the analytical mind!) Turns out I was likely not getting near enough electrolytes. In the conditions I'd be running I would need as much as 800 mg of Sodium per hour. Your average electrolyte beverage provides less than 300. Sodium pills? Those only provide an additional 40 mg each. No way I was eating 10 of those an hour. I finally found a SUPER electrolyte version of my favorite GU electrolyte beverage (600 mg of Sodium). The race also serves GU, but they use some other formula I'm not familiar with. So I decided I would mix my own every time I saw my crew (3 times) and make do in between. Again, this worked for 7 hours. The other part of the equation was to eat no less than 100 calories per 30 minutes and then all I could stomach at aid stations. I wound up eating mostly watermelon and other fruits at the aid stations. Watermelon with some salt tastes surprisingly good in the heat.

Segment 2 of 8 - To Printer Boy Aid Station*

This first half of this segment is marked with a steepening grade (maxing out at 12,000 ft). The remaining three and a half miles are a descent down a dirt road to aid station.

Goal Time 2:30
Actual Time 2:45
Section Time 1:21 or 12:05 pace
Grade: C-

The first part of this segment is the final 3 miles of the initial 10 mile ascent. Again, it is very runnable by an accomplished runner. My guess would be that a half mile, maybe one full mile, is actually too steep to run. It seemed to take forever to get to the top, particularly because the steepest part was the last part. And again, I was stuck in the herd.

Then you get to the top and start heading downhill to the aid station (roughly 3.5 miles). This is the first area where I think my illness was noticeable. It wasn't so much that I was in pain, it was that I was fatigued and just didn't have the gear I wanted. This hill was very runner friendly -- mild grade and well groomed gravel road. I just didn't get it done here. As a result, I probably lost 7 or 8 minutes of time just in those 3.5 miles.

When I arrived at the aid station, I was very happy to see my family and get some real food. My sister and daughter prepared some of my favorite GU beverage for me. However, Savannah had not figured out the logistics of pouring the wide mouth packet in a small(ish) opening like my water bottles, so she pretty much missed entirely! I ran over to my wife, who had the goodie bag, and grabbed another packet of powder to mix. As I set the water bottle down to dig in the bag, the remaining water and GU spilled all over my foot and soaked into my shoe. Awesome. Fortunately, Savannah kept it together and that was the only issue we had all day. Did I mention how amazing my crew was? I ate some fruit (watermelon, oranges, banana) and grabbed some more chews and hit the road.

Here are a couple of me coming into Printer Boy. This is the first time I had seen my family in nearly 3 hours and the first time I was getting aid.

My sister trying to give me some motivation and see what I needed.

Just after the aid station, there is a section of road that intersects the course. My crew was smart enough to rush down there and catch this photo (probably about a mile past Printer Boy).

Segment 3 of 8 - To Venir Aid Station

The first mile of this section remains in descent until a trough of about 10,800 feet. Then climbing resumes toward to the aid station, with the grade steeping as the miles go by.

Goal Time 3:30
Actual Time 3:44
Section Time 1:00 or 14:39 pace
Grade: B

I don't even know how to describe this section. It crushed my spirit. Ironically, I was pretty close to my intended segment split. But it was just a relentless climb and I was playing leap frog with several runners. Some of them passed me and I saw them later in the race. Others I never saw again. In general my power-walking helped me in this section. And it was getting HOT. This is a climb toward the same aid station that we used for the Marathon. However, it was a totally different path so I did not recognize any of it. At this point I was really doubting whether I had a quality time in me. Bad thoughts started to enter my mind. Instead of worrying about it, I just decided the appropriate thing to do was fight for each mile and eventually the hill would stop. When I got the aid station I once again got some of the "GU Brew", which I ended up hating, and some more fruit and kept going. On the ascent in here I had eaten another Bonk Breaker bar and still had some electrolyte chews.

In my opinion this was the second hardest segment on the course.

A note about the heat: It was 80 degrees in Leadville yesterday. That doesn't seem hot to some, but it's hotter than you realize. First of all, it was direct sun with very little breeze (most of the way). And on those dirt trails it just feels dry and kind of "Old West". Hard to explain. And secondly, at 10,000 or 12,000 feet in altitude the sun is much more intense and the air much more dry. It is estimated that the sun is 25% more intense in Denver (5200 feet) than at sea-level. While I doubt it's 50% more intense in Leadville, you get the idea: it felt hotter than 80 degrees! Sorry, had to whine about that for a moment. I am not a great heat runner, but I'm learning.

Segment 4 of 8 - To Stumptown Aid Station*

The first portion of this section (2.5 - 3 miles) is a saddle back ranging between 11,600 and 12,000 feet. The remaining 4 miles are a descent into the aid station at about 11,000 feet.

Goal Time 4:30
Actual Time 5:04
Section Time 1:20 or 14:34 pace
Grade: D

After leaving the aid station you continue to ascend until you reach Ball Mountain. Again I was struggling due primarily to a lack of energy. Then we entered the "saddle back" portion and got a chance to go downhill. I didn't even bother. Runners were flying by me now. Once we started to climb, the pace slowed and a couple or runners stopped to chat for the first time in nearly 4 hours. The first guy was a Leadville vet and remarked about how he was surprised we weren't passed by the lead runners yet. "Of course I didn't see any of the elites here today", he says. The second guy that stopped to chat was from Lubbock, Texas. He joked that he has to run a parking garage to hill train. LOL. This was his first run longer than 25 miles. I was thinking, "I sure hope you ran that parking garage 25 times breathing through a straw". (He finished behind me, but I don't know where I passed him.) He remarked that he'd been following me (and my strategy) for 15 miles. I told him that was hoping for 10 hours, but doubting it was going to happen. The Leadville vet was about 50 feet in front us and shouted back that we could negative split the course. A very uplifting comment, but I was still not in a good place mentally.

For those of you that read my Leadville Marathon report, you know that we ran Ball Mountain in that race as well. And I generally liked the Ball Mountain portion. When we finally reached the summit (through the snow field that still remains), I expected to go left and kind of circle the side of the mountain like we did at the marathon. Nope, we were going straight down. It was so steep that it hurt my knees just to try and walk it. And it was technical. I cannot figure out how someone road a bike down that! (It would be appropriate to note that Leadville stages a bike race the day before on the EXACT same course. Some people do both.) So I continued to walk, and continued to get passed. Eventually you reach the bottom and the grade evens out and even turns a little rolling. I was still in a bad place mentally and generally low on motivation and energy. I started thinking "why am I bothering? Maybe at the turn I'll ditch the iPod and Garmin and just turn the second half into a nice scenic hike". I was seriously considering taking the wife's camera from her and just enjoying the rest of the day.

Then my mentality started to improve. First of all, I started to see other runners struggling and got the clue that the race was just starting. Secondly, I started thinking about how my wife was texting Jon and giving him updates. I had told Jon that if I was within 30 minutes of my time I would be OK to go for it. I was exactly 30 minutes behind, but still in that range. Finally, I started to enjoy myself and run a little bit into the turn and came in feeling positive. It was a huge lift to see my family, particularly because they were very efficient this time. They took my water bottles and made my GU, bathed me in sun screen, fed me and sent me on my way. Indy Car look out! I did ask for my "floppy hat" instead of my visor to better protect against the intense sun, but it was behind in the car (not in my gear bag), a half mile away. That was my bad, not theirs. They assured me it would be ready at the next aid station.

A little more on nutrition: To this point I was executing to perfection. I was drinking 44 oz of electrolytes (at least 800 mg of sodium) per hour, 1 bonk breaker/protein bar (about 250 cals) every other hour, and a packet of energy chews in the other hour. Plus I was eating fruit at every aid station. I was easily consuming 400+ calories an hour. My best guess is that I consumed more than 400 fluid oz of liquid the entire day. I told you it was hot!

Reaching the half way point, one of the few times I felt decent all day.

Segment 5 of 8 - Return To Venir Aid Station

The first 4 miles after the turnaround start with a reasonable grade and then a steep climb (about 1,000 ft) up Ball Mountain, once again returning to 12,000 feet. The next 2.5 to 3 miles are back through the saddle back. You are in descent when you reach the aid station.

Goal Time 5:45
Actual Time 6:20
Section Time 1:16 or 13:57 pace.
Grade A

Crazy how things change. Suddenly, even though I was mostly walking, I felt energized. I had decided to go for a 6 hour second half (11 hour total run). I figured that was a good number to keep me going and that I could achieve it by mostly hiking the second half. There was about a mile section to run when you first left the aid station. The people coming in looked worse than I felt. I'm not alone! After the brief run, it was back to power hiking. And I was actually passing people. Then a cloud rolled in! I stopped (mentally at least) and thanked the Lord. What a gift. For the steepest part of this climb, probably 1000 feet in a little over one mile, it was raining and hailing on us. I loved it. The runners around me were rejoicing as well. Funny thing is that it wasn't raining back at the aid station, according to my wife. At this point I was closing in on 28 miles and there were still people passing me outbound -- long day for those folks.

After getting up Ball Mountain I started running down the saddle back and powered into the aid station. I felt good and started thinking 10 hours could be in play, maybe even a given? Gotta love an ultra. Where else can you be 35 minutes behind your goal time and be thinking: "you're telling me there's a chance?". When I arrived at the aid station I was the only guy running (downhill). Here it was almost 30 miles into an ultra and I'm still running. Sweet! (I didn't know it yet, but this aid station may have been my undoing.)

I filled up with more of their "GU Brew" and ate some more fruit. And I took off. I had a good segment mentally, but this might be the hardest segment on the course. Again, no idea how someone gets a bike up that climb. I suppose they carry it.

Segment 6 of 8 - Return To Printer Boy Aid Station*

The descent continues for the first couple of miles on this return leg. Then the climb back toward 12,000 feet starts a little after mile 30.

Goal Time 6:45
Actual Time 7:05
Section Time 47 minutes or 11:45 pace.
Grade A-

This segment outbound was a killer. Paybacks are grand. After I left the aid station I was running downhill baby. And I kept laughing about how much I hated this segment on the way in. I was still the only guy around me that was consistently running. However, I had stopped drinking. I figured it was because I was running downhill and that I would make it up later. At some point there was a brief hill that I hiked, still no drinking. Finally I made my way up a hill in a little forest and into the aid station. Both of my water bottles were half full. Uh oh. I had made good time, but at what cost?

When I handed the water bottle to my sister, I figured out the problem. That stupid "GU Brew" got all foamy when it was sloshing around in my water bottle. Why? That was the first time that happened all day. When we mixed our own, we never had that problem? I dumped my half empty bottles of foam and my sister made me some more of the good stuff. And they had the "floppy hat"!

They were shocked to see me come in so early. I had made up significant time.

Here I am coming back into the Printer Boy, the last time I would see my family until the finish (3 hours later). You can see Dylan (back to the photo), where he was perched on a rock and staring down into the forest on lookout for me. I high-fived him as I ran by.

Segment 7 of 8 - Return To Black Cloud Aid Station

The first three miles are in ascent to 12,000 feet (for the last time). The remaining miles begin the descent back home and toward 10,000 feet.

Goal Time 8:15
Actual Time 8:40
Section Time 1:32 or 13:49 pace
Grade C-

When I left this aid station I was feeling good. I knew I had a 3+ mile hike in front of me, but it was mostly gentle and easy terrain. (If I ever want to be able to go sub-9 in a 50 miler, I would have to be fit enough to run at least part of a hill like this). I started power walking and was enjoying it. The people around me were no longer passing me. In fact, I was the hunter. I passed a guy and chatted briefly. I had done some poor math somewhere and told him we had 2 miles left in this climb and it was downhill to the finish. It was more like 4 miles. Whoops. That guy must be pissed at me! Fortunately, I didn't see him again.

About mile 34, the power walking didn't feel so good anymore. My stomach was suddenly a mess! It felt like really bad stomach cramps. Did I have use the bathroom? Was it gas? Was I hungry? Was it related to my illness? No idea. But it hurt. It hurt just to walk, let alone run. I kept walking uphill and made a decent pace to the top, but the stomach would be an issue nearly the rest of the way (more than 13 miles). Because I was so uncomfortable, I stopped eating altogether -- with nearly 3 hours to go. Drinking became an exercise in forcing stuff down. I would have been overjoyed at the sensation to go relieve myself in the woods, but it never came. It just remained uncomfortable.

As I said, I miscalculated and thus this hill went on FOREVER. What I thought was a gentle, easy power walk, turned into an infinite march up a dusty mine road. And it was getting steeper as we went. Finally, I reached the top and started down the 10 mile descent home. Unfortunately the stomach still hurt. And while I could maintain a slow jog (10 min pace) for brief periods (5 - 7 minutes), it was very uncomfortable. When I arrived at the aid station, a very helpful volunteer ran up the trail about .10 miles to meet me. He took both my bottles, ran down the trail, opened them, and refilled them. "Water only!", were my instructions. Screw that "GU Brew". They were so efficient, I barely stopped moving. He offered me food -- no way. Besides, I still had chews in my pocket from 2 aid stations ago that I hadn't opened.

Even though I felt lousy, I had 7 relatively easy miles remaining and 80 minutes to do it. I should have this in the bag, right?

A note about tummy issues: So what went wrong with my tummy? I don't know. But here's what I think. First of all, I think that foamy "GU Brew" created a bubbly/gassy situation in my tummy. Secondly, I think I may have pushed a tad too hard after I became over joyed that I was making up time. It was the heat of the day and I probably should have been thinking "conserve" instead of "huge negative split". And then, obviously, it just compounded as I slowly quit drinking and eating all together. A possibility I discovered after the race is the Ibuprofen I had been taking to keep my fever in check. Stomach and GI discomfort are a common side-effect for ultra runners using large doses of Ibuprofen.

Segment 8 of 8 - To The Finish

The remaining miles are gently downhill (and rolling a bit) returning to 10,000 feet in Leadville.

Goal Time 10 hours
Actual Time 10:07
Section Time 1:27, or a pace of 12:16
Grade B

These remaining miles were the longest run of my life, and a MAJOR mind game. I have run 7 miles countless times, it seems so easy. Not today. I just couldn't get a consistent run going. Even when I managed to run it was about a 10:30 pace. I was really just shuffling my feet. It was stinking hot out! I passed several people that asked me how much distance we had left... "you people aren't wearing a GPS"? The runners left around me were in two camps. Camp one was the runners that were still feeling good enough to maintain a reasonable jog and let gravity bring them home. Camp two was runners that were in full on damage control mode. I was in camp two. I must have tripped eighteen times. Each time my calf would cramp. "Stop doing that, AJ!", I shouted in my mind. But everyone was doing it. We weren't even lifting our legs. We were tripping over ants (ok, exaggeration). I'm sure it was comical for spectators.

I finally started to get my stomach figured out (too late). Turns out it was gas. (I apologize to those who were running near me!). Again, I think it was partly the foam. Funny you think you plan for everything and a foamy beverage takes you down! Eventually the gas became a product of an empty tummy (I think). I was more comfortable "down there", but it didn't really help my finish because I was so far in calorie deficit. The only way to come back would have been to stop and eat. I wasn't doing that with so little left to go. I did managed to swallow about 100 calories of chews, but that was it. (Please note, I'm not trying to dramatize. I realize that all ultra runners go through this. It's sorta what ultra running is all about, at least for us mortals.)

With about 2 miles to go, a nice man stopped and asked me for some water. He only had 1 water bottle and had run out. I had stopped drinking almost entirely. Why not? I filled about half of his water bottle, though I could have easily given him all of one bottle. He could tell I was struggling, and in return for my generosity, he ran with me for more than a mile to keep me upright and moving. Turns out he's a Leadville vet as well. He has done pretty much all their events (both of them this weekend), including the 100 multiple times. When I told him this was my first 50, he congratulated me for a fine time (almost). Then he gave me a bunch of advice on recovery and how to handle the next few days. With about .75 miles to go I was spent and he shuffled on.

The end is slightly different than the finish because you don't come back down Dutch Henry. Instead, they bring you in some side door that includes a fire road. And worse, it includes a hill. Who in their right mind decided this was a good idea? It was probably 50 feet of climb in half a mile, but it felt like Mt Everest. Finally I shuffled through the finish line, heard my name, and saw my family. It was over. I wish I had done a cart wheel or something cool, but I settled for hugs and high-fives from my family. Ten hours and seven minutes on the clock. I missed my goal by seven minutes. However, I secretly hoped for more like nine and a half hours. We have to dream big, right?

Delirious, I started wandering around. A lady grabbed me and put a metal around my neck. Another lady grabbed me and took my timing chip. I saw a huge bucket of Arizona Ice Teas and I went straight over and grabbed one. I had very little regard for who they belonged to, but I was assuming they were for runners. Then I stumbled over to my family and sat down. After I recovered a bit, I learned the ice tea was part of a post-run meal, so I grubbed on a pulled pork sandwich! We chatted for about a half hour while I ate. My family was impressed by many of the participants and told me stories of those they had seen and talked to. I think the 56 year old woman that finished in 9:15 impressed them the most, rightfully so!

After some quick math, we determined that we had to hit the road to spring the dog out of the kennel. And with that, we were blew right on out of Leadville quick as we blew in!

Rounding the corner, the longest 7 miles of my life is over!

Here's me trying to look tough and composed at the finish. After watching some of the other runners come in -- I looked like a million bucks.

Here is what your feet look like after 50 miles and nearly 16,000 feet of total elevation change. I've got blisters that look like new toes. Savannah called them Sumo blisters.

Here is my final Garmin Connect stats. After all that elevation change, no wonder my feet are mangled. I officially finished 80th overall (of 310 starters), about 30 spots lower than I hoped to be. It was good enough for 30th in my age group (M 30 - 39).

* - Indicates where I got to see my family/crew

Closing Thoughts

Me as an Ultra Runner

This is my first summer doing any real trail running or ultra running. Based on that, I would say it was a success. That said, I clearly need to improve my skills as a trail runner. I plan to continue ultra running and learning to be a better hill runner (up and down) is paramount to getting better and taking on longer, more challenging courses. On the positive side, I think I make up for a lack of skill with guts and intelligence. Understanding what it takes to be successful at ultras was a key advantage to my first time out. And I am a very good power walker: my guess would be I'm in the top 15% of runners in this category (thanks to my long-ish legs and "healthy" glutes). While it was not required that I do back-to-back long runs to be prepared for a 50 mile run, I'm sure glad I did. My endurance was the cornerstone of my summer, and I plan to continue that. I was very close to negative splitting a 50 mile run and I did negative split 3 marathons this year.

Recognizing Others

I simply have to thank my wife, sister and kids for being my crew. They were amazing. We had a few bumps in our first aid station, but they were a well oiled machine at aid station 2 and beyond. The dedication they showed by coming to Leadville and then standing around for 10 hours to catch 15 minutes of me is simply without parallel. I am so grateful that my sister was willing to carve 2 days out her crazy life to fly out here and be a part of this. Her prayers and support were awesome. Johanna has been a rock in this whole process. I know that being the spouse of a dedicated runner is not easy, and I thank her very much for making the most of it.

My crew (except my wife who was taking the photo). They dutifully toted around a bag with spare clothes, spare shoes, and a bag with nutrition all day. Studs.

Being part of a crew is tough work! It often requires that you hike half a mile or more from a parking spot to the aid station. This might be my favorite photo of the whole day. They are power walking and leaning into the hill, just like me.

And there's my beautiful wife. Apparently Dylan had shoe duty all day. He must have been disappointed as I went the whole race with one pair of shoes and socks.

And of course I have to say thanks to all my DailyMile friends (you know who you are) for their fellowship, advice, training runs, gifts, etc... I literally could not have done this without you guys. This extends to my friends Tony and Aaron as well. I am lucky to have the support of friends like you!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Leadville Marathon Race Report

There are about a million things to say and I'm sure I will forget more of them than I remember. But let me just say that experience was unique from any race I have ever done. I still have mixed feelings about whether I want to do more of it or less. While this is technically a marathon, it's really an ultra in disguise. In ultra-tradition, I will break my run down by aid station.

A quick note about aid stations. They describe the course as having 7 aid stations. But really there are only 3. You hit Viner 4 times (before and after each leg of Ball Mountain), there is another aid station at the base of Mosquito pass (Resurrection) that you hit twice (my family was allowed to hang there and wait for me!), and then the aid station at the summit (almost) of Mosquito pass.

Before the Race

We stayed in Breckenridge last night with a friend and his wife. It is really a shame that we didn't get to stay longer because Breck is a cool town and they had lots to share and enjoy. Unfortunately, we were in and out in less than 12 hours. We didn't even enjoy the special beer I brought for my friend. I had an alarm set for 5:30, but was up earlier stirring and preparing mentally. We dressed and packed and were on the road by 6 am. It was such a HUGE advantage to be close to Leadville and not stress about that 2.5 hour drive. Before the race we picked up my bib and met up with Stacia W. and her family. It was fun to meet her and chat as we killed time waiting for the race to start.

Race Start to Viner 1 – 3.8 miles

The race starts with a shotgun blast and a police escort out of town! It was a mass of people and I quickly pushed to the front, probably a little harder than I should have. I set a goal of finishing in 5 hours, but there was some part of me that thought I was superman and might be able to do it faster. Those thoughts were QUICKLY erased on this stretch. It is immediately up hill and relentless. There wasn’t more than a half mile that was consistently runnable by more than the elites. And it got more and more technical as you went. I was dying even though I was in “power-walk” mode almost the entire way. At the aid station, I grabbed a GU shot refilled my water bottles and took off.

Viner 1 to Viner 2 – 7.1 miles

This is a loop around Ball Mountain and contains, you guessed it more climbing! There are sections in here where you could run – but only in .25 mile bursts. Then it was back to power-walking. Sigh. After an ascent around the backside – through a snow drift – it finally descends back into the same aid station you just left! This section is unquestionably one of the most beautiful sections of single track that I have ever run. The views of the Leadville mining district are amazing. And I love the way the trail sort of slices sideways across the mountain with a smooth descent. Incredible. I managed to throw down a piece of watermelon – haven’t tried that yet! I also started popping electrolyte caps like crazy – at least 2 an hour until I ran out. Doh!

Viner 2 to Resurrection 1 – 9.8 miles

Finally a chance to run and downhill! This portion of the run takes you through some of the old mining areas in Leadville – very cool. And it is almost all descent. The road is very manageable dirt road for the mining operations. I was feeling pretty good as I pulled in and saw my family waiting for me! It’s very casual and you can just hang and talk with them. They could have “crewed” me if I needed it. I again refueled, gave everyone a kiss, and took off for MOSQUITO PASS! I was on track at 1:45 to this point, but the pass was looming large in my mind.

Resurrection 1 to Mosquito Pass Summit – 13.05 miles

From the aid station there is a little bit of descent and then a bit of flat at the base of Mosquito Pass. This was where I saw the lead marathoner coming back in (passing me at about mile 10!). I assume he won. Mosquito Pass is an ATV road and highly rocky and technical. To make matters worse, it was like a river flowing down for the first half – water everywhere! I had made up my mind not to run one foot of it. It wasn’t worth it. My power-walking was doing well for me for the first third and then it got steep – up to 15% grade. I cannot even describe the scene and what was going through my head. People just looked dejected and in pain, like a scene from a war movie with deject troops marching home. It was brutal. I seriously had doubts about whether I could finish the race because I started getting dizzy (from the 13,200 feet in altitude no doubt) and even power-walking was barely netting me 20 min/mile. Harsh. And then out of nowhere you reach the top. No fan fare, just some guys taking your bib number and you head back down. I was at 2:40 – way behind my intended pace. Up until this point I was trailing the girl that I believe finished second for women. She smoked me down the pass and I didn’t see her again until the finish.

Mosquito Pass Summit to Resurrection 2 – 16.4 miles.

Things changed entirely the minute I got to go downhill. First of all it just felt good! Since I walked all the uphill, my quads felt good. They were happy to take the pounding as I took some of the pressure off my calves. Secondly, I knew the remaining miles were net downhill by almost 2000 feet. Not bad. I did not intend to run fast down Mosquito, but I was going with the flow and ready to be off the mountain. I didn’t even care that I was splashing in the water. By the time I reached my family for the second time at Resurrection, I was back on pace with a few minutes to spare. I had seen my family twice in 1hour and 20 minutes and only covered 6 miles – whoa.

If you look close, you can see me coming up the trail in a bright yellow shirt.  Cool photo of the area!

Resurrection 2 to Viner 3 – 19 miles

More up hill, sweet! Not really. At least this section was not technical at all. As I mentioned earlier, it’s fairly well groomed county road. It is also not insanely steep. If you wanted to put in a good time (4:30 ish), this would be the section where you’d have to work harder than I did. Instead, I decided to walk just about all of it except a few sections that were manageable. I noticed that the benign conditions – relatively speaking – allowed me to power-walk at a sub 14:00 pace. Perfect. I knew my opportunity to go sub 5 hours would rest entirely on being able to run the final 5 miles, most of which is downhill. However, during this section I got extremely hot and I was running alone – no runners within a quarter mile each direction. I had not been drinking enough since Mosquito Pass. My calves were cramping. Better get uphill fast. During my power-walks I finished off my fluids and splashed in some in energy chews. Nasty. When I arrived back at Viner, the nice lady at the aid station said to me “your at 19 miles, you look great!”. And I replied, “it feels like 40 miles”. Considering the cramps and my general level of hunger, I decided this was a good opportunity to eat a banana and a quarter of a PB&J sandwich. Off I went to Ball Mountain.

Viner 3 to Viner 4 – 22.4 miles

After leaving the aid station you continue to climb and wind back around Ball Mountain. Ball Mountain was certainly one of the coolest parts of the course. Much of it was single-track and several sections were covered in snow. In fact, I managed to take a slightly different path (only by about 20 yards) on the inbound leg and wound up sliding down the snow field instead of using the trench they had dug. There are sections here to run downhill for a little while and take the strain off my calves. But the final half mile into the aid station is more climbing. Suck. My calves were done and it was HOT – about 12:30 in the afternoon. By this point I had lost track of my splits by aid station. However, I knew I just needed to average a bit better than 5 miles per hour and I’d have a shot.

Viner 4 to Home – 26.13 miles

As I was coming up to Viner (again!), I passed two runners and then saw a third that seemed to be struggling. He managed to regroup and beat me to the aid station. But he stopped and refueled. I did not. As we headed downhill toward the finished the man – who looked sort of like Dean Karnazes – said to me “we got a shot to break 5 hours”. Let’s do this! Appropriately Metallica started blaring in my iPod. He ran out ahead on the technical portions of the downhill, but I managed to keep him within a hundred yards or so. We hit a short hill and I caught him with some more power-walking. Then we went downhill and he darted ahead again. I started singing aloud to my iPod despite being totally parched. He must of thought I was insane ;) As we began to bend back into town, I almost took a wrong turn and he put me back on track. Then I started hauling into the finish and blew by him. At one point I was running sub-7:00 in the final mile (6:14 to be exact). I was getting emotional thinking about it all – all my hard work paying off! And my family was here to enjoy it with me! Appropriately not long after my emotional moment I saw my wife, but she was alone? A hundred yards or so later my kids came running out on the course and finished with the last 50 or 100 yards with me. Awesome.

I officially finished 25th out of roughly 380 starters with a time of 4:55 (the link provided shows two runners ahead of me that were later considered DNFs).  You can view my Garmin connect stats.

A little wrap up

I am very happy with my time, but I have work to do. I think my eating was OK, though I didn’t push it because I didn’t have to with the shorter distance. But clearly I was dehydrated and it would have been a struggle to continue 20 more miles. If the weather is a warm as it was today, finishing 50 miles is going to be a bigger challenge than I was expecting. Interestingly when I talked with Stacia W. before the race, she mentioned that I was probably going to struggle above 12,000 feet. She nailed it! I didn't have any trouble with altitude below 12,000 feet, but Mosquito Pass was like a place from another galaxy. Fortunately there is very little of the 50 miler that is above 12,000 feet :) This was an amazing experience and I think everyone should do it at least once -- even if it is just the heavy half marathon (15.5 miles).

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Leadville Silver Rush Race Plan/Strategy

Fun Stats

  • General estimates indicate that the Silver Rush is about 7,750 feet of climbing
  • Estimates suggest 40 of the 50 miles are runnable by most accomplished runners
  • The race varies between 10,000 and 12,000 feet (touching 12K four times)
  • A reasonable prediction is that a 50 mile run should take 2x your marathon time plus 2 hours, or about 10 hours for me.
  • A more conservative prediction is that you should triple your current marathon time (when converting from road to trail running), or about 10.5 hours for me.
  • It will take approximately 8,500 calories for me to complete the event
  • I need to consume approximately 4000 calories to complete the event (250 - 400 cals/hr)
  • I need to consume at least 400 - 800 mg of Sodium per hour, closer to 800 if it is hot.

Training Plans

I have found two training plans that I like: Hal Higdon's and Runner's World. Frankly they are pretty similar with the exception of one (the Higdon plan) starting earlier. But those first 8 weeks on Higdon are just basing weeks. While there are some subtle differences -- like the number of speed workouts -- they are on the whole the same. The design of both is to mimic running 50 miles by doing long runs on both Saturday and Sunday. At this point, I think I will follow the plan from Runner's World (RW) because I am going to run the Steamboat Marathon in June and it fits better in that schedule. RW has a cut back week after the Steamboat Marathon and then the two peak weeks. On occasion I may deviate from the plan to run some MLRs or something that interests me more than just an average 8 mile run every day.
If you are interested, you can follow my daily training on the DailyMile.

Update Toward the end of my training I discovered a wonderful book called Relentless Forward Progress which included several training plans. I found myself slowly gravitating toward those plans and away from my original plans. The biggest update here is that he does not feel it is necessary to run many Back-to-Back long runs (B2B) for a 50 miler. I was planning to do 5 of them and stuck with that portion of my original plan. I have negative split every race this year, so I think it helps!

Equipment and Food


I bought a Nathan Hydration pack early in training and I plan to use it for the race. Estimates suggest I should drink as many as 250 oz of fluid, or 4 of the 2L bladders, in a 50 mile run. I have trained with a variety of electrolyte beverages and I would say that GU is my favorite. Fortunately that is also what they serve on race day. However, there is not enough Sodium in traditional electrolyte beverages so I need to find ways to increase my sodium intake (I sweat a lot!). On trick will be to mix in some water with electrolyte pills, which are 40 mg of sodium each. If conditions get extreme (hot and sunny), I will likely mix in some Pedialyte. Pedialyte is an electrolyte monster -- nearly triple the sodium of a typical sports drink. It doesn't have much in calories, so I would have to make up he differential in eating more.

Garmin 305

I purchased a Garmin 305 for Xmas and I love it. However, the battery is unlikely to last my whole run. Perhaps one of my DailyMile friends has a unit that will last 12 hours that they can lend me?


I have been training with the Columbia Ravenous as my trail shoe. I have now put more than 200 miles on them and comfortably finished distances longer 20 miles at least three times. I just purchased a pair of Newbalance MT101 and may experiment with them race week. If the fit is good and I can break them in, I may go with them on race day. My Columbia's will definitely be part of my race day plan and probably will be my main shoe depending on how the Newbalance break in. My third option will be my Asics GT2150 (road shoe) that I have doing many of my long runs in because they have good cushioning and support. No matter what I will have two pairs of shoes and three or four pair of the my Baleage moisture wicking socks.


I have been working hard the past month on my food. The good news is that under the right conditions I have found I can tolerate most things. I really like the Bonk Breaker bars when I need some protein and fat in my system. For lighter, more traditional products, I have had good luck with Honey Stinger chews and GU shots. (GU is served at Leadville). The aid stations will have a lot of "normal" food likey PB&J, fruit, pretzels, chips, and even pizza! During the Leadville Marathon I found fruit to be a very wonderful hunger quencher. Finally, I have some left over EFS Liquid Shots from training. They are calorie dense (400 cals) and full of electrolytes, but they are hard on the stomach if consumed too quickly. The real key is not necessarily in what I eat, but to eat enough early in the race to avoid bonking. I might also need to substitute in some products that have extra sodium to make up for the beverage short-comings. I will likely load up at REI before race day and carry as much as I can fit in my Nathan. Useful food tips
  • In general, you should shoot for between 250 and 400 calories an hour.
  • The proportions of what you eat and when (drinks versus solids, all at once or spread out) are runner specific
  • Most of your calories come from carbohydrates. (sports drinks, energy gels, and energy chews) as these calories are easily digested.
  • consume a mix of both simple and complex carbohydrates to provide a blend of quick and more sustained energy.
  • Drink at least half a cup of water (or more if it’s a sugar-based drink) for each energy gel or 100 calories of energy chews you consume.
  • Limit your protein consumption to no more than 20 percent of your caloric intake on a run.
  • After hours of eating even large quantities of carbohydrates, it’s common for one’s stomach to start rumbling. Fat takes care of that.

Race Day Food List
  • Pedialyte (2 bottles)
  • Gatorade (2 bottles)
  • Electrolyte Pills
  • Stinger chews, Margarita Bloks, Bonk Breaker Bar, GU shots
  • EFS First Endurance (at least 2) - 400 cals each
  • Red Bull (4 - 6)
  • Tums
  • Immodium AD
  • NSAID (Advil or Excedrin) for sore muscles in the last 10 miles
  • Candided Ginger (for upset tummy)


Excedrin, which combines acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. I hold off on using NSAIDs until the second half of a race. If there’s a particularly nasty descent late in the race, I’ll often take a dose 30 to 60 minutes before I begin it.

Drop Bag (at mile 25)

Your drop bag(s) should include solid fuel (your favorite energy bars, candy bars, or gels), sunscreen, long-sleeve T-shirt and/or nylon windbreaker, clean socks and an alternate pair of shoes, and Vaseline or skin lube, tape (for feet) and powder, NSAID. Since I have a crew, I probably won't have a drop bag. Instead, I will have all these items with them when I see them at the 1/4 (Printer Boy Out), 1/2 (Stumptown), and 3/4 (Printer Boy In) parts of the course.

Race Day Strategy and Plan

Times are currently VERY ROUGH estimates based on what others have done and the course. I expect my pace to fall off as I get tired. All times are cumulative. Course Map

Segment 1 of 8 - To Black Cloud Aid Station ~7 miles

This section of the course is almost entirely ascending, but it's mostly gentle. It covers less than 1000 feet by the first aid station. Goal time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Segment 2 of 8 - To Printer Boy Aid Station ~6.5 miles (14 Total Miles)

This first half of this segment is marked with a steepening grade (maxing out at 12,000 ft). The remaining three miles are a descent down a dirt road to aid station. Goal time is 2 hours and 30 minutes total.

Segment 3 of 8 - To Venir Aid Station ~4.5 miles (18 Total Miles)

The first mile of this section remains in descent until a trough of about 10,800 feet. Then climbing resumes toward to the aid station, with the grade steeping as the miles go by. Goal time 3 hours and 30 minutes total.

Segment 4 of 8 - To Stumpftown Aid Station ~6 miles (23.5 Total Miles)

The first portion of this section (2.5 - 3 miles) is a saddle back ranging between 11,600 and 12,000 feet. The remaining 4 miles are a descent into the aid station at about 11,000 feet. Goal time is 4 hours and 30 minutes total.

Segment 5 of 8 - Return To Venir Aid Station ~6 miles (29 Total Miles)

The first 4 miles after the turnaround are a fairly steep climb (about 1,000 ft), once again returning to 12,000 feet. The next 2.5 to 3 miles are back through the saddle back. You are in descent when you reach the aid station. Goal time 5 hours and 45 minutes total.

Segment 6 of 8 - Return To Printer Boy Aid Station ~4.5 miles (33.5 Total Miles)

The descent continues for the first couple of miles on this return leg. Then the climb back toward 12,000 feet starts a little after mile 30. Goal time is 6 hours and 45 minutes total.

Segment 7 of 8 - Return To Black Cloud Aid Station ~6.5 miles (40 Total Miles)

The first three miles are in steep ascent to 12,000 feet (for the last time). The final three miles (starting about mile 37) begin the descent back home and toward 10,000 feet. Goal time 8 hours and 00 minutes total.

Segment 8 of 8 - To The Finish ~7 miles (47 Total Miles)

The remaining miles are downhill returning to 10,000 feet in Leadville. Goal time is 10 hours total.

Others' Blogs

Other good sites

Pre-Race Check Lists


  • Shake-out run
  • Look at gel selection


  • Grocery and last-minute supply shopping
  • Charge GPS unit
  • Pack post-race bag
  • Empty cooler
  • Empty unnecessary stuff from car
  • Pack gear
  • Shower and shave before bed

Race Morning

  • Pack iPod Shuffle and preferred headphones
  • Hydrate
  • Apply sunblock
  • Apply Bodyglide to inner thighs
  • Apply nipple Band-Aids


My crew will consist of my amazing family! My wife, daugther, son, and my sister. I am super excited to have them share in this journey. Attention: Crew for Racers! In order to ensure the safety of the Silver Rush racers we allow crew to drive up to Printer Boy and Stumptown Aid Stations. Please be sure to clock your mileage with these directions.

Directions to Printer Boy: Take Highway 24 north back toward downtown Leadville. Past the curve in the highway (right before hitting the historic downtown district) make the first right hand turn on to Monroe Street. Head up to the top of the Street and turn right onto Toledo which turns into County Road 2, otherwise known as California Gulch. Continue up California Gulch for 3.5 miles and you will see aid station. BE CAUTIOUS as the California Gulch road does intersect with the race course (at 2.5 mile from Harrison Ave turn off). RACERS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY!!

Goal is to be at this aid station around between 2:30 and 3:00 hours outbound and 6:45 to 7:15 inbound.

Directions to Stumptown: Take Highway 24 north back toward downtown Leadville. Turn right at 7th Street (one block past stoplight). Head up 7th Street which will bring you up through the Mining District. Veer right off onto County Road 38 (2.7 mile from Harrison Ave.). This is a VERY rough, dusty road, please drive with caution. Another .6 mile to Stumptown Aid Station
Goal is to be at this aid station around between 4:30 and 5:00.