Sunday, July 21, 2013

Guest Post: Silver Rush 50

by Steve Poling
(Thanks, AJ!)

The Silver Rush 50 Mile Race weekend was shaping up to be epic fun.  I was excited to fly out to Colorado as I’d never been there before.  I knew it would be a blast to hang out with friends and run a tough ultramarathon in the mountains of famous Leadville.  The main event for the weekend was the Silver Rush 50 Mile Race, which takes place on an out-n-back mountain course from elevations of 10,000’ - 12,000’, with nearly 8,000’ of climbing and 8,000’ of descending.  

A huge thanks for AJ for making this weekend possible.  After picking me up at the airport, AJ began telling me about the area and took me to his place for dinner with his wonderful family.  After a restful night, with AJ’s dog Rufus keeping me company, we got up early and got ready to head to Leadville.  Chuck, his daughter and Jon arrived at AJ’s and we were off.  AJ’s daughter, master crew chief of Leadville endurance events, also joined us for the adventure.  I think AJ’s daughter has more experience in Leadville than most endurance athletes who have been there.  The drive to Leadville was so scenic.  It’s hard to describe the beauty of Colorado.  Definitely the most beautiful place I have ever been.  I rode with Jon and he told me lots of stories about the areas as we drove through the mountains.  He may or may not have gotten pulled over (or pulled himself over) and talked his way out of a speeding ticket.  The highlight of the day was the planned hike up to Hope Pass.  You don’t normally go on a 3.5 hour hike (with 3,350’ of climbing) two days before a race but this was a special hike to a spectacular pass.  I loved it!  AJ brought a special beer to toast the epic ascent.

Chuck, AJ, and I on Hope Pass.

The view from Hope Pass was spectacular.  I was cold and it was windy but I could’ve taken in this view all day. (and I was often cold this weekend....being from sunny, hot Arizona!)

We woke up Saturday ready to crew for AJ racing the Silver Rush 50 Mountain Bike Race.  Jon, Chuck, and I ran an easy 30 minutes after breakfast.  It was my first time running at 10,000’.  The elevation didn’t negatively impact me as much as I feared.  Mostly, it was harder to run easy and my heart rate was elevated by the easiest of running efforts.  Once my mind adjusted to those realities, I didn’t worry as much about the altitude negatively impacting my race.  Due to his knee injury, AJ couldn’t run the 50 but decided to tackle the challenging MTB race.  We had a great time cheering and crewing for AJ.  It’s a testament to his uber endurance athlete skills that he could perform so well in the race despite being a newbie bike rider.  It was fun to witness.

Mike, Jon, Chuck, and I crewing for AJ.

AJ at Printer Boy inbound downing a Red Bull.

On Saturday night, our pre-race dinner was Chuck’s famous homemade lasagna.  It was delicious.  We enjoyed the evening and then hit the sack for some restless sleep before the race.  I tossed and turned before my alarm went off at 3:45 am.  I had my usual pre-race breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich and coffee around 4 am.  My stomach was a little upset as I was a little anxious about the race.  Runners usually talk about everything and often share TMI so I’ll just briefly say that usually after coffee and breakfast, I hit the bathroom and take care of the main bathroom needs before a long day on the trails.  As race day anxiety would have it, I couldn’t go to the bathroom before the race.  Bummer.  I was just going to manage this later on the course.  I finished preparing my gear and drop bag and tried to take in some calories of Hammer’s Perpetuem around 5:30 am.  We took the short drive to the start line and were ready to roll.  Chuck, Mike, Jon, and I gave each other a quick good luck and we were set.  In no time, the gun went off and we were hiking up Dutch Henry Hill, which is the tradition in Leadville, a short, steep climb to reach the race course.  I ran with Jon and since we didn’t see Chuck or Mike, we chatted and settled in for the long day.  We took it easy early, with miles in the 9:00-11:00 minute pace depending on the climb.  Miles 1-10 are a steady ascent going from about 10,000’ to 12,000’, for the first time of the day.  

Other than yesterday’s easy run, this was my first time running above 10,000’ elevation.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Probably the biggest difference for me going up to 12,000’, besides being cold, was that even though I ran easy, my heart rate was elevated.  It takes getting used to since runners usually go easier to keep the heart rate down.  It wasn’t really possible to keep the heart rate low when you run from 10,000 - 12,000’.  Around mile 4, my stomach was still upset and my body was telling me it was time to go to the bathroom.  I’ve spent enough time on the trails that this wasn’t a problem.  I didn’t panic but started to look for a tree so I could squat and hopefully feel a little better.  I think one of the keys to being a successful ultra runner is staying calm and keep problem solving on the go.  I’d spend enough time in the mountains during training to be ready for the quick squat behind a tree.  I always carry a few baby wipes in a sandwich bag for just such an occasion.  Sometime after mile 4, I told Jon that I had to find a tree and that I would likely not see him again.  He assured me that we would be running together again soon.  I left the trail, found a decent tree, and went to the bathroom.  I felt much better and was happy to see that I was only delayed a little over 2 minutes.  I figured that I wouldn’t see Jon or Mike again so I chatted with another runner and then put on my headphones.  It was great to ease into the race, take in the amazing scenery, and listen to some good tunes.  Before I knew it, I was at the first aid station and refilled my water bottles.  The trail got much steeper as I left the aid station and headed toward the top of this climb.  Before long, I saw two runners ahead that looked like Jon and Mike.  Sure enough, I came up on them and expressed my surprise at running with them again.  We had fun chatting and taking in the scenic climb to Iowa Amphitheater.  It was spectacular.  After climbing to 12,000’+, we began a 3 mile descent into the next aid station, Printer Boy.  

I was looking forward to seeing AJ at Printer Boy.  We thought we would give AJ a surprise and not only come in together but come in holding hands and running in unison.  We did just that and all had a good laugh.  We arrived at Printer Boy around 2:30 into the race.  AJ had warned us to be patient on the way out to Stumptown, the half-way point.  The course is tougher on the way out, around 4,600’ of climbing compared to the 3,200’ of climbing on the way back.  After a brief stop at Printer Boy for some water, we were off to the next section that had a steep ascent we were warned about.  It was neat seeing LT100 founder Ken Chlouber out there.  He is famous for saying "you are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can!". 

Ken Clouber at Printer Boy during the MTB race.

A little celebration on the timing mat at Printer Boy outbound.

 I ran with Jon and Mike briefly during this next section.  There was a descent and then ascent before we hit the main section, which was about a 3+ mile and 1,100’ climb.  I quickly got into a rhythm of power hiking and soon left them behind.  I felt strong climbing.  I really spent a great deal of time training for such a climb.  I paced this section fairly comfortably in miles of 14:55, 14:24 and 12:32, which took me back up to 12,000’ elevation.  That climb ended up being not as hard as I anticipated.  I think this was the case because my legs were still fresh with only being about 3 hours into the race.  The next section was an undulating trail around Ball Mountain.  This section was at the elevation of around 11,000’ and then went over to the drop towards Stumptown.  The several mile drop down to the turnaround at Stumptown and the climb back out was the toughest part of the day for me.  For the first time of the day, the sun came out from behind the clouds to heat things up.  I hit the turnaround in about 4:29, saw AJ, exchanged my gel flasks, and kept moving.  It was great to see AJ again, and I saw Mike and Jon coming in as I was headed out.

Coming into Stumptown to refill.

So far, I had stayed on top of my hydration and fuel.  I aimed for between 250-275 calories of Hammer’s Perpetuem and gel, 1-3 Endurolyte capsules, and 16-24 ounces of water per hour.  I was on target.  I hit a rough spot leaving Stumptown and climbing back up Ball Mountain.  I was hot and feeling tired.  The toughest was the last mile, which had about a 600’ climb and I struggled with an 18:49 mile.  I kept hiking and repeated the mantra: I can do this, I’m a good climber.  Over and over.  Finally the climb was over.  It felt like forever.  I recovered as I eased around Ball Mountain and back up to the aid station at 12,000’.  I knew there would be a sweet downhill after the aid station and I just hoped to have some legs under me to hammer it.  I remembered AJ’s words before the race, be patient getting to Stumptown and then smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.  I actually had to be patient till I climbed out of Stumptown but then I sure hoped that I had ‘em.  I got some water at the aid station and kept moving.  All day, I spent less than a minute at each aid station.  I tried to be quick and be gone.  I got some momentum going on the downhill and the cloudy skies rejuvenated my spirits.  The next mile, mile 30, was in 8:26 and I knew I was back in business.  I got excited.  The next mile flew by in 7:56, and the next as I headed up and down back into Printer Boy was in 9:39.  I was tired but hopeful for a strong finish.  

I was excited to see AJ again and came into Printer Boy about 6:30 into the race.  I dumped most of my gear as it was annoying me, kept a water bottle and gel flask, and kept moving.  I knew that I had one more tough climb back to 12,000’.  I figured it would take me about an hour.  From there, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to finish the race in 90 minutes and keep 9 hours in play.  I was going to give it my best shot.  I was tired and struggled up the last climb.  I was hoping to have some energy to be able to hammer the last 10 miles, which had the sweet descent to the finish line.  It had been raining for a while now, which was nice - a bit chilly, but welcome.  I got to the top of the climb and looked to get some momentum going as I headed to the last aid station.  After a 17:07 mile at the top of the climb, I hit an 8:25 mile to start the descent.  I was hanging on for dear life.  Just needed to get to the finish line.  It’s been said that one trait common to all ultrarunners is an incomparable tolerance for discomfort.  I think this is true.  There is nothing comfortable about running this late in such a long race.  But that is part of the challenge and part of the adventure.  If this were easy, then it wouldn’t be so alluring.  You have to stay focused on your goal and just keep pushing.  The next miles flew by in 8:52, 9:28, 8:22, and 9:21.  I was pleasantly surprised to keep the legs turning over this late in the race.  It was a mind warp for me to be running these splits after 40-ish miles of racing.  I haven’t had this experience before but didn’t dare slow down as I just wanted to collapse at this point.  I was beat.  My stomach was upset and I didn’t feel like taking in any calories.  But I knew I needed some calories.  I sucked on a couple of peppermints, which helped my stomach settle a bit.  I took a gel, chased with water, and was looking forward to some coke at the aid station.  Nothing like some liquid sugar and caffeine to keep me going.  There were a couple hills towards the end and I was exhausted.  The last couple miles were in the 10:00-11:00 pace.  I already knew that finishing in 9 hours was not in play but had been pushing to stay under 9:10.  Why?  Just because it sounded better to me to finish in the single digits above 9 hours.  Silly little things like that keep you pushing towards the finish line when you are exhausted.  I hit the top of Dutch Henry Hill and heard AJ yell my name.  I raised my arm to celebrate and made my way down the hill to the finish.  I threw my stuff on the ground at the bottom of the hill and ran to the finish line. I was so happy to be able to stop running.  I was also thrilled to run a solid ultramarathon.  I finished in 9:09, a 10 minute positive split, and in 61st place out of the field of 449.  I accomplished my main goal of running the race I thought I was capable of running.  That’s a great feeling.  I was dead tired and had an upset stomach for the rest of the day but it was worth it.  We had fun celebrating the successful day that all the guys had on the trail. 


I continue my learning of ultrarunning.  My hydration and nutrition went pretty well.  My plan is closer to being where I want it.  About the only thing I would’ve changed in this race is more gels late in the race and less Perpetuem.  In the last two hours of the race, I couldn’t choke down the Perpetuem without fear of vomiting.  The gels go down easier when my stomach is queasy.  The gels are also easier to chase with water.  I also would’ve drank a coke earlier in the race, probably at Printer Boy.  The extra sugar and caffeine late in the race would’ve helped me.  Overall, I took in about 3/4 of my calories from Perpetuem and 1/4 from Hammer gels.  I would keep that again for the first half of the race and change the second half to maybe 1/2 and 1/2 and down the stretch, just gel.  My training plan ended up being adequate.  Of course, I wish I had a longer period to train.  After recovering from the OP50,  I had a solid 10 weeks of training.  This included lots of 3+ hour runs and two runs of 4-5 hours.  I also had some quality back-2-back runs.  I did lots of climbing and really focused on being a better climber in the midst of long mountain runs.  I did some reading and watched some Youtube videos to learn some climbing techniques.  I’ll keep working on this.  Surprisingly, my feet were in great shape at the end of the race.  No aches, blisters or any problems.  The DryMax Trail socks and Altra Lone Peak shoes were golden.  Everything else in my hips and legs, particularly my knees, were achy and sore, which is to be expected.  I hope to run more ultras in the future.  They are a blast.  For now, my next races are the Tucson Marathon in December and then the Boston Marathon in April.  After that, I’ll likely be done with marathoning and turn my focus to ultramarathoning.  I love being in the mountains and going on long runs.  It makes me happy.
Thanks to the guys for making this a special weekend.  It was awesome being with them and their families.  And thanks to my friend Kathleen for helping me with my fuel plan and helping me deal with what to expect at higher altitudes.  And special thanks to AJ for this great weekend and for getting me into ultra running.  I couldn’t have done this without him :) 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. What an adventure! You had an awesome run and you got it done.