Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Crew Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was supposed to be running this race with my friends. Instead, I was forced to join them as crew while they took on the Leadville Silver Rush 50. The four runners I crewed were Mike, Jon, Chuck, and Steve.

Left to right: Mike, Jon, Chuck and Steve crewing me
Mike is the newest member of our running crew and a laid back guy. While he has run his share of quality road races, Mike seems to have found a new home running on the trails. His wife was actually in Leadville to crew for him, but I hoped I could assist him in some way on his first 50 mile attempt. It was a fun to hang with his family the entire weekend. It made me remember how great it is to have the support of your loved ones on a venture like this.

Jon is a long time running friend and has coached my son's soccer teams for years. He is a 3:01 marathoner and seemed motivated to do this race mostly as a new adventure as an opportunity to take a break from marathon racing. He is the most consistent runner of this group and really latched on quickly to the important parts of training specifically and nutrition.

Chuck is a colleague of mine and the most naturally talented runner of our group (a 2:42 marathoner). He spent most of the Spring training to run the Boston Marathon with a goal of 2:35 before being derailed by injury. My sense is that he enjoys the freedom and camaraderie of trail running, particularly since he has no peer among this group when doing race specific road runs! I was a bit surprised when he made some conservative decisions to back out of the Boston Marathon, calling the Silver Rush his "A race for the year".

Steve has become a very good long distance friend. We maintain pretty constant amount of communication even though he lives in Arizona. In March, I went down and ran the Old Pueblo 50 to be a part of Steve's first ultra. Due to injury, Steve wasn't able to run as well at Old Pueblo as he would have hoped. Afterward, I pushed hard to convince him to join our crew at Leadville. He also boasts a pretty stout 3:05 as a marathon PR.


We all got lost in my bike race the day before, but it was down to business right afterward. Dinner was picked specifically to prepare for the race and there was very little beer consumed. Since I was pretty wiped out from the bike race, I didn't mind a relatively chill night and an early bed time. The house was stirring with anxious runners before 4 am the next morning and I could smell the fresh brewed coffee. I jumped up and went down stairs to see how everyone was feeling. It was just your typical pre-race anxiousness. Everyone fooled around with their gear and ate breakfast as they killed time, waiting for the departure to the start line. At 5:30-sharp, we drove over the start line and I wished them luck as they jumped out of the car.  The rest of the crew continued to the top of Dutch Henry hill to watch them start their adventure.
Watching the runners from the top of Dutch Henry

After some pre-race chatter from the race director and the National Anthem, they were off up the hill and past us. We immediately took off to the Printer Boy aid station where we would for nearly 2 hours before seeing Chuck come through.

Chuck was all smiles before his epic day

Jon looking business like
My daughter and crew member extraordinaire, Savannah, and I waited at Printer Boy anxiously for the guys. She and I reminisced about my 2011 adventure on this course while she showed me all of the bug bites she had acquired crewing me at the MTB race the day before. It was also a good time for us to chat with Mike and Chuck's wives and for me to tell them all the things I think I know about this race. I remembered being hot at this stage in the race in 2011, but it was overcast and down right cold right now.

A few days before the race, Chuck and I discussed his pacing strategy and I told him that a relatively safe bet was to take his marathon PR and multiply that by three, which gave us a target of around 8 hours for him, but that he'd have to have guts to go for it since he hasn't been able to train the way he'd like up until the last six weeks. He made a pace "band" with several splits and, just like he always does, he came in on the aggressive side of his pace band. He was a little less than two hours to this station and running in fourth place. When I told him he was in fourth place, he seemed surprised and it stoked his already hot competitive fire. It was a relatively quick stop and he was off down into the forest. I wasn't too concerned with his fast-ish split until the defending champion of the event came in 5 minutes later.

Savannah and I waiting for Chuck
Slim Shady barely breaking stride out of Printer Boy

Somehow I remembered my 2011 split into Printer Boy being two and a half hours (it was actually 2:45) and I assumed the rest of the guys would better that time. Thus, I was expecting them around 2:15 or 2:20 and it was a long wait until they arrived in 2:30 (which turned out to be the perfect split for them).  They came in holding hands to tease me and all in really good spirits.

Crew rookie me dropping Mike's water bottle
All smiles as they rolled into together
Down into the forest they go
After a slightly slower stop than Chuck, they all left down hill in good spirits ready to tackle the toughest part of the course -- the toughest part in my opinion anyway. Savannah and I jumped in the car and hurried down to catch them crossing California Gulch for another quick photo. (Mike stopped to take a rock out of his shoe so he was not in this photo).

Crossing over and headed for the dreaded miles 16-18
Savannah and I had planned to go into town and get coffee to warm us up. But Chuck asked us to head back to the house and get him a second Garmin. We ultimately bailed on the coffee shop knowing that Chuck was running fast. Plus, the parking at Stumptown is not ideal and we wanted to get their early for a decent spot that didn't require us to hike half a mile.

After we arrived we stood around and chatted, the sun had finally come out and it was becoming quite warm. The mosquitos were biting and we all applied sun screen and bug repellent. Thinking Chuck was going to be on pace for an even split 8 hour run, I expected him at about 10 am. Instead, he showed up at 9:30, only about 15 minutes behind the leader and still tied for fourth place. He ran up to the aid station and came back down to where we were. The first thing he did was complain, saying that "this is hard" and that he wasn't eating. I responded by telling him that he was going too fast and being irresponsible. I honestly felt he was going to blow up at some stage, particularly if he couldn't take in some calories. He basically refused all of our aid attempts but an energy drink and took off.

Chuck looking a little gassed only half way done
A Bing energy drink, the only relief he'd take
Heading out to see what he has left in the tank
Chuck left us and a few things became apparent: 1) we'd be chasing him all day and 2) the gap between him and the other guys was growing large. I tried not to worry Chuck's wife too much, but I was truly worried that Chuck was going to have some tough moments in the second half. We discussed strategies on splitting up so we could continue to crew both Chuck and the other guys. I told Jen that she would have to leave to go meet Chuck no later than 10:45, figuring he could be back at Printer Boy by 11:15. Fortunately, the other guys came rolling in starting around 10:20 am. Steve came in first and he looked strong and in control. He threw his sunglasses on the ground and Heidi accidentally stepped on them. I offered him my sunglasses, but he insisted that they were just bugging him anyway. Like Chuck, he didn't seem to need much aid, just a pep talk and he was off.

Steve polishing off his water as he arrived

Mountain man ready for a second half battle
Just a few minutes after Steve, Mike came rolling in and looked strong and in control. One funny thing that continued to happen all day was that Mike had a very similar looking runner about 5 or 10 minutes in front of him.  We were consistently fooled by this "doppleganger" until Heidi took control at Printer Boy. We gave Mike some food and water and applied some screen. He chatted briefly with his family before taking off.
Mike rolling into Stumptown

Mike had lots of support
Pouring cold water on Mike to cool him off
And just a few minutes later Jon came into Stumptown. His light-hearted nature from just a few hours earlier had disappeared. I know as well as anyone that the turn back out of Stumptown is always a little low, but Jon was also experiencing cramps in his calves that started along that dreaded climb during miles 17 and 18. That is one of the things that seems to be consistent when things aren't going well for him, so I grew a little concerned that it might have long lasting effects on his race. We put some screen on him and we chatted a bit about Chuck. Like me, I don't think he could decide if he should be impressed or worried about Chuck. He reported that they saw Chuck coming back up Ball Mountain, now in seventh place, and seemed to be struggling.

Jon trying to out run this Ford into Stumptown.
Looking toward Ball Mountain as we discussed Chuck's race
All in all in good spirits despite the cramps
At this point in the race, I thought thing were pretty much on target other than Chuck being so far out in front. Even with that, I couldn't tell if he was going to destroy this race or have a melt down, obviously hoping for the former. The other guys were all pretty much on target. Both Mike and Jon seemed to be grinding a bit to me. Steve just seemed solid and happy to be right here in the moment. They later explained that Steve was really hiking well and that seemed to be where his gap was opening. That made sense to me because he had  really emphasized hiking during his training. And, being from Arizona, this bit of exposed sunshine was likely to impact him the least. After they all left Stumptown, we took off quickly to try and beat Chuck back to Printer Boy.

We arrived at Printer Boy just as the second place runner was coming through. He is a local Leadville guy and a Leadman participant. Unfortunately, he would eventually finish in 3rd place. Within ten minutes, we saw Chuck's bright yellow shirt coming up the forest. It was about 11:15 and I no longer wondered whether this was the right strategy -- he was killing this race and in prime position to go for it. He was in 6th place, where he would remain for the remainder of the day. I offered him sunscreen and food. He would accept only a few gels and some fluids, choosing to drop all of his solid food. As he took off, I reminded him that the next 4 miles were the only hard miles remaining and to grind hard.

Returning uphill via the forest
Looking like a veteran as he emerged into Printer Boy
After Chuck left, Jen took both our daughters back to town for lunch. In our haste to chase four runners around, we hadn't been able to eat any real food! Heidi came in to wait for Mike and we just cheered on other runners as we waited for the guys to come in. The first one to come in was Steve, continuing on his theme of strong and in control for the day. Like Chuck, he chose to dump some food and even his entire pack. He took the bare minimum essentials and head on up the final climb. He had arrived in 6.5 hours and seemed dead on splits for a 9-hour finish. I offered him some sun screen, but he declined and informed me that every time he got close to 12,000 feet he was cold and using his arm sleeves.

All smiles and running strong
I was so happy for Steve to be having such a good race
Go uphill young man....
Before I saw either Mike or Jon, I received a text from Jon that said he was feeling better, but that I didn't need to wait for him before heading to the finish line. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that. I knew he didn't need anything from me as he carried a full pack of food all day, but I also wanted to be there to support him. I was worried that he was struggling badly and texted him back. He reported that he was starting to feel better and only a few minutes away. Relieved, I decided to stay and wait. It was about 12:40 and I guessed the earliest Chuck would finish was around 1:15 pm. In the meantime, Mike came rolling into Printer Boy. In an effort to distinguish him from his doppleganger, Heidi sent the kids down into the forest to run up with Mike. When we saw his son's bright orange shirt running up to the aid station we knew it was actually him. He reported that he wasn't feeling super hot, but he was still on pace for a terrific race and seemed in good spirits.
Coming up to the aid station with his kids
Still smiles despite hurting a bit
Three minutes after Mike, Jon came up the hill looking a little frustrated, but determined. He explained that pulling down his calf sleeves had eased the cramping and that he was eating bananas and oranges like crazy. In fact, he ran over to the aid station and crammed his face full of both. I once again gave him the status report all the other runners.
Determined and improving
Continuing to assault his stomach with potassium
Seeing Jon take off, our crewing was done. Now all we could do was head to the finish line and wait. We headed straight down and arrived shortly after 1 pm, when it began to rain on our long wait. Standing in the rain, the leaders began to trickle in to the finish line, usually separated by several minutes.  Finally, Chuck came into sight running along the crest of Dutch Henry just a little before 1:30. I told his daughter to wait for him and run into the finish. We started screaming his name from the bottom of the hill so he could hear us and the race announcer made a funny quip about "Chuck Radford's Cheering Squad" bringing him home.

Crazy talented and gutsy runner taking 6th place in his first ultra
As soon as Chuck arrived, it began to pour rain and we ducked into a picnic tent for shelter. At first, he was enjoying the cool rain. The joy of rain soon turned to freezing cold and he headed home to shower so he could get back to the finish line to see the others. The sun emerged back out and we all headed out from shelter to await the next runner. A little after 3 pm, Jon texted me that he had passed Mike and should be in within 20 - 25 minutes. That meant he hadn't passed Steve and we should see him soon. Sure enough, we saw Steve across the top of Dutch Henry and shouted his name for him to hear.

He waited 4 months for an opportunity to prove he was a good ultra runner
Twenty minutes later Jon came across the top of Dutch Henry and began pushing down the hill to try and break 9:30. In the process, he tripped and nearly put on a show for the entire crowd gathered to watch the finish line. He pulled out of it and finished in a dead sprint, later telling me that he had eaten nearly a thousand calories on the climb toward Iowa Amphitheater in an effort to finish strong. While I didn't teach him that, I was so proud to hear it because I have used that same trick myself.

Finished strong after a "Calorie Hail Mary"
Jon explained that Mike seemed to be struggling when he saw him, so our attention turned to worry as we awaited Mike. All of us wanted to see him at least break 10 hours, if not rally and finish strong. He indeed came into the finish before 4 pm, joined by his cute daughter. I hope he knows that her smile was worth the whole 10 hours! I have had my share of struggles in ultras, but I always remember what a joy it is to have my family come out and support me. I had been hanging out with them all day and could tell that they enjoyed supporting him immensely.

Persevered a tough last 10 miles to finish in solid sub-10 debut
After an hour of hanging out, eating, and recovering, we headed back into town for beer and a post race celebration. I don't know if any of these guys will run another 50 -- or maybe a 100? -- but they certainly should. It was a great weekend to be with good friend and talented runners. The memories will long out weigh results. Thanks guys! I learned a lot being a member of your crew.


  1. AJ, you did a remarkable job recounting the race. You filled in the details well and helped me piece together what the crew was going through. You were a great crew member, but more importantly an outstanding mentor and coach throughout this process. Thank you for everything!

  2. Dang AJ, that's a killer write up and an honest side of the race that I did not get to experience until now. While you unfortunately did not get to run the race, we ALL benefited from your experience, your crewing and your coaching. We needed someone to believe in us all and to push us and you did just that. Thank you for all you did and for the great recap.