Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Leadville Silver Rush 50 Ultramarathon

July 13th, 5:59AM"You are better then you think you are.  You can do more then you think you can.  Dig deep into the inexhaustible well of grits, guts, and determination. "

On the morning of July 13th, as I stood at the bottom of a ski slope in Leadville Colorado, the founder of the Leadville Race Series (including but not limited too the LT Trail 100), Ken Chlouber, took the microphone and said the words that I have read so many times before.

July 10th, 4:18PM: First Run at 10,000+ ft

After a four flight and a three hour drive we arrived at our accommodation, the Sugar Loafin Campground in Leadville Colorado.  As you drive into town, you are immediately greeted with a sign that reads "We  Leadville.  Great living @10,200 ft".  The only time that I had been over 10,000 ft above sea level before was after taking a chair lift to the top of a mountain while skiing.  None the less, I had no idea what I was truly getting myself into.

After getting situated, Keith, Jen, and I took off for a short two mile jog (Runners Log Day 191) by Turquoise Lake.  Within the first 50 meters I felt my heart rate rising quickly.  By 100 meters in, I was starting to pant unable to catch my breath.   By 200 meters I was in the middle of an all out anxiety attack.  As I slowed and slowed, realizing that I may be in way over my head, I was finally able to hit a steady state (probably with an HR in the 180s) by a quarter mile in.  We continued to jog until my watch beeped at one mile and then turned back for a second mile.  We finished our run (2.07 miles -- 18:28 -- 8:57 / mile) feeling relieved it was over. 

Going into this race my training was the best it has ever been in my life and I was more confident than ever.  I had just come off big PR's in the 50 mile and then the 1 mile. This first run was a gut wrenching reality check.  I was now truly unsure if I was going to be able to complete this race.

Over the next two days we first ran 3 miles (Runners Log Day 192) and then 2 more (Runners Log Day 193) with the first at a slightly better pace and the second with a little bit of true climbing.  It wasn't that these runs really acclimated us to the elevation, but rather taught us what we were capable of doing at 10,000+ ft.

July 13th, 6:01AM: "Bang"

The shot gun fired and 410 of us took off up the hill.  To add some excitement to the start (because that is what we really needed), the first male/female runner to the top of the ski slope (65ish ft over the first 1/10th of a mile) wins entry into the prestigious 100-miler that takes place the following month.

9th Place at the Top of the Ski Hill
I am not sure exactly what happened, be it the speech, the anxiety, or my inability to not compete, I took off straight up the hill.  I hit the top in 9th place just 10 seconds behind the winner.  Thinking to myself, "I could have won that" (thought I really didn't want too). 1/10th of a mile later as Keith catches up, he yells "Was it worth it" and I smiled and said "Nope."

July 11th, 4:32 PM Packet Pick Up

A day and half before go time we headed into downtown Leadville (pretty much a single street) for packet pick up at Leadville Race HQ (aka the store they sell the merchandise in). When picking up my race number, they saw my address on the list (Belmont, Massachusetts) and exclaimed "You live at sea level.  You got balls coming out here."  While not overly re-assuring, it did fuel the fire.  Not only was I on a mission to complete my long term goal, but I had a new found objective of proving the locals were not better then me.

You really have to give Ken Chlouber credit for coming up with this race series.  Leadville is an old mining town that was beginning to go bankrupt, so Ken came up with the idea for a 100 mile race to draw people to the historic district.  This later morphed into a whole series with runs ranging from 10K to 100 mile and 50 mile and 100 mile mountain bike rides.

The key is that to race at (high) altitude you really need to live at altitude for some period of time before the race. I have heard reports of people coming in up to 4 weeks before their race to adapt.  Multiply that by the number of races and you get a good amount of people that move to Leadville for a chunk of the summer. 

July 13th, 8:21AM First Check Point

I reached the first check point in just over 2 hours and 28 minutes -- ~13.5 miles.  Keith and I were making such great time, that we beat Amy, Jen, and Neil there.

At this point we had already climbed over 2000 ft (over the first 10 miles), descended about 900 (between miles 10 and 13.5), and reached 12,000 ft once.  We knew we were probably pushing too hard, but we didn't care.  

After taking a few seconds for some sport drink, we began descending through the woods.

OA: 13.5 miles, 2:21:08, 10:28 / mile, 32st place

January 1st, 8:09 PM, Race Registration

After filling out the registration form for the Leadville Silver Rush 50, we (Amy, Keith, Jen, and I) sat on the couches in my living room.  I said, "Are we ready?" and we clicked submit. 

Keith and I had just officially registered for a 50 mile race that started at 10,000 ft and would hit 12,000 ft on six separate occasions.  The question could not be truthfully answered.  We would find out six and a half months later.

July 13th, 10:18AM Half Way Point

Keith and I continued to push at a strong pace until mile 15 and then had to start battling the next 3.5 mile climb.  During this section we ran through some private property that was an old abandoned mine.  The views were magnificent and for a few minutes we completely forgot that we were even in a race.

As we hit 12,000 ft for the second time, the toll it was taking on us was beginning to become visible.  Luckily, we had a short decent to regain some of our momentum, but that was quickly squashed by a very steep ascent that brought us to the top of the pass at mile 20 (3rd time at 12,000). We even got to cross a short snow segment here. 

We pushed hard to just hike this climb.  Between miles 15-20 we had ascended over 1100 ft and descended about 300.  Regardless of altitude, that is one tough section.  As we began our descent, we knew we were already in trouble.  Nausea was setting in (from the altitude / maintaining a high HR for so long) and we were hitting our first wall (yes first wall).

After a few miles of descent we reached the turn around (Keith was a few minutes up on me at this point).  The only reason I was able to get from mile 20 to the turnaround was I told myself I could quit there, but after a quick hug from a smiling Neil, I was able to turn around the begin to tackle what would be the most challenging part of the course.

Neil and I at the Half Way Point
The mindset of an ultra runner is a very fickle thing. Over the course of a race you hit the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  I like to think of it as a sinusoid that begins slowly with shallow peaks and tightens with steeper peaks as you go.

That hug from Neil and pep talk from Amy was all I really needed to snap out of my funk. 

Stats: 25 miles, 4:18:53, 10:22 / mile, 45th place

September 21st, 2013, 3:39PM Vigil Crest Finish Line

Nearly 10 months before Leadville, I finished my first 50 mile race, Virgil Crest, and for the first time in my ultra running career, truly learned what it means to keep pushing when you have nothing left.

At Virgil, my body refused to accept that it was tired during the first half of the race, but when I got back to the section known as the Alpine loop (Greek Peak Ski Area), the feeling of despair set in full force.  As we got to the bottom my mood improved and I knew I was fully capable of tackling the rest of the race. 

As we walked up the street at mile 36, I knew I had nothing left, yet I knew I could make it.  From there we ran when we could and we walked when we couldn't.  After 10 hours and 39 minutes, we made it.

Virgil taught me that no matter how tough it gets as long as you can maintain the will to keep moving, you can make it through. 

July 13th, 12:46 PM Third Check Point

The next section of the course was the toughest by far.  It began with a slow climb out of the aid station, followed by a short descent, and then a super steep climb back up to the top of the pass.  

As I climbed to the top of the pass my heart was pounding in my ears and I felt like I was going to throw up.  My pace was hovering in the 19 minute / mile range and I was doing everything that I could to keep moving. 

As I finally reached the top, I found a small rock off to my left.  I sat down on it and admired the view (funny enough three other runners immediately followed suit).  Colorado has 54 mountains with peaks above 14,000 ft.  From where I was sitting I could count 28 peaks (not sure if they were all 14,000 footers) including the two tallest Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. 

Amy and Neil with Mount Massive in the Background
As awful as I felt I was still in awe.  I had roughly 20 miles to go, with two more stops at 12,000 ft.  As I began the descent, I had one goal in mind: get to the next aid station and then evaluate if I could keep going.  

The next climb wasn't quite as bad as the previous one, but my hydration and nutrition had completely gone to hell due to the nausea.  To exacerbate the situation, I tripped over a rock and fell hard on both of my hands. The left had a little bit of blood and a few cuts, and my right started to swell immediately.  I immediately yelled "Come on!!!!"

Luckily I met up with two guys immediately following this.  One was recapping running the Hard Rock 100 the previous year.  For those not familiar with Hard Rock, it is considered one of the toughest (if not the toughest) ultra in the country with over 30,000 ft of climbing and topping out at over 14,000 ft. 

When I told the Hard Rock guy, that I might quit at the next aid station, he said "Think of it this way.  If you continue, you probably won't feel any worse. Plus, you are killing the course and if you walk the rest of the way, you will still make it in way under the cutoff." My self pity started to wain being in the presence of people much tougher then me.  

After a little more descending and the beginning of the final ascent I arrived at the third check point.  When a volunteer / medic asked what I needed, I said "A chair." As I sat down and tried to tell Amy that I didn't think I could continue, she promptly cut me off telling me that she had just posted on Facebook telling everyone that I should be done within three hours.  As I asked for a drink Neil came running over with a whole stack of paper cups for me.  After picking him up and smiling, I stood up and said "Let's do this" grabbed a banana and hammered (at a fast walk) off.  

December 1st, 2010, 8:59PM Finished Reading Born to Run

Going into reading the book "Born to Run" I thought running a marathon was stupid, much less an ultra marathon; Mundane hours on end of just pounding the pavement, did not sound like something fun to me. 

Then something happened.  As I learned more and more about trail running and long distance trail running I became intrigued.  A common question posed to runners (and ultra runners even more) is why?  It is commonly answered with it "Makes me feel alive" or "I want to know how far I can push myself."  I was starting to ask how far I could push myself. 

For me, it is a combination.  I like trail running because trails are more interesting, you get to see more, you have to quickly adapt to the course (especially when you don't know it).  Pace becomes less important as the survival instincts kick in.

As I put down "Born to Run", I picked up my laptop and began searching for my first ultra.  

July 13th, 3:50PM The Finish

After leaving the final aid station, I had a 3.5 mile uphill hike (900 ft of gain to get to 12,000 ft for the final time), followed by a 10 mile descent (with a couple of rollers) back into Leadville.  I had sent Keith ahead as I was feeling quite depleted and didn't want to slow him down. 

As I started my hike I ran into two more runners, one who was in better spirits than me and one that was not.  The one who was in good spirits was a local and was happy to be tackling the final climb, the other was competing in the Silver King competition and had done this course on his mountain bike the day before.  

After we quickly exchanged stories, the local said "I am surrounded by badassery.  We got Silver King over here and Sea Lander over here."  I just smiled.  

As we made it to the top of the climb, the Silver King, said "Yesterday it took me 30 minutes from here, today I estimate 2 hours." I started down the trail with a goal of running sub 12s for the rest of the way.  

Coming down the final stretch into the finish
After knocking off a 10:30 and a 11:20, I had to walk a little with a terrible side stitch.  After a couple more 10s and a 11s I was able to crack a sub 10 minute mile.  I was finally feeling like I was in the home stretch and only an act of god was going to stop me (We had perfect weather for our race.  There were lightening storms every other afternoon we were in Leadville).  

The final few miles presented a couple of small climbs and the last mile felt like it stretched on forever.  With a mile to go I could hear the finish line celebrations and as I made it back to the top of the ski hill and I blitzed down the single track trail to the finish.  

9:50:38 -- 88th place

As I crossed the finish line and my name was announced over the loud speak a feeling of accomplishment set in.  After I got my medal, and a hug from a volunteer (who happened to be from Worcester), I made my way over to Amy, Neil, Keith (who had finished 8 minutes earlier), and Jen and sat down, concerned that I may never get up again.  

Stats: 50 miles, 9:50:38, 11:49 / mile, 88th place
Back 25, 5:31:46, 13:17 / mile, 131st place


The next few days were a little rough, but I was able to get in a few short runs and keep the running streak going.  First we made our way out to Este's Park, and then out to Calistoga (California) for Amy's Uncle Richard's wedding. 

Now that two weeks have passed, it is amazing how blurry the race already is.  My only regret during the race was even contemplating pulling out.  It is really interesting how much faster the pain fades and all that remains is the pride of finishing. 


Amy, Laura, and I are tackling the Harpoon Point to Point 100 mile bike ride to benefit the Vermont Food Bank on August 9th.  

Following that I will began marathon training again with hopes that I can BQ at the Manchester City Marathon in November.  Everything has gone so well so far with running this year I can't even visualize how I can't. 

Long term, I am not quite sure yet.  100K race?  Maybe.  Mountain series next summer?  Probably. Stage race? Suggestions? 

Only time will tell.

- Scot

1 comment:

Jesse Morrow said...

Great job boss! I've been looking forward to this post.