Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile race

This was a hard race. Hard. A fifty mile out and back run all above 10,000 feet altitude under the hot Colorado sun. Basically the route involved two hard climbs on the way out and the same on the way home. In between were numerous ascents and descents, too many to count. The race blurb billed the event as 'all runnable' and that would technically be correct, were it not for the altitude putting paid to most people' aspirations. 

They threw us in the deep end right off the start line with an ascent of the very steep (but short) Dutch Henri hill. I had practised walking up this hill a couple of times the previous day and I was glad of that as I knew just how slowly to take it so my heart rate wouldn't go sky high. I couldn't see the point of starting with a climb like that, to get you off kilter right at the beginning.

The early miles were not very exciting, a fairly gentle climb through forest in the cool morning. It seemed a long way to the first aid station at seven miles. But by the time I got there the sun was out and the day was already heating up fast. I wasn't feeling too good, maybe apprehension about what was to come. 

I had decided beforehand that I would walk the uphills and run the downhills, and in that way I would be able to make the cutoffs along the course. As it transpired there wasn't any flat terrain on the route so I didn't have to consider how to tackle this. Even though I was probably as acclimatised as I could be for a run that is all above 10,000 feet I still couldn't run uphill without great discomfort. But nobody was running the uphills. Nobody. I didn't hear the awful gasping I had heard from the runners at the Breckenridge race but I could hear some people were having a hard time breathing. Luckily for me I did not have an issue with my breathing all day.

We were out in a long valley littered with mining ruins and tailings heaps. As soon as the sun was over the tops of the mountains it was warm and for the rest of the day there was virtually no respite from the heat. We climbed through the valley following a creek and sometimes having to dodge the water as it coursed down the trail. I could see runners far above us on the road that we would eventually reach. It was wonderful to finally reach that road as it marked the first high point of the day (12,000 feet) and the end of the race's longest climb, pretty much a relentless ten miles. From here was a gradual downhill alongside snow banks and then forest to the second aid station, mile fourteen.

The stretch out of this second aid station was a delightful winding downhill in the forest. I think it was the nicest section of trail of the day. I was feeling good by now and prepared for what the day would throw at me. There followed a lengthy climb which I powered along until we emerged out in the open among meadows. I asked another runner if he thought this was the top of the second big climb and he said "yes, it looks toppish" which I thought was a nice expression. But the helper at the aid station we reached said no, it wasn't the top, in a tone that suggested silliness on my part. 

I made a bad mistake at this aid station: I filled my handheld bottle, picked up a couple of gels but forget to actually have a drink. That was really stupid and I was glad it was only four miles to the next aid station. If it had been the usual seven miles I would have been in trouble.

As we left this aid station I could see the helper had been correct. The trail wound upwards across the mountainside. Excellent views in all directions. Later on there were more mining blemishes on the hillsides: dilapidated huts, gravel heaps, remnants of rail lines, general rusting junk. After a brief descent into forest we climbed again, crossed a little snow and arrived at the high pass that marked the highest point of the run, over 12,000 feet. Here the views were great - basically green mountainsides in all directions. We ran on single trails for a while and had some lovely descents. It was rough but not too slippery. I must have been very far back in the field at this stage and I was passing people, which felt good as I wasn't yet suffering much.

The last few miles to the half way turnaround aid station were a bit tortuous. We came very close to the aid station then had to turn away from it for over a mile and then on the eventual approach to it there was a horrendous short hill to climb. But it was a great feeling to be past half way. We wound back across the mountains, and then had what again seemed like a cruel detour as we approached the next aid station. We were right there, then had to turn away and the marshal at this corner said "see you in four miles". What! And off this detour was another extra loop, about half an hour according to the marshal there. Finally we reached the pass and started the descent. Apparently this section was added in new for this year's race.

I was still feeling good and I was passing lots of runners, well, walkers. I maintained my run downhill - walk uphill strategy and I think all the hiking I'd been doing was paying off. I could walk quite fast relative to other people.

After the penultimate aid station with about fourteen miles to go we had a horrendous stretch of dirt road, gently uphill and fully in the open, hot sun beating down. This was the hardest part of the day for me. It was a stretch of about three to four miles, which I walked. I could see walkers way off in the distance and I just kept waiting to not be able to see anyone as this would mean they had finally turned downhill and out of sight. But around every bend I could still see them. I was just hanging in for the long descent. I knew it was coming but it took its time. 

By this time, with under fourteen miles to go, I was telling myself I could do a three hour half marathon and be finished in under twelve hours. It didn't sound too bad. In retrospect I believe the course was a touch longer than I thought at that point.

The descent, when it finally came, was all I had anticipated. Suddenly I could run again and it felt good, even though the path was quite rough with jagged rocks. Again I passed lots of people. But I was really, really hot. At the last aid station I said to the helper I would have one of every drink: water, coke, sprite, lemon electrolyte and it still wasn't enough. They said it was seven miles to go but I believe it was at least eight.

The descent continued but more gradually and I was feeling tired. I continued to persevere with running downhill and chasing my sub twelve goal but it was very hard. I was alone for long stretches and it was so nice to spot a runner in the distance. The trail wound through the forest and in occasional glimpses I could see there was still a long way down to go. After a long time a crew for some runners appeared from nowhere and told them it was two and a half miles to go, but again I think this was understated. I wasn't so sure about the sub twelve now.

Light relief was provided as the trail went alongside a trail bike park with some big ramps. I watched the bikes do their stunts as I ran/ ambled along. Finally, finally I reached the town's sealed bike path that signalled the end was near. I thought I could just get my goal. But my hopes were dashed when a spectator offered me some water; I said no thanks, isn't this the finish, and he informed me I still had a mile and a half loop to do. This was totally unexpected. 

And it was a horrid loop, a mountain bike trail snaking through the trees, turning back on itself repeatedly and all in all totally unnecessary. Then I ran under the 'Race across the sky' archway and I knew I was coming home for real. I could hear a runner close behind me and I was surprised as I had known I was alone for several minutes. I wondered how he had got close to me without me noticing. I didn't want him stealing my thunder on the finish line so I absolutely went for it down a steep hill and along the finishing chute carpet. I missed twelve hours by only a little, doing 12:11:22. And the announcer called me "Julia Thorn from Breckenridge'. I have no idea where that came from, and it was a bit disappointing not to get credit for having come all the way from Australia.

I was in a daze after that. I tried to eat and tried to drink, and collapsed onto a chair. I chatted with people and managed to drink a beer. By now it was raining lightly and I envied the runners still out on the course. Well, sort of, for getting the rain. The rain just made me cold and I had to walk back to the hotel. I had a hot bath and went to bed.


Popular posts from this blog

Never Summer 100 kilometre race

Marathon Touraine Loire Valley, September 23

Adelaide 100 kilometre Track Championship, January 26