Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To be crowned a Silver King (2012) ....

you have to do the 50 mile mountain bike race on Saturday, then do the same exact course on Sunday, as a running race. Having never done a mountain bike race or a 50 mile running race, I figured “why not knock both out in one weekend?”

My boss, Larry, talked me into doing the mountain bike race, my first. Just to make it interesting, he chose one of the most challenging races in the area, the Leadville Silver Rush – 50 miles, over 7,500’ of elevation gain, with a low point of 10,000’ and multiple highpoints over 12,000’ above sea level. Though ½ the distance of the famous Leadville 100, most say the Silver Rush is tougher.

Wandering around the start area with all of the experienced cyclists and their fancy bikes, I could only think, “what the hell am I doing here?”  Shortly before the start, I found Larry and my other co-worker, Garrett.  They had staked out a spot much closer to the front than I was comfortable with, but they convinced me to join them.  As the gun went off, I quickly started falling back to a position more suited to my novice status.  For those unfamiliar with the race, the start is at the bottom of a short, yet daunting, ski hill, so you start out by “running” (walking for all but the leaders) up this hill before jumping onto the bike.

At the top, the wide field is quickly squeezed down onto a narrow dirt road.  Yes, it was dirt, not gravel.  Gravel would have been quite welcomed, whereas the fine dirt was instantly stirred into a chocking dust cloud that lingered for the first few miles.  Shortly after we all got on our bikes and settled into a semi-controlled, chaotic flow, the course took a left turn off of the dirt road and onto a short section of “almost single-track”.  This was another choke point, forcing a stop, wait, and jump down the hill, before getting back onto another dirt road.

Remarkably, the chocking dust along the early part of the course was accompanied by numerous puddles that covered all but a tire’s width of the road.  I surprised myself by staying dry and surviving some moderately technical rocky sections, not having to come off the bike until we were getting close to the first high-point. Here the trail got wet, muddy, and rocky, but I realized that all my experience and training as a runner actually came in quite handy for the bike pushing sections, as I was easily able to walk past many of the other bikers.

The first high-point is pretty unremarkable – no summit or pass, just a rough jeep road coming out onto a wide gravel road.  The instant joy of switching from pushing a bike uphill to comfortably coasting downhill soon turned to terror, as I quickly realized how uncomfortable I was with the possibility of crashing at 30 mph.  Luckily the road was plenty wide, as the “real” bikers zoomed by me at 35-40 mph, since they weren’t squeezing their brakes with a death grip like I was.

By the time I headed up the last climb before the turn-a-round point, the leaders were already screaming back down from the pass.  With all my running, biking and altitude training, I was feeling pretty good and trying to keep the bike pushing to a minimum.  This is where disaster almost struck.  On a section of narrow triple-track, I was trying to ride up the middle, past the walkers, when, due to my ultra-slow speed, I fell over.  In addition to the minor embarrassment, the real danger was that Rebecca Rush, the women’s leader and famous mountain biker, was tearing down the trail.  I managed to scramble up and out of her way just as she flew by.  I hadn’t realized the magnitude of my little incident until the bikers around me commented, “dude, that guy almost took out Rebecca Rush!”

I used a camel back for hydration, judging it would be unwise for someone as unsteady as me to take their hands off the bars to reach for a bottle to drink.  That part turned out to be true. What I had not anticipated was the advantage of bottles – squeezing the water into your mouth.  Conversely, with a camel back, you have to suck through a long straw.  I learned the hard way that pedaling (or bike pushing) at 12,000’, breathing and sucking your drink really sucks.

The return trip was pretty uneventful until I got to the top of the last highpoint. Here we went from the wide gravel road back onto the rough jeep road.  Even with a good front shock and feather-touch hydraulic disk brakes, the next 8 miles of downhill felt like I was hanging onto an out of control jack hammer (like in the old cartoons).  By the finish, my wrists felt as if they were going to fall right off, and all the while, numerous bikers were zipping by like I was standing still.  I just held on for dear life and kept thinking “no matter how slow I may be and how many bikers pass me, I’m going back to work on Monday with all my teeth intact.”

Ultimately, I am just not cut out for mountain bike racing – way too cautious. I did fine on the uphills, but got repeatedly passed on the screaming downhills. Overall, I finished in the top 55%, and without any injuries or crashes. I was quite pleased with my inaugural finish time of 6:22 (about 50 minutes behind Larry and Garrett).

I took advantage of a much needed shower at the Leadville Hostel, but since I’m too cheap to splurge on real accommodations, I decided to spend Saturday night in my car, in the parking lot by the start.  This seemed reasonable to me, and a dozen other runners must have agreed and did likewise.  According to my wife and non-running friends, sleeping in the back of one’s car is considered a sign of dangerous obsession (I can get new friends, but I’m probably stuck with the wife).  The accommodations in the back of my Outback can be quite pleasant, but as I was preparing to lay down for the night, I realized I was missing a very important piece of equipment – my thick, warm, fluffy comforter.  Apparently, at 5:00 that morning, as I was cramming all my running and biking gear in the car, I managed to leave the big, cozy comforter sitting right next to the car, in the garage.  Even in mid-July, Leadville can get quite chilly at night and this weekend, it dropped down into the 40’s.  It wasn’t a problem until the last few hours of the morning when the 1 sheet and 2 towels that I had for cover just weren’t cutting it.

I survived the night and the next day, I was back in my element – on my own two (stable) feet. I suck ass on the bike, but I can kick ass on the run, so I felt pretty comfortable close to the front of the start line. As usual, I set an extremely optimistic goal of 10 hours and thought that was quickly slipping away in the first 5 miles as I was feeling a bit fatigued from the previous day’s efforts and watching lots of runners pass me by. I kept my cool, thinking “hey guys, what’s the rush, there’s still 45 more miles to go”. As the miles wore on, the elevation climbed, and the trees disappeared, I loosened up and started to reel in many of those runners.

I took a couple of minutes at each of the very well stocked aid stations and drained a full can of ice cold Coke at each one, in addition to grabbing some snacks.  I knew that every minute invested in hydration and fueling would pay dividends in the end.  I ran with two 20 ounce hand-held bottles filled with diluted Gatorade and had a few gels on me, though I only used one.  The aid station selection was too good to pass up – PB&J, ham & cheese sandwiches and wraps, fig newtons, pretzels, bananas, watermelon, etc.

I got to the turnaround a full 38 minutes ahead of my 10-hour plan. I knew I would make my goal, and perhaps do even better if I could stay hydrated and hold it together, so I took my time at this half-point aid station.  I grabbed my drop-bag and took an S-Cap, some Aleve, re-applied sunscreen, ate, and guzzled down a whole can of my favorite, refreshing club soda.  I then took advantage of the port-o-potty where the dark tea color of my urine gave me a little concern, so I went back to my drop bag and guzzled down another can of club soda.  I spent 8 minutes at this aid station and by the time I left, I was sloshing and burping from all the soda, but quickly absorbed the liquid like sponge.

On the way back up the pass, I saw a guy coming down in huarache style sandals.  He sure didn’t look as happy as the Tarahumara.  He mumbled something about being in pain and I tried to give him a few encouraging words while realizing that my MT101’s are about as minimal as I want for a 50 mile run.  As I ran further, I came across fewer and slower runners.  I tried to be as encouraging as possible, but I don’t think my cheerful smile and look of genuine delight was appreciated by all.  It’s inspiring to see the determination in their eyes, but I knew they were in for a really long day and some would just not make it.  I almost felt guilty for feeling good and enjoying myself.  I was having a blast.  With over 100 races in the past 4 years, this was my most enjoyable.

With 10 miles to go, I looked at my watch and realized that I could walk to the finish in less than my 10 hour goal, but if I could continue to push myself harder and farther than ever before, I actually had a slim chance at the 9 hour mark. Greedy as I am, I flew down the next 8 mile section of the course that had nearly killed my wrists on the bike.  I felt great and this time it was my turn to zip past people as others had done to me the previous day.

With about 2 miles to go, I caught up with Katrin, who turned out to be the 4th place woman.  By this time, I was finally starting to get tired and slowed a bit.  Katrin was unaware that even though the race is billed as a 50 miler, it’s actually closer to 47.5.  She was pleased to hear that it was shorter and that we both had a shot at the 9 hour mark.  Those last couple of miles were the only ones that felt like more work than fun and running with someone gave us both a much needed boost.  The temperature was rising and the legs were feeling the day’s efforts.  By the time we hit the top of the ski hill, the last bit of adrenaline finally kicked in and I was able to throw in a pretty strong sprint for the last couple of hundred yards.

I did it, finishing the toughest weekend of my life with a run time of 8:55.

As noted, the course is actually about 2.5 miles short of 50 miles, but given the altitude and elevation gain, it’s probably one of the toughest 50 milers out there. With 632 bike finishers and 431 run finishers, these are well attended races.  Both were very well organized and the volunteers were simply incredible – helpful and encouraging.  They also had timing mats half way out, at the turn-a-round, and half way back, so that family and running groupies could keep track via live feeds on the website.  My mountain bike racing days may be over, but I would definitely do this run again in a heartbeat.

No comments:

Post a Comment