Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Silver Rush 2014

After putting the girls to bed and kissing Brenda farewell, I hit the road Saturday night, and finally pulled into the parking lot at the base of Dutch Henry Hill right about 11:00 PM.  I quickly folded down the rear seat and set up my “bed”, but sleep eluded me, dozing on and off for most of the night, until my internal clock roused me just before 5:00 AM.  I groggily rolled out into the chill morning air and somehow set off the car alarm, though I quickly fumbled for my keys and shut it off.  With no line, I quickly picked up my bib and race packet and made my way back to the car to start my pre-race prep.

As I was getting myself together, I glanced over at the car to my left (which was there from the previous night) and recognized Rachael.  After some quick greetings, we both resumed our preparations.  Upon a last minute review of the forecast, I decided to go shirtless and with a single water bottle.  In the cold, pre-dawn air, I rushed through the sunscreen application and unfortunately missed about a quarter of my back.  Of course I didn’t know that until that evening when I sat back uncomfortably in the driver’s seat.

I had just enough time to throw my drop bag into the back of the waiting pick-up, hit the lineless port-o-potties, and toss my warm clothes into the car before jogging down to the start line.  I saw many familiar faces as I made my way up towards the front, in time to listen to the national anthem.  And then we were off!

I briskly walked my way up the steep ski hill, watching others foolishly overexert themselves.  While I certainly didn’t want to be stuck at the rear, going into oxygen debt in the first 200 feet of a 50 miler is not a wise move.

After the first mile or so, we settled onto a dirt road section which made socializing easier.  There were lots of greetings, reconnections, and new encounters as we slowly made our way up.  I hooked up with Sean Westine and we chatted for a good bit.  He told others that I was a good guy to pace off of as I tend to run a steady effort throughout a race.  It’s taken me years to improve my consistency on long races and I appreciated being acknowledged for it.

Many runners passed throughout these first 8 miles or so, and it wasn’t until we got close to the top that I started to reel a few of them in.  Once we poured out onto the road, I took full advantage of my downhilling abilities.  I passed more runners as I ran a few 7+ minute miles, but didn’t push my limits, as the day was still young.  The views looking back towards the Leadville valley were magnificent.  The snow-capped peaks glittered in the morning sun, above a cloud-shrouded valley.

There seemed to be even more cars lining the road to the Printer Boy aid station, with welcoming cheers and energy.  I made my way quickly through the aid station and dove off into the woods.  As the single-track led back out onto another road section, I was surprised and a little disappointed to see Sean and a few other runners right on my tail.  It was too early to be competitive, but I figured that my fast downhill would have separated us a bit more.  Oh well, I tried to look on the bright side, figuring that it was a sign that I wasn’t over doing it yet.

Making our way up towards the Rock Garden aid, I kept slowly passing other runners.  I was really looking forward to the alpine terrain from the Rock Garden to the high pass before Stumptown.  I could feel the altitude a bit in my head, but my breathing was fine, and I was running well.  But in the treed section before the pass, I caught a toe and hit the trail.  It wasn’t quite the ninja-style roll I would have liked, and I ended up flat on my back for a brief instant.  I bounded up quickly, as the nearby runners inquired to my condition.  I was fine, losing no more than a second and a small patch of skin on my left elbow.  I did also gain some gravel on my bare back, which was an itchy annoyance for the rest of the day.

Feeling strong, I made my way past more runners on the way to the pass, and then continued my progress down the other side.  Unlike the previous year, I remembered that it wasn’t all downhill to Stumptown so I wasn’t as mentally drained by the undulations.  I saw the lead runners coming back, two miles before the turn-a-round.  I told myself not to bother counting runners like I typically do, but I did anyway.  I got up to 15 before coming close to the chaos near Stumptown and giving up, with an estimate of thirty something.

The aid station was moved a few hundred feet and I found it to be a bit more confusing as out and in-bound runners had to cross over.  I also didn’t have the luxury of a personal valet volunteer like in the past, so I found my drop bag and refueled on my own.  A little way out, I came across Rosarita, waiting on the sidelines to cheer on and assist her husband, Henrique.  She graciously asked if I needed anything, but I was good, thanked her, and slowly proceeded on.

For the second race in a row, I had employed a new strategy, taping over the time and pace on my watch.  The intent was to run the first half totally by feel, without the undue pressure of racing against a time goal.  This is quite effective, as long as peeling the tape off doesn’t reveal an unexpectedly slow time.  The tape revealed good news.  I was right on track for my 8:30 goal, IF I could maintain the same pace for the second 25 miles.

I felt strong as I made my way back up to the pass, and exchanged a “god job”, “nice work”, or “way to go” with each oncoming runner.  As I neared the top, I could hear runners noting that the gal who I was chasing up the climb was the number 1 female.  This shocked, but also energized me, as I had previously finished with the 4th or 5th place women, and here I was barely past the half-way point, closing in on the leader.  A little way down the other side, I finally passed her, and we exchanged words of encouragement.

I kept passing individual runners every mile or two as I made my way back to the Printer Boy aid station.  With a large chunk of refreshing watermelon in my hand, I quickly left towards my least favorite part of the course – climbing back up the road that I had sped down that morning. It was now the hottest part of the day, with a strong, high-altitude sun and in contrast to the 7+ minute miles coming down, I was now struggling to push 12+ minute miles on the way up.  All the while, I was carefully calculating my chances at that elusive 8:30 goal.  Things were not looking too good as I finished the climb with a 14+ minute mile, but at least it was over.  I would have 1:35 to run the final 10.5 miles.  That doesn’t sound too tough, given that it was “mostly” downhill, but running 10.5 “mostly” downhill miles at the end of a 50 miler, at altitude isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.  I also remembered from last year’s experience that the final couple of miles are pretty flat and exposed to the hot afternoon sun.

I topped out with a guy named Ted, and we exchanged positions repeatedly as we came into the last aid station.  I made quick work of refilling the bottle and downing a few cups of Coke.  With only 7.5 miles to go and a partly cloudy sky, I handed off my emergency poncho to one of the volunteers and told him to give it to anyone of the later runners who might be caught up in the expected storms.

As Ted and I sped off together, we were told that we were in the top 15 or 20.  Wow!  Much better than I would have expected.  I stayed on Ted’s heels for the first half mile, but he was pushing a bit too hard and I knew I had to save something for the last couple of miles, so I let him go.  Luckily, he never got too far, and on the straighter sections, I could still see him up ahead.  We caught and passed a couple of other runners and eventually, I was back on Ted’s heels.  We ran together for a few miles and I noticed that he was now showing signs of fatigue.  I didn’t know if he was in my age bracket or not, but with about 2.5 to go, I pushed the pace on a flat section and he fell back.

I knew 8:30 was possible, but far from guaranteed.  I also knew that I wanted to eke out every single placement I could, both age group, and overall.  I passed two more runners, struggling with the heat, and then, with only a half mile to go, I passed one last runner (and a very important one at that).

It felt like an eternity, but I finally passed through the inflatable arch, wound my way around the top of hill, and careened down the impossibly steep section to the finish line.  The clock read 8:26:02 and the announcer welcomed me in as first place in my age group, as two young ladies handed me my medal, coffee mug, and my award - an awesome gold-panning pan.  It wasn’t until quite a few minutes later that I looked up the results and realized that the last runner I passed was number 10.  I finished 10th!  That was even better than the age group win and beating my time goal.

I hung out at the finish for a few hours, watching so many friends finish.  I felt great, except for being rather dehydrated.  Every time I would get up from my chair, everyone stared as I teetered and came dangerously close to passing out.  It took more than an hour of resting and drinking for that feeling to dissipate.

The SilverRush was my first 50 miler and still among my favorite races.  It is exceptionally well managed, has a nice large field, and always attracts many friends.  I hope to keep doing this one in years to come, though it’s hard to imagine topping this year’s results.