Thursday, July 21, 2011

Leadville Silver Rush 50 and Caballo Blanco

I signed up for the Silver Rush 50 a few months ago after deciding to run the LT100.  I figured a 50 miler in Leadville five weeks before the 100 would be a good high altitude training run with plenty of time to recover before the big day in August.  Silver Rush was also four weeks after Big Horn, so my plan was to run a moderate recovery week after the Big Horn 50 then two hard, big mileage weeks and then run easy the week before Silver Rush.  That is exactly what I did and I showed up at the starting line in Leadville Sunday morning feeling pretty good.

Cat and I drove up to Leadville on Saturday morning and met up with Rob "Honey Badger" Howard and his friend Mallory.  Rob had a place to stay that belongs to the family of a friend he works with.  It was a 100+ year old place right downtown and only a mile from the Silver Rush start/finish - perfect.  As we walked up the driveway, a very fit looking older man was waking in as well and Rob turned to me and said,"That's Caballo Blanco"  Rob said hey and asked him if he was staying here, which he was and told him we were staying here too.  He was very friendly and we talked a bit about the race that we were running the next day and he told us about a long run he had done on the LT100 course early in the day.

Rob, Cat, Guadajuko, Caballo, Eddie and Me
We enjoyed a nice dinner of fajitas, rice, chips, salsa, beer and chocolate cake (Rob's birthday) in the driveway while we talked with Caballo about running in the Copper Canyon, "barefoot running", Born to Run, and his newest interest- burro racing.  Before it got too late, we headed off to bed in the cozy loft of the purple house.
the birthday boy enjoying a quality pre race meal
Woke up at 4:15 on Sunday morning, packed up, took care of all the pre race stuff: shorts, FCTR shirt, body glide, sun screen, socks, shoes, GPS, waist pack with some Gu's, 24 oz hand bottle with electrolytes (I decided to try running with a hand bottle instead of the hydration pack to see how that would go) and drop bag for the turnaround.  Ate a bagel with peanut butter and a yogurt and we walked down to the gas station on the corner for some coffee and headed to the race start.

It was great to see many friends at the start.  Dan was there ready to celebrate turning 50 by running his first 50 mile race.  Upon learning that this course was closer to 46 miles, Dan made sure to go out for a 4 mile warm-up run before the race.  Eddie was there as well also running his first 50.  Kiwi Rob was at the start to run the course after mountain biking it the day before making him a Silver King.  Shawn was there lining up for his 3rd 50 mile race of the year.  And there were many other familiar and friendly faces looking up the 45 degree hill that made up the first 100 meters of the course.  Someone from the race stands at the top of this hill holding two silver coins for the first man and first woman to crest the hill.  When the RD fired the shot gun, I opted not to go for the coin and just walked, jogged, crawled up the hill.

The first few hours of the race went really well.  I felt relaxed and ran well (about 10 min/mile pace) through the 7 miles of gentle climbing to the first aid station where I got my water bottle filled and smiled some hellos to friends that were there cheering and crewing.  From there, the course continues up for 3 more miles at a slightly steeper grade to the high point of the course at 12,000 feet near the base of Mt. Sherman.  I ran this section a bit slower, but hit the top in 1:53 and turned on to the dirt road to head down to the Printer Boy aid station at mile 13.5 (2:27).  Cat was at the aid station and she filled my bottle, peeled me a couple banana chunks and I continued down the trail.  I was feeling great at this point, thinking about how there was only 10 miles to the turn around and then I just had to run back.  I knew that there would be a couple of tough climbs in there, but I was very happy with the way things were going.  The next aid station was at mile 18 and I grabbed a couple of Gu's filled my bottle and continued up around Ball Mountain to the second high point of the course.  This was a part of the course that I had run with Dan a couple weeks earlier and it was nice to know what to expect.  I could feel the effects of altitude on the climb back to 12,000 feet, but I was still able to keep moving steadily.  The first mile of the drop from mile 20 down to the turnaround was very steep and I descended pretty slowly and carefully.  I found out later that Shawn fell on this part of the course and hit the back of his head so hard that the race officials pulled him at the turn around (he turned out to be a bit shaken, but recovered and is okay).  After a mile, the trail leveled out some and I ran well in to the turn around at Stumptown.  My goal was to make the turn around in 4:30, and I was checked in at 4:22 and after filling my bottle and grabbing some food from my drop bag, I was out and heading back by 4:25.  At this point I was thinking at low 9 hour finish was possible.
getting water filled at Black Coud (mile 7) aid
photo by Diana Hassel
I was feeling a little heavy with an uneasy stomach heading out of the aid station, I probably ate too much too quickly.  I also realized a little too late that I should have used the bathroom before I left the aid station.  I walked for a bit and gradually moved to a jog.  I traded encouragements and high 5s with Rob and Eddie who were both close behind me and looking strong.  I started to feel better a ran well back to the base of the big climb up Ball Mountain.  Mile 27 up to the pass climbed 575 feet and I walked all of it for my slowest mile of the day (22:23).  I was glad to get to the top and enjoyed some rain as I ran the next two miles back to the Rock Garden aid station.  I was relieved to see that there were porta potties and I made a 5 minute pit stop- this was a first for me in a 50 mile race.  The sky cleared as I ran back down from Rock Garden in miles 30-32 and was starting to really feel the accumulation of miles, altitude and hills in my legs.  I climbed back up to Printer Boy, arriving in 6:42, where Cat and Mallory helped me fill my bottle and get me something to eat.  I really didn't feel like eating anything, but I took some pretzels and I drank two cups of coke.  Cat asked me if I wanted to take a second water bottle and I told her no (this was a mistake).  They asked me if I was okay and I said I was fine, but they told me later that I didn't look too good.  I tried to eat the pretzels as walked out of the aid station, but ended up having to spit most of it out, because I just couldn't swallow.

The 3.5 miles out of Printer Boy climb just over 1100 feet on a wide dirt road which makes it considerably less steep than Towers, but after 33 miles, this section was hard.  It was totally exposed and I hit the section at the hottest part of the day.  I walked/jogged as best I could all the while thinking, I just need to get to the top of this hill and then I would have a nice 10 miles of down hill to the finish.  This climb took me nearly an hour and I was running out of water when I got to the top.  I turned off the road on to the down hill trail and I immediately knew the down hill was not going to be as easy or as fast as I had hoped.  I had hit the top in 7:38 so I only needed to average 11-12 minutes per mile to make a 9:30 finish, but as I pushed down the trail 11 minute miles were feeling really tough.  I got to the last aid station at mile 40 and filled my water bottle and drank some more coke.  My legs felt spent and I hoped I could manage a reasonable pace to the finish.

Those last 7 miles were much harder than I had planned on them being and I did quite a bit of walking.  I got passed a lot and sunk in to a late race funk like I haven't experienced for a long time.  I ran out of water with a mile to go, trudged along in the heat and finally dragged myself to the finish line in 9:50:42.  The 13.5 miles from the start to Printer Boy took me 2:27 minutes on the way out.  That same section on the way back which is predominantly down hill took 3:08.  I achieved one of my goals for the race with sub 10 hour finish, but I was disappointed with the slow and ugly final miles.  I'm not sure if it was an issue of hydration, nutrition, unrested legs, altitude, something else or some combination of these factors.  This was so different than my finish at Big Horn 4 weeks earlier where I ran the last 7 miles at 9 minute pace and better.  Anyway, I was glad to be done and I had some serious second thoughts about my plans to come back in 5 weeks and run more than twice as far.

With a little more reflection, I can't be too upset about the race.  I signed up for this race to get a good long run at altitude and I got that.  I didn't taper for this race, so I shouldn't have expected to feel fabulous and fresh all the way through.  As bad as I felt those last 7 miles, I kept the pace in the 11-13 minute per mile range which is still better that what I need to run for a 25 hour 100 mile.  I now have just over 4 weeks left to get in a couple more good long runs and some altitude and then rest well so that I can show up on August 20 at 4:00 am ready to go.

The rest of the Fort Collins/Boulder crowd did exceptionally well.   Dan ran his first 50 miler in an amazing 8:47 and won his age group.  Eddie finished his first 50 very strong and well under his time goal in 9:32.  The Honey Badger ran some 50 minutes faster than he had in this same race a year ago finishing in 9:54.  Kiwi Rob was crowned a Silver King with a 10:27 run the day after a 6:30 bike.

Thanks so much to Cat and Mallory for cheering and support.  Thanks to Carol Turk and Diana Hassel for being out on the course and cheering.  And thanks to the legendary Caballo Blanco for hanging out with a bunch of Fort Collins trail runners and sharing your very inspiring story.  I look forward to seeing many of you in Leadville next month.

GPS Data



  1. Well done, Alex. It's a tougher course than most people think...last year I suffered through the last miles just like you did! But I'm going to need you to turn it around and pull it need to be strong enough to pull me along for 26 miles in the LT100! I didn't run as much as I wanted to in Australia, but got a few good runs in. Too much pavement!

  2. It was an honor and a privilege to crew for you at the Silver Rush. THANK YOU for including me. I had a great weekend, and can't wait to kick some butt at Leadville 100!!!

  3. Good job, Alex. My first thought was to say how surprising the fast time but tough finish at the Silver Rush vs slower time and strong finish at Big Horn. But maybe it's not surprising. Maybe that's just running hard. Good work. I am sure you'll have a great run in the LT100.