My Silver Rush 50M Race Recap
"the goal has to be greater than the fear, the fear of the unknown, of the pain, of the distance, the goal has to win over the fear."
With the Ice Age 50 Mile under my belt, I had gained confidence and knowledge, but was still humbled by how tough I knew this course was going to be.
I had been dreaming about this race for two years. Ever since I heard Robyn (the owner of Edge where I coach) talk about her experience of racing Silver Rush in 2016, it stuck with me…I remember thinking this sounds amazing (and awful)!!! I want to do this one day!!!
We have good friends that we’ve celebrated all our 40th birthdays together, this year it was my turn to “celebrate”. So when asked, “what do you want to do for your 40th?”. I answered…”how’s about you crew me at this race in Leadville.” They were in, no questions asked, and the rest is history!
I had done the proper prequel races, several road marathons, my first trail ultra in the fall of 2016, Ice Age 50 km in 2017, Ice Age 50 M this past spring…and now was ready to tackle this legendary race.
At 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America.
Leadville was literally savedfrom extinction by race director Ken Chlouber who revived the town by planning the Leadville 100 race (as in 100 miles). That has grown to an entire race series that is infamous in the ultra-community. Nicknamed the “Race Across The Sky,” the race is known for it’s challenging gritty conditions – altitude (no oxygen) plus extreme climbs (over 12,000’ two times).
I knew my body could handle 50 miles, but 50 miles at altitude, with over 7,500’ of elevation gain… this was a new beast to tackle.
Training for the Silver Rush 50M Race
My biggest "training deposit” was running the Ice Age 50M. I had to give myself proper time off to recover, but also keep the base of my training. I took a full week off of running before diving back into my training plan. My longest training weekend leading up to Silver Rush was 25 miles one day, followed by 10 miles the next day, and then took an easy taper into race weekend. Robyn had told me that the best altitude training was our hot humid Chicago summers, so I soaked in all those steamy days as “training deposits!”.
Race Day Prep
Bill (the hubby) and I arrived in Denver on the Friday before the race. We drove to Frisco (where we had an AIRBNB) and then to Leadville so we’d have an idea of what the drive would look like race day morning.
Today was packet pick up, we got to explore Leadville and investigate the different crew stops.
Leadville literally comes alive during these race weekends, it’s like Christmas in July! The town itself is maybe 8 blocks long, but is beautiful and charming. I was bubbling over with excitement and naïve enough about the challenge that lied ahead!!!
We slept in, knowing the night before the race, I wouldn’t sleep well. We went for a 4-mile shake out run, and I was happy that my lungs AND my legs felt good in Frisco (which is at 9,000’ elevation, so close to Leadville’s mountainous elevation).
That afternoon Matt & Mariann arrived and we had dinner and a crew “meeting”. We discussed logistics and timing and I gave them the run-down of all that was in my crew bag.
I had my typical superstitious dinner of a half a piece of pizza and an open-faced burger.
We all relaxed and laughed and chatted, I was trying to keep my nerves calm.
My crew consisted of my hubby Bill, and our amazing friends Matt & Mariann who dedicated their weekend to helping me achieve this goal. (You know you have some good friends when they give up their weekend to help you achieve a goal, that includes waking up before the sun rises, chasing you around the mountains all day, and essentially being your personal serpa of extra race essentials. I would get to see them at the Printer Boy Aid Station (Miles 14 & 36) and at the Stumptown Aid Station (halfway point).
I prepped and laid out my race gear and double (well maybe triple) checked my crew bag and drop bag before going to bed.
I was hydrating like crazy, drinking Fiji water like it was going out of style! **Fun Fact: Fiji water hydrates you the best when at altitude.
I felt a mix of excitement and nerves as we went to bed that night.
Race Day Morning
Our alarm went off at 4am 😳
My plan was to run the runnable, hike the uphills, and cautiously run/hike the downhills, and simply to just keep moving.
For nutrition, I kept to the same plan I had at Ice Age, eat 1 energy bite and take 1-2 salt caps EVERY 45 mins, and stick to it (plus the occasional gooey PB&J and a Ginger Ale…only bummer altitude makes bread go stale…fast – so the PB&J’s were a bit on the crunchy side). I had listened to a couple Facebook live videos from Leadville coaches on hydration and nutrition at altitude and what symptoms/signs to look for in your body if the effects of altitude start to hit.
I ate my breakfast (my standard, almond butter toast with sliced bananas, almond slivers, and a drizzle of honey) and drank my “race morning brew” of coffee (to ensure that system was “clear” ha ha).
We packed up the car and at 4:45am started to make the drive to Leadville. The sun was starting to light up the sky, and it was a beautiful drive to the start.
Silver Rush 50M Course
The 50 mile race begins at 6am at Dutch Henri Sledding Hill, a ridiculous yet fitting start to the race. It literally looks like you’re running straight up. The athlete that makes it to the top first, gets an entry into the Leadville 100M race that is virtually impossible to get in to.
The Start was buzzing with energy. It was a cool, brisk mountain morning, with temps starting out in the low 40s. My crew and I exchanged hugs and good lucks. I made my way to the start and found two of my fellow Edge members, Ed and Scott.
The national anthem played and Ken Chlouber fired the starting gun and we were off!
The 50M course and out and back, and is marked with pink ribbons tied to trees and pink ground flags.
There were 7 aid stations along the way, Rock Garden (7M), Printer Boy (14M), Black Cloud (18M), Stumptown (25M - the halfway), and then you pass through Black Cloud twice, Printer Boy, and Rock Garden before making your way back to the finish.
Once you get up the hill at the Start the course rolls and meanders through the woods for a while before hitting a decent climb. About 5 minutes into the start I ran into Miana (another Edge member) and luckily we ran with each other most of the way through the halfway point at Stumptown. I was so grateful to have her company the first half of the course. She had run this course before and is an ultra-veteran, so it was great to have her “knowledge” as we hit tough parts of the course.
The first part of the race up to the first aid station was humbling. There wasn’t a moment where I felt I could get in a rhythm or feel like I was in “cruise control”. These first 7 miles gave me a great snapshot of day, it was going to take patience and determination, and simply one foot in front of the other. I was just grateful that I didn’t really have any major effects from the altitude*. (*some people experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, etc).
After the long climb, I hit a decent into the first aid station – Rock Garden. The sun was up and it had warmed it up, conditions felt perfect. It was a little after 7:30am, I was at 7 miles, and felt good, it was nice to hit the first milestone of the day. There was more descending, and then a second climb which felt unrelenting…it…just…kept…going. There was a steep high pass, once you got to the top it was just gorgeous.
Next up was the next aid station - Printer Boy. And it was the first time I’d get to see my crew for the day! I was 14 miles in and it was just around 9am. I could hear Taylor Swift playing and knew I was close! It was so great to see familiar faces, it was a great energy boost. I refilled my pack with all the essentials, slathered on sunscreen, and was sent off with hugs and yells of “see you at the halfway mark!”.
The next section was very rocky, I remember having to be very cautious with my footing. I just kept chugging with laser focus to not wipe out. It was only about an hour to the next aid station – Black Cloud. It was a little after 10am and I was 18 miles in. I was super excited to get my first “en-race” salted watermelon (seriously races like this drop you down to appreciating the small things – like salted watermelon!).
Out of this aid station there was just…more…climbing. I hit the highest part of the course at around 11am, Me and Miana snapped a picture, and I stopped for a moment to soak it all in!!! By now it was starting to feel really hot, I was wetting down the buff I had around my neck to cool off, but it felt like the sun was literally right overhead (and it practically was with how high up we were!)
It was a fairly good decent into the halfway mark aid station – Stumptown. I was halfway, whew! My crew was lively and just the energy I needed. I definitely felt like I had run 25 miles, it was 11:30am, the sun was shining strong, and it was getting hotter. I made sure to add extra Skratch to my pack (hello electrolytes) and grabbed my climbing poles. Robyn had texted Bill to warn me that the next section was VERY HARD.
It was humbling to know I had 3+ miles of a straight steep climb ahead of me. My crew gave me a pep talk and told me to keep pushing, and they would see me in 11 miles.
I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Every step took effort. I couldn’t even drink and hike at the same time, there just wasn’t enough air. I was trying my best to keep my heart rate and breathing in check, but it was challenging. But I kept plodding forward. The breathtaking (literally) views kept me going!!!
The sky was incredible, dark clouds were accumulating in the distance. And you could hear rumblings of thunder in the distance. The weather nerd in me was like “this is so cool, to be so high up in the clouds, and experience a thunderstorm…” not thinking “um what do we do if there is lightening?” All I knew was we were going to be treated with a thunderstorm, I just didn’t know when it would hit.
The course after the halfway was slightly different from the way out, you go around a mountain for a good stretch before getting back to the next aid station. It was super windy and narrow and winds were picking up. I attempted to run sections, but it was just too technical.
I hit the next aid station just in time. One of the volunteers asked if I had rain gear, I answered yes, and he said good, put it on, a storm will be here in no time. And just after I got my jacket on, it started to downpour.
I was actually excited to be in this storm!!! Then the hail started…I kept thinking just…keep…. moving.
The storm brought quickly dropping temps with steady winds that kept picking up, gusting and swirling around each bend.
I returned back to Printer Boy, mile 36, around 2:30pm. I was so thankful to see my crew. It’s in these moments seeing loved ones gives you such a boost. I had gone 36 miles BUT still had 14 to go. I tried to be efficient getting out of this aid station and back on the road. But it was rough leaving my crew, knowing I wouldn’t see them again until the Finish.
The time between mile 36 and the next aid station (which was at mile 43) seemed like time had stopped. I was pushing forward but kept having waves of strength and waves of feeling alone and beaten down. At this point in the race, we were all so spread out, I hadn’t seen another runner in some time. That messes with your head too. You start to triple check for course markings, check your pace compared to time cut-offs, and start realizing just how long you’ve been out there. At least the rain had stopped and temps had started to rise again once I got back down to treeline, so I could take off all my rain gear.
By the time I had 3 or so miles to go, the terrain evened out, and resembled the trails I have back at home. Soft dirt and evergreen needles lined the floor. I told myself RUN…
I started to pass people and felt a wave of strength come over me.
I could hear the Finish, but was still far away. I ran back into Ed and Scott and ran a bit with them. It was so nice to see familiar faces this late in the race and they told me “looking strong” and that was the extra energy boost I needed. Ed warned me this section was a total “mind f*ck”. It’s brutal, you get close enough to the finish to hear the excitement and celebration at the Finish Line, but still have a mile to run up and around the mountain right nearby. After zig-zagging for what felt like an hour, I could tell the Finish was approaching.
I could hear Bill and Matt and Mariann cheering (and heckling me to go faster – ha ha) as I got the top of the finish hill (which is extremely steep), and I remembered Brian warning me that the finish hill is VERY STEEP, and he witnessed a guy fall down it the year before.
I started to make my way down (by this time I was moving very gingerly). I finally got down and got to my crew, Mariann handed me the Chicago flag, and I ran in wearing it like a super hero cape.
I was a Silver Rush 50 finisher…wow, I think it will take a while to really sink in. I crossed that finish and it was like time stood still but also the last 12 some hours all flashed before me. What an epic day it had been. I had dreamt about this race, the enormity of it, the challenge (mentally and physically) that it would be, and I came and DID IT.
There were moments I had to fight back tears, happy tears, from the “holy shit” I’m doing THIS, to the joy of being in this beautiful landscape, where you could see for days. I was LIVING, 100% my best life in those moments! I think I experienced every emotion out in the mountains that day.
To quote Dierks Bentley’s song Living…
Some days you start singin'
And you don't need a reason
Sometimes the world's just right
Your clear eyes ain't even blinkin'
Got a heart full of grateful
For all you've been given
Some days you just get by
Yeah some days you're just alive
Some days you're livin'
Some days you're livin' yeah yeah
Livin' like you'll never die
Blue's a little bluer up in the sky
You're high's a little high
You feel that fire you've been missin'
Some days you're living
Some days you're living
I was left with a full, grateful heart that day! I left everything I had out there, and left with no regrets!