Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Silver Rush 50 mile Ultramarathon

Had a very good outing, I feel, on this my first Ultramarathon.  After completing 5 marathons and 2 Ironman races, I was ready to go to the “Dark side”.   My initial exposure to trail running came from the Battan Memorial Death March 2012  and after reading Born to Run, I decided to give it a try.   I decided that a 50 miler would be a good first step with the idea to ultimately attempt a 100 mile race. I picked  The Silver Rush 50miler because it was in Leadville and I had heard about the 100 mile race and how hard it is thinking I could test how50 felt. It is a different course from the 100 but goes up two passes of 12,000 feet on the way out and again on the way back. The total ascent is 7,400 feet starting from a base elevation of 10,200 feet.

I started training in April using the Ultra ladies training schedule  They have back to back long runs on Sat and Sunday with 2 hard weeks followed by an easy week.  The longest Sat run is about 26 miles and then 12 on Sunday.  I can't say I followed the plan exactly but I put in some 50-75 miles week.   I learned that when training for an Ultra sometimes people go by time instead of miles which makes it easier to measure.   So at most, I ran 5-6 hours at one time.   As much as possible, I did some trail runs in the Franklin mountains and Ruidoso/Cloudcroft which was good for altitude training. It is said that 75% of the time has to be run in the terrain specific for the race but I could not approximate that.  I did run on the canal levies a lot which helped for getting feel of trail running but not as much in hills.  The Franklin Mountain runs on Sunday with the Run El Paso Club members and sometimes in Crazy Cat Mountain.

We left for Denver on Friday afternoon before the race.  Picked up  a rental car and drove 120 miles to Leadville.  We stayed at the Super 8 motel 1 block away from where the race starts, not a very nice hotel but very conveniently located.  Sat afternoon picked up my bib and scouted where the aide stations were where my crew could meet me.

Race morning woke up before 0400 as usual can't sleep night before race start at 0600.  I turned in a drop off bag at the start in case I missed my crew and started to gather around the starting line.  The temp was 41F so I was glad to be wearing a windbreaker. My hands were cold and probably should have worn some gloves.

The Start
Silver Rush has a peculiar start with an initial climb that is about 50 yards with a 20-25% gradient. It is called Dutch Henry hill and Is a downhill ski slope in winter (probably a blue).  It was designed as a way to spread the field of the 900 mountain bikers who ride the same course on Saturday.  Some actually do both races and they are called Silver Queen and Silver King those who complete both.  But I digress,  I walked like 90 % of the people with my hands on my knees leaning forward just like I have seen the elites on You tube.  The others are racing to the top of the hill where a silver coin is awarded to the first male and first female plus they have an automatic entry into this year's Leadville 100 in August. (they still have to pay entry fee though)

First Section 7 miles to Black cloud Aid Station
After the initial hill we started out on trail with a slight downhill the surrounding forest was beautiful and I was thinking this is what I spent all those days training for.   This section was wide and crowded which kept pushing the pace.  I ran about 10:30 to 11:00 minute miles and walked every mile as I have done for every marathon.  (Galloway method). During the uphills I would try to keep about 12:00 minute miles but I walked them if they were too steep.  I carried with me a 20 oz. hand held bottle with Gatorade,  a waist strap with another 20 oz bottle also with Gatorade,  chocolate Gu, Cliff bars, and Salt tablets.  I had a Gu after 30 minutes and by the time I arrived at the first aid station I had finished both bottles.  The first aid station on the way out is not manned,  they had 2 Igloo coolers with Gatorade which I used to fill my bottles but noticed they were running low.  I found out later they actually did run out, and many were not happy about it.

Section 2 Black Cloud to Printer Boy 7.5 miles total distance 13.5 miles   
This is where the climbing begins in earnest with a 6 mile climb up to the first 12,000 feet on single tract.  It is a little technical in places and we passed a couple of small streams.  Thankfully, the water was not high enough to be over the rocks to allow us to pass without getting shoes wet.  I raced with Salomon Cross Fell shoes.  They are Ryan Sandes favorite shoe and the ones he used when he won Leadville 100 in 2011.   I brought along and debated whether to use the New Balance MT 110s which are minimalist trail shoes ( bought at Up and Running). They are very low to the ground with a  rock plated for added protection. Anton Kuprichka designed these and will race Leadville 100 this year with those.  I think I made a good choice.  I saw 2 to 3 people with  Vibram 5 fingers ( not a good choice in my view) and 1 guy had sandals with straps like the Tarahumara wear. 
On the way down from the first climb we went down a gravel road.  I decided to go slow during this section to save my quads for later.  This is when I met up with Jerry who was also running about 12:00 min miles downhill.  He had done several ultras and we talked the whole way down.  He told me his ankles were bone on bone and he had too much pain to go faster down hill.  He had done several 100s and was using this as a training run for this August's Leadville 100.  He echoed what I have heard often that a 100 is much harder than 2 50s.  Sorta like an Ironman is much harder than 2 70.3s.  I arrived at the Printer Boy aid station and Lety and the kids were there to meet me.  It was so great to see them and I got more Gu's, refilled my bottles with Gatorade , ate a Cliff Bar, and got more sunblock sprayed on. 

Section 3 Printer Boy to Rock Garden 4.5 miles with total distance covered 18 miles
After the aid station we ran down a forested quad trail, I'll call it to a road crossing then back up a gravel road and then up hill again towards Ball Mountain.  I had read a quote that I took to heart: "take what the trail gives you! "    So, I followed same pattern by walking the steep up hills, running the little flat sections, and going slow downhill to save my quads for later.  .  At this point is where I saw the podium overall male and female racers coming back. They looked fast and fit.  I was humbled and kept running my own race.

Section 4 Rock Garden to Stumptown 7 miles with total distance covered 25 miles.
 This is in my view the most beautiful section of the course as we go around and over  Ball Mountain. Again going up to 12,000 feet along single tract trail that was over timberline so it made for an impressive panorama.  A note about the altitude, never having participated in any event at this elevation, I had great concern about how it would feel.  Surprisingly, it was not as bad as I feared and  I think living in El Paso gives us a benefit compared to folks at sea level.  Of course people who live and train in Leadville clearly have an advantage.  After the pass we went down to 11,200 feet to the turn around point.  This section is the steepest and most technical going up and down.  A few people carried climbing poles which I think is a waste,  probable the only section you would use them.  My crew was there waiting and I was able to pick up my drop off bag and take to them as I never needed it.  Next to the timing mat there was an abandoned mining tunnel with rail tracts leading into it.  At the aid station I refilled on Gu and Gatorade. I saw rain clouds gathering so I took my impermeable wind breaker. 

Section 5. Stumptown to Rock Garden Aid Station 7 miles with total distance covered 30 miles

The trail initially is a gravel road then jeep road followed by single tract back up to the Ball mountain pass.  As I walked up I ran into Larry, also a veteran ultrarunner.  He said that in his view the effects of altitude were genetically predetermined and some people could and some couldn't handle it.  I got my first experience with the effects of altitude on the top of the pass.  There was one guy on the side of the trail vomiting.   Fortunately he was not alone and for a second I got a little nauseated but I pressed on and the feeling passed.  I had heard on podcasts and read there was a lot of vomiting and GI symptoms in Ultras.  Exercise scientists do not fully understand the causes of such symptoms of GI distress during intense physical exertion. But they have identified some of the contributing factors. In a 2005 review published in the online International SportMed Journal, authors Stephen Simons, MD, and Gregory Shaskan, MD, wrote, “To date, contributing theories mainly focus on the mechanical agitation of the gut, fluid shifts, decreased splanchnic blood flow, dehydration, increased sympathetic and parasympathetic tone, endotoxaemia, changes in bowel transit time, hormone shifts and autoimmune changes. However, none of these adequately explain the full range of GI pathology.” The descent from the pass was steep and was followed by a short incline before descending to Rock Garden aid station. 

Section 6. Rock Garden to Printer Boy Aid Station 4.5 miles with total distance covered 34.5 miles 
As I arrived to Rock Garden Aid station, I took an electrolyte capsule with water, had Gatorade and GU on the way and continued the descent to 10,800 feet. I tried as I could to maintain a good pace but my feet were starting to heat up and the sun was bearing down on us.  At the bottom, we cross a road and then continue into a forest for about 3 miles up to the aid station.  My kids, Lety and her son were dutifully waiting for me there.   It was 2:30 pm as we had calculated.  Furthermore, we were aided by a Spot Device which I recently purchased which allows GPS tracking anywhere in the world.  It can be accessed via the Internet to  pinpoint your location to let everyone know where you are.  Designed for outdoor enthusiasts  it can also send an SOS message to a predetermined e-mail address or mobile via text and also an OK message to let everyone know how you are doing. At the aid station, I poured cold water on my head, ate a Cliff bar and drank a whole 20 oz bottle of Gatorade.  I refilled my bottles and kept going.

Section 7.  Printer Boy to Black Cloud Aid Station 7.5 miles with total distance covered 40 miles
After the aid station followed an incline back up the 12,000 mountain pass.  Again the views were spectacular and we were surrounded by nearly 14,000 foot peaks.  I walked a good portion of the uphill section and ran the flatter sections.  On the way down the mountain the rain started with a slight trickle and then it poured with some lighting.  I remember reading that if you feel the hair in the back of your head stand up, then dive to the lowest point as this could mean a strike is coming.   The rain cooled me off so it was very nice.   I made pretty good time and was able to run the downhill sections.  It was about this time that I started to believe that I could finish the race in 12 hours. I arrived at the aid station with 7.5 miles to go and a little over 1:30 hours.  

Section 8 Black Cloud to FINISH 7.5 miles.
After the aid station, the course is mostly flat with some rolling hills.  On one of the hills, I tried to run a little too fast and started to get a cramp on my side.  Then I reached that "low point" I had heard about and began to walk and breath deeper to get rid of lactic acid which I assumed was the culprit of my pain. I was making good time and then the last mile came and there were some wicked uphills which took my time away and pushed me just ahead of the coveted 12 hour mark.  Nonetheless, I reached the finish and the kids were waiting for me and ran along with me on the last section to the finish. 

Finish Photo by Joaquin
FINISH 12:04:19  avg pace 14:29 min/mile
I crossed the finish line and received a finisher's medal and bracelet.   Met up with my crew and went to the nearby tent.  I got really cold after a while as I was soaking wet.  We got back in rental car and headed back to Denver for the trip home.

I had a great experience with my first Ultra-marathon.  I was pleased with my time and overall performance.  The altitude did not seem to be a great factor which I had feared and the distance turned out to be achievable for me.  My pacing and nutrition were spot on and I would not change a thing.  

I want to thank all my newly found running partners from the Run El Paso Club from who I received much encouragement and advice.  Also, to my  fellow trail runners at the Franklin Mountain State Park as they helped me to train on trails.  Finally, a big thank to my incredible crew: Lety, Javier, Celia, Joaquin, and Zack.  I told Lety that it seemed like she had done this before because she was so organized and efficient.  I could not have done this race without her and for that I am grateful.