Looking for a goal to get myself focused on a training plan, I signed up for the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mountain Bike in February thinking it would be a good way. 22 weeks later, race day arrived and I was as prepared as I was ever going to be for the challenge.
While this is not a 14er, I spent enough time above 10/11,000 feet it justifies a trip report of it’s own.
Gun time was 9 am, so we arrived at the start line around 8 am in order to get a good spot at the base of Dutch Henry Hill. The start of this race has 800 people climbing an unrideable (I know someone will accept that as a challenge) a ski hill that quickly narrows down to the width of a one lane road at the top so positioning was important.
The start line was relatively quiet upon our arrival. I was surprised at how empty it felt given that they were expecting 800 entries, and undoubtedly close to 2,000 people total when you add in friends/fans. Thats quite the addition when the town only was 2,602 people to begin with.
We had taken care of your typical pre-race duties (numbers, bathrooms, strategy review etc) and in our positions by 8:45. Our starting spot was dead-smack in the middle of it all. Not terrible, but not great. I will remember next year that it is kosher to put your bike where you want to start and leave it there.
The start line quickly filled up as 9 am approached and the race director filled the air with instructions and reminders about the course. Prior to the shotgun start, we stood at attention for the National Anthem. A late rider accidentally pulled the power cord to the PA right as the verse “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there” finished. Without pause, the race field stepped in and finished in chilling style. As the anthem wrapped up, the PA was plugged back in and flowed smoothly into Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” which got me even more amped up and ready to roll.
Shortly after climbing the hill, the course bottlenecks into the size of a one lane road which led to a backlog of people waiting to get through. The course then bottlenecks again about .5 miles farther where it shrinks to a short but steep singletrack trail. Once through there, the crowded nature of the course eased.
The first climb is long but not steep. It is mostly fire road after the first mile or two. The climb starts around 10,000 feet and pushes to just over 12,000 feet in 10 miles. It doesn’t really start to climb until 2.5 miles into the race though, so essentially you climb 2,000 feet in 7.5 miles. The last mile or so was extremely muddy and slick as much of the trail doubled as a creek. Almost (if not all riders) were hiking a bike here.
My target time to peak out at the top was 1:30. Doing so would put me on pace to finish between 6-7 hours. I reached the top at 1:35, a bit slow, but not concerning as I attributed much of it to the early race logjam. I was feeling strong as I stopped for a second to eat and saddle up for the descent.
The descent was quick and straightforward. I rolled into the first aid station (13.88 miles) at 1:45, back on pace. I was greeted by my crew of Christine, Dylan, and Jeremy’s mom. Dylan was a step ahead of all of us…
The race was quickly back on dirt trail and continued to head downhill for a short bit longer, but it would soon begin climbing again. I would forget this downhill later…
The journey to Stumptown was a challenging ride. We descended down to 10,631 feet before we began to climb back up to 12,000 feet. Not quite as big or long a climb as our first one, but it was a good bit steeper as we climbed 1,400 feet in 3.5 miles. The trail was a bit more technical as we mixed in a couple sections of singletrack but it was still plenty rideable.
What I soon found was that I had significantly underestimated the smaller climb after the the main climb. It was only a mile and only climbed 450 feet. As I discovered, the last quarter mile was loose dirt that would have been a challenge to ride solo, much less with 20 other people around you and the increasingly frequent riders coming down.
I was able to peak out at 2:54, 6 minutes ahead of my goal pace. The pass was beautiful and filled with wildflowers. I wish I could have spent more time enjoying the view, but I had a descent to complete. A very sketchy one at that.
I set off for the last 3 miles until the aid station thinking I could cruise in as it was all downhill. Unfortunately, the downhill was mostly loose, large rocks that I had no choice but to attempt as there was a steady stream of riders climbing up the pass now. I completed most of the riding with my back brake honking increasingly louder (if you ridden with me…you know this well) until just above a spot where the trail leveled out. All of the sudden my tires couldn’t grip anymore and my hardtail couldn’t maintain control. Not wanting to run into someone, I slide like I was heading into 3rd base and got the bike to the ground relatively gently and leaving myself uninjured save for a nice raspberry on my hip.
The remainder of the ride into Stumptown is straightforward and I was able to attack it with gusto arriving at the aid station in 3:20, right on pace. Dylan quickly looked over my bike and realigned my front brake as I reloaded on water/sports drink and food. The turnaround was another minute up the road. Jeremy had come through shortly before and stopped by on his way back out.
The climb out from Stumptown was easily the hardest part of the day. I was able to make quick work back to the singletrack trail that approached the pass, but once I crossed the bridge, it was hike a bike for the next mile. It was easily the slowest of the day at 22 minutes/mile. It wasn’t that the trail was unrideable. It wasn’t. But the current state of exhaustion my legs were in made it much harder to manage.
On the summit, I stopped to hydrate and take 10 seconds to enjoy the flowers and then I was off on the descent. I had time to make up as well as the small climb back up to 12,000 feet for the 5th time of 6 during the race. This was the most technical section of the course as it was a mix of rocks and roots, but the trail was wide, leaving plenty of route choices.
I was back at 12,000 feet in 15 minutes and ready for the long descent into the 3rd and final aid station which was at the same location as the first one.
It’s easy to forget that mountain biking is a whole body sport. The constant chatter of rocks, roots, and terrain require an upper body strength that is not needed on the road. At this point, my hands were beginning to experience something similar to a shooting pain every time I went through a rough section, which was making it hard to brake. Thankfully, it wasn’t terrible, but I would have to keep an eye on it.
The descent into the aid station was easily the most fun part of the day. Singletrack and narrow road made for some flow which was much needed at the time mentally. What I had forgotten about was that damn hill coming up to the 3rd aid station. It was only 400 feet in a mile, but I was mentally unprepared. I rolled into the aid station looking exhausted and cooked.
I took a longer break here and inhaled some PB and J which was much needed. I was long past lunch and had only eaten Shot Blocks, Clif Bars, and Stinger Waffles during the race. I needed some sustainability.
I was in the aid station right on pace at 4:54. I knew I had an excellent shot at hitting my goal of 6-7 hours. I wondered if I had a shot to break 6. Christine and Dylan flipped my epic switches and I hit my recently installed Beast Mode button as a rolled out of the aid station. Just before starting the final climb, which is never steep or technical, I passed by Lance Armstrong who was running aid for some other riders. Regardless of his doping, I dug a little motivation from that because lets be honest, he was still the best due to the fact that everyone was doping.
I felt I needed to reach the top of the climb by 5:30 to have a chance to break 6. This would give me 30 minutes to cover the 10 mile descent back to Leadville. I knew it was an outside chance, but averaging 3 minute miles on a downhill is not unreasonable.
Though the climb was never steep or technical, the length of it and the previous workload of the day took its toll. My legs were beginning to cramp up and I had to stop several times to stretch them out. I reached the top at 5:38. I knew sub 6 was out of the question, but I wanted to finish on the low end of the 6 hour range so after stretching and taking a quick sip of Gatorade, I set off on the downhill. My legs were beyond relieved to know they were done with the major climbing.
As the road descended, my hands began to cramp more and more from the pressure on the handlebars and the braking. There were several sections I was unable to squeeze the brakes they hurt so bad. The trail was loose rock up top but as we descended into the forest, it got tackier and easier to ride. With about 3 miles to go, I began to push for the finish line. By this time we were low in the forest (around 10,000 feet) and I knew we had a little bit of rolling hills to get out, but my legs were feeling strong so I attacked them all.
Finally, I came upon the singletrack trail that had narrowed everyone out at the start of the race. I attacked it, spinning as fast as I could, but my legs didn’t have the strength to get beyond halfway. I got off the bike and ran up it, passing 2 riders while doing so. I was quickly back in the saddle and pushing the last .7 miles to the finish.
The last segment is a quick trip across the top of Dutch Henry Hill and then down a tubing run and around the finish. A brief but steep downhill flows into the finish line.
The Silver Rush 50 was extremely well-organized and well-run event. The course is challenging but not impossible. It left me feeling more tired than I’ve ever been after a race. However, I’m looking forward to going back next year and potentially targeting the Leadville 100 in 2014/15.
Race Stats (Garmin 405):
Distance: 47.3 miles
Elevation: 7,209 feet
1st Aid Station: 1:46
2nd Aid Station: 3:19
3rd Aid Station: 4:54
Finish Time: 6:27:51