There’s a Big Bang episode where Amy tries to help Sheldon out with his inability to cope with closure. I guess you could say I have similar pet peeves in that I like to finish what I start. When I DNF’ed at last year’s Silver Rush 50 at mile 34, I was crushed, but I knew I’d be back.
My training leading up to this year’s race was much different than last year’s. Last year I had a number of quality long distance training runs that put well enough mileage on my legs. This year, I decided to aim for quality over quantity, and aimed at a handful of challenging training runs up at altitude with lots of elevation gain (2 training runs over Loveland Pass, Vail Pass Half Marathon, Copper Mountain Half Marathon, and some Colorado Trail fun). I wasn’t very impressed with the fact that my longest runs were two 20-milers with a weekend of recovery in between, but they were quality runs, and I was satisfied. I’ve also been riding my bike (Big Blue) quite a bit, back and forth from work, and went into this past weekend’s race knowing that I’d done all I could.
Pete and I headed up to Leadville on Saturday afternoon. I was playing the build-up safe: no posts, no announcements, not even a hotel! We ended up “camping” in the Jeep, parked in the race lot, which made for a very easy race morning!
We watched the Silver Rush 50 MTBers finish and enjoyed a couple of brewskies in the cool mountain air before grabbing some grub at Tennessee Pass Cafe (YUM), and then returned to our humble accommodations where we read and passed out for the night.
Race morning was a breeze, and before I knew it, I was off with the pack heading out on a 50 mile adventure. I was happy knowing several people racing – two of which are on the WWR Ultra Relay Team with me: Christine O’Gorman (first ultra – 4th place overall – 1st in age group – KILLED IT) and Mur Hale (first ultra – made that course her you know what!). Christine was off with the front pack and Mur and I chatted a bit during the first several miles until we separated and started running our own races.
I could tell from the start that my stomach was off. “Okay, no big deal,” I told myself. When we crested the first ascent at mile 10, I was itching to see Pete at the mile 14 aid station. I needed some encouragement and a comforting face. When I reached him at mile 14, I told him about my stomach and he said to just keep going and try to calm down. Reluctantly, after grabbing some nutrition, I left him and carried on – trying to prepare myself mentally for the next portions of the course.
SHOUT OUT TIME: I have to give a shout out to Pete – that trooper was nothing short of incredible in terms of keeping me going throughout the race. He was there at three different aid stations – encouraging me, joking and keeping my spirits high. It’s crazy how big a morale boost you can get from the simple sight of someone you love and supports you. BONUS POINTS: Pete actually got three rounds of disc golf in between aid stations – that’s pretty darn talented if you ask me :).
To be honest, miles 10 to 24 were not only uneventful, but also quite enjoyable. The weather was beautiful; the views breathtaking; I almost forgot I was running an ultra. Well, let me tell you how quickly that feeling lasted! I reached the turnaround point, grabbed some more nutrition, gave Pete a kiss and was on my way to the climb that ended it all in 2012.
I began the ascent back up to 12,000 feet and took it suuuuuuper easy. I didn’t want to lose my lungs like I did last year, and after a painfully slow hike, I made it to the top and let out a good war cry. I made it! I started running down the mountain in good spirits and ready to hit the 30-mile aid station.
As I trotted happily down the trail, I started to feel some “pings and stings,” as I like to call it. All of a sudden the clouds opened up and spit pea-sized hail onto us. As I let out expletive after expletive (those little suckers HURT!) I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony of the situation: here I am, attempting a 50-mile race, and I’m in more pain and frustration getting hit by hundreds of tiny hail stones. I passed a couple of runners hunkering down under trees and said to hell with it, I’m not stopping because of some hail!
The hail finally died down after a couple of miles, and as I approached the mile 30 aid station, I was happy to find the port-a-loo vacant. After dropping the browns off at the Superbowl (and throwing a flag for too many men on the field), I headed down my favorite part of the course: the historic mining area that’s closed to everyone except during the race. It’s so cool to meander your way through history and untouched beauty that you can only imagine was full of life so many years ago.
When I reached the mile 34 aid station and Mr. Pete, I was ready to finish this thing. My stomach wasn’t feeling so hot (again), and when I tried to take in some nutrition, well, it came back out. I snagged my rain jacket and baseball cap from Pete and told him I’d see him at the finish line. As I made a left-hand turn down the road that would lead me to my final ascent before the long descent into the finish, I felt an ominous itch take hold of my emotions. This four mile climb was going to be brutal.
I began hiking the climb and immediately took a turn for the worse. My energy levels were zapped. I couldn’t take in any fluids. My heart rate was severely elevated and I was having a hard time catching my breath. And I swear for the majority of that climb my eyes were half open I was so drained. I slowed down -way down – to try and salvage precious energy I’d need to get to the finish. The worst part about this last climb is the fact that you can not only see the entire four mile distance of it, but you can also look down to the right and see the runners descending the trail. It’s like a sick mind game, and I wasn’t in the mood to play.
When I finally reached the top, I wish I could say I was happy. I was actually pissed off. I’d lost my lungs – again – and couldn’t catch my breath for the life of me. As I watched runners bound down the trail I become more and more crestfallen. No! This was’t how it was supposed to go! I conquered my mountain at mile 28! I felt tears emerging and anger rising within me. I cursed my lungs; I cursed my stomach; I cursed myself for coming back to this stupid race. It was definitely the lowest moment of the race for me.
As I approached the mile 40 aid station, I knew I needed fluids, and when I saw a glass of coke sitting on the table, I almost squealed with glee. I don’t drink pop, but the second I gulped down that glass I was back in action. I assume the combination of sodium and caffeine is what did it, but regardless, I was a new woman.
I started running – slowly at first – and then found a rhythm that I stuck with for the next 8 miles. With about 5 miles to go, the rain started. No, not a drizzle or mist, I’m talking a torrential downpour that created a number of wading pools on the trail. Strangely enough, I welcomed the rain. It cooled me off and urged me on. The lightning and thunder rattled my thoughts and kept me moving to the finish.
As I descended the ski hill to the red carpet of the Silver Rush 50, I was all smiles, relieved to have conquered the course that defeated me in the past. The roller coaster of emotions, highs and lows are what make an ultra race so challenging, and this one is up there on top as one of the most difficult I’ve ever achieved.
What I fueled with: