Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Grand Mesa 50 Miler

I've wanted to do one of the Grand Mesa Ultra distances for a few years now, it's just never fit into the schedule. As you may recall (but probably not because it was a LONG time ago), I paced a 100 mile runner at this race several years back. It ended up being a scary, crazy experience as we got stuck in a torrential downpour in the middle of the night while trying to ascend 5000 feet in 5 miles... You can read more about it here. And while that left me with not really wanting to attempt the 100 here (seriously, this mountain can be brutal), I did still want to do one of the shorter distances. So, sometime during the winter, after I had committed to Lean Horse 100 and knew I would be focusing on trail & ultra running this summer, I signed up for this years 60K. Unfortunately, the race director decided to cancel the race sometime in late spring (April maybe?) after holding it for 4+ years. I was pretty bummed, but quickly found another race to do instead - the Rocky Mountain Half.

Well...about a month later, two local friends from our run club announced that they had taken it over from the old RD and would be putting it back on! Ugh...I was frustrated. I had JUST signed up for the Rocky Mountain Half... what to do, what to do?? This was a much closer drive and much more in the realm of the training I needed to do, but, I paid good money for the other race. Well my dilemma was quickly answered when I found out I won a free entry into this race, AND that the Half I signed up for had a deferment policy. It was finally settled - I would FINALLY do the Grand Mesa Ultra this year. Now my only question was which distance - the 50K or the 50 miler? Since I won the free entry, I decided to sign up for the 50 miler and then decide as it got closer whether I wanted to switch to the 50K or not...

Before I knew it, race week was here and I still hadn't committed to a distance. I felt pretty good after Chase The Moon 50K, so I was pretty sure I wanted to go for the 50 Miler, but I kept having that "don't over-train" thought going through my head (several seasoned ultra runners have told me it's better to under-train than over-train for a 100). But I also knew that having another 50 under my belt would be really good for me mentally (and I really struggle with the mental aspect in running)... so I decided to just go for it.

It was an hour drive and with the 6am start, I woke up at 3:45 on Saturday morning, hitting the road at 4:15. Just like clockwork I made it to the starting line at 5:15. I went and got my bib and T-shirt (which I really like!), used the restroom, and then worked on trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to carry with me. I would go through 6 aid stations, with some stretches as long as 10.5 miles between aid. That meant, I definitely wanted to carry a decent amount of food with me (and a variety because I NEVER know what I will be in the mood for when running long distances). So, while I'm sure I had way too much stuff, at least I had enough stuff... I also got my drop bag ready which would go out to the Flowing Park Aid Station which I would pass at Miles 25 and 40.

At about 5:50, I made my way to the starting line. We got a short race briefing (follow the orange flags and orange & white checkered ribbon), then I nervously chatted with some local runners for a few minutes until the gun went off and the start of my LONG day began.

The first section of this course is run along what is called the "Grand Mesa Lodge Trail". I think I'd use the word "trail" very loosly here. It was not much of a trail at all... Thankfully though, the RD's did a great job marking this part, so it was basically just cross country running to each flag or ribbon. I'm not going to lie though, not having much of a trail made it pretty difficult. I found myself stumbling on rocks a lot and going much slower than I had anticipated considering it wasn't a very difficult section elevation wise. Nevertheless, I knew I should be starting out slowly anyways, so I just kept at it and eventually made it to the Grand Mesa Lodge. We ran around the Lodge, then crossed Highway 65 and got onto a very short section that took us to the Crag Crest Parking Lot, where we had our first aid station (around 3.75 miles).

The sunrise shortly after we started!
I shed my long sleeve and gloves, grabbed a handful of peanut M&M's, and headed out for what I knew would be the toughest section of the course (although I still wasn't expecting it to be AS tough as it was) - the 10.5 mile Crag Crest Loop. I've ran this a couple times before and I knew it was semi-challenging during certain sections - and that I wouldn't be running that much on the crest (which is the high point of the course and a very thin almost "bridge" of rock that you go across - very cool views, but ROCKY), but in the realm of elevation gain and climbing, this trail isn't that significant. You gain about 1000' from the parking lot to the crest. That all being said, I was also doing this loop counter-clockwise for the first time. I've always ran it clockwise in the past... According to some runners, this was was supposedly easier. I guess we would find out!

Along the Lower Loop of Crag Crest Trail

Running counter-clockwise means you do the lower loop first - which is mostly through tree's and doesn't have a ton of elevation gain. This section went pretty well and I was very steadily running 13 minute miles. Not fast, but a decent pace for a somewhat technical trail (it wasn't insanely technical, but there were a lot of miscellaneous rocks here and there that made the probability of tripping very high). Eventually, I made it to the junction between the lower loop and upper loop. This meant it was time to start heading UP. Heading up, meant time to start walking. I settled into a nice power hike as I made my way up the 2 or so miles to the crest. On the way, I saw some wonderful wildlife - Cows - complete with fresh manure all over the trail! Yum. Finally, I got to the really rocky section... which meant I was just about to the top. Once I made it to the top, I very slowly jog/ran over the rocky stretch, eventually getting to the course photographer - who was right at the top of a not sure how that picture will turn out (it's a little hard to smile when you're huffing and puffing up a hill at over 11,000'). Shortly after passing the photographer, I got passed by the first and second place runners of the 25K - who had started an entire HOUR after me. That was depressing (I did know I would get passed by them, but it was sooner than I had expected). I also got passed by a friend, Jen, who was doing the 50K and got this photo of me:
Just a few rocks...

The "Crest" of Crags Crest
More of the "crest"
Official race photo!

Before I knew it, it was time to descend the 3 miles down from Crags Crest and back to the parking lot/aid station. One of the best sections! Once you're off the crest, this section is pretty runnable downhill. So I settled into a nice easy downhill pace and ran a few of my faster miles for the day, making it to the aid station (approx. Mile 14) in about 3 1/2 hours - MUCH slower than I had planned...but happy to be done with the hardest part!

Some of the downhill "runnable" section
This meant it was time to head back to the start/finish area on the "not-really-a-trail" Grand Mesa Lodge trail. With the exception of getting passed once, I was completely alone for this entire 3 1/2 mile stretch...and my attitude and mental game plummeted. The entire 3 1/2 miles I kept thinking, "how in the world, am I going to complete 50 miles today?" I wasn't even to 15 yet... I had been briefly thinking about this on my way up to the Crest earlier, but not as much as during this stretch. The lack of a trail, paired with being alone, and I kept stumbling on rocks sticking up (I never hit the ground, but I had a lot of close calls) left me down in the dumps. I was really thinking about asking what the policy was on dropping to the 50K when I got to the start/finish area (the 25K runners would be done here - the 50K and 50 milers continued on another trail that left from this same parking lot).

EVENTUALLY, I made it back to the start/finish area aid station. I grabbed some food, but I didn't see either of the two RD's to ask about dropping distances. So I decided I would run the Mesa Top section out to the next aid station (and turnaround point for the 50K) and decide then. My legs were really achy by this point too - which seemed so early in the race, it was just adding to my negative attitude. So I decided to take some Ibuprofen (my first time ever taking a pain killer during a race) and see if it helped, then I headed out on Mesa Top Trail - which would be a 7.5 mile stretch to the Flowing Park Aid Station.

I've done the first 6 miles of the Mesa Top Trail, so this part wasn't new to me. I knew it would be significantly easier than the first 18 miles had been. However, it was still a somewhat rocky trail in places and I had to watch my footing. It's slightly downhill, so I hoped I'd be able to run a decent amount of this, but my legs were just achy and tired and I wasn't having it. I ended up running a lot of 14-16 minute miles through this section. About 4 or so miles in, I think the Ibuprofen sunk in and I did start to feel better. I had several miles much closer to 14:00 instead of the 16:00 range. It was also kind of crazy that I didn't start to see a lot of 50K runners headed back until the last two or so miles to the aid station (I figured I would see the front runners WAY earlier). I guess everyone else felt like the course was pretty tough and slow as well!

At least the views were good!

Eventually I saw Jen headed back (who had snapped the picture of me earlier) and so I asked her how far it was to the Flowing Park Aid Station. She said I was pretty close - so I tried to pick up my pace a little as I finished my way along Mesa Top Trail. I was still debating if I should drop the the 50K at this point, but in the back of my head I knew that I had no viable reason to quit. The Ibuprofen had helped immensely - I was still tired, but my joints and muscles didn't feel nearly as achy as before. Plus I just knew that if I quit, I am sure to think back to that when the going gets tough during Lean Horse later this summer... So it was settled...I would continue on.

I got to Flowing Park, and spent a little longer at this aid station than the others - topping off my pack and fueling up on various snacks they had. It would be 9 pretty exposed miles to the next aid station - which was just an unmanned spot with water - and 15 until I made it back to this same Aid Station. After grabbing a packet of tailwind and my old Garmin out of drop bag, I headed out for the 15 mile lollipop loop of Flowing Park and Indian Point.

This lollipop section starts along a dirt road which was pretty runnable before you jut off onto singletrack for the remainder of the section. Right as I passed the junction between the outbound part of the loop and the inbound part, I saw who I assume to be one of the front runners in the 50 on his way inbound. I had been trotting along so slowly, I wasn't surprised at all to see him about 11 miles ahead of me. I also knew as he passed me that it was highly likely he was the last runner I would see on the course today. So I did something I rarely do in races, especially trail races... I got out my headphones and put on some music! I knew I was going to be on this long and lonely stretch for awhile and figured it would help pass the time. And not only did it help pass the time, but my mood really picked along with pace - and I ended up doing several miles in the 12:00 range.

Shortly after this, the course started nearing the edge of the Mesa - something I had really looked forward to. This was one section of the course I had not ever been on - but I had heard that this part hugged the ridgeline for many miles. So, of course the views along this section were stunning, which just continued to help my mood. This was why I was out here. THIS is why I run. Needless to say, the next several miles went by much quicker as I enjoyed the views, stopping every so often to take pictures. I also still had my music on and since there was no one around was having a blast just singing along, out loud. I especially enjoyed "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons coming on right as I was at this awesome spot along the ridge - where it really DID feel like I was on top of the world!

Attempting to get a selfie with all my brands shown (Skirt Sports & Runners Roost) along with the background!

There were a few sections every so often with beautiful aspen trees!

Click on this picture to enlarge it. Stunning!

Eventually I made it to the Indian Point Aid Station - which was just a water jug and some gels - no people. I filled up my hydration pack and continued on. As much as I was enjoying this stretch, I was also pretty darn happy to see that aid station. It meant I was, for the most part, headed back home. I still had a few miles before the loop was over, but I was headed in the right direction!

So happy to see this!
A couple more miles later and I made it back to the road section of the lollipop, and then finally back to the Flowing Park aid station. I grabbed some soda and pickles and found out there was one guy behind me. I quickly headed back out of the aid station and made my way back onto the Mesa Top Trail. Just 7.5 miles of this section and I would be done! Unfortunately it was mostly uphill - so I knew I would be walking most of this and it would be awhile. Thankfully it was a very gentle uphill, so I was able to easily walk 17 minute miles. Not fast by any means, but much better than 20+ minute miles. I also knew by this point that I could finish in a faster time than Silver Rush, 3 weeks prior. Not nearly as much as I wanted - but still faster.

The wildflowers were stunning!
I continued with my singing and hobbling along mile after mile. With a couple of miles to go I saw a Porcupine. With about 1 1/2 miles to go I saw a Fox. Coolest thing ever. He was just about 100 feet in front of me and we both made eye contact for a second before he sprinted off. He was beautiful. After enjoying that for a moment, I continued on. With about a mile or so to go I saw the wife of the guy behind me - she was heading out to meet him. I knew I must be close. I kept going... I thought I still had 1/2 mile to go when all of a sudden I saw the outhouses - I was just about there! I then realized I could come in under 13 hours if I picked it up - so as soon as I hit the pavement, I sprinted (well what can only be considered a sprint for a slow, back-of-the-packer who was about to finish a 50 mile trail ultra) to the finish, finishing in 12 hours, 57 minutes, 42 seconds!

Finishing! (The only paved section of the entire course was the parking lot to the finish!)
Scott and Kristi (the RD's), myself, and Rochelle who stayed to see me finish!
This was definitely not the time I wanted to finish in, but it was nevertheless another 50 mile finish. Another almost 13 hours of time on my feet. And another step in my journey to complete my first 100. The fact that I pushed through a REALLY big low point before I even hit 20 miles and went on to finish (and even enjoy some of the later sections) is HUGE for me. I am not fast. Even saying I "ran 50 miles" is an overstatement. The truth is, I run/walk/trot/hobble over the course of 50 miles. But I don't quit. When the going gets tough, I stick with it. And that is what I plan to do at Lean Horse. Of course I have no idea what will happen on August 27-28th...but I intend to give that race everything I have!

Race: Grand Mesa 50 Mile Ultramarathon
Location: Grand Mesa, Colorado (no real close towns - Cedaredge would be the closest)
Distance: 50 Miles (my Garmin came in at 47.94)
Elevation Gain: 3791'
Maximum Elevation: 11,142'
Minimum Elevation: 9894'
Official Time: 12:57:42
Average Pace: 16:12
Overall Place: 6 of 7 (quite a bit different than Silver Rush which had 384 finishers!)
Division Place: 1 of 1
Gender Place: 2 of 2 (that reminds me - I placed! AND got PRIZE MONEY! :) I know finishing 2 of 2 doesn't sound that impressive, BUT there were 4 other women signed up - so the fact that I didn't drop and finished this darn thing when I wanted to quit is worth that prize money!)

Course Map
Elevation profile for the first 38 miles (I had to switch watches after that)

Post-Race Thoughts:
For taking this on only a few months before race day, the Race Directors did a great job! The t-shirts are great, the course was marked REALLY well (although I would have preferred a few more "feel good" markers during the Flowing Park/Indian Point loop - I didn't get lost, but there were some sections I went awhile without seeing any markers and would start to second guess myself), the aid stations had a great variety of food and drink. The course was beautiful. There were actually a decent amount of people still waiting around to cheer me in despite finishing long after most people had left (including my friend Rochelle - which was SO awesome - thank you!!!). I got prize money for the first time ever (and probably last time, but that's okay)! The only thing that I felt was missing was some sort of finishers medal/token/trinket...but maybe I'll just frame the card I got that says I finished in second place ;)! Overall, I did like this race a lot despite the course feeling very deceivingly hard. If you just look at the total elevation gain, you're going to be disappointed by your time. This is a pretty technical course and will slow you down, despite not having a lot of elevation gain. The fact that the first place 50K finisher finished in a time of 6:12 shows me that. MY first 50K was 6:30 and I am SLOW trail runner. Nevertheless, the views are pretty stunning. I will be back again sometime - just maybe not for the same distance!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Chase The Moon 12 Hour Endurance Run

Last weekend I ran the Chase The Moon 12 Hour Endurance Run. This is a night race, ran from 7pm to 7am on the Highlands Ranch back country trails. They have a solo category along with a 3 person and 5 person relay. I signed up for the solo division several months back with the intention of it being my longest training run before Lean Horse in August.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that with it being held at night, I would probably be running much slower than normal and therefore I probably wouldn't end up getting nearly as many miles in as I wanted before the 12 hours was up. So I ended up doing Leadville Silver Rush 50 a few weeks prior in addition. That put this one less than 2 weeks after my 50, so I decided to just take this one easy and use it as a training run to get some good night experience in. And I'm pretty happy with my decision. I told myself I just had to do a minimum of 3 laps, which would be just shy of a 50K at 30.9 (although according to my Garmin I ended up with 31.4 - so definitely at least a 50K).

The race started at 7pm on Friday night in Highlands Ranch - a suburb of Denver. Luckily, it just so happened that I had a couple of work appointments that I could schedule in Denver during the day on Friday, so I ended up heading over Thursday night. Of course driving to different appointments all over the city actually ended up being kind of exhausting and I was pretty tired by the time I finally made it over to the race start a little after 5. Nevertheless I set up my tent and got ready to race.

The weather was super iffy as the race start drew closer, but thankfully it never did really start raining aside from a few drops. I ended up meeting up with several ladies I had met online and hung out with them and their awesome home base they set up - a canopy complete with sparkly lights, and music, along with glow sticks we could all wear!

The "Ultra Dirt Diva's" group on facebook!

LAP 1:
We started right at 7 and I kept an easy pace from the get-go, including walking some not very steep hills in the very first mile. I ended up settling in with a few other solo runners who all had the same "slow and steady" mindset as myself and we chatted a little off and on until the first aid station which was around 4 1/2 miles in. I grabbed a few snacks at the aid station and then headed out to what would be the biggest climb of the loop course. It went well though and there was an insanely beautiful sunset we got to witness as we made our way up. It truly was one of the most unique and beautiful sunset's I've ever seen... this is what I love about running! You get to see some pretty amazing sights! After stopping about 15 times for photo's, I finally made it to the top of the climb where you leave the single track for a nice wide gravel path for about 1/2(?) mile or so until doing a small loop on some more single track - then back on the wide gravel path for some nice downhill to the start/finish area. I finished lap 1 in about 2:10 - my fastest of the night (no surprise there) just as it got dark.

LAP 2:
After grabbing some food I quickly headed out for Lap 2. The race rules state that you have to switch directions every lap - so this time I headed back out the way I had just come in (clockwise instead of counterclockwise). I think it's so you're seeing people before they need to pass you and/or that you just see more people in general which is kind of nice when out on the trails alone in the dark. Whatever the reason, I headed back out, this time going UP the gravel path. I took out my Nathan handheld flashlight for the first time to try it out...and did not love it. I really can't seem to get the lighting thing down when it comes to running in the dark. Headlamps make my head hurt, and this handheld light was supposed to be angled perfectly for running...well it wasn't. I had to hold it weirdly. I eventually just got used to it and it wasn't so bad. It was definitely the brightest light source I had brought, so I think it was best for the situation...but it's leaving me still uncertain as to what I will use at Lean Horse. Back to running - I kept at it, doing the shorter singletrack loop, then back on the gravel path, then the longer singletrack loop to the aid station. Going this direction, the aid station was about 6 miles in, so I was pretty tired by the time I got here. I ate some food and had some soda before heading out for the last 4 1/2 miles of this lap. Sometime during this section I stopped to take a picture of the moon and could hear a bunch of coyote's howling. Right around the time that I could see no other people or the headlamps off in the distance - it was a little eerie. But I kept going and eventually finished lap 2 in abut 2:40. Much slower than the first lap, but it was VERY DARK out there and this whole night running is pretty new to me!

LAP 3:
I stopped at the start/finish area for a bit longer before heading out this time. Having lots of snacks, taking a bathroom break, and changing my shoes. I was already pretty tired and was NOT motivated to get going, but I also knew that the sooner I went out there, the sooner I would be eventually I set out again. This time it was back to running the loop counterclockwise - so at least I only had 4 1/2 miles to the aid station. There's some good downhill on this stretch to the aid station so I tried to run as much as I could, but it was dark and I wasn't very motivated so it was pretty slow going. I eventually made it to the aid station though, grabbed some more snacks, said thanks to the volunteers and kept going. Only 6 more miles until I could go to sleep! When I had done this section in the first lap I remembered running a lot of it...but I definitely wasn't doing that this time around. LOTS and lots of walking. Finally after what felt like forever, I made it to the short gravel section...and then onto the last singletrack section...which was terrible. It was only 2 miles but it took FOREVER. There was a timing mat about 1 mile in and I swear I was never going to reach it. I finally did, and FINALLY made it back to the gravel road where I ran it in (kind of) to the finish - this lap in about 3:05ish, for a total time of 7:53:05.

After I finished, I grabbed some food and then paid $5 to try out Elevated Legs for 10 minutes - a compression system that goes over your legs - looks weird, feels kind of weird, but good at the same time. It is supposed to help with recovery I believe. After that I headed into my tent and attempted to get some sleep. I think it was about 4:00am by the time I fell asleep and I woke up several times, but finally got up at about 6:00am as it was getting light out and most people were finishing up. I tiredly packed up my tent and decided to head out at about 6:30 while I still had some energy (I figured the longer I stayed up the more tired I would get) and hit the road. I stopped in Georgetown for some breakfast then headed to the Vail area. Scott had the weekend off as well, and I didn't want to drive all the way home on no sleep, so the plan was for me to look for a campsite in the Vail/Minturn area and then he would meet me there and we would camp and then hike on Sunday. Well, after wasting an hour and a half, I found exactly 0 open campsites out of the 3 campgrounds I had looked up and so I just ended up driving all the way home. So in my attempt to NOT have to drive 4 hours, I ended up having to drive 5 1/2. GREAT planning skills Kate... It went okay, but I did have to stop in Glenwood Canyon for a 20 minute nap. We ended up driving up to Ouray the next day for a hike in Blaine Basin instead.

Race: Chase The Moon 12 Hour Endurance Run
Location: Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Distance: 10.3 mile laps - so as much as you can or want to run in 12 hours; I did 3 laps - so 30.9 miles.
Elevation Gain: the race website says 1300' per lap, which would've been 3900' total - but I only ended up with 2,320 on my Garmin. That's a big difference, so not really sure. It sure felt like a lot more than 2320' with the constant ups and downs - even if they were short).
Official Time: 3 laps in 7:53:05
Average Pace: 15:03 minutes per mile
Overall Place: 42 of 78
Gender Place: 18 of 33
Division Place: 2 of 2
(Note - placements are calculated by total distance first, then by time - so technically someone could've been much faster than me, but only did 2 laps instead of 3 - I would still rank higher. So hard to really compare people in a race like this!).

Elevation Profile & Map

Post-Race Thoughts:
I did like this race, but I probably won't do it again unless I move back to the Denver area someday. The concept is nice, but the trails weren't my favorite. They were mountain bike trails (which I'm no stranger too since I run on them all the time here), but these ones were SUPER windy and a constant up/down/up/down which was kind of hard to find a good rythm for. Also, I thankfully didn't see any, but this area apparently has a lot of Rattlesnakes. There were signs all over the place and a few people reported seeing them. I also felt like 10.5 mile laps was almost too long for a timed race - I think it would have been more fun if they were more in the range of 5 miles or so, so you could see people you knew more often and stop by your "camp" (if you set one up) more often. All this being said, it is a really well organized, well put on race. The course was very well marked and they even had glow sticks out once it got dark. The aid stations were super well stocked and the volunteers were great. The shirts and finishers medals were awesome as well. If you live in Denver and are looking for a different experience, or night time running experience, I do recommend this one.

(I would normally post these with the corresponding part of the recap...but since this was a night race, these were pretty much ALL taken during the first lap)

One of the many signs warning of rattlesnakes!
Seriously, this sunset! I can't even...
The moon we were supposedly chasing!
Getting the Elevated Leg treatment at 3:30 in the morning!
My tent in a sea of tents!

And here's a video I got of the coyote's howling. Pretty cool:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Run

On Sunday I ran the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Trail Race (although you can interpret the word "ran" however you want - there was a lot of walking involved). This was my 4th Ultra Marathon (5th if you count the solo/unofficial 50K I did a few weeks back). I haven't done a lot of them, but I have done enough to get asked the question "why" a lot.

And as annoying as that can sometimes be (especially with the tone people usually ask it in), it actually IS a good question. And it's one I don't always know the answer to, especially during the middle of the race while enduring intense pain and suffering. During the middle of a hard race, I often find myself asking the question of "why"? Why did I voluntarily sign up to do this? Why am I putting myself through this pain? These were the exact questions going through my mind from about half-way through Sunday's race until I finished.

Well, I think it all comes down to this simple fact:

1. Because I can.

2. Because I like to prove that a regular, ordinary person with no special athletic talent whatsoever, CAN do hard things.

There is just something so rewarding about getting through something so miserable and knowing you pushed yourself. Knowing you didn't quit. Knowing you worked your heart out to finish it.

So that my friends is "why."

Now, without further ado, my race recap complete with pictures (as always):

Honestly, The Silver Rush 50 in Leadville has always been in the back of mind as a race I wanted to do. The Leadville races are iconic. Leadville is known for it's high altitude, tough mountain ultra's. Looking at the elevation profile, this race actually didn't look that tough to me though (probably why it appealed to me). The route has a total elevation gain of 7,382 feet - that is LESS than Pikes Peak Marathon which I did in 2014. This was almost double the distance. Surely it won't be that difficult, I thought. To say I was wrong is an understatement. Mixing that elevation gain with the altitude (almost entirely over 10,000 feet high and topping out at over 12,000' on four separate occasions) on rugged dirt mining roads over 50 miles made it seem pretty darn hard if you ask me now! Nevertheless, I persevered and got it done (eventually anyways).

For the first time ever in a race, I did not officially sign up until the day before - after driving all the way there and hoping they still had spots available (I'm such a planner, that this is unlike me, but I found out I could save $10 if I did it this way). Thankfully, they did have spots and I quickly got my bib. After that, Scott and I walked around downtown Leadville for a bit and then had dinner at High Mountain Pies - a delicious pizza place one block off of main. We then headed to Buena Vista where we were staying for the night with some friends of mine.

I got up at 4:00am the next morning (actually not that bad compared to some road marathons I've done), and we hit the road just after 4:30. I had to be at the start by 5:30 to make sure I had my drop bag there in time and it is a bit of a drive from Buena Vista (30-40 minutes). All was good with our timing and we ended up with just about 30 minutes before the start (perfect). I was pretty nervous by this point, but it was too late to back out now! With a few minutes before the start, I kissed the hubs good bye and headed into the mass of people getting ready to start.

Mentally, I broke the race up into 8 sections - each up and down section (so 4 ascents and 4 descents). I'm going to summarize each one based on that:

Section 1: First 11 Miles (approximately 2500' of elevation gain)
The race actually starts straight UP an old ski hill. It was rough, but I knew from the get go that I would just walk it. I was going to be out ALL day, no need to over exert myself this early on. So that's what I did when the gun went off - just settled into a nice walk to the top of the hill. After that we made our way south out of Leadville on dusty mining roads (so much dust!). Aside from the very beginning climb up the ski hill, the first 7-8 miles ended up being much more gradual than I was expecting. I ended up settling into a nice easy pace, alternating walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills (and there were surprisingly more flats and downhills that I expected). I felt like I did this very conservatively and felt great for the first 8. The last few miles up to 12,000 feet got a bit tougher - just much more steep and pretty rocky - but I kept at my same slow, steady pace and still felt okay.
Splits: 13:30, 12:44, 11:46, 14:02, 14:51, 13:29, 14:56, 16:24, 15:22, 18:18, 19:45

The initial hill climb!

Section 2: Miles 11 thru 15.5 (approx. 1500' of loss)
Once we reached the top of the first climb, we got some AMAZING downhill (note - I would not be calling this amazing on the return trip). It was a very non-technical dirt road with a somewhat gentle downhill grade and I just flew down it, probably smiling the entire time. These were my fastest miles of the day although I didn't really push my pace - just let the downhill gravity and still fresh legs do what they do best and run! About 3 miles into this I reached the Printer Boy Aid Station which was the first "big" aid station of the day (there has a smaller one at 7). It was a lot of fun to go through this one because there were a TON of spectators cheering us on. I grabbed some chips and soda and then headed out, making my way down another short descent.
Splits: 9:44, 10:55, 10:43, 14:28, 14:45

Some awesome downhill!

Section 3: Miles 15.5 thru 20.5 (approx. 1500' gain + 500' loss)
It was back to the uphill grind for miles 15.5 until about 20 with the exception of a 1/2 mile downhill section. Miles 19-20 along with it's return section (28-29), was my favorite part of the course. This was when you got above treeline and it was the most gorgeous green section with incredible views of the mountains in all directions. It was beautiful and a good reminder to myself of why I was out here - to experience this!
Splits: 15:22, 23:21, 20:51, 15:07, 17:52

Section 4: Miles 20.5 thru 24.5 (approx. 1000' loss)
Section 4 was mostly all downhill, but not one I completely enjoyed if I'm being honest. It was incredibly steep, especially the first mile down - which on top of just not being great at running down really steep sections, the fact that I knew I was going to have to come back up this soon made it that much harder to enjoy. Nevertheless I knew I had to get it done and make it to the turn around, so I did it - getting to the half way point in 6 hours and 3 minutes (right about what I was going for - I had wanted to be under 6 hours, but I could handle 3 minutes over). I spent a little longer at the aid station than I wanted, but I had to find my drop bag, change shirts (the frustrating under arm chafing was happening with my tank top) and refill my hydration pack. I was probably here for about 10 minutes before heading out.
Splits: 15:52, 12:01, 13:54, 21:30

Section 5: Miles 24.5 thru 28 (approx. 1000' gain)
Considering this was the least amount of gain for a section it sure was a tough one. My legs were definitely getting tired, but I was still feeling okay mentally which is the only thing that got me through this. The first couple of miles were fine, but that last mile to the top of this section was ROUGH. It was insanely steep. I found myself stopping a couple of times for rest breaks, which I really try not to do (relentless forward progress is the motto for ultra runners - even if you're going slow, you keep going and don't stop - unfortunately I still stopped a few times). But I kept at it and eventually made it to the top!
Splits: 16:42, 15:52, 28:33, 19:00

NOT the real steep section, I forgot to get a picture of that!

Section 6: Miles 28 thru 33 (approx. 1500' loss + 500' gain)
The reward for finishing the ascent in section 5 was that I got to run through my favorite section again. The glorious green beautiful few miles above treeline. It was lovely!
Splits: 16:16, 13:08, 14:14, 14:47

Section 7: Miles 33 thru 38 (approx. 1500' gain)
This was BY FAR the hardest section for me. The first mile and a half were fine - I reached the Printer Boy aid station which had a ton of people again which was a nice pick-me-up, PLUS someone had left their personal pickles (they had already been thru) which was a LIFESAVER. Pickles are SO good when it's really hot out and you need sodium! The problem came when I had to go BACK UP that wonderful "gentle" downhill section from the beginning. It had seemed so wonderful and gentle when I was going down it...but going back up it was AWFUL. It was seriously never ending. And the entire thing looked the same, so it felt like I was just walking in place. I would round a corner expecting to be almost done and it would keep going. Plus my back was really starting to ache by this point and I just about had a mental breakdown. I didn't know if I could do it at this point. I stopped and try to eat some more to see if it would help. It didn't. But I kept going, and going, and EVENTUALLY I made it.
Splits: 22:41, 17:39, 18:20, 20:29, 25:07

This stretch went on FOREVER.

Section 8: Miles 38 thru 48.8 (approx. 2500' of descent)
Finally I had finished the last of the major climbing. This meant I was in the homestretch! Unfortunately it also meant I STILL had about 10 miles to go. There were rumors that this wasn't a "full 50 miles" - I honestly didn't care though. The race is called a 50,  so I'm calling it a 50 - however, it made it hard to tell exactly how much further I had. I did get to the turn around point at about 24.2, so I was thinking we'd come in around 48-point-something. I was trying to get myself to run the downs, but it was pretty tough. I was exhausted. I had also started getting side stitches whenever I ran downhill too much. So I just chugged along at a run/walk/hobble as best as I could. I tried to get myself to average 15 minute miles - I wasn't super successful, but kept most of them in the 16 minute range. I passed a lot of people walking, but I also got passed by people who had been able to pick up their pace. When I was about 3-4 miles to go I kept hearing guns going off (there must have been a shooting range nearby or something). My only thought was "if I don't finish because I get shot I'm going to PISSED". Thankfully I did not get shot!

Finally I knew I was close - I could see Highway 24! We got onto the short section of bike path from earlier that morning - I was almost there!!! But then we were directed onto a different single track section we hadn't done that morning. But I knew we had to be almost there... except that the single track kept going on. And up. And on. And up. For OVER a mile (one mile is quite possibly the longest distance ever when it's the last one in a 50 mile ultra).  And then there was the top of the ski hill from earlier with people cheering us on...but we didn't get to go down the ski hill, we were directed around it.... how long was this going to be?! Until FINALLY the singletrack went back down and I could see the finish line and the famous Leadville Race Series Red Carpet! I was going to finish! I very painfully mustered up a smile so I'd have some decent finish pictures and crossed that finish line in 13 hours, 21 minutes and 22 seconds. It was slower than my first 50 miler, but SO much harder so I did not care in the slightest. I was just happy to be done and within the time cut off of 14 hours!
Splits: 16:53, 15:58, 17:02, 16:03, 14:21, 16:16, 14:24, 16:29, 16:39, 17:12, 15:51

I finished!

Race: Leadville Silver Rush 50
Location: Leadville, Colorado
Distance: 50 Miles (my Garmins ended up at about 48.9 miles)
Elevation Gain: 7382 feet according to the race website. I ended up with 7490'
Maximum Elevation: 12,037'
Minimum Elevation: 9886 feet
Official Time: 7:21:22
Average Pace: 16:02/mile
1st Half: 6:03:14 (14:32/mile)
Second Half: 7:18:09 (17:32/mile)
Overall Place: 319 of 384
Gender Place: 80 of 103
Division Place (F20-29): 20 of 25

Elevation Profile
Course Map

Post Race Thoughts:

It's only been two days, so this is still pretty fresh in my mind and so I still stand by my thought that this was HARD. I spent a lot of time during this race thinking about how in the WORLD I am ever going to complete Lean Horse 100 in August.... but don't worry I'm not giving up or anything. I'm just going to keep training - and work on mental training as well. I'm also feeling extremely grateful that I chose an "easier" first 100 race. My 100 miler will have less overall elevation gain than this 50 miler did, so hopefully that will help. Nevertheless, it is still DOUBLE the distance. So it will be interesting! And I am still completely terrified (but still excited...I think).

As for this specific race, I did really like it. I feel the same about it as I did the Leadville Trail Marathon I did a few years ago - the Leadville Race Series puts on good races. I know they sometimes get a bad rap because they're very "corporate", but they do a good job. The course is always well marked and the aid stations are great - the volunteers at this were AMAZING and so, so helpful! I could've done with 1 or 2 more aid stations on the course because once you start walking a lot, 7 miles (the approximate distance between aid stations) takes a LONG time. I also could've gone for pickles...I'll have to make sure I bring those to Lean Horse! The weather ended up being really nice for this race - it did get into the 70's, but there was a pretty good breeze most of the time keeping the temperatures down. Overall, aside from how hard it was, I did like this race. I'm glad I did it and I know it was good for me mentally.

Random observation: I am actually not very sore post-race. I was more sore after I did the 50K last month...kind of bizarre, but I guess it shows my training is working a bit! All of my gear and clothing worked for the most part - I ended up changing shirts halfway through due to chafing and I ended up with 2 small blisters...not bad for being on my feet for over 13 hours though!

And now, I will leave you with a quote:

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." -T.S. Eliot