Friday, July 18, 2014

Leadville: Silver Rush 50 MTB - Part 1

Note: These posts for the Silver Rush 50 may seem a bit haphazard, but I wanted to provide a way to get both racer and spectator viewpoints across. Thus, G.E's thoughts will be written out in this normal font, while Sam's thoughts will be conveyed in the bold font version. I apologize in advance for any confusion, but hopefully this will help differentiate between the two.

Over the past weekend, Sam participated in the Leadville Series Silver Rush 50 race. I did not participate in the ride, but it was the first time I'd been able to go with Sam to one of these mountain bike races. For one reason or another, there always seems to be some other sort of pressing matter, and he ends up going on his own. I was happy to be able to come along for this adventure though, as it was definitely an eye-opening and fun experience. I asked Sam if he'd be willing to share some of his thoughts here, but I will also be sharing happenings from the other side of things as well. So, what you'll have here is the race-side and the spectator side of things, kind of combined into one so as to avoid having to detail out two different perspectives on their own.

If you are unfamiliar, Leadville is a small mountain town in Colorado. Today, it has a very small population, but at one point it was known for its gold and silver mining. During the late 1800's, it was the second most populous city in Colorado, taking a back seat only to Denver. Leadville has an interesting history in itself, but today it is known for hosting a variety of bicycle and running events.
Looking down into the city of Leadville. It's difficult to see much of the town from this vantage point.
This story starts like many of mine do, with a small amount of prep and a new bike build 3 days before the event.

On the Tuesday just before the Leadville event, I received my new-to-me Scott Scale 10 carbon MTB frame, and I needed to swap everything over from my prior single speed build.  This was accomplished quickly Tuesday evening, and was followed up with some very brief up and down the street riding.  I wasn’t actually able to take the bike for a ride or make adjustments until Thursday because of scheduling issues.  I did a 14-mile partial dirt and road test to make sure the gearing, the chain line and brakes were adjusted properly.  This was literally all the testing before the 50 mile race!

Neither of us had ever been to the city of Leadville prior to this race. We weren't really sure what to expect, but have heard from others that it's a quaint and lovely old town. We arrived Friday afternoon to find a small town situated somewhat like a bowl in the midst of tree-lined mountains. At an elevation of 10,200 feet, we immediately felt the effects of climbing the extra mile in altitude. Breathing was a bit labored, even walking on flat roads. We had to climb a flight of stairs to our hotel room, and were surprised by the amount of breathing effort this required. At a mile high, I haven't really found myself struggling with breathing, but the extra mile definitely caused me to take notice. I can say that I have a new found respect for athletes who participate in high-altitude events.

I took Friday off so G.E. and I could take our time, check in, and see Leadville before the big day.  We meandered the 2.5 hours out to Leadville, where I picked up my race number and my med bracelet.  We went to the expo, where a nice young man peddled Herbalife products to me (which I consumed on the ride itself). He was quite convincing of the products' usefulness, and was also convinced he would finish the race in a sub 4:30:00 time (I would see him on Saturday headed back from the mid-point, which definitely wasn't going to place him in a sub-4:30 time frame).  The expo was rather sparse and included some vendors with supplements, clearance jerseys and other random junk.

When we arrived in town, the clouds were beginning to take over the sky and before we knew it a light rain was falling. We'd experienced varying intensity of rain throughout the trip up to the mountains, so this wasn't really a surprise. The light rain quickly turned into a heavy downpour as we watched water run down roads like miniature rivers. Although we know that afternoon storms are not uncommon in the mountains, neither of us seemed to be prepared for this. Sam came equipped only with short sleeved shirts, except for his base layer to be worn on race day. Fortunately, I'd grabbed a sweater at the last second on my way out the door, and it was definitely needed more than once as temperatures dropped at points into the 40s F.

On Friday night, we consumed food and walked an insane amount. I think we must have walked up and down the main street of town at least 5 times.  

As we headed down the street to pick up Sam's race packet, we laughed about not being prepared for rain. We wondered what the likelihood would be of rain on race day and crossed mental fingers hoping that the sun would win out. At that moment though, we were making our way through the rain to get the registration packet and bib number for Saturday's race. It was a relatively smooth, and fairly uneventful few moments. I've been to and participated in other bike races that had much more hoopla taking place, so I was surprised to see just a few canopies with not horribly exciting products to share. In some ways, it was actually nice to be able to smoothly and easily get out of the registration area without being accosted by reps and sales folks - whether intentional or not. But, part of me missed having the opportunity to feign interest in products I know I'll never buy.

As night fell, I don’t think either of us slept very much, particularly G.E.  This is normal for me, especially the night before an event.
Abandoned mines are a common sight here.
The Silver Rush 50 is a qualifier race for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. The Leadville 100 is known for being a very challenging race and is described as something for only the most determined athletes. People try (sometimes many times over) to qualify by participating in Leadville Race Series rides throughout the year to get into the Leadville 100. However, the qualifying rides aren't a walk in the park either. In fact, most of them are 100+ mile rides over tough terrain with lots of climbing. The Silver Rush 50 is the exception to the 100-mile race qualifiers, but I don't believe it's any easier. In fact, this is the opening paragraph for registration:

Need a nice challenge? Then forget this one. It's nasty. Cut the Leadville Trail 100 MTB in half, remove all the easy parts, throw in technical descents, burning lungs and wild animals and you'll have a good understanding of what you're about to get into.

It's not exactly something that makes the average person want to give it a go, I'm guessing; but then again, what fun is it if it's an easy ride?
The Starting area/Finish Line at the beginning of the Silver Rush 50
Varying amounts of rain continued throughout a good chunk of the evening, but we awoke to beautiful, sunny skies with just a bit of scattered cloud cover. About two hours before the start of the race, weather outlets were predicting a 50% chance of rain by noon time (which here in Colorado means 100% chance), but for the start, things were looking good.

On race day, we woke to a nice day. Clean, somewhat cool, and no rain.  While prepping to leave, I hit my first glitch; I had forgotten the hose to my Camelback bladder.  Meh.  I decided to just pull the bladder, and put an extra bottle in the Camelback pocket.  It actually ended up working quite well.  Meanwhile, G.E. was busy forgetting to put on sunblock, which she would regret later in the day (and days to follow).

We sauntered our way over to the race area early because Sam definitely didn't want to be rushed at the last moment.  I was reminded that we live in such a beautiful place and all of the rain at the end of summer last year has definitely kept things much greener this year. Riders had already found their way to the start line, saving spots with bikes planted in the grass.

We arrived at the start area at about 8:20 am, after spending 10-15 mins in the parking area up the hill, where I prepped everything for the ride.
There was something amusing to me about this scene. Seeing all of the bikes laying in the grass seemed both peaceful and military-like.
It was amusing for me to watch everything at the starting line. Some people seemed extremely relaxed, munching on snacks and chatting with friends or new acquaintances. Others seemed intense and focused, just waiting for the starting gun to set things in motion. Just seconds prior to the start though, everyone seemed to get a bit more serious. Expressions changed almost instantly as the countdown began.

There’s nothing like music and a mass start.  This particular start is at the base of a 50 yard hill, which is too steep to climb on a bike from a dead stop, so everyone would be running or walking with their bikes to start.
See that guy in the white jersey above? Doesn't he look like he's about to puke from nervousness? Most everyone seemed to be in about the same mental state - slightly ill, but just ready to get going.

By race time, the weather prediction had changed and there was now only a 10% chance of rain after 5p. Things were looking up!
Nearly 900 participants climbed up the hill at the start of the Silver Rush 50.
At the very start of the Silver Rush 50, there is a steep hill. Sam had been warned beforehand not to attempt to ride up the hill as everyone simply carries his/her bike to the top and then begins riding. However, there is also a benefit to being the first male and female to the top of the hill with his/her bike: an automatic spot in the Leadville 100. Not knowing what to expect, and believing there would be a mad rush up the hill, Sam opted to stay back in the middle of the pack. The mass of people climbing up the hill at the start was a sight to be seen, and within moments, everyone was off and on their way for the race.

At 9 am, we begin.  I had already resigned that I would not attempt to run up the hill with my bike, as I was not going to be super fast (and particularly on a single speed).  It took about 5 mins for all of us to get up the climb -- all 800ish+ of us. 

Part 2 of this post can be found here.


  1. He did the Silver Rush 50 on a single speed?!


    1. I did. The logic was exactly as I imagined, I climbed faster than anyone, but descending, ad flats were all spinning. I'm going geared on the LT100, I did the numbers, and I want to not only finish, but finish well, and I think for my first time, I have the best chance being able to get some more momentum in the flat parts, and spin on the climbs to keep moving if necessary.


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