Saturday, July 19, 2014

Leadville: Silver Rush 50 MTB - Part 2

If you're just beginning to read (or would like a refresher), you may want to go back to part 1 of these posts, as this is the second installment in the Silver Rush 50 posts. To somewhat avoid confusion, text in this non-bold font was written by G.E., while anything written in this bold font will be Sam's thoughts. I apologize in advance for any confusion, but hopefully this will help differentiate between the two.  

Before the race actually began, Sam and I were sitting atop the race area in the Colorado Mountain College parking lot. There was no parking right at the start of the race, so we had to climb a bit in the car to find space and get prepared. Sam seemed to be a bit distracted, but I suppose that is to be expected when one is about to embark on a race that s/he has never done, in a place s/he has never been.
He got busy immediately attaching his race number to the bike and getting all his gear on. I worked on pumping tires to the right pressure and trying to keep him in one piece (mentally). I think I was actually more nervous than he was, to be honest. I never do well at the start of a race, and even though I know that I will never finish at the front of any race I enter, I always have that sinking/sick feeling because I want to do my best and I have no idea what I'm in for during the ride. Sam was playing it cool, though I have no doubt his nerves were definitely taking at least a small toll.

As the race got started, I waited for information to know where I would be able to meet up with Sam. The maps we'd viewed didn't seem to indicate where I could drive with a vehicle, so I was anxiously awaiting direction. Soon after the racers departure, the announcer on the loud speaker let all of the spectators know where they could go to see riders along the way. I cursed myself for not bringing a paper and pen, but made mental notes and hoped I could find my way to the correct spots. I had already warned Sam not to be upset if I wasn't where he expected to find me, but I was going to do my best to be available. Of course, there are aid stations along the route, but it's always nice to know that someone is out there for you if it's needed during a race.

After the start hill that we all walked (or ran) up, we were able to ride on some flat land for about half a mile, at which point we came to a screeching halt. We were approaching an easy piece of single track, but most riders seemed to be unable to handle it.  This caused about a 10 min delay until we all single filed through the area.  After the “breakthrough”, we got about 1 mile into the flat area, and the trail was already littered with at least 5 riders with flats, along with the guy next to me at the start who broke a spoke on one of the easiest parts of the course.

One challenging aspect of trying to help support someone during mountain racing is not always having cell phone coverage. As I wound my way higher into the mountains, I found that a signal was non-existent. I hoped for the best and simply planned to get to as many spots as I could to make sure Sam was okay.

After the seemingly very early breakdowns, we had a 1-2 mile section that was somewhat downhill, It was also deceiving because the race description had stated there was an uphill climb from the start for 10 miles.  They weren’t kidding. An uphill battle for 8-9 miles hit right after the little bit of downhill. We would climb - and climb some more.   

Ninety percent of the geared riders were already in full 2 mph spin mode, while I was in 4 mph single speed climb and mash mode.  So, I began to pass.  My count during the 10 mile climb was somewhere around 100 riders passed.  This passing came to a dead halt at the “Powerline” climb though, as it’s not only very steep, but it was soaking wet with water running through it like a river due to massive amounts of rain the day prior.  

Incidentally, everyone in front of me was walking, and in turn we were ALL walking.  We did the “hike-a-bike” for about 1 mile to the peak, where we encountered both mud, and snow (Yes, at 12,200 feet there’s snow even in July in Colorado).  

From memory of the map, I knew that I had about 5 miles of downhill after this, with the first aid station right around the middle of that downhill.  I was feeling pretty good, with the exception of my feet, which became very, very sore after hiking my bike uphill in shoes that are stiff on the bottom.

The first point at which I could actually stand and wait for Sam was around mile 15. I had no idea how far back he would be, but I arrived just a few minutes before the first rider would speed by. I chatted with folks around me, most of whom had competed in this very race themselves at various points but were now here supporting and/or cheering on other racers.
Sam with other riders at about mile 15.
I should note at this point that all of the race photos posted seem to indicate that this was a ride that took place only on dirt/fire roads, which is not at all the case. However, they are the only locations I was able to get to with relative ease for photographs. I'm pretty sure it's why Sam (and others) seemed to be smiling in every photograph - I have no doubt they must've been relieved to have something less technical to deal with during the race.

Before too much time had passed, I spotted Sam coming up the path. He seemed to be doing pretty well, so after cheering him on, I decided to move on to the next location.

The first real downhill was on the way to the aid station.  Downhill on a single speed is mostly restful, but slower than everyone.  I basically coasted to the aid station, had them refill my liquids, and consumed a Gu shot. In total, it probably killed about 3 minutes. I moved on, knowing I had about 2-3 more miles before the climbing started again.  

The climbing went as expected, with everyone passing me as we sped downhill. Then, as we began to climb again, I  methodically passed them going back up to the next peak. This put us around the 20 mile mark.  
At this point, we gradually went downhill to the 23-24ish mile point, which was the designated turn-around.  At this point, I had tired a bit, so I took a longer break, had some of the food provided and refilled water.  I would learn later, that I shouldn't waste so much time if I want to be competitive!

When I moved on to the next location to spot Sam, there were a great deal more spectators standing around and waiting for cyclists to pass this point. I knew I wasn't far from the half way or turn around spot for racers, but I wanted to make sure I was there in case Sam was in need of anything. About this time, I also realized I'd forgot to put sunscreen on and after being in the sun for several hours, I was well aware of my burning skin. I've been so good about sunscreen this summer, but of course this would be the one day I'd forget it.

During the return trip, we start uphill.  It's the same story:  pass, pass pass, until we hit the downhill section.  This is where the ride got a bit of a startle.  At around mile 26, a very fast individual passed me and some others as he headed down the hill. He was probably rolling at 25 mph when he lost control of his bike and ended up breaking his right leg badly.  It seems like something that would be pretty graphic and gruesome, but it wasn’t. He was in horrible, horrible pain, however.  

Another individual that had been riding with us had a cell phone that actually had coverage, so he made contact with the aid station for some help.  We all moved on because it wasn't helping to have so many of us hanging around, and the guy who'd called for help agreed to stay until someone arrived.  It was a good reminder for someone like me who’s terribly afraid of breaking his neck to be careful descending!  
I was getting excited at this point because I knew Sam was more than half way through the race. It's amazing that even as an observer, there is a sense of renewed energy when the end is in sight. The next time I would see Sam would be several miles away at the end of the race, so I moved on to the finish line and prepared to cheer him on. At the time, I had no idea he was preparing to deal with mechanical failure.

Part 3 of this post can be found here.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences of this event. Cool to read about it both from the vantage point of a participant as well as a spectator. Leg breaking, EEK! We rolled through Leadville on our recent bike tour a couple days after the events, and the people working in the shops commented on how busy the weekend had been due to the Silver Rush 50 bike and run events. Look forward to the next post...

    1. I don't think I would want to witness someone breaking a leg (or anything for that matter) either.

      I'm amazed at how many people actually go through Leadville for various reasons. Hopefully, you enjoyed your bike tour. What other areas did you get to see?

  2. My husband and I did a big loop from Boulder down to Durango and back on our tandem. Just under 1,000 miles of riding over two weeks. We just returned to "real life" in D.C. this Sunday. I wrote about it on my blog, if you are interested in checking it out. You live in such a beautiful state!

    1. I will have to check out your blog post... sounds like an epic adventure! :O)

      Colorado really is beautiful, and it's extra green right now - even more than it normally would be. We tend to have more dry and brown this time of year, but I think all of the rain we've had has kept it greener longer.

    2. Wow, amazing ride! I read through your posts, It's so crazy that you literally ran into Ken in Leadville, and what luck that the break of the crank happened there!


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