Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Silver Rush 50 MTB: Racing for a Better Corral Position

**It's race report time once again, and as usual, both Sam and I have sides of the tale to share. Sam's experience is in bold letters, while mine will be in regular font.

During September of last year, Sam raced the Barn Burner MTB race in Flagstaff, Arizona. It's kind of become a tradition because most people are wrapping up their race season and don't seem to travel to this particular event. Fortunately, Sam was able to get a spot in the LT100 MTB upcoming in August of this year because of racing that event.

However, Sam didn't time as well as he'd hoped at the Barn Burner, so a couple of months ago, he decided he would race the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville with the hope of getting into a corral position that would have him closer to the front. When he signed up to do the SR50, we had discussed the reality that he would be on his own. He was fine with that idea because he knew that he could get up early, travel to Leadville to get his packet, race, and be back before the sun set. 

Of course, as reality sets in, sometimes we all start changing our minds about such matters. Sensing something was amiss, I asked if he would like to reserve a camping spot for the night prior so that he wouldn't have to get up so early. He didn't seem keen on this at all. Though I felt bad that I couldn't be there, with one of our aging dogs (who happens to also be incredibly cranky around other dogs) losing most of her vision and having a difficult time with traveling these days (not that she was ever a very keen traveler), it just didn't seem feasible to do a 15-16 hour day with her.

Then, I started to feel bad that I wouldn't be there for Sam so I tried to plot out how to make it happen. We went over several scenarios, but none of it made much sense. Ultimately, we worked it out so that our older dog would stay home and have a couple of friends check on her, walk her, and feed her during the day and we'd take the younger dog with us (since she doesn't do well being left for long periods of time and actually likes to travel).

Now the only challenge would be getting me out of bed by 3 am. I am not a morning person - at all. It's not so much that I sleep in, but I prefer to just let my body wake up naturally whenever possible, which usually happens between 5:30-6:30 am (dependent on how late I go to sleep). Mix in the fact that my alarm clock has decided that it is permanently stuck on 6 am and I knew it would be interesting to see how the morning went.

Miraculously, I somehow made it out of bed and we were on our way pretty much as expected.

This third time might be the charm.

Things that were different this round:
- I slept the night before the race
- This is the third time I've had a different bike for this race (but my build skills have advanced)
- Instead of single speed, rigid, steel, I rode a geared, carbon frame that has front suspension
- There was no overnight camping this round - instead we drove out the morning of the race
- I decided to use primarily a Camelbak instead of bottles

There wasn't much to worry about the morning of the race. We got up around 3am and headed out. I had prepped everything the night before so that I wouldn't forget anything.

We arrived plenty early, just before 6am.

Since we had arrived early and I had forgotten to brush my teeth in my morning stupor, we stopped by Safeway with the intention of using the restrooms and obtaining a toothbrush/paste for me to feel more human and to not have to have gross morning breath and a film on my teeth all day long.  Unfortunately, Safeway wasn't open, so we waited a few minutes for the doors to unlock, got what we needed and were on our way to the starting area.

We have parked each time for this race at the college just above the starting line and this race was no different. After putting some air in my bike tires, I rode down to the starting area to pick up my race packet and bib number.

While Sam was gone, I noticed the woman next to us getting ready for the race and happened to see that she had a "Leadman" bib on her bike. Of course, being the nosy sort of person that I am, I had to inquire as to how the series was going thus far, despite it still being early [For those who are unaware, the Leadman/woman requires racers to complete the Leadville Trail Marathon, the Silver Rush 50 MTB or Run, the LT100 MTB, Leadville 10k Run (which just happens to be the morning following the LT100 MTB), and the LT100 Run].

The racer shared her nerves about doing the SR50 mountain ride because she had attempted it on other occasions and had yet to be able to finish. Instead, she was viewing the ride as training and telling herself that if everything spiraled downward, she would be able to do the SR50 Run instead. I shared that I would personally fear the running distances far more than the riding (Who runs 50 or 100 miles all at once???? Crazy people, right?), but she was more confident in her running than riding skills (which I can respect - we all have our strengths).
Warming up for the SR50
I rode back up the hill to the college parking lot to prepare for the race. I'm not sure who gets to park down at the main area, but it doesn't seem to be us [G.E.'s note: I think they reserve the main lower parking lot for medical and race staff, as well as those who genuinely cannot get up and down the hill - and it's definitely a hill that I went up/down at least half a dozen times that day.]

I feel like I've ceased to be nervous about these endurance races, but I always hope to be well prepared. G.E. had been chatting with a budding Leadwoman who we hoped would make the cut off time this race and move on to her next level of "torture." I continue to contemplate doing Leadman each year, but haven't quite worked up to actually registering to do it [G.E.'s note: I stand by my statement that the two long runs are the worst of this, I think. I truly believe a 50 mile (let alone the 100 mile) run would break me].

At about 7:30am, I rode down the hill, while our Golden Retriever pulled G.E. down the hill. [G.E.'s note: True story. She does get very excited when there are people, so I kind of expected this of her. On the up side, my core got a good workout from clenching all day trying to keep her from lunging toward others constantly.]. I dropped my bike in the starting corral and went back to find G.E. and Bernie (I needed to have my arm mauled a bit before the race, as most do) [G.E.'s note: mauled by the dog, not me - just for the record - and to be honest, it's really not a "mauling" but more of a just wanting to put an arm in her mouth to hold], and we stood for a bit until the start time got closer. 
Sam's intended times for this race at each aid station/stop.
This year, the organizers decided to do two waves with those expecting to finish sub-7 hours and then those expecting to finish a little later, with the intention to help with some of the bottle-necking at the start (I assume). I strolled back over to the starting area about 10 minutes before the race would begin.

Bernie and I stood quite a distance but within eye shot of Sam so that we (or at least I) could see him take off up Dutch Henri Hill. I was busying myself with keeping our overly excited dog from jumping or annoying those passing by when I happened to look up and have a moment of pure shock. Sam was actually speaking to other humans. I couldn't see who he was talking to, but he was definitely engaged in conversation which was rather shocking to me as he's not normally one to go out of his way to have a chat with those unknown to him or who are just standing around. I smiled and thought it was great that he was stepping outside his comfort zone, but didn't give it more than a second or two of true thought.

In front of me at the start I noticed two familiar faces/helmets and a very familiar voice. Somehow, I had ended up set up directly behind Elden (Fatty) and Lisa (the Hammer) Nelson. Certainly outside of my normal behavior, I introduced myself as the only guy that is shorter than Fatty. We chit chatted a bit and then I spoke to a first time rider just on the other side of me who was nervous about the race. I tried to reassure him that he would do well and that death was not imminent. Lisa appeared highly focused and did not interact much, but I have to say both Fatty and the Hammer both appeared pretty intense - maybe it's just my perception. It was at this point that I thought that once we started, I would try to stick with Elden, knowing he is a stronger endurance rider than me.
Climbing Dutch Henri Hill at the start of the SR50.
The start was the typical National Anthem, flag and gun shot start. At the base of the very steep but short hill, racers prepare to travel on foot with their bikes to the top of Dutch Henri. Some choose to RUN up this hill in the hopes they will get to the top first and obtain an LT100 coin. Fortunately, I already have one for this year, and I like my ankles, so after a mild jog up the hill we were on our way through the start.

After watching Sam and the others take off from the start, Bernie and I headed back up the hill to start our journey for the day: trying to help Sam at the few crew points in this race. The first stop is about 14.5 miles into the race, so we knew we had some, but not a ton of time to get there and cheer for Sam. Frankly, since Sam had expected to go on his own, I figured he didn't really need me to do anything (perhaps that was a bad way to think, but it's what happened).

As we bottleneck at the start, we are released into some mild single track for a couple of miles and then make our way out while hopefully picking up some speed. Really, it's a climb out for about 11 miles from the start. I had Elden in my sights for the first six miles or so and then I got caught behind some groups. Prior to that, I had been picking off riders one at a time. The climbing piece seems to be where I have suffered recently, particularly when I ride geared, as was the case with this race. I just seem to do better on a single speed.

Things were going pretty smoothly as I approached the first aid station at Printerboy. I had no intention of stopping but somewhere along the way I lost the remainder of my GU packs. Apparently, I need to do a better job of securing my stuff in the new Camelbak. I didn't want to stop, but knew I needed to grab some GU from the aid station. One of the volunteers handed me a couple of packets, I saw G.E. to my right, but kept rolling as quickly as I could. At this point, I was about 10 minutes behind my target time.

As Sam arrived at Printerboy, Bernie and I were amusing ourselves - she was trying to beg for and/or steal food from anyone who was willing to give it to her (or not paying attention). What can I say? She's a Golden and loves food in any form.  I attempted to assure others that they should eat their breakfasts, snacks, etc and not give it to our pathetic-acting dog who gets plenty of food. When Sam came around the corner, I yelled to him, but he seemed to be ignoring me. I wasn't worried because I knew that I had a package of GU to give him at the halfway point. When I saw him grabbing packets from the aid station, I wondered what he was doing, but since he didn't stop but for more than a couple of seconds, I figured he was fine.

At the 14.5 mile point (Printerboy), racers are at a low spot and are preparing to climb up again toward Stumptown. This is the turnaround point and the halfway mark. Over that 10.5 mile stretch, I parceled out the two GU packs I'd received at the aid station by stretching eating to every 45 minutes (instead of the 30 minute increments I'd planned on). I knew it would be close to the turnaround, so I just hoped it would be enough. 
During this stretch of the race there was also an insanely large amount of people who decided that they needed to clip out without warning which caused me to crash a few times while climbing. None of them were serious falls, but I really wish people would give some warning before they just stop when we're climbing.

Bernie and I were on our way to Stumptown. Sam has done this particular race three times now, but I manage to forget how horrible the road is to get to the turnaround spot there every time. After attempting it yet again, I decided I would go to another spot that is both easier to travel and would allow me to see him twice in a short period of time. I'd just have to make sure he actually saw me so he would know I wasn't at the actual turnaround.

When we arrived to our spot to wait just before Stumptown, I kept hearing someone yell, "Bernie! Bernie!" I was looking around because I found it amusing that there was someone else there named Bernie, but after a few rounds of this, I realized it was coming from a young lady Sam and I had been talking to before the race started. She and her mom were there supporting their dad/husband and she had quickly bonded with our sweet-though-often-a-pain-in-the-rear Golden. We walked over to where they stood on the opposite side of the course. Bernie was content to roll in rocks there and to get treats, which made it easier to focus on getting Sam what he would need.

Soon after, Sam came tearing through. I yelled to him, but he didn't seem to realize I was there. As he rode off, I said to myself, "Well, I guess you don't need anything." I would find out later that he had seen me, but was just focused and decided to stop on his way back toward the finish line. As we all stood waiting, several racers came down asking for water, caffeine, and food. At first we all thought they were joking, but some of them seemed really angry that we didn't have anything. We tried to tell them that they had just come out of the aid station, but many of them seemed confused.

By the time I reached Stumptown and the turn around, I had run out of GU, water and whatever little liquid I had been carrying in my single bottle. The bonk had begun around 23 miles, so when I reached G.E. a bit after the 25 mile point, she gave me the rest of my GU and filled up my water.

When Sam came back down from the turnaround, he shared that he'd lost all his GU and that he was completely out of water. I asked him if there was water at Stumptown because several people seemed to be out and I was confused because I thought that was where the aid station was. He said that he hadn't seen any water there, so I still am not quite sure what happened, but I think it explains many of the upset racers.

I knew I had given Sam all of his remaining GU, so it would have to hold him for the entirety of the race, but the plan was to make sure I had cold water for him back at Printerboy on his return trip.

It's really difficult to un-bonk yourself once it's happened. In fact, I have never been successful doing this. It's always a downhill spiral and a test of mental fortitude after that point.
But, I was going again, loaded up with GU and water, but pretty bonky (not completely, but I knew I was getting there). We climbed up and down pretty much until right after Printerboy inbound. Immediately after Stumptown though, I encountered Lisa Nelson multiple times. We did some leap frogging. She would pass all the people walking their bikes and then I would somehow pass her on the downhill. Climbing did not go well for me after bonkville, so we swapped like this until around mile 39 when we start to bomb downhill. Climbing back to Printerboy, she lost me once again and I now had no more GU and only drops of water (I do have a better plan, I just thought for this 50 mile ride I wouldn't need it. Pshhhht! Who needs water or energy?).

Even though I knew I didn't have any GU to give Sam, I did bring a jug of ice cold water for me. I always seem to forget to eat and drink while I'm out on these courses, so I wanted to make sure I had water. When I'm riding long distances, I love cold water. I know it's better to drink room temperature water because our bodies process it easier, but it always tastes so good! So, I figured I'd give up my vacuum sealed ice water to Sam when he came through Printerboy inbound.

When he stopped there, he informed me that he was out of water and GU. I told him that I didn't have anymore GU to give him, so I wasn't sure what to do. Meanwhile, I was trying to unscrew his bladder for the Camelbak to add in the ice-cold water. One of the race volunteers overheard Sam and ran over to the aid station to grab a couple of GU packs for him, and as I was starting to pour in the water, another racer crew member came over and helped me add water to his pack from his own stash (I have to say, one of the things I adore about the races in Leadville is how great all of the people are to each other - It really is a place where anyone will help anyone). As I was adding the cold water to fill the bladder to the top, some of it spilled out on to Sam who let out a shriek.

"That's COLD!" he stated firmly.

"I know. I thought you'd enjoy it. I'm sorry... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to spill it," was what came out in the moment. We didn't have time to argue over cold water though, so I sealed him up and sent him back on his way. "See you at the finish!" I yelled after him.

After stopping briefly at Printerboy and having way too cold water poured down my pants, I knew we were reaching the peak of this race and it would start the 10 mile downhill back to the finish line. This is where I performed better than I ever have [G.E.'s note: I'm gonna say it was the extra cold water.]. I went absolutely as fast as I could and had no issues through this area. It was all smooth, wet, muddy, and rocky sailing.
I encountered at least five people who had pinch flatted on the way down and saw one mild crash. I tore through all of this as fast as a crappy down-hiller with a hard tail really could. Sadly, I was now at least 40 minutes off the time I had wanted and really thought I could do. I had been shooting to finish in 5 hrs, 15 minutes, but I was now just hoping to finish in sub-6 hours.

The last part is no longer down hill, but has some climbing through a bit of singletrack, winding around, and for me was just about surviving the bonk that had taken over. A couple of people were passing me and I just gave in and let them.

Up until about a mile out, someone in a white jersey was tailing me. While we're riding the winding portion of the singletrack, you can see each other from a bit of distance. I didn't look very closely, but every time I turned the rider seemed to be getting closer. I really didn't want anyone else passing me, so I gave it all I had and kicked it through this part to the final little dump right at the finish.

Bernie and I waited near the finish line. It's always fun to see the racers come in. Some look as though they could ride the course again, others appear to be near death. I think figuring out the nutrition and water situation is always a challenge, and most of the riders aren't used to the altitude so I completely understand why there's such a variance. I chatted with a couple of individuals who were wondering how long it would be for their riders to come in. One asked if it's all down hill from Printerboy. Even with the downhill stretch, a lot of the riders are tired, so many tend to slow down. This was disheartening to one crew member in particular who really wanted to be done, but I just didn't want her to have too high of expectations and then be disappointed. It's sometimes difficult to know with certainty how long it will take.

I knew that Sam wasn't going to make his intended time of 5:15, but I still had hope that he'd make it in close to that time. It was unrealistic, but I always hold out hope that he'll find a way to do it.

At around 5:42, I heard Lisa Nelson's name announced. I was hopeful that Sam would be close behind her. I know she's a very strong rider, but I knew it was possible that Sam could've been close enough to finish in the next few minutes.
A few seconds from the finish line.
Just prior to 5 hours 52 minutes, I saw Sam's helmet pop over the last ridge with a rider right on his tail. I yelled and screamed because, you know, that's what you do at things like this, and watched as he rode into the finish. As I walked to meet him outside the finish, I heard his name announced, as well as Elden's name immediately following. He had somehow managed to finish just prior to Fatty. I couldn't help but wonder how that happened, if they'd met up on the course and figured out a way to work together, or if they'd planned this, or what exactly had transpired. I would find out soon enough that I was entirely wrong with all of my thoughts.

I finished the SR50 in 5:52:28, somewhere around 34 minutes faster than my last attempt, and approximately 1 mph faster average. Little did I know until after crossing the finish line that Fatty was the one tailing me in the white jersey. I had come in -- somehow -- 5 seconds before him, though I knew there had to be some reason for this. I knew he had to have broken down - and later, I would realize that it happened early on in the race when I wasn't seeing him anymore. He hadn't ridden away from me, he was actually behind me the whole time - and I mean, RIGHT behind me.
I had failed at my mission, which was to move up in the standings. Unfortunately, I'm staying right where I am with that finish time, so I guess my resolve will need to be even stronger come August. The victory came in some improvement, so I'll take that, but it just wasn't what I'd hoped to gain out of this race.

As for learning... For the next race, I'm swapping Camelbak's out at the aid stations (I have two of the same one - G.E. can tell you all about it). [G.E.'s note: Sam's mom and I ended up both buying Sam the Camelbak Chase for his birthday, so now he has two. Even though I was upset about it at the time, I think it will actually work well for him in the upcoming LT100 because I can have the other one ready to go and just switch it out with him.] I have to climb harder and faster. I think near the peak I will burn all but the last of the matches to increase my climbing speed. I was my best ever on the downhill for this race and I hope to stick with that. I need more nutrition, so I'm going to try some liquid supplements in the Camelbak, particularly for the sustained climbing portions. I would love to find someone fast to trail and stick with, but I don't know how likely it is to make this happen.

Overall, I guess it was a good day. The weather was good, though a bit dusty. G.E. only got mild leg sunburn [G.E.'s note: I was so good about reapplying sunblock during this race, but never put it on my legs. Ugh!]. The race was shifted an hour earlier, which was excellent for missing the afternoon rains that inevitably come in Leadville.

I think Sam did well. Taking more than a half hour off his time is impressive. I know it wasn't what he hoped to gain out of this race, but it's still improvement (and there were a few things that would've likely helped him do better - it's always a learning process). It was a good day though and it's always fun to be in Leadville.

Only a few weeks until the LT100 ride, so I know Sam is trying to implement anything and everything he can that will help him improve. We'll be dog-free for that round, so that should help me focus a little better (hopefully) on getting Sam what he needs during the race... and I'm actually pondering doing the Leadville 10k Run that follows the day after the mountain bike race. We'll see if that happens or not, but I figure it could be an interesting way to wrap up the Leadville season this year.


  1. Way to go, Sam! I’m so impressed that you improved your time that much even with the loss of all your GU packs. Amazing!

    1. I think he did pretty well too, Kendra!

  2. I was discussing "events" with another cyclist at a ride last night. We both agreed, no matter how well you do, if someone asks you, it's always "ahhhhh, it was "okay", and something always goes wrong somehow. Except the next one, that one is going to be perfect. I know it.


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