Leadville Silver Rush 50, 1st place, 7:01
On July 12th, in the Mosquito Range east of Leadville, I won my first race, the Silver Rush 50 miler. To win was both incredibly gratifying, and seemed somewhat beside the point.
Feeling as though I raced to my potential is a marker — however ephemeral — of some success in a sport I’ve put a lot of myself into over the past few years. But like most days that go well, I don’t have much of interest to say: there is little narrative interest to be had in recounting successes. Nonetheless, I’ve been in the South Pacific for the past two weeks, and will soon be subsumed by writing about the South Pacific again, so it’s time to get this one out of my head, per the terms and conditions of any blog with a M/U/T focus.
A brief lead-up: I’ve never really been able to train consistently in the summer, due to the conflict of fieldwork overseas, and so seeing a month and a half of uninterrupted time in Denver, I knew I wanted a target race. I liked Leadville, and Silver Rush 50 fit the bill timing-wise, so I signed up. I ran decent volume and some fast workouts, and knew my lungs could work in the thin air. I tapered a little bit. I camped with Kate near the base of a favorite pass, woke up early, drank coffee, stripped down in the cold of the predawn hours at 10,000’ in the sky.
Following Choulber’s shotgun blast people sprinted up the steeply graded ski hill at the race’s start in vying for LT100 entry tokens. I jogged slowly, and then ran easily to the front of the pack, where I lead the first seven or so miles on jeeptrack through lodgepole pine forest on a clear and beautiful morning. As the course began to climb more in earnest, the sound of a snot-rocket (glamorous business, trail running) alerted me to competition approaching, and then Timmy Parr drew even with me. I had been laboring under the vague idea he was somewhere up ahead, having come to the race considering him the major competition, and so was pleased if unsurprised to see him. I figured he’d be on his way shortly, but tucked in behind him for the remainder of the first climb, a long, straight, low-grade grind to 12,000’, at the base of Mosquito Range 14er Mount Sherman.
We then turned onto a broad dirt road contouring the ridge to our north, and ran fairly hard for several miles back downhill, and to the west the high peaks of the Sawatch emerged from a sea of cloud in a blaze of lucid sunlight, and it was hard not to smile at the wonder of it all. Which is certainly preferable to succumbing to the fear of hard miles and sore quads and failure that always flits about at the edge of your subconscious, early on in these things.
We ran more jeeptrack through lodgepoles, Timmy pointing out mining-related landmarks of historic interest. Timmy is a history teacher at Leadville High, and thus was good company to have on a course that climbed back through the years as it climbed up through the Rockies. We began a second long ascent to another pass above 12,000’, circling Ball Mountain, where the tundra was green and lush with early summer snowmelt. We ran down to the mile-25 turnaround, still matching each other stride for stride, and passing through aid, to the cheers of Kate and Sue, I felt a bubble of confidence slowly rise within me, the faintest hope that perhaps, just perhaps, I was relaxed and fit enough to pull off the win. We mostly hiked back up to the pass, learning en route third place to be some 20-30 minutes back.
We ran some more, chatting now and then, though more often in companionable silence. We passed through two more aid stations, maybe running a bit more slowly now, but still hanging together. And though I was tired and my legs were growing sore the confidence grew, stemming less from any tactical calculation of Timmy’s effort or pace than from feeling there wasn’t much in the world I’d rather be doing, and that this feeling mattered. The protracted and fatiguing climb to the final 12,000’ mark of the day was clearly not the strongest running either of us had done, but as soon as we began the last long descent I noticed something hesitant in Timmy’s step, and in a few minutes I passed him, thinking only to lead for a while, perhaps shake him slightly psychologically. But then, on irrepressible impulse, I began to pick up the pace, and didn’t look back. Feeling I had enough water for the last 7 miles, I blew through the final aid station, and began to really race. Racing, as in to run as hard as you think you can hold for the rest of the course, a touch harder, even, the kind of discomfort bordering on ecstasy you do twenty-mile marathon-pace runs to discover within yourself and be able to summon (on rare occasions) on command.
The road went ever on and on, winding here and there, but all things must come to and end, and so did this. I crossed the line in 7:01:26, in first place, to the relative hoopla of a Leadville Race Series event, feeling gratitude in having had, as they say, my day. It began to rain not long after Timmy arrived about 12 miles later, and I soon left for a burger and a beer at the Dillon Dam. And then, a few days later, I left for Fiji, where I write these words, in a a bizarre coda to this report, from a world away.
What’s next? In September, I’ll be running Pine to Palm 100, my first (official) stab at the distance. Maybe I’ll run well, maybe I won’t. But I’m grateful that I’ll now always have one perfect July day flying through the high mountains of Colorado to look back on, where running, if not quite effortless, richly rewarded my efforts.
And of course, grateful for Kate and Sue’s wonderful support, Timmy’s day-long company, and the Leadville Race Series for a beautiful and smoothly run event.