Sunday, July 22, 2012

Silver Rush Run

The Silver Rush run started at 6am, leaving just over half a day to recover from the bike. My legs felt a bit sore and stiff when I woke race morning at 4:30am, but the soreness was much improved from the night before. I was more concerned by the distance and climbing ahead of me than I was for the condition of my legs. I got my things together for the day, finalized plans for meeting Stacey at most of the aid stations, and departed for the race start.

At the race start I wasn't very nervous. The other races didn't seem nervous either, which is a stark contrast with the start of an Ironman where there's a mostly unspoken but palpable nervous energy. The run has a "we're in this together" feel. Instead of starting with 15 minutes of bumping and at times overt hitting to establish position like the start of an IM swim, the run starts with everyone chatting and settling into groups. With my run/walk approach, I spent the first hour -- which was a long, gradual uphill -- passing people during my 5 minute jogs and then being re-passed by the same people during my 1 minute walks. I kept the effort very easy during the jogs; my breathing pattern was the same as if I were just walking. A few other runners, however, ran by breathing so loud and harsh that it was as if they thought they were running a 5K.
And we're off!
 The first aid station, 7 miles in, came quickly. I handed off to Stacey the rain jacket I'd used to stay warm during the slow early miles. I told her I was feeling alright but that since my pace was so easy it was difficult to truly assess my body. The large bowl of whole fat yogurt, granola, and almonds I'd eaten for breakfast (the same thing I have every day) was still sitting in my stomach, so  I'd only had a few sips of sports drink I carried in a standard water bottle since the start of the race an hour earlier. I departed the aid station without grabbing any more food and continued the uphill run to the course's first ascent to 12,000 feet.

Coming into the first aid station. Just 41 miles to go.
On the steeper portions of the ascent after the first aid station a lot the runners started walking. I'd time my walks to coincide with the steeper sections of the course, but otherwise felt okay jogging onward. Right before reaching 12,000 feet, the course pitches upward and demands that everyone walk. As I marched upward, I suddenly felt the fatigue of the 9 miles I'd covered thus far. Fortunately, once up to 12,000 feet, the descent down to the second aid station offers a break from the hard work of uphill running. I cruised downhill to the second aid station at a relatively fast pace (7:00/mile?) without expending much energy. During the descent I finally started taking in some calories, but fewer than 200 (this after over 2 hours of running/walking). 
The view near the second aid station. The course climbs from near the low-point in this photo.
At the second station I was 13.5 miles into the race -- just over 1/4 of the way through -- yet I was starting to feel depleted. This was going to be a long day, I told Stacey as I grabbed a new Honey Stinger waffle and a new bottle of sports drink. I set off worried how the rest of race would go.

The sole quarter mile of pavement approaching the second aid station.
Between the second and third aid stations, there's a mile descent, a quick hill climb and descent, then a prolonged climb on the way back to higher elevations. By the time I reached that prolonged climb, I was wiped out. "Just make it to the turn-around," I told myself. I walked a lot of the climb and watched my pace plummet to 20 minutes per mile. My one bit of optimism stemmed from knowing that after the third aid station I wasn't that far from a descent down to the turn-around. At the third aid station, I took a bottle with a few ounces of Coke and another bottle of water. I didn't communicate to Stacey how crappy I was feeling, instead discussing how I'd see her back in this same spot in a few hours after the turn-around.
Hurting as I jog into the third aid station.

Leaving the third aid station, my focus was solely on reaching the turn around. Yet an odd thing happened as I neared the turnaround: I started to feel more energetic. Still tired and sore, but optimistic that I could finish the race. At the aid station I took just a bottle of water and four Fig Newtons and began a long climb back to 12,000 feet (my third such climb at this point in the race). I had another low moment when as I hiked up the climb I had to stop walking, stand still, and re-group. The low was fleeting, and by the time reached a short descent on the way back to the third aid station (after the turnaround I'm back tracking through the aid stations: third --> second --> first --> finish line) I was flying. I noticed a mile go by in 6:40, this nearly 30 miles into the race.

Approaching aid station three on the way back.
By now I was drinking an 8 ounce V8 immediately upon arriving to each aid station, and then taking in whatever calories I could muster. Throughout the entire race, I only managed to get in 1500 calories. In training, I'd eat that much in 20 miles. Yet, I don't think a dearth of calories hurt my race. For whatever reason, I just had trouble getting calories to absorb. Cola, though, is my go-to energy boost late in races, and at the third aid station I got a nice 20 ounce water bottle of Coke to keep me going for another hour.

Leaving the third aid station for the second time, I had a long downhill and made up a lot of ground on those ahead of me. While my uphill running muscles were shot, I could still move quick on the descents. I kept my focus on making it to the next aid station, forgetting about the finish line. Mentally I was doing very well, all things considered. The second aid station came quick, and I rested a few minutes there to take in a lot of food knowing I had one final long climb remaining.

Entering the second aid station on the way back, and just about to walk back up to 12,000".

I hoped that the food would give me a burst of energy and allow me to run at least half the last climb. Yet this energy burst never came, and I slogged slowly uphill running only for the brief stretches where the road leveled out. As the climb progressed I was passed by several fast walkers, but just one runner. The runner, as an aside, had run 60 miles of the Hardrock 100 the day before! (If you're not familiar with Hardwork, watch this and read this.) I stayed positive knowing that I was nearly done with the last sustained climb; from the top to the finish line was mostly downhill.
Running downhill on the approach to the first aid station. Just 7 miles left!

Right as the gravel road on which we climbed turned into an even steeper jeep road, the course turns back downhill. I made the turn, walked a few moments, and then began my jog. I tested out my descending legs and they were strong. I ran downhill at a good speed, perhaps 7:00/mile. Just keep this up for the final 9 downhill miles, I told myself. Two miles later I stopped for a final snack refresh at the first aid station, dropping off my shirt, taking my iPod, and leaving with a V8/water mix and half a Snickers bar. I left the aid station running fast and strong.

While each small hill on the way to the finish line offered a walking break, I continued at a strong pace whenever the course tilted downward for a few more miles. Eventually, though, the course flattens a bit. This was good because it signaled that I was almost done, but bad because I had no strength to run when the terrain was just slightly downhill. With three miles to go, I was beat. I slowed to a walk, wishing the finish line were closer. Even when walking, my breathing was very quick and shallow. Dust and a long day of deep breathing left me feeling as if I had asthma.
100 yards to the finish! Stacey: "You sure are pale."

The end was anti-climatic as I finished on such a weak note. Still, looking back I'm amazed I was able to "run" nearly 50 miles through such difficult terrain and at altitude. Having finished, the course and event still intimidate me. I'm in disbelief that the winner was able to average not much off 8:00/mile. 

Because I can't get enough Bon Iver:


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