It's been a little over a year since I raced an Ultra. Trail Running has become such a core part of my life, when I think about it, I am not sure how that happened, but life has a funny way of moving along regardless of what we plan. Instead of boring you with the "Woah is me" injury stories, I'll summarize- over the last year I experienced chronic right foot pain, and tried a dozen different remedies, and still don't know what was the cause. But have tried to see the positive in the experience; I was able to focus on some other aspects of life. I moved to Marin, got to go on some incredible trips all over the world, highlighted by visiting Equator's Finca Sophia in Panama and watching two beautiful friends get married in the Yucatan of Mexico. Life has been pretty sweet, to say the least.
By May I was coming back to form and was able to run consistently without any pain whatsoever. The relief of coming out of the other side has been unbelievable. It's a wonderful feeling to get back to running every day, whether for 15 minutes or 3 hours. Starting each day with a run keeps life in perspective and leaves me feeling great, regardless of what the day has in-store. As my health came back, I started planning for my next big race: The Leadville 100. One of the original 100-milers, Leadville has been on my bucket list since I got into Ultra's, and with equal parts fear and excitement I began training in earnest.
As Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." Going into Leadville, I knew that while I have had some great racing and training previously, the past year has taught me that it was time for a change in practice. Maybe I am getting a bit older, or it's an accumulation of miles, but merely running as much as I could ain't working for me anymore. One of the best parts about moving to Marin, besides for the unbelievable, incredible trail's, is the equally remarkable amount of runners. Almost every morning I can link up with different friends for a pre-work run. Fortunately one of those good friends also doubles as an excellent coach- Mario Fraioli. Mario knew my injury history, and when I floated the idea of working together to prep for Leadville, he was immediately open to coaching me. I initially had some trepidation about working with a coach, most of the usual doubts: am I worthy of a coach? Is this justified? Etc. While we have only been working together for a few short months, I can say that it has been some of my most enjoyable running and the best decision I could have possibly made. The structure, feedback, and constant support have me more excited for Leadville than any race before. Not to mention, coming into some of the best fitness I have had in a few years, and in a sustainable way.
Silver Rush 50
As my training was coming along, and with a few other life factors coming together I found myself with an open week on the calendar, and after talking it out with both Mario and a close friend, Billy Yang, who is also running Leadville, decided to jump into Silver Rush 50. With Leadville being such a high-elevation course (all above 10,000 ft.), running a 50-mile race 6-weeks out in the same area felt like a perfect litmus test. I had two goals for Silver Rush: train through the race (no taper), and finish feeling strong.
Even treating Silver Rush as a training run, I couldn't help get some pre-race nerves and after a night of tossing and turning, race morning finally arrived! It had been a long time since I got to race, and almost forgot the nervous energy that comes with it. Billy and I made our way to the start, courtesy of the wonderfully supportive Celia and the GU crew.
Start to Printer Boy (Mile 13.5)
With 50 miles all above 10,000 feet what better way to kick off Silver Rush than with an obscenely short and steep hill climb, nothing like a bit of oxygen debt to start a race! Once up the hill, we started a 10-mile and 2,000 ft. climb to our first of four 12,000 ft. peaks. Having never actually ran at altitude, let alone high-altitude my plan for the day was to start slow, and go slower until mile 40 when I would let my stride open up. I felt great all the way through the first climb, and before I knew it was dropping down to Printer Boy, the second aid station. After a quick re-fuel, I was on my way to Stumptown, the half-way point of the race.
Printer Boy to Stumptown (Mile 13.5 - 25)
By this point, the day had started to heat up and by our second 12K peak at mile 19 I had settled into rhythm with a Silver Rush and Leadville past champ, Duncan Callahan. Duncan and I would end up running together for a few hours. It was great to spend miles on the course with a super humble and altogether great guy, Duncan failed to mention that his sub-18 Leadville time had been good enough for the overall win! As we came into Stumptown in 4:03 I was feeling as fresh as if I had just started running, and 10 minutes ahead of my planned splits.
Stumptown to Printer Boy (Mile 25 - 36.5)
Heading out of Stumptown I had my only flat patch of the day. Racing at altitude has a cumulative effect, and while my legs felt great, I could feel my heart working pretty hard as we rolled back up to 12K. Duncan was also starting to feel the miles, and on the way to Printer Boy Aid Station, I began to pull away on the downhills, expecting him to catch me on our fourth and final pitch back to 12K.
Printer Boy (Mile 36.5 to Finish)
While Duncan didn't catch me, I did get caught by a couple of runners, one of which had done the Silver Rush 50 Mountain Bike race, the day before, incredible! I tried to keep pace with both runners, but as we passed 11K, I was starting to feel the altitude and resigned to let them pull away and settled into a power hike. Going into the race Mario and I had discussed focusing on the final 10-mile descent to the finish as a good time to open up my stride and see how my legs would handle a sustained effort at this stage of a race. As I started descending, I picked up the pace and before I knew it was running a comfortable 8-minute pace and feeling strong. Halfway through the descent, I was surprised I hadn't caught either of the runners who had passed me on the final climb but figured all these Colorado athletes must be great downhill runners and just focused on my pace. As soon as I settled into this decision, I glimpsed a bright jersey in the distance. I decided to make a game of it and see if I could catch the runner. Before I knew it, I had passed him, and after exchanging a "great job", he mentioned there was another runner just a few minutes ahead. This pattern would repeat itself through the finish, and I was able to pass five runners in the final five miles!
I crossed the finish line in 8:42 feeling great and with plenty left in the tank! After giving Celia a big sweaty hug, thanks again to Celia and GU for supporting us all weekend, between BCAA's, GU Campfire S'Mores Gels, which have quickly become my favorite GU for both the flavor and the 10% kickback to our public lands which will add up with an Ultra runner's GU consumption, and recovery shakes, they know how to take care of a runner! After hanging out at the finish, Billy came through with a big shit eating grin. We both immediately went about recovering, as evidenced below and finished it off with some ice cream:)
On Monday the three of us took a hike up to the top of Hope Pass, the high point of the Leadville course. With some pretty sore legs, it was a bit of a climb, but it was awesome to get out on the course, and by the time we got to the top were ready for some Summit Pizza!
Celia and Billy packed up their Jeep and headed down to Silverton to support all the amazing athletes running Hardrock 100. Part of me wanted to join them and check out more of the San Juans, especially with Billy premiering his latest film, The Unknown, before the race. Been super awesome to watch him grow as a filmmaker and storyteller. All weekend athletes came up to Billy expressing their gratitude and support to the stories he tells and the passion he does it with. Can't wait to watch his latest film, and if you haven't seen a Billy Yang Fim, highly recommend checking them out. But I couldn't resist staying here in Leadville for the rest of the week. The legs are already coming back strong, and I am excited to continue this journey to racing Leadville 100 August 19th! I can't wait to spend a few weeks before the race here in Leadville exploring the course and acclimating.
Thanks for reading!