I wasn’t really surprised to learn that running 50 miles in a day is hard. Especially if it’s on rocky, high-mountain trails.
A dirty little secret about the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Trail Run is that it isn’t really 50 miles – it’s more like 47. Maybe they’re counting the fact that there was a vertical mile and a half of climb (7,400 ft) and the same amount of descent. Most of the race was on “jeep” or fire-service roads, and most of it was between 11,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation – up where the air gets really thin and trees can’t survive on the mountainsides. That amount of climb is the rough equivalent of climbing up and down a 12-storey building during each mile – or of scaling the Empire State Building six times during the race.
The absolute highlight of the race was my support “crew.” At least 20 times over the fifty-mile course I was greeted by a group of my friends and family – sometimes as many as nine of them, all of whom had somehow found their way to Leadville that weekend and spent their day cheering and helping me. Mike Short was my personal photographer (taking most of the pictures on this page). My top supporters for the last 48 years (my Mom and Dad) chased me on their ATV. Bjorn Hegelman (there with wife Jodie) was my biggest (literally) supporter (see photo below if you don’t get this joke). Dr. Don Wilsey (a friend I met during my Bolivia experience) drove over from Colorado Springs.
Shane and Michele Merz and Scott Humphries were my roving pit crew — chasing me on ATVs with Gatorade and food and going above and beyond my imaginings even for SuperFans. When I caught sight of them up the trail (or heard their cowbells through the woods), I could yell, “I need sunscreen, baby wipes, and crackers!” No problem. “Chapstick, and bug spray!?” Here you go. “Diet coke and cookies?” Coming right up. They were so great it was absurd. I might – MIGHT – have been able to finish without all that support, but it surely wouldn’t have been as happy, fast, or fun.
Spending a summer in Leadville demonstrates a persistent fact of life: no matter what you do — there’s always somebody doing twice as well, going twice as far, twice as fast, twice as tough or as often . . . something. Several hundred great mountain bikers do the fifty-mile race, only to have hundreds of runners cover exactly the same course the next day without the benefit of a bicycle. Celebrate your fifty-mile run and you’ll still be consigned to a backseat behind the folks who’ll run a HUNDRED miles here over even-tougher terrain in August. Seriously. Running “just” the 50 mile race gets only modest respect in Leadville.
Before last weekend, I’d never run more than 26.2 miles in a day, so committing to run 50 – especially in Leadville — was a big leap. I was emboldened by the fact that I’ve done several events in the past that took 11 to 13 hours each (Ironman triathlons and 100-mile mountain bike races). I’d done an Ironman triathlon just a month before, so I thought I could get away with minimal extra training. My theories mostly panned out fine, with the possible exception that I didn’t fully realize how hard a rocky Rocky Mountain mountain trail can be on your feet and ankles.