Coach Adam’s Leadville Silver Rush 50

21 07 2008

Until yesterday I had never run 50 miles at once, let alone 50 miles of difficult trails betweeen 10,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level!

I had big aspirations heading into my first ultramarathon. My training went really well and I finished all of my long runs feeling really strong and ready for more. I had my fueling strategy dialed in (or so I thought), I had my shoes and gear spot on. I had an excellent taper with some shorter, faster workouts and felt all around awesome in the days leading up to the race. I camped with my wife, dogs, and 2 friends who were also running the race. We spent Saturday lounging in some comfy folding camp chairs with our feet up by Turquoise Lake while Alison did a training Xterra triathlon. I did a short jog (20 minutes) with some strides and accelerations and felt great.

Race morning arrived, it started early with a 4am wake up (the race started at 6am). I had a typical breakfast of instant oatmeal, however I made the decision to have 3 packets instead of 2 (I’m not sure how much of a role this played in my suffering but I can’t discount it fully, it just illustrates the point: DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING ON RACE MORNING!!!) I also didn’t end up eating until 4:30 by the time the camp stove boiled the water. I put on a thorough layer of sunblock, some body glide in those key areas, and my favortie shirt, shorts, socks, and shoes. I filled my bottles with my calorie filled drink of choice. I packed up a bag to be dropped at the halfway turnaround containing some more food and drink, a change of socks and shoes, and a fresh hat. We got to the race start half an hour early to scope it out and use the port-o-potties. It was about 45 degrees (chilly) with a few clouds in the sky. The race day high was about 75 degrees, much more comfortable than Boulder was I hear.

The race starts with a 250 meter dash up a steep sledding/alpine ski hill before turning onto the jeep/4WD roads that make up the course. There was a prize for the first man and woman to the top, an ounce of pure silver. I didn’t seriously think about going for it but I found myself in the hunt at the top of the climb (and still in Zone 1). I was in 5th at the top of the climb, but only the first place guy kept running, the others slowed to a walk and I found myself in 2nd place (quite higher than I expected to be. I focused on running smoothly and staying in zone 1 (I wore my heart rate monitor to assist me with this endeavor). At the first aid station 7 miles into the race I was in about 5th place and running strong, however I was having severe stomach cramps (I’d already thrown up what was left of breakfast and was having trouble holding down my drink, let alone the Shot Blocks I was planning to eat. After the first aid station is a big climb followed by a 4 mile gradual downhill on a dirt road. Once I started downhill my stomach got even worse, I was dry heaving and spitting up bile every time I tried to run at a decent pace. I slowed my pace and drank water only in an effort to let my stomach settle. I knew that without calories I wouldn’t last long. Your body stores about 2500 calories in the form of carbohydrate and a couple hundred thousand as fat. Walking might be about 70% fat/30%carb for me, but running is more like 60/40 or 50/50 (more carbs used as I go faster). At the 14 mile mark I was in 7th place with a time of 2:14 with 4 other guys. I was orignially hoping to finish in under 10 hours and in the top 5 or 10 overall. I was pleased with the position, but knew that I get stronger towards the end of long runs. If I could just control my stomach and get some food down I could pick it up and still meet my goals.

My stomach didn’t get any better over the next few miles. I lived for the uphills because my stomach didn’t jostle as much as on the dreaded downhills. The guys I was with at the 1/4 mark left me but no one else caught me before the next aid station, in fact there was a guy just ahead of me in my sights. We came into the 3rd aid station (20 miles) together. My stomach didn’t feel great, but I couldn’t skimp calories anymore so I tried to choke down some food. After the aid station is a brutal climb up to over 12,000 feet and then a brutal descent, followed by another brutal climb, then an even more brutal descent to the turnaround at mile 25. I was in 10th place with a time of 4:12 (still ahead of my goal pace) at the turnaround, very pleased with my effort given the circumstances. I changed my shoes and socks, put on a dry hat, refilled my Camelback with cold water, and switched my empty drink belt for a full one. My stomach still wasn’t right, so I thought I’d just continue choking down calories whatever it took and hope for the best. It is quite discouraging to be doing alright but know that you could be doing much much better at the same time.

Heading out from the turnaround things went downhill fast (although the course was going uphill). The climb, descent, climb, descent between miles 25 and 30 was brutal. I felt a bonk coming on, not surprising considering I’d consumed less than 800 calories and burned around 5000. A few people passed me but I held on to 14th place until the aid station (20 miles to go). Just after the aid station 3 people passed me on the descent. I tried to stay tough and run the downhills at least despite the sour taste and sloshing stomach. 2 more people passed me on the way to the aid station at mile 37. The last guy to pass me told me there was no one behind us and to tough it out to the finish. This was encouraging, until I got to the aid station (6:31 18th place) and a guy caught me. I thought to myself, he must’ve come from way back, I must be going really slow. I ate some pretzels and some watermelon because I was sick of puking up everything else, I decided to drop my drink belt and go on with my camelback and some shot bloks alone. The guy who caught me walked with me for a few miles. He was great company but I felt bad slowing him down. He left me and another guy paseed me on the difficult 4 mile gradual climb that earlier in the day was the difficult gradual 4 mile downhill that had been my initial demise. I was walking now, not even hiking, just walking, just trying to finish. I was nauseous, I was light headed, I was dizzy. Thoughts of heat stroke, hyponatremia, and rhabdomyolosis entered my head. I thought of quitting, I was scared. I would walkd for a few minutes, then stop with hands on knees to dry heave and suck some air. I kept walking. People passed me. Old men, young men, old women, young women. Everyone passed me and asked me if I was alright, or if I needed something. I could hardly respond that I was fine. I wasn’t fine, but I knew nothing they could offer would help. I felt myself slipping from 2nd place at the one mile mark, to what must have been a finish in the 40s or 50s. I decided I would do whatever it takes to finish. Every finisher gets a silver bracelet, I wanted that bracelet bad! I got to the final aid station (it took me over 2 hours to go 7 miles from mile 36 to mile 43. I was in a bad state and the wonderful aid station volunteers knew it. I sat on a chair in the shade of the tent and the brought me food and drink and refilled my Camelback. I decided that I would take a break, 20 minutes, half an hour, as long as it took to get some calories down, take in some salt, and feel up to finishing. My goal was 10 hours, but I had 15 hours to finish and get my bracelet. For 20 minutes I ate salted watermelon, pretzels, and choked down some caffienated Shot Bloks. I drank PowerAde (which is gross) and water. More people passed me as I sat there. After my break I got back on my feet and started walking again.

The last 7 miles are gradual downhill or flats. The next mile or so was more of the same, feeling lousy. Then something happened, I caught someone. I was feeling like death, I walked for 20 miles, and I caught someone. We walked together for a while and he mentioned he was shooting for 10 hours too and that we had 54 minutes to make it to the finish. I suggested we try jogging. We jogged a little, he couldn’t go for long. I felt surprisingly good. I said good-bye to my brother in bonking and took off. I RAN the last 5 miles fast. My legs felt like jelly, my feet felt like lead, but I was running. My stomach issues were gone. I was flying, I passed 4 guys before the finish and crossed the line in 9:58. Those last 5 miles were the fastest and best I’d run all day. I felt victorious, finally something positive to take from the race. I finished the race, got my finishers medal and silver bracelet and haven’t taken them off since (except while sleeping).

I learned a lot in Leadville. I learned that even the best laid plans don’t go according to plan. I know that no matter how prepared you are, sometimes you have to change those plans based on conditions outside your control (or inside). You must constantly adjust your goals based on circumstances. I learned what it feels like to bonk hard, and what it feels like to keep moving forward in a hypoglycemic haze. Most importantly I learned to not give up, sometimes just finishing is reward enough. I have a few things to change for next time, and an overall positive experience to build on. Hopefully my next ultramarathon will be more running and less walking.

Things to change for next time:

1) Eat a smaller breakfast longer before start time

2) Fix my unsettled stomach, I’m not sure why my stomach was so bad, but I don’t think I could finish another ultra with my stomach holding out on me like it did in Leadville

3) Take in more salt throughout the race, this may have played a role in my discomfort, as well

4) Some more long training runs at high altitude might have helped too

Good things:

1) I ran the last 5 or 6 miles really fast, the fastest miles of the whole day, and felt awesome, if only I’d stopped earlier to solve those GI issues…

2) I made the right gear choices, socks, shoes, shorts, Camelback, waist belt, no chafing, sun burn, or blisters to speak of

3) My legs/body held up well

4) I was fit enough and fast enough to compete

5) I was under 10 hours (which was my initial goal)

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2 responses

23 07 2008
Della

Congrats Coach Adam! Through all the adversity, you made your goal. You are an inspiration to me for my goal race in November! A couple questions. Do you think you may have also faired better if you had kicked back a notch when starting the race? And do you think that race day nerves played a part in the stomach issues too?

25 09 2008
Adam

In hindsight, I probably could have started a little easier. At high altitude you don’t recover well if you go out too hard. I don’t think nerves had anything to do with it, but they may have. Good luck in November.

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