Chicago Fitness & Recovery Center

Leadville SilverRush 50M Race Report

Ahhhh Leadville. Where to begin. The journey to race day was long and grueling in an effort to take a stab at the 50 mile distance. My prior attempt didn’t end so well. I was training for the San Diego Trail 50 in 2015 and had logged a good 5-6 months of training before having to abruptly back out of the race due to injury a mere 6 weeks out from competition. It was a very humbling experience and the first race that I had to bow out of. The rest of my 2015 was focused on being a husband to Jesi and new father to baby Leo. 2016 was time for revenge. I had to wipe the slate clean, train smarter and get that 50 under my belt. I had been keeping my eyes open for a race but hadn’t made a proper commitment until … Leadville.

Per usual race recruiting happens when you are sitting around with some fellow endurance junkies over a pint or in some recovery boots @ Edge. This one was a combination of the both. A few bevvys during the Edge Holiday Party got the idea brewing and then sitting next to Ed Dailey in some boots a few days later and he says “Hey, lets get a crew to race Silver Rush 50 in Leadville.” Without hesitation myself and a handful of others were in. Part of why I love the endurance community so much. Someone comes up with a brilliantly hard challenge and in the blink of an eye a half dozen others want to stand right by your side. Next step, receive the blessings and support of my family and BOOM signed up for Leadville Silver Rush 50 miler on 1/11/2016. Looking back at my registration receipt, I was ashamed to see that I payed the extra 10 bucks for insurance in case I had to back out due to family/medical reasons/whatever. Prior to this I have never paid for the insurance. Seriously, who pays for race insurance? Someone lacking confidence and that person was me. Coming off of a failed 50 attempt I certainly didn’t have full confidence required but it would come over the next 6 months of training.

One small detail that I forgot to mention, I had never done an ultra marathon when I signed up for Leadville. I did have some endurance experience having completed Ironman a couple of times but being on your feet for that long is a completely different beast as the majority of ultra runners would agree.

Training for the race, weekdays were spent running shorter mileage/stair master/strength training and many of my weekends were spent grinding out long mileage at Palos/Kettle/Devils Lake. Quick note on the stair master. If you live in the flatlands of Chicago and plan to race with lots of hills and elevation, stair master/incline treadmill interval training is THE way to go. A few months of training and I finally got my ultra feet wet @ Earth Day 50k in April 2016. I was a bit nervous being a newbie out there but fortunately for me 1) the ultra community is made up of the most positive and welcoming people on earth and they made me feel as one instantaneously. Literally EVERY SINGLE PERSON racing says great job, looking strong etc. A vibe much different from the road scene. 2) I am blessed to have a really strong support system from my family and friends. Completing my first 50K sort of brought the 50 miler into sight and suddenly it didn’t seem quite as unfathomable. I continued to log more and more miles over the coming months leading up to Leadville. Conquered a handful of grueling 30 plus mile runs. One of them being a 38 mile “fun run” at night in the middle of the Kettle Moraine Forest. After the fun run it was like a switch turned and I then realized that the 50 was in my wheelhouse.

Now to the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville. Friends of mine that have raced or visited speak of how special a city it is. A former bustling Silver mining town in the 1800’s that hit hard economic times post-mining era is now a thriving mecca for endurance training and competition due to its elevation. Leadville is the HIGHEST incorporated city in the US @ 10,152 feet above sea level and driving into town you are greeted with a large painted concrete wall that reads “We ♥ Leadville. Great living at 10,200.” Coming from virtually sea level, the altitude proved to be the ultimate variable. Course elevation ranged from 10,200 – 12,000 feet meaning there was literally 30-40% less oxygen in the air. Keeping breath and heart rate under control was the challenge. Luckily my wife Jesi shed some Yoga wisdom on me saying to treat the race just like a long breathing exercise. She said that if I focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing that it would help me stay calm throughout.

 

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My race plan was simple. Stick to my nutrition plan, keep my heart rate low and most importantly, ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE. It’s one of my grand mantras in life. The race began with an epic uphill that some crazies sprinted while I walked at a slow 28 min pace and my heart was beating out of my chest. I kept calm and took a breather at the top of the hill and wondered what the hell I just got myself into. Keep moving forward was all I could think. The next 8 or so miles were a steady incline up that went by pretty smoothly as Robyn, Matthew, Geoff, Ed and I worked a solid pace line and talked most of the way. Then came the first mountain pass @ mile 9 ish. OH MY GOD. All of that talking became virtual radio silence for the next 20-30 minutes as my heart rate increased and I dug deep and power hiked soaring from 10 to 11 to 12,000 feet. Around 12,000 feet is where I felt my heart beating in both of my temples. That was a first.

 

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Finally to the top of the first climb with burning legs, the 5 of us smiled, gave high fives, and said holy shit that was hard. We had a nice 4-5 mile descent now and at this point Ed was leading the pace line but looked back at me and said “dude, you better take off that wedding ring”. I looked down in a moment of panic realizing that altitude had my hands swollen like large sausages and my ring was cutting off circulation to my finger. It took me a good 5 minutes to twist it off but I finally got it and thought that could have been the most disastrous rookie mistake ever.

Heat was picking up and I enjoyed descending into Printerboy aid station @ mile 14.5 where we were greeted by cheering fans. This was the first time I saw Jesi and Leo and it lifted my spirits high. Aid stations at Ultras are full of surprises and I want to thank Printerboy for the introduction to ICE COLD WATERMELON W/SALT. At that moment I could not have imagined something more delicious.

Coming out of printerboy was pretty even keel for the next several miles until the second big climb. All I remember from this climb was that our group of 5 split up and the first place male ran past me like a mountain goat. Before I knew it I was descending into the halfway point @ Stumptown where I got to see Brian, Jesi and Leo. Grabbed my drop bag, re-fueled, ate about 5 pieces of salted watermelon and carried on.

This next event was a very pivotal mental time for me. Out of the aid station I crossed paths with Matthew and Robyn as they were entering into Stumptown. We stopped for a moment and had a group hug. Robyn, in coaching fashion, looked at me and said “how are you feeling? Pace yourself and make sure not to blow up.” Wise words and much needed. I was only halfway there with 2 insane climbs to come.

 

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The battle of the race shifted to a mental one from here forward. Insane climb out of stumptown all by myself. I got a bit emotional. Started thinking about the miscarriage we had a few months ago. Started thinking about my parents and other family members and became sad thinking about them ageing. I tried to cry but nothing came out… I just felt sad. With that sadness came doubt and I felt tired. I Cramped a bit and kept thinking about how I was going to have an epic blow up. It was all in my head. My mind was in a deep, dark place and my physical body was feeling the consequences. I either had to consciously pull myself out or the result was going to be pure self sabotage. I started focusing on the positive. Looking at the beautiful snow capped mountains. Yes snow in the middle of summer. Thought of how I am the luckiest person to be able to experience the Rockies on foot with great friends and my family by my side. Guess what. Cramps went away, doubts left my mind and I was in a good place as I made it back to Printerboy @ mile 36 ish. I looked for Jesi, Leo and Brian but I missed them by a few minutes. Luckily Ann and Matthew (the spouses of two of my running teammates) were there to greet me and tell me how well I was doing, help me with water, nutrition, etc. I told Ann to text Jesi and have her send good vibes my way for the remaining part of the race knowing that I wouldn’t see them until the finish. Again, salted watermelon and kept moving forward.

After printerboy came the final climb and it SUCKED. It took 45 minutes to an hour to traverse UP and AROUND a mountain. I was completely distracted from the pain and suffering while talking to Max. A 14 year old from Breckenridge racing his first 50 miler. I just kept thinking in my head….. 14…. No way. This kid is a beast. We talked about his training/nutrition/motivation for being at Silver Rush and here are the cliff notes… Training: runs around a ½ marathon a few times a week. Nutrition Plan: none.. besides eating healthier than his friends. Motivation: read a book about a 100 miler and that prompted his ultra journey. We played a game of picking out a landmark and running to it before we stopped and walked. Over and over again. Thanks Max for distracting me from all of the pain and sharing that last climb with me. Hopefully one day I will be reading about you doing epic things.

The last climb took me to mile 39 and the rest was mostly a descent followed by a couple of little hills and stream crossings. I was almost there. I hadn’t seen my Edge peeps in some time until hearing what sounded like my name being shouted from miles away. I looked up and at the top of that last climb was Robyn, Matthew, and Ed. We were about 2 miles apart and I was 1000 feet below them but it was so great to see them and it gave me some energy to keep pushing. Last 10 miles I let my hair down and flow and put on some tunes and jammed the whole way home to the finish. I completed Silver Rush in 11:34. Got to grab Leo and bring him across the finish line and capture what is one of my favorite pictures of all time. It was definitely the HARDEST thing that I have done in my life and I came out of it learning about how strong I really am.

 

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This was truly a team effort. I give the greatest of thanks to my family and friends especially my wife and soulmate Jesi for giving me the time/space/support to train on weekends. I could not have done it without her standing beside me every step of the way. I thank Leo for giving me inspiration to lead by example as an athlete and father. I thank all of my fellow Silver Rushers Jackie, Charlotte, Jenny, Geoff, Matthew, Ed, Al, and Robyn for sharing the hard work and creating a bond that I will never forget. Extra thanks to Coach Robyn for creating the training plan, coaching runs, paving the way to my success and having faith in me even when I questioned my ability to do such a thing. Brian LaLonde for being the best Race Crew ever. He always knew when and where to be and made sure that all of us out there had everything that we needed. You are all family to me and it was the experience of a lifetime and it was a pleasure to spend with each and every one of you.

Looking forward to having a pint or sitting in some boots @ Edge when someone proposes the next crazy challenge and we can do it all over again with a different backdrop.

Cheers.

Dr. Ryan Verchota




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