Silver Rush 50 MTB Race Report
Warning: this report is told from the perspective of an MTB neophyte, since I started riding in September 2009 after taking several years off from marathon running. Thus, it is my first MTB race, and I was surprised how different the race was from training. I tried riding the course three times in the weeks prior to the race; although it was a difficult trail to follow based on the description I pulled from the web and a second description I received from the race founder, Ken Chlouber. The course wasn’t marked until 2 days prior to the race. Still, I had trained on perhaps 75% of the actual course, so I was confident I could handle it. In one training ride, I went over 35 miles of the course in 5 hours, to set a goal of 7 hours finishing time, which would be an average of 7 mph. I realize it was relatively slow but my goal was to reach the halfway point under the 4-hour time limit and finish under the 8 hour time limit. It turned out that the cutoff times were a debatable issue, which they shouldn’t have been. The race starter, Ken Chlouber, told the racers at the start that the halfway cutoff was 4 hours. However, the website reported that the halfway cutoff was 4.5 hours. After reading the official results, it looked to me like they used a 4.5 hour cutoff and an 8.5 hour deadline. Regardless, I was racing the clock, not necessarily the other riders, and I wore an ankle timing chip so it would be official.
To accomplish my goal of 7 hours, I broke the out-and-back course down into sections and estimated speed and time at each section. The first significant section was about 10 miles with a variety of terrain, but mostly uphill. 10 miles at 7 mph is 1.429 hours or 1 hr 25.75 minutes. The next section was about 3.5 miles of downhill @ 18 mph is .194 or 11.65 minutes. A brief half mile of uphill pavement was next or .5 @ 8 = .0625 (3.75 mins). After about 14 miles came the first aid station (Printer Boy) at 116.15 mins. The other sections, with estimates, included:
2 @ 15 = .1333 (7.998 mins) - down dirt (backwoods)
4 @ 5 = .8 (48 mins) - up dirt (Ball Mtn)
5 @ 12 = .4167 (25 mins) - down dirt (To turnaround)
Turn-around in 213.148 mins or 3 hours, 33.148 mins
5 @ 4 = 1.25 (1 hr 15 mins or 75 mins) up dirt (up Ball Mtn)
4 @ 15 = .2667 (16 mins) - down dirt (down Ball Mtn)
2 @ 5 = .4 (24 mins) up dirt (backwoods)
.5 @ 25 = .02 (1.2 mins) - down (paved)
Printer Boy Aid Stn in 360.418 mins or 6 hrs
3.5 @ 8 = .4375 (26.25 mins) up dirt
10 @ 18 = .5556 (33.33 mins) down dirt
60 minutes of hike-a-bike
Finish in 419.998 mins or 6 hrs, 59 minutes, 59 secs.
This estimate includes an additional hour of hike-a-bike on what I considered were unrideable sections for reasons such as too steep with too much mud, too many ruts, or too much loose rock.
Race day promised to be very hot. The weather report called for 100+ degrees in Denver, with 80 degrees in Leadville and only a 30% chance of rain. I was hoping for clouds, but rain would have made the dirt course a total mess, so I was not hoping for rain.
There were 632 riders at the start, which calls for a mad dash of hike-a-bike up a steep sledding hill. The first man and woman to the top get a silver coin, thus, the name Silver Rush. Fifteen minutes prior to the start, I jogged up the hill to check out the top where flat opening quickly converges into a three foot wide single track. About a half mile further, the route narrows to a single track, prior to opening up again to a nice 4-wheel drive road. After scoping this out, I realized either I had to run like crazy to get near the front, or I’d be in a traffic jam at the bottleneck. When I got back down to the bottom of the hill, I looked around at the two or three rows of bikers in front of me and knew I’d have no chance to get to the front, so I decided not to push it up the hill.
Ken Chlouber was at the start with what looked like a Winchester rifle. He fired it off, and up that stupid sled hill we went with bikes in tow. I got to the top in about 2 and a half minutes, crossed over the timing line, then mounted my bike and rode into the traffic jam. There was a slow progression up the track and I quickly discovered the biggest difference between racing and training: the pace I could go was the pace of the mob. If I wanted to go faster, I’d hit the guy in front of me. If I wanted to go slower, the guy behind me would hit me. There was absolutely no passing in this initially tight, heavily forested route. About a half mile into the race, a rider hit me from behind and I fell over into a tree. What a great way to start! He apologized several times and made sure I was OK. Wow! Polite riders! What a revelation! A little bit further, the mob came to a stop when we encountered the first single track section. Once we all negotiated this section, we made it onto a four-wheel drive road and things started to spread out. As I looked at the road ahead, I couldn’t believe how much dust was being kicked up by the riders in front of me. Still, I had to learn the hard way about race etiquette and rules. Things I heard at this stage where TRACK LEFT or LEFT, which meant riders were coming up on my left and to yield to them since they were going faster than me. Another rule was that riders have right-of-way over hike-a-bikers and the hike-a-bikers need to move as far over to the right as possible. These two rules caused me problems early on in the race, probably because I had never ridden in a pack before. At one point, a guy passed me without giving me warning and we almost collided. Perhaps I should have been more aware, but he should have alerted me of his presence. In any case, I was pissed and yelled at him. I had started out at the mobs pace, which was too fast for me and I got winded, which is quite common (for me at least) at 11,000 feet. At one point we hit a small steep section and I had to do a hike-a-bike to catch my breath. A rider passed on my left side, but came really close to me and he yelled out for me to yield. That really pissed me off so I pulled my bike off the trail, into the trees and yelled back “Is this far enough out of your way? There is plenty of space to pass on the left side!” Obviously, it was a very frustrating experience in those first few miles. Hopefully I’ll remember the rules and, in the future, keep my cool and not waste energy yelling at other riders.
At about mile 9, we came to the first section of what I considered in training to be the first bit of truly unrideable terrain. This was a moderately steep section of four-wheel drive road that still had runoff water, so it was muddy with bad ruts from ATVs. It was kind of funny to watch bunches of riders come to these sections. When the leader stops and gets off his bike to push it, the others have no choice but to do the same since their momentum has been stopped. Such is the life in the pack. So, following about 15 minutes of hike-a-bike, we got to a long downhill section of comparatively nice, wide-open dirt road. Unfortunately, I coasted a section of this downhill and paid the price, because my chain bounced off my gears, so I had to stop and re-chain. However, I was zooming down again within a minute. The downhill section ended after about 3.75 miles and we travelled on a half mile of pavement up to the first aid station (called Printer Boy), which I crossed in 1:55:52. My estimate had been 1:56:15 so I was right on my desired pace. However, I felt I had started out too fast and felt a bit tired here, which wasn’t a good sign. My wife, Giovanna, and my Mom were there to greet me and gave me fresh water bottles of G2 and PowerAid, as well as a banana and a Honey Stinger (great stuff), and off I went to tackle the hardest sections of the route. It started out tame enough with a 2 mile section of downhill through some beautiful woods, then the rough stuff really kicked in with a section of unrideable steep, lose stuff. Drat! More hike-a-bike! Then, we had a 100 yards or so of nice dirt road prior to a private property section. Giovanna and Mom were there just prior to the private property section and I got more drinks, then off I went. The route took a couple of surprising turns then came out near some mines on a dirt road I had trained a few weeks ago. Then things really got hairy. It included a weird section of trail that led to a short scree slope that was impossible to ride up. Then the route broke out of the trees and skirted Ball Mountain. It was here that the leader passed me going the other way, and he was flying! I had trained on this section, but it was much harder now. Perhaps it was the heat or the initial quick pace, but I was certainly feeling burned out. The route leveled off and actually headed downhill and I thought to myself, no not down, I just have to go back up again to crest the saddle (the high point of the race at 12,091 feet) between East Ball and Ball Mountains. Sure enough, it went down steeply, then back up again, very steeply and I had to once again hike-a-bike. The second place guy came zooming by but must have been at least 20 minutes behind the leader! What a slow grind that was going up the south side of that saddle. Still, I was passing other hike-a-bikers by pushing my bike slightly off the trail. As I summitted the saddle, there was a volunteer warning everyone to be very careful on the way down, because there were a lot of riders coming up the other way. Sure enough, as soon as I hopped back on the bike, I looked down a very steep gully and saw a long line of hike-a-bikers on the way up. So, off I went white-knuckling it all the way down the gully, with my teeth clenched and my brakes clamped as hard as I could press them. At the bottom of the steepest section was a sizable creek. One guy tried to shoot through it, but came to a stop in the center of it, fell over, and got soaked. It probably felt great in that heat. I dismounted and carried my bike across an old foot bridge. Then, I zoomed down the very rideable mining roads as they twisted and turned near what I remember to be the top of 7th street. I went down some more dirt road, passed screaming fans, and around a few bends to the halfway turn-around, crossing the timing lines at 3:39:03. I had estimated 3:33 at this point, so I was a little behind my projection, but I was feeling totally cooked. Giovanna and Mom were there to greet me and loaded me up with more liquids and PBJ sandwiches from the aid station.
As I sat there eating and chatting, someone behind me said “JimAlb! Is that Jim Albersheim?” It was Peter Linsley, a classmate of mine from my high school in Boulder (29 years ago). We chatted for awhile and then I started moving to get back on the trail. I was really blown but wanted to at least try to make it. Giovanna knew I was cooked and tried to convince me to stop, but I had it in my head to at least try. I told them I’d decide whether to stop or not at the Printer Boy hill aid station. I decided if I could make it there in 6 hours, then I could make it, particularly since there was only one real lengthy uphill after that. So, off I went, just behind Peter. As I left, I looked at my Garmin. I had rested there for 15 minutes! For the next 10-20 minutes I felt OK, most likely because the terrain was relatively gentle and also because I was riding with Peter. Then the steep stuff hit, just after the foot bridge and the long slog up the north slope of the saddle started. Several times, I stopped, slumped over my seat, wondering if and how I could go on. I was totally bonked but I plowed on nonetheless. When I saw the top of the saddle I started feeling much better and I got to the top with much more energy. I was actually feeling good at this point, perhaps because I knew the hardest part was over. Initially, the trip down the south side was a white-knuckler again, but it quickly gave way to much easier terrain and I could actually zoom. Of course, on this insane course, as soon as it gets easy, it gets hard again. That stupid uphill bit me and I was pushing my bike again. It was here that two ATVs drove by. It was a race official, or forest ranger, checking on the health of the riders! Then, it became navigable again as the route crested above tree line just prior to zooming down through the mines. The route really became circuitous in this section and I almost lost the trail a couple times. At one point, right near the Resurrection Mine at the top of 7th Street, I saw a rider take an awful spill. He got up with a lot of road rash (complete with imbedded gravel) all over his hip and leg. I stopped to make certain he was OK and let him know there was a vehicle nearby I could wave down if needed. However, he told me he was uninjured (except perhaps his ego) and to ride on, so off I went. This route definitely tested a rider’s bike handling skills, particularly with its loose gravel and stones and lengthy downhill sections with many twists. I followed the route on a single track section, down the scree slope, and barely made the turn at the bottom. The designer of this course needs to have his head examined! After a few more turns, and one intersection where I nearly turned the wrong way again, I came out to the well maintained dirt road and saw Giovanna and Mom again. By this time, I was feeling good. I did stop for a quick drink, and then zoomed away. Of course, just after a nice section, a crappy section waits, and there was the steep section of loose rock. I navigated through it just fine, and went back onto a well maintained dirt road. It was there that I saw Peter again, but the route kicked uphill and I passed him. I really was feeling good. The route took a few turns, crossed some pavement, and came to the forested switchbacks below the Printer Boy aide station. If I can ride this section, I told myself, I’ll make it. So, I pushed on passed several hike-a-bikers, and finally crested to a flatter section and I knew I’d make it. I had definitely gotten my second wind. At the end of the flat section was a little bump and there was the Printer Boy aide station, and I crossed the timing wires at 5:38:02. I was going to make it! I waved to Giovanna and Mom and yelled back that I’d see them at the finish and zoomed down the half mile of pavement to the 3.5 miles of nice dirt road that I knew was the last section of uphill. For some reason, my pace was great on the hill, and I maintained a high cadence all the way. A few cars passed by, reminding me that all roads on the course were open, but I still cursed them for driving on them in the middle of a race. I did stop once to stretch and pop my back, but resumed the cadence and passed many riders in this last big hill. When I got to the top, several riders where taking a break for refreshments, but I decided to start the long downhill to the finish. The top of that first downhill section was terrible, but I traversed it without incident and the road got much more navigable after that. I rode through several little run-off streams, getting sprayed in the process. Ooh that felt great! I could really fly here and I shifted to a bigger gear and zoomed through it. When I trained this section, it had never been this fast, and I had to pay very close attention to the road. I hit several big rocks accidentally and got smacked by several tree branches, but I didn’t care. I was flying. The road leveled out and actually had a few uphill sections, but I powered over them with little problem. After a few weird sections where the route took some strange turns, the road opened up near the top of the airport and I could see the approaching valley floor. The end was near! I was really pushing it in this section, and my Garmin clocked me at 30 MPH when I quickly glanced at it. (I later calculated I averaged 15 mph in that 8 mile section). I could see a guy in front of me about 30 yards ahead. The guy behind me told me to catch him, so I kicked it some more, caught him, and passed him. Then, the road swerved inward, crossed several other 4-wheel drive roads, and turned into a single track. I was intently watching the trail markers here because I knew the route at the end would not be the same as the one at the beginning. We weren’t going to ride down the sledding hill. I came quickly to a paved road and the trail disappeared in some aspen trees on the other side. As I followed it, glanced at my Garmin and my time was 6:56. It was going to be close, so I kicked again and just as I did, the route did a jog to the right for 10 feet up a paved road then went sharply up a dirt single track. That little jog to the right killed my momentum and I cursed out load several times at the cruelty of the course designer as I dismounted and did the last bit of hike-a-bike of the route. Then, I hopped back on my bike and followed the zigzag course around and down to the bottom of the hill, over a few small jumpable bumps and to the finish line, which I crossed in 7:01:52. According to my Garmin, I had travelled 46.32 miles, but I was grateful that they rounded it up to 50 miles. I found out later that the official timing started at the top of the sled hill at the initial timing wire. My actual riding time was 6:59:32! I had made my goal and was overjoyed, raising my hands in victory as I crossed the finish, totally thrilled and totally spent. I found out later that Peter finished almost 18 minutes later. I met up with Giovanna and Mom and they took a few pictures, then I said “Let’s get out of here”, as we threaded our way through the finish line mayhem, “We’ve got a dinner date!” We were going to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse for dinner and had to be at the Alpine Ski hut in 90 minutes.
So, my first (and perhaps only) Silver Rush 50 MTB race was finished. I had set two goals: (1) to finish before the cutoff and (2) to ride the route in 7 hours and I hit both goals. There are several things I didn’t count on: (1) to start too fast due to riding in a bunch for the first time, (2) to burnout in the first half of the race, (3) to hike-a-bike for 3 hours (according to my Garmin pacing history), (4) to rest for 15 minutes at the turn-around, and (5) to get a second wind and have enough energy left to really push it at the end to reach my time goal. The race held many surprises and huge rewards for the effort. I couldn’t ask for a better award at the end than a silver finisher’s medallion and a date with two beautiful ladies!
786 Riders entered
632 Riders started
505 Rider finished
154 Riders DNS
127 Riders DNF
344 place overall
130 in division (Male 40-50)
7:01:52 Total Time
6:59:32 Net time (less start hill)
Course Description (transcribed from original)
The Leadville Silver Rush Mountain Bike race begins at the Mineral Belt Trail Monument (located just below Colorado Mountain College on Hwy 24 on the South end of Leadville). None of the roads used will be closed to vehicle traffic, so please use caution. There will be an exhilarating, lung-busting, mass start up Dutch Henri Hill to an old mining road (with a special silver coin premium to the first man and first woman to the top). Follow this dirt road and the pink/black striped ribbon, crossing the paved Mineral Belt Trail twice. This dirt road will soon become County Rd. 45. Continue along CR 45 to the “powerlines”. Go straight for approximately ¾ mile. The road will then turn left following Iowa Gulch. Riders will then travel up Iowa Gulch to Black Cloud Mine. Take the right fork on the county road that continues up Iowa Gulch. The mine tailing ponds will be on your right and main mine buildings on your left. Continue to climb 3.1 miles through incredibly beautiful and rugged Leadville high country where this road intersects with County Road 2B at the base of 14,036 ft. Mt. Sherman. Now, it’s downhill on the occasionally maintained gravel road 3.2 miles to the blacktop road. Continue approximately ½ mile on this blacktop road to the top of the hill. Located here will be the first aid station. At this crest, between Rock Hill and Printer Boy Hill, turn left up a short, but steep hill just beyond the aid station into a narrow, winding dirt road, staying right and heading down about 1½ miles into California Gulch and Oro City (where gold was first discovered in 1865).
Racers will cross the paved CR 2, heading north up a wide, improved dirt road (Nugget Gulch) over to Adelaide Park (adjacent to 5th St.). Riders will head east and uphill on an old, abandoned mining road that runs parallel to E. 5th St. Just a little more ½ mile up, this road will take riders out to 5th St. Riders stay on 5th St. for just ¼ mile then take a right turn up a rough, rocky, and very historic mining road that will take riders up and up. This route will take riders across the Hopemore Mine property (private, but we have permission). Then, riders will go more up, eventually reaching the top of 5th St, close to the Venir Mine with its vast, wide-open vistas. Turn right on this road. The route will go down and around and then up to a saddle between Ball Mountain and East Ball Mountain. The road will then take riders down, around and between many grand and historic gold and silver mines. This route will eventually lead to the road that will take riders to the base of Mosquito Pass. Located here is the rich and historic Resurrection Mine. A left turn at the Resurrection will take riders on a fast downhill. This is the top of 7th St. The main road will turn right at approximately ¼ mile. At that turn, riders will continue straight on an old mining road for approximately 1 mile. Here, in the Stumpftown mining area will be the Stumpftown Station turn-around aid station. A definite cut-off time of 4 hours must be met for riders to continue. Riders will follow the same route back to the finish line, finishing on the Mineral Belt Trail rather than Dutch Henri Hill. We are considering other minor course changes and will keep you informed.
Our ultimate goal is to enhance the quality of your ultra endurance athletic experience on Leadville’s trails. Your ride will be surrounded by incredible mountain beauty and incomparable mining history. The distance is now 50 miles. Riders should note and be especially careful on every section, especially the more remote sections. This is approximately 1 mile on a steep downhill, heavily traveled, gravel road. Speed must be controlled. You may encounter motor vehicles anywhere on the course. Be extremely careful.