Welcome home to Colorado, Jessica! Nothing like moving from sea level to a new state, starting a new job, and signing up for a long endurance race within two months. Even more brilliant was picking a race that takes place predominantly above 10,000 ft: the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile mountain bike race. Probably less brilliant was not training—too much job, moving, family time, good things J, but certainly not training for the altitude.
In the past, I’ve made a tradition of showing up for and surviving races that I’ve trained for just enough to finish. I’m interested in way too many things to lock in the training for long endurance races, despite the fact that I actually really like them. 50-100 miles of supported mountain biking bliss is so much better than going it alone, getting lost, running out of food, getting lost again….we’ve all been there. I’m not really impacted by the “competition spirit” of these long races so I can have a great time even when I’m not really a contender.
Yesterday in Leadville, I’m not sure that rosy scenario was really the case. The Silver Rush is a 25 mile out and back course (50 total) on dirt roads and double track. The fact that the course was on roads, not singletrack, gave me a false sense of confidence that I would be able to just put my body into gear, shake the altitude within an hour, and finish with an appetite for some good hometown CO beer.
Not the case. Everything really happened in reverse. The altitude kicked in about 45 min from the start and I spent the next 4 hours on the verge of loosing my stomach. My whole body was tensing to keep the reflexes in check and it just felt horrible, and of course screwed with the food. I kept forcing the water down, and that probably saved me.
While I knew there would be some walking, I’m pretty sure I pushed my bike UP about 4 of the 25 miles (blisters to prove it). I was not alone in this death march, thankfully. About a 1/3 of the course in, we also started taking on on-coming traffic of rapidly descending pros…followed by the other 600 people who were in front of us. So where I might have been able to ride, I couldn’t because I couldn’t use the best parts of trail for fear of being t-boned by oncoming riders. Yuck, and scary. I came across multiple wrecks caused by this two-way traffic—I’m not a big fan of a) pushing my bike and b) fearing for my life while downhillers come barreling at me on rough, loose, sketchy terrain.
And, the whole time I was on the verge of tossing my tummy.
I was miserable and sick when I crossed the midway checkpoint—I believe I was the last person through before the cutoff and allowed to go on. I sat down and talked with the supportive volunteers who were encouraging me to finish. I was done/toast/fini….and eyeing the 3 mile downhill road to town.
Until a crazy haired old dude, with his bright yellow debris gaiters and his cute-as-business black lab, came up to me and told me to “get off [my] pretty, little ass and finish!” Well, that and the realization that if I didn’t get the finisher’s buckle, I’d probably make myself do the race again, somehow inspired me to stand up and give it a go. I told myself I’d take it to the first summit and reevaluate.
Well, the first summit was so treacherous with weather that I didn’t really have time to think, I just wanted “down” so why not down along the course. Still feeling sick, I powered on, encouraging the people I encountered along the way…not many!
I’m not sure how I did it honestly, but having the mountains to myself, FINALLY, and putting myself into a good pace, I managed to fend off emerging cramps to make it to the finish. That was the longest 50 I’ve ever done—8:20. Too much time to be pushing a bike. Too much time to feel like throwing up. But long enough to remind me what Colorado is all about and to inspire me to take my fitness to a new level so I can enjoy it. So while it was nowhere near a good race, finishing was an honest commitment on my part to truly coming home. Colorado, I’m here to stay, watch out!
Highlights: Somewhere along the return trip I pondered the fact that there is one good thing about a course with 7,400 vertical: there’s a bunch of downhill! Even better is being virtually the last racer and having all that vertical to myself. The return trip ended up being quite a fun screamer!
One additional highlight was personally taking charge of the weather. A couple weeks ago I was hailed off Mt. Evans at about 12,000 feet. Totally unprepared and soaked, that was the longest, coldest descent I’ve had in a long time. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me again. The minute the thunder got close and the sprinkles turned to drops, I dropped everything to don my full-on raingear, knowing full well the deluge could occur in an instant. Plastic coat and full rain pants I ‘swish-swished’ pushed my bike up to the next saddle. I believe I might have been the ONLY person to go all out on the rain gear. Did the storm pass? Yes. Who’s to thank? Your’s truly. I felt pretty good making that storm go away all by myself
Editors Note: Besides being a constant source of positive energy Jess embodies what Gripped Racing is all about: results are great but pushing past mental and physical limits with a smile is the true measure of everyone on the team. We’re super proud of you Jess, way to tough it out!!!