The Silver Rush is the perfect training race for those really wanting to do their very best at the Leadville 100. Just a few weeks out from the big show and in the same location, you get a great training benefit of being at high altitude and being in the same town. This is not only stellar for your physical training to pop up to 10,000 feet for a hard effort, but it’s great for the mental training of knowing how you perform up there and wrapping your head around the logistics of Leadville.
I won’t beat around the bush. This course is hard. It’s one of the shortest of the qualifiers in mileage, but takes the longest in time. The biggest hit is that it starts around 10,000 feet and accumulates more than 7,000 feet of total elevation gain on the course. It’s half the distance of the Leadville course, but certainly more effort per mile than the LT100. You cannot take your Silver Rush time and just double it to gauge how you will do in Leadville. If I did that, I could have ridden more than nine hours in 2012 and not earned a big belt buckle. We all know that didn’t happen.
What makes this course difficult is a combination of total climbing and technical aspects. It’s almost all doubletrack, but it’s doubletrack that’s rocky and technical. The course is sprinkled with embedded rock, loose baby heads, ruts and questionable traction.
You will walk sections of this course – there are just some places that are too steep and too loose to climb. That’s okay, because it’s great practice for the LT100 and sometimes walking is just as fast and more efficient as riding and spinning your wheels. You will also be a bit white-knuckled on the descents. It’s high speed with loose traction and lots of rocks. It’s a blast and you really have to earn your finisher’s medal on this course, but if you make it through this with a solid performance, you can give yourself a huge high five.
The course starts with the infamous “run” up the ski hill. It’s short, but really kick starts the effort that lies ahead and sends the heart rate through the roof. From there, you climb and climb some more. You climb about 2,000 feet, drop 1,000 feet, then climb another 1,000 feet. Then you turn around and head home and climb some more.
Wrap your head around this amount of climbing and pace yourself. It is an out-and-back format so take solace in the fact that anything you have to climb, you get to descend on the way back down. You also end with nearly 2,000 feet of descending, so you can factor that into your effort.
At the highest point of the course, there is definitely the chance of typical Colorado afternoon showers or even a snowstorm. Take in the amazing views above treeline and then hightail it out of there at the turnaround. Just like the LT100, take care on your descent after the halfway point. Other riders will be coming up towards you and the first part of this descent is very rutted and seems to have only one good line. Be courteous and careful here.
Once you pass this first really technical part of the descent, you get onto pavement for a bit of a reprieve and a good place to eat and drink. The final 2,000-foot descent is again rocky and high speed and twists in and out of the trees. Treat this Silver Rush course with respect. Pace yourself and bring a jacket and sufficient food and water with you. It’s an adventure you won’t soon forget.