Run 50 Miles: 6 Lessons From Surviving the Silver Rush 50

Want to test your limits and run 50 miles after the Fourth of July this weekend?

You know...move up from a marathon to something bigger.

Over 400+ runners will take on the Silver Rush 50-Mile Ultra near Leadville, Colo.

And it's not for the faint of heart:

  • Start in the mountains of Colorado at 10,000+ feet in elevation
  • Run a 50-mile out-and-back course beginning at the top of a ski run
  • Climb 7,503 feet of vert and hit 12,000 feet four times
  • Spend most of the miles on dirt trails and old mining roads
  • Survive the heat & sun, and beat the 14-hour cutoff

"Something special happens at 10,000+ feet high when you're running in the mountains,"  according to race organizers for the Silver Rush 50 and Leadville Race Series. 

"It will leave your lungs burning, heart pounding and eyes completely amazed," says Leadville Race Series organizers. 

Curious about what it takes to run 50 miles?

Check out these 6 tips from Silver Rush 50-Mile finisher Lucie Hanes. 

The Silver Rush 50-Mile Ultra hosted by Leadville Race Series starts at 10,200 feet and reaches 12,000 feet on four separate occasions along the course that passes relics of historic gold and silver mines.

🏃‍♀️1. Embrace the unknown

I have trouble living in the moment.

I’m constantly on the hunt for the next challenge, bouncing quickly from one goal to the next before the high wears off.

It only makes sense that I would heed the siren’s call into the world of ultrarunning.

Luckily, diving in has changed my perspective on this sport - and life in general - for the better.

What's an ultramarathon?

Ultramarathons include anything beyond a standard marathon, and technically start at the 50k distance. 

Even just that handful of extra miles past 26.2 adds a noticeable weight, so the jump into ultra territory takes guts and grit from the very start. 

Find out what you're made of

There’s something special about crossing the fifty mile line. Every step over that line takes you arguably closer to the limits of human endurance than you are to the couch. 

  • The stretch of miles between 50 kilometers and 50 miles wages a whole new battle on the human mind and body. 
  • You navigate extremes on either end of the spectrum, from euphoria all the way down to existential crisis and back. 
  • Riding the waves means continually making the choice to keep moving forward through it all. 

Expect the unexpected

That being said, I had no idea about any of that at 6 a.m. on race morning when the clock started ticking. 

  • In my mind I was equally likely to top a podium as I was to DNF. 
  • I barely tried to imagine what those later miles would feel like mentally or physically.
  • Why? The concept seemed so foreign that even my imagination couldn’t really reach there. 
  • I went in with an exploratory mindset so that, at the very least, I’d know more for next time by the end of it all. 
Lucie struggled to find her "flow" at the start, forgetting some essential pre-race plans until the last 30 seconds. But that didn't stop her.

🏃‍♀️2. Learn to focus

I’m shivering in the dawn chill (something I’d look back on fondly after a few hours under the sun).

And I'm looking around at the crowd while Imposter Syndrome wreaks its normal havoc, when I realize that:

  • I’m still wearing my jacket
  • I haven’t mixed in my Nuun electrolytes
  • My right Altra Timp shoe feels too loose

⌚There’s about 30 seconds left in the National Anthem...
So I pick one problem to deal with and toss my extra layer in my boyfriend’s general direction. Better than nothing. 

Success starts with self talk...

I still use my thoughtlessness as an excuse to berate myself throughout the first five miles.

I understand on some level that my brain is choosing to fixate on these little mistakes rather than face my real fears about actually stepping foot into the arena.

But I take the bait. 

It’s easier in the moment to care about my shoelace than look all those gremlins of self-doubt in the eye. 

Needless to say, that opening stretch from the bottom of Dutch Henri Hill through the foothills of Leadville puts me off to a rough start full of:

  • Negative thought spirals
  • Hurried gear adjustments
  • And nausea from the nerves on top of the altitude
After a bit of a rocky start at the Silver Rush 50, Lucie settled into a solid pace, started ticking off miles, and feeling good about taking on her first 50-mile ultra.

🏃‍♀️3. Choose joy

I’m a late bloomer on long runs. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the initial aches and pains, grinding along as I try to find the flow, but that flow does eventually come. 

Someday I’ll learn how to have patience until it catches up with me.

Take time to find your flow

When it finally does, I can breathe again. 

A good flow doesn’t necessarily feel easy or effortless, but brings a sense of joy into the challenge. 

  • Settling in my flow state, I have the power to decide where the rest of this day goes. 
  • Sometimes simply making that choice to dig deep and smile at the chance to do so just does the trick. 

Rising above uncertainty

The Silver Rush includes plenty of elevation gain, over 7000 feet of it.

But spread out such that most of the climbs creep up gradually.

It’s a very runnable course overall, which played a major role in my change of heart.

  • Once I pick up some speed and there’s not much in my way to slow the momentum, I turn into the Energizer Bunny: going, and going, and going… 
  • Miles five through 25 passed by in a blur over rolling hills alongside the calming trickle of a trailside stream, and suddenly I found myself at the halfway point. 
  • I don’t remember how fast I ran, who I passed or who passed me by, what I thought about, where my eyes traveled, only the steady rhythm of my feet and that stream. 
Long sections of the Silver Rush 50-Miler offered very little shade for runners.

🏃‍♀️4. Run your own race

I’ve only recently started to understand the meaning of friendly competition. 

I’m ambitious to a fault sometimes.

And I have in the past. viewed races as all-or-nothing experiences: 

  • fighting to win, or...
  • Forgo really trying at all

Competition vs. connection

Spending more time running with other people has turned all this around. 

Some of my best paces have played out to the tune of:

  • Conversation
  • Connection, and...
  • Support from friends right there with me. 

Competition, especially among women, comes with a bad reputation for being divisive or hostile. 

On the other hand, it can actually be an incredible connector and motivator if we can all keep our egos in check. 

Run your own race & celebrate every runner

For me, friendly competition starts with really being friendly. 

  • 😀I make sure to smile at everyone I pass.
  • 👍And give them a thumbs up or a few kind words if I can spare the breath

Everyone is on their own journey out there, running different paces at different times.

  • A few miles later, that person could be me - and I sure appreciate a little love along the way. 
  • From there I try to treat each challenge as a gift. 
  • When another runner passes me by, they are giving me the gift of a challenge that will help me push my own limits. 
  • When I catch someone, I’m doing the same for them. 

The 'Chase the Ponytails' strategy

Looking ahead for clues, I pick out the runners ahead that I want to challenge next. 

I generally choose women, because...

  • They are my direct competition, and...
  • We need more of a community out there on the trails. When we view a challenge as a gift, that becomes a special form of camaraderie that we can share.

It turns into a game of 'Chase the Ponytails.' 

  • I select a target and work to catch her. 
  • She gives me the gift of motivation to build up some speed
  • And I aim to give her the gift of working to defend her place. 

I chase down several ponytails ahead, and study the other women that zoom by on their way back around after the turnaround up ahead. 

  • They’re all wearing big grins and move at a good clip...
  • Full of the energy that comes with passing the halfway point...
  • Every step now closer to the finish than to the start. 
As much as she loves racing and competing, Lucie says she also enjoys supporting and encouraging other runners.

🏃‍♀️5. Retrace your steps

The major up and downside of an out-and-back race is that you know exactly what you’re up against in the second half. 

Knowledge is power, but sometimes ignorance is bliss too. I don’t always want to know exactly what’s ahead. 

Every race is a journey

I take my memories from the way in and throw them into reverse...

  • Up to down and down to up
  • Fast to slow and slow to fast

That’s all I allow myself to think about the route back.

Overanalysis and detailed recollection only makes space for intimidation to creep in.

Every race is a journey...

  • Calculating every challenge, or...
  • Counting down each familiar mile.

Pay attention to the little details

A little naivety keeps things interesting. 

To hold onto that...

  • I allow my mind to wander at a comfortable distance while my body taps into muscle memory
  • I pay just enough attention to keep my stride strong and my feet nimble. 
  • I’ve fought hard so far to find the flow. 

Now that I’m riding it, there’s finally room to let in those deeper trains of thoughts that just felt too heavy before. 

Remember your "why?"

I think about goals and the meaning of making them. 

  • What am I doing all this for? The metrics don’t matter. 
  • Clocking in at a certain time or at a certain place doesn’t change my value. 
  • Somewhere in the middle of the run back, I decide that it’s the very act of choosing and chasing a goal that carries the worth I’m always so worried about. 

Cultivating the courage to simply show up for something new and difficult is what I actually care about.

  • The remaining miles turn into a celebration of effort and bravery. 
  • I laugh out loud a few times...
  • Earning me some bewildered glances from the racers around and a few smiles from those who just might understand how I feel
In 2021, Lucie Hanes finished the Silver Rush 50-Mile Ultra in 8:46:08. And earned a third-place female finish in her age group.

🏃‍♀️6. Celebrate success

I choke down the last bites that will fuel me to the finish. 

I’ll be happy if I don’t see figs, dates, or peanut butter sandwiches for a while… or at least until my next long run. 

The final strech

The final two miles take us up and around the back side of Dutch Henri Hill, the one deviation from the initial course. 

  • The first glimpse of fresh scenery pulls me out of my trance...
  • Just in time to hear the hum of a crowd below me.
  • I turn the corner at the base of the hill and take on the fastest pace I can manage, passing one last racer in the seconds before crossing the line. 

Medals & awards

Someone tosses a medal in one hand and a beer in the other.

  • I’ve run all my initial goals into the ground...
  • Finishing over an hour faster than I’d dared to hope...
  • And well within the top ten among hundreds of other women. 

Third place in my category earns me an award that I don’t have hands for anymore, so I reluctantly pass off the beer for now. Water first. 

Finishing a race is never really the end...

I spend the rest of the day on the shore of Twin Lakes just outside of Leadville proper...

  • Stretching in the sand
  • Finally drinking that beer (plus another, and a sandwich, and a burrito, and ice cream…)
  • And I’m still riding the high of adrenaline and appreciation, and realize that this is only the beginning. 

The afternoon holds a beautiful motivation to start caring for myself as a human being first and an athlete second, because one feeds into the other.

If I can channel this kind of joy in the effort itself, holding it higher than metrics or arbitrary measures of achievement, then the rest will follow in its own time.

There’s no ceiling in sight from here on out.


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Lucie Hanes
Eagle, CO
8 Following

Ultrarunner, rock climber, occasional artist, fond of good wordplay. Small human on big adventures with big goals and big fee...


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