Silver State 50 Mile | Nevada | May 21, 2011
A Thoroughly Rugged Test in the West
By Gary Dudney
The Silver State 50/50 is a rootin’-tootin’ romp through some rugged high ground northwest of Reno, Nevada, that includes enough dirt, dust, sagebrush, pine trees, rock, broken road, and spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada to make you think you’ve fallen asleep and woken up back in the Old West. Fittingly, the race begins at Rancho San Rafael Park, site of a former working cattle ranch dating back to the 1890’s, that offers long vistas of green grass, white fence, and a glimpse at distant Peavine Peak, where you are about to go…twice. The area was mined heavily beginning in the 1860s and before that was the home of Native Americans for upwards of 10,000 years.
The heart of Silver State is the two ascents up Peavine Mountain, once at the beginning of the race through a sea of gray-green sagebrush and scattered rock. Climb one is a long 12.5 miles to the top. Climb two takes a more direct and steeper route that accounts for almost 6 miles of unbroken climb and ends at mile 39 on top again. (Total elevation change for the 50 mile is 9,200 feet.) Finishing the second climb is a real Rocky Balboa moment as you finally step out onto a flat road and seem to have half the known world at your feet. It also marks the beginning of your eleven mile slugfest descent to the finish. The course takes a long meander between the climbs through Long Valley and Dog Valley, where you run through a forest of conifers, including, cedar, Jeffery Pine, Ponderosa, hemlock, white pine, mountain-mahogany, and juniper. (The solid forest of old covering the whole area was cut down to build the many mining settlements that once dotted the region.) The forest that’s left, however, does offer a plague of black flies and mosquitoes that certainly encouraged a quicker pace from me than I would have mustered had I not been so thoroughly motivated.
Elsewhere on the course, there is plenty of Great Basin sagebrush, mountain alder, dogwood, cotton wood, quaking aspen, bitter cherry, choke-cherry, elderberry and willow, and miles of rutted road and trail that featured a narrow, slanted ribbon of runnable trail on one shoulder of a road with a jumble of unrunnable rocks making up the rest of the road. From time to time the ribbon would cross over to the rocks causing you to constantly scramble from side to side. Nimbleness is at a premium in this race. Rockhounds would love the course. I quote from Wikipedia: “One of the most common features of Peavine’s geology is the so-called Peavine sequence, mesozoic-aged altered and unaltered metavolcanic rock composed of a hodge podge of material including rhyolite flows and pyroclastics, dacite, andesite, and laharic breccias.” We’ll just have to trust Wikipedia on that one.
Silver State is billed as a good tune up for Western States and it really is. The elevation that tops out at 8200 feet is enough to get any flatlanders attention; the very long climbs and descents are certainly Western States-like, especially the two climbs up Peavine; the jumbles of rock in the trail and some long flat stretches in the forest all mimic parts of Western States, which sits only a month away on the calendar, plenty of time to recover and get a solid taper.
The trail markings for the race were excellent, a real blessing since there were numerous spots where a network of confusing trials and roads criss-crossed. The aid stations were also worth noting, especially the one in Long Valley (I believe) which had an assortment of tasty baked concoctions of egg, bacon, cheese, and pastry that were the most delicious aid station fare I think I’ve ever had. And speaking of food, I should mention the great BBQ at the finish. I don’t imagine any gaggle of dusty cowhands ever enjoyed their grub from the chuckwagon as much as we ultrarunners enjoyed the hamburgers after our rugged sightseeing tour above Reno.