What an amazing experience! This race was extremely difficult and incredibly rewarding. Here’s the report.
Friday around noon my plane landed in Denver. In retrospect I probably should have given myself at least one more day to acclimate to the altitude, but it didn’t work out this time. Anyway, my buddy Aaron picked me up and after grabbing a bite to eat we headed up to Steamboat Springs Resort. We arrived at the lodge right in time to check on, grab our bibs, turn in our drop bags and find our seats for the pre-race orientation. It was actually kind of a somber meeting as one of the race organizers passed away this year. She was a young woman who left behind a husband, so it was very sad. On a lighter note, they handed out lots of free stuff, and I came away with a hydration pack and a hat! After this we headed to a restaurant to gorge ourselves on meaty pizza and pasta, and then to the condo to sleep.
Despite a mild headache due to the altitude, I fell asleep surprisingly quickly and slept like a baby from 10pm until 3am when I woke up to use the bathroom. I felt wide awake at that point and my mind was going like crazy. I realized sleep was not in the cards for me, but I thought I’d at least lay down and let my body rest a little more. Right then Aaron came out of his bedroom and started wandering around the kitchen. I sat up and we talked for a while about running stuff and how funny it was that we were both awake before we agreed that we should give sleep one more shot. I put in my earphones and listened to Band of Horses and The Annuals until it was time to wake up at 5am.
The start of the race was undramatic. There was construction at the lodge, so the starting line was wedged between some temporary chain link fences. We all counted down and took off to work our way up the mountain. For the first six miles we shuffled/walked up 4000feet of elevation gain. I felt so relieved to reach the aid station at the top of the mountain. From there we started back into the mountains on one of the most beautiful single track trails I’ve ever been on. This trail would give us another sixteen miles of beautiful views over rolling hills. On this segment Aaron and I ran with a few other runners and between the views, the friends and still feeling pretty fresh, this part was the highlight of the run for me.
We hit the Dumont aid station around mile 22 and Aaron’s family was there to greet us and take pictures. To see his three little kids run with him on the trail made me miss my family immensely.
As we left the aid station and began the climb up to Rabbit Ears Pass, Aaron informed me that his hip was acting up and that I should go on ahead. He had been having hip issues in his training, so this was not a good sign. The climb up to the pass was brutally steep. Let’s just say that there was very little actual running happening for the next three miles. On the way back down I saw Aaron and he didn’t look like he was improving. I later learned that he decided to drop out of the race at mile 28 to save his hip from certain destruction. Very smart decision.
The runners seemed to get more spread out on the way back, and I found myself running alone for stretches. I actually really enjoyed these periods, except when I started to question whether I was on the right trail. And i had good reason to doubt my judgment. The route was actually very well marked, but it’s hard to pay attention for 50 miles, and twice I started down the wrong trails, only to be called back by another runner. Ironically, both times it was the same runner, and happened to be the guy who won the “Dumb Bunny” award last year for getting lost. We had a good laugh about that.
The race got really tough for me around after the Long Lake aid station at mile 38. I had been fueling pretty well to this point, but was starting to feel pretty nauseus. The sweet sports drink and Gu started to become quite repulsive to me. I forced it down, but it was not pleasant. Also, the six miles from here to the last aid station had more uphill than I remembered. At this point in the race, running uphill was not even an option, as it didn’t take much at all to push my heartrate too high. So I walked the ups and shuffled on the flats, and thought that aid station would never come. I think it took me around 2 hours to go 6 miles. Please don’t do the math.
Finally I arrived at the aid station and was thrilled to be there. I ate some food, some salt and a Tums, filled my bottles with water and headed out for the final six miles downhill. At first I was thrilled to not be climbing, but the my right knee started to twinge a little. The twinge progressed to pain, and my run turned to a walk. I wanted to be done and realized that it would take too long to walk six miles, so I tried some experiments. If I really tightened up my form, brought my feet under me, leaned forward, and ran pretty fast, the pain was pretty minimal. So I sped up and finished the last six miles in under an hour, with a final time just under 11 hours. I finished feeling strong, but ready to be done running for a while. I saw Aaron there snapping photos and realized that he had dropped. I was sorry to see that, but glad that he had played it smart. Aaron’s wife, Nan, handed me a phone to talk to Jenni. I let down my tough guy facade and cried like a baby when I heard her voice.
The rest of the evening included hot tubbing, gorging on pizza (once my stomach settled down), sharing war stories with other runners, and watching Nacho Libre while icing my legs. I think this was a tough course to choose as my debut on the ultra scene, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m already in love with this sport.