One of the better parts of running a course that you have run before is that you at least have some idea of what you are getting yourself into. Last year I went into the San Juan Solstice run blind for the most part, my only knowledge of the course coming from maps and elevation profiles and second hand knowledge. I should also that add that much of the course was actually ran blind last year in blizzard conditions for many hours along the continental divide.
Things were much different this year.
This would be my first race since the Salida Marathon in March where I tweaked my leg and had to spend a few weeks getting that back in order and to be able to run again. Even though my training has been going really well it is hard staring down a 50 mile run and even more so a 50 mile run of this intensity. This race is purported to be the toughest 50 mile course in the United States boasting over 12,000 foot elevation gain and loss.
Each day before the race I became more and more restless with my last good day of sleep being the Wednesday night before. I fretted over drop bags, checking and double checking and inventorying the contents to make sure I had at least the basics of what I would need when I would need it on the course.
Going into the race things were looking very promising. The weather forecast was optimal, clear with no storms like last year. With good weather on the horizon, and a great crew/support system set up, the race seemed even more simple than last year leaving me to only worry about running.
The drive down was fun and relaxing and just a treat to get out of town. Our cabin in Lake City was easier to find than we thought it would be and thankfully is was a very nice cabin. A huge upgrade from the one from last year.
Friday night of course I struggled to go to sleep. All of my gear was set out for the morning to make it easy to get ready and out to the start. The last thing I remember Friday night is the moon setting behind the mountains and how visible the stars were. I didn't sleep too long but I did sleep soundly.
Melissa woke me up on Saturday morning at 3:50 and told me that I had ten more minutes to sleep. That was nice as it brought me back to reality but allowed me to rest and relax deliberately for a few more minutes. Finally I got up, showered, got dressed and off to the armory we went for me to sign in and start the race.
Just like last year, right before 5 am, all of the runners migrate from the armory out to the street for the start. It is still dark and I can feel the tension building in my chest and radiating through my body... I am on edge and ready to go. I kiss Melissa and tell her I will see her in few hours, the gun goes off and we are off heading towards Alpine Gulch. Now it gets real.
The run up the road goes smoothly. I feel that I am in or getting to the right part of the pack, the part of the pack where nobody is talking. I crave the silence on the trail and people talking in a race just irritates me. It tells me that I am in the wrong place and I need to push ahead. I catch up with my friend Ray (can't miss the Hawaiian shirt) that I haven't seen since Salida and exchange pleasantries. He is having an awesome running year and soon pulls ahead of me.
The climb up Alpine Gulch is quiet and uneventful except for the lady stuck straddling a log across one of the creek crossings. Don't know what happened and I really didn't care. I decide to go around the six or seven people waiting to cross on the log and plunge into the creek to go around. The first "deep" creek crossing of the morning and it really wasn't that bad. Still climbing, getting higher and I can tell we are approaching 11K, the trail seems a lot steeper than last year. I just conclude that Alpine Gulch is just a serious climb and leave it at that. About a half a mile below the Alpine Aid Station a guy looks at me and says, "hey, you're the dude from the video! I've watched it hundreds of times!" I laugh and say yeah yeah that was me, thank him for watching it and we keep moving on.
I zip through the Alpine Aid Station and keep on climbing until we are on the top ridge and begin the long and steep descent into Williams Creek. I'm trying my hardest to keep of a strong A+ level of effort and it feels as if I succeeding. A few people passed me after the aid station but I pass them again and a few others in the five miles down to the next aid station.
I see Melissa and the Colorado College umbrella as I come flying into the Williams Creek Aid Station/Campground. She has a little table set up with everything I could need and has two fresh (and very cold) bottles of Perpetuem waiting for me. We exchange things out, I put on a fresh coat of Sports Shield and take off having only stopped for 2 minutes at that aid station...
Last year the climb up to Carson seemed to be the killer for me with the climb up Alpine being understated. This year was the opposite. The climb up to Carson seem much more smooth this year for some reason maybe because I knew what to expect. I made it to Carson in about an hour and forty minutes which is what I was hoping for. At Carson I top off the bladder in my vest, mix fresh Perp, and cleaned out my shoes and wrung out my socks which were still damp from all of the creek crossings earlier in the morning. (Fresh socks would have been great but I neglected to put them in the drop bag for some damned reason.)
I was only at the Carson Aid Station for maybe five minutes. I'm out, going up the road. Still a bit of climbing ahead as I have to summit Coney Peak up on the continental divide. As I plod up the road I am amazed at how different it is than last year. I also marvel that even though it was SO nasty at that point last year, just how comfortable I was heading up the road, bundled up in that storm.
The wind climbing Coney was brutal. I had to hold my hat on a few times and even lost it once. I summitted Coney and continued along the divide. I couldn't run quite yet so I decided to cruise and wait till I was closer to 12K and on smoother trail to start pushing it again. The closer I got to mile 31, the Divide Aid Station the faster I went.
Another quick stop at the Divide Aid Station and I was out of there. I was going so fast and not paying attention that I tripped and rolled right in front of the lady on the ATV who kept track of the runners coming in and out. It was really sorta funny. On to Slumgullion....
This is probably my least favorite part of the course. The open space on top before you head down the ridiculously steep road towards Slumgullion is just mind numbing. It goes on and on and though it is runnable it just is not fun. It is about as exciting as running on treadmill. At one point I just say screw it... step off the road and vent before heading on down the road.
I arrive at Slum Aid Station and there is Melissa who is right on the spot handing me cold bottles of Perp, putting more sunscreen on me and handing me a cold Mountain Dew to sip on. I blast out of there after only a four minute stop and am on my way to Vicker's Ranch and "the hill."
The last big climb on Vicker's Ranch is a killer climb of 1700 feet in just a couple of miles. I budgeted an hour for this hill alone. When I started going up it was 4:04 in the afternoon so I just figured I would top out at 5:04. Actually I topped it at 4:59... close.
Just a few more miles to go. I hit the Vicker's Aid Station, top off my bottles and head out. I'm losing time at this point I can tell. The steep sections the last couple of miles before town take their toll on me. I curse the trail but celebrate when I hit the smooth maintained road at the trail head. I smile as I pass four other runners on my way into town. I see Melissa unexpectedly and she runs with me the last 1/2 mile to the finish. I was tired, it had been a long day and I just wanted it over. With about 200 yards to go I tell her that I just need to get this over with and I take off on a dead run feeling somewhat "strong" as I cross the finish, my time being 13:53:57.
Finished we head back to the cabin and I get cleaned up, have a great dinner and finally fall asleep after I get comfortable later. It was a good race, everything went well, I had the best crew person and pacer ever, but most importantly it was just a nice weekend away from home.