Elevation. Multiple ice-cold creek crossings. Tough course. Small town atmosphere in Lake City. State I’ve never ventured to… Colorado. A race? I’m there!! It wasn’t too hard to convince myself that this year was as good as any to try my luck at the San Juan Solstice 50. I just needed to convince myself that this was something I’d be able to finish… in one piece.
Brad and I traveled out to Lake City, CO, a few days before the race… in an attempt to get acclimated. Going on a few hike/runs to check out sections of the race course prior to the race made me understand one thing… there was no way I was going to get acclimated by race day, which was going to make for an interesting run.
The race started out at 5AM, under clear skies. Brad and I decided to start together, since the race started for a mile plus on a wide gravel road. It was nice having company at the start, but I was so darn freaked out about the day in front of me that any time that I tried to talk to Brad… I felt like throwing up. Silent (and puke-less), we ran.
I lost Brad as soon as we hit the single-track trail… knowing in order to finish, I had to run my own race. Unfortunately, my own race meant that I was going to be passed by dozens of runners on the long climb up. I’m talking dozens!! The runners are frickin’ goats out here, none of them seeming to have as many problems breathing as yours truly was. This first section was littered with creek crossings, some of which could be crossed by the logs across… some of which had to be crossed through. Can I tell you how cold mountain water is… darn cold. Cold enough to numb your feet for several miles after.
Soon we were up and over the first big climb… meaning a screaming downhill. This section was a welcome sight, since Brad and I had hiked it a few days earlier. Familiarity was a blessing for me. I hit the second aid station to be greeted by the friendly face and cheers of our very own, Cassie Scallon. What a treat! She helped my fuel up at the aid station… and kicked me out to send me on my way.
The next section really messed with you. There you are starting on this nice gravel road, fairly flat. Then, boom, you hit this dirt road that goes up… way up! The course sent us up this fairly steep 5-mile segment. You know how long it takes to walk a mile… just think of how long it takes to walk 5 miles up a steep incline. Let me tell you… it’s a LONG time!
We finally reach the next aid station, only to find out we still had another 3 miles to climb before we level off for 6 miles before the next aid station. Three more miles??? Ouch! Although that climb was TOUGH… I can not even begin to describe the scenery we got to soak in. You could see for miles… snow-capped mountains surrounded you! Loved it… even if I cursed it!! The level section was not much easier to run, since it was scattered with rocks and snow. The snow crossings had you following in prior runners footsteps… and their butt slide marks. There was only one way down one of those snow crossings… sliding.
I had absolutely nothing in the tank at the next aid station. I reached it feeling very nauseous and light-headed. Not good considering we had another 9 miles before the next aid station. I tried to eat, figuring ramen soup is usually a good thing to eat in ultras… but shrimp-flavored ramen was not going down well. Ah well, continue on…
I needed to take a few breathers along this section… stop, put the hands on the knees, and catch my breath. This seemed to help, as it allowed me to run the flat sections. But what really helped in this section… the downhills. Gravity and momentum are ultrarunners good friends. These downhills led to the second to last aid station… Slumgullion. Heck, it’s only 10 miles to go from here! How hard can that be? I’ve done plenty of 10 mile runs before. I chowed down the tastiest Popsicle you can imagine and headed off.
What went down, went back up… way back up! Yet another climb, but it was the last climb. Unfortunately, my Popsicle sugar buzz wore off very quickly… and it was a death march uphill. I had the most difficult time just getting my feet over downed trees. One step at a time…
When we finally made it to the top, it was all aspen forests and bone-riddled fields to the last aid station. The aid station was manned by the people who owned the private land that we were able to run across. I was greeted by the friendly volunteers, who graciously offered booze (and aid too!)… and even had a show as some of the ladies performed different line dance routines. That group was having a darn good time… but we only had 4 miles to go before I could cross that finish line – so I was off!
The last 4 miles are either downhill or through town. Hiking this section earlier in the week, I knew what was ahead of me. I ran what I could… and was so pumped to see Lake City in the distance. The trail kept swithbacking down the hill, but seeing the city meant that I was getting darn close. The trail section ended and it was all city streets to the finish. There were people at some intersections welcoming you to Lake City and cheering you on… it was awesome. They all pulled me to the finish line. I had to have had the biggest smile on my face leading up to that line… what an adventure, what an experience!!
This had to have been the hardest race I have ever done. I don’t think I have walked as many miles in one race… even counting 100 mile races. The course was either going up or down. It was rare to come across a level section. The views, though, were unlike anything I have ever seen… easing some of the pain I felt while earning that view. But, man, did I LOVE it!! If you want a challenge, this is definitely the race for you!!