“This next section is all downhill.”….ah horseshit! (heard at mile 30 AS)
The San Juan Mountains are big….big and beautiful. For the last 4 years I have really wanted to attempt the San Juan Solstice 50. I waffled a bit this year but finally decided to pull the trigger. On an early morning training run earlier in the year I even talked a few of my trail buddies into joining me. The race itself I knew would be amazing but with the crew I traveled with amazing would be just the beginning!
The drive down is worthy of its own blog post but due to information shared (and the fact I blacked out- not really); you will not see that post so this story will start after the 8+ hour drive. Jon was behind the wheel and we were just excited to finally be in Lake City and out of the car. We drove around town a bit before we arrived at our cabin. We unpacked the car and did a quick recon of our arrangements…rustic but nice. We hopped back into the Soob and drove over to the armory to check in. Here we would eat a nice spread of pre-race food laid out and get some beta on the race and course. After that was over there was only one more thing to do……grab a beer! We knew we needed a few more carbs so we went out and found a water hole and tried to let our minds relax.
Race morning our nerves were on full alert. We packed our vests and filled our bottles as Chewbacca noises filled the morning air. It was almost 4:30 am and we headed down to check in and begin a LONG day trying to reach the sky. I had the pleasure to see some friends- Robert (Bobby) Knight, Brad and Danielle and met a few new ones too. We slowly walked out to the streets to begin and before I knew it…GO! We were off. After about the first 3 miles I could tell the altitude may be a bit of an issue. I had the chance to take a Cialis (which is supposed to help with altitude but I heard really helps with ED) to help with the altitude but the thought of taking that and the a Pre-Race capsule scared me. I didn't want to chance them both working in perfect harmony against me. We were just under 9000’ and we were making our way to 13,000. For those of you who are not familiar with altitude, there isn’t much oxygen to go around up there. Once we got off the dirt road we hit some amazing single track. There were 5 or 6 river/creek crossings and I took advantage of the logs (it was warm so they were not slick) and used my new found Pilates skillz to get across. No wet feet…bonus! The views on the first climb were breath taking- both literally and physically.
The San Juan’s have a reputation and only a few miles in they were living up to the hype. I was in awe. After a climb that seemed to last forever we peaked out and I felt like I was on top of the world. My legs still felt solid but my breathing was definitely labored. We hit a nice downhill section that took us back to the next aid station around mile 15. On the way down I even got a huge burst of energy and the smile I was looking for when Jared and Lori said hello. Seeing people you know on the trail does more for your mental state than you could imagine! The next few miles were on a road then a dirt road that seemed to never end. We climbed and climbed and finally got to the Carson AS. I arrived at mile 21.5 in decent shape and was real excited to get to mile 25 and run downhill for awhile (was I mistaken). Leaving Carson I decided to go lighter and left my jacket and gloves. The pre race temps called for 70-75 and on these peaks anything is possible but unfortunately for me race day was hot! As we got closer to the top it started to really heat up. I took advantage of the creeks and the little snow that was left and got my bandana wet as well as my hat. The water was ice cold and felt like heaven. As I got closer to 13,300’I noticed a cloud moving in. DAMN! I had no jacket or anything warm and my shirt, hat and bandana were soaking. I thought to myself- this could be bad. However, the closer I got the more I realized that these were not rain clouds but clouds of smoke from the fires that have been burning for so long in Colorado. Looking back, I would have much rather taken rain clouds than these lung fillers.
Since I started running races about 4-5 years ago I always run with a spent shell casing from my father’s funeral. He had a military burial and every time I race I take the same casing along and it helps me remember why I fell in love with the outdoors. As I walked past the Continental Divide and peaked out for the day I stopped momentarily to take in the views.
The pole reads "Continental Divide"
I looked and notice a large rock cairn that had 360 degree views. It was there that I decided I was going to leave the casing. I kept thinking how much my dad would have loved the view. I knelt down said a few words and kept pushing forward. It was a good thing I was running solo through here because the next few miles got pretty emotional.
If you look close you can see the casing on the rock
It seemed like I was above tree line FOREVER! I never thought I was going to make it to the next AS. It was supposed to be 9 miles but it felt like 15. Once we got back into the trees I picked up the pace and put my head down. Once I arrived at mile 31 I couldn’t have been more relieved but when I noticed my time relief slowly stepped aside for disappointment. I was nowhere near where I thought I would be time wise. I guess the climbs and the fact I was moving slowly gasping for air took a bigger toll that I thought.
I asked the AS crew what to expect the next 9 miles to the next stop and they told me- “It 9 miles of downhill…cruising section.” SA-weet, I thought. I looked at the profile and I knew it was downhill but they knew the area and I thought I had a shot to make up time. I took off with a smile which shortly turned to a frown when I saw more climbing- not climbing like we have done but it was still climbing….little rollers as they will be known from now on. I ran what I could and walked when I couldn’t. The last few miles before the AS were nasty- technical downhill that made your quads a little unhappy. As I approached mile 40 there was a pretty good size crowd and the cheers and “atta boys” really lifted my spirits. I saw Jared and he let me know that Bj wasn’t too far ahead and was just waiting for someone to catch up to him. I quickly grabbed an otter pop, refilled a bottle and tried to get mentally ready to hit the last and final climb- 1700’ in a couple miles. I hit the climb hoping to catch up to Bj and run it in with someone but as I slowly began to realize, this wasn’t going to happen. I started to slow and my breathing got more labored. I started to feel a little dizzy then my vision got a little blurry. I decided to sit down and try and regroup- only 6 or so miles to the finish. I ended up lying down and by the time I came too (about 20-30 minutes) I was covered in ants. PERFECT! Once I dusted them off I kept up the climb. The downhill was pretty technical and made my toes hurt. I really just wanted this to be over and when I hit town I down shifted even more. I had a nice trot going until the final stretch so then I decided to pick up the pace. I finished in a blazing time of 14:49! Okay, not blazing but if you go back to the last sentence there is a word underlined…go ahead and look back, I will wait…….yep- FINISHED.
Yes I am disappointed with my time but finishing is really my ultimate goal. After Zion a month ago I don’t want to take finishing too lightly. This is one of the toughest races I have done but also one of the most beautiful. No doubt the altitude and elevation played a lot into it but there is always something...right? The people, RD, volunteers, runners, stores…everyone were fantastic! It is well organized, well marked (whew!) and just all around well done. I will be heading back to this race without a doubt. It will always hold a good memory and leaving the spent casing there was the perfect thing to do. We all run these races for different reason and I may be finally figuring out why I love it so much.
The results are not posted yet but a huge congrats to my fellow HUMR’s- you all did amazing. It was a privilege to be down there with you all and to share that time. The car trip is our little secret though…..right?