13:20:46 – 52.6 miles – 11,000ft elevation gain
All that was left on my list of 2014 goals was to complete a 50 miler (my second). I originally planed on completing this goal at the Leadville Silver Rush in July. But over the summer I got burned out and decided to not even sign up even though I had been training for it since the start of the year. I overcame this burnout with some fun fast half marathons. When it came time to get back to business I set my sights on the Indian Creek 50 miler. A brand new race from a brand new race company, it would be their second official race. I was worried about the November date because it could be nice and warm or a blizzard. It didn’t matter, I was in and this time no bailing out.
Loop 1: Off we go
The race started off started off with a “clink”, rather than a gun the race director starts the race by hitting a rock with a pickaxe. I was still fidgeting with my gear so I walked casually across the string line and at least the first minute into the race. The race started in the middle of a national forest at 6am. It was dark, one of my favorite memories was looking up the trail and seeing the long line of headlamps in front of me. We ran up hill for a few miles in the dark and when we reached the top we were treated to an awesome view of Denver still asleep. The sun rose as we started down the mountain, this was the most dangerous time as the half-light hid obstacles. I turned and ankle on a steep section and while attempting to catch myself from falling slammed the side and top of my foot into a rock or a stump. My ankle stung for a few steps but then quickly got better while the side of my foot felt like it had been sliced open.
Once at the bottom of the hill I took a second to take off my jacket and headlamp and put them in my backpack. It was cloudy and probably around 60F a perfect day for running. The second half of this loop was all uphill climbing over 1,800ft between miles 8-14. I had only brought my backpack to carry extra clothes, I don’t like carrying it around and I use a hand held for hydration. I was running with my friends Meaghan and Dave we were having fun, sharing stories and enjoying the amazing trails. I had decided earlier in the week that I would stay with Meaghan for the first 50K of the race. It was her first 50K and I was excited for her become and ultra-marathoner. Running with Meaghan also benefited me because the time passed quickly I wasn’t thinking about pace or how far I had to run today.
Loop 2: Still enjoying the trails
Back at the finish line I spent a moment refilling supplies. The weather was nice so I decided to ditch my backpack and stuff my pockets with SCaps and food. Leaving this aid station we were treated to some more awesome trails and a lot of downhill. I think it was about 6-7 miles to the Waterton aid station with 2,300ft or so drop in elevation with a few small climbs along the way. This course is all up or down never flat. Leaving the Waterton aid station (mile 22ish) I noticed the first signs of trouble. I was falling behind on my food intake and at this stop I tried to catch up. I had some quesadillas, turkey sandwiches and I finished of my bottle and refilled it before heading off. I was doing good with my salt intake of 1 SCap per hour. I had a huge hill ahead so I took some more food with me to eat while I hiked (more turkey sandwiches). This hill seemed like it would never end and after a mile or two up the group I was with all went silent which meant everyone was suffering. My heart rate was crazy high just hiking up this section and I was sweating a lot. I reached the aid station and ate more sandwiches, grapes and refilled my bottle. Leaving the aid station we had a good section of runnable downhill terrain. The group I was with ran a solid 3 miles without walking (miles 26,27 & 28) That’s when we hit another huge climb. The second loop of this race was the toughest of the 3, it was about 21 miles long with 2 major climes of 5-6 miles each.
Loop 2: Losing my mind
Hiking up the final miles of the 2nd loop I decided it was time to part ways with my friend Meaghan. There were 2 major reasons behind this. I could tell we wouldn’t be able to motivate each other and I knew she could finish from here. The second reason was that I was dangerously low on fluids. Meaghan is a great friend and I know that if she noticed that I was out of water she would give me some of hers. This was her first ultra and I could tell that she was struggling. I couldn’t let her sacrifice her chances of finishing because of my unpreparedness. So on I went and within minutes I finished of my last of my available fluids somewhere between miles 28-29. Not long after that came my scheduled hourly SCap which I decided to dry swallow. Looking at my watch I realized I still how far I had to go which sent me into a panic, “How can I possible run 20 more miles”? My mind continued to descend into doubt and anger and just about every other emotion. It was a downward spiral that I couldn’t stop. At around mile 32 I dry swallowed my second SCap still climbing and hoping the aid station would come soon. My mind kept spiraling until I was thinking up excuses to quit at 50K. I finally came to the concluding that I don’t need an excuse I am just done and who cares what anyone thinks. Eventually the aid station came into view and zombie trotted my way over to my crew. I had been without water for about 2hrs all while climbing nearly 2,000ft I was finished.
50k Aid station
My body went into auto pilot and my brain quit sending orders. My friends Mitch (support crew) and Barrett (pacer) quickly got me fluids, fed me, refilled my supplies and gave me fresh clothes (I changed my shirt and socks). Before I could really think what happened my Barrett and I had heading off for the final loop. Leaving the aid station I did turn around just in time to watch Meaghan cross the finish of her first ultra. Over that quick pit stop I drank 20oz of coffee, 20oz of Gatorade and a shot of whisky. I also made a big change that was a little bit of a gamble since I was going to be trying something new (Don’t change anything is usually rule #1). But at this point all the chips were out on the table and I and nothing more to lose. The change was going from 1 to 2 handheld bottles. No more switching hands and now it would be more difficult to eat and mess with gear but I would be carrying twice the liquids. Without my friends Mitch and Barrett at this aid station I would have called it a day right there. Thank you both guy, I owe both of you bigtime.
Loop 3: The real work begins
The 3rd loop of this race started off with an easy 2 mile climb followed by a long well deserved 8 miles of rolling downhill trails. My stomach was swishing from all the fluids and food I just ate but 15 minutes later I was climbing better I had been in hours. The first 4 miles of downhill (miles 37-40) I managed to keep about a 12:00/mi pace. I came into the 40 mile aid station feeling better than I did at mile 30 or even mile 20. I filled up both bottles and ate a snickers before heading out. In ultra running you don’t avoid hitting the wall you just hit the wall multiple times and learn to deal with those highs and lows. In the early 40’s I again was suffering and barely able to walk up some of the steeper inclines. I was paying the price from my race day change, my arms were really tired. Running down the switchbacks of the Colorado trail all I could think was “How could I possible get back up this a few miles from now”. Barrett and I arrived at the final aid station just before sun set. My head was in a fog and all I knew was I eating magical watermelon because nothing had ever tasted better in my life. I ate so much that the volunteer cut had to some more for me, the race the volunteers were amazing. I ate as much as I could and then packed a few more pieces for the road. All that remained was an intimidating 6 mile climb to the finish line.
Loop 3: into the dark and on to the finish
I have run races with tough finishes but this was brutal the last 6 miles climbed more than 2,000ft out of the canyon up to the finish line. Not to mention along the way included some nice sized down hills. The first 2 miles out of the canyon were the toughest (1200ft climb) but I was running on special watermelon and I actually ran a lot more than I thought I would. With about 4 miles to go we were running with headlamps in the dark not dusk dark. But I felt a strange comfort running in the dark, maybe because I knew I would finish now or because I run in the dark most days. Perhaps my brain only had enough energy to process not falling from the 2’X2’ section of visible trail in front of me. Whatever it was those last few miles were actually enjoyable. I kept thinking I was seeing people up the trail only to find it was a glow stick once we arrived at the spot. Over the last 15 miles Barrett and I kept making predictions on where the finish would be which varied between 51 and 56 miles. Now that we were getting close we both agreed that it would be 52-53, the debate helped pass the time. Coming around a corner I suddenly recognized that I was in the campground and the finish was just around the corner. 2 minutes later I was crossing the finish line in a very empty field. The race director congratulates and shakes the hand of every finisher as they cross the line.
I sat in a lawn chair and had some amazing chicken soup, run far enough and anything you eat is awesome. The guy in my carpool finished less than 5 minutes in front of me so that worked out great, the other guy I bought finished an hour earlier but had he family take him home. Getting out of that lawn chair and walking up hill to my car was an interesting challenge as was driving my car home. I left my house around 4:00 am and I got home around 9:00 pm which I then spent telling my kids stories of my crazy adventure that day. As tired as I was I didn’t want go to bed yet and I need a shower.
I didn’t know it at the time but I won the DFL prize which stands for Dead F*@king Last. At first I didn’t know what to think about that because I have been so competitive in the past, it did mean that I got a free race next year and I get to keep the bottle of whiskey. After a few moments of letting it sink in I started to really embrace it. That was a hell of a race and to be the last survivor across the finish line is special. I called my kids over and showed them the results followed by a good talked about what it means to win or lose. For years I have been asked by friends, family and coworkers “Did you win the race”, at times in my life I have been pretty fast and do you know how many races I have won… try 0. I don’t feel like I “win” or “lose” describes running at all and especially not ultra-running. I would prefer to describe this day with words like persevere, challenge, fear, adventure and community.
1. I have some awesome friends and I can’t wait to support them in their crazy adventures.
2. I learned so much about myself today. Those darkest times were driven by fear, fear of failure.
3. My hydration strategy needs an upgrade.
4. My body was tough. No muscle cramps, no major blisters and no chafing. My feet complained only a little while my knees, ankles and hips never complained once.
5. My mind was no so tough today. Personally it’s been a tough few weeks that I had no control over but I am optimistic that things are going to get better.
And finally some picturesI didn’t take any and these are downloaded from my friends Facebook posts, let me know if you want credit or a cut of the money that my blog rakes in ($0.00 so far).
Start of the race
Roxbrough state park
I think this is about 20 miles into the race
I can’t imagine a place I would rather spend 13hrs
Running out of sunlight
And my favorite the finish