Bandera 100k

Written by Smudge on January 30th, 2016

What can I say about the Bandera 100k? Bottom line, this is a fantastic race. No, it’s not a big mountain race in one of the buzz word locations out west: read ‘Silverton, Miwok, Squaw Valley, Leadville’ etc… But this race stands on it’s own and is arguably my favorite race for a few distinct reasons.

1. People. If you have ever been to a Tejas Trails event, you know how well run they are. Great RD(s), volunteers, runners, etc…
2. Location. Bandera is awesome. And Hill Country State Natural Area is a truly special place. Note that this may be a biased view as I grew up in the Hill Country just southwest of Austin, so those hills still feel like home to me, and every time I leave them there is a tangible emptiness in me that remains.
3. Terrain. Again, not a high profile mountain race, but this terrain is no joke. Bring your A-game because, though there are no ‘climbs’ to speak of, there are certainly rugged trails, very technical in spots, and the climbs (+/- 300 ft a pop) can be steep, though quite short… five to ten minutes at most. But the trail is always fun. A mix of challenging and technical trail and super smooth, buffed out runnable stretches where you can really cruise.
4. Buckle. My favorite buckle to date! So awesome!

Since the Western States Lottery wasn’t kind to me I needed another qualifier. I took a month+ off after Bear 100 and eased back into training in November. Things went okay, but I had that pesky calf injury flare back up. So my biggest week between Bear and Bandera was 30 miles and my longest run was only 9. I wasn’t terribly sure how the day would go due to the low volume so set an A goal of 15 hours with my B goal of sub 17 (for my Western States qualifier), and a C goal of simply finishing.

I flew into Austin, leaving my girls behind, unfortunately. But I did get to see some family, so it wasn’t all bad. My mom picked me up, I went for a quick run, and I swung by Tiffany’s and got to hang with her family for a couple of hours. It was so good to see those girls! I went home, hung out with mom and Kevin, and hit the sack. We got up the next morning and hit the road to Bandera! I always love driving through the Hill Country. Yes, I live in a truly spectacular place, but I still find those hills in central Texas to be my favorite landscape. There is just something about their rugged peacefulness that just feels right. To put it simply, it’s home.

So we rolled into Bandera, checked into the Flying L Ranch, and went into HCSNA to check into the race. We hung out there for a bit, chatted with some friends (including Erik at Trail Roots, good to see him again!), and handing out VFuel swag and samples, etc then went into town and had a little BBQ to scratch the itch. I actually felt pretty good when the alarm went off at 4:00. We had a relaxing morning with a couple cups of coffee, got ready for the day, and were at the start line at about 6:30 milling about.

The gun went off and I started in the front 20-30 people and just settled into my own race. I felt pretty strong from the beginning but took it nice and easy. My heart rate was a bit high but I didn’t worry too much about it, figuring it would settle down in time. The first climb up to Sky Island was gorgeous. The sun warmed us, and the surrounding hills, with a welcomed red glow and quite a few folks were stopping to take photos or to just enjoy the scene, myself included. Keeping my pace in check I cruised easily into Nachos, the first aid, in a kiss over an hour feeling great, and happy to be running a race in the Texas Hill Country.

This is a beautiful course with a variety of terrain. Steep technical trails, smooth open rollers, and buffed out flats that you can really cruise. It’s nice to have that variety and kept me really looking forward to different sections of the course. And it would be wrong if I didn’t mention the sotol. Whoa. The trail is lined with these saw-dagger plants for miles! It’s not too bad, but they certainly command attention. I’m glad I wore knee high compression socks!

At mile 17ish, coming into the first pass at Crossroads aid, my heart rate was getting pretty high. I figured it was dehydration at this point, so I downed about 20 oz of water and hit the trail for the 5 mile loop of Three Sisters. This was my favorite part of the course. Incredible! Stunningly beautiful, rugged, remote, etc… all the things you look for and desire when playing in demanding landscapes.

Heart rate in check, I started really having fun! At this point I was still being conservative, but was able to move pretty well. I would take a bit of a walk break every so often. Definitely more than I needed to, but due to my low training volume, I was trying to delay the inevitable and postpone the epic meltdown I knew was coming. I even stopped on this stretch and fulfilled my promise to Elaina and Daphne and FaceTimed with them for about five minutes! It was awesome! I missed having them there so much, so it was a great moral boost to see their faces and hear their sweet voices.

I made good time back to Crossroads and set out on the last 8+ miles to the half way point. There were a couple of burlier climbs on that last stretch, but they were super short with great cruiser trail in between and on both descents. Again, I kept it reigned in hoping to last a bit longer before the wheels came off, but managed the first 50k in something like 6:20. I took a little time here, used the facilities, sat down for a few minutes, and took it easy back out on the start for my second helping.

Then it hit. On the top of Sky Island. I felt horrid. Just beat down, dizzy, and tired. I was really hoping this would be a short low. I simply slowed down, drank a lot, took another VFuel Gel, and settled into feeling like crap. About 30 minutes passed and as quickly as it came on, it left! I felt great! Though the low seemed to be over the pace was slowed a bit intentionally. I sure didn’t want to push too hard and fall back into it. Maybe another 30 minutes of excessively casual effort with another 15 of slightly above casual was how I handled things from there. I knew I had the A goal of a sub 15 in the bag if I just didn’t act completely stupid. I figured I’d be in at about the 14:30 mark so gave myself a 30 minute buffer from here to the finish.

Josh had advised before the race that I shouldn’t really push until mile 50 and then only if I felt like it. I rolled into Crossroads again and felt super strong. I was starting to reel people in and pass someone every half mile or so and I was hoping that was I sign that I was playing things right. That was mile 48 so figured it was close enough, so I started pushing a bit on the five mile loop. There was a flat stretch just out of the aid station and I took that easy as it was sunset and truly beautiful, so I stopped a lot to take pictures and stood with some guy for a few minutes as the sun disappeared behind a distant mountain. But when I was moving, I was trying to push a bit harder.

I made quick work of this loop and actually did it a couple of minutes faster than I did on lap one. I felt great! I was a bit worried about the technicality of some of the trails after dark as they are actually quite technical. Just as much as anything in Rocky Mountain National Park, save for a few exceptions. And talking to folks throughout the day had me worried as many people told me they walk the descents after dark because they are so dangerous. But I didn’t have any issue at all and didn’t feel they were any slower… but I am used to running on technical trails nearly every day (thanks Gem Lake Trail!). But yes, I passed 10+ people in the last 14 miles that were walking the descents.

I made it back to Crossroads, took some time to eat a bit of soup and send some videos to the girls, then took off into the dark en route to Last Chance, the final aid! This is when I ran the fastest of the race! I was super happy, the weather was perfect, I was in the Texas Hills, Mom & Kevin were there giving great support, there were awesome people at every step, and I was running strong! What more could I ask for except to have Jamie and the girls there as well! Here, I did kind of push. Never anything crazy hard, but I did open it up a little bit and it felt wonderful! My fastest 10 miles of the day were the last 10 and that is a great feeling!

I made it to Last Chance, gave Mom & Kevin a hug, talked to a couple of friends working the aid station, ate a few handfuls of bacon, and took off into the night. The last 5 miles were a blur. I had a lot of the same emotions that I had at Bear. I was sad for the race to be over but so grateful for such a wonderful day and experience. The miles ticked by and the climbs were inconsequential. I pushed hard on the last descent and took a left for the final half mile to the finish line. I couldn’t believe it, but I was going to finish in under 14 hours! 13:47 to be exact. I was, and still am, so pumped about that time!

I crossed the line, got my hands on one of the coolest buckles I’ve seen, gave hugs to Mom & Kevin, and got a burger at the conveniently located food truck! What an experience and what a stellar event!

As we walked back to the car we all stopped and took a minute to look at the stars. They were out in full force and were even brighter than up here in Estes, surprisingly. Or maybe it just seemed that way… either way, they were spectacular! A fitting end to a stellar day!

Thanks to Chris McWatters, RD of Tejas Trails events, for bringing VFuel on board as the gel sponsor for this year! It gave me a great excuse to get down there and finally run this race! And thanks to Mom & Kevin for crewing me all day.. flawlessly. And, of course, Jamie, Elaina, & Daphne, for everything!

This is a race to which I will definitely come back! Without a doubt!

 

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El Oso Grande – Bear 100 Race Report

Written by Smudge on October 2nd, 2015

The Bear 100

My relationship with 100 milers has been so dysfunctional it’s really not funny. Before Bear this year I was 1 for 5 so it goes without saying that the months leading up to this race I was more than a little nervous and honestly questioned why I was giving it another go. I knew something unforeseen would go wrong and I’d add yet another DNF to the list. I’ve always known I’ve had it in me to do these silly things but it has never really come together. Even in my lone 100 finish, Rocky Raccoon, I was completely destroyed after the race, for weeks, and it was anything but a pretty finish. So why? Why spend the time training, spend the money on the race, travel, etc? Why in the world would I put myself through the rigors of getting ready for one of these, not to mention the pain of completing the actual race?

The answer is actually pretty simple. I love trails. I love moving through demanding and dramatic landscapes. I love looking at the beginning of a trail and wondering where it goes. I love the sounds, the smells, the sights. I love it all. In fact, of all of my earthly loves, trails are #2 behind my family. I literally have dreams of being on trails. I truly love them. It’s on trails that I  have time to myself to recharge, to pray, to think, and even to check out and do nothing but move. Simple.

So that’s why I was going back to The Bear. Again, I know I have a race like this in me, no problem. It’s just always been these weird and freaky unforeseen issues that put an end to my attempts. And usually in the first 30 miles which is even more frustrating because I can go run a 50 miler on any given day without major issue. But put me in a 100 and it might as well be 1,000 miles because I can’t get through the first half without imploding. But The Bear just called out again. This beautiful course traverses the northern Utah mountains at the peak of the autumn foliage and takes you into southern Idaho to the shores of Bear Lake. Endless single-track lined with yellow aspen, fiery red maples, and stately pine trees.

In the weeks leading up to the race I tried not to think about it. I just did my run for the day without question. Thanks to my coach, Josh Arthur, I didn’t have to put any thought into the day to day. He sent me my running schedule and I’d go do it. Pretty simple. Things were going really well. I was feeling fit, fresh, strong, and more ready than I ever had for a race like this. Then one morning about 2 weeks before the race I woke up with a head full of snot and a really sore throat. It was long run day so I went out for a horrid 4 hours of mountain miles hoping the effort would burn the crud out of my system. Well, it didn’t quite go down like that. The run made it worse. Long story short, my first day of feeling ok was the day before the race. Yay! I knew it. I knew there was no way things could go well during a 100. I had resigned to the fact that it was just going to be a terrible race and I would have to battle the illness until it beat me down to the point of dropping.

I’m being a little dramatic here and was actually in very good spirits before the race. My plan was the same and being sick didn’t change anything. Just start slow, keep the pace nice and easy, and simply keep moving. The morning of the race I was too excited to sleep so woke up at 2:00am. I finally quit fighting it at 3:00 so rolled out of bed, had coffee, read, and got dressed. I felt really good, well rested and didn’t feel sick at all! Thank God! I was was psyched! Jamie, Dad, and I drove over to the start, said hi to some friends, checked in, and we were soon underway!

After months of prep it was finally here! I started in the very back of the pack by design. I didn’t want to go out too fast and, um, yeah. I didn’t go out too fast. Once the road turned east and started climbing I looked back and I was 6th to last as we got onto the trail. While this certainly kept my effort dialed down 10 notches, it wasn’t any fun. At all. It was pedestrian and I didn’t even break a sweat until about an hour and 30 minutes into the race. But whatever. I wasn’t letting it stress me out and just told myself that when we get to the jeep road I’d pick up the pace and pass a bunch of people. That’s exactly what I did. At this point things got fun and I just turned Sturgill Simpson up a little bit and cruised down the rugged jeep road trying not to suck in too much dust.

Before too long, about mile 12, we get on a long descent of single track. Things bottlenecked here again and it was painfully slow until the bottom. I’ll spare you the details for fear of sounding like a whining brat, but there was already carnage at this point in the race. I was sympathetic as I can only assume these folks that were hurting this bad this early were having an uncharacteristically off day. I’ve been there. This one poor dude was soaked with sweat, breathing like an elk in rut, and had obviously blown out a quad or something. I was right behind him ‘running’ along when he stopped dead and said ‘you can pass.’ I rolled an ankle trying not to run him over, cursed under my breath and, limped on down the trail. Great. Never, ever, rolled an ankle during a race, and here at mile 16.8, 16.8!!!!, I had a pretty bad sprain. Oh well. I have strong ankles to if this was the unforeseen issue Bear was throwing at me this time then I should be able to handle it without a problem!

I fell in with a good crew from here and rolled into mile 20 in right at 5 hours. Exactly on my desired pace for a sub 30 hour finish. This is also the first place I was able to see the fam! Jamie and the girlies were here and so were Dad and Shanea! I love being able to see family in these races! It makes it that much sweeter and helps me more than I even realize. They lift my spirits, give me strength, and fill me with pure joy and love. If that doesn’t help me put one foot in front of the other than nothing will! They helped me get my bottles refilled, refill my pack, and I was on my way. Next stop was Richards Hollow, 3 miles up a nice gentle dirt road.

Last time I tried Bear I couldn’t run this road. This time I had to fight the urge to run it too hard. I made myself walk a good chunk of it and just cruised the rest at a slow jog. I was soon at Richards Hollow soaking my hat and shirt in ice water. It was getting toasty out! Already 85! Now we climb through Richards Hollow proper. A great little canyon full of beautiful fall colors, cattle, sheep, and picturesque and intimate scenes. This climb went really well and I felt great! Nutrition was spot on and my effort was still very reserved while I was able to move acceptably well. As the temps kept climbing I would back off the intensity a bit so as not to overheat like I did a few years ago here. Just keep moving but stay cool!

I made it easily through Richards Hollow and dropped into the Cowley Canyon aid at mile 30. Dad was waiting for me here and helped me restock and I was out of there. Again, it felt so good to have family here. He was great at reassuring me and letting me know that I looked great! He kept mentioning that I was moving great and was alert and agile. Much more so than the last time I did this. He was there for that one as well and it certainly wasn’t going as good at the same spot during the last go round.

Next up was a little hop over Ricks Summit and down Ricks Canyon en route to Right Hand Fork. This is my favorite descent of the race! It’s the perfect grade to just cruise! Last time I tried Bear I got in trouble here as I pushed too hard. I was having too much fun, ran too hard and got overheated. Lots of puking came next, and I had a bile party next to Willow Creek! Woohoo! Bile parties are the best! So I tried to use a little more of what intelligence I do have to reign the effort in on this descent. It worked! I took my time and had a nice and buttery smooth run into Right Hand Fork. And this is where the best parts of the race began!

Mile 37. I got in a bit ahead of schedule so took a little time to sit in the shade and drink a lot of ice cold water and really get my core temp down. By the time I left I was actually cool. But the best part was that Jamie and I finally realized a dream of ours! For her to pace me in one of my races! With Dad and Shanea there, we had babysitters for the girls so Jamie joined me on this 8+ mile stretch! It. Was. Awesome! Again, ahead of schedule so we just enjoyed being out together. It was kind of like a hiking/running date! Even though within the first 10 minutes I got her feet totally wet and covered her pants in sticker burrs! Yeah, got a little crazy there at Right Hand Fork! We had a great run into Temple Fork, mile 45, cruising in comfortably. I sat down, had some soup, put some night layers in my pack, hugged Dad and Jamie and set off up the climb to Tony Grove. Almost halfway there and things had gone dang near perfect! I hadn’t noticed the ankle since about mile 21, and I had no issues with the heat at all!

The climb to Tony Grove went well. I was pushing a little bit near the top, but reigned myself in as I didn’t want to over do it quite yet. I was right on schedule for my sub 30 hour finish and I figured I had that in the bag unless the wheels came off! There were still some faint mountain silhouettes in the west when I rolled into Tony Grove, mile 52, but it was dark. Dad was waiting for me here and I took some time to put on compression socks, eat a bit of soup, drink a little coke, and take a load off for a few minutes as I got ready to take on the night at the Bear 100. Historically I’ve loved moving through the night so I was really looking forward to spending time in the back country in the dark. Waiting for the promise of a new day to be realized, bringing with it new life and a renewed sense of purpose. One of my favorite things about the 100 mile distance. Little did I know, this night would be a bit different.

I rocked the 800+ foot climb above Tony Grove and effortlessly cruised down into Franklin TH aid station marking 61.5 miles done. We;;, relatively without effort as I now had 60+ miles on the legs. But, all things considered, I felt great! The plan here? Eat, drink, and go. Executed perfectly. About 100 yards out of Franklin I knew something was off. I had had one low earlier when Jamie was pacing me, but it was normal. Lasted about 15 minutes and I was out of it and rolling soon enough. Ok. So another low. No problem. I settled into it and didn’t come out of it until I got to Beaver Lodge, 15 miles and 7 hours!!! later. It was brutal. Truly brutal.

I have no idea what caused this. I’m wondering if being in the baking sun and the 90 degree temps just took their toll and it manifested in the middle of the night with a beat down system. I had no energy but the biggest issue was that I was just so very sleepy. To say I wanted to sleep is grossly understating this issue. My body wanted to sleep so bad that it was literally shutting off. I was stumbling over rocks, teetering from side to side, and I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open. I sat down on a rock right at Steam Mill Junction, mile 64.8, rinsed my face off, and promptly fell asleep teetering forward off the rock. I gave up. Shimmied down, leaned against the boulder and tried to nod off. I fell asleep for a minute or two then a couple of women startled me asking if I was ok. I mumbled something about being tired and stood up trying to follow them up the last bit of the climb.

I crested Steam Mill Pass and was no better off. About halfway between there and Hells Kitchen Pass I found a perfect spot in some soft dirt, used my pack as a pillow, and slept for about half an hour to the enchanting sounds of owls in every direction with a fullish moon wrapping me in a soft and welcome glow. Pretty dang cool!

However, I was actually pretty frustrated here. This wasn’t in the plan and I hadn’t trained that much to spend time sleeping on the side of the trail. I had never dealt with this to this degree before so I wasn’t sure what to do. I woke up and pressed on as best I could. But there was no gas in the tank. To make matters worse, with the fatigue came nausea. If I puke I’m done. I have never been able to successfully recover from puking in one of these things. It throws so much else off and just wrecks me. Blessed with strong ankles, I’m equally cursed with horrid effects from puking. If it starts, it usually wont stop for hours and I get horribly cold even if it’s 100 degrees outside. So puking wasn’t an option. To protect against it, I was having to stand completely still to even take a sip of water. Stop, let the tummy settle, take a sip, let it settle, get moving again. Boooooo. This sucks. What the heck?

I willed myself to Logan River where I was expecting to meet Jamie. Just get in her car and take a real nap. I’ll be fine. Well, stupid us, we didn’t get the memo that Logan River was closed to crew access this year. So I rolled into a deserted aid station. Ugh. Gut punch. I needed a hug! No matter. “Do you have a drop bag,” some disembodied voice whispered into my ear. “I need a cot” was all that came out. The next thing I knew I was being ushered into a hot tent with a wood stove. Glory. I shed my layers, set my timer on the phone for 15 minutes and passed out cold.

I awoke to the sound of a gal coming into the tent! I panicked thinking I’d slept through my alarm and wasted hours napping! I quickly looked at my phone and there was 52 seconds left on the timer. Thank God! I got up went outside and grabbed some soup and refilled my bottles. I thought I felt a lot better. And I did, for about 10 minutes. I crossed the river and was soon in rough shape yet again. Nauseated, weak, and cold. Sounds about right for mile 70ish of a 100. But I was at mile 70 in one piece! Just hurting a bit. I was quite happy with this reality even if I was moving about 2 miles per hour a feeling like dusty walking death.

Just get to Beaver Lodge at mile 76. Jamie would be there, I hoped, and then it was less than a marathon to the finish! But whoa. To get the next five miles was a bit intimidating. The climb wasn’t bad and, frankly, I don’t remember anything about it. I just remembering that I was pissed when I crested Peterson Pass and couldn’t will myself to run downhill. It was bad. I jog walked as much as I could. Jogging a few seconds, walking a few seconds, jogging a few, walking a few. Then pavement. I was pretty happy to see the grey devil this time as it signaled that we were close to Beaver Lodge! I was waking back up here as well. But these races are funny with the mind tricks they play.

I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t make it in under 36 hours (the official cutoff). I had 25ish miles to go, and 12 hours. If things didn’t get better and if I was only able to move the same speed the last 15 miles had been traveled, then it would be within minutes of a 36 hour finish if I only spent minimal time in the aid stations. But I knew I needed some time in an aid to actually get some calories in and find a reset button somewhere.

Beaver Lodge was perfect! Jamie was in there and it was warm and there were bathrooms and food. I took a good 30 minutes here to try to actually find that reset button. After about 20 minutes I could eat again with no nausea. I had 2 big cups of noodle soup, a lot of water, drink mix, etc… I could tell things were taking a turn for the better. Hope! Renewed purpose. Jamie played a massive role in this! I can’t even begin to convey how supportive she was here, and through the entire race. She just let me know that I could do this and that she was here with me in full support however I needed her. She offered to pace the last 25 miles to be there with me every step. She had been at that aid station waiting for 6 hours. With Logan River closed to crew, she went on to Beaver Lodge, getting there a bit early. But I was over 3 hours late. This girl is awesome!

My tendency is to deal with these struggles internally. I pray, I sit with the lows, and I try to bring God into the middle of the situations in which I have no strength. While I really wanted Jamie to pace me from here, I knew I needed to wrestle with this one myself. I think it hurt her feelings a bit that I told her I didn’t want her to pace me at that point, but I knew she understood. Plus, I’d see her at Beaver Creek in about 10 miles where I knew I wanted her to join back in the fun!

She walked with me out into the pre dawn morning and saw me off. As the sun began its morning ritual and as the landscape awoke with birdsong and autumn hues, I too came back to life. My pace quickened, the miles began to tick by, and the enormity of my present task was being reduced to simply moving through the intimate scene immediately before me. I crossed into Idaho and was soon on the flat plateau containing Gibson Basin. I stopped here at the aid station, ate some soup, drank some coffee, slammed some water and was officially back, at least mentally!

Heading out of Gibson there is another mile plus of flat trail before a small little climb. I hadn’t really been running much since Franklin Basin so decided to go down swinging if this was going to remain a death march. I told myself I was going to run for a solid five minutes. Not a second shorter. If I was still in as much pain by then then I would reassess. So off I went. The first three minutes were hell but then things started loosening up. I was actually moving well again! My watch said 8:45 pace! Sweet! Mile 82, running 8:45, this might be salvageable after all!

I made quick work of the 300 foot bump to the Beaver Creek summit and was soon cruising pretty well down toward Beaver Creek aid station. I felt awesome! It was nice and cool, there were beautiful clouds dotting the sky, the trail was perfect, the colors were glorious, and I was having an absolute blast! THIS is what it’s about. This is exactly why I do this. I felt free and I felt like I was doing what this body was made to do. Exploring this alluring creation with joy and a true sense of wonder and appreciation.

I flew into Beaver Creek. Recharged with some soup, and the best tasting sausage that has ever graced this land. At this point I had rallied pretty seriously. Jamie was taken off guard when I came into Beaver Creek. She was in the restroom when I got there and she thought she had another hour or more left to wait when I got there because a gal that came in about two minutes before me there at Beaver Creek left Beaver Lodge, 10 miles earlier, an hour and forty minutes before me. Jamie quickly got her running stuff together and was soon ready for pacing duty and we took off up High Top Grunt. We were moving really well but I fell into another low here. Nothing big. Lasted about twenty minutes and I was soon through it and all the better. The only thing that was really noticeable were my feet. Felt like they were getting beat on with a hammer with every step. Nothing to do but suck it up and keep on keeping on. The back of my left knee was talking to me as well, but it wasn’t  too bad. Just a bit tender on the downhills when I extended my leg.

We made it up to High Top without incident, took a few minutes to enjoy the views, and were then on the descent to the final aid station, Ranger Dip! It’s on!  As we were coming into Ranger Dip I thought that a sub 32:00 finish was possible. I had long since given up on the sub 30:00 finish with all the sleeping I had to do at night and was just hoping I would get in before the 36:00 cutoff.  So to push for a sub 32 hour finish was pretty exciting for me and I was certainly counting it as a victory!

I had a potty break at Ranger Dip, drank a bit, filled my bottles and set off for the finish as Jamie caught a ride down into Fish Haven. I was moving pretty well on the descent just enjoying my remarkable surroundings. It was a prefect morning. Temps were nice, the views were better, and I was 95 miles into the Bear 100! Pretty awesome! Some parts of this descent were super steep so I was taking those sections pretty slow so I didn’t wipe out. The legs just weren’t as responsive as they normally are… no idea why. The miles ticked by and Bear Lake got closer and closer.

Then it hit me. This was about to end. Years of preparing. Months of hard training. Anticipation. Planning. All coming to an end. The race. Ending. I got pretty emotional. And not necessarily a happy emotional. I was sad. I love trails. I love the challenge. I love being out there and putting one foot in front of the other. I didn’t want the race to end. I wanted there to be more trail. Another 100 miles would have been fine if it meant more of what I just experienced. I wanted my girls to greet me at more aid stations. I wanted to feel my family’s love and support for another 32 hours. I wanted to spend more time in prayer and relying on God to fill my legs with strength and my mind with peace. But I couldn’t. The race was about over. Mile 96. Mile 97. Mile 98. Then the dirt road. I saw Jamie running up to greet me. A big wave and a smile as she snapped some photos. She was so excited for me and I will never forget it! Mile 99. She ran with me that last mile. We turned onto the highway and I could see the park and the finish. I was in disbelief and asked her over and over… ‘is that it?’ ‘That’s the finish?’

I crossed the highway and entered the park. I’ll never forget the girls. They ran to me so excited. I picked Daphne up and Laney asked if she could run with me… Heck yeah girl! Come on! Then Daph wanted to run so I put her down and we all ran it in together! Perfection! There was no pain. No fatigue. No sleepiness. No heat. Just me and my girlies crossing the finish line together, the way it’s supposed to be. Jamie was right there. Dad and Shanea were cheering me in. 31:37:39. Yes. Victory. I finished it. WE finished it. Together. All together. The Bear.

Now I could get into what this experience meant to me and try to express exactly what it was, etc… but I wont. That’s for me and mine and besides, trying to put that part of this into words would cheapen it in a way. But I will say that the race was incredible. The highs and lows. All incredible. My family is closer for it. I’m better for it.

While I was really wanting a sub 30 hour finish, my 31:37 was a massive victory for me. I finished a mountain hundred in one piece and truly enjoyed the experience. Sure, I always want to get better, and there are certainly things I could have done differently to cut off hours from this effort, but this race was exactly what I needed and went precisely as it was supposed to. I am so very thankful for that gift and it’s not lost on me, even in the slightest.

A massive thank you to Jamie for supporting me over the past year in realizing this dream. And the same goes for my precious little ladies. Thank you! Also to my Dad and Shanea. Having you there with me on this journey means more to me than you’ll ever know.

Here’s to many more miles!

Happy trails all!

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San Juan Solstice – 2015

Written by Smudge on July 3rd, 2015

June 27, 2015

This race has always been on the radar. Ever since I heard of it back in ’06 or ’07. I even tried it on a bum hammy in 2008, limping in to the 40 mile aid station, Slumgullion, in about 12.5 hours before dropping there. My memories from that first attempt were terrible. I certainly enjoyed the scenery but my right hamstring hurt terribly from about mile 20 on. And not the good kind of hurt. Needless to say, I’ve wanted to get back to Lake City to finish the course and actually enjoy the race! It’s a perfect year to do it as it fits in really well with training for Bear at the end of September. So there I was. In Lake City on a Saturday morning in late June at 4:30am, milling around the town park waiting for the race to start…

Map and elevation profile

Let me just say this. I hate races. No, I love them. No really, I hate races. They suck. All this nervous energy, tons of people (people annoy me), and all kinds of hoopla, etc… I’ve *never* had a good race longer than 5 miles. Plenty of training runs have gone perfectly, but never a race. And I don’t ask for much. I know I’ll never win one of these silly things, or even be in the top 10. In fact, I do well to come in the top half of all the starters. But these things never go well for me. I think it’s mental, but who knows. This time I was really excited and had a good game plan going into it. Thanks to my coach, Josh Arthur, I was pretty confident in the training I *did* have under my belt. However, it was the same old story. I was coming off an injury. Six weeks ago I couldn’t even run. My longest run this year was 13 miles the week before the race. My PT told me NOT to run this race as he was sure my right calf couldn’t and wouldn’t handle it and I’d limp home set back even further in my pursuit of the Bear 100 in September. But if I didn’t run this race and have even a small amount of success I wasn’t about to toe the line at Bear, so my only real option was to give San Juan a go and live with the consequences, whatever they were.

I put my headphones in as we all lined up to get going. Willie Nelson’s comforting voice eased my butterflies and drowned out all of the nervous chattering from the other racers and I felt like I was about to head out for a little run on my own. I was content and happy and psyched to get moving. I didn’t even hear the RD say ‘okay, go’ and we all started moving toward Engineer Pass Rd heading south out of town. I felt like I was part of a scared herd of stampeding cats and felt like I was flying down the road. I then noticed that I was hanging with the top 5 to 10 runners so quickly slapped myself in the face and slowed it waaaaay down. More like a scared and stampeding turtle. This felt better. Run my own race and pretend I was just out for another solo training run. But dang it if my heart rate wasn’t sky high. Ok. Slow down a bit more. Nope. Still high. Walk for a few seconds. Nope. Ok. Pee break. That helped. Now I know what I have to do! Take a pee break every five minutes and I should be able to keep my heart rate in check! Yay! This race is completely different! This is going super well!

The road went by quickly. About 25 minutes into the race I turned hard left and we started the stream crossings and the steep climb into Alpine Gulch. Things seemed to settle in here and I just let Willie serenade me into a nice rhythm. The water crossings seemed pretty tame and weren’t really an issue at all. Though I did have to pull this poor gal out of the frigid water and help her across. I’m pretty lucky to be able to train on very similar terrain so am pretty comfortable crossing thigh deep mountain streams. Plus, the water seemed to kick some life into my legs.

One of the creek crossings

Up, up, up we went and the grade kept increasing too… a couple of 850 foot miles thrown in for good measure and I was soon rolling into the first aid, Alpine. I made it in about 2:00. 7.5+ miles done. A quick refill, had an Epic Bacon Bar for breakfast and was back on the trail in just a few minutes. This is where the San Juan Solstice really shines. Tree line.

Now, for those who don’t know about this race I’ll explain a little. If you already know, skip this paragraph. San Juan Solstice (SJS) is a truly stunning course in the heart of the San Juans of southwestern Colorado. It’s high, it’s steep, and it’s beautiful. This is the epitome of ‘God’s Country.’ It’s also one of the hardest 50 milers in the country, which is why it appeals to me. We all like a good challenge, right? Over the just shy of 50 miles (49.75 to be precise) you top out at 13,200+ feet and spend miles and miles above 12k feet. There are two main climbs of about 4,500 feet each with a third and final climb of 2,000 feet to finish up the day. After the 2nd climb there is a long stretch of rolling terrain that adds up to another couple thousand feet for a total of just shy of 13k feet of climbing for the day. The views are unmatched except for the infamous Hardrock 100, which is in the same general area. This course is the real deal and certainly a formidable challenge. Anyway… on with the race.

Topped out on the first climb

Coming out of Alpine, I had another 1,500 feet or so of climbing, then a short ridge run before a steep descent into the Williams Creek aid station at mile 15.7ish. But the best part was that I’d get to see my girls there! All three of them! I was pumped! This was the first race that I’ve done where I’d get to see all three of them at the aid stations! The altitude was making an impact and I just couldn’t move well, relative to what I’m used to. But that was okay… I was praying that the forced easier effort early would pay off in the final half of the race. One can dream, right?

But I was moving very well downhill… for me anyway. I passed 10 or so folks on the descent into Williams and was soon getting hugs and kisses from Jamie and the girls! Pretty sweet! Jamie said I looked great, but I felt like a dusty turd dressed up like a runner. I took a few minutes, refilled, restocked, and was then on my way. Though Laney wouldn’t let go of my hand for a few minutes. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t run across the finish line with me right there. I eased her concerns and she reluctantly let go of my hand and wished me luck. I made quick work of the road that led to the left turn up the Carson 4×4 road which the the next long and grueling climb.

I remember this climb from back in ’08. There were a couple of stretches that were stupid steep. And hot. At this point Sturgill Simpson was singing me up the trail! I just sang along and plodded up toward aid #3, Carson. But I was feeling worse and worse as I got higher. Pity party #1 started here in earnest. I’m never doing this again. No way I’m doing Bear. I suck at ‘running.’ Hell, I suck at ‘hiking.’ I’m pretty good at sucking though. Maybe I need to make vacuums. Oh poor me.

Then I saw Carson. I checked the watch and made the 2,000+ foot climb to the aid in about an hour and twenty minutes… I was okay with that considering how terrible I felt. The folks at this aid station were incredible. All I had to do was sit there and they tended to my every need. I chugged a bottle of water, ate another Epic Bar, then mixed up another bottle of the soon to be released VFuel Endurance Drink Mix, and was on my way in a few minutes. I started moving a little better and was ready to tackle the rest of the final big climb and get back onto some sweet sweet tundra! 22 miles down and 28 to go… 9 until the next aid, Divide.

Top of Carson road.

It was here that I met Stephen Stinkin Foster of Tombstone fame. He played me some old parlor tunes on the piano and offered some good conversation. We kind of leap frogged each other for miles and was good to see him off and on throughout the remainder of the race. We made it up the rest of that dang road together and were soon on top of the SJS course on the Continental Divide enjoying the best of what this race offers. Unmatched views of nothing but high peaks as far as you can see in any direction! In. Cred. Ible. As bad as I was feeling I couldn’t help but enjoy myself as this is my favorite place to be in my favorite mountain range in my favorite season. Perfection.

I enjoyed every step along the divide except for the fact that I just flat out couldn’t move well. I could only hike. That was it. No running at all on the divide. The miles did tick by though and sooner than expected I was running down the short descent into the Divide aid station. But I felt utterly horrid here. Pity party #2 starts at mile 30 of the SJS. Woe is me. I’m never doing anything like this again. Bear is off. How will I tell Jamie… how will I tell Josh. I don’t really care… I don’t want to do it. If I can’t even do 30 miles without falling apart, how will I do 100?? How will I do the next 20??

The 200 yard climb up to the actual aid station took me 18 hours. And it was only that quick because an old man in a Rascal passed me and I was embarrassed so picked up the pace a little bit. I rolled into Divide feeling horrid. I sat down and it was 5 minutes before I could even get up to get water. I chugged some water, refilled my bottles and was about to head out when someone said something about noodle soup. For some reason that sounded really good so I grabbed a cup. And some coke. Whoa that tasted incredible! I spent another 15-20 minutes there before heading out.

Ugh. Even the downhill was hurting. Good thing it was only 200 yards downhill back to the trail… then a 500+ foot climb before a long rolling descent, with a few small climbs thrown in, toward Slumgullion aid 9 miles down the trail. But on the climb I started to come alive. In fact I felt like running again. And running uphill! I was able to be smart about it though and just picked up the hiking pace a bit saving the jogging for the downs. I was beginning to feel like myself for once! Heart rate was in check. Legs felt fresh. Breathing was normal. I felt light on my feet. My mood was better. What is going on? 32+ miles, and 9:30 into SJS and I’m finally warmed up? Whatever… I’ll take it! Now I just hope this lasts!

And it did! I cruised into Slum at mile 40 feeling like a million bucks. My Ladies were there and it was so good to see them! Jamie refilled my bottles, got me some noodle soup and another cup of coke and I was soon on my way! I had heard horror stories of this last climb and the carnage that the middle/back of the pack sees on its slopes. But I wasn’t too worried. I felt strong and figured it couldn’t feel worse than what I had already gone through. I made the 2,000 foot climb in about 50 minutes and was soon running down toward Vickers, the final aid station at mile 46.5, through some of the prettiest forest of the day! Lush and full of flowers.

I had basically thrown any time goals out the window. I originally wanted 12 hours and something. While hoping for close to 12:00, I would have been happy with 12:59. That certainly wasn’t going to happen and I thought 15 hours was more realistic. But once I topped out above Vickers I thought that sub 14 could still be possible if I could run all the way to the finish. So I turned up the intensity a bit and just prayed I didn’t catch a toe and force a few pounds of trail down my throat.

Lupines and Aspen near Vickers

These last miles were the best of the day. I felt almost fresh! The light was about perfect, the flowers were everywhere, the trail was great, and I was 45 miles into a very hard 50. Vickers popped up as if out of nowhere. I figured I was another 10+ minutes from the aid. I dumped my remaining water on my head, refilled my bottle and was out of there in under a minute. I ran as hard as I could for most of the descent. Though some of the trail over the last 3 miles is so steep and technical that I hike/jogged it so I didn’t actually take a digger.

I turned a corner and saw Lake City a couple of hundred feet below me. I checked my watch and realized I had about a mile and half left. I hammered the remaining descent into town and then walked for a minute to text Jamie that was just a few minutes out. I wanted to cross the line with my girlies! I shuffled through town to cheers from locals sitting on their porches. I took a final left and could see the finish line 2 blocks away. I picked up the pace a little bit and then heard Laney laughing about something and then yell ‘DADDY’ when she saw me! She and Daphne ran to me and we sprinted across the finish line hand in hand and giggling like, well, little girls! It was a truly perfect ending to a long and very rewarding day! I crossed the line and both girls told me they loved me and gave me big hugs! The best part of the day? I think so… without a doubt! Worth every painful step. Every doubt. Every grueling mile.

Finishing with Daphne and Elaina!!

I finished in 13 hours, 54 minutes, 51 seconds. 117th out of 250. And yes, I will chalk this up as a successful race. Bear is on. Recovery is going perfectly. I feel strong and ready for more! Man, I love races and can not wait to run across the finish line with Daphne and Elaina in Idaho this September!

 

 

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