If you haven't seen the results, I finished in a time of 8:41:22. That is an average of 10:26 per mile. I covered the first half in 3:57:20 (9:30 per mile) and held onto the same pace during the return until there were only about four miles to go. For perspective, the winner was the exceptionally talented Duncan Callahan of Gunnison, CO in a record time of 6:50:55.
Looking back on my race-specific preparation, I knew going in that I would come to suffer at some point this 50-mile race that I was not really prepared for. The only questions in my mind were about what form the pain would come in and how I would respond to it. Well, the answer to the first question was a surprise. The answer to the second question was unexpected, but acceptable.
It was a cool 50 degrees at the 6 a.m. start. Cooler would have been better for everyone, but I am not complaining - it was a beautiful day. All of my nutrition needs for each of the three assisted aid stations had been discussed with the family the night before and all of the bottles and flasks had already been prepared. Because of this in-depth preparation and the thorough recon of the course during the week, I stood on the starting line without the slightest hint of nervousness. I was excited to be there.
Climbing the ski hill. Should have gone for the coin!
The customary blast from Ken Chlubber's shot gun started the race. Everyone ran surprisingly fast up that steep hill - even me. There were two people standing at the top of the hill who held special silver coins for the first male and female runners to snatch them. As I ran I noticed that no one was really sprinting up the hill. The guy running right next to me looked all around a couple of times before accelerating slightly to grab the coin. The women's coin was grabbed by the great Helen Cospolich out of Breckenridge.
Within a few minutes I had settled into a pace that had me running near Helen and a one-time D-II powerhouse Western States runner, Mike Ray. Mike and I talked for awhile about common experiences and mutual friends. He had completed the SR 50 mountain bike ride the day before, finishing in 30th place. Helen is a sponsored ultra runner (The North Face) who has won many of the top ultras, including the 2008 Leadville 100. The three of us ran within a hundred feet of each other all the way to the top of Iowa Gulch.
Through running with these two accomplished mountain athletes and glancing at my heart rate monitor from time to time I knew that the pace was bordering the edges of sanity for me. I didn't care. I felt comfortable and I wanted to get as many miles behind me as possible before the sun began to heat the air and bake me by convection. Running along the bottom of Iowa Gulch during the early hours of the day meant running in the shade of the mountains on the eastern edge of the gulch. It was cool and pleasant.
Mountains still casting long shadows over Iowa Gulch.
My previous experiences running and hiking the entire out and back legs of Iowa Gulch had made me aware of how rocky and steep the jeep road became just before the foot of Mt. Sherman where we would meet up with the gravel road. Because of the loose rock, I was trying to be careful with my ankle. I even experimented with walking a few steps at a time. I immediately noticed that I was walking faster than both Helen and Mike were running. Hmmm. I also noticed that my heart rate dropped a few beats when I walked. Hmmm. Then, shortly after that epiphany, I stepped on a rock that rolled my left ankle inward. The pain was piercing, but manageable as I kept up the pace. The turn on Mt. Mitchell two weeks earlier was worse.
As soon as I stepped onto the gravel road and turned back down the gulch I noticed that Mike had basically sprinted away from Helen and I. When I pulled up next to her she commented about how he had reached the gravel only a couple of seconds ahead of her. He was now two hundred meters ahead of us. I ran with Helen for a short time. Then I noticed that my heart rate had decreased from the mid-160's to the high-150's. My response was to simply open up my stride a little and let gravity work more in my favor. I soon pulled far ahead of Helen and was reeling Mike in. Within two miles of gravel road I had put about two minutes on Helen and pulled to within thirty seconds of Mike. Then I had to stop to remove rocks from my shoe. I followed that with a jogging "natural break," as they call it in the TdF. Looking back during that break I saw that Helen had made up most of the distance I'd put on her.
Minutes later I came into the Printer Boy aid station in 1:57 where Brandon and Tyler were waiting to crew me. Everything went perfect. I dropped my used flasks on the ground and drank a bottle of water in rapid gulps amid huge gasps in the thin air at just over 11,000 feet. Then I ate a banana like a starved wild animal before thanking everyone and running away with the new bottle of fluid and gel flask. The watch read 2:01.
Loading up at Printer Boy I - 13.5 miles in.
The next mile was that steep "Stru-like" one mile hill I ran earlier in the week. Almost immediately I noticed the pain in the ankle as I planted the left foot on the uneven ground. That kept the pace honest. Then I slid and took on more rocks which I stopped to unload. When I bent over I became quite nauseated. So much so that I spit out the sticky Cliff bar I had been chewing on. I saw Helen and a guy bearing down on me as I turned to run again. The three of us stayed close to each other during the mostly uphill 3-mile climb up Ball Mountain. My stomach became increasingly uneasy as I climbed. Just before the mile 18 Venir aid tent I stepped into a porta-potty - where I stayed for an agonizing 4:43. Yes, I spent almost five minutes in a plastic sweat box while five or six runner passed by.
Knowing that I had 6 miles of mostly exposed and challenging miles of climbing and steep descending before the Stumptown turn-around aid station, I stopped to drink three cups of water and one cup of Poweraid while a volunteer filled my bottle. I left that aid station feeling miserably weak and unbalanced. It was only a slight grade, though, so I forced myself to continue running. I convinced myself that the strong flavored Cliff bar was what had done me in.
The trip around Ball Mountain was not new to me. I had run the same trail while competing in the 2008 Leadville marathon. After the aid station the trail crested over a nearly flat alpine field before beginning a rocky roller coaster ride to the 11,992-ft saddle we would pass over. Though the Pbville marathon course continued in a nearly flat circle around the summit of Ball Mountain, the SR 50 "trail" that descended from the pass was super steep. This insanely steep trail varied from powdery black dirt to loose rocks as it wound down toward Stumptown. I couldn't help but think of the bikers who I had seen at the medical tent the day before - two of them had crashed out of the race on this trail. No wonder!
I lost a few places on the steep descent because I was pampering the ankle. No problem. I had decided going into the race that I would do everything I could to keep the ankle from stopping me. The course teased us by allowing us to pass close to the 11,130-ft Stumptown turn around before turning us down a long set of switchbacks down to 11,000 feet and climbing back up.
I arrived at Stumptown in 3:57 feeling good. It was hot, but I had been drinking a lot and had finished both my bottle and gel flask on the approach to the aid station. Recognizing how hot it was, I drank 4 cups of water from the aid station and a 16-oz bottle from the boys. I also ate a banana before grabbing my new bottle and flask. At the last moment I stuffed a package of gel cubes into a pocket in my shorts. I left Stumptown in 4:07. I was quite pleased with that time, but I told the boys that I would certainly be drifting back toward my 9-plus hour finish time due to the heat. I said nothing about the ankle.
Approaching Stumptown while Ken Chlubber scares a one-eyed car.
25 miles and almost 6000 vertical feet of climbing.
Here - eat this . . .
Ty held that banana out there until I had eaten all of it.
That large intake of fluid and nutrition caused me to leave Stumptown feeling bloated as the fluid sloshed around in my stomach. I ran down and then then began to alternate running and walking as I climbed back up Ball Mountain. Interestingly, I passed a couple of people on this section. Ben Lahood, a 22-year-old from Peoria, IL ran with me until he cramped badly as we ascended the steep Ball Mtn. grade. To his credit, Ben would finish almost an hour after me. More than two dozen runners out of just over 200 starters would not finish the race.
Of note, the dizzying and nauseating feeling that comes with pushing the pace in the thin air near 12,000 feet can quickly become alarming. I became really dizzy on one occasion near the saddle and I later passed several people who were climbing to the saddle for the first time who were stopped and panicked. The heat certainly made the effort even more challenging.
Also of note, I took my only spill of the day when caught a toe on an embedded rock while descending from the Ball Mtn saddle. The big toe on my left foot (bad ankle foot) took a direct hit. It stung like hell. I had never hit a rock so solidly with a toe, so I knew that one would hurt for a while.
I arrived at the Venir II aid station feeling much better than I had the first time. The time of 5:12 surprised me. I once again took in three cups of water as my bottle was refilled. Then I grabbed a cup of Poweraid before jogging away from the 11,920-ft aid station in 5:15.
The following three-mile descent proved to be a great challenge. The combined pain of the left big toe and left ankle kept my stride much shorter as I descended. Every time I tried to speed up I noticed a big hitch in my stride that would certainly lead to another problem, so I responded by shortening the stride again.
This leg of the run ended with the big one-mile climb up to the Printer Boy II aid station. I jogged/walked it in 13:58, allowing me to arrive at the aid station in 6:07. I was really pleased with this. Knowing that I had climbed up to his aid station in less than two hours, I now had hope for an 8-hour finish. I then spent way too long at the aid station as the overly helpful volunteers sprayed me with bug spray and poured water over my back. Brandon and Tyler once again did a fantastic job of crewing, though.
The topless, stylin' crew awaits
Is it possible to have too much aid?
Where did you hide that Organic Wit?Judging from the yells I heard behind me as I started that one-mile climb, I knew that I had almost two minutes on at least two competitors before the climb. That lead had grown to over four minutes at the aid station. All of it was gone. Two guys popped into the aid station as I left at 6:12. They were both on the road within a hundred meters of me as we left. Hmmmm.
I spent the next three miles alternating from running to walking as I climbed the gravel road up Iowa Gulch. My back began to hurt and cramp when I tried to run up the steeper sections of the road, so I walked. I shook my head, smiled, and walked. I did look back a couple of times, expecting the two guys to be right behind me. They were not. They were also walking some. I pulled about 2 minutes ahead of them before reaching the end of the gulch. Then I turned down onto the steep and rocky jeep road.
This is where the ankle and toe really starting hurting. Once again, this shortened my stride as kept thinking that I would not allow a careless, fast stride to turn my ankle on the loose fist-sized rocks. With nine miles to go I still thought I could finish in 8:15 if I made it out of the worst rocky section of trail. With eight miles to go I left that section and noticed on a bend in the trail that the two guys behind me had closed to within about 30 seconds on the rocks. Hmmmm.
I took off. I was flying along at what must have been a low-6 minute pace. Soon I could no longer see those two guys around any bends in the trail. I rushed through the last aid station, filling my bottle and throwing back three more cups of water. If I had not been in such a rush I would have, and should have, taken in four or five cups of water plus one or two cups of Poweraid as the temperature had reached an uncomfortable near-alpine temperature of 81 degrees.
That last 7-mile section of trail should have been the fastest and most fun. It turned into a death march. It wasn't the heat as there was some shade. It wasn't the ankle/toe pain as the grade was slight enough to decrease to pain to acceptable at a full stride. The problem came from my back. No, it wasn't the bad discs. My back muscles simple gave out!
With about four miles to go I realized that I was leaning forward. I tried to run upright, but within about a dozen strides I was bent over again. Eventually, the muscles of my lower back began to burn like a leg muscle might during a hard 5K race. I had to take short walks while I massaged my lower back. When I ran, I ran fast. My legs still had a lot of pep in them. Unfortunately, the run distances became frustratingly shorter and the massage walks became longer as I approached the end of the course.
I found myself laughing - at the situaton - at myself. What else could I do? I wished that I had walking sticks like a couple of older men I had seen on the course. I wished that I had a back brace. I wished that the strained abs had not caused me to stop doing core exercises last month. I badly wished for the finish line to appear. I laughed and then laughed some more as I shook my head. If trees could laugh I'd now be deaf from the roar.
I forced myself to run all of the last mile except the steep climb back up to the top of the ski slope. I crossed the finish line in full stride at what had to be a sub-7 minute pace. And, though I tried with all my might to prevent it, I was leaning precariously forward. I felt some pride as the announcer stated that I was 12th overall and the first finisher from outside of Colorado in a time of 8:41:22. Those two chasers came in one and two minutes behind me.
The leaning finish!
My family later teased me because the leaning kept me off balance and moving forward. This made it difficult for the volunteers to give me my booty. That booty included the sterling silver finisher's bracelet, the finisher's medal, and the mining pan for winning the old man category. I certainly felt like an old man as I made my way through the crowd all hunched over!
Evidence of the fall. And barely balanced.
I wrote at the start of this long post that I was under prepared for the run. The unbearable heat and humidity had shortened half of my planned long runs. I believe that I would have done much better at a 50K distance at altitude that day. I also believe that my experience with the LT100 did not allow me to have enough respect for the SR 50 course. The SR 50 course was definitely much tougher in terms of both the footing and the vertical gains per mile. My heart rate monitor indicated that I had climbed 11,104 feet or 2.1 vertical miles during the SR 50. It is a shame that it was the descending that slowed me. It is also embarrassing that a weak back was eventually my biggest problem. Pardon me while I do some more core work . . .
The swollen, discolored, and filthy left toe and ankle back at A Wolf Den B&B.
I do believe I will run this race again. I think I will make certain to come back and complete both the mountain bike and run races. And I will be better physically prepared. I cannot have a better crew. After having the worst possible crew experience in the LT100 in 2008, I was lucky enough to have Brandon and Tyler and Shari (pictures and logistics) provide me with perfect aid during the race. Thanks!!
Now I must go and see if this swollen and blackened toe will let me climb some mountains.