Sunday, June 19, 2011

San Juan Solstice 50 Report

Ninety minutes into the toughest fifty mile race in the US I could see some of the best mountain racers in the country. And they were coming back to me! In fact, they were running toward me. It seems that the race leader had seen a course marker, but second place Karl Meltzer had missed it and led the next thirty runners, including me, off course for several minutes. Now the top fifty or so runners were funneling like cattle onto the seldom-used cattle trail down the mountain known as Vicker's Ranch. While a few runners were obviously upset, most of us laughed as we darted down the steep grassy meadow. I stopped to shoot a couple of the fifty-three pictures I took during the run.

It was a great day in the mountains for me. I got to climb four mountains - well, three and one of those twice. The weather was pleasant, but perhaps a bit warm during the many miles above tree line. I ran most of the race with Josh, Craig, and Tina. They all pulled ahead of me as I slowed to pacify my weak left knee when it finally started aching on the third steep descent of the day. Tina won the women's division. Like Josh and Craig, Tina possessed a kindness and easy-going demeanor that made her a great running partner, so I was pleased that she finished strong and won.

Tina and Josh as we made our way up to the Camp Trail
My realistic goal for this event was to break twelve hours. Looking at past results and evaluating times posted by people I've raced against, I thought I could run around eleven hours on the normal course. Every race veteran I heard voice an opinion felt that this year's course was significantly more difficult. So, a sub-12 effort for me when I really did not want to run hard was acceptable. I finished in 11:45.

And that was for a distance of 51.4 miles. In addition to the little off-course excursion mentioned above, a lot of runners missed marker on the Slumgullion and added distance there. Judging from my own and several other people's GPS measurements, I believe that the course was about 50.5 miles without the off-course running.

This was a brutal course. I now appreciate and believe the claims that this is the hardest 50-mile mountain run in the country. The course required us to climb and descend two mountains in the opening 22 miles. Both of those mountains were steep enough to make everyone walk at least a little. Because I did not want to push my limits, I did not run up-mountain until getting dizzy, like I normally do. In fact, in an effort to enjoy the experience more, I often stopped to soak up the scenery with my eyes and camera.

The only times I got dizzy were, ironically, when I was drinking or eating. That pause in breathing to swallow is enough, at eleven- or twelve-thousand feet, to make things fuzzy. This was especially true while running 10-11 minute miles at 12K+ feet on the divide.

The 2011 San Juan Solstice, with its four mountain climbs and descents totaling almost 13,000 ft of vertical gain and loss, was my toughest physical challenge to date. This is despite my attempt to "take it easy." My body was fatigued when I crossed that finish line. My wind was foggy. My pride was about as swollen as it ever has been from physical and mental accomplishment.

Without sounding too melodramatic or philosophical, overcoming challenges like those presented by the SJS50 can teach us a lot about ourselves. We can accept other of life's challenges with the knowledge that we have already been tested and found capable. And we have sore feet to prove it!

I will add that a lot of things went wrong for me yesterday. Little things, mostly, but any one of them could have ruined my day had I not reacted the way I did. When I thought back on that, after twelve hours of sleep, I thought about the power our environment has on us. This calm, remote place called Lake City, CO definitely had an profound effect on me this past week. I am, after all, a 15-20 mile-per-week runner most of the year. This mountain running is an extension of both my desire to explore mountain ranges and to explore who I am. The SJS50 provided a great vehicle for such exploration.

Many of the people I have mentioned in earlier posts were volunteering at the SJS50. Craig greeted me at the first aid station and Rene refilled my water on the divide. Then, when I limped back to my cabin at Westwood Resort, I was thankful to have owners Keith and Theresa there to give me a helping hand. I got the cabin at the last minute. And boy was I glad I did! The bed was comfy during my twelve hour slumber. Furthermore, my conversations with Keith and Theresa were quite enjoyable. They are just two more good-hearted people enjoying the "high" that comes with life in Lake City.

A few of the pictures I took during the run. Enjoy!

Sunrise on Vicker's Ranch 
A steep and rocky ascent
A steeper and rockier ascent
High meadow - vertical trail!

Going around a snow field
Uncompahgre from Round Top
Josh on top of Round Top
Divide reaches the sky at 12K feet
Traversing the divide - they gap me at each pic!
Forrest - 16 y.o. who got lapped in his first 3200 m race,
 but qualified for the state meet this year.
Now he has finished the SJS50!


  1. Congratulations on your finish! Nice pictures, too.

  2. I was in the group at the top of Vickers that joined the frontrunners when they had to backtrack to get back on course. Someone right behind me commented that he was going to start his blog post exactly the way you did. Was that you?

    Congrats on running such a solid race. Good times!

  3. Threads - Thanks! It was good fun - wish all could have been here.
    Jim P - Yeah, that was me! What a riot, huh?! It was painful and fun at the same time. Good job yourself!

  4. Shane - OK if I use your picture of the Vickers chaos? (I'll get around to a race report soon).

  5. didn't see this til now -- nice report :)


  6. Brendan - Thanks! And that let me find yours . . . nice job! You are a stud! Maybe we will meet up in Silverton this weekend.