Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Sunday, June 24, 2012

San Juan Solstice 50 mile run - June 23, 2012 - Lake City, CO

This race is pretty hard and I got to witness it on the summer solstice weekend of 2012. The beauty of it being on the solstice means one can run 16 hours with no need for a headlamp. Some call it the hardest 50 in the US, it's also called the baby Hardrock, and I remember at about mile 30 thinking it was truly brutal, but now looking back it's probably not that hard.

I signed up a ridiculously long time ago (January) when the registration opens and all 200 slots get filled in about an hour. It hasn't been a major focus of my training (which is still Leadville), but it's  been in the back of my mind that I'll need to get in some good elevation training this year. Since I don't write much about training, I can recap:

After the North Face San Fran had a patella/VMO annoyance in my right knee that kept me from running most of Dec and all of Jan. Gone by Feb.
20 miles a week in Feb
25-35 mpw in Mar
30-40 mpw in Apr
Then in mid May I rolled my ankle pretty badly (actually rolled it earlier in the year too, with pretty quick recovery)
I began acupuncture/dry needing therapy with Allison Suddard who works on quite a few ultrarunners/endurance athletes around Boulder.
Got in one more 30 mile week before catching a bad fever after returning from travel for work. June 7-20 I either had a fever of 102, was totally lethargic, or hacking up a lung. Things fell back into place on race week until 2 days before where I rolled my ankle again at a softball game landing on a base.

The day before the race, my ankle was swollen and bruised.

But, nonetheless, I signed up in January, paid my entry fee and have wanted to race this course for years.

The girls and I made the drive down to Lake City on Friday, and pulled into our motel for the weekend. This was the view from our porch.
We enjoyed the pre-race dinner which also turned out to be our 5th Wedding Anniversary dinner. I'm pretty sure the 5th anniversary gift is supposed to be wood or silverware, but we had bland spaghetti with fine plastic ware on Styrofoam plates in an Armory. That counts, right?
We ran into a couple that had race shirts on from the 1999 edition of the Lake City 50, so we were chatting them up about logistics when I found out they were a couple rooms down from us in the same motel. I asked for a ride to race start which enabled the girls to sleep in rather than join me for the 5 AM start. I slept well, although woke up many times in the night to check the time. I eventually rolled out of bed at 3:45 on my own to avoid hearing the alarm set for 4 and ate a pair of Barbara's famous cinnamon rolls, drank half a cup of coffee, got dressed and headed to the start with the neighbors. The whole motel was bustling at 4AM with doors slamming, showers going, chatter, etc.
Like it's no big deal at all, everyone left the armory, headed one block to third street and someone said go. The first 3 miles were dirt roads heading out of town and I settled in at the back of the pack. The pace felt mega quick and I wore my heart rate monitor today and noticed I was in the high 160s. I'd like to be 20 beats lower, but I was only ahead of 10 runners. Everyone said it slows way down in a few miles so I just focused on that. The first climb is a nice easy grade up ~4000 feet from town (8500) to over 13K. It included about 18 river crossings and is infamous for making your feet numb. I patiently waited at each crossing and got my turn on the log crossing to keep my feet dry the entire time. I appreciated it and wasn't concerned at all about the lost minute here and there. There was a lot of friendly conversation on this climb and it was great meeting my companions for the next 15 hours.

We headed up and up and eventually heard a pack of dogs barking which was Alpine aid station manned by Mad Dog. We were now in the sun and it was warming up quickly. Above Alpine was a beautiful alpine environment with a trail hugging some high ridges and peaks.

If you look closely, you can see runners all along the ridge in this photo. The trail skirts the big peak on the left.

Next came a merciless drop of all of that 4000 feet back down to 9000 ft. at Williams Creek. This descent started as high singletrack and ended as a rocky jeep road with lots of variation in between. I was careful to avoid rolling my ankle and carried trekking poles to soften my landings. It worked reasonably well and I was welcomed by Hannah and Heidi with loud, beautiful, ear piercing screams. It was great to see them, all systems checked, and I knew I wouldn't see them again for a long time.

Headed out of 15.7 aid and followed a dirt road for a few miles before starting another relentless 4500 ft climb to Carson.

This time the climb was mostly a jeep road, the heat was out in full force and I just focused on using my poles to push myself up. At the next aid station, I needed a little energy and settled on Mtn Dew. It went down well and was a nice alternative to my unflavored Vitargo that I'd been drinking all day from my camelbak. I loaded up on salty watermelon and looked forward to the high alpine ridge where I'd spend the next 12 miles above 12,000 feet. That's a long time at altitude and the usual San Juan gorgeous views were a bit hampered by smoke from the Weber wildfire near Mancos.
Runners all along the high ridge (with no views due to smoke in the air).

The climb progressed and I kept checking my watch to see how close I was to the course highpoint at 13,400. I finally hit it at about 8 hours on the day and basically a marathon under my belt. That's a slow marathon! Here's me at the highpoint, looking a bit worn from the big climbs:

I followed the never-ending ridge making good conversation with whoever was nearby. At mile 32 we hit an aid station just as I started having trouble with my patella/VMO thing that I dealt with last December. After fumbling with some Duct tape at the aid station, I decided to use an ace bandage that I brought with me that I intended on using on my ankle. I wrapped my knee super tightly and felt like I was about the cut the circulation off. However it seemed to do the trick and took some pressure off of the patella. I had 9 more miles to go to see the girls again and rumor was that the time cutoff at mile 40 was 6PM. I meticulously paid attention to my pacing and calculated that 20 min/miles would get me there in time. Since the course is mostly downhill-ish, I was able to walk sub 15 min/miles and arrived at Slumgullion Pass (mile 40) with about an hour to spare. Again I was greeted by my cheering family and took a seat to consume some calories. Hannah told me stories about their whole day and I found out they hung out at this aid station for 5 hours watching almost every runner go through! That's dedication. I shared some freezer pops with Hannah, loaded up with the remainder of my food and headed out knowing that I could just walk it in and still make the 16 hour cutoff. However there was one huge hill between me and the finish. The course sent us down some crazy runoff, bushwacking low country before crossing a private property sign at the Vicker's Ranch which began the final 1700 ft climb of the day. This climb was brutal after everything before. However the aspen grove was unreal. Gorgeous.
The climb was never ending and my watch died at mile 40, so I was stat-less and it was killing me. I just kept up with the rest of the field and no one passed me. Eventually - seemingly after a looong time - we crested a hill and it was smooth sailing downhill to the last aid station. I was at relatively low altitude (<11,500) and the trail was easy enough so I got in some good jogging that I didn't know I really had left. I eventually caught a few runners and cruised into the last aid station where they told me 4 miles to the finish. I was at 14h2m and figured I could break 15. 3.5 miles of trail into town followed by about a half mile through the city to the finish. I pushed hard and ran for miles. I saw no town nearby. Kept running and running. Felt like I easily covered 4 miles from the aid station and found myself on a nasty, rocky jeep road heading into town. My knee was screaming at this point and I was so annoyed by people that lie about distances to runners (if you're gonna lie, overestimate, don't underestimate, please). It felt much farther than 3.5 miles for sure and I pushed so hard to break 15 hrs. Eventually I made it to town but was still quite a ways from the finish line, well over a mile. I gave up on my 15 hr goal and just walked it in until a few blocks away when they radioed in my number to the finish line. I knew my girls would be waiting and cheering for me, so I picked it up and ran. About a block from the finish Hannah and Heidi ran out to me and Hannah started blabbing non-stop about how long it had been since they last saw me. She was full of stories and was running by my side. We started sprinting and she held my hand through the finisher's chute and was as cute as ever. I had waiting for this moment all day. It was awesome. A day later and I still don't really know or care what my exact time was. It was in the low 15s.

All in all it was a great toughening experience that I hope to be able to draw from in the future. I was perfectly happy with my pacing, energy, etc. When all the dust settles in the next couple of days, I'll see how my patella rebounds. I got asked several times, what was my favorite part of the course. My mind wasn't in that mindset. I was focused so keenly on not rolling my ankle, making it to the next aid station, eating, and wrapped up in conversation with whoever was nearby that I didn't find the time to really take in the beauty. I'll need to focus more on that in the future, but I treated this as a training run the whole time and hope to get a lot out of it.

Link to my Garmin data which cuts out at about 40 miles.


  1. Congrats Joey. Way to tough it out given your ankle and petella issues! FWIW, the Vicker's AS volunteers always say "4 miles to go. All downhill." Neither of which is true! :-)

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog about this 50 mile race... great job Joey !