San Juan Solstice 50M – June 21, 2008

The San Juan Solstice was supposed to be my first 50 Miler. …at least that was the original plan. I had made a last minute trip to Boulder City, NV in October to run the World of Hurt 50k to finish my qualifying ultra before registration opened online on January 1st. On New Years Eve both Eric and I happened to be at the same party wondering how we were going to get onto to register at midnight. We couldn’t get onto an Internet connection at the party so just as everyone else was celebrating the new year, we took off for our computers at home. We both managed to get one of the original 150 spots while others who stayed out later ended up on the waiting list. Fortunately they opened up additional spots and with the amount of drop outs between January and June, everyone on the waiting list got into the race.

I had already been training pretty aggressively from October through December in anticipation of tackling what is considered to be the toughest 50 Mile ultra marathon. But by January, I was so far ahead of my training plans that I decided to re-adjust my goals. The San Juan Solstice wouldn’t be my first 50 miler ….it turned out to be my 4th. And it wouldn’t be my big event for 2008 – I’d already mailed in my entry to the Vermont 100 on January 4th.

So this 50 miler turned out to be just one more big training event for the Vermont 100. I didn’t have a chance to spend as much time as I had hoped training at higher elevations but I did managed to squeeze in one long run to the top of Pikes Peak. Two weeks before the race, I hit a peak of 120 miles in one week. Since the Vermont 100 was just a month after San Juan, I didn’t completely taper for the race. The week before I cut back to a moderate 70 miles and the week leading up to the race, I put in another 20 and gave myself one extra rest day.

This was by far the toughest event I’ve ever done. There wasn’t an easy step the entire way. There may have been some easy running in the first 20 minutes ….but it was 5am and dark. 10 minutes into the race I dropped a water bottle and broke the top nozzle off. I managed to stick it back in and balance it enough to keep my drink mix from sloshing out. On rough sections I had to hold it on with my thumb to avoid losing it.

Just a few days before the race, we heard the good news that the snow on the divide had melted off considerably over the past week and we would have very little trouble with snow fields above the tree line. ….Unfortunately all the snow was in the river that we had to cross in the first section of the race. We had 7 major river crossings at the start of the race that we had to cross one-by-one on a rope. Late in the day, this might have been a relief but at 5:25am at daybreak, the cold water was excruciatingly painful. Most crossings were only knee deep but a couple were up to mid-thigh ….dangerously close to the shorts where it could get really uncomfortable! Getting through the water wasn’t bad – it was stepping out on the other side and taking the first few steps that hurt. It was like my feet were being smashed by hammers. I tried picking up my knees to get the blood moving but just as soon as I got going we’d hit the line for the next crossing. After the 7th rope crossing, I had a brief moment of relief until I realized that we’d cross the river another half dozen times in mere ankle deep water. I don’t think I could feel my feel at all for the first 2 hours of the race. With the slow start messing with my water bottle and the lines at the river crossings, I was way behind my original pace estimate and made it to the mile 7 Alpine aid station in about 2:10. I heard one of the volunteers call out that the 100th runner had just come in so I quickly refilled my bottles and set out to try to make up some time.

Shortly after the Alpine aid station, we cleared the tree line. The views from the top made the entire morning’s ordeal in the river worthwhile. I had a hard time keeping my eye on the trail to avoid tripping while taking in the awesome 360 degree view of the mountains. I met up with Alex and took a quick break to snap a couple photos. Then it was back down a steep descent to the Williams Creek aid station at mile 15.7.

At Williams Creek, I stopped briefly to change into dry socks. Wow was that worth the extra time – it was like starting out again with fresh feet! I set out on the next leg to Carson with a good amount of energy and gradually picked off runners one by one and passed by Mike Poland about halfway up. Just about a mile before Carson, the road was cut in half by another stream. I was so happy to have dry socks that I took a couple minutes to look up and down the banks for any possible dry crossing. No such luck. So it was back into the water for a thorough soaking just in time to get up to the tundra and snow fields again. At 21.5 mile Carson aid station, I finally go the bright idea to ask for some duct tape to fix my bottle nozzle. I had an extra hand held in my drop bag but I’d need all 3 to make it across the next long section above the tree line. Fortunately the aid stations were well stocked and well prepared and I got refilled, refueled, and finally got my broken bottle taped on securely.

Shortly after leaving Carson, I found 2 unused vanilla GU packs on the ground. I’m not sure if I was more offended by the litter on the course or by the fact that it was vanilla – yuck! A quarter mile later, I found 3 more vanilla GU packs. Someone was clearly not paying any attention and this kind of pissed me off. We are very fortunate to have these events in these amazing wilderness areas and we keep that privilege by showing that we can be responsible and make little to no impact on the environment. So I set off on a mission to return the GU packs to their owner and give him or her a piece of my mind. I passed one person after another and asked if they used vanilla GU. No, not mine, nope. I was tempted to yell at the 4th person to tell them that they were the 4th person that I knew of that had walked right on by without picking up the trash on the trail. Instead I just stormed ahead after the next guy. Shortly after, I caught up with Kevin Cooper. He said the GU’s weren’t his but he’d already picked up half a dozen himself. I never found the litterbug but this guy was OK. We paced along together for most of the traverse across the divide. On the descent down to the Divide aid station at mile 31 I pulled ahead of Kevin and started catching up with a few more runners.

Since about halfway through the last section, I had been having trouble getting my drink mix down. It was warm and I was really sick of the taste. So at the Divide station, I decided to keep my 3rd bottle about 3/4 full of plain water. I had hoped that mixing the other two fresh again would solve the problem. I left the Divide station still feeling strong still passing several other runners.  I passed by Matt Miller and Alan Smith along this section but shortly after, I found myself on a stretch on my own without anyone to chase after and I couldn’t get any more of my drink mix down. My stomach was starting to turn and on the forest road decent to mile 40 at Slumgullion, I slowed to an 11-12min pace to avoid getting nauseous. The 3/4 bottle of fresh water was long gone and I was starting to crash. Two runners passed by me in this section – the first since the Alpine aid station at mile 7.

At Slumgullion I took some extra time to re-hydrate and finally got to change both socks and shoes. And they had popsicles! I managed to get 2 popsicles down and my stomach felt much better. I still didn’t want any more drink mix so I filled up 2 bottles with fresh water and set off with just a handful of pretzels to get me through the last 10 miles. While I was at the aid station, Alan Smith and one other runner came through and got out just ahead of me. But I managed to get started again and keep up for a while. Unfortunately my relief with dry shoes was short lived. About 500 yards down the trail, we ran into another river! After a short downhill, we started up the last climb to Vicker’s hill. On the course profile, this just looks like a mere bump at the end of the race. In reality, it’s a 1700ft climb (about the same as Horsetooth Mountain here in Ft Collins) and most of it is off any regular trail straight up through aspen groves and meadows without any switchbacks. At the top of the last meadow, I managed to remember to stop drooling on my shoes to turn around and enjoy the view where you can see almost 360 degrees of the entire course – absolutely amazing!

After clearing the top of Vicker’s, I managed to get the legs moving at a decent running pace again and caught up to the guy who passed me at Slumgullion and found Alan Smith limping along. Alan said he was having bad cramps and was out of salt tablets. So I gave him a handful of my enduralites and headed off for the finish. About a mile past the last aid station, Matt Miller caught up with me. He was running strong and back in good spirits after pulling himself back out of the slump I saw him in at mile 31. I tried keeping up with him for a bit but just didn’t have the energy. The decent back to Lake City was incredibly steep and rocky with a lot of loose gravel. My eyesight had gone pretty blurry by now so I wasn’t able to go very fast down the hill. At one point I looked to the side and finally noticed that I had been running 6 inches away from a barbed wire fence. That scared me into pulling the pace back another couple notches. Finally off the trail and onto the streets of Lake City, I settled into a comfortable 12min/mile shuffle to the finish. I was already over my goal of 12 hours and was well under 13 so I really didn’t have anything to push for. With about a mile to go, Kevin Cooper caught up with me. He had a pacer with him (girlfriend or wife I assume) and were keeping up a brisk pace. Kevin said I’d been pulling him along the entire race since I left him on the divide and wanted me to run in with them. I tried pushing a bit to keep up. His pacer even dropped back to try to help me out. But with about a half mile to go, I just didn’t have it in me to do any more. Kevin was having a great time and deserved to run in to the finish ahead of me. I’d already accomplished what I wanted to do and I didn’t have anything left to prove. That’s what I really love about these ultra events. It’s always competitive. But more often than not, the competition is between ourselves and the course so there is a camaraderie that you don’t find in many other sports.

So I jogged out the last bit and finished 30 seconds behind Kevin in 50th place. Not bad considering I was around 100th at mile 7 and only 4 people had passed me since then. Out of 164 starters, only 130 finished with another 3 coming in unofficially after the cut off. I honestly don’t know how the runners at the back of the pack could keep going out there for over 16 hours. At 12:40:38, I wasn’t going to take another step. I think I’m just as impressed by Matt Carpenter’s 7:59:44 course record as I am by the 3 people who still finished over 16 hours and 15 minutes without any official recognition. There were 200 people registered so considering that 36 people didn’t even start, my hat is off to anyone who stepped up to the starting line for this race.

This was truly an awesome experience. The event in general was very well run and extremely well supported. The aid station volunteers were incredible. At the 40 mile aid station, I felt like a stock car at a pit stop with 4 people buzzing around me filling bottles, handing me food, pulling gear out of my drop bag, and helping with my shoes.

Here’s where the rest of our group finished:

22 Fritjof Fagerlund 11:19:08
27 Eric Lee 11:28:09
47 Matt Miller 12:36:23
50 Pete Stevenson 12:40:38
62 Mike Priddy 13:25:06
76 Kari Fraser 14:02:21
77 Chris Gerber 14:02:21
81 Alan Smith 14:14:57
85 Charles Danforth 14:22:10
92 Tom Masterson 14:45:47
93 Chip Tilden 14:47:34
108 Alex May 15:31:19
Started: Peter Sanders, Kristen Alvarez, Mike Poland, Mike Hodges, Karla Holgers

I will definitely go back to run this one again and I’d highly recommend this event. Whether you race it or just attempt to finish it, it’s definitely worth putting on your list.

Here are a few links to other race reports and photos:

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Eric, me, Kristen, Kari, and Chris ready to start.Eric, me, Kristen, Kari, and Chris ready to start.

Eric, me, Kristen, Kari, and Chris ready to start.21-Jun-2008 04:51

Charles, Kari, Chris, and Eric before the race start. ...wondering if the tubes were for the river crossings.Charles, Kari, Chris, and Eric before the race start. …wondering if the tubes were for the river crossings.

Charles, Kari, Chris, and Eric before the race start. …wondering if the tubes were for the river crossings.21-Jun-2008 04:39

Milling about before the start.Milling about before the start.

Milling about before the start.21-Jun-2008 04:49

Peter, Chris, Michael ready for the 5am start.Peter, Chris, Michael ready for the 5am start.

Peter, Chris, Michael ready for the 5am start.21-Jun-2008 04:58

Waiting in line at a river crossing.Waiting in line at a river crossing.

Waiting in line at a river crossing.21-Jun-2008 05:46

There were 7 of these crossings ...that required a rope.There were 7 of these crossings …that required a rope.

There were 7 of these crossings …that required a rope.21-Jun-2008 05:46

That's cold!That’s cold!

That's cold!21-Jun-2008 05:44

The avalanche field on the way to the first Alpine Gulch aid station.The avalanche field on the way to the first Alpine Gulch aid station.

The avalanche field on the way to the first Alpine Gulch aid station.21-Jun-2008 06:52

Alex up ahead at the top of the avalanche.Alex up ahead at the top of the avalanche.

Alex up ahead at the top of the avalanche.21-Jun-2008 06:52

View from alpine gulch.View from alpine gulch.

View from alpine gulch.21-Jun-2008 07:17

View from alpine gulch.View from alpine gulch.

View from alpine gulch.21-Jun-2008 07:17

View from alpine gulch.View from alpine gulch.

View from alpine gulch.21-Jun-2008 07:17

View from alpine gulch.View from alpine gulch.

View from alpine gulch.21-Jun-2008 07:17

View from the top of the first climb.View from the top of the first climb.

View from the top of the first climb.21-Jun-2008 07:35

Runners slowing making their way to the top of the first hill.Runners slowing making their way to the top of the first hill.

Runners slowing making their way to the top of the first hill.21-Jun-2008 07:36

Top of the first hill.Top of the first hill.

Top of the first hill.21-Jun-2008 07:36

Alex on the snowfield traversing the first hillAlex on the snowfield traversing the first hill

Alex on the snowfield traversing the first hill21-Jun-2008 07:56

On the snowfield traversing the first hillOn the snowfield traversing the first hill

On the snowfield traversing the first hill21-Jun-2008 07:57

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