Posts Tagged ‘race reports’

Hardrock 2011 – Through Hell and High Water

Wow. I’m still a bit shell shocked by the Hardrock experience. I’m still not quite sure how to describe it. The course was intensely difficult, overwhelming, and relentless. But at the same time, the scenery was breathtaking and the scale of the surroundings was just awesome. Even in my worst moments on the course, I was happy to be out there on a trail that so few people have the privilege to see.

My race didn’t quite go as well as I had planned. I got sick early in the race and threw up regularly from Ouray to Oscar’s pass. I spent hours in aid stations trying to recover and pull myself together to be able to make it to the next aid station. For many miles, my pace could barely be considered walking. From my own perspective, this was the worst performance of my life. At times, it was downright pathetic. But at the end of the day, I was the 15th finisher to kiss the rock in Silverton. By Hardrock standards, my worst day was actually a pretty good run. Hardrock is a different kind of race.

The day started out extremely well. The first climb up over Little Giant seemed easy and the views from the top were exhilarating. I came into Cunningham well ahead of my planned pace so I took it easy and just tried to cruise through the next few sections. I ran with Duncan most of the way to Pole Creek and after that we played leap frog all the way to Governor’s Basin. On the downhill into Sherman, I ran a much faster pace than I thought I would but my legs still felt fresh, light, and quick on the switchbacks and I was really having fun.

Trouble started shortly after leaving Sherman. I had planned on taking it easy on the climb over Handies and thought that I had plenty of water and time to get over to Grouse. On the way out of Sherman, a volunteer on the road mentioned that storms might be blowing in. There were a few dark clouds forming so I mentally prepared myself for whatever rain, hail, sleet, and lightning the mountain could throw at me and headed up. Since I fully expected to freeze my ass off, I passed right by the last water drop at the trailhead and charged up the trail. I still had most of my hydration pack full from the Sherman station and it was only a 3 mile grunt to the top and all downhill from there to Grouse. Wrong. It was a 4 mile slog to the top and the descent had another 700ft bonus climb up out of the American Basin. Shortly after passing the last water drop, the sky cleared and the sun came out in full force. It never rained one drop and even at the very top at 14,000ft, I was roasting. And just as I made it to the summit, my water ran out. Oh crap! Fortunately there was plenty of snow and fresh run off on the trail near the top. I stopped and stuffed snow in my pack fully expecting that enough would melt on the way down to get me to Grouse in one piece. Not one drop melted. I stopped several times to slurp some water from streams and grabbed handfuls of snow to suck on but never managed to get more than a few sips. It would have been easier if I had a bottle to dip and fill and in hind sight, I should have dragged my hydration bladder out and scraped it through whatever run off I could get in it. Eventually the snow fields ended and I still had a few miles of dry, hot trail to cover to get to Grouse.

At Grouse, I took some extra time to sit and try to recover. Or at least I thought I took an extra long time at the aid station to pull myself together. But I was still caught up in the excitement of the race. Volunteers and crew were buzzing and Maria was geared up and ready to start pacing me through to Telluride. I left the aid station in less than 15 minutes planning to just walk most of Engineer pass while continuing to catch up on hydration and calories. Well, everyone in the best condition just walks up Engineer pass – seriously, what the hell was I thinking?!? And I quickly found that just walking up to 13,000ft isn’t the best environment to catch up on hydration. It was still roasting hot out and I stopped once to stick my head in a snowbank and then filled my shorts and arm sleeves with snow. Looking back now, I realize that I was already severely dehydrated and overheating and should have been more diligent in icing down to control my body temperature.

At the Engineer aid station, I started to feel better and managed to get a few orange slices down. I loaded up with a fistful of saltines to tide me over until I could get to the low point on the course in Ouray way down below at a reasonable elevation around 7700ft. As we dropped in elevation, I felt better and better and my legs were moving well on the nice gradual descent down the canyon. This is one of the sections of the course that most people are terrified of with a narrow trail winding along the side of a cliff and a sheer drop off just inches away with a raging river below. But the trail was really one of the smoothest and most runnable sections of the course. For a few miles, I forgot about how tired and sick I was and just had fun cruising down the trail. Towards the bottom, I met up with Matt Hart, on a section of loose shale. He warned me to save my quads and I joked that I lost my quads long ago. But honestly I felt pretty good. I’d spent months training my quads for this abuse and they were holding up better than I ever imagined. The shale snapped under our feet like dinner plates and I got a childlike satisfaction imagining that we were crashing our way through fine china so I kept stomping away down the hill.

By Ouray, I was feeling pretty good. I was tired and my stomach was still queasy but all things considered, I felt better than I thought I would 56 miles into this ordeal. I took another extended break at the aid station to re-hydrate, re-fuel, and re-charge for the big push up over Virginius to Telluride. Or at least I thought it was an extended break – I was out of the aid station in 12 minutes. And as soon as I checked out and turned the first corner out of sight, I threw up everything. This really wasn’t the condition I planned to start the 7.9 mile grind up Camp Bird road to the Governor Basin aid station.

The road to Governor Basin was a long, tedious climb. The only upside to being stuck on this road was that we could continue hiking into the dark without using our head lamps. Eventually Maria switched on her head lamp and I stayed a few yards behind in the shadows which helped to save my eyes and eliminate some of the dizzying effect of staring through a tunnel of artificial light. I threw up again along the way and finally realized just how bad my condition was. I was burning hot – even as the sun went down and the temperature started dropping. My forehead was dry and burning and I was dying of thirst. All I wanted to do was guzzle cold water. But I was so nauseous that my stomach protested at even the smallest sip. We still had several miles to cover to get to the aid station and I was seriously worried. I finally ditched the pacing goals and told Maria that we had to stop at the next available rock to sit. I needed to get water down and get myself to Governor Basin in a condition I could recover from. Pushing any harder could put me over the edge and end my race and probably put me in the hospital. It took over half a mile to find a rock to sit on. Seriously?!?! I planned to sit for as long as it took to get 10 sips of water down. I threw up once but bit by bit, slowly counted out the sips and let each settle.

We made it to Governor Basin and I told Maria I would stay there as long as it took to make sure I could recover enough to get up and over Virginius. Getting sick and crashing on Camp Bird road may have meant dropping out of the race to get a ride to the hospital. Getting stuck in this condition on the snow fields on Virginius at 13,000ft at night would be a search and rescue nightmare. Whatever finish goals I had set my sights on at the beginning of the race just weren’t worth the risk. And to confirm just how bad things could get, Hardrock veteran and 2010 champion, Jared Campbell, had been wrapped up in a sleeping bag for an hour when I got there. The volunteers where whispering to Jared’s pacer about dropping. He had an easy way out to just take a ride back down the hill to Ouray. But Jared surprised them and came back from the dead, geared up, let out a huge shout, and stormed out of the aid station up Virginius. Unfortunately Jared couldn’t pull off the same recovery again and eventually dropped in Telluride. I stayed at Governor for a full hour and threw up my first attempt at some tea, ginger ale, and a sandwich. Eventually I managed to alternate ginger ale, broth, and saltines to get enough liquid and fuel in me to have the confidence to push up and over Virginius.

The layover at Governor was just enough to get me up and over the top of Virginius and Maria and I made good time keeping up a steady hike up the pass. At the top, we were greeted by the world’s best aid station crew. Roch Horton, Fred Ecks, and a handful of other hard core volunteers were perched on a the ledge at the top of Virginius under a tiny little tarp. They had propane tanks, lights, and even a stereo blaring. Roch ushered me over to sit on the one available spot with a camp pad laid out while other volunteers draped a sleeping bag over me to keep me warm. In quick succession Roch handed me coke, chicken broth, and a pierogi. He was so efficient about it that I didn’t even have a chance to think about whether or not my stomach could handle it. I just drank and ate whatever he gave me. The pierogi was possibly the best food I’d had all day! While I swallowed the last of my pierogi, Roch gave some good words of encouragement and rattled off the stats, "I was doing great (really?), only 33 miles to the finish, 5 miles to Telluride, just a small 40ft climb over Mendota saddle, one snow field on the traverse below, and just a couple patches on the other side to get to good trail, and you’re out of here in 5, 4, 2, 2, 1." With that, I was on my feet and on my way down the hill.

I had my first big fall on the way down. Snow fields opened up to a really steep and rocky section with running water over loose gravel and scree. I tripped and went flying head first. I was able to get my hands up but I still had a firm grip on both trekking poles so I ended up punching both fists straight into the rocks in front of my face. I took most of the fall on my left arm and just barely bumped my head and rolled over through the running water. It hurt like hell and I couldn’t put much weight on my left arm. But I still was able to grip my pole and was able to use it for balance the rest of the way down.

By Telluride, I was getting seriously sick again. I threw up in the bushes in the park one more time and then settled into a chair to re-start the slow process of getting fluids and calories down bit by bit. Eric, Lisa, and my mom were here to help and while they may not think they did much, it was a huge help to have friends and family with me.

Just before dawn, I finally decided it was time to go and got up and headed up the long climb to Oscar’s with Eric. I was still nauseous and was barely able to keep up sipping water and nibbling on saltines. To make matters worse, I had developed a nasty cough. I kept hacking up crud from my lungs which threatened to trigger another violent episode of vomited every few minutes. Eric and I caught up with Blake through this section and we played a game of slow motion leap frog all the way to the Chapman aid station. I joked with Blake about racing as we traded places ….our head to head battle up to Oscar’s was probably a bit less exciting than watching senior citizens putter along with walkers and canes. At the top of Oscar’s we were rewarded with some amazing views. I actually felt fortunate that I had such a rough night. If I had pushed on through Governor and Telluride without stopping, I would have gone over this pass in the dark and missed some of the best views of the entire course. For a few moments I was having fun again, enjoying the views, and soaking in the experience of being out on such an amazing trail. And then I puked again. Just a few steps from the top on the last snow field, I just couldn’t hold it. I swear, my socks nearly came out through this one. It was awful.

On the other side of Oscar’s, I was greeted by the gnarliest, nastiest, pile of talus. It was almost impossible to walk through this jagged pile of rocks. I took back all the bad things I said about the climbs up the snow fields. This was just brutal!

At Chapman, my day finally started to turn around. Ryan and Megan were at the aid station waiting for their runner so it was nice to see some friendly faces. We all had a good laugh …mostly at Eric in his ridiculous outfit. He’d been wearing Kari’s pink running skirt and a hog heaven tank top all day. We laughed about some other stuff …I’m really not sure what. At this stage of exhaustion, you kind of have to laugh at everything. Otherwise you’d just break down and cry. Good times!

In our short stay at Chapman, I managed to get a cup of coffee down and ate a few cookies. Eric and I repacked our gear to take just what we needed to cover the last 18 miles to Silverton. It was still only a little after 10am and Eric pulled out one head lamp and asked if I thought we should take it. There was an awkward pause for a moment and the head lamp went back in the pack. "Only" 18 miles at Hardrock was still a long way to go and a lot could go wrong.

From Chapman to the finish I was able to keep drinking and eating cookies. I kept a schedule of 1 cookie per mile and wow, what a difference some consistent calories and fluids makes. We hiked steadily up Grant Swamp pass. I pulled myself up the final near-vertical scree chute almost entirely with my poles – just kicking my feet into the loose dirt for enough foothold to plant another pole up the slope and haul myself up another foot. We lingered at the top for a few moments to catch our breath, enjoy the views, and visit Joel Zucker’s memorial. After a few switchbacks of sliding and tip toeing through more nasty scree and rocks, the trail opened up and we were finally able to start running at a decent pace to the KT aid station below.

On the climb up to Putnam from KT, I finally got hit with a major hail storm. Fortunately we stayed below tree line for most of the storm and just got stopped for a few minutes at tree line with Nathan and Devon and several other runners. I was amazed at just how drastically the weather changed. My feet were numb from running through the hail and ice water filled single track and I was starting to have trouble bending my fingers to keep a good grip on my poles. Just 20 minutes earlier I had been roasting under the hot sun. And a mere 20 minutes later on our way up the endless climb to Putnam, I was roasting again under the blazing sun. On the climb to Putnam, the end was finally in sight and I finally started to get some energy for the final push. From the ridge it was all downhill to the finish. But wait, that one wasn’t the ridge. The top is the next ridge over on the right. Oh crap, that’s not it either. The top of the ridge is way the hell up on that next huge hill. Straight up the grassy slope, one pole plant and one foot step at a time. Ugh!

The cruise downhill from Putnam went well. Eric and I stopped just long enough to say hello to Mark Overson and check that we had enough water to make to the finish. I was able to move pretty well through most of the easy sections and only slowed down to pick my way through the intermittent talus fields along the way. At the bottom of the hill, we had one more challenge blocking our way to Silverton – the Mineral river crossing. The river crossing was roped off but after 97+ miles, getting across without losing my feet was no easy task. The water was waist deep and running fast. I had to hold the rope with both hands and lean with my full weight upstream with both legs locked. Each footstep was an effort and it felt like the current was going to rip my quads right off my bones.

After a few hundred yards hobbling on numb, tired legs, Eric and I got moving again ran the last couple miles into town. We hiked a couple of the last slopes, turned the corner at the top of the hill by the shrine and ran every step of the way through town. No one was chasing me at the time. I wasn’t racing any more and really didn’t have any reason to hurry. I just wanted to get to the finish. No matter how bad some of the run had been, I wanted to finish strong and I wanted to run. I can’t describe just how good it felt to get to the end and kiss than damn rock.

This event was far more than a race. Hardrock is ultra running at it’s best. It humbles the elite. It’s ruthlessly unforgiving of the ill prepared and inexperienced. Fierce competitors become allies. Strangers become friends. There is an overwhelming positive force from every person involved that wills you to succeed.

Congrats to all of the 80 official finishers as well as the 2 final finishers who made it back to Silverton after the cut off. Thanks to Duncan, Matt, Blake, Nathan, and Devon for the good company out on the trail. I’m glad you all made it to the finish line. Thanks to Eric and Maria for doing such an awesome job pacing and escorting me safely for over 60 miles to the finish. Thanks Mom and Lisa for coming out to support this crazy adventure driving all over Colorado and staying up all night in the middle of nowhere. And a huge thank you to all the volunteers who made this event possible.

I look forward to seeing everyone again in Silverton next July. If I don’t get a spot as a runner in the lottery, I’ll be out there to volunteer, pace, or crew to try to pay back some of the support that helped get me to the finish line this year.

For more insight into the Hardrock experience I recommend reading Nick, Joe, Dakota, Devon, and Tim‘s reports.

I’ll post more photos as soon as I have a chance to get them organized.

The map info is online here.

2011 Bighorn 100

I finally managed to get my photos from the Bighorn 100 sorted out and uploaded here. I had a great time out at the race crewing and pacing Victoria.

Bighorn is still one of my all time favorite events. The scenery on the trail is incredible and the race organization and support is fantastic. This year with record snow levels in the Bighorn mountains, the original course had to be re-routed but the race organizers did an excellent job pulling together a final runnable route just days before the race. The modified route included an extra out and back spur from Dry Fork, started in Dayton instead of up the road near the Tongue river trailhead, and turned around 2 stations below Porcupine at the Spring Marsh aid station. This made crew access a bit trickier with accessible points only at Dry Fork and Footbridge. But they managed to preserve the majority of the original 100 mile route and still managed to offer the same outstanding aid station support.

Victoria had medical approval to have a pacer for the full 100 miles of the race and after her second pacer dropped out with an injury, I was going to have to pace her for 75 miles from the second Dry Fork stop through to the finish. We figured she would be safe enough running with Kristel and other friends for the first 24.5 miles until she met me at Dry Fork.

In hind sight, I probably should have rested more for such a long stretch of pacing. But there just didn’t seem to be any time between the start of the race in Dayton, driving up to Dry Fork, meeting and helping other runners coming into and out of Dry Fork. The morning and afternoon flew by and I spent the day caught up in the commotion at the aid station. This really caught up with me later in the evening. And as a word of warning, if anyone decides to pace Victoria, make sure you show up well rested and bring your A game. She set the pace the entire time I ran with her and just kept moving relentlessly. She powered up the wall to Bear Camp in the dark like it was nothing. And even when she got tired, she still kept up a determined hiking pace. Unfortunately I turned out to be the worst pacer ever. After warning Victoria about the hazards of stopping and sitting at comfortable aid stations, I was the first to say hell yes to a nice chair by the fire at Spring Marsh. Somewhere in the dark between Bear Camp and Cow Camp, I got really drowsy and started getting tunnel vision in the beam of my headlamp. Reflective trail markers on the trees started to melt and drip down the tree trunks. I dropped back behind Victoria several times and finally told her I needed to take a minute to just stop and close my eyes to refocus again. Asking Victoria to stop when she was still trucking along over 65 miles into her run when I had only gone about 40 miles qualifies me as the absolute worst pacer ever.

We managed to make it through the night and arrived at Cow Camp for a brief breakfast break. On the way back to Dry Fork, we crossed paths with the 50 mile runners. The re-routed 50 mile course started at Dry Fork and went out and back to Footbridge. On the normal race route, the different race distances usually merge together at the mid to back of the pack closer to the finish. This year it was really nice to see the full 50 mile field. They were only about 2 miles into their race and the front runners were flying. It was great to see the rest of our Fort Collins friends charge by us and it helped give both Victoria and I an energy boost to push the final miles in to the Dry Fork aid station.

On the way to the Twin Buttes aid station at the end of the spur from Dry Fork, Victoria started to get really dizzy with bad tunnel vision and spots. She was able to walk the last tenth of a mile into the aid station and stopped for an extended break to warm up, drink some fluids, and try to recover. Unfortunately she wasn’t snapping out of it and with her condition, it wasn’t safe to push through this. So she made the smart decision to drop. It’s really too bad that it ended this way since she was doing so well right up to the end. But she made it home safe and healthy and is already coming around to start considering another 100 miler.

And despite getting my but kicked on the overnight out on the trail, I really had a great time. We had a huge group of friends out there from Fort Collins and Boulder with a lot of firsts and PR’s in all events. This is definitely an event that I’d like to make an annual tradition.

Here’s a link to Alex’s 50 mile report. After resting up at the park, I jogged up the road and ran the last mile in with him.

Here are a few photos from the weekend:




Crewing and Pacing at the Florida Double Iron Triathlon

This last weekend I took some time off from my normal trail running to head to Tampa to crew and pace my friend David at the Florida Double Iron Triathlon. That’s 4.8 miles of swimming, 224 miles of biking, and a 52.4 mile double marathon run. The race is a very small event with 17 entrants with an impressive range of abilities and experience. The race director, Steve Kirby, did a fantastic job organizing the logistics of the event. And you could tell that he really put in the extra personal effort to get to know all of his participants and make sure that everyone was taken care of.

I new it was going to be a long day but really expected it to spend most of the time just lounging around waiting. And David hasn’t ever seriously focused on running. Before this race he’s never run longer than a marathon and his longest training run to prepare for this was only 15 miles. So I expected my role in the double marathon to be a lot of walking, moral support, and encouragement to make sure David got up and trudged the last leg of the race to the finish. Last October, David attempted the Virginia Double Ironman and ended up dropped at mile 17 on the run after getting extremely sick. This time he was determined to make it to the finish line but I was expecting a real suffer fest.

Instead, I got worked like a rented mule. Or more accurately a rented smelly ultra running donkey.

The swim was held at an outdoor pool and the bike and run were held at Flatwoods Park. The bike leg was a 7 mile loop and the run was on a 1.75 mile out and back. Initially I thought this would be horribly monotonous but it turned out to be a perfect setup to make it easy to support and to keep each lap small enough to just focus on the next manageable step. It also kept all of the competitors in close proximity the entire day but David resisted the temptation to get caught up in the chase and just stuck to his own pacing plan.

Nina and I got up early to get David to the pool and help with the transition to the bike. We stayed busy at the pool counting laps to make sure we knew when to get the car ready to go. Over the course of 76 laps, David didn’t vary off of his planned lap splits by more than 5 seconds and was out of the pool in 2:13 just a couple minutes ahead of schedule and right behind the leaders Marcel and Kamil.

David’s mom, Amanda, and Ian joined us for the rest of the day on the bike loop and we kept busy making sure that David had a choice of water, gatorade, gels, and noodles to rip out of our hands every 20 minutes around the loop. He only got off the bike to take 2 breaks to eat some noodles at mile 114 and 169. After dark he slowed his pace down a couple minutes and then took a few slower easy laps at the end to make sure his legs were in decent shape for the run. But other than his planned breaks, he spent the entire day clicking off laps every 20 minutes. I managed to sneak in a short nap in the afternoon while Nina and Amanda kept up with the bottle refills. But we really didn’t have much opportunity to slack off.

Friday on the bike loop. Water, gu, noodles?

David on the bike loop. Looking good with his pointy helmet.

After 12 hours and 7 minutes, David finally got off the bike and was ready to start the run just after 10pm. Steve didn’t have any restrictions on pacing or muling on the run so I loaded up with a single bottle belt for myself and a handheld bottle to hand back and forth to David. I added a couple extra pouches to my belt to hold enough food for both of us and I brought my cell phone so we could call in requests to Nina and Amanda back at the start/finish. From the start we worked out a pacing strategy to run to each turn around and then walk out about 100 yards. On each walk break David was able to drink and get some sort of gel, shot block, cracker, or e-caps down. David kept this up for the rest of the night and stayed on pace between about 19 and 21 minutes per lap. On the last couple of laps David extended his walking breaks but didn’t run a lap any slower than 22 minutes. Other than a very short bathroom break, David never even stopped to stretch. And damn it, I wanted to stop to stretch. My quads were fried 25 miles into the run. I think it may have been a combination of forcing myself to run David’s pace and the pancake flat route that I’m not really used to running on. When we started the run, I had originally planned on leaving at least the last lap for Amanda to run David into the finish. But by the 28th lap, I asked Amanda to jump in and run with us because I wasn’t sure if I’d make it the rest of the way. Amanda helped to pull both David and I along through lap 29 and then I finally tapped out at just over 50 miles and Amanda paced David in for a very impressive 3rd place finish. For someone who claims not to be much of a runner, David ran a hell of a race. Through the entire night Jennifer Vogel (who’s experience includes an 18:30 100 mile PR) was determined to run David down but he fought back every attempt she made to surge forward and make up any ground. It wasn’t until after sunrise that Jennifer finally figured out the math on the remaining distance and let off the pressure. And although Marcel and Kamil were both comfortably in the lead, I’m sure David gave them some reason to worry though the night. In a long run like this a 4 to 5 mile lead won’t last lost once you get sick or your legs severely cramp up.

After 50 miles, I'm done but David is still running strong.

So what I expected to be a light recovery weekend turned out to be an epic experience. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take part in David’s accomplishment. He didn’t just finish this race. He ran a smart race, he worked his ass off without faltering, and he ran competitively. If he decides to do another double, I’m sure he’ll be a contender for the overall win and if he decides to tackle the triple, he definitely has the physical and mental ability to do it. And now that David is officially an ultra runner, we won’t pick on him about the unitard and pointy helmet:-)

Nina, me, David, Amanda, and RD Steve at the finish line.

Moab Red Hot Cold, Rainy, and Windy 55k

Well this year’s Red Hot 55k in Moab was anything but red hot. It was mostly cold, rainy, extremely windy with a few breaks of dreary overcast gloom. Based on the weather conditions, this race probably shouldn’t have been any fun at all. But with 50 Fort Collins trail runners and another 13 Special Idiots from the Boulder/Denver area out on the course, it turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun. Our group took over 40 rooms at the Bighorn Lodge, made up 20% of the finishers in the 33k and 55k races, and by my best guess we consumed at least 80% of the post race beer.

Photo by Eric Lee

Going into the race, I really didn’t know what to expect. My recovery from Ghost Town was slower than expected and between some really nasty cold weather, social commitments, and getting mentally sidetracked by Hardrock, I really hadn’t done any specific training or even given the Moab 55k a single thought. I just planned to go out for a weekend road trip with friends and have fun on the course.

The race started off with a nice social lead pack with Ryan and Dakota leading the way up the first hill. I settled in with Sam and Scott, said hello to Jason Koop from Ghost Town and for at least a couple minutes it seemed like this was going to be a pleasant group fun run.

Ryan taking the lead at the start followed by Tim Parr, Dakota, Sam, Scott, and I. (Photo by Dan Brillon)

That lasted about half a mile up the first little climb before the fast guys started to pull ahead on the next 3 mile stretch of gradual downhill. As the leaders were pulling ahead, I tried to settle into a comfortable cruising speed and was surprised to see my mile 2 split at 6:32 and mile 3 at 6:38. What was more surprising than running at my marathon PR pace at the start of a trail 50k race was that it actually felt pretty good. So I kept up the same effort level and finally settled in to run along with Scott.

We cruised up the first climb on Metal Masher at a brisk pace and despite the on and off rain and occasional gust of wind, we were both feeling very good. But on the back stretch of the first loop, we hit the first real headwinds. Mile 13 through 18 is usually a really nice stretch of jeep road with a gradual downhill drop where you can really haul ass, stretch the legs out, and recharge before the next challenging section of slickrock. This year we ran straight into a relentless headwind. Scott and I teamed up to take turns drafting off of each other through this section. It did help slightly and we were able to maintain a strong pace but we still expended too much energy that we’d really need later in the race.

By mile 18 where I had planned to really start my final push through the last half of the course, my legs were already pretty fried. But on a positive note, we finally had a decent break in the weather and the sun almost broke through the clouds. So on a fairly easy section before the climb up Gold Bar, I took the opportunity to peel off my wind breaker. But as I was fumbling to re-clip my waist pack, I caught a toe. My hands were still trapped on my belt and I barely got my left hand up before I did a full belly flop into the dirt. Fortunately my shoulder and face hit soft dirt and only my hand, ribs, and knees smacked down on the slickrock. As I was dusting myself off Scott and a couple other runners pulled off ahead. That was really demoralizing. I took a couple minutes to walk it off and after I figured out that nothing was seriously damaged, I pulled myself back together and charged back up the hill to catch up with Scott. After the next aid station, I pulled ahead and didn’t see Scott again until the finish line. I was pretty tired at this point and in a bit of pain from the fall and just needed to focus on running whatever pace I could manage in the final grind to the finish.

The final miles of the race were much harder than I remember from two years ago. The slickrock route was marked as well as it possibly could have been marked. But without any visible trail and a limited number of bushes and rocks to attach flagging, it’s always a challenge to follow the course through here. A few times a long the way I had to stop to look for markers and after the last aid station, I went about a tenth of a mile off course following another runner. Fortunately I caught the error in time to get back on track without losing much time. Headwinds started gusting on and off through this last section and following Murphy’s Law, they blew the hardest whenever I hit a nice runnable patch of road or slickrock. There were also several sections of very soft sand that I don’t remember at all from two years ago. So a few stretches of dirt that I remembered to be really nice easy breaks from the pounding on slickrock were sand traps that were difficult to walk through, let alone keep up any decent running pace. And the last 4 miles that I remembered being a very fast and easy downhill on jeep road had a lot more technical slickrock and uphills. In the last few miles I started catching up with 33k runners so it was helpful to have people to chase and it was a great mental boost to see some friends along the final stretch.

One of many sand traps. (Photo by Kemp Nussbaum)

With the rough conditions, my finish time wasn’t quite as fast as I hoped but I still managed to finish with a 21 minute PR from the last time I ran the race in 2009. Erik, Sam, and Stephen ended up finishing just a few minutes ahead of me so I suppose there may have been a chance to push a bit harder to catch them. Through the last 10 miles I ran the uphills fairly conservatively to save energy to push the easy downhill sections that never really appeared. So I may have been able to run a bit faster if I had just pushed any runnable line, up or down, that I could spot far enough ahead that didn’t have a headwind or a sand trap. But that’s just speculation in hindsight. I ran as hard as I could for the day and am pretty happy about my finish time and place. I have a lot of work to do to get ready for Hardrock but between this run and my run at Ghost Town last month, I’m feeling very good about where I’m starting from for this season.

Our Fort Collins trail runners and Special Idiots took over most of the local Mexican restaurant. (Photo by Chris Gerber)

We were very focused on thoroughly re-hydrating after the race. (Photo by Eric Lee)

The Last Ghost Town

For my first race of 2011 I headed back to southern New Mexico to run the Ghost Town 38.5 for the 4th and last time. Once again Susan put on a great event with fantastic volunteers and fabulous food. Ghost Town always seems more like a family reunion than a race.

I carpooled down with Kristel, Victoria, and Nick Pedatella on Friday and our plan was to camp out on Susan’s property and take the day on Saturday to relax. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Hillsboro in time for dinner at Susan’s but there was still some good apple crisp left over and Nick, Victoria, and Kristel got their first dose of Susan’s story telling …including one interesting bit about the history of Hillsboro’s brothels back when it was a booming mining town.

Saturday was a nice lazy day with an easy 3 mile jog to start the day, a soak in the hot springs in Truth or Consequences, and a huge pre-race dinner. The Saturday dinner included several tables of potluck contributions from the runners and mountains of food from Susan’s kitchen. Ghost Town is one of the few ultra events that I run where I actually gain weight by the end of the weekend. Susan’s lead kitchen volunteer, Tim, did an amazing job coordinating everything. Tim was working away in Susan’s kitchen from the time that we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday evening. I’m pretty sure he never left the kitchen the entire weekend.

Race morning was a bit chilly at about 30 degrees but compared to previous years it was pretty mild. I was feeling good after a fairly restful week but a bit nervous about the race. Personally I hoped to have a good run and beat my time from 2010 and if I was lucky, I’d see how close I could get to beating Nick Clark’s record. Now I don’t really believe that I can outrun Nick. But he set the 2010 record a week after running a course record at the Bandera 100k and he was a bit beat up so I figured there might be a slim chance. And before the race, Susan did her best to stir up some trouble and somehow my 5:09 to 5:20 goal turned into a show down to see whether Nick Pedatella or I could break 5 hours. Jason Koop managed to sneak into the race below Susan’s radar but both Nick and I knew he’d be fast and would probably be the guy to beat.

From the start Nick and I took off at a brisk pace on the road and ran together for the first 10 miles. When we left the Stone Hut station heading out on the short out and back, Jason was right behind us. At the crest of the hill after Stone Hut, I decided to stretch out my legs and push the pace on the long downhill before the spur trail and managed to pull ahead out of sight of both Nick and Jason. The spur trail was mostly covered in ankle deep snow so it was definitely slower and harder this year. I just focused on chugging along at a steady pace through the snow. On the way back down the hill, I got my first chance to see how Nick and Jason were doing. They looked just fine coming up the hill together a little less than 2 tenths of a mile behind me.

About 15 miles into the run I was still feeling pretty good and keeping up a brisk pace but my hamstrings started to really tighten up and ache and I really have no idea why. I’ve beat myself up pretty good on past runs but never had any issues with hamstrings. They didn’t seem to be getting worse and weren’t slowing me down. It was just a little more uncomfortable than I would have liked at this point in the run. So I shrugged it off and pressed on.

The drop down into the turn around at Cave Creek also had quite a bit of snow so it was a bit slower and trickier than past years. But I made it to the turn around right on pace for a 5:09 finish goal. Unfortunately Jason was still lurking behind me looking really strong about a quarter mile back. Nick had dropped back a little further but was still only half a mile behind me. Both were too close for comfort.

From Cave Creek to the Hilltop station, I got to see most of the other runners out on the course. Everyone looked like they were having a great day and the positive energy from the rest of the field was a great boost to push through this tough section of the race.

At about mile 27 just before heading up the last big climb, Jason finally caught up with me. I was definitely feeling the distance in my legs at this point. I’d been running much faster than I’ve run in previous years and while the pace felt OK, I could tell that I just didn’t have the base training miles on my legs that I’m used to and these last miles of the race were serious work. The finish line was still a long way down the road so I let Jason pull ahead. I figured I’d just stick to my own pace up over the hill to Stone Hut and then really push the last 9 miles in to the finish to see if I could reel him back in. I arrived at the Stone Hut dog leg just as Jason was on his way out so I figured I was still in decent position to fight for a first place finish.

I really didn’t know what kind of runner Jason was. I just knew that he had a lot of experience with some fast finishes but most of his ultras were longer mountain races. I really hoped that he was more of mountain runner than a road runner. So I hauled ass down the road from Stone Hut as fast as I could keep my legs moving. For a few miles back down to the highway, their are several sections where you can see a mile or more ahead. When I got my first view of the long road ahead I hoped to catch a glimpse of Jason to get an idea of how much of a lead he had on me. No luck. He was gone. Nowhere in sight. It turns out, he’s a hell of a fast runner on the road. In the last 10 miles of the race, Jason dropped me by 10 minutes to finish with a new course record in 5:06.

With Jason gone and Nick nowhere in sight behind me, I had to struggle to mentally stay focused to keep pushing my pace through to the finish. I had to remind myself that I started this race to run as well as I possibly could. I wasn’t going to let myself shut down in the final miles to just cruise in for an easy 2nd place finish. Those last 6 miles on the road were damn hard. I didn’t have anyone to chase and there wasn’t anyone chasing me. It was just me and my brain against my legs. My hamstrings were screaming and if I let my concentration drift for just a few seconds my pace would instantly drop. I kept pushing down the road one guard rail post at a time and eventually Hillsboro came into view and I turned the corner onto Susan’s property to finish in 5:16. I wasn’t anywhere near first and quite a bit short of my 5:09 stretch goal. But it was a new PR for me by almost 9 minutes and the 3rd fastest finish time in Ghost Town history.

While it would have been nice to win, I’m still really happy about my run. I checked my splits compared to last year and the snow and some of the uphills that felt slower really weren’t that bad. I only lost about 43 seconds in the snow on the Spur trail. The trip to Cave Creek and back was only a minute slower than last year. And I may have started out fairly aggressively running the first 10 miles about 4 minutes faster than 2010 but in the last 8 miles, I shaved over 4 minutes off of my 2010 pace. So I think I ran a pretty good race and look forward to seeing what I can build off of this for the rest of 2011.

For the rest of the day I enjoyed a nice warm day in the sun with good friends. Nick ended up aggravating an old ankle sprain but managed to make it to the finish in 3rd place not too far behind me. Kari and Chris tied for 1st place for the women. Kristel and Victoria finished their run together in 2nd for the women. Mary had a solid run finishing her longest ultra event yet. And Jennifer finished her first ultra. She looked great out on the road when I saw her on my way back from Vista and she looked just as good running the last mile to the finish line.

As usual, Susan had a ton of food out for the post race – home made enchiladas, soups, cookies, chips, and fruit. And that was just the snacks to tide us over until the full post race BBQ. In the last 4 years, I think this was by far the best Ghost Town event yet. Aside from Susan’s great work, we had a really great field of runners this year. It’s really too bad that this was the last year for the event. But I’m sure I’ll see many of the Ghost Town alumni out at many other races. And it sounds like Susan may have some plans for something new in the future.

Thank you Susan and the rest of the Ghost Town regulars for 4 good years!

You can check out Susan’s website for a full list of race reports and photos.

Jeff Genova put together a pretty good slide show of photos from the event in this video:

I didn’t carry my camera out on the course but got a few photos from the weekend here: