So I’ve finally had time to put my race report together for the Steamboat 100. The Blue Sky Marathon and my work schedule have kept me pretty busy for the past month and now halfway through November I finally feel like I can start enjoying my off season.
My personal race went about as well as I could have hoped for. I signed up for the race at the last minute just for the sake of getting one more good 100 mile run in before the end of the year to gain some more experience with pacing and fueling. I knew I wasn’t 100% fit to race a full 100 but I figured I was in decent enough shape to finish without turning into a complete disaster. Unfortunately the course was a skoach long (108.75 by my measurement) so I got a bit more than I bargained for and it turned out to be a very, very long day.
I had a pretty rough patch early Saturday morning at daybreak just after I left the High School. This should have been mile 67.7 but by my watch, I was 74 miles into the run. The course at this point was already over 6 miles longer than expected and I still had two major unknown segments to cover so I couldn’t be confident in the estimated distance left to the finish. I had made fairly good time coming down the Spring Creek trail to the High School aid station and had intended to take a slightly longer aid stop to eat a little extra and get recharged for the long trip back up Buff Pass. But at daybreak, the temperature dropped drastically and I had to hurry out of the station to keep moving. Half a mile from the aid station I had to stop and put on every extra layer of clothing I had left and I was still freezing, cramping, and was struggling to keep walking. I was barely able to make any forward progress at all and I made the decision to drop out of the race as soon as I got back to the Dry Lake aid station. By my estimate, I would be at about 80 miles and that seemed like more than enough to call it a day. I wasn’t racing and really only intended to run this as a training run so I had already done more than enough to accomplish my original goal. This is the first time I’ve honestly ever quit a race. I didn’t just want to quit because I has having a rough time at the moment. I thought it through, made up my mind, and was OK with my decision.
Then I ran into Craig and his pacer, Ellen. Craig was one of the unfortunate runners who went off course earlier in the day and at this point, he wasn’t going to make the cut off at the High School. A little further up the hill I ran into Wendy Crandall and Marie with Mary and Eric pacing and crewing. Wendy and Marie weren’t going to make the cut offs either. Eric ran back up the trail ahead of me to Dry Lake to help crew. When I got there, Eric, Dana, Ben, and Amanda were all there ready to help. I finally had a chance to sit and eat some oatmeal while they refilled my bottle with fresh coffee and water. Dana gave me one of her home made banana, nut, nutella muffins and before I knew it, I was on my feet heading up the Buff Pass road to the Summit aid station. A couple miles up the road, I ran into Wendy Mader still making her way down the road. She was in good spirits and hopeful about rumors that the course cut offs had been extended.
I finally realized that I had decided to quit only 80 miles into the race when other friends didn’t have a chance to finish and felt pretty foolish. This gave me a short burst of energy and I managed to actually run several miles up the road before I started fading again. The sun was up and the road was open and exposed and it got really hot out extremely quickly. Right at the point when I was feeling the worst, I caught up with Michelle who seemed to be moving along well at a steady, determined pace. It was just enough to give me a mental boost to get through to the Summit aid station.
After Summit, the next sections were just a slow grind. The terrain was mostly flat and rolling so there weren’t any steep hills to hike up or take advatage of gravity on the way down. At this point I just wasn’t fit enough to push hard and run very well so I just kept chipping away at these miles alternating jogging and walking. I reconsidered my previous decision to drop out of the race and decided that since I signed up to run 100 miles that I would do just that. I estimated that I would only need to get to the top of Mt Werner to cover the 100 that I had originally planned to run and then I could officially drop out of the race. When I got to the Long Lake aid station, Reese, Brandon, and the rest of the crew there seemed to be having a good time. Since I only had one more leg to go before I could officially quit, I decided to stay for a while and had a beer and some mashed potatoes. After about 20 minutes, I hobbled out of the aid station and continued to walk/jog my way to Mt Werner.
Back at the top of Mt Werner, I stopped to sit down and rest and really didn’t think I was going to get back up again. I was pretty worn out at this point but I’ve been in much worse shape physically before. But I was just mentally done with the race and just didn’t care that the finish was only 6 more miles down the hill. And then Bard showed up. He was running the 50 mile race and seemed to be having a great day. He joked that this might be the only time that he could beat me at a 10k before trotting off down the hill. I got up out of the chair and headed down after him and made it to the finish line in 28 hours and 10 minutes. Ugh that was a long and mentally exhausting race.
All things considered, I have to admit that I had a pretty good experience at the race. Finishing was a slow grind and a real mental battle but we had perfect weather all weekend, the fall colors were amazing, and Steamboat Springs is a great place to spend a weekend. And since Steamboat is such a short, easy drive from the Front Range, I had a ton of good friends out running in each of the 100 mile Tortoise and Hare races, the 50 miler, and pacing, crewing, and volunteering.
I think the race itself has a lot of potential. There were definitely some glitches in the first year. Aside from the course being a bit longer than anyone expected, I think the course itself was deceptively slow. The cumulative vertical gain and many miles of smooth trail and dirt road made it seem like this would be a fast race. But the gradual uphill grade of many climbs (especially the 13 miles up Buff Pass) and flat to rolling terrain at high elevation made it very difficult to run very fast. This is definitely a runners course and not your typical mountain hiking route. I’ve been helping Fred with his course mapping for next year’s race and the modifications to the route, aid stations, and cut offs should resolve all of the major problems from this year’s race.
I really enjoyed the Tortoise and Hare format of the race. It was great to run into so many friends out on the course either crossing paths on the out and back sections or eventually catching up with them along the way. This is the only reason why I didn’t drop out of the event.
I also liked that the Hares weren’t allowed to run with pacers. Having the right pacer can definitely be a competitive advantage and if the top Hares are racing for significant prize money, I definitely think they should all be on an even playing field. Further back in the Hare division where I was running, the atmosphere was a lot more social. In most races when everyone has a pacer, runners tend to stay in their own little bubbles. But since no one in the Hare division had a pacer, a lot of us stuck together during the race. I actually spent very little time running solo. Early in the race I ran with Frank, Melany, Leila, and Patrick. Donnie and I ran together over most of the second half of Emerald Mountain. I ran with Gavin between Emerald Mountain and Fish Creek Falls before catching up with Aliza. Aliza and I ran together for almost 20 miles through the night. I met up with Bobby at the Summit aid station and we played leap frog along the trail most of the way to Long Lake.
For venues, I think Steamboat Springs is one of the best towns to host a big ultra event like this. It’s big enough to make it convenient to find lodging and food and the local community is friendly and active. Crossing through town, several people in passing cars slowed down to cheer and wave and a couple asked if I needed anything. On the Fish Creek Falls road, one family was out with their own aid station table supporting runners late Friday night. Many of the local volunteer teams staffing the aid stations were new to ultra running and I thought they all did a fantastic job. I know that Fred will make some major improvements to next year’s race and I don’t think it will be long before the Steamboat 100 is one of the top 100 mile races in the country. I have a lot of other races on my to-do list but would definitely go back to run this again sometime.
I also have to thank Vi Endurance for their support. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to fuel properly during a long ultra race for a long time and with their help, I think I finally have a solution that works. I’ll write up more details about my fueling strategy later. But this was the first time I’ve been able to get through a full 100 mile event without getting sick or cutting back to little to no calories at the end. Western States is still my best 100 mile race but I finished with a bare minimum calories and probably could have run faster with better fuel. This time I was able to use Vi Fuel consistently from the start of the race through to the finish taking in roughly 200-250 calories per hour for the first half of the race and then continuing to maintain roughly 150 calories per hour through to the end. My slow performance and pain in the race was entirely due to my physical fitness and not a lack of calories. I never had a major bonk and I was able to stay awake and mentally alert through the night and into the second day. I picked up some food along the way at aid stations but really didn’t take in many extra calories aside from the Vi Fuel. On Saturday I forgot to bring extra Starbuck’s Via packets with me when I left Dry Lake so I improvised and filled up one bottle with coke at the last aid stations for a caffeine source. I was still able to alternate between coke and water and Vi Fuel for the remainder of the race without getting sick. And even after I stopped for a beer at Long Lake, I went right back to taking in Vi without any problem. A lot of other runners started getting sick early in the race on Friday from the late afternoon heat so I think this race was a really good test. I really look forward to using my new Vi fueling plan when I’m fit and ready to race another 100 miler next season.
Here’s are a few photos from the race: