Any nerves that one would understandably feel before running 50 miles in the mountains for the first time were completely overshadowed by my excitement for the weekend as a whole. My parents flew in from Cleveland and my wife booked us an awesome cabin right on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista. We packed the 5 of us plus the dog into the SUV and made the drive up Friday morning.
The race was my first 50 but certainly not my first time at an ultra race. For my parents, however, it was an introduction into a world of “crazy” people that is so foreign to those in the midwest. As anyone who often attends ultras knows, it’s a unique and inspiring experience that is very different from any road race so I couldn’t wait to get my parents’ feet wet.
I had trained pretty well (if not too much) for the race including a 50k and two marathons in the 3 months leading up. My last long runs (26 followed by 18 the next day) had been two weeks earlier. I felt some patellofemoral pain in my left knee after the last 18 miler but it had faded and was only a minor concern.
The race started with a bang and I went out pretty hard (7:43 and 7:48) to get a solid place before the course bottlenecked onto singletrack and to get a few quick miles in while feeling good. As the course began to climb I dialed it back so not to beat myself up on the early climbs (9:03, 10:24, 9:59, 11:21). Despite purposely holding back here the climb felt more difficult than it should have but I chalked it up to the 8000’ starting elevation. A short downhill yielded an 8:48 mile and all was well. Miles 8-10, however, shot uphill again and my pace dropped to ~11:30 as I saved a bit for lap two.
Miles 11-14 were downhill and my pace quickened to 9:04 but the pain in my left knee began to creep up again. At this point I knew I was going to be hurting by mile 50 but was determined to gut it out.
From 15-17 we gained about 1000’ to the top of the course at 9300’. The sun was shining and the views of Mt. Princeton and Mt. Harvard were gorgeous. I held my own but definitely didn’t feel as strong as I had in my lead up races. (11:53, 14:04, 15:30) At this point I ran with a guy named Jeremy from Eagle and we had a few laughs while chatting for a while to pass the time. The guy once fought off a bear in a Beaver Creek parking garage. Nuts!
From 18-25 I cruised downhill at around a 9:30 avg pace stopping only to refill my water/EFS bottle at the aid stations. I felt my hamstring cramping a bit and took a Hammer Endurolyte capsule to take the edge off. I’d take one of these hourly for the rest of the race and they worked beautifully. I hit the 25m turnaround in ~4:20 which was my goal although it took more out of me than I had planned. My wife and parents had fresh socks, hat, etc. waiting for me and I slathered on sunscreen as they refilled my vest. It was great to see them and grab a kiss from my daughter before heading back out. With the course now run in reverse the next 7 miles would be back uphill so I slammed a water bottle with Skratch Labs mix and grabbed a PB&J and Honey Stinger waffle for the road. The goal for lap two would be 4:40 for a 9:00 finish.
I ran/hiked 12, 13, 14, 17 and 16 minute miles back up to the top and actually didn’t feel too bad once I got there. The PB&J, waffle, and Skratch had kicked in and nutrition wise I felt solid. The knee, however, hated the ensuing downhill and I took miles 33-35 in 10:53, 11:10, and 10:02. I needed a good 9-9:30 there. The race would get tougher from here.
Miles 36-39 represented the last extended uphill of the day and I got to learn how good I was at power hiking. I passed three people during this stretch (two of them were cramping but hey it was a small victory). At mile 40 the trail dropped back into a long, gradual descent to the finish. At mile 40 my Garmin also died. For the record the Garmin 210 claims an 8 hour battery life and my two year old watch died 8:03 into the race - pretty solid. I did have my wife’s Garmin on me so I switched it on at this point and pressed on.
The last 10 miles ran anywhere from 10:21 to 14:13/mile including a couple long stops for aid. The last two aid stations were at 39m and 45m respectively. Five to six miles was a LONG way to go at that point without aid and I really felt it. Each time I had sucked my EFS bottle dry without a drop to even take a gel. By the time I hit the final 2-3 miles back on the road to town my nutrition had not yet caught up and I was hurting. This slight downhill on the hard road was blowing up my now throbbing knee and required a period of running followed by a period of walking. I was tired, my knee hurt and I couldn’t wait to see my family at the finish. My friend Gary happened to drive by and stopped to shuffle with me for a minute while listening to my delirious ramblings. It helped though!
The finish was awesome. Adrenaline helped me to a decent run down the homestretch as my daughter shouted “dada!” and my wife cheered me home. Two other friends and Roost teammates Sean and Laura had waited there to cheer me in. I high fived the medal guy and got big hugs from both parents. With the watch switching I had lost track of my elapsed time but unknowingly snuck in under 10 hours by just 6 seconds. Sweet! I definitely did not have my best day and nobody wants to deal with an injury during a race but I did it and for my first 50 I’m okay with it.
All in all I went 50 miles in 9:59:54 with 6400’ of gain all between 8,000’ and 9,300’ above sea level. I was 33rd overall out of maybe a couple hundred 50 mile entrants and finished 18th in the 30-39 age group. You better believe I’ll be determined to top that next time.
Some photos from the race:
Looking determined at the turn.
Hurting but holding together at mile 34.
Cheese! So happy to see Taylor at the finish.