What a perfect start time for a race! At least for me. 8 AM start allowed me to get up on my usual daily schedule. Instead of that 3 AM wake up call like some of the other races I do. I consumed some calories and took my time getting ready. I drove over to the start and sat in my truck for a while just finishing up breakfast and relaxing. Then it started to rain. I mean pour. There was no rain in the forecast but this one rain cloud just had come in and was downpouring on the start line. We all waited inside as the minutes counted down. The pre-race was all at the Sheraton hotel. So using the bathroom before the race was all fancy in the hotel. Where do you ever get indoor plumbing at a race start? Nice.
When it was 10 minutes until the start, I went outside to brave the rain. And just like that, it stopped. I had no rain gear with me so the timing was perfect. A slew of runners had done the trash bag thing in order to stay dry. The only downside now was that the hills were sloppy wet. Time to get muddy!
The start is right at the base of the ski hill. Apparently due to some construction, we were rerouted this year. So we headed up a small trail that seemed to be a connector. Then suddenly ended up just climbing up the mountain side. It was quite steep. 40% grade? You were on your tip toes just hiking up. It had not been cleared so it was mostly single file bushwacking up this thing. You didn’t want to lead.
We got up to the gondola platform about 2 miles up. Lots of crews and families there cheering. That was really the end of the ski portion of the course. We took a service road up to the top of Mount Werner to a small aid station. Up until this point, it reminded me a lot of Western States 100. The climb up to the top of a ski hill only to find some singletrack ripping down the back side.
The air was cold up at the top. There was snow on the trees. The trail was wet and littered with puddles. It wasn’t easy to keep your feet dry. Not quite the morning I expected but it didn’t bother me. I found a good grove and just freight trained this section with a group of 8-10 guys. It was pleasurable running. Just a nice solid pace for 8 miles or so. Felt good to just be rolling. I figured it would be regretting being at this race about this far in but I wasn’t.
We arrived out a Long Lake aid and I took a quick seat and ate. Everything was really working pretty well. I was eating a bunch. Stocked up from my drop bag with a few things. I was drinking a lot of water. They also had Tailwind so I opted to fill my 2nd bottle with that and it was going down smooth. Friends had good luck with it recently so I opted to just use that all day instead of mixing my own UCann. Much faster. The only negative was that the Coke at the aid stations wasn’t flattened. This event was cupless so they were serving the Coke out of those small baby bottles you get at the grocery. So every on was fresh and fully carbonated. That wasn’t a good thing. I started coughing. A usual thing once I stop moving for a bit.
Leaving Long Lake you passed by the incoming traffic so it was fun to see a few faces there. I picked up my headphones and turned those on for the descent down to town. The first song that played was a new one by Foo Fighters and I just got all emotional and started crying. Weird. Not really sure why. Some sense of relief or something. I recomposed and just started making my way downhill. The section was pretty good at first but got rocky later on. Just big annoying rocks that you had to maneuver a lot. Maybe hard to get into a groove because of them. Some were wet and that didn’t help. No issues though.
After what seemed like 10 miles of downhill, we made it to the Fish Creek falls where civilization was. This is a major tourist hiking spot in Steamboat so you pop out in this parking lot where everybody is parking to do their day hike. From there it was a 2 lane paved road into town to the Olympian Hall aid station. We literally came in at the post office there in town and waited at the traffic light and went through the crosswalk. A bit weird but oddly refreshing to have to stand there for a minute.
This aid station was nicely stocked and had a lot of activity. Maybe Twin Lakes like if you are a Leadville follower. However there was indoor plumbing! How amazing. Felt human again with a quick break. Then it was off to circumnavigate this Quarry Mountain (name?) on the west side of town. It seemed to be a trail system or mountain bike area. Basically we went up fireroads to the highest point on the hill. Then all the way down into a farm on the back side. Then back up to the top. The trail was all thin single track with a lot of brush hitting your legs. I was bonking a bit on the way up the climb. But then figured the downhill would be money. However, I got a raging side stitch that took about 30 minutes to subside. I was passed a lot as I walked it off. Tried to refuel and salt up to make it pass.
The aid station at Cow Creek on the backside of the hill wasn’t much. But they had these electrolyte popsicles. I ate 2. It was the greatest thing I have ever had. It wasn’t too hot out but it felt like it. So it was good to cool down a bit before climbing back out of this spot.
So I was making my way back to Olympian Hall again retracing our steps when somebody blew by me. It was Schlarb in 1st place. So fast. I was waiting on the leaders to come by me. Continually checking the rear view mirror but nothing. He caught me off guard. Burch came by as well. And Clarkie came up to me just as we got back to Olympian Hall. Interesting format to see the leaders run like this and have to catch us. I wonder how they like it. Seems like they would have to keep dealing with passing slow people who might not know they are coming up on them so fast.
Back at Olympian Hall, it was getting dark now, so I moved into warmer gear here. Oh, but I decided to shower first. Eh? I went in the bathroom at Olympian Hall and basically sponged bathed my head and chest with my Buff. It was magic. Felt so good to get refreshed and somewhat cleaned up for the night. Rejuvenated! However, other racers were getting cooler things. Domino’s pizza delivered. McDonald’s. All kinds of creature comforts given we are in the city. Usually ultras have you in the middle of nowhere. Not this one.
I then put on a shirt, a long sleeve and a jacked. A hat and gloves. Pants. And all my lights. I was off for the night. As I was making my way back to the traffic light, I gave my wife a call to say good night. Seems like an odd thing to do in a race but I had a minute and it was fun to take my mind off things before the next push. I called Tim next for some virtual pacer talk. He thought I was holding well confirming what I thought myself.
At this point in the course, the hell begins. I mean that in the sense that we had run from way up top at Long Lake this morning down to the city. Now we were retracing our steps. This rubbed me the wrong way. Made the route feel contrived. Which it is. The hike up was turning cold. It was basically a 10 mile ascent in the dark back over those rocks I bitched about before. My feet were getting sloppy and I just wasn’t having a good time with it. My body started getting colder. I threw on one more wind shell. My fingers were cold too. I was wiggling them by the minute to regain blood flow. We were hiking up next to this river and it just made the air moist and all the colder. Now people were coming by me with shorts and light shirts. I think they were cold too. But they also had that internal heat going that I could get myself.
After what seemed like forever, I pulled into Long Lake for the 2nd time of the day. It would be 3 times total for a finisher. I plopped down next to the bonfire at about midnight yearning for heat. The fire was raging courtesy of Joel Wolpert (running video extraordinaire). I looked in the chair to my left and it was Timmy Olsen all wrapped up. “Hey Tim, rough day?”, I said. He was dropping and waiting on a ride. “Would you like some soup?”, a female says to me. I look up and it is Jenn Shelton. Yes, please. “This is weird”, I thought to myself. They brought my drop bag over and I assembled my poles and put on my TNF down jacked. I upgraded to winter ski gloves. I wanted to eat more but being so cold I could not get calories down easily. Gels were frozen too. After staying for sufficient time, I counted myself down. Stood up and walked out into the night.
The next aid station was about 5 miles out called Summit. I figured that meant it was up from where we were but it wasn’t too much elevation gain. But this road was exposed from both sides like walking a ridge. Howling wind. The heat from the fire went away and I found myself cold again. The real effect of all of this was that my nose was running like a spigot. And it was flowing into my mouth from my nose. And down the back of my throat. Total sinus overdrive. I had been doing my usual coughing all day but now it was like being waterboarded while you tried to race. I would have to stop every 4 minutes and hunch over my poles and cough until I thought my eyes would pop out. A few hours of this takes it’s toll on your heart rate and your energy. Probably 15 minutes from Summit, I couldn’t stay awake. Like when you are driving cross country and you start nodding off. Man, I couldn’t stay awake! Never had this problem ever before. I had no caffeine. I started hoping something crazy would happen like crossing paths with a bear to just wake me the hell up. No dice. So I bent over my poles and told myself to nap. Didn’t work. I can’t lay down here. Someone will think I died. So I tried to carry on. Closing my eyes while walking and frankly trying to sleep walk. I almost walked right past Summit aid station as it was set back off the road. But I made it. Must go inside!
This place looked a bit worse that prior stations. Runners were starting to go downhill. We had sleepers. We had pukers. We had some nasty foot stuff, like huge blisters. Medics coming in and out and picking up runners on those ATV-like car things. I told myself I was going to take whatever time I needed. I went and got a chair by the propane burner and let myself fall asleep. It was something :05 on the clock as I dosed off. I woke up at :23. But man, that cat nap felt great. The tiredness was 100% gone. I started getting food from the staff and drinking. Spent probably 10 minutes enjoying that. The girl next to me had a nasty grape sized blister on her little toe. I worked her and her husband/pacer through treating it. Felt good to help. Time to go though!
Walked out into that night air and started to jog and suddenly gasped for air. It was like my lungs were off. I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know if it was the warm to cold transition or what but it almost knocked me out. As I caught my breath finally, the price was clear for this move. Here come’s the food. Blah. Blah. Blah. All the liquids and solids I just had so diligently eaten flew into the road in front of me. Damn it to hell. It was so depressing to do all that work and have it end up on the road instead of as calories. I thought about going back inside to refuel again but decided not to. Off into the night.
The next 10 miles were all downhill on a wide dirt mountain road. It was easy going but I wasn’t really running anymore. Reminded me of the way you feel going down the back of Sugarloaf at Leadville. The jarring and bouncing just hurts. So I just kept moving swiftly without too much vertical maneuvering. But something else was different. The lungs. I don’t know if it was the extended pause at the last aid station or what but I couldn’t go that far without stopping and coughing like a 2 pack a day smoker. If you have run with me, you have heard this cough. It wasn’t going away and was consistent. The road was massively downhill but there would be an occasional roller uphill and I thought I was going to die on those.
I had 8 miles to go of this and it was going to take forever. Adding insult to injury, there were headlamps coming at me. This is an out and back section from Summit, down to town (almost), then all the way back. These people coming back were returning! They had maybe 10-12 miles on me. How depressing. And they looked great! Mentally, I see why the Hardrock folks would consider this a qualifier. These deep descents only to turn around and reascend. But unlike Hardrock, this retracing your route stuff is for the birds. Dumbest thing ever. Felt so pointless to go to the bottom and cross a mat and retrace your steps. I was grumbling about that for hours.
I came into the Dry Lake aid station pretty worn down. Mostly from the coughing. They didn’t have a warm place to sit here so I grabbed a chair in the cold and regrouped for a few minutes. Not doing so hot. Probably the low point of the race. I tried to eat but I couldn’t force too much. I had went now to about 36 hour pace where I was at 30 hour pace near Long Lake. Things were going downhill fast. Well, not me downhill fast.
The next section was a windy singletrack down to Spring Ponds. Again the faster runners were coming at me as I was descending. I was asked “how much further” by more folks than I could count. They seemed to be in misery. I likened the look to that crawl back up Hope Pass on the back side. Not as steep but pretty miserable. I was descending slower and slower. Stopping to let them pass me as an excuse to cough more.
It was 5 long and slow miles down to this aid station. This was at mile 70. The sun had just started to crest the hill. It was a new day. But my fun was over. Given I couldn’t descend without coughing, I knew the ascent wouldn’t be easy at all. I checked the times and I had 2 hours to get to the cutoff there and frankly I took longer to descend that section that that. Mathematically, I was just out of time. I could have went for it but I didn’t have the motivation to race the clock. I did that last year at Leadville. No thanks.
The medic checked me out and was pretty impressed by my cough. He wasn’t so keen on me continuing but wasn’t going to force-ably stop me. But he wasn’t encouraging me either. The tent I was in was full of folks dropping for various reasons. I was in good company. I would still peek out and see people come into the aid station and then cruise out. They weren’t the fastest runners but they looked solid and motivated. I did not fall into that category this morning. So I made up my mind and pulled myself from the race. Another DNF’er was there and her father had a car. They drove me back to my truck at the start line and I was in my hotel in bed napping shortly there after. For an ultra, this race has the closest aid stations to town of anything. Literally seconds from town, each one. Great for crews!
So that was about 70 miles in 24 hours. Hey, not bad? I hate when people say that. Makes me want to remind them that I have run 100 miles in less than 24 hours. But every course is different. This one took out a lot of people. It was wildly different than other races I have run. And frankly seemed to be playing out OK until nightfall. Plenty of aid on the course but these ascents and descents are long. And if you get cold…and you will…you need to be able to operate. I was ready for that but the plan just didn’t work.
I have been whining about the lungs since 2013. That is when this started. Since then, I have been on a progressively downward streak with my finishes. I have turned into that guy now in my head that you expect to show up and DNF. It isn’t cool. I don’t like that. I have always enjoyed these events but when you see friends having good results and you can’t muster up a jog without going on a coughing spell, I start to wonder why am I here. I spent spring 2014 trying to diagnose and solve this with pulmonalogists. Over $1000 out of pocket plus insurance spent and I got nowhere. Read it. Other than them telling me that I mostly look fit and healthy. So am I still searching for answers. Over the past year, I confused myself with lowering my running volume and then saying “look at me, I am better”. But that proved itself wrong this weekend. I did have some thought that if this race was at lower elevations than Leadville, it might play out better. Turns out that didn’t matter. Or the temps really turned the tables. When I talked about lungs to the medic, we started wondering if that was a red herring. Maybe the real issue is in my head. Like nonallergic rhinitis. That is a whole new thing to explore.
Well, everybody always makes bold proclamations after a DNF. I have before. The only one I have right now is to get a handle on this issue for real. Or I won’t permit myself to run an ultra again. It just doesn’t make any sense otherwise.
I will say on a positive note — and maybe because I stopped at 70 — nothing hurts the day after. Nothing. I even jogged a tad. No gimping around. That is the only little glimmer of hope here today. I don’t feel like the end of a season today. Just waiting to see what is next. I am excited to train again this week. My dogs need the exercise and so do I.