Racing this Saturday! 50 miles. Up high. Want the scoop? OK. Doing this preview now so that I can get away with a shorter race report if necessary.
While I like to fancy myself an ultramarathoner, I haven’t run one in a while. Since July 20, 2008 in fact. The inaugural Leadville Silver Rush 50. What a day! I worried and dreamed about that day for months in advance. Often waking up in cold sweats wondering what the fuck I had committed to. I was going to die. However, deep down, I knew better. I knew I could persevere and finish and I did just that in 12 hours and change. Way under the cutoffs. That was the only real goal that day. I finished a 50.
That race was a test to see if I was interested in trying the big boy on my radar, The Leadville 100 (LT100). So of course, I decided that was the plan. But the birth of Kayla in 2009, put those plans on hold. In retrospect, it was perfect. I wasn’t ready. I mean, I wasn’t as ready as I could have been. So another year in training and learning and thinking has brought me to the summer of 2010 and the LT100 just less than 70 days away from becoming a reality.
I had been staying on this pretty tight schedule of just running my goal races in 2010 but knew I had a gap. I needed a tune-up race on the ultra circuit to test strategies out. Which one to do? There was only one answer: The San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Race (SJS50). Never heard of it? Most people haven’t. Most ultras are that way. Small races in remote places! Well, this one is the most remote. Its held each year during the summer solstice in Lake City, Colorado, which has the distinction of being the most remote city in the lower 48. When you look at it on Google Maps, there is just green around it like you can’t tell where the hell this place is. Denver is in the upper right. Leadville circled in the middle. And Lake City lower left. The road into town doesn’t even show up on this zoom level. Ouch!
Its nestled right in the San Juan mountains. Has “nearby” cities of Durango, Gunnison, Ouray, Silverton, etc. Nearby, in July, the Hardrock 100 is held. That ultra is often recognized as the hardest 100 out there. So some call this race the mini-Hardrock. Probably in the sense that it gives you a taste of what its like to run in this mountain range.
Anyway, you have to qualify for this race in that you have to have run at least one other ultramarathon (or the Pikes Peak Marathon) to enter. So we won’t have a total crew of rookies out there on race day. Here is the best way to picture the course to get a sense of what we are up against. Red dots are aid stations.
We start the race at 5 AM in the dark from the town park in Lake City. We will be staying a few blocks away in our home on wheels for the week. The race runs out of town for a couple miles and then its time to get wet. One of the signatures of this race are the 7-9 creek crossings at the start. Nothing like a freezing bath to get your quads numb for the day.
From there its a 4,000 foot climb up Alpine Gulch. My usual route up Green Mountain is 2,500 feet of climbing so a bit further. Oh and it starts at a bit more than the Green Mountain summit elevation. So I will have that working against me. After climbing Alpine Gluch, we descend all that gain back down to Williams Creek. But before you descend, I think you have to look up and over at what lies ahead. Apparently, the course follows the red line drawn on the photo below. That is pretty cool — yet totally exhausting to look at.
Only 15 miles into the race but it has been quite a day so far. Then the climb is on up to a ghost town called Carson. Once arriving there, there is more climbing to do to top out on Coney Peak at 13,334 for the day. A series of ups and downs and we gain the Continental Divide! Here we are running for about 9 miles or so along the divide. This is often the treat of mountain running. Gaining the altitude and then getting to run along a treeless landscape with views that never end.
Finally, that segment will come to and end and we will drop nearly back down to starting elevation for another aid station. Then a final 1,700 climb up through a ranching property known as Vickers. Not a huge climb but after running 40 miles, its not going to be easy. The good news is that once I top out here and hit the last aid station, its a super steep descent back into town.
Not much further. You come back into town and try to navigate back to the town park for the finish line. There is a 16 hour cuttoff in effect for this journey. The results over the years show an average of 12 – 14 hour finishes. The course record is held by Matt Carpenter at just a tick under 8 hours.
Am I ready for this? Let’s look at the numbers. For that first 50 mile run in 2008, I had accumulated 2,469 miles of running in my career. Weekly averages were hovering in the 40 – 50 mile range. The common logic of “if I can’t run it in a week, I can’t run it in a day” guided my senses. I remember vaguely feeling like that was a lot of running. I topped out at a 72 mile week before the race and felt like I was ready. Fast forward through 2009 where I BQ’d as the main focus. Then in to 2010 where I went sub-3 at Boston. Then HTFU in May with my first 400 mile month. So 2 years in the making, I arrive as of today with 4,450.27 mi in 692 hours under my belt in since I crossed that finish line in Leadville back in July 2008. That seems like a pretty good story to me. I don’t even recognize that runner anymore.
So given all that, what are my goals?
First and foremost this is a LT100 tune-up run. That doesn’t mean I will take it easy. I didn’t say training run. In fact, I feel like I can race this thing pretty hard if not all out. However, I wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt/injure myself to make the LT100 goal become unachievable. So I hope to get out there and run it hard…harder than I will run at Leadville because its 1/2 the distance! The hope is that I manage my body and its gauges just right so I get dialed in for the bigger event to come. If I bonk some, OK…I will learn something. Ideally, coming out of the race with a few things that worked well and maybe a few that didn’t.
Second, race well and finish strong. With the wide variety of times on this race over the years, it seems hard to predict any type of finish without knowing exactly how the weather will factor in. Looks great now on the forecast but things change. There is an old adage that says you can take your SJS50 finish time and double it to predict your LT100 time. So working backwards, I would hope for at least a 12.5 hour SJS50 time to get me that big buckle at Leadville. But looking a some previous results of people I know and where I think I rate in comparison with myself as of right now, I think I can improve that 12.5 hour time by a pretty good amount. Something in the 10 hour range might be possible if everything fell into place. I would also be pretty stoked to see 11 hours on the clock. So unfortunately, that’s the best I can do at this point. Should make it fun for my family at the finish line.
Third, have a good time! A handful of folks I know (real or virtually) will be there racing. Jim P. will be there. Jim and I did that long training run a couple weeks back and have similar times in the Boulder peaks. Ryan Burch will be there. I follow him virtually through his competitions with Sir Nick Clark. Fred Ecks of Boulder, who runs the Church of the Holy Trail for BTR. Todd Gangelhoff, who is fresh off a good run at the Dirty Thirty. Jason Halladay, who has run this thing before and is friends with Aron Raleston. Matt Hart of…well, I just know him as TheMattHart on Twitter. Scott Jaime, who probably has a shot at a top spot here. Just hope I can keep him insight. Reminder, you can see about 9 miles on the Divide. Dave Philipps, returning race champ from the Springs. And Brett Welborn traveling in from South Carolina to join in the high altitude fun. I am not going to pick a winner or favorite because I have no good skills there but look for some of these names to be up front and hopefully I will be on their heals! If I missed you, let me know. Love to meet you!
What the logistics/gear plan?
I have decided not to take my camera on this adventure. This will be my first ultra without one. I previously found it to be a good way to enjoy the day and the race. Plus, it made sharing it a whole lot more fun. But honestly, its an excuse to slow down. And I am removing any of those. So I won’t be taking it this time. If you want to see the route, run it yourself. But of course, there are others that will have cameras and others that have taken them before. I have been looking at those photos to see what the course looks like. Feel free to browse some of them if you want a glimpse into what SJS50 looks like: Blake, Fritjof, Pete, Chris, and Ted. However, there is some debate if I should take my Flip video camera. I can run and film and its super light and goes right into a pocket on my shorts. Part of me wants to do that because its live and real-time and a better view of the action.
Wearing my RaceReady shorts so I have lots of pockets for GU and GU Chomps. Eat, eat, eat will be the mantra. Might head out in the morning with a long sleeve but hopefully be stripping down as the day goes on to finish 1/2 naked by the end of the day.
Planning to do the majority of the run in my La Sportiva Crosslites. They will hold up the best. Really figured it would be the MT100s but my feet get beat up too much in them. I would if the race were shorter. However, I am really not sure about the water crossing. I plan on doing a dunk test this week. Basically put on the shoes, stand in a bucket, then run. See how the drain out and if its tolerable. If its not, then I may start out in an older pair of TNF Rucky Chuckys and change them out at AS#2/Williams.
We have 3 drop bag opportunities so I am going to pack for each. Dry socks in each bag for sure. Some GU and other assorted fuels as well. Probably a dry shirt in each too just in case. Probably will put my TNF Hydrogen jacket in for AS#3/Carson in case the divide gets nasty.
Hydration is really key as always and I am struggling here. Thinking I just want to run with the single hand bottle and be done with it. Something tells me that might force too much time at the aid stations. Debating swapping into my hydration pack from AS#3 to AS#5, then go back to the bottle. Not sure I even want a bottle from the start to AS#2. I mean its going to be cold out there in the morning in the mountains. I am draining one bottle in 90 degree heat down here in the Front Range on a 2 hour run. I want to stay well hydrated but I also am interested in being minimal on the weight I have to carry for this race. Thoughts? Also, taking my own Gatorade mix I have been testing in these sleeves. Perfect size. You just dump in the bottle and go. I don’t like Heed and that seems to be what is supplied. This will give me a good water alternative. Also, taking S-caps of course. I didn’t have that technology during that last ultra.
Taking my iPod shuffle but probably putting it into the drop bag for AS#3 or AS#5. Surely, by that time, pumping some loud fucking heavy metal into my ears will have me ready for the climbs to come. Probably AS#3 to get me through the Divide.
GPS – 2 watch deal. Neither the Garmin 305 or 405 will make it the distance. So I will have to start with one and swap to the other somewhere in the middle of the race. Likely at aid #3. I want to capture the course, of course.
Maybe a little TP tucked in so I don’t have to search too long for big flat rocks in case nature calls. Better safe than sorry.
And that’s about it! Hopefully, doing 3 full drop bags will give me lots of flexibility in not having to worry about what to carry and allowing me to be as minimal as possible between aid stations. In reading past race reports, it seems like a lot of places are gained by just keeping on the move and staying strong at this race. I really hope to run much more of this race than is the average. Lots of people will be walking the uphills to conserve but I feel like I can put a good cadence in on those hills with the training I have under my belt. We will see.
Oh, pacers are allowed from AS#5 (mile 40) to the finish. But I don’t have one. That’s OK. Not sure I really need one. But if anyone wants to run, let me know. However, I doubt anyone will be just passing through Lake City! My family will be at the start/finish line but will not be crewing. With the RV, we can’t just pick up and move around that easily. So I will be on my own but I am in good hands with the race staff and drop bags. No worries.
I always need a mantra for each race. I have had them in prior races. Its kind of like picking a “power song”. Well, one that has kept coming up on my playlist lately is this one because it talks about living on the road (which we are doing for this race) and not being a pussie when the going gets tough (which it will).
There ain’t no way but the hard way
Get used to it
I said there ain’t no way but the hard way
So get used to it [Airbourne]
Listen for yourself!
I will be live blogging later in the week as we head out to Lake City, go to the pre-race ceremonies, and make my way to the start line.
Are you ready? I am!