San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run 2010

Adventures25 Comments

Distance 50 miles
Time 12:16:46 (PR)
Rank 54 of 155 finishers/188 field
GPS Analysis Garmin Connect

If you didn’t see my pre-race preview, you should check that out. As mentioned, I took no cameras on this race so its going to be a less visual report. However, I saw people on the course taking photos of runners so hopefully I can get a hold of a few of those and dress this up in due time.

A glimpse of the end. But our story begins much earlier…

San Juan Solstice 50


SJS50 Bib

Slept decently. Better than it would have been in a tent. My alarm went off at 4 AM and I hopped up and went in the bathroom to prepare. Sprayed myself down with suntan lotion from head to toe. Cleaned up a little. Took a dump. Put on the uniform. I was going with RaceReady shorts as always. My Boulder Running Company singlet. And arm panties! It was cold outside at this time of the morning. Said goodbye to Kim and slithered out of the RV and walked 4 blocks in the pitch black of night under the stars to the Armory. The building was filling up with runners slowly. Its next to the start so it was a great place to stay inside and be a little warmer before it was time. Met up with Jim P, Todd G, Brett W, and introduced myself to Ryan B. With a couple minutes to go, they told us to get outside and we lined up on Silver Street in the dark of night for our 5 AM start.

To Aid 1 @ Alpine Gulch (Mile 7)

San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run by fullerbra at Garmin Connect - Details

The field was kind of spread out down the street at the start. A lead pack bolted out and I sat back just a bit getting my legs warmed up. The first 2.5 miles is down an unpaved road that leads out of town to Engineer Pass. Its 2WD passable at this section. Nice and wide. But oddly, the lead pack was just running up the left hand side. My road running instincts kicked in and I started running tight tangents down this road. I gained on the lead pack until I was up there with them. Hanging right off Ryan and Scott…within tackling distance. Wasn’t a killer pace but we were leaving the rest of the field behind quickly as we motored up this inclined motorway. Finally, we got to a trail junction and the Race Director (RD) was standing there flagging us down and on to the trail. No more civilization.

I could see everyone in front of me as we were single file. I was in 10th. We crossed a foot bridge and then started the long climb up Alpine Gulch. The trail ran along the flowing gulch and would cross it from time to time. This is where you hear the tales of wet shoes, ropes, and waiting in line to cross. Not this year. The water was low and not a big issue. Given the nature of the winding singletrack, I lost sight of the leaders and settled in with a pack of 3 led by eventual women’s winner, Darcy Africa. We held position and made our way through the crossings pretty steadily. Using the logs to cross quickly and staying mostly dry. A few crossing later, a few dudes came up behind us and just would skip the logs and splash right through to pass us. Then promptly slow us down on the next climb as we were behind them and had to pass. This leapfrog continued for a while. This climb up Alpine Gluch was nice and runnable. Felt great…until about 3/4 up. I had to take a crap. Figured this was going to happen. No sweat. Its a long day and I wanted to be comfortable. But I decided to wait as long as I could as to get maximum dumpage for the time spent in the woods. So I continued on up to the aid station. Felt pretty great when I arrived at the aid station. Hit my split I wanted at 1 hour and 30 minutes. Seemed like it was going to be a good day.

This is a very rudimentary aid stations. 2 dudes, a dog, and a water jug. This is the only aid station like this but its early on and its just to top off your water. I was running with just one bottle until later in the day so I uncapped my bottle and 1 of the 2 aid station workers tried to fill. Took us probably 30 seconds to figure out how to make this happen. And a freight train of people went cruising by! Saw Todd G come by. I walked out of the aid station area and since I was already on pause decided to go and do my business in the woods. Was very meticulous about my business…until I backed away and stepped on a twig, which was under my pile. It flung some of my stuff up on my leg. Yuck. I was being so careful. Cleaned up and moved back onto the trail. When I re-emerged, I found Jim P coming by.

Split: 01:31:54

To Aid 2 @ William Creek (Mile 15.7)

Jim P and I started out together chatting a bit but I wasn’t feeling so great now. That fast climb seemed to upset my stomach or maybe it was holding the crap in for the duration of the climb. In any case, after 1/2 mile Jim went around and just kept getting further ahead. He was cruising and I figured he was going to have a great day. I never saw him again. We were above tree line at this point. Moving along some decent singletrack to find a ridge before we would descend every foot we just gained. Jason H. came by me at that point, “Are you Brandon?”. Yes, I am. He introduced himself and we exchanged a few words and he moved on. Bad news. I had to go again. I ran a bit more before I found a sole pine tree and ran off trail and delivered another present on the mountains. That’s 3 craps this morning! Not running for days prior to this race seems to slow my intestines or something to the point where once I start shaking them around again, they were draining. I had a bit of TP with me for #1. Had more in each drop bag. But this time, I was out. No flat rocks either. Found some long needle grass and finished up. While all this was going on, a few packs of 5-7 runners went around. Any dreams of that top 10 were way gone. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

Finally, started feeling like I could run again. We were still up high running along these ridges. You could see people before you and behind you for quite a ways. But by this point, no one was nearby. Amazing how it got spread out so quickly. Don’t remember anything else too excited until we started descending. I was glad to have climb #1 of 3 done for the day. This descent to the campground at Williams Creek was pretty long. Not used to running down for that long although my body enjoyed it. Up high I had gotten passed by a few people but here I was able to reel a few people in. I still felt like I hadn’t found my appropriate spot in the race yet. A few people still had been coming around me at this point. Lots of real skinny dudes that looked like they do this a lot. I ran this section mostly alone but did train up with a few people here and there just to push each other. No talking. I came up on one girl and was running behind her. Maybe pushing her too hard when she caught a rock and went down. Ouch! I stopped to help her but she said she was fine.

Finally, could tell we were getting low and then I heard cheers and started seeing scouts at the campground. Rounded the turn and saw various people cheering for me as if I was their family member. Some racers stay at this campground so their families get a nice front row seat to the action of the first real aid station. However, I spied a real camping bathroom near the aid station so I jetted over to see what I had left. Just wanted a quick final proper bathroom break so I could be done with this for the day and get a nice unchaffed wipe. I know, poop talk. But this is part of racing for me. I came back out a new man and they called out my number, gave me a chair and handed my my first drop. I didn’t have to go find it in the huge pile of bags. They had it right there for me. Nice. I changed socks. Dropped the arm panties. Took my zip lock bag of fuel out. Then closed up. Went to the food table and got a few handfuls of things and moved out. They had filled my bottle with water so I poured in a package of Gatorade for some additional calories. The biggest climb of the day was ahead.

Split: 01:45:19

To Aid 3 @ Carson (Mile 21.5)

I walked out of the aid station and a volunteer pointed out which way to go. I wasn’t that far in the race but my brain didn’t care to figure out left or right. Running along a dirt road for a few miles now until we hit the entrance to the Wager Jeep Road that leads up to the Carson ghost town. I spent time slow running and eating through here. Wanted to focus on my fuels before climbing. Worked on the Gatorade and ate a GU and started working on some Shot Blocks. The GU didn’t go down well. I can usually slam them but I gagged on it. Maybe these wouldn’t be that great today. I was passed by maybe 4 guys on this section. They were slow running too but slightly faster than I. This was a bad sign. I was still dropping places. I still must be running ahead of myself given my fast climb of Alpine Gulch.

The well marked Wager Jeep Road was ahead and we made the left onto it. Sign said 4 miles to Carson. Seemed like that was short. However, that road was steep. Just a winding OHV road that kept going and going. Nobody was running. Everyone around me was powerhiking. I don’t practice this technique and then were out walking me up the hill. Now and then a flat spot came and I would see those guys jog it for a few seconds but I stayed in the walking gear. I was slow and steady but never ever stopped moving. It was a crawl but finally saw the aid station. #59 checking in! Sat in a chair and a volunteer delivered drop bag #2. I reapplied some suntan lotion. Changed socks again. They were moist from wet shoes and it just felt good to put something clean on. My iPod was in this bag — oh, how I missed her! A great booster. I had another fuel bag in there but I hadn’t really gotten through my last one. So I took out a few things I wanted and mounted up. The key item was picking up my 2nd water bottle here for the long section ahead. Another runner asked where we stood and the aid station captain indicated that “we were up in the front” and that “the big pack is still yet to come”. That was good to hear. Runners usually layer up the clothes here at this aid station. We have a 9 mile section on the Continental Divide ahead. Totally exposed to the elements. It snowed last year on the runners. But the sky was cloud free and it was warm. Those of us at the aid station commented that we were going as is. Felt like it was going to be a safe day up there.

Split: 01:33:28

To Aid 4 @ Divide (Mile 31)

Unfortunately, we were not on the Divide yet. The aid station was down at tree line for the safety of the volunteers I suppose. So we had to continue climbing this jeep road for another 30 minutes or so until we joined in on the Colorado Trail. “The CT” as its known would be our route for most of the next 9 miles along the Divide. I hit my first Red Bull shot as we got onto the CT in hopes of raising my spirits. I felt like my race was unravelling a bit as we climbed that jeep road. I had lost positions. Wasn’t feeling great. But that was pretty much like everyone else I figured. So just keep moving and see how I can get a 2nd wind going here. The start of the trails sucked because it was a grassy alpine field with talus (rock) spread out everywhere. If you didn’t watch your feet, you would twist an ankle. No real trail. Just make your way across. Finally, we found a more defined part and the CT was pretty nice. Finally got to do some running again. Felt like we had been hiking for hours since coming into Aid 2, and I had. Settled in around a few runners that had different capabilities. Some were faster on flats, some on climbs, some just didn’t stop. So we all kept leapfrogging each other in a well known fashion as we learned about each other. Came across 3 snowfields up in this section. I opted to totally go around one while others went across it. Another had to be crossed and caused a bit of a bottleneck as one of our group wasn’t so sure out on it. Another guy and I got tired of waiting so we sat on our shoes and skied down to the bottom and continued on leaving that other guy hanging up high. Not a cloud in the sky near us and we were just happily running along at 13,000 feet for 2+ hours. You could see for miles. When you crossed a ridge top, you could look ahead and see specs of people on the trail that you would be on minutes later. Mountain running at its finest.

Finally entered a wooded area and I started looking for the aid station. All that running had me a bit tired. This was the first aid station I was ready for. But it just wasn’t appearing as quickly as I would have liked. I was settled in behind another guy and I just watched his feet as we kept making our way to the aid station. Finally it emerged up on a ridge of a grassy field. As we crossed this field, I stepped in a huge wet bog. So did everyone else. The field was soaked and now my feet were again. This wouldn’t be a big deal but given the earlier soakings, the balls of my feet were getting a bit tired of being wet I could tell. The skin wasn’t happy. No drop bag at this aid station. I pulled in and saw Todd G standing there. He proceed to tell me he was dropping. I wasn’t feeling well. I encouraged him to continue on but he was done. I took another GU and sat for a minute. Another girl there was talking about vomiting and such. I was glad that hadn’t been my day so far. Although a puke usually gets your reset quickly, I was glad I was holding it down and together.

Split: 02:47:58

To Aid 5 @ Slumgullion (Mile 40)

The back half of the course is more runnable that the first half. However, I lost something at that aid station. I mentally was ready to descend but we were not descending fast. We had rolling hills for 1/2 the way to the next aid station, then a full on descent. I noted that I had not peed in a while and that was bugging me. So I really started drinking my water. My stomach was not draining. I felt “sloshy”. I took more salt pills. I just couldn’t get comfortable. When I ran, I felt pukey. So I had that constant mental battle of run, then walk, then drink. How I was blowing it. Mile 32-35 were the worst of the race. It was really runnable stuff but I wasn’t running. Lost time against my spilts here bad. Oh well. Just keep moving. Finally it was getting a bit better and the rolling hills were finally done. I had been passed by a handful of people during that saga but now on the descent, I was a new man. My quads were ready. My gut was ready. I just started pounding the descent. Passing people like I just started running for the day. Reeled in about everyone I had seen pass me prior. Felt great. I was me again!

Finally, I started seeing people along the trail and knew I was close. I popped out at the aid station which is pretty tight on a small trailhead on the edge of the road. Sat down and started the routine. Changing socks and swapping fuel. Got a huge handful of pretzels. I didn’t want to stay long. I also decided to transition to my traditional running gear so I removed my shirt and put it in the drop bag. It was getting hot out! The Race Director was standing there so I told him loudly that he is a sick man. This course is tough stuff! Got a good laugh out of him. Finally, got up and motored out of the aid station for the 3rd and final climb of the day.

Split: 01:58:23

To Aid 6 @ Vickers (Mile 46.5)

I left the aid station with another guy named Phillip. Turns out he was from Boulder and is preparing for the LT100 too. We chatted a bit but then the trail turned to a small descent and he pulled back because it was too fast for him he said. I charged on. The trail did a few wacky things before finding its way to a weird private property trailhead area. This was the start of the Vickers Ranch. It held the final climb of the day. 1,700 feet up through this ranching property. Near the top, we should be looking down on Lake City. Figured this would be a piece of cake climb. I was cranking the tunes, feeling the breeze on my shirtless body, and ready to roll. Until the climb started. I had no gas. I was just plain empty. My legs were ready to go but I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know what happened but I had nothing to give. So I just plodded ahead. One foot after the other. No speed at all. After a few minutes, Phillip approached and overtook me with his not so blistering pace either. He was out of site shortly. This wasn’t really a moment of decision but it wasn’t fun. All you could do was ascend and finish. The trail was decent but mostly grassy. I kept getting slower though. Finally I found myself walking for a minute or so then taking a 10 second stop break to get my breath. I was only at 10,500 feet or so but it felt like I was on Everest. Taking a few steps and then stopping to breathe. It was pathetic. They said in the brochure that this hill was a doozy. Its not but at 40 miles and empty, it took me longer than I would have liked.

I started seeing the clock ticking towards the 12 hour mark and thinking it might be closer now. I wasn’t picking up any speed. Finally, I thought we were getting close to the top. An ATV appeared and it was a support crew asking me how I was and if anyone behind me needed help. I had nothing to report. They informed me that I was only a few hundred yards from the aid station. It was flattening out at this point so I started picking up speed a bit. Another check of the watch showed I was tight on time. I cruised up to aid station and yelled “#59 in/out — just need water”. A lady quickly filled my bottle. Felt like I didn’t break a stride and kept on going. I yelled thanks and could overhear my bottle filler saying that I had the best looking tan she had seen all day. I will take that one!

Split: 01:41:12

To Finish (Mile 50)

The trail started meandering through some aspens but was generally downward. I was picking up steam. My legs were perfectly fresh. Not a complaint. And now that the lungs and heart were no longer the primary limiters, I just kept picking up the pace. I had been passed on the climb up Vickers by about 5 people. And now it was time for my revenge. I started picking those folks off one by one as we descended. The steeper the better. I was dialed in and descending like its what I was born to do. As I passed them, I would often get the “go get them!” or even a high five. Those folks were going to finish but their legs were dead. I was just getting warmed up. Finally could see Lake City and make out various landmarks. Could see the river I needed to cross via the bridge. Everything was looking good except for the clock. I reached the bottom of the hill and the clock struck 5 PM and my 12 hours finish came and went. Oh well. Its arbitrary anyway.

San Juan Solstice 50

Just had a little ways to go back into town. The trail was gone and we were in a subdivision. Saw a few more folks walking up ahead. I was running a 8 minute mile pace and seemingly zooming by them. They were hiking it out but I was perfectly good running it in. Made my way to the bridge and figured it would bring a tear to my eye but it did not. Oh well. Crossed the highway then turned onto Silver Street. The park was 2 blocks ahead. Random people on the sides of the street were giving me cheers or a hard time in jest. I got near the park and saw Kim pop out and take a few pictures. Saw the kids coming over but I kept charging until I hit the line and stopped my watch. The 50 mile journey was over.

Split: 00:47:32

San Juan Solstice 50
San Juan Solstice 50
San Juan Solstice 50


Now what?

San Juan Solstice 50

I pretty much went over to the corner of the park and collapsed. Felt good to just fall into the grass and lay there. I wasn’t dead but it felt good to pretend to be. Saw a few of my friends and gave them congrats on their finishes. When asked how I did, I responded that it wasn’t the performance I wanted. That was my initial reaction. We stayed in the park for a bit while i downed mostly soda to settle my stomach. Finishers lingered in and it as fun to see them complete their journey as well. I finally started shaking and getting cold so I wrapped up in our blanket and put my shoes back on and walked 4 blocks back to the RV. I took a nice hot shower and mostly sat. While my legs were great today, they were pretty tired of course now that they got the signal that they could relax. I couldn’t eat much at all. Just kind of zoned out and sat. Called my Mom then JV. Laid in bed by 8:30 and was catching up on Internet stuff from the day. At about 8:58, we started hearing all this screaming outside. Well, cheering to be exact. Some finishers were just rounding that final bend onto Silver Street trying to beat the 16 hour cuttoff. They had 2 minutes to get to the park and it sounded like the entire town was out there cheering them on! I got a big chuckle out of that one. On your feet for 16 hours…I can’t imagine…yet.

San Juan Solstice 50


The next morning is the awards breakfast in the park. I left the family behind and rode my bike down there to save my legs the hassle of the walk. Saw Todd G and chatted with him on the way down. At the park, Brett W found me and I got to hear his tale of a 15 hour finish. His brother ended up covering 26 miles as pacer with him on the day. Great effort by both. Sat with Jim P and got my award for a sub-16 hour finish. I didn’t qualify for that sub-12 hour prize. Turns out it was the same canvas hat but with a different brim color. Lame. Won a raffle item for a free subscription to Trail Runner.

San Juan Solstice 50

I was done so I got my bike but Gary Gellin stopped me and chatted. He said he enjoyed my race preview and found it helpful. We talked for quite a bit. Scott Jaime came over and joined in and we talked about his upcoming itinerary for pacing at WS100 and running HR100. Fun times. He encouraged me to stick with this ultra thing. Nice finally meeting him.

With that we packed up the RV and motored on out of Lake City to enjoy the rest of our Colorado summer vacation! Not too much running planned for this week. I have rest up so that I can run 3/4 of the Leadville course at training camp in 6 more days!

San Juan Solstice 50


San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run by fullerbra at Garmin Connect - Splits

This was a good opportunity for me to test my fitness against some top talent. I think I found myself dreaming a bit too much before this race. Coming off of a PR at Boston and then setting some good PRs in training, I think I got ahead of myself. I started thinking I was better than I was — at this specific race profile.

I went out too hard. Everyone told me but I didn’t listen. I purposely ignored their advice and went out hard. Maybe not hard, but steady. It felt good and enjoyed that first hour of the race more than any other hour of the day. I should have held back and saved up. I guess I was going for a bit of banking time and a bit of seeing if I could just deal with a hard effort up front. Once my pace slowed and I started sliding back in the pack, it was pretty dejecting to have people passing me. I knew what was going on but it was messing with my head.

Not just I were quoted as saying this was a hiking race. There were 3 climbs and many many people walked every step of all of them. I ran the first one hard. Powerhiked the second. And slogged up the third. Not ideal. I was OK with 1 and 2 but 3 has me confused. I don’t know how I was so dead. Maybe it was just a full on bonk. But I just could not breathe at all. Once I topped out, I was good to go. Odd.

My downhill work was right on. So excited about that. Definitely a positive on the day. Could feel all those hard effort descents on Green Mountain paying off. Those were the moments when it was fun to be racing.

Nutrition was mixed. I focused a lot on eating. I got a bunch of stuff down. Sometimes I felt too full. Felt like I kept on it OK for a 50 mile race but definitely wouldn’t have held for 100 miles.

Hydration was mixed. I never came into an aid station empty. So that mean I wasn’t getting through my bottles. Pee wasn’t ever really that great all day either. But I wasn’t completely dry or dark yellow. More water. I probably would have drank more with my hydration pack through one of the segments but I didn’t want to deal with it. Probably will rotate it for 100 miles to keep up on the fluids.

My original goal in this race was to prepare for Leadville. The common truism/myth is that you take your time from this race and double it and that is your Leadville time. Given I want to crack 25 hours at Leadville, I had to break 12.5 hours here. I did that. So that goal was achieved. A little closer than I wanted but its still there. As my mind wandered weeks before the race, I found myself wanting to break 12 hours. That probably could have happened if one of those bad sections wouldn’t have occurred. Oh well. Maybe next time.

I was so impressed with Jim P’s finish though. He was 10 hours and 45 minutes. We had trained together a bit for this race. He was always a bit more peppy than I was on those runs. He trains higher than I do as he lives up in Evergreen. While I am out slogging through some flatter loops, I tend to see him doing longer efforts up on trails near his house. This has me thinking that I failed to train high enough. That would have been an advantage. I also have not been putting in the longer efforts lately. Lots of medium efforts back to back. I feel those are going to pay off in Leadville because its more of a runner’s course but in Lake City, they didn’t pay dividends.

Lake City is a tough course. Some say its the hardest 50 in the nation. Jemez is the only other race that seems to appear in the same statement. So it was good to go embark on my 3rd ever ultra on such a legendary course to test myself. While it was a challenging day, it didn’t break me or even have me worried at any point in the day. That’s a far cry from my first 50 mile run two years ago where I was sure I was going to die. If this would have been my goal race for the summer, there would have been a few big changes to my training that would have really helped. But given it wasn’t, I am trying not to stress about it. It was a great day, a tough course, and I did pretty well. I was just bummed that it wasn’t perfectly executed — coming off a textbook performance at Boston. So I will take that and move on. The big dance is nearly 60 days away and I just did a great 50 mile training run.

Thanks for your continued support and well wishes pre and post race. Hope you enjoyed hearing about the race as much as I did preparing for it and running it.