It was either raining or snowing on my 8 hour drive down to Colorado the day before the race. Which sapped and diminished my excitement for the race. I was looking forward to the desert warmth but the forecast for the race showed a cold, rainy day.
The race organizers assured everyone through email and their Facebook page that the race would go on regardless of the weather. They received some backlash from people fearing that the race would destroy the trails and many were begging them to even cancel the race.
I was excited to race but wasn’t looking forward to feeling miserable for hours. I knew I had to change my mindset before going to bed if I was planning on having a great race, like I was expecting to.
I went ahead and put myself visually in the race while I did my pre-race stretching the night before. I imagined trudging through thick and long stretches of mud with wet and freezing cold clothes while my hands, ears and nose were numb from the chill. I went ahead and embraced the suck. I expected and planned for the worst.
Another thing I did was that I threw out my time goal, since I figured the conditions would slow me down, and I think this was the best decision I made prior to the race. Something I have learned from running ultras is that you can come to a race with a plan. But the only thing you can count on is that plan not going as planned.
I decided I was going to do the best I could do with what I would be given during the race.
It was in the low 30s at the start of the race. Cold enough to leave me feeling reluctant to get out of my warm car and peel off my jacket 10 minutes before the start. But I was ready to roll.
There was a course change due to some conditions on the trails and they put together a new course that they felt like would preserve the areas that were in most potential to being damaged.
So instead of doing one giant loop, they designed a 10.4 mile lollipop that the 50Kers would do 3 times. Simple, right?
Waiting around the starting line with the other runners, it was mostly silent. A lot of sizing up was going on it felt like. Then a few minutes before the start, the mood seemed to chipper as people started to joke about who was going to get to the first aid station first. Whoever did, was getting a $100 bill handed to them.
The race began as the marathoners, 50kers and 52 milers took off down the dirt road together.
Right away it was messy. Everyone was trying to find the driest parts to run on but not much to work with. Within a few minutes I had a pound of mud clumped to the bottoms of each shoe.
“Feels like I have weights on my shoes,” I said to another runner that I ran with for the first few miles.
Honestly it was already making my legs feel tired.
This dirt road rolled for a little over 3 miles, then we ran up a minor hill then down to the first aid station. I stopped for just a few seconds to trash my first GU that I just gulped down and took a swig of water.
About a minute after this stop is where it got tricky. We were still on the road and the first trailhead opened up to our right. There were blue flags marking this trail but there were also the same markers on another trail just a few steps further down the road.
As we passed the first trail, a runner next to me made the comment “aren’t we supposed to follow the blue flags?”
“I don’t know…think so…” was what I came up with not really caring too much.
But everyone ahead of us went to the second trail. As we were hopping on the second trail, a runner came running down the first trail and said “I took the wrong trail” as he joined us and the line of other runners.
Almost right away we were treated to our first exposure of the view that we would be running with during the day. As we ran on red rocks and dirt close to the edge of the cliffs, the Colorado River flowed well below. I felt I had just been placed in the Grand Canyon.
Immediately a wave of gratitude washed over me with my initial awe I took in.
At this point everyone was settling into their paces. I held tight with a few guys and we ran single file at the same clip with not much chatter happening.
Right at an hour into it, we popped back out onto the road where the race director was standing telling us that ran the wrong route and that we should have taken the first trail.
Getting on correct trail, we were greeted with our first hill that was super rocky bringing everyone’s stride to more of a tiptoe.
A few runners that I was with were pretty frustrated by the mistake we did. I just shrugged it off.
Surprisingly it didn’t phase me one bit. Maybe because there was no point in dwelling in the past or maybe because I was just so focus on the task at hand and keeping my mind in the moment, that it didn’t get to me.
From this point on, we were basically running the cliff edges for a while. Some people that went out too ambitious started to lag behind. But mostly everyone held their ground pretty steady.
After that first hill, I hit my groove and was feeling great. I was keeping it easy and sticking to my nutrition and hydration plans.
And the weather ended up being favorable. It was overcast. No rain and the temperature was minimally climbing. After expecting the worst, I was very comfortable and realized that the cloudy day was more of a blessing in disguise than anything.
And after we got off the road section, there was never a problem with mud on the trails.
Arriving to the second aid station was a relief. With the added section we did, it felt like forever until we got there. I stopped for just a few seconds to get in some water and was back running.
From here though, we had to do another climb. This was the worst part of the race. It wasn’t a long hill but the mud came back and was thick. The type of mud that sucked at your shoes and made that weird suction sound with every lift off.
Once at the top, we barreled down and hit the road again going back to the start/finish area. I guess the course was more like a giant P, instead of a lollipop because when we got on the dirt road we were closer to the start/finish area.
I have done one other race similar to this style and love it because you get to see the runners ahead of you going back out.
I got to the end of my first loop and refilled both of my water bottles. The race director was back at this point and apologized about the course confusion to everyone coming in.
At this point, a guy I was running near was wearing a GPS watch that said we were 15 miles into the race. Which made the extra loop that we did, close to 4.5 miles. I think I came into the start/finish area in a time of 2:05.
Heading back out I was keeping my steady easy pace. The runners had definitely thinned and spaced out more this go around.
I got to the first aid station in about the same time it took me the first time.
Though I was keeping it easy this is about where the pain began to settle in for me. And historically in pretty much all of my ultras, this is about where I start to cave mentally. But this is my first 50K that I was getting to use my nutrition plan that I came up with right before doing my 100 miler in May, which is what I believe to be the main reason why I would crash mentally. I wasn’t putting enough calories in my body. So now, my new plan, I was rotating between GU and Clif Bars. Getting about 250 calories per hour in me.
I embraced the pain and kept pushing on, reminding myself to never give in and to never give up.
I was starting to move up in the field as I ran on. I was also finding out that running seemed easier when I was with someone, even if we weren’t talking. Once I found a new groove, I aimed to slowly reach the next runner ahead and run with them for some time.
A hard part of this race was actually knowing what place you were in regards to the race you were running. Because the start wasn’t staggered, I couldn’t tell who was doing which race. But there was a guy I had my eye on.
The whole second loop he kept the exact same distance ahead of me. Every time I came around a bend his pace and distance from me were the exact same.
At the second aid station I decided to up my salt intake and increased to taking 2 pills per hour to hopefully avoid any cramps later on.
Leaving this station the mud on this climb just got worse from all of the foot traffic. There was more slipping and sliding on this go around making it even more difficult to get up and over this hill.
Getting back to the dirt road this time I made it more of a conscious effort to look at people’s bibs that were coming the opposite way to gauge where I was place wise.
I remember passing the lead guys of the 50 miler, exchanged a few “good job man”-s. And I knew that they were the ones that lead from the get-go. I don’t remember seeing anyone with a 50K bib in this stretch.
When I got to the start/finish area, I asked “how many are ahead of me in my race.”
The guy I asked, who was marking bibs after each completed lap, said “no idea. I’ve already lost track. Maybe 6 or 7.”
“Shit” was my response.
“Reel them in man!” He said.
There was no way that there were that many people ahead of me I thought.
Don’t give up and don’t give in, I kept repeating to myself.
I noticed my pace was slowing a little bit but I was still plugging away.
I got to the first aid station a few minutes slower than the previous laps and I didn’t pass anyone on the road. I asked them if they knew what place I was in. They told me maybe second or third. That was more like it and closer to what I thought!
I began picking people off, not knowing which race they were doing, and not because I was upping my pace but because others were bogging down.
Towards the middle of this last lap, I had to begin my mental fight. It wasn’t like it was in the past where a switch would be flipped in my mind and all of the sudden I didn’t to and wouldn’t run anymore.
It was the urge and drive to dip deep within.
“This is it man. You won’t get this moment ever again. Keep pushing. Don’t give up and don’t give in” was basically the dialogue going on in my head.
The runner I was chasing on the second lap was not letting up. At one point I saw him in the middle of a climb off in the distance and still running strong.
I caught up to a runner doing the 50 miler and held onto his pace.
It was really hurting for me at this point but I was determined to not given in.
At this point we were probably at or even beyond 31 miles, about 4:30 into the race. Which was my original time goal.
I followed a step behind him for a few miles and into the last aid station. We both stopped and took in some more salt pills and we quickly got out of there. I was glad he left with me even though I was only a couple of miles to the finish.
Every step with someone was one less step alone in my head. Leaving this aid station you could see the mud hill before hitting the road to the finish. The guy I was chasing was walking it but still in the distance from me.
“This is your moment” I told myself.
Hitting the mud hill, my right hamstring gave me an honest threat of cramping.
We pushed up the hill despite the mud clawing and attempting to rip the shoes off me.
Getting to the top we pounded the short down hill and reached the road. The guy I was chasing was within a very reasonable reach now.
“You going for it?” The guy I was with asked.
I took my final charge and surged to the finish which was a little over a mile away now.
I was thinking that I may be in third and was working on passing the second place guy. And the thought of being in second about to pass the first place guy got me even more excited and amped.
I pushed the rollers of this dirt road. The hamstring made a few more threats but it never materialized into anything, thankfully on this final stretch.
I caught and passed the guy I had been watching for most of the race.
We exchanged good jobs and I continued my kick.
Never letting up I crossed the line in 5:11.
I asked for my place, but still didn’t get a definite answer.
“I think 3rd” was one answer.
“No idea” was another.
Oh well. Right away I went over the race in my head and realized that I just had my best race ever.
Everything, from my nutrition and hydration were on point. My mental game was the best it has ever been and never did I have a negative thought. I stayed focused, in the moment and only had a few times where I had to give myself a pep talk.
And physically my body held strong the whole time. Yeah it hurt, but I think I have started to develop the experience to know that that is part of the game. Embrace the pain or let it embrace you.
I think what I am most proud of is that I never walked. I never gave in and never had to do the death march. I think that was rooted in my determination and my passion to keep running.
I hung around to cheer people on and met a bunch of people as I soaked in the experience and accomplishment.
I few people that had GPS said we ran about 35.7 miles. Converting my time to 31 miles, my time would have been a few minutes over 4:30, right at what I was aiming to do for the day.
Time wise, I came and did what I wanted to do. The placing was secondary.
The results were posted and I came in 4th place.
I am not sure if the three guys ahead of me ran the extra miles in the beginning or not. I never saw them on the out and back section on the dirt road which makes me believe that it is very likely that they didn’t. I didn’t let the placing bring me down though.
I feel that I put down a solid performance. I have nothing but positives to take from the race and I hope I can build on them.
This was my first ultra in 11 months and I’m extremely proud on how much I have developed and that I was able to learn from past mistakes. I finally feel I am coming into my own and I feel that things are actually and finally clicking for me as an ultra runner.
But anything can happen on a race day. I’m thankful everything came together so well for me this race.
I have two months until Bighorn now! Time to hunker down even more and dedicate my attention to that.
Oh and the funny thing about the guy I passed at the very end, he was doing the 50 miler. I hung out until he finished and we laughed our asses off about me thinking he was in my race.