Over a week ago I ran 50 miles…
…it still seems surreal. Somehow I propelled my body forward, on foot, over 50 miles of steep climbs and rocky descents along the single track and fire roads of Horsetooth Reservoir and Lory State Park. It wasn’t easy but I never hated life, I never wanted to quit and I finished with miles of running smiles!
To say it was a good day would be an understatement, yet I cannot figure out how to write a recap. There is so much and so little to say, all at the same time. So, rather than go over the entire race mile by mile by mile let’s talk about the important parts – the aid stations staffed with the best volunteers ever, the incredible support from random runners along the course and random thoughts that wandered into my brain along the course.
My morning started early with a 3:30am alarm and had me suited up in my BRC neon, chewing on my cuticles with twitching knees at 5am. I was surrounded by familiar faces and it was oddly calming to see them joking around before heading out to take on the hilly miles of Quad Rock. If they weren’t shaking in their veteran trail shoes then I was going to have to keep my newbsauce self together, somehow. At precisely 5:30am the mass of runners…started running!
Before it all started – with Chris and Nick, two major enablers in my life!
Since I had no idea what to expect out on the course I had a few simple goals in mind – go extra easy on the first lap, be okay with walking everything resembling a hill and not even consider dropping until after I’d turned around for the second 25 miles. Simple goals.
With my GPS watch set to just time of day, not even tracking distance, the first loop really was laid back. I went out easy and didn’t pressure myself to hang on to any of the group running hills. I walked all noticeable hills starting almost immediately…and so did the people around me! The conga line headed toward the Towers Road AS alternated in order as we slowed to lose layers or talked ourselves into running along the rare flats, but for the most part we all stuck together.
The Towers Road AS was at the crest of a fire road and took me by surprise – it was a tad chaotic with so many of us still chugging along close together! I didn’t stay long, just grabbed a handful of potato chips for the trail. This was when I discovered a new skillset – eating potato chips while running down technical trail without crushing or dropping said chips and not tripping! It’s not easy, try it. I dare you.
My next stop was at the Horsetooth AS where I ditched my jacket and refilled my flasks with a gel mix and started my hike back up to the Towers Road AS. Once again I ate as I hiked and eventually befriended a guy named Craig. It was his second year at Quad Rock and his quick recap of last year reinforced my plans to take the first lap easy – apparently the hills really don’t get easier
As I ran into the Towers Road AS for the second time it became obvious this was going to be my favorite aid station – they had icy pops. Or, more accurately, Otter Pops. The volunteers got all excited when my face lit up, turns out I was the first runner to find them appealing? After a top off of water my Otter Pop and I headed down the trail. The 3ish miles to the Arthur Trailhead AS were mostly down hill with a mix of miserably steep single track and slow rolling jeep road. I had a few guys running behind me that I offered the lead to but no one wanted it…I don’t think anyone wanted an audience on trail designed to make runners fall. But we showed that trail what was up…we made it, no spills!
I spent very little time studying the course map or description prior to race day – I didn’t know the trails well and I had heard great things about the course and Gnar Runners organization so I started the race trusting in pink ribbons and my ability to leave each aid station fully prepared for the miles ahead. My stop by the Arthur Trailhead AS was probably my longest of the first loop. I took time to actually eat, I stopped for a quick bio break and I refilled all of my water bottles before once again heading back to the trail with more food in hand. The next 7.4 miles would be spent gain and losing roughly 1,500 feet…I’d been told it would be daunting and that the last descent could be soul crushing.
I never hit “soul crushing” but it was a long 7.4 miles! It was along this stretch that I met up with the 50M front runners – they were cruising! But many of them were also walking the steep, rocky climbs as I tried to gracefully scamper down them. That was encouraging, if the top 10 finishers hiked the hard hills my undertrained body was definitely “allowed” to hike anything that looked remotely uphill! The words of great job’s and keep it up’s went both ways – some times in a bubbly voice full of energy, some times in a ragged exhale but every runner had something positive to say to those around them.
As I ran down toward the Soldier Trailhead AS which doubled as a 25M finish and 50M turnaround I could see my car off in the distance…and had no desire to give up on the race and crawl into it for a nap. Nope, I was doing good. I was running my downhills strong but smart, my ascents were power hikes, not slow stumbles and I had managed to keep my hydration and nutrition in check so far…I was going back out, no questions asked!
I ran into the turnaround, got my 50M bib tab pulled and headed to my drop bag to refill my flasks. At this point I realized I had eaten none of my own “back up” snacks I’d been carrying and told myself that was a good thing – if the AS food was working I was sticking with it. As I reapplied body glide Amy, Nick and Becca showed up to tell me awesome things about myself. I wasn’t sure if I believed them but, hey, it’s not everyday people willing dole out so many “you look awesome” comments so I soaked them up!
A quick bio break later I was back on the trail, walking as I ate potato chips and chatted with Jon, another trail stranger turned temporary hostage. I hit the turnaround right around 11:30am if I remember correctly, which put my first 25M at roughly 6 hours, give or take 10 minutes. Not bad and a solid hour ahead of any cutoff concerns.
The second loop was a mirror image of the first – so all those technical, rocky descents were now painful ascents. The only consolation I had was the fact they kind of sucked on the way down too. On the plus side, running down the jeep roads that were so boring to hike up really let the legs stretch out, which was crazy refreshing even if it hurt a little!
It was on my descent into the Arthurs Trailhead AS that an ascent/descent pattern began with a guy from NY wearing a blue jacket – no clue what his name was, but we spent hours leapfrogging – he gracefully plummeted downhills, I power hiked the rocks off the uphills and we’d always catch up with each other not long after the terrain changed!
The unmanned aid station between the turnaround and the Arthurs Trailhead AS was drained before I got there so I sucked down a lot of water once I hit Arthurs. I even soaked the compression socks to cool off before heading back onto the trail to hike my way up the rock trail leading to the Towers Road AS and its Otter Pops. Yes, those Otter Pops were a huge motivator! The guy in green shorts I caught up with was no entertained with my “there are icy pops!” excitement…he was much happier to hear my GPS thought there was only a mile left.
I also met Laura along this route. At one point I saw her ahead of me and was determined to catch up just because I wanted someone to talk to. My opening line was “man, I wish I could brush my teeth right now!” because I’m smooth like that. Turns out she had gum to share, which was awesome! We chatted a bit and it wasn’t long before we realized we had mutual friends and had even been at the same race this past October. The ultra world is tiny like that! The gum she gave me must have had some magical kick because the descents felt easier and when the downhill showed up I was off!
I was in and out of the Towers Road AS fairly quickly…but not until after we had a discussion about Mountain Lightening vs Mountain Dew. Most AS’s had the Mountain Lightening…but Towers Road had a few liters of Mountain Dew. Yes, I asked for a new cup that was definitely Mountain Dew, I’m a snob like that!
On the descent into the Horsetooth AS it started spitting rain. At first it was a welcome relief…but then it got windy and the steady rain got cold. I dug my arm sleeves out of my pack, thankful they were still stashed away, and awkwardly pulled them up over my already wet arms. This trail was fairly popular with weekend hikers and families. Thankfully most of them were quick to move aside and a few even acted as cheerleaders as we ran or hiked by. One guy asked how I felt about the rain – I told him that compared to last weekend’s 80 degree temps and tomorrow’s predicted snow the rain was welcome.
This is also where I ran into a familiar face - Barb, a fellow BRC racer, was hiking the trail with her daughter and dog! It was so random to run into each other and a great pick me up! I slowed to chat for a bit then off I went, running from the rain.
That was the moment when I decided to embrace the rain, intentionally run through puddles and forget about the miles I had already covered…it worked, I rolled into the Horsetooth AS soaking wet and cold but crazy happy. Having a volunteer immediately offer me hot soup only made it better! This would be my longest AS stop of the race – I had to dig out my jacket, braid my annoyingly wet, stringy hair and slurp down some warmth. It was still a quick transition, I couldn’t let myself stay under the picnic shelter long, I may never leave!
The stretch of trail leading away from the Horsetooth AS wasn’t much fun this time around – it led up, and up, and up. I fell into step with a local running Quad Rock 50M for the third time with a solid 13 hour track record. Secretly I wanted to beat the 13 hour mark but in reality I was happy with anything that didn’t start with a 14 [there was a 14 hour cutoff]. We chatted as we attempted to power hike up to the Towers Road AS. I know there was a steady stream of mutual conversation but I have no idea what we talked about. As the climb got daunting we shut up and got to work.
This stretch would mark the second time in the race I really wanted to hills to flatten out! I didn’t want to give up or hate my enabling friends or anything like that…I just wanted the stupid hills to stop being so stupidly hilly! When I was about ready to resort to creative land flattening wizardry I rounded a bend and saw the top of the camper at the Towers Road AS. I was so excited to see it that the last hill just kind of disappeared. Maybe I have fancy wizardry skills I didn’t know about?
As I came into the AS the volunteers were extra attentive and full of energy as they asked what I needed or wanted. I passed off my handheld to one volunteer and told another I really needed to eat. I actually felt hungry, which isn’t exactly a good thing. Our conversation went something like this…
Volunteer #1: What do you want to eat?
Me: Anything I don’t have to chew, I don’t want to chew!
Volunteer #1: Oh, okay. What do you want? We’ll get Ryan to chew it then baby bird feed you!
Me: Seriously, that would be awesome!
Volunteer #1: Just tell Ryan want you want! Hey, Ryan, we need you to baby bird this girl!
Ryan: Okay, cool – what do you want? *heads to table of food*
Me: Well…potato chips, tortilla roll…ha. I’m kidding, I’ll make myself eat. You guys are incredible!
They filled me up with mocha EFS, legit Mountain Dew, bananas and chips as I stripped off my jacket [it stopped raining about a mile back] before I started downhill for the last stretch of the race. The last 7ish miles until the finish line…and I was running. Actually running, and doing it rather comfortably. I knew there was one last climb but I didn’t care, I’d mastered the art of willing myself to power hike up a mountainside…I could do this and probably in less than 13 hours!
Along the jeep road that is Towers Road I got warm enough to strip off my arm sleeves and gloves just before I spotted a mountain biker hanging out along the road. I put on my best exhausted face and nicely asked him to shove the sleeves/gloves into my pack. He happily agreed and asked a few questions about where the race was running so he could avoid the runners on his mountain bike…I think I sent him uphill to verify trail names with the volunteers but, honestly, at that point that only thing I was focused on was how kind he was to help out a stranger!
The blue jacket’ed New Yorker zoomed on by me on the jeep road but we kept with our leap frogging tradition and I caught back up with him as we started our last climb. From here out I knew the trail and was determined to run the downhill, all of it. I was feeling incredibly good considering how much time I’d spent on my feet and I wasn’t about to finish wishing I had finished harder.
Of course, the last stretch of miles drug on forEVER! I ran them but I was constantly glaring at my watch willing the miles to tick by faster or staring at the trail ahead of me wishing it would straighten out – I could see the finish line but it was still so far away! But I kept on running, kept on moving, kept on…keeping on. When I wanted to slow down or walk I told myself I couldn’t because my watch was unofficial and I really wanted a finishing time that started with a 12, not a 13.
Eventually the finishing stretch came into view…then I was done! I crossed the finish line with a grin and had enough function left in my fingers to pull my bib tab for the volunteer. I had done it – I ran 50 miles and I finished with a smile! A big smile and no lasting pain! As they handed me the finisher’s medal someone asked how I felt. Fine. I felt fine! Seriously, nothing hurt more than a slight ache and I was feeling satisfyingly balanced. It was surreal then and looking back at it now it is even more unreal. I ran 50 miles and it didn’t suck!
Distance: 50.1 miles
Finish Time: 12:45:01
Elevation Gain/Loss: ~11,500ft
First Half Time: ~6:00:xx
Second Half Time: ~6:45:xx
…this just means my first miserable ultra is still waiting for me. Which is unsettling but encouraging, I guess I have to keep on running ultras until one really sucks. And when I have a really sucky race it can’t be my last either, because who wants to end on a bad note! I see this ultra thing going places – like in a big, infinite loop of crazy! I’m okay with that!