Spoiler: I finished the Silverton Ultra Marathon 100k race…in 20 hours, 43 minutes.
In an attempt to process the whole ordeal I’ve been sharing bits + pieces of my experience on Instagram this past week…but it feels remiss to let this whole event go by without truly writing about it. So, here goes! All the words, about a race I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, let alone enjoy.
As you read in the ‘accepting fate’ post about this race I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the finish, but my real fear came from knowing I knew how to suffer just enough to make it through. Now, looking back, it was miserable…but I can no longer feel the raw emotions that I felt on the trail. On the trail I was fully prepared to write off racing…forever. I had justified this decisions repeatedly, creatively. But the next morning + this following week something else has happened. Instead of hating racing I’m toying with the idea of getting into MORE racing. Because that makes total sense. Not.
If you’re pressed for time, just peep the headings. If you’re bored at work + looking for something to read, check out the oversharing below each one!
Start to AS 1 [11.4 mi] // okay, this is a fun adventure but I bet it’ll suck soon.
The first 6+ miles of this race were runnable…very runnable. After about two miles of paved/gravel road we hopped onto railroad tracks. Sounds cool, right? It is for about ten steps. Then you’re pretty convince you’re going to trip + fall on your face or into the river. We got to hop between squishy gravel, sloped sides + the uneven railroad ties that had us feeling like we were foot dancing along monkey bars made by a drunk person!
I honestly had no idea I had just run 6.5 miles until I saw the course marker with the mileage + an arrow on it. The runnable bits were over for a while…we were headed uphill. After a steady forest climb up the Colorado Trail the trees disappeared + we wandered into an open meadow with a dirt ribbon woven through it. Ah, yes, this is why I run in the mountains! Sure, the technical stuff is fun but it’s the buttery smooth trails across alpine meadows with stunning views all around that really steal my heart.
A few miles of rolling single track we were made our way toward Molas Pass…an area we heard long before we saw it. The sound of cars on the highway pulled us back to reality + got me thinking about exactly what I would need from the first AS, where I’d see Robb + Max.
Much to my disappointment this AS only had sugar [gummie bears, oreos, etc], chips + peanut butter available. The last thing I needed was more sugar + I despise the existence of peanut butter. Lucky Robb had saved the remnants of my breakfast burrito which proved to save my ass a few hours later.
AS 1 [11.4 mi] to AS 2 [21.9 mi] // this sucks…only 16 miles until I can quit + get in Robb’s truck.
After leaving the first aid station we headed across the road + up another smooth stretch of the Colorado Trail. I guess someone who actually trained for a mountain race would consider this to be ‘runnable’ trail…but I am not that person. I did a lot of hiking here. Up, up, up. There were a fair number of non-racers on the trail here. Both backpackers, day hikers + mountain bikers…most were friendly + encouraging. Some seemed frustrated with our existence + acted as if they were purposely blocking the trail to slow us down. Or I was projecting, who knows. Luckily all the happy, positive people out shined the grumblers.
It was along this stretch when I started to truly hate life. Around mile 13 [yea, less than two miles since I saw Robb!] I was letting myself seriously considering quitting. I was comfortable with the idea of quitting if anything went wrong. Not because I wanted to give up, but because I was being realistic about my lack of training. However, at this point nothing had gone wrong. Everything was ‘okay’ at worst…but I was still pretty darn ‘okay’ with giving up + walking away from the race. As the course + trail took us uphill my will to suffer through was plummeting downward.
AS 2 [21.9 mi] to AS 3 [28.8 mi] // I absolutely hate this + nothing can change that, I’m quitting.
As I was floundering between ‘this is beautiful’ + ‘this sucks’ I was also doing my part to make sure I had the gumption to keep going. It was a weird paradox. As I was giving myself permission to quit the race I was also doing everything I knew how to make sure I would be capable of continuing to the end. I guess it’s good to know I still know how to eat, drink + stay conservative?
To continue with the paradox, I was still chasing after my fabricated timeline so I spent a good portion of this section running. It was mostly downhill from Rolling Pass to Cascade Creek + I used that to my advantage. Life still sucked, but I knew I couldn’t really quit until I made it to the truck…so I continued with that annoying purposeful forward movement.
Even so, I was fully prepared to walk away from this race + from racing forever. I even worked out a whole article in my head for Trail Sisters about how you can be a runner without being racer [still believe that, but with less race-hate than I felt on this stretch of the SUM 100k course]. Racing wasn’t my jam…so why bother struggling through 20+ miles when I could just pop into the truck + spend the evening being a lazy girlfriend?
This was my decision…until I showed up at AS 3, the one that Big Brothers Big Sisters of SW Colorado had whipped up into an oasis in the wilderness. I walked in, spotted a bean + cheese quesadilla slathered in salty avocado + offered up my womb to whoever let me eat it. They gave me two! Then they offered up homemade cookies + brownies. As I shoveled ‘real food’ into my face they asked about the course + my race…which I was very honest about. It was beautiful, I hated it, it was runnable, it made me hate running, it was gorgeous, I was quitting. Of course, they didn’t buy my hatred + sent me on my way full of optimism, excitement + Mike ‘n’ Ike.
AS 3 [28.8 mi] to AS 4 [37.3 mi] // damn, *real* food is magical…guess I’ll keep going [grumble, grumble].
Within a few miles of the delicious quesadilla aid station I let my mind slip away from trail hatred + toward a bit of ‘what if’ thinking. Maybe I could keep my legs on track for another 20+ miles. I mean, I’ve already made it this far…nothing has rebelled yet. Might as well push myself to that point, right?!
To solidify this shift in mindset I flipped on the microphone on my phone + started talking to myself. I had spent that last 15+ miles on the trail all by myself. If you’ve ever run with me you know that is a LONG time for me to go without aimlessly talking. So I decided to create a list of reasons to quit…followed by a list of reasons to keep going. Twenty minutes later I had 30 reasons to quit + 31 reasons to keep going. Looks like the fate of my day was decided.
Ironically, up until this point in the race I had been keeping on top of my hydration, nutrition + pace so I could get to Robb faster + quit sooner. Once it became obvious I was going to keep running beyond the third aid station I just maintained. There was not catching up to do…just sticking with it. Looking back it’s easy to assume I just knew I was going to finish all along. While I do believe I knew I was capable of a finish I pinky promise you there were definitely many miles of ‘nope, not even kind of going to happen’ about of thinking. During those miles there wasn’t even a sliver of ‘maybe we’ll keep going…’ thoughts of positivity in my mind. Nope. I was quitting. Until I wasn’t.
I arrived at AS 4 with a list [knee, foot, Powerade, tissues, ibuprofen] + a craving for anything that wasn’t coated in sugar. Lucky for me Robb + the volunteers were pretty amazing at getting me everything I needed. I tried to convince them to push the cutoff up a few hours so I could call it a day but they weren’t having it. Later I found out that prior to my arrival Robb had seriously considered moving his truck further away + out of sight so I wouldn’t be tempted. He is a smart man…
AS 4 [37.3 mi] to psuedo-AS 2 [47-ish mi] // stupid smoke, I can’t breath, can we PLEASE go downhill now?!
I left the aid station with a pacer of sorts. Nick was sweeping the course + I had the pleasure of being DFL [Dead Freaking Last] so he was following me to the finish. I wasn’t complaining! I had spent the vast majority of the last 25 miles all by myself so I was happy to have company. Unfortunately for me, the wildfire smoke had settled into the valley which made breathing, let alone talking, a bit difficult. I’m not one to give up on a good conversation but I did have to give up keeping inline with my spreadsheet of time estimates.
The climb out of AS 4 + up to Rolling Pass took far longer than I expected. In part because I had to slow down + even stop just to breath. It was suggested this was due to the elevation but we were between 9-11k…which is high enough to cause breathing issues until you think about the fact I live above 9k. It was the smoke + it was filling my lungs with hacks.
As we slowly climbed up the mountain side the beautiful weather attempted to take a turn for the worse. Dark clouds rolled over + thunder started to rumble. We left the meadow behind + were deep in the trees when the rain started. It wasn’t heavy, just a light pitter-patter that kept us company between bright flashes of lightning + chest quaking cracks of thunder. It was incredible, although I do prefer aggressive thunderstorms when I’m far away from an open mountainside. Instead we were headed directly for a very open mountainside. Against every ‘safety squirrel’ instinct we pushed upward, timing the distance of the lightning with every flash + boom.
Luck was on my side again + the storm pushed off into the distance just as we left the trees for the alpine meadow. Unfortunately this did not mean we were done going uphill but at least the smoke had cleared out.
The alpine meadow spread out in front of us as the sunset behind us as we continued forward. Eventually, after what seemed like about four days, we made it to the top of Rolling Pass. Phew. My mind was still happy to be out there + my legs were fully functional but boy was I glad to be done with all that freaking uphill!
psuedo-AS 2 [47-ish mi] to AS 5 [50.1 mi] // this flashlight is amazing, but where are the course markers?!
This wasn’t an official aid station at this point but the crew who had packed everything in 3 miles [yes, they carried water + food in THREE MILES just for the runners!] still had a few things left so I made a pit stop. I met up with the headlamp we had been following for hours + together we finished off most of the chips, M+Ms + water at this unofficial aid station. At the very least we could make their hike out easier, right?
At this point I lost my sweeper friend, Nick. He stopped to help pack up a few things while I hit the trail. As I made my descent down to Bandera Mine I managed to scamper past a two people…I could no longer claim the trifecta of placing in the top three of my age group, the top ten of women + DFL. Honestly, I was a little bit disappointed but my legs were happy so off I went.
This is where my body was happy + my brain was in the game but I started to get generally frustrated with the course marking. For the previous 50 miles the course had really solid markings. I only questioned my route finding a few times + it just took another >5 minutes of running to find the next marker. However, on our descent into Bandera Mine this changed. The markers were much further apart…I’d run downhill for upwards for 10 minutes [remember, I don’t have my GPS tracking, just a standard clock ticking away minutes] without seeing a trail marker + sincerely hoping I was still on route.
There were also multiple river crossings without any markers to signify we were actually supposed to cross the river. I assumed we were…there really weren’t many other options. However, it was dark + a light can only see so far. I was constantly second guessing myself + wondering if I should have taken that off shoot ‘trail’ into the willows. It was really frustrating, especially after a full day of following a well-marked course. Honestly, I don’t think I would have been nearly as disheartened on this stretch of the course if I hadn’t been previously spoiled with solid markings OR if I had come through this stretch in the daylight when I could see beyond the glow of my 385 lumens light [it was powerful + I still couldn’t see far enough to feel confident in the route!].
All whining + whimpering aside I made it into AS 5 just before midnight…which was approximately two hours late according to my not-so-trusty spreadsheet. I was actually feeling pretty good + inhaled anything that resembled ‘real food’ as I ditched some gear into my drop bag. I left behind my hydration bladder + a few random layers in exchange for all things puffy [jacket + pants]. I wasn’t dropping weight so much as I was making sure I had all the warm things when I arrived at the finish line in 10 miles. I was ready to be done but also ready to get it done, not quit.
AS 5 [50.1 mi] to AS 6 [56.1 mi] // runnable road…that goes on forever. yay?
I left the Bandera Mine AS ready to take on some runnable road…or so I thought. Turns out that road went on FOREVER. I had been down this road before on a previous mountain adventure up to Island Lake + I definitely do not recall it take a bajillion years to drive along. Running along it, however, did take a bajillion years. It just drug on + on + on.
Within about 30 minutes of leaving the AS I came upon the two woman who I’d seen briefly at Rolling Pass. They both left me in their dust as they scooted down the mountain. I wasn’t feeling so frisky then as I wanted to do was scoot into Robb’s truck. But this time I was happily running along the road [it had only been a half bajillion years of runnable road at this point so I was still being happily patient].
They actually took me by surprise as I didn’t see them until I rounded a bend + nearly ran into them as they adjusted shoes/packs at the edge of the road. I definitely wasn’t as pleasant or supportive as I wish I had been but by the time I had registered my rudeness I was too far gone…down the endless road of runnableness.
I head a few rowdy campsites as I ran along the road but for the most part I was alone in the black of the night. Every once in a while I’d cover my light + just run into the darkness. Of course, I’d always get irrational afraid of the unknown + pop my light back up to do a swooping check of the world around me. I have no idea what I was afraid of — animals? humans? the boogy man? — but this was only the beginning…
The crew as AS 5 was energizing + encouraging but I had my head down with focus. Looking back I am once again a bit ashamed of how short + unfriendly I was to the volunteers — I’m sorry strangers who stayed up all night for me!
At this point I had my sights set on a 2:30am finish time. It was 90 minutes behind my projected finish time but that not-so-trusty spreadsheet has forgotten to take into consideration AS down time. I guestimated this took about 90 minutes of my day, so finishing 90 minutes ‘late’ was completely acceptable [turns out I spent 84 minutes in aid stations…not bad for run-drunk math!].
I shoveled some more ‘real food’ in my mouth + hit the trail with a handful of snacks. Robb was at this AS + while I was completely stoked to see his face [+ may have cried if he wasn’t there] I didn’t actually need much crew help. I was feeling good + wanted to get this over with. After a sweaty, stinky hug + a request for him to meet me along the course in town I was off to the finish line.
AS 6 [56.1 mi] to Finish [60.2 mi] // definitely going to get eaten by a mountain lion or fall off this cliff…
The final 4-ish miles to the finish line were easily my least favorite stretch of the course. They were even more hated than that climb up to Rolling Pass. In short, they sucked…both literally + figuratively. I hated them + the sucked the life out of me.
The first mile or so was fine. Sure, it was a steep climb up followed by some weird zig-zagging on someone’s driveway [or something like that, it was really confusing], but all of that was relatively fun + just something to overcome to get to that finish line.
Things changed after that. We were still on a stretch of course that was marked very sparsely + it was infuriating! The steep climb had taken the trail up to a side of a very rocky mountainside with patches of tree groves…or so I assume. It was dark, I couldn’t see much. The lack of light [even with my aggressive 385 lumens light] + the miles of second-guessing myself had completely murdered my self-confidence in the most rudimentary route finding.
I kept thinking I was off trail + got pissed because I was too damn close to being done to get lost. The course markers were every quarter to half mile + while I never did turn around to double-check my route I slowed to consider it far more times than I care to admit.
At one point I even stopped to pull out my phone + check the map…at which point I swear [even now…weeks later] that I heard a creature breathing in the bush next to me. In reality it was probably a deer I spooked [yup, still believe it was a creature!] but at that moment it was definitely a mountain lion stalking me. I was legitimately afraid to run! I moved forward at a ‘I am not quitting or dying’ sort of walk + kept checking all around me with my light. Nothing. Nothing but my very active imagination + a lot of sleep deprived creativity.
We were closer to town, but it’s always near towns that I’m more afraid on the trails. I don’t know what it is but being closer to civilization always gets my spide-y senses working in overdrive. Eventually the trail opened up to a rocky mountainside + I was able to see all around me…no eyes, no creatures, no treat…accept a fall down a steep rocky mountain. But hey, that seemed more pleasant than becoming a midnight snack for an imaginary mountain lion.
After what seemed like approximately 7.5 hours I made it into town! I climbed up a relentless road that felt about 5 miles but surely wasn’t more than a half mile, grumbling that the stupid mountain lion hadn’t eaten me + just finished this for me. Hello there, emotional roller coaster. A few minutes later I was running down a field + into town where I saw Robb perched on a bench, patiently waiting for my crazy self. He ran the last few blocks to the finish line, commenting on how well I was still running. Turns out I’m actually really good at running the last half of a race after I convince myself I’ve gone too far to quit. At least I’m consistent with that [had a similar finish at a few 50s + my 100].
Now, I swear I finished — I have no photographic proof of this because no photos were taken of my finish or my medal or the last 7+ hours of running but hey…just take my word for it!
Once it was all done I kicked off my shoes [a standard ‘I’m finally done’ tradition of mine], layered up in puffy things + indulged in more ‘real food’. Until this race I had no idea just how much I crave ‘real food’ while running. By ‘real food’ I mean anything that isn’t sugar based…anything you may find yourself eating for lunch or at least pretending counted as lunch on a rough work day. Next time [if there ever is a next time…] I’m making a conscious effort to pack more real food + less ‘race food’ in my pack!
All said + done, I did manage to meet my one goal — crossing the finish line with a smile on my face. It took me 20 hours + 43 minutes which is 45 minutes quicker than the Never Summer 100k took me two years ago [the most recent traditional race I ran prior to SUM 100k]. That’s an improvement so I’m just going to sit over here in my glory…maintaining my ‘never race again’ plan for my future + find my version of happy traipsing around the mountains on my own time + my own route.