“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living.
If you're not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you're not demanding more from yourself - expanding and learning as you go - you're choosing a numb existence. You're denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
- Dean Karnazes
I was excited to get up to the Fort and have another mini-reunion with runners I have met over the past year. This race is similar to Salida in the sheer number of recognizable faces that come out and test their 50 mile fitness in preparation for a summer 100 miler. Some volunteer to get their required service hours for running hundos that require 8 hours of volunteer work. I love it that even after a short time of doing these ultras, I can expect to see people I know who actually remember me. That's how it is in a small community like ultrarunning. Elite or back-of-the-pack, everyone I have met as been wonderful.
|Quad Rock 50 Elevation Profile|
I met up with Samantha at Runners Roost, where we picked up our race packets and chatted with Kristin, before heading over to Cat's house to settle in. She just moved in to a new home near Old Town and was gracious enough to offer me a place to stay. We walked a few blocks to Uncle's where I had the most delicious lemon shrimp risotto. Go there and try it out. You won't be disappointed.
|Cat & Dave, my hosts for the weekend|
|The amazing risotto, garnished with watermelon radish & mint|
After not enough sleep, we got up at stupid o'clock and headed out to the start line at 4:30. After picking up my race bib, I chatted with Joe Grant, who was manning the coffee table and on Twitter duty for the day. Always nice to see his smiling face and glad to hear that I'll see him again at Jemez in two weeks, when I go for the 50 mile double.
|Me & Samantha at the start|
The weather was perfect at the start -- in the 30's and clear with temps rising into the 60's. There was rain predicted for the afternoon, so I kept my arm warmers and Ghost Whisperer jacket on me in anticipation of colder temps in the afternoon. It was a beautiful morning; the sun rose as we ran down the road for a couple of miles before hitting the single track.
I lost both Cat and Samantha right away, so I settled into a comfortable pace and got to work. I kept myself at the back and worked on saving my energy on the climbs and taking advantage of gravity on the descents.
The first friendly face I saw was Eric Lee, who was working the Towers Aid station, but had parked himself on the Sawmill Trail. Snapped a quick pic before heading off to finish the 1,824 ft climb up to Towers (7.1 mi).
|Eric and the Towers crew went Hawaiian this year|
|The Towers road climb|
Somewhere around here, I picked up my trail buddy Emily, who flew out from Memphis to run the race. I enjoyed getting to know her as we cruised down the Spring Creek Trail (my favorite section of the course) into the Horsetooth aid station (10.3 mi). There, to my delight, I saw my friend Julian, who was getting his Hardrock service hours in. After a few quick pics, Emily and I were on our way up our 2nd climb to Horsetooth Rock and over to Towers again (1,641 ft gain). Got to Towers (14.1 mi) and was thrilled to take an Otter Pop with me down Mill Creek.
|Julian, Hardrocker and mountaineering badass|
|Happy in my striped compression socks|
|Emily and I ready to get after it|
|Climbs are not my forte|
I descended down to the Arthur's aid station (17.5 mi), where I was greeted by Aaron Marks and his fiancee, Kristen. I introduced myself to Kristen as the one that surprised Aaron at last year's Ponderous Posterior when I recognized him on the trail. While chatting and stuffing my face, I found out that he ran both The Bear 100 and Chicago Marathon double last fall as I did. It felt good to know that someone else was as silly as me in doing those races back to back.
|I missed Aaron's smiling moment|
I headed out of Arthurs to start climb #3 (1,444 ft), which is where I expected to see the 50 mile front runners coming back down on their return loop. As we were ascending in the valley, I recalled seeing the first runners last year; this year it was further up the Howard trail. Hmmm... are they slower or am I faster? Caught a couple of them on my camera before getting back to the work of climbing. This is the section that feels like the longest to me for some reason. Once we started descending into the turnaround at Soldier's Canyon, the switchbacks seem to never end.
|No front runners here this year|
|Jared Hazen came through first|
|Jason Koop, who finished 6th|
|Despite having a rough day, Katie got top 10.|
Got into to the halfway point around 6:15, similar to last year. I've heard that roughly half of the 50 milers will stop their race when they come to the turnaround point, thereby earning themselves a 25 mile finish.
|Melissa's smiling big 'cause she's done. Hmph. (Photo: Sean Lara)|
|I'm pretty sure they were having more fun down there|
It was on the 5th climb up the Mill Creek Trail to Towers (1,644 ft) that the wheels started coming off. I was eating on the climbs, taking shots of V-Fuel gel in addition to what I was eating at aid stations. My 20 oz bottle was nearly empty at each aid station when it was refilled. I don't overdo the electrolytes since they can make me sick and leave me with excess salt on my skin, so I take one S-Cap every few hours.
For whatever reason, I had nothing left for the climb up to Towers. Somewhere along the way, I was caught by the last runner, who was being trailed by Bob the sweeper and Bill (collectively known as "Billy Bob"), Chris and Mark. So I had them on my tail, telling me that if I just kept going, I'd get it done in time. In my low point, I was seriously stressing about cutoffs. I wasn't able to enjoy the amusement of the conversation behind me for fear that all my effort to get to the finish in under 14 hours would have been for nothing. In retrospect however, that stress kept me moving and likely was the reason I finished within the cutoff. Thanks, guys!
|Me and Bob, Mark & Chris (Photo: Bill)|
By the time I got up to Towers (35.7 mi), it was raining and windy. I asked about the cutoff, to which I was told there was none. So, off I went down past Horsetooth Rock to Soderberg service road, secretly hoping that I'd miss the cutoff at Horsetooth aid station (39.5 mi) so I could end my misery. But as it turned out, because of the fact that I tend to descend well (even when I'm tired), I started feeling better by the time I got down to the aid station. Julian was waiting for me and told me I was ahead of the cutoff, so there was no excuse to drop. Damn-nit. I took this as a sign from God that I was supposed to keep going and headed up to Towers one last time with a renewed determination to get after that sub-14 hr finish.
It didn't hurt that I love the Spring Creek Trail and while it has 1,436 ft of climb, it isn't as steep so I didn't struggle with it like I did on Mill Creek. By the time I got up to Towers (42.7 mi), I had an hour and 45 min left to finish the final 7 miles. With most of that downhill, I had a chance. The race to the finish was on!
I bombed down Towers road to Stout in 10 min I think. I slowed down on the rollers that eventually led me down to the Arthurs aid station (47.8 mi) and panicked as I tried to keep a good strong pace going, while leapfrogging with the guy that had passed me back on the climb up Mill Creek. He was suffering from sore hammies due to running the Zion 100 a month before, so I passed him for good on the South Valley Loop trail.
Once I got to Arthurs with only 2.2 miles of gentle downhilling, I saw two men up ahead and decided to chase them down. Passed both of them in the last mile and crossed the finish in 13:49. Never have I been so happy to be done with a race. Cat was waiting for me and Eric got a sweet snap as I jumped across the finish line.
|Jumping for joy (Photo: Eric Lee)|
|Billy Bob will be at Jemez too. Bummer.|
So, it wasn't my best day but went well for the most part and was able to salvage an official result, although 25 min slower than last year. Once again, my ability to descent relatively fast through the entire race seems to make up for my lack of climbing speed.
For the 2nd year in a row, I told Nick I'm not running this race again, despite the excellent runner support, epic course and so many familiar faces. If I'm faster and more fit next year, my resolve may crumble and I'll be back to go after a PR.