I wasn't excited about running this race. I'd been feeling off since running the Pikes Peak double in mid-August. I was constantly feeling like I was dancing on a razor's edge of getting sick...run-down...fatigued. Just felt off. Since Pikes, I'd had one solid five-day stretch of running and one long run (by time...not mileage). As a result, I was taking a pretty low-key approach to the race.
Early Friday afternoon, on a busy workday, I realized I was running out of time and needed to start preparing for this race. The weather report was good, so all I really needed was a couple of Ziplocs-worth of gels for the drop bags. So, I threw that together, gathered up my gear and jumped in the car at about 2:30 p.m. and raced to Steamboat Springs in order to get there in time for the race check-in and "mandatory" pre-race briefing.
After a stressful drive, complete with some I-70 traffic, construction traffic on Highway 40 and a remarkable number of dead porcupines strewn along the roadside, I finally arrived at the ski resort a few minutes after 5 p.m., just in time to get checked in and to listen to the overly-long and unessential "mandatory" briefing.
That said, I'm glad I was there. The briefing set a great tone for the race, a tone that said this is a professionally-run race that's not run by professionals and is done because the organizers love the sport and want to give back to it and to the Steamboat community. There also was a very touching tribute to Jenna Gruben, a two-time top Run Rabbit Run 50 female finisher who tragically died this February returning to Steamboat from Moab after running the 33K race that was part of the Moab Red Hot 50K event.
After the briefing, a quick shopping excursion to buy a new running watch and a bit of dinner, I checked into my hotel and tried to chill out and rest. I was still feeling poor...a bit achy, tired and unmotivated.
The 4:15 a.m. wake-up call was a bit of a jolt. Remarkably, I felt good. No sign of fatigue. In fact, I didn't even think about not feeling good. I was just on auto-pilot. Hell, I even took a pre-race shower.
I made it to the Bear, where the race check-in was located, around 5:45. I checked in, milled about and made the requisite multiple fruitless trips to the bathroom. At just after 6 a.m., the RD said it was time to head to the start, which was located just down the steps from the Bear at the edge of the base area's cobblestones.
I was among the first group of folks making our way outside into the pre-dawn darkness. I found myself at the front of the relatively narrow chute that was the start. Standing to my left was Geof Roes, who casually leaned over and asked me which way the course went. I pointed left and he nodded just as the RD set us off.
The first 100 yards of the race was through a chicane of fencing leading us out of a construction zone to pick up a trail that would lead us past some condos and onto an access road that climbs to the top of the ski resort. I opted not to mess with carrying a headlamp and had no problem navigating the darkness thanks to the panoply of other headlamps bobbing around me.
By the time we hit the access road, where the real climbing began, I was sitting in about 12th place. As the trail turned up, though, a lead pack of about six runners soon were out of sight.
The initial climb up to the Mt. Werner aid station is about 6.4 miles. About 30 minutes in, my gut demanded a pit stop...a sign of things to come. After a not-so-quick detour into the woods, I was back on the road and headed up again. I started taking it easy as the road got steep, walking where the effort seemed too much for this early in the race. Met up in here with Donnie H. and caught up on his successful finish at Hardrock earlier this summer.
I hit the Mt. Werner aid station in 1:22, dropped my gloves and base layer and jumped on what immediately struck me as some very, very fine singletrack.
This initial seven-mile stretch of rolling trail was trailrunning at its finest...narrow trail, great views and a quickly thinning herd of runners. Somewhere in this section, I had to make pitstop #2. I could hear a couple of runners plodding by as I took care of business behind a large boulder. So frustrating.
Soon, I was back in the game and arriving at the Long Lake aid station in 2:33.
After a quick refill of the hydration pack, I set off alone and soon caught up to Jaime Y. We chatted a bit as we ran. It was in this section where I really started thinking about pacing. We were running easy, but steady. Was this a pace I could hold for another 35 miles? So much of this race's course is runnable. How does one pace oneself on a course this reasonable? Only one way to find out...keep running and see what happens.
The sweet singletrack continued, with a few short stretches of dirt Forest Service roads past Lake Elmo, Lost Lake, Fishhook Lake, the Base Camp aid station (3:24) and Dumont Lake. Just past Dumont Lake, the course runs by a campground and right next to...a bathroom! Pitstop #3. Damn it.
Next up was the Old Rabbit Ears aid station at mile 22 (4:02). I refilled the pack here and quickly left to an enthusiastic round of applause from a surprisingly large aid station crowd. The course from here follows Grizzly Creek Road and climbs a couple of miles to the twin rock formation known as the Rabbit Ears.
I came across Roes, Fanselow and Burch about 1/2 mile up the road from the aid station. I was surprised at how easy they all appeared to be running. (As I alluded to earlier, I'm a pacing neophyte.) As I climbed, I started counting runners that passed me headed down on this out-and-back course. By the time I hit the top of the climb and the race's halfway point (4:37), however, I had lost track. I figured I was still top 20.
On the descent back to the Old Rabbit Ears aid station (5:00), I focused on running steady and not trashing the quads...at least not yet. Saw Woody making solid progress on the ups and shouted out a greeting as we passed.
I soon was back at the Old Rabbit Ears aid station. Here, I stopped long enough to grab my Ziploc bag of gels from my drop bag before heading back onto the trail. The run back to the Base Camp aid station was uneventful, save for a brief attack from a cute, but aggressive pair of pugs. Scared the heck out of me when the dogs nipped me because I was running with an iPod and didn't hear 'em coming.
Through this section I focused on pacing and running everything I could. I started using the old trick of picking a spot in the distance, running to it and then picking the next goal. Bite-sized pieces.
Right about the time the trail headed into the trees above Dumont Lake I caught my first runner, who appeared to be having a rough go of it. I knew he was having a tough time because I soon stopped for pitstop #4 and he never passed me back. I continued running the gentle ascents and flats and speed hiking the steeper stuff. Occasionally, the course would enter a wide-open meadow and I'd see a runner or two ahead of me. I was slowly reeling folks in.
By the Base Camp aid station (5:42), I'd picked off a couple of more runners, including one about a half-mile from the AS. As I left Base Camp, I could hear the two spectators cheering about 100 yards down the road as the guy I had just passed approached the AS. I picked up the pace for a bit to make sure I stayed out of his sight. Didn't want to give anyone behind me a target to chase. I kept that mindset for a couple of miles...running fairly hard through the meadows to get into the sheltered trees and out of sight as quickly as possible. At the same time, I caught a couple of glimpses of runners ahead...runners who hadn't been able to hide in the trees. So, I focused on catching them.
I finally caught another runner somewhere around mile 35. We came into the Long Lake AS (6:44) together. I left a little before him and worked to put some distance on him. My effort, though, was to no avail. He soon caught me. As we made our way up to the Mt. Werner AS, we swapped positions two or three times. I'd typically out-hike him on the steeps and he'd catch me on the flats and gentle grades.
The 6.8-mile section from Long Lake AS to the Mt. Werner AS seemed to take forever. At last, through a steep hands-on-knees hiking section, I again passed the runner, a guy I later learned was Naz A.
This time I was determined to leave Naz behind. I knew the Mt. Werner aid station and the final climb had to be coming up, so I started working hard...running nearly everything. In my zeal to put distance on him, I managed to catch two other runners, including Helen Cospolich (2nd female finisher - 9:04).
The good news was I had a secret strategy. I was running with a hydration pack, and I had plenty of water and gels for the rest of the race. I would not have to stop at the Mt. Werner aid station. I could run right through it. Naz only had a handheld. I figured he'd have to stop.
The bad news was that I'm not the only one motivated to run hard by having runners ahead of me to catch.
At the AS (missed the split), I looked back and there was Naz, only 100 yards back. As I ran by the AS, I turned to a volunteer, shook my head and said, "Damn, that guy is persistent."
Just after the aid station, I paused long enough to put Green Day on the iPod and started running hard the 6.2 mile and 3,500-foot descent back to the race's finish.
With the music blasting loudly in my ears, I suddenly had one of those incredible moments of runner's high feelings. A wave of goodness just washed over me. Felt amazing. Flushed with that rush, I ran hard for a good 1.5 miles before Naz came whizzing by me.
He soon had 50 yards...then 100...then...he was gone. I just didn't have the quad strength to give a proper chase. The focus now was on not letting anyone else by.
As I got lower and lower, I started to realize that going sub-9 hours was possible. It would be close, but it was doable.
I was in a world of hurt as the course finally veered off the road and back onto a wide mountainbike/hiking trail. I knew this section from having run it earlier this summer. I started running harder, every step a new level of discomfort, but I knew the finish line would be sweet...even sweeter if I squeaked in under nine hours.
At long last, the base area was in full view, as the trail traversed around the side of big grassy ski run. Before I knew it, I was running again through the construction zone toward a good-sized crowd.
I sprinted across the finish line and happily accepted my finishing hug from a volunteer as RD Fred Abramowitz confirmed my finish time: 8:58:54 - 13th place overall. Naz finished 12th in 8:57:23.
My second 50-mile run was in the bag.
I was cooked. I quickly found a seat and spent a good 10 minutes gathering my wits before finally getting up and moving around a bit. I met up with Aaron K. and got the low-down on his race (wisely dropped at 32 miles with an injury...a damn-well run 32 miles!). I also had a chance to sit down and talk with Naz about our excellent battle over those last 10 miles. This was his first 50-mile race. Congrats, Naz on a great debut!
I managed to hobble up to the Bear for a free slice of pizza and a pint of 5 Barrel Pale Ale, but that was about all I could muster. I managed to head back down (oh, those stairs!) to the race finish in time to see Patrick G. finish and hit the deck (read his epic race report).
I'd soon had about all I could take. Everything was hurting. So, I headed to the car to change clothes and grab some cold drinks I had in a cooler. I wanted to want to stay and hang out for a while, but just didn't have the desire to walk back down to the finish (more stairs to walk down!). So, I climbed into the driver's seat and made a very uncomfortable three-hour drive home.
I learned a lot running this race. More specifically, I gained insight on pacing, hydration and nutrition and competing. I was vividly reminded of how much I love Colorado's beautiful public lands -- the aspens were ablaze in yellow, and the meadows and hillsides were splashed with a dazzling array of reds, oranges and browns.
My most important and memorable race experience, though, happened when I got home and saw the "Congratulations! Lucky 13!" sign jP, CP and JP had made and posted just inside the front door. There's no better feeling than walking back into one's home after a solid race performance and being surrounded by the greatest people on the planet.
Finally, a big shout-out to the race organizers and the incredible rabbit hutch of volunteers that pulls off this great race. I can't say enough good things about the race. Everything, from the pre-race schwag and course markings to the well-stocked aid stations and post-race hugs, was first-rate. At the pre-race briefing, the RD said the race had 80 volunteers...that's one volunteer for every two racers. And, all proceeds, after race expenses, goes to charity, including, this year, the Jenna Gruben-Morrill Foundation.
If after enduring this overly long indulgence of a race report you pine for more, be sure to read these guys' reports: