"Top results are reached only through pain...You'll find the more difficulties you have on the way, the more you will enjoy your success." - Juha "The Cruel" Vaatainen
I went to put my shoes on 4:45 am the morning of the race and found an encouraging card from Tanya & the girls underneath them. The quote above was on the front. Right then, my mindset snapped into place. There was going to be no easy path to success. I could bank on pain and discomfort. Those guarantees, and how well I could embrace them, were going to be the determining factors for a successful race.
On that note, I've decided that I'm never going to say that such and such race was a tough one. I've learned now that they're ALL tough. Going 50 miles is very difficult no matter what, where or when. Something is bound to bite you...weather, altitude, terrain, elevation, mental fatigue, sickness...you get the point.
Backing up a bit, I have been looking forward to the Run Rabbit Run all spring and summer long. I love Fall in Colorado, but always seem to get busy those last two weekends in September and miss the peak colors. What better way to guarantee that I'll see them up close, and for more time than ever before, then to run through them for 50 miles!
Just a taste of the beauty. Rabbit Ears Peak (aka...the turnaround)
We were staying at the same campground as Patrick and Jonathan, so I hitched a ride with them to the start. We bee-lined it for The Bear to seek warmth and....coffee! They had a nice spread for runners and we all huddled inside until about 4 minutes before the start. At that point, we shuffled out into the darkness in just enough time to hear someone shout "GO!"
About two thirds of the runners wore headlamps. I did not and just stuck close to a few in order to steal some of their light. Within 15 minutes, the sky lightened just enough that I could make do just fine on my own.
I have to stop here and point out what I wuss I was at Silver Rush to be "shocked" at the 200' sledding hill all runners had to climb right at the start. Ha! If only I stopped to consider what RRR would throw at us, I'd have laughed and said the sledding hill was kids play. At RRR, you find yourself standing at the base of the ski mountain and once you cross the start line, you don't stop climbing until you're standing at the resort's highest point (10,300'). That would be 6 miles with 3400' of elevation. And after that, you then get the pleasure of running another 38 miles. Oh, but the real joke comes when after running those 44 miles, you find yourself back at the top of the mountain and faced with 6 final miles of leg crippling descent.
I carried my camera for the first 22 miles, so I could grab a few shots along the course.
I actually felt great during the climb. I power-hiked most of it and chatted with a few runners. I connected with Aaron and Danny and enjoyed our conversation as it helped make those miles go by quickly. They were both running their first 50. Unfortunately, Aaron injured his hip and had to drop at mile 32. How cool is it that he went right to the finish and waited for runners to come through so he could cheer them in!
Closer to the top, I met up with Aaron M. from Fort Collins. He was also running his first 50. We talked about running in FC and how cool of a guy local Nick Clark (whom I hope to meet someday) is. Nick is an amazing, elite runner who is very supportive and encouraging to many CO ultra/trail runners.
From miles 6 through 13, I puttered along in some pristine forests. The singletrack was a trail runner's dream. A few parts were steep and technical, but the majority of it was runnable.
My fueling plan for the run was to take a Gu every 30 minutes and an SCap every hour while trying to drink 15-20 oz of water between aid stations. After Silver Rush, I learned I need to commit to a schedule and make it very simple to follow. This plan worked like a charm for the first half. Then...well, we're getting there.
I arrived at the Dumont aid station (mile 22) feeling good as I met up with my amazing crew only 2 minutes behind my hopeful split. That was the good news, but it was overshadowed by my concern for the next 5-6 mile out and back to Rabbit Ears Peak. I had heard the climb was steep and my legs were starting to feel heavy. After a quick stop to drop off the camera and grab my second handheld, I took off to keep my momentum going.
If you look at my elevation graph at the bottom, you'll see the Rabbit Ears climb in the middle. It is relatively short, but man, the road was steep in parts and exposed to the sun. My favorite parts were running by Patrick and Jim (who ran an incredible 8:58 and finished in 13th) as they were looking very strong coming down. The final pitch found me struggling to gain decent footing on the crumbly dirt and small rocks. I said to a guy yelling at us through a megaphone that "this is sure going to be fun running down." Little did I know just how much.
I got checked in at the turnaround and started down. No more than 3 minutes later, I was navigating the sharp drop and my feet shot out from under me. My water bottles went flying, and I slid for about 5 feet on my right knee/leg. Ouch. I popped up quickly, but I was scraped up, hurting, and rattled. I walked for a few minutes trying to regroup. The scrapes were manageable, but I felt like I bruised my knee. Running was a challenge, but after a few miles, I settled into a comfortable level of pain and just forgot about it.
It helped to run by and give a shout out to Aaron and Jonathan as they powered up to the ears. Soon enough, I arrived back at Dumont and my crew was there waiting with high fives and a pacer.
I grabbed enough gels to get me through the next 10 miles. This stretch was to be my worst. Immediately, I started feeling nauseous. I tried a ginger chew since I heard that has worked to calm down the stomachs of other runners, but instead I was left dealing with a mouthful of tar. It stuck to my teeth and wouldn't go down. Eventually it did, but provided no relief to my nausea. Dread came over me every half hour because that was "gel time". Just thinking about them caused me to cringe. I remained committed to my fueling plan and almost shot the gels back up as fast as I tried to get them down. I now know that forcing them down absolutely saved my race. I even felt a tinge of a bonkiness coming on and took an extra gel. Those calories did their thing and I was able to keep them down.
I recovered from my rough patch around mile 34. I was still hurting good, but so was everyone else...at least that's what I kept telling myself. I had been about 200' behind this lady who was running the downhills and flats while hiking the hills. I followed suit and let her pace me for a few miles. We leap-frogged a couple of times, but she always seemed to find a way to get in front. I finally passed her at an aid station (mile 38) and began flying solo for quite some time as the miles ever so slowly ticked by.
Coming into the Mt. Werner aid station (mile 45), I was feeling good about the descent. I loaded up my bottles, drank a bunch of Coke, and started out. The first mile kicked my tail. Immediately I was cramping and I couldn't find a comfortable pace. I tried walking and that was no better. The second mile had me debating my options for what to do. I was so close and realized the only way I was going to finish under 10 hours was to run the entire thing...hard.
I don't consider myself a strong downhill runner or finisher of races. I've tried before to turn on the jets, but always burn out right away due to fatigue. Well, something happened and those final four miles were unlike anything I've ever experienced. I started running down those steep dirt roads as fast as I could. Everything hurt like mad, but I didn't care. There was no one in sight to pick off....no, I was racing against the 10 hour mark. I could hear the noise from the finish, but couldn't see anything. I went from running a race completely void of emotions, to having tears pouring out of my eyes and streaming down my cheeks. I felt as alive as I ever have. With a mile to go, I could see the village and proceeded to run the fastest I had all day.
Once over the finish line in 9:49:28, I got my bear hug from a volunteer and then more hugs from Tanya and the girls. I caught up with Aaron and learned about his hip issues. I then found Patrick and learned of his rebelling stomach that plagued him with projectile vomiting throughout the return trip. After hearing his story, I can't believe he finished! Within minutes, Jonathan came across the finish line with a big smile.
In closing, I can't say enough good things about the fine folks that put together the Run Rabbit Run. They work very hard and every penny earned goes to charity. They also paid tribute to former volunteer coordinator, Jenna Gruben, who also won the women's race in 2008 & 2009, but was tragically killed in a car crash earlier this year. Her family was present and all gathered to run the course in a relay format in her honor. It was fun to encounter "Team Jenna" runners throughout the day and cheer them along. I'm sure it was a healing day for them.
Here is the map and elevation chart for the day. I think the course is closer to 51 miles, but my watch registered 50.
Thanks for reading!
You might need to click the full screen button (4 arrows) to actually see anything.