Sunday, July 8, 2012

San Juan Solstice 50

Better late than never on posting this race report from Lake City.  I could easily break it up into two parts that are equally as satisfying - the race, and then everything else about a trip to Lake City including hanging out with great friends.

This year the snowpack behaved and allowed us to run the standard course.  Not that it was any easier than  what we ran last year.  I was woefully unprepared for almost 13K feet of climbing then, and was hoping that the same amount would somehow be a little easier this year.

My big concern for the race was going to be the heat.  It was pushing the mid-80's in Lake City prior to the race and I don't run so well when it gets that hot.  Thankfully, much of the race is way up high, so the temps were more manageable where the air was thin.

Nearing the top of monster climb #1 - Alpine Gulch

Our first taste of running above treeline.  A taste we got to experience all day long.

Looking back from the high point before we started running a ridge.

This was fun!

Simply loving this race - for now.

One last climb through some loose rock and the downhill fun began.

Yahoo!  Six miles of downhill.  Looking back from where I just came from.

Back in the trees.

A mile or so before hitting the Williams aid station.
After refilling my supplies at Williams, we had a couple miles to run up a road before the climb to Carson began.  I was following two runners about 1/4 mile ahead of me.  All was good until they disappeared.  I was certain they didn't pull away, so the only other explanation was they took a turn that I missed.  With fresh memories of getting off course last year, I stopped and began to backtrack.  There was a runner behind me when I started up the road, but he too was nowhere to be seen.  After about a 1/3 mile of backtracking, I saw the other runner still coming towards me.  I turned back around and continued running until I found the Carson turn off.

Oh the climb to Carson was cruel.  The sun was relentless, not to mention the miles of steep grades.

After passing through the aid station, I finally found the ghost town.

I had been warned about the continued climb after the aid station.  No breaks whatsoever.

Even after reaching the end of the road, the course still goes up and up.  They warn you to be prepared for a 9 mile stretch along the Divide.  What caught me a bit off guard was that it's actually a 15 mile stretch all between 11,500-13,000'.
The stretch along the Divide lived up to all the hype.  While I was beat up from the two huge climbs, I kept reminding myself, this is what the race is all about.  I got about halfway through and the effects of being up high for so long really started to wear me down.

It was hard not to stop and take in the sights.

This scene doesn't change much.

Because the Divide stretch is pretty much a straight shot, it appears to go on forever.

The only patch of snow we had to cross all day.  Of course I totally wiped out in the middle of it.

This is my last shot before the camera went away so I could focus through a rough patch.
I came into the aid station at mile 31 feeling like crud.  I had no doubt pushed it too hard in the beginning, and now was left to deal with low energy and probably significant catch up on nutrition.  The bright spot was seeing Jaime come flying up to the aid station as I was about to leave.  He looked really strong!  I started shuffling along, but it was a matter of minutes before he came up from behind and passed me.  I couldn't have been happier about how his race was unfolding since he dealt with quad issues in the days leading up to the race.  Unfortunately, those issues resurfaced in a big way, and shortly thereafter, Jaime had to walk it in to the Slumgullion aid station and call it a day.

It was during these miles to the Slum AS, that our beautiful blue skies disappeared and were replaced by a gray haze.  While I normally welcome any and all cloud cover, the haze was from smoke, not clouds.  I'm not exactly sure where the fire was, but the radical transformation in the air quality was wild.  I made it to Slumgullion (mile 40) and the sun was casting a weird orange glow on everything as it was filtered by the smoke.

I was not in good shape.  I hadn't managed my race well, and now the smoke was compounding my issues.  I began the trek towards the final climb up Vickers Ranch and really struggled to breath well.  I wanted to drop right then, but knew I had missed my opportunity.  I got about halfway up the climb and Leila D. came up behind me.  I was really happy to see a familiar face, but was met with an angry Leila.  The smoke was burning up her lungs too, but unlike me, she took it and turned it into a fire that drove her up the hill and to a very strong 2nd place female finish.  I needed to see that side of her because I understand now how she is so successful.  When the chips are down, you can either wallow in pity (which I did), or get ticked off and allow it to drive you.

The Vickers AS was awesome.  I downed about 5 cups of Coke before the volunteers kicked me out and told me to get to the finish.  I ran (albeit slowly) the whole way down.

A few days before the race, I asked my girls if they would meet me at the edge of Town Park and run with me to the finish (a SJS tradition).  They said no.  I was told it would be too "embarassing."  Well, after a bribe or two, I had willing participants.  Knowing they were waiting for me was a surprisingly motivating factor in the final miles.

They heard my name announced as I was about a 1/2 mile away and got into position.

And the fun run begins!

By far the BEST moment of the race! (photo:  Brendan Trimboli)
I crossed the finish line in 11:06:05 which was good for 24th place.  I'm happy with the result, but know that I can still do better.  After a few good races, I took some steps backwards.  It came down to managing the race poorly and not being mentally tough enough to get back on track.  I've thought a lot about what happened out there and look forward to my next chance to race....Leadville!

Later that night we enjoyed dinner with Leila and then hung out with Jaime and his family.  Such great times that made this year's Lake City weekend a memorable one.

A big thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers.  I'm in awe of how you pull off such a challenging race.  Everything was perfect.

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