This was to be the longest I had ever run and I was a little underprepared going into the race. I had been running consistently and enjoying a steady diet of big mountain runs, but not nearly the distance needed to set up a good race, particularly when the distance was a new frontier for me. Life with a 2.5 year old and a newborn at home makes getting in the miles a little harder than it used to be. I signed up a month before the race, did some crash training which built to a 20 mile run 2 weeks before the race and left the rest to my willingness to suffer to get me through. And this course was no cakewalk with 6,000 feet of elevation and most miles ticking by at over 10,000 feet above sea level.
Things got off on the wrong foot before the race even started. Maxon was not very comfortable in his “new bed” where we were staying and was up 3 times during the night with the real dagger being the 4:30 AM wake up where I wasn’t able to get back to sleep after paying him a visit. Cooper wasn’t happy either waking twice in the first 30 minutes we turned the lights off to sleep which eventually led me down to sleep on the couch. 6 hours of broken sleep wasn’t what I was looking for! But that’s life with kids.
Just over 60 competitors gathered at the base of the ski resort for a cool morning start. I was reminded of how chill the trail running race vibe is compared to triathlon. The course goes up nearly 4,000 feet in the first 9.5 miles so if you didn’t have that second cup of coffee, you were in trouble. The course crisscrosses the ski trails while it works its way up the mountain which was pretty cool. I never knew there were trails under all the snow! I was hanging in around 15th place all the way up and was feeling pretty good. The only issue I had was trying to eat and drink. The sustained effort and high elevation had me breathing hard and my stomach wasn’t interested doing any work to process what I was putting in there. I got to the 9.5 mile aid station at the top of the climb at the 2 hour mark and settled into the 6.5 rolling section out to the turn around at Long Lake which hovered between 10,000 feet and 10,700 feet. This section was awesome. The trees and elevation kept things cool and the views were great. The trail was really runnable and a welcomed change from the first 2 hours of climbing.
I hit the turnaround at mile 16 about 25 minutes behind the leader (which I was thrilled about) at 3:05 into the race. With 3,500 elevation loss going home I had visions of breaking 6 hours dancing in my head. I ran well the next few miles getting a push from some mountain bikers who opted to ride behind me instead of passing me because I was running a “good pace”. I felt pressured to keep my foot on the gas! Around mile 20 some fatigue started to set in, but I wasn’t too concerned since the last 9 miles were all downhill. “Just get to the aid station at mile 23 and you are home free!” I was telling myself. I knew I was going to break 6 hours and I kept looking at my watch as each mile ticked away thinking “if you can average 10 min miles the rest of the way, you’ll break 6”. And how could I NOT do that given it was all downhill??
I took a few small spills while closing in on the mile 23 aid station as my brain and body were having a harder and harder time working together. The legs were getting heavy. After passing the aid station and beginning the descent in earnest, a pretty fresh looking fellow caught me and we chatted and I was trying to pace off him. Again, I took another tumble, this one more serious. I wasn’t significantly injured, but I was scraped and I smashed my calf against a rock. After a few minutes I was running again, but it was clear now that I was breaking down a bit and had to be a little more strategic about covering the last 8 miles. I reached down for some Gatorade and realized I lost my water bottle and my gel flask in the fall which amounted to all the calories I had. It wasn’t a death blow, but problems were starting to compound making things a little less fun.
The descent was relentless and I progressively got worse as I went. I wasn’t expecting the downhill to take it out of me the way it was, but some of these sections were brutal to run down. I don’t know how many times I fell or almost fell but it was really pissing me of! A few people started to trickle by me and it was clear who the experienced trail runners were and who was the rookie cutting his teeth (as well as some of his skin) on the slopes of Steamboat. The 6 hour mark came and went and I didn’t really care. I slipped down to 23rd place and crossed the line at 6:20. Even with the struggles at the end, crossing the finish of something I’ve never done before is extremely satisfying. I woke up as someone who had never run a 50K, but I will go to bed as someone who has. Of course I wanted to finish stronger, but I knew going in that my prep would likely put me in a real challenging spot down the stretch so I’m not too upset about it. I’m glad it was really hard. I’d hate to have done all that and not feel like I learned a little about myself….and what I learned was you can fall a lot when you are tired!