Might I caveat this entry by saying that this is more like a trip report/race report. They seem to be mutually exclusive here.
Saturday, June 7 marked the inaugural Sage Burner 25K and 50K in Gunnison, CO. Sponsored by Western State College, this was a smashing success from start to finish (at least in my legs and feet and back).... but I digress. It also happened to be my first 50K attempt. I drove down Thursday afternoon hoping that an extra day at altitude (above 8,000' or so) would slightly acclimatize me. I'm sure it did more to relax me than to give me any benefit as far as more efficient red blood cells. But so it goes - it is a delightful little town. I checked into my room at the Gunnison Inn in late afternoon. Extremely affordable rates, pleasant (and new) management, and a vision to turn their newly purchased Inn into a "Green" hotel - a selling point that will always draw me back their way. New owner Kip said it's a calling that prompted him and his wife to move from Palmer Lake to Gunnison, almost on a whim.
Having checked in and unloaded my truck, I thought to acquaint myself with the local organic/health food store for some fruit, almonds, and other tidbits I forgot to bring with me. As I drove down to the store, I realized that practically everything is walking distance from where I was which quickly endeared myself even more to this small southern Colorado hamlet. I noshed lightly for dinner, turned the TV off, and fell asleep rather quickly dreaming that in 30 hours or so, I'd be waking up to one of the most challenging physical endeavors I'd ever attempted.
On Friday, after a broken night of sleep, I was too jazzed to stay in bed so I drove up to Hartman Rocks, the site of the race. Only having a 2-wheel drive truck, I decided to only go up the first road to a fantastic overlook and quickly found the orange signs and yellow course markings of the race. My breath was temporarily taken away as I gazed at the course map. With trail names like "Kill Hill," "Skull Pass," and "Rattlesnake" I began to question my intentions. And my sanity. Wow, this is going to be a humdinger.
I left Hartman and proceeded to drive up to the beautiful ski town of Crested Butte for lunch, about 30 miles up the road. Relax, relax, relax I told myself as I drove along the Gunnison River raging along the winding route. After lunch at the Paradise Cafe, I sat in the nice warm sun doing some good old-fashioned people-watching on Main St. I could get into this kind of Friday. I decided to call it a day and drove back to Gunnison for a little sunshine siesta to complete the relaxing kinda day.
As I woke up around 4pm that afternoon, I felt my way around the artifically darkened motel room to the bathroom. On my way back to the wall with the light switch, I felt a bit of a pinch in the bottom of my foot. It morphed into a slight, persistent burn, then a full-fledged sting.... WTF IS THAT?!?! I reached down and off the bottom of my foot grabbed a gi-normous, hairy/fuzzy honey bee of some sort that had just greeted me with a disagreeable stinger in the bottom of my freakin' foot. I quickly ushered the little bastard out of my room back to its outdoor habitat. I should also take this time to tell you that I am allergic to bee stings. Not deathly so, just annoyingly so. Lots of swelling and irritation type stuff. As I stuck my foot under cold running water, I realized I had no Benadryl to ingest, so back off to the market I would go. As I slipped my Teva on, it just hurt and panged; I felt like there was a lump on the bottom of my foot. A stinking lump. Oh wait, there was. And I have to run 31 miles on this foot in the morning.... hmmmmm.... how would this work out?
An hour and 2 Benadryls later, I found myself out at Garlic Mike's sucking down a glass of a tasty house red wine attempting to further numb my lumpy, stinging foot. Some good pasta, excellent service, and some more local-watching brought me to a sense of peace and readiness as I walked/limped out with 12 hours to go to the start command. Another Benadryl and foot-icing later, I hit the hay again hoping for a solid night's sleep. Nerves won out, as usual. I woke up at 4:30 on my own deciding to simply get myself up and ready. The foot felt good. There was a tiny little non-stinging lump still there - nothing that a 31-mile pounding wouldn't take care of. Phew - that was a close one. At 6:25am, I left the motel and proceeded back to Hartman Rocks, this time for the real deal, not just a recon drive. A couple dozen cars parked and a few more people milling about, I (re-)introduced myself to Chris Boyack who I'd met briefly in Fruita, a recent acquaintance of Kirk (aka - Funky Legs) and exchanged brief pleasantries. See Chris' race report HERE. We both went back to our pre-race routines and got ready. A bit before 7am on this beautiful late spring morning, one of the RDs brought us all together to give us a quick pre-race spiel.
The 25K course is actually slightly longer, the 50K course actually slightly shorter, follow the orange signs/pink tape, don't die, etc. Oh yeah and Duncan Callahan, (local trail runner extraordinaire, 20-hour Leadville finisher in 2007, and 2007 winner of the 50-mile Spring Desert Ultra in Fruita) had run the course in preview a week or two prior and proclaimed, "Man, that runs like a 40-miler." With that the RD drew a line in the ground with his heel and said, "uh, well, go." I LOVE these understated beginnings. 66 of us headed off up Kill Hill and Tail Pipe trails on a perfect morning for a run.
As usual, I felt rather fine cresting the first hill and enjoyed the relatively quick descent through the first stretch of semi-technical (but not really) terrain. I was flying - or so I thought.
After an hour or so of simply trying to monitor my breathing, I finally took true note of my surroundings. Chris who I mentioned earlier was still in easy sight range after 7 or 8 miles. Hmmmm...... I started WAY too quickly I began telling myself. Or did I? I was still groovin' - sorta. The 25K/50K split passed by as did the second aid station. I settled into my first semblance of an easy pace and let several folks pass me by. I'd rather intentionally let them pass me here whence I was still feeling OK. If they flew by me at mile 25 or 30, spirits, egos, and motivation would be crushed. Now, not so much. There was sage surrounding, oxygen in the air, sand under foot, accomplishments to be had. The third (and fourth) aid station quickly came about bookending Skull Pass with both its first and second showing being mighty welcome. The cute touch was that of some local beast's skull substituting for a rock cairn about halfway through the 1.5 mile loop. Oh, joy.
The ascent out of the 16.5 mile aid station was none too pleasant for me. I just nailed the proverbial, the physical, the all-too-present..... wall. But why? No idea. The cramps and doubts began. Let the gaddamned mind games commence.
It was almost 6 more miles until the 22.25-mile aid station. By that time, no one had passed me - I had actually passed one other poor soul. The 2 dudes at that aid station were awesome. Jay Hunt and I lumbered in there together. He left before I did. I hung a bit, shot the shit, ate more potato chips and pretzels than I normally would've. It was a good decision. I found out that Tim Parr and Duncan Callahan (Msrs. numero uno and dos had passed through about "an hour-and-a-half ago"). Impressive I thought. At that point in time (my frame of reference), they were about finishing. Wow. I took off - more relaxed but still with a sense of urgency. I still had no desire to be out longer than 6 hours. I was still within range.
The next 4 miles or so saw more sage, gorgeous singletrack, trail repair (thank YOU volunteer folks -- YOU ROCK!!!), I managed to accidentally trip, and in turn, pass the aforementioned Jay - sorry man, I hit the asphalt for a 1/4 mile or so, then hit t....h....e...... effing hill. Jeeeeeezus Criminy guys, what kind of cruel joke is this?!?!?! Up, up, up..... ugghhhhhhhhhhhh. More sage, more rolling, more ups and down both physically and emotionally. I caught two more in my sight. I caught them both at the 26.25-mile aid station - as they were leaving. I was just rolling in. Similar to the previous aid station, I chit-chatted with the wonderful volunteers a bit longer than I normally would have. After all, it was the longest I'd ever been out. Then, the final true climb. Three figures on the rise to mark and pass - I would take out 2 of them before it was all said and done. And ohhhhhhhhhhhh........... the rise. Never-ending. But I persevered. And persevered. And persevered. The crest. The apex. The climax. Was I finally "here?" Yes, at least at the top of the final climb. But there was still a couple/few more miles to go. And so I went.
Bomb down, struggle up, pass the guy in the white shirt (Brian perhaps?). Concerned glances exchanged, we each assured each other we were OK. I passed easily after his quote of, "yup, I've become a salvage operation." He re-assured me he'd make it. I pushed on. I soon-after passed an older gent, I believe him to be Jim Mykelby from Leadville. An honor at that. He also assured me he'd be OK. As he had been strong the whole race until then, I decided to "empty the tank" as there were only 2 miles or so left. I decided that as I'd passed a few people since the halfway point that noone else would pass me at this point. And I would make sure that happens. Up, down, and all around - the undulations continued. Christ, it's never-ending. Some mountain-bikers pushed aside for me to pass. I think I told them thanks - if not, I did mean to. Thanks guys. Was I still lucid? Was I still making sense? How the HELL do people do 50M, 100K, 100M or more?!?!? Jeez. The tape and signs continued until I crested some rocks and saw the back end of the parking lot. I'm almost home I thought. Down, down, down some technical trails, over some rocks..... starting to flatten. Oh good, the cramps are back. Perhaps a final venture into my body reprimanding me. Eff you body. The finish line was in sight.
A few delightful volunteers ushered me down and around the bathrooms to the "black tape" that was the finish line. I crossed, and I headed for the shade, the water, the treats. I saw the familiar face of Ryan Burch (of Northern Colorado) and re-introduced myself (met him in Fruita). We chatted for a bit - he was waiting for his lady who was close to finishing her first 50K. Yup, the parallels continue.
I confirmed my finishing time of 5:58 (17 out of 35 overall) and took off. 50K, or 31M "conquering" 5,200' of elevation gain and loss. Rockin'. I got back to the hotel around 2:15 or so, popped a beer, did a cursory wash of my feet and legs, and walked down to the awards at Virginia and Main - a casually pleasant 10-minute walk from the motel. Yup, I'd done it. I spent an enjoyable hour or so hangin' with Chris and his trooper son Malcolm who had waited for him for over 5 hours. Way to go Malcolm - pleasure to meet you! Thank you both for the company.
This race needs to be put on all serious runner's schedule. Anyone who wants a quality, well-run, challenging, and down-to-earth 25K or 50K need to be here next year. Congrats and a job well done to the folks at Western State - the race director committee of Scott Drum, Jake Jones, Christine Beckham, and Chris Martinez (PLEASE let me know if I have any names wrong) and all of their superb volunteers. I will be back next year. Thank you to one and all. And thank you for not dropping me in the sage, somewhere, anywhere...... though it was nice to get lost in it for awhile (proverbially only, thankfully). See y'all next year.