I hemmed and hawed on signing up for a race this year. In the end, I decided to retry the Never Summer 100K, but alas too late. Apparently word has gotten out and the race was already full- the race which still had open spaces when it started in 2017. So I signed up for the waitlist and wondered.
It seemed likely that I would get in, but at the same time I heard a whisper in my mind. "Ouray," it said.
I'd only heard of this race the summer before, when a friend of a Facebook friend completed it. You can check the website here– I did and thought the race looked ridiculous. Not only was it just over 100 miles, but you'd do just shy of 42,000 vertical feet of elevation gain in the course of those miles, more than the famed Hardrock 100 at 33,000 feet (so about 411 vertical feet per mile for Ouray). Of course, this instantly captured my attention.
Over the winter I played my usual game of staying low. Larimer County is now firmly within my sights, and there are a large number of lower peaks one can do generally avoiding snow and worse conditions higher up. Some are easy, but many come with pretty absurd amounts of elevation gain, particularly along the Poudre Canyon. Something like 400-500 vertical feet per mile. Sound familiar?
It was finally time to make a decision. In the end it was easy, as I couldn't find a place to stay for the NS100K. But I did find a place to stay in Ouray. It was like it was meant to be.
And I am glad it happened this way. Though I am now hopelessly behind on trip reports, this allowed me more flexibility to do what I wanted, which was visit peaks (123 so far this year- 2017 total was 139). This isn't always the best for training to actually run, as many are off trail bushwhacking adventures, with too much vertical gain and loss at too slow a pace to really be called a run. But doing 350+ feet per mile on steep, difficult terrain? Yep, training left me feeling pretty happy this year.
I got to check off some big days I mapped years ago. I made a new friend and joined her for some big days she mapped years ago. I felt more freedom, doing what I wanted to and not necessarily worrying that I wasn't going fast enough. Averaging in the 20's minutes/mile was perfectly fine. Spending long days with lots of time on my feet didn't even feel like training because it's something I like doing in the first place.
As things wrapped up, I was feeling good. I did my last taper run on some local trails and posted a personal best on the initial climb AND on the final descent, and it felt like I was going easy. I was ready, or as ready as I was going to be.
I was feeling pretty confident and good with how things were… that was until we arrived the afternoon before the race. Hmm, things are a little steep in Ouray. Coming south on 550 from Montrose, I could clearly see the lay of the land, the huge prominence in front of us that contained both Hayden and Richmond Passes.
I was a little intimidated. "So wait, we have to go over that, and then back, and then a different trail, and then back over it, and then back over it again?" I felt like maybe I wasn't ready, like maybe I couldn't do it. Like maybe there was a possibility that despite all the training I might physically not be able to do it.
Which brings me to a brief interlude on why. Alot of people have asked me why, and I think the answer could very well be different for everyone. I am definitely one of those people who *gasp* actually likes exercise. I love doing big days that look like they might be too much on paper. I love being out in the middle of no where, by myself, or with the company of a select few. I am definitely an introvert and stuff like this leaves me feeling both tired and recharged.
I picked this race because it looked fucking hard. Because I wanted to push myself. Because I wanted to see if I could. Because of that voice in my head that tells me I can't, or I'm not strong enough, or I'm not good enough. Because I liked and found something in the quote from Theodore Roosevelt on their website: Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Isn't it better to try something really hard and fail, than to never try at all?
I met up with my friends and pacers/crew Dan and Nora as the prerace briefing ended in Fellin Park. While it was mostly a rambling (but interesting) discourse on the four year history of the race from the race director, there were some useful tidbits of information provided.
We stayed at a place in downtown Ouray which was pretty nice and central to the event. We made and enjoyed a dinner together, then had our own little prerace briefing. I gave Dan and Nora carte blanche to figure out the pacing, just saying that I definitely wanted someone for these certain sections, but that the whos, whens, and hows could be entirely up to them. They opted to alternate shorter stretches, which we all agreed worked quite well in the end.
I packed my bag that night, including water, snacks, a rain jacket, long sleeve shirt, and, after some debate, rain pants. Though they are light (150ish grams), it's still something that takes up space to carry along, and the weather looked ok the next day. I'll tell you now-rain pants were a great choice. There were things we had to carry- two light sources, and the race supplied emergency kit as well as a tracker we'd pick up the next morning.
I debated on taking some sort of sleep aid, but felt nervous and did in the end. I guess it helped, as I did sleep some once I got to sleep. Fortunately, I had slept as much as possible in the days leading up to this as I knew it wouldn't come easy. I got maybe six hours, and got up at 6am to start getting ready, as we were supposed to be at Fellin Park to check in by 715. Waking up was weird, as it would be fully two whole days from that point before I'd be back to sleep, or maybe more.
We walked to the park, heck what's another half a mile? A good way to stretch the legs. We got there and the waiting began. At times, I felt the race was a little disorganized, and this was one of those times. The RD and trackers weren't even there yet, though we were told to be there by this time to get them. In this particular case, that could've been because the company who was to provide the tracking service backed out the day before the race. Fortunately, they were able to set up the race with a different company, who did tracking for the Hardrock 100 the weekend before, and the trackers were still in Colorado.
He arrived shortly after, and got the trackers set up on a table. I only had one drop bag, for Weehawken, and added it to the pile. Finally things were ready to go. We just had to pick up the tracker matching our bib number. Mine was 179. I picked up my tracker, and took a look at it. The bib number and name of the person who had it at Hardrock was still on mine, and I was absolutely thrilled when I saw who it was:
Some seriously good juju. Really, this meant alot, as I would not have been as happy to get even the men's or women's winners tracker. Nikki is a legend and super inspiring human being. I was pretty happy!
Nora, Dan, myself, and random guy at the start. While I still looked fresh and happy. And that thing behind us? By the next time I set foot in Fellin Park, I'd have climbed that beast four times. FOUR TIMES! I could hardly believe it. It looked huge!
Getting ready to go, thought "I'm going up that?". Photo by Katie.
The RD said a few words, and we were off. I started near the back. I'd never be in contention to actually win, and it seemed silly to really try at all this early in the race. I think last year, the eventual winner and eventual last finisher were separated by eight minutes at the first aid station. So I didn't see much point in running hard.
We started on a road, but quickly got on the perimeter trail, went over a footbridge, and through a tunnel where I bonked my head. Yay! We ended up on the road to Camp Bird, the first aid station. By now, most people were walking the uphills, with some occasional running. I did it just to keep up I guess, and was feeling good so far.
Last year I had some major GI issues which really slowed me down, and I hoped to avoid that this year. Thus, the night before I ate a small dinner. I ate a small breakfast as well, and carried with me some candied ginger, as I hoped that would help calm things down. And I was being proactive, already eating a few pieces so it didn't start. But somewhere after Camp Bird it started anyway.
My stomach felt full and unhappy, my legs which felt so peppy the week before now felt like logs I was struggling to move. I wasn't drinking much and eating pretty much nothing. But I kept up the plan, which was to just keep moving at any pace. Even if I had to slow way down, just keep going step by step. And I did.
A small lake enroute to the first hole punch at Silver Basin.
The end of the first climb.
I'd read a few trip reports, and some did something I felt was very smart. It's easy to get overwhelmed by distance or elevation gain, so they broke the race down into climbs, a total of 14. 14 seems much more manageable than 102 or 42,000.
Since this race is alot of out and backs, you will often go to a high point and use a hole punch to punch your bib to prove you were there. Hole punch one was in the books. Unfortunately, my stomach didn't feel any better. Seeing the people come down ahead of me and going back down, I was able to determine I was in the middle of the back, but probably closer to the end than the front. I guess that was ok.
We got back to the Camp Bird aid station. I had taken an empty soft bottle to be able to carry some of the beverages provided, whether it was soda, or one of race sponsor Hammer's products. I think that was a good idea, and I made use of it pretty steadily in the beginning, as liquid calories seemed to be the only thing I could intake.
Camp Bird enroute to Richmond.
I left Camp Bird with two runners from Mexico, one of whom asked the volunteers at the aid station how far it was to Richmond. 2.1 miles was the reply, and I, in all my smart assed wisdom, added, "But it's going to take five hours to get there."
The runner thought that was about the funniest thing he ever heard, and I stuck with them for a bit until they dropped me. And he had a beer belly! I was going slow and felt like I could muster no more. Again, I told myself it was early, and that it didn't really matter at this point. This climb was hard, fully exposed to the sun and hot.
I left Richmond just as it started to rain. I stopped to put on my rain jacket and kept on. The storm intensified and it started to hail. I stopped to put on those rain pants, and wore them for the rest of the way to Ironton. It was freaky climbing up into a thunderstorm, as I would never do this normally. Eh, I knew it wouldn't last long. God bless those rain pants!
Above Richmond, the route splits into two out and backs. The first, to Chicago Tunnel, was nice enough except that I was literally gagging and trying not to puke, but very nearly did anyway.
One thing that rather sucked was that this first part of the race used still active jeep roads. Well, all of the drivers of jeeps, ohv's, and dirtbikes were friendly and respectful, always yielding right of way and giving a wide berth, but we were still sucking exhaust every time they went by, and it happened ALOT.
The road to Chicago Tunnel was mercifully unpopulated, and the climb was ok. I didn't puke at least. And there was someone at the top who looked WAY worse than I felt. But I could look across the way and see the next climb up to Imogene Pass. Ugh!
This one was alot more jeepy, and while it had since stopped raining, the weather continued to get worse, skies darkening, occasional distant thunder, light rain. Someone in a jeep stopped to tell me they would give me a ride if I wanted to cheat. I told them I was tempted, but had to decline!
But the time I got to Fort Peabody, the storm was becoming a real threat. I also knew this was the highest elevation point of the race, at just under 13,400 feet, and it was all downhill from here in some manner of speaking. Fort Peabody seems like a pretty regal name. In reality, it was more like Shack Peabody. I punched my bib, and started down the road as quickly as I could with the impending storm looming. Oh, and I'd just finished climbs two and three.
Something magical happened here. One of my biggest fears is getting caught above treeline in a thunderstorm. I actually started to run the downhill. I don't know if it was the jostling or what, but by the time I got back to the Richmond aid station, I was feeling alot better. Like alot alot. And I'd been getting rained on for hours. I'd eaten nothing. I'd drank not enough, in fact still had not peed, not good 8 hours in.
I had pretty much resigned to dropping here, but now felt I'd at least go to Ironton and see how I felt. Besides, my crew and pacers were there and I had no way to contact them. I'd have to tell them in person.
I know a few of the people I was with at this point were SUPER pissed (rightfully so) that Richmond had nothing- no clean water, no food, no nothing. On the other hand, I rolled with the punches and was happy that I was starting to feel good. I still had all the food I started with, and a guy who was dropping there let us all use his BeFree filter as much as we wanted. I filled up my soft flask and popped in an Endurolyte tab, one of the things they had plenty of. I was getting cold and had to take off, but suggested to a guy that if he caught me, we could do the next section together.
It kept raining on this climb, and I got wet and cold. My gloves got wet. My long sleeve shirt was in my pack and got wet (should've put it on at Richmond). By the time I was getting super cold, I had nothing dry to layer with, and didn't want to stop as I'd get colder, and couldn't take off my jacket anyway as it was coming down and I'd get wetter. So I used the emergency poncho in the kit we were given and put that on over everything. It was enough insulation to keep me on the warmer side of being on that edge. And the guy behind me caught me, which was probably one of the best things that could've happened at that time.
We talked as we did the climb. He had alot more experience than I, saying this would be his 11th 100 mile race, while it was my first (and second race ever). We talked about cutoffs and dropping. While I was now moving and feeling good, I was still kinda iffy on continuing.
"I'd think long and hard about that," he said. I took those words to heart. So thanks to Tom from Massachusetts, as I might not have done it without you.
He stopped at the top of the pass, but I was still cold and said I'd see him below. I think I saw him once more later, but that was it.
This descent was fun, probably should've tried to run more of it.
The person in front of me on the descent to Ironton. Things had cleared up and the rain finally stopped, but I was still cold and kept myself geared up.
We hit 550, and followed it for a short time before taking a right and heading along a road past a few campgrounds. A guy told me it was just a quarter mile more, it seemed to take forever.
Then I was there. My crew spotted me and immediately started getting me ready. I gave them all of my wet clothes to dry somehow, and said I was now feeling pretty good and wanted to keep on. I took a spare pair of socks to use as gloves, and from this point out, I'd have them meet me with a premixed bottle of Perpetuum or Sustained Energy, both of which were great fueling options for me. I also experimentally bought a large container of maple syrup and had some of that in a small flask as energy gel (*note-make sure you are getting pure maple syrup, not "maple flavored" syrup). It was amazingly great, and another one of the liquids that had gotten me this far. Nature's energy gel I suppose. I asked for more, and thought of Super Troopers. I am all that is man!
I started out the loop (CCW the first time) with Fanny from Canada. She was great to talk to and spend time with. We passed several people on the climb and got passed by none. Eventually we topped out and started down the other side. She stopped to use the bushes here, and I saw her several times after that, but we were never going the same direction at the same time again.
The backside of Ironton (Grey Copper Trail) was super fun. I was really starting to feel pretty great and happy. It also helped that I was now catching people who'd passed me hours ago whom I thought I'd never see again. I saw someone coming up who was way ahead of me, and said hi. I think he said something about having a rough time, because I held up my hands and said, "It could be worse, you could be wearing socks for gloves like me." It got him to laugh at least. I resolved and tried to make to back to Ironton by dark, but fell a short amount of time shy of that.
Close to sunset on day 1.
I saw the crew again, and was as happy as ever to see them. If there is anything better than having your wife and best friends waiting for you, I don't know what that is. They definitely kept me smiling, and I was always looking forward to seeing them.
I got a new mixed bottle of something from Hammer, had some ramen (one of the only Vegan options), a new flask of maple syrup, and took off. Another goal for this race was to be in and out of aid asap. Sure, it can be comfortable to sit and warm up and talk and so on, but the clock is running the entire time. In fact, when I got back to Ironton, I saw two people still in the aid that I'd passed going down the first time! That's like 3 hours!
Going up in the darkness was cool. It helped that we were pretty close to a full moon and things were very bright anyway. I kept my headlamp on most of the time to follow the course markers, but once i left the trail, I'd turn it off occasionally and let the moonlight guide me.
I thought the night was going to be pretty hard mentally, and that I'd really have to stop and pep talk myself to keep going, but it never came to that. It never even got close. The moonlit scenery was sparingly beautiful in a way it wasn't during the day. I'll admit it, I was having fun. I was drinking, peeing, and most importantly, eating, and I think that helped keep the gremlins at bay. But I was also doing something I love to do, out in nature, pushing myself to try harder. I was making up ground on people who passed me long ago. I was feeling great!
I got back to the aid and changed socks, shoes, and shirt, grabbed a poofy jacket in case, and headed out again. I planned to change shoes several times, and my strategy there was to go lighter. So I changed from the heaviest pair I used during the run to a lighter pair here. I'm not sure if this helped, or not, but it seemed like it would.
The climb up Richmond was my least favorite of the race. It just felt like it took forever. Even once you cross treeline and flatten out, the pass is still a good distance away. But it was cool, fun and desolate to be up there and feel truly alone. I could see a headlamp above and below me once in awhile, as well as the shine from a few people still on the Ironton loop. I know others were really freaked out by these things, but again, this is something I do pretty regularly, so I felt fine.
There is a short off trail section between the east and west sides of the pass, and it was well marked and easy to follow. I passed a guy here, then hit the road and started down.
I was able to jog most of it. I heard a few later complain about the rockiness of this section. Maybe they have nicer trails where they come from, but it was nothing worse than what one might find at Hall Ranch, Bear Canyon, or a number of RMNP/IPW trails.
I got to Richmond feeling good, and took minimal aid. Somewhere in there I realized my headlamp was dying and instead of changing batteries I changed to my bigger headlamp. I'd never actually used it before. Holy sh!t that thing was bright, like the signal fires of Gondor. I was worried I'd inadvertantly land an airplane down in here.
I took off from Richmond doing my best hike/run thing. I passed two more who I saw a few times later in the race, but who didn't catch me.
It again seemed to take a long time to get to Weehawken, the next aid station, approximate halfway point of the race, and the first time we could have pacers. Dan was waiting. I got water and took a double dose of Sustained Energy from him (2 servings in a soft flask with .75L of water, equaling 640 calories) and we headed up to the Alpine Mine Overlook.
Things were good: the sun was coming up, I made it through the night just fine, felt strong, was passing people, felt like I looked better than most of them, had already hit a pr for elevation gain in a day, and was now on the 8th climb of the race. Oh, and I was now hiking with a great friend. Could things get any better?
I thought this section would be shorter. Again the climb seemed to take a long time, but we got there, punched my bib, and headed back.
Alpine Mine Lookout.
As we descended, I gave Dan the plan for the aid station. Shoes, socks, vaseline, coffee, cookie out of my drop bag. I'd yet to poop, so I was going to try. Sunscreen quick, and let's go!
He got me water and got me set up with everything while I successfully used the portapotty and felt like a new man after.
Lubing up the feet, funny faces, soon to be destroyed cookie. Photo by Dan.
I pounded the can of cold brew, lubed my feet, and changed into some shoes with a much more aggressive tread, as the course description said they next few climbs were very technical, steep, and loose, and they recommended something like this. It also happened the chosen shoes fit in with my moving to something lighter plan. I sang the praises of past Andy, the genius (or semi genius?) who decided to put a huge chocolate chocolate chip cookie in my drop bag here. How did he know that future Andy, now present Andy, would want such an item?
It really hit the spot, and we continued down Camp Bird road until we hit the Hayden Pass trail.
The lower section was rather overgrown, with stuff hanging onto the trail left and right. After that, you get to the more technical section. It's like loose gravel rock over hard pack, and there are a few places if you were coming down hot and had to stop quickly and slipped, you'd be in for a ride for sure. Good to be careful here. Looking at the topo, the trail takes a hard turn right/west and crosses a drainage-this is where that technical section ends.
We got to a small lookout, and talked to a few people. One of them said he'd never EVER do this race again. He didn't care if he could get a better time. I agreed at that point, but my mind has since changed.
How much can you complain when everywhere you look looks like this?
We got to the top, and saw a guy from the race who told us we were at the top, and we'd follow the trail but it was flat. Immediately after this, we were heading uphill. We discussed the definition of flat. We started to descend to Crystal Lake, where Katie and Nora were waiting.
Downhill/uphill from Hayden Pass. Photo by Dan.
I was again feeling strong to see a few people who passed me long ago just starting up from the bottom. I told Dan what I wanted at the aid station, and he made sure to pass that on when we got there.
Crystal Lake aid station. Photo by Nora.
After a short and steep downhill near the bottom, we got to the aid station. Man, the volunteers were great, asking immediately what if anything I wanted and then when I said just water, rattling off all the things they could potentially give me.
At Crystal Lake aid. Still smiling, still happy, now wearing all red (coincidentally, as they only had the shirt I wanted in red left, and the shorts I already had were red). Photo by Katie.
Crystal Lake out from Andy Rose on Vimeo.
Dan and Nora switched pacing duties here, and I would be with her until Silvershield. We started up the climb- on the way over Dan said he felt like he had the better way, and that this way would be harder. At first it seemed fine, but mere minutes after leaving aid, it started to rain. We stopped to put on rain jackets. Then it started to hail. It was just big enough to be painful if it hit the right spot. We stopped to put on rain pants. And to think I almost didn't bring them!
It continued to rain/hail more on the hail side as we climbed. We heard some far off thunder and kept going, as the storm seemed to be moving east. We got higher and higher, passing a guy taking photos who was holding an umbrella, the perfect metal lightning rod to be holding in a storm above treeline.
And then shit hit the fan. I'll call the next stretch the lightning mile, and while I didn't track my run, I have to guess this was the fastest mile I did during the whole race. We had a visible strike pretty close to and in front of us to the right. While I never felt the buzz or my hair standing up, the next one was terrifying close, and we assumed the position of cover, then immediately got up and RAN fast. One more strike and the close storm was over. Fortunately, I have a good spatial memory, and knew once we turned the corner just in front of us, we'd be in trees. I yelled that to Nora and we booked it.
Just before the strikes. Photo by Nora.
Holy crap that was close. Again, something I'd never experienced, because if it looked that bad, I would've just turned around and come back another day. We talked about it a bit on the way down, feet now soaked as the trails have zero water bars and act as the drainage for the water and hail. We turned that hard corner past the drainage on the descent and got into the technical section. We took it slow there, but picked it up once we got past.
I was unmotivated to run the easy road back into town-I really have to work on that, because it's essentially free miles, particularly on a course like this. But we made it back to Fellin Park, and met with Dan and Katie.
At Fellin Park for a quick refuel and chat before heading up to Twin Peaks. Photo by Katie.
One good thing about the out and backs of this race is that my crew and pacers now had to go very little distance to meet up with me. We'd hit Silvershield after this, just a short drive north of town, and then Fellin Park three more times, including the finish.
We started up toward Twin Peaks. The course description said this section was steep, steep, steep! At first, I was wondering about that. It was up, but nothing crazy. Then we got to the crazy. If you've done the Manitou Incline, imagine something like that. But without steps in places, just soil or some loose rock. Oh, and it's at mile 75 and you've already done 28,000 feet of elevation gain. Oh, and some of the steps are extremely reassuringly held in place with what looked like the green steel things that normally hold up street signs… and f@cking binding wire!
I had again forgotten part of the course, as when it flattened out and we took the trail to Twin Peaks, I thought we were almost there. But this intersection is about half (1.8 miles) out of the three miles it'll take you to get to the top, so there's still a way to go. And yeah, it's 3000 feet of gain in those three miles. But… I was nearly at the top of the 11th climb! Have you, gentle reader, been counting along at home? I know I was, at least as much as I could still do math.
And once you get to the top, it's a short scramble to get to the summit and hole punch. Photo by Nora.
I felt like some who came from solely a running background were a little freaked out by this scramble. It's maybe third class at most. Likely second. I'm a climber and it was not an issue.
Pacer extraordinaire on the summit with me.
We headed back down, passing a few people going up who clearly looked like they were not having a good time or that they were in a good place. I actually felt briefly bad about how good I felt. I was happy, loving it. This is exactly what I love to do more than almost anything in the world! I was feeling the joy.
The descent from Twin Peaks, and the quick quick descent if you slipped and fell. Photo by Nora.
The next section was not a jeep road and was rather flat, so I again picked up into some weird combination of running and hiking. We passed by one of the coolest sights of the whole race, the dinosaur footprints in stone. Awesome. I'd passed a lady who was wayyy in front of me and looking strong in the past near the summit, she caught and passed us pretty close to the aid.
I came in, filled up minimally on water (with a short return trip to Fellin Park, didn't think I needed much) and got more Perpetuum. I love that stuff. I changed socks and attempted to lance the blisters on my pinky toes, the only real problem I'd had so far. No dice, as the needle I had was too dull. More lube and I was off, this time with Dan.
Silvershield, mile 84.8. Still smiling. Still wearing alot of red. Photo by Katie.
Silvershield Out from Andy Rose on Vimeo.
Leaving Silvershield. Video by Katie.
This section was probably the lowest point of the race for me. We made a few switchbacks and it started to rain. Again. We went a little more before stopping, as it picked up quick. Rain jackets on, we continued. Before long it was a full on deluge, and there was water running down the trail. My feet, recently put into nice dry socks, got soaked so quickly I didn't try to avoid the running water for long. All the overhanging underbrush was wet, and got everything from the waist down wet. I guess the rain pants would've been a great idea, but I just didn't want to stop.
We talked a bit, I remarked about how I was feeling strong and how my aid station strategy seemed to be working quite well. After all, I had just passed three more people, and all I did was take less time to sit there. It was no effort at all.
Fortunately the rain stopped by the time we got to the steep descent, though the previously soil slopes were now mud and slidey here and there even in the shoes I had on. But we took our time and made it down around 8pm. Two more climbs! But they wouldn't get any easier!
I felt pretty down at this aid station. I was wet, I was cold. I was right on the verge of shivering again and it was a very difficult task to get my wet clothing off. I had a hot cup o soup and a coffee (second of the event) and sat in the car with the heat on full blast. Dan would be with me for the section up to Chief Ouray Mine and was kind enough to give me some time here. This was my longest aid, and I felt I needed it.
Changing into dry clothes, feeling pretty down. Photo by Katie.
But I felt pretty darn good once I was changed into dry gear, head to toe, and had hot soup and coffee.
And yes, those are our normal faces. Photo by Katie. Note the previous two photos were taken seven minutes apart. I bounced back quickly!
Ironically, it warmed up very quickly as we started the climb, and it was warmer at altitude above town for the rest of the race. So I felt pretty nice and warm quickly.
Again, I hadn't looked at the map or had maybe forgotten or repressed anything about this section. I was disappointed and asked Dan if I'd went the right way when the trail started to descend. He reassured me that I had. There were a few times I felt the course wasn't marked as well as it could've been here, but perhaps that was just me. But do keep in mind, I had now been awake for 38 hours and on the move for 36 of them.
There was one great sign that really confused me, indicating a turn ahead. But I stopped right where the sign was and looked left as shown… it was just a bunch of bushes. "Really," I thought, "We're supposed to go in there?"
"I think the turn is after the sign," said Dan from behind. Doh!
This one seemed to take awhile. Notice that theme? Switchbacks galore, and one high up crossing of Cascade Creek which momentarily puzzled me. But we got to the mine, punched, or attempted to punch my bib (punch didn't work), and then started back down.
Things seemed easier to follow on the way back down. I feel like I must've missed some of the markers going up. It was pretty cool to come down into town, and Katie and Nora said they'd been able to follow our headlamps for some time. I was able to barely make out Cascade Falls in the moonlight, and it looked spectacular.
Back at Fellin Park, ready to be done. Still smiling. Photo by Katie.
I got water, food (a double batch of Sustained Energy), a cookie, and changed into my lightest shoes. The one's I'd worn for the previous section felt good, and it didn't seem like my feet were swelling at all. Though they are the lightest, I didn't want to use them for much more than ten miles, as they also don't offer much protection, and are a little lower in drop than what I usually go with for longer days.
We set off, Nora having checked with the RD to get directions. I told her I'd previously witnessed someone asking a volunteer for directions, and they had NO IDEA how to get to the next section. So she made sure to go to the boss.
I've heard and read alot of complaints about this climb up to Bridge of Heaven. Perhaps some of them are valid. This is the longest single section, at 10.6 miles, as well as holding the most elevation gain, 4844 feet, over 1500 more than the next steepest section, which was up to Twin Peaks.
So I was expecting it to suck. As we started up, I remarked that it wasn't so bad. The switchbacks seemed to flatten it out a bit. And I stand by that statement. There were a few steeper sections, but in general, the climb seemed pretty mellow. Maybe that was just comparatively speaking. Do the math and this section is only 456 feet per mile. HA!
But all in, I felt good. Nora said I was moving well, and that I looked better than most if not all the other people she saw recently. I just continued with the plan- step by step, and slowing down if I needed to just to keep going. I didn't want to stop. I just wanted to turn it over.
Still, the climb seemed to drag on. I told myself not to but had a quick stop to look at the tracker on my phone, but it wouldn't show me where I was. I could see headlamps ahead once we got to the ridge. We still had to go all the way over there, but again, there have been many times I've seen the thing way over there look impossibly far away only to find myself standing on it an hour later.
We got passed by a 50 miler and pacer, and passed by a few more as we went on. We got some wind and cooler temps and stopped to layer up. Then I got too hot and eventually decided to unzip my poofy jacket and take off my beanie-this seemed to be they key. I changed the batteries in the signal fires of Gondor and was once again able to guide planes in safely :).
A final turn in the trail, and I thought we still had some more distance to go, as we'd only recently passed the people who we thought were way ahead of us. But could it be!? A sign with some string, and hanging from that string, a hole punch. We were there!!!!!!!
It felt like it took me way too long to do this. The top of climb 14. Photo by Nora.
We sat for a minute or two and I thanked Nora for being with me. I was getting pretty sleepy on the climb up and decided to use about a quarter of a packet of Via, Starbucks' powdered instant coffee. I was concerned that if I had too much, I wouldn't be able to fall asleep when we got down. This was just the right amount, as it woke me up enough to focus on the descent. And focus I would have to.
Nora looked at her phone. It was 4:01. I had the opportunity to try to finish in under 46 hours, but I'd have to hurry. My words came back to haunt me. As we left Fellin Park, I told her I didn't think I'd be running at all. I was well behind the leaders, but I was well ahead of my second time goal. It turns out pride is a hell of a motivator.
We started down, and while I'm sure I wasn't going all that fast, I was definitely running, or doing something like that. At least she said she had to run to keep up. We took a few short breaks to delayer as things got warmer as we descended. There were a few sections I hiked, either steeper, or with larger chunks of loose rock. I was afraid I'd sprain an ankle or something, and again, the minimalist shoes didn't provide the most protection from anything sharp.
But the descent was largely runable, or whatever it was that I was doing. I still felt good, happy, thankful to be here and thankful to have this person with me. Yep, we were running.
I tried to encourage all the people I passed still going up. Almost there in many ways. Pretty close to the bottom we caught and passed another 100 miler. I'd seen this guy on many of the out and backs and at times I thought I was getting closer to him. Then it would be another hour before I hit the top. But look at that, I finally caught and passed him.
We were close to the bottom when Nora said, "How important is a sub 46 hour finish to you?"
"Well, it would be nice."
"It's 5:50, and 6/10 a mile back."
"Remember what I said earlier?"
I heard her behind me pull up her phone and text Dan and Katie saying we'd just hit the road and were running. Did it matter if I finished in under 46? No. But I now found myself wanting to.
So we ran. Back by the hot springs pool, into Fellin Park, through the benches. She dropped off there and I ran to the finish, crossing the line at 45:56!
Finish! from Andy Rose on Vimeo.
Note my confusion, as I didn't hear Katie say "High five!" and had no idea why she was standing there holding her hand out at me. I'd also been awake for 48 hours.
The people at the line cheered, and the medical director came over and congratulated me. I'd just finished my first 100 miler, and depending on who you ask, one of the more difficult ones that exist! My second race ever! And I still felt good! Proof:
So I look a little more tired, but I'm still smiling. I'd been awake for just over 48 hours straight when this photo was taken. Photo by person who helped us out.
I turned in my tracker, and we made the short drive back into town. Katie made me a frozen pizza, and I ate that and some chips after one of the things I wanted most for the previous two days- a steaming hot shower. I lay down in bed, and Katie set her alarm so we could go to the award ceremony at noon. "I hope I didn't take that caffeine too late," I thought, and then I woke up when her alarm went off and asked her what time it was.
Eleven thirty. I got some food and coffee and we walked into town. Yep, walked. Legs didn't feel great and blisters were screaming, but it also felt good to stretch it out.
Dan and Nora were already there, and said someone had just crossed the line… well, gotten into the park and wandered around until someone else helped them cross the line. That was the last finisher, at 51:59, a minute before the cut off. A few other people got unofficial finishes after that, badass to push through.
The awards ceremony was low key, and it was nice to get a photo with and see some of the other people who I'd yoyoed with for so long out there. Congrats all around.
We pretty much just hung around the rest of the day. I ate alot of food. Like alot. My hunger was insatiable. The next day we came back home and I was able to take some time to reflect as Katie was kind enough to make the drive.
I would definitely do this race again, and I think I could do it faster. I had a great experience after the initial stomach upset went away. I guess alot of that depended on mentality. It's hard to be positive when you're getting rained on AGAIN and each time is for hours on end. But staying positive really pays off.
To that front, I engaged in some difficult mental training earlier in the year. I'd go out for my long training runs and while suffering up some uphill or another, purposely try to think of things that would upset me and get me in a bad mood, and focus on them and those feelings, embrace the darkness and use it to motivate myself to keep moving until I was feeling good again. I'd listen to the voice that told me I wasn't good enough, or fast enough, and that I was going to fail. Fortunately, no one saw me out there alone crying. I told Dan about this a few months back and he described it as "some next level Jedi shit".
I knew this race would bring some hard times and bad thoughts, but I also knew that getting over those might very well be the key to success, or at least the difference between finishing and not. And look, I got though the bad times I had just fine, rebounded and kept going, and actually found joy in being out there.
I had a great time. Like GREAT. This was one of those life reaffirming experiences. You've only got to take a quick look back at this history of this website to see I clearly love being out there, love doing long, hard days, love the mountains, love the wilderness. I wasn't happy for every step of this race (according to my phone, over 250,000 were taken), but I was happy for most of them. I was so happy to get into aid stations and see my crew, I think every visit ended with hugs. I was happy to get to talk to Tom and Fanny out there. My only complaint as it were was that this course only summitted one peak, and it was unranked at that. As Nora said, I guess that means I'm asking for more elevation gain!
I've touched on alot of the things I did like, here are some I didn't:
-The race seemed slightly disorganized. Not terrible, but there were just a few instances that gave me pause. I understand the tracker thing was beyond the control of the RD, but why tell us to get there by a certain time to stand around and wait for you to get there to get set up? The prizes for the top three finishers were not finished at the time of the awards ceremony. And you found a megaphone for earlier talks, keep it for this one as I couldn't hear alot of it and I was close!
-Along those lines, I am sure the snafu with the trackers was not the fault of the race. But alot of the trackers didn't work, showing people in incorrect locations or were not working at all. One of my trail buddies actually had her pacer not show up at an aid station, and encountered them later to find out the pacer thought she dropped because her tracker wasn't showing her on the course. Which brings me to…
-Keeping track of people out there. At some of the aid stations, they definitely took down bib numbers. At others I offered and they said it wasn't needed. Were the trackers being relied on to keep track of people? If so, they definitely didn't work. I'd rather have the knowledge that a missing person checked into Fellin Park at 7pm and wasn't seen again versus they were last seen at Crystal Lake at 2pm. As a runner, I'd rather know that someone who hopefully would be coming to look for me would have some idea of where I was. As we definitely saw, technology is not infallible.
-The Richmond aid station debacle was another, and I know they felt super bad about. Easy solution- gravity filter. The Sawyer Mini can be used as such, costs about 20 bucks, can handle 1L/minute and could be used with minimal attention. This aid station was right next to a stream, it should've been super easy to not run out of water. Myself and another person I talked to didn't feel very comfortable using the provided tablets on this water since it was downstream from a former mine. Running out of food is one thing, but having zero clean water? Not good.
-Aid station volunteers were awesome, and for the most part, most of the stations are at an out and back. For those at Fellin Park, providing detailed instructions to give runners on how to get to the next section would be awesome. Print out and laminate a map and written instructions they can read to tired runners. Certainly better than having to ask many people and getting an "I don't know" on how to get to the next aid and then having to spend more time finding someone who did know.
-The course. So I thought I wouldn't like it as much as I did, after all it looks pretty arbitrary and artificial to get the distance and gain with all the out and backs. I'd still prefer a huge loop, but there are definitely much different logistics in doing that. There was enough variance in the time of day, scenery, and character of each section that the out and back format I was not super looking forward to actually worked pretty well. So I guess this shouldn't even be here! It was fun and challenging, I definitely preferred the last 50 miles over the first. It was nice to get off jeep roads and onto alpine trails!
-Better marking (in very few places). It was well marked for the most part.
-It's not a qualifier for anything. That was a good point to me, as it meant the people doing the race really wanted to do this race, and weren't doing it just to finish at a given time to get into the lottery for something else.
I guess those are pretty minor complaints really. Again, I tried to focus on the positive and not let these things bother me.
If you are reading this after you've signed up for future editions or you're thinking of signing up (do it), and are looking for advice:
-Rain gear. This wasn't my first day out in the mountains, and I usually use weather.gov for spot forecasts, which I did here. I checked several of the high points around the course, and found a 60% chance of showers on day one, and a 20% chance of showers on day two. One day one we got hailed/rained/graupelled/thunderstormed on for maybe 6 hours. The lightning mile happened on day two, and then we got more rain for the two hours or so it took to get from Silvershield to Fellin Park. Have a way to keep the stuff you want to stay dry dry within your pack, a plastic garbage bag would be ideal.
-Training time on feet and long days with as much gain as you can reasonably get seems like a better strategy to me than the normal run 30 miles at 15 min/mile pace. In reality, training to do a 20+ minute per mile pace on any terrain is a great idea, as that's likely the pace you'll do here.
-Reading the website, I was like, "How could it EVER take three hours to go five miles?". And then it took three hours to go five miles. Plan on it taking three hours to go five miles.
-Make sure you look around and enjoy the scenery, because it is amazingly beautiful.
-If you're having a hard time, think of someone you love and how much they mean to you.
-You're probably going to have a hard time at least once during this race. Recover and move on.
-Go into the aid stations with a plan, get what you want, and get going. Don't get stuck.
-Have fun. As much as you can anyway. If you're reading this, you're probably not trying to win the race. Take a minute to encourage the other runners. Thank the aid station volunteers. Love your fellow man or woman.
-Set multiple goals. I could see setting one and getting super bummed if it wasn't going to happen. I set three. The first, 40 hours, was my absolute if everything goes perfectly and I feel 100% but still might be pushing it even then. It's good to be motivated. My second was 48 hours, two full days, and I ended up taking just over two hours out of that. Not bad! My last was to just finish, 52 hours. I think this year was the highest finish rate they've had so far, but it was still only 38% of those who started. Just finishing is something to be proud of.
One last thing I'll mention is the propensity to hallucinate during events like this. I never saw things that weren't there (at least I think I didn't!), but my interpretation of things that I was seeing was certainly unique at times. One night one, I saw alot of animals, or to put it correctly, thought I did. I think the moon and headlamp combination created some interesting shadows and effects at times that the mind translates into something we can familiarly identify.
The weird little Panda/Raccoon creature? A bush. The thing that looked like a moose sized deer standing in the middle of the road? Actually a sign next to the road. The bear ahead? A bear shaped tree.
Night two was a little more interesting. I remember each time I stopped to pee when I was with Dan, I looked down at the ground so I didn't go on myself. There were alot of rocks, and it looked like someone had written on them, like just initials in a corner and a number like they were props in a movie. I saw the same thing when I was with Nora. Maybe I am living in the Truman Show, and each rock was individually placed by someone, but probably not and my mind was just trying to give some form to the lichens and bands in the rocks themselves.
I was also looking at Katie's tattoo in bed that morning, and just noticed details I never had before- words and deeper layers of images in the images. It was pretty neat and apparently I was so concerned about it, I fell asleep!
Well, thanks for reading a rather rambly report. I've attempted to capture both what I was feeling and thinking as the race progressed. Hopefully I've done so. According to the race, 81 people started and 31 finished. I was in 14th overall, and the 13th male at 45:56.
Remember that why I touched on awhile back? The voice that tells me I'm not good enough or strong enough or fast enough is gone… for now. I'm sure I'll hear from it again in the future, before another long day in the mountains, or another hard race, or maybe when I test for a promotion at work, or face some other difficult endeavor in life.
But I can move forward with the knowledge that I've quieted that voice time and time again. I've given myself something difficult to do, and have not just done it, but done it well. It's nice to get the finisher belt buckle and medal and race shirt and all, but the real prize is knowing that I am good enough, that I am strong enough, that I am fast enough, that I CAN do it. And that I'll do it again.
Link to race map on Caltopo.
2018 Ouray 100:
102.1 miles, 41,863 feet of elevation gain. Second class. Strenuous+.
And a huge thanks to Katie, Dan, and Nora for their help crewing and pacing. You will never know how much it meant to me to have you there because the words don't exist to tell you. Much love!
2018 Ouray 100.
I hemmed and hawed on signing up for a race this year. In the end, I decided to retry the Never Summer 100K, but alas too late. Apparently word has gotten out and the race was already full- the race which still had open spaces when it started in 2017. So I signed up for the waitlist and wondered.