|Never Summer Mountains|
So, I had never attempted a 100k (~62 miles) race and we chose the Never Summer 100k near Gould, Colorado in late July as the highlight of my 2018 running calendar. Never Summer was advertised as no easy race. In fact, the UTMB points awarded for it's completion put it on the same scale as a 100-miler. But, it looked beautiful, fun and challenging, so Never Summer 100k it was!
Like usual, all I had to do was say the word "Colorado" and my friends jumped on it. Kymie & Tyler immediately offered to come along. I goaded Kymie into offering to be my pacer for the final 14 miles. We even decided to go on the cheap and just camp out for the duration of the race.
|Kymie & Tyler's view|
Our road trip to Colorado even included a mini tornado near Goodland, Kansas that we barely avoided. It looked like this was shaping up to be a normal race for Russell -- bad weather and all.
TrainingIt's just impossible to train for the elevation of Colorado's mountains when you live on the plains (~1000' elev). So, we do the best we can to find hills and trails and just put the miles in. This year, I added a road bike to my exercise regimen. It was quite unintentional, but a good offer came and I couldn't refuse. So, in March, I bought a bike and started riding. At first, I tried very hard to not let it interfere with my running schedule. But, the excitement of the bike overwhelmed me and I found myself riding it quite often (and often in lieu of a run). I even signed up for a 100-mile gravel grinder bike race in June and managed to complete it in ~8hrs.
I don't want to say the bike hurt my training, but it certainly cut into my mileage. But, I will say the cardio from the bike is awesome. The ability to rest your running muscles but still get in valuable training is another plus. And, whenever you are injured, taking to the bike for a few days really helps. At any rate....this round of training for a long race included many, many miles on the bicycle.
In addition, summer 2018 started on about March 1st and never relented. Two conditions that I absolutely deplore running in: hail & humidity. Humidity was the forecast description for every single day of April, May, June and July. It was just relentless. Several long run days I was aiming for 20-25 miles and would quit after 12-15 because I was just drained. There's never enough ice. Never enough water. Finally, about three weeks out from race day, I managed a 30+ mile day and I was feeling pretty good. Several "cooler" days followed that and I saw some good runs, so I knew my body was in good shape.....it was just the weather tearing me apart early and often.
An early alarm clock (3:30a) got me up and going. We made our way to a small shack in the middle of nowhere, called the Gould Community Center (9,100'). Hundreds of runners (like 300+) lined up for a pre-dawn start (5:30a).
The first 2.5-3 miles are relatively flat along what I would deem as "logging roads". It's a good chance to shake out the large group of runners and get ready to single-file the trails ahead.
Everyone knows the pinnacle of Never Summer is Diamond Peak (11,850') at approximately mile 20. It's a brutal climb up the side of the mountain to the tune of about 2300' in elevation gain over 2+ miles. But, the climbing in Never Summer starts WAY earlier. Mile 3 to be exact. It is there that the "logging road" turned up the side of the hill and everyone's jog ended. Trekking poles made their way out and the congo line of walkers ascended towards Seven Utes mountain (11,453').
|Watching the sunrise on your race is NEVER boring.|
Finally, we reached our first downhill of the day and it was STEEP. It's just not something I was comfortable bombing down at top speed. It was rocky and footing placement was a priority. I spent the next few miles enjoying some of the most beautiful single-track I've ever had the pleasure of being on. Eventually, we managed to descend to the shoreline of Lake Agnes.
After Lake Agnes came a short scree field that was easily traversed in our usual single-file line of runners. And then we were treated to several miles of logging/jeep roads that were mostly downhill. It was a great running part to stretch the legs out. After a few miles, we made our way around the Nokhu Crags and descended pretty sharply to the Diamond aid station (Mile 17-ish). At this point in my day, we'd climbed a pretty steady 11-mile climb from the start to the Seven Utes Mountains and I was tired, but still moving pretty well on the flat and downhill sections.
After a short run along the highway, we turned into the forest and started the long hike up Diamond Peak. The first mile or so was in the trees which was lucky for me because it began to rain and hail. As I ascended and neared the treeline, I ran into Angela. She was intending to hike up Diamond Peak with Andy & Tyler and meet me at the peak. But, she was done and headed back down. Diamond Peak was no joke!
Shortly after passing Angela, I exited the trees and the rain stopped. The wind was howling! The climb was getting steeper........
|No, I didn't turn the camera.....that's the slope....|
I had my trekking poles out and just continued to push forward. I thought back to the hours spent climbing with Andy during High Lonesome the prior summer. At one point in the race, amidst the darkness, snow and sleet....we climbed a really steep and rocky incline by taking 20 steps and then stopping for a couple breaths. So, I quickly employed that tactic on Diamond Peak. Twenty steps....a couple breaths......twenty steps....a couple breaths.... I began to notice the ascent getting easier. Eventually, it was forty steps....a couple breaths....forty steps.....etc. You just have to remember to never look up....because if you do, you are greeted with the unpleasant view of more.....just....MORE....
|Yup! That's people ahead of me|
|Diamond Peak; Friends make it so much better!|
I'm not sure if Diamond Peak did it to me, but this is the point in the race where my mind started to fall apart. It was only about 21 miles in, but we had climbed thousands of feet in those 21 miles. And then, leaving Diamond Peak, you are rewarded with a nice long saddle along the summit of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The was Montgomery Pass. The wind was fierce. Several times, I had to pull my hat on further. At one point, my trekking poles were blowing sideways in my hands!
|Montgomery Pass sign|
Ruby Jewel AS
Andy, like Jody, has no quit. Both of them are extremely motivating. I told Andy as we walked in that I was done. He just kept telling me "No you're not.". My feet hurt so bad from the descents. I was almost in tears and I told Andy, "I think my feet are bleeding." I didn't want to sit during this race, but once I reached the Aid Station, I plopped into a chair. We had to check my feet. So, to my surprise, Kymie and Andy tore into it and removed my shoes and socks. To everyone's surprise....my feet were FINE! I could really tell the mental game was failing me hard at that point. I was pretty dehydrated and really lacking on calories.
Andy went to work pumping me full of soup, tortillas, watermelon and coke. We changed my socks and got my shoes back on. Andy suggested that I stuff my cheeks full of jelly beans, like a squirrel and just suck on them for a few miles. I think I fit 20-30 jelly beans in my mouth. I came into that station ready to quit, but I left with a little bit of enthusiasm.
This was Tyler's first ultra experience and I remember him at Ruby Jewel AS. He was like a deer in headlights. He watched Angela, Kymie and Andy just go to town on me and my needs. I think he wasn't sure what to do, so he just stood there and watched. I'm glad he got to see it. I'm sorry he had to see me at such a low point, but.....shit happens.
Then, I noticed a runner (#231) walking towards me. At first, I thought I was lost. I asked if everything was OK. That's where I met Brooks. Brooks was headed back to the aid station to quit because he was throwing up. I stopped him. I said, "Why don't you walk with me for a while? I'm not moving fast, and will probably be walking, but let's walk this out together." Brooks and I continued to walk and talk for a couple miles. And then...<snap>...Brooks was gone. He stopped throwing up and his slow trudging turned to a fast walk and then into a jog. I didn't see him ever again. But, the next morning, at the post-race awards, I saw him and we chatted. Brooks finished the race in a little less than 23hrs. He thanked me for getting him turned around.
If there's a positive to take from this race, it's the encounter with Brooks. I guess it's here that I tell you that I didn't finish. My mental game collapsed early on me and I never recovered. But to see that my actions got Brooks turned around and finished made me happy.
The Rest Of The StoryFrom Ruby Jewel, we climbed to Kelly Lake. It was raining. The sun was disappearing over the edge of the mountains. But, the views as we ascended the gullys between the mountain peaks were just amazing. The race had thinned out and there wasn't many people to talk to or run/hike/walk with. This was a pretty lonely spot for me. But, to be at such an emotionally drained position while amongst the mountain peaks.....is something so peaceful.
After several miles of endless uphill, we reached Kelly Lake. What a gorgeous, blue, high-country lake. You cross a saddle between two gorgeous peaks and the lake just jumps out below you.
It was here that I quit. Mile 35. Barely past halfway. I know this because I took this video.....
I can't pinpoint something exactly. The altitude maybe? The steep, early climbs? I put the blame on my head for this one. I just didn't get it turned around.
Immediately after seeing Kelly Lake, you get to descend to the lake shore. But first, you get to cross a boulder field. The rocks were as big as cows. This is where I caught another runner. And, to my dismay/fear....he said "There's a bear." And sure enough, more than 100yds in front of us and below us, near the lake shore, a bear was meandering perpendicular to our position. We both stopped in our tracks. What do you do? Well, in less than five minutes, the bear had wandered several hundred yards to the East (away from the lake). Our path was headed to the lake (the opposite direction of the bear), so we started off. I will admit that our pace down the hillside and along the lake was faster than I had anticipated. I kick myself here for not getting my camera out for pictures, but the adrenaline running thru us didn't make me think of taking pictures....and, to boot, he was quite a distance from us. As we ran down along Kelly Lake, we spooked a couple deer out of hiding. Perhaps that is why the bear was up so high? In any case, that was the only significant wildlife I would see all day.
Finished....I actually ran the final few miles into the Clear Lake aid station at mile 37. It was thru a gorgeous alpine forest full of white aspen trees. I plopped into a chair at the aid station......I was a disaster in my head. I remember sitting and enjoying some warm ramen noodles, refilling my water, and changing my shirt. It was dark. I knew from here it was a 3-mile climb up to Clear Lake and then a quick turn-around and back down to this very same aid station. I don't know what got me up, but I stood and left the aid station. I knew my race was done at that point, but I still wasn't ready to concede.
I made my way to Clear Lake......which I didn't get to see in the absolute darkness of the mountains. I met two race volunteers, who checked my bib with a marker and I turned around. I made my way back down to Clear Lake aid station.
As I entered the Aid Station, I was told I had 3 minutes to leave before the cut-off. I was depressed. I've never chased cutoffs like that. I needed water and food. I looked around and no one was helping. In fact, the volunteers were pushing food into the trash. Looking back now, I know I could have filled my water and ran off with some cookies or chips in time. But, the thought of another seven miles before meeting Kymie, in the darkness, chasing a cutoff...........just pushed me over. I talked to the Aid Station Captain and I quit.
Never Again....probably.....My luck in ultras has not been good. My finish rate is pretty abysmal. But, I would like to go back to each race I've failed and do it again (I managed to complete the hardest one to date -- Hitchcock -- already). But, I'm not sure about Never Summer. I'm not sure I really have the desire to go back to this race. It broke me mentally in a way that I did not enjoy. The race was very well ran. The course was beautiful. The course was absurdly challenging. Oh, who am I kidding....I'll sign up again.
People still tell me "Why don't you do an easy race?" My reply is always "Why?" I'm doing these races to push myself. Sometimes, that push is a little too much. But, I'm growing with each success and with each failure. It isn't in my nature to do anything the easy way. The man on top of the mountain didn't fall there!!!
Thanks!As with all my races, it wasn't just me. Again, my wife, Angela, provided me with the time to train and a raceday captain that I'm always glad to see.
For the second time, Kymie has come along to pace me. And, for the second time, I haven't made it to her. I PROMISE that I will reach Kymie in an ultra someday and she can babysit my pathetic self for several tens of miles. But, she also puts in the miles with me during training and makes running fun. She brought along her husband, Tyler, and I'm hopeful he enjoyed it. Ultras are truly something to behold. Kymie will soon tackle an ultra and Angela and I will be by her side to watch her finish!!
Again, the mention of Colorado just attracts my friends. A big thank you to Andy, his wife, and his son for coming out and camping in the absolute middle of nowhere. For climbing mountains to meet me. For hiking back on trails to push me. I wish I could just shut my brain off and do what Andy says because he's never wrong on race day. I really, really hated to disappoint him again.
You just can't find friends like this anywhere. The ultra running community provides people who will literally go to the ends of the Earth to help you. I stopped some of my 'race' to help Brooks. Andy, Kymie and Angela hiked mountains, drove several states away, camped in bear country, weathered storms......all of it....to watch some idiot wear himself out over the course of 45 miles and 17 hours. You guys are the BEST!!
Life is an adventure. Mine has it's ups and downs. But, I firmly live by the saying: "If you are breathing, you're alive. If you are breathing heavily, you are living." What an adventure I am on!