Thursday, August 3, 2017

High Lonesome 100


Thank you, Sir.  May I have another?

 I am in LOVE with trail running.  I constantly look ahead to races.  Almost daily, I think I 'like' another race's Facebook page, just to follow for updates and perhaps one day run that race.  Early in 2016, I spotted a *sponsored* post on Facebook for a new race in the mountains of Colorado.

Now, since I was a kid, I've been in love with the mountains.  But, usually, it was for the chance to ski in the winter.  But, sometime during my childhood, my family took a summer vacation to Colorado and I got the chance to appreciate the summer side to the mountains.  Ever since, I've wanted to find a way to play in the mountains.

So, it didn't take long for that *sponsored* post to become a page I regularly visited for updates.  Then, in early 2017, I took the dive and registered for the High Lonesome 100.  A portion of the race's description:
"Your lungs will burn at 13,150 feet above sea level.  Your quads will get trashed while climbing over 24,500 feet of vert.  But most importantly, this course will make sure your spirit of adventure and desire to conquer new challenges are always fully nourished."
Sounds like fun, right?  This was a first-year race and I'm always a little hesitant because you just don't know what you are going to get.  Eventually, I saw that the Race Director (RD) had employed Mile 90 Photography, our local trail running photography favorites, to shoot the race and that about sealed the deal for me.....these people were setting up a serious race.  I cleared it with my wife, Angela, for yet another round of 100-miler training.

Course Description


Everyone who knows anything about me knows that I've failed to finish not one, but two, 100-mile races....ending each one around mile #77.  I've told people I'm content with how those races turned out, but deep down inside me, I'm a competitor.  I understand my reasons for DNF (Did Not Finish), but that doesn't mean I have to be content about it.  Everyone who knows me also understands that I'm just not a very smart man.  A smart man would have signed up for an "easy" 100-miler, like Rocky Raccoon, Burning River, Umstead, etc.  But, it has to be said....there is NOTHING "easy" about 100-miles, no matter how you slice it.  So, I signed up for High Lonesome.  I knew it would be the hardest thing I've ever done.  I knew it was unlikely I would finish.  I don't care what the 100 miles throws at me, I want to be able to say I conquered everything thrown at me.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.

"The mountains are calling, and I must go." -- John Muir
Now, one reason I am in love with trail running has nothing to do with the trails.  The community of people is astounding.  No other races will you see community like you do in trail running.  A runner will literally give the shoes off their own feet to a fellow competitor, if it meant getting them to the finish line.  So, I fired off a message to seven of my closest running friends asking who would like to be a part of my 'crew' for this adventure.  Two of them were doing Ironman competitions the very same weekend and the following weekend, so they declined.  BUT....the other five immediately said 'Yes!'.  They didn't even know what they'd be doing.  They could be pacers.  They could be changing my nasty socks, in the pouring rain, 70 miles into the day.  They could be missing days of sleep just to do what I ask.  It didn't matter, they were all in.  Secretly, I think it was the word, "Colorado", that triggered their immediate acceptances.

So, I had my race.  I had my team.  Now, it was all up to me.  I was already trained up after my first two attempts in late 2016.  I, once again, grabbed my handy Hal Koerner training plans and began the 50-mile training plan.

............but, Russell, you signed up for a 100-mile race?

Yeah.  Yeah, I did.  That's how serious I was going to take this.  I was using a 50-mile training plan to train for my 100-mile plan.  At the gym, I made sure to grab heavier weights; to do extra reps; to push thru the pain; to push past the whistle; etc.  Like prior attempts, I wasn't going to let my body dictate my race results.  I knew my prior weaknesses and injuries and I strengthened everything.



I plowed thru the training plan uninjured.  I dropped weight due to the addition of muscle.  I tried to eat better.  I tried to drink better.  I did extra efforts (like push mowing the yard for four hours after a long run).  When race day came, I was gonna be ready.

The Wait Is Over...


Finally, the morning of July 25th, we made our way to Colorado.  My wife, crew and I made our way to Salida, Colorado on the afternoon of July 26th.  We rented a cabin that would serve as our "basecamp" for the next 5 days.
Basecamp
We all enjoyed a couple days of acclimation, hiking and race prep.  It was great to just hang out with like-minded people all with a common mission: get this idiot thru this.  We stocked up on bananas, packaged up electrolyte mixes, etc.

The biggest part of our days prior to race day were spent planning logistics.  That sounds crazy, but this race was a single, 100-mile loop.  My crew would have to meet me at various mileages/aid stations.  Those aid stations would be 5-30 miles apart.  Since this was a mountain race, the access to those aid stations was usually via old mining roads, dirt roads, or ATV trails.  An all-wheel drive vehicle, at the very least, was required.  On the day before the race, I took the rental vehicle (2017 GMC Terrain) out and about to explore several aid stations.  Each one was nearly an hour from our rental cabin because of the terrain.

Since my degree is in Geography, this gave me a chance to make a map that might be useful to my crew.  So, I plotted the race course, the aid stations, the roads, and some pertinent information about each aid station.

Logistics map

Race Day


All the planning, running, traveling, etc was finally over with on the morning of July 28th.  We meet in an inconspicuous field at 5 AM, at the base of the Sawatch mountain range, near an elevation of 8500'.  The race was set to start at 6AM, but this race carried with it something I hadn't really had to endure before: required gear.  TONS of required gear:
  • Whistle
  • Emergency blanket
  • Minimum 2L water capacity
  • Emergency light source
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Collapsible cup
  • CORSAR card (see below)
  • Two primary light sources
  • Gloves
  • Beanie/Buff
  • Extra layer
 So, the first thing that might jump out at you: the CORSAR card.  What is a CORSAR card, you ask?  The CORSAR card would insure that if an extraction were necessary, I would not be liable for the costs incurred by Colorado Search and Rescue.  The next question was: where to pack all this crap?  My Camelbak would do the job, but it would weigh in around 10-15lbs when full of water.

WHAT?!

Yeah, that's the same reaction from my pacers/crew.  It doesn't stop there, though.....rule #6 (yeah, there were 20 rules in the 21-page race handbook) was:


That's right...NO DYING.  My crew/pacers were officially laughing at my audacity to run such a race, but I think their laughter was just a cover for the "Oh, shit, what have I signed up for?" thought running thru their heads.

Regardless, on the morning of July 28th, seven "flatlanders" from Missouri stepped to the start line of the High Lonesome 100.
L->R: Andy, Kymie, Don, Me, Linda, Angela, Jody

Always by my side thru the crazy.
Exactly at 6AM, in the foothills of Mt. Princeton, the gun fired and we were off.  The first three miles were descending around 500' to the base of Mt. Antero (14,275') along roads.  Somewhere after mile #3, the gravel road ended and we continued into the forest along the famed Colorado Trail.  Our immediate task was to climb that 500' we lost along the roads and then make our way to Aid Station #1, Raspberry Gulch (mile 7.4).  This was a beautiful section of single-track trail amongst the pines with the sun rising to our left.  In less than 80 minutes, I reached Raspberry Gulch.  This was a conservative pace, taking little effort, just as I had planned.  Plenty of race was still ahead of me.

Just getting warmed up...

Colorado Trail single track heaven.
I barely remember the Raspberry Gulch stop.  I snagged a handful of chips, a couple pickles and a slice of watermelon and left ... twenty seconds in-and-out.

From Raspberry Gulch, the High Lonesome began in earnest.  For the next 9.5 miles we would climb Little Brown's Creek up the Eastern slope of Mt. Antero, gaining 5,000' of elevation.  In the pre-race meeting the night before, the RD had told the entire crowd that this climb was "runnable" and the audience of ultrarunners laughed and scoffed at the idea.  Immediately, it was evident that the RD was right....this wasn't a bad climb at all.  The temptation was heavy to run.  But, my plan was to power hike the hills and I was steadfast in my resolve.  I met several nice fellow runners along this route and we had great conversations as we all climbed.
Little Brown's Creek with Mt. White in the distance.

Mt. White (left) and Mt. Antero (right)
Two hours later, we crested the saddle between Mt. White and Mt. Antero.  This was our first glimpse of the Sawatch mountains we'd be navigating and it was everything I'd hoped.  There really is nothing like standing on top of a mountain that you've managed to climb with your own two legs.  Eventhough we were only at about 13,500', it felt like standing on top of the world.  I soaked in the accomplishment probably longer than I should have, but this was EXACTLY what I had signed up for.  I had managed the first 14 miles with ease.

There is nothing like standing alone atop a mountain.
Here, at mile 14, I would get my first let down of the race, and it hit me harder than I had expected.  We began to descend old mining roads down the Western slope of Mt. Antero.  The roads were HEAVILY occupied by ATVs, motorcycles and SUVs.  On top of that, they weren't gravel roads, they were rocky roads.  Not just little rocks, but softball to basketball sized stones.....the kinds of rocks that will roll an ankle in a heartbeat.  I managed to run, but it wasn't the downhill descent that I had anticipated and it broke my heart a little.  To finish it off, you had to be really cognizant of the ATVs/motorcycles, as they showed little regard for runners.

Two miles later, I reached the Mt. Antero aid station (Mile 16.7) and it was another quick stop.  I refilled my hydration pack & water bottle, ate some watermelon, chips, and grabbed some PB&J tortillas to go.  Boy, the PB&J tortillas were a mistake.  Not that they didn't taste good or provide nutrients, but the jelly and peanut butter dripped everywhere and a mile later I was sticky.  I made a quick stop at a stream and washed it all off.

For the next six miles, we would descend along the roads and give back that 5000' we just climbed.  It was slower than I hoped, but not taxing, so I went with it.  Better to make it down slow than to twist an ankle so early on.  We would cross several streams on the descent that required either stepping stones or logs.  I love these crossings because it adds to the fun of trail running.


The next four miles would bring relatively flat gravel roads, which allowed for some steady running for once in the race.  I managed several 7:30-8:30/min miles along this portion.  Unfortunately, this is where the rain started.  It wasn't pouring, but it was chilly.  July is monsoon season in Colorado, but the storms generally pass after an hour or two.  This wasn't the case today......

I ran into St. Elmo, a ghost town, to the aid station at mile 25.  You couldn't tell it was a ghost town, as every parking space was crammed full of pickups with ATV trailers.  The town itself had hundreds of people wandering the street.  Several people offered encouragement and it was a great atmosphere to run through.  It was a muddy mess, but I continued to run until I finally caught a glimpse of the aid station and my first meeting with my pacers/crew.

The stop in St. Elmo last 5-10 minutes mostly due to food intake.  The next section of the race was a 12-mile out-and-back to Cottonwood Campground.  But, it included a 2,000' climb.....twice.  It was time to fuel up, grab my trekking poles for the first time, and plug away at some pretty steep climbs.

I left St. Elmo in pretty good spirits and relatively full of energy.  The climb over Cottonwood pass started almost immediately.  It slowed me to a power hike with my poles (13:00-15:00min/mile).  I climbed in earnest without every really stopping.  Near the saddle, I was greeted by Rick Mayo of Mile 90 Photography.  It was great to see a familiar face.  We briefly chatted as I continued to move.  Like always, he snapped a great picture:

Plugging away at the miles and the elevation gains
As I approached the saddle, I was greeted with a grove of trees near the treeline (11,000') that were all split and blackened by what seemed to be lightning strikes.  It was a pretty stark reminder of the dangers above the treeline, but it didn't slow or deter me.

The run down to Cottonwood Campground was rough, rocky, and water-filled.  But, the reward was the wonderful volunteers at Cottonwood Aid Station (Mile 31.4).  They refilled my water, filled my soup, and cooked me bacon.  I stayed maybe 5-10 minutes.  I knew I had to get back over Cottonwood pass before the storms intensified and lightning showed up.  I wasn't going to end up a split and blackened tree.

The climb back up was steeper than the other side.  But, I kept my head down and plugged away.  At the top, I met fellow Trail Nerd from the Kansas City area, Leia.  We chatted briefly and wished each other luck.  I glanced at my watch and was scared she wouldn't make the cutoff back at St. Elmo.  I really wanted both of us Trail Nerds to finish this monstrous race.  I silently hoped she'd find some new life and make it.  I would later find out she DID make the cutoff and continued on.

I landed back in St. Elmo a few hours later.  I had traversed 3 mountain passes, gaining 10,000'+, covering 37+ miles and I was still feeling pretty good.  I once again met my crew/pacers and we did my first sock change.  It was 11 hours into the race, but it was still on pace.  Looking back, I had probably taken the first 3 climbs too conservatively, but I just didn't want to burn out.  I could tackle the elevation changes if I just kept an easy pace.

The next 11.5 miles were very uneventful.  I found myself where I usually fall during most races....alone.  It is here that the race's namesake, 'High Lonesome', hit me.  I was climbing again.  I was all alone in Tunnel Pass.  I was above 11,000'.  I could see for miles, and all I could see was mountain peaks.  The rain was coming down a bit harder and darkness was creeping up on me faster than expected.  With about 5 miles to go, I finally broke out my headlamp and put it on its lowest setting.  I was able to run the final 5-6 miles.  I would look to my right and see walls of granite.  I would look to my left and my headlamp's light would fade into the darkness.  I was certainly alongside a cliff and I didn't want to see where it led.  The task at hand was to avoid the rushing water down the trail and try to keep my feet/socks/shoes relatively dry.

Around 10PM, I rolled into Hancock aid station (Mile 48.8).  It was a wondrous relief to see my pacers/crew.  But more importantly, this is where my first pacer, Andy, would be able to join me.  FINALLY!!!  Someone to talk to.  Someone to suffer with.  Someone else for the bears to chew on.

50 to go!


Andy and I left Hancock after another sock change, more soup, more pickles, more chips, a coke and a nice sit.  The rain was really coming down now.  Our next section was an uphill climb (of course) through an area of the race where the endangered Boreal toad was located.  The day prior, we had to put our shoes thru a chemical bath to aid in the protection of the toads.  We were also told the mud would be deep, but we were not to stray from the path due to the toads.

We complied with all the RD's request and we trudged thru some pretty thick mud, crossing streams and climbing another pass.  We both broke out our extra layers and our rain shells as the rain was relentless in its pursuit to thoroughly soak us.  Andy was steadfast and full of energy.  We made good time to Middle Fork aid station (although, our GPS watches showed it SIGNIFICANTLY farther than the race's description).  At Middle Fork, Andy found a pair of scissors and we clipped a set of shoe inserts that we'd been saving for late in the race.  We were 55.6 miles in, past the muddiest part, and it was time to gain some comfort for my poor, soaked feet.  We refilled our waters and stocked up on food because the next section was the crux of the race.  The climb over Monarch mountain, around Monarch Ski Resort and down to Monarch Pass.

Nighttime gear
The task ahead of us another 2,000'+ climb.  To add to the fun, the night was dark (it was nearly a new moon).  The temps were falling into the low 40s, very quickly.  The rocks were slick from the rain.  Oh...the rain....yeah, it was changing.....to sleet.

Andy and I passed the time telling "Dad jokes".  We talked about running and life.  We kept moving, but my pace was slowing.  The elevation was finally putting the screws to me.  When we finally reached the actual climb, it was STEEP.  So steep that at some point, we switched to 20 steps and a break.  The break was usually 2-3 deep breaths from me, so it wasn't long.  If it was a 'flatter' section, it was 30 steps and a breath.  It wasn't pretty but it was forward progress.  Andy would later compliment me on keeping those breaks to just several breaths.  I feel like we really tackled that climb in earnest and just got it done.

At one point, we climbed a fairly steep ridge and finally reached the crest.  We spent only a few meters on the ridge before it dived back down about 50 meters to a bridge.  We crossed the bridge and it turned to go straight back up the ridge.  Andy and I both laughed at what we thought was the RD's masochistic sense of humor.  Why not just stay on the ridge?  When we reached the top, we looked back along the ridge and were greeted with a chasm about 40' wide and 40' deep where the river was rushing below us!

From there, we completed the hike up Monarch mountain.  At this point, it was probably 4AM.  The sleet/rain was coming in sideways.  A dense fog had set in and you couldn't see 10' in front of you.  The top of Monarch mountain is a boulder field.  There's a little man-made rock temple/structure and a fellow racer was sitting there.  He asked if we knew where the trail was and we exclaimed that we thought we were on it.  But, as you looked around, it was NOT evident where you were.....or where the trail was.  But, damn.....was it cold.

Andy stopped to add another layer and I plugged along what I thought was the trail.  That fellow racer followed me.  This was the only point where we had thoughts of actually being lost.  There was nowhere to hide from the storm up here.  There was no way to contact people.  This was trekking into some unknown territory.

Glimpses of snow

A few hundred meters later, I caught a glimpse of the reflective course markings and we were on course.  What a relief!

We spent the next few hours traversing boulder fields and snow fields.  My headlamp died and I was forced to switch to a backup.  I was out of water in my hydration pack.  I was out of food.  The fog and rain fought the sun, but it managed to finally rise.  We traversed the ridge of Monarch Ski Resort to the very edge before finally descending to Highway 50 and the Monarch Pass aid station.  In total, that 18+ mile stretch took us 10 hours to navigate in some pretty awful conditions.

Andy, always smiling!
At Monarch Pass, we had some work to do.  I was soaked.  I did a full clothes change.  My crew filled me with soup and bars.  Andy rolled potato wedges in salt and I choked them down.  It was here that we really became aware of the time cutoffs.  I was still on pace for a sub-36-hour finish.  However, the cutoff 15 miles later at Blank's Cabin was faster than 36-hour pace.

I picked up my next pacer, Don, and we headed out.  Our first task was a short 500' climb and we tackled it with ease.  But, the rains had turned this section of the course into "Satan's Slide".  Footing was tricky.  It was downhill, but it was slower than expected.  My body wasn't responding to 'run' anymore.  Regardless, we knocked out the next 5.5 miles to reach Foose's Creek (Mile 71.7) well before the cutoff.

After a quick bowl of soup and a water refill, we headed out for a 10-mile stretch that would really define my race.  The rains had finally slowed or at least went intermittent.  We knew we had 3 hours to do it.  So, some quick math, and we had to manage 18-minute miles.  Mile #1 was 15:06.  Mile #2 was 16:40.  It was not fast, but it was forward and under the time.

It was here, after crossing Highway 50 again and joining the Colorado Trail, that I erred.  Right after joining the Colorado Trail, which was supposed to be "rolling hills", we were greeted with a 600'+ climb that slowed Mile #3 down to 23:xx min.  At the top, the climbs seemed to keep coming and my pace lessened to 18:00+ min/mile.

Don remained optimistic, but my body wasn't having it.  With 5 miles to go, we recalculated that we'd need 16:00min miles to reach the cutoff.  Mile #1 was 18-something.  Mile #2 was slower.  It was over.  I couldn't muster the leg speed to run it in.  My only hope was that the aid station would see I was still on sub-36-hour pace and let me go.

My AMAZING crew came to meet me with about 1.5-2 miles to go before Blank's Cabin.  They were trying their damnedest to get me to move, but you could see it in their eyes that it was over.  Jody yelled at me.  Angie hugged me.  We all trudged along telling jokes, laughing at yet ANOTHER hill to climb.  Most of that walk, I felt pretty silent.  I was rethinking what had gone wrong and I really couldn't point to it.  I was talking to myself about how I had done what I came here to do and I was ready to finish this thing.  My body wasn't injured.  My mental faculties were with me.  I just wasn't moving fast enough.  I was stopping every 1/4 mile to grasp for oxygen.

Defeated, but not broken

A smile mustered.


At 1:15PM, after 31hours and 15minutes, 85.58 miles by my Garmin, 19,000' of ascent and 17,500' of descent, I reached Blank's Cabin.  The aid station captain approached me and asked for my bib.  I could continue on, but I would not be allowed to finish.  I wasn't here for moral victories ... my day was done.

Wrap it up already.....

So, my third attempt at 100 miles and my third DNF.  But, this one wasn't because of injury.  In the end, I guess I was just too conservative with my approach to the course.  I'm not really sure where it fell apart on me:
  • Did I not run the boulder fields fast enough?  They were slick and a spill would have meant an injury.
  • Did I not tackle the downhills fast enough?  I was trying to save my quads.
  • Should I have ran the Mt. Antero section?  Would that kind of effort have burned me up?
  • Should I have spent less time at aid stations?  Yeah, I killed time here, but it was time well spent keeping me fresh, uninjured and refilled.
  • That 10 hours spent navigating the 18 miles between Hancock and Monarch could have been done faster, right?  Right?  Right?....
In the end, I'm pretty happy with my effort.  I paced myself, kept myself upright, never fell, and just knocked the miles away.  I climbed 5 alpine passes, spent a majority of my day above the treeline (11,000'), climbed several mountains and found views that only a select few hardy souls ever get to see.

As always, I would do this race again in a heartbeat.  It's breath-taking.  It's challenging.  It's an adventure.  It's a true Colorado mountain race.

Consolation prize, I suppose.

Thanks.

 None of this trip would have been possible without several individuals.

First, and foremost, my amazing wife, Angela.  Once again, she stood behind me and allowed me to reach for my dreams.  The time spent training was taxing on her and the kids.  The crewing job she did was amazing.  She was up every single minute I was up.  She's the best thing for me at every aid station.  There really is no one like her.

Next, my running buddy, Andy Smola.  Ironman Triathlete.  Ultramarathon runner.  Amazing guy.  He was 'lucky' enough to get the Hancock to Monarch section (18 miles).  It was pouring rain.  It changed to sleet.  It was windy.  It was cold.  It was slow.  It was massive climbs.  And, he came out of it smiling.  He camped in a tent next to our cabin.  He drove 14 hours.

Next, another running friend, Don Ledford.  Don's task was to drag my nearly exhausted self thru 15.5 miles.  He wouldn't get to do any 'running' and that was unfortunate.  It wasn't pretty, but I never once heard a complaint.  Don tried, relentlessly, to get me to run.

Next, another running friend, Kymie Trout.  She'd never experienced the ultrarunning community quite like this before, but she was ready and willing.  I finally saw her at Blank's Cabin, with hydration pack on and ready to roll.  Unfortunately, she wouldn't get that chance.  She was with Angie every step of the way, offering help.  Always with a smile on her face and an unmatched enthusiasm.

Finally, Jody & Linda Pasalich.  Three times now, this couple has come along with me.  From Michigan to Colorado, they have followed me.  This time, they weren't there to run, but to help Angela.  From driving, to getting food, to changing clothes, they were there.  You just can't measure their efforts.  The enthusiasm and push that Jody provides has been essential.  I hope someday they get to see me cross that finish line.

This was one helluva crew.  I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  A collection of experienced runners and people who know me and share my dreams/goals.  I can't wait until our next adventure!

GEAR:
--Camelbak Ultra 10 vest
--Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes
--Garmin Fenix 3 watch
--Shaklee Performance Hydration drink/mix provided by Carol Adams
--Sony HDRAS20/B action camera
--Copious amounts of Bodyglide, Squirrel's Nut Butter and diaper creme.
--Ridiculous amount of ramen noodles & coke.

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