2006 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Trail Run Report
The race started at 5am in the small town of Lake City, CO. Over 140 runners lined up at the starting line with some wearing headlamps, some not. I chose not to wear a headlamp as the first 2.7 miles were on good dirt road and there was a waning half moon giving off enough light to run by. I knew the course would be demanding and I wanted to go as light as I could so leaving the headlamp behind was a good choice.
I started with two hand bottles both with plain water, shorts, capilene gloves and a long-sleeved polypro shirt. I had a pair of Injinji socks stashed in my shorts so that I could change socks as the first aid station, the Alpine aid station, at mile 7.7. A friend who had run this run before suggested the dry socks because there are nine or more stream crossings while running up Alpine Gulch.
At 5am the starting gun went off and we all broke into a trot. I wanted to stay near the front as I really hoped to finish under 12 hours and based on previous results, coming in under 12 hours meant finishing in the top 25 or so. A block into the run the front runners all missed the first right turn and we heard someone behind us yell "right turn!" We all turned around and cut across a few front lawns to get back on track. Guess I should have carried that headlamp! While we were running up the road I was looking around for another Los Alamos runner, David Coblentz, so that I could try to stick with him for a while. He had run this race four years previously and knew the course well. He also happens to be a very strong runner and finishes consistently in the top 15 of this race. It wasn't long before David came up next to me and said hello. We chatted for a bit about the soon-to-be-encountered icy stream crossings and David suggested just getting wet right from the get-go because trying to walk across the wet and potentially icy logs would be slow and dangerous.
At mile 2.7 we came to the turn up Alpine Gulch and got on the trail along the stream. We went into single-file mode and before long we came across the first stream crossing. Two volunteers were there saying, "You might as well get wet now, you'll get wet at the second crossing for sure." So we took the plunge! The water was never more than knee deep but certainly cold. It wasn't so bad after the first crossing but as we crossed more and more, my feet became mostly numb. The run up Alpine Gulch was steady and there weren't many position changes. As we got up higher I could see the alpenglow of sunrise turning the higher, snow-clad peaks a warm pink color. It was cold here in the gulch and I couldn't wait to get into the sun!
We eventually reached the Alpine aid station near the head of the gulch. David and I both stopped to change socks and found our shoelaces frozen. That wasn't too bad but my fingers were also so cold they barely worked. Thankfully the volunteers at the aid station had a fire going so I bent over near the fire to warm my fingers and shoelaces and fought with them to get my shoes untied. David was much faster with changing his socks and was off before I could get my first shoe off. He said he'd see me later. Once I finally got my shoes and socks off, I had trouble getting the Injinji socks on because these socks have toes and my fingers weren't working too well. I learned my lesson here and, while I love Injinji socks, I won't bring them for changes when I know it will be cold. Finally, after about 10 minutes, I had my socks changed. While I was changing my socks, an aid station volunteer had filled my hand bottles-one with cytomax, the other with water. I grabbed a handful of Oreos and got back on the course.
The Alpine aid station was on a small ridge but wasn't at the top of all the climbing. We had more climbing to do out of the aid station on nice singletrack and I was finally in the sun. The relative warmth was short-lived though because we popped above treeline and into the wind. I had put my gloves in my pocket with my wet socks because I didn't think I'd need them anymore. So I pulled the sleeves of my shirt down over my hands and held the bottles through my shirt. Once on the ridgeline the views were amazing! I could see 14ers Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn to the north and to the west were 14ers Redcloud and Sunshine. I was astonished with the view and tried to soak it in while I trotted along the windy, exposed ridge.
After reaching the highpoint at 12,000-something, we began our descent into Williams Creek to the Williams aid station at mile 15.7. I was trying to catch up with David so I pushed hard on the downhill and passed four or five other runners before catching up with David about a mile before the aid station. This downhill section was very runable and not too steep overall. I was pleased with the time I was making and reached the Williams aid station at 8:15am, 15 minutes before my estimated time. Allison, my Mom and Matt were at Williams serving as my crew. They sat me down and helped me with a full sock/shoe change and bottle fill up. I filled up one hand bottle with Perpetum and one bottle with water. I changed my shirt to a short-sleeved shirt with a package of Cliff Blox and two gels already stashed inside. I also applied sunscreen and ate some Lays potato chips before leaving the aid station. I left the AS about a minute behind David but could see him up the road. If I could keep him in sight, I'd be happy.
The next segment to the Carson aid station at mile 22 turned steep after a couple miles of nice, flat dirt road running. We ascended a jeep road that leads up Wager Gulch to the Carson ghost town. I opted to jog along the road and waited to eat and pee until we all started the uphill grind where we'd be walking anyway. Once we started up the road the two I could see in front of me and the one runner behind me all went into power-hike mode. This gave me the opportunity to pee on the move as well as eat some Cliff Shot Blox and a gel. As we ascended David started running every now and then which hurt my confidence because I couldn't bring myself to run up the steep road. I stepped up my hiking speed and kept him in sight until the Carson AS.
At Carson, I picked up my drog bag which contained some cookies and my Camelback. In the Camelback I had a light jacket, extra socks, two gels, two Cliff Shot Blox and 1.5 liters of pre-mixed Gookinaid. I had been told the next section along the Continental Divide and the Colorado trail was long and arduous and extra water was recommended. A nice volunteer filled my hand bottles-one with cytomax and one with water-as I sat down and ate a couple slices of watermelon. Yum. I ate some of my cookies and then got back on the road again about a minute behind David.
I was soon joined by a woman named Helen from Breckenridge. At this point Helen was in first place amongst the female runners. We talked about ultras, her recent childbirth, and the lack of snow in NM this past season while Breckenridge received huge amounts of snow. We chatted as we ascended to the ridge and gained the divide proper. At this point Helen sped up and I talk with her again until after the race.
The view along the divide on this portion of the course was again awesome. Big, tall peaks all around with views of peaks as far as I could see. The weather was perfect-sunny, no clouds and very little wind now. However, this section to the Divide AS at mile 31 felt like it went on forever. I think this is because we were above treeline the whole time and I could see where we had to go and all the ups and downs between. Ugh! I did my best to keep Helen and David in sight but around mile 28 I lost sight of them and got passed by a couple of other male runners. Oh well. I was on a good pace and feeling quite good considering. But as I carried on, I started thinking, "Man, there must not be another aid station along the divide, we must be going to the Slumgullion aid station at mile 40 because this feels SO long!" (I hadn't paid too much attention to the aid station locations prior to the run.) But, sure enough, as I descended back into the trees for a bit, the Divide AS was around the corner in a small clearing on the ridge. I was definitely stoked to see the people there as I had ran out of fluids in my hand bottle a couple miles back.
At the Divide AS, I sat down and ate a couple more slices of watermelon and a cup of noodle soup. The salty soup was especially tasty. In previous runs of this distance, I had been unable to eat around mile 30 so I was encouraged that I still had an appetite and taking in some much needed salts and calories. I also ate a bag of Cliff Shot Blox while a volunteer filled my hand bottles. Again, one bottle of cytomax and one bottle of water. I stashed the plain water bottle on my Camelback pack (which, amazingly, still kept delivering sip after sip of Gookinaid) so that I could carry one bottle and carry a handful of Lays chips as I left the aid station.
From the aid station we traversed back through a short stand of trees and then above treeline again ascending up and over a point around 12,400 feet before picking up an old road for our descent into the Slumgullion aid station at mile 40. I was looking forward to this aid station since Allison, Mom and Matt would be there and I knew I would appreciate the encouragement. Around mile 34 the second-place female runner came hauling ass past me and the three other runners just ahead of me. I was in awe of her pace at this point in the run and even thought she might catch Helen before the end of the race. I was pulling for Helen! As we descended all above treeline on this old road I was able to hold my position and even catch up with two other runners just before we headed back into the trees. One of those runners cheered me on as I went by him and urged me to "go get it!" It's totally awesome that in a competitive event we runners offer encouragement to those that pass by us.
The descent into Slumgullion was steep, somewhat loose road that was often off camber, at least on the smoothest portion of the road. It wasn't super fun but I was able to pound pretty hard and hold a good pace with the encouraging runner not far behind me. Before long, around 2:15pm, I arrived to cheers and shots of encouragement at the Slumgullion AS. I sat down among my Mom, Allison and Matt while they refilled my bottles and handed me some Lays chips. I ditched my Camelback here and opted to not change socks in the interest of time. I knew if I wanted to finish under 12 hours, I needed to be efficient. My crew filled my two hand bottles-one with Perpetum and one with water-and I filled my shirt pocket with a bag of Famous Amos cookies and two gels before heading off. The runner that had encouraged me on the descent to Slum was leaving the aid station at the same time so ran together for a bit. His name was Dave from Breckenridge and Helen, whom I had met earlier, was his friend and running partner. Cool. Dave also happened to "luck" into the Hardrock this year like me but wasn't sure he was going to run it. We talked about the Hardrock for a while and then discussed the remaining 9 miles of the course to the finish. It was going to be a hot and steep ascent to the Vickers AS at mile 46 but after that it was all downhill to the finish. I stuck behind Dave for a while until he waved me on as he took a break.
At this point, another runner was coming up from behind. I stopped to pee and he cruised on by. As we climbed, I cursed the idea of having this steep of a climb at mile 42 of a 50 mile run! It was, however, passing through nice stands of Aspen trees so I tried to enjoy it. At the top of the climb we passed through at least three meadows that looked identical and I kept thinking about the last aid station, Vickers. Where was it? The clock was ticking and I wanted that aid station bad. I caught up with the runner that had passed me on the climb. His name was Gilles and this was his third time running this. He had finished one year in 12:03 and was really motivated to finish under 12 hours this time. He stated that we had the sub-12 time "in the bag" since the aid station was just around the corner. Sure enough, there it was. We stopped at the aid station and I ate some watermelon while a volunteer filled my hand bottles-one full of plain water, one half-full of cytomax. The aid station volunteers were encouraging and said, "it's all downhill from here!"
I was off about 30 seconds behind Gille. The trail started downhill but then went flat and then slightly uphill. "All downhill from here? Yeah, right!" But it wasn't long before the trail did go downhill in earnest and was actually quite steep. I caught up with Gille and then passed him as I upped my pace on this downhill. I figured it was going to be hard on my body even if I went slow so I might as well go faster. I passed through nice, cool Aspen stands before getting back into the pines and into the heat of the lower elevation. I could see the rooftops of houses in Lake City and knew I wasn't far. I upped the pace more. I was pumped to get into Lake City. And then, bam!, I was back on dirt road and passing by houses and a tennis court. One of the players on the court raised his racquet and said, "Congratulations!" Nice guy.
I could feel the pull of the finish line now and just followed the signs along the dirt road that turned to pavement. A runner in front of me missed the turn to the footbridge over the river and was coming back towards me. He asked where we were headed and I pointed. I also stopped so that he could get back in front of me because I figured he deserved it since he was in front of me but just missed a turn. His name was Ray and this was his third time in this run. This wasn't his best time but it was good. We crossed the bridge and then slowly jogged towards the finish. At that time, though, another runner was coming from behind and said hello. He was moving fast and Ray wasn't countering and I didn't want to finish behind yet another runner so I upped my pace to stay in front of both these guys. The other runner was still coming up relatively quickly so I upped my pace a bit more to stay in front as we turned the final corner and I could see the finish line. Alright, time to sprint at the end of a 50 mile run! I was able to stay in front of the runner and finish a few seconds ahead of him. The town park was full of fans and other runners all cheering the finishers on. It was a great scene. I flew across the finish line as my Mom, Allison and Matt joined me and showed me to a chair in the shade. It felt good to be done and it was an awesome race!
Like any race of this size, it wouldn't be possible without the great work of numerous volunteers. I appreciate and thank them for everything they did to allow me and everyone else the opportunity to run this beautiful course and push ourselves a bit more than usual!