After driving five hours through some real crud on Friday, it was great to finally arrive in Fruita and stretch my legs. I hadn't run for two days before the race so I was raring to go.
I bumped into Alene and her husband Dennis at the packet pick-up. I had originally planned on parking up near the race start and sleeping in the back of the truck, but Alene's friends, Keith and Kirk, were kind enough to offer me their floor for the night (plus a fantastic pasta feed). Thanks, guys!
Turns out Kirk is quite the ultra legend, having run every iteration of the Hardrock 100, winning once and finishing 14 out of 15 times! He is also a former winner of Leadville (in a record slow winning time, he was modest and quick to point out - never mind that the trails were essentially rivers that year.) His wife Keith is also a great masters runner who has a marathon PR of 3:03 and aspirations of sub-3 territory.
The inclement weather on Friday left quite a few others stranded east of The Divide, with the authorities closing down I-70 between Denver and Vail sometime in the late afternoon, although a few brave souls apparently got around on route 285. I got a call from Ryan Burch saying he wasn't going to make it, which was too bad as I think we would have run each other pretty close in the race this year. However, the competition was still strong with Tony Krupicka, Andy Skurka and Bryan Goding all running the 50. On the women's side of things Keri Nelson and last year's Leadville 100 winner, Helen Cospolich, looked to be the main contenders. In the 25, Duncan Callahan and 2:30 marathoner, Anna Pichrtova, looked like favorites.
I lined up with Bryan at the start and we chatted, easing our way into the race through the opening few miles of dirt road and singletrack climbing to the top of Moore Fun. The race started right at dawn, so by the time we were hitting the top, the sun was just beginning to hit the south wall of the canyon lighting it up in glorious shades of orange. Tony was obviously happy to be out racing as he was whooping it up at the sight of the sun's early rays. I stretched it out a bit once we got to the top, pacing off Keri for a while and focused on keeping Tony, Andy and another guy in sight.
From here, the course dropped off a good 800 feet through some sweet switchbacks to the first aid station (5.9), by which time I had squeezed past Keri and pretty much caught up with the others. I topped off my water bottle and focused on keeping pace with the pack.
As I had set off at a fairly casual pace through the first few miles, I didn't really know how many runners were ahead, but figured Tony and Andy were leading the 50.
The three of us paced through the next few miles maintaining a solid pace, chatting and soaking up the views from the rim, high above the Colorado. The second aid station (9.2 miles) came on quick and we all shot through without stopping. The third aid was another short three miles (12.5) and we all stopped to top off before a seven-mile undulating stretch curving in and out of several canyons. The sun had pretty much burnt off any hint of cloud at this point and it would bake us for the rest of the race.
Tony was first through the aid station. I followed 10 to 20 seconds back with Andy a similar distance behind me. I was happy to have the three of us stretched out a bit here so I could focus on getting into a good rhythm. The gap of 20 - 30 meters was pretty constant to the last aid station before the turnaround (19.2) from which there was a significant (and steep) jeep-track climb. Tony was quick out again and built a solid lead through the two- to three-mile climb. Andy was hiking just about as fast as I was running, which is testament to his fast-packing skills (or my weak climbing). Once to the top of the climb there was a nice one- to two-mile stretch of singletrack high atop the canyon followed by a sharp, somewhat scrambly drop down to the dirt road back to the start/finish.
With longer vistas on the road, it looked like Tony had a minute or two on Andy and I, and we were all a bit surprised to see a young 50 miler pull back out from the turnaround. He looked strong and fresh, and certainly had me wondering if he would hold his pace or drift back to us as the miles took their toll. He was through the turn in 3:21, with Tony a minute ahead of us in 3:27.
Going into this race, I had set my sights on Duncan Callahan's course record of 7:41 thinking it was within reach. I had his splits from '07 taped to my bottle and saw that I had a 12-minute buffer to work with as we set out for the loop in reverse. Andy and I ran a pretty hard pace back up to the trail, seeing Keri and Bryan 10-15 minutes back on us. Keri, it turned out, was happy with 25 miles and called it a day there.
The quick early going was beginning to catch up with me a bit on the climb back up, and Andy built a decent gap. I was happy to settle into an easier pace that would get me to the finish without blowing up, figuring that one or two of the others might succumb to the sun. Meanwhile, I was just about keeping my crampy hamstrings alive, although felt that I was constantly one step behind with my electrolytes. Any high stepping over rocks would bring on a temporary set of quivers and force me to ease off a bit.
Coming back down the jeep track to the 30-mile aid I was surprised to see Tony walking. He was obviously in trouble. I offered salt thinking he was cramping, but he said his hip flexor was giving him grief. He ended up walking it in and getting a ride back to the start at 30 miles, leaving me in third. A wise move considering his bigger goals for June.
Dropping back down into the 30-mile aid station, I got a visual on Andy and he looked to have two or three minutes on me. No sight of the lead runner. After being told that he was showing no signs of slowing, I figured he was gone for the day. I was also pretty confident that Andy, with his multi-thousand-mile hikes around America, wasn't going to slow too much, so concentrated on forward momentum in an effort to keep a lock on third.
I had meant to slug a good amount of liquids at the 30-mile aid, but just filled up my water bottle while taking some Gu Blocks for the seven miles ahead. I had taken four or five gels to this point and was already tired of the sickly sweet taste. The blocks were no better and caused me to consume a lot of my 20 ounces of water early into this section just to get them down. With the legs tiring and a nasty side stitch cramping my style, I thought I could be in for a spot of bother until the next aid. I took almost 70 minutes to cover the seven miles to the 37.5-mile aid, with the last half an hour empty on fluids. When I did finally get there, I slugged a full 20 ounces before filling up again and taking off. The two volunteers told me that I was 5 and 12 minutes back on first and second, although they said both guys were starting to look a bit sketchy and had both asked for electrolytes. I figured maybe one of them would come back to me.
Three miles on to the next aid, I had lost the stitch and my legs had found a bit of life. The guys there told me that the lead runner was in trouble and was cramping. Sure enough, no more than five minutes out from the aid station and he was bent over massaging his hamstrings. We exchanged a couple of words, and I sympathised with his plight as I went by, figuring then that I had a lock on second with less than ten miles to go.
By the final aid station (44 miles), however, I was really beginning to hurt and was dreading the final climb. I still had a five- to six-minute buffer on Duncan's time from '07, but immediately made a wrong turn which I figured cost me the buffer.
The climb was as nasty as I was expecting, and I was beginning to feel pretty nauseous. The best I could do for 75 percent of this was a reasonably strong hike. The top finally came and it was a mile or two descent to the final mile of dirt road. I pulled into the finish in a time 0f 7:44, just three minutes back on the old course record, but 16 minutes back on Andy's new mark. The long-time leader, Sean, showed guts to get it finished in his first 50 miler coming in in 7:59. Bryan was fourth in about 8:10.
5.9 ....... 47:53
9.2 ....... 27:22 (1:15:15)
12.5 ...... 26:04 (1:41:19)
19.2 ...... 56:02 (2:37:21)
25.4 ...... 51:32 (3:28:53)
31.6 ...... 53:12 (4:22:05)
38.3 ... 1:08:26 (5:30:31)
41.6 ...... 33:33 (6:04:04)
44.9 ...... 31:05 (6:35:09)
50.8 ... 1:07:25 (7:40:34)
Total climb (according to website) ~ 8,000 feet
The trails around Fruita are pretty special, and the Gemini Adventures team do a great job putting this race on for a very reasonable price. Andy Skurka had a great day, running strong for the win while also scooping the $100 premium for the first two miles and another $100 for the win. His talk and slide show at the awards were great, too.
I had a blast, and it was made all the better for the great company of Alene, Dennis, Kirk, Keith and their tribe of dogs.