The man, the myth, the legend: Bill Duper. All race photos: D.Bow.
"What was I thinking?"
I must have said those words to myself 50 times on the outbound section of Saturday's Run Rabbit Run 50 miler. Once the heavens opened up, 28 miles into the race, I forgot about my stupidity in signing up and focused on surviving the three-hour torrent of freezing, hypothermia-inducing rain.
More than one person I spoke to after the race feared for their life out there this weekend, but thankfully everyone found their way off the mountain safe and sound, testament to the great race direction of Fred Abramowitz and his army of hardy volunteers. Thanks to each and every one of you for being out there under such horrendous conditions.
But for as ugly as it got, the race started out very innocently. Yes the weather forecast was calling for a 50 percent chance of rain, but the conditions at the pre-dawn start at the base of Mount Werner were just about perfect. I know I was fooled into not taking a jacket - a rookie error that almost came back to bite me 30 miles later.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
From the gun, a lead pack of Zeke Tiernan, James Bonnet and Mark (Horsecow) Lonac pushed the early pace as we began the 3,500 foot ascent of Storm Peak. I opted to let them go and settled in with Bill Fanselow. We chatted a bit about the pace off the front as we watched Horsecow drop James and Zeke, both of whom were beginning to come back to us as we transitioned into the steeper second half of the climb.
I know Horsecow from the Fort Collins road running circuit, and I was pretty sure this was his first 50 miler. Given that he typically runs his 5k races in the high 15s to low 16s, I figured that the early 50-mile pace probably felt a little pedestrian, but 50 miles is a long way to run, so I was fully confident that he was coming back. James, I knew, had run a fast 50 miler in winning Leona Divide earlier in the year, while Zeke, a former all-American at Colorado University, had a couple of strong Leadville podium finishes to his name. And with Bill - a former US mountain running team member - for company and Burch and Corey Hanson in close proximity behind, I could sense that this was going to be a tough race requiring a full-on effort for the win. I was already betting against myself.
After topping out on Storm Peak, 6.5 miles into the race, it was time for the real running to begin. Almost immediately the gear changed from grind to freewheel as we made our way down the short descent on the early stretches of the Mountain View Trail. The overnight rain had left the trail a little soggy, but by and large conditions were decent: tacky in places, sloppy in others.
Within minutes I was passing Horsecow, who later dropped with a hip issue. And then I heard the all-too familiar thuds of Ryan's downhill stride behind. I have raced Ryan so many times over the last few years that I know full well how much he loves to rip the descents, especially early in a race, so I was more than content to let him go by, knowing that I would likely be back on him as the course assumed an upward trajectory. Less than a minute after he was by me, Ryan was around Zeke and into the early race lead. A few shoulder checks confirmed that Bill was still in close proximity behind and that, indeed, I was in for a tough, competitive day of racing on a pair of pins that just wanted to go back to bed.
Soon after aid station two at mile 13, I eased past Ryan and assumed a position behind Zeke who appeared to be moving well. I was in absolutely no hurry to assume the lead as the pace was already at the upper end of what I felt I had in the tank for 50 miles on that day. And so we rolled all the way through to Lake Dumont, the mile 22 aid station, where my ever-patient wife handed me a fresh EFS gel flask and a fresh water bottle before telling me to get after it. As nice as it was to hear my wife dishing out race advice, I was generally feeling lackadaisical, sorry for myself and wishing that I wasn't racing. I had no real giddyup and as a result no great desire to follow Dana's directions in getting after it.
Nonetheless, I was quicker than Zeke through the aid and assumed the lead for the 1,000 foot pull up to Rabbit Ears, the rock formation that gives the pass into Steamboat Springs its name. Zeke didn't take long to catch up, but for as crappy as I was feeling, I was mildly energized to hear from his breathing how hard he was working. Rather than try to keep pace, I just let him go, figuring that my one gear was either going to be good enough through the latter stages - or not - but I knew that I didn't want a late-race suffer fest induced by mid-race over exertion.
By the time we were back at Dumont, now mile 28, Zeke was a minute - maybe two up on me. Again I was quicker through transition, and again I got the giddyup order from Dana. Leaving the aid, I was no more than 30 seconds behind in second as we began the 16 miles of rolling singletrack back to the top of Storm Peak. Bill, Burch and James had all been within five minutes at the turn, so there was still plenty of pressure from behind.
Race order coming into Dumont at mile 28. Teirnan, Clark, Fanselow, Burch.
Then the heavens opened up and unleashed a torrent of misery. Immediately I was transported 21 days back in time to the miserable first three hours of UTMB. By the time I got to the Base Camp aid station at mile 32 we were completely socked in and subject to a full-on downpour. The trench-like trails filled instantly with water, the temperatures dropped, and just like that concerns for safety became paramount and the race secondary.
Within minutes my fingers were numb and lifeless. I was forced to tuck my water bottle under my arm so I could get both hands into fists under my drenched gloves. Next to go were my feet and toes. Fortunately my legs responded to the situation by finding a new lease on life, which allowed me to up the tempo the notch or two I needed to get the internal furnace burning a little harder. In combination with my hat and arm panties, the new-found gear was just enough to fend off any serious considerations of hypothermia. Now I was merely cold, wet and miserable.
I caught no sightings of Zeke on the five-mile stretch of singletrack between Base Camp and the Long Lake aid station, but heard very faint cheers as he was (presumably) coming in. I got there about five minutes later, so figured that I was set in second for the rest of the race. However, on the last few miles to the final aid station, I could sense from the ever-fresher footprints that I was catching Zeke and catching him quickly. By mile 42 or 43, the prints were looking really fresh and for as hard as the rain was coming down that meant that I was getting close. And then, at the end of the final godforsaken seven-mile stretch of trail between Long Lake and Storm Peak, just as I caught site of the aid station tent through the mist, I heard the cheers for Zeke.
With 6.5 miles and 3,500 foot of descent left to the finish, we were off to the races. This was going to be painful.
Within the first five or six switchbacks I had caught and passed Zeke, and we were moving. There was no need to look back as I could hear the splosh of Zeke's footfalls. He wasn't capitulating, as I had desperately hoped he would. We were now moving at a highly unsustainable pace - easily sub-six minutes per mile - on fried, cold legs.
And then my left shoelace came untied. Bugger! And then my right. Double bugger!
I figured we had four miles to go. Could I race out four miles with untied shoes? If only I was a believer in - and practitioner of - the barefooting movement. I could just toss the shoes aside and run free. I knew I was going to have to stop and re-tie. But dammit, I had no feeling or dexterity in my fingers. Maybe I could call a timeout?
As I fumbled with my laces, Zeke went blasting by. He wasn't interested in a timeout apparently. I took what seemed like forever in getting my shoelaces retied and by the time I was back working with gravity Zeke had disappeared into the mist. I pushed hard for 10 more minutes but never got the visual I wanted. As the base of the ski area came into sight, I slipped it into cruise and reflected on a long, long season of ultra racing.
A well-deserved win and slot at WS100 next summer for Zeke.
It's been a year that I will not soon forget, and Steamboat was a great way to cap it all off. As in all of my races this year, I put forth an effort that I can be proud of. I didn't have a whole lot to work with - clearly fatigued from a long summer and a tough UTMB just three weeks prior - but I did the best with what I had. This year has been an interesting one. I have raced way too much and as a result I have run a lot of races sub-optimally. Some would probably criticize that, but what do I care?
I have fun when I'm at the races and I've been highly fortunate to race in some amazing settings this year. For that, I am indebted to my wonderfully supportive wife, to Pearl for helping me get around the country and across the Atlantic, to all the amazing race directors who work tirelessly to let us romp through the woods and up and down mountains in a controlled and safe manner, and to the thousands of volunteers without whom none of these races would happen. It's time for me to refocus a bit and start repaying some of those debts.
So congratulations to Zeke. From the sounds of it, he'll be claiming his ticket to the Big Dance next June. I think he'll go well there. And congratulations also to everyone who got the job done on Saturday, or indeed to those who had the sense to call it quits when the shivering kicked in. It was a very tough day to be running at 10,000 feet.
The Steamboat 50 is a great race and Fred puts on a really fun event (the post-race beer and pizza party is worth the price of entry alone), but Fred, next time I e-mail you begging for a late entry, please tell me to go take a hike. Or better yet, tell me to come out and volunteer!
Write-up in the local paper.
Storm Peak (6.4): 1:07....................Finish (50.6): 7:26:30 (40)
Long Lake (13.4): 2:04 (57)............. Storm Peak (44.2): 6:46 (69)
Base Camp (18.5): 2:45 (41)............. Long Lake (37.2): 5:37 (49)
Dumont (22.3): 3:21 (36).................. Base Camp (32.1): 4:48 (37)
Rabbit Ears (25.3): 3:52 (31) ............ Dumont (28.3): 4:11 (19)