Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fortnight Ending July 31

Mon - 7 miles (1,600') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long.

Tues - AM: 6.5 miles (1,400') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg.
PM: 3.5 miles (600') easy. Reservoir Ridge social run with FCTR.

Weds - Off.

Thurs - 8 miles easy. Social run at Pineridge with FCTR.

Fri - 7 miles (1,600') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg - home long.

Sat - 31 miles (8,000'). Pingree Loop.

Sun - 6.5 miles (1,400') easy. Soderberg - Spring Creek - Herrington - Stout - Spring Creek - Falls.

Total: 69.5 miles (14,600').


Mon - 6 miles (600') easy. Valley trails.

Tues - 4 miles track w/Jane's (huge) group. Mile, then 4x800 on 1:20 rest. I figured this one was going to be a shock to the system, but knew that I'd have to bite the bullet sooner rather than later to avoid a complete flop at Sierre-Zinal. Eased back in with a low-intensity effort: 5:40, then 2:40-2:43.

Weds - 2.5 miles (500') easy.

Thurs - 6 miles (900') easy with Scott on the Bonneville-Shoreline trail (first three miles of Wasatch 100 out and back).

Fri - Off

Sat - 31 miles (11,600'). Speedgoat 50k.

Sun - 6.5 miles (1,400') easy. Soderberg - Spring Creek - Herrington - Stout - Spring Creek - Falls.

Total: 56 miles (15,000')

January: 440.5 miles (45,850')
February: 304.5 miles (39,200')
March: 469.5 miles (67,100')
April: 427 (62,000')
May: 509.5 (92,500')
June: 323 (54,900')
July 303.5 (79,700)

Total: 2,777.5 miles (441,350')
Avg: 397 miles (63,050')

Catching up here. So the last two weeks have been weeks two and three of recovery from Hardrock. While my legs have essentially been feeling fine, I definitely haven't been feeling much of a running spark. Unless heading into the mountains, I'm pretty much forcing myself out the door in a bid to maintain some level of fitness for France and Switzerland. The heat is not helping.

Just back from an awesome weekend at Snowbird with the family. Camping, swimming, hanging out and a bit of racing too. It's always fun in the Wasatch. So anyway, two easy weeks leading up to Speedgoat, but still kind of blah in the legs. I'll have to up my game a bit in the next couple of weeks before resting up for UTMB, which I think will be my last hard effort of the year.

But before that, I'll be running Sierre-Zinal, an uber-competitive mountain race in Switzerland, which I'm really excited about experiencing. Sierre-Zinal is perhaps the premier mountain race on the European mountain running circuit - and they take their mountain running pretty seriously over there - so it promises to be quite the experience. My friend Pablo Vigil (three time S-Z winner and overall S-Z legend) has been putting together an 'Equipe USA' for the last few years and he's outdone himself his year. I'm intimidated enough by the US contingent alone to know that a top 10 finish in Switzerland will be a huge accomplishment.

Aside from myself, Pablo is bringing over Max King (definite shot at the overall win), Joe Gray (two time US Mountain Runner of the Year), Glen Randall (winner of the Pikes and Evans Ascent races last year, both in eyebrow-raising fashion), Dakota Jones, Scott Jaime. On the women's side, Pablo has rounded up Megan Kimmel, Megan Lund (winner last year), and Brandy Erholtz. From that 'equipe' I am going to say that the US has a pretty legitimate shot at winning both races. Of course, two-time defending champ Kilian Jornet will have something to say about that on the men's side, as will some very other experienced and talented European runners. Me? I'm just excited to be running in such a storied race.

Goat report to come, but a quick tip of the hat to Karl who puts on a great race - easily the toughest 50k in the country (that I know of).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Signal Mtn, Stormy Peak, Rowe Peak/Glacier, Hagues Peak

Somehow we covered 30 miles this morning. It was slow going, but then it always is when you cover ground off trail and up high in the rocky, tufty tundra that is typical of the Mummies and surrounding peaks. But any time spent in the thin air of Comanche Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park is always time well spent.

Joe - on his final weekend in Colorado before jumping ship for pastures and peaks new - spent Friday night at our house in anticipation of the 4:00 AM departure. We picked up Scott and jLu in Masonville and headed up Buckhorn Canyon and Pennock Pass towards Pingree Park and the Signal Mountain trailhead.

Off and running.

From a start point at 8,600 feet it's about six miles and 2,700 feet of climbing to the unfailingly inspiring summit of Signal Mountain (11,262') - one of my all-time favorite peaks.

Whether coming from the north up the Pennock Creek drainage or up Bulwark Ridge from the southeast, the journey to the summit is always a good, challenging climb. And while the mountain's two summits and saddle are just 200 or 300 feet above timberline, the views are simply unsurpassed. The panoramas include the iconic dual peaks of Meeker (13,911') and Longs (14,259'); neighboring South Signal Mountain (11,248'); and summits from the Stormy Peaks Range, Mummy Range, Never Summer Range and northern Comanche Peak Wilderness Area, in addition to the rocky ridges of the Poudre Canyon cleft. It really is a remarkable peak.

South Signal and the Mummies. All pics: Joe Grant. More of his fantastic photography here.

Tip: If you're going to hump a camera and bra strap up a bunch of peaks, charge the battery the night before. Signing in on Signal Summit.

A brief stop to soak in the views and we were off in search of the unmaintained trail that connects the Signal Mountain trail to the Stormy Peaks trail. The trail heads west from the saddle between the two Signal summits, and at the Signal end there is no real trail to speak of, but the route is clearly marked with regular cairns. It becomes a little more apparent as it rolls into and out of the trees towards Stormy. Once on the Stormy Pass trail at a touch over 10,000', it's a good climb up to the craggy pass and then a 400-500' hump up to the higher of the three Stormy summits (12,148').

Signal-Stormy Trail.
Overlooking the North Fork (Big Thompson) valley. Standing on the other side of the valley from last weekend.

Joe and I heading up to Stormy Pass. Pic: Jurker. Scott's blog and pics from the morning.
Back to the pass and then due west, skirting the rounded summit of Sugarloaf Mountain to the south on a line at about 12,000' towards Icefield Pass. Icefield Pass sits at the bottom of the valley between the northeastern ridgelines of Rowe Mountain and Rowe Peak, and is unique for Fort Collins- Loveland-area dwellers in that it feeds the headwaters of two of the major waterways of the area (the South Fork of the Cache la Poudre River and the North Fork of the Big Thompson).

After a quick bottle fill from the icefield melt, we set about grunting our way up the valley towards Hagues Peak (13,560'), skirting just below and to the west of Rowe Peak (13,404'). The steep valley began out grassy and marshy and then transitioned above the snow to an expansive boulder field, which once again made for very slow going.

Down off Stormy.

Around Sugarloaf.

The headwall of the North Fork of the Big Thompson. Rowe Peak ridgeline.

Running short on time, we turned ourselves around after a short stop at the beautiful lake that sits 400 feet below Hagues Peak, Rowe Peak and Rowe Glacier. A quite stunning spot.

Joe checking out the ice, while I check out the worst possible line back to Mummy Pass. Jurker.

And then we trekked home on perhaps the worst line we could possibly have chosen. Back up to Rowe Peak, down the northern slope of Rowe Mountain on a steep and very precarious boulder field drop, through a swampy thicket of lush and dense brush, across a snowfield, through another thicket (two very large bull moose off to the east), across the Mummy Pass Creek, over a rocky outcropping and down onto the Mummy Pass trail. Phew!

Joe and I descending. Pic: Jurker

Mummy Pass is by way of the grassy patch in the far right-center of the picture.

A short hump up to the pass and then it was 8 or 9 miles (with a frustrating last-minute detour) back to the car at the bottom of Twin Lake Road by way of the Mummy Pass/Emmaline trail.

Ready to be done & looking back at the morning's work. Pic: Jurker

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fortnight Ending July 17

Mon - 5 miles (500'). With Joe to South Mineral Creek and back on last couple of miles of the Hardrock course.

Tues - 6 miles (1,000'). With Joe from Hwy 550 rock bridge into Ouray and back on Hardrock course.

Weds - 3 miles (500'). Off Engineer with Pete and Joe.

Thurs - 0 miles.

Fri - 104 miles (34,000'). Hardrock 100.

Sat - As Friday.

Sun - Er, no running.

Total: 128 miles (36,000')

Mon - 0 miles

Tues - 0 miles

Weds - 0 miles

Thurs - 7 miles (1,700'). Towers. Legs felt decent, but no power whatsoever. Ran a 36 something to the top on what felt like a 32-something effort.

Fri - 4.5 miles (800') easy. Falls loop. Felt like hard work again.

Sat - 21 miles (5,300'). Lost Lake, Mt Dunraven, Mt Dickinson.

Sun - 6.5 miles (1,500') easy. Falls - Spring Creek - Stout - Herrington - Spring Creek - Soderberg. Went super easy, felt awesome. Great to be back running Horsetooth trail.

Total: 39 miles (9,300')

A big race followed by a recovery week basically.

Recovery from Hardrock has felt a whole lot better than is the case for other 100s I have run, and, quite honestly, some road marathons I have run. Still, I took the first half of the week off, but was feeling decent enough by Thursday that I wanted to get out and run.

Got a couple of comments on my Mt Dunraven/Dickinson post from runners I respect immensely about not rushing back into things, but quite honestly mellow outings like that really help with my recovery. They also serve to remind me why it is that I actually run in the first place. Besides, Dana and the kids were not back from Michigan until the evening, so it would have been criminal to let the free day go without getting out and exploring.

Anyway, the plan going forward is to build back into consistent running with a focus on quality over quantity as the legs allow. If I've lost anything in the netherworld of tapering/racing/recovering/racing, I think it's some aerobic fitness, so that will definitely be my focus as I get ready for Sierre-Zinal and UTMB next month.

Hoping I can sneak out for an early morning in the mountains this weekend. Maybe the five-peak Mummy loop from Pingree Park. A classic that I am yet to do.

Hardrock pacing reports from Brendan and Scott, if you're interested.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lost Lake, Mt Dunraven, Mt Dickinson

Dunraven, Mummies, Glacier Gorge peaks (Longs far back left)

I don't get out with Mike too often, but when I do it's usually an adventure. Our plan for this particular (and beautiful) Saturday morning was to tag a couple of the more obscure peaks in the Mummy Range on the north side of Rocky Mountain National Park, by way of scenic Lost Lake.

The plan was pretty simple: cruise up the well-traveled trail to Lost Lake (9.5 miles, 3,200'), cut south and off trail to the summit of Mount Dunraven (12,571'), ride the long east-west ridge to Mount Dickinson (11,831'), and then source a route back to the North Fork of the Big Thompson and the Lost Lake trail for the final run back to the trailhead.

From the Dunraven trailhead (7,800'), west of Drake and east of Glen Haven, the trail to Lost Lake (10,700') climbs at a steady and rarely challenging grade. Lost Lake - which is the lowest of a series of lakes that feed the North Fork of the Big Thompson - is worth the trip alone, with gorgeous views of Mount Dunraven, Sugarloaf Mountain and (I think) Rowe Mountain and Rowe Peak. There are all kinds of peak bagging options from Lost Lake, but today we were headed due south for Dunraven, apparently named after the Irish Earl of Dunraven who settled in the Estes Park area in the late 19th Century.

Rowe Mtn, Rowe Peak from Dunraven summit. All pics: Mike Hinterberg.

From Lost Lake, we followed the westernmost feed of the lake for a short while then cut south, dropping into and crossing the North Fork before heading up Dunraven proper.

Still can't get away from the snow. Approaching Lost Lake.
North Fork crossing.

It was a solid 1,500'+ grunter up the north slope of Dunraven, but without too much rock hopping the going was decent enough. After a short repose on top, and a look at the backsides of Rowe, Hagues and Mummy peaks, we headed due east to the saddle between Dunraven and an unnamed peak (12,305') - which we named Dunraven Knob - skirting it to the south on a line at about 10,900'.

Me and Mike on Dunraven.

Once around The Knob, we cut a line directly for the saddle between Dunraven Knob and Mount Dickinson, soaking in the views of the Glacier Gorge traverse along the way. Glacier Gorge is on the docket for a few weeks hence, so it was great to get a panoramic of the classic alpine line. The 2- to 2.5-mile hike to Dickinson was very pleasant indeed with only intermittent talus to negotiate. According to the log on the summit, we were just the second up there this year, so an obscure peak indeed.

Dickinson summit.

From Dickinson, the options for getting down were not great. All involved significant bushwhacking through dense forest, so we chose the direct line south to southeast to the bottom of the valley on a grade that looked negotiable.

Scoping the descent off Dickinson. Signal Mtn (just popping up above timberline) & Bulwark Ridge on other side of the valley.

It was no more than two miles down to the river, but it probably took us an hour and a half with all the deadfall to get over. We hit the river at a spot that looked reasonable to cross, so just went for it rather than source something tamer.

The early going off Dickinson before it got really dense.

We hit the trail almost immediately once over the river and found ourselves, as planned (amazingly), just slightly west of the Happily Lost backcountry camping area. Six and a half miles back down to the trailhead and we were done.

Recrossing the North Fork. Ankle to knee deep but moving fast.

Total trip was in the 21-mile range, with a touch under 5,500 feet of elevation gain and a whopping 7 hours on our feet. The 15 miles of trail running accounted for less than three hours of that. The last two to three miles dragged, but by and large I felt very little residual from Hardrock/Western States, which was an awesome surprise.

Alpine season is finally here. Go get it!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hardrock 100 (three shoes, two guys)

When you're sitting atop a scree-filled, 13,000 foot pass at four in the morning after 85 miles of grueling mountain running and you lose your shoe down a cliffed-off scree slope - with 15 miles of brutal running ahead of you - what in God's name do you do? You look at your pacer in disbelief, that's what you do. Without hesitation, Scott took off his right shoe and told me to put it on. In that brief second, I learned a lesson. A lesson about friendship, self sacrifice and absurdity. Just one second out of the 99,791 mind-blowing seconds I spent running in the San Juans this weekend, but a second of my life I will never forget.

There were many other lessons learned and re-learned this weekend, and while I don't have the time or eloquence to recount them all, I can safely state that the peaks, passes and waterways of the San Juan Mountains stripped me to my core and offered a glimpse inside. I saw some good stuff and I saw some bad stuff, but I think I came out the other end in a better place than I started. And mine is just one story among the 150 journeys that began at 6:00 on Friday morning.

The calm before the storm. Scott, myself and Darcy. All photos: Brendan Trimboli. More here.

Joe and Karl contemplate the next 30 hours.

The madness begins.

This year was a late snow year, which meant that many of the high passes and basins on the Hardrock course were still buried. The first real taste came in the Grouse-American Basin off Handies, a 14,000' peak. The climb was tough, really tough, but the snow in the basin below was worse: Soft, punchy and unpredictable.

Until this point, 37 or 38 miles in, I had successfully worked through a couple of solid snow sections up on Green Mountain and Buffalo Boy Ridge with Jared Campbell, an experienced Hardrocker (and defending champion) who I was more than happy to be following through the sketchy course markings.

Up and over Green Mountain with Jared Campbell. All Green Mountain Photos: Dan Goding.

We pulled into Maggie aid station together at mile 15 running in fifth and sixth. On the climb out of Maggie to Cataract Lake, we caught up to Dakota Jones who at 20 years of age was probably the youngest runner in the field. His words of advice as I made to go by him belied his age.

"Nick, we need to get to Ouray at mile 60 feeling like we've been moving way too slowly. Run with me!"

There and then, Dakota may have saved my race. I immediately tucked in behind and slowed to a trot. Jared soon caught up and we jogged as a threesome along the beautiful trails of the Continental Divide at 12,000 feet, crossing the numerous creeks that would ultimately tumble into the Rio Grande and spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

From the Pole Creek aid station (19) we continued as a team, tracking the creek, and route finding together before hitting a beautiful and highly runnable ribbon of trail for a glorious stretch of high-alpine cruising. We split up a bit before hitting the carpeted trail down to the Sherman aid alongside the roaring drainage coming down from Cataract Lake. I lost Dakota ahead and Jared behind, so enjoyed the descent to Sherman alone. Things felt okay. While my legs weren't enjoying the steeper pitches on the descent, clearly not recovered from Western States, I was still eating well and had decent energy.

There was a good vibe at the Sherman aid. I took a few minutes to eat part of a quesadilla and switch out a few bits and pieces, before setting out on the grinder road up to the Handies trailhead. I caught glimpses of Dakota as I jogged my way up. With Danny Levy still in Sherman as I left, this meant I was now running in fourth place - not that I really cared. With 70 some miles and who knows how much vertical relief left to cover, my only concern here was that I was running the road convincingly, at a pace that felt sustainable, and on a stomach that was still agreeable to caloric intake.

It was an unusually hot day I was beginning to realize, so I upped my liquid consumption. At the Burrows Park water cache Dan Brillon helped me fill my bottles, reminding me to go easy on the climb up Handies. More sage words of advice. Below treeline, the climb was actually very pleasant. Steep in places, moderate in others and surprisingly runnable as the mood dictated. Once out of the trees, however, the grunt was on. Mercifully, the skies looked clear.

The race opened up before me as the trees receded into the background. A slow-moving, hands-on-hips Joe Grant was being caught by Dakota who looked to have found some good energy. I figured they were four to five minutes ahead of me in the slow-motion cat and mouse game that is the Hardrock 100. By the summit, Joe and I were grunting it out together. We didn't say a word to each other. Too much effort.

A bomber descent to Sloan Lake, followed by the snow-filled ascent to American-Grouse pass was cause for tumbles, deep post-holing and a few shin rakes on hidden jagged rocks. I wasn't having much fun. Joe and I stuck together through here, dipping our bottles from the abundant run-off under the blazing sun. Finally we hit the pass and it was a beautiful, beautiful cruiser descent down the drainage to the Grouse Gulch aid station (41).

Joe and I must have been visible from a ways up the drainage, as we would hear the cowbells from the aid station long before we got there. I got a change of socks for the dry climb up to Engineer pass at Grouch and felt like I'd been given a new pair of feet. The two or three minutes it took to unload the junk from my shoes, dry my feet and adorn them with mercifully dry socks were perhaps the best-spent minutes of my day.

I picked up my first pacer, Brendan Trimboli, and with a renewed pep in my stride went about fulfilling my pre-race plan of running the first half of the Engineer climb.

Dry socks. You have no idea!

Within a mile, I had run myself into second place. I gave Joe a slap on the ass as I went by and he reciprocated. Dakota was apparently in a rough spot as we passed, saying his wheels were coming off. Brendan and I did what we could to encourage Dakota to hang in there and keep consuming calories, but low points in 100-mile races tend to be very introspective. Dakota grunted.

Catching Dakota early on Engineer

I had driven the Engineer road with Joe and Pete a few days prior, and had made note of a big switchback in the road about halfway up. My plan was to run there before dropping into full-on hike mode. However, I think it was about there that I caught sight of Julien in the lead, multiple switchbacks ahead, so I decided to forge out a little more running, despite the thinning air and steepening grade. Finally, Brendan reminded me that there was no need to be a hero and I regained my senses.

My stomach was beginning to knot up.

Hike mode.
A switchback up on D with awesome views behind.

To this point the gels had been going down just fine and my energy levels had been largely perky. But as we approached the top of Engineer Pass, I was beginning to sense revolt from within. Gels were now being forced down, and the half-hour countdown to the next one always seemed to be on fast-forward.

Coming down off Engineer.

Coming off Engineer at 'Oh Point,' we were soon at the aid station and the first thing I asked for was Tums. They had some. Awesome. I chewed a couple and things felt like they might settle down a bit, but the thought of gels was still a stomach churner. The loss of altitude on the long, cruiser descent down Bear Creek into Ouray also helped ease things, but from this point on I never truly recovered my stomach.

Despite my stomach worries, Brendan and I were rolling really well on the six or seven miles of majestic trail into Ouray. This must be some of the best trail I have ever run. Bear Creek was roaring anywhere from 100 to 300 feet below us as we progressed down the canyon, and only gathered steam as we waded through the numerous creeks that fed it. Truly dramatic stuff!

And then we hit Uncompahgre Gorge, with the town of Ouray opening up before us a thousand feet below. I was tired, groggy and kind of sickly, but you just don't see stuff like this every day.

One of the sketchier water crossings.

Ouray came and Ouray went. I got some solids down and felt marginally better, but I knew what was coming.

Dropping into Ouray

Pre-race, I had planned on running the long grind up Camp Bird Road, but coming into Ouray I had convinced myself that this was a terrible plan. By the time we hit the road, my mind was firmly in the hike camp. Regardless of grade, I told myself, I was hiking the full 5,000'+ to Virginius Pass. As it turned out, I guilted myself into running the shallower grades, but it was all token stuff. Dakota and Troy caught to within a switchback or two near the top, and this actually turned out to be a blessing as there were unmarked forks in the road which they guided us through.

The hike fest up Camp Bird Road.

Dakota and I arrived at the Governor aid station within seconds of each other and we took a pew together, getting down some potato soup and other bits and pieces that sounded appetizing, while commiserating on our shared fates. As I would for the remainder of the run, I filled one bottle with water and one with coke (now my main source of energy).

The 100-mile stare in full effect at Governor.

Brendan and I followed Dakota and Troy's lights all the way up to Virginius Pass, after flicking them on shortly after leaving Governor. More snow, super sketchy side hills and then we were there at the fabled three-pitch climb up the chute to the pass. It was buried in snow, but the snow was good. We were easily able to kick steps into the soft upper, and while the going was slow, it felt totally under control. Roch Horton and his crew had fixed a rope for the final pitch and so we grabbed it and hauled our asses up to the pass.

Ahh cowbells and pierogies. What can you say about the guys up on the notch at Virginius Pass? They were heroes for me on Friday night. I had seen the lightening show on the pass as I was coming up Camp Bird Road and feared for their safety. However, when we got there they were stoic and more concerned about getting me and Dakota fed and on our way than anything else. The fried pierogies and broth were the best things I consumed all run.

Best aid station in the world. Krogers Kanteen.

Roch explained the digits down to Telluride: five miles and 4,500 feet of descent, with some super sketch snow traversing up high. That didn't sound like a whole bunch of fun. But at Hardrock you have to accept your fate and keep plugging away - it's the only way. The guys had actually carved out some nice ledges through the snow, so it wasn't as bad as it otherwise would have been. The steep scree-like descents killed my quads, but once we got down into the trees and onto the cruiser trails into Telluride the running became bearable again.

Okay, 30 miles to go. Really? Ughh.

I thanked Brendan as we entered Telluride. I'm not the most talkative guy during these ordeals, and Brendan was happy to accompany me in silence for however many hours it was that it took us to hump it from Grouse to Telluride. He had words of encouragement, some gentle prodding when needed, and - like Dakota - an appreciation for the mountains that belies his young age. Brendan will run well in Leadville next month.

I ate too much too quickly in Telluride.

Scott and I ran at a solid pace out of town on the rolling Bridal Veil Falls road, but as soon as we started grunting up on the re-route to Oscar's Pass, I really started losing the handle on my stomach. I have never puked in a race, but I desperately wanted to puke as we marched on up. I told Scott that calories were not an option right now.

Consuming calories in Telluride.
Joe's version of the 100-mile stare (Telluride).

"Keep drinking, keep the stomach open. We'll try a gel chew at 75 minutes out of Telluride!"

I wanted to tell Scott to shut up and leave me alone, but I knew he was right. I grunted some kind of agreement and descended back into my world of self-pity, all the while taking small sips of coke or water (making sure that Scott was hearing me open and close my bottles).

And then 75 minutes came, and I had to eat. Scott gave me a chew and told me to put it in my cheek and let it dissolve. I obeyed. And then I ate another, and another. It took me an hour to finish six chews and 250 calories. It was something, and 250 more calories than I would have gotten down if I had been by myself. And we still weren't at the pass. Sweet baby Jesus! Why are these climbs so unforgiving?

We made a right off the jeep road and found ourselves negotiating some kind of swampy, snowy mess. It was dark out and the flagging was tough to pick out, however, I could make out the skyline of the pass above contrasted against the starry night. It still looked like a ridiculously long way up to the pass. One foot in front of the other. Oh, there are some lights up there on the ridge. Must be Dakota.

Finally we gained the ridge and hit the pass. The switchbacks coming down the other side were strewn with talus, so we hiked, and then picked our way across some snow banks, before finally hitting some solid dirt that would lead us down into the Putnam aid. I was scared to ask Scott what lay ahead for fear of the inevitable answer. He didn't sugar-coat it.

"We've got to get up Grant Swamp Pass, which is steeper and longer than the push up to Virginius, and without a rope."

We followed Dakota and Troy's lights up Grant Swamp, maybe ten minutes ahead. As advertized, the final push to the pass was brutal. There was no snow, just wet, cold scree. This would make the ascent way harder. I have no idea what the grade is going up Grant Swamp, but it felt near vertical and took forever. We dropped off the other side through more nasty scree and then stopped to empty our shoes. It was four in the morning. My shoe slipped from my hand and I watched as it tumbled down the scree toward the cliff. After 15 meters, we lost sight of the shoe in the dark.

Scott gave me his shoe. I was appalled. There was no way I was going to let him run the last 15 miles of gnarl with one shoe. I told him there was a chance that the shoe might not have toppled over the edge. Scott put his shoe back on and eased his way down the scree on his ass ever so gently. This was absurd. I saw him stop 20 meters down. It looked like he was fishing around for something and then he started easing his way back up. My shoe had caught in some vegetation right on the cliff edge. It was a freaking miracle. We had four Iso Seeks, one for each of our feet. The race was back on.

Well sort of. As dawn began to break, we turned off our lights and trudged on through the marsh. Finally, we hit some glorious trail on a bench over the South Mineral River and the running felt good. As we descended into the KT aid station (89), Scott pointed out the last climb of the day on the other side of the river. It looked completely brutal, but by this point I expected no less. We rolled into KT and to our surprise Dakota was just leaving. Hmm.

I ate my first gel in 25 miles. I gagged, but kept it down. I ate some soup and then mustered up the energy for one last effort. I knew Scott wanted to get after it, see if we could catch Dakota. I complied. We waded the river, headed into the trees and began a super steep climb up the first of three sections to the final pass of the day. We ran everything that was runnable and hiked hard. And then we came out of the trees into a large hillside meadow. No Dakota. Really? Wow! The last vestiges of will power were sucked right out of me then and there and I threw in the towel.

Third it was.

Stud Muffin.

The final two grunts to the top of Putnam-Cataract ridge just about did me in. I had nothing. And it was so steep. One foot in front of the other. Somehow we gained the ridge, dropped off and descended back into the trees to the final aid station of the day. Victoria Funk, a trail running friend from Fort Collins, was there with cow bells. Friendly faces are good when you are at the depths of your being. I gave Victoria a kiss on the cheek and got my ass out of there. Six more miles.

The trail back into town was at a beautiful cruiser grade, but also happened to be littered with nasty rocks. Despicable. We finally hit the river, crossed uneventfully, and made our way back into town on the last two miles of the course.

Never, ever has a finish line looked so good. This was one hell of a journey.

Hats off to Julien and Dakota!