September 17, 2011
Steamboat 50 Miler – Run Rabbit Run
50 Miles – Steamboat Springs, CO
“In our lives there is bound to come some pain, surely as there are storms and falling rain; just believe that the one who holds the storms will bring the sun.” ~Unknown
I had just put my video camera down after having recorded a segment for the video blog. I was talking about how much I enjoy camping before a race. I had nestled into my sleeping bag and watched a rented movie on my ipad. Alone and cold at a campground in town, enjoying the benefits of off-season camping. At 11:30pm I remember falling asleep to the sound of torrential rain pounding hard against the top of my tent… it would rain all night.
This would be a day when Mr. Blue Sky would never rear it’s ugly head. As I walked from the parking garage to the tavern where almost 200 runners were huddled together, free from the chilly morning air, I got to thinking about how my year wouldn’t be complete without some kind of deluge weather event and subsequent mud pit race during my calendar. Though, I never thought it’d occur here in the high desert/arid climate of Colorado. The word on the street was that until now they’d always had impeccable weather at this race but this morning it’s drizzling with temps in the lower 40’s. We were ushered out into the crisp, damp morning air to start this race in the darkness of Colorado’s North-Central Rocky Mountains. I stood calmly in the middle of the pack and awaited our cue to head out and after a brief countdown we were off.
The first 6.2 miles of this race are entirely uphill. The first half mile was mellow enough to be able to run/trot uphill for a time before your chest blows up. Once again in an ultra I am impressed and amazed by the number of new-comers to our sport who start out in these races by trying to run every single step of the way. In the first 2 miles of the climb, I found myself in the back of the back. By the time I’d reached the summit area and the first aid station, I had climbed my way back up and into the front of the mid-packers. The first climb was brutal. An unrelenting climb up Steamboat’s access road to the Werner aid station at just over 10,000′. In 6.2 miles we had climbed nearly 4,000′ of elevation gain in a task that took me nearly 2 hours to complete. I enjoyed my climb up the mighty mountain as I finally had the chance to talk with a group of ultra-runners from my home state of Colorado. This would be the first time since May that trail runners in and from Colorado had taken the time to speak with me.. and throughout the day it wouldn’t be the last.
At the Werner aid station I grabbed some fruit and noticed an old friend on the food table. I grabbed a fist full of Chips Ahoy and chomped as I took off down the trail. My mouth literally drooled over ever single chocolatey chewy chomp. I was in heavy. Not far out of the aid station I noticed that we had run up and into the clouds or that maybe the clouds were dropping and encasing us on top of the mountain. The winds began to kick in a bit and the weather was quickly changing.
I settled in with a group of runners from Colorado. New folks. new to me, new to you, new to ultras and new to 50 milers. It was a real treat to run with these folks because you could hear their nerves shaking when they spoke. You could also hear their excitement in the sheer fact of even being out there for the race. These are feelings that long have escaped me having been in this sport for awhile now, but even still.. as the weather quickly ran south and the rain started pounding down and the winds continued to pick up; you could hear the nervous coming out of my voice as well.
We ran into the Long lake aid station which in my opinion was by far the best station on the course. The volunteers here were friendly and most helpful. All smiling and despite it being an early hour of the morning yet, I was offered a beer while grabbing fruit from the aid table. I reluctantly declined the carbohydrates nestled within the confines of that Coors Can and headed back out into the woods with a new friend. It was her first 50 miler and after having run for 4+ hours by now, I had discovered she had yet to pee. This brought up all kinds of conversation, mostly of the scientific kind where I tried to convince this woman that peeing was important. A great way to gauge your health during a run and keep your kidneys functioning properly. She finally gave in and we headed off into opposing sides of the trail for biology.
From Werner aid station (Mile 6.2) to Dumont (Mile 22); the entire course is run on single-track trail. The immaculate kind. The kind where the single-track is stiff and in good shape. Few pine needles cover the trail making small patches of cushioned running. The scenery from this high ridge line, despite being in the clouds much of the time is breath-taking. I felt like on this day I was running in Oregon. Running through the forests of tall and numerous pine enshrouded in a sea of pea soup clouds. We runners were talking about everything. From Colorado to Ultras to Politics to Education. I was having a great time and enjoying my new friends.. none of whose names I remember or got to say goodbye to given the calamity that was about to happen.
The further into the race we got the darker the sky seemed to get. The sun was ever more increasingly cut-off from our world as the clouds lower still and thickened. The drizzle only got harder until it turned into an all out light rain followed by torrential downpour. Consistent, unrelenting, torrential… down pour. The field was really starting to spread out at this point in the race. After passing the next aid station and heading towards Dumont, the front-runners were all ready on their way back. Yeah.. they were 14 miles ahead of me in this race and I knew it because it was an out and back course. None of them looked very good. The forecast for the day called for a 40% chance of Showers with temps in the 60s. So far we were experiencing temps around 40 with winds gusting out of the WNW at 35mph.. and torrential unrelenting rain.
The trails quickly went from some of the best single track I’ve ever run on in my life to some of the muddiest, messiest, most slippery slop I’ve ever had to run on. Mud so epic that it put the Vermont 50’s mud-baths to collective shame. I’d only seen worse at McNaughton Park Illinois. It was hard to maintain your posture or composure while trying to maneuver any of the steep yet short hills we run along in roller-coaster fashion. This race was quickly turning into hell on earth. As I was finally beginning to soak through my clothing, I took out my light jacket I had brought with me and threw it on.
As I headed into Dumont I began to realize that the rain had now soaked through my jacket. In the last few hours we’d all ready received over an inch of rain on the course and was on the doorstep of two inches. I was still wearing my fleece Moeben arm warmers on my arms. They were soaked and for the first time in my life, fleece was actually cold. My forearms were so cold from the wind and dropping temps that I started to lose feeling in them. By the time I reached Dumont (Mile 22) I was soaked to my core and starting to shiver. I began to wonder how far I could go on, how far could I push. I had no crew this time. Bailing out was an option but, where would I go and how would I get there. I pushed through the Dumont aid stop and headed for the turnaround at Rabbit Ears Pass.
The climb from Dumont to the pass it ruthless, especially in these wet and muddy conditions. A hill that is incredibly steep all ready was not a challenge you’d most likely see on some kind of Nickelodeon kids show. I walked like a duck trying to shuffle my way up these tiny hills. The closer to the pass you got the steeper the hills would get. At times, I was certain that some of these climbs could have used the aid of a rope. It was that messy, that sloppy and that slippery. I didn’t think things could get any worse until I got to the turn around. I had slogged my way to the top of Rabbit Ears pass to simply touch my hand down on a small pile of rocks. I touched the rocks and stood up. The wind made my bones chatter and then I noticed that it was starting to sleet. Temperatures were continuing to drop and the once torrential rain was now pissing down tiny pellets of ice. I spoke into my camera, “I’m not sure how much further I can go with this but.. we’re gonna give it hell.
The Hell We Gave
I turned around and carefully headed for Dumont. I was careful to not slip and fall on these many steep downhills. Slipping here meant falling to your ass, then sliding down hill and taking out 3 or 4 runners like bowling pins. The rain and sleet was letting up now but the wind was somehow picking up the pace. I’ve been here before in races and I know what’s about to come. I’m incredibly unprepared for any of this, having shown up expecting the 40% chance of rain (not 100%) and the temps in the low 60s (not the upper 30s). During the last sections into Dumont I noticed the clouds were beginning to lift. I could see the valley some 5000′ below. The sun was shining. There was hope, there was promise. I entered the tent at Dumont. I have been wearing my fleece wind-stopper pro gloves for some time now. Not only have they soaked through by their just tiny refrigerators now. My fingers no longer insert into the fingers of the gloves. I’ve rolled my hands up into fists inside the palm portion of the glove. My hands are red and swelling now. I noticed my knuckles were purple and my fingers white.
Because of my deteriorating condition, I had to ask for assistance of the volunteers at the aid station. Earlier I told someone,”I love this weather, it makes the weak ones go home.” As I stood under the tent and watched an aid worker fill my hydration bladder for me.. I knew I was now one of the weak ones. And the once dormant conditions had all of a sudden turned into a ferocious rain and wind storm previously unseen during todays conditions. Yes.. from what appeared to be clearing skies (the calm before the storm) to this absolute calamity. I grabbed my bladder and just stayed under the tent. I kept eating food, waiting for the rain to let up.. it wasn’t. So.. with my head down and my buff up and over my mouth.. I headed back out into the storm. I was using my buff as a scarf. Trying to keep my face warm and at the same time, exhaling warm air down and into my jacket. This worked at keeping me warm for awhile.. until my core temp dropped out.
I was alone for much of the way now. Unsure of if anyone was even still out here. From time to time runners would pass me quickly as I struggled to keep my legs moving. The chill on my muscles was causing them to cramp and it became hard for me to bring my legs up to 90 degrees. Things were not going good. By mile 32 I had reached the next aid station. They gave me a cup of hot ramen which I guzzled down. I ate chips and laughed with the volunteers. I’m still having a good time but acutely aware of my situation. My hands are now so swollen that I am unable to even remove them from my gloves. That’s right.. my hands are now so cold that they’ve swollen to the size of baseballs.
Not long after leaving this aid station the weather changed again. What was torrential rain and wind was not a raging white out snow squall. A mixture of snow and sleet pelted the course and it started to accumulate. I’ve seen many things in 6 years of ultra-running.. this was a first. It snowed and then it snowed harder. I was turning white myself as snow clung to everything wet on me. Moisture on my man-pri’s (Capri tights) had frozen into small beads of ice.. snow was now sticking to them. This was signaling to me that my body was no so cold that it was unable to heat up my extremities enough to melt ice and snow from my skin. THIS IS NOT GOOD. My teeth had chattered for so long that my jaw had tensed up. I could barely speak. I spoke enough, however, to the next runner who came by. A woman in all smart wool who I told to inform the aid station at Long Lake that number 91 is coming in and is hypothermic.
This was huge for me. To be in the condition I was in yet still able to recognize that I was hypothermic. Yet, I was still doing the math in my head trying to figure out how long it would take me to finish if I leave Long Lake on foot. There’s 13ish miles to go from there to the finish, the last 6.2 of which is downhill. In the end I determined it would take me 3 hours at best to get there. As I approached the 10 hour mark of the race and my condition continued to decline I started to really assess what I had left in me. Two Miles out from Long Lake (Mile 38), I started to pee every 5 minutes in what almost seemed like uncontrollable urinating. I knew this was my last chance to make the right decision. Our bodies have a Flight or Fight Response. My body was now choosing to “dump” whatever things in my system it no longer needed to survive. This was my bodies last chance effort at fight when in reality is known as flight. I knew it, I recognized it and I admitted it.. and as I entered Long Lake, a volunteer ran out to me with mylar wrap. Snow still falling out of the sky, the wind still whipping.. I walked into Long Lake and walked into a big van and sat there.. waiting to be driven home.
I’ve run in conditions similar and worse then this in my running career and it was a bit of time ago that I concluded to myself, what conditions simply weren’t worth it. I said out at Rabbit Ears that I was going to give it hell and that’s exactly what I gave. I pushed my body, my mind and my soul to my absolute limits.. within reason of what I could accomplish without un-necessarily doing damage to my body. And so with that, I took a DNF at Mile 38. I DNF’d as position number 143 of 158 racers. 115 People finished the event and my hats off to them. 46 of us DNF’d for a 40% Drop Rate. I hold my head up high for making the right decision given my ill-prepared nature. I’ll live to fight another day with the Slickrock 100 just 2 weeks away.
Post Race Notes:
I had taken some great video of the conditions out there with my FlipCam but the camera drowned in all the rain. Right before it snowed I heard it chime one last time. I’m surprised it made it that long. Now I’m diligently trying to recover whatever video I can from the memory. If I do I do, if I don’t I don’t. right now the camera is a total loss.
This was my first time running the Steamboat 50. For a fifth year race it is incredibly well organized. A runners race for sure. Put on by runners for runners. This non-profit race actually donates 100% of its proceeds to three separate local charitable organizations. From start to finish, this race has a grass roots feel to it right down to the very runners who par-take in it. It is unfortunate that they’re talking about adding a 100 next year and making it a trail running “championship” complete with prize money. They have a beautiful thing going on up in Steamboat that is surely going to suffer with the change. For now.. it’s one hell of a great race and a great time. My hats off to RD Fred and his 90 volunteers