San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Race Report
Sunday before the race I traveled from Italy to Denver, stayed at Bird Dog’s house and then drove with Kendrick Callaway to Monarch Pass Monday beginning my high altitude acclimation mission. Tuesday we continued the journey to Lake City and up Henson Creek to the trail head for 14,000ft Wetterhorn peak. I ran up Wetterhorn and back in 2:30 completing my first 14er of the year. We had a great time hiking, running and relaxing at the 10,500ft camp with Mike Devloo. Thursday morning Mike and Kendrick dropped me off in Lake City. For the next day and a half I hung out in Lake City, relaxed and even got to know some more locals. Thursday night I met up with Wally, who Maggie, Felix and I met last year. Wally invited me over for an awesome BBQ at his house with his kids and his buddy Joe who owns a gift shop in town. Dinner, the Lake City friendliness and hospitality was bar none.
Over the weekend lightning started a few fires south of Lake City that grew into enormous fires. By Friday, one the fires, the Papoos fire, was billowing massive smoke into the sky less than 50 miles away. As runners did packet pick-up, Jerry, the RD, was in a helicopter assessing the fire as part of his regular job. Everyone in town was wondering if the fire would move closer to town and runners wondered if the race would be called or changed. Luckily the winds kept the fires away from the course along with any smoke and the race was a go.
June started with a 50k in Pocatello that went very well followed by a week of running through the Italian Dolomites with my best friends Matt Lowe and Jeremy Wolf. An article with pictures and a video on www.irunfar.com will be coming soon on our run through the Dolomites! The run through the Dolomites included nearly 100 miles in 5 days with around 30,000ft of climbing on dynamically challenging and amazing terrain that left me pretty tired out. The three weeks leading to the SJS was 3 of the most fun running weeks I have had, but it left me a bit tired out. Another factor going into the race was my lack of altitude adjustment. I’ve been at 3,200ft Missoula Montana since April with a week at around 4,000-7,500ft while in Italy. Last year I had the luxury of being in the high altitude San Juans all of June.
Things got started at 5am from town with a nice tempo along Henson creek and up the road to Apline Gulch. I like to push this flat section as it is hands down the only low altitude non-technical running on the course aside from the last mile of running to the finish line. Josh Arthur and I chatted as we made our way with Dakota lurking in the pre-dawn shadows just a few strides back. The three of us ran together up Alpine Gulch, enjoyed all of the “adult” playing card marking the course. Together we ran all the way down to William’s Creek at mile 16 and the first of only two aid stations where we can be crewed.
Dakota and Josh literally ran through the aid exchanging equipment like they were running a 2:10 marathon. I looked around the aid station and didn’t see Bird Dog. I stopped running and started calling for Bird Dog. It then sunk in that I was in big trouble, no crew meant no nutrition until mile 40 (aid stations at SJS don’t stock gels either) and no additional water bottle for the two upcoming 9+ mile stretches. I was shocked, my competition was out of sight and I was helpless. I began running down the road praying I’d see Bird Dog driving in… nothing. In a panic I decided to start asking random people for gels. I found 2 gels after 3 tries and decided I couldn’t wait anymore. In total I had 300 calories still with me plus two gels, so 500 calories for the next 26 miles. I had a 4,500 foot climb up to 13,300ft then nearly 10 miles of running at around 12,000ft 16 miles into the race and only one water bottle when all my competition had two. Time to man up and make it work. Dakota and Josh probably had nearly 3 minutes on me now and I certainly struggled to keep my “game face” on. Up I ran to the next climb. Running up the jeep road I saw an old water bottle half full with water, I scrambled into the ditch and secured my second bottle. At the next aid station 21.5 miles in I filled my bottles, stuffed oranges into my pockets, ate a fig newton and drank some drinks with sugar. I’m not going to let this challenge of no aid stop me from having a good race. While I still couldn’t see Josh and Dakota I powered on. I wasn’t feeling great on the climbs and I wasn’t running as much of the steeps as I did/could last year, but I was having a great time running in my favorite race of the year in my favorite mountains in the US.
1,000ft from the top of the second climb I caught Josh. Josh and I chatted for a bit and then I pressed on and up. Not far from the top of the climb I saw Dakota maybe a couple minutes up on me. I wish I was able to feel as strong on the climbs as last year and be running with Dakota, but it just wasn’t in the cards. At the top of the climb Dakota really turned it on and I wouldn’t see him again for the rest of the race. I had made probably 3 or 4 minutes on Josh not far from the top of the second climb and then I found out later Josh ended up falling literally on his face running across the divide and by mile 40 I had 20+ minutes on him. I wasn’t killing the divide section, but I was doing all right. I didn’t have my go to nutrition (I can’t believe people actually buy chocolate gels), nor did I have as much as I would have liked, but I was making it work and eating oranges along the way. This year I decided I wasn’t going to worry about splits and I didn’t even know the mileage at aid stations… I was running to enjoy the race and compete.
Coming into Slumgulion I had mentally prepared for no crew and no aid. I was ready to beg everyone for a few more gels for the last 10 miles, but Bird Dog was there cheering me on and equipped with Vitargo. I tink I came into Slum at around 6:40ish last year and this year I was in at 6:31 and 20 minutes back from Dakota. Unfortunately I continued to feel less than 100% on the climbs and the dreaded Slum climb through the aspens went slow. It is so frustrating to walk runnable climbs so close to the finish of a race, but that is what you get on such a tough course like SJS. The descent finally came and I was cruising into town in just under 8hrs. I ran a sub 8 minute mile to the finish and was relieved to cross the line at 8:07:13 for a 6 minute improvement over last year, second place behind Dakota’s fantastic 7:35 and new course record and claimed the 3rd fastest time ever on the 19 year old race. Overall a great day, race and finish to the best 3 weeks of running I think I have ever had.
Needless to say, the lack of aid at William’s Creek didn’t help me run fast, but I also didn’t let it destroy my day. Last year I spent nearly 4 weeks in the San Juans prior to racing. I was better acclimated and did a lot more climbing to prepare for the race. This year I wasn’t as acclimated or as strong on the long climbs. While running the Pocatello 50K 3 weeks prior was a great “tune-up” run for SJS, all the travel to Italy and back was tiring and of course the running through the Dolomites took their toll. I wouldn’t change the 3 weeks leading up to SJS for anything, but it did take a bit out of me.
Tony Prichard, aka Bird Dog, has helped me with some mental exercises and relaxation techniques the night before my races. I sleep horribly the night before a race. Bird Dog’s mental exercises and techniques have helped me sleep a bit better and at this race, I almost slept normally. The mental exercises also really help me stay relaxed and enjoy the race itself. I think his help kept me from blowing up when I had no aid at William’s Creek.
Last year at Speedgoat I found out that my technical and steep down hill running was my weakness, so this year I have been working on my fast downhill running. Saturday I was faster and stronger on the downhills and this is where I made time on last year’s race. I really looked forward to the downhill running, which I didn’t last year.
To piggy-back off Bird Dog’s mental exercises, in just the last month I have decided to take a new approach to races… to just relax, stay calm and have fun. I’ve taken racing to seriously in the last few years and this has had a negative outcome most of the time. Everything from fretting over splits, to worrying about other racers and being to critical about my running has overall really taken away from my experience and even made my performance suffer. This new “have fun” approach has really proven to be effective in my last two races.
Hoka One One Bondi
Vitargo for fueling (most of the race!) I used about 900 calories so 112 calories/hour
Injinji Performance 2
Ryders Eyewear Sunglasses (Photochromatic/Polarized)
Ultimate Direction Hand Water Bottle (and an old random bottle)
Salt Pills (15)
Next up is Speedgoat on July 27th. I look forward to hitting the steep climbs and ascents with my running crew in Missoula to get ready for the legendary Goat!