San Juan Solstice 50M, Lake City, Colorado

Elevation Range: 8,671' - 13,334'               Elevation Gain: 12,856'

Scrolling Race Day Photos
June 21, 2014 - After an incredibly fun holiday week of running, climbing, and hiking in
the canyons and mountains of Utah and Colorado, I settled into a nice meadow campsite
near Deer Lakes off of Slumgullion Pass after picking up my race packet and having the
best pre-race meal of my career at the Packer Saloon and Cannibal Grill in Lake City.


Race management, in its wisdom, decided to give each contestant a $15 redeemable
certificate, good at any of five local restaurants, in lieu of the traditional cold spaghetti
fare.  Smart move.  Knowing the story of Alfie Packer, I was looking for something
special along the lines of good cannibal cuisine to flavor my visit to this historic 
community.  For those unfamiliar with Colorado lore, old Alfie was a Civil War veteran
turned prospector who purportedly ate five of his fellow miners in these here parts one
winter when they were snowbound and starving.  While he is reported to have turned
vegetarian while serving his forty-year sentence, I wasn't sure what kind of fare to
expect at the Saloon.  After downing a couple Alaskan Ambers to help in my decision-
making, and querying the bar staff and locals at length, I decided upon a Reuben
sandwich, in lieu of not being offered anything like pizza with finger and toe toppings,
instead of sausage or pepperoni.  My guess is that Reuben may have been the name of
one of his fellow miners, but I didn't press for clarification as I enjoyed it carefully with
the aid of another Alaskan Amber.  It was a good time and great prelude to what I
hoped would be an exciting race event.

The 0500 start dawned early, but there was enough ambient light to set out up Henson
Creek without a headlamp, and the temps in the low to mid forties were comfortable
with light attire.  All systems seemed good.  I had taped my Achilles with some K-tape
and donned compression socks to hold it all together better and set out at a reasonable
tempo along with the rest.  After nearly three miles of slightly uphill grade we broke
left up Alpine Gulch along a creek which required most of a dozen crossings.  Most of us
were in queue to some extent, which was a good thing, because the creek crossings 
were tenuous at best, requiring that we worked together for mutual safe crossing.


Not one of the first eight crossings was a for-sure deal.  During each one, at some point,
you were close to falling in and getting completely soaked, which would have been
problematic in terms of getting hypothermia.  Several people did fall and got soaked
completely, none of which I witnessed, or I would have shared clothing to prevent
them from chilling.  As it was, the water came up over my shorts a couple times as I
slipped and nearly tumbled in.  I was glad for a couple logs, a rope in one instance, 
overhanging tree limbs, and the hand of strangers often. Everyone had popsickle toes.
You could not feel your feet.  They were completely gone, again and again.  All you
could do was run to try to get circulation between the seemingly endless crossings.
I loved it.

As we ascended the gulch the stream lessened its flow and crossings became less
tenuous.  Running was mixed with power walking as we moved toward the first aid
station at 7 miles.  After a couple hours the trees opened beyond the aid station and
the pure Colorado sunlight of morning poured in to warm everyone during the first
assault of the day of 13,000 feet.  Energy was good and you could still do a bit of
running, but most were reduced to walking to counter the effects of altitude and to
engage a series of snow fields that required great care in crossing.

I was surprised how much the altitude affected my breathing.  Normally, I am good to
about 12,500, but I felt bogged down much sooner that that.  Crossing the snow fields
you couldn't think too much about falling.  Loss of control there held the potential for
careening out of control down hundreds of feet of steep snow into the trees or jagged
talus at the bottom.  The exposure could be unnerving, but most got through it fine.

I topped out and rolled over the other side in reasonably good form, not in a hurry, but
taking my time to watch foot placement and monitor my Achilles.  I haven't fallen in 
several tough races now because of greater care in choosing steps.  It is slower going,
but given that I don't bounce as well these days, it is probably a wise strategy.

I had to watch cutoff times as I was only a half hour ahead at the second aid 
station at 0930 - four-and-a-half hours to go nearly 17 miles - a testament to the 
terrain.  The course followed a gravel road out of the aid station for three miles before
beginning the second ascent of the day to 13,000+'.  I took up with a runner from
Golden named Michele and we chatted our way comfortably to the next aid station at
21+ miles, passing many others laboring in their efforts to power walk up the slope.

The third aid station was near an old mining town named Carson, offering a bit more 
history to the route.  Turning quickly here I continued on and took up with a young
Californian who introduced herself as "E".  We climbed nearly to the top together 
completely engaged in conversation before Michele caught up to crest the summit 

Over the top at about half way in the course I slowed for some pix and to take my
time postholing across snow fields that had become more rotten with the heat of the
afternoon.  Both ladies were a bit ahead of me when I came off the Continental Divide
down a talus field, and for a moment stumbled with a bit too much momentum from
gravity.  Attempting to control myself before crashing into the sharp talus I could feel
my bad Achilles compromised, torn as I caught myself in a concerning way.  My ortho-
pedist has advised me not to do this or I would have to come back under the knife and
likely loose all flexibility if that should happen.  I don't want to stop dancing with the
rocks, but it is a cautionary note that is ever present in my mind.

So I backed off a bit from my tempo, walked mostly to minimize impact, and attempted
to evaluate the degree of injury and what my alternatives were.  Given cutoffs, I
couldn't walk to the finish.  Given that the next nine miles were nearly all downhill,
which is more challenging than uphill in terms of pain, I stopped at the aid station on
the Divide at mile 31 and solicited a ride back.  Shit.  Not what I planned.  Legs were
good, and energy fine.  I watched as those whose company I enjoyed ran away from me.

I did get to congratulate both Michele and E (for Elissa) at the finish, but didn't feel like
hanging around with my tail between my legs.  Back to recovery mode, with rest and
strengthening for the next tough challenge in two weeks.  It was a great course, with
lots of climbing and wonderful views.  As usual, it is the organization and participants
that make it so great.  I traded doing another event I love to do for this one and have 
no regrets in doing so.  It was everything I expected and more.  I do love Colorado
mountains, and will be back.
                                                       Videos from 2010 and 2013