I try to stay away from the whole “race report” thing, but I figured this would be easier than describing those 47 hours and 52 minutes to everyone individually. Because that’s even more of a lung workout than climbing up to 13,000 feet repeatedly.
After an (expectedly) unsuccessful night of sleep, I stood at the starting line of the Ouray 100, trying to wrap my mind around the 42,000 feet that I was about to climb, and descend. The one hundred mile distance didn’t real
ly phase me, but the fact that this race had more vertical gain than Hardrock was… well… daunting. It didn’t help that the race started ten minutes late, those were the longest ten minutes of my life. Finally, the RD said something like “alright, start hiking,” and all fifty-seven of us began our weekend long journey.
Obviously, we all went out a little fast. In my defense, I figured it was pretty much the only runnable section of the course. And I definitely wasn’t super hesitant to hike as soon as the grade got to a not-so-conversational pace. My dad had preached beforehand, “if you think you’re going too slow, slow down.” And usually, whatever my dad says goes. I’ll take his 22 years of experience over my 1.5 any day.
I doubt you guys want a play by play, so I’ll be quick. First we climbed up to Silver Basin Lakes, which were, of course, beautiful. Then we descended. Second we climbed to Chicago Tunnel, a spooky mine overlooking the next intimidating climb, Imogene Pass (and then up to the summit of a 13er). That’s when we started hearing the thunder, and looking at the overly exposed pass, I began to get a little worried (especially considering my most recent lightning survival experience… but that’s another story).
Fortunately, I had been hiking with an “almost veteran” of the race (he had made it 70 miles the year prior, and had to drop because of hypothermia). Andrew and I decided to stick together and hustle up quickly. It was a surprisingly glorious summit, and OBVIOUSLY, we danced. Because is it really a summit if you don’t?
The next pass got dicey. I’ll preface this by saying that Richmond Pass is literally hell. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go up it without expriencing a mild case of PTSD. Now rewind.
I left the aid station at the base of Richmond in great spirits, as usual. Then the rain started. I decided to step on the gas a little, in the name of self-preservation. At treeline, the hail started. At the top of the pass, the thunder started. So I ran down as fast as I could, excited to finally see the squad after 27 long and seemingly never ending miles. After a dishearteningly long and steep descent (I would have to go back up that shit later in the race), I was pampered by my lovely crew, mom, pops, Cory, Kimmy B, and Tyler.
Let the carnage commence.
Here’s where things got… well… pardon my French, but real f**ked. After descending into Ironton, the course looped you around the Red Mountains (that gave Red Mountain Pass its name). Then immediately after that 8 mile loop, runners got to turn around and do it the other direction. That’s not very nice. There were a significant amount of drops at this point in the race. But… we did sign up for this.
So, in the rain and hail, I began the first loop. It was incredible. As I crested the 12,000 foot ridge, the rain stopped, the sun came out on one side of the pass, and, guys, DOUBLE RAINBOW. It was SO BEAUTIFUL. I remember standing on top and crying just a little as my super hipster adventure playlist skipped to some super cliche song that just elevated the emotional atmosphere. But, in all seriousness, it’s probably one of the most spectacular moments I’ve ever had in the mountains. And that was the only good part about those 16 miles. On the second loop, I thought my lungs were going to explode. That, and it started raining again and our beloved sun set. Making everything pretty bleak and cold and just flat out miserable.
Of course, thinking about humping back up over that horrible, terrible Richmond Pass didn’t really help the mood.
But. I don’t sign up for things to quit. Also, if I did quit, then I’d have to come back and do it next year. And that thought kinda made me wanna puke.
So, I recharged and emotionally prepared for Richmond Pass at the Ironton aid station. My wonderful crew showing just enough sympathy and simultaneous tough love for me to get going again.
Thankfully, Andrew was still very willing to stick with me through the night, even though he definitely could have moved faster than me at that point in the race. Which, let’s pause to do a quick statistic break… at the top of the heinous Richmond Pass, we’d climbed 21k over about 47 miles.
Okay, but we’re not there yet. Let’s put us at treeline to continue the story. As soon as we broke through the trees, the fog became so thick that you couldn’t see two feet in front of you. And if you’ve ever driven in fog with your high beams on, that’s kinda what it’s like with a headlamp. With no trail in the high meadow, and an already slightly delirious and confused sense of direction, we stumbled our way up to what we thought was the pass. Of course, this turned out to not actually be the pass. Fortunately, I remembered the app on my phone and was able to get us somewhat sorted out. But we did end up adding about a mile and about five hundred feet of gain (which is pretty measly in the grand scheme of things). We started picking our way down as the cold was really starting to get COLD. And by picking our way down, I mean slipping down large slabs of rock covered in running water. What an adventure… ?
The aid station at the bottom was wonderful, and I ended up having to sit, warm up, and get my breathing under control for a while. We cruised down to the next aid where we finally got to pick up our pacers!
I took a twenty minute nap and then Tyler and I slowly made our way up the next climb.
And guys, don’t worry. The sun came up. It always does, right?
If Tyler hadn’t been there, I don’t think I could have done the following climb. It was 3,600 feet in three miles, pretty much straight up an avy chute. So fuuuun! But, it actually was. We laughed the whole way up, despite my semi-athsmatic breathing. Once we topped out on Hayden Pass, we were treated with yet another incredible view, and we wove in and out of stunning wildflowers and Mars-like rock formations for about a mile. And then, the torture of descending something you knew that you had to re-ascend set in. We were at the Crystal Lake aid station shortly, and the crew doted over us, yet again (gosh I love them).
Somehow, we were able to stand up, turn around, and death march right back up that thing.
After 21 miles with TFox, dear old dad picked me up and got to climb the next 9 thousand feet. Poor pops had the rough section. After we climbed about 3000 feet, we began making our way back down, only to be steered away from our original course. Well, they made us drop down 2,000 feet another way, and then turn around and go right back up it. I was pretty pissed about the situation. But I got over it. Once we got BACK down, we sat at the aid station, and got stoked for the next 3,500 foot climb.
Tyler taped my shin (which was starting to bug me on the downs), and Kim shoved food in my face like a good crew member. Mom hustled around filling up my pack with water, and Cory and my friends Hannah and Len helped my mental state by saying things like, “this next climb’s only a Bear Peak!” And “just three Sanitases!” Haha, thanks guys. Yeah. No, it actually did help a little… it was a point in the course when I could start comparing the climbs to normal, every day climbs!
Luckily, my lungs recovered a little for the rest of the race. So my dad and I were able to do the next 6 miles (with 3,500 ft of gain) in about 3 hours. Even though my body felt great, the whole no sleep thing started taking its toll. I almost fell asleep walking down. Talk about a weird feeling… but once we got back to the aid, the crew bundled me up and I was out for a short nap.
Kim woke me up at 2 in the morning, ready to take me up the last 5,000 foot climb (yes. He put a 5,000 foot climb at mile 92). But I was excited. Just going on a stroll with the best friend, climbing peaks like we do everyday.
At one point going up the climb, Kim suggested we be quiet and listen to music. I had so much to tell her though… I think I just kept talking. The rest of the race was weird. I went through moments where I had no idea what was going on, or where I was. I guess that starts to happen after running through two nights.
We reached the summit of the final climb just as the sun was peaking over the dramatic peaks of the central San Juans. Obviously, there were tears. Mainly from Kim. But seeing Kim cry made me do the same. Kim and I have both paced each other to the ends of huge goal races, so we were both aware of the emotional states we would be in. And… I definitely made her check out the maps to see if there were any thirteeners we could bag real fast before descending (there weren’t ?).
I guess, what goes up, must come down. So that’s what we did. And then I walked between two construction cones that signified the end of the race. Pretty uneventful really. I remember skipping a few steps in, but that didn’t feel great.
The only thing left to do at that point was eat and sleep. And then… deal with a broken down car. Because the race ain’t over till you’re home. Just like you haven’t bagged a peak until you’re at the bottom.
I don’t really have any insightful words or lessons that I took away from this “run.” All I know is that it was really really hard, and I probably won’t run it again. BUT, I would highly recommend it to all you freaks that like to suffer a little more than your average hundo, or who wanna see what the human body is capable of. Because it’s pretty remarkable.