It’s sort of interesting writing about a race that happened months ago. There’s been a lot of mental processing that’s happened since then.
If I’d written about the Ouray 100 the day afterwards, I would have said that it was brutally hard but wonderful, and a sore ankle was a fair price to pay for it. I would totally sign up for another 100 miler.
If I’d written about it a week afterwards, I would have said that 100-mile races were dumb. Injuries were dumb. I never wanted to go that deep into energy debt again.
If I’d written about it a month afterwards, I would have said that running was dumb and that it was okay that I was injured because I didn’t want to ever run again anyways.
Now? Three months post-race? It was a questionable decision to race from a training/energy use standpoint. Running is awesome and I apparently have no issues with agreeing to do 50 mile runs now just because I can. I most likely won’t sign up for another 100-mile event, but never say never.
I do find it interesting to see what “highlights” have stuck in my brain. Memory is funny. Which I guess is part of the reason I like to write everything down.
I remember how everyone seemed to be chill and smart as we jogged off the start line, then as soon as we rounded the corner, got out of sight of the start line and started up the first small hill, people took off like bats out of hell. It reminded me of bikepacking races. (Hey guys! We have 2,700 miles to pedal, must we start off at a sprint?) And I may have gotten a little bit caught up in the hype of it. I can also be dumb like that.
Trish and Jay on Camp Bird Road. Taking ourselves very seriously.
The first turnaround hole-punch location was a beautiful lake. I wanted to go swimming. I didn’t. We were racing, right? Otherwise I would have totally gone swimming. There were some people already looking pretty rough coming up the first climb as I was going down it.
What a waste of a swimming opportunity
The climb to the second hole punch was impossibly steep. And the hole punch didn’t want to work. It seemed like I wasted 10 minutes there futzing with it, but I’d bet it was actually less than one.
Top of climb #2. Climb #3 in the background. I love the San Juans.
Storm clouds were starting to build, so the motivation to get up to Fort Peabody, the highpoint of the course just above Imogene Pass wasn’t hard to find. Plus, there was a trio of boys right behind me and I really didn’t want them to catch me. 15 miles in. Racing boys. (I don’t even race boys!) I know. Stupid. Still, I cleared the peak without any thunder or lightening, and I was happy with that. And the guys didn’t catch me.
The Struggle is Real
I struggled over Richmond Pass. It was climb #4 of 14, and my legs were starting to feel worked. Never a good sign. It was just plain old steep. And when you’re less than a third of the way through the climbs, the entire thing seems impossible. The clouds were building, thunder started booming as I cleared the pass and made quick work of the above treeline descent. I also found a runner who descended slower than I did. This has never happened in the history of ever. He said something about cramps. Bah. I still passed someone. On. A. Downhill.
This trail is removed by the trail gnomes once it gets dark. That made for an interesting return trip many hours later.
Then the rain started. I’m made of sugar and spice. I don’t like the rain and came into the Ironton aid station for the first of three times completely soaked, but warm. On a bike it would have been miserable. +1 for running and heat generation.
And Scott was there! It was one of the highlights of my race because I wasn’t expecting him to be there. Meghan and Randy were also there, and the three of them helped me get my ducks in a row for heading out on an 8-mile loop in the rain. I’ve always scoffed at crews, but da-yum, it was nice to not have to dig through my bag of stuff and figure out what I needed. Instead, I focused on eating mac and cheese with bacon. Mmmmm…bacon.
Seeing them boosted my spirits. So did the thought that the next 8-mile loop, and the same loop run in the opposite direction afterwards, would all be road and no trail. Of course, it wasn’t. There was some quality steep trail in there that I just hadn’t picked up on when perusing the route description. Whoops. Standard Eszter procedure. Some may call it being unprepared. I call it being open to surprises.
It finally stopped raining, which was a huge relief. Of course, all the underbrush on the trail was soaked, so dry I definitely wasn’t when I finished the loop and headed back to Ironton for snacks. Still, sun! And mac and cheese.
My lasting memories of of the second loop out there consist of seeing Jill who was out hiking, running into Abbie and Vale having a dance party at the high-point while going the other direction, having my phone turn off because it was too cold (and therefor stuffing it into my sports bra for the rest of the race, which is actually a pretty good place to carry a phone, it turns out!), and wondering why I didn’t think to bring gloves when I knew it was going to get dark and cold on me. (Because dumb. Pure dumb. My hands got so cold.)
Quesadilla and Cookie Transport
Of course, the rain started again 10 minutes from getting back to the aid station. It was just going to be one of those types of nights. Even though the rain had stopped by the time I was ready to leave, I put my rain pants on just because I could, and on the insistence of the aid station volunteers, took half a quesadilla and two home made cookies with me for the road. (Eating while racing isn’t a strong point, but I did drink several thousand calories worth of HEED. Gross.)
I shoved the cookies and quesadilla in my pocket as soon as I was out of sight.
The climb back up Richmond was uneventful until the guy I was with and I completely lost the trail. GAIA on the phone came out and we wandered the tundra, taking an ‘adventurous’ route until we found flagging again. It was good to get back on “trail” again.
The guy I was running with was from Mississippi (?) and asked if the large babyheads that we were stumbling down in the dark were considered scree or talus. I told him, ‘I don’t know, I call it rocky.’
He must not have been pleased with my snark because he promptly dropped my sorry ass. Downhill is hard! And then I descended into the cloud and the rain started again. At least I had my rain pants on. Middle of the night rain is the best kind of rain. Not. Desert girl here. I don’t do rain.
I had this hope that once back on Camp Bird Road, life would start to feel better than it did on steep scree/talus/rock, but it didn’t. It was still running, and it was still downhill. And at that point in time, I was pretty over both concepts. It was hard to imagine that even with everything I’d already done, I still had the full Ouray 50 course in front of me. And last year, just that had killed me. Oi.
Avery Collins, the men’s winner of the 100 last year was manning the Wanaka/Wanakiki/Wenaski/whatever it’s called aid station. He had hot soup, and the camaraderie of several of us being there made me feel better about life. Plus, the rain had stopped. He plied me with snacks for the next leg. ‘Nah, I’ve got a quesadilla and two cookies I brought over from the last aid station.’
I had it in my head that the climb up to the mine, #8 of 14, was somewhat short and easy. I probably thought this because it’s the first climb of the Ouray 50, and last year, I was still feeling pretty good 5 miles into that race. The climb was neither short nor easy. And in the dark, the view from the top sort of a bummer too.
Still, there was hot soup back at the aid station. Plus, I knew that the crux of the whole shebang was the next climb, I just had to get up that. Before leaving the aid station, Avery tried to get me to take some food. ‘It’s a long ways to the next aid station,’ he told me.
‘Nah, I’ve got a quesadilla and two cookies I brought over from the Ironton aid station.’ (I actually still had every intention of eating this now squished up mass of calories)
My feet were starting to hurt, something about being wet for most of the past 22 hours, but the climb itself went fairly easily. The descent hurt like hell. I passed another runner who had some choice words about the whole course (but two downhill passes!) and was starting to feel pretty okay about the whole situation.
Plus, the sun came up! I’m a solar powered action figure.
At the aid station, in addition to throwing away the quesadilla and cookies that I’d carred for the past 20 miles, I took some Advil for the feetsies, the first of the race. I was trying to do the 100 miles on no pain killers, but it became abundantly clear that that wasn’t going to happen. The climb was fine, but holy hell, did that descent hurt. Even when I was back on the smooth dirt road with a 4% grade, I couldn’t run. It just hurt to bad.
But, I was headed back to Fellin Park, the main aid station/start/finish. I’d have new shoes. I’d pick up Kurt as a pacer. And life would be good. Or something.
I limped in just as the 50-milers were starting to get ready to go and pulled off my shoes. My feet hadn’t looked that bad since Colorado Trail Race 2010 when half the field dropped out due to trenchfoot. White. Wrinkled. Gross. Whoops?
I put some lube on, dry socks, and dry shoes, and things felt marginally better. Kurt and I started up Twin Peaks, which is the steepest climb of the whole thing, but my favorite, mostly because you really can’t run any of it. We stopped at the top to admire the view. It was pretty much dark here when I raced the 50, so it was nice to stand there for a second in daylight.
Top of Twin Peaks. Thanks for the photo Kurt!
On the way down, it rained for three minutes and soaked everything. Including my feet and all of the underbrush that would ensure that my feet would stay soaked for another half an hour. Dammit. Almost immediately, the tootsies started to hurt again, but I still had to do the drop down to Silvershield before coming back up and over. There may have been some grumbling. Potentially some cursing. But there were also dinosaur tracks, so that was cool.
Back at Fellin, I swapped shoes and socks again and picked up Danielle as my second pacer from my crew of Motley Mountain Bikers Pretending to be Ultrarunners. Things sort of went pretty downhill on this second to last leg of the race. I was tired. My feet hurt. My stomach wasn’t feeling excessively stoked. Looking back on my speed, I was crawling. Danielle was amazingly patient and agreed that more caffeine would probably be a good idea.
About half a mile from the finish of the leg, something went haywire in my shin. Phantom pain, I told myself. It’ll work itself out. I wasn’t about to call it quits with only 10 miles left. Maybe if the pain had started earlier in the leg, I would have known that it wasn’t just an imagined pain…but so close to the aid station and the transition to the last 10 miles, I had myself fully convinced that I was okay.
Dignity has been Abandoned
Scott and I headed out. Scott didn’t want to do the Bridge of Heaven leg with me again in the dark because he’d done it with me, in the dark, last year during the 50. But because of my timing coming in for the Twin Peaks section and the start of the 50-mile race which he needed to be around for to help with SPOTs, he was stuck with me for the 5,000 foot trudge.
The hallucinations started pretty early on once it got dark. People on the side of the trail. Faces in the trees. I stopped for a 10 minute nap. I trudged some more. I stopped for a second nap. I dragged my sorry ass to the top of the mountain where the wind was whipping and the cold dug deep into my bones. I’d forgotten both a hat and gloves. It was a quick turnaround.
Melbeejoi was already done with the race. Third place wasn’t going to catch me unless I stopped for a long time. I just needed to get the last stupid five miles done.
My friend Megan once described a race goal as ‘Finishing with dignity.’
There was no dignity in my finish. The descent was a disaster. I went off trail several times. I argued with Scott about the number of switchbacks that were left until the finish. I watched as the people racing the 50-miler fly by me like I was standing still…which I was for much of the last two miles.
It was ugly. I’ve had some ugly finishes to races, and this one may have actually topped them all. I was hallucinating. My feet hurt like hell. And my shin and ankle…that was something that I didn’t want to think about right then. And I was tired. So tired.
The pavement did eventually come, and the last quarter mile of pavement dragged on for eons. It was almost comical. I dragged my poles just to make a statement (to whom? The universe?) that I was tired and over it. I’m not sure Scott knew what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with me. It was 4am, I’d been awake for nearly 46 hours. Without a pacer, I definitely wouldn’t have gone out on those last 10 miles without a substantial nap. I guess that’s what pacer are for? To keep you safe when thinking (or walking) straight doesn’t really happen without a large amount of effort. Ultraracing is not good for the health.
The finish, being at 4am, was fairly anticlimactic. It did feel good to sit in front of a heater. Jill, who was manning the aid station during the witching hours fed me some food. Charles, the RD, was there. He apparently had spent the entire night either manic and energized or asleep in his chair.
Scott got me back up to the Scamp and in bed just as the first rays of dawn could be seen in the sky. I slept. Many different parts of me hurt when I woke up. But hey, I’d just run/hiked/crawled 100 miles!
So in retrospect, with that whole 20/20 hindsight, would I do it again?
I spent the better part of a month being unable to run or ride because of nasty tendonitis in my ankle and a potential stress fracture in my shin. That sucked pretty bad.
But in the same way that running the Ouray 50 last year opened by horizons to how far I could actually go on foot, finishing the 100 pushed those mental limitations that I impose on myself even further out. And that’s pretty cool.
And memories. I made a lot of memories. I met new people. I got to spend some quality time with Kurt and Danielle as they kept me pointed in the right direction on the trail, and Scott got to see what happens when I get really tired and sleep deprived.
In the end. It was mostly fun. I still giggle when I think about certain parts of it. I can’t think of a better 100 mile event that I’d have rather done. Grass-roots. A little chaotic. Equal payout to men and women. And beautiful. So beautiful.
And now I know why runners are so freakin’ obsessive about their feet. When the feet go south, everything goes south. Lesson learned, thankyouverymuch.
Big thanks to everyone who played in the mountains with me all summer so that I had a chance in hell of finishing this beast and my pacers, Kurt, Danielle, and Scott.
Poor life choices often make for the best stories. Or something like that.