I ran the inaugural Indian Creek 50 mile race that day. A race I had signed up for just 1 week prior. I had not trained specifically for the race. I didn't know what to expect of the race. I didn't know how I would do in the race. My thoughts going into the race always kept going back to one thing:
50 miles. That is a looooong way to run.
I had never run that far before. I didn't know how it would feel - aside from expecting it to be incredibly tiring. I didn't know what I would eat or drink during the time out on the trails. I had no clue how long it would take me. I had no idea I if I would actually be able to finish. 50 miles is a distance I had not ever come close to doing before. 32 miles was my high water mark, completing that earlier this year in the North Fork 50K.
My 2 main goals were: 1) Finish. Specifically - we were starting at 6 am, in the dark. So I had to wear a headlamp for the first hour or so. I was hoping to finish without having to use the headlamp again at the end of the day.
And 2), finish before my Garmin ran out of batteries. I had no real idea how long it would last. 8 hours? 10 hours? 12 hours? If I finished I wanted to be able to see the data: The distance. The time. The vertical. The average pace. I wanted to be able to log what I was doing, and would do - that long, long day.
Indian Creek is located just a few miles SW of Sedalia, CO - about a 45 minute drive from where I live. I had never been on the trails before there and no idea what to expect. The pre race info indicated lots of climbing but nothing up over a high point of 8100'. It was a course that consisted of 3 different loops, plus an out and back section in the middle of the 3rd lap. There were 2 races taking place, both starting at the same time - the 50K was completing the first 2 laps, the 50 miler, 3 laps. 130 people had signed up for the 2 combined races, much more in the 50K event.
A 6 o'clock start time meant headlamps were necessary for nearly a full hour. This would help with a definite need to go out slow. An uphill start for the first 1 1/2 miles, onto an unknown trail, in the dark = slow start. And I was okay with that. I was more interested in finishing - not beginning - but I knew in order to finish I needed to go out easy.
Admittedly I had an "A" goal. A goal to not just finish before the sun went down or before my Garmin died. I was hoping for a 10 hour or better finish. That averaged out to 12 minute miles. My 3 previous ultra races - 50K races I had averaged between 10 and 12 minute miles. Alas - none of them had the combined elevation gain that this one had. But why not set a goal of 12 minute miles?
I also had decided to not look at my watch at all for the first lap - no real reason aside from really just wanting to not feel any extra pressure for the first few hours. I wanted to just run by feel, to feel comfortable with the course, with how I felt, without adding any unhelpful stress to my mind.
A breeze and 50 something degrees welcomed us at the start line as we set off. The first mile and a half was all uphill, gradual, on a fire road - I settled in with the middle of the pack and began the longest race of my life. I didn't feel nervous, worried or doubtful of not being able to complete what lied ahead. Admittedly I didn't also feel over-confident or overjoyed about the potential to be running all.....day.....long.
I settled into a very comfortable rhythm and I didn't take too long before we left the road and took a right turn onto single track. This meant single file running. The trail was rolling up and down for the next stretch - more down than up, in mature forest and on a trail that wasn't technical at all, but still had some roots and rocks ready to reach and grab ankles.
I rolled both my ankles within a 5 minute space, nothing too serious, but just enough to give some brief pain - and a reminder to slow down. Which I did. I was ready for the sun to come up so I could see better. I was in a train of people and the headlamps were playing with our shadows - so I think it made our footing unsure - I wasn't the only person to stumble. Several people tripped also.
We came out of the trees and as we did the Eastern horizon began to gradually lighten. We were now running in scrub oak and each step forward beckoned more clearly now.
|This trail is within the park - we didn't quite get into this part.|
This race morning I glanced several times towards the rocks as they were touched by the rising sun and I was warmed by the early rays of light. I was happy to be where I was, doing what I was doing.
I was also glad that I could turn off my headlamp and now see where I was going. But now, it was uphill. Steep sections lay ahead and it was necessary to slow to a walk on several sections as there would be no prizes for me to foolishly try to run them up. Common sense ruled and I walked for several hundred feet at a time. The day was young, the race was long - and I would be doing plenty more walking later in the day. I adopted the mindset of run when I can and when I should - and when I should walk - then walk. The steep sections were short and once passed them the uphill was just gradual - I slipped into my grinding gear and plugged forward.
About 8 miles in, 2 or 3 miles into the uphill section, we came to the first aid station and I was feeling good, not hungry, thirsty or tired. The aid station volunteers here had hauled in all their supplies 6 miles! Amazing. Awesome. And they had everything a great aid station could have. I at first hesitated to take anything - ultimately decided to take a PBJ sandwich bite and kept going. The aid station was the high elevation point of the lap.
By now the runners had spread out, 1 guy had passed me just before the aid station. I glanced back as I was leaving and saw 3 or 4 other runners nearing the aid station - runners I had eased past in the last couple of miles. I told myself I wasn't racing anyone, I really wasn't even racing. I was just out for a long run. A long, long run. With lots of running and some eating throughout the day. I haven't eaten PBJ sandwiches in years - today that would change.
The next half dozen or so miles was mostly downhill, in some mature pine forest and single track trail, mixed in with a fire road and 1 particularly long, tiring and steep uphill section. Soon after the aid station I passed 1 guy and then I didn't see anyone for about an hour until I finally came to the start / finish line aid station. During that stretch I ran comfortably, controlling my effort, walking the steep uphill's and maintaining a steady effort.
At the aid station I took off a layer of clothing, along with my headlamp and put it in my drop bag, refilled my 2 water bottles with Skratch and ate a few more PBJ sandwich bites, along with 1/2 a banana. As I was about to leave the aid station I looked at my watch for the first time. Just over 15 1/4 miles, just over 2 hours, 40 minutes - about a 10 1/2 minute per mile pace.
Perfect. Surprisingly ahead of where I hoped to be, feeling good, not very tired. The only thing that was off was that I thought the lap was about a mile longer than I thought it was supposed to be. Maybe I had read that wrong. No big deal.
Lap 2 - off on a different part of the course, running clockwise now (lap 1 was counter clockwise) and the next 6 miles was mostly downhill - with a few sections of uphill mixed in. Temperature's were a balmy, and breezy 60 something degrees. A mile and a quarter from the aid station I crossed a creek and noted that distance on my watch for later in the day I would be coming back the other direction - 1 1/4 miles from finishing. A landmark to remember. It would be a while before I came this way again. I wondered how long. I wondered "if". I wondered "when". I had a fleeting thought of "why"? I smiled, even chuckled out loud - answering the thought that was in my head with: "I'll be back, don't know when but I do know why - because I am running the race of my life and I wouldn't miss it for the world".
While it was awesome to enjoy this section of the race - a shuddering thought pounded through my legs and on up into my brain as I stepped forward, downward towards the next aid station - that thought - I would be running up this section for the last 6 miles of the race. That was going to be tough. I was not looking forward to that at all.
At the aid station more PBJ sandwich bites, a topping off of a water bottle and a few drinks of coke and a check of the watch, now averaging 10 1/4 minute miles thanks to the downhill miles - and noticed the checkpoint mileage sign and my watch were now 1.4 miles different. Unless my watch was wrong - I would be running more than 50 miles today. I smiled again - bonus miles. So far I was having a good day, may as well enjoy a few extra steps.
The race now turned uphill again for the next 4 miles or so, a need to get back into grinding gear. I found a good and steady groove and kept moving, passing a couple more runners over the stretch between aid stations. As I got to the next aid station - the first one we had passed shortly after the sun had risen I saw the net mileage indicator and now my watch was over a mile and a half longer than what was written on the sign. I took an extra drink of coke, thanked the volunteers again and marveled that they had so much stuff at the aid station - all hand hauled in 6 miles.
Marathon distance completed shortly after the aid station and I was about 4 hours 45 minutes into my day. Downhill again for a good stretch as we headed back along the first loop - opposite direction from earlier in the morning - heading back towards the Southern outskirts of Roxborough State Park again. I was alone for this next stretch, in my own happy place, moving along at a still comfortable pace. Maybe this 50 mile race was not going to be as hard as I thought? I was over halfway and less than 5 hours in?
The course answered: "Not so fast"! For there was not only the last 6 uphill mile stretch awaiting several hours down the trail - there was a 4 to 5 mile stretch of not too gentle climb up and away from Roxborough. A new gear needed to be found - the low grinding gear. I got it. I stuck it in super low drive and pressed forward. Just a little faster than a walk, certainly a lot slower than a free flowing stride. But I stuck with it and kept it moving forward, passing a half dozen runners who were walking up the hill over the next series of miles. Encouraging words were passed back and forth. I kept going and made it back into the section of trees that I had run through earlier that morning in the darkness. This part seemed to take forever. In the darkness of the morning it didn't seem so long, maybe because it was rolling downhill then, but it was uphill rollers now.
Keep going. It was a fleeting thought anyway. I was going to see - and feel - what 50 plus miles felt like. I made it to the aid station and couldn't find my drop bag. I wanted to fill both bottles with Skratch. But I couldn't find my bag. I stopped looking and filled my bottles with water, ate several more PBJ bite sized sandwiches, a half banana, several cups of coke and was about to head out when someone found my drop bag for me. I good lift to my spirits. I poured the Skratch into my water bottles, stopped to eat more PBJ and drink more coke. I shook the hand of the 50K runner I had ran the last stretch with and noticed 2 other runners in the aid station about ready to move out onto the final lap. Mr. Yellow Shirt had got there just before I did. Ms. First place lady was a few minutes behind me coming in. I must have spent 4 or 5 minutes there, not in a rush, determined to fuel up.
I checked the watch, about 1/4 mile shy of 35 miles. And off I went, leaving with Mr. Yellow shirt and just ahead of Ms. First place lady. And now it was uphill time again. The fueling had helped - especially it seemed for Ms. First place lady as within a mile she had gone past me. I latched on for a brief few strides but she was clearly stronger than me at this point so I watched her go away from me. I reminded myself that this was not a race to beat anyone - but a goal to finish, to keep moving, to run all day.
I made it to the top of the hill and back onto the Indian Creek trail proper which was a wide trail, rolling mostly downhill, then uphill, then downhill again. There were some long straight sections in which I glanced back and every now and then would see Mr. Yellow shirt. The distance didn't close. But it didn't grow either. I now had a dual mindset. 1) Keep moving and finish. 2) Try to stay ahead of Mr. Yellow Shirt.
The second to last aid station (this was now the 3rd time I had come through here - this being the one with those volunteers who had dragged the supplies all those miles) - eventually opened up before me. I was now just over 40 miles in. I looked at my watch, 7 hours, 38 minutes in. I was now 2 hours further than ever before. I knew it was over 10 miles to go. I fueled up again on PBJ sandwich bites, coke and ate a snickers from one of the volunteers. It was awesome. I spent about 2 to 3 minutes at the aid station and the last 1/2 minute of that was with Mr. Yellow Shirt. I could not drop him! As I left I told him to bring it home strong. And with a focus I headed out. The next section was a section of rollers, more down than up. Also on this stretch were 50K runners on their 2nd lap. I was encouraging to them as I passed them and most of them cheered me on also.
I passed another 50 miler guy about 2 miles after the aid station and he was hurting, but still moving. I tried to encourage him but couldn't really come up with much of anything to say. I came to a crest of a hill, pausing a moment at the top of it to take a drink and 2 mountain bikers coming the other way stopped there too. They asked me what I was doing. "Oh, just taking a drink, just ran 43 miles and have about 7 or more to go". It was amusing to watch their jaws drop. I kept moving.
I came to a place in the trail where it split off the earlier part that we had run. It was flat, slightly rolling for the first 1 1/2 miles - then went up steeply for 3/4 mile. That hurt. Walking time. Suffering time. Reality check time. I not only wanted to keep moving, but if I wanted to stay ahead of Mr. Yellow shirt - I needed to keep moving.
Finally it ended and I joined up to the Colorado Trail again. Downhill back down towards Waterton Canyon for 2 miles. But then unfortunately I would turn around to come back up. I decided to try to push the downhill a little bit. My quads had been holding together well. I really had not pushed any of the downhill's hard at all in an attempt to keep the quads from fraying out. And this was the last stretch of downhill to take advantage of.
I didn't go super fast - just picked up the pace. I also was wary of Mr Yellow Shirt - fearing he would be bombing the downhill. It was a fun stretch of the race, I really like the Colorado Trail, or at least that section of it. I made it down to the last aid station. More PBJ sandwich bites, more coke. Filled up the water bottles and even ate a couple of boiled potatoes. I took a few minutes there like the previous aid stations. Making sure I was getting fueled up. Alas, after a couple of minutes of fueling and chatting / thanking the aid station volunteers - Mr Yellow Shirt came into view coming down the hill. I just can't drop the guy!!
I took off - 6 miles of uphill to go. 6 miles with a guy on my back. 6 miles of a race that I have never run so far before. And it was UPHILL!!!
I found the slow grinding gear again and stuck with it as long as I could. On the steeper sections I walked, but the runnable uphill parts I dug into that low gear and pushed forward. As I went up through the switchbacks I could see below me and Mr. Yellow shirt, low and behold, he was coming. I dug a little deeper and it felt okay. I even passed a couple of mountain bikers going up the hill. I didn't bother saying anything to them.
I came off the Colorado Trail and onto the last section of trail to go - still 4 miles or thereabouts to the finish. I few rocks and roots scattered along the way reached out towards my weary feet, trying to trip me. I stumbled a couple of times, managing to keep my feet. I was in a bit of survival mode now. Not so much due to pain - just due to being so very tired.
I came to 50 miles and hit the lap timer on my watch. I had beaten my goal: 50 miles in less than 10 hours. 9:53:35 to be precise. But I still was far from being done. I hadn't seen Mr. Yellow shirt for a while. But I knew if I slowed he would catch me. I kept moving. Running when I could, walking the steeper sections.
The bridge with 1 1/4 miles to the finish finally came into view as I noticed the sun starting to slip down behind the hills. I was going to finish before the sun went down. But was I going to beat Mr Yellow Shirt? I crossed the bridge over the stream and looked across the meadow - hoping not to see anyone. I didn't. It was quiet. The wind had died down. The sun was going down. I had run almost 52 miles. I wasn't finished but I took a moment to capture in my mind just exactly what I had done, what I was doing. I shed a tear. I took a moment to enjoy the moment - and then kicked myself back into gear - let's get this done.
1 1/4 miles eventually passed. I ran it all, albeit very slowly. Probably slower than I have run that distance ever before. I looked over my shoulder several times, seeing no-one in yellow, red, blue or any colored clothing. Mr. Yellow Shirt would not beat me. He had pushed me, but I had persevered.
10 hours. 35 minutes.
9650' of elevation gain
4th place overall (3rd male, 1st Master).
12 minute per mile overall average pace.
Later that night, after a refreshing shower and a rewarding bucket of ice cream - I lay down in my bed. My body tired but not broken. My day almost complete. My ambitious goal of 50 miles in 10 hours beaten and then added to.
I had run 53 miles. A thought entered my mind as I drifted off to sleep. Only another 9 miles or so and it would have been 100K? Huh. Something to think about.