Beauty and Pain: San Juan Solstice 50

By on July 17, 2016

Today was my first run in almost a month. It was slow and awkward but it was a run. I’ve been sidelined since June 25 with a pain in my hip (and my butt). But why jump the end without telling you all the details? Anyways here you go.

San Juan Solstice is the most beautiful race course I have ever seen. If the steepness of the climbs doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, the indescribable beauty will. But the beauty isn’t the only thing that makes this little race in mining country special. Every single person in the small town of Lake City (population 408)  was so excited that all of the runners (all 140ish of us) and their families were in town for the race. The owner of the Texan Resort, who upgraded us to a beautiful three bedroom log cabin, asked questions about the race and about us. The shop owners thanked us for coming to town and were excited to hear about our journey to the start line. The volunteers were helpful, happy, and knowledgeable (but not too helpful and happy – which can be very annoying when you’re tired and haven’t talked to anyone in hours).


Staying warm before the start with Jason

The race started out perfectly. Emily and I jogged and walked up the first couple miles up Engineer Pass road, making sure that we didn’t push too hard and ending up almost in the very back as a result. We crossed the creeks quickly but cautiously, except when Emily rolled her ankle when the ground slipped from under her feet. The sun rose, not in flashy show of colors but in a quiet lightening and warming way, which was the perfect sunrise for this race. As we climbed up the steep marshy valley to the first aid station I started to feel the effects of altitude, but that was expected since my “elevation band of problems” is 12,000 – 12,500 feet. I slowed a little bit, knowing I had plenty of time before the cut offs. I eat and drank regularly without any of the stomach problems that have been plaguing me for the past two years during steep mountainous races.


After the first aid station we quickly gained treeline and then a ridge near Red Mountain. I thought it was the top of the climb, but the uphill just kept on going. The views were so beautiful that I was almost successful at blocking out the pain that shooting up my hip. All of the San Juan mountains were at my feet, all jagged peaks and snow-filled couloirs. After getting to the top of little “peak” the trail trended downward slightly and suddenly my entire left (except my big toe) went numb. Unfortunately that was also the leg that was “downtrail” so I had to be extra careful that I didn’t step off the trail and slide down the shrubby slope. It hurt so bad that I almost started crying but forced myself to focus on all of the mountains surrounding me. I thought about how lucky I was to be in that exact place at that exact time. I thought about all the steep training runs I had completed, even when I really didn’t feel like it. The trail eventually started back uphill (a 50 mile race with over 13,000 ft of elevation gain tends to do that) and I had to use my hands to lift my left leg because the strength was completely gone.


Eventually we actually topped out on the climb and started the descent back down to the oxygen. At that point I knew I had 1:45 to make it the 6 miles downhill to the aid station before the cutoff. I’m a fast downhill hiker and an even more efficient downhill runner, but the pain in my hip and the numbness in my leg made running downhill painful and awkward. The pain became so intense that I was really worried I would pass out on the trail. I fell in behind two guys who were taking the downhill conservatively and focused on their feet to keep myself upright. Eventually 10 am came and went (which was the cutoff for the next aid station) and the trail just kept continuing downhill.


At about 10:15 am I stopped to chat with the aid station volunteers to officially end my attempt at the San Juan Solstice 50. Luckily the aid station had crew access and Jason was there to take me back to town. We stopped at the general store to pick up aspirin, saw a couple of the sights around town, including multiple waterfalls, some lakes that usually are home to moose but were just crowded with fishermen when we were there, a bunch of abandoned mines and mine equipment.


Since San Juan I haven’t run a single step. Both the doctor and I believe it was a stress fracture in my left femoral head (where my femur joins my hip bone) but the treatment was the same no matter what the problem was so I didn’t bother with an MRI. I did backpack in the Cascades over Fourth of July weekend, write-up coming soon, but I took it very easy and was mostly sensible about foot placement and the force going through my leg bones (which was pretty easy since I used trekking poles to absorb a lot of the shock). I was soooo happy on Tuesday when I went for a bike ride and my hip felt ok. I’ve been doing little walks with Moose around the neighborhood to build up a little bit for my first run. As of now my race plans for the summer are on hold but I’m hopeful I’ll still be able to line up for The Rut in September.


San Juan Solstice was definitely not the race I hoped it would be but at the same time it was so much more, both more beautiful and more painful. But then again, that’s what life is, isn’t it? Beauty and pain wrapped up into an amazing adventure. The little town of the Lake City has captured a place in my heart, like the small towns deep in the San Juan mountains have a habit of doing, and I know I’ll be back. I’ve never been one to resist the call of rugged mountains, sweeping vistas, lung and leg burning climbs, and hospitality in the most unlikely of places. Hopefully the lottery will smile on me again and I’ll get a chance to toe the line again for the next summer solstice.