“I just want to be done” were the only words I could mutter to the very friendly volunteer at the 9.5 mile aid station. If had been running a 10 mile race or a half marathon, this comment would be totally expected, but I was less than a third of the way into a 50K. The poor volunteer looked at me with pity, probably wondering how I was going to finish the next 21.6 miles, and cheerfully offered to refill my water bottle.
The trouble all started the night before. After a peaceful day relaxing in Telluride and exploring the pup-friendly trails at Black Canyon National Park, Jason and I headed towards Cimarron, CO to find a campsite close to the start of the Cimarron 50k. We drove past huge ranches and idyllic cabins before entering the National Forest boundary. All the official campsites were still closed for the season and the ranger cottage was deserted so we decided to set up camp at a trailhead, surrounded by some of the most stunning mountains I have ever seen. The skies were dark and stormy so we quickly cooked dinner and set up a sleeping area in the back of Jason’s Highlander for the two of us and Moose. We played a quick game of “Skunk in the Camground” (thanks Taylor!), which is a camping themed version of Old Maid with a stinky twist, if you get the skunk in your hand you automatically lose – which is exactly what happened to Jason!
As we were getting ready to take some pictures of sunset and then go to sleep, three teenagers and a dog came wandering down the forest service road. They kept yelling “hello! Is anyone there?” I’ve read enough horror stories to know that they looked creepy and like they were up to no good, so we kept quiet. Unfortunately we had left one of the back windows cracked and when they approached the car they saw us inside. When we finally acknowledged their presence, they asked if we had a tow rope because they had gotten their truck stuck in a snowbank. We said we didn’t have one and after answering a lot more questions from them, they finally continued up the road towards the campgrounds. About 15 minutes later, they walked back, did something weird in the woods for about 20 minutes and then kept walking. I had a bad feeling and almost suggested to Jason that we relocate the car, but we were both tired and I thought I was just being paranoid.
About 3 hours later (around 11:30), I woke up to Jason whispering quietly to Moose to be quiet. I looked up and saw that one of the guys was back with his dog. He was walking unsteadily and screaming, “hello! I need help!”. We both had a bad feeling about the situation but decided again to keep quiet. Unfortunately the guy knocked on the window and Moose growled back in response. He asked for a ride down to town, which Jason was going to give him until I whispered that he was crazy and that the guy had his dog. Luckily the presence of the dog helped convince Jason that we couldn’t offer him a ride, since Moose “doesn’t like other dogs”. Luckily Moose sounds ferocious and looks like a wolf so it was easy for the guy to believe that fact. Jason was braver than I and stepped out into the inky darkness to talk to the guy who was inconsolable, going on and on about how he needed to save his friends and he needed to get his truck out of the snow. He even mentioned that fact that they had an axe, which was complete unnecessary and made a creepy situation even creepier. Finally Jason convinced him that we could drive back into cell service and call someone to come help him. Jason took down the guy’s information and the phone number for one of his friends. Before leaving Jason asked if they all had coats and a way to stay warm, since they had been walking the road in t-shirts earlier in the day. The guy said yes they all had coats and enough diesel in the truck to keep it running for a while. Jason sent him back to his truck, telling him to keep his friends safe while we drove into town.
After a long 20 mile drive back into cell service (which was coincidentally right at the race start – and was a construction zone that didn’t technically allow camping), we tried calling the guy’s friend with no luck. We finally called the police to ask them to send a ranger or a tow truck out to forest. The 911 operator was very friendly and calm and probably didn’t 100% believe the story we were telling her. Long story short, I assume the police handled the situation and we were eventually able to fall back asleep but we both had upset stomachs for the entire night.
The 6 am wake-up call seemed to come way too soon. We drove the 500 feet to the actual parking area for the race start, boiled some water on the stove for coffee, changed clothes, and got everything ready for the race. With a couple minute to spare until the race start I went to the bathroom, only to come out and see the race had already started! I didn’t even have my race number pinned on me. So I started with a quick walk while I put everything in place and then set to work to catch up to the rest of the race.
From the first climb my stomach felt off. I thought I could cure it with a honey stinger gel. That didn’t work, so I thought I cure it by running until my stomach cooperated (that has worked in the past for me). By the time I was descending into the first manned aid station at mile 9.5 (there was an unmanned aid station at mile 5), I was hoping that I would see Jason and he would let me drop. Unfortunately and luckily, he wasn’t there so I had no choice but to continue and hope he would be there when I came back 12 miles later. Although I had done a decent job of running most of the first 9.5 miles (I left the aid station at 1:55), my stomach really began bothering me and every time I tried to run, I would it make it a couple steps and start dry heaving. That didn’t happen when I walked, so I walked. And kept forcing food down my throat. At about mile 12 I tried to start running again and had to duck into the bushes as everything I ate came back up. Ugh. But at least I hoped that was it for my stomach troubles. I was not so lucky.
At the turn-around aid station, I picked up a little baggie of Cheez-Its since I was completely out of food and still hopeful that I’d be able to keep something down. The 6 miles to the next aid station were complete hell. My legs felt wonderful and like they wanted to run but every time I would try to run I would have to stop to either puke or dry heave and my stomach was cramping so badly that I thought I was going to hurt my back. Somehow I made it back to the 9.5 mile (now the 21.5 mile) aid station only 5 minutes slower than on the way out. I tried to use the port-a-potty there but nothing was happening so I picked up another baggie of Cheez-Its even though I still had more than half of the first one left and headed on my way (since Jason wasn’t at the aid station this time either – it turns out that he was chilling with Moose at the start/finish area since Moose wasn’t feeling well either).
As I started the climb out of the aid station, the sky turned dark and the wind picked up. Since I only had the t-shirt I was wearing and an emergency blanket to protect me from a thunderstorm, I picked up the pace. For some reason, my stomach was starting to feel better and I was able to power hike the uphills and jog the downhills. I kept slowly eating Cheez-Its one at a time and putting one foot in front of the other. When I got to the unmanned aid station at mile 5/26, I realized I had a chance at breaking 7 hours so I picked up the pace even more. I started running the downhills and even ran some of the uphills. With about a mile to go, I caught up with a guy who looked like he was struggling. I walked the last uphill with him and then convinced him to run the last 0.75 mile to the finish. He took off running and I had to struggle to keep up. We both crossed the finish line in about 7:01, 1 minute past his time goal and about 30 minutes past mine, but at least we finished. And that 7ish hour finish was a 55 minute PR for me! Which made my second place in the 20-29 year old age group even sweeter. Even if I had been feeling good I doubt I could have taken first since she finished 3rd woman overall in a time of 4:39:44!
I learned a lot from this race that will be invaluable during Lavaredo (which is in a little over a month!):
– An upset stomach won’t ruin a race. You can puke, dry heave, and feel like your innards are going to fall out and still manage to “run”
– Each race has it’s highs and lows. Usually the highs happen in the beginning and the end of the race with a rollercoaster in the middle, but sometimes the only high all day is finishing
– Ultra runners are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. I love hearing everyone’s stories out on the trails. It definitely makes low times feel a little better.
– A well marked course and well stocked aid stations are really all you need for a race. Great volunteers make the experience better and the ones from Cimarron 50k were some of the best I’ve met so far.
– A good night’s sleep really helps improve a race experience
– Sometimes Ginger Ale just tastes so good
– Be careful where you camp and be aware that there are creepy people everywhere. Don’t assume that you’re safe in a National Park/National Forest.
My legs still felt great after battling through 31.1 miles with very minimal fueling. Between waking up and finishing the race I consumed 1 cup of coffee, 4 honey stinger gels, approximately 20 Cheez-Its and about a cup of Gatorade. Turning myself into a fat-adapted athlete is really paying off!
We ended the weekend with a pretty drive over McClure Pass into Carbondale and a delicious dinner of salmon, asparagus, red bell peppers, and some rice cooked by my amazing boyfriend Jason. The week ended with 73.1 miles of running, which finally put me at the top of the Denver Trail Runners leader board (Strava) for both distance and time. After a whirlwind weekend, I’m happy to be home and using a treadmill desk for the day! I’ve already walked about 4 miles today and my legs are still feeling great. I can’t wait to get back to training tomorrow!