Tuesday, June 26, 2012

2012 San Juan Solstice 50 mile

49.75 miles, 12,856’ vertical ascent
low point of 8,671’, high point of 13,334’

Yeah, that's the profile and data from the website...you mean they couldn't find another 1/4 mile? ;-)

This year's version of the SJS50 was a little more difficult than the other 2 years I ran. Usually up in the San Juan Mountains it is cool with post holing in snow up on the Divide and glissading down slopes...but this year was dry, I would call it hot (it was 73 degrees up at 11,000') and due to some local forest fires, was quite smoky, causing my nose to be clogged and drippy all day.

We stayed at the Inn at the Lake, owned by some friends of ours and here is the view of Lake San Christobal from our room.

Yeah, pretty nice...who wants to go and run a smoky 50 mile trail race when you can sit here and read "Eat and Run"! ;-)

...and speaking of racing, that's something we could not do here. We have the Hardrock 100 in less than three weeks and a hard run on this difficult course would put us at Hardrock with dead legs, so we both agreed that this "has" to be a training run, with the possibility of bailing if things didn't go well.

The course is a lot like Hardrock, where we start with a long climb up to an aid station, then run back down to an aid station. Do that several times and the race is done.

The first climb up to the Alpine aid station

The first climb was a nice gentle rise, after crossing a creek several times. The creek crossings were nothing compared to in the past, this year it was so low you could actually keep your feet dry, but there were so many people waiting to cross the logs that I splashed through them and got ahead of quite a few waiters at every crossing.

Typical creek crossing in the early morning

After the Alpine aid station, we got up over 12,000' and above treeline. The views were awesome and the running was better!

Nice running up high in the early miles

After the high ridge running, we plummeted down into the Williams aid station by way of a steep and dusty trail in the trees. Williams was around mile 14. In Williams I ate a bunch of fruit, filled my bottles and hit the road. Yes, road. We followed a dirt road for several miles to Carson Road, which was a steep, dusty and hot 4 mile uphill to the Carson aid station. I got in a pack of runners (hikers), which made it feel even hotter, so I put it into another gear and cranked ahead of them to get by myself...soon catching up to Cheryl Meltzer and her friend, Jill from SLC. We stayed together and chatted for a bit until Cheryl felt the pace getting a bit too hot, so they backed off a bit and I went on up to the aid station where I had an almond chocolate milk and refilled my pack with gels. I was using a mixture of Chia Surge and Hammer gels for most of my fueling. I usually use 1st Endurance liquid shots, but I was out when I went to pack for the trip.

Cheryl and Jill coming up Carson Road behind me

Heading up the road after leaving the Carson aid station

I was still feeling good and caught up to Tom Stockton not far after the aid station. Tom ran closer to 11 hours here last year, but had a stent put into his artery not long ago and was holding back on the climbs. I spent most of the rest of the day going back and forth with Tom.

Tom up on the Divide

Soon we took the left onto the Colorado Trail, which led up to the Continental Divide and 10 miles of 13,000' running and walking.

Some incredible views from up on the Divide
The San Juans are my favorite Western mountains

You can see one speck of a runner left of center.
We follow that edge along, over and down the other side

Running up on the Divide is an great experience and one of the reasons I return to this race as much as I do. Due to the altitude hovering right above or below 13,000', you can't run for a long time, so I do what I call my aerobic intervals. Run until my HR or breathing gets too high, then walk until I recover, over and over. What made it a little harder this year was the smoke. You could taste the smoke and it was causing allergy like symptoms and some breathing difficulties in many. I hope we don't have to experience this at Hardrock, but the Hardrock course is south of here and the fire is coming from the south (Durango area), so I'm not hopeful.

Smoky on the Divide

One thing that occurred on the Divide is I caught up to my friend and fellow over 60 age grouper Roger Jensen just as we started the climb up onto the Divide. I had to avoid getting into a race with Roger because of Hardrock, so when I saw him ahead of me I waved to him and sat down to take some rocks out of my shoes, take a breather and give him some distance on me. Just being near him got me starting to think about the over 60 race and I did not want to go there...we did that back at Collegiate Peaks 50 and it was a race!

Funny thing is Roger was having some issues that caused him to stop out of sight of the trail, so I'd be jogging along and hear a runner coming up behind me, I'd step aside to let him pass and it was Roger again. I'd get sucked into running down the hill with him, then back off realizing what was happening. Man, if I didn't have Hardrock, this could have been fun ;-)

Roger leaving the Divide aid station

I walked into the Divide aid station, still feeling good, but knowing that we were now around 30 miles in, I'd sit and have some soup. As I walked in I saw Roger doing the same...so we sat, sipped our soup and chatted...then after both slamming some Coke, we hit the trail together. We did this walking and running for several miles when I told Roger he should move on and get on with his race. You never know, he might just catch Chuck, who was leading the race for the Geezers!

This section from the Divide aid station to the Slumgullion aid station is always a low point for me. I just don't like it....we're still up high, I'm starting to feel the miles and it's mostly a gradual uphill for 6 miles on what is usually a muddy road. This year there was no mud, but everything else was the same. So I think it's more mental...it's so wide open that I could see Roger moving away from me in the distance as I mostly hiked this stretch until the downhill leading into Slumgullion.

The rocky road to Slumgullion

The final 4 miles or so leading into the Slumgullion aid station (40 miles) is a steep, rocky downhill....so you can make up some time here, but it's so rocky you have to watch your footing all the way. The bottom of my left foot was beginning to ache under my forefoot from the rocks, so I popped one Tylenol and ran down as best I could...once I got into the aid station, which seemed to take forever, I filled my bottle with Coke and ice and drank my last Almond Choc milk. Man, it was hot here, and smoky!
After drinking the milk, my stomach wasn't feeling that great, so I told Tom, who was sitting beside, that I was moving on and would see him out there.

I remembered one thing about leaving Slum, and that was the Vicker's climb. In my past two runs here, I didn't have any problem with it, just grunted up knowing that at the top all of the big climbs were done. But this year it was so hot and humid in there...it's like a tunnel of Aspens, holding the breezes outside of them. It was hot, muggy and smoky and my stomach wasn't liking it one bit.

The Vicker's climb
It was awful this year and is much steeper than it looks here

As I neared the top I had to stop for a bit and when I did all I could hear was runners vomiting....up above and down below. This hill was getting everyone down. Cheryl told me afterwards that she was one of those runners behind me puking.

Finally reaching the top without getting sick myself, I could then focus on letting gravity take over and move as quickly as I could down the hills, walking most of the flats and small uphills. Vickers aid is such a nice place to reach...the volunteers are a local Lake City family that lets us pass through their property and they man the aid station, too!

Vicker's! 4 miles to go!

Here I drank a Coke, which made me feel sick, and headed down the trail with Dan in the green. I know Dan from Dailymile. We ran along together until we came upon Dakota Jones standing there watching the runner he was pacing puke his guts out. I said hi to Dakota and kept going, wanting to get done, but Dan stayed behind chatting.

These downhills can be relentless and painful to the feet, too, but knowing the finish is near keeps you moving quickly, blocking out the aches, pains and stomach distress.

First view of smoky Lake City
The finish is down there somewhere

As we ran down the rocky trail into Lake City, it was getting hotter and smokier...but soon I reached the road and ran and walked the hardpack into town until we made that final left turn with 2 blocks to go, then I gave it my all to get done...I crossed the line in 13:53, 20 minutes slower than last year in much worse conditions than I've ever seen it here. I also finished 3rd in my age group and later found out that Roger almost caught a cramping Chuck Cofer...I imagine the three of us will be knocking heads at this race for many years to come. If I don't get into Hardrock, I'd like to come back here and get under 13 hours.

Deb and I moments after I finished
Judy Blake photo

Looking at the above picture, you can see my pasty complexion. Man was I sick...too much heat I guess. You can also notice Deb doesn't look very well either, she had some blood in her urine around 32 miles and had to walk 9 miles into Slum because there was no ride out of Divide. She wisely stopped at Slum and saved it for Hardrock and is fine today. Deb's ride down dropped her off just as I was crossing the finish line...what timing!

I have to say I really like this race...it's Hardrock without the night running, what could be bad about that? If I can, I will be back next year and maybe go for that sub 13.

I leave you with a parting shot of the Lake of Lake City and a view we had from the Inn. I already miss this beautiful place and love the fact that we'll be back in the San Juans for the next 2 weeks for Hardrock :-)

Lake San Christobal as seen from the Inn at the Lake

So that's it....next up is Hardrock. Hopefully running Lake City has given us that one last bump in fitness to help us finish that beast. Our plan is to run it together as a celebration of 10 years since announcing our engagement at the Virginius aid station. We're looking forward to sharing that moment with Sue Johnston, who will be working up at that aid station, now called Kroger's Canteen. Sue was Deb's matron of honor back in 2001. Joining us will be Deb's brother Drew, who is my pacer the whole 100 miles. He hasn't been able to get into the race and because I'm 60 can have a pacer the whole way, so I offered him that spot first and he grabbed the chance. We'l have a great 2 days in the San Juans.

So until then, hope everyone has a wonderful summer...I'm wrapping up work to get ready for my summer vacation!

To see the rest of my photos, go here...

For results, they are posted here...

Happy Trails!
Steve and Deb