Saturday, July 28th, 2012
Cloudy, cool weather all day
~5,000' elevation gain
4th overall, 3rd male
Driving up to Grand Mesa from Los Alamos, I thought about the last time I had run a 50 mile race. I was surprised to realize it had been nearly 14 months since I ran the 2011 Pocatello 50 miler where I had run a really good race (for me) going sub-10 for 50 miles and finishing the ~52 mile course in 10:11. But then I battled some IT band issues later in 2011 and finished the year with a couple of 50k races. Now, heading into a new race for me, I was excited to run a 50 miler again and I felt good. I hadn't had quite all the training I'd hoped for (my biggest week being a 67 mile week three weeks out) due to a bruised ball of my left foot but I had run well in training and was ready to run hard at Grand Mesa.
Also, this was the first race in a while that my Mom was able to accompany me to and I was really happy about that. We've had some great times traveling and camping together for races and she's a great runner crew now. Allison, Mom and I left Los Alamos around noon on Friday for the seven hour drive to the Grand Mesa area. None of us had ever been there before so we were looking forward to some new scenery. En route, we stopped at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP since Allison nor Mom and had been there before. It's a special and impressive place. A rain storm had just rolled through and that would continue to be the theme for the rest of the day and night.
When we finally got to our camp on Grand Mesa around 9:30pm, it was very foggy and drizzling. We didn't have a view of the area at all and I couldn't wait to see it in the daylight the next day. We threw up our tents quick and hit the sack to awake at 3:45am.
When we awoke it was, of course, still very dark but also still quite overcast and about 45 degrees. I ate a banana and a greek yogurt all washed down with a big cup of coffee to get the morning juices flowing. We drove down to the start/finish area at the Grand Mesa Lodge around 4:30am so I could check in. Things were quite damp and cool so I decided to keep my long sleeve shirt on over my first-ever singlet, a bright orange RaceReady singlet. I was wearing some new RaceReady shorts and my trusty Saucony Peregrine shoes with Smartwool toe socks. I'd start with two hand bottles of water and one 5oz flask of vanilla EFS liquid shot. Also, the 5am start dictated the use of a headlamp for the first 45 minutes or so. I hadn't changed out my batteries in a while so once we started running at 5:02am, I ran pretty conservatively for the first 30 minutes because my light was so dim and there were some seriously gnarly rock water bars that stuck straight up about 6-8 inches in many places along the trail.
The first part of the course is a big 11.5 mile loop heading east from the start line. It's entirely all single track through some seriously beautiful and rugged terrain leading to an exposed ridge and the course's highpoint of ~11,200'. At about three miles into it I met a runner named Andrew running his first 50 miler. We chatted for a bit before I noticed a group of four of five headlamps coming back towards us. I said to them, "uh-oh, this doesn't look good fellas." None of us had seen a trail marker for quite some time and we all started second-guessing ourselves. Once that shadow of doubt creeps in your head, it builds. So we talked about it for a minute or two before all deciding we'd missed a turn and we started back west until a big group of runners came up to us and helped assure us all that we were on course. So we turned around and kept on going. We probably lost only five or six minutes with the little shenanigans.
The sky was light now and we were climbing in earnest to the cool spiny ridge. I passed a few runners and was feeling good. The sky was overcast and the air was crisp--perfect running temperatures. I reached the highpoint on the ridge as the sun peeked above the horizon but below the cloud deck casting a beautiful orange light on the surrounding trees and lakes. It was gorgeous. I wanted to look around more but the ridge was technical, rocky trail running so I focused on my feet. Along the ridge I caught up to another runner and watched as he came to an intersection and wondered if we should turn onto a more faint trail. I was convinced we stay on the main trail so I kept going after a brief conversation with him. More technical single-track descended back towards the start/finish line, reaching the line at 7:15am. It was a quick change here swapping my two hand bottles for two new ones, filled with water, and a new 5oz flask of EFS liquid shot. Allison and Mom were great crew here and I was out fast with my iPod.
The next section of the course was a very runnable, rolling dirt road/4WD road section for about 10 miles. Since I had two hand bottles I was able to skip the intermediate aid station and get into the Flowing Park aid station at mile 22 around 8:45am.
At Flowing Park, I again swapped out for two new hand bottles of water and a new 5oz flask of EFS.
Going into the next section of the course, a stellar, runnable 16 mile loop I decided i wasn't drinking that much water and could go with one hand bottle so I stashed one in a bush by the trail that I'd return to after the loop out to Indian Point.
The running on this loop was spectacular. I could envision it being very hot in the full sun because there are few treed sections amongst the open meadow running but we had cloud cover still, thankfully. I was running behind Melanie Fryar for many miles during this loop until around mile 30 she picked it up and left me behind for good. It was inspiring to see her bounding along, effortless-looking, and then cranking up her pace even more. I passed a couple of guys (a runner with a pacer) along this section and would later meet the pacer, a super nice guy named Kendrick. I thought the Indian Point aid station was around mile 30 but didn't get to it until roughly mile 32 and I was completely out of water. I drank 8oz or so and filled up my bottle. I also snagged three tasty green grapes--the only real food, and only aid station food, I'd eat all day.
More nice single track along the relatively flat, but rocky, mesa trail took me back into the Flowing Park aid station at mile 38 around 11:45am, I think. I was well ahead of my predicted splits and still feeling pretty good. Here, Allison and Mom suggested I may be in fourth place but none of us was sure because all 60k, 50 mile and 100 milers started at the same time. Still, I was inspired by this thought and even more so by the thought that if I ran well to the finish I could finish under 9 hours. As I left the aid station with a single hand bottle and two gels, I noticed another runner coming up behind me. The next two miles of running were on a gently uphill, smooth dirt road. I decided I'd do my best to run it all and try to gain some distance on the runner behind me. I felt quite good and cranked as best I could and noticed I did put some distance on the runner behind me. I wanted badly to not lose a position between here and the finish. I ended up walking some short hills in the final 12 miles but overall I ran well for much of it. I hit the final dirt road leading up the steep hill towards the finish and ran about half of it before succumbing to walking the upper half. As it leveled out I was able to run again and, just as it started to hail a bit, I found myself cruising into the finish.
This was a great run for me. Going into it I had decided my stomach bothered me in 50 milers because I ate and drank too much. In my training I figured out I didn't need as much as was suggested by most. My fueling for the entire race consisted of plain water in hand bottles, 14oz of EFS liquid shot, two Vi Endurance gels and three green grapes. My stomach felt reasonable and I never felt like I was bonking. I ran hard and left it all out on the course. I'm certainly a level below the elite ultrarunners (the winner of GM50 finished an hour and 10 minutes ahead of me) but feel quite satisfied with my racing considering I average 30 to 40 miles per week. I am stoked and I'd definitely run the GM50 again.
The next day we had plans to climb Otto's Route on Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument but it rained on us at camp at the monument most of the night including at 4am when we awoke to head out for the climb. But we enjoyed some easy hiking in the monument Sunday morning before making the drive home to Los Alamos. We'll be back to climb Independence Monument.