Thursday, September 8, 2016

Lean Horse 100 - My First DNF

This post has been a struggle to write. Where to begin? Another goal that I've been unable to achieve. First Boston, then my 100 miler. Failed. But not for lack of trying. Sure I probably could have more ultra running experience under my belt before trying a 100 miler - but I did multiple 50 mile races and 50K races. I logged the miles and the time of my feet. I thought I was ready. And then for some reason, the exact same thing that happened to me during Revel Rockies Marathon (the big BQ attempt last year) happened during this race. Which is very odd considering these two races were NOTHING alike. One I was running fast, downhill, on roads. Another I was running slow, taking my time and on trails (although the trail was very non-technical, and basically a dirt road). Nevertheless I ended up with the same issue - an upset stomach and vomiting up everything (lovely, I know). At least during Revel Rockies I could still finish... but going for a 100 miler when you can't keep food down? Doesn't really work, unfortunately....

But when you have big dreams like I often find myself with (where I got this dreamer attitude, I have no idea?), failure is sometimes inevitable.

And it's something I need to learn to be okay with, however hard that may be.

I'm now almost two weeks out from Lean Horse 100 and despite telling myself all of this, it doesn't hurt any less. If there is one major thing I will learn from my first DNF (stands for "Did Not Finish" - which is what gets stamped next to your name on the race results), it's how crappy it feels afterwards. I hope to forever remember this feeling when I'm struggling during a race in the future. The pain during that race is nothing like the humility and shame of having to tell everyone you got that DNF.

I know, I know everyone I told had nothing but encouraging and nice things to say in return. I still did more than most people will ever attempt. I know that. I do. And I thoroughly appreciate all of the wonderful comments people left - thank you for that! It will just take me some time to bounce back mentally, I am working on it (and having an awesome trip to Alaska afterwards definitely helped!).

Now, enough wallowing in self pity, time to get to my race recap of the first 56.6 miles before calling it quits.

Scott and I drove to Denver on Thursday night - it was terrible weather, pouring rain the entire time making it extremely difficult to see. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to my parents house (mostly thanks to Scott for driving a majority of the way!) and then went straight to bed, getting up at 6:00am the next morning so we could hit to road for South Dakota by 7:30. Thankfully the sun was shining for the drive north through Wyoming and then into South Dakota. It was a very uneventful drive, but I stopped for a picture at the South Dakota sign (since I haven't ever been here as an adult):

Finally made it to South Dakota!
We got into Custer at about 12:30 and went straight to Packet Pick-Up. I got my race packet and bib, talked with the Race Director a bit, and bought some swag (that I feel like I can't wear now, sad). Then we grabbed lunch before spending the afternoon driving to all of the different aid stations along the course. I really enjoyed this because I got to see a lot of the course which got me excited for the next day! It was going to be a very runnable course and extremely beautiful! We made it back into Custer just in time for the pre-race meeting at 6:00pm. After the meeting we picked up some dinner to go and then headed back to the hotel to get ready and go to bed early.

Checking out the course
I surprisingly fell asleep pretty easily, but woke up at 2:50am and had trouble getting back to sleep. I'm not sure how much sleep I actually got, but after a lot of tossing and turning, I finally got up at 4:30 to get ready for the race. We headed over to the track at 5:15am and anxiously awaited the start while chatting briefly with some friends I knew also doing the race - Rebecca (100) and Heather (50K) who are also on the Roost Race Team in Colorado and then Robert (also going for his first 100) and Erica (50K), both South Dakota locals who I know through my friend Sirinya (doing the 30K that started later).

Pre-race picture!
Finally, it was time to start! We did 1/2 lap around the track before heading to the Mickelson Trail, which we would remain on for the rest of the race! I settled into a nice easy pace and started chatting with various people along the course, including quite a bit of chatting with Robert (who actually went to Mesa State College in Grand Junction! Always a small world).

Robert and I in the early stages of the race.

The first 4.4 miles went by pretty quickly and I was happy to see Scott as I came into the first aid station. I grabbed a Clif Bar from him and some Clif Shot Blocks before continuing on. We had agreed that he would skip the next aid station as it had limited parking, and I'd see him at the following one - around mile 15. Reaching this first aid station also meant that I had some nice downhill for the next 10 miles until I reached Hill City. So I settled into a nice easy run for this - trying to take some walk breaks so I didn't wear myself out too much early on. It was such a nice runnable surface though that this was pretty difficult, especially with the downhill!

Shortly after the first aid station
The sunlight was so pretty coming through the trees!
As I made my way into the Oreville Aid Station (the one Scott skipped), I grabbed a few small snacks and quickly continued on towards Hill City. I don't remember a whole lot during this next section other than chatting with a couple people doing the 50 miler. As I got closer to Hill City I started seeing the 50K runners on their way back, including Erica (who came in 1st place for women!):

An underpass we went through.

As I made my way into the Hill City aid station, I quickly found Scott who had everything ready for me. It was starting to get hot, so I put on my visor and refilled my pack with water and more tailwind. I grabbed a PB&J from the aid station and said goodbye as I made my way on towards the High Country Aid Station.

This next section began a nice ascent again. The uphills in this race were tough in that they weren't tough. Normally I would walk the majority of uphills in an ultra. But these uphills were so gradual, I could easily run them. However, I knew I needed to be saving my energy this early in the race. So I settled into a combination of running and walking - alternating whenever I felt like it. I made sure to keep eating during this - I knew fueling can make or break your race.

The only pavement on the course was for about 1/2 mile through Hill City.
This section through the aspen trees was gorgeous!
Right around Mile 20 I came to the High Country Aid Station. Scott had to park pretty far at this one, so I didn't have him get me anything from the car, and instead just said hello to him, grabbed some food (they had potatoes which were pretty good) and continued on. I still had quite a bit more uphill and just kept at it.

Unfortunately about 1 mile out of the aid station I felt a big hot spot on my heal where I could feel a blister forming. I never get blisters on my heals when running - it was kind of weird. I meant to put band aids in my pack, but of course forgot - which meant I had to go 4 more miles to the next aid station before I could fix it. It hurt less to run then to walk, so I ended up running more than I normally would have considering I still had a few miles of uphill. As I got closer to the next aid station, I started to see some of the 50 Milers on their way back.

I made it into the Horse Creek Aid Station (around Mile 25) and was pretty happy to see Scott was able to park close by. I was able to sit down and attend to the blister! As I took my shoe off I realized why I was getting one in that spot - my sock had a hole in it! This was super weird since these were fairly new Balega socks (I've been wearing Balega's ever since I started running and they last forever! I don't have any holes in pairs I've had for 3+ years!). So not sure what was up with that, but I changed my socks and decided to change my shoes as well in case that was also contributing. I had some pickles from our stash, then got some bacon from the aid station and headed out.

The 50 Mile race turnaround was just barely past this aid station and after that it was down to just 100 milers on the course. I felt like the first 25 miles went by pretty quickly and was happy to still be feeling good at this point. We were back to gradual downhill now and got to pass through 2 pretty cool train tunnels, so it's safe to say this was probably my favorite section of the entire course!

I made it to the Mystic Aid Station feeling good and grabbed some potatoes and soda, talked to Scott for a minute and then headed out. This would be my last downhill section until the turnaround (I would have about 17-18 miles of uphill once I made it to the next aid station!), so I tried to enjoy it although it really felt more flat than down, so it wasn't as easy to enjoy. Nevertheless I tried not to dread the uphill too much. As I hit mile 30 I could tell I was starting to get tired. I still felt good, I could just tell I had been on my feet for awhile. Obviously I knew I still had a long way to go and being tired was inevitable - just something I realized.

There were a ton of bridges on the course!

I kept at it, making my way into the Gimlet Creek Aid Station where I saw Scott and then a few minutes later, my parents. They stopped in to see where I was at and then would be at the turnaround later that evening. I felt good and was actually ahead of my scheduled pace at this point so it was fun to see them (and I'm glad I got to see them when I was still in a good mood, as opposed to later!). I grabbed some snacks and then headed on.

The next section was my last "feel good" section - Mile 33.8 to 37.4 into Rochford. The long uphill stretch had began, but it was very gradual so I had a nice run/walk combination going on. There was a family out biking on the trail and I kept leap frogging with them as I took my running and walking breaks. I made it into Rochford feeling awesome and about 1 hour ahead of my planned schedule. Scott told me I needed to slow down a little, so I took a little more time at this aid station making sure to get some fuel in me, refilling my pack (with water - I had been getting tired of the Tailwind and hadn't added any into my pack in a few aid stations - this may have been a mistake!). I grabbed some chips and chocolate to take with me and continued on - promising I would slow down a little (did I EVER make a more accurate promise??).

So this next section is where it all went to hell (excuse my language). The first mile or two were fine. Then, all of a sudden my stomach just felt completely awful. It really seemed like it was just out of the blue - very strange. I felt like I had ate WAY too much or something (despite not really eating THAT much). I really cannot figure it out. So I ended up walking a lot more than I had planned during this section and slowed down A LOT. Robert passed me about 4 miles into the section looking really good! I really wanted to try and keep up, but it wasn't happening, so I slowed and hoping that by walking I would feel better.

We did get to go through one more tunnel during this section!
Robert is way in front of me in this picture!
After what felt like FOREVER, I finally made it to the Nahant Aid Station (43.5 - the second to last before the turnaround). I tried to eat a "Gin-Gin" (ginger candy - it's supposed to help settle your stomach) and just sat for awhile. Scott got me some gingerale and stayed with me for a few minutes. I was really upset at this point - why was this happening? I hadn't had ANY issues during the two 50 milers I had done earlier this summer in training! Nevertheless, I knew I had to keep going. So I took some gingerale to go and told Scott I was hoping to just walk it off and hopefully be feeling better at the next aid station.

I walked pretty slowly out of Nahant as I drank my gingerale and tried to figure out what the issue was. About a mile in, I vomited everything up. And by everything, I mean everything. At least since the Rochford Aid Station, possibly even from Gimlet. I knew I needed fuel, but considering how bad it had felt, I was hoping maybe this meant I could just start over. I was able to pick up my pace for a little bit, adding in some run/walking (although it was more walking than running). A mile or so after that I decided to take some chews I had with me - I thought that might be a good quick thing to get some energy in me. I kept at it, slowly making my way to DMTM Exchange Aid Station. Unfortunately another mile or so down the road my stomach started to feel bad again. What the heck? I could not figure this out. I continued on and just didn't eat anything.

I made it into the final aid station (before the turnaround) where Scott and my parents were. I said hello to them and told them the bad news - my stomach was still bugging me. Scott said maybe it would be best if I had someone go with me for the next section (I wasn't planning to have a pacer until Mile 56.6 - but I was allowed one at 50.7 if I wanted). I said I'd think about it as I made my way to the turnaround. The turnaround was 0.7 miles past the aid station. It was the LONGEST 0.7 miles of my life. Seriously. I finally made it, snapped a picture (since this was a 50 mile PR - despite slowing a lot in the last 10!) and made my way back to the aid station. On my way back I saw Rebecca who was doing really well (and doing the entire thing solo, with no pacers! Amazing!). As I got back into the aid station I had some broth and sat down for awhile trying to figure out what was going on with me. I never did figure that out, but decided to have Scott come with me for the next section (6 miles).

Documenting my 50 Mile PR - 12 hours and 17 minutes

I was pretty happy to have Scott join me for these 6 miles (what would be the last 6 miles). I was feeling pretty negative at this point, so it helped to have someone to talk to. Unfortunately a half mile or so into this, I vomited up everything AGAIN. And then again. And then my body kept trying to throw up more despite not having anything left to throw up. It was rather unpleasant.

After that finally subsided we continued on. Mostly walking but with some occasional running thrown in. With how slow I was going, it was taking FOREVER to get to the next aid station. The sun was starting to set and it got pretty cold, pretty fast. I was glad I had brought a long sleeve with me. I enjoyed the sunset though as we talked about what I should do.

I wanted to continue mentally, and yet I didn't physically. I had put so much into this race. So much time - training, planning. So much money - traveling out of state, three nights in a hotel, not to mention all of the things I bought for the race. To quit would just be so disappointing. Not to mention the fact that a 100 miler isn't something I can just "try again" in a week. It takes all those things mentioned above (planning, time off work, money...). I couldn't quit! And yet here I was going on about 20 miles with no fuel and my stomach did not feel like it was improving at all. What to do? I may have had some crying fits and screaming fits during this. I was sad, I was mad. I came ALL the way up here to do this.

But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post...when you have big, crazy, scary need to be prepared to possibly fail. And so, I quit. I got into the last aid station, tried to eat some crackers and sat for awhile deciding what to do. It had gotten really cold and dark by this point and I was worried I was moving so slow I wouldn't be able to stay warm - especially since I had a feeling I would continue to slow down as I made my way on since I couldn't seem to get any food in me. So, I decided to call it.

Since I was exhausted, tired, and hungry (but not hungry), it actually didn't hurt that much at the time to call it and to quit. No, that feeling of shame and disapointment came the next morning when I was feeling better - that's when I was the most upset about it. Especially as I heard about all my friends who had accomplished such amazing things at this race - several of them placed in their age groups, and Robert finished his first 100 well ahead of his goal time! I was super happy for all of them, of course - but it fueled the flame of how mad at myself I was! This was such a perfect course for my first 100 - WHY couldn't I do it?! Well, I'm still working on those answers and I hope to one way have them. Or at least have a 100 mile finish to compare this too. That being said, in the 100 mile distance there were 45 finishers out of 71 starters. Clearly finishing rates like that just go to show that completing 100 miles on foot is NOT as easy task. Nevertheless, I do hope to one day give this thing a shot again (not sure when that will be at this point in time) so I can call myself a 100 mile finisher.

Race: Lean Horse 100
Location: Custer, South Dakota
Distance: 100 Miles (DNF at Mile 56.6)
Bib Number: 3
Weather: Cool in the morning, HOT in the afternoon (mid-70's), Cold at night (50's)!
Elevation Gain: 6262 ft over the course of 100 miles - so I did a little over half of that
Time for 56.5 Miles: Approximately 14 1/2 hours
The first 38.5 miles that my Garmin recorded before dying were done in 8:30:24, which is a 13:21 average pace (this was really good for me at this distance and shows how I was doing before the stomach issues began! This pace includes stopping at aid stations).

DNF aside, this was a fantastic race that I highly recommend. I really did pick an amazing course to be my first 100 (too bad it's not my first 100...). It had gorgeous scenery while still being a non-technical, very runable soft dirt trail. The aid stations were great and it was very well put on. I did enjoy going up to the Black Hills for the first time and seeing the area. I loved having my husband there at almost every aid station crewing for me which was awesome. Everything really was perfect. It was just not my day.

Now, if there was something good to come of a DNF, it's that I was able to get sleep on Saturday night and thus have Sunday free to explore the area. We ended up having a nice breakfast at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park with my parents, then Scott and I went to Mt. Rushmore for awhile and explored Hill City that afternoon. It was really nice to have some relaxation time in before we headed to Alaska the next morning (post forthcoming on my trip up there!).

So, what's next? Honestly - I'm not sure. I do want to attempt a 100 miler again sometime, but due to all that is involved in it, I'm just not sure when it will be. I've had some pretty big goals and dreams over the past few years and I think I might be ready for some down time. Or at least some non structured running time! But don't worry, I'm sure I'll still be running a lot of races - I've still got several things on the calendar for the rest of this year including the Grand Circle Trail Fest that I cannot WAIT for (three days of running at Bryce Canyon, Zion, and The Grand Canyon)!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mt. Sneffels Marathon

After running the Mt. Sneffels Half Marathon the past two years, I knew it was time to go for the full this year! Especially considering I'm training for a 100...I need all the miles I can get, right? Add to the fact that the terrain of this course is very similar to what my 100 will be. Double, why not? So it was set. Now the only thing to consider was that this was only 2 weeks out from my 100...which is kind of, sort of when I should be tapering. So I just figured that was the perfect excuse to take this extra slow and not worry about time (not that I have really been worrying about time AT ALL this summer anyways). I was set. Easy Peasy.

Another local runner and I decided to drive up the morning of - which worked well, but made for an early morning (left at 4am!). We made it to Ridgway at about 5:45am, which was just enough time to relax a little and get ready for the 6:30am start.

The big difference between the marathon and the half marathon is the amount of participants. Between the two races, there are about 800 people. But about 700 of them do the half and only 100 do the full. That means it's an entirely different atmosphere for the full marathon. Much more of a "small town" feel - where you're all just standing around the start and you can see everyone (as opposed to the half where you're all clustered together with long port-a-potty lines and it just feels like there are TONS more people). The full is also significantly harder - as it has about 1000' of elevation gain as you make your way from Ridgway to Ouray before turning around and heading back (so the half, alternately has about 1000' of loss). There's no "big" hills on the way out, but it's a gradual uphill almost the entire way which just gets tiring after awhile and definitely keeps your pace pretty slow.

Waiting for the start!
So when the gun went off I knew I would just be taking this nice and easy from the get go. Which was why I also had no problem stopping for some pictures of these gorgeous horses less than one mile into the race:

The second mile has some steeper grade uphill, so I walked a little there. After mile 2 though I did settle into a pretty steady run for the next 7 or 8 miles, which the exception of taking a couple of quick pictures here and there, and walking so I could take off my long sleeve shirt around Mile 5.

At about mile 8 was when the leaders in the Half Marathon passed us on their way out. It's pretty neat to see, as they are so fast (that's the other thing about the Half - they actually have some elite runners run this - pretty cool). The next 3 miles were spent passing all of the Half Marathoners as they made their way towards Ridgway. Finally at about Mile 12, I made it into the town of Ouray and slowly worked my way to the turnaround at Fellen Park.

At the turn-around in Ouray.
About a mile or so after the turnaround, I ended up settling into the same pace as a guy from the Front Range, so we spent the next 11 or so miles chatting which was nice and really helped the time go by! I always like swapping race stories and hearing about which races people have done and which ones they like etc. We ran pretty much the entire way until the out-and-back section where we started mixing in some walking. I also snapped this picture:

After the out-and-back, we had just over 2 miles to go, including the big, "hill". I always talk about this hill in my Half Marathon posts, but since I knew I had no time goals and therefore, I knew I would be walking it, it didn't really bother me this time around. As I suspected, as soon as I got to it, I walked up the hill, then grabbed some chocolate from the aid station and continued my way towards the finish. With a little over a mile to go, I realized I could get under 5 hours so long as I didn't walk too much. After a couple of breaks, the guy I was running with told me I'd better go ahead if I still wanted under 5, so I did. I picked up my pace quite a bit and just barely squeezed in under 5 hours, with a time of 4:58:38.


Race: Mt. Sneffels Marathon
Location: Ridgway/Ouray, Colorado
Distance: 26.2 Miles
Official Time: 4:58:38
Average Pace: 11:24 per mile
Overall Place: 55 of 87
Gender Place: 18 of 35
Division Place: 7 of 12

Overall I'm glad I finally ran the Full Marathon, but I'll probably stick with the Half Marathon going forward. It's a much more enjoyable downhill half, than an uphill full! But, as a race, it's always put on really well and a great way to see Ouray and Ridgway. You also get 1/2 price entry into the Hot Springs with your race packet, and you can't beat that!

One of my favorite things about this race is all of the swag with Mt. Sneffles on it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Mt. Sneffles is one of my favorite mountains (to look at, NOT to climb). This years swag was some of the best. In addition to the usual shirt and bag, we got socks, a hat, AND a calendar. And, the finisher's medal was different this year (which was exciting, since I've gotten the old medal two years in a row).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Grand Mesa 50 Miler

I've wanted to do one of the Grand Mesa Ultra distances for a few years now, it's just never fit into the schedule. As you may recall (but probably not because it was a LONG time ago), I paced a 100 mile runner at this race several years back. It ended up being a scary, crazy experience as we got stuck in a torrential downpour in the middle of the night while trying to ascend 5000 feet in 5 miles... You can read more about it here. And while that left me with not really wanting to attempt the 100 here (seriously, this mountain can be brutal), I did still want to do one of the shorter distances. So, sometime during the winter, after I had committed to Lean Horse 100 and knew I would be focusing on trail & ultra running this summer, I signed up for this years 60K. Unfortunately, the race director decided to cancel the race sometime in late spring (April maybe?) after holding it for 4+ years. I was pretty bummed, but quickly found another race to do instead - the Rocky Mountain Half.

Well...about a month later, two local friends from our run club announced that they had taken it over from the old RD and would be putting it back on! Ugh...I was frustrated. I had JUST signed up for the Rocky Mountain Half... what to do, what to do?? This was a much closer drive and much more in the realm of the training I needed to do, but, I paid good money for the other race. Well my dilemma was quickly answered when I found out I won a free entry into this race, AND that the Half I signed up for had a deferment policy. It was finally settled - I would FINALLY do the Grand Mesa Ultra this year. Now my only question was which distance - the 50K or the 50 miler? Since I won the free entry, I decided to sign up for the 50 miler and then decide as it got closer whether I wanted to switch to the 50K or not...

Before I knew it, race week was here and I still hadn't committed to a distance. I felt pretty good after Chase The Moon 50K, so I was pretty sure I wanted to go for the 50 Miler, but I kept having that "don't over-train" thought going through my head (several seasoned ultra runners have told me it's better to under-train than over-train for a 100). But I also knew that having another 50 under my belt would be really good for me mentally (and I really struggle with the mental aspect in running)... so I decided to just go for it.

It was an hour drive and with the 6am start, I woke up at 3:45 on Saturday morning, hitting the road at 4:15. Just like clockwork I made it to the starting line at 5:15. I went and got my bib and T-shirt (which I really like!), used the restroom, and then worked on trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to carry with me. I would go through 6 aid stations, with some stretches as long as 10.5 miles between aid. That meant, I definitely wanted to carry a decent amount of food with me (and a variety because I NEVER know what I will be in the mood for when running long distances). So, while I'm sure I had way too much stuff, at least I had enough stuff... I also got my drop bag ready which would go out to the Flowing Park Aid Station which I would pass at Miles 25 and 40.

At about 5:50, I made my way to the starting line. We got a short race briefing (follow the orange flags and orange & white checkered ribbon), then I nervously chatted with some local runners for a few minutes until the gun went off and the start of my LONG day began.

The first section of this course is run along what is called the "Grand Mesa Lodge Trail". I think I'd use the word "trail" very loosly here. It was not much of a trail at all... Thankfully though, the RD's did a great job marking this part, so it was basically just cross country running to each flag or ribbon. I'm not going to lie though, not having much of a trail made it pretty difficult. I found myself stumbling on rocks a lot and going much slower than I had anticipated considering it wasn't a very difficult section elevation wise. Nevertheless, I knew I should be starting out slowly anyways, so I just kept at it and eventually made it to the Grand Mesa Lodge. We ran around the Lodge, then crossed Highway 65 and got onto a very short section that took us to the Crag Crest Parking Lot, where we had our first aid station (around 3.75 miles).

The sunrise shortly after we started!
I shed my long sleeve and gloves, grabbed a handful of peanut M&M's, and headed out for what I knew would be the toughest section of the course (although I still wasn't expecting it to be AS tough as it was) - the 10.5 mile Crag Crest Loop. I've ran this a couple times before and I knew it was semi-challenging during certain sections - and that I wouldn't be running that much on the crest (which is the high point of the course and a very thin almost "bridge" of rock that you go across - very cool views, but ROCKY), but in the realm of elevation gain and climbing, this trail isn't that significant. You gain about 1000' from the parking lot to the crest. That all being said, I was also doing this loop counter-clockwise for the first time. I've always ran it clockwise in the past... According to some runners, this was was supposedly easier. I guess we would find out!

Along the Lower Loop of Crag Crest Trail

Running counter-clockwise means you do the lower loop first - which is mostly through tree's and doesn't have a ton of elevation gain. This section went pretty well and I was very steadily running 13 minute miles. Not fast, but a decent pace for a somewhat technical trail (it wasn't insanely technical, but there were a lot of miscellaneous rocks here and there that made the probability of tripping very high). Eventually, I made it to the junction between the lower loop and upper loop. This meant it was time to start heading UP. Heading up, meant time to start walking. I settled into a nice power hike as I made my way up the 2 or so miles to the crest. On the way, I saw some wonderful wildlife - Cows - complete with fresh manure all over the trail! Yum. Finally, I got to the really rocky section... which meant I was just about to the top. Once I made it to the top, I very slowly jog/ran over the rocky stretch, eventually getting to the course photographer - who was right at the top of a not sure how that picture will turn out (it's a little hard to smile when you're huffing and puffing up a hill at over 11,000'). Shortly after passing the photographer, I got passed by the first and second place runners of the 25K - who had started an entire HOUR after me. That was depressing (I did know I would get passed by them, but it was sooner than I had expected). I also got passed by a friend, Jen, who was doing the 50K and got this photo of me:
Just a few rocks...

The "Crest" of Crags Crest
More of the "crest"
Official race photo!

Before I knew it, it was time to descend the 3 miles down from Crags Crest and back to the parking lot/aid station. One of the best sections! Once you're off the crest, this section is pretty runnable downhill. So I settled into a nice easy downhill pace and ran a few of my faster miles for the day, making it to the aid station (approx. Mile 14) in about 3 1/2 hours - MUCH slower than I had planned...but happy to be done with the hardest part!

Some of the downhill "runnable" section
This meant it was time to head back to the start/finish area on the "not-really-a-trail" Grand Mesa Lodge trail. With the exception of getting passed once, I was completely alone for this entire 3 1/2 mile stretch...and my attitude and mental game plummeted. The entire 3 1/2 miles I kept thinking, "how in the world, am I going to complete 50 miles today?" I wasn't even to 15 yet... I had been briefly thinking about this on my way up to the Crest earlier, but not as much as during this stretch. The lack of a trail, paired with being alone, and I kept stumbling on rocks sticking up (I never hit the ground, but I had a lot of close calls) left me down in the dumps. I was really thinking about asking what the policy was on dropping to the 50K when I got to the start/finish area (the 25K runners would be done here - the 50K and 50 milers continued on another trail that left from this same parking lot).

EVENTUALLY, I made it back to the start/finish area aid station. I grabbed some food, but I didn't see either of the two RD's to ask about dropping distances. So I decided I would run the Mesa Top section out to the next aid station (and turnaround point for the 50K) and decide then. My legs were really achy by this point too - which seemed so early in the race, it was just adding to my negative attitude. So I decided to take some Ibuprofen (my first time ever taking a pain killer during a race) and see if it helped, then I headed out on Mesa Top Trail - which would be a 7.5 mile stretch to the Flowing Park Aid Station.

I've done the first 6 miles of the Mesa Top Trail, so this part wasn't new to me. I knew it would be significantly easier than the first 18 miles had been. However, it was still a somewhat rocky trail in places and I had to watch my footing. It's slightly downhill, so I hoped I'd be able to run a decent amount of this, but my legs were just achy and tired and I wasn't having it. I ended up running a lot of 14-16 minute miles through this section. About 4 or so miles in, I think the Ibuprofen sunk in and I did start to feel better. I had several miles much closer to 14:00 instead of the 16:00 range. It was also kind of crazy that I didn't start to see a lot of 50K runners headed back until the last two or so miles to the aid station (I figured I would see the front runners WAY earlier). I guess everyone else felt like the course was pretty tough and slow as well!

At least the views were good!

Eventually I saw Jen headed back (who had snapped the picture of me earlier) and so I asked her how far it was to the Flowing Park Aid Station. She said I was pretty close - so I tried to pick up my pace a little as I finished my way along Mesa Top Trail. I was still debating if I should drop the the 50K at this point, but in the back of my head I knew that I had no viable reason to quit. The Ibuprofen had helped immensely - I was still tired, but my joints and muscles didn't feel nearly as achy as before. Plus I just knew that if I quit, I am sure to think back to that when the going gets tough during Lean Horse later this summer... So it was settled...I would continue on.

I got to Flowing Park, and spent a little longer at this aid station than the others - topping off my pack and fueling up on various snacks they had. It would be 9 pretty exposed miles to the next aid station - which was just an unmanned spot with water - and 15 until I made it back to this same Aid Station. After grabbing a packet of tailwind and my old Garmin out of drop bag, I headed out for the 15 mile lollipop loop of Flowing Park and Indian Point.

This lollipop section starts along a dirt road which was pretty runnable before you jut off onto singletrack for the remainder of the section. Right as I passed the junction between the outbound part of the loop and the inbound part, I saw who I assume to be one of the front runners in the 50 on his way inbound. I had been trotting along so slowly, I wasn't surprised at all to see him about 11 miles ahead of me. I also knew as he passed me that it was highly likely he was the last runner I would see on the course today. So I did something I rarely do in races, especially trail races... I got out my headphones and put on some music! I knew I was going to be on this long and lonely stretch for awhile and figured it would help pass the time. And not only did it help pass the time, but my mood really picked along with pace - and I ended up doing several miles in the 12:00 range.

Shortly after this, the course started nearing the edge of the Mesa - something I had really looked forward to. This was one section of the course I had not ever been on - but I had heard that this part hugged the ridgeline for many miles. So, of course the views along this section were stunning, which just continued to help my mood. This was why I was out here. THIS is why I run. Needless to say, the next several miles went by much quicker as I enjoyed the views, stopping every so often to take pictures. I also still had my music on and since there was no one around was having a blast just singing along, out loud. I especially enjoyed "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons coming on right as I was at this awesome spot along the ridge - where it really DID feel like I was on top of the world!

Attempting to get a selfie with all my brands shown (Skirt Sports & Runners Roost) along with the background!

There were a few sections every so often with beautiful aspen trees!

Click on this picture to enlarge it. Stunning!

Eventually I made it to the Indian Point Aid Station - which was just a water jug and some gels - no people. I filled up my hydration pack and continued on. As much as I was enjoying this stretch, I was also pretty darn happy to see that aid station. It meant I was, for the most part, headed back home. I still had a few miles before the loop was over, but I was headed in the right direction!

So happy to see this!
A couple more miles later and I made it back to the road section of the lollipop, and then finally back to the Flowing Park aid station. I grabbed some soda and pickles and found out there was one guy behind me. I quickly headed back out of the aid station and made my way back onto the Mesa Top Trail. Just 7.5 miles of this section and I would be done! Unfortunately it was mostly uphill - so I knew I would be walking most of this and it would be awhile. Thankfully it was a very gentle uphill, so I was able to easily walk 17 minute miles. Not fast by any means, but much better than 20+ minute miles. I also knew by this point that I could finish in a faster time than Silver Rush, 3 weeks prior. Not nearly as much as I wanted - but still faster.

The wildflowers were stunning!
I continued with my singing and hobbling along mile after mile. With a couple of miles to go I saw a Porcupine. With about 1 1/2 miles to go I saw a Fox. Coolest thing ever. He was just about 100 feet in front of me and we both made eye contact for a second before he sprinted off. He was beautiful. After enjoying that for a moment, I continued on. With about a mile or so to go I saw the wife of the guy behind me - she was heading out to meet him. I knew I must be close. I kept going... I thought I still had 1/2 mile to go when all of a sudden I saw the outhouses - I was just about there! I then realized I could come in under 13 hours if I picked it up - so as soon as I hit the pavement, I sprinted (well what can only be considered a sprint for a slow, back-of-the-packer who was about to finish a 50 mile trail ultra) to the finish, finishing in 12 hours, 57 minutes, 42 seconds!

Finishing! (The only paved section of the entire course was the parking lot to the finish!)
Scott and Kristi (the RD's), myself, and Rochelle who stayed to see me finish!
This was definitely not the time I wanted to finish in, but it was nevertheless another 50 mile finish. Another almost 13 hours of time on my feet. And another step in my journey to complete my first 100. The fact that I pushed through a REALLY big low point before I even hit 20 miles and went on to finish (and even enjoy some of the later sections) is HUGE for me. I am not fast. Even saying I "ran 50 miles" is an overstatement. The truth is, I run/walk/trot/hobble over the course of 50 miles. But I don't quit. When the going gets tough, I stick with it. And that is what I plan to do at Lean Horse. Of course I have no idea what will happen on August 27-28th...but I intend to give that race everything I have!

Race: Grand Mesa 50 Mile Ultramarathon
Location: Grand Mesa, Colorado (no real close towns - Cedaredge would be the closest)
Distance: 50 Miles (my Garmin came in at 47.94)
Elevation Gain: 3791'
Maximum Elevation: 11,142'
Minimum Elevation: 9894'
Official Time: 12:57:42
Average Pace: 16:12
Overall Place: 6 of 7 (quite a bit different than Silver Rush which had 384 finishers!)
Division Place: 1 of 1
Gender Place: 2 of 2 (that reminds me - I placed! AND got PRIZE MONEY! :) I know finishing 2 of 2 doesn't sound that impressive, BUT there were 4 other women signed up - so the fact that I didn't drop and finished this darn thing when I wanted to quit is worth that prize money!)

Course Map
Elevation profile for the first 38 miles (I had to switch watches after that)

Post-Race Thoughts:
For taking this on only a few months before race day, the Race Directors did a great job! The t-shirts are great, the course was marked REALLY well (although I would have preferred a few more "feel good" markers during the Flowing Park/Indian Point loop - I didn't get lost, but there were some sections I went awhile without seeing any markers and would start to second guess myself), the aid stations had a great variety of food and drink. The course was beautiful. There were actually a decent amount of people still waiting around to cheer me in despite finishing long after most people had left (including my friend Rochelle - which was SO awesome - thank you!!!). I got prize money for the first time ever (and probably last time, but that's okay)! The only thing that I felt was missing was some sort of finishers medal/token/trinket...but maybe I'll just frame the card I got that says I finished in second place ;)! Overall, I did like this race a lot despite the course feeling very deceivingly hard. If you just look at the total elevation gain, you're going to be disappointed by your time. This is a pretty technical course and will slow you down, despite not having a lot of elevation gain. The fact that the first place 50K finisher finished in a time of 6:12 shows me that. MY first 50K was 6:30 and I am SLOW trail runner. Nevertheless, the views are pretty stunning. I will be back again sometime - just maybe not for the same distance!