Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Last Dollar Road "Unofficial" 50K

I'm now in full-blown training mode for Lean Horse 100 in August, and so I knew I needed to get a 50K (31 miles) in during late June as part of my training. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any races nearby so I just decided I would do my own instead. I'd always wanted to traverse Last Dollar Road - a dirt road that runs from Dallas Divide (west of Ridgway) into Telluride. I have read mixed reviews on whether this road is passable in a low-clearance car, so I figured running it would be a great excuse to finally check it out.

Planning it was a bit on the difficult side - the actual road is about 18 miles one-way from Ridgway to Telluride. I was definitely planning to do an out-and-back, but wasn't sure how doing the entire 15 out one-way would work since the forecast was calling for HOT temperatures and I would have no way to refill my water along the route. Thankfully, a few days before, my friend Laurie said she'd come along for the first part of it. Problem solved - we would drop my car at the beginning and drive her's a way's down the road, and I could leave water at her vehicle.

We met in Ridgway at 7am on Saturday morning and drove up Highway 62 to Last Dollar Road. There was a perfect pull-out not too far off the highway where I left my car and hopped into hers. After getting slightly lost (well, missing the turn), we ended up having to back track, but finally parked about 5 miles away from my car. I left 1 bladder of water at her car for her to leave out for me and then we started our run.

It started off gently uphill before getting a nice half mile or so of downhill and then ALL THE UPHILL. For 5 miles and at least 1500' of gain. Okay...the fact that it was called "Last Dollar Road" and not "Such-and-such Pass" had me thinking this wouldn't be THAT bad. Boy was I wrong. I essentially settled into a nice uphill power hike for 5 miles. At about 5.5, Laurie headed back to her car and I was on my own for the remaining 25 1/2 miles (wow that sounds depressing - I'm glad I didn't calculate that at the time)!

These views made the uphill a bit more bearable!

Laurie running up ahead!

We had mostly reached the high point of the road when she headed back, so that meant I now got to run downhill towards Telluride. And IT. WAS. HEAVENLY. Seriously, THIS is why I endure the uphill. For the amazingly blissful downhill miles to the most gorgeous views of the San Juan Mountains. It was wonderful. Definitely my favorite part of the run! I ran down, down, and more down for 5 miles total. I needed enough distance that I could have kept going further towards Telluride, but I decided against it. Turning back now would mean that I would have to add mileage later on, which I'm never a fan of (it's pretty tough mentally to add mileage at the end when you just want to be done!), but I knew that if I kept going "out", I'd drop another 1000 feet - which would mean another 1000' feet on the way back. Additionally, it would put me at 25-26 miles before I had access to refilling my water. I know from experience that I typically run out of water around 20 miles. So I figured I had better turnaround now. It was a HOT day, and running out of water would not be good.

The views from the high point! You can see Wilson Peak and Lizard Head!
The first section of down! It was wonderful!

Seriously, gorgeous!

So I turned around and run/walked/hiked back up the 5 miles I had just descended. It was definitely not as much fun, especially the last mile towards to the top. That was a struggle and my longest mile of the day. I hadn't done this much climbing in a LONG time, and I could feel it wearing me out until FINALLY I reached the high point again. I took a quick break to enjoy the views again before starting another descent. I was now 15 miles in, and I'm not going to lie, I was much more tired than I had hoped to be by mile 15. All the climbing had really gotten to me. But at least I was going "down" again for awhile and could hopefully recover a bit. There was a great overlook about a mile into my next downhill section so I stopped there for a minute for some pictures and kept going. Another mile down there was a pretty good shady section, so I decided to back-track and add two miles by turning around for one mile and running back down it (while I was in some shade). I then kept at the down all the way back to our starting point. About 1 mile from where we started (and where my water refill was waiting) I ended up running out of water, but thankfully, just as I had planned, my refill was waiting for me. I was at about 22 miles at this point. I refilled my pack and stopped for some snacks before heading back the 5 miles towards my car.

The overlook one mile from the high point.
The view from the overlook.
Had to get at least one selfie!

It had been so long since we drove it that morning that I really didn't remember much about this section. It ended up being a mix of nice gradual up and downhills. I was extremely tired and hot by this point so I was moving MUCH slower than I wanted - walking A LOT - but I kept moving and that's the most important thing. It was tough mentally - I kept thinking, "how in the world am I going to run 100 miles if I am this tired doing 30?". But I kept at it. With about 2 miles back to the car came the most amazing views of the Sneffels Range (my favorite view in the state of Colorado). That helped boost me mentally a bit - along with the fact that the route became a bit of a steeper downhill, so running was easier. I continued on and finally made it back to my car at Mile 27.

The Sneffels Range coming into view!
Can I live here please?

Now was the tough part though. It had been SUCH a long day and I was exhausted. 27 miles is pretty good right? Did I REALLY need to go back out for 4 more? Honestly, probably not. I'm sure 4 miles doesn't mean much in the scheme of a full training cycle. BUT I knew it would bother me. I knew when the going gets tough in my 100 that I would probably think back to that, and it wouldn't help my mental game. I'd think about how I had quit. On top of that, I had also told several people I was doing this and I didn't want to come up short (would they actually care? Probably not - but it helped me to justify going back out). So I did it - I refilled my water again and headed back up the road I had just descended. I mostly power hiked, but I told myself that was okay. You're going to be power hiking in the ultra. All that matters is time on your feet.

I kept going and going. Of course every mile was SO slow and took so long. But finally I made it back out 2 miles - back to that gorgeous spot with the views of the Sneffels Range. Took a moment to remember why I was out here and what it is I love about running in the mountains. And then I turned around, turned some music on, and ran back down to my car - finishing 31.5 miles with 5,084' elevation gain, and feeling oh so happy (and proud of myself for sticking with it and finishing ALL 31 miles)!

That view!

Moving Time: 6:52:13
Elapsed Time: 7:53:24 (so apparently I wasted AN ENTIRE HOUR taking little breaks here and there and taking pictures - kind of sad - but I guess it just adds up!)
Average Pace: 13:14 minutes/mile
Elevation Gain: 5,084 Feet (much more than I expected!)
Minimum Elevation: 8,808 feet
Maximum Elevation: 10,702 feet (that's pretty high!)
Splits: 10:38, 12:14, 15:30, 16:25, 15:36, 11:42, 10:14, 10:30, 9:31, 9:56, 12:46, 16:26, 16:20, 19:33, 16:24, 9:57, 10:54, 9:34, 18:06, 9:38, 11:35, 15:41, 13:03, 14:51, 13:27, 14:33, 9:48, 15:13, 17:23, 14:43, 8:58 (clearly I wanted to be done!!!)

Route Map and Elevation Profile


So of course, that day, I was feeling pretty discouraged. I was exhausted by Mile 15 and slogged through a run/walk to finish all 31.5 miles. But, now that I've had time to think about it I feel better. For starters the route I choose had WAY more elevation gain than I had planned for, and given that, my average pace was not bad AT ALL. Plus the fact that of course I was slower than I'd be in a race because of lack of crowd support and just that general feeling of knowing the clock is ticking. I also had no aid stations and had to rely solely on what I brought (with a little bit of extra water waiting for me at mile 22 miles). This was also one of my first long "trail" runs in long time (even though it was technically a dirt road). I had done a 22 mile road run a few weeks prior, but the added time per mile really adds up in trail and mountain running - which is just something that takes time to adjust to. I've now had 2 long runs again in the weeks following - an 18 and a 21, both on trails and they felt better (obviously I know that is still a lot less than 31 - but I felt like I could keep going). I think there is just a transition period when you get back into trail running, and I feel like I'm now doing better getting used to it. Obviously, I still have a lot of work cut out for me and that 100 is NOT going to be a walk in the park, but I am feeling better and I know this 50K helped! I look forward to continuing my training throughout the next month and half which will include at least one 50 miler!

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