Sunday, September 16, 2018

Crested Butte 105K (DNF)

After loving the Crested Butte 55K last year, I knew I wanted to give the 105K a shot this year. It is a beautiful course, and an absolutely perfect time to be in the mountains during the peak of fall color. Plus, after I decided not to try another 100 miler this year, I knew I still wanted to do a "big" trail race for the year so I figured the 105K would be perfect!

However, as the race got closer and the more I started looking into the details of the course, the more I realized this course was going to be a serious challenge for me. At 15,000' of elevation gain, this would by-far be the hardest ultra I'd done, especially of this length. I knew from doing the 55K, that it would be no joke of a course, but the time cutoffs for the shorter distance are pretty generous that most people should be able to complete the course, albeit it may be a long day. The 105K course on the other hand, has much stricter cut-off times - meaning that if you are a back-of-the-packer like myself, you have the added stress of not being sure if you can make the time cutoffs...

In the week before the race, I did some pace calculations and the only time cut-off I was really worried about was the 42.5 mile / 4:00pm (12 hours overall). By my calculations (which are really such a loose estimate because you never know how race day is going to go), if all went well, I would make it to 42.5 at 3:50pm... that did not give me much room for error throughout the day. Nevertheless, I hoped for the best and was determined to give it a go!

The race started Saturday morning at 4:00am and so after have a leisurely Friday morning packing, I finally hit the road a little after 1:00, getting into Crested Butte just before 4pm. I met up with Lynne, a fellow Moose Herd Ambassador who I was sharing a room with, and we went over to packet pick-up where we got all of our swag (a long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, and socks!). I later went and met up with Colleen, a friend who used to live in Grand Junction, and we got dinner in downtown Crested Butte, before I headed back to TRY and get some sleep before my 3:00am alarm clock went off the next morning!

After one of the worst nights of sleep ever, I was up way too early to get ready for the race! I quickly got up and ready, had coffee and my bagel, and then Lynne and I slowly made our way over the start line. We were actually a little pressed on time, but I didn't have too much time to stress about it because as soon as we arrived, checked in, and handed our drop bags off, the race officially started! There were only 25 starters in the 105K, but in the dark it didn't feel overly small at the time, as I watched headlamps run off into the distance in front of me, and I settled into a nice groove in the back of the pack.

The first 7 miles were the same as the first 7 of the 55K from the year before, but being the dark it was a whole different experience! The race starts at the ski lift, as you then run along the base of the Mt. Crested Butte for 5 miles, mostly through gorgeous aspen trees (not that I could see much of them in the dark)! While some of the trail is smooth, a lot of these first 5 miles are extremely rocky, which made navigating them in the dark that much more difficult.

Had to document running in the dark!

At about mile 4-1/2, you head down several switchbacks before dropping onto Brush Creek Road for a little over a mile, before leaving the well trafficked road to head up to the first aid station at around 7.5 miles. I quickly stopped into this aid station and grabbed a few snacks before heading back out. I was about an hour and 40 minutes in to the race at this point and had about another hour before the sun would finally make it's way up. About a quarter mile after leaving the aid station, the course finally made it's split between the two courses, as the 105K course headed right.

We had a couple miles of winding trail through trees. After a mile or so of uphill, I decided to get out my trekking poles just in time for the course to flatten out so I didn't' actually need them (figures). Since the 105K had so few runners, I was pretty much alone from here on out (I had been mostly alone from the beginning, but at least then I could see headlamps in front of me, now I couldn't see anyone).

Finally, about 2-1/2 hours into the race, I could see the horizon lightening! It would still be another hour or so before the sun actually made it all the way up, but it was still a welcome site nonetheless! I kept making my way uphill for several more miles before finally getting a couple of incredibly awesome downhill miles into the Walrod Aid Station at Mile 14.

The first signs of daylight!


As I arrived to the Walrod Aid Station, I was just a little ahead of my pace calculations and feeling good at this point. After having some really good tater tots (seriously, they were delicious - I think because they were hot and it was still really chilly out given that the sun wasn't all the way up yet) and grabbing a few things from my drop bag, I headed out and started to make my way up the second climb of the day (there are 5 total climbs on this course - with the last 2 being the hardest). Even though we had had one small climb earlier on, this one was definitely steeper and I immediately started getting worried about my pace. I felt like my legs just did not want to go uphill. When I had done my pace calculations I had really expected to be able to do 18-20 minute uphill miles, and here I was doing over 20 minute miles...and I was only in the second climb of the day...

Nevertheless, I just kept at it, trying really hard not to get too worried about the time cutoffs. There was no use stressing over them now, and on a race of this distance I didn't want to be over working this early on and end up blowing up later... so I tried as hard as I could to put it from my mind and just keeping moving! After a couple miles, we finally had some nice downhill to the aid station which I had thought was at Mile 20, but right as my watch hit 20 miles, I started seeing some of the runners ahead of me coming back up towards me... apparently we had an out-and-back to this aid station, which really ended up being at Mile 21.

The fall colors really were AMAZING!

I ran into the Cement Creek Aid Station (Mile 21) and said hello to Vale who was going to pace me for the last 10 miles later that day (assuming I made it that far). I told her I was worried about making the cutoffs, but we would just see what happened. I had 9 miles to the next aid station, so I filled my pack, had some coke, and grabbed some chips and cookie before heading back on the out-and-back section. We were now heading into climb #3 - which was once again harder than the climb before it. My second mile into this climb was a 29 minute mile... seriously? What was going on with me today? I should NOT be hiking a 29 minute mile! It was steep, but it wasn't THAT steep. I could try and over analyze a million reasons why, but I'm just going to chalk it up to simply having an off day...

I spent the next couple miles being a serious Debbie Downer... until finally I reached the top of the third climb where I got a much needed slap in the face by the views... They were incredible and they so quickly reminded me that THIS is why I was out here... It wasn't to run a certain time... I was here to enjoy being in the mountains. To enjoy the fall scenery. To enjoy running. This is why I do this. This is why I get out here. Not to do well at a race, but to enjoy being here. No one cares about my finish time but me, so why was I getting so worked up about having an off day? It reminded me to be thankful that I am fit enough to be able to get out and do things like this!

The views that gave me a much needed slap in the face to remind me why I do this!

I spent the next several miles truly taking in the views and just enjoying it. At this point I was 90% sure that yes, I was going to miss the 4:00 cut-off... but I would not let that ruin my day. I would still run up until that point and I would enjoy it in the process!

And so that's what I did. We had several miles of downhill running back down to the Mile 29 aid station. I filled up on coke and a PB&J before heading out again. We had just 3 miles of gradual uphill along a road before reaching the Crystal Peak Aid Station. Here I had an awesome Nutella sandwich and some more coke before heading out from this aid station - and into my last section of the course before my day would be over - what I thought was a 10 mile stretch from here to the Teocalli Aid Station (it ended up being more like 12, which totally threw me off mentally at the end).

Seriously, these fall colors!!!

Laura took this of me running into the Mile 29 Aid Station!

I thought this mountain was so cool looking!

As I left the Crystal Peak Aid Station, I knew we had 3 more pretty steep miles to the top of a pass. Since uphill was not working for me well today, I was dreading these, but I knew that after those 3 miles, it was a really long downhill stretch which was going to be awesome... So I headed out and up.. After about 2 miles we came to the top of what seemed like a mountain pass, and what ended up being my absolute favorite section of the entire day. The mountains were so incredibly stunning! As we reached this section, we headed down for about a quarter of a mile, before heading back up for another half of a mile to another pass (not sure if they were both passes, or part of the same). Now we were officially at the end of the climbing (for this section), and at the high point of the course - at 12,300'.

I soaked up the views as best as I could, had a quick snack break, and then got ready for the long descent down. It was about 3:30pm at this point, so I knew making the 4:00 cutoff wasn't going to happen. I had what I thought was 7 miles back down (turned out to be more like 9), so I set a little personal goal to try and make it to the aid station by 5pm. This goal actually seemed to get my spirits up and I was actually running a lot, passing 2 people along this section... until mile 7 came and went and the aid station felt like it was never going to arrive. My 5:00pm goal also came and went...and still no aid station.

Nevertheless, I kept at it... (although, not going to lie, the longer that aid station took to arrive, the slower I got...) one of the runners I had passed earlier ended up passing me again. I said I would try to keep up with him, but it didn't work. My spirits just kind of died in that 2 mile stretch of miles I wasn't expecting...  Finally, we got onto a short section of single-track that I recognized from the 55K last year which did have me thinking I actually was close to the aid station this time - and sure enough, about 1/3 mile later I made it in... about 1-1/2 hours AFTER the 4pm cut-off.

Obviously I had already known my race was going to be over for awhile now, but getting here and realizing it was officially over was a combination of disappointment and sadness but also a little bit of relief given how tired I was and how "off" I had felt all day...

So there you have it... my 13.5 hour / 42.5 mile day. It was definitely not what I had planned and looking back on it, I still cannot believe how much I missed the time cutoff by. I would like to come back another year and try to redeem myself, but knowing I need to knock off an entire 90 minutes is a little daunting... I know I was having an off day, and I know my training was not what I wanted it to be given an injury in July that had me sidelined for 4 weeks during peak training season... but if I come back I am going to have to work extremely hard. That being said, I did take an hour and 20 minutes off of my Leadville 50 Miler time this year, so anything is possible, right?

Race: Crested Butte Ultras - 105K
Date: September 15, 2018
Distance: 105K (65ish miles) - I completed 42.5 of those miles.
Weather: 40's at the start, high 70's in the afternoon (it was HOT during the exposed sections)
Elevation Gain: Website says 15,000, Trail Run Project Profile says 12,329'. I got a little under 9000' in my 42.5 miles.
General Race Stats: 25 Starters / 13 Finishers (the 55K is much more popular - over 100 in that race)

Course Map

Elevation Profile


Even though I only ran the first 42.5 miles of this course, I feel like I can comment on the entirely of the course because the last 22.5 miles that I missed all overlap in the 55K that I did last year... and while last year I said I loved this course, I can honestly say now that the 105K course is even better! It was so beautiful and covered such a wide variety of terrain and views. It was challenging, but in an awesome way. While the DNF is of course disappointing, I don't regret it at all. I'm glad I gave it go and I'm glad I ran those 42.5 miles.

In general, this is a hard course. The low finishers rate clearly shows that, so just be prepared going into this (and not just in elevation gain - also a lot of the terrain in general is technical and tough). Also, with only 25 starters you are essentially alone the entire race - so be prepared for that...but hopefully as the event continues and gains more recognition the overall numbers will go up!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Telluride Mountain Run 22 Miler (DNF)

Last weekend I attempted the Telluride Mountain Run 22 Miler... I say "attempted" because I ended the day with my second ever "DNF" (did not finish). I knew going into this race that it was going to be a seriously tough mountain run... but it was "only" 22 miles. I run 50 milers, I've done a 100... surely it will be no problem (well I don't know about "no problem", but at least "doable" right?).  Boy was I mistaken... this was by-far the most unique, difficult, insane trail race I've ever done...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning...

I signed up for the Telluride Mountain Run just a few weeks prior to the race. I knew I needed a long training run with a lot of elevation gain that day and my friend Heather offered to let me stay with her before the race - meaning I wouldn't have to pay for lodging. I also LOVE the San Juan Mountains (if you haven't seen me post about that All. The. Time.) and I hadn't been to Telluride in awhile, so I figured this would be perfect! The website did have a few scary disclaimers such as:

"You should know... there are sections of this course that are extremely technical, steep and loose. This is a MOUNTAIN RUN- participants will be running to altitudes of over 13,000 ft on exposed ridgelines and steep, rocky summits. The trails are extremely rocky and at times there are no trails at all. There are many sections of this course that will be exposed to falls, potential rockfall and hazardous weather. There will be safety personnel along sections of the route monitoring these hazards but all participants should be responsible for their own safety. THIS IS NOT AN EVENT FOR BEGINNERS."

So yes, I saw all of this...and was prepared (or so I thought). I knew the majority of this rocky/exposed section was just during the ascent of 13,320' Palmyra Peak - which was only about 2 miles of the entire race (1 mile up and 1 mile back down). Yes it would be difficult, but I'd just have a slow 2 miles of the race and the rest of it would be great...right??

I got into Telluride around 5pm on Friday night. Heather had already picked up my packet for me so we all just had a relaxing evening at her place (her and I were doing the 22 miler, and her friends Ben and Amber were doing the 38 Miler) complete with a super fancy meal cooked by her husband, Josh (thanks!). We all headed to bed at a decent hour to try and get some sleep before the 7am race start (5am for the 38 miler). I actually woke up pretty early and after some tossing and turning finally decided to get up for a leisurely breakfast as we slowly made our way to the race start!

All ready for the next days race (or so we thought!)

There were a little over 40 starters for the race and we all gathered as the race director told us a few last minute things before the start, such as "there are ropes to help you get to the top of Palmyra Peak"... (um... what? ropes... the website did not mention ropes... what are we getting into??). Nevertheless, I didn't have much time to worry about this, as we were off right at 7:00am... it was a constant uphill grind for the first 5 miles as we made our way from the town of Telluride (8,700') up to Gold Hill (12,700'). Going into the race I was wondering what type of people would be signed up for this (really hardcore local runners who are used to crazy mountain climbs or a mix with some normal people thrown in). Sure enough, it was mostly all super hardcore runners because from the get-go I was in the back... ohwell, I still felt confident at this point that I'd have no problem finishing this race (it wasn't going to be fast by any means, but surely I'd finish).

Beautiful morning sunrise as we made our way to the start line!

As expected, the first 5 miles were basically just slow and steady as we made our way up, up, and more up. I was glad to have my trekking poles and just get into a steady uphill grind. While it was a LOT of elevation gain, I was thankful that this was on the "Telluride Trail", which was basically a jeep road, which meant it wasn't overly technical and I could maintain a decent hiking pace - getting to the 4.2 mile aid station (and first cut-off) in 1 hour and 40 minutes (cut-off was 2.5 hours). I felt pretty good about this as I had half of a PB&J and headed out and up yet another giant hill...which would take me to my absolute favorite views of the whole course... Seriously, I could've just stopped racing and hung out here for the rest of the day (which had I known the outcome of this race...just might have...). After stopping for way too many pictures, I then saw a sign pointing us to a turn which took us to our first downhill of the day...and my first taste of what was to come in the day...

Perspective on some of these hills!

Next time I'm taking a ride up!

My favorite section of the course!  (Palmyra Peak to the right - we would go way back down before going up again to reach the summit).

The trail going down the side of Gold Hill was so steep and so incredibly rocky I started to get a little worried about the Palmyra Peak section that would be coming up from miles 5.5 - 7.5.... that worrying picked up drastically when I saw our fellow racers up ahead and realized we were going down what looked like about 1000 feet (although was really only about 500' - didn't feel like that as we headed BACK UP IT a short while later though), before we would then cross a gully and then head back up the side of Palmyra Peak... ohwell, it is what it is right? So I started the trek down. I had been chatting with a fellow runner, Lauren, and we were both clearly not huge fans of the technical down so we stuck together a bit on this section, as Heather who I was in front of on the climbs, came speeding past me on the downs. I like non-technical downhill running, but technical, rocky downhill running...not so much...

About to head back down before going back up - if you zoom in, you can see runners heading up the side of the peak!

Heading down from Gold Hill

Made it to the gully, before we went right back up towards the peak!

We finally made our way to the bottom of this gully before we crossed and then started heading up the side of Palmyra Peak... on what was most definitely NOT a trail at all, and what felt like a 60% minimum grade... It was so steep I felt like I would fall backwards if I didn't lean forward enough. At this point, we had about 1000' of climbing to reach the top of Palmyra Peak. On a definied trail that would probably take about 30-45 minutes depending on how technical it was... on "no trail" seriously took forever. I finally reached the top of this one side of the peak, and then we turned and had to go up the ridgeline. You could see people up ahead and but it seriously felt never ending. I kept going up, up and more up but it didn't feel like I was making progress. Finally, I left the grassy section and started up the rocky, loose dirt/scree mix. About 1/3 mile from the top I reached the first rope. The rope was very helpful but unfortunately it wasn't very long and I quickly surpassed that section, and kept going up. There was one more rope on another section but this section had some actual climbing which was pretty tough. They had two race personal watching this section as well and as I was climbing up it I hear one of them speak into his walkie, "can we get a status report on lighting - the peak is in the way and we can't see." This was what I wanted to hear as I made my way to the summit.... (thankfully there wasn't any lightning yet...).

Going up the "no trail, insanely steep section - I am not holding the camera low to get this angle - it was THAT steep!

They aren't kidding...

Getting past the grassy sections to the loose, rocky, scree...


After this section I just had a little ways to go and then I finally reached the summit (well kind of - we technically weren't all the way on the summit, but it was the official turnaround for the race which was FINE with me!). After all of that constant uphill I did take a short break at the top for some pictures and to let a couple faster people start the descent before me (the fast people from the 13 miler which had started an hour later were catching up with us). Then I tried as best as I could and braced myself for the downhill (this is what I was DREADING. I can handle uphill, steep, loose, rocky, scary downhill is NOT my forte by a long shot). The downhill started with a short rope which helped but then it was gone all too soon... I SO, so, so slowly made my way down, down and more down. Honestly this downhill section should be like 5 paragraphs because of how long it took me, but there's not much to say other than I seriously struggled this whole section and could not WAIT to get done...

View from the top!

Heading back down - that's Heather still going up (don't worry, she caught up to me on the down!)

Looking back up at what we had just done after FINALLY making it most of the way down.

Finally, about 2.5 hours AFTER I started the 2 mile climb up and down Palmyra, I had FINALLY made it down (you have NO idea how happy I was to be done with this section!). Unfortunately, I was now starting to worry that this section had taken me so long that I was now going to be seriously pressed to make the remaining time cutoffs for the race. I was only a little over 7 miles in at this point and it was about 11:30am. I had to get to Mile 15.5 by 1:30pm. 2 hours to go 8 miles. On road, no problem. A seriously tough mountain run... this was going to be tough. The first few miles were downhill (and not crazy downhill anymore like before), so I was able to make up a little time, running some 10:00-12:00 minute miles... but I knew we were going to be doing some major uphill again, because that 15.5 cutoff was back at Goldhill (12,700').

Looking out towards Alta Lakes after almost being done with Palmyra Peak!

I rolled into the Mile 7.5 aid station (4.5 hours in mind you - for ONLY 7.5 miles!) - grabbed some coke and PB&J as quickly as I could (since I was now chasing cutoffs) and headed out. This was honestly one of the first times I've really had to "chase" cutoffs and it was stressful... Heather had gotten ahead of me on the downhill again, so I was determined to catch her as I tried my best to pick up my pace on the "non technical" downhill stretch. After about 3 miles, I reached an open ski run when I caught her, just in time to officially lose the trail. We decided to go up the ski run which we weren't sure was right but did anyways... After awhile, we started down again but then weren't sure this was right, so stopped for a bit to try and figure it out... we didn't have time for this, we were already chasing the cutoff to get back to Gold Hill.... after deliberating for awhile, we saw a road up ahead and decided to get to that and see where it took us. We got on the road and eventually saw some course markings so we were pretty sure we were back on course and had just added some extra mileage somewhere (still not really sure what we did wrong - one major complaint I had was the course markings - they were not clear, and they were the same color that the Ski resort used....which just added to the confusion).

Running through the Alta Lakes section.

Nevertheless, we thought we were back on trail now, so we remained on this - through a rolling section of ups and downs. I kept wondering WHEN the climb would appear... we were at 10,000' something and we needed to get back up to 12,800'... when was that going to happen?? FINALLY, we seemed to be going in an uphill direction and we eventually saw another runner up ahead. We headed up a dirt road for awhile... and then the all of a sudden the course went off the road and just straight up a seriously steep ski run without a trail... Seriously? Again? It's like they were trying to torture us. We headed up it and then saw some volunteers at the top of the run. By this point it was after the 1:30 cutoff, so I figured they were here to officially stop us (especially because it was thundering at this point and the aid station was above treeline). We still had to make it to them at the top though which was FINALLY did.

I didn't ever ask if we could officially finish (something I regret now), I just assumed since they were here that meant we were done. We were at about 17 miles by now (because of getting off course - would've been 15 or so had we not). We could've gotten a ride down but we had to wait for 6 more people on the course, so I opted to run the Telluride Trail back to down (which was a dirt road). Heather opted to join me, especially since we had no idea how long we would have to wait for the other people on the course. Meanwhile it started raining, so we got out our rain jackets and made our way the 3 miles back down to the finish area... feeling defeated, soaking wet, seriously bummed, but also very happy to be done at that point...even if it was a DNF.

Thankfully there was a nice warm bar at the finish that Josh and Amber had a table at (Josh was waiting for us - with dry clothes which was super nice given the weather!) and Amber had DNF'd the 38 miler after not feeling well), so we enjoyed some drinks in the warm bar while we waited for Ben to finish the 38 miler.

Heather and I so happy to be done!


This was an absolutely gorgeous race. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the San Juan Mountains are the most beautiful, amazing mountains in if you ever get an opportunity to race here, do it... That being said, this was a seriously HARDCORE race. The website had some disclaimers, but not enough in my opinion. It said "this is not a race for beginners." I think they should change that to "this is a race for ADVANCED mountain runners," as I don't consider myself a beginner and I felt like I was in way over my head on the Palmyra Peak section. I also think they need to extend the time cutoffs. I've never missed a time cutoff in a race before and I did here. The Palmyra Peak section just took so long, I did not have enough time to complete the next 8 mile section before the time cutoff. I think the time cutoffs as they stand now, are not friendly towards mid-to-back of the pack runners like myself given the technicality of this race.

Looking at the results now, they gave 4 people an official finish even though they finished after the 8 hour cut-off time. This has me regretting not at least asking if we could continue on. Given the rain and how defeated we felt, I don't know if I would have continued on (especially with thunder/lightning), but I would have at least liked the option.

Overall, despite the craziness of this race, I'm glad I did it. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone which is always a good thing (even if it doesn't feel like it at the time). It left me thinking that perhaps I could do some of the hardcore races in the San Juans that have intimidated me before (cough, Ouray 50, cough).

To make the most of my weekend in Telluride, I headed out for another run the next day before heading home - running 8 miles on Bear Creek and Wasatch Trail. Thanks so much to Heather and Josh for letting me stay the weekend - it was great, and I will definitely be back next summer for more!

Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak

I've been wanting to hike to the top of Hallett Peak ever since I found out it was the gorgeous mountain towering above Dream and Emera...