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!

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