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!

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