While the autumnal reds and oranges might not be as prolific out here as they are on the East Coast, the golden aspen groves shining boldly against the evergreens and blue bird sky is a stunning sight to behold.
Naturally, there’s no better way to appreciate the new season than to run through the hills for 50 odd miles ;-)
As the sun rose a few miles into the Run Rabbit Run race on Saturday and illuminated the shimmering aspens I wished I hadn’t decided to race this race and had strapped my camera to my waist belt for a leisurely long run instead.
Fortunately, Ryan had lots of down time since there was only one crew accessible aid station where he could see me, so he was able to capture the autumnal magic on this idyllic Rocky Mountain day.
Those pointy features in the photo below are the iconic “Rabbit Ears” after which this race was named. We started at the base of the Mt Werner ski mountain in the town of Steamboat Springs, ran for 25 miles to the rabbit ears and then retraced our steps all the way back. The course was gorgeous and allowed me to experience a new area of Colorado that I’d never seen before.
Although we spent most of the day running at 10,000 feet above sea level, it felt more like a journey through beautiful hill country than rough and rugged mountain terrain. While the 50 miles absolutely presented their fair share of unexpected challenges and I definitely struggled through certain sections (and managed to face-plant… twice), overall, I felt that the course was very runnable. In a way, having trained on much harder ground made this course feel comparatively “easy” (I use that word with hesitation because there’s nothing easy about running 50 miles…).
The bulk of the 9000′ of elevation gain was concentrated in a few sections and I would describe the rest as moderately rolling or even, in some sections, flat out flat! Similar to my experience at the North Fork 50K earlier this summer, my legs weren’t used to being able to move so swiftly for so long. That was definitely my biggest challenge out there.
Right from the start Kerri Bruxvoort darted out in front and disappeared into the darkness. The rest of the way up to the summit of Mt Werner I knew she was the only woman ahead of me (La Sportiva runner, Pam Smith, who ended up winning and who also just recently won the TransRockies and placed 4th place at this year’s 100KM World Championship, was hot on my heels for the first 12 miles) but I didn’t give it too much thought. These women are way out of my league so I needed to focus on running my own race at a pace that was far enough beyond my comfort zone to be considered “race mode” but not so far beyond it that I wouldn’t be able to survive for 50 miles. This is the challenge of ultras. Where is that balance between being reckless and being too conservative? Pushing hard, but not too hard but not not hard enough either. I raced several 50K’s this summer so that distance and threshold was fresh in my mind but this race was 20 miles longer… how much should I hold back comparatively, if at all? It’s impossible to figure that out, so I decided not to think about that and just focus on settling into a good groove instead. I memorized the distances between the aid stations but ignored the cumulative distances. I split the race into halves and each half into 5 sections and tackled each one individually. Here is where I think there’s an advantage in not using a GPS watch. I feel that I was able to really focus on my mind and body in each section without dwelling on numbers or translating numbers into feelings. I think that if I would have known how quickly I was moving (‘quickly’ for me) then I may have found myself holding back for fear that I was running “too fast” for the distance when, in fact, it was probably just about right.
Anyways, fast forward to mile 22, the Dumont aid station, the only crew-accessible point on the course.
A dangerous beer-drinking beast was lurking about this aid station…!
Thankfully I missed all of that excitement and the only black furry monster I had to deal with at this aid station was a particularly cute one who spotted me right away and led me straight towards Ryan…
[Photo by © Monarch Running]
…but not before running a few celebratory circles around me first ;-)
After sitting around for hours waiting for me to come through, all of the sudden Ryan had about 15 seconds to juggle ten million things simulteneously: photograph me, catch whatever I threw at him (my headlamp, gloves, a gross banana peel, my sweaty shirt, etc), follow me into the aid station, update me with any potentially useful or entertaining information, get an update from me on how I was feeling, and keep track of Kea who was ready to run off into the woods with me forever and ever!
From here we had a 5.4 mile section to the turn around point and back. In the meantime, Kea sat around patiently…
…and made sure the coast was clear of any squirrels.
The climb up to the half-way point at the iconic Rabbit Ears was short ‘n steep. I power hiked up and saw the lead men and the two top women coming down. Pam had taken the lead but Kerri was only a few seconds behind her. They were both about 15 minutes ahead of me. Realistically, I knew they were out of reach but I was pumped to see that they weren’t all that far ahead of me.
I high-fived the volunteers at the Rabbit Ears, turned around and headed back the way I had come. 25 miles in 4 hours 41 minutes. If I could run the second half as well as the first then I could finish in 9:20… would I be able to do that?!
By now Kea knows how this game works. She ran out to meet me and escorted me very enthusiastically back into the aid station. It was mile 28 now.
Ryan shoved 2 orange slices down my throat and, for whatever reason, felt compelled to tell me that Pam had taken the lead off of Kerri when Kerri had stepped in to use the port-a-potty at the aid station. So I promptly updated him on my own bathroom business: I had had to pop behind a tree 3 times already (and would have to do so 4 more times…)
How many of you just read that as “poop behind a tree”?! :-p My apologies to any non-runners reading this. Toilet talk is as much part of ultra running as is anything else.
Anyways, I headed back into the woods to retrace my steps for the remaining 22 miles. I wouldn’t see Ryan and Kea again until the finish.
I knew exactly what I had ahead of me and just focused on zipping through the 3.9 miles to the Basecamp aid station and then 5.2 miles to the Long Lake aid station. I knew that these 10 miles were (relatively) flat and fast so ran them hard. I came through the Basecamp aid station (at roughly the 50km mark) at about 5 hours 45 minutes feeling about the same as I had felt the first time through. I had been leap-frogging with a pack of guys for the past 3 hours but in these miles I passed them one final time. From here on out I was all alone.
Of course it was somewhere along this least technical section of the course that I took my second and stupidest fall of the day. Unfortunately, I didn’t land on a soft tuft of grass this time. I took advantage of the sudden surge of adrenaline and got up before my body had a chance to register what had just happened.
The penultimate section, 7 miles from Long Lake to the top of Mount Werner, was the roughest and slowest section for me. The trail climbed shallowly but steadily. It wasn’t steep enough to force you to walk just ever so slightly inclined to tempt you. This is where the ‘mind over body’ aspect came out to play. Every now and then I took three, four or five walking steps but that was all I allowed myself. I had to stay in “running mode” or else the minutes would start to add up quickly and my mind would begin to unravel. According to the live updates, apparently I made up some time on Pam and Kerri on this section so I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only one who struggled here.
Then, what hadn’t seemed like such a big deal 3600′ climb at the start of the day became a cruel joke to descend at the end. The last thing your broken muscles want at mile 44 is 6.4 miles of downhill. Despite the fact that I had taken the steep inside turns on the way up, I veered wide on every bend on the way down in an attempt to ease the pounding. Eventually I just gave in to it and embraced the mantra “the faster you run, the sooner you’re done”. Running down a ski service road is not enjoyable “trail” running so at this point I just wanted to see the finish line. When I finally came onto the last bend a guy yelled out “2 km to go!” I knew I could push through anything in these final few minutes. I knew that the 2 women ahead of me were probably done by now and that the woman behind me was not a threat but I decided to unleash the last bit of power I could find to see if I could break 9:10 just for my own sake.
As promised, the “designated hugger” gave me a big embrace and an even bigger beer mug at the finish line at the base of the ski mountain. Another 50 miles done and a personal best of 9:09!
I’m not sure if I’m more pleased that I was “only” 22 minutes behind Salomon-sponsored Kerri or that I managed to sneak into the top 10 overall or that I’ve got the 5th fastest female time on that course since 2007 or that I was just 1 spot shy of winning the coveted guaranteed entry into WS100… or that I simply shattered all of my goals at this race. I couldn’t be happier.
Someone else in particular couldn’t have been happier to see me finish…
…and didn’t seem to mind at all that I was so smelly and dirty!
Thanks to my champion coach, training partner, photographer, crew, cheerleader, banana peeler, sweaty clothes holder, TransAlpine survivor, husband extraordinaire! September has been a helluva month for us!
|MY FINISH STATS|
|Total distance (miles)
Average pace (min/mile)
Congratulations to all the other runners out there who finished the RRR50, including my NYC friends Susie & Joe, and first-timer Alberto! Also a huge hats-off to those who braved the insanely challenging inaugural 100M course.