The first river crossing wasn’t too bad I thought. I came up to the second crossing feeling confident. I leapt half way across in a single bound. My foot wobbled. The river was merciless. In a split second I was face down, plunged into the icy cold raging torrent. It was 5:25am and things were already getting rough. In the next several miles there would be 10 more of these river crossings as we gained more than 4,500ft to top out at close to 13,000ft onto a snow covered ridge line. And this was only the first 9 miles.
Welcome to the San Juan Solstice 50 mile race.
Although I’d run this race before and was thus accustomed to the degree of suffering I was about to let myself in for, there is a tendency to look back on that suffering with a certain degree of lightheartedness and in fact, fondness. The reality however comes crashing down like a ton of bricks somewhere towards the top of the first climb. It is not in fact fun, to suffer like this.
I came into the second aid station at mile 15 ish and I was cooked. The descent from the ridge had taken its toll and I suspected I was still feeling the after effects of my last race with groin, knee and foot issues all adding to my overall state of tiredness. I had underestimated this race and overestimated my capacity to race so soon again.
Embarrassment may have been the only thing stopping me from dropping at Williams Campground. I set off after an unusually long stop at the aid station. The thought of the next 15 miles filled me with dread. I was about to get a lesson in the true meaning of suffering.
I could go into detail about all the demons and internal strife I went through in the next 15 miles but you’ve all been there. It’s not important what you went through or how tough it was but only that you got through it. Above all this course was beautiful and I was running it. We climbed up to the Continental Divide and cruised along majestic snow covered ridges with views across to 14,000ft peaks in the distance. I was alone. I was hurting. I was getting it done. These are the ones you remember.
I descended off the divide and into the mile 31 aid station. I really really wanted to quit.
Luckily for me Cassie and Silke were at the Yurt aid station cheering for the RMR crew. The best thing about having your friends and family out there is that they wont let you quit. The worst thing about having your friends and family out there is that they wont let you quit.
I have no idea why but I left the aid station without dropping. I think Cassie and Silke just confused and cajoled me out of there before I knew what was going on. Dam it. I would have to finish this thing.
I did slowly start to feel better as the day rolled on. Never great but not as terrible as the first 31 miles.I focused on the positives. I forced myself to run more despite the difficulty. My hiking was still pretty good. I started to look around more and took in the incredible wild flowers, the aspen groves, the snowy peaks in the distance and the fact I was still running in 3rd place. The thought of snagging one of the top 3 finisher paintings kept me going.
The last several miles of the day were probably my best. The finish started to look realistic and I glanced back on several occasions and saw nobody chasing. I’m not sure I could have fought of a challenge. I cruised down the last descent and into town and reflected on the difficulty of getting here. I crossed the line in 3rd place in 9 hours 17 minutes. Faster than my previous time here the year before but short of my 9 hour target.
I’ve never, in any race, looked back at it either immediately after or in hindsight with anything other than positive feelings. If you can’t learn something from a race or take something good away from it then you aren’t in this sport for the right reasons. This might have been the most satisfying race I’ve ever done. I lined up at the start ready, gave it everything, hurt like I’ve never hurt before and ultimately finished it. I got to run in the mountains with beautiful scenery, share it with some incredible people and spend a great weekend in a fantastic place. There is no such thing as a bad race! I’m already looking forward to the next one…