Summer is fun. As a teacher, I get two months of freedom. Even better, my wife Marcelle and I work at the same school so we have the exact same schedule of days off. This makes planning vacations and weekend trips infinitely easier.
I started looking for a summer 50 last December. I wanted to go somewhere out west where we could have a fun vacation around the race. One January training run, Jeff Davis mentioned I should apply for the lottery for San Juan Solstice as he planned on running the race for the second year in a row. I initially considered this race but was scared away by the altitude. But it is pretty easy to say yes to anything during a run.
Not soon after, I registered for the lottery and got in. I quickly began dreaming up a summer road trip out west around the race.
Pre-Race Road Trip
Marcelle and I spent a day in St Louis on the drive out from Nashville visiting a friend and also spending way too much time at the Forest Park Zoo. Then we had a Clark Griswold Vacation moment in Kansas when I got the car stuck in the mud camping. On to Leadville where we camped for two nights exploring the big mountains and visiting a friend.
Next up, Lake City for a week to settle in for the race. Two more nights of camping before trading the domesticity of the tent and car for a luxurious lakeside cabin with Jeff, Lori, and Conrad.
My biggest fear of this race was the altitude. The course is above 10,000 feet for a little over 34 miles. I had no idea how my body would react. Would I be able to get food down? Would I be able to keep my heart rate at a steady level? Would I be throwing up? Would I be struck by lightning on the Continental Divide? Would I get lost and die? The last one was a dramatic and outlandish fear but an actual question on the race’s FAQ page.
I had been at altitude (8,500-10,000 feet) for 7 days. 6 of those days I had hiked or ran at easy efforts ranging around an hour. In hindsight, I probably did a little too much. But it’s hard not to when you have quick access to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.
I was noticeably breathing harder on all the hikes and runs. I felt like I had a pressure in my chest that slowly shrunk each day but never fully went away. I gained confidence on each excursion that I would be okay during the race. Yeah, the altitude would make things more challenging, but I would eventually make it back to the finish.
I felt that Jeff and I had an unspoken agreement to stay together during the race. This was confirmed the night before the race when he posed the question of us staying together. Neither of us was approaching this as a race. It would be stupid to try and race this coming from sea level, and the course is too dang pretty to run with your head down focused on a time rather than marveling at the surrounding beauty.
I had my usual breakfast of a banana, 2 Lara bars, and a couple scoops of nut butter. This pre-race breakfast always left me full. Almost too full. But I always felt the big breakfast left me satiated throughout the race. The full stomach early on led to problems getting food down that essentially lasted the whole race.
We left the Town Park at 5 a.m. and would loop back after 50 miles and 12,856 feet of up and down respectively.
Mile 0-3: Gravel road with steady incline. Runnable.
Feeling good. I like this easy pace.
Actually, my stomach is still really full from breakfast. Hopefully, that goes away.
A guy runs past using poles.
Are those ski poles?
I am confident I made the right decision in not bringing my trekking poles. Having my hands free will make me eat more consistently.
Everybody is getting spaced out pretty well. Shouldn’t be a conga line once we hit the single track.
It’s starting to get a little brighter. Wow, the mountains are so pretty.
Mile 3-9: Single track and multiple creek crossings. Roughly 4,000 feet of climbing.
Geez, I still feel full. This needs to go away so I can start getting some calories in.
Traffic slows upon hitting the single track and starting the multiple crossings over the next mile.
So much for no conga line.
Oosh, that water was cold. Kinda refreshing.
Come on people, let’s cross these creeks a little faster.
Dang, that was really cold.
Holy cow! That one was really cold.
Alright, I think that was all of the crossings. Time to hike a little faster and warm up.
More crossings ahead.
Oh, two more to cross.
Pretty sure that was it. Now the hiking will get steep.
The long climb truly begins.
You know, what’s the difference between hiking and power hiking?
Holy cow, I feel like my heart is gonna beat out of my head.
Still so full but need to eat.
Dang dude, that’s a lot of spandex. Is this UTMB?
I wish I had my poles.
Look at the mountains. They are beautiful. That’s why you’re doing this. Let that distract you.
Screw this. Why do I pick races with obscene amounts of climbing?
Approaching what seems like the crest with another huge peak in front of us.
Me- “Are we going up that?”
Jeff laughs somewhat maniacally, “Yep.”
Me- “What the eff? You’ve gotta be effing kidding me!”
Mile 9-10: Above tree line and running along the ridge.
Oh, thank goodness. Jeff was wrong. We don’t have to go up that mountain.
Whoa, this is pretty. I take back everything I thought earlier. Totally worth it.
I need to eat. My stomach sort of feels better.
I look at my watch.
Whoa, I just went 3 hours without eating. Not good.
I’m gonna stop and take pictures. Perfect excuse to stop moving.
Mile 10-16: Single track. Big descent. Fun running.
I feel much better after the bathroom break. I think I can start eating.
Maybe not. This is technical. Gotta focus. I’ll eat later.
Starting to catch and pass a few runners.
Oh hey, it’s spandex dude again.
It feels good to pass people.
Just about to the bottom of the descent.
I recognize this from the hike Marcelle and I did on Wednesday. We are getting close to the aid station. And crew!
I’m glad Lori and Conrad are here. I always feel bad when Marcelle is crewing by herself.
Me- “I think I’m gonna change my socks at the aid station. They are still wet from the creek crossings.”
Jeff- “No, we should keep moving. They will get wet later.”
Geez, Jeff. You’re such a drill sergeant.
Mile 16: Williams Aid Station
Marcelle- “Give me your trash.”
I hand over two empty Clif pouches.
Me- “It’s been hard to eat. I’ve only had 200 calories.”
Marcelle- “Ryne, you need to eat. Eat now.”
Mile 16-18: Gravel road. Flattish. Runnable.
Always a nice pick me up to see Marcelle. I’m feeling better. Time to start eating.
Hey, that’s Dakota Jones. I wonder who he is crewing for. I’m gonna try to be funny and ask if we are on pace to break his course record.
“Dakota Jones thought I was funny. Or he’s just really nice.”
He was probably already on the Divide and halfway done at this point. How the heck?
Yes! My stomach is feeling better. I’m gonna be able to catch up on calories.
Mile 18-22: Jeep road. 2,000 feet of climbing.
I remember this climb isn’t supposed to be as steep as the first one. Should be able to hike up at a good pace.
Damn. My stomach is hurting again. I can’t get this food down.
Jeff has been aware of my stomach struggles throughout the race and is offering me any of his food to see if it sounds good. Nothing does.
Jeff- “Don’t make me force feed you.”
Okay, I get it. I have to eat.
Slowing down and starting to get passed.
There goes spandex guy motoring on past. Man, it sucks to get passed by people. Especially when they are wearing nothing but spandex.
I’m gonna put my head down and grunt it out.
Where did Jeff go? Geez, I’m moving slow.
I hope he left me for good and runs his own race. He’s looking good today.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Eat the gel and keep going.
Conrad called the gels baby food the other day. That was funny.
I feel like a baby.
Geez! Will this climb ever end?
I would wear spandex for the rest of my life if I could just make it to the top of this climb!
Is dropping an option? No! You will finish no matter how long it takes!
I’m gonna have to get my headlamp at mile 40. I probably won’t finish until the 9 pm cutoff.
I really want my freaking poles!
Oh good. There’s the aid station.
Mile 22: Carson Aid Station
Ginger ale sounds really good. (gulp) Oh my gosh. It’s so good!
This aid station volunteer is being so helpful.
Jeff pops out of nowhere.
Jeff- “Ryne, where’s your drop bag?”
Where the hell did he come from? He didn’t leave me. What a friend.
Volunteer hands me a cup of potatoes.
These potatoes are already mashed. Wow, what service!
Salt is the best thing ever.
She is seriously packing me saltine crackers in a ziplock bag. What a goddess.
The world needs more aid station volunteers. There would be no wars.
Mile 22-31: 1,500 feet of climbing to the Continental Divide. Some miles hovering at 13,000 feet and then steadily drops down.
I feel like a new person! I am revived!
Wait, I had these same feelings after the last aid station. Don’t get cocky.
Whoa, those are some big clouds. Hopefully, they stay away.
These views above treeline are so worth it.
Hey! A marmot!
The mountains go on forever. This is awesome.
And there are so many wildflowers.
Jeff is still feeling good and regularly putting distance between us but always keeps me insight.
I’m trying to keep up Jeff.
Oh cool. I see the lake, which means the cabin is on the other side. Ha. We’ve been pointing at the mountains all week saying we would be up here. And now we are. Funny.
Still moseying along the Divide.
When do we drop down below 13,000? I wanna be able to breathe again.
My head is starting to hurt. Geez, I’m complaining a lot today.
This is kind of peaceful up here. I like it.
We should be getting close to the yurt aid station.
I wonder if it’s like a Dothraki yurt from Game of Thrones?
There’s the yurt. Aw man, the aid station is outside of the yurt. Not as cool.
Who put all this mud here? My feet were finally dry.
Mile 31: Divide Aid Station
Did they just seriously ask if someone wanted sweet or white potatoes? Best aid station ever.
Ginger ale is the nectar of the gods.
Potato chips sound good.
I shove a handful in my mouth.
Wait no, chewing is hard right now.
Mile 31-40: Flattish running and runnable downhills. Double track and jeep roads.
I try to tell Jeff for the third or fourth time to go on and run his own race. But he again ignores me and changes the subject.
Why doesn’t he just go on? He’s gotta be tired of herding me around these mountains.
I never wanna do Hardrock. How do they cover 100 miles of this terrain? Those people are insane.
I definitely want my poles for the last 10 miles. I wish I had them all day.
Alright, you’ve got a steady stream of food in you. Suck it up and pick up the pace.
I try to quicken the pace ever so slightly.
Whoa, body didn’t like that. Got light-headed.
This happened about 5 more times.
Suck it up and be stoic like Jeff.
Well, I need to be safe. Maybe I should tell him I need to walk for a bit. No, man up!
Another lightheaded spell after trying to speed up.
Screw manning up.
Me- “Hey Jeff. I’ve been feeling lightheaded the past hour. I’m gonna sit down at the next aid station and reset. I’m gonna finish but it may take a while. Go on without me when we get there.”
Jeff- “How are you doing on salt? Here, eat half of this Nuun tab. It won’t taste good but it will help.”
I take the Nuun tab expecting the worst.
That’s a little bitter. But also good. My body must really need some salt.
Start to come out of the lightheadedness.
Whoa, feeling better.
Why didn’t I tell him earlier? I should have used common sense. Of course he would have a solution.
This downhill is kind of fun.
Me- “How you feeling?”
Jeff- “My knees are starting to hurt a little.”
I weaseled a complaint out of Jeff. Ha! He is human!
I hear people! There’s Marcelle!
Mile 40- Slumgullion Aid Station
I made it. Only 10 miles left. And I won’t need my headlamp to finish.
Ginger ale and potatoes are the best things ever. Also salt.
Me- “Where are the poles? I definitely want them for the last climb.”
Marcelle hustles to grab my poles for me, while Lori is holding Conrad on her hip and talking to Jeff.
We have the best wives ever for supporting our crazy adventures.
Mile 40-46: 1,500 foot climb and then rolling terrain. Single track and farmland.
This is steep. But I have poles! Everything is better with poles!
Wow, this is really peaceful. These aspen groves are so cool.
It’s so quiet. And calm. This is wonderful.
This kind of reminds me of farms in Tennessee.
Trippy, almost done with the race thoughts are stirring.
Me- “Do you ever forget where you are sometimes? You’re just running and aren’t thinking. And then it’s like, “Oh yeah. I’m running in the freaking San Juans! This is awesome!”
Jeff is nice and entertains my dopey thoughts.
Jeff- “Yeah, I guess.”
Me- “Like just then, I was thinking how this reminded me of Tennessee. There are the rolling hills. Open farmland…”
I realize we don’t have aspen groves in Tennessee and am about to point this out so I don’t sound like a complete idiot.
Jeff- “Yeah and don’t forget the aspen groves.”
Set myself up for that one.
Mile 46: Vickers Aid Station
Feeling good. I smell the barn. Top off water, stash the poles, and let’s go.
Aid station volunteer- “Only three more miles and it’s all downhill!”
Mile 46-50. Downhill and single track.
Wow, crazy to think back on the day. I honestly didn’t think I would finish on the climb up to Carson.
Who put all these mini mud bogs along the trail?
Walking up a tiny hill.
I know I shouldn’t have believed the aid station volunteer. This is not all downhill.
And who chopped down all the trees to perfectly be across the trail?
Slowly reeling people in.
It’s nice to pass people.
Spandex guy! I caught you in the end. Ha ha!
Coming out of the trees with views into town.
I see town, but it looks so far down. Ugh.
This is steep. Dang, this is just a bunch of huge shale.
We have made it to the roads and town! So close!
Jeff is looking back and saying something to me. I see a sign pointing the racers in the right direction.
What is he saying? Oh Jeff, you are about to hit the sign!
Jeff plows into the sign but gracefully catches himself.
That’s too funny, but I don’t have the energy to laugh. I’m glad he’s okay. Must tell Lori about it later.
Another turn and more pavement.
Where is the park? I want to be done! I want to see my wife!
I hear people. We are close!
I did it! We did it!
Mile 50: Finish Line
I’m laying on the ground trying to fathom the day and how people run 100 miles.
Me- “How do you run 50 more miles?”
Jeff- “You keep running.”
Well, he’s not wrong.
Post-Race Road Trip
We had two more nights in Lake City at the cabin. Jeff and I were both feeling relatively okay after the race and wanted to explore one more trail before we parted ways. Of course the trail Jeff picks to run two days later has 1,500 feet of climbing in the first mile and a half. But I brought my poles from the start this time!
Marcelle and I headed to Durango to explore and camp for two days, while Jeff, Lori, and Conrad went to spend the rest of their vacation in Ouray.
After Durango, it was a quick detour to El Malpais National Monument for one night of camping and exploring.
Then it was off to Albuquerque for 6 nights to visit Marcelle’s best friend Claire. I managed to get in some fun runs in the mountains outside of Albuquerque.
The last stop on the journey home was 1 night in Fayetteville, Arkansas to break up the drive.
All in all, we spent 21 days on the road. We saw so many beautiful and mesmerizing vistas and made many unforgettable memories with friends. Maybe I can convince Marcelle into making the summer road trip an annual thing. If gas prices stay low.