Ultra Running and other Mountain Adventures in Colorado
Sage Burner 50K 2010
On May 29th I ran the Sage Burner 50k in Gunnison Colorado (50k is 31 miles, for you Imperialists out there).
I worked the previous week in LA, putting in 50 hours in 3.5 days (sometimes work is a marathon too). I flew into Colorado Springs around noon on Friday the 28th. I drove home from the airport, grabbed my running and camping gear, and headed for Gunnison. I arrived 4 hours later and picked up my race packet. After grabbing some dinner at Subway I drove over to the KOA campground where I got my camp site and got the
Truck ready for sleeping
back of the truck situated with everything I needed–sleeping bag, cooler, running gear, and Trail Runner Magazine to read. I didn’t sleep very well that night–my sleep schedule was out of whack from the work week in LA. I was awake most of the night but woke up for good around 4:30am. I laid around, listened to my iPod, and mentally prepared for the race . I got my gear ready and headed for the race about 6:00am.
It was pleasantly warm at the start of the race which lead to my first big mistake. I was comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, which was great, but I had a temporary lapse in judgement when I though, “I don’t want to wear a hat, that will make me too hot later.”
The race began with some pretty steep climbs, I had read many previous race reports so I knew to not burn myself out in this section. I hiked most of the climbs and ran the descents. Things were great for the first half of the race. I was on pace for a 6 hour finish which would have lined up with my goals. Things were downhill (not literally) from there.
The forecast for the day called for clear skies and a high of 69 degrees–perfect running weather. However, the temperatures climbed well into the 70s (and it felt much much hotter than that). There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was seeping the energy out of my hatless head. Without something to block the sun and shade my face it was brutal. Luckily I at least had enough foresight to apply copious amounts of sunscreen (but even that didn’t prevent me from getting sunburned).
This bring me to huge mistake #2: I relied on the race provided electrolyte beverage. Never Never do this unless you are absolutely sure that it works with your stomach during race conditions. The drink provided by the race was not tasty; and, halfway through a 50k race in the heat, it was completely unpalatable (at least for me, it may be delicious for others). I could have gotten past the taste alone but it also upset my stomach. That stomach discomfort combined with the mild dehydration that was starting to set in, made it impossible for me to consume any of the fuel that I had. So, there I was, a little less than 20 miles into a 31 mile race, heat blazing, unable to consume anything but water (I did have electrolyte capsules that I was taking). I questioned many times whether or not I was going to be able to finish the race at all, let alone within even my most conservative goals. I struggled on, dousing myself with cool water whenever I could (the heat took the cool out of any water about 5 minutes out of the aid station).
Around mile 22.5 I reached the “Elevator” climb (see elevation profile). This was defintiely my low-point for the race. I already felt like passing out and was questioning whether or not I could continue–looking at the climb that lay ahead of me crushed any motivation that I had left. On top of that, Search and Rescue was sitting there on their ATVs. “I could hop on the back of that ATV and be at my truck in minutes.” I thought. I think the guy read my mind and offered, “Aid station right at the top of the climb man. You can make it.” I can’t thank that guy enough. Had he said “Are you ok? Do you need help?” I probably would have dropped right there. I employed a classic ultra-marathoning technique: break the race into small manageable portions. ”I can at least make it to that aid station” I told myself over and over. For those of you in the Colorado Springs area that have done the Manitou Incline, the Elevator is similar to that (although it’s an actual road, just straight up). Picture doing the incline after running 22 miles, while dehydrated, having not eaten anything for the past 3 hours or so….It wasn’t easy. I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, often having to take significant pauses before taking another step.
I did finally make it to the aid station where I plopped down in the limited shade provided by a 2′ sage bush. The woman at the aid station saw that I was struggling. She grabbed my water bottle and asked my what I needed, “I little bit of electrolyte drink…then some water” (I knew I had to force down the drink regardless of the consequences, the consequences of not doing it would be much worse). I quickly drank what she brought me and she filled my bottle with water. I sipped that and, after a few minutes, returned to my feet. I made my way to the table to see what else they had to offer. The had small paper cups full of defizzed Pepsi. I’d heard that it worked wonders mid-race but I had never tried it. I try to avoid caffeine as it usually gives me stomach cramps. But, at this point, I had nothing to lose. I grabbed on of the cups and drank all of its contents. The aid station volunteer offered motivation “You’ll do a 3 mile loop and then you’ll return here…you can make it 3 miles….c’mon”. I knew I could at least make it 3 miles, even if I had to walk the entire way.
I walked out of the aid station and, like clock-work, my stomach started cramping. I walked for a while. But, the cramps wore off and I started running; a shuffle at first but I was moving. Then, the caffeine kicked in and I was off. Moving at a pretty good pace I returned to the aid station. The volunteers offered words of encouragement “Great Job everybody!! Less than 4 miles to the finish!! Almost all downhill, seriously!” I later found out that the ”less than 4 miles” and “almost all downhill” were both lies. There was about 7 miles left and there were still many considerable climbs left. However, I appreciate being lied to at that point, it motivated me to continue.
I dragged myself through the remaining 7 miles walking often, running when I could. I crossed the finish line in 7:25. Not even close to any of my goals, but I did finish.
I had a plan for the finish of the race. I was so hot the entire time that I was going to:
1. Get the chair and cooler out of my truck.
2. Set the cooler in front of the chair.
3. Take everything out of the cooler.
4. Remove my shoes, ankle brace, and socks.
5. Put my feet in the cooler.
I made my way to the truck. I got the cooler and chair out. I set the cooler in front of the chair and sat down…so far so good. I got my shoes off. I tried to pull the brace off of my ankle and my left calf clenched into a tight little ball. Calf cramps are excruciating in normal circumstances. Calf cramps at the end of a 31 mile race are by far the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I screamed at the top of my lungs and clutched my leg. A lady had been walking by at that very instant and she ran over to me “OH MY GOD! WHAT’S WRONG?!?! DO YOU NEED HELP?!?!” I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even speak in full sentences or at full volume. I whispered while I massaged my leg, “calf cramp! calf cramp!” It finally released and I grabbed some electrolyte fluid from the cooler and drank as much as I could.
I put my feet in the cooler, took my shirt off and soaked it in the cold water, and put it over my head. Within a few seconds I was shivering. I knew it wasn’t good to be shivering when the temperature was close to 80 degrees–I was cooling down way too fast. I grabbed what food and drink I needed and crawled into the back of the truck. There I lay for about an hour until I felt like moving again. I got my phone to let Lindsey know that I wasn’t dead. Then I drove to the gym that was offering free showers for race participants. They were already closed–that’s what I get for being so slow. I returned to the KOA and explained to them that I had stayed there the previous night and asked if I could take a shower before driving back to Colorado Springs. Luckily the attendant graciously allowed me to shower (I’m sure that the combination of sweat and dirt made me look like a coal miner after a day at work).
I made the drive back to Colorado Springs and, after telling Lindsey about the race and my week in LA, I crashed hard.
The course was completely fantastic! I loved every minute of it (well maybe not the Elevator). The scenery was amazing and I can see running this race every year.
Another note: My shoes. I had ordered a pair of Vasque Mindbenders a few weeks before the race. However, due to my travel and tapering, I only had 10 miles on them. I took a risk by running the race in them with so little mileage on them (usually I try to have at least 75 miles on a shoe before I race in them). I could’ve gotten severe blisters or worse. Much to my surprise the shoes were great!!! I had zero blisters, zero pain of any kind. Never once did I think about my shoes during the race (except to think “These are amazing!”. I think I may have found THE shoe for me.
At first I was completely disappointed with my performance. But, later, I was able to take some positives from the race:
1. My legs held up amazingly well throughout the entire race. I’m getting much stronger than I was even a month ago.
2. My time was 45 minutes faster than my last 50k that was over similar terrain.
3. I had lows that were far lower than I’d ever experienced and I still finished the race. The lower the lows I can experience before the big show, the better off I’ll be. (what’s the “big show”? here’s a peek, stay tuned…)
4. I recovered much faster than I ever have. The only thing on my entire body that was sore was the calf that cramped. I feel great about that.
5. Stomach issues can happen anytime to any person (elite or not). Yes, I acknowledge that mine were most likely caused by my own mistakes, but I will NEVER make those mistakes again.
Sage Burner 50k 2010 course
Sage Burner 50K 2010 Elevation Profile
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