High Lonesome 100: a journey to 55

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start: photo credit Rainey Rinaldi

I spent the majority of my year training for this race. You can click here to read about my training. My coach is a native Coloradan with mountain 100 experience who helped me with a solid plan.

I took off for Salida, Colorado with friends and crew.

This is the inaugural year for this race (High Lonesome 100). Coming in from Missouri I was only able to plan based on the website and elevation chart, as well as general assumptions of what the Colorado trails would look like without having ever personally been to the Sawatch Mountains.

I felt as ready and well prepared as I could.

The weather had shifted at the last minute, and we were now required to carry a true rain shell and an extra base layer from the start. Caleb, the RD had sent out an email so I was able to stop at REI in Colorado Springs on the way in for a heavier shell and some extra wool socks.

I picked up my packet and headed to the pre-race meeting.  This was mildly intimidating, as it was in a high school auditorium filled with mountain residents and fast looking runners. I ran into some KC friends who had moved to Colorado who  were captaining  the Mile 83 aid station and Rick the photographer from Mile 90 who happened to be from Kansas City as well. I spent the meeting listening intently and attempting to convince myself that I belonged there. Caleb, the RD described the first climb as “the most runnable 5,000ft climb that you could ever find.” He brought up hiking poles, mentioning some downhill sections later that you would want them on more. I decided that I’d leave them in my drop bag and get them later if I needed them. By the time we left I was feeling good.  Everything seemed pretty clear and the RD’s descriptions of the course were comforting.

After A final check of all my gear back at the hotel, and as much sleep as possible; suddenly it was 5am and I was having my required gear checked at the start line. (whistle, emergency light, emergency blanket, rain shell, base layer, 2L water capacity, and collapsable cup)

I wandered around trying to stave off the nerves, watching the sunrise, and trying hard  to stay calm.

Then the starter pistol shot off and we were heading about a mile or so down a paved road at a gentle trot off to the Colorado Trail.

As soon as I started running my nerves calmed down. It was around a 1000ft climb to Raspberry Gulch. It was considered a nice runnable rolling section of trail. It took me an hour forty-five to get to the aid station at 7.4.. I chatted with the other ladies around me, and had a great time, I was where I planned to be, but it was still a climb. I saw Rick the photographer and said hi. He joked he wanted some early photos where everyone still looked happy. As soon as we were through that aid station at mile 7.4 it was onto the largest climb of the day, up to just shy of 13200ft, just below the peak of Antero.

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Up I climbed, I was doing ok, trying to pace myself to be able to push through another 90 miles with anything left in my legs. Then 11,000 feet hit. This became a theme for my race. Fine, fine, fine…11,000….snail pace. “Totally runnable.” I wasn’t sick from the altitude to the point of vomiting,  but the headache came in and I just couldn’t push fast at all without feeling incredibly light headed and nauseous. I pushed as best I could and climbed, and climbed. The trees thinned out and eventually were left behind me. The less trees there were, the more comforting things became. It meant this climb would peak. Plus, the views. They’re worth every step.

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Around mile 14 the trail finally took a downturn. The second it did I could breathe deeply. I took off down a gravel section pushing to make up time, but being cautious not to trash my quads. This downhill section continued until mile 16.7 where I hit an aid station. I was well under the cutoff time, but they would only get tighter throughout the day. I needed to make back what I could. I pushed my down hill pace for several more miles, passing people here and there. Then It started to rain, and things were getting slick. Finally things flattened out, and I ran around an incredible alpine lake and headed into the tiny town of St. Elmo where I got to see my crew for the first time at mile 25.5.

I knew what was coming in the next section, and I knew cutoffs were tightening. I rolled into the aid station with what seemed like a huge time cushion, but I worried about where I was headed.  It was a steep out and back where the cutoffs tightened each way.   It was the first time I got a little emotional.  With the cutoffs tightening I worried I wouldn’t have enough time on the back.  It was a ways off, but I was worried about disappointing people if I missed a cutoff.  I mentioned this to my coach Coleen (there crewing/pacing).   I got a pep talk, a reminder that everyone was there for me,  and my hiking poles.  I was off for the only out and back section on the course. It was 6 miles each way: half up, half down, repeat. Climbing up above tree line again. It was a steep climb and the rain wasn’t doing me any favors. The cutoffs to get over the mountain the first time were longer than they were to get back. No, it wasn’t any easier the other way. I slowly crawled my way to the top, realizing even if I made cutoff on the way back it would be dark. My headlamp was in St. Elmo. I had my phone and a tiny emergency light, I would just have to push. I knew I needed at least a 30 minute cushion at next aid station to make it back in time. I crawled to the top and got my breath back on the down. As I descended into the trees there was a gorgeous little lake and an unbelievable view. Completely worth the climb. Down was the only place I had to make up time.

I pushed the down, but the rain was starting to make it harder. This section of trail was way more technical than I expected, and it was steep. At home our mud has a lot of clay in it, so you stick. I had on some pretty gritty shoes but was still just sliding. As I went I ran into Rick the photographer again. It was so nice to see a friendly face. I carried through to Cottonwoods aid station and took a moment to refuel. I got some broth and fruit. I’d been having a hard time moving and eating so I had chosen moving. I needed the time. I left with that 30 minute cushion, but knew it would be tight.

I climbed back up slowly. Looking back at data now, that mile heading over the peak had 750ft of gain in it, so the crawl wasn’t a shock. Again as I crested the top I looked back at the view. There was that same little lake and so much green. The clouds were starting to drop and it was getting foggy. I came across a runner who lent me a headlamp. It wasn’t dark yet, but it would be once I got back in the trees.

There was one runner in front of me that I started to catch as I ran down, back to St Elmo. I kept thinking I had to be getting close, but I’d see his headlamp below me after each switchback. Still no aid station. Looking at my watch, getting closer, pushing harder. The down to St Elmo was steep, muddy, and technical. My shoes had been wet for hours and the down had been long. My insoles had started to slide up and roll under my arches. It hurt to run, but I knew if I stopped to take them out I’d miss cutoff. I pushed. I made it down right behind the other runner. Volunteers cheered me in, but let me know I needed to get out immediately. I was 4 minutes before  cutoff and had to be out when it hit.

My crew came running up asking what I needed. Shoes and socks. With so little time I had one girl changing each foot and my third filling my pack. I was in and out and pointed the right way. It was 9pm and dark and

The one thing I try to avoid is a lot of solo night miles. I practiced this a lot leading up because I knew I needed to improve. I was tired and chasing cutoffs, and heading into a weak area. My crew hiked to the first turn with me. My watch had died and they were trying to tell me I just needed to move forward. I told them it was making me feel better with the tight cutoffs and my coach gave me hers.

I squeaked out an “I wish you could come with me” and started up the long ascent to Tin Cup.

I could see the another runner right ahead of me and just tried to keep pace as best I could. It was a four mile climb to a water stop. Being at a lower elevation I was able to clip ahead pretty well. At one point I stopped and crouched down to rest and nodded off. I’d never done that before. It was one of those seconds long head jerking up startling nod offs, but it was not ideal. I jumped up, found a caffeinated gel in my pack, and talked my feet back into left right left right. I told myself when I got 5 miles into this section I could turn on some music. I climbed pretty well until tree line. Today’s theme. The clouds were low and everything was in a fog. With my head lamp I could see just a few feet in front of me. I hit these long snowed over sections but couldn’t see where the trail was. I looked for footprints, but with a small field of runners and so much rain there wasn’t much to see. I followed what looked like prints, trying to look for either trail or reflective tape further up. I’d hit my poles down and just try to stay upright. I made it through a couple of sections like this and then started to drop back down in elevation. It had been raining for so long, and the trails were beyond wet. There were bushes over the trail so that I couldn’t see where my feet were landing. The trail itself was so rocky that when I ran through it I was just splashing through water and sliding in rocks. I managed to pass a couple of runners on this section and as the trails widened out I cruised towards the next aid station where I’d pick up my pacer.

After a while I started to question how I hadn’t made it there yet. I tried to stay unemotional about it, but that cutoff was sneaking up on me. Did I miss a turn? I backtracked a little bit until I saw a headlamp so I knew I should be right. I was so tired I did this twice on this last section. It was marked properly, I was just getting fatigued. Finally I saw the light of the aid station and picked up pace to head in. I heard my name and just yelled out “Did I make it!?”

I slid in just under cutoff. My crew helped me to fill my pack and get on another layer and a dry jacket. We were out quickly and heading back out for the last major climb.

I had Coleen, friend and coach, with me at this point and was just trying to follow her feet. We climbed and as we hit tree line, I slowed. I pushed as best I could. She was so helpful. “Just make it to this rock and catch your breath.” We continued to climb. After we hit the crest we expected to make up time on the downs. I thought I had it. Then we hit snow again, and then a boulder field, and then another boulder field. It was still really foggy and we were trying to make out course markers. Everything was slick and I was moving across the fields of rocks as best I could. We hit another section where the trail was overgrown and we were on these big slick grass packs and more rocks. At one point we were running across trail with so much rock and water we may as well have been running through a creek bed. I would try to push to keep up but I just kept falling. Every time I’d apologize and Coleen would tell me not to. Eventually she threatened me with apology burpees and I tried to stop. It was hard. My heart was there, but my legs just wouldn’t move fast enough. By the time we hit some more cruisable downs I had lost so much time. The course sweep caught up with us. She was so friendly (like all the amazing volunteers) and just chatted behind us. I tried to push harder and stopped to dry heave. I just couldn’t get going fast enough. I looked at my watch. “We aren’t going to make it are we?”

“You’re doing a good job, just keep focusing on moving forward.”

I kept trying to push behind Coleen and lost a few tears. I sucked it back up and just kept moving. I should at least keep trying and get there as soon as I could. We pushed through until we hit the final aid station I’d see at mile 55.5. I’d been on my feet for around 23 hours 20 minutes. It was around 5:20 in the morning, cutoff was at 5. We were nearing the end of the hardest sections (not that any of the course could be labeled easy.). I’d done the majority of the vertical climbing in the entire race, all 15 miles above tree line, and all of this was done in the rain.

“You know you came in after cutoff?”

“Yeah”

“Come warm up.”

I sat down trying to process. It was so hard stopping with my heart still in it. I wanted so badly to keep going, I just needed more time; and it was out.

The volunteers were incredible and there were several of us there who had missed it.

I just tried to thank volunteers, and stay positive. I knew if I started to cry I wouldn’t be able to stop.

We watched the sun turn the sky from black to dark grey. It was still raining.

I chatted with a volunteer asking me how it was (as an inaugural year). Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

Being stopped is hard, but it’s a lot easier than stopping myself. I pushed to get there. I never considered stopping myself, I never stopped pushing, and I never got overly anxious about it. I really tried to stay in the moment, in the beauty of the mountains as best I could.

We got a ride to the next aid station to meet the rest of my crew. From there I got hugs and went back to our hotel for a warm shower, food, and a nap.

We headed back to start finish for the awards ceremony at 7pm. The rain let up just about long enough for the ceremony.

We chatted with other runners and crew. We took some photos and I talked again with my husband (my biggest supporter).

When the ceremony started, Caleb the RD talked about the amazing journey that is ultra running, and called up the DNF’s to get their bottle of whisky. That’s when I finally really let some tears go. I mean seriously, I am so glad I went. After the awards he had all of us, finishers and DNF’s come up for a photo. It was such a privilege to participate in this first year.

Some things upon reflection:

I am still so incredibly glad I went and had this experience. It made me a stronger runner and in general human being.

I did train well. My legs took it well and my knees/quads handled all of the time I tried to make up on the downs, and there were a lot of downs.

It was more technical than I expected. I went out appropriately for the amount of knowledge that I had. If I were to do it again I’d push harder the first 25 knowing how much more technical things got between St. Elmo and Middlefork.

I suck above 11,000 ft. I need to find more ways to handle that whether it’s going out earlier than I did, and/or some weekend training trips. All things considered I handled it as well as I could up there. My legs had it, the rest of my body tried to sabotage me.

I handled the fact that I was tight on cutoffs and solo night running better than I could have ever hoped. I’m really proud of that.

This race is incredibly well organized.

I’d selfishly love to see a couple of more hours added so a sea leveler like me has a better shot.  I feel like it would allow more finishers that truly trained and can finish appropriately.

It is hard. It is beautiful.

I want to do this again. I plan to do this again.

**All pictures with the High Lonesome watermark are credited to Mile 90 Photography.

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