Perfect weather and beautiful fall foliage were hallmarks of this year's 4th edition of Run Rabbit Run, our local trail ultramarathon here in Steamboat. More than 150 runners (they say it sold out at 190 runners, but a few didn't make it to the start), including myself and a determined Katy Taylor, who had decided to do the race TWO days before, toed the starting line at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area at 6 a.m. This being only my second attempt at 50 miles, there was just enough doubt in my mind about finishing to keep me a little anxious. I felt healthy and well trained enough though and was hoping to finish in a decent race time, while still enjoying the scenery and having fun out in the woods.
The first 6 miles of the race is a 3400' climb to the top of Mt. Werner (a.k.a. Storm) which I did, mostly, with Katy. As we started off in the pre-dawn darkness, the temperatures were cool, in the 40s (F), and we alternated between running the flatter sections of Why Not Road and hiking most of the way up the mountain. We reached the top in about 1:30 and while Katy stopped at the aid station, I pushed on to the next 6 mile section, Mountain View Trail. On the outbound, this trail of technical single track, gradually decends several hundred feet over a couple small hills as it works it's way down to Long Lake. I decided to stretch my legs a little and ran the downhill sections with a guy named Mike from Ft. Collins. Uncharacteristically, I kept hitting rocks with my rearward foot causing me to trip (and fall and roll once!) many times. It continued throughout the day. I noticed I was not the only one, however, and even Mike tripped at one point. Still, we kept the pace quick. It felt good at the time but, in hindsight, I should've eaten at the aid station and run slower in this section and saved more for later in the race. We arrived at the aid station at Long Lake (I think it was in less than 3 hours) and I had my water bottle refilled as I grabbed a little to eat (some fruit) and pushed on.
From the lake, on Fish Creek Falls Trail, the next section started with about an .8 mile of meandering and up and down single track, first across a meadow and then back into the forest. The trail then crosses paths with the Wyoming Trail (heading North/South) which runners proceed south on, as they pass Lake Elmo, then Fishook Lake, on the way to the Base Camp aid station. During this part, I found myself starting to struggle a bit. Looking back, I was behind on calories even though I was staying well hydrated and taking a gel every hour. I should have been starting slower and eating earlier in the race.
As I passed Base Camp, I knew it was going to be a trudge out to Dumont Lake. My hamstrings were getting tight from the climbing and I couldn't find a rhythm in my running because I was constantly getting tripped up. At least, I had run this section of trail many times in the past and knew all it's twists and turns (and there are many) very well. I found comfort in my familiarity with the trail even though I was starting to feel pretty bad. As we came out of the woods and started along the shoreline of Dumont Lake, I passed Goeff Roes as he was heading back from Rabbit Ears. I looked at my watch and I think it was 4:40. It was about a mile more before I reached Dumont Lake aid station.
I was super stoked to see my friends, JD, Derek and Ross, who had brought me a cooler with some food (hamburgers I made the night before), ice, water and some chocolate milk. (I ended up not drinking any of the chocolate milk, even though I love it after a run.) I changed into a short sleeved shirt and grabbed a couple gels, refilled my water and took off again. I'm not sure why I was ignoring all the signs that I really needed to eat more but I just kept pressing toward the turnaround at Rabbit Ears Peak. About a mile up the road, Katy caught me, looking fresh as ever. I forgot how steep the hills are up to the Ears but I was really slowing fast and we only hung together for about a half mile before she took off ahead of me. I was super proud to see her looking so good and doing well. She was running a really smart race and her IT band didn't seem to be bothering her. After I (finally) hit the turnaround and started back downhill I caught my last glimpse of Katy about a half mile ahead of me on the dirt road. She was flying.
I was so hungry as I hiked back into Dumont Lake. When I got there, I announced to my crew that "my girlfriend was kicking my ass!" They laughed and acknowledged its truth. I ate half of an avacado and tomato burger and drank a bottle of water, while I sat down for a minute. It was great to clown around with the guys for a few minutes and they were having a great time hanging out at their first ultra. It was a cool scene. I wanted to press on so I hastily took the second half of the burger with me and started on the trail. Just a couple hundred yards down the trail, I saw my friend Bronwyn (Katy's crew leader from Leadville) who offered me some watermelon (technically, cheating) and encouragement. She's awesome. I told her I was fading but hanging in there and she let me know she would be volunteering at the Base Camp aid station so I would see her there. (Cool, nothing like seeing some familiar faces along the way.) I pressed on again, knowing I was in for some decent hills and descents before I would see Base Camp. I just kept my head down and kept doing my best to run the downhills and any flats that I could. I found myself hiking much more than I had anticipated. I was having to dig deep to stay in the game mentally. As I ran the half mile of dirt road to Base Camp under the noonish sun, I could hear a volunteer from the aid station rather annoyingly cheering runners on. (Really, I'm all for the encouragement but this bitch was annoying.) I was glad to see Bronwyn again and chatted for a little while, finally realizing that I needed to take a little more time at the aid stations than I had been. I did some light stretching of my hamstrings and made sure that I drank and ate sufficiently before leaving. I thanked all the volunteers and started down the next downhill section. "Just make it to Long Lake." was my mantra and I just kept on striving.
I started to come back from the dead in this section. I'm sure it was because I had finally eaten something and I made the most of it by running as much as I could. My feet were getting pretty sore but if I put that out of my mind, I was able to keep my pace up. I hiked into the aid station at Long Lake feeling much better mentally even though I was pretty run down physically. I saw a guy (Greg) that I ran with at Spring Creek earlier in the year volunteering at the aid station and we talked briefly. I stretched again and took the time I needed before heading onto what I knew would be the hardest part of the race, the uphill return on Mountain View Trail.
Initially, I was feeling quite good. I managed to run the first couple miles back up Mountain View. Then, in waves, I went through periods of feeling really drained and beat to feeling better (although still in considerable pain) and managing some running. As I hit the last mile and half of the trail, I started seeing a few more runners and by the time I got to the top of Mt. Werner, I was in a train of seven runners. It was cool to press up that final section of trail with a other miserable companions. Finally at the summit, I knew it was a final 6 mile downhill to the finish. I knew I was going to finish and I knew it was going to hurt getting there, so I filled up my water bottle grabbed a handful of fruit and started off. I looked at my watch and it was just about the 10 hour mark. I decided that I could muster a 6 mile run in under an hour to finish under 11 and I proceed to give my quadraceps a nice, long thrashing as I snaked my way to the base of the ski area. Hurt as it did, I was able run almost the entire way down and crossed the finish line in 10:53:14.
At the finish, I was stoked to see Katy (who had blazed a 10:06, one minute faster than last year and 5th Female) as well as a bunch of good friends (JD, Derek, Jason, Becca and Kiarra) who had come down to check out the masochism first hand. All in all, it was another humbling day in the mountains. I didn't run nearly as fast as I'd hoped but the effort was there and lessons were learned. Start slow. Eat early and often. Good times!