Having never been to Gunnison before, I was really excited to see the town and hang out for a bit. As there was a mountain bike race the day following hosted by 6 time Leadville 100 MTB champion Dave Weins, the town was in race mode with adventure seekers in abundance. I had convinced my buddy Kyle to come out for the ride and we set up camp just outside of town in the Dry Gulch camping area. The weather forecast called for scattered thunderstorm and rain showers throughout the weekend with highs in the low 60's, and it did not disappoint. We were lucky to have set up camp quickly upon arrival Thursday evening and got to work cooking up some fajitas in style.
Friday morning we headed back into town after breakfast to check out the little downtown area and grabbed some coffee at The Bean, a local coffee shop we would eventually hit up 4 times in 3 days. After some great joe we walked the main strip, dropped in a few shops and headed out to see Hartman Rocks and get a feel for how the race was to be set up. I was really impressed with the layout and was glad to be able to see the last few climbs of the course before the final descent to the finish line (though I would underestimate the technicality of the trail). After a short jog around to check out the terrain we headed out to the Black Canyon to see some sites and hike around. Gunnison truly is beautiful and the Black Canyon is not to be missed, we stayed for a few hours taking pictures, eating lunch, and taking in the beauty of the canyon. Soon enough it was time to head back into town for some carbs at Mario's Pizza. The pizza was delicious (double pepperoni Chicago style if you care to know) and was washed down by a Mirror Pond Ale. Then it was off to camp to catch some z's before the race.
I woke up at 5:50am and immediately started taking inventory; making sure I had everything I needed. I had premade two water bottles with GU20 and stashed 5 GU's in my bag. After checking the temperature I decided to toss a light long sleeve shirt in my bag just in case (I would've added gloves, but I forgot them at home). It was chilly, maybe high 30's low 40's and a bit of drizzle. We quickly packed up and made it to The Bean at 6:30 for coffee and a bagel with peanut butter. I began to visualize the race and my strategy there and grabbed a few cups of water before we headed out to Hartman Rocks.
The start area was buzzing with anticipation and the runners really turned out for this year's event. Last year the total finisher count was at 64 between both the 50K and 25K, this year however the race had filled to capacity at around 175 racers total. I caught a glimpse of the oldest runner in the field, Bill Dooper, at 74 years old he seemed ready to go with bright blue tights and a matching jersey. At 10 til 8 everyone started lining up and I was near the front, eventually ending up next to local studs Duncan Callahan and Tim Parr (it was the last I would see of them until the award ceremony).
As the gun went off, I filed back into about 40 or 50th position and began the first of many climbs and tried to get into a groove. The first 5 miles or so were pretty bunched up as the 25K runners wouldn't split off until 5.5, which meant I had to slow down on some of the rolling descents and push a little harder on the uphill sections to keep my position in the line. After the break I was suddenly alone as the 7 runners directly in front and behind me were all doing the 25K. I could see 1 or 2 runners about 500 yards ahead of me so I started to get into a better groove. At mile 8 the course dips out onto a road for 100 yards or so before taking you back up onto the single track. This was where I caught the first runner who was ahead of me, I remember him passing me early on, but he seemed to be struggling with some of the uphills which were muddy or rocky, but always tough.
10 miles in I caught a preview of how tricky and technical this course was going to be as there was about 40 feet of boulders and rock face to navigate and I ended up using my hand quite a bit to stabilize myself as I scampered through the rocks. At the next aid station I caught two other runners in front of me, and I quickly filled up my water bottles and took in some GU. I made it out before one of the runners and passed the other on the long gradual uphill out of the aid station. Following that was a long rolling downhill section that took you right into the nastiest section of the course. It was sort of a shock after the downhill section, but there was a figure 8 style 1.5 mile loop that demanded all of my attention to escape without falling or breaking something. This is the same course that the mountain bikers would tackle the next day and I was constantly thinking to myself, "holy s***, you've got to ride your bike down this?" I was shifting and jumping over logs dodging nasty boulders and a few times taking multiple rock dropoffs by simply jumping from one to the other and praying I didn't misstep.
Coming back out of this death trap was a steep, rocky, jeep trail that zaps the legs so I took in some more GU and washed it down. From here was another section of rolling single track and yet another descent through a beautiful aspen grove. But what goes down must come up and the sun had come out to heat up the course a bit so I took more fluid and tried to even out my pace. I hit the next aid station and the awesome volunteers met me down at the bottom of the hill leading up bringing Gatorade and filling up my water bottles. I chowed down on some potato chips and m&m's and took off again up the rocky switchbacks. From here the course follows a rocky ridge line for a while and I was made sure to be focused again as yet another technical rocky section warranted a sign for mountain bikes to dismount for their safety (and for good reason), it was steep as hell and solid rock.
Making it out of this section I was caught off guard as I suddenly heard someone behind me. I had been alone without seeing anyone for 10 miles and this guy came out of nowhere to pass me. We were probably at about mile 21 or 22 and I was starting to feel my legs tighten up to that familiar dull pain returned to my thighs. I hadn't planned on the technical nature of the course (at least the constant technicality) and I had probably over exerted myself early on. None the less I decided to push the pace when I could and run as much of the hills as possible. At the last aid station I made my one big mistake, taking only one water bottle for the last 5 miles. The final stretch of the course is pretty much one smaller descent, two biggish climbs, and one steep descent back down to the finish. I started to really struggle up the last hills and I was clearly dehydrated as I staggered through some really technical, rocky uphills and somehow survived without dying.
As I summited the final hill, I could see the finish line, but still had some work to do as the last mile is down what the locals call "collarbone alley" as it claims many a collar bone during wipeouts. I somehow made it down the hill with out falling and swervingly ran through the finish line where I promptly staggered, and fell over. Luckily my buddy was there with cold Gatorade and I was brought back to life in a few gulps. The nice volunteers came over and gave me congratulations and my finisher shirt. My finishing time was 5:17:55, which put me in 14th place overall, 11 minutes faster than my last 50K which was on a far less challenging course.
Overall, I felt that this race was awesome. Gunnison is gorgeous and the race was well organized with some amazing competition. Tim Parr ended up winning in 3:46, and I came away with an age group victory (because Tim and Duncan finished in the top 3) and a really cool handmade mug with "Sageburner 50K 2009 20-29" engraved on the side. I'll be back next year for sure, this was one of my favorite races I've ever done.